Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

284

REORGANISATION OF THE BRITISH COMMISSARIAT. [A.D.

while the most ample details were given with regard to the composition and capabilities of a military staff, not even a passing allusion to a Commissariat is to be found in the lengthy documents which issued from the Horse Guards. The correspondence of both these Generals with the Government complains seriously of the want of experience and ability of the Commissariat, “for that the people who manage it are incapable of managing anything out of a counting-house.”

Napoleon very early called the attention of the French Directory to the defects of the “ agencie civile” of his army; but the wholesale system of pillage and rapine which resulted in the French armies from the cruel and barbarous, extravagant and wasteful, doctrine of the school of the Revolution, that “war should pay its own expenses,” has incurred for that military service the bitter hatred of every population among whom they were thrown; and it may be safely asserted that while pillage and robbery exhausted a land, they could never, after all, obtain for the French armies the advantages of a good Commissariat. A regular and continuous flow of provisions to the very extremities of a military force serving in the field is a problem only to be solved by an honest and well-intentioned administration.

The prejudices which have been raised against the Commissariat service in all armies has resulted from their not being included in the position and consideration of officers, and this omission has been of serious consequence to the service; for, only looked upon as mere tradesmen dealing in provisions, commissaries have often been treated with unmerited ignominy and scorn by military men of all ranks, who never associated with them as equals, and if regular supplies failed, frequently treated them as public defaulters. It might not be reasonable or proper that this class should enjoy substantive military rank, which might bring them by seniority to the command of troops in the field, but a relative civil rank, in order to remove them above insult, appears indispensable to the service, and one not exceeding that of Brigadier-General has accordingly been conferred in the British service on Commissary-Generals, descending in the scale to that of subaltern officers; but this is a niggard and too restricted concession. The head of the Commissariat requires to be a man not only of much statistical knowledge, of immense energy, and great clearness of head, but he should also be so high in the estimation of the General in command as to be intrusted with much that is most secret with regard to the distinction and object of the expedition and amount of force to be employed, upon occasion, and this places him in general consideration far above Brigadier-Generals. Vauchelle very properly remarks: “ Sans subsistances assurées une armée ne peut rien entreprendre. Les plus habiles conceptions, le plus ardent courage, la plus sévère discipline, tout vient échouer contre cet obstacle.“ A Commissary General-in-Chief should, in my estimation, be selected for his post, not according to any seniority of rank, but, like the General of an army, out of a numerous list of qualified

1809.7 EFFECTS OF HUNGER UPON DIFFERENT NATIONS. 285

persons as the man most eminent for his presumed superior qualifications and fitness. The French attach, very properly, great importance to this high officer, and Napoleon admitted Count Daru to his intimate confidence. There is no reason to doubt but that Wellington similarly honoured the intelligence and probity of the officer to whom he intrusted his reforms, and the name of Sir Robert Kennedy deserves to be dear to posterity for his deeds, although he was never rewarded, as he ought to have been, with the great Cross of the Bath.

Anecdotes are told of Marshal Saxe, Napoleon, and other great leaders, to the effect of the importance of the stomach to the issue of a battle, and no man of ordinary sense can doubt it. The office of Proviant-master, therefore, is worthy of all consideration. The well-known anecdote of Sir Thomas Picton having threatened to hang a Commissary for having failed in his duties, and Lord Wellington meeting the complaint by the assurance that if the General said he would hang him, he was the man to do it; and the many most unwarrantable vagaries of inferior officers in command, who have placed in arrest Commissariat officers of intelligence far superior to their own, could never have taken place if the Proviant service were composed of a higher class of officers and given a higher consideration among military men in general than it has hitherto received.

The constitution of modern armies and the peculiar character of modern warfare render it of the very first importance that soldiers should be restrained from the excesses consequent upon hunger, and should be well looked after in the regular supply and distribution of their food, and in its wholesome quality. Above every other, this is most essential to the British soldier, to whose physical condition a regular supply of nutritious sustenance is indispensable. The Spaniard, whose ordinary fare is vegetable and farinaceous, can march for days on a few sticks of garlic and a crust of bread. An Indian sepoy can exist on the water in which the rice has been boiled. A lump of oilcake will support a Russian; a pipe of tobacco and a cup of coffee with “schnaps,” will reconcile a German to his duties. A Frenchman, whose skill in the culinary art can render any edible substance palatable, will accommodate himself on active service to the most frugal and least tempting fare, while his indomitable selfesteem does not allow his spirit to be depressed by any wants which he can persuade himself are indispensable to success and military glory; but the habit of endurance under hunger tells very differently indeed upon an Englishman, who can bear privations with the most admirable fortitude, and whose courage will rather increase than fail under ordinary difficulties, whose health and discipline will withstand in a surprising degree the effects of the most opposite climates, but who will break down altogether if his rations are faulty and irregular, or, for even the most limited period, fail altogether. The British soldier looks more to the supply of meat than bread ; the Frenchman, on the contrary, looks first and chiefly to the supply of farinaceous food, and immediately on pitching a

286

THE GUERILLA SYSTEM IN SPAIN.

[A.D.

camp sets himself to erect bakeries, and rarely, if ever, fails in a constant supply of soft well-baked bread. The German, both of the cavalry and infantry, is remarkably provident and careful, when he can get his rations, to secure a good meal to his horse and himself before he commences his march, and will be always seen to rise up betimes before he begins a march, in order to get a hot cup of coffee for himself, and to give a good feed to his horse before he sets off — a practice which well deserves being followed by every campaigner; for I have myself frequently observed the German hussar fresh and efficient when his lazy comrade was utterly exhausted, both in his body and his horse, before the march was far advanced.

In conclusion, it is only necessary to say one word upon the folly of imposing on the Commissariat in the field too many forms and returns. It is not always easy to procure vouchers and receipts, according to established forms, when you are in motion and in bivouac, and some very simple checks might be devised sufficient to provide against extravagance and waste. A French writer, however, says with truth : “ Demander dans l'état de guerre et en campagne tout ce qui se demande dans l'état tranquille et commode de la paix, c'est de vouloir rien d'exacte et de vrai: demander seulement le possible, car il n'y est dans l'administration militaire que cette seule garantie ; au lieu de nous fatiguer à surveiller la probité des agens et l'honneur des officiers, appliquons nous à la bien choisir."

42. RISE OF THE GUERILLA SYSTEM IN SPAIN. As the Spanish armies were successively defeated and dispersed, the soldiers, “ their occupation gone,” wandered about and readily flocked to the standard of any leader who offered them an opportunity of covering past disgrace, or of leading a life of greater license under the cloak of patriotism. The French, after their first successes, had been exposed to great insecurity of person and the most intolerable privations, and accordingly spread themselves over the country singly or in small bodies as well for subsistence as to keep the inhabitants in terror and subjection. Various acts of aggression and violence were the natural consequence of the independent action of men with arms in their hands over a defenceless people. These were angrily resisted, and blood often flowed until a deadly strife arose. Many of the peasants were obliged, in consequence, to flee to the mountains to escape retaliation from the French, until by degrees bands of desperate men collect :d together for defence, which gradually led to an extended and organised system of combination, under which the country people were enabled to protect their homesteads and their women from oppre ssion, and soon to assume the offensive; all weak parties of the French, stragglers or isolated marauders, were frequently encountered and slain; convoys were cut off, magazines rifled, and the communic ations everywhere interrupted between the French head-quarters as id their outposts. Hundreds of young men without any unifort is

1809.)

UNBRIDLED LICENSE OF THE GUERILLAS.

287

united themselves into regiments, under acknowledged leaders selected from amongst themselves, and these, having a perfect knowledge of the country, could assemble or disperse at pleasure, and at the shortest notice. From engaging in this petty warfare, they obtained the appellation of Guerillas, or little war-makers, being a diminutive of the Spanish word guerra, and distinguished them from regular soldiers.

The rugged mountains around Zaragoza became the first mother of a guerilla brood. Baget, Perena, Pedroza, and Theobaldo collected their migueletts, (as they are termed in Catalonia and Arragon, in the Sierra de Guarra, a lofty range containing the sources of the Cinca, from out of whose inaccessible valleys they sallied and harassed the French communications between Zaragoza and the frontier, maintaining, in the beginning a defence, and an intercourse with the Governor of Lerida, while it was yet in the hands of the Spanish regular troops. A leader, named Gayan, in the mountains of Montalvan, who occupied a convent on a high rock called Nuestra Señora del Aguilar, pushed his band down the valley of the Xiloca, on the right of the Ebro, and another, named Villa Campa, established himself near Catalayud, and interrupted the communications thence with Madrid. The younger Mina, called the Student, vexed all the country between Tudela and Pampeluna ; and Renovalles, a Spanish General, took the command of the insurrection in the high Pyrenean valleys, where he intercepted and surprised many French detachments. He established a principal post at a convent in an inaccessible position, called San Juan de la Pena, in which he placed a subordinate leader, named Saraza, who menaced all the country round Jaca. These Partidas, as they were sometimes called, at length roused the attention of General Suchet commanding the east of Spain, who commenced by dislodging Saraza in June, and afterwards, on the 19th, he effected the destruction of the entrenched camp of Gayan, who was pursued until his corps dispersed; but Saraza, rallying his men, descended upon the French on the 23rd of August, and put to the sword a detachment of 70 men, and Villa Campa, rallying Gayan's troops, formed a new entrenched camp at Tremendal ; while Mina continued successfully to intercept all the communications with Pampeluna, so that General d'Agoult, the Governor, was at length suspected and even accused of being privy to his successes. Suchet, however, eventually captured Mina, but his uncle, named Espoz of Mina, immediately took the nephew's command, and soon became the most celebrated and conspicuous of the Partidas chiefs.

In a short time deserters from the French and even from the British armies joined the ranks of the Guerillas — vagabonds, attracted by the unbridled license which such service afforded, and alike indifferent to the call of patriotism and the rights of property. In fact, many of them became rather thieves than anything else, until these robber-bands could not suffer any other Partida to act in what he termed his own district. One of the first exploits

288

THIRD SIEGE OF GERONA.

[A.D.

of Espoz of Mina was to slay the commander of a neighbouring band of this character. Their exasperation against the French became babitually ferocious, and the life of any one, friend or enemy, was alike valueless in their estimation. The treatment which the soldiers experienced at their hands made them in retaliation equally violent; for the soldier naturally becomes cruel in protracted warfare, and the inhabitants of both sexes, young and old, became the victims of violence in return for the cruelties which had been practised on their comrades. In the end, the Supreme Junta, acting as a Regency, desirous of pushing the system to its utmost extent, established secret Guerilla Juntas in every province, enjoining on them the express duties of harassing the enemy in every possible way, sweeping the country of stores and provisions, and collecting them in secret places, under district inspectors and paymasters. Under this arrangement, Franquisette and Palarea appeared in La Mancha; El Principe, Saornil, and Juan Abril, near Segovia; the Empecinado kept the hills of Guadalaxara above Madrid; Longa and Campillo harassed Biscay; Arnon, Merino, and the Friar Sapia appeared about Burgos and Soria ; Escaidron held the Asturias between Santander and Oviedo ; and Porlier the mountains of Galicia ; while Don Julian Sanchez hung upon the flanks and rear of the French armies which were maneuvring in the kingdom of Leon, and threatening to invade Portugal.

43. THIRD SIEGE AND CAPTURE OF GERONA — A FRENCH

SQUADRON DESTROYED AT CETTE.

The results of Spanish efforts in the “tented field” had very generally proved disastrous, as already shown, yet the spirit of this wondrous people did not flag, and, as we have just explained, a new and original system had arisen for the national defence peculiar to the geographical conformation of the Peninsula, and suited to the enterprising character of the people of the land. But, while entire armies disbanded at the very first shot, the inhabitants of cities and towns maintained them against the enemy with a resolution and chivalrous devotion rarely equalled, and never surpassed, in the records of ancient and modern warfare. The name of Gerona has nearly attained to the celebrity of that of Zaragoza. The story of its memorable siege would fill a volume, and the sufferings and endurance of its inhabitants are more akip to romance than to actual reality.* Gerona was more of a fortress than the capital of Arragon, and in its time had undergone many sieges. On this occasion, however, the defence was more due to the superstition of the people than to the art of the military engineer. The honour of the command of the town and principality was formally bestowed on the patron saint, Narciss, who was nominated Generalissimo of the forces by. sea and land. A General's staff,

* Maxwell.

« ZurückWeiter »