What went on in the minds and hearts of a select group of military leaders at critical moments in battle is the theme of this book. In Leaders and Battles, W. J. Wood re-creates ten battles from history, depicting the action in vivid detail—the brilliant formations, charging horses, clanking bayonets. The point of view is always that of the commanding officer. The particular quality of leadership that won—or lost—the encounter is very clear.
For Mad Anthony Wayne at Stony Point, it was courage that won the day. For Scipio Africanus at Ilipa, it was imagination. Custer’s judgment at the Little Big Horn was definitely in question. When the French stormed Ratisbon, it was the inspiration of Lannes that broke the impasse. At the battle of Bushy Run, Bouquet could never have outwitted Pontiac had he lacked flexibility.
The dynamics of battle as well as the strategy and tactics involved are equally well demonstrated. Though the means of fighting varied as much as the time and the civilizations involved, the lessons learned are just as applicable today. Men no longer fight with drawn swords, make barricades out of mealie bags, or use a swarm of bees as a weapon. But that is part of this book’s fascination.
Leaders and Battles is a remarkable retelling of fighting engagements for the armchair strategist, the leader in training, the history buff, and the general reader. It will take time before the major wars and low-intensity skirmishes of this century can be written about with the historical detachment and understanding that the author displays here. In the meantime, we can all profit from these lessons of history.
|Publisher:||Random House Publishing Group|
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Facing up to fear, to danger, is the focus of our interest as we consider men and their fears in battle. At the outset let us dispose of an encumbrance, the “fearless man.” We have all heard of such men or have seen them in the movies, but fortunately they are about as scarce as politicians on the battlefield. I say “fortunately” because I have known (and known of) such men, and I wouldn’t want them around in combat, much less leading men whose lives were my responsibility.
Let us see how one great mind has dealt with the idea of courage as opposed to fearlessness. Plato in the Laches has Nicias present his view of the issue: “I do not call animals … which have no fear of dangers, because they are ignorant of them, courageous, but only fearless or senseless … There is a difference, to my way of thinking, between fearlessness and courage. I am of the opinion that thoughtful courage is a quality possessed by very few, but that rashness, and boldness, and fearlessness, which has no forethought, are very common qualities possessed by many men, many women, many children, many animals … my courageous actions are wise actions.”
Plato is seconded by Aristotle when he observes that “drunken men often behave fearlessly and we do not praise them for their courage.” In the light of such observations it is apparent that defining courage in the leader must embrace the concept of “thoughtful courage,” the ability to distinguish between the danger itself, and the necessity to get the job done in spite of it. For the leader to make decisions in battle he should be expected to act or react with thoughtful courage while being guided by his professional values.
Consequently we can disregard the “fearless man” and concentrate on the great majority of men, men who acknowledge fear while realizing they must act positively in spite of it. This lies at the core of the enigma that confronts the soldier in battle. Unfortunately he has neither the time nor the environment to study his problems and arrive at reasonable solutions, as we can do so calmly in these pages.
It is the soldier and his fears that demand attention before we can refocus on his leaders. My own experience tells me that it would take a lifetime of research to do justice to the combat soldier’s travail. We are in luck, however, in being able to rely on the findings of two men who have delved deeply into the subject and whose writings are universally respected.
The first, Col. Ardant du Picq, was mortally wounded by a German artillery shell while leading his regiment into its baptism by fire at Longville-les-Metz in the Franco-Prussian War. A professional infantry officer in the French Army and a veteran of three campaigns, du Picq was the first nineteenth-century writer to investigate the behavior of men in battle. His early researches made him an unpopular fellow with his brother officers, for his original approach was based on a questionnaire which he circulated among them. According to John Keegan in The Face of Battle: “The questionnaire was not a success, most who received it finding its tone impertinent or its completion tedious. But his questions were intelligent and original and, when applied by du Picq (whose rebuff by his brother officers had not extinguished his curiosity) to documentary material, elicited fascinating answers.”
I can sympathize with du Picq, having made a similar attempt at the Army Command and General College a century later. My responses from some three hundred combat officers may have been more numerous than those received by du Picq but scarcely more rewarding. Therein lies a trace of irony: The veteran officer seems to be as cautious in expressing his opinions about men in battle as he is bold at leading them in combat. So cautious, in fact, as to supply inadequate answers on this less tangible aspect of behavior. In his small book, Battle Studies, du Picq found answers by recognizing clearly the nature of fear in battle and its effects on combat units. He came to two major conclusions, and one is still applicable to ground combat in our times. His first finding was that, in ancient times, organized masses of men approached each other with the apparent intention of coming into violent collision. The collision never really occurred except in a front rank. One side would hesitate, slow down, even halt on some occasions, then break and turn away. The first and foremost in flight were those soldiers in the rear who had not yet come face to face with the enemy. Then the forward ranks gave way and joined in the flight. After that came the wholesale slaughter of the defeated, so common in ancient warfare, because the fleeing men had exposed their backs to the enemy.
Du Picq’s second conclusion—of far greater interest to modern readers—was that modern soldiers from civilized nations can be made to realize through reasoned discipline and realistic training, that the greater danger lies in flight, for safety, in some measure, can be found in maintaining the integrity of the soldier’s unit. In this light several of du Picq’s contributory findings are interesting:
How many men before a lion, have the courage to look him in the face, to think of and put into practice measures of self-defense? In war when terror has seized you, as experience has shown it often does, you are as before a lion …
Four brave men who do not know each other will not dare to attack a lion. Four less brave, but knowing each other well, sure of their reliability and consequently of mutual aid, will attack resolutely. There is the science of the organization of armies in a nutshell …
To fight from a distance is distinctive in man. From the first day he has worked to this end, and he continues to do so. It was thought that with long range weapons close combat might return. On the contrary troops keep further off before its effects …
The theory of strong battalions is a shameful theory. It does not reckon on courage but on the amount of human flesh. It is a reflection on the soul. Great and small orators, all of whom speak of military matters today, talk only of masses. War is waged by enormous masses, etc. In the masses, man as an individual disappears, the number only is seen. Quality is forgotten, and yet today as always, quality alone produces real effect*.…3
The other writer whose work is authoritative was the late Brig.-Gen. S. L. A. Marshall, who has deservedly been called the successor of du Picq. Slam Marshall (Samuel Lyman Atwood Marshall) succeeded where du Picq did not, for he lived to see his conclusions and chief recommendations bear fruit. He was able, in Keegan’s words, “to persuade the American army that it was fighting its wars the wrong way.”4
It became relatively easy for Marshall to draw the conclusions he did because his innovative methods produced the bases for the widely acclaimed campaign histories of the American army in World War II. Probably of greater importance was the quality and quantity of data about men in battle which now provides invaluable aid to historians and other analysts. It was Marshall who sold the high command in the European Theater his idea of debriefing, i.e., historical teams holding mass interviews with combat infantrymen on the spot just as their companies came out of combat. He developed techniques for getting the men talking—to an extent that unabashed and unembarrassed soldiers were sounding off freely—so that one man’s recollections were reinforced and often amended by those of his comrades. In fact the stories, from memories fresh and uncluttered by subsequent events, poured out so freely and fast that the skills of the historical teams were often strained in trying to get down all the interrelated accounts. Yet they succeeded in an amazing tour de force.
Marshall’s most disturbing discovery, at least to army officers and military analysts, was that
a commander of infantry will be well advised to believe that when he engages the enemy not more than one quarter of his men will ever strike a real blow unless they are compelled by almost overpowering circumstance or unless all junior leaders constantly ‘ride herd’ on troops with the specific mission of increasing their fire. The 25 percent estimate stands even for well-trained and well-seasoned troops. I mean that 75 percent will not fire or will not persist in firing against the enemy and his works. They may face the danger, but they will not fight.
In searching for a way out of this dilemma, Marshall had found a key clue when he said: “Men who have been in battle know from first hand experience that when the chips are down, a man fights to help the man next to him, just as a company fights to keep pace with its flanks.”
Table of Contents
|Prologue: The Dynamics of Battle: Dan Morgan at the Battle of Cowpens, 1781||8|
|Anthony Wayne at Stony Point, 1779: Physical Courage||33|
|Louis Nicolas Davout at Auerstadt, 1806: Moral Courage||59|
|Hernan Cortes at Cempoalla, 1520: Boldness||88|
|John Chard and Gonville Bromhead at Rorke's Drift, 1879: Tenacity||115|
|Scipio Africanus at Ilipa, 106 B.C.: Imagination||149|
|Henry Bouquet at Bushy Run, 1763: Flexibility||175|
|George Custer at Little Big Horn, 1876: Judgment||202|
|Marshal Lannes at Ratisbon, 1809: Rally||239|
|Brazenose at Lungtungpen, 1899: Inspiration||264|
|Colonel von Lettow-Vorbeck at Tanga, 1914: Energy||272|