This Day in Georgia Civil War History
October 10, 1861
Historical Examples of Defensive Campaigns Printed
With the South fighting a primarily defensive war, the Richmond Times Dispatch printed some historical examples of that type warfare being successful.
Defensive campaigns. –Even in time of peace, we have found that the most popular subject with newspaper readers is always battles. Men will read about battles when they will not read about anything else. Much more, then, will they read about the events of war, now that we are in the midst of war. We hope, therefore, we shall be excused for running briefly over a few of the campaigns which are celebrated in history as remarkable defensive campaigns. It will be seen that there is, strictly speaking, no such thing as a campaign purely defensive, but that in every campaign the party defending sometimes takes the initiative. We begin with Fabius Maximus, who gave name to what is called the Fabian system - a system, by the by, greatly misunderstood. Fabius was appointed Pro-Dictator immediately after the bloody defeat of the Roman army at Thrasymene. The system which he adopted was probably the only one that could have saved the republic; but it was not a purely defensive system - that is, he did not always wait to be attacked. On the contrary, although he harassed his enemy - and that enemy, be it recollected, was Hannibal - by a series of skillful movements, marching, counter-marching, choosing unassailable positions, and never allowing himself to be drawn into a general engagement, yet no man was more prompt in seizing every opportunity to attack, when it could be done to advantage. The manner in which he entrapped Hannibal among the mountains, and the strategem of the burning faggots tied to the cows’ horns, by means of which the latter extricated himself, are well known. Besides, when his colleague, Minucius, had been surrounded, he moved instantly to his relief. We learn, also, that he captured Tarentum and performed various other exploits, none of which indicate a system purely and entirely defensive. But while he was pursuing his quasi defensive system in Italy, the Romans were pursuing a prodigiously active system of offence abroad. Marcellus took Syracuse, and Scipio invaded and conquered Spain, and finally carried the war into Hannibal’s own country. Fabius opposed this last enterprise, maintaining that Hannibal should be driven from Italy before the war should be carried abroad. Neverthless, notwithstanding his high authority, it seems to us very doubtful whether the Romans would ever have gotten rid of Hannibal if Scipio had not invaded Carthage. Washigton’s campaigns were somewhat on the Fabian system. Yet it was repugnant to his disposition, which was naturally ardent and impetuous. He had to form an army out of the rawest description of materials which it is possible to imagine, and with these materials he was compelled to face veterans who had never known defeat, overwhelmingly superior even in numbers, and proportionally superior in everything else. His success is among the marvels of history. His great moral qualities, his political achievements, the unrivalled glory of his whole career, not less than the small numbers of men engaged in deciding the greatest cause, except the present, ever tried by the wager of battle, have combined to withdraw attention from his character as a purely military man. Yet it is certain, that with five or six regiments of ragged, half armed militia, he blockaded the British General, Howe, with 24,000 of the finest troops in the world, so closely in Philadelphia thoughout the autumn of 1777 and the ensuing winter, that he could not obtain an ounce of flour, or a blade of fodder, or a sheaf of oats, from the country. This performance certainly was not of a defensive character, unless a siege be so, and we hold it to have been one of the most astonishing of which history makes mention. When the enemy-finally abandoned Philadelphia, he followed him, attacked him furiously at Monmouth, and but for unforeseen incidents would have annihilated his army.–Previously he had shown the same readiness to take the offensive at Germantown, and subsequently he showed it in the siege of York. When he was called, during the French war in the time of President Adams, to take the command of the American army destined to repel a threatened French invasion, doubts were expressed whether his “system,” as it was called, would not fail before the rapid movements and facile combinations peculiar to the new French tactics. His biographer, Chief Justice Marshall, in noticing these expressions of doubt, takes occasion to say, that Washington would have been always prompt to act on the offensive, had he possessed the means of doing so. His want of trained veterans, when his enemy had them in abundance, kept him on the defensive. The war of 1812 in Russia, is frequently spoken of as a defensive war. Yet it brought forth the battle of Borodino, the most trementous conflict of modern days. When the French retreated, the Russians pursued them even into Germany, attacking them every day, and slaughtering them in a most unheard of manner. We have already alluded to the Peninsula campaigns of Wellington, and shown that his system was not what is called the Fabian by any means. Col. Napier, indeed, repels the idea as a reproach, and asserts that no man was ever more prompt to act on the offensive, when he had the ability to do so.–In the campaign of Waterloo, before the battle, and during it, he acted on the defensive; but it was only because he could not act otherwise. His force, and that of Blucher, were the advanced guard of one million of men. –They could not move on France until the main body came into line. They were placed near the enemy’s frontier, to repel him if he should make an outbreak before they came up. He did make an outbreak, and he was repelled. Nothing could have been more vigorous than the offensive operations which immediately followed. The most extraordinary defensive campaign ever made - according to the Duke of Wellington - was that of France by Napoleon, in 1814; and during that campaign, which lasted only a few weeks, at least a dozen pitched battles, and three or four times as many combats, were fought.