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Not to be overlooked, in a corner nearest the chimney was a seamed white old figure, tall and spare, yet with vigorous thews still strung in the teeth of his all but four score years. He was referred to during our amiable captivity, and while we sate snow-locked about the mighty fire-place, as the Old Cattleman.
Half comrade and half ward, our Old Cattleman had with him a taciturn, grave individual, to whom he gave the title of “Sioux Sam,” and whose father, he informed us, had been a French trader from St. Louis, while his mother was a squaw of the tribe that furnished the first portion of his name.
As we brought arm chairs about the fire-place on our first snow-bound evening, moved possibly by the Red Nosed Gentleman’s burgundy, which that florid person had urged upon his attention, the Jolly Doctor set the little community a good story-telling example.George IV. carried on the repairs commenced by his father, living meanwhile in a lodge in the park. Over a million pounds was spent upon the alterations and furnishing of the royal apartments. When Sir Jeffry Wyattville, the architect to whom the work had been entrusted, had completed his task, Windsor Castle appeared exactly as it does to-day. The walls and [pg 19] towers had been repaired and refaced, the brick buildings within the walls had been cleared away, the Round Tower raised by forty feet so that it dominated the whole pile, and the present State apartments built on the south and eastern sides of the Upper Ward.
Though Windsor Castle cannot claim so fascinating or romantic a history as that of other royal palaces, yet it can boast that while its more picturesque rivals have either vanished or ceased their careers as palaces, it alone remains a royal residence with a story stretching back to the Normans. Majestic in its calm serenity, it remains, as Leigh Hunt used to say, "a place to receive monarchs in."As in defence so in offence, the firearm begins to be deadly when the steel weapon is only an encumbrance, and when the firer is still invisible. By the intelligent use of ground for the concealment of horses, and the development of fire at successive points, the attack may go through all the phases of Infantry attack with a vast increase of mobility, and with the vulnerability of the horse reduced by skill to a minimum.
But I need not dwell on the preliminary and intermediate phases of combat. It is only in the last phase—that of the final assault—that any parallel with shock-tactics begins. Up to this point the steel weapon has been idle, nor even now can it be brought into play unless all those four inexorable conditions are satisfied. The first two—close formation both in the attacking and defending force—do not apply at all to mounted riflemen, since there is no question of shock. The third and fourth have but a remote application.
Far from being a unique moment, this is merely a culmination. The enemy probably is already shaken, not 31by the fear of something which can only materialize after contact, but by positive casualties wrought by a long-range weapon. It remains to drive home the victory.
Contact may be desirable if feasible, but there is no imperative need for it. Under many conditions rifle-fire is more effective at 5, 50, even 100 yards’ distance than in a mêlée. A victory may be crushingly conclusive without recourse to anything in the nature of a hand-to-hand encounter; but if nothing save a hand-to-hand encounter will secure a victory, the rifle provides scores of opportunities of obtaining that encounter where the arme blanche provides but one, if only the mounted riflemen are versed in that elementary part of their trade, which consists in knowing what and how to use, and when and how to discard, the horse. As compared with the steel horsemen, they are almost independent of ground. Instead of perpetually pining for level swards and open “Cavalry ground,” they welcome inequalities and obstacles, for these are the true conditions of surprise. Indeed, they make use of these obstacles, instead of allowing them to baulk their efforts. Steep ascents often aid them, entrenchments and other defences, natural or artificial, at the point of contact,—hopeless barriers, however flimsy in their character, to shock—can be surmounted by them. But supposing the ground is open, level, and smooth, and a mêlée with the enemy obtainable by quadrupeds, suppose, in fact, the only topographical conditions which can render an arme blanche charge possible, is there no r?le open to them analogous to that of the steel horsemen? Can they not charge home? I shall prove by a quantity of facts drawn from experience that they can, and under conditions which would be fatal to an arme blanche charge. Not aiming at physical shock, not therefore presenting the vulnerable target produced by close formation, they do not need the same degree of speed, nor, consequently, that perpetual 32freshness in their mounts which is the chimera of theorists and the despair of practical men. Nor is the size of their horses—an important element in genuine shock—of any account to mounted riflemen. Within rational limits, the smaller they are the better. Finally, in the process of covering on horseback this last intervening space of open, level ground, when the arme blanche, remember, even at the eleventh hour is still idle, need the rifle, too, be idle? Again, I shall bring ample modern testimony, which is fortified by much evidence from the American Civil War, to show that fire from the saddle, even if unaimed, may be used with signal effect, and in the case of the modern rifle, not merely moral effect, but physical effect. It may take the shape of aimed fire, as against horsemen at close quarters in pursuit, or against a Cavalry “mass,” or groups of led horses; while a few casualties, even from unaimed fire, in the defence, however constituted, produce great effect in daunting aim and nerves alike. Here, mark, is the crowning element of superiority in the rifle. Unlike the steel, which is used only from horseback, it can be used both from horseback and on foot. The first-class mounted rifleman—the ideal type we can construct from direct war experience—will be at home in both. He will use saddle-fire mainly in its unaimed or roughly-aimed form, and will dismount for effective killing.
The “charge,” which is the sole function of the arme blanche, is no longer the monopoly of the arme blanche. It is one of the functions—the culminating function among many—of mounted riflemen. The word, of course, is an unsatisfactory one, because in its ordinary sense (derived originally from shock-tactics) it implies a mêlée or hand-to-hand encounter, while for mounted riflemen, as for Infantry, it has a far wider meaning. A charge ending within a few yards of the enemy—for example, just below the crest of an elevation on which the defending troops 33are stationed—is just as much a charge as if it were pushed beyond that intervening space into the sphere of physical contact, and it may be just as decisive. But examples, of which an infinity may be cited, will lead me too far afield at the present moment. I am regarding in isolation, so far as that is possible, the physical side of the problem, and I suggest that the physical factors give an immense superiority to the rifle over the steel as an offensive weapon for mounted men. Obviously it is possible to conceive cases when, from the physical point of view, the steel weapon may have an advantage. The point is, how often in modern conditions can such cases arise? I think that from the preceding analysis it will be clear that these cases can be narrowed down to the small class I have already mentioned—pursuits of thoroughly demoralized troops. Even then the advantage is exceedingly problematical, and is, in point of fact, not supported by any modern evidence. Under such extreme circumstances as Bernhardi describes on page 15 of “Cavalry in Future Wars,” attack with any weapon whatsoever—battle-axe, revolver, club—will have approximately equal chances, if, indeed, any weapon at all is needed to secure surrender. What the rifle can effect in the way of sheer rapid killing I shall prove by facts.
Remember, too, another important point. Momentum is a continuing condition of the shock charge. Impetus must be sustained, the defence burst through, and a rally made on the farther side—a matter of time and difficulty—for another stroke which inevitably must be less effective than the first; and the first, owing to dense formation, has struck a comparatively small area. The rifleman has nothing to do with continuing momentum, and the stereotyped “rally.” His business is to use his rifle when, where, and how he can, mounted or dismounted, and with as large a radius as he can. He is always busy, and always formidable.
34One more word on this contingency of the use of steel in utterly demoralized retreat. It has always been the favourite dream of Cavalrymen, but it is a dream which in modern war never comes true. Panic is never universal. There are sections or groups always who have nerve and spirit enough to fire, and show a decent front, and directly any element of fire-defence enters in, the power of the steel wanes to nothing, and the need for mounted riflemen begins. It was so even in 1866 at K?niggr?tz. It was so in South Africa and Manchuria.
I hope he is bearing in mind that it is only for the sake of clearness that I have been taking pure types of steel horsemen and rifle horsemen respectively, and crediting both with high excellence in their several métiers. The hybrid horseman will, of course, have his share in the advantages, defensive and offensive, of the pure mounted rifleman; what share is another matter. I am now contrasting fire and steel in the physical sphere, and I ask, have I exhausted the cases of opposition between fire and steel? In reality I have, but I am too familiar with the arme blanche sentiment not to be aware that I shall be held to have ignored one important case. Again it is an imaginary case. Two solid masses of horsemen are pictured, the one with swords, the other swordless, confronting one another at close quarters on an open plain—"in the open" runs the vague phrase—both blocks on horseback. Palpably, so the argument runs, the steel must triumph. Possibly, but the contingency never happens, never can happen unless by one of those stunning surprises which have no special relevance to mounted tactics, and which argue scandalous neglect in the defence. For the steel especially such stunning surprises are unattainable, because “open” ground, one of the conditions of shock, is the worst ground for stunning surprise. But the illusion does not stop here. It is elevated into that complete conception of the inevitable shock duel which 35is the very corner-stone of Cavalry theory. The idea is this, that in the last resort shock alone can decide the combats of mounted troops. It is true that this unqualified generalization is so contrary to common sense that it is rarely set forth in so many words, but it comes to that, or there is no meaning in the theory. The inter-Cavalry fight, says “Cavalry Training,” whether in the phase of strategical reconnaissance, or on the battle-field of all arms, must be decided by shock. Fire-action at the best will have but a “negative result.” I shall dispose of this fallacy, which has itself paralyzed and sterilized Cavalries believing in it, by illustration. Meanwhile the reader has probably detected its inherent improbabilities. If there happens to be no available ground for shock—and how much of England, for example, is available?—there must be negative effect on both sides—a double stalemate, a deadlock—unless both parties resort by agreement to a favourable place, as in peace man?uvres they do in fact often resort. But that is a secondary fallacy: the fundamental fallacy is the supposition that the steel can impose tactics on the rifle. It cannot. There is not a tittle of evidence to prove that it can. All modern evidence proves that the rifle imposes tactics on the steel, and the evidence only confirms the plain physical principles.
II.—The Psychological Problem.