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THE CAMPAIGN OF 1796 IN

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Originally appearing in Volume V11, Page 184 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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THE CAMPAIGN OF 1796 IN GERMANY The wonder of Europe now transferred itself from the drama of the French Revolution to the equally absorbing drama of a great war on the Rhine. " Every day, for four terrible years," wrote a German pamphleteer early in 1796, " has surpassed the one before it in grandeur and terror, and to-day surpasses all in dizzy sublimity." That a manoeuvre on the Lahn should possess an interest to the peoples of Europe surpassing that of the Reign of Terror is indeed hardly imaginable, but there was a good reason for the tense expectancy that prevailed everywhere. France's policy was no longer defensive. She aimed at invading and " revolutionizing " the monarchies and principalities of old Europe, and to this end the campaign of 1796 was to be the great and conclusive effort. The " liberation of the oppressed" had its part in the decision, and the glory of freeing the serf easily merged itself in the glory of defeating the serf's masters. But a still more pressing motive for carrying the war into the enemy's country was the fact that France and the lands she had overrun could no longer subsist her armies. The Directory frankly told its generals, when they complained that their men were starving and ragged, that they would find plenty of subsistence beyond the Rhine. On her part, Austria, no longer fettered by allied contingents nor by the expenses of a far distant campaign, could put forth more strength than on former campaigns, and as war came nearer home and the citizen saw himself threatened by " revolutionizing " and devastating armies, he ceased to hamper or to swindle the troops. Thus the duel took place on the grandest scale then known in the history of European armies. Apart from the secondary theatre of Italy, the area embraced in the struggle was a vast triangle extending from Dusseldorf to Basel and thence to Ratisbon, and Carnot sketched the outlines in accordance with the scale of the picture. He imagined nothing less than the union of the armies of the Rhine and the Riviera before the walls of Vienna. Its practicability cannot here be discussed, but it is worth contrasting the attitude of contemporaries and of later strategical theorists towards it. The former, with their empirical knowledge of war, merely thought it impracticable with the available means, but the latter have condemned it root and branch as " an operation on exterior lines." The scheme took shape only gradually. The first advance was made partly in search of food, partly to disengage the Palatinate, which Clerfayt had conquered in 1795. " If you have reason to believe that you would find some supplies on the Lahn, hasten thither with the greater part of your forces," wrote the Directory to Jourdan (Army of the Sambre-and-Meuse, 72,000) on the 29th of March. He was to move at once, before the Austrians could concentrate, and to pass the Rhine at Dusseldorf, thereby bringing back the centre of the enemy over the river. He was, further, to take every 8IIa dea advantage of their want of concentration to deliver Moreau. blow after blow, and to do his utmost to break them up completely. A fortnight later Moreau (Army of the Rhineand-Moselle, 78,000) was ordered to take advantage of Jourdan's move, which would draw most of the Austrian forces to the Mainz region, to enter the Breisgau and Suabia. " You will attack Austria at home, and capture her magazines. You will enter a new country, the resources of which, properly handled, should suffice for the needs of the Army of the Rhine-and-Moselle." Jourdan, therefore, was to take upon himself the destruction of the enemy, Moreau the invasion of South Germany. The first object of both was to subsist their armies beyond the Rhine, the second to defeat the armies and terrorize the populations of the empire. Under these instructions the campaign opened. Jourdan crossed at Diisseldorf and reached the Lahn, but the enemy concentrated against him very swiftly and he had to retire over the river. Still, if he had not been able to " break them up completely," he had at any rate drawn on himself the weight of the Austrian army, and enabled Moreau to cross at Strassburg without much difficulty. The Austrians were now commanded by the archduke Charles, who, after all detachments had been made, disposed of some 56,000 men. At first he employed the bulk of this force against Jourdan, but on hearing of Moreau's progress he returned to the Neckar country with 20,000 men, leaving Feldzeugmeister v. Wartensleben with- 36,000 to observe Jourdan. In later years he admitted himself that his own force was far too small to deal with Moreau, who, he probably thought, would retire after a few manoeuvres. But by now the two French generals were aiming at something more than alternate raids and feints. Carnot had set before them the ideal of a decisive battle as the great object. Jourdan was instructed, if the archduke turned on Trhichduke's Moreau, to follow him up with all speed and to bring plan. him to action. Moreau, too, was not retreating but advancing. The two armies, Moreau's and the archduke's, met in a straggling and indecisive battle at Malsch on the 9th of July, and soon afterwards Charles learned that Jourdan had recrossed the Rhine and was driving Wartensleben before him. He thereupon retired both armies from the Rhine valley into the interior, hoping that at least the French would detach large forces to besiege the river fortresses. Disappointed of this, and compelled to face a very grave situation, he resorted to an expedient which may be described in his own words: " to retire both armies step by step without committing himself to a battle, and to seize the first opportunity to unite them so as to throw himself with superior or at least equal strength on one of.the two hostile enemies." This is the ever-recurring idea of " interior lines." It was not new, for Frederick the Great had used similar means in simila., circumstances, as had Souham at Tourcoing and even Dampierre at Valenciennes. Nor was it differentiated, as were Napoleon's operations in this same year, by the deliberate use of a small containing force at one point to obtain relative superiority at another. A general of the 18th century did not believe in the efficacy of superior numbers—had not Frederick the Great disproved it ?—and for him operations on " interior lines " were simply successive blows at successive targets, the efficacy of the blow in each case being dependent chiefly on his own personal qualities and skill as a general on the field of battle. In the present case the point to be observed is not the expedient, which was dictated by the circumstances, but the courage of the young general, who, unlike Wartensleben and the rest of his generals, unlike, too, Moreau and Jourdan themselves, surmounted difficulties instead of lamenting them. On the other side, Carnot, of course, foresaw this possibility. He warned the generals not to allow the enemy to " use his forces sometimes against one, sometimes against the other, as he did in the last campaign," and ordered them to go forward respectively into Franconia and into the country of the upper Neckar, with a view to seeking out and defeating the enemy's army. But the plan of operations soon grew bolder. Jourdan was informed on the 21st of July that if he reached the Regnitz without meeting the enemy, or if his arrival there forced the latter to retire rapidly to the Danube, he was not to hesitate to advance to Ratisbon and even to Passau if the disorganization of the enemy admitted it, but in these contingencies he was to detach a force into Bohemia to levy contributions. " We presume that the enemy is too weak to offer a successful resistance and will have united his forces on the Danube; we hope that our two armies will act in unison to rout him completely. Each is, in any case, strong enough to attack by itself, and nothing is so pernicious as slowness in war." Evidently the fear that the two Austrian armies would unite against one of their assailants had now given place to something like disdain. This was due in all probability to the rapidity with which Moreau was driving the archduke before him. After a brief stand on the Neckar at Cannstadt, the Austrians, only 25,000 strong, fell hack to the Rauhe Alb, where they halted again, to cover their magazines at Ulm and Gunzburg, towards the end of July. Wartensleben was similarly falling back before Jourdan, though the latter, starting considerably later than Moreau, had not advanced so far. The details of the successive positions occupied by Wartensleben need not be stated; all that concerns the general development of the campaign is the fact that the hitherto independent leader of the " Lower Rhine Army '.' resented the loss of his freedom of action, and besides lamentations opposed a dull passive resistance to all but the most formal orders of the prince. Many weeks passed before this was over-come sufficiently for his leader even to arrange for the contemplated combination, and in these weeks the archduke was being driven back day by day, and the German principalities were falling away one by one as the French advanced and preached the revolutionary formula. In such circumstances as these — the general facts, if not the causes, were patent enough—it was natural that the confident Paris strategists should think chiefly of the profits of their enterprise and ignore the fears of the generals at the front. But the latter were justified in one important respect; their operating armies had seriously diminished in numbers, Jourdan disposing of not more than 45,000 and Moreau of about 5o,000. The archduke had now, owing to the arrival of a few detachments from the Black Forest and elsewhere, about 34,000 men, Wartensleben almost exactly the same, and the former, for some reason which has never been fully explained but has its justification in psychological factors, suddenly turned Neresheim. and fought a long, severe and straggling battle above Neresheim (August 11). This did not, however, give him much respite, and on the 12th and 13th he retired over the Danube. At this date Wartensleben was about Amberg, almost as far away from the other army as he had been on the Rhine, owing to the necessity of retreating round instead of through the principality of Bayreuth, which was a Prussian possession and could therefore make its neutrality respected. Hitherto Charles had intended to unite his armies on the Danube against Moreau. His later choice of Jourdan's army as the objective of his combination grew out of circumstances and in particular out of the brilliant reconnaissance work of a cavalry brigadier of the Lower Rhine Army, Nauendorff. This general's reports — he was working in the country south and south-east of Nurnberg, Wartensleben being at Amberg — indicated first an advance of Jourdan's army from Forchheim through Nurnberg to the south, and induced the archduke, on the 12th, to begin a concentration of his own army towards Ingolstadt. This was a purely defensive measure, but Nauendorff reported on the 13th and 14th that the main columns of the French were swingingaway to the east against Wartensleben's front and inner flank, and on the 14th he boldly suggested the idea that decided the campaign. " If your Royal Highness will or can advance 12,000 men against Jourdan's rear, he is lost. We could not have a better opportunity." When this message arrived at head-quarters the archduke had already issued orders to the same effect. Lieutenant Field Marshal Count Latour, with 30,000 men, was to keep Moreau occupied—another expedient of the moment, due to the very close pressure of Moreau's advance, and the failure of the attempt to put him out of action at Neresheim. The small remainder of the army, with a few detachments gathered en route, in all about 27,000 men, began to recross the Danube on the 14th, and slowly advanced north on a broad front, its leader being now sure that at some point on his line he would encounter the French, whether they were heading for Ratisbon or Amberg. Meanwhile, the Directory had, still acting on the theory of the archduke's weakness, ordered Moreau to combine the operations with those of Bonaparte in Italian Tirol, and Jourdan to turn both flanks of his immediate opponent, and thus to prevent his joining the archduke, as well as his retreat into Bohemia. And curiously enough it was this latter, and not Moreau's move, which suggested to the archduke that his chance had come. The chance was, in fact, one dear to the 18th century general, catching his opponent in the act of executing a manoeuvre. So far from " exterior lines " being fatal to Jourdan, it was not until the French general began to operate against Wartensleben's inner flank that the archduke's opportunity came. The decisive events of the campaign can be described very briefly, the ideas that directed them having been made clear. The long thin line of the archduke wrapped itself round Jourdan's right flank near Amberg, while Wartensleben a db'r fought him in front. The battle (August 24) was a wiinbarg. series of engagements between the various columns that met; it was a repetition in fact of Fleurus, without the intensity of fighting spirit that redeems that battle from dulness. Success followed, not upon bravery or even tactics, but upon the pre-existing strategical conditions. At the end of the day the French retired, and next morning the archduke began another wide extension to his left, hoping to head them off. This consumed several days. In the course of it Jourdan attempted to take advantage of his opponent's dissemination to regain the direct road to Wurzburg, but the attempt was defeated by an almost fortuitous combination of forces at the threatened point. More effective, indeed, than this indirect pursuit was the very active hostility of the peasantry, who had suffered in Jourdan's advance and retaliated so effectually during his retreat that the army became thoroughly demoralized, both by want of food and by the strain of incessant sniping. Defeated again at Wurzburg on the 3rd of September, Jourdan continued his retreat to the Lahn, and finally withdrew the shattered army over the Rhine, partly by Dusseldorf, partly by Neuwied. In ,the last engagement on the Lahn the young and brilliant Marceau was mortally wounded. Far away in Bavaria, Moreau had meantime been driving Latour from one line of resistance to another. On receiving the news of Jourdan's reverses, however, he made a rapid and successful retreat to Strassburg, evading the prince's army, which had ascended the Rhine valley to head him off, in the nick of time. This celebrated campaign is pre-eminently strategical in its character, in that the positions and movements anterior to the battle preordained its issue. It raised the reputation of the arch-duke Charles to the highest point, and deservedly, for he wrested victory from the most desperate circumstances by the skilful and resolute employment of his one advantage. But this was only possible because Moreau and Jourdan were content to accept strategical failure without seeking to redress the balance by hard fighting. The great question of this campaign is, why did Moreau and Jourdan fail against inferior numbers, when in Italy Bonaparte with a similar army against a similar opponent won victory after victory against equal and superior forces? The answer will not be supplied by any theory of " exterior and interior lines." It lies far deeper. So far as it is possible to celebrated maxim: " The principles of war are the same as those summarize it in one phrase, it lies in the fact that though the Directory meant this campaign to be the final word on the Revolutionary War, for the nation at large this final word had been said at Fleurus. The troops were still the nation; they no longer fought for a cause and for bare existence, and Moreau and Jourdan were too closely allied in ideas and sympathies with the misplaced citizen soldiers they commanded to be able to dominate their collective will. In default of a cause, however, soldiers will fight for a man, and this brings us by a natural sequence of ideas to the war in Italy.
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