網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

GENERAL HAN COCK.

INTRODUCTION.

It has often been remarked that, as a war recedes further and further into distance, the popular mind more and more comes to attribute to one commanding character the whole glory of the achievements of the victorious army. Little by little the lesser figures fade out of the picture, until, to the common sight, the army becomes only the extension of one man, whose intellect and will did not merely control, but create, the forces which he moved with such effect. In this there is much of justice, for in many wars the successful leader, whom fame thus selects for immortality, actually did, by his genius, bring into existence all that was above the commonplace—was, in effect, his whole army, in all that compelled victory. He had, indeed, capable and efficient lieutenants to execute his plans and to lead the wings of his battle line ; regiments, brigades, and divisions were officered by men who in many actions received deserved praise; while the rank and file were in their place brave, loyal, and enduring. Yet it still remains true that the general was the army, and the whole of it, in this sense: first, that had the army, good as it was, been given into the hands of a soldier less masterful, it would, in the situation existing, have been beaten ; secondly, that had the commander been given an army far less fortunately composed and officered, he would, before the end, have shaped and tempered it until it was fit for victory. But it is not alone in respect to wars where, in this high sense, the leader was his own army, and by himself achieved the triumph, that the popular mind passes through the change we have indicated, gradually losing sight of the subordinate characters of the contest, and finally attributing all merit to one man. The same result is often seen where its justice can fairly be impeached by the student of military history, and where it contradicts the best contemporary opinion of the army and the people concerned. Hardly more rapid is the transference of the virtues of the soldiery and the subordinate commanders to him who finally won the victory, in cases where sound criticism confirms the justice of the act, than in cases where it is known to the historical scholar, where it was well known to the people of the time, that great substantive portions of the work were performed by soldiers of original and independent genius, perhaps by men who long disputed the first rank. Nay, that result is scarcely less likely to be reached, even in instances where it was but an open secret to the army and the men of the time, that the successful leader owed all to some devoted staff officer or officers, some exceptionally gifted yet unaspiring lieutenant or lieutenants who braced him around, supplied his deficiencies of thought or temper, inspired him with fresh determination when he faltered, suggested the one possible path out of seeming destruction, or pointed to the cardinal manoeuvre of the impending conflict which should turn the scale of battle. In a word, whether for justice or for injustice, the popular mind is almost certain, as a war recedes into distance, to pass through the change indicated. But while the tendency exists and operates continuously to bestow upon the one successful leader of a great war the entire praise for all that was done by his soldiery and his subordinate commanders, there is, in a single respect, a tendency which works in the opposite direction. One would not wish to say that even this exception always supplies a correction of the verdict of posterity where that verdict is most erroneous, for it must be confessed that the exception itself may be lightly made —is, in fact, often the result of mere popular favor, or is due to adventitious circumstances, sometimes to considerations little worthy of respect. The exception to which I refer is that by which, in regard to most wars which attract considerable attention, some one general of division or commander of an army corps is selected for a popular hero, largely by virtue of peculiarly taking qualities, of conspicuous dash and martial spirit, of a figure romantic or heroic in a degree which captivates the public fancy. Thus, while the world attributes more and more to Napoleon the credit of all that was done in those great wars against half Europe, and the stars of Moreau and Kleber, Massena and Lannes, sink ever nearer and nearer the horizon, the fame of Michel Ney receives only added luster with time. Thus, while many an American to-day fails to recognize the name of Nathanael Greene, the picturesque figures of Israel Putnam and Anthony Wayne are scarcely less conspicuous than they were in the first years after the Revolution. The highly and severely intellectual character of the great commander's office rather repels than attracts the admiration of many minds. The truly popular hero should be one somewhat below the highest, to whom men can draw closer than they can to the chief, who through the long vigils of the night plans in his tent the action of the coming day, revolving all the chances of an adverse fortune, receiving by booted and spurred messengers the last word from the skirmish line, and issuing orders with the punctilio of a secretary of state. Men love, the rather, to think of the daring leader of corps or division who, in executing those orders, forms in the darkness the dense column of assault, or dashes

« 上一頁繼續 »