J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Muller on the Art of War

John Muller was a professor of artillery and fortification at the Royal Academy at Woolwich, where the British army trained its artillerists and military engineers. In the preface to his The Attac and Defence of Fortified Places, second edition published in London in 1757, Muller wrote:
IF, in the Art of War Courage alone was sufficient, a Treatise on this Subject in England would be superfluous; who from the lowest to the highest Subject are celebrated for this Virtue; but as it oft happens, that Enemies that dare not appear in the open Field, may retire into fortified Places, and there by Art and Stratagems destroy those Troops which before they durst not Face.

For which Reason this Work was compiled, to furnish Means to such brave Men to avoid engaging on disadvantageous Terms, and to excite in them a Desire to apply their natural Genius to the Knowledg of all the different Occurrences which happen in their Station during the Course of a War, how to defend themselves, or to attac an Enemy with Advantage, and to save Lives so much as possible, in conducting the Works of a Siege with Skill and Prudence.

There is no Part of the Art of War that requires more Capacity, Knowledge, and Judgment. The Success of a Battle is oft owing to Chance; a first Firing doing more Execution on one side than the other, an advantageous Situation, a Party flanking the Army unperceived; some extraordinary Action performed by some Men or Officer; a sudden Wind or heavy Rain in the Face of an Army; a pannick, Terror, or in short any unforeseen Accident, may contribute to the Gain or Loss of a Battle, and that oft on the Side who had least Reason to expect it. History, ancient and modern, furnish so many Examples of this Kind, that it is needless to enumerate them.

But when required to attac an Enemy in a Place strongly fortified, or when the Fortune of War obliges a General to defend himself in such a Place, against a numerous Army well provided, who find Means to approach the Works under Cover, beat them down with their Cannon, or blow them up with Mines, and ruin all their Defences; it is then that Courage and Fortune are obliged to submit to Knowledge and Experience.

There have been many brave Officers, provided with a good Garrison, and every thing requisite to make a brave Defence, who, thro’ want of a competent Knowledge, were not able to preserve a fortified Place to their Prince or Nation, or to take one; when, on the contrary, Men endued with less Bravery and more Knowledge, have succeeded in their Undertakings.
I love how this preface flatters its audience while also arguing that they really, really need to learn this stuff.

(The image above shows Fort George Ardesier in Scotland, constructed between 1747 and 1769.)

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