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- History of the United Netherlands, 1590-92 - 1/10 -
Prince Maurice--State of the Republican army--Martial science of the period--Reformation of the military system by Prince Maurice--His military genius--Campaign in the Netherlands--The fort and town of Zutphen taken by the States' forces--Attack upon Deventer--Its capitulation--Advance on Groningen, Delfzyl, Opslag, Yementil, Steenwyk, and other places--Farnese besieges Fort Knodsenburg-- Prince Maurice hastens to its relief--A skirmish ensues resulting in the discomfiture of the Spanish and Italian troops--Surrender of Hulat and Nymegen--Close of military, operations of the year.
While the events revealed in the last chapter had been occupying the energies of Farnese and the resources of his sovereign, there had been ample room for Prince Maurice to mature his projects, and to make a satisfactory beginning in the field. Although Alexander had returned to the Netherlands before the end of the year 1590, and did not set forth on his second French campaign until late in the following year, yet the condition of his health, the exhaustion of his funds, and the dwindling of his army, made it impossible for him to render any effectual opposition to the projects of the youthful general.
For the first time Maurice was ready to put his theories and studies into practice on an extensive scale. Compared with modern armaments, the warlike machinery to be used for liberating the republic from its foreign oppressors would seem almost diminutive. But the science and skill of a commander are to be judged by the results he can work out with the materials within reach. His progress is to be measured by a comparison with the progress of his contemporaries--coheirs with him of what Time had thus far bequeathed.
The regular army of the republic, as reconstructed, was but ten thousand foot and two thousand horse, but it was capable of being largely expanded by the trainbands of the cities, well disciplined and enured to hardship, and by the levies of German reiters and other, foreign auxiliaries in such numbers as could be paid for by the hard-pressed exchequer of the provinces.
To the state-council, according to its original constitution, belonged the levying and disbanding of troops, the conferring of military offices, and the supervision of military operations by sea and land. It was its duty to see that all officers made oath of allegiance to the United Provinces.
The course of Leicester's administration, and especially the fatal treason of Stanley and of York, made it seem important for the true lovers of their country to wrest from the state-council, where the English had two seats, all political and military power. And this, as has been seen, was practically but illegally accomplished. The silent revolution by which at this epoch all the main attributes of government passed into the hands of the States-General-acting as a league of sovereignties--has already been indicated. The period during which the council exercised functions conferred on it by the States-General themselves was brief and evanescent. The jealousy of the separate provinces soon prevented the state-council--a supreme executive body entrusted with the general defence of the commonwealth--from causing troops to pass into or out of one province or another without a patent from his Excellency the Prince, not as chief of the whole army, but as governor and captain-general of Holland, or Gelderland, or Utrecht, as the case might be.
The highest military office in the Netherlands was that of captain- general or supreme commander. This quality was from earliest times united to that of stadholder, who stood, as his title implied, in the place of the reigning sovereign, whether count, duke, king, or emperor. After the foundation of the Republic this dynastic form, like many others, remained, and thus Prince Maurice was at first only captain- general of Holland and Zeeland, and subsequently of Gelderland, Utrecht, and Overyssel, after he had been appointed stadholder of those three provinces in 1590 on the death of Count Nieuwenaar. However much in reality he was general-in-chief of the army, he never in all his life held the appointment of captain-general of the Union.
To obtain a captain's commission in the army, it was necessary to have served four years, while three years' service was the necessary preliminary to the post of lieutenant or ensign. Three candidates were presented by the province for each office, from whom the stadholder appointed one.--The commissions, except those of the highest commanders, were made out in the name of the States-General, by advice and consent of the council of state. The oath of allegiance, exacted from soldiers as well as officers; mentioned the name of the particular province to which they belonged, as well as that of the States-Generals. It thus appears that, especially after Maurice's first and successful campaigns; the supreme authority over the army really belonged to the States-General, and that the powers of the state-council in this regard fell, in the course of four years, more and more into the back-ground, and at last disappeared almost entirely. During the active period of the war, however; the effect of this revolution was in fact rather a greater concentration of military power than its dispersion, for the States- General meant simply the province of Holland. Holland was the republic.
The organisation of the infantry was very simple. The tactical unit was the company. A temporary combination of several companies--made a regiment, commanded by a colonel or lieutenant-colonel, but for such regiments there was no regular organisation. Sometimes six or seven companies were thus combined, sometimes three times that number, but the strength of a force, however large, was always estimated by the number of companies, not of regiments.
The normal strength of an infantry company, at the beginning of Maurice's career, may be stated at one hundred and thirteen, commanded by one captain, one lieutenant, one ensign, and by the usual non-commissioned officers. Each company was composed of musketeers, harquebusseers, pikemen, halberdeers, and buckler-men. Long after, portable firearms had come into use, the greater portion of foot soldiers continued to be armed with pikes, until the introduction of the fixed bayonet enabled the musketeer to do likewise the duty of pikeman. Maurice was among the first to appreciate the advantage of portable firearms, and he accordingly increased the proportion of soldiers armed with the musket in his companies. In a company of a hundred and thirteen, including officers, he had sixty-four armed with firelocks to thirty carrying pikes and halberds. As before his time the proportion between the arms had been nearly even; he thus more than doubled the number of firearms.
Of these weapons there were two sorts, the musket and the harquebus. The musket was a long, heavy, unmanageable instrument. When fired it was- placed upon an iron gaffle or fork, which: the soldier carried with him, and stuck before him into the ground. The bullets of the musket were twelve to the pound.
The harquebus--or hak-bus, hook-gun, so called because of the hook in the front part of the barrel to give steadiness in firing--was much lighter, was discharged from the hand; and carried bullets of twenty-four to the pound. Both weapons had matchlocks.
The pike was eighteen feet long at least, and pikemen as well as halberdsmen carried rapiers.
There were three buckler-men to each company, introduced by Maurice for the personal protection of the leader of the company. The prince was often attended by one himself, and, on at least one memorable occasion, was indebted to this shield for the preservation of his life.
The cavalry was divided into lancers and carabineers. The unit was the squadron, varying in number from sixty to one hundred and fifty, until the year 1591, when the regular complement of the squadron was fixed at one hundred and twenty.
As the use of cavalry on the battle-field at that day, or at least in the Netherlands, was not in rapidity of motion, nor in severity of shock--the attack usually taking place on a trot--Maurice gradually displaced the lance in favour of the carbine. His troopers thus became rather mounted infantry than regular cavalry.
The carbine was at least three feet long, with wheel-locks, and carried bullets of thirty to the pound.
The artillery was a peculiar Organisation. It was a guild of citizens, rather than a strictly military force like the cavalry and infantry. The arm had but just begun to develop itself, and it was cultivated as a special trade by the guild of the holy Barbara existing in all the principal cities. Thus a municipal artillery gradually organised itself, under the direction of the gun-masters (bus-meesters), who in secret laboured at the perfection of their art, and who taught it to their apprentices and journeymen; as the principles of other crafts were conveyed by master to pupil. This system furnished a powerful element of defence at a period when every city had in great measure to provide for its own safety.
In the earlier campaigns of Maurice three kinds of artillery were used; the whole cannon (kartow) of forty-eight pounds; the half-cannon, or twenty-four pounder, and the field-piece carrying a ball of twelve pounds. The two first were called battering pieces or siege-guns. All the guns were of bronze.
The length of the whole cannon was about twelve feet; its weight one hundred and fifty times that of the ball, or about seven thousand pounds. It was reckoned that the whole kartow could fire from eighty to one hundred shots in an hour. Wet hair cloths were used to cool the piece after every, ten or twelve discharges. The usual charge was twenty pounds of powder.
The whole gun was drawn by thirty-one horses, the half-cannon by twenty- three.
The field-piece required eleven horses, but a regular field-artillery, as an integral part of the army, did not exist, and was introduced in much later times. In the greatest pitched battle ever fought by Maurice, that of Nieuport, he had but six field-pieces.
The prince also employed mortars in his sieges, from which were thrown grenades, hot shot, and stones; but no greater distance was reached than six hundred yards. Bomb-shells were not often used although they had been known for a century.
Before the days of Maurice a special education for engineers had never been contemplated. Persons who had privately acquired a knowledge of fortification and similar branches of the science were employed, upon occasion, but regular corps of engineers there were none. The prince established a course of instruction in this profession at the University of Leyden, according to a system drawn up by the celebrated Stevinus.
Doubtless the most important innovation of the prince, and the one which required the most energy to enforce, was the use of the spade. His soldiers were jeered at by the enemy as mere boors and day labourers who were dishonouring themselves and their profession by the use of that implement instead of the sword. Such a novelty was a shock to all the
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