ARTICLE X. On the Conduct of an Officer on an advanced post, when the main body is in cantonments
The welfare and safety of an entire army often depends on a detachment of this nature. An officer, therefore, who is appointed to such a command, cannot use too much circumspection for the safety of the army behind him. I will imagine his force to consist entirely of light cavalry.
Supposing, then, that an officer has thirty or forty men given to him, with which he is to occupy a certain village: as soon as he arrives he must make a patrole of a third or fourth part of his force, and push it as far as he can with safety to right and left, even to the enemy's posts. He should reconnoitre all the villages, copses, and defiles that are in his front, placing the remainder of his detachment, during this examination, under cover behind the village, but if he fear an attack, they should all accompany him.
When the patrole is finished, he must take with him a man of the village on horseback, to shew him all the particular objects in the neighborhood of his post, on which side the enemy is situate, and by what roads or defiles they can approach him, having recourse at the same time to his chart, in order to gain a more perfect knowledge of the country.
As soon as this business is completed, he must place his vedettes in such a way, that they can see the whole extent of the country towards the enemy, as has been already said with respect to the advanced guards: a few of his people should also be sent to the top of the village steeple with some of the peasants who are well acquainted with the surrounding country, to observe attentively all that passes, and when they discover the enemy, give the signal by one stroke on the bell: if there be no village steeple, he must send one man to the top of the highest house.
When an officer has made his patrole agreeably to the rules laid down, he may allow half of his party to go into the nearest peasants' houses, unsaddle, unbridle, and feed half of the horses, and when they have finished, suffer the remaining half to do the same. But if the enemy be in the neighborhood, and an attack to be feared, he must remain hid in the rear of the village, and feed his horses tide to a hedge.
It is also necessary to have a guard on foot, who can always see the vedettes, and who are to report the least movement that they may make. Nor is it of less importance that posts should be placed on both sides of the village, especially if the country be hilly or abounding in copses, to cover the flanks, and prevent attack or surprise from those quarters.
In a word, security is to be regarded as the first object, not only in front, but also on the flanks and in the rear, particularly at night, even though we are convinced that we have friends posted in our neighborhood.
The officer should frequently send small patroles of two or three men in front of the vedettes, who are to endeavor to gain heights which are at too great a distance for established posts, and try to discover something relative to the enemy.
He may also make patroles of this kind in person, with fifteen, twenty, and even thirty men, to shew himself to the enemy, and by that means, make them believe that he is stronger than he really is. By doing this, the advantage will accrue of knowing more intimately the distance and position of the enemy.
By day, half the horses may be unsaddled, and half the people allowed to sleep, the other half remaining saddled and bridled. At nightfall, the patroles should be made in the neighborhood and in front of the vedettes, (the officer himself being present,) to discover if any change has taken place. He is then to report, in writing if possible, to the general.
When night is quite come on, the vedettes should fall back, and if they were placed on heights, they should now descend to the low ground, as by night it is much more easy to discover a person when looking upwards, than if you have to look into a bottom.
If there be a forest or any defiles leading to the village, which the vedettes can see only by day, posts should be placed in them: if any bridges be in front, the vedettes should remain there by day, and fall back at night, taking care that the bridge be stripped.
All the wide and public entrances to the village should be barricadoed with carriages, trees, or bars, and peasants placed there as guards, who should, nevertheless, be frequently visited, lest of themselves they open the passage.
The officer should inform his people who are without the village, of two or three secret avenues which are unknown to the enemy: with these passages the men must make themselves perfectly acquainted, that they may be able to find them readily by night, or in case of necessity. It is by these passages, (known only to the detachment,) that the officer will send out by night small patroles to visit the vedettes, and go along the whole extent of the chain. About midnight the officer will do well to be particularly attentive to his guards, and if the enemy attempt any thing, conduct himself according to the plan laid down for night patroles. Towards morning, even before day-break, the whole detachment must mount, and if the officer has thought proper to shift his ground during the night, the night posts are to be informed of it, that they may know where to find him. A report is then to be made immediately to the general commanding, or to the officer who sent out the detachment, of all that has passed during the night, particularly if the enemy has made any movement, or has discovered his approach; in this case the officer's vigilance should be redoubled: he should be constantly in the open country, and conduct himself in every respect as has been directed under the article of advanced guards.
As soon as the day begins to dawn, the vedettes must gradually resume their posts, keeping a sharp look-out on all sides: small patroles should also be kept ready to move forward and scour the copses and neighboring country. If no party of the enemy have crept thither, these men may remain there till broad day: this precaution is particularly necessary in cloudy weather, and they may disperse themselves and cover the whole front. If all be quiet, the officer himself should advance, and endeavor to make some discovery; in which case the patroles should file away in front, as far as he shall deem practicable. During this period the whole detachment should be mounted and ready on any emergency.
When all the patroles are returned, the officer should report to the general whatever he has learnt relating to the enemy, and then send a man again to the top of the steeple or highest house, unsaddle and feed half his horses, and endeavor to prevent any inhabitant of the country from going towards the enemy, to betray him or discover his position.
It would not be amiss to acquaint all the inhabitants of the neighborhood also, that if any of them go in front of the posts towards the enemy, the vedettes are ordered to kill them immediately. But if an occasion should offer for sending forwards a trusty man, it should certainly be done, though it cost a little money, as more intelligence is to be gained by these means than by the patroles, measures can be taken more advantageously, and a more exact and particular report made, which should be done, if possible, morning and evening.
For what remains to be undertaken in this situation, all the means laid down for advanced guards, day and night patroles, and reconnoitrings, (made use of as fundamental principles,) may be employed.