ARTICLE II. Of Patroles and Reconnoitrings
Patroles are of two kinds, those that are made by night, and those by day. The difference between the two consists only in the manner of making them. I shall now proceed to give a concise idea of what ought to be the conduct of a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, who is ordered to take charge of a patrole by day.
When a commissioned or non-commissioned officer shall be ordered with five or six men to endeavor to make observations on the enemy's army, or to reconnoitre a part of the country near the enemy, he must detach one of his most trusty men four or five hundred paces in front; if it be in a flat country, he may send another man to the same distance on that side where he supposes the enemy to be placed, and if danger be to be apprehended on both sides, a third man may be detached to the other side at the same distance. These men must march in a parallel line with the main body; but if the day should prove foggy, the advanced guard and flank patroles would do well rather to approach the main body, than keep at a distance from it, to prevent their being cut off, or inclining too much to one side.
In dark cloudy weather, firing is of very little service; in these circumstances, therefore, a more than common share of caution is necessary.
Nevertheless, it sometimes happens, that patroles can be pushed with the greatest advantage under cover of a fog.
If there should be discovered on the sides of the heights any copses or villages at more than four or five hundred paces distance, the patroles are not to go absolutely into them, but to approach them very nearly, and if nothing be to be discovered by this means, they will pass quietly along the skirts of the woods or villages, to learn if they are occupied by any party of the enemy.
If a detachment, whether large or small, be obliged to enter a forest, the men marching on the flanks must keep so near as not to lose sight of the main body of the party. The man who is in front of all, must always maintain the same distance, searching all the bushes and thickets that he meets with, and paying the greatest possible attention to whatever he sees or hears. If a hill or any height should be before him, he must creep up very quietly, and look very narrowly all around him; and if no party of the enemy or any other object of impediment be to be discovered, continue his route.
If a commissioned or non-commissioned officer be detached with eight, ten, or twelve men, he must always send two men four or five hundred paces in front; and on whatever side he expects the enemy, he will for safety have a man on each flank, who must attend to the foregoing instructions.
If we pass by a forest, two men should be stationed at such a distance in the rear, as never to lose sight of the main body of the party, to prevent thereby a surprise from the enemy in that quarter, if any be concealed in the wood.
The two men who are sent forward, may march side by side in a flat country, but if a village or small wood should be in their front, one must proceed some hundred paces before the other to survey such object; the second man should follow at a regular distance, traversing the whole extent of these objects, observing the same cautions with the man before him, that he may discover the enemy, though they may have been passed unperceived by the other.
If these two men should arrive at a mountain or height, they are not both to ascend it, but one is to advance at a gallop, observing all the afore-mentioned rules for the discovery of the enemy: if he see nothing, he is to remain on the summit till the other man, at a walk, has joined him, when they may pursue their route as before. If the men in front or on the flanks perceive the enemy without being discovered themselves, they are to fall back immediately on the body of the party without firing, that they may take some other route without being observed. But if these men meet the enemy, and are perceived by them, they are immediately to give notice of it, by discharge of musket or pistol; and, if they be not too suddenly surprised, and their retreat to the party cut off, hasten to report to the commissioned or non-commissioned officer what they have seen: and as detachments of this kind are not always intended for fighting or engagement with the enemy, the officer commanding must fall back with his party as soon as he is assured by discharge of pistol of the presence of the enemy, without waiting to be informed by any of his people who are upon the flanks.
If the man who has met the enemy advances upon him, and is superior in number, he is not to wait their arrival to risk an engagement, but disperse his people one by one, before the enemy be too near.
These scattered men must endeavor to gain the woods or villages, for it is hardly to be supposed that the enemy will follow them thither, from a fear that a corps de reserve lies there concealed. This is often the case, and naturally proves fatal to the enemy that are too eager in their pursuit. Indeed, though a few men should be taken in a retreat of this kind, some will remain to report to the general or the officer who sent out the detachment; whereas, if they retreated in a body, it is more than probably that every one would be taken.
When a commissioned or non-commissioned officer is ordered to march with two, three, or four men into a country occupied by a party of the enemy, he must avoid the high roads, and even the bye-paths that are much trodden, and steal along, if the country will allow it, by the side of bushes and in hollow places, where he and his people may be covered. In this case, he must not regard how much he winds about, so that he ultimately attains the object of his mission. If in his march he meet with any heights, he must halt his people, and ascend them alone very gently, looking on every side for the enemy: if all be safe, he should silently pursue his route, attending to the foregoing instructions. If this expedition be undertaken by night, it is to be conducted in the manner which will hereafter be explained.
Every person who is met by the advanced guard, or the flank patroles, should be conducted to the officer commanding the detachment, to be by him examined; and if they were going towards the enemy, they should be kept under charge of two or three men in the rear, as long as the officer may think necessary to prevent their giving to the enemy any intelligence of his operations.
An officer sent on a reconnoitring party (where it is his duty to get as near the enemy as he conveniently can) should decline, on his march through suspected places, any kind of engagement with the enemy, unless it be absolutely unavoidable. On the discovery of an enemy's patrole, he should do all in his power to avoid them, even though he be superior in force, and much less should he busy himself in plundering or taking prisoners, as by those means he would certainly be discovered, the enemy fall upon him, and his project miscarry.
If it be an object to gain a height which is in possession of the enemy, it should be approached as quietly and as closely as possible, and then attacked with the greatest precipitation to dislodge the enemy; and, after all the necessary observations have been made, the party should retire through bye-paths and covered ways. In an expedition of this kind, it would be prudent to leave in the rear at a certain distance from the enemy, along the side of a village or hedge through which the party must again pass, a few men with some of the worst horses, and if possible, those that are white, that they may be seen at a distance, and give the idea to the enemy who are pursuing the patrole, of a corps de reserve being posted there. This will abate their ardor of pursuit, and give the patrole time to save itself. A trumpeter also may be placed behind a hill, who should shew himself and sound a march when he sees the patrole closely pressed, to make the enemy believe that a corps de reserve is concealed also on that side. The men who are left behind, on seeing their comrades pursued, should shew themselves now on one side of the bushes, and now on the other, with the appearance of reconnoitring. They may also now and then discharge a pistol, as if to give notice to troops behind them, of the enemy's approach. When the patroles come near them, they are to be the first to retreat with the bad horses. If this scheme should not succeed, but that the enemy still continues the pursuit, the officer should order his people to disperse, making them well acquainted with the place of rendezvous.
In patroles of this nature, the retreat ought never to be conducted with too much hurry, but now and then a halt to be made, and a force shewn to the enemy at every defile or bridge, to endeavor to keep them in check, suffer the bad horses to gain ground, and the good ones to get wind. The pursuing enemy should always be kept upon a run to put their horses out of wind, but if they also are found to come near the defile or bridge, the party should retire very alertly, so as not to give them an opportunity of slackening their pace. If, in these circumstances, there be any bridges or villages to pass, the former, if the enemy be not too near, should be stripped or destroyed, and the entrance to the latter barricadoed with poles, pieces of timber, carriages, or whatever is near at hand; the good horses will always be able to follow fast enough, and the enemy will find themselves checked.
In a word, an officer should do his utmost to prevent any of his people being taken unguardedly, or through his negligence, for the losses to which light troops are daily subject, fall sufficiently heavy, and though men are readily replaced, it is no easy matter to procure seasoned soldiers. An officer should also be particularly careful that his people do not tarry in the villages at the doors of the public houses, and that all his orders are executed with the greatest exactness.
When an officer is sent in front on an expedition of this kind, he ought to avoid going through the villages as much as possible, even though they may have been scoured by his advanced guard. If he must of necessity, pass them, it must be done cautiously, halting at a convenient distance till the advanced guard has made it's report. This report alone, however, is not to satisfy him, but he must visit in person every barn and stable, to convince himself that no enemy lies there concealed: for it often happens, that an enemy will suffer a patrole to pass, cut off it's retreat, and fall with advantage on the main body of the party.
Two men should be left as a guard on each defile or bridge, which is to be passed and repassed towards the enemy, who by a frequent discharge of pistol are to inform the officer commanding the detachment, if the enemy, who lay concealed as he went forward, should wish to take possession of the bridges or defiles, and cut off his retreat: in such case, these men are to retire immediately. If an accident of this kind should happen to an officer, he ought to be prepared before hand, from his knowledge of other bridges or fords, learnt from his map or otherwise, to make good his retreat without falling into the hands of the enemy.
The same line of conduct should also be observed with respect to rivers, whose banks are to be traversed when patrolling on the side of the enemy.
Possession should be kept of all the bridges, and every avenue guarded, so that if the enemy should approach with a view to cut off the retreat, the detachment, informed of it by discharge of pistol, may take another route. No harm can arise from weakening the detachment by this means, as on these occasions they are not designed to fight.
Provided that care be taken of the men and horses, and that the soldier is convinced that you feel an interest in his comfort and safety on every occasion, you are sure to gain the confidence and good-will of all who are under your command.
The people who are left behind to guard the bridges and the avenues, have nothing to fear except from their own negligence, as on the approach of the enemy, they have always sufficient time to retire.
Every officer who is ordered on an expedition of this nature, should exert himself to execute his commission with all possible prudence, and reconnoitre minutely whatever he sees. If he be to reconnoitre the enemy's camp, to discover it's situation, to learn how it is protected on each side, whether by a river, wood, mountain, swamp, or village, he ought to know of how many lines it is composed, the extent of it's front, the situation of head-quarters, and the park of artillery; whether the camp be entrenched, what are the names of the villages in front, rear, and on the flanks; if the enemy has any advanced posts, of what troops composed, and where placed; if the neighboring towns and villages furnish the camp with provisions and forage, what articles they deliver, and in what quantity. These are questions which will certainly be put to him by the general commanding, whose dispositions will be influenced by his answers.
Nothing can reflect so much discredit on an officer as making erroneous reports, and then endeavoring to excuse himself by saying, "I must have been mistaking," or "my eye-sight must certainly have deceived me." In cases of this importance, every thing should be examined with the most perfect attention; he must endeavor to attain an accurate distinction of objects, be provided with an excellent spy-glass, never trust to appearances, and above all, not suffer himself to be imposed upon through fear. He has it is his power to communicate his observations to old confidential soldiers, and hear their opinion, by which means he will be convinced of the reality of things, and not in danger of mistaking an hundred horse for a whole regiment, or a flock of sheep for a body of infantry.
When an officer is about to make a patrole to some distance, which will require three, four, or more days' absence, he should take with him the countersign for as may days as he may think necessary: he should also be provided with one day's forage for his horses, and see that his people be supplied with bread and other necessaries, that they may not be obliged to go into the villages and ask for such articles, a practice which should never take place but by night, and then without making themselves known.
If it can be avoided, he should take no guide, but be able to direct his march from the information gained from his map, even though he be an entire stranger to the country: he must avoid also as much as possible all conversation with the inhabitants, especially in an enemy's country, and not suffer his people to form any sort of connection with them, for he certainly will be betrayed if the object of his mission be once discovered. He should select, as much as possible, those of his people who speak the language of the country, that he may the more easily pass as a friend, learn whatever is necessary, and keep himself unknown. If, during his march, he should be obliged to go near the enemy, he must lie hid by day in some thick wood, and use no fire. Both the horses and men should take this opportunity to rest, and a few dismounted men should be posted as guards in the thickest part of the wood towards the enemy. If the flat country can be discovered form the top of a high tree, a man should be sent thither, but the people who are on this duty are not to fire if they see the enemy, but give the alarm by whistling, or striking their hands upon something, so that if the enemy be advancing in a direct line on the detachment, it may be able to withdraw in silence.
All persons who may come near the place where the detachment lies concealed, such as woodsmen, shepherds, or women, should be secured and confined near the detachment till night. The officer is not to ask them any particular question, using only common conversation about the different roads, to keep them ignorant of that which he is about to pursue: in other respects he should treat them very civilly, and suffer them to depart when he wishes to begin his march. As soon as they are at a sufficient distance to prevent their seeing any thing he is to continue his route.