« AnteriorContinuar »
THE BELGIAN QUESTION.
Abandonment of the Barrier-The Russian Dutch Loan-Guarantee of the Throne of the Barricades.
THE great danger to European independence is from France on the one hand, and Russia on the other. The march of Napoleon to Moscow, and of Alexander to Paris, sufficiently demonstrate the formidable nature of the power which these mighty states can put forth when they exert their whole strength; and the little chance which European freedom has of being preserved, when the energy of Gallic ambition and the weight of Scythian numbers are fairly brought into collision. The greatest struggles of modern times have arisen from the meeting of these great waves of mankind; and the defeat of Attila at Chalons remained without a parallel till the overthrow of Napoleon at Leipsic.
The interests of European freedom, therefore, imperiously require that the intermediate states should be constantly united in a close alliance to resist the approaches of these terrible potentates, and save modern civilisation alike from the encroachments of French ambition, and the tyranny of Russian power. Liberty demands, in a voice of thunder, that the barriers should be closed against both these fearful invaders, and the independence of Europe saved alike from the whirlwind of Attila and the car of Napoleon.
To support Belgium against France, therefore, and Poland against Russia, is the obvious duty, as well as interest, of every European state. Public freedom, national independence, run no risk but from one or other, or both of these states. The experience of ages has proved that France, with the addition of Belgium, is too powerful for Germany, and that no sooner has she got her frontier advanced to the Rhine, than the liberties of Europe begin to totter. Recent experience demonstrates that Russia, with the addition of Poland, is an overwhelming power on the east of Europe, and that when her armies are stationed, while still within the Russian frontier, at the distance of only 170 miles from Vienna and Ber
lin, the power of independent deliberation is taken away from both these states.
It was early felt, that the preservation of Belgium from French influence was an object of vital importance to the liberties of Europe; and the greatest efforts, both of diplomacy and arms, have been exerted for the last three centuries to prevent such an acquisition by that ambitious power. When the dominions of Charles the Bold had descended to his daughter Mary, and the hand of that rich heiress, and with her the sovereignty of the seventeen United Provinces, was sought after by the rival monarchs of France and Spain, all the powers of European diplomacy were exerted to prevent her preferring the former; and the exasperation of that high-spirited monarch at the success of his rival, laid the foundation of the wars which afterwards desolated Europe, and led to his defeat and captivity at the battle of Pavia. When Louis XIV. threatened the liberties of Europe, and the pride of the Grande Monarque aimed at universal dominion, it was in Flanders that his principal efforts were made. Vauban and his illustrious generals knew well that if that was gained, every thing was secured; and it was there accordingly that he was encountered and defeated by Marlborough and Eugene. The victories of Ramilies and Oudenarde, of Blenheim and Malplaquet, the sieges of Tournay and Ypres, of Lisle and Conde, of Landrecy and Maubeuge, at length drove back the invaders from the vantage-ground they had acquired, and Europe in consequence enjoyed comparative peace for an hundred years.
By the Treaty of Utrecht, it was provided that a certain line of fortified towns should be kept up as a perpetual barrier against France. They were selected with care, and fortified at an enormous expense; and such was their efficacy in bridling the ambition of that military power, that her armies never suc
ceeded in making any effectual lodgment beyond them as long as they existed.
This will not appear surprising, if the situation and nature of these barrier fortresses are considered. Mons, Menin, Ypres, Philipville, and Marienberg, and the other barrier towns, formed a line across the front of the Austrian Netherlands so powerful, that no ordinary army, how great soever, could pass them with impunity. Had any one ventured to do so, the garrisons of these fortresses would have issued out as soon as they were passed, formed an army in their rear, and forced them to retire, by cutting off their communications, and preventing the supply of ammunition and stores to their army. Thus an invading force was reduced to the necessity either of besieging two or three of the principal fortresses in the line of their advance, or of leaving them blockaded by troops superior to the garrisons they contained. The first of these was a work of time and bloodshed, which gave Europe ample opportunity to assemble and succour the menaced point; the last reduced the invading force to one half of its original amount, and left the liberties of Europe nothing to fear from the advance of the remainder.
In an evil hour, the Emperor Joseph, yielding to the advice of reckless innovators, resolved to demolish the fortifications of these barrier towns. "He objected," says Jomini, "to the expense of maintaining them; he was distrustful of the fidelity of their Walloon garrisons; and he imagined, that, in the new era of wisdom and philosophy which was approaching, there would be no need of fortresses to bridle the ambition of princes."*
The consequences of this fatal step soon developed themselves; and the vital importance of that barrier which Marlborough and Eugene had won at so vast an expense of blood and treasure, was written in indelible characters. The revolutionary armies of France found in Flanders a vast and level plain, without a hornwork to arrest their progress; and before the distant forces of the Em
* Grandes Operations Militaires.
peror could advance to its relief, the work of conquest was completed, and the Low Countries had passed under the Republican yoke. With unerring precision they rushed upon the rich garden of conquest which was thus laid open to their hands; and ten days after France was delivered from urgent danger by the retreat of the Duke of Brunswick in 1792, the victorious armies of Dumourier advanced to the long wished-for conquest of the Low Countries.
A single inconsiderable battle decided their fate. Neither of the armies which fought at Jemappes amounted to 40,000 men; the loss of the vanquished was not 4000; yet this inconsiderable victory decided the fate of the Netherlands, and brought the French armies down to Antwerp. The demolition of the barrier towns left no obstacle in their way; there was not a mountain to arrest the victors, nor a forest to shelter the vanquished; and the same ground was won in six weeks, which had been gained inch by inch by Marlborough and Eugene in as many years.
The Austrians retired to Tirlemont, leaving Brussels to its fate; but next year they defeated the French at Neerwinde, and the reconquest of the Low Countries was the immediate consequence. powerful allied army was formed, the Republicans were defeated in several encounters, and, but for the barrier fortresses of France, Paris would have been taken, and the war terminated in that campaign. But the five fortresses of Valenciennes, Quesnoy, Conde, Maubeuge, and Landrecy, saved France, when on the verge of destruction. The Allies, albeit at the head of a vast army, 120,000 strong, flushed with victory, could not venture to pass the frontier fortresses: the siege of Valenciennes was successfully completed, that of Maubeuge, Landrecy, and Dunkirk, formed; and though the two former fell, the time consumed in their reduction proved the salvation of France. The people recovered from their consternation; the vast armaments in the interior had time to be completed; and when the Allies,
† Napoleon and Jomini,
after six months spent among their fortresses, attempted to advance into the interior, they were met with such considerable forces, as not only stopped their progress, but drove them back with disgrace and disaster to the Waal and the Rhine.
Thus the lessons of experience were complete on both sides. The demolition of the barrier fortresses on the Austrian side of the frontier rendered the Low Countries an easy prey to the Revolutionary forces: the preservation of the barrier fortresses on the French side saved that country from otherwise inevitable destruction. Napoleon has recorded his opinion, that nothing but the frontier fortresses of France saved it from destruction in 1793.
Subsequent events have sufficiently demonstrated, that the preservation of the Netherlands from the grasp of France, and the forcing her back from the line of the Rhine, is absolutely indispensable for the liberties of Europe; and that if once she advances her standards to that river, universal dominion must be submit ted to, or a ten years' war encountered to drive her back to her original limits. The reason is plain, and, by an inspection of the map, must be obvious to every observer. The possession of the vast and opulent districts which lie between the frontier of old France and the Rhine, including the important fortresses of Luxembourg, Mayence, Thionville, and the towns which complete the defence of that frontier stream, renders the French altogether irresistible till they meet the armies of Russia. The Low Countries form a salient angle, headed by the great fortress of Mayence, which enables the invaders at once to penetrate into the heart of Germany. All Napoleon's armies destined for the subjugation of Northern Europe; those which crushed Prussia at Jena, humbled Russia at Friedland, and bore the Imperial Eagle to the Kremlin, crossed by the bridge of Mayence. "If the Allies were encamped on Montmartre," said Napoleon, "I would not surrender one village in the thirty-second military division." Memorable words, indicating the strong sense he entertained of the importance of preserving all the ground he had won in the North of
Germany, for the maintenance of that universal dominion, which he valued more than life itself.
The events which occurred at the conclusion of the war, have far gone to withdraw the attention of men from the great importance of frontier fortresses in repelling the invasion of an ambitious power. It is well known that the vast armies of the Allies passed the fortresses both on the Oder, the Elbe, and the Rhine, and accomplished the subjugation of France, while yet her garrisons were unsubdued on those rivers; and thence it is concluded that fortresses are altogether useless against modern tactics, and their demolition noways dangerous to the liberties of secondrate powers. There never was a greater mistake. It is quite true, that when passions are excited which bring millions into the field-when nations en masse rise up against their oppressors, and the experience and skill of twenty years is suddenly applied to the training of these vast assemblages of men, fortresses may be disregarded, and armies precipitated into a state without the reduction of their frontier defences. The reason is, that the multitudes of soldiers at the command of the invaders, enable them to blockade the towns, and at the same time advance with a sufficient head force into the interior. But neither this nor the next generation will witness such a resurrection of armed men. The passions are worn out which roused, the money is gone which equipped
them. War hereafter must revert to its former principles: no landwehr and landsturm will exist to blockade the fortresses, while the regular troops follow up the career of conquest; but, like Eugene, and Marlborough, and Turenne, generals must be content to sit down before the frontier fortresses, and depend for success upon their reduction.
In proof of these principles, we shall refer to two masters in the art of war, whose authority few will gainsay-Napoleon Bonaparte and the Duke of Wellington.
During all his campaigns, and in those in particular in which he had not at command an overwhelming superiority of force, this great commander evinced his strong sense of the advantages of fortresses.
sooner had he prostrated, by the victories of Montenotte and Mondovi, the Piedmontese monarchy, than he compelled the surrender, in 1796, of Tortona, Alexandria, Coni, and Turin, and from this strong base speedily carried the tide of invasion over the whole of Lombardy. Nothing arrested his progress, till he came to the bastions of Mantua; but that single fortress detained him five months before its walls, and gave the Emperor time to assemble four successive armies for its relief. The first use he made of the victory of Marengo, was to force the Allies to surrender the Piedmontese fortresses, which Suwarrow had regained, in 1799, at so great an expenditure of human life; and to the weakness of the Austrians in surrendering those strongholds, is in great part to be ascribed the disgraceful treaty of Luneville. The campaigns of Austerlitz and Wagram were so successful, because the attack was directed in both at the Austrian monarchy, through the valley of the Danube; the quarter in which, as the Archduke Charles and General Jomini have convincingly shewn, it is most easily assailable, from the want of any frontier towns for its protection.* Not the battle of Jena, but the treacherous surrender of Magdebourg, and the fortresses on the Oder, prostrated the Prussian monarchy in 1806; and had a few more strongholds like Dantzic existed, to check the advance of the French armies in the spring of 1807, the Treaty of Tilsit would never have enslaved for six long years the continent of Europe. The first step of Napoleon in his attack on Spain, was to gain possession, by fraud and treachery, of its frontier fortresses; and the possession of Pampeluna, Barcelona, Figueras, and St Sebastian, enabled him to maintain his footing within the gates of the Peninsula after the disasters of the first Spanish campaign, and kept at bay all the efforts of the Spaniards and English for six years. He advanced with such rapidity into Russia in 1812, because no fortresses were to be encountered on the frontiers of that vast empire to oppose his progress; and in all the reverses which
followed, clung to the fortresses of Germany with a tenacity which affords the most unequivocal evidence of the vast importance which he attached to their possession. He took post in Saxony for his final struggles amidst the strong fortifications of the Elbe: the possession of the redoubts of Dresden had well-nigh enabled him to renew the triumphs of Rivoli ; and even when the Allies were in the heart of Champaigne, the fortresses on the Rhine and the Elbe were in great part unsubdued. The successful invasion of the Allies in 1814 and 1815, is no evidence that he was wrong: they only shew that a single nation cannot withstand the world in arms; and that in resisting a crusade, even the greatest abilities and the most approved military system cannot always command success. As it was, the peril run by the invaders by neglecting the frontier fortresses was extreme: a considerable disaster in the plains of Champaigne would, by accumulating upon the retreating force all the veteran troops in the garrisons, have driven them to a retreat as ruinous as that of 1812 was to the French army; had the movement to St Dezier not been encountered by skill and resolution equal to his own, it would have turned the fate of the campaign; and Napoleon was not far from the truth when he said, in commencing that advance, that he was nearer Vienna than the Allies were to Paris.
The Duke of Wellington has given equal evidence of his high sense of the value of fortresses in every ordinary system of warfare. He advanced without hesitation into Spain, in 1809, as the Allies had possession of Ciudad Rodrigo and Badajoz; but no sooner had these fortresses fallen into the hands of the French, than he changed his system, and all his efforts were directed, in the first instance, to regain them from the enemy. Perhaps the most memorable period of his career, is that during which, with a force inferior to either separately, he stormed those fortresses, in the face of Marmont and Soult's armies, and thus laid the foundation of that secure advance which ultimately expelled the inva
* Archduke Charles, Vol. I. 279.
ders from the Peninsula. Before he advanced into France, he stormed St Sebastian, captured Pampeluna, and closely invested Bayonne; and the want of any other considerable fortress on that defenceless frontier, soon enabled him to make greater progress in the conquest of the southern provinces of that kingdom, with 60,000 men, than the Allies had been enabled to make, in 1793, on the iron frontier of the Netherlands, with 120,000. The defenceless condition of the French frontier towns, after the battle of Waterloo, enabled Blucher and Wellington to make that rapid advance into France which precipitated Napoleon from the throne; and the first use which the victors made of that glorious triumph, was to reconstruct, at a cost of five millions to this country, the barrier of Marlborough in the Netherlands, and thus close against French ambition those iron gates which had kept it at bay for an hundred years.
But what is it to our modern innovators that the vital importance of the fortresses in the Netherlands has been proved by the campaigns of Marlborough and Eugene, of Napoleon and Wellington,-that they were framed by the genius of Vauban, and their importance proved by the arguments of the Archduke Charles and Jomini,-that their value has been evinced by a century's experience, and their necessity demonstrated in works of immortal endurance,-that imperishable triumphs, followed by ages of peace, have signalized their formation, and that indelible disgrace, leading to unparalleled disaster, attended their demolition? All this is nothing to the new lights which have opened upon the world since the triumph of the mob in Paris, and the accession of innovating rulers to this country. Without doubt, Earl Grey and Lord Palmerston, who have taken upon themselves to undo the work of Eugene and Marlborough, of Blucher and Wellington, are able to shew that these great commanders proceeded on entirely wrong principles, and owed their success to à continued and inexplicable_combination of chances. Without doubt, they have read and thoroughly studied the scientific works of Napoleon and St Cyr, of the Archduke Charles and Jomini; and are prepa
red to shew, that the arguments by which they appear to have proved the vital importance of the Flemish barrier are totally unfounded. Without doubt, before they threw open the gates of Flanders to France, they had fixed upon some other and more tenable line of defence against its ambition; and were assured on reasonable grounds, that the possession of the Netherlands, for which its government, whether regal or republican, has struggled with such vehemence for a century and a half, is nowise dangerous to the liberties of Europe. Without doubt, they are ready to demonstrate, that the possession of five fortresses, all but impregnable, on the Flemish frontier, within 160 miles of Paris, was no advantageous base for offensive operations against that ambitious power,
and no check on its favourite incursions beyond the Rhine,—and that the advance of its standards to that river, and the consequent possession of Luxembourg, Mayence, Antwerp, and Coblentz, is likely to give it no advantage in an invasion of Germany. If they are prepared to prove these things, we are ready and anxious to consider their arguments; if they are not, when we recollect that they have destroyed the barrier, we are confident history will pronounce them the most reckless and ruinous race of politicians that the evil genius of a nation ever yet called to the helm of its government.
Let it not be imagined, that a new era is about to open on France and England, and that these two countries, united in the bonds of amity, and struggling for freedom against the world in arms, are henceforth to lay aside their mutual jealousy, and stand in no farther need of checks upon each other's ambition. Supposing that the era of republics has arrived; let the utmost aspirations of our democrats be realized, and France and England be set down as about speedily to become republican governments, is that any reason for supposing that their discord is to cease, or that the Senate and People of France are to be less formidable to the Senate and People of England than Louis XIV. or Napoleon were to its regal government? Who conquered the ancient world, and established the fabric ruinous to freedom