The Army of the Two Sicilies was the land forces of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, whose armed forces also included a navy. It was in existence from 1734 to 1861. It was also known as the Royal Army of His Majesty the King of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies (Reale esercito di Sua Maestà il Re del Regno delle Due Sicilie), the Bourbon Army (Esercito Borbonico) or the Neapolitan Army (Esercito Napoletano). Later many ex soldiers of this army joined Italian Royal Army.


Garibaldi was diverted from the escapade in Nice by news of a revolt in Sicily and pressure from a number of patriotic colleagues who begged him to lead an expedition in its support. In early April a Mazzinian plot in Palermo, which was quickly suppressed, had touched off a wider rebellion in the interior: bands of hostile and impoverished peasants spread across the island, killing or ejecting policemen and tax collectors and eliminating all form of local government. Many educated Sicilians approved of the rebellion against the Bourbons but were nervous of the other aims of an essentially social uprising. A few of them wanted independence and a few others hoped for union with the rest of Italy; Francesco Crispi, a lawyer and a future Italian prime minister, opted for union partly because he considered his fellow islanders incapable of ruling themselves. Most Sicilians were autonomists, however, who would have been content with a revival of the 1812 constitution and the distant sovereignty of the Bourbons. Their dislike of Naples was more vivid than their desire to join Italy.

Garibaldi was delighted by the tidings from Sicily and enthusiastic about the idea of an expedition there. He was an idealistic man with a simplistic ideology. Italy must be free and united, and its enemies – principally the pope, the Bourbons and the Austrians – must be overthrown. Although originally a republican, he now realized that the national cause was only likely to succeed under the leadership of Victor Emanuel.

The Sicilian uprising seemed to be faltering in mid-April, when Bourbon forces regained control of the coastal regions. Garibaldi was disheartened by the news and vacillated over his impending expedition. He had criticized Mazzini for irresponsible adventures and he did not wish to emulate Carlo Pisacane, the socialist patriot whose followers had been annihilated after landing three years earlier on the Neapolitan coast. Another problem was munitions. Garibaldi’s lieutenants had gone off to collect the money, arms and volunteers that were always available for any enterprise commanded by himself, but Azeglio, now the Governor of Milan, blocked a consignment of modern British rifles. ‘We could declare war on Naples,’ wrote the former prime minister, ‘but not have a diplomatic representative there and send rifles to the Sicilians.’14

At the end of the month, after further dispiriting news from Sicily, Garibaldi called the expedition off, but two days later, apparently convinced by Crispi that the rebellion was still active, decided to go ahead after all. As soon as one of his lieutenants had seized two steamships in the harbour of Genoa, he dressed himself up in the outfit he had picked up in South America – red shirt, pale poncho and silk handkerchief – and set off with his ‘Thousand’ volunteers across the Tyrrhenian Sea, a voyage that propelled him and them into legend and into comparisons with the ‘three hundred’ soldiers of Leonidas, the Spartan king who had held the pass of Thermopylae against the Persian army in 480 BC. It was indeed an heroic enterprise but it was also, incontrovertibly, illegal. Apart from stealing the two ships, Garibaldi was making an unprovoked attack on a recognized state with which his country, Piedmont-Sardinia, was not at war. History may have forgiven him for the deed, but it was an act of piracy all the same.

The Neapolitan king, Francesco II, did not at first take the expedition seriously. To him it seemed another adventure in the manner of Pisacane and the Bandiera brothers, a raid by a rabble of revolutionaries who would easily be defeated, despite the support of local rebels, by his troops on the island. Yet Garibaldi was a successful and charismatic guerrilla leader who enjoyed other advantages as well. King Ferdinand had died the previous year at Caserta after a reign of twenty-nine years, and his son, nicknamed Franceschiello, was young, timid and inexperienced. The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies had few allies except Austria, which was no longer in a position to help, and it had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain and France following their governments’ denunciations of Ferdinand’s ‘despotism’. The current Napoleon was unsympathetic to the Bourbons because he wanted their throne for his cousin Murat, and the British disliked them because Gladstone had convinced his colleagues that they presided over a uniquely awful regime. The hostility of France and Britain was fatal to the Bourbons because those nations had the means to decide whether ships might or might not reach their destinations in the Mediterranean. Had they wished to do so, their navies could have prevented Garibaldi from landing in Sicily in May and from crossing to Calabria in August.

While the expedition enjoyed the support of the small number of southern patriots, it also had backing, equivocal and confusing though this often was, from inside the Piedmontese establishment. Even those who opposed it did so halfheartedly. Cavour tried to dissuade the Thousand from embarking but he did not threaten force to deter them. Later he dispatched the Piedmontese navy to intercept the stolen ships, to prevent reinforcements from reaching Sicily and to delay Garibaldi’s crossing of the Straits of Messina. But the navy’s failure to achieve any of these objectives was not entirely the fault of the commander, the inept Count of Persano. Without some degree of official connivance, it is difficult to see how steamships could have been seized in Piedmont’s principal port, how the expedition could have managed to reach its destinations, and how so many soldiers ‘on leave’ from the Piedmontese army could have enlisted with the volunteers.

Garibaldi was lucky with his landing at Marsala on Sicily’s west coast on 11 May. The Bourbon garrison had just marched off to Trapani, and Neapolitan ships protecting the town had just sailed off to the south; later, when one of these vessels returned, it delayed firing at the red-shirted volunteers who were in the process of disembarking for fear of hitting two British ships in the harbour. The garibaldini had expected a welcome from islanders pining for liberation and were thus surprised to find a complete absence of enthusiasm for their arrival; also disconcerting was the invisibility of the revolt they had come to support. A few days later, however, the Thousand defeated a badly led Neapolitan force at Calatafimi and attracted a small number of Sicilians to their ranks. After the battle Garibaldi marched eastwards, capturing Palermo in June and Milazzo in July, landing on the Calabrian mainland in August and reaching Naples in September, four months after he had set forth from the Ligurian coast. In Palermo, where he established a government with himself as interim dictator and Crispi a secretary of state, he demonstrated his radical zeal by abolishing the grist tax and promising land reform for the peasants. Yet he could not go as far as he wished in this direction since he could not afford to alienate those landowners whose support was crucial for the achievement of political union with the north.

Although Garibaldi displayed courage and military skill in his campaign, the heroics were not quite on the scale that legend suggests. He did not defeat the 25,000 Neapolitan troops on the island with the thousand men he had arrived with at Marsala; over the summer, reinforcements from the north brought his own forces to more than 21,000. Nor was outrageous valour always required to overcome an enemy that, while well equipped, was poorly commanded and widely scattered. The young king was encumbered both with octogenarian ministers and with septuagenarian generals, one of whom had fought at Waterloo. These officers were not only old but also cowardly, incompetent and in some cases treacherous. At Calatafimi the Bourbon forces were positioned on a hilltop, inflicting casualties on the garibaldini attacking up the slope, when they were inexplicably ordered to retreat. One general foolishly suggested a truce which allowed Garibaldi to re-arm and take control of Palermo, another withdrew his troops unnecessarily from Catania to Messina, and officers from both the army and the navy deserted and took bribes. Some of these individuals were subsequently sent to the island of Ischia in the Bay of Naples, where the guilty ones were lightly demoted.

In Calabria Garibaldi found the opposition even feebler than in Sicily. Although the Neapolitan generals had 16,000 soldiers in the toe of Italy, they put up little resistance and sometimes submitted without firing a shot; one battalion surrendered to six wandering garibaldini who had got lost. Reggio was handed over with hardly a fight, and so was Cosenza. In Naples the minister for war announced in the mornings that he was departing for Calabria to defeat Garibaldi but then changed his mind in the afternoons because he considered his presence in the capital was essential to prevent disorder. Well did he and the other generals deserve a dismissive line in Richard Strauss’s opera, Der Rosenkavalier: when the Marschallin thinks she is about to be surprised with her lover, she decides to confront her husband, the field marshal: ‘Ich bin kein napolitanischer General: wo ich steh’ steh’ ich.’ (‘I am not a Neapolitan general: where I stand I stand.’)

On 7 September Garibaldi entered Naples by train, in advance of his army, where he was welcomed by Bourbon officials: the minister of police had already sycophantically told him that the city was waiting ‘with the greatest impatience … to greet the redeemer of Italy and to place in his hands the power and destiny of the state’. King Francesco had left the city the previous day, intending to carry on the war from Gaeta, the coastal fortress town near the border with the Papal States in the north. For all his limitations, he was a conscientious and honourable monarch who realized that a siege of Italy’s largest and most densely populated city would cause terrible carnage. But he did not shirk or run away like the dukes of central Italy had done a year before. He left garrisons in the castles of Naples and marched out, leaving nearly all his money and his personal possessions in his capital. He expected to return.

In the north of the kingdom the Bourbon army was transformed. Loyal regiments from Naples and other provinces of the mainland fought valiantly and were victorious in several skirmishes against the redshirts near Capua. Yet once again the generalship was defective, too slow, too cautious, too lacking in imagination. An urgent and vigorous counter-attack might have defeated the smaller enemy force; but when the advance eventually came, Garibaldi halted it on the River Volturno, a dogged defensive action in which he lost more men than his opponents. Even then the Neapolitans might have remained undefeated if the contest had been limited to themselves and the volunteers.

As soon as Cavour realized that Garibaldi would conquer Sicily, he was eager to annex the island to Piedmont. He had always detested home-grown revolutionaries more than he disliked Bourbons and Austrians, and the last thing he wanted was to see Sicily and possibly Naples in the hands of democrats and other radicals. Once the redshirts had reached Palermo, he therefore sent his representative, La Farina, who arrived in early June with posters proclaiming ‘We want annexation’. It was a strange appointment because La Farina was an insensitive individual and a well-known antagonist of both Garibaldi and Crispi. So much of his time in Sicily was spent intriguing and causing friction among members of the new government that after a month Garibaldi had him arrested and sent back north.

In Naples Cavour chose to employ a tactic similar to that which La Farina had failed with the previous year in the Po Valley: arranging a ‘spontaneous’ uprising in the city – and doing so before Garibaldi arrived. He duly sent Persano to the Bay of Naples with money in his pockets to bribe officials, and soldiers hidden on his ships ready to rush to the aid of the conspirators on land. In the city the Piedmontese ambassador duly gave the signal for revolt but, as so often with these Cavourian schemes, nothing happened. The Neapolitans were sensibly waiting to see which side was likely to win before committing themselves to the conflict.


Few Europeans mourned the fall of the Bourbons. Nor did later Neapolitans greatly regret the passing of a dynasty that had provided them with five kings over a century and a quarter – longer than the rule of either the Tudors or the Stuarts in England. Sentimental attachment was subdued perhaps by distant memories of earlier dynasties and by the presence of so many monuments of previous ages. The family had indeed produced no outstanding monarch but nor – despite what propaganda said – had it supplied a very bad one. In any case, was the general standard any lower than those of their cousins in Spain, the Savoia in Piedmont or the Hanoverians in Great Britain? The victors and their international supporters claimed that the Bourbon exit was an inevitable episode on the road to Italian unity, a necessary consequence of a war of liberation, the conflict having been simply a logical stage in the process of nation-building, a way of absorbing natural national territory – as Wessex had ingested Mercia or France had taken in Provence. Few people outside the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies saw it for what it ultimately was, a war of expansion conducted by one Italian state against another. The unusual feature of the contest was that it was a three-sided one, two sides playing the recognized parts of protagonist (the garibaldini) and antagonist (the Bourbons) while the third (the Piedmontese) took on a more subtle role, pretending to be a friend of the others but in reality being the enemy (and eventual conqueror) of both.

Moral and historical justifications for the conquest of Naples are perplexing. According to G. M. Trevelyan, the doyen of British eulogists of the Risorgimento, unification was necessary because of ‘the utter failure of the Neapolitans to maintain their own freedom when left to themselves in 1848’. Yet other people have failed in similar fashion without needing or deserving conquest. Another argument, still favoured by certain Neapolitan historians, is that the rapid collapse of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies in 1860 proved that it was rotten and required elimination. Again, other regimes have collapsed before a sudden onslaught only to be resuscitated later by their allies. A distinguished historian of Naples, an elderly man whose great-grandparents were all Neapolitans, insists that his country could not have become a modern nation by itself after 1860, that it needed the partnership of Piedmont to give it the apparatus of a modern state. His argument does not convince. Piedmont was undoubtedly a richer and more liberal state than the Two Sicilies in 1860, but for most of the eighteenth century Naples had possessed a more enlightened regime than Turin, and only a generation before union it had had more industry and more progressive codes of law. The belief that Naples, unlike other countries in western Europe, was incapable of evolving by itself is simply illogical, an example of that southern inferiority complex which was engendered by the triumphalism of the Risorgimento and reinforced by much subsequent talk, northern and condescending, about ‘the southern question’ and ‘the problem of the mezzogiorno’.



The Army of Nicholas I

Whether as a deterrent or as a combat force, then, the army played a central role in the foreign policies of the regime of Nicholas I. Indeed, it is impossible to think of the reign of Nicholas I without thinking of his army, for Nicholas’s boundless devotion to even the minutiae of military life has become a historiographic cliché. So pervasive was militarism under Nicholas I that some have depicted the Russia of his time as a gigantic garrison state, an armed camp under the rigorous supervision of an autocratic drillmaster. Although this picture may be overdrawn, Nicholas’s love of the military is beyond dispute.

That is somewhat surprising in light of the fact that it was the army that had produced the Decembrist conspiracy, the only truly serious domestic challenge to the Tsar’s authority. Nor could the Decembrists be dismissed merely as a small band of juvenile dreamers; among the persons implicated in the plot were sixteen colonels and two major generals. Of course, in public statements about the case, most particularly in discussions with foreign ambassadors, Nicholas tried to downplay the military character of the revolt. The majority of the army, he insisted, was deeply devoted to both himself and his house; the very fact that the rebellion had been so quickly suppressed, he said, supplied the proof. Privately, however, the Decembrist conspiracy left Nicholas with considerable doubts about the loyalty of his military officers. When the Tsar established his secret police, the Third Section, one of its principle functions was the collection of evidence about political thinking and attitudes within the Russian officer corps. In his very first report of 1827, General Benkendorf concluded that many officers were indeed disaffected for reasons ranging from poverty and boredom to liberalism. Nicholas’s anxiety about potential subversive activities on the part of his officers resulted in his planning of secret agents within the regiments to keep an eye on what the officers were saying and thinking. That anxiety also underpinned his command, after 1831, that the officers of the Warsaw garrison be rotated frequently, presumably to prevent them from identifying with the cause of the Poles. “It is the moral contagion,” the Emperor wrote, “that I fear the worst of all.”

If Nicholas was tormented with fears about the reliability of his army, why did he rely upon it so much? At least one scholar has suggested that the militarism of Nicholas must be seen as an excrescence of his psyche. Neurotically timorous, Nicholas was obsessed with military regimentation, discipline, and hierarchy, which served him as some sort of a psychological defense mechanism. Nicholas thus used his vast autocratic power to create an external environment that would allay his deep-rooted insecurity and dread.

There obviously is something to this view, for there is abundant evidence about the aberrant psychological makeup and bizarre phobias of the Emperor. Yet in my opinion to explain the military system of Nicholas I exclusively in terms of the Tsar’s deformed psyche is to overlook the functional hypothesis. Neurosis may have played a role in the sort of military system that the Emperor created, but so too did rational (if mistaken) calculations about the nature of the international environment and the directions in which Russia wanted to shape it. Nicholas relied on the army because it was the only institution in the Empire that could be used to achieve his foreign objectives. And, more than this, despite its manifold flaws the army of Nicholas I was logically suited to serve the aims for which Nicholas intended it.

For example, the immensity of the Nicholaevan army is readily understandable when we remember that it was the Tsar’s intention to use that army in a deterrent capacity. The reign of Nicholas witnessed a slow but impressive expansion in the size of the army. If in 1826 there were roughly 729,000 soldiers present and accounted for, by the 1850s the army had grown to more than 930,000 regulars plus 240,000 irregulars. For comparative purposes, two of the other major Continental armies, the French and the Austrian, numbered roughly 275,000 men and 250,000 men respectively in 1840. To be sure, as we shall see shortly, Russia did have problems bringing all that vast manpower to bear in wartime. Because one of the main purposes of the army was precisely to be imposing, to overawe foreigners, the regime of Nicholas I was hardly inclined to publicize those difficulties. Certainly the Russian government did nothing to correct the errors of those travelers who, like Haxthausen, falsely estimated that if Russia had gone to war in Western Europe in 1848 it could have dispatched 355,000 regulars and 400,000 irregulars for such a campaign without much trouble. The distribution of those forces—chiefly on the perimeters of the Empire—further enhanced their deterrent value. Up until the mid-1840s, Russia deployed four of its eight infantry corps in Poland. Obviously those troops were in part an army of occupation. Yet they were also designed to be an ostentatious threat to Western and Central Europe. The V corps was stationed on the Black Sea and was thus theoretically available for operations either in Transcaucasia or in the Balkans. The VI Corps, near Moscow, was a reserve formation that could reinforce either the Polish or the southern forces, while the Corps of Guards and Grenadiers, billeted in Petersburg and Novgorod, watched over the Baltic and the Swedish frontier.

Nicholas’s army did have its serious defects, which cannot be ignored in any attempt to make an assessment of it. Yet it would be equally inaccurate to picture the army of Nicholas as strictly a matter of appearances, outward forms, and spit-and-polish. In the first place, the army retained its traditional strengths. One of these was the platoon artel. Writing in 1833, the ex-patriot Polish officer Joseph Cánski had noted that the “the interior of the regiment is the true fatherland for a Russian soldier.” As we have previously suggested, this was so because the literal impossibility of rejoining civil life caused the soldiers to adjust to their new environment by accepting the artel as a substitute family. The soldiers’ artel, with its unique arrangements for the sharing of work, food, and property, had helped to account for the reliability and superior combat performance of the Russian army since the middle of the eighteenth century. Baron August von Haxthausen, who traveled extensively in Russia in the 1830s and 1840s, describing the military artel in his famous volumes on the Russian Empire, hailed the contributions it made to esprit de corps. Russian soldiers continued on many occasions to fight with conspicuous gallantry throughout the reign of Nicholas I. The heroism of the troops in battle received the plaudits of foreign observers during every war in which the Russian army took part, from the conflict with Persia in 1826 to the defense of Sevastopol in 1854. Insofar as such praise was valid, it testified to the ongoing efficacy of the artel in building small-group loyalty and morale.

Second, in certain small but important ways, the regime also sponsored military reforms that led to notable improvements in army efficiency. Some of them concerned military administration. In 1831 General Chernyshev drafted a note advocating the subordination of the Main Staff (Glavnyi Shtab) to the Ministry of War. Up to that time the Staff had served, in effect, as a quasi-independent component of the Imperial suite, a sort of relic of the decentralized and personalized military decision-making of the eighteenth century. Chernyshev’s proposal resulted eventually in the issuance in 1836 of a new statute for the Ministry of War, which provided that ministry with a modern bureaucratic organization. Another important reform, this time affecting military education, was the foundation of the Military Academy (Voennaia Akademiia) in 1831. That higher military school, created partly on the advice of General Jomini, was the first approximation of a general staff academy in Russian history. Many of the most distinguished military reformers and intellectuals during the reign of Alexander II received their first serious exposure to military science within its walls.

In a move designed to ameliorate the lot of the common soldiers while providing Russia with a pool of trained reservists, Nicholas also instituted procedures for leaves without term in 1834. Soldiers who had completed fifteen years of “flawless” service were eligible for furlough from the army’s ranks. Although those men could be recalled to the colors in the event of emergency, they were for all intents and purposes released back into civilian life. Between 1834 and 1850 more than 17,000 men on average were put on such indefinite leaves each year; by the outbreak of the Crimean War there were more than 200,000 of these reservists.

A final and often overlooked improvement for which Nicholas’s government deserves full credit lay in the area of horse breeding. Extensive state investment and management of stud farming literally revolutionized the Russian cavalry. The runty horses—ponies, really—that Russian troops had ridden in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were replaced by highbred beasts, fully as large and strong as those in West European cavalry formations.

The army of Nicholas I, then, was large in size and formidable in appearance—just as it was meant to be. One other feature of Nicholas’s military policy deserves attention: its parsimony. Nicholas was interested in maintaining the largest army possible at the lowest possible cost. Of course, soldiers’ pay in Russia remained both sporadic and negligible. But when multiplied by the hundreds of thousands of men in the ranks, the total military wage bill amounted to a formidable sum. Much more expensive was the cost of equipping the troops—supplying them with uniforms, firearms, and munitions. And the most costly item in the debit column of the military ledger was foodstuffs and forage. In the effort to establish control over those costs, Nicholas had a preexisting instrument ready to hand: the notorious system of military colonies.

Although the practice of settling peasant smallholders along defensive lines had been standard in Russian history for centuries, the formal military colony system originated with a proposal made by Count A. A. Arakcheev to Tsar Alexander I in 1814. Arakcheev’s idea was to station certain military units permanently in specific regions and provinces. Those territories, and all of the peasants already residing there, would come under direct military administration. The soldiers who entered the colonies were to occupy themselves with drill and with agriculture, so that they might grow the food for their own support. They would be encouraged to marry, and their children, known as cantonists, would be predestined for military service themselves. The colonies therefore had several purposes simultaneously. First, as has often been remarked of them, they represented an attempt at social engineering, an effort to bring discipline, order, and hygiene to the Russian countryside. Second, by creating a hereditary class of potential recruits in the cantonists, the system might alleviate the burden of conscription on the villages of the rest of the empire. Finally, the farm labor of the soldiers themselves (and the additional taxes levied on the peasants who lived in their midst) could be used to reduce the amount that the state had to pay for the army’s maintenance.

The first settlements were created for infantry units in Novgorod Province in 1816. In the following year the state established colonies for cavalry regiments in the Ukraine. By 1826 more than forty regiments, half each of infantry and cavalry, had been settled in the colonies, which then had 160,000 soldiers, 54,000 children, and 374,000 peasants on their rolls. Initially at least, the system of colonies resulted in significant economies for the tsarist treasury. For example, the savings on food alone in 1822 was calculated to have been in excess of 3.5 million rubles. Nicholas I continued the system of the colonies, which are said to have contained a full third of the Russian army in the early years of his reign.

Nicholas’s concepts of statecraft, strategy, and military policy were thus almost too neatly intertwined. Revolution had to be averted both at home and abroad, because revolution was the source of calamity and war. To prevent revolution (and consequently general war), Russia needed a strong military deterrent. That meant military forces that could pose a plausible threat to Russia’s neighbors while representing the least possible burden to the treasury.

Yet, as has frequently been observed, the reign of Nicholas I was a catastrophic failure in both domestic and foreign policy. The Tsar’s foreign policy goals were both unrealized and unrealizable. His strategic ideas were impoverished. And his army was inadequate for the purposes he set for it, as it was at once too weak to wage a war successfully with Europeans and too frightening not to antagonize them. The responsibility for all of this must rest mainly with Nicholas himself. Unfortunately, the premises that informed both his diplomatic and his military policies were false.

The Western Roman Army, Mid-Fifth Century

Art by Graham Sumner

The Late Roman army has recently been the subject of much investigation. Earlier opinions that the Roman army of this period was poor in equipment, training and discipline when compared to its earlier counterparts have been overturned – or at least heavily revised. Yet there does remain one problem. Most analyses are based around Ammianus Marcellinus, the Notitia Dignitatum, and Maurice’s Strategikon.

The Roman History of Ammianus is obviously too early to be certain of its application to the mid-fifth century, and although the dating of the Notitia Dignitatum has been extended to the 420s, most historians have baulked at the idea of using it to inform their concepts about the armies used either by Aetius or his successors. In a similar manner, the later Strategikon has been used to postulate about the armies of the mid-sixth century and in the East, but rarely, if ever, earlier and usually not in the West.

This is understandable. After 420 the armies of the West were poorly documented and were the subject of disruption, attrition and reorganization. By 454 the loss of Britain, of large areas of Gaul, of the majority of Hispania, and of Africa to the Vandals, means that the army as listed in the Notitia Dignitatum no longer existed. Furthermore, the substantial differences in the composition of the armies of the fourth century and the armies of the sixth century means that it is impossible to use the Strategikon for the fifth century: the date of the changes between the two is unknown and therefore liable to interpretation. To fill the gaps in our knowledge, large amounts of speculation are required.

Yet it is difficult to analyse events from 454 to 480 without an analysis of why the Roman army failed to deal with the barbarian incursions, and it is hard for students of the earlier Empire to understand why the citizens of Italy, who had earlier conquered such a vast Empire, were unable even to hold on to one half of their previous conquests. Yet in reality the seeds for the ‘Fall of the West’ were sown in the second century BC. Even at this early date the citizens of Rome were becoming unhappy at the prospect of serving in the army. Two of the Leges Porciae (Porcian Laws), probably dating to 197 BC and 184 BC, protected Roman citizens serving in the army from ‘abuses’ and as a result it is clear that Rome was happy for the burden of war to fall on the other Italian peoples. As the Empire expanded the extension of citizen rights to the whole of Italy resulted in the burden of war passing to those peoples nearer the frontier. By the fifth century AD the peoples of Italy had been relieved of the burden of fighting for so many centuries that in many respects they were no longer suited to war.

AHM Jones in his magisterial The Later Roman Empire, 284–602: A Social, Economic and Administrative Survey analysed the Notitia Dignitatum and arrived at a series of figures for the strength of the Western army c. 420. It is clear that, given the numerical superiority the Romans had over invaders, the West should easily have been able to defeat the barbarians. Yet they failed. What follows is an attempt to piece together from fragmented or non-existent evidence the fate of the armies of the West and of the people that manned them. However it should be noted that attempts to analyse the composition and size of the army and its individual units are hypotheses and should not be taken as fact.

The manpower of the units within the Roman Army is not known. The figure calculated by Jones in the mid-twentieth century has since been heavily revised. For the sake of comprehension both Jones’ and later figures are given here:

According to Jones (and Nicasie):

Duncan-Jones, (1990) pp. 105–17; Elton, (1996) p. 89; Goldsworthy, (2003) p. 206; and Mattingly, (2006) p. 239.

These are estimates and modern scholars are continuously revising the figures, based, for example, on the results of archaeological excavations of Late Roman forts. As a result, these numbers should not be accepted as fact but as guidelines. Furthermore, the units’ strengths will have been greatly affected by the campaigns fought in the different regions of the Western Empire in the first half of the fifth century. For a greater analysis of these campaigns and their possible effects on the army, see below.

One interesting aspect of the above figures is that Jones’ specific numbers have now been adjusted to figures within, in some cases, quite wide boundaries. This implies that unit strengths in different regions of the Empire may have differed from each other. For example, in Gaul the expectation of major campaigns may have resulted in recruits being supplied on a regular basis in order to maintain a viable fighting force, as against Egypt, where troop numbers may have remained low as the army was simply fulfilling policing duties and so did not need regular drafts of recruits.

The army was now separated into several different types. The troops on the frontiers were labelled either limitanei (border defence, land) or riparienses (border defence, river) troops (both classed as limitanei in the tables). These troops had three main functions: to police the borders, to gather intelligence, and to stop small-scale raids. In the interior of the Empire were stationed troops known as comitatenses (companions) whose purpose was to deal with intruders who broke through the outer defences, to discourage usurpers from attempts to take the throne, and to act as an internal police force against banditry.
As time passed there grew an intermediate group known as pseudocomitatenses, formed from border troops who were promoted to the ranks of the comitatenses in order to fill gaps or take part in specific campaigns.

Above these, and theoretically with the emperor himself, was a further tier known as the palatinae (palace troops), with their own mini hierarchy. At the top were the elite bodyguard to the emperor, the scholae palatinae (schools of the palace); these units acted as informal training bodies for many of the army’s senior officers, and below them were the palatinae (of the palace), who supplied the emperor’s army with the majority of its troops, with the auxilia palatina (allied palace troops) ranking above the legiones palatina (legionary palace troops).

Finally, there were units whose status is either unclear or whose rank could differ between individual units, such as the foederati, gentiles, dediticii, tributarii, and the laeti. However, the actual status of the troops at the lower end of the scale is vague. This is mainly because the sources use a wide range of terminology which is applied almost indiscriminately to a variety of units, usually of barbarian origin, and the application of titles need not necessarily follow a set pattern.

The gentiles appear to have been composed of tribesmen, either recently settled within the Empire or recruited from tribes still living beyond the frontiers: with the sources available it is impossible to say for certain which of these was more prevalent. Their exact status is unclear but gentiles are later listed amongst the scholae of Diocletian, and in the Notitia Dignitatum they are found in the scholae attached to both the Eastern and the Western magister officiorum. Units of Sarmatian gentiles (Sarmatarum gentilium) are also attested as being stationed in Italy. Due to the context, it is possible that they were settled as farmers throughout these regions with individuals then being enrolled in regular units.

The laeti may have been different to the gentiles. They were formed from barbarians settled within the Empire who were obliged to provide troops for the army in exchange for land. The settlements were not self-governing, being administered either by a Roman military official or by the council of a local city. However, there were units combining the two titles, such as the laetorum gentilium stationed in Belgica Secunda, which suggests that any differences between the two may be coincidental and more of a reflection of modern prejudices than of ancient custom or title.

Tributarii and dediticii appear to have been obtained from external sources. As their names suggest, it is possible that they were supplied as part of a treaty by tribes who had been defeated by the Romans. However, it is impossible to be certain whether this format applied to all troops with the name, as sometimes this may be a hangover from when a unit was formed rather than later recruiting practice.

The foederati cause the greatest confusion to historians. This may be because the same title was given to troops recruited in several different ways. As with the Goths, the name may be given to non-Roman troops serving the emperor as part of a treaty but who were not a part of the regular Roman army and did not serve under Roman officers. However, it may also refer to barbarian troops recruited directly into the army to either fill the ranks of normal Roman units, or instead to form their own, distinct, tribal units within the framework of the army. Furthermore, the name was given to barbarian troops of different tribes who were attracted to serve under one leader, either Roman or barbarian, who was part of the Roman hierarchy. Due to the indeterminate nature of the foederati it is impossible to be clear on their nature and their status. As a result, each unit so designated has to be assessed solely using its own history.

There is also the problem of the emergence of the bucellarii. These men may have started as foederati serving as bodyguards to one specific commander, however they are generally accepted to have begun as troops serving under local magnates rather than under military commanders. Only slowly were they accepted as part of the military hierarchy, serving as bodyguards to Roman generals. In fact, it is possible that Stilicho (395–408) was the first Roman general to have had bucellarii serving as a bodyguard. They would become increasingly important during the course of the fifth and sixth centuries.

Command Hierarchy
After Aetius assumed sole control of the army in 433 the command hierarchy of the West becomes a little confusing, in part because modern historians are only familiar with modern, logical, strictly linear military ranks. This was not the case during the Roman era. During Aetius’ regime many men were given the title of magister militum, and this has been used by some authorities as evidence of political infighting within the top ranks of the army, due to modern conceptions of how military ranking should work. However, it is more likely that Aetius retained personal control of all of the army and gave his supporters the title of magister militum in order both to establish their military authority in their respective areas and to reward them with a high political rank within the Empire as a whole.
Below the magistri were the comes and duces. As with the magistri, the two titles were not wholly distinct, with one serving above the other. It seems likely that the designations comes and dux had been given by different emperors depending upon the circumstances surrounding individual appointments. Their use by Aetius and his successors probably followed the early Imperial trends but this cannot be proven.

The above shows that, contrary to the expectations of modern authorities whose experience is dominated by rigid hierarchies and naming conventions, neither troop designation nor the titles of commanders were linked to specific methods of recruitment or use and appear to have been dependent upon the needs or whim of the individual emperor or his magister. As a consequence, the changes must be seen as ‘organic and progressive, not wholesale or ordered’ and any attempt to impose a rigid structure that lasts throughout the course of the later Empire is doomed to failure.18 Furthermore, it is obvious from a close reading of Ammianus Marcellinus that the higher ranks owed their loyalty solely to the person that appointed them: it should not be taken for granted that a magister, comes or dux would be able to give orders to other commanders theoretically below them in rank. His area of command would need to be specified when he was first appointed.

There were three methods of recruitment in the later Empire: enrolment of volunteers, conscription, and levies from ‘barbarians’ settled either as prisoners of war or as normal ‘Roman’ farmers with a duty to provide troops for the army when a levy was demanded.
Earlier laws demonstrate that in the past the Empire had only wanted to recruit troops suitable for service in the army. Anyone found to be below these standards was not allowed to join. By the mid-fifth century it is likely that the majority of these laws had been waived. Military leaders could no longer afford to be picky about the quality of men that they enrolled. Sadly, by this time a career in the army was almost certainly unpopular. One of the main difficulties was that in the extremely uncertain times of the fifth century joining the army could mean a recruit being posted to a province far from his home. This could leave his family unprotected and so many men may have preferred to stay and defend their own homes. Furthermore, there is some evidence for citizens being disillusioned with the government and its heavy taxation, and angry at the behaviour of troops, who may by now have been billeted in citizens’ homes in cities. There is even evidence of them siding with invaders in the expectation of better treatment and booty.

In earlier times conscription would be needed to fill the gaps in the ranks only in times of war, but in times of peace emperors had different agendas. When the need for men was not urgent, provinces were allowed to pay a tax – the aurem tironicum (gold for recruits) – instead of supplying men. It is possible that as resources dwindled and emperors often found themselves to be short of money, they were tempted to pass a decree calling for conscription simply in order to commute this to the aurem tironicum to boost the treasury. In the meantime, they could spend some of the money to hire ‘barbarian’ mercenaries, who did not need to be trained or equipped by the state, so maintaining the army at a functioning level with less cost.

Whether new troops were conscripts, volunteers or mercenaries, the duces were responsible for recruitment and for the assigning of individuals to units. Unfortunately we are not given any details as to how this took place. All that can be accepted is that the system appears to have worked up until the early fifth century.
According to Zosimus, the training and discipline of the army was not as it had been in earlier centuries, and the years of almost constant warfare in many provinces of the West must have ensured that the training of recruits was kept to a minimum in order to ensure their arrival in the front line. Although the poor quality of troops in the Later Empire has long been accepted as fact, analysis of battles – especially those of Argentoratum (Strasbourg) and Adrianople – has resulted in a reappraisal. It is now accepted that, to a large degree, Roman training methods continued into the fourth century: indeed, Ammianus affirms the esprit de corps and the survival of old skills in the comitatenses, such as the building of marching camps and permanent forts. When properly led, and when training was combined with strict discipline, the Roman army was still a formidable fighting force.

At the time of Valentinian I (364–375) the limitanei still received the supplies needed for nine months of the year straight from the government. However, for the remaining three months they were paid in gold and had to locate and purchase the supplies themselves. Over the ensuing decades the system of ‘self supply’ had been extended until by 406 it included virtually all military personnel. In such a situation, it would be easy for the troops to begin taking more than their money was worth. It is hard for military men to pay full price for goods from people they are protecting: instead, they are likely to have expected a discount for any goods bought.

Barbarian Settlements
One final aspect of the fifth century is rarely analysed in detail, largely because historians writing after the event have the benefit of hindsight and realize that the Empire would fall. The Romans did not know this. It is certain that barbarian groups allowed into the Empire were not seen as the threat that they later became. This is due in part to Roman arrogance. In the preceding centuries all of the tribes and political entities that had been conquered by Rome had seen the benefits of inclusion and became members of the Empire: there was no reason why tribes such as the Goths or Franks should be any different. Allowed to settle and have the benefits of Roman rule they would lose their identity amongst the common Roman citizenry. This theory helps to explain why so many German leaders were accepted into service in the army. By serving the Empire they would gradually absorb the benefits and mentality of citizens – as had happened to the Gauls, the Britons and many other belligerent tribes.


Analysis of the Battle of Quatre Bras – Strategic Issues

d’Erlon – out of two battles!

Napoleon’s main criticism was that Ney had failed to concentrate his entire force and that if he had achieved this, Quatre Bras would have been taken and d’Erlon could have safely been sent to the emperor’s support. In his memoirs, Napoleon identifies Ney’s fundamental error:

In other times, this general would have occupied the position before Quatre Bras at 6am, would have defeated and taken the whole Belgian division; and would have turned the Prussian army by sending a detachment by the Namur road which would have fallen upon the rear of the line of battle, or, by moving quickly on the Genappes road, he would have surprised the Brunswick Division and the 5th English Division on the march . . . Always the first under fire, Ney forgot the troops who were not under his eye. The bravery which a general-in-chief ought to display is different from that which a divisional general must have, just as that of the latter ought not to be the same as that of a captain of grenadiers.

Here we see Napoleon explaining that Ney had ignored or not grasped the bigger picture; the changing strategic situation and his part in it. In his growing frustration he entirely failed to understand and keep in mind what in modern military parlance is called his superior commander’s intent; Napoleon’s need to destroy the Prussian army. He thus failed to realise that, once Wellington’s force was fixed in place around Quatre Bras, his part in achieving this was the despatch of d’Erlon’s corps onto the Prussian rear and that he should have adapted his own operations to this end. We can only speculate on the reasons for this, but eyewitness accounts suggest it was his complete distraction with, and absorption in, what was happening in front of him, that resulted in his rash decision to recall d’Erlon without considering the wider consequences.

Ney was transfixed by the need to seize Quatre Bras, rather than the essential need to send d’Erlon to support Napoleon. Having failed to achieve the former, he should have considered how to achieve the latter, which had become the priority. It is therefore rather surprising how little emphasis was put on the eastern flank by either side and where there was little serious fighting. Yet for Ney, the Namur road was the key route for his despatch of a force to support Napoleon against the Prussians, as laid down in Napoleon’s orders of the morning, just as it was the route down which the Prussians were expecting support from Wellington. Ney appears to have allocated fewer than four battalions to secure his eastern flank; far too small a force to clear the allied troops off it and keep it open for his own use. The fighting here was essentially an action between light infantry forces that was unlikely to be decisive for either side. Having failed to secure the route for d’Erlon, the next best thing would have been to send him down the road that he actually took on to the Prussian flank, but from which Ney recalled him.

Ney never appeared to claim any credit for stopping any of Wellington’s army reinforcing the Prussians at Ligny; nor does he appear to have been given any credit for it by Napoleon. All he got from the latter, as we shall see later, was criticism. For Ney, an aggressive commander who liked to be in the front line, it seemed like a defeat and many of his officers and men felt the same (although much of the following comment by them was written with the benefit of hindsight). Chef d’escadron Lemonnier-Delafosse, Foy’s chief-of-staff wrote:

What precious time lost!

At Quatre Bras on the 16th June, a battle was necessary, where, the day before, it would only have been an affair of the advance guard. On this day, in the morning, one could still have succeeded although it would have undoubtedly been more difficult: our troops were full of enthusiasm and could not have been stopped; containing their élan was an irreparable fault. Besides, the pressing orders of the emperor did not allow the marshal to remain in thought before the enemy; he wanted to make up for lost time and without making a proper reconnaissance of either the position or the strength of the English, he threw himself, head lowered, upon them . . . Thus, by an inconceivable feebleness, one had fought to no advantage from 2pm until 9pm.

Even more junior officers who fought there had similar views; Lieutenant Puvis of the 93rd Line penned similar criticism:

It had seemed to us that with the spirit which animated our army, it would have been possible, without too much resistance to fear, to have seized the enemy position. Why was this not done? . . . The old soldiers blamed the hesitation that Marshal Ney displayed before the position of Quatre Bras. Indeed, if he had taken the place the same day we would have gained a march on the enemy.

The view of those supportive of Napoleon, and consequently critical of Ney, is best summed up by Colonel Combes-Brassard, the sous chef-d’etat of the 6th Corps, who, writing much later and having no doubt read all the accounts, wrote in his own history of the campaign:

Marshal Ney was indecisive, irresolute in his attacks during the day of the battle of Ligny. This circumstance is strange in a man whose audacious determination in war was well known. His groping around before an enemy much weaker than himself was inexplicable in a general who was accustomed to saying that the only enemy he feared was the one he could not see.

General Foy, however, seems to give a more balanced, if still rather downbeat, summary of the day:

It was, at least with us, a poor start to the campaign. I do not know what passed elsewhere. Marshal Ney’s attack had been hasty and lacking sense; one does not proceed thus against the English. We were able to colour this affair as we liked, for we had taken two cannon and the enemy had taken none of ours; he had suffered a greater loss than us thanks to the superiority of our artillery; we had maintained, to the end of the day, more ground than we had held before we started our attack. But these arguments are grabbing at straws. We had lost the battle, since we had been stopped from achieving our mission of seizing Quatre Bras.

With the benefit of hindsight, his recall of d’Erlon was Ney’s greatest failure on this day and probably cost Napoleon the campaign. However, we have already stated that Ney failed to achieve either of his two missions. This is not strictly true. In Napoleon’s orders of the morning of the 16th, Ney’s task was merely to advance to the Quatre Bras crossroads and to deploy his troops around it. However, at about the same time as he received these original orders, which did not suggest he would have to fight for the crossroads, he received another order from Napoleon which gave him much clearer direction;

Concentrate the corps of Counts Reille and d’Erlon and that of Count Valmy, who is just marching to join you. With these forces you must engage and destroy all enemy forces that present themselves. Blücher was at Namur yesterday and it is unlikely that he has sent any troops towards Quatre Bras. Thus you will only have to deal with the forces coming from Brussels.

Whilst this direction is unequivocal, crucially it does not explain why the marshal should do this, beyond the original orders stating he should be ready for the emperor to join him and then march on Brussels. The unstated ‘why’ was that the occupation of Quatre Bras would prevent Wellington’s army from marching to Blücher’s aid and would allow Ney to send troops to Napoleon’s support. In the former point Ney was entirely successful, causing Wellington considerable casualties into the bargain, but he failed in the latter. These were certainly Napoleon’s aims, but he did not specify the former, only the latter in more general terms. Napoleon just expected Ney to obey his orders. We must not pretend that if Ney was clear he was to stop Wellington marching to the aid of the Prussians that he would have acted any differently, and as already stated, in this he was successful anyway. Whilst in modern battle procedure a subordinate would expect his mission statement to lay down what he had to achieve and why, we must make our judgement based on the processes and procedures of the day, and there can be little argument that Napoleon’s orders were not clear.

Looking at the battle from Wellington’s perspective, it was fought solely to give support to the Prussians, and in this he clearly failed. The result of the fighting was a repulse for the French, but for the allies it was a strategic failure. Wellington did not fight at Quatre Bras to deny Napoleon the support of part of Ney’s force; that Ney recalled d’Erlon from his march was that marshal’s disobedience of orders and his failure to fully understand the emperor’s scheme. Most British writers conclude that the battle was a victory for Wellington and make no mention of his failure to support the Prussians, although Chesney at least admits, ‘Truly, in holding his own, the great Englishman owed something that day to Fortune.’

Ney’s failure to concentrate his whole force, his poor decision-making and Wellington’s constant trickle of reinforcements had prevented the French defeating the allied army at Quatre Bras. But Ney’s job was to hold back the British and send support to Napoleon at Ligny. He succeeded in the former, but failed in the latter due to his rash and ill-considered decision to recall d’Erlon. But if it was not a French victory, neither was it an allied victory. Whilst Ney had failed to capture Quatre Bras and send a force to support Napoleon, so Wellington had singularly failed to carry out any manoeuvre that supported the Prussians as he intended and Blücher had requested. The French troops had fought well against increasing odds and had scored some notable successes, and the fact that history has marked the battle as a defeat has far more to do with Ney’s command than the courage or fighting ability of his soldiers. It seems that real efforts were made by the French chain-of-command to adapt their tactics to counter those used by the British in Spain, and although they achieved some tactical success, significantly, they were unable to challenge the significant psychological advantage that the British continued to hold over them.

Analysis of the Battle of Quatre Bras – Tactical Conduct

Kellermann’s attack

General Albert Pollio, an Italian historian who wrote an excellent and objective account of the campaign, whilst often critical of Ney’s performance, wrote:

I hasten to add that in my opinion, the battle of Quatre Bras represents for the French one of the best tactical actions that military history relates, as much to the direction as to the execution.

During seven hours of combat, Lord Wellington employed almost double the forces as those of the French and these forces were of excellent quality; and yet after seven hours, things were at the point where they had started.

It is difficult to find in history a tactical direction more skilful, more masterly, more determined, more energetic, than that exercised by Marshal Ney on 16th June 1815.

I firmly believe that no other general in the world could have achieved as much as this giant of battles that was Ney, and with such weak forces! The moral picture of this French general is dazzling!

It is also difficult to imagine a more perfect unity in the action of the three arms, which invigorated this small French force that was immortalised during this day . . .

The courage and resistance displayed by the French troops was truly extraordinary.

The performance of the French cavalry was also extraordinary, the cuirassiers as much as Piré’s division, but the latter even more so than the former . . . I am not aware of a more beautiful employment of cavalry, more tenacious, more intelligent than that of Marshal Ney and General Piré of these squadrons whose effect on this day, literally multiplied their number.

This analysis seems to fly in the face of most assessments of the way the French fought this battle, so perhaps it is worth basing our own analysis on this passage.

Whilst Pollio’s suggestion that Ney fought outnumbered for seven hours is misleading, it is certainly useful to examine the balance of forces as the battle progressed. The figures below show how both sides received reinforcements;

We can see that although Wellington was always outnumbered in cavalry, and also in guns until late in the afternoon, from 4pm he enjoyed an increasing superiority in infantry, and although it can be argued that some of his original force had become combat non-effective, the French had had to fight without any reinforcements from 3pm. It is somewhat surprising that from 5pm, when Wellington had an appreciable superiority in infantry, he did not become more aggressive in order to open the Namur road and endeavour to support the Prussians by putting the French under more pressure. Ney’s aggressive tactics no doubt had something to do with this and kept Wellington on the defensive until shortly before the end of the battle.

Whilst Ney stands accused of not attacking much earlier than he did, when he had an appreciable advantage in numbers, there is no doubt that, during the battle, Wellington received timely reinforcements at the two most critical moments. Without the arrival of Picton and the Brunswickers at about 3.30pm, Ney would undoubtedly have taken Quatre Bras, and two hours later Wellington was again saved by the arrival of Alten. Twice Ney had come within a whisker of winning the battle.

Pollio also praises the combined arms approach used by Ney. Whilst it is fair to say that each of the three arms fought well, and in the case of the cavalry and artillery outstandingly well, it is hard to agree that all three combined to best effect. The aim of combined arms tactics is that each compliments the other, making best use of their strengths whilst compensating for each others’ shortcomings, so that their combined effectiveness is greater than the sum of their individual parts. Thus the artillery prepares the attack by concentrating its fire on the point selected for the assault and causing heavy casualties; the cavalry advances to force the enemy infantry into square, in which formation they become more vulnerable to artillery fire and are at the mercy of an infantry assault; the enemy breaks and the cavalry pursue.

Allied accounts all describe the accuracy and overwhelming firepower of the French artillery and it has already been shown that for much of the battle the French had a much higher number of guns available than the allies. It is especially noticeable how effective their guns were in counter-battery fire. The use of the Bossu wood by the allies to hide their troops, the undulating ground and the tall crops, all made engaging infantry targets difficult. The French artillery therefore seemed to concentrate their fire on the most easily identifiable targets, their allied counterparts. Dutch and British accounts describe a number of guns dismounted, limbers and caissons destroyed and high casualties in both gun crew and horses, all of which seems to fly in face of the commonly accepted view that counter-battery fire was not especially effective.

The French artillery also showed an impressive desire to manoeuvre and they were quick to move guns forward as ground was secured by the infantry advance in order to engage the allied line at shorter range. They were helped by the rolling terrain, the low ridges which offered good fire positions and allowed them to shoot over the heads of their infantry. The power of the French artillery contributed to the repulse of Picton’s attack and ensured the allied counter-attack at the end of the battle remained slow and cautious. The fact that Quatre Bras was not a typical Wellingtonian position, with most of his force hidden in dead ground behind a ridge, exposed more of his force and allowed the French guns to manoeuvre closer to his main line.

Pollio rightly commends the handling and courage of the French cavalry and particularly Piré’s lancers and chasseurs. These showed an aggression and courage which quickly earned the respect and admiration of the allied infantry. Perhaps only at Albuera did the French cavalry so roughly handle British infantry. Piré commanded his division with great daring, exploiting every opportunity to charge and making repeated efforts to break the allied squares, coming close to succeeding on a number of occasions. Several batteries were overrun and battalions ridden down, although French casualties were high. It is true that there were only inferior numbers of allied cavalry to oppose them and these were inevitably overwhelmed, leaving the allied infantry with little dependable cavalry support and giving Piré’s troopers freedom to manoeuvre, but this should not detract from an admirable performance.

A study of what detail we know of the fighting also reveals a tactical innovation used by Piré that does not appear to have been seen on a previous battlefield. This was the way in which the chasseurs and lancers were used to complement each other. Although brigaded separately, almost all accounts reveal one regiment of chasseurs appearing to operate with one of lancers. Thus it seems that the chasseurs were used in front, to break the momentum of the opposing charge or disorder an infantry unit, and the lancers followed up to exploit the discomfited unit; a task well suited to lancers who were always most effective when the opposition had lost their close formation, as the Union Brigade were to find out at Waterloo. Tactical innovation will be seen again in the way the French fought during this battle.

Kellerman’s cuirassiers made a much briefer, but no less impressive, contribution to the battle than Piré’s light cavalry. Leaving them no time to reflect on what they were being asked to do, Kellerman led them in an all-out charge that smashed into the very centre of the allied line. The French cavalry rarely charged at more than a trot, but the circumstances were exceptional; just two regiments, counting less than 800 sabres, launched a virtually unsupported charge against nearly 30,000 men. The charge managed to destroy the 2/69th Regiment and capture one of their colours. Several other British infantry regiments were thrown into disorder, a battery was overrun and the cuirassiers came close to breaking right through the allied line, reaching Quatre Bras itself. Whilst the courage and determination of this fine cavalry must be applauded, and whilst Piré’s exhausted troopers charged again in its support, crucially it was not well seconded by the infantry and its final repulse and panicked flight should not overshadow its achievements. Indeed, given the lack of support, Kellerman described its flight in the following words, ‘The brigade, having suffered enormous casualties, and seeing itself without support, retired in the disorder inevitable in such circumstances.’

In his own study of cavalry in the Waterloo campaign, General Sir Evelyn Wood VC also lavishly praises the French cavalry for their battlefield performance at Quatre Bras. However, he is less complimentary about their failure to carry out their primary role as light cavalry: reconnaissance.3 Piré’s cavalry were one of Ney’s foremost elements on the morning of Quatre Bras and well placed to send out patrols in order to give Ney a full description of the strength and deployment of the small allied force there. Given the relatively narrow frontage that the Prince of Orange was covering and his lack of cavalry, Piré’s troops had plenty of time and opportunity to outflank the Netherlands force and gather sufficient information to allow Ney to have made some much better-informed decisions on when and how to act. Indeed, this single, apparently small point, could well have changed the result of the day.

A study of French infantry tactics at Quatre Bras seems to reveal a unique way of operating, which suggests there had been some tactical discussion prior to the battle on how to counter the British tactics that had so often bettered them in Spain. Ney, Reille and Foy (as well as d’Erlon) had all fought the British there and it would be surprising if such a discussion had not taken place. During the Peninsular War, Wellington had developed a tactical system designed to counter the French tactics that had been so successful against the other military powers of Europe: a thick line of skirmishers countered the French skirmish line and prevented the French from knowing the exact deployment of the main British line, which was hidden on the reverse slope of a ridge or some high ground. This would only reveal itself at the last moment, pour in one or more devastating volleys and then charge downhill with bayonets lowered against a surprised and staggered enemy.

As always the French infantry displayed much courage and élan, fighting hard right up to the end of the battle when they were considerably outnumbered. However, whilst the French artillery and cavalry quickly earned the respect of the allied soldiers, the ubiquitous French infantry columns always seem to be described as hovering in the background rather than pressing forward their attack.

The most successful and commented on tactic of the French infantry was the effectiveness of their skirmishers. All allied accounts describe the heavy casualties taken by officers and gun crews; as an example, in the British 44th Regiment, Colonel O’Malley, the commanding officer, was the only unwounded field officer in the battalion, and of twenty-five officers present, only the colonel and six others were untouched: by the end of the battle, four companies were commanded by sergeants. The tirailleurs fought in numbers that overwhelmed their allied counterparts, and as they never seemed to be able to achieve this in five years in Spain, it is hard not to conclude that a greater number were deployed as a deliberate effort to achieve this. This then left them free to cause attrition on the main allied line, aiming specifically at officers to weaken the cohesion and resolve of the enemy units. When these felt sufficiently weakened or threatened, they withdrew; the French tirailleurs would follow them up, giving them no respite, whilst the following columns would occupy the ground recently surrendered. The columns themselves appear to have done little fighting, but were merely used to occupy ground and reinforce the skirmisher screen as required. But most importantly, the columns were uncommitted and available to counter any sudden appearance of the main British force which had unfailingly caught them out in the Peninsula.

The key problem with these tactics is that a screen of skirmishers, no matter how strong, is never likely to be decisive. At Quatre Bras they were successful against the inexperienced troops of the Netherlands and Brunswick units, but not so against the British. In order to break an enemy’s will to resist it either needs to have suffered an unbearable level of casualties due to heavy volley fire, or its cohesion must be shattered by a failure to meet an opponent’s mass that threatens to overwhelm it. Skirmisher fire was annoying and might cause significant casualties amongst officers, but this was unlikely to break a unit’s cohesion, just as it lacked sufficient mass and momentum to enter or threaten a decisive hand-to-hand fight. Thus this type of advance might push the enemy back, but was unlikely to break him, and, particularly significant for the French on this day, the advance was likely to be a slow one. Ney needed a quick, decisive attack if he was going to seize Quatre Bras before Wellington had concentrated sufficient troops to deny it to him; this secure, but rather laboured approach was unlikely to achieve his aim.

In stark contrast to both the cavalry and artillery, and even their own skirmisher screen, the infantry columns seem to have been handled with caution. Whilst the French skirmishers outperformed their allied counterparts, the battle re-emphasised the superiority of the British infantry over their French equivalents. This was not just a tactical issue, the superiority of the line over the column, but also a moral one. The British had clearly not lost the moral ascendency that they had acquired in the Peninsula, and always seemed to have the confidence that they would win whatever the French threw at them. It may be that there were times when things were not looking good for the British troops, but whenever they were called upon to hold firm or move forward, whatever the odds, they always seemed to answer the call. The French infantry were noted for their élan and enthusiasm, and this is noted by many allied eyewitnesses, and yet when they launched what appeared to be their main attack, virtually the whole of Bachelu’s division was thrown back by three British battalions. Without wishing to denigrate the young and relatively inexperienced Dutch and Brunswick battalions, they were overwhelmed by the French, but despite their apparent élan, the French columns appear to have lacked the determination and resilience to really come to grips with the British infantry, and this lost them the battle.

Both allied and French eyewitnesses describe the French infantry using line in both the advance and in defence; this was virtually unheard of in Spain and perhaps reflects another effort to counter British fire superiority by those French commanders who fought them there. Without it being mentioned specifically, this may suggest the French use of ordre mixte, a formation favoured by Napoleon which was an attempt to exploit the firepower of the line and the momentum and mass of the column. An allied account of the battle describes some of Foy’s troops advancing ‘a battalion in line, supported by two columns’, suggesting this was the formation used.

But perhaps the most notable failure of the French infantry was their reluctance to advance in support of the cavalry. Both Piré’s and Kellerman’s troopers achieved considerable success in disordering a number of battalions and pinning others in square where they would have been vulnerable to an infantry assault. This was a failure of co-ordination. Piré’s main charge was an opportunistic one and Kellerman’s was hastily launched, but both Ney and the infantry divisional commanders failed to spot the opportunity and launch a determined infantry assault when the allies were most vulnerable. The failure of the infantry to support the attacks of the cavalry undermines Pollio’s praise for the combined arms aspects of the battle and is reminiscent of the great cavalry charges that were to come at Waterloo.

Ney’s direction of the battle is also interesting. Once again we see his legendary heroism and courage; prepared to expose himself to the hottest fire and always wanting to be in a position that gave him the best view of what was going on, urging his troops forward. But a truly effective commander needs more than courage. At the beginning of the day, Ney’s mission was to seize Quatre Bras, concentrate his entire wing around the crossroads and to defeat any allied troops that he encountered. By the afternoon, that mission had evolved; not least because Napoleon presumed that his first mission had been achieved. His new mission was that having seized Quatre Bras he was to send d’Erlon’s 1st Corps onto the Prussian right rear at Ligny. It appears that Ney failed to achieve either of his stated missions.

After delivering the emperor’s orders to Ney on the morning of the 16th, General Flahaut, the emperor’s ADC, remained at the battle for the rest of the day and was thus a witness to proceedings. In his account of the campaign, Thiers writes:

. . . Count Flahaut, who had left Ney during the night after having witnessed the events at Quatre Bras, arrived at General Headquarters at 6am [on the morning of the 17th]. Without wishing to insult Ney, whose heroism touched even those who did not approve of his manner of operations, he did not conceal from the emperor how the dispositions of the marshal had been mediocre at the combat at Quatre Bras; how above all he seemed struck by agitation in his thoughts, adding that he was clearly energetic in his devotion, but that this affected the clarity of his military judgement . . .

Although Thiers should not normally be considered as authoritative, this account was specifically endorsed by Flahaut in a letter to Thiers dated London, 27 August 1862. From this passage we must assume that Flahaut was trying to respectfully say that Ney was not thinking or planning clearly and his direction of the battle was poor. Flahaut himself wrote:

There was no cohesion to the affair. It was like attempting, as the saying goes, to ‘take the bull by the horns’. Our forces were thrown into battle piecemeal as they arrived upon the scene, and in spite of the bravery they displayed no result was obtained.

No doubt based on Flahaut’s report, Napoleon had the following letter written to Ney the following morning:

The emperor is disappointed that you did not concentrate your divisions yesterday; they acted individually and so you suffered casualties.

If the corps of Counts d’Erlon and Reille had been together, not an Englishman of the corps that attacked you would have escaped. If the Count d’Erlon had executed the movement on Saint-Amand that the emperor had ordered, the Prussian army would have been totally destroyed and we would have made perhaps 30,000 prisoners.

The corps of Generals Gérard, Vandamme and the Imperial Guard were always concentrated; one exposes oneself to a reverse when detachments are made.


The Army of Tennessee was the Confederacy’s primary force in the Western Theater, demarcated by the Appalachian Mountains on the east and the Mississippi River on the west. (The theater west of the Mississippi was referred to as the Trans-Mississippi Theater and was the responsibility of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.) Formed in November 1862, the Army of Tennessee endured through the end of the war and fought in most of the major battles in this theater. It was something of a hard-luck force, with gallant soldiers but mediocre to poor leadership at the top. Of the four biggest battles in which it was engaged (Murfreesboro, July 13, 1862; Chickamauga, September 19–20, 1863; Atlanta, July 22, 1864; and Nashville, December 15–16, 1864), only Chickamauga was a clear Confederate victory. (The Army of Tennessee is an example of the CSA tendency to name its armies after states or geographical areas, versus the USA’s tendency to name them after prominent rivers. Thus the CSA Army of Tennessee is not to be confused with the USA Army of the Tennessee.)

The defeat of Braxton Bragg, commanding a formation designated the Army of Mississippi, and Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding what was at the time called the Army of East Tennessee, at the bloody Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) brought the collapse of the Confederate invasion of Kentucky and motivated the merger of Bragg’s and Smith’s armies as the Army of Tennessee, under the command of Bragg, on November 20, 1862. Initially, the new army was divided into three corps, I Corps under Leonidas Polk, II Corps under William J. Hardee, and III Corps under Smith. The latter was disbanded, however, in December when Smith returned to east Tennessee. Early the next year, in March 1863, he would assume command of the Army of the Trans-Mississippi.

Braxton Bragg commanded the Army of Tennessee from its establishment on November 20, 1862, until December 2, 1863. A passionate but deeply flawed commander, Bragg was born in 1817 in Warrenton, North Carolina, and graduated from West Point in 1837. The new second lieutenant was assigned to the 3rd Artillery. Throughout his career, it was as an artilleryman that Bragg proved most adept. His first combat service was in the Second Seminole War (1835–42), and his next was in the US-Mexican War (1846–48). Serving under Major General Zachary Taylor, Bragg was initially stationed at Fort Brown (near present-day Brownsville, Texas) during May 3–9, 1846, and was brevetted to the rank of captain. At the Battle of Monterrey (September 21–24, 1846), he performed with distinction and was brevetted major. Likewise at Buena Vista (February 22–23, 1847), he showed great courage and competence. The skill with which he deployed his artillery battery played a key role in Taylor’s victory.

Emerging a hero from the war with Mexico, Bragg plodded through the peacetime army until his penchant for dispute erupted in December 1855 against his friend Jefferson Davis, who was at the time secretary of war in the cabinet of Franklin Pierce. When Davis proposed stationing artillery batteries in various western frontier posts, Bragg lashed out at what he termed the absurdity of “chas[ing] Indians with six-pounders.” He then went out of his way to travel to Washington and tell Davis in person. Davis dug in and refused to back down. Bragg immediately tendered his resignation—and Davis accepted it without protest. Bragg resigned his commission in January 1856 and purchased a sugar plantation outside of Thibodaux, Louisiana. As a planter he displayed great ability in civil engineering, designing not only a drainage and levee system for his property, but for the entire state.

In February 1861 Bragg answered the call to service in the Louisiana militia, and then entered the Confederate States Army as a brigadier general on March 7. In September he was promoted to major general and took command of II Corps in the newly formed Army of Mississippi under General Albert S. Johnston. After leading the Confederate right flank at the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862, Tennessee; Confederate defeat), he was promoted to full general on April 12, 1862. Assigned in June to command what was then designated the Army of Mississippi, Bragg invaded Kentucky from August through October of 1862. His intention was to bring this border state into the Confederate fold, but, though reinforced by Smith’s Army of Eastern Tennessee, Bragg was defeated at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862) and withdrew from the state. He fought against General William Rosecrans at the Battle of Stones River (Murfreesboro; December 31, 1862–January 2, 1863, Tennessee; Confederate defeat), but was once again compelled to withdraw. He nevertheless managed to maneuver out of Chattanooga early in September 1863 and defeat Rosecrans at the chaotic Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863, Georgia). This time it was the Union forces that withdrew, to Chattanooga, where Bragg held them under siege until Ulysses Grant came to Rosecrans’s relief, defeating Bragg in the Battles for Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863, Tennessee).

In the wake of this defeat, Bragg was relieved of command of the Army of Tennessee on December 2, 1863, and replaced by a temporary commander, William J. Hardee (December 2–16, 1863). On December 16 General Joseph E. Johnston assumed command. Recalled from the field, Bragg was appointed as one of Jefferson Davis’s military advisers. Early in 1865, however, he personally raised a small force in North Carolina to defend against the advance of William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea. With General Johnston, Bragg surrendered to Sherman on April 26, 1865. The war over, he returned to civil engineering, practicing his profession in Texas.

Joseph E. Johnston was a native of Farmville, Virginia, born in 1807. He graduated from West Point in 1829 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the artillery. During service in the Second Seminole War (1835–42), he was promoted to first lieutenant (July 1836), but, the promotion notwithstanding, Johnston was discouraged by the paucity of prospects for advancement in the military. He resigned his commission in May 1837 to enter civil engineering, only to return a year later, once again fighting the Seminoles—this time as a member of the Corps of Topographical Engineers rather than the artillery.

During the US-Mexican War, Johnston served under General Winfield Scott and distinguished himself at Cerro Gordo on April 18, 1847, after which he was brevetted to colonel. After serving in the Utah (or Mormon) War (1857–58), Johnston was promoted to brigadier general and appointed quartermaster general of the army in June 1860. Less than a year later, in April 1861, he resigned his commission to join the Provisional Army of the Confederate States of America as a brigadier general in command of the (Confederate) Army of Shenandoah (not to be confused with the [Union] Army of the Shenandoah). At the First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861, Virginia), Johnston was the ranking Confederate officer and was instrumental in giving the South its first major victory.
In August 1861 Johnston was promoted to general and made commander of the (Confederate) Army of the Potomac, predecessor of the Army of Northern Virginia. He faced Union general George B. McClellan in the Peninsula Campaign (March–July 1862), during which he was wounded at the Battle of Fair Oaks (May 31–June 1, 1862, Virginia; inconclusive). He was replaced by Robert E. Lee as commander of what was now called the Army of Northern Virginia.

After Johnston’s convalescence and return to duty, he was named commander of the Department of the West in November 1862 and directed the first phase of a heroic defense of Vicksburg, Mississippi, against an attack and siege by Ulysses S. Grant. In command of dwindling forces, Johnston was driven from his base of operations at Jackson, Mississippi, by Major General William T. Sherman on May 14, 1863, and could do nothing to prevent the fall of Vicksburg on July 4.

After Vicksburg, Johnston became commander of the Army of Tennessee (December 16, 1863), and was able to extract a measure of revenge against Sherman by capitalizing on the Union general’s ill-judged offensive at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain (June 27, 1864, Georgia; Confederate victory), near Atlanta. Johnston next defended Atlanta itself, but did so through a series of strategic retreats. Confederate president Jefferson Davis, appalled by Johnston’s inability to drive back the attack on the South’s key rail hub, relieved him of command of the Army of Tennessee.

Johnston’s successor, John Bell Hood, was born in Owingsville, Kentucky, in 1831, the son of a respected physician and his socially prominent wife. They lived on a 600-acre plantation, owned slaves, and conducted themselves as aristocrats. Although his father wanted him to become a physician, Hood enrolled at West Point in 1849 and, despite a poor disciplinary record, graduated forty-fourth out of the fifty-two-member Class of 1853.
As new second lieutenant, Hood was assigned to the 4th US Infantry in California and was transferred to the 2nd US Cavalry at Fort Mason, Texas. Hood was thrilled with patrolling in Comanche country and received his first combat wound—an arrow through his left hand—in an 1857 skirmish. Promoted to first lieutenant, he turned down an offer to serve as chief instructor of cavalry at West Point in 1860, likely because, with civil war in the offing, he preferred the company of fellow Southerners in Texas to a teaching post on the Hudson.

With the fall of Fort Sumter in April 1861, Hood resigned his commission, intending to volunteer for service in the Kentucky militia. When the state voted not to secede, he secured a commission as first lieutenant in the Provisional Army of the Confederate States and reported to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Lee sent him to Yorktown under the command of Colonel John Magruder, who assigned Hood command of all his cavalry companies, promoting him to captain and almost immediately thereafter to major.
On September 30, 1861, Hood was promoted to colonel and given command of 4th Texas Infantry Regiment, which had been sent to the Eastern Theater. Upgraded to brigade strength, the unit became Hood’s Texas Brigade, which was attached to the Army of Northern Virginia. On March 3, 1862, Hood was promoted to brigadier general.

Hood’s first battle was at Eltham’s Landing (May 7, 1862, Virginia; inconclusive). During the Seven Days, Hood fought at the Battle of Gaines’s Mill (June 27, 1862, Virginia; Confederate victory). He led his brigade at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28–30, 1862; Confederate victory) and was promoted to division commander. At Antietam (September 17, 1862, Maryland; Confederate strategic defeat), Hood sacrificed much of his division to protect Stonewall Jackson’s corps. Next came the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 11–15, 1862, Virginia; Confederate victory) and then Gettysburg (July 1–3, 1863, Pennsylvania; Confederate defeat). Hood protested Lee and Longstreet’s order to assault Little Round Top frontally, proposing instead to attack from the rear. It was a good tactical idea, but Longstreet spurned it. Hood suffered serious wounds at Gettysburg and was out of action until the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863, Georgia; Confederate victory).

It was during the Atlanta Campaign (May 7–September 2, 1864, Georgia) that Jefferson Davis chose Hood to replace Joseph E. Johnston as commanding officer of the Army of Tennessee. Abandoning Johnston’s policy of tactical defense, Hood launched four reckless, futile, and costly counterattacks on the Union’s William T. Sherman. After losing Atlanta and suffering heavy casualties, Hood marched west to link up with Nathan Bedford Forrest, intending to defeat the Union’s Army of the Ohio under James M. Schofield and the Army of the Cumberland under George H. Thomas and draw Sherman out of Georgia.

Instead, he was defeated by Schofield at Franklin and by Thomas at Nashville. These losses decimated the Army of Tennessee. Hood asked President Davis to relieve him of command. The Confederate president obliged, replacing him in February 1865 with (at Lee’s request) Johnston, the commander Hood had earlier replaced. Johnston led the Army of Tennessee in a valiant effort to check Sherman’s March to the Sea (November 15–December 21, 1864, Georgia; Confederate defeat) and at the Battle of Bentonville (March 19–21, 1865, North Carolina; Confederate defeat). Vastly outnumbered in North Carolina, Johnston surrendered to Sherman at Durham Station on April 26, effectively ending the Civil War.


As with most Confederate armies, the organization of the Army of Tennessee varied. At the height of its strength prior to Chickamauga, in September 1863, it numbered 48,000 infantry and 15,000 cavalry. The army consisted of three infantry corps and one of cavalry.
In November 1862 I Corps was created under the command of Lieutenant General Leonidas Polk. He was succeeded by Major General B. F. Cheatham, Lieutenant General William J. Hardee, and Major General Patrick Cleburne. A part of III Corps was added to I Corps on October 31, 1863; the Reserve Corps was added to it on November 4, 1863; and on April 10, 1865, as the war was rapidly winding down, all forces remaining in Georgia were added.

April 1862 brought the creation of II Corps at Corinth, Mississippi, consisting of two divisions, one under Jones Withers, the other commanded by Daniel Ruggles. This corps had the distinction of being the largest in the CSA at the time of its formation, at 22,000 men. It was initially commanded by Braxton Bragg. When Bragg was promoted to commanding officer of the Army of Mississippi effective May 7, 1862, William J. Hardee assumed command of the Army of Tennessee, followed by John Breckenridge. Breckinridge was relieved after the struggle for Chattanooga, and John Bell Hood became commanding officer. After Hood was elevated to command of the Army of Tennessee during the Atlanta Campaign, John C. Breckinridge and then Alexander P. Stewart assumed command of II Corps.

Five commanders had a turn leading III Corps: William J. Hardee, Edmund Kirby Smith, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Leonidas Polk, and Alexander P. Stewart. It was formed when Major General Hardee’s division, originally part of the Central Army of Kentucky, was consolidated with other Confederate forces prior to the Battle of Shiloh (April 6–7, 1862). With only 6,789 men, it was the smallest of the corps in the Army of Tennessee at that point but grew to 26,500 men late in 1862. Not fighting in a major battle, the corps was soon broken up, only to be reconstituted during the Siege of Vicksburg (May 18–July 4, 1863), when it became 33,000 strong. Disbanded in the course of the siege, it was reassembled for operations designed to lift the siege, reaching a strength of 42,000 before it was again dissolved after the fall of Vicksburg on July 4, 1863, with portions going to II Corps. In the campaign culminating in the Battle of Chickamauga (September 19–20, 1863), III Corps was reconstituted under Stewart, only to be broken up after the battle. Under Polk, III Corps was assembled a final time following the Battles for Chattanooga (November 23–25, 1863).

Although Forrest’s Cavalry Corps is the cavalry formation most closely associated with the Army of Tennessee, it was not the only cavalry unit to fight as part of it. On January 22, 1863, Major General Joseph Wheeler was given command of all the cavalry in Middle Tennessee, and in March the cavalry divisions in the Army of Tennessee were designated as two corps, one under Wheeler and the other under Earl Van Dorn. Wheeler’s Corps, at its height, consisted of 12,000 men and was active (often in diminished numbers) throughout the war. Van Dorn’s Corps was activated on March 16, 1863, numbering 8,000. When Van Dorn was murdered on May 7 of that year by a physician who claimed the general was sleeping with his wife, command of his cavalry was assumed by Nathan Bedford Forrest. It served with the Army of Tennessee until early in the Chattanooga Campaign, when army commander Braxton Bragg ordered Forrest to transfer most of his corps to Wheeler’s Corps. Forrest essentially mutinied, threatening to kill Bragg if he dared give him further orders. At this, President Davis transferred Forrest to Mississippi to form a new cavalry corps.

In August 1862 Braxton Bragg invaded Kentucky with his Army of Mississippi (predecessor to the Army of Tennessee). His objective was to rally Southern supporters in the border state to join the Confederacy, thereby drawing the Union’s Army of the Ohio (Don Carlos Buell) away from the Eastern Theater. He concentrated in Chattanooga, Tennessee, whence he moved north into Kentucky, coordinating his advance with that of Edmund Kirby Smith, who was starting out from Knoxville.

At the Battle of Munfordville (September 14–17, 1862, Kentucky; Confederate victory), Bragg captured some 4,000 Union soldiers, then advanced to Bardstown and participated in the inauguration of a provisional Confederate governor (October 4, 1862). The Army of Mississippi engaged the Army of the Ohio at the Battle of Perryville (October 8, 1862, Kentucky; Confederate strategic defeat). Had Bragg pressed the fight, he might have achieved victory, but he vacillated and then retreated through the Cumberland Gap to Knoxville.

The Kentucky Campaign collapsed but did succeed in pushing Union forces out of northern Alabama and much of Middle Tennessee. Bragg’s unsure leadership provoked protest and near-mutiny among his subordinates.

Bragg’s Army of Tennessee engaged William Rosecrans’s Army of the Cumberland just outside of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Bragg took the initiative, mauling Rosecrans’s right flank. Unfortunately for Bragg, the false report of Rosecrans’s withdrawal kept Bragg from moving to exploit his gains. By January 2 it became apparent that Rosecrans was holding his ground. Bragg therefore ordered Breckinridge to attack the Union left late in the afternoon. The Confederates came close to a breakthrough, but Union artillery disrupted the assault, resulting in a tactical draw—until Union reinforcements forced Bragg to retreat. Rosecrans thus gained a strategic victory.

After the successful Tullahoma Campaign, Rosecrans continued the Union offensive, aiming to force Bragg’s Confederate army out of Chattanooga. Through a series of skillful marches toward the Confederate-held city, Rosecrans forced Bragg out of Chattanooga and into Georgia. Determined to reoccupy the city, Bragg followed the Federals north, brushing with Rosecrans’s army at Davis’s Cross Roads. While they marched on September 18, Bragg’s cavalry and infantry skirmished with Union mounted infantry, who were armed with state-of-the-art Spencer repeating rifles. Fighting began in earnest on the morning of the 19th near Chickamauga Creek. Bragg’s men heavily assaulted Rosecrans’s line, but the Union line held. Fighting resumed the following day. That afternoon, eight fresh brigades from the Army of Northern Virginia under General James Longstreet exploited a gap in the Federal line, driving one-third of Rosecrans’s army, including Rosecrans himself, from the field. Only a portion of the Federal army, under General George Thomas, staved off disaster by holding Horseshoe Ridge against repeated assaults, allowing the Yankees to withdraw after nightfall. For this action Thomas earned the nickname the “Rock of Chickamauga.” The defeated Union troops retreated to Chattanooga, where they remained until late November.

Grant’s first priority after he was assigned to command the Union’s western armies in October 1863 was to lift the Confederate siege of Chattanooga and the Army of the Cumberland that was holding the city. He brought in Sherman’s Army of the Tennessee, and Bragg now found his Army of Tennessee fighting a heavily reinforced Union army. The Battles for Chattanooga began on November 23 when Union forces over-ran Orchard Knob and continued with Lookout Mountain (November 24–25) and Missionary Ridge (November 25). The breakthrough sent Bragg’s army into a withdrawal that threw the door open to a Union invasion of the Deep South. It was the Army of Tennessee’s most consequential defeat.

The Army of Tennessee was under the command of Joseph E. Johnston during the Atlanta Campaign and consisted of three corps—I Corps, designated Hardee’s Corps; II Corps, designated Hood’s Corps; and III Corps, designated Polk’s Corps—in addition to a cavalry corps, designated Wheeler’s Corps, and an artillery reserve under Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup. Throughout the first phase of the campaign, Johnston responded to Sherman’s attacks by steadily falling back on the city. After the Battle of Pace’s Ferry (July 5, 1864), President Jefferson Davis replaced Johnston with the aggressive Hood, whose attempts at counterattack, from the Battle of Peachtree Creek (July 20, 1864) through the Battle of Jonesborough (August 31–September 1, 1864), failed to prevent the fall of Atlanta and the surrounding area.

Defeated at Atlanta, Hood and the Army of Tennessee marched west while Sherman, leaving an occupying force in Atlanta, commenced his March to the Sea. While Sherman marched east, he assigned the Army of the Ohio (John M. Schofield) and the Army of the Cumberland (George H. Thomas) to deal with Hood in Tennessee. On November 29, 1864, Hood engaged Schofield at Spring Valley, intending to destroy his outnumbered forces. He failed, and Schofield advanced to Franklin, not far from Nashville. On November 30 Hood made a reckless assault against Schofield’s well-entrenched army and was repulsed with the loss of more than 6,000 men killed and wounded. Six Confederate generals died in the battle.

Bloodied but unbowed, the Army of Tennessee (numbering about 30,000 at this point) advanced on Nashville, which was defended by some 55,000 men of Thomas’s Army of the Cumberland. Despite the odds, Hood positioned his army south of the city on December 2. After a delay caused by winter weather, Thomas attacked on December 15, shattering the Army of Tennessee by the next day.

The Battles of Franklin and Nashville decimated the Army of Tennessee, but, once again under the command of Joseph E. Johnston, it marched toward the Carolinas. Johnston’s objective was to consolidate with the remaining forces under Beauregard, Hardee, and Bragg to arrest Sherman’s devastating advance through the Carolinas. The Army of Tennessee fought at Aiken (February 11, South Carolina; Confederate victory), Monroe’s Crossroads (March 10, North Carolina; inconclusive), and Averasborough (March 16, North Carolina; inconclusive) before the final showdown at Bentonville (March 19-21, North Carolina; Union victory). Johnston’s battered army fought gallantly, doing great damage to Union general O. O. Howard’s XIV Corps before Union counterattacks arrested Johnston’s offensive thrust. The Army of Tennessee and units consolidated with it retreated toward Raleigh. Sherman failed to pursue. For his part, however, Johnston believed the Army of Tennessee and the rest of the CSA were finished. He held a grand review of his forces on April 6 at Selma, North Carolina, and surrendered to Sherman on April 26.