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THE POSITION OF GREAT BRITAIN IN REFERENCE
TO THE PRESENT CONTEST.
BY COLONEL G. POULETT CAMERON, C.B., K.C.T.S., &c.
Author of “ Adventures in Georgia, Circassia, and Russia.” In his recent declaration to his constituents, Mr. Cardwell declared it was the intention of the Government, on the Meeting of Parliainent next Session, to introduce a ineasure for so complete and thorough a reorganization of our Military Establishments, that it would effectually prevent for the future, “all undignified panics in times of peace.” Notwithstanding his assurances, thongh it would be unjust to declare it was not received by the public with soine degree of satisfaction, it cannot be concealed, that it did not dispel the general feeling of anxiety, not only still prevalent, but it may be said, without exaggeration, increasing instead of diminishing as the question will occur, suppose in spite of this declaration, at a period so replete with astounding aud unexpected events, we should be surprised in our present not only unprepared, bnt transitory state, by some perilous event destined to try onr strength to the utmost? The assurance that such a contingency is not likely to arise does not altogether impart that conviction in reference to iis accuracy, so much to be desired, considering the nature of the events so recently witnessed, and the declaration of Lord Gran. ville in the House of Lords, that on his assuming the office of Foreign Secretary, he had received the assurance of Mr. Hammond, the Under-Secretary, that never was there less chance of the peace of Europe being disturbed, an assertion certainly opposed to the opinion of intelligent travellers abroad, and one that has unquestionobly not raised the confidence of the British public in the sagacity, forethought, and intelligence of its diplomnatic service.
It has been observed, and certainly with considerable truth, that the present state of public feeling cannot be termed a panic, or at least, a panic similar to those which arose on the publication of the Duke's celebrated letter, or the anarchy which ensued on the down. fall of the Orleanist dinasty in 1848, or which gave rise to the Volunteer inoveinent in 1-59. The present terrible contest has created a very different feeling of reflection among all classes, from the peer to the working man, increasing in intensity as it continues; and though many are convinced that if peace was concluded between the belligerents to-inorrow, the old habit of security and indifference would return, and the natjon be as regardless as before of its defences, there is reason to believe that, in this instance, the warning we have now received will have sunk far deeper than those previously experienced into the public mind, since, on this occasion, party feeling has been stilled, and foremost ainong those who have been pressing, if not condemuing the Ministry for their reuissness,
and inattention relative to measures deemed requisite for the national security and safety, have been some of the acknowledged firinest supporters of the present Goverinent.
It must not be forgotten, that the “undignified panics” Mr. Cardwell has alluded io, were anyihing but groundless, and that the nation had good cause for aların, and yet while avowing this conviction, he disbands some two-and-twenty thousand of the most valuable portion of the forces we possessed, at a period when the entire Continent was bristling with bayonets, and the most ignorant were aware that a collision sooner or later was inevitable between France and Prussia, the final result of which has yet to be witnessed, in how far the rest of the world can escape being dragged into it, notwithstanding the fixed determination of every Govern. went to avoid it, unless in the event of the last extremity. The present period, however, no one attempts to disguise, is of a very hazardous and critical nature, and as the Times truthfully observed at the commencement of the war, since the event of the Norman Conquest, England has never passed through so dangerous an ordeal; dangers and evils not even thought of may arise to cause its recurrence, when the greatest hazard to the national safety and independence unight be found in the incapacity of our rulers, and their inability to understand conditions of action in the peril surrounding the country, owing to their absolute inexperience either of life, or thought. It is the circumstance of reflections of this nature, creating the present state of anxiety, not to say uneasiness in the public mind, that causes the question to arise of, how is Mr. Cardwell to prevent a repetition of the alarm that universally arose last August and the more recent Prussian declaration, when we were forced to look the danger in the face, and compare the stale of our armaments with those of the two belligerents, one of whuin in less than three weeks stood prepared for the field with an arıny of half a inillion of highly organized and disciplined soldiers, while his adversary was supposed at the tiine to be prepared with a force of very little less amount?
But it is observed while we have our Channel Fleet we are secure, and preparations could not be going forward for the invasion of our shores, witliout their being observed, when the extent of the contemplated expedition would be calculated, the number of transports requisite for its disembarkation pretty accurately ascer. tained ; and then every preparation would be inade to crush it should it prove successful. This is a question, perhaps, more fittingly answered by a seaman than a soldier, but as it is one that has often been canvassed upon the Continent, as well as in English Naval and Military circles, some observations regarding it, embracing a general concurrence of opinion, may prove worthy of some degree of attention. Admitting that we have a large, power. ful, and well-appointed Channel Fleet, capable of successfully opposing the combined maritime force of the whole of united Eu
rope, and relying upon this, we neglected our Reserve Forces, leaving them in their present unsettled, half-disciplined state, supposing some disaster, or the recurrence of heavy gales, as severe as those which have so recently caused such havoc upon our shores, were to sink some of the most formidable, or disperse the whole, what force should we have to meet an invading army, who then would unquestionably make their descent successful? In the in terior of England we have not a single fortress to arrest his march, while the present war has 100 fatally shewn that however brave, uudisciplined and half organized soldiers can offer no steady and continued resistance to regular troops, the more particularly when destitute of practised and experienced officers, such as unfortunately the great majority of those of our Militia and Volunteers would be.
On the question of the Militia forining the one great base of our Reserve Forces, there does not seem to exist two opinions throughout the country, and the observations of the Honourable General Herbert, M.P., an officer of considerable experience, and who has recently passed some tiine in observation of the victorious Prussian army, in his speech at the anniversary of the Wenlock Farmer's Club in the early part of last month, should be forcibly, and indelibly impressed upon the mind of all classes in Great Britain ; but the more particularly its rulers, whichever party may be in power. His chief wish was that more people in this country could witness the miseries and missortunes he had beheld in the course of this terrible contest, as then they would become more keenly alive to the necessity of our once defensive Forces being placed in the highest state of efficiency. He trusted the country would seriously reflect upon this, and remember that in a war like the present, the enormous suins of inoney that would be spent in a few months, and, perhaps, to no purpose, would cover all the expenses of getting up a well-appointed army, and putting it into a highly disciplined state ten times over. Especial care should be observed in reference to all classes of the Reserve Forces, but the more particularly the Militia, which should be placed on a much better footing in regard to its organization, and efficiency than at present.
Those who are in the habit of perusing the Continental journals, cannot but have remarked lately, that the discussion of England's maritime superiority, and the extent to which it would preserve her froin invasion have occasionally been adverted to.* While, it is admitted that, singly, no other nation could cope wth her, the question has arisen could she successfully resist two secondary Powers who coalesced to injure her? The subject is, perhaps, not undeserving of attention from the intimation const intly conveyed through the German press, that the greater the resistance on the part of the French, and the, consequently, still greater sacrifice necessary on the part of Germany to crush it, the inore exacting will be the demands of the latter as a recoin pense, accompanied with the significant allusions that an extensive addition to her own few but powerful ironclads are all that is now necessary to render Prussia a formidable maritime power. This last observation has appeared since the rupture of M. Thiers' negociation for an armistice, and it is perhaps singular that since then, the following paragraph has appeared in a great many journals, but the more particularly those supposed to represent the views of the existing French Government. “We will subunit to any burthen, pay any contribution, or war iudeinnity, inake any sacrifice-anything but submit to dismemberment.” In reference to this, it must not be forgotten, that on the proclaination of the Republic, and the de. thronement of the Napoleon dynasty, the offer was spontaneously made on the part of the new Government of the cession of a certain quantity of ironclads, which their journals have recently declared their readiness to increase in number to a far more considerable extent.
* Of these Articles, the following is one that may dispose Mr. Gladstone to reconsider his declaration in regard to that naval superiority, which in his estimation forms “the indefectible inheritance of England." It is taken from the “ Zeitung fur Nord Deutschland," (the Journal of North Germany) a periodical possessing considerable influence, and supposed to represent the views and opinions of Von Bennigsen, the leader of the majority in the North German Parliament.
“In England the belief is entertained, that its shores are altog ether free from the danger of invasion, from Germany not being a Naval Power. But let the En. glish not forget that we are well aware of our weakness on the ocean, and that we are en leavouring to the utmost of our power to remedy the evil. In the Danish War, Alsen was no obstacle to the progress of our victorious armiy, and the time will come when neither the North Sea or the British Channel will stop us, since there is nothing to prevent Germany from making her fleet equal to that of any other Power in the course of a very few years. On a German Sea near the mouths of two German rivers, lies a German island (Heligoland) which was torn from us by force in the days of our weakness, and its possessor is that same England which now wishes to prevent as from recovering what also was once ours on the Rhine as well. We must recover that piece of German ground in addition, that its possession is of great importance to us has been shewn, by the results of the present war, since if Heligoland had belonged to us at the commencement, the French fleet could not have found a shelter, or pilots to lead it into the harbour of the North Sea."
The opponents of a modified edition of the Prussian system as applicable to this country declare, that it has yet to be fully tried in a winter campaign, and as this is now taking place in the fullest sense of the term, owing to all chance of either peace, or an arwis. tice, being hopeless, predictions are not wanting that it will fail, since it will be found impossible to coniend against the difficulties to which it will be exposed. This is unfortunately only one more of those fallacious theories, by which the present French Governinent seek to blind their countrymen to the dangers and miseries accumulating fast in every direction around them. To say nothing of the Germans being in possession of some of their richest provinces, placed under the heaviest requisitions for the support of the invaders, their line of cominunication is now altogether free to their own country, from whence supplies and stores of every description can be drawn with security and safety, since the history of the war throughout has revealed, in contrast to that of their adversaries, that if the Prussian commanders bave excelled the French in skill and ability, the Coinmissariat, in every branch, has no less been distinguished for its immeasurable superiority, and the intelligence, activity and excellent arrangement which has marked it froin the very outset of the contest.
The English reader must recal to mind as he peruses these observations, that they contain the views and opinion of a person, who is one of the prominent leaders of as large a majority in the Parliament of his own country, as Mr. Gladstone commands in that of the United Kingdom.
It has been observed, and unquestionably with no less force than accuracy, that the Prussian soldiery caii scarcely be called a standing Regular Force, but should rather be termed an armed nation with all the organization, and discipline of a regular welltrained army. Its power and resources, if first manifested in the eventful year of 1813, when the first Napoleon was led to believe it was weak and feeble, has been terribly developed in the present eventful and sanguinary contest, its inmense bosts displaying themselves as component parts of one vast powerful mighty machine, ready in every way either for defensive or offensive Warfare, the steadiness and endurance of its infantry being matched by its numerous, well served and overwhelming artillery, and if weak when on a peace footing in comparison with the arries the other great military Einpires have been accustomed to maintain, Austria, France and Russia, it has shewn that when mobilized for actual warfare, it can assume those colossal proportions which have carried it so successfully, and in so comparatively short a period through the present struygle.
In reflecting upon all that has now been stated, may not the question be forcibly asked, the mure particularly considering the economy, not to say parsimony with which it is conducted, could not a modified edition of this system be established for defensive purposes in Great Britain ? Throughout the war, the Landwehr regiments have been as distinguished as those of the Regular Service, those of the Guard particularly so, and in remembering this, surely the additional query may be fairly placed equally before Government, Parliament and People, what bindrance is there to the Reserve Forces in this country being placed on a similar footing? It should also not be forgotten that many of its characteristics have a strong recommendation for the British nation, generally, and the English soldiery in particular, since it combines in the highest degree the knowledge, and intelligence created by the standard of the superior education which distinguishes it, the self-confidence caused by the knowledge of the skill, and military education of their officers, heightened by the intimacy subsisting between them, in the discipline which would result from careful