Blue Shirt and Khaki a Comparison - James F. J. Archibald - ebook
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Blue Shirt and Khaki a Comparison written by James F. J. Archibald who  was an American war correspondent. This book was published in 1901. And now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.

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Blue Shirt and Khaki a Comparison

By

James F. J. Archibald

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I. The New Soldier and his Equipment

CHAPTER II. British and American Recruits

CHAPTER III. The Common Soldier in the Field

CHAPTER IV. The Officers

CHAPTER V. American and British Tactics

CHAPTER VI. Feeding the Two Armies

CHAPTER VII. The Railroad in Modern War

CHAPTER VIII. Transportation of Troops by Sea

CHAPTER IX. The Last Days of the Boer Capital

CHAPTER X. The British in Pretoria

Blue Shirt and Khaki at Malta.

CHAPTER I.The New Soldier and his Equipment

When the Second Division under General Lawton swarmed up the fire-swept hill of El Caney, through an unremitting storm of bullets, Colonel Arthur Lee, of the British Royal Artillery, exclaimed, “I would not have believed it!”

Two years later, when Lord Roberts’s army of ragged khaki poured into Pretoria after their two thousand miles’ march from the Cape, Captain Slocum, of the United States Infantry, said, “Tommy Atkins is certainly a wonder.”

There is obvious reason for a detailed comparison between the fighting men of the United States and Great Britain. They have more in common than either army has with the soldiers of any other nation. They have both during the last three years fought testing wars against other civilized nations, in which they faced for the first time the new conditions of modern warfare. The relative qualifications of the two armies have a pressing bearing on the troublous questions of alliance or disputes yet to be between them. When the soldiers of these two nations meet now, each has a sense of their peculiar relation of mutuality, which is made piquant by the uncertainty whether they will continue to support one another, as in China, or whether there is an evil day in store when they shall have to cut one another’s throats. But whatever the uncertainty, and whatever the surface criticisms which each passes upon the other, there is at bottom both respect and fraternity on the part of each.

The American soldier to-day occupies a new place in the regard of the world. Up to the campaigning of July and August, 1898, in Cuba, Porto Rico, and Luzon, the military men of Europe were accustomed to think of the fighting force of the United States as a thing too small to be considered. They had forgotten the great Civil War, and they did not comprehend our vast resources for a volunteer army. A standing army of 25,000 men was insignificant to officers and statesmen who were accustomed to estimate a national force in the terms of millions. Consequently, the martial potency of the United States had fallen into general contempt. This judgment, however, was wholly changed in the space of a few months, and instead of considering our military force on a level with that of some little South American republic, Europe suddenly comprehended that there was a new military power in the world which had not been taken into account. From the time that over two million men responded to the President’s call for 200,000 volunteers—many of them fairly trained soldiers, and nearly all of them skilled in the use of firearms—the sentiment of Europe was changed.

Captain Arthur Lee, R. A., attaché with General Shafter in Cuba.

Captain Slocum, U.S.A., attaché with Lord Roberts in South Africa.

There was a more radical change in the public sentiment of England than anywhere else. At the beginning of the Spanish-American War one London paper said, “Now we will see the boastful Yankee go down before the fighting Spaniard.” The general tone of the English press, if not directly hostile, was not friendly. But a few exhibitions of American arms changed the opinion to such a marked degree that soon there was hardly a hostile paper in all England. This popular reaction in favor of America is not, however, to be confused with the attitude of the British Government, which had been friendly from the start, and which had done our cause inestimable benefit through its forcible “hands off!” communication to other European powers. Nevertheless, this friendly disposition of the British Ministry was confirmed by its perception of the increasing prestige of the American military force both in England and on the Continent.

But if the American soldier seems only recently to have come to his own in the appreciation of Europe, he has long been the same soldier that he is to-day. To be sure, training and discipline have improved him as a product; our officers have made the study of the soldier a science, and each year has marked a finer adaptation of methods to ends; Yankee ingenuity has had fewer traditional prejudices to overcome than have prevailed abroad, and in the relations of officers and men, in the development of each unit’s individuality as a self-reliant intelligence, the later years have been a period ofsurprising evolution. But, on the other hand, the American soldier’s native quality is the same as in that Civil War which required four years of more terrible slaughter than Europe ever knew before one side would yield to the other. If we were always confident of him, our boasts were founded on an experience of his fibre which Europe had not apprehended. His valor, his quiet contempt of death, could not, in its most extreme exhibition, surprise his own countrymen. The only thing that robbed the gallant Hobson and his comrades of the highest distinction was that several thousand others on the fleet were sick with disappointment that they could not go in their place.

Nevertheless, the appreciation of Europe is agreeable, if belated.

The soldier of the Queen did not need a new opportunity to prove his quality. From the time that Cromwell’s Ironsides made the chivalry of the Continent to skip, Europe and America have had a steadfast respect for the redoubtability of the British warrior. Moreover, he has been a civilizing power throughout the world; wherever he has cleared a path, commerce has followed. It has not always seemed like Christian justice to hew a way for trade with a sword, or to subject an unwilling people to a rule of might under which they chafe and fret; but there is always one word of praise which can truthfully be said—the government that reaches from London to the remotest quarters of the globe has made the world better, happier, and securer, even through its conquests over unwilling peoples. Redcoat and khaki have stood for order, and, in the main and in the long run, for the largest justice to the largest number.

The time-honored phrase about the flag and trade is true. But few pause to consider the cost that is paid by the men of the empire who carry the flag forward that trade may follow. When the Queen issued the proclamation of war against the two republics nestled in the heart of South Africa, the world looked on and pitied the little States, and averred that such a war could not last more than a few weeks; but President Krüger said, “If England plants her flag on this land she will pay a price in blood that will stagger humanity.” She has paid that price for more than a year, and the payment is not yet complete. Never before has she paid such cost in the blood of her own sons. This is not the place to discuss the right and wrong of that struggle. Spite of all protests, it became a ghastly fact of history; from apparently impregnable kopjes, and their hillsides that were shambles, the determined English soldiers drive the unawed burghers over the vast veldts, fighting literally from rock to rock.

British soldiers visiting the U. S. troop-ship Sumner, en route to the Philippines.

It was my opportunity to be with both the Boer and British armies in South Africa, and to observe the fighting qualities of the men on both sides. After the Boers evacuated Pretoria, and I remained to witness the British operations, I came to agree with Captain Slocum that “Tommy Atkins is a wonder.” He certainly is. During two years spent in Europe I saw the great manœuvres on Salisbury Plain and at Aldershot; I have seen the British soldier on foreign garrison service and in the field; and, last, I have seen him in Africa, confronted by new problems and fighting against modern weapons in the hands of thinking men. From the point of view of this experience I venture to draw certain comparisons and contrasts between him and the American soldier, whose fighting steps I have followed in half a dozen campaigns, against the Indians in the West and also in the war with Spain.

The system of “crack” regiments in the British army has done much to injure the service of that country, as it has developed the “spit and polish” officer, as he is called in London—an imposing society soldier, useless in war. The men of these regiments are the pick of the nation, but unless there is an exceptional campaign they are not sent out. The Guards are usually ordered to the front long enough to get their medals, and then are sent home. During the last Soudan campaign the battalion of Guards was away from England only a few weeks, and were, as the late war correspondent, G. W. Steevens, said, “packed in ice, shipped to the front, and then shipped back.” During the Boer War the Guards have not had such an easy time, as it was necessary to use the whole army in active operations; and they have proved themselves good fighters when properly officered.

There is one exception to the rule of pampering the “crack” regiments in the case of the Gordon Highlanders, for they have seen the hardest service of every campaign since the organization of the regiment. Their glory is in fighting rather than in polo and cricket, in campaigning rather than in dancing.

The sturdy, practical soldiers have a large contempt for the youngster of birth who has received his commission through favoritism, and they never lose an opportunity of expressing it. While in Pretoria after the British occupation, I installed myself in one of the best houses in the city, having commandeered it when the owner, who was a British subject, fled. To make my position more secure I hung out a small American flag, so that I should not be disturbed. When the British entered the capital, General French’s cavalry division occupied the portion of the town in which my borrowed home stood, and I invited two or three of the officers of his staff to share the house with me. Some days after their acceptance an order was issued by the military governor to seize all horses in Pretoria, and a battalion of Guards was detailed to form a line across the city, making a clean sweep of every horse not already in governmental possession. I rode up to my door just as the line struck that vicinity, and the soldiers were leading out some of the horses belonging to the cavalry staff officers living with me. Lieutenant-Colonel Welsh, a thorough soldier, who has learned his profession by hard campaigning, was at the moment expostulating with a stupid officer of the Guards, who was just remarking, “Beastly business, this horse-stealing, but—aw—I have to do it, don’t you know?”

“Well, you can’t have my horse,” exclaimed Colonel Welsh, with an emphasis that told the Guardsman he was some one of importance.

That officer screwed his glass into his eye, looked about, and seeing the American flag, turned to Colonel Welsh, who was in full uniform, and said, “Oh, I say—are you the American consul fellow?”

This was too much for the old soldier, who fairly exploded in his indignation; but his pity for the poor Londoner prompted him to explain, with an amusing manner, that he had the honor of holding the Queen’s commission, and that foreign consuls were not in the habit of wearing the British uniform.

When the Ninth Infantry marched into Santiago to act as a guard of honor to General Shafter, and to participate in the raising of the flag over the palace, a Spanish officer standing by me on the cathedral steps asked if this was one of our “crack” regiments. I told him it was not, and he looked rather surprised.

“You don’t mean to say you have any more like this, do you?” he inquired.

British officers at Malta, watching the setting-up exercises of American soldiers.

“Why, they are all the same out there in the trenches,” I replied; but he evidently did not believe me, and then I realized that here was a regiment of men the like of whom the Spaniards had never seen, its smallest man taller than their tallest, its horses half a foot taller than theirs, and I ceased to wonder that he thought it a “crack” regiment. The army of the United States, when the Spanish War broke out, was superlative in its personnel. The hard times of a few years before had led hosts of men of exceptionally high grade to apply for enlistment, and of these fine applicants not more than one in ten had been taken; each regiment was a sifted remainder. But in our army it is the rule that if there is one regiment more “crack” than another, that is the one to have the honor of the hardest service.

In the use of government funds in the field the British army has a great advantage over our own force, for their officers are allowed much more freedom in expenditures for campaigning purposes. It is true that they use much more money in consequence, but in many cases it is essential that an army should have that freedom from red tape which is enjoyed by the British.

In South Africa every officer who has any occasion to use money is provided with a government check-book; when he wishes to buy stock, provisions, or forage he appraises the value himself and gives a check for the amount, or sometimes pays in gold on the spot. The British army, in consequence, pays the top price for everything; but, as they wish to conciliate the people as much as possible, it is a very good policy.

On the contrary, when an American officer wishes to buy anything for the government, he is obliged to have its value decided upon by a board, and then the payment is made through the tortuous channels of the paymaster’s department. Innumerable vouchers, receipts, affidavits, and money orders pass back and forth before the party who is selling receives the amount due him.

The right system is a mean between these two extremes; for the English method is as much too loose as ours is too stringent. The British government pays for its method every month thousands of pounds more than necessary. I watched a remount officer buy horses in Pretoria, and the prices he paid were staggering. The animals had been seized by the government troops, but payment was made to any one who came to the public square and laid claim to a horse. The officer in charge of the work happened to be an exceedingly good-natured and agreeable fellow, who said the people undoubtedly needed the money. He asked each person presenting a claim what he thought his animal worth, and almost invariably paid the full sum demanded, without a word of protest. He paid as high as £60 for animals not worth a third of that amount. It can well be imagined that the stock left in any of the towns by the burghers when they evacuated was not of a very high order, as they all went away mounted in the best possible style, and in many cases leading an extra horse. Every man in the Boer army is mounted, and well mounted, on native stock, that does not need to be fed with grain to be kept in good condition, as the veldt grass on which these horses live and thrive is similar to our prairie grass.

The equipment of the British army can in no way compare with that of the American soldiers; it is heavier, badly slung, and is far less useful. In the first place, the saddle used by both the cavalry and mounted infantry is almost double the weight of the McClellan pattern used by our army. The mounted infantry saddle is the flat seat known in this country as an “English saddle,” one which should be used only in the park or in racing. As it has no raised back it affords no rest to a man while on long rides. The cavalry saddle, especially that of the Lancers, has a slightly higher back and is somewhat easier; nevertheless, it is much too flat according to the American idea. The manner in which the mounted infantrymen ride is enough to show that the saddle is a very bad one for use in the field, for the rider has no command over his mount and no security of his seat; he keeps it merely on the sufferance of a good-natured horse.

The Canadian troops in South Africa created much comment because of their saddles, for the eastern contingent had the United States army McClellan saddle, and the western force rode the regular Montana “cowboy saddle.” About two thousand McClellan saddles had been condemned by our government inspectors on account of being a fraction of an inch too narrow across the withers; and the Canadian government, needing some uniform saddle in a great hurry, bought them. They were quite satisfactory for the Canadians, for their horses are smaller than the American animals, and the slight defect in construction made no difference. Henceforth, the McClellan saddle will be known as the “Canadian saddle” in England.

The Boers equipped themselves fully in saddles, bridles, blankets, and all other horse equipment from the stock they captured. There was not a saddle to be seen that did not come from the English ordnance stores, although in many cases the rider cut off all the extra flaps and threw away the heavy bags and pouches, which encumber the horse and are of no use.

The cavalry equipment of the American army weighs a total of ninety-eight pounds, including carbine and sabre; while that of the English service is at least fifty or sixty pounds more. There is one thing, however, in which their outfit is superior to ours—their saddles are built of fair leather. A black saddle is much harder to keep in good condition, and does not continue to look well nearly so long after it has been cleaned as does the brown leather. Our ordnance department is experimenting with fair leather equipments, and many have already been issued. Our cavalrymen hope that soon there will be no black saddles left in service.

The British infantry equipment is unpractical to an amazing degree; it is heavy and cumbersome, and includes accouterments that are needless. There is a heavy set of straps and cross-belts, suggesting the harness of a dray-horse, and all that this antique framework is useful for is to hold up the blanket, cartridge-box, and bayonet scabbard. The cartridge-boxes are as heavy as the cartridges themselves. I had a full kit such as is used in the American army, which I displayed one day to an officer of General French’s staff. He remarked:

“Oh, well, we shall have that some day. In about thirty years, when you have invented something much better, our War Office will adopt something like this.”

Wide admiration was expressed for my American rubber poncho blanket with its hole for the head, which adapts it for use as a coat, for the British have nothing like that. I saw the poor Tommies sleeping out, night after night, in a cold, pouring rain, with nothing over them but a woolen blanket. They have no field protection like our shelter tent to shield them from the weather, and it is surprising that there has been so little fever.

Our knapsack, also, is greatly superior to the British haversack bag, which must be carried in the hand when the troops are changing quarters or are embarking for a voyage. The knapsack is a light trunk, which will hold everything that a man needs for many weeks.

A company of the Eighth U. S. Infantry in the field, Lieutenant M. B. Stuart.

A review of the Life Guards in London.

It is doubtful if the helmet sees the light of another campaign, for it has been found to be more objectionable than ever when there is fighting to be done. The front visor is so long that it prevents the men from sighting their rifles, and if it is shoved back, the back visor strikes the shoulders and the helmet falls off. The soldier cannot keep it on his head when he is sleeping; he might as well go to war in an opera-hat. The felt field-hat has been adopted by nearly all the colonials and by some of the volunteers from England; and although the English have a difficult task to overcome the tradition attached to anything that has become a part of the service, and although the helmet gives the men a uniform and very military appearance, its eventual disappearance is inevitable.

There was a time when we learned much from England regarding military affairs, but that period has passed, and it would be to her conspicuous advantage to copy our excellent field equipment, as well as several other things.

I cannot say that I fully share the sentiment which reproaches the British government for the continued use of “dum-dum” bullets. At the Peace Conference at The Hague it will be remembered that the British representatives maintained the privilege of shooting with these bullets when the War Office so chose, against the protest of the other powers; and the Americans in this dispute stood with the British. Terrible as is their wound as compared with the neat, needle-like thrust of the Mauser bullet, for instance, in the long run they are the more merciful.

In South Africa both sides used these tearing projectiles to some extent, although they were not supposed to be issued. I saw some British prisoners brought into Pretoria who had a lot of “Mark IV” ammunition, which is the deadliest “dum-dum” made. The steel jacket of the bullet is split at the sides and at the nose, and when it strikes a body, these sides of the jacket curl outward with a ghastly result. It was afterwards stated by the British authorities that this “Mark IV” ammunition had been issued at Natal by mistake, as the British contest had always been that these bullets were intended solely for those savage foes who did not mind perforation with the clean little modern bullet.

The Boers, on their side, had considerable ammunition known as the “blue-nose bullet.” This projectile has no jacket at all over its leaden nose, which spreads out like a mushroom on reaching its target. The use of this was also the result of a mistake in issuance; it had been bought by the Transvaal government long before war was thought of, and was intended for sporting use, since the regular steel-jacket bullet would not stop big game. But, on the other hand, in many instances the burghers turned their regular jacket bullets into “dum-dums” by simply scraping off the steel at the nose, leaving the lead to flatten as it struck; when they had no file for this, they rubbed them against a rock.

The humane theory of the small calibre steel bullet is that when it strikes, unless it hits a vital spot, it does not mangle, but simply puts a man out of action, and that two more men take him to the rear, thus putting three out of action. But the theory does not work; for now that the magazine gun has multiplied every man in the trenches ten or twenty fold, no erect man of the attacking force can be spared to care for wounded comrades; consequently the man who falls is left where he is; no one can pay the slightest attention to him when every minute is infinitely precious and every stalking man is needed for the final instant. On the other hand, many of the wounds thus made are so slight that, if promptly cared for after the battle, the wounded men are able in a few days to be back with their regiments.

The little bullet darts through the soft part of leg or arm or body like a sewing-machine needle, and if a vital spot is not struck, and if no bones are shattered, the flesh closes up with beautiful repair; and if antisepticized the recovery is surprisingly quick. The prompt reappearance of these many slightly wounded men on the firing line is equivalent to a perpetual reënforcement; thus the campaign is prolonged indefinitely.

The humane sentiment is neutral as to the victory of either side in wars between civilized armies, and prays only that the slaughter and destruction may cease as soon as possible. If in the early weeks of the South African struggle each man hit had been wholly disabled, if not killed outright, it is inconceivable that the British people would have permitted the war to go on. If in the Philippines each native struck by an American bullet had been unable to recover and soon appear in arms again, that unhappy struggle would have ended long ago. Consequently, there is much to be considered before making a wholesale condemnation of the “dum-dum.” War cannot be anything but the most infernal thing on earth, and the sooner a campaign is over the better. We have to remind ourselves of the language of one of the generals in the Civil War to his officers: “Gentlemen, war means fight, and fight means kill; therefore the more you kill in any battle the sooner the misery of the war will end.”

CHAPTER II.British and American Recruits

Horse Guard on duty at headquarters, London.

The British soldier as he appears in the streets of London is the finest thing to look at in the military world. Although to the unused American eye most of these beings seem to be a little theatric in appearance, they are all that could be desired in uniform, build, and military bearing. In a nation of big men they have been chosen primarily for their height and their chest measurement, and they can scarcely be criticised for the somewhat exaggerated jauntiness which betrays a consciousness of their superior looks.

On the other hand, the American soldier as he is seen in the streets of a garrison city is not marked by either self-consciousness or noticeable bigness. His uniform is not showy, although it fits well, and the man inside of it is well set up; he is wiry, spry, and although of soldierly bearing, is more to be remarked for his alertness of movement. You would never think of calling him a magnificent creature; the keen face under the visored cap might be that of a young mechanic, business man, or student who had learned how to wear a uniform easily.

The recruit of the British army is chosen on physical grounds, and his obvious proportions seem to have been particularly desired. The American soldier, as we see him, talk with him, and hear what his officers have to say of him, seems to have obtained his place because he is a good all-around man, with no more muscle than intelligence, and with soundness of teeth considered as important as extensiveness of height.

The recruiting of the British army is admirably managed by some of the cleverest sergeants in the service. They must be able to tell at a glance whether an applicant is likely to pass an examination, and then they must paint the glories and possibilities of a soldier’s life in sufficiently alluring colors to persuade the prospective recruit to accept the “King’s shilling.”

The recruiting of the British army is always an interesting feature of the military life of London, and one may see it any week-day morning under the walls of the gallery opposite the church of St.-Martin’s-in-the-Fields. This church is on the upper edge of Trafalgar Square, in the busiest part of the city, and from nine o’clock in the morning the work goes on all day. The various branches of the service place signboards on the fence of the gallery court, upon which are hung bills that set forth in glowing language the advantages to be gained by enlisting in this or that service; also stating the requirements, pay, and allowances. All these boards are hung side by side, and there is an unwritten law that should a man be reading or looking at one board, the sergeant representing another branch of the service, or another regiment, is not permitted to speak to him until he has passed on. As soon as he has left the board, any of the recruiting officers is at liberty to speak to him.

There are from ten to twenty non-commissioned officers on duty at this place every morning; they are the finest types of men in the British service, and always appear in their best uniforms. They nearly all have the rank of sergeant-major, consequently their uniforms glitter with gold lace and attract the youth who have an eye for the military. One old sergeant-major is a particularly conspicuous character, being a veteran of the Crimea. He is a very old man, has been seen at this same spot, on the same service, for many years, and has become as well known to the Londoner as the very buildings themselves. His hair and beard are snow-white, and the years of campaigning have left their mark on his face; but his step is as youthful and elastic as that of any of the younger men on the same duty, and on his breast are the medals ofmany wars, most of them being ribbons one never sees except at Chelsea. He is the most energetic man on the recruiting detail, and he very seldom makes an error as to the eligibility of an applicant.

Possible candidates.

Persuasion by sergeant-major.

All day long the passers-by are scanned by these sharp old soldiers, and are invited to join the forces of the empire and attain the glory that, according to the “sar’-major,” is sure to be his portion. The dignity with which the recruiting is done is very pleasing, for these officers, uncommissioned though they be, wear their uniforms with the grace of a major-general. When they approach a man, they do so with an air of authority, in a straightforward manner, and although they depict the attractions of the service beguilingly, they seldom attempt to gain a recruit against his will. Most of those who loiter about the boards come with their minds made up to enlist, and do not need any great amount of persuasion. The grade of recruits taken in this manner is said to be rather low, as they are generally of the class that does not like to work, and has a mistaken idea that a soldier has an easy life.

Another method of recruiting the British army is by “recruiting marches” through the rural districts. With their most attractive uniforms, colors flying, and music piping, a battalion makes the entry into a town on their march in such engaging style that many of the youths of the place are sure to cast their lot with the army on the impulse of the moment; and in this way some of the best men are found, as in Great Britain the country lad seems to make the best soldier.

In the United States it has not been found necessary to resort to these expedients to gain recruits. The recruiting offices in time of peace show a small but steady stream of callers; they are not from the degraded classes, nor are they ignorant men; they are young men of various social grades who, in many cases, have been advised by older men to enter the army, or who think they see in its discipline, regularity of life, and opportunity for promotion a promising opening for three years of trial.

The rigidity of the examinations is in itself an attraction to the young American. There is no other line of work for which he must submit to such searching competitive tests as he finds in the recruiting office. Physically he must be perfect; unsoundness of eye, ear, lung, heart, liver, skin, limbs, extremities, or any other defect, will debar him no less than would his inability to read and write.