Being a General 101

Published:July 5, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

As far as I know, the game Risk did not exist 150 years ago, but if it did, the Scientific American was preparing its readers to win. This item, titled “Line of Battle,” appeared in the weekly magazine’s July 5 issue.

This expression often occurs in referring to the order of troops on the battle field, and it is doubtless the opinion of many that the two armies stand in two lines; but it is not so.

The army is divided into divisions, and there are often great gaps between the divisions. They are posted in positions, or in commanding places—that is, on hills, or in woods, or on the banks of streams, in places where they will be best able to resist or attack the enemy. The divisions are usually so placed that they can support one another. You can understand a line of battle pretty well, by imagining a regiment here on a hill, another down in the valley, a third in a piece of woods, with artillery and cavalry placed in the best positions. If you want to make it more real, when you are out in the fields or pastures, with the hills all around, just imagine that the enemy is over yonder hill, with ten thousand men and twenty pieces of artillery. You are a general, and have an equal number. The enemy will come down that road, spread out into the filed, or creep up through the woods and attack you.

You can’t exactly tell how many men he will send on the right, or how many on the center, or how many on the left; so you  must arrange your forces to support each other. Then, to shift it, you are to attack him. You don’t know how his troops are arranged, for he keeps them concealed as well as he can. You don’t want many of your men killed, but do want a victory. Now there is a chance for you to try your skill in planning a line of battle. You must place your artillery where it will do the most damage, and receive the least from the enemy. You must move your infantry so that they will not be cut off by the enemy before they get near enough to cut them up in return. You see that it is no small thing to be a general. These are great responsibilities.

And if you’re more of a math nerd than a general, then the item appearing immediately under this one is for you:

FIGURES ON DRESS PARADE.—A correspondent in alluding to an extract copied into a late number of the SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, under the above caption, makes the following calculation:—Six hundred thousand men would extend in single ranks 227 3/11 miles, allowing two feet to a man. In double ranks they would extend 118 7/11 miles, and if formed in a hollow square, in double ranks, it would measure 28 6/22 miles on each side, and inclose nearly 807 square miles. They would stand on 55 35/363 acres, or nearly 1/11 of a square miles, each man occupying four square feet.

In case you were wondering.

IMAGE: A Halt in the Line of March by Edwin Forbes, ca. 1876 (Library of Congress)