In 1813, Buonaparte turned suddenly from Dresden twice against Bluecher, to say nothing of his incursion into Bohemia from Upper Lusatia, and both times without in the least attaining his object. They were blows in the air which only cost him time and force, and might have placed him in a dangerous position in Dresden.
Therefore, even in this field, a surprise does not necessarily meet with great success through the mere activity, energy, and resolution of the Commander; it must be favoured by other circumstances. But we by no means deny that there can be success; we only connect with it a necessity of favourable circumstances, which, certainly do not occur very frequently, and which the Commander can seldom bring about himself.
Just those two Generals afford each a striking illustration of this. We take first Buonaparte in his famous enterprise against Bluecher’s Army in February 1814, when it was separated from the Grand Army, and descending the Marne. It would not be easy to find a two days’ march to surprise the enemy productive of greater results than this; Bluecher’s Army, extended over a distance of three days’ march, was beaten in detail, and suffered a loss nearly equal to that of defeat in a great battle. This was completely the effect of a surprise, for if Bluecher had thought of such a near possibility of an attack from Buonaparte(*) he would have organised his march quite differently. To this mistake of Bluecher’s the result is to be attributed. Buonaparte did not know all these circumstances, and so there was a piece of good fortune that mixed itself up in his favour.
(*) Bluecher believed
his march to be covered by Pahlen’s
Cossacks, but these had been withdrawn without warning to
him by the Grand Army Headquarters under Schwartzenberg.
It is the same with the battle of Liegnitz, 1760. Frederick the Great gained this fine victory through altering during the night a position which he had just before taken up. Laudon was through this completely surprised, and lost 70 pieces of artillery and 10,000 men. Although Frederick the Great had at this time adopted the principle of moving backwards and forwards in order to make a battle impossible, or at least to disconcert the enemy’s plans, still the alteration of position on the night of the 14-15 was not made exactly with that intention, but as the King himself says, because the position of the 14th did not please him. Here, therefore, also chance was hard at work; without this happy conjunction of the attack and the change of position in the night, and the difficult nature of the country, the result would not have been the same.