Sir Arthur Wellesley, Chief Scout

My evening reading these days is broken into books and articles about:  the New York campaign during 1776-77, the British invasion of Portugal in 1808 and anything about the early years of the World War 2 on the Eastern Front.

From my Napoleonic reading last evening I learned that Arthur Wellesley's habit was to ride at the front of his armies and reconnoiter with his cavalry and light infantry ahead of the army. That seems atypical for commanders of the period and most modern commanders.

On the eve of Austerlitz Napoleon went outside his army's pickets with his bodyguard to try to gain some insight about the terrain before the battle but aside from this recorded moment, I can't think of any other 18th or 19th century army commander that did this as regularly as Wellington did.

In every Wellington battle, his use of terrain seems to be worth an extra brigade or two and always has a major impact on the result.  It was a secret to his success and I suspect that the more successful military leaders throughout history shared this same interest in seeing the battlefield terrain for themselves.


Doug Miller said…
Interesting information about the Iron Duke and interesting that both you and JC posted about scouting tonight. I suspect you're spot on that this habit had a lot to do with Wellington's ability to use terrain to his advantage so effectively. A potentially dangerous habit though - witness the demise of Stonewall Jackson!

This makes me wonder about Marlborough and Frederick, and their scouting habits...
Chris said…
Doug good point about General Jackson! It was definitely dangerous and it also points to Wellington's physical bravery.

I was also thinking this morning that General Patton might have done this to an extent. I've never read anything about him but there are at least two scenes in the George C. Scott movie about him where he visits a likely battlefield ahead of the army. Perhaps personal attention to the terrain is a characteristic of a good army commander. It's one of the things I worry about with the use of drones. We have so much information right now on a battlefield but is it always the best info to make decisions. I am not sure.