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The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529

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The Art of War in Italy, 1494-1529
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Author(s): F. L. Taylor
Date Published: 2012/04
Page Count: 156
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-815-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-814-9

The birth of ‘New War’ in Italy

It is easy to consider the Renaissance as a time of enlightenment typified principally by the artistic and scientific genius of Leonardo da Vinci and his peers; but giant leaps forward are never confined to one aspect of society and the application of new ideas is always adapted to various purposes and the meeting of differing objectives. The creation of modern political science by Niccolo Machiavelli is a prime example of how new ways of thinking and doing impacted on the advancement and securing of power. These changes were inevitably accompanied by significant developments in making war more effectively, strategically and tactically—with corresponding advances in weaponry and other equipage. This excellent book considers these developments through the changes to traditional military strategy and the use of infantry, cavalry and artillery, in both open battle and fortification and siege-craft, at the turn of the sixteenth century.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

At Ravenna we again find the opposing armies separated by a river. The army of the Holy League occupied an entrenched camp with the river Ronco on its left. Its front, which met the river at right angles on the left, gradually curved back towards the right. Progress in tactical skill is shown by the fact that the attacking force no longer contemplates an offensive across the bed of the river. Gaston de Foix crossed the river at a spot below the position of his adversaries and advanced frontally against them. The League troops were organized in depth—vanguard in front, main body immediately behind, and rearguard behind the main body. With the river on their left and entrenchments in front and on the right this battle-order was well fitted for defensive tactics. The formation in which the French advanced after their passage of the river showed that they on their side had matured a sound plan of attack. Their vanguard, consisting of infantry and cavalry, and their main body, with the exception of its heavy cavalry, moved forward in line on a wide front and enveloped the enemy on his right flank.<br>
Immediately behind this front line the cavalry of the main body lay in close support. The rearguard was left at the river crossing in general reserve. Both armies placed their artillery in front, and the battle opened with a prolonged mutual bombardment. In the course of this bombardment a part of the French artillery was manoeuvred in a way which decided the issue. The Duke of Ferrara’s guns were brought round to the right flank and rear of the hostile position, while other guns were taken back across the river and posted at a spot on the opposite bank from which they could command the enemy’s left. The fire from these guns became so unendurable to the cavalry of the League that it was forced to leave the camp and to meet the French in the open.<br>
This move precipitated a general action. The Spanish and Italian infantry were constrained to follow in support of their cavalry, but when once the army of the League decided to accept battle outside the camp, their entrenchments and their defensive formation turned from a protection to an impediment. The vanguard and main body issued piecemeal and in some disorder into a battlefield which was enclosed in front and on the right by the vast sweep of the French line. Converging charges from this perimeter first broke the Spanish and Italian cavalry and then compelled the retirement of the Spanish infantry. The rearguard of the League fled from the field, and a final charge by some French men-at-arms from across the river forced an entrance into the camp and captured the remnant of its garrison.<br>
The many contemporary writers who have left us records of this famous battle were impressed chiefly by the obstinacy of the struggle, by the unparalleled casualties, and by the decisiveness of the result. It is still more important as a landmark in the history of tactics. The encircling movement of the attacking force and the organization of the defence in depth, both show a grasp of tactical principle considerably above the average warfare of the period. Machiavelli acutely points out that the failure of the army of the League was due less to faulty tactics than to faulty engineering.<br>
Their choice of ground and their protective works were not equal to defending them from the skilful gunnery of the enemy, and an enforced transition from defensive to offensive action placed them at an irremediable disadvantage in the subsequent hand-to-hand fighting. The converging charges of the French men-at-arms, the calling up of the reserve to complete the discomfiture of the opposing infantry, the pursuit of the enemy from the field, and the final capture of their camp—each of these phases of the fight contributed to the final victory—each was a limb of a well-knit organic whole, and a proof that soldiers were at last learning the importance of co-ordinating arms and units. The failure of the invincible Spanish foot to maintain the fight when their supporting cavalry had been broken served yet further to impress on military opinion the interdependence of the different parts of an army.
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