Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Fabian Tactics

Gen. Nathanael Greene (July 27, 1742-June 19, 1786)

Like many American soldiers who rose to improbable greatness, Greene was a native genius. Readings in military history appear to have provided his entire background in military affairs. Perhaps it was his reading of the campaigns of the great Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, who defended Rome against the Carthaginian general Hannibal, that inspired his employment of Fabian tactics against the British in the southern campaigns of the American Revolution.

“Fabian tactics – A type of warfare in which combat is avoided and instead a policy of delay and harassment is directed at the enemy.” - Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson, and Grace P. Hayes. Dictionary of Military Terms: A Guide to the Language of Warfare and Military Institutions. New York: H.W. Wilson Co, 1986.

Greene described his operational-tactical method in a letter to his friend Jeremiah Wadsworth:

“Our army has been frequently beaten and like a Stock Fish grows the better for it. Lord Cornwallis, who is the modern Hannibal, has rambled through [a] great part of the Southern States, and his Tour has [sacrificed] a great number of Men without reaping any solid Advantages from it, except that of distressing the poor Inhabitants.”

“…[T]here are few Generals that [have] run oftener, or more lustily, than I have done. But I have taken care not to run too far; and commonly have run as fast forward as backward, to convince our Enemy that we were like a Crab that could run either way.”

Sometimes, of course, it was necessary to fight, but as Greene noted in a letter to the chevalier de La Luzerne:

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

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