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Scipio foresaw that if the Carthaginians were unopposed in Spain and had leisure to consolidate and to organise their conquests there, the safety of Rome would always be threatened, notwithstanding that Hannibal's army might be expelled from Italy; for the productive gold and silver mines of the Peninsula would constantly replenish the Carthaginian treasury; while the inhabitants, the best and bravest of barbarians, who were capable of becoming under the training of Hannibal and his brother equal to the best soldiers in the world, would afford a constant supply of recruits to the Carthaginian armies.
Arnold says, "Had Publius Scipio, at this critical juncture, not sent his army to Spain instead of carrying it back with him to Italy, his son would in all probability never have won the battle of Zama."
And indeed the progress of this narrative will demonstrate it to be more than probable that if the Carthaginian forces, which were occupied in withstanding the Roman legions in Spain, had been at liberty to reinforce Hannibal in Italy, Rome could not have maintained the contest.
5. The position which Hannibal took up to the southeast of Placentia, between the Roman army and Ariminum, would have been in violation of the rules of war, if Hannibal had not been in a friendly country, and therefore able to march and encamp in any direction, secure of obtaining supplies from the country people. The violation of military rules would have consisted in this, that, although Hannibal had placed himself on the enemy-s communications with Rome, the Roman army
was based on Placentia, and had moreover several magazines in the neighbourhood from which it could draw its subsistence, while its position intercepted Hannibal's communications with the country of the Insubrian Gauls, to which he must have looked as his base if the country south of the Po had not been also friendly.
But under the circumstances it was a masterly manoeuvre, for Hannibal thereby placed himself between Scipio and the advancing army of Sempronius; and he doubtless did so with the intention of intercepting the latter and of destroying him before he could unite with Scipio. Why he did not execute that intention it is impossible to explain. We learn that Sempronius marched from Ariminum and effected his junction with Scipio near Placentia. We know that Hannibal could not have been restrained by the weakness of his force, because he shortly after engaged the two consuls united; and he ought not to have failed from ignorance of the march of Sempronius, for he possessed a numerous and excellent light cavalry in the Numidians, who were the best scouts in the world. Whatever the explanation may be of his permitting Sempronius to pass him and to join Scipio, if it proceeded from any fault of his, which is very improbable, he speedily redeemed it.
6. The conduct of Sempronius at the battle of the Trebbia is a remarkable instance of military incapacity. In war it is an axiom that every possible chance should be enlisted on your side. But the generalship of Sempronius arrayed every chance against him. Instead of leading into action men fresh and vigorous, his soldiers fatigued with struggling through the deep cold water, fasting and nearly frozen, were launched against Hannibal's troops in the full vigour of their strength. This was "taking the bull by the horns" with a vengeance; and the river, which the Romans crossed to engage the enemy, added immensely to their losses when they recrossed it to escape from him. It is a maxim that you should never fight with a river or defile in your rear, because, although you may be victorious, in such a position defeat would be ruin; and it is conceivable that even your chances of success would be diminished thereby, as men are not likely to fight so freely when they know their retreat is not secure.
7. The bravery and discipline of the Roman infantry, which broke through the enemy and marched clear off the field to Placentia, were admirable. With Hannibal's numerous cavalry it is difficult to understand how he allowed this body to reach Placentia—it certainly seems that he should have prevented its doing so. A parallel to this march is to be found in the magnificent retreat of the three regiments of the light division under Crawford, across the plain of Fuentes Onoro, in the face of an overwhelming French force of 5000 cavalry, 15 guns, and a large body of infantry in support.
8. The confidence Hannibal felt in the superiority of his own genius, is manifested by his plan for fighting at the Trebbia.
In judging of ordinary men we should be inclined to censure the inactivity which permitted the Roman army to cross the river and to form leisurely on the bank, without taking advantage of the confusion necessarily occasioned by such an operation, to attack and defeat it when landing before it could recover from that confusion. A general less self-confident than Hannibal, when about to engage his troops against an untried enemy, would have availed himself of the above most obvious and certain method of inflicting defeat. But Hannibal's policy was not only to defeat but to destroy, and by the moral effect of the annihilation of his foe to intimidate the Romans, at the same time that he thereby confirmed his new found allies in the belief that they would consult their best interests by remaining faithful to him. Had Hannibal attacked the Romans during their passage of the river their defeat would not have been less certain, but it would have been less decisive both in fact and in its moral effect. A much smaller number of Romans would have fallen; and both they and Hannibal's allies might have entertained, the one the boast, the other the reflection, that had the terrible Roman legions been arrayed against Hannibal on a fair field the result might have been very different.
After the defeat of the Trebbia the remnant of the Roman army shut itself up in Placentia, and left the open country to Hannibal, who cut off all communication with Etruria and Ariminum. The Romans could only obtain supplies by the Po, east of Placentia, the navigation of which was secured to them by the small town of Emparium, well fortified and strongly garrisoned. This place Hannibal endeavoured to take by a night surprise, but the defenders were on the alert, and having warned the garrison of Placentia by signals previously agreed upon, Scipio marched out of that town at the head of his cavalry followed as closely as possible by his infantry, and attacked the Carthaginians, who, discouraged by a slight wound received by Hannibal, retreated.
To remove the unfavourable moral effect of this failure Hannibal now undertook an expedition against Vicumviae, a town on the frontiers of Liguria, which the Romans had fortified during the Gaulish war, both for the purposes of a depot and to act as a check upon the Ligurians. Although he was in possession of Clas