"I’m a Doctor, Not a . . . ."
French Marshal-General Maurice de Saxe (1696-1750) was a brilliant commander. But his health was never good, and on top of that he was something of a hypochondriac. So when he went on campaign he usually took along M. Jean-Baptiste Senac, his personal physician. Now this was a useful precaution, given that on the occasions of each of his three greatest victories – Fontenoy (May 11, 1745), Rocoux (October 11, 1746), and Lauffeld (July 2, 1747) – he was gravely ill, once even being given up for lost; what he might have done to the enemy had he been in good health is something to be wondered at.
Anyway, one day in 1745, while besieging Tournai, Saxe was riding along the lines of investment in his coach, with the ever-present Dr. Senac at his side. Espying something that piqued his curiosity, the marshal ordered his coachman to drive closer to the trenches. Then, ordering the driver to stop, he leaped out, saying, “I shall not be absent many minutes."
The good doctor, startled to find himself in close proximity to a battery that was firing on the enemy, who might respond at any moment, immediately mentioned the danger to the marshal, who promptly replied, “Oh, never mind, if they fire, pull up the windows."
In addition to being a noted commander and notorious rake, Saxe wrote an interesting work on the conduct of war in his times, Reveries on the Art of War
(Mineola, N.Y.: Dover, 2007)
"Can You Send a Message?"
Graduating from West Point in 1936, Creighton Abrams was assigned to the 7th Cavalry, an element of the 1st Cavalry Division. He soon found himself serving as regimental communications officer, commanding several enlisted men and in charge of two radios which, since the regiment was still mounted, were transported on pack mules.
Now arguably, this was a pretty good assignment for a young officer. But as it turned out, the commander of the regiment had an aversion to radios. Perhaps fearing – as some officers did at the time – that radio communications were too uncertain, and could fail in moments of crisis, or perhaps disliking radios because – as many other officers felt – they interfered with his freedom of command, the colonel preferred to use mounted messengers. So he ordered Abrams to keep out of his way.
One day, during maneuvers, the regiment was heavily engaged. As a result, the colonel sent off messenger after messenger to brigade and division, in order to keep them posted as to his movements.
Meanwhile, as the day wore on Abrams and his team languished idly, trying to keep out of the colonel’s way yet still somewhat close to regimental headquarters.
Then, quite suddenly, the colonel sent for Abrams.
When Abrams arrived, the colonel asked, “Can you send a message?”
Abrams snapped out a prompt, “Yes, sir.”
“Good,” said the colonel, “Tell headquarters to please send back my messengers, so that I can maintain communications.”