SURPRISE THE OPPONENT
In 331 BC, Alexander the Great fought his second and final battle against the Persian king Darius III at Gaugamela in northern Iraq. The evening before the battle, Alexander rode round the plain on which the battle would take place. He saw how Darius had prepared the field, here leveling the pitch for chariots, there placing snares and stakes into the ground to slow a cavalry charge. Alexander returned to his tent; he sat up into the early hours of the morning, thinking, and then fell asleep. Alexander continued sleeping late into the morning; anxious, his officers finally woke him: “How can you sleep,” they asked, “as if you had won the battle already?” “Have I not?”, replied Alexander with a smile: to see Darius’s preparations was to know his plan of battle. Alexander ordered certain changes made to the Macedonian dispositions. In spite of their vast numerical superiority, the Persians were routed, and Darius killed.
Talleyrand’s success in overthrowing Napoleon was due in large measure to his taking away Napoleon’s ability to surprise.
Richelieu said: “Secrecy is the very soul of all important undertakings.”
One of Napoleon’s maxims was toujours confondre, always confound and perplex. Confounding your opponent will dishearten and disorient him. Quite simply, your opponent cannot deflect a strike he does not see coming.
Do not signal your strikes as Pompey did at Pharsalus. On seeing Pompey’s cavalry massed on his left wing, Caesar knew at once what Pompey would try to do — circumvent his right wing and fall upon his rear — and so created a fourth line of battle to meet it.
Do not favor certain strikes or techniques over others. Do not be predictable. Since Napoleon’s opponents followed the accepted military principles of the day, he almost always knew beforehand what they would do.
Countless instances can be cited of Caesar’s attaining his objects through surprise.
In Napoleon’s corps d’armee system, each corps was a self-contained unit with its own infantry, cavalry, and artillery; each was of a different size, and the size of each would change during a campaign (or an altogether new corps formed). This would utterly confound his opponent, who might know that a certain corps was in a certain place, but not its size or composition.