The Battle of Cannae

The Romans determined now to make an effectual effort to rid themselves of their foe. They raised an enormous army. It consisted of eight legions. The Roman legion was an army of itself. It contained ordinarily four thousand foot soldiers, and a troop of three hundred horsemen. It was very unusual to have more than two or three legions in the field at a time. The Romans, however, on this occasion, increased the number of the legions, and also augmented, their size, so that they contained, each, five thousand infantry and four hundred cavalry. They were determined to make a great and last effort to defend their city, and save the commonwealth from ruin. AEmilius and Varro prepared to take command of this great force, with very strong determinations to make it the means of Hannibal’s destruction.

The characters of the two commanders, however, as well as their political connections, were very dissimilar, and they soon began to manifest a very different spirit, and to assume a very different air and bearing, each from the other. AEmilius was a friend of Fabius, and approved of his policy. Varro was for greater promptness and decision. He made great promises, and spoke with the utmost confidence of being able to annihilate Hannibal at a blow. He condemned the policy of Fabius in attempting to wear out the enemy by delays. He said it was a plan of the aristocratic party to protract the war, in order to put themselves in high offices, and perpetuate their importance and influence. The war might have been ended long ago, he said; and he would promise the people that he would now end it, without fail, the very day that he came in sight of Hannibal.

As for AEmilius, he assumed a very different tone. He was surprised, he said, that any man could pretend to decide before he had even left the city, and while he was, of course, entirely ignorant, both of the condition of their own army, and of the position, and designs, and strength of the enemy, how soon and under what circumstances it would be wise to give him battle. Plans must be formed in adaptation to circumstances, as circumstances can not be made to alter to suit plans. He believed that they should succeed in the encounter with Hannibal, but he thought that their only hope of success must be based on the exercise of prudence, caution, and sagacity; he was sure that rashness and folly could only lead in future, as they had always done in the past, to discomfiture and ruin.