The Siameses not proper for War; How contemptible the men in the Indies are as to their Courage; The Siameses abhor blood; How in fighting they disguise the design of killing their Enemies; How the King of Singor was taken by a Frenchman; The Siameses have little to fear from their Neighbours. The King of Siam has no other Troops maintain'd than his foreign Guard; The Country of Siam is very strong without Forts; The Siameses know not how to make a wooden Fort; Of their Artillery; In what their Armies consist; What is their order of battle and of their Encampments; Elephants of War; The Artillery begins the Fight; The Siameses easie to break, and to rally; Elephants not proper for War; The Siameses incapable of Sieges; Their weakness by Sea.
The Art of War is exceedingly ignor'd at Siam; The Siameses are little inclined to this Trade. The over-quick imagination of the excessive hot Countries, is not more proper for Courage, than the flow of imagination of Countries extreamly cold. The sight of a naked Sword is sufficient to put a hundred Siameses to flight; there needs only the assured tone of an European, that wears a Sword at his side, or a Cane in his hand, to make them forget the most express Orders of their Superiors.
I say moreover, that every one born in the Indies is without Courage; although he was born of European Parents. And the Portugueses born in the Indies have been a real proof thereof. A society of Dutch Merchants found in them only the Name and the Language, and the Bravery of the Portuguese: and if other Europeans went to seek out the Dutch, they would not be found more Valorous. The best constituted men are those of the Temperate Zones: and amongst these the difference of their common aliments, and of the places which they inhabit, more or less hot, dry or moist, exposed to the Winds, or to the Seas, Plains or Mountains. Woods or Champains, and much more the several Governments do cause great differences. For who doubts, for example, that the Antient Greeks, brought up in liberty, were incomparably more Valorous than the present Greeks, depressed by so long a Servitude? All these reasons do not concur to effiminate the Courage of the Siameses, I mean the heat of the Climate, the flegmatick Aliments, and the Despotick Government.
The Opinion of the Metempsychosis inspiring them with a horror of blood, deprives them likewise of the Spirit of War. They busie themselves only in making Slaves. If the Peguins, for example, do on one side invade the lands of Siam, the Siameses will at another place enter on the Lands of Pegu, and both parties will carry away whole Villages into Captivity.
But if the Armies meet, they will not shoot directly one against the other, but higher: and yet as they endeavour to make these random Shots to fall back upon the Enemies, to the end that they may be overtaken therewith, if they do not retreat, one of the two Parties do's not long defer from taking flight, upon perceiving it never so little to rain Darts or Bullets. But if the design be to stop the Troops that come upon them, they will shoot lower than it is necessary; to the end that if the Enemies approach, the fault may be their own in coming within the reach of being wounded or slain. Kill not is the order, which the King of Siam gives his Troops, when he sends them into the Field: which cannot signifie that they should not kill absolutely, but that they should shoot not directly upon the Enemy.
Some have upon this account informed me a thing, which in my opinion, will appear most incredible. 'Tis of a provincial named Cyprian, who is still at Surat in the French Company's Service, if he has not quitted it, or if he is not lately dead: the name of his Family I know not. Before his entrance into the Companies service, he had served some time in the King of Siam's Army in the quality of Canoneer; and because he was prohibited from shooting strait, he doubted not that the Siamese General would betray the King his Master. This prince sending afterwards some Troops against the Tchaou-Meuang, or if you will, against the King of Singor, on the western Coast of the Gulph of Siam, Cyprian wearied with seeing the Armies in view, which attempted no persons life, determin'd one night to go alone to the Camp of the Rebels, and to fetch the King of Singor into his Tent. He took him indeed, and brought him to the Siamese General, and so terminated a War of above twenty years. The King of Siam intended to recompence this service of Cyprian with a quantity of Sapan-wood; but by some intrigue of Court he got nothing, and retir'd to Surat.
Now though the Siamese appear to us so little proper for War, yet they cease not to make it frequently and advantageously, by reason that their Neighbours are neither more potent nor more valiant than them.
The King of Siam has no other Troops maintained than his foreign Guard, of which I will speak in the sequel. 'Tis true that the Chevalier de Fourbin had showed the Exercise of Arms to four hundred Siameses, which we found at Bancock: and that after he had quitted this Kingdom, anEnglishman, who had been a Sergeant in the Garrison of Madraspatan, on the Coast of Coromandel, showed this same exercise, which he had learnt under the Chevalier de Fourbin, to about eight hundred other Siameses, to show the King of Siam that the Chevalier de Fourbin was not necessary to him. But all these Soldiers have no other pay, than the Exemption from the six Months Service for some of their Family. And as they cannot easily maintain themselves from their own Houses, by reason they receive no money, they remain at their own Habitations; the four hundred about Bancock, and the other eight hundred at Louvo, or thereabouts. Only for the security of Bancock some Detachments went thither by turns to keep a continual Guard, and the rest being thereabouts might render themselves in case of an Alarm. But according to common practice of the Kingdom of Siam, the Garrisons which it may have, are composed of persons, who serve in this by six Months, and they should serve in another thing; and who are relieved by others when they have served their full time.
The Kingdom of Siam being very strong by its impenetrable Woods, and by the great number of Channels, wherewith it is interspersed, and in fine by the annual Innundation of six Months, the Siameses would not hitherto have places well fortified for fear of losing them, and not being able to retake them; and this is the reason they gave me thereof. The Castles they have would hardly sustain the first shock of our Soliders; and though they be small and ugly, because they would have them such, yet is it necessary to employ the skill of the Europeans to delineate them.
'Tis some years since the King of Siam designing to make a wooden Fort on the Frontier of Pegu, had no abler a person to whom he could entrust the care thereof, than to one named Brother Rene Charbonneau, who after having been Servant of the Mission of St. Lazarus at Paris, had passed to the Service of the Foreign Missions, and was gone to Siam. Brother Rene, who by his Industry knew how to let blood, and give a Remedy to a sick Person (for it is by such like charitable Employments, and by some presents, that the Missionaries are permitted and loved in this Country) defended himself as much as he could from making this Fort, protesting that he was not capable: but in short he could not prevent rendering obedience, when it was signified to him that the King of Siam absolutely requir'd it. He was afterwards three or four years Governor of Jonsalam by Commission, and with great approbation: and because he desired to return to the City of Siam to his Wife's Relations, which are Portugueses, Mr. Billi, the Master of Mr. de Chaumont's Palace, succeeded him in the Employment of Jonsalam.
The Siameses have not much Artillery. A Portuguese of Macao, who died in their service, cast them some pieces of Cannon; but as for them, I question whether they know how to make any moderately good: though some have informed me that they have hammered some out of cold Iron.
As they have no Horses (for what is two thousand Horse at most, which 'tis reported that the King of Siam keeps?) their Armies consist only in Elephants, and in Infantry, naked and ill armed, after the mode of the Country. Their order of Battel and Encampment is thus.
They range themselves in three lines, each of which is composed of three great square Battalions; and the King, or the General whom he names in his absence, stands in the middle Battalion, which he composes of the best Troops, for the security of his Person. Every particular Captain of a Battalion keeps himself also in the midst of the Battalion which he commands: and if the nine Battalions are too big, they are each divided into nine less, with the same symmetry as the whole body of the Army.
The Army being thus ranged, every one of the nine Battalions has sixteen male Elephants in the rear. They call them Elephants of War: and each of these Elephants carries his particular standard, and is accompanied with two female Elephants; but as well females as males are mounted each with three armed Men; and besides this the Army has some Elephants with Baggage. The Siameses report that the female Elephants are only for the dignity of the males; but as I have already declared in the other part, it would be very difficult always to govern the males without the Company of the females.
The Artillery, at the places where the River grows shallow, is carried on Waggons draw by Buffalo's, or Oxen, for it has no carriage. It begins the Fight, and if it ends it not, then they place themselves within reach to make use of the small shot, and Arrows, after the manner as I have explained, but they never fall on with vigour enough, nor defend themselves with constancy enough, to come to a close Fight.
They break themselves and fly into Woods, but ordinarily they rally with the same facility, as they are broken; and if on some occasion, as in the last Conspiracy of the Macassars, it is absolutely necessary to stand firm, they can promise themselves to retain the Soldiers, only by placing some Officers behind, to kill those that shall fly. I have elsewhere related how the Macassars made use of Opium to endow themselves with Courage: 'tis a custom practised principally by the Ragipouts, and the Melays, but not by the Siameses: the Siameses would be afraid to become too Couragious.
They very much rely upon the Elephants in Combats, though this Animal for want of Bitt or Bridle, cannot be securely governed, and he frequently returns upon his own Masters when he is wounded. Moreover he so exceedingly dreads the fire, that he is never almost accustomed thereunto. Yet they exercise them to carry, and to see fired from their back little pieces about three foot long, and about a pound of Ball; and Bernier reports that this very practice is observed in the Mogul's Country.
As for Sieges they are wholly incapable thereof, for men that dare not set upon the Enemies when in view, will not vigorously attack a place never so little Fortified, but only by Treachery, in which they are very cunning, or by Famine, if the Besieged cannot have provision.
They are yet more feeble by Sea than by Land. Not without much ado the King of Siam hath five or six very small Ships, which he principally makes use of for Merchandize; and sometimes he arms them as Privateers against those of his Neighbours, with whom he is at War. But the Officers and Seamen, on whom he confides, are Foreigners; and till these latter times he had chosen English and Portuguese: but within these few years he hath employed some French, the King of Siam's Intention is, that his Corsairs should kill no person, no more than his Land Forces, but that they use all the Tricks imaginable to take some Prizes. In his War at Sea, he proposes to himself only some Reprisals from some of his Neighbours, from whom he believes himself to have received some injury in Trade. And the contrivances succeed whilst his Enemies are not in any distrust. Besides this he has fifty or sixty Galleys, whose Anchors, I have said are of Wood. They are only moderate Boats for a Bridge, which do every one carry fifty or sixty men to Row and Fight. These men do fight by turns, as in every thing else: There is only one to each Oar; and he is obliged to Row standing, because the Oar is so short, for lightness sake, that it would not touch the water, if not held almost perpendicular. These Gallies only coast it along the Gulph of Siam.