It is more than curious, it is wonderful, to observe how many sieges will be found in this volume, whose fate has been decided by means with which the art of war, as taught in the schools, had nothing to do; and it is always the captain of the greatest genius who seizes upon every unforeseen discovery, any extraordinary accident, any suddenly-perceived natural advantage, to defeat the best-concerted and most scientific plans of his adversary: in one instance the fortune of an assault is changed by suspending a pig over the walls by a string fastened to his leg.
To induce students of the military art to read this work, I shall satisfy myself with relating one fact. When Prince Eugene was before Belgrade, he was surprised by the appearance of an immense Turkish host in his rear, which commenced their intrenchments, and prepared to sit down comfortably to watch, annoy, and, with good opportunity, to attack him. But Eugene had been an abbé before he was a soldier, and had read "Cæsar's Commentaries." He recollected that Cæsar had once been circumstanced exactly as he then was, and he determined to act as Cæsar had done. He allowed his enemies all to come up, but before they had quite established themselves in their new abode, he led his whole force to a night assault, and though superior numbers and unforeseen accidents increased the difficulties, he defeated and dispersed the Turkish army, and the city in consequence surrendered. Had Prince Eugene not read Cæsar, it is more than probable he would never have taken Belgrade.
For my humble part in this eventful story, I have much indulgence to request. To give such an account of the Great Sieges of History as the subject deserved, in one volume, was a thing impossible; and yet that was my task. The details of most of the sieges I have been obliged to curtail, and to entirely omit some which, I fear, may be looked for by those who are locally interested in them. Nevertheless, I have spared neither labour nor research; and if earnestness of purpose and honesty of intention merit approbation, I may, I trust, hope for as much as such a work deserves.
In the arrangement of the sieges, after taking the first one to which each place had been subjected in chronological order, I judged it best to carry on the account so as to give a continuous sketch of the sieges, or, in other words, of the history of the country or city in question. After the first perusal, such a book as this will be considered a work of reference, and, in that view, this plan must be the best. For the same reason I have admitted many sieges that cannot be classed as "great," because they formed connecting links between the large ones. Without them, the unlearned reader would be surprised, when next his attention was drawn to a city which had cost one power immense sacrifices to obtain, to find it in the possession of another.