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In the middle of the 100 years' War, France's Bertrand du Guesclin reportedly used "countermarch" tactics successfully against the English. Another example was General National Greene's "March to the Dan" through the Carolinas to Virginia (and ultimately back to Guilford Courthouse) against Cornwallis during the American Revolution, over somewhat larger distances. And the classic example, of course, was the Long March of the Communists in China away from the Nationalists to the northwest of China in the mid-1930s. In each case, a weaker force used the factors of time and distance to turn the tables against a stronger attacker. What caused them to succeed?

On the other hand, Vercingetorix apparently failed to use such tactics versus Caesar in Gaul. This is true even though he was covering almost the same general area (and distances) as France's Bertrand du Guesclin (although at a different time period). Could a plausible case have been made that such a strategy might have worked?

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I think this question might be too broad. For this to be a history question, an answerer will have to take an overview of every such campaign and analyze the factors that made it successful or unsuccessful. That kind of effort is book-level effort, not question level. – Doug T. Oct 31 '11 at 17:13
@DougT: I narrowed it by citing specific examples. I was not asking about ALL instances of such strategies, but contributing factors to a handful. – Tom Au Oct 31 '11 at 18:03
I think it'd be better if you focused either on specific ones or wanted to compare/contrast two. The ones you list are so diverse that you might as well be asking about "long marches" in general. – Doug T. Oct 31 '11 at 19:10
@doug I couldn't disagree more. Even in the original context, I feel it's perfectly valid. I don't see the need to cover every long march strategy ever in order to draw parallels and patterns. For example "I often get heartburn when I eat fast food". I don't need to eat at every taco joint in town to make that statement; instead I can look at the ones I'm aware of and what foods I eat, how I eat them, and what other factors contribute to my heartburn. History is an analysis of historical fact. The phrase "history repeats itself" would be meaningless if you couldn't draw patterns! – corsiKa Oct 31 '11 at 20:59
up vote 1 down vote accepted
  1. Extending the supply lines of the enemy

  2. Drawing the enemy into a difficult terrain the defenders know better

  3. Trading space for time

  4. Waging partisan warfare behind the enemy lines

  5. Turning the war into one of attrition (works if you have numerical supremacy)

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This isn't really a History answer. More useful would be an overview of historical evidence for why your assertions are true in the general sense. – Doug T. Oct 31 '11 at 17:12
Wars or attrition are not always useful for those with numerical superiority either, if you are highly mobile v. an army that is not you can snipe them and drag it out. The American Revolution would be one case of that, as noted. – MichaelF Oct 31 '11 at 19:36

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