"Put the useless mouths out"

"You must also put the useless mouths out of town and appoint six persons to take a list of their names tomorrow without further delay, and that without regard of persons, and speedily thrust them out of your city; by which expedient we shall make our bread last three months longer..."  So Blaise de Monluc urged the Senate of Siena in 1555 to help them hold out longer against their besiegers.  His recommendation reads detached, even cold, but the exigency of starving in a siege forced a good officer to advocate that.

Such a desperate measure was done before in other sieges and was done again.  Therefore de Monluc likely knew what would follow when those people were expelled.  The enemy did not want them; indeed, the enemy would have sought to maintain pressure on the defenders.  Any exodus from the fort helped to prolong the food supply for those fighting, hence, prolong the siege.  To put pressure back onto the defense, those turned out were subsequently turned back, usually by force, and ended up in the no-man's land between attackers and defenders without any food, without any shelter, without anywhere to go.

de Monluc recorded the consequences of his advice: "The list of these useless mouths I do assure you amounted to four thousand and four hundred people or more, which of all the miseries and desolations that I have ever seen was the greatest my eyes ever yet beheld or that I believe I shall ever see again... And these poor wretches were to go through the enemy, who still beat them back again towards the city, the whole camp continuing night and day in arms to that only end.  So that they drove them up to the very foot of the walls that they might the sooner consume the little bread we had left, and to see if the city out of compassion to those miserable creatures would revolt.  But that prevailed nothing, though they lay eight days in this condition where they had nothing to eat but herbs and grass, and above the one half of them perished, for the enemy killed them, and very few escaped away,  There were a great many maids and handsome women indeed, who found means to escape, the Spaniards by night stealing them into their quarters for their own provision.  But it was unknown to the Marquis for it had otherwise been death; and some strong and vigorous men also forced their way and escaped by night.  But all those did not amount to the fourth part and all the rest miserably perished."  de Monluc concludes with what reads almost like a prayer:  "These are the effects of war.  We must of necessity sometimes be cruel to frustrate the designs of the enemy.  God had need to be merciful to men of our trade, who commit so many sins and are the causers of many miseries and mischiefs."

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2006, Barry L. Siler
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