The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America

by Christopher Bassford

Oxford University Press, 1994

Table of Contents

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PART I. CHAPTER 3. Clausewitz in Great Britain before 1873

There were some signs of a mutual interest between Clausewitz and Great Britain even during his lifetime. His writing first appeared in English in 1815, in The Life and Campaigns of Field-Marshal Prince Blücher. This contains what Peter Paret has described as a "free rendering" of Clausewitz's study of the campaign of 1813. It was attributed to Gneisenau, however, and reveals neither the name of its true author nor any recognizable elements of his theoretical method.(*1) Clausewitz actually visited England in 1818. In 1819, he made an attempt to gain an ambassadorial appointment to London; he also wrote an essay urging the use of the British parliamentary model in Prussia. His diplomatic ambitions were frustrated, however, probably because his part in the reform of the Prussian army and in the events of 1812/13 had left him politically suspect not only in Berlin but also among conservatives in British diplomatic circles.(*2)

The posthumous publication of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege did, however, receive some early notice in the English-speaking world. In 1835, a substantial review article entitled simply "On War" appeared on both sides of the Atlantic. In England, the unsigned review was printed in The Metropolitan Magazine. This was a London monthly edited by Captain Frederick Marryat, a former naval officer better known today as an innovative writer of children's literature. It was picked up in America by the Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, published in Washington, D.C.(*3) The appearance of this article alone contradicts the common assumption that Clausewitz's major work was unknown in the English-speaking world before the Franco-Prussian War.

The anonymous but enthusiastic author of this review presented a fairly accurate description of Clausewitz's argument and fully appreciated its importance:

To such of our readers as may be acquainted with the German language, we cannot too strongly recommend the perusal of this posthumous production of General von Clausewitz; than which, few publications connected with the elementary principles of war were ever more deserving of attention—none more essentially calculated to elevate the author to the highest rank amongst strategists and philosophers.

The writer went on to recommend the work's translation and use in the military college at Sandhurst.

It is interesting to note the specific aspects of Clausewitz's discussion that drew our reviewer's attention. He mentioned in passing Clausewitz's discussion of the relationship of war to policy but fixed most strongly on the dynamics of war (particularly "friction"), the role of violence, and the nature of "military genius." There were also intelligent discussions of Clausewitz's views on the nature of theory and the role of personal experience in comprehending it, the uses (and abuses) of military history, and definitions of strategy and tactics. The writer was by no means uncritical. In particular, he berated Clausewitz for placing "patriotism amongst the fugitive portions of valor" in his discussion of moral forces: The courage and patriotism of British soldiers were not dependent on circumstances.

The article reveals a few things about its anonymous author. He presents himself as a man of some military experience. Perhaps more important, he shows a marked dissatisfaction with the negative effects of English social precepts as carried over into the armed forces: "Indeed, the baneful influence of patronage, interest, and wealth, whether in the army or navy, is generally so exclusive as to render merit, in inferior ranks, a mere dead letter, and often to stifle all feelings of legitimate ambition." (In a footnote, the editors expressly disavow support for this statement.) In short, our earliest Anglo-Clausewitzian was a "military reformer," a type that appeared frequently in the ranks of Clausewitz's readers in Great Britain.

It was suggested by a contemporary that the anonymous reviewer might have been Major North Ludlow Beamish (1797-1872), the historian of the King's German Legion.(*4) The suggestion was a logical one. Beamish, too, called for reforms (in the British cavalry), and his later work vociferously attacked the practice of purchasing commissions. Unfortunately for this supposition, his 1855 edition of Bismark's cavalry manual, revised with a great deal of material from as late as the Crimean War and heavily footnoted with references to Jomini, Archibald Alison, and the Archduke Charles, makes no reference to Clausewitz.(*5) Beamish was thus almost certainly not the enthusiastic reviewer of 1835.

That Beamish was the reviewer was suggested by a man who would otherwise have been himself a likely candidate for authorship, the reform advocate Colonel John Mitchell (1785-1859).(*6) Mitchell's father, a British diplomat, had enrolled his young son in the Ritterakademie in Prussia in 1797. He was commissioned in the British army in 1803 (Fifty-seventh Regiment) and served in the West Indies. He participated in the disastrous Walcheren expedition of 1809 and then served Wellington in the Peninsula from 1810 to 1812. In 1813 he joined the quartermaster general's staff, served in the campaign of 1814 in the Low Countries, and joined in the occupation of Paris. Owing to his great linguistic abilities, he was frequently employed by Wellington in negotiations with the allies. On half-pay from 1826, Mitchell was promoted to lieutenant-colonel in 1835 and to major-general in 1854. He wrote profusely on military subjects. A cultivated man, he also wrote a book entitled The Art of Conversation, with Remarks on Fashion and Address, under the pseudonym of Captain Orlando Sabertash.

Mitchell's views on military reform can be divided into two broad categories: tactical and organizational. His tactical ideas had little future. He believed in the dominance of shock over firepower, emphasizing the arme blanche of the cavalry. Somewhat inconsistently, however, he disparaged the bayonet and called for its abandonment. Although Mitchell's attitude toward the latter weapon was grounded in his practical observation that formed units virtually never used their bayonets in actual combat, it is curious that he should have ignored its moral effect. In every other respect he was intensely conscious of moral and psychological factors.

These factors are predominant in the organizational aspects of his theories, which were as radical as—if ultimately more realistic than—his tactical concepts. Mitchell sought to capitalize on what he saw as the splendid qualities of the common British soldier. He called for a new and closer relationship between officers and men, the abolition of the degrading system of punishments by which discipline was enforced, and the elimination of the pernicious effects of "interest" in the army. In pursuit of the last goal, he advocated the end of promotion by purchase and its replacement by a purely merit-based system. In these aims he was certainly both visionary and prophetic. Promotion by purchase was not ended until 1871.

Mitchell embarked on his public quest for reform around 1830, and his views seem to have been fully formed by 1838.(*7) His major theoretical work, published in that year, was Thoughts on Tactics and Military Organization. He opened with a chapter entitled "Causes of the Slow Progress of Military Science," which noted that although England might at any moment be called upon to wage war in any quarter of the globe, there was not "a single work on military science" in the English language. Pursuing the question as to why this should be so, Mitchell paused to give the floor to Clausewitz:

The late General Clausewitz tells us in a very able, though lengthy, and often obscure book on War, that "war comes not within the province of the arts and sciences, but is simply an action of ordinary life; a conflict of great interests that ends in blood, and differs in this last respect only from other conflicts. The principal difference [between art and war] consists in this," says the General, "that war is not deliberate action directed against dead matter or substance, as in the mechanical arts; nor is it deliberate action directed against a living, yet suffering and yielding object, as in the arts intended to influence the minds or feelings of men ... but it is action directed against re-action. How little this kind of action comes within the province of arts and sciences is evident, and it proves how dangerous and detrimental to armies must have been the constant striving to govern them, by laws resembling those to which dead matter is subject. And yet it is exactly after the mechanical arts, that men have attempted to model the art of war."(*8)

Rather curiously, despite this observation, Mitchell continued to call for a British study of "military science."

This was the only explicit reference to Clausewitz in Mitchell's Thoughts on Tactics, although he shortly thereafter discussed war as a duel and the question as to whether generals are born or made. In these discussions he clearly seems to be drawing on the same source. Indeed, one could read a Clausewitzian influence into many sections of this book, but this is the only place where firm connections can be demonstrated. Mitchell's three-volume The Fall of Napoleon (1845) also made many respectful if sometimes puzzled references to Clausewitz, drawing on both Vom Kriege and the campaign studies of 1812, 1814, and 1815. During the Crimean War, Mitchell used Clausewitz's discussions of the campaign of 1812 in explaining Russian vulnerabilities, calling the Prussian writer "in the estimation of many, the highest authority that can be quoted on a Military subject."(*9)

In another article, Mitchell made an argument for the utility to Britain of a military theory aimed at the deeper fundamentals of war:

It would, of course, be impossible to calculate how far [our] total disregard of military science may have influenced our military enterprises; but it is a curious circumstance, that though generally victorious when contending against adversaries who met us with the usual arms of disciplined foes, and fought us according to the conventional mode of European warfare, our most signal defeats were sustained from undisciplined adversaries, who knew little or nothing of our modern tactics, and struck, by chance or good management on their part, at the weak points of our conventional and only method of fighting.... Might it not be said, that, believing our system of tactics to have attained absolute perfection, we had neglected to examine the original principles of the science, and had never compared its strength and efficiency with the different modes of fighting which might be brought against us?... The work of Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, published at least eight years ago, and forming, it may almost be said, an era in military science, has never been translated or noticed among us—never noticed in any of the leading reviews of [a] country the soldiers of which must at all times be prepared to encounter every description of enemy, from the trained armies of Europe to the fierce swordsman of Persia; and from the stealthy rifleman of America to the wild horseman of Lahore.(*10)

Strachan found it ironic that "Clausewitz's outstanding British pupil" should imbibe his wisdom in the area of tactics rather than in strategy. This is somewhat unfair to Mitchell, because his book is, after all, about tactics. His overall reform argument, on the other hand, was based on a moral and psychological perception that far transcended mere tactics. It is unfair as well to Clausewitz, because his book likewise is about far more than strategy. Mitchell's comments on the Prussian writer's theories, just excerpted, certainly have more than tactical implications. The first describes a concept that is one of the central pillars of Clausewitz's philosophy of war.

Strachan also sees Mitchell as strategically unsophisticated, largely because of the latter's contemptuous attitude toward Napoleon. Mitchell's critique of Napoleon was not, however, rooted in a purely military judgment. In that area Mitchell was certainly far more critical of the emperor than is customary, but it was Napoleon's moral and political errors, which in fact led to the collapse of the empire, that drew his deeper scorn. There is, after all, something to be said for judging strategists by the ultimate outcome of their efforts.(*11) Since Napoleon held both the political and the military reins, our judgment of him as a strategist should embrace both aspects.

Mitchell never explicitly discussed Clausewitz in terms of the relationship of war to policy and politics, but he did bring up both the intimate connection between Britain's military weaknesses and its constitution and the requirement that the British army remain utterly apolitical. He apologized for even touching on the subject of politics in a military work but justified his temerity in this regard by his own scrupulously evenhanded contempt for both Whigs and Tories.(*12)

Such comments help explain the general lack of attention paid by British writers to this aspect of Clausewitz's thought.

The extent to which the Prussian military philosopher had actually shaped Mitchell's overall views is unknowable, of course. Mitchell had embarked on his reform efforts before Vom Kriege was published, and neither Mitchell nor other British military writers of this period were in the habit of footnoting the sources of each of their insights and inspirations.

Clausewitz's writings also drew some attention closer to the heart of Britain's military community. On 24 September 1842, the duke of Wellington addressed a memorandum to Francis Egerton, earl of Ellesmere, concerning Clausewitz's study of the Waterloo campaign of 1815.(*13) It is an interesting document not only because it refers to Clausewitz but also because it is the only personal response that Wellington ever made to any of the many studies of that famous battle.

Although chiefly remembered as a literary figure and as a patron of the arts, the politically prominent Ellesmere (1800-57) held a (probably honorary) commission as a captain in the Staffordshire yeomanry and served as secretary at war for a brief period in 1830. Ellesmere wrote, edited, and translated several works on military history and on contemporary military events.(*14) He was a friend and admirer of the duke. His military interests may in fact be more a reflection of this relationship than of his own inclinations. Ellesmere served as Wellington's mouthpiece in several disputes over military policy and history. In this role he was probably a valuable pressure valve for the duke, who took great pains in his own signed works never to cause offense.

Around 1839, another of Wellington's friends, the third Lord Liverpool, had been introduced to Clausewitz's collected works by a German friend.(*15) Charles Cecil Cope Jenkinson (1784-1851) was the son of the Tory prime minister Lord Liverpool (in office from 1812 to 1827). He had spent time as a youth in the Royal Navy, served as attaché at Vienna, and fought in the Austrian army at Austerlitz. Afterward he entered Parliament, joined the cabinet in 1807, and became undersecretary of state for war and the colonies in 1809. Liverpool was initially interested only in the German author's role in General von Yorck's defection, with his Prussian corps, from Napoleon's to the allied camp in 1812. He grew absorbed, however, in the philosopher's other works and became quite enthusiastic about the theoretical arguments contained in On War. Liverpool told the duke about On War, which he called a "work of exceeding interest."

Wellington, however, had no interest in theory—or mere "reveries," as he called it. He was concerned only with Clausewitz's discussion of the Waterloo campaign, particularly his analysis of Marshal Grouchy's operations.(*16) Liverpool offered some defense of the theoretical aspects of On War, but made no headway. He then provided the duke with a manuscript translation of The Campaign of 1815 in France.(*17)

Clausewitz's study pays more attention to the Prussian than to the British role in the campaign, not because of national prejudice but because he considered the Prussian forces to have taken a more active role. They had met the first French assault, and later, after Wellington's defensive action, they had exploited his victory by conducting the pursuit. Although complimentary in many respects, Clausewitz was critical of Wellington's passivity, his dispositions, and the dispersion of his forces (particularly the detachment of some eighteen thousand troops to cover other possible French approaches via Hal and Tubize; these men were effectively eliminated from the Anglo-Dutch order of battle at Waterloo). Clausewitz also implied that the duke was overconcerned with his own line of retreat and had made no offensive plans to exploit any defensive success. His key observation, however, was that "Lord Wellington had never personally commanded against Bonaparte and perhaps therefore he was not sufficiently aware that the lightning bolt of a major battle would be forced on him" by the emperor, who always sought thus to reach a decision.(*18)

The Campaign of 1815 was completed around 1827, that is, before Clausewitz had fully developed the great insights of On War. This is an important point to keep in mind when considering Wellington's response.

Wellington turned over the manuscript to Colonel John Gurwood (his literary assistant) and Lord Ellesmere, directing that they check the translation before he read it.(*19) After reading it, the duke responded in a memorandum that was drafted in part by Egerton and was evidently well known in nineteenth-century Britain.(*20) Despite the widespread interest in Clausewitz since 1976, this exchange has fallen into obscurity. Historians to whom I have mentioned it have responded with surprise.(*21) One modern British historian who is aware of it nonetheless dismissed it, noting in his bibliography that "Germans who have written about the campaign are too much interested in pleading their own causes."(*22)

Wellington's discussion of Clausewitz's Waterloo study was elaborate, which is especially interesting because his policy was normally to ignore critics. In general, the duke was unhappy with all unofficial accounts of the campaign and discouraged all attempts to write them, being convinced that a satisfactory account was impossible. "The battle of Waterloo is undoubtedly one of the most interesting events of modern times, but the Duke entertains no hopes of ever seeing an account of all its details which shall be true."(*23)

Surely the details of the battle might have been left in the original official reports. Historians and commentators were not necessary.... We find the historians of all nations, not excepting ... the British, too ready to criticize the acts and operations not only of their own Generals and armies, but likewise of those of the best friends and allies of their nation, and even of those acting in co-operation with its armies. This observation must be borne in mind throughout the perusal of Clausewitz's History."(*24)

Wellington persisted in this attitude right up to his death. His rigidity in this matter is curious, since he was himself an avid reader of military history and he knew well the inherent imperfections of the genre. He once pointed out that a battle was rather like a ball, full of interesting incidents that none of the participants could later put into anything like chronological order, much less reconstruct into a coherent story.(*25) It was only with regard to his own battles that he complained of historians' futile attempts to do so. One motive may have been his concern about resurrecting "certain dishonourable incidents" involving British officers.

Although he disputed some important points, Wellington seems to have had a high opinion of Clausewitz as a historian. At least, the memorandum contains none of the vitriol that Egerton, writing at the duke's behest, cast at the historian Archibald Alison and at Clausewitz's competitor Antoine-Henri Jomini.(*26) Wellington himself credited the German writer with many insights, saying, for instance, that his account of events on 17 June 1815 were "as nearly as possible, an accurate representation of what passed." He also took pains to show that he had always given proper credit to the Prussians for their role in the campaign.

The most interesting portions of the memorandum concern Clausewitz's criticisms of Wellington's initial defensive dispositions in the period before Napoleon took the offensive. Part of this discussion is technical, involving the disposition of the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian armies and the order of battle. Wellington defended his decisions on the grounds that Napoleon's route of advance could not be predicted and was, in the event, not the best choice.

More important from any theoretical point of view, Wellington went well beyond the merely technical into an examination of the deeper strategic and political reasoning behind his actions. His treatment became, in fact, quite theoretical. Wellington noted Clausewitz's sensitivity to the interplay between war and politics and objected that his criticisms of allied defensive dispositions were rooted in his preference for an offensive strategy aimed merely at the fighting of a "great battle." He felt that alternative dispositions (which he remarks that Clausewitz was "too wise" to describe in any detail) would have uncovered the Netherlands and his communications with England without, in fact, making such a decisive battle any more likely. Here, Wellington seems to have misconstrued Clausewitz's description of Napoleon's intention as the Prussian theorist's own desire.

The duke felt that the Prussian writer, in criticizing his army's relative passivity, had ignored the overall strategic dispersal of the allied armies and Napoleon's possession of the local initiative. Wellington saw no value in seeking such a "great battle ... even under the hypothesis that the result would have been a great victory." His object was the preservation of the allied forces in Belgium for use in crushing Napoleon through coordinated actions that, because of the alliance's sheer numerical superiority, would have been far more sure—and less costly—in their result. The moral effect of a defeat, on the other hand, might have imperiled the entire allied cause. Clausewitz's desire for decisive battle did not, in this case, accord with the political aims of the alliance.

The Historian [Clausewitz] shows in more than one passage that he is not insensible of the military and political value of good moral impressions resulting from military operations. He is sensible of the advantage derived by the enemy from such impressions. He is aware of the object of Buonapart to create throughout Europe, and even in England, a moral impression against the war, and to shake the power of the then existing administration in England. He is sensible of and can contemplate the effect of the moral impression upon the other armies of Europe, and upon the governments in whose service they were, resulting from the defeat or even want of success of the Allied armies under the command of the Duke of Wellington and Prince Blücher. But he is not sensible of, and cannot calculate upon, or even consider the effect of, the moral impression resulting from the loss of Bruxelles and Ghent, the flight of the King of the Netherlands, and of the King Louis XVIII., the creatures of the treaties of peace, and of the acts of the Congress of Vienna; and this with the loss of the communications of the army under the Duke of Wellington with England, Holland, and Germany, without making the smallest effort to save any of these objects.

Wellington's criticism of Clausewitz is thus an appreciation of the very contradictions that Clausewitz himself had later discovered in his own work, a discovery that had led to his major revisions in On War and to his development of the more comprehensive theory that marks his greatness as a military philosopher. Decisive battle need not be the goal of the wise strategist: Decisions must instead be made in full accordance with the specific political situation. This does not necessarily invalidate Clausewitz's criticisms, of course, many of which have since been accepted even by British writers.(*27)

The English translation of The Campaign of 1815 was never published. Wellington's good friend Francis Egerton was, however, the anonymous translator of Clausewitz's Campaign of 1812 in Russia, which was published by John Murray in 1843.(*28) The earl included a decent biographical sketch of the author in a long and thoughtful preface. Wellington wrote Egerton an entirely positive letter discussing its contents, although it is uncertain whether he actually had read the book. Once again, the duke's interest was largely personal, excited by Ellesmere's observation that elements of the Russian plan of defense had been fashioned after Wellington's own defense of Torres Vedras.(*29)

This study of the 1812 campaign—which, like most of Clausewitz's published works, is somewhat unfinished—is sometimes dismissed as a mere recounting of its author's experiences in Russia with no theoretical significance. In fact, however, it is a useful demonstration of Clausewitz's critical approach to the writing of military history and contains an assessment of Napoleon's 1812 strategy more extensive in some respects than that given in On War. It also contains some important elements of Clausewitz's larger theory. The concept of "friction," for instance, is implicit in his discussion of his own role in bringing about the Convention of Tauroggen (Yorck's decision to defect with his corps from the French camp), but it is also explicitly discussed as a theoretical concept. A great many other aspects of Clausewitz's analysis of the dynamics of war also appear, particularly his concept of the "culminating point" of the offensive.(*30)

Another of Clausewitz's historical studies formed the main basis for an 1852 article by C.E. Watson (Seventh Royal Fusiliers), "The German Campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus." Watson was impressed by Clausewitz's theoretical arguments concerning defensive war, although he did not describe those arguments in detail.(*31)

None of Clausewitz's campaign studies was published in French before Jean Colin's translation of The Campaign of 1796 in Italy appeared in 1899.(*32) Vom Kriege, however, was translated into French in 1849-51 by a Belgian artillery officer named Jean Baptiste Charles François Neuens. (Another French translation appeared in 1886/1887.)(*33) Nicolas Édouard Delabarre-Duparcq was professor of the art of war at St. Cyr. His 1853 Commentaire sur la traité de la guerre de Clausewitz was based on Neuen's work.(*34)

A long and unsigned English review of Duparcq's commentaries appeared in the pages of the United Service Magazine in 1854.(*35) The reader must labor under the triple handicap of reading a British writer's review of a French commentary on a French translation of a work that is not entirely clear in the original German. The British writer did not help things when he indiscriminately mixed his own comments on England's military reform problem and his own views of both Duparcq and Clausewitz with Duparcq's original observations. It is nonetheless an interesting document that is worthy of some detailed attention.

Indicating that there was indeed a British awareness of Clausewitz in this period, the reviewer opened with a comment that is as applicable in its implications today as it was in 1854: "General von Clausewitz's work on Warfare is known, at least by name, to most military men."(*36) He noted the initial enthusiasm that had greeted the work in Germany, as well as a certain disappointment with it and a subsequent loss of interest. At the time of his writing, however,

it has appeared, owing to the events of the late wars being now read with less party bitterness, that Von Clausewitz was far more correct than was at first allowed. Of his numerous critics, De La Barre Duparcq ... appears the most impartial and judicious in his remarks; and in laying these before our readers, we shall be doing them no little service.

The review was critical in several areas, but like virtually all British discussions of Clausewitz before 1914, it maintained a respectful tone throughout.

We cannot know what subtle, perhaps unconscious lessons Duparcq and others took from reading Clausewitz themselves,(*37) but their published comments would have helped shape the general perception of a military audience that was aware of his reputation but not his message. This review certainly did not paint Clausewitz as a bloodthirsty ogre or as a mere proponent of mass and the offensive, views that became widespread after World War One. It touched on quite a few of the many facets of his work and attempted to grapple with several of the subtle questions that Clausewitz raises.

Duparcq (or his reviewer) praised Clausewitz unreservedly on several points. He accepted his comments on the unwisdom of moderation in war arising from feelings of humanity, although he understood this simply as being, in the long run, the more humanitarian approach; he did not discuss Clausewitz's deeper understanding of the role of violence in war. He accepted as well Clausewitz's rejection of theories rooted in mathematical calculation, his portrayal of war as a game of chance, and his insistence on the role of personal experience in understanding military theory. The reviewer described attack and defense in a manner that prefigures Hans Delbrück's later discussion of the strategy of attrition, but he expressed frank puzzlement concerning Clausewitz's skepticism of the maneuver warfare of the eighteenth century. He endorsed the Prussian's emphasis on the power of moral factors in warfare but had great difficulty in distinguishing between the effects of "morale" and purely physical factors like firepower. The brief discussion of Clausewitz's definition of war as an instrument of policy is especially curious. The point was not disputed, but its author was criticized for not enumerating all of the various political motives that may underlie specific wars. The reviewer therefore provided a list similar to Jomini's.(*38)

This British reviewer was by no means a reactionary or even particularly conservative; indeed, he commented on the many blunders of the British army, on the rigidities of organization brought about by too great an attention to social class and "interest," and on the shortcomings of British officers resulting from stagnation and oversupervision in small and scattered garrisons. Such comments reflect the reformist attitudes that drove most of the British writers interested in Clausewitz.

In general, "theorizing never has been the characteristic of Englishmen; it is held, perhaps, in too great disrepute."(*39) The reviewer also had a skeptical attitude toward the application of theory to war. He regarded most theory as mere verbiage and made scathing references to Jomini's attempt to create a whole new strategic vocabulary. He found Clausewitz's approach refreshing, but he grasped it only in part: He had accepted Clausewitz's pedagogical ideas but not their deeper historicist basis. He clearly agreed with Clausewitz that it is the specifics of every situation rather than some sort of strategic recipe that must determine a commander's actions:

Clausewitz well assimilates theory in this respect to a "wise preceptor, who confines himself to directing and facilitating the intellectual development of his pupil, and does not attempt to keep him in leading strings through life." It is good to see a military writer allow that his theory is not infallible—that, far from being a universal law, it is merely a guide.

The reviewer failed, however, to grasp the larger historicist argument that underlies this approach, saying that "war is almost always based upon identical circumstances; and at bottom its means are pretty nearly the same, unless we take into consideration the mechanical progress of weapons, and the genius of the commander." In general, the reviewer resisted any kind of systematic approach to war that would have limited his own freedom to pick and choose among ideas. Rather than becoming a self-conscious disciple of Clausewitz, as would many of the later German military writers, he saw his works as a mother lode of intriguing ideas to add to the stockpile. He remained determinedly eclectic and idiosyncratic. In this approach he reflects a pattern visible in almost all British military writers.

Clausewitz's Campaign of 1815 surfaced again in a book by Colonel Charles Chesney, R.E. (1826-76). In 1858 Chesney was appointed professor of military history at Sandhurst. In 1864 he was appointed professor of military art and history at the British army's new senior educational center, the Staff College at Camberley. He succeeded Edward B. Hamley, the author of a highly Jominian treatise on war.(*40)

Chesney gained considerable recognition with Waterloo Lectures, published in 1868.(*41) He had set out to write a balanced and factual account of the Belgian campaign, in contrast with those by "so-called national historians, who willfully pander to the passions of their countrymen at the expense of historical truth." In particular, he sought to give proper credit to the Prussians. He drew heavily on Clausewitz's campaign study (among many other works) and also discussed its writer's importance in Germany. He evidently placed a great deal of faith in Clausewitz's judgment, going so far as to side with Clausewitz against Wellington on certain specifics of the campaign.(*42)

Chesney observed that his lectures on Waterloo "commenced the course of Military Art and History" at the Staff College between 1864 and 1868. If so, those of his students who remained awake—Chesney's reputation as a lecturer was excellent, but that of his students as students was not—would have become familiar with the Prussian writer's name and significance in Germany, as he cited Clausewitz's Feldzug von 1815 at least thirty times.(*43) They would also have become familiar with the Prussian's approach to the writing of military history, if not with his broader theories.

Chesney himself, however, was clearly familiar with those broader theories. He had read On War (albeit in French) and evidently had drawn a great deal from it, chiefly in the area of critical analysis. His major focus on the single campaign of Waterloo, while reflecting British national pride, is also very much in line with Clausewitz's pedagogical theories, as is his strong emphasis on developing the student's capacity for independent thought.(*44)

Chesney's work clearly preceded the Franco-Prussian War and was evidently based on research and teaching that predated Prussia's startling military emergence in the Seven Weeks' War of 1866. Thus we can see that there was some interest in Clausewitz in a significant place (the Staff College) even before Prussia/Germany's rise to military preeminence and before Vom Kriege was translated into English in 1873.

Chesney also served on the Royal Commission on Military Education from 1868 to 1870. He was an official observer of the Franco-Prussian War and later worked with the secretary of state for war, Edward Cardwell in pursuit of the latter's famous military reform program. Chesney continued to use Clausewitz in his lectures after leaving Camberley in 1868. Speaking before the Royal United Service Institution in 1871, he discussed Bismarck's strategy, the training of the Prussian general staff, and Clausewitz's theories linking war and policy.(*45) He raised the specter of a Germany always ready and willing to resort to the sword in pursuit of political goals, an approach that he saw as a natural extension of Clausewitz's subordination of war to national policy.

Chesney's main concern, however, was organizational, in line with the emphases of the Cardwell reforms:

"Following out the maxims of Clausewitz, as propounded in his warlike philosophy, they have subdivided their responsibility out so completely in time of peace, that when war comes all they have to say by telegraph is "War is declared! Prepare!" and everybody makes ready at once ... instead of personages in high office striving to get every paper referred to their own tables to be there, if possible, decided upon, they put as many things as they can fairly away from them, and make their subordinates responsible for their proper work, by steadfastly discouraging all unnecessary appeals to higher authority."

Chesney's greatest interest in the German model was thus the Germans' successful decentralization of authority, which often proved so elusive in the British and, some would argue, American armies. Chesney's concern was the essence of what we have lately come to call Auftragstaktik,(*46) which became a major focus of British military reformers in the period following the South African War of 1899-1902 and of American reformers following the Vietnam War.

Notes to Chapter 3

1. J.E. Marston, The Life and Campaigns of Field Marshal Prince Blücher (London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones, 1815); Clausewitz, "Der Feldzug von 1813 bis zum Waffenstillstand," Glatz, 1813; Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 240, n.46.

2. Peter Paret, "`A Proposition not a Solution'—Clausewitz's Attempt to Become Prussian Minister at the Court of St. James," Understanding War: Essays on Clausewitz and the History of Military Power (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), 178-190.

3. Unsigned review of Clausewitz, "On War," Metropolitan Magazine (London), v.13 (May and June 1835), 64-71, 166-176; Military and Naval Magazine of the United States, vols.V and VI (August and September issues, 1835), 426-436, 50-63.

4. North Ludlow Beamish, History of the King's German Legion, 2 vols. (London, 1832-37); Friedrich Wilhelm Bismark, trans. North Ludlow Beamish, Lectures on the Tactics of Cavalry (London: 1827).

5. Friedrich Wilhelm Bismark, trans. North Ludlow Beamish, On the uses and application of cavalry in war (London: T. and W. Boone, 1855).

6. John Mitchell, postscript to "Military Science and the Late Disasters in Affghanistan" (sic), United Service Gazette, May 14, 1842, 4; Leonhard Schmidtz, "Memoir of the Author" in John Mitchell, Biographies of Eminent Soldiers of the Last Four Centuries (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1865). See Strachan, Waterloo to Balaclava, 8-11. Jay Luvaas devoted a chapter to Mitchell in The Education of an Army: British Military Thought, 1815-1940 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1964).

7. See Mitchell's unsigned "Review of the British Army, and of the Present State of Military Science," Monthly Chronicle (London), v.1, March-June 1838, 317-330.

8. John Mitchell, Thoughts on Tactics and Military Organization (London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1838), 7-8.

9. John Mitchell, The Fall of Napoleon, 3 vols. (London: G.W. Nickerson, 1845), e.g., I, xxii-xxiii; III, 164, 190, 220-221, 281, 331; "The Vulnerability of Russia," United Service Gazette, 3 June, 1854, 4.

10. Mitchell, "Late Disasters in Affghanistan." Mitchell was fully aware of the 1835 review of On War.

11. See On War, Book Two, Chapter 5, "Critical Analysis." Clausewitz's discussion of this approach is ambivalent.

12. Mitchell, Thoughts on Tactics, x-xi; "Late Disasters in Affghanistan."

13. Clausewitz, Der Feldzug von 1815 in Frankreich (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmlers Verlag, 1835).

14. K.A. Schimmer, trans. Francis Egerton, The Sieges of Vienna by the Turks, 1847; Francis Egerton, National Defences; Letters of Lord Ellesmere, 1848; Unsigned [Wilhelm Meyer, 1797-1877], trans. the Earl of Ellesmere, Military Events in Italy (London: John Murray, 1851); Earl of Ellesmere,The War in the Crimea: A Discourse (London: John Murray, 1855). Egerton's unsigned 1842 review of a life of Blücher [Raushnick's Marschall Vorwärts: oder Leben, Thaten, und Character des Fürsten Blücher von Wahlstadt, Quarterly Review, v.LXX, no.CXL, June and September 1842, 446-485] drew on a memorandum from Wellington, made reference to Clausewitz, and showed a familiarity with the Prussian writer's Campaign of 1815. Quarterly Review, v.XC, no.CLXXIX, December 1851, 1-34. So did his unsigned review essay, "Memoirs on Russian and German Campaigns—by Müffling, Müller, Wolzogen, Cathcart, &c."

15. Liverpool to Wellington, 10 September 1840, Papers of the first Duke of Wellington, University of Southampton (WP2/71/28).

16. Wellington to Liverpool, 14 September 1840, Papers of the Third Earl of Liverpool (Add MSS 38196, f 143), British Library.

17. Wellington Papers 8/1 contains Liverpool's translation of Clausewitz's Campaign of 1815, together with correspondence and memoranda about it dating from 1842. [The Clausewitz Homepage has placed this translation on-line at]

18. Clausewitz, Der Feldzug von 1815 in Frankreich, 30. [The Clausewitz Homepage has placed the German text on-line at]

19. See Gurwood to Wellington on Liverpool's translation of Clausewitz, 12 Sep 1840 (WP2/71/36-7); Gurwood to Wellington, 22 Sep 1840 (WP2/71/71-2). Egerton then ordered a copy of Clausewitz's collected works. Letter, Egerton to John Murray, 11 November 1840, archives, John Murray publishing company.

20. Wellington's memorandum appears (dated 24 September 1842) in Field Marshal Arthur Duke of Wellington, K.G., ed. [his son] the Duke of Wellington, K.G., "Memorandum on the Battle of Waterloo," Supplementary Despatches, Correspondence, and Memoranda of Field Marshal Arthur Duke of Wellington, vol. 10 (London: John Murray, 1863), 513-531. It is discussed in Francis Egerton, ed. Alice, Countess of Strafford, Personal Reminiscences of the Duke of Wellington by Francis, the First Earl of Ellesmere (London: John Murray, 1904), 90. Egerton's editor (82) characterized the Duke's memorandum as "famous." Mitchell's Fall of Napoleon (esp. v.III, 55-56) seems to draw upon it, although it is not specifically cited among the Duke's despatches. See also G.R. Gleig, The Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1865), 382; E.L.S. Horsburgh, Waterloo: A Narrative and a Criticism (London: Methuen, 1895). [The Clausewitz Homepage has placed this memorandum on-line at]

21.E.g., letter, Michael Howard to Bassford, 6 February 1990. John Keegan, The Face of Battle (New York: Viking, 1976), makes no reference. David Chandler mentions Clausewitz in Waterloo: The Hundred Days (London: Osprey, 1980), only in general reference to the theories of On War; so does Paddy Griffith, ed., Wellington as Commander: The Iron Duke's Generalship (Sussex: Antony Bird Publications, 1985). Neville Thompson, Wellington after Waterloo (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986) makes no reference.

22. Jac Weller, Wellington at Waterloo (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1967), 71, n.1.

23. Wellington to Sir John Sinclair, 13th April, 1816, Supplementary Despatches, 507.

24. Wellington, "Memorandum."

25. Keegan, Face of Battle, 117.

26. Unsigned, "Marmont, Siborne, and Alison," Quarterly Review, v.LXXVI (June and September 1845), 204-247. This article was apparently a joint venture of Gurwood, Egerton, and Wellington himself [see archives of the John Murray Company, manuscript index to v.LXXVI, Quarterly Review; J.H. Stocqueler (pseud.), The Life of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington (London: Ingram, Cooke, and Company, 1853), v.II, 330]. Egerton's vociferous attacks on Alison, concerning his discussion of Waterloo, were made with the Duke's "approbation and assistance." Egerton, Personal Reminiscences, 58. Alison, in his massive History of Europe from the Commencement of the French Revolution in 1789 to the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 (London, 1843-44), also briefly discussed Clausewitz; he received about the same billing as Jomini. Both Egerton and American general Henry Halleck (in his Elements of Military Art and Science), concluded that Allison's work was "utterly worthless" to the military man.

27. Esp. Colonel Charles C. Chesney, R.E., discussed below.

28. Clausewitz, Der Feldzug von 1812 in Rußland (Berlin: Ferdinand Dümmlers Verlag, 1835); Clausewitz, Campaign of 1812 in Russia (1843).

29. Wellington, letter 18 October 1842, in Egerton's Reminiscences, 238-239.

30. Clausewitz, Campaign of 1812 in Russia, 185, 193.

31. C.E. Watson, "The German Campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus," United Service Magazine, part 3, 1852, 557-70; Clausewitz, "Gustav Adolphs Feldzüge von 1630-1632," Hinterlassene Werke (Berlin, 1832-37), v. IX, 1-106, written c.1814-15.

32. Karl von Clausewitz, trans. J. Colin, La campagne de 1796 en Italie (Paris: L. Baudoin, 1899).

33. Charles de Clausewitz, trans. major d'artillerie Neuens, De la guerre (Paris: J. Corréard, 1849-51); General de Clausewitz, trans. Lt-Colonel de Vatry, Theorie de la grande guerre, 3 vols. (Paris: L. Baudoin, 1886-1887).

34. Nicolas Édouard Delabarre Duparcq, Commentaires sur le traité de la guerre de Clausewitz (Paris, 1853).

35. Unsigned, "De La Barre Duparcq's Commentaries on Clausewitz," review in the United Service Magazine, part 1, 1854, 26-36.

36. See other British references to Clausewitz in unsigned review of a translation of M. Brialmont's History of the Life of Arthur Duke of Wellington, appearing in Edinburgh Review, v.CX, no.CCXXIII (July 1859), 208; Aide-Mémoire to the Military Sciences [a collection edited by a committee of the Royal Corps of Engineers] (London: J. Weale, 1846-52), v.1, 6. The latter has a single unilluminating mention of "Klausewitz."

37. Duparcq's Eléments d'art et d'histoire militaires (Paris: C.Tanera, 1858) shows no influence by Clausewitz, save one irrelevant footnote reference to his own Commentaire.

38. See Jomini's Summary, Chapter I.

39. Jay Luvaas, Education of an Army, 18, quoting a British officer in the same period, citing "The Regeneration of the Army," United Service Magazine, 1849, no.1.

40. Edward Bruce Hamley (1824-93), Operations of War.

41. Lieut.-Colonel Charles C.[Cornwallis] Chesney, R.E., Waterloo Lectures: A Study of the Campaign of 1815 (London: Longmans, Green, and Company, 1868).

42. Chesney, Waterloo Lectures, v-vi, 18, 80.

43. He denied Clausewitz's view of the use of forests in the defense, based on American Civil War experience. Chesney, Waterloo Lectures, 190.

44. Chesney, Waterloo Lectures, 18, 190. On Chesney's teaching, see Brian Bond, The Victorian Army and the Staff College, 1854-1914 (London: Eyre Methuen, 1972), 89.

45. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles C. Chesney, R.E., "The Study of Military Science in Time of Peace," Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, v.XV, no.LXII, 1871. Although there is no reference to Clausewitz, Chesney's influence may be reflected in the Staff College Prize Essay for 1872, "The Battle of Wörth," by Lieut. E.H.H. Collen, R.A., Journal of the Royal United Service Institution, v.XVII, no.LXXIII (1873), which opened with a discussion of the relationship between strategy and politics.

46. "Aufstragstaktik" ("mission tactics") is a word with post-World War Two origins and dubious historical validity; it is more widely used by American admirers of the German army than by Germans. Nonetheless, it conveys the essential idea. Its relationship to Clausewitz's ideas is subtle. It best relates to his emphasis on the specific: if events are so dependent on individual actions, individual actors must be given the responsibility and freedom to take positive action at all levels. If victory is instead dependent on general causes, then such decentralization is less important.

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