The Reception of Clausewitz in Britain and America

by Christopher Bassford

Oxford University Press, 1994

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Chapter 7. Prelude: The Study of Clausewitz Before the South African War

The first major research question that arises concerns the attention that Clausewitz received in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The conventional wisdom is that interest was greatly stimulated at that time by Moltke's statements concerning the importance of Clausewitz in shaping his own strategic conceptions. It is difficult, however, to find much contemporary evidence to support this view. The focus on German military thinking that certainly does appear in England in this period is on organizational matters like the Prussian reserve system and the general staff, not strategy or military philosophy.(*1) In several English-language studies of military education done about this time, no mention is made of any theorist, not Jomini or Clausewitz or anyone else. It seems significant in this regard that Moltke's own works on strategy were never translated into English; the German general staff's compilation of his Precepts of War was (partially) translated only in 1935, and this translation was never published.(*2) As another example, Wilhelm Blume's Campaign 1870-1871 was published in Berlin in 1872 and translated into English the same year; his Strategie: Eine Studie never appeared in English.(*3) Although Clausewitz dealt at some length with the concept of the "nation in arms," organizational topics like staffs and reserve systems are conspicuously absent in Vom Kriege. This may be one reason that Graham's 1873 translation sold so poorly.

The British soldier-writer Colonel F.N. Maude, R.E., claimed to have been introduced to Clausewitz as a very young man by a German officer immediately following the war of 1870/71. Other observers (most notably the American generals Philip Sheridan and William B. Hazen) gave no evidence of this.(*4) Emory Upton (1839-81), probably the most important military theorist in the post-Civil War United States and an admirer of the German general staff, never mentioned Clausewitz. About the only quantitative measure of interest available is sales of Graham's translation: By December 1880, only 39 copies had actually been sold, although a total of 92 had been distributed in one way or another. In the next five years, another 30 were sold. In 1885, 350 unbound copies were "sold as waste." The remaining copies sold at the rate of 10 to 20 per year through the end of the century.(*5) The book was not reissued until 1908.

Of course, many of these copies of On War may have gone to libraries, and the British community of military intellectuals was a small one. Some would have read On War in the original German or perhaps in one of the French translations. It is thus hard to judge just how large or significant Clausewitz's British readership was. It seems clear that there was no noteworthy surge of interest in On War as an immediate result of the new German military preeminence in Europe, only a slowly spreading awareness of its teachings and of the differences between Clausewitz's approach and Jomini's.

A key question, although one not susceptible to a clear answer, is at what point Clausewitz began to supersede Jomini as the preeminent military theorist in England and the United States. It is perhaps worth noting in this regard that the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1878-88) gives Jomini an article of his own, whereas Clausewitz has none; in fact, the German writer is not even listed in the index. Nonetheless, he is discussed in the articles "Battle" and "War." In the first, he is described as "the greatest of all theoretical writers on war" and, in the second, as "the most profound of all military students."(*6)

The articles were written, respectively, by Colonel Charles Chesney, R.E., and Colonel J.F. Maurice, R.A. Each held at some point in his career the position of professor of military history at the Staff College. That both writers were from technical branches may also be significant. Their comments in the Britannica are in themselves hardly proof that the Staff College was a hotbed of Clausewitzian studies, but they are interesting. Products of the Staff College overwhelmingly dominated the British army by 1914.(*7)

Charles Chesney was discussed in Chapter 3. His statement in the Britannica regarding Clausewitz echoes similar observations in his earlier Waterloo Lectures. His brother, Sir George Tomkyn Chesney (1830-95), wrote a fascinating and highly alarmist article in 1871 describing--from a vantage point fifty years in the future--a successful German invasion of Britain. Such studies were something of a staple in British popular military writing; such invasion books date back at least to Henry Lloyd (1720-1783) and probably to the period of the Armada. But George Chesney's stands out. It reads in places somewhat like H.G. Wells's War of the Worlds.

Chesney's description of the price of defeat is staggering, with Britain shorn of its empire, commerce, and industry and reduced to utter pauperism and insignificance. Chesney blamed the hypothetical defeat on Britain's heroic but thoroughly unprofessional land forces.(*8) The Chesneys thus appear to be solidly in the reformist tradition of the English readers of Clausewitz.

Although a number of authors showed some interest in Clausewitz in the 1880s and early 1890s (notably F.N. Maude, G.F.R. Henderson, and Spenser Wilkinson), the English military writer most prominent at the time, Sir Edward B. Hamley (1824-93), was clearly a disciple of Jomini and Archduke Charles. Hamley had been Chesney's predecessor as professor of military history at the Staff College and was commandant from 1870 to 1877. His most important book, Operations of War (1866), was frequently revised and updated. It was standard reading at the Staff College until World War One and would still be on the reading list at the U.S. Naval War College as late as 1934.(*9) Hamley himself, however, became a laughingstock in the army as a result of his pompous and inept attempts to function as the "strategist" for Sir Garnet Wolseley's Egyptian campaign of 1882.

Despite Hamley's apparent intellectual dominance, a significant Clausewitzian influence could be found operating at Camberley even after Chesney's retirement in 1868. Colonel (later Major-General) John Frederick Maurice (1841-1912) was professor of military art and history at the Staff College from 1885 to 1892 and author of the 1888 Britannica article on "War" just cited. He has been characterized as "one of the most articulate spokesmen for the Wolseley Ring," the reformist military clique that struggled for control of the British army from 1873 to the South African War. He was, in fact, Sir Garnet Wolseley's best friend, his "second pen."(*10)

Maurice seems to have had an engaging personality and, in the earlier part of his career, was a highly capable field officer with considerable combat experience in colonial expeditions. As he aged, however, he grew impractical, argumentative, and absentminded to the point of becoming a figure of fun. In 1897, a sympathetic but realistic Wolseley asserted that Maurice was "incapable of weighing [his] own capacity" for command but "much abler with his pen ... than ever."(*11)

Maurice first came to prominence in 1871 when, as a subaltern and instructor in tactics at Sandhurst, he won the £100 Wellington Prize essay competition on the subject "The System of Field Manoeuvres Best Adapted for Enabling Our Troops to Meet a Continental Army."(*12) (Colonel Wolseley won second prize.) At what point Maurice first read Clausewitz is unclear; although the bibliography for this essay listed many works in German, On War was not included. It is therefore open to speculation whether the many "Clausewitzian" elements in his analysis reflect the influence of On War (either directly or via other writers) or a predisposition to the acceptance of its arguments. Such elements include his views on the chain of command, his focus on the destruction of the enemy's will to fight, and his ideas concerning the relationship between the offensive and the defensive. Despite his admiration of the German army and his knowledge of its many offensive successes in the just-concluded war with France, he maintained a healthy skepticism of both the German organizational model and purely offensive prescriptions. Maurice recommended pursuit of the strategic offensive, but by means of defensive tactics.

Maurice enlarged his 1888 Britannica article and added a long bibliographical discussion. He then published it in 1891 as a book entitled simply War, "one of the best known of his purely military works" and "one of the most famous works on the subject of war published in England during the nineteenth century."(*13) Although Maurice repeated his high praise for On War in a number of places, a cursory examination of the book would indicate that it is essentially a Jominian work; the definitions of strategy and tactics come straight out of Hamley's Operations of War. It is clear that Maurice, like the earlier English writers discussed by Hew Strachan, rejected the centrality of battle in Clausewitz's definition of strategy.

A closer examination, however, reveals some rather un-Jominian features in his thought. Maurice raised the question as to whether strategy, like tactics, changed over time. In an extensive discussion, he concluded that it did,(*14) crediting the changes not only to technological developments but also to evolution in "the very spirit, discipline, and organization by which [armies] are held together." This distinctly Clausewitzian perception was accompanied by explicit references to Clausewitz on the role of military theory and the purpose of military education. Throughout, Maurice stressed the importance of considering the specifics of each case. He also echoed Clausewitz in his skepticism regarding complex stratagems and maneuvers. Although not a "Clausewitzian" as modern writers have defined the term, Maurice was definitely drawing heavily on the philosophy of On War, which, judging by his critical comments concerning Graham's translation, he had studied in German.(*15)

Maurice's comments on the uses of military history appear to have been drawn directly from On War. He stressed the superiority of a "close and intimate study" of one campaign over a broad superficial coverage, the role of theory in educating an officer's judgment, and the need for his student staff officers to develop a capacity for independent thought. In this latter aspect he was quite different from Hamley.(*16) Military history was, he wrote, "worthless except in so far as it places the man who reads it in the position of those whose actions he is studying, and therefore enables him to profit by their experience, and to learn both from their failures, their misfortunes, and their successes."(*17)

NOTES to Chapter 7

1. E.g., General Bronsart von Schellendorf (1832-1891), Duties of the General Staff [Der Dienst des Generalstabes (Berlin: E.S. Mittler)]. Its publishing history contrasts to On War's. The first German edition appeared in 1875-76; it was published in London by C.K. Paul, 1877-80. The third edition appeared in both German and English in 1893 (trans. Intelligence Division, War Office, publisher H.M. Stationers). The fourth edition got the same treatment in 1905.

2. Evidently no English translation was made of Moltke's essays on strategy (1871) or Instructions for the Senior Troop Commanders (1869). Many of Moltke's other works were translated, but usually somewhat later, in the 1890s or 1900s. Even those had little theoretical significance.

3. Wilhelm von Blume (1835-1919), trans. E.M. Jones, Campaign 1870-71 (London: H.S. King, 1872); Blume, Strategie: eine studie (Berlin: E.S. Mittler, 1882).

4. F.N. Maude, Military Letters and Essays (Kansas City, Mo.: Hudson-Kimberly, 1895), 100-101. Phil Sheridan was an observer with the German army. Hazen's The School and the Army in Germany and France (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1872), makes no reference to military theory.

5. Archives, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner and Henry S. King, J5, 50; E1, 594.

6. Colonel J.F. Maurice, R.A., "War,"; Colonel Charles Chesney, R.E., "Battle," Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th edition (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1878-88).

7. Brian Bond, Victorian Army, 306, provides statistics.

8. Unsigned, "The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer," Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, v.CIX, no.DCLXVII (May 1871).

9. Hamley's book is listed as one of nine on the 1934 NWC supplementary reading list. Naval War College Archives, RG4/1805.

10. Jay Luvaas, Education of an Army, 170, 174. Chapter 6 is devoted to Maurice.

11. On Maurice, see Bond, Victorian Army, 136-8; Wilkinson, Thirty-five Years, 1874-1909 (London: Constable, 1933), 135. Wolseley to Lady Wolseley, 12 September 1897, cited in Luvaas, Education of an Army, 191.

12. Lieutenant F. Maurice (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1872), 84-98.

13. Colonel F. Maurice, War; Lieut.-Col. F. Maurice (Maurice's son, Frederick Barton Maurice), ed., Sir Frederick Maurice: a Record of His Work and Opinions (London: Edward Arnold, 1913), 76; Luvaas, Education of an Army, 438.

14. Maurice, War, 13-22.

15. Maurice, War, 136-7.

16. See Bond, Victorian Army, 136-7.

17. Maurice, His Work and Opinions, 121. Cf., On War, Book Two, Chapter 5.

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