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Military History Book of Interest: Napoleon on the Art of War

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Napoleon on the Art of War

Bonaparte, Napoleon. Napoleon on the Art of War. trans. and ed by Jay Luvaas. New York: Touchstone, 1999.

Jay Luvaas has pulled together in a single work what Napoleon never set to paper – a cohesive, single treatise on his philosophy of war. Luvaas, a respected military historian, accomplished this by reviewing, organizing, translating and editing Napoleon’s writings over the course of his life including much of his correspondence. He has organized the book into a series of essays so that it is structured not unlike the work of other military theorists. It begins with Napoleon’s views on creating a fighting force and preparations for war. This is followed by his thoughts on military education – an area about which Napoleon was passionate – particularly as related to the study of “great captains” of history: Alexander the Great, Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne and Frederick the Great.. A section on “combat in arms” reveals Napoleon’s brilliance in changing up formations utilizing the men, animals and weaponry at hand. “Generalship and the art of command,” army organization, strategy, fortification, the army in the field, and the operational art are also examined through Napoleon’s writings with additional historical references as well as reference to correspondence written about major Napoleonic campaigns. This book is instructive to the study of military philosophers and military thought in that it provides insight into one of the most influential militarists in history. Military thought leaders such as Clausewitz and Jomini were contemporaries of Napoleon and highly influenced themselves by strategizing to fight with or against him. The book fills a rather noticeable gap and would be an excellent addition to any examination of military philosophers and strategists.

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Jomini on the Nature of War – Part IV – The Basics

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This post continues from Jomini on the Nature of War: Part I Introduction here, Part II The Burgeoning Military Theorist here, and Part III The Founder of Modern Strategy here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Battle Map

JominiJomini was a list maker and a categorizer which influenced the form of his thoughts on the nature of war. His work, The Art of War, begins with a definition of the art of war in terms of five military branches: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering and Minor Tactics.

Strategy – “the art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war either for defense or for invasion; the art of making war upon the map.”

Grand Tactics – “the art of posting troops upon the battle-field according to the accidents of the ground, of bringing them into actions, and the art of fighting upon the ground, in contradistinction to planning upon a map.” It is “the maneuvering of an army upon the battle-field, and the different formations of troops for attack.”

Logistics - “the art of moving armies and the execution of strategical and tactical enterprises” and “comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics.”

Engineering - “the attack and defense of fortifications.

Minor Tactics

Jomini adds a sixth branch which he calls, “Diplomacy in its relation to War.” This he envisions as the role of the statesman in war and particularly in those activities which lead up to it. He provides the criteria from which a statesman can conclude whether a war is “proper, opportune, or indispensable.” He lists succinctly and thoroughly his perspective on the reasons why a government would choose to enter into war:  

  • “To reclaim certain rights or to defend them;
  • to protect and maintain the great interests of the state, as commerce, manufactures, or agriculture;
  • to uphold neighboring states whose existence is necessary either for the safety of the government or the balance of power;
  • to fulfill the obligations of offensive and defensive alliances;
  • to propagate political or religious theories, to crush them out, or to defend them;
  • to increase the influence and power of the state by acquisitions of territory;
  • to defend the threatened independence of the state;
  • to avenge insulted honor; or
  • from a mania for conquest.”

Each reason becomes a “type” of war on which Jomini elaborates with examples from history. The type of war, The Art of War by Baron De Jomini - Special Editionhe suggests, “influences in some degree the nature and extent of the efforts and operations necessary for the proposed end.”

Should you have interest in reading de Jomini’s The Art of War, it is available both on Google Books here and at Project Gutenberg here.
——
Jomini, Antoine Henri de. The Art of War, trans. by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill., Special Edition, (El Paso: EL Paso Norte Press. 2005), 9.
A map for the w:en:Battle of the Gebora, in 19 February 1811. Source can be found here. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document (refers to map) under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation license, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation license“.

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Jomini on the Nature of War – Part II – The Burgeoning Military Theorist

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This post continues from Part I here. Please note links in blue lead to additional information on those topics.

Church of PayerneAntoine-Henri Jomini (below right) was born on March 6, 1779 in the small town of Payerne (Payerne church pictured right) in western Switzerland. His family was an old and influential one; his father Benjamin active in local politics. Jomini grew up with the French Revolution and the sight of French soldiers was something he was familiar with even as a boy. He was a teenager working in banking in Paris when the Swiss Revolution of 1798 broke out, largely instigated by the French at the proding of exiled Swiss radicals. Jomini’s father joined the revolutionary cause and served in various political roles in the Helvetian Republic. Antoine-Henri caught the fever of revolution as well and returned home where, at the age of nineteen, he became the secretary to the Swiss minister of war. He attained military rank (captain) and a reputation for being bright, diligent, and full of ambition. ByBaron Antoine-Henri de Jomini twenty-one, he had command of a battalion. [i]

It was during this time that he began a vigorous study of military history. John Shy suggests that Jomini was…

“obsessed by visions of military glory, with himself imitating the incredible rise of Bonaparte (below right) who was only ten years his senior, but in a telling phrase Jomini remembers being possessed, even then, by “le sentiment des principes” – the Platonic faith that reality lies beneath the superficial chaos Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Ageof the historical moment in enduring and invariable principles, like those of gravitation and probability. To grasp those principle, as well as to satisfy the more primitive emotional needs of ambition and youthful impatience, was what impelled him to the study of war. Voracious reading of military history and theorizing from it would reveal the secret of French victory.” [ii]

The Luneville Treaty of 1801 (see exerpts here) ended the Napoleonic Wars and Jomini returned to Paris where he maintained a devotion to the study and writing of military theory. He had been enthralled by Napoleon’s leadership. It is beyond disptue that the French had achieved a breakthrough in warfare and Jomini was about trying to find out how they had done it.

“Answering this question, persuasively and influentially, would be Jomini’s great achievement. The wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon generated a vast, receptive audience for the Napoleonkind of clear, simple, reassuring explanation that he would offer. Drawing overtly on the prestige of ‘science’ and yet almost religious in its insistent evangelical appeal to timeless verities, Jomini’s answer to this troubling question seemed to dispel the confusion and allay much of the fear created by French military victories.” [iii]

By 1804, Jomini had completed his Traité des grandes opérations militaires (Treastise on Great MilitaNeyry Operations). He managed to ingratiate himself to General Michel Ney (right), leader of Bonaparte’s Sixth Corps, who had served for a time as French viceroy in Switzerland. Ney helped him to publish this first book. It would find its way to Napoleon and Jomini’s life would be forever changed. [iv]

Jomini’s principles would also find their way to West Point in the years preceeding the American Civil War. In Part III, I’ll discuss what those principles were.

[i] Hugh Chisholm, The Encyclopedia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. 11th Ed, Volume XV. (Cambridge, England: At the University Press, 1911), 495. Accessed online 2/23/2008: here.
[ii, iii, iv] John Shy, “Jomini,” in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 144 – 149.
Photos: Public Domain – Wiki Commons