Book title
 • Mobile Compatible • 

From: Carl von Clausewitz and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. On Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow., 2010. ISBN-10: 1453701508. ISBN-13: 9781453701508. 318pp. List price: $18.00.


[Use "BACK" or click on the note
number to return to the text.]


[1] Clausewitz to Carl von der Groeben, 2 January 1829, in Eberhard Kessel, “Zur Genesis der modernen Kriegslehre: Die Entstehungsgeschichte von Clausewitz’ Buch ‘Vom Kriege’,” Wehrwissenschaftliche Rundschau, volume 3, number 9 (1953): 421.


[2] Carl von Clausewitz, “Nachrichten über Preussen in seiner grossen Katastrophe,” in Verstreute kleine Schriften, ed. Werner Hahlweg (Osnabrück: Biblio Verlag, 1979), 301-493, excerpted in Historical and Political Writings, 30-84.


[3] Carl von Clausewitz, Feldzug von Russland in 1812, in Schriften, 2:717-935; excerpted in Historical and Political Writings, 110-204.


[4] Historical and Political Writings, 32.


[5] Ibid., 47. Such observations insured that Clausewitz’s history of the 1806 campaign could not be included among the ten volumes of the Werke. It appeared in print only in 1888, having passed the intervening half-century in the archives of the Prussian general staff.


[6] Ibid., 140-41.


[7] See the index to Werner Hahlweg’s critical edition, Vom Kriege: Hinterlassenes Werk des Generals Carl von Clausewitz, 19th edition [Jubiläumsausgabe] (Bonn: Ferd. Dümmlers Verlag), 1980. Clausewitz’s note of July 1827, describing his planned revisions, is in On War, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 69.


[8] Clausewitz’s intellectual trajectory during the last years of his life is not easy to reconstruct, owing to the uncertain dating of so many of his manuscripts. It has become especially contentious following the claim by Azar Gat that the note of 1827 represented not the crystallization of long-maturing insight into the relationship between war and politics, but an intellectual crisis from which Clausewitz never recovered. Azar Gat, The Origins of Military Thought: From the Enlightenment to Clausewitz (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 213-14. Most specialists accept the claim, in an undated note published by Marie von Clausewitz as part of the front matter to On War, that Clausewitz regarded “the first chapter of Book One alone … as finished” (On War, 70). But even this view depends upon accepting that this second note was written immediately prior to Clausewitz’s departure for Breslau in 1830, a claim that Gat has disputed. Ibid., 255-63. Werner Halweg also assigned the undated note to 1827. Carl von Clausewitz, Schriften–Aufsätze–Studien–Briefe (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Rupprecht, 1990), 625. To the extent that Clausewitz’s use of historical arguments and illustrations in On War can shed any light on the manner of its composition, there is no question that he relied overwhelmingly on historical studies that he completed before or during the early 1820s—the campaigns of Frederick the Great and those of 1806 and 1812-14—rather than those he worked on during the last years of his life (i.e., the campaigns of 1815 and 1796-99). There is a chronology dating the likely composition of Clausewitz’s major works in Peter Paret, Clausewitz and the State (New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1976), 330; but cf. Hew Strachan’s occasionally diverging analysis in Clausewitz’s On War: A Biography (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2007), 68-105.


[9] On War, 69.


[10] Ibid., 89.


[11] The most egregious misrepresentation of Clausewitz’s famous metaphor must be that of Martin van Creveld, who has declared Clausewitz to be an apostle of “Trinitarian War,” by which he means, incomprehensibly, a war of "state against state and army against army,” from which the influence of the people is entirely excluded. Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (New York: The Free Press, 19), 49. For a thorough discussion of the interpretive difficulties that Clausewitz’s Trinity presents, see Christopher Bassford, “The Primacy of Politics and the ‘Trinity’ in Clausewitz’s Mature Thought,” in Hew Strachan and Andreas Herberg-Rothe, eds., Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 74-90. [The on-line source from which that chapter is derived is Christopher Bassford, "Tiptoe Through the Trinity, or, The Strange Persistance of Trinitarian Warfare."]


[12] Ibid., 606; emphasis in the original.


[13] Ibid., 87 and 89.


[14] Cf. Ibid., 76.


[15] Chapter 48.


[16] See the note “On Coalitions” (1803), and the untitled note beginning “I know only two ways to insure that an advantageous alliance leads to advantages in war…." (1805), in Historical and Political Writings, 241-3, 245-6.


[17] Clausewitz’s histories of the campaigns of 1796 and 1799, like that of 1815, date from the last years of his life. In those earlier campaigns the Allies lost, and both of Clausewitz’s histories include periodic observations, and concluding summary analyses, of how the military blows that Napoleon delivered were translated into a failure of political nerve by his opponents. See Der Feldzug von 1796 in Italien, in Werke, 4, especially 330-54; and Die Feldzüge von 1799 in Italien und der Schweiz, in Werke, 5 and 6, especially 6:371-97. Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 337-8, considers Clausewitz’s treatment of these campaigns and includes a long extract in English from the last few pages of the Feldzug von 1796, in which the politics of the campaign are summarized.


[18] Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 330, places the writing of the Campaign of 1814 in the period 1816-1818. This may be a little early, since the text refers to one source that was published in 1819. See Historical and Political Writings, 205.


[19] “Übersicht des Feldzugs von 1814 in Frankreich,” Werke, 7:325-56.


[20] “Strategische Kritik des Feldzuges von 1814 in Frankreich,” ibid., 357-470, excerpted in Historical and Political Writings, 207-19. The quotation is from 207 of the English edition. It is a measure of Clausewitz’s increasing sophistication as a historical writer that, in his history of the Campaign of 1815 (whose subtitle in German is “strategic overview"), he dispenses with the intellectual division of labor between objective “overview” and analytic “strategic critique” that he adopted in studying the campaign of 1814. See Schriften, 2:943.


[21] Historical and Political Writings, 207.


[22] Idem.


[23] Ibid., 219.


[24] “Historische Briefe über die großen Kriegsereignisse 1806,” Minerva, ed. J. W. von Archenholz, volume 1, number 1 (1807), 1-21; volume 1, number 2 (1807), 193-209; and volume 2, number 1 (1807), 1-26; reprinted in Verstreute Kleine Schriften, 95-125.


[25] See note 3 above. Internal evidence suggests that Clausewitz’s “Observations on Prussia” was written in the period 1823-25. See Historical and Political Writings, 30.


[26] “Historische Briefe über die Kriegsereignisse 1806,” Verstreute kleine Schriften,” 97.


[27] “Observations on Prussia,” Historical and Political Writings, 77.


[28] Idem. The influence of Clausewitz’s experience in Russia in 1812 is apparent in his claim that a defense in depth might have served Prussia well in 1806. Such an idea would scarcely have occurred to anyone, including Clausewitz, at the time. There is also no denying that Clausewitz’s faith in such a measure is probably misplaced. Prussia was a small country surrounded by states that had already made peace with France. Its defense in depth would not have presented Napoleon with anything like the challenge he confronted in 1812. Clausewitz’s advocacy of such measures would appear to be based less upon an analysis of the real military possibilities than on his passionate belief that even a doomed people should be given the chance to succumb heroically. In this connection, see above all his “Political Declaration” [Bekenntnissdenkschrift], written shortly before his departure for Russian service in 1812, in Schriften, 1:678-751, excerpted in Historical and Political Writings, 285-303.


[29] The creation of the Landwehr was part of the program put forward by Prussia’s military reformers, though effective action was impossible as long as Prussia remained bound to France. The abrogation of the Franco-Prussian alliance after Napoleon’s defeat in Russia caused a number of Prussian officers, including Clausewitz, to begin raising Landwehr formations in East Prussia on their own authority. Their actions were resented by the crown but were ratified in retrospect, given the general shift in military fortunes that they helped to achieve.


[30] Prussian conservatives always suspected that Prussia’s Landwehr might nurture the seeds of revolutionary agitation, because it provided arms and military training to the masses. In 1814 and again in 1819, steps were taken to subordinate the Landwehr more formally to the standing army. Clausewitz opposed these moves, because he believed that the Landwehr’s character as a civilian militia helped inspire popular loyalty to the government (as opposed to imposing military values upon society). In 1819 he wrote an essay defending the original conception of the Landwehr and opposing its amalgamation with regular forces. He was particularly concerned to reject the charge that the Landwehr posed a revolutionary risk. Clausewitz, “On the Political Advantages and Disadvantages of the Prussian Landwehr,Historical and Political Writings, 329-34. The essay remained unpublished, but suspicions that Clausewitz unduly admired the French Revolution’s military institutions dogged him throughout the remainder of his career. Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 286-98. The Campaign of 1815's explicit links between the Prussian Landwehr and the Revolutionary levée en masse shows that, at least when writing for himself alone, Clausewitz felt no need to gloss over this association.


[31] “Gustav Adolphs Feldzüge von 1630-1632,” Werke, 9:8, and 45-46. The significance of psychological factors in Clausewitz’s account of Gustavus Adolphus’ campaigns was first noted by Hans Rothfels, Carl von Clausewitz. Politik und Krieg: Eine ideengeschichtliche Studie (Berlin: F. Dümmler, 1920; reprinted 1980). See also Paret, Clausewitz and the State, 85-88, and Gat, Origins of Military Thought, 179-80.


[32] Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, translated by James Creed Meredith (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 168. Emphasis in the original.


[33] On War, 136.


[34] Napoleon’s Mémoires was published anonymously in Paris in 1820. Its authenticity, which Clausewitz does not question, was disputed at first because the work’s initial appearance coincided with that of many forgeries purporting to be his work. There is a reference to its composition in Emmanuel Las Cases’ Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène, 8 volumes (Paris: no publisher, 1823-24), in an entry dated 26 August 1816 (5:377). Its eventual inclusion in Napoleon’s correspondence, in the edition prepared under the auspices of his nephew, Napoleon III, appears to have decided the matter. See Correspondence de Napoléon Ier, publiée par ordre de l’empereur Napoléon III, 32 volumes (Paris: Impr. Impériale, 1858-69), volume 31. There is an English version, ed. and trans. Somerset de Chair, entitled The Waterloo Campaign (London: The Folio Society, 1957).


[35] Daniel Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon’s Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), 300-301.


[36] Quoted in Thomas Creevey, The Creevey Papers: A Selection from the Correspondence & Diaries of the Late Thomas Creevey, M.P., ed. Herbert Maxwell (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1904), 236.


[37] Historical and Political Writings, 201-04; quotation from 202.


[38] See On War, 479.


[39] Ibid., 483; cf. “Political Declaration,” Historical and Political Writings, 290-.


Return to top