Often, it’s emphasised by historians that leadership is more important than state organisation. During Napoleons reign of 1804 to 1814, the period saw an appearance in a new novel idea of organising the state (the empire) in such a way where it is a well-oiled machine and prepared for war. Historians such as Carl von Clausewitz in his book “On war” in 1832; emphasised the widely unpopular and unpublicised opinion at the time that France was a state prepared for war. He heavily suggested the way in which Napoleon inherited France contributed to his success. Napoleon inherited an experienced army with effective tactics, along with Generals promoted through merit and light, mobile artillery that allowed speed of movement far greater than anything seen before. On the other hand, swiss writer Antoine-Henri Jomini in his book “The Art of War” in 1838; saw many similar things in the Napoleonic Wars to Clausewitz, however, saw them in a different light. Jomini places emphasises on Napoleon’s superior leadership. He expressed that Napoleon was an intelligent, hard-working man who had an individual genius for winning battles.
Over the 100-year period, Napoleon during his reign of 1804 to 1814 was a great leader and tactician. Napoleon engendered loyalty through his leadership skills and evident tactical flair. However, it can be inferred that the framework was already in place for Napoleon; he inherited an experienced army with effective tactics. Napoleon owed much of his success to his Generals (promoted through merit) including Desaix, Davout and Nay.) Following him, came the Prussian Helmut von Moltke in 1864 to 1871; he was a tactician and an organiser, he utilised state organisation; He adopted Napoleon’s corps system and took advantage of the new train technology that provided greater speed of movement to and from the battlefield with troops and supplies. Leadership was especially apparent in 1915 to 1918 under Erich von Lundendorff, whom was a German Commander of immense skill.
In this essay, I will be supporting Clausewitz’ interpretation that France was a machine prepared for an early version of total war. I feel this, this takes into account the vulnerabilities of Napoleon’s enemies. They were not adapted to the new kind state organisation that the French revolution brought. His enemies were still under the authority of conservative aristocrats. Jomini recognises this, but he does not value it as highly as Napoleon’s personal qualities. This could as a result of the time, that an idea other than Napoleon’s leadership was not received well at the time. This could’ve affected his judgement, especially in hindsight of the reception Clausewitz’ book which he read.
The first interpretation, is from “On War” in 1832 by Carl von Clausewitz. It is important to note that Carl von Clausewitz was a professional soldier in the Prussian army from the age of 12. He served in 1806, when Napoleon decimated the Prussian army. Upon returning to Prussia with aims of military reform. He gained a reputation as a visionary and excellent soldier. However, he was often thought to be too unorthodox to operate a rank of power or command. Along with this, he unnerved a lot of Prussian elites with his ideas of military reform. His interpretation can be valuable because he as a writer had first hand experience of fighting Napoleon; in 1812 he joined the Russian Army to fight Napoleon and so on through to Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. This could give his ideas an edge due to him witnessing the way in which Napoleon led his troops on the battlefield and the way in which they were mobilised, the structure of his army and the how the levee en masse, where “war again became the business of the people – a people of 30 million” gave Napoleon an advantage.
In “On War”, he is writing mainly to Prussian aristocrats. His objective is to promote his idea on military reform, of state organisation. These are mainly old, conservative thinkers with a dogmatic approach to warfare. They still are largely accustomed to warfare of the early to mid-eighteenth century. This can explain why Clausewitz book was not widely publicised nor received well. This can also be attributed to another limiting factor placed on Clausewitz; the fact the book was published in 1832, is at a time when Napoleon was still seen as the sole reason for his success ideas other than his personal qualities were not well received. It is only as Moltke came 30 years after that these ideas started to be embraced and appreciated. Also, Clausewitz died in 1831, one year before his book was published. As a result, he did not have time to edit it therefore, it is repetitive and a tedious read. This could’ve partly explained why it did not have much success in it’s time.
Carl von Clausewitz overall argument is that the reasons for Napoleon’s success was not solely based off his personal superior leadership. Instead, Carl Von Clausewitz puts forward the unpopular opinion at the time that France was already a well-oiled machine, prepared for war, and this contributed more heavily to his successes, more so than his personal qualities. “The people became a participant in war”. This can be supported through the views of Owen Connelly in “Blundering to Glory” who puts more emphasis on Napoleon’s generals as the reason for his successes. Stating “The French Revolution did more than increase the scale of war…it produced ambitious, cutthroat officers” Both viewpoints can be supported by one of Napoleons early battles in Piedmont, Italy, where French and Austrian forces met. Victory not only kept the French revolution alive, but over confidence played a part in an almost defeat. France’s proficiency in war played a big part in the victory thanks to work of his predecessor Lazarre Carnot. Comte de Guibert introduced the divisional system that Carnot improved after 1792 and which Napoleon perfected in the corps system.
The second interpretation, is from Antoine-Henri Jomini in his book “The Art of War” in 1838. It’s worth noting unlike Clausewitz, Jomini fought with Napoleon not against him. Jomini worked his way up to the rank of Brigadier General within Napoleon’s army. He made little impact in the army itself, however, he made substantial impact with his military literature. “The Art of War”. This can make his interpretation valuable because he two much like Clausewitz has first hand experience on the ins and outs of the structure of Napoleon’s army and how it operates under his leadership. Arguably, even more so than Clausewitz.
“The Art of War” was published 6 years later than “On War”, this was an attempt to counterweight Clausewitz’ book. Comparatively, Jomini had time to edit his book, therefore it was a much easier read and deemed much more acceptable to the dogmatic aristocrat’s that held authority within Europe at the time. This is valuable because it explains why Jomini had so much more success in the short term with is book compared to Clausewitz. At that time, the atmosphere was certainly leaned towards Napoleon’s leadership being great rather than France’s newly found liberty.
Jomini’s overall argument is that the reason for Napoleon’s success was due to his Personal Qualities. “The general should do everything to electrify his own soldiers…The speeches of Napoleon are models of this.” Napoleon was an Intelligent, hard-working who had an individual genius for winning battles. He used propaganda to encourage his men to believe they were gallant warriors. Phrases such as “we defeated the enemy” gave a feel of a collective victory. He was very popular with his troops and they trusted him completely. This started because he proved to his troops that he was willing to put himself in the line of danger along with them. Such inspiration he provided for his army, the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo, spoke that Napoleon’s presence counted for a “an extra 40,000 men”. Napoleon engendered loyalty through his leadership skills and evident tactical flair, a tendency reinforced by his creation of the Elite Imperial Guard. ‘The morale and opinion of the army’. This is supported by the views of David Chandler in “Campaigns of Napoleon (1967)”. Napoleon’s flash of genius at Friedland in East Prussia 1807. Where Napoleon Lost 9,000 troops of 80,000 compared to Russia totalling 20,000 casualties. Furthermore, these views can be supported by his momentous victory at Jena in 1806. Where Napoleon smashed the outdated Prussian army which resulted in Prussia losing half its size at the Treaty of Tilsit.
Comparatively, both interpretations emphasise different things. Jomini’s interpretation on Personal leadership, at the time had less limiting factors than Clausewitz. At the time, Clausewitz’ were unpopular at the time as the aura of Napoleon and his great leadership was still in the air. However, further on into the period, it’s arguable Clausewitz’ emphasis became more broadly accepted influencing strong leaders such as Helmutt von Moltke and further on into the First World War under the German Commander Erich von Lundendorff.
End of Interpretations
Introductory paragraph into main body of essay.
Following the identification of the differing interpretations of Clausewitz and Jomini, the two core arguments that can be analysed further are; The first, which Clausewitz supports, contends that external factors such as the “totality” of war at which a country fights and the organisation of a state for war puts far more weight on the outcome of history, rather than Napoleon’s personal qualities and aptitude for military leadership. The second, supported by Jomini, Napoleon’s successes did not wholly come down to the advances and the political state of France in terms of organisation for war, but instead by a military coup d’oeil combined with a skilfully devised battle formula which, in theory, virtually any military leader could imitate such as Helmutt von Moltke and Erich Von Lundendorff.
Firstly, The French Revolution marked an important turn in the nature of warfare, the organisation of the state was completely altered, France’s proficiency in war played a big part in the victory thanks to work of his predecessor Lazarre Carnot. Comte de Guibert introduced the divisional system that Carnot improved after 1792. The new system where officers are promoted based on merit rather than nepotism and corruption, this transformed them from unexperienced aristocrats, to young inspiring officers much like Napoleon. Unlike wars before the revolution, leadership is not just narrowed down to a general’s ability to command on a battlefield. But, their ability to manipulate the resources of the state available to them to be advantageous. This leads onto how to answer the question, therefore, the key decision is to decide whether the key factor in Napoleon’s success and decline and defeat in 1812 to 1815.
To analyse the importance of leadership in war, we must look at Napoleon’s personal qualities. He was seen by those around him as a natural leader of men, he inspired those around with his presence on the battlefield, and most of all created an image of immortality and prestige around him by using propaganda depicting him as a god like figure riding a white horse. Such involvement in his campaigns, was an unusual practice for the period, usually generals would hang back and watch from afar. Such a phenomenon is illustrated in the memoirs of Madame de Remusat, who observes that “He questioned them one after the other about the battles they had fought and their wounds. This is shown by his ability to create a bond with his soldiers. He interacted with them, remembering their names, reminiscing over tales of their great victories, this all contributed to their delight and connection with Napoleon. It was also unusual, as it broke the barrier between officer and soldier that was previously well established in the form of a hierarchy in the armies. Previously, soldiers would only dream of being addressed by their General with their first name.
The close relationship between Madame de Remusat and the Empress Josephine (then wife to Napoleon) is significant to the value of her observations. Appointed as dame du palais in 1802, de Remusat had access to the Empress during Napoleon’s peak in military campaigns. It can therefore be deduced that memoirs, written between 1802 and 1808, represent an accurate, impartial description of his character (her grandson published her memoirs after her death, indicating that she had no audience in mind whilst writing this account) that furthers Jomini’s assertion that a well-led army with high moral courage will succeed in war. Her insight is likely to be skewed despite that fact that bias might fuel it unconsciously, it’s important to note that she had few direct encounters with Napoleon himself, only learning of his habits through his wife, which limits the source’s value as a well-rounded account of his style of leadership. As she might have only had an insight into the positive aspects of Napoleon’s leadership. However, having said this, accounts from French soldiers during and after the Napoleonic wars support her claims of the importance of the care he showed his troops and how they idolised him as an invincible figure designed to inspire them.
We can assess the source’s overall impact to the succession of his victories throughout this period can, however, be questioned; to what extent was the morale of Napoleon’s soldiers the deciding factor in his battles? As Napoleon’s army grew larger for example la Grande Armée of 1812 peaked at 449,000, meaning that any attempt to inspire his soldiers by remembering all 449,000 names would be completely unrealistic. This caused problems for Napoleon, because even though his soldiers had a purpose to fight for in terms of newly found liberty which completely eclipsed his opponent’s armies which simply fought for money. Napoleon found it increasingly difficult to maintain his routine of personal involvement with the soldiers due to the volume of his army. Nevertheless, the source still holds value as a representation of Napoleon’s mastery of the psychology of man-management, moving, formal affairs in the limited wars of the 18th century, the battles of the Napoleonic era were conducted under a strategy of the rapid and complete decimation of the enemy, aiming to provoke an encounter as soon as possible. This was unusual for the time as battles were often seen as costly and were thoroughly avoided due to heavy casualties suffered on both sides. Napoleon employed several tactics to achieve this, two of which were shown at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Firstly, he showed the enemy one small corp of his army to lure them out of their position of strength, he then converged his remaining corps out of hiding to ambush a completely out of position enemy. Secondly, he identified a weak spot in the enemy line and attacked it with brute force until it was broken. It is within debate that, both tactics could only be facilitated by large quantities of soldiers acquired through conscription, however, pioneers of the belief that Napoleon was the master of his own destiny would argue Napoleon should accredited for identifying and using these newly acquired units found through state organisation e.g. levée en masse.
The importance of state organisation is best measured by comparing the totality of war under Napoleon, with that of his opponents, for example the levee en masse and conscription. In 1798, Napoleon was completely different compared with any military commander who had preceded him. Unlike his opponents, he had inherited an unrivalled modernised military state based on the strength of the whole nation, and it is estimated that 2 million Frenchmen were enlisted in the army this is bigger than the size of France’s neighbours Prussia and Austria’s armies put together whom still ran with hired professional armies with orthodox fighting formations and mobility across the empires. Between 1800 and 1815 a fact that goes some way to explaining Napoleon’s seemingly endless victories. With large numbers of well-organised men at his disposal, he was easily able to outnumber and intimidate the enemy, who still utilised 18th century strategy and routinely refused to recognise the advantages that conscription borught. As well as this, money and greed fuelled the motivation of these armies. Whereas, Napoleon did not only invigorate the French soldiers himself, but also the revolution gave them a fighting cause in the form of liberty and defending their rights and ideals. Which completely changed their morale and reason for fighting. To expand upon this, the political system Napoleon inherited was fundamentally different, officers and generals were promoted on merit and ability not through nepotism or favour. This meant Napoleon had more qualified personnel at his disposal to lead his armies, a great contributing factor which helped him in some of his earlier campaigns where his over confidence got the better of him.
Acknowledging Napoleon’s great leadership qualities, which certainly spurred his troops in a significant way. Following the revolution, the superior state organisation was certainly the lasting, influential factor that contributed to not only Napoleon’s victories but also how great generals after him such as the Prussian Helmutt von Moltke organised the Prussian state for war, revolutionised it, much like the French revolution. Therefore, a more decisive reason for Napoleon’s successes are from Clausewitz’ argument that Napoleon was a great leader but more an operator of a well-oiled machine developed for a new era of war, total war.
Such an impact of the French revolution can be observed in Prussia, almost 70 years after the French revolution, which had suffered greatly at the hands of Napoleon following the Battle of Jena in 1806. Under the leadership of Moltke, Prussia put war as the top priority, extending conscription to all social classes in the 1860s and increasing service from 2 to 3 years in the regular army. By 1862, Prussia had doubled the size of its regular army, and had made substantial long-term organisational reforms. Their victory against, France in 1870-1871 can be mostly attributed to their superior mobilisation and their numerical advantage (outnumbering the French 2:1), allowing them to surround and destroy the enemy in a “ring of fire” at Metz and Sedan.
Next, all of Prussia’s industry was geared towards military success in a bid for great power. Coal and steel production increased, and the size of the railways trebled in 20 years (1850-1870). The extension of the railway experienced a valuable increase in the power of armies, as millions of able men could now be delivered quickly and efficiently to the battlefield from all corners of the Prussian empire as oppose to marching, in comparison to their enemies arriving weary on foot. This proved decisive to Prussian victory during the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, which saw Moltke using Prussia’s superior railway network to enhance Napoleonic patterns of strategic movement, combining advanced industry with tactics and strategy to ensure military success.
Unlike Napoleon, Moltke recognised that one leader could control whole armies. He therefore established the ‘General Staff’, a small group of well-trained officers that utilised and refined plans both successful and unsuccessful on past campaigns and meticulously planned the best use of Prussian armed forces. On a tactical level, Moltke utilised a strategy based around Moltke to ‘march divided, strike united’. This had similarities to Napoleon’s strategy in the fact that it utilised a corps system.
In general, the relatively short wars fought between 1815 to 1870 did show an understanding of the effectiveness of Iong-term state organisation, and the evidence of success for the Prussian army proves its importance over military leadership during this period.
Between 1870 and 1914, countries that fell Victim to Moltke and his superior strategy were determined to adapt. Neighbouring, France and Austria created a ‘General Staff’ who were selected on merit. This period became one-of renovation; the belief that Napoleon was the sole reason for his own successes was now not as recognised and the importance of state organisation to military success was given much more recognition, and applied in preparation for future wars.
Helmutt von Moltke referred to this transformation himself who declared to the Reichstag in 1890 as follows: “The age of the cabinet war is behind us -all we have now is the people’s war. If the war that has been hanging over our heads now for more than ten years like the sword of Damocles -if this war breaks out, then its duration and its end will be unforeseeable. The greatest powers of Europe, armed as never before, will be going into battle with each other; not one of them can be crushed so completely in one or two campaigns that it will admit defeat, will be compelled to conclude peace under hard terms and will not come back, even if it is a year later, to renew the struggle. It may be a war of seven years’ or of thirty years’ duration -and woe to him who sets Europe alight, who first puts the fuse to the powder keg.”
Moltke emphasises the importance of state organisation in a militaries success much like Clausewitz. What makes this source valuable, is the fact that this is a speech made by Moltke himself, an influential political figure of the time giving his opinion on the developments of state organisation, and its impact on the overall outcome on the tides of war. The fact that he makes it to the German Reichstag suggests it is designed to inform or even warn of the increasing impact state organisation is having on war. Resulting from this, a leader’s personal qualities is increasingly having less impact on war. This can be reinforced by the fact that, the total defence expenditure of the European great powers had risen from £94 million in 1870 to £154 million by 1890, and would rise to £288 million by 1910, which confirmed Moltke’s theory.
German leadership in World War I was initially successful; Ludendorff was considered the best general of the war for his sweeping victories on the Eastern Front. However, in their case it was a lack of state organisation that proved the determining factor in their eventual defeat. French and British commanders, however, were less effective from the beginning, with the former being associated with suicidal Napoleonic frontal attacks that highlighted his increasingly negative impact on tactics even 100 years after his defeat. British commanders, notably Haig, were notorious for their inflexibility and failure to adapt to trench warfare, and the mounting casualty rates of the seemingly unnecessary battles of attrition damaged their reputation further. However, the success of the British army in 1917-1918 does go some way to suggest the importance of leadership; following the Somme, British leadership grew in strength, transforming the army from defensive to offensive, and successfully wore down the German forces with the greatest series of victories the British army had ever known in the summer and autumn of 1918.