- Clausewitz, Carl von
- (1780–1831)A Prussian general and military theorist, Clausewitz is best known for his magnum opus, On War. Born at Burg, near Magdeburg, Clausewitz joined the Prussian army in 1792 as a cadet and served on the Rhine front against the French from 1793–1794. He later trained at the War Academy in Berlin, where he became a protégé of Gerhard von Scharnhorst, a staff officer later to play a prominent part in the army reforms of 1807–1813. On the recommendation of Scharnhorst, Clausewitz was transferred to an appointment on the general staff. He was captured in the wake of the Battle of Auerstädt in October 1806. On his release three years later, Clausewitz assisted Scharnhorst and General Augustus Gneisenau in the complete reform and remodeling of the Prussian army. Clausewitz served in the Prussian contingent that formed the northern wing of the French invasion of Russian in 1812, but he defected to the Russians, with whom he served at the siege of Riga. He later persuaded General Yorck to sign the Convention of Tauroggen by which the Prussian contingent declared its neutrality. Clausewitz remained in Russian service until 1814, when he returned to the Prussian army and became chief of staff to Baron von Thielmann, one of the corps commanders at the battles of Ligny and Wavre during the Waterloo campaign of 1815.In 1818, Clausewitz was promoted to major general and served as director of the staff college in Berlin until his retirement in 1830. Among his various books he wrote an account of his experiences on campaign in 1812, published posthumously, although his most highly acclaimed work, Vom Krieg ( On War ), also published posthumously, focused on the theoretical problems of war rather than on narrative history. Clausewitz argued that war constituted merely an extension of politics through violence - and therefore a natural tool of national policy. The supreme objective was the decisive encounter between the principal armies of opposing states, wherein the overwhelming success of one side enabled it to impose its political will on its opponent. This cardinal principle was applied with overwhelming success during Prussia’s wars of unification (1864, 1866, 1870–1871) and the idea has become axiomatic since. Indeed, by extolling Napoleon’s tactics and the principles he had applied to warfare as models of good generalship, Clausewitz ensured that his work would become the standard, orthodox text for army officers and military theorists not only of his own century, but of our own.See also <
>; < >.FURTHER READING:Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984;Paret, Peter. Clausewitz and the State. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976;Paret, Peter, and Gordon Craig, eds. Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986;Parkinson, Roger. Clausewitz. London: Wayland, 1970.GREGORY FREMONT-BARNES
Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.