Karl von Clausewitz

Karl von Clausewitz


Karl von Clausewitz was born in Burg, Prussia, 70 miles from Berlin. His father was a retired Prussian lieutenant. Clausewitz joined the Prussian army at the age of 12 and was made a lance corporal during Prussia’s war against Revolutionary France. He rose to the level of subaltern in 1795, and in 1801, he entered the new Kriegsakadamie (Prussian War Academy) in Berlin.

There he studied military science and phi¬ losophy. He thrilled to the theoretical aspects of military studies, but was also drawn to his work by a patriotic desire to see Prussia flour¬ ish. When France invaded Prussia under Napoleon (see no. 67) in 1806, he volun¬ teered to fight. Clausewitz was captured dur¬ ing the Battle of Prenzlau and held prisoner for a year in France, where he observed first¬ hand the most successful war machine of his day in Napoleon.

After returning to Prussia in 1808,( Jausewitz became a major on the Prussian general staff (1810). He also received the post of military tutor to the Crown Prince of Prussia. During this productive time, he also wrote and lectured at the Kriegsakadamie.

In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia. He had taken care to make a treaty with Prussia First, but even so, Clausewitz was outraged at the Corsican’s pretensions. He left Prussia, entered Russia, and volunteered for service in the army of Czar Alexander I.

He served as a staff offi¬ cer in Russia and was instrumental in the Treaty of Kalisch (1813) between Russia and Prussia that brought his home country back into the coalition alliance against Napoleon. During the Waterloo campaign, he served as chief of staff for one of the four Prussian field corps. The Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815.

In 1818, Clausewitz was made major gen¬ eral and given the position of director of the Kriegsakadamie. There he thrived, writing and lecturing for most of the remainder of his life. His work shaped the careers of many students there, most notably that of Helmuth von Moltke (see no. 72).

Clausewitz wrote many tracts, the most important of which was Vom Kriege (On War) in 1832. In this seminal work, he surveyed the field of military strategy. Aside from describing military history, he delved into the philosophy of warfare and declared that war was “a mere continuation of policy by other means.” In other words, political goals were primary, while military events were secondary.

He discussed the varieties of military tactics and strategies which had evolved during the days of Sebastien le Prestre de Vauban (see no. 54). While it was always clear that Clausewitz favored Prussia and the traditions of King Frederick the Great (see no. 58), he also took time to examine the contributions made by military innovators such as Napoleon.Clausewitz returned to active service in 1830. While stationed on the Prussian border with Poland, he contracted cholera and died.