Baron Antoine Henri Jomini (1779-1869) drew on his experience in the armies of French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte to write the first systematic study of military strategy. The science of warfare as outlined in his Précis de l'art de la guerre (The Art of War) has been studied by military commanders in the years since Jomini's death, and it continues to influence the way modern warfare is waged, discussed, and studied.
Antoine Henri Jomini
Baron Antoine Henri Jomini rose in the ranks of the Swiss army, eventually serving under Marshall Michel Ney as chief of staff and becoming a baron in 1807. Loyal to French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Jomini distinguished himself in 1806 at the battle of Jena as well as during France's takeover of Spain. His continued fame rests on his now-classic 1836 Précis de l'art de guerre, which advocates the use of large land forces, speed, maneuverability, and the capture of strategic points during battle. Jomini's work remained influential with military leaders throughout the 1800s, most notably during the U.S. Civil War.
Leaves Business for Battlefield
Jomini was born on March 6, 1779, in the town of Payerne, located in the Swiss canton of Vaud. His parents, of Italian descent, were of modest means and gave their son a good education. As a child he was fascinated by soldiers and the art of war and was eager to attend the Prince de Wurtemberg's military academy in Montbelliard, but his family's circumstances did not permit this. Unable to afford a commission in the Swiss Watteville regiment then under the command of the French, at age 14 he was sent to business school in Aarau with the intent that he train for a career. In April of 1795 he moved to Basle where he found a clerical position at the banking house of Monsieurs Preiswerk.
Moving to Paris in 1796, Jomini worked as a bank clerk for Monsieurs Mosselmann before leaving to become a stockbroker in partnership with another young man. Napoleon's successes in Italy at Lodi, Castiglione, and Lonato inspired Jomini to begin to write on military matters, and he began to study comparative warfare in earnest. His first published study of military operations were that of Frederick II. In 1798 he left his business career behind to reenlist in the Swiss army where he was appointed aide-de-camp to the minister of war of the Helvetic Republic.
Formulated Military Theory
In 1799 Jomini was appointed bureau chief within the Swiss war office, and in the following months, now with the rank of major, he reorganized the ministry for the Swiss War. He drew on his growing knowledge of military operations to standardize several procedures, taking advantage of his position to experiment with organizational systems and strategies. Leaving Switzerland in 1801, Jomini returned to Paris and worked for two years at a military equipment manufacturer before abandoning commerce for good and beginning the first of his books dealing with military theory and history, Traité des grandes opérations militaires. In this work, published in eight volumes between 1804 and 1810 and translated as Treatise on Grand Military Operations, Jomini presented an overview of the general principles of warfare. He included a critical history of the military actions of Frederick II, "the Great," during the Seven Years' War, contrasting them unfavorably with the battles waged by Napoleon Bonaparte. Not surprisingly, this work caught the attention of the French emperor, who eventually offered Jomini a position within his own ranks.
Jomini's Traité des grandes opérations militaires was the first of several works, including Principes de la strategie (1818), and the 15-volume, 1819-1824 work Histoire critique et militaire des guerres de la Révolution, which addressed the wars of the French Revolution. The grossly inept early campaigns of the French Revolution had, in fact, inspired Jomini's search for scientific principles underlying successful warfare, but he waited to publish his Histoire critique until most of the generals he criticized were dead. In each of his writings he described actual battles and theorized why the actions taken either were successful or failed. A child of the Enlightenment, he sought to determine the laws of military strategy, inviolate scientific principles that could be followed to wage a successful war. Such laws would, Jomini believed, provide continuity among the diverse forces at work within an army and thus make war controlled and of minimal duration.
Ironically, Jomini was at first unable to gain entrance into either the French or Russian military on the basis of his Traité des grandes opérations militaries, the implication being that one so young had little to teach older and far more experienced generals. Finally his work came to the attention of Marshal Ney, who took Jomini into his staff in 1805 and provided the funds necessary for the young man to publish his book. Jomini fought with the Sixth Corps against Austria at Ulm in 1805 and served as senior-aide-de-camp against the Prussian Army at Jena and Bautzen the following year. Following the 1807 peace of Tilsit, he was created Baron of the Empire on July 27, 1808, in recognition of his service. During Napoleon's campaigns to take Spain in 1808, he fought bravely and was made brigade general in 1810. When the French army retreated from Russia Jomini also handled his role commendably and was appointed brigadier general in 1813.
Throughout his career in the army of Napoleon, Jomini exhibited complete confidence in his ability to discern "correct" and "incorrect" strategies in line with his theories. Such confidence was interpreted as arrogance by many officers, including Murat and Marshal Berthier, who likely also resented the preferential treatment given to the younger man by Napoleon. In August of 1813, as the result of efforts by Berthier to discredit him and sabotage a well-earned promotion to major general following Ney's victory at the battle of Bautzen, Jomini was forced from the French ranks. Angered and humiliated at his treatment, he traded allegiances, left France, and joined the Russian Army as lieutenant general and aide-de-camp to Alexander I. Aiding in Russia in ending Napoleon's efforts to conquer Eastern Europe, Jomini was allowed to abstain from all military action that took place on French soil. Advancing to general-in-chief in the service of Russia in 1826, he became the military tutor of the Tzarevich Nicholas. As one of his final duties in the Russian military, Jomini was put in charge of organizing the Russian staff college in 1830.
Under Bonaparte, the French had revolutionized warfare by decentralizing command, using a predominately conscripted force and vesting both political and military power in a single leader. Influenced by Alexander the Great, Hannibal, and Caesar, Napoleon had little concern for individual victories or defeats, and even placed the conquest of land secondary; he focused on the overall goal of destroying his enemy through a massed concentration of force. The observation of Napoleon's battle strategy strongly influenced Jomini's theory and became the foundation of his greatest work, 1836's Precis de l'art de la guerre, translated in 1862 as The Art of War, which was written to provide military instruction for the Grand Duke of Russia, the future Nicholas I. Jomini believed that after the age of Napoleon, war would no longer be considered the private affair of individual monarchs; instead it would be waged nation against nation. In his Precis he defined for the first time the three main categories of military activity—strategy, tactics, and logistics—and postulated his "Fundamental Principle of War."
Jomini's "Fundamental Principle of War" involved four maxims: 1) To maneuver the mass of the army, successively upon the decisive points of a theater of war, and attack the enemy's lines of communication as frequently as possible while still protecting ones own; 2) To quickly maneuver and engage fractions of the enemy's army with the majority of one's own; 3) To focus the attack on a "decisive point," such as weak or undefended areas in the enemy lines; 4) To economize one's own force on supporting attacks so that the focus of effort could attack—preferably by surprise— the decisive point at the proper time with sufficient force. He also advocated use of the turning movement, through which an adversary was overcome by moving beyond its position and attacking from the rear, and believed that adversaries in retreat should continue to be pursued as a means of beating them psychologically. He viewed leadership as a prime requirement for military success and appraised character as "above all other requisites in a commander in chief." However, he also recognized that a commander who possessed great character but lacked intellectual training would never be a great general; the necessary characteristic of a winning general would be the combination of intellect and natural leadership. Jomini strongly advocated simplicity and praised the Napoleonic strategy of a quick victory gained by quickly massing troops, as well as the French general's objective of capturing capital cities as a signal of defeat. He also provided early definitions for modern concepts such as the "theater of operation." Jomini cared little for the political niceties of war; in his view governments choose the best commander possible, then free that person to wage war as he deems appropriate.
Influence Spanned the Centuries
Jomini's writings, which constitute over 25 translated works, continued to influence military leaders in both Europe and North America for much of the nineteenth century. His systematization of Napoleon's modus operandi became accepted military doctrine during the U.S. Civil War and was used by generals at Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. However, more recent scholars have viewed Jomini as a chronicler of pre-modern warfare. As a military strategist, he was often compared with Prussian contemporary Karl Marie von Clausewitz (1780-1831), whose 1833 treatise Vom Kriege was considered by many scholars to be romanticized. Unlike Clausewitz, Jomini was vague and contradicted himself on the importance of genius. Like Clausewitz, however, his focus remained on the Napoleonic "great battle" rather than the more modern war composed of multiple armed encounters. Among Jomini's other writings was a well-received 1864 Life of Napoleon and a political and military history of Napoleon's Waterloo campaign.
After publishing his Precis, Jomini retired from the Russian military. He moved to Brussels, but continued to be sought out for his expertise. In 1854 Jomini was called to advise the future Czar Nicholas I on the Crimean War and was consulted by French leader Napoleon III on the 1859 Italian campaign. Until 1888 he was considered by the English to be preeminent among military strategists, and his books were required reading in military academies. U.S. generals such as George B. McClellan and Robert E. Lee were said to have gone into battle armed with a sword in one hand and Jomini's Summary of the Art of War in the other. Reported to be of sound mind as late as his nineties, Jomini continued to insist that his principles would endure despite the changing face of modern warfare as a result of the development of technological advances such as railways and telegraphs. He died on March 24, 1869, at his home in Passy, France.
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Howard, Michael, editor, The Theory and Practice of War, Indiana University Press, 1975.
Jomini, Antoine Henri, The Art of War, translated by G. H. Mendell and W. P. Craighill, Lippincott, 1862, reprinted, Greenwood Press, 1971.
Galaxy, January-July 1869.
Marine Corps Gazette, December 1970; August 1988.
Military Affairs, Spring 1964; December 1974.
Military Review, February 1959.
Naval War College Review, autumn, 1990.
Antoine-Henri Jomini, http://www.ostrogradsky.com (March 14, 2003).