1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Clausewitz, Karl von
CLAUSEWITZ, KARL VON (1780–1831), Prussian general and military writer, was born at Burg, near Magdeburg, on the 1st of June 1780. His family, originally Polish, had settled in Germany at the end of the previous century. Entering the army in 1792, he first saw service in the Rhine campaigns of 1793–1794, receiving his commission at the siege of Mainz. On his return to garrison duty he set to work so zealously to remedy the defects in his education caused by his father’s poverty, that in 1801 he was admitted to the Berlin Academy for young officers, then directed by Scharnhorst. Scharnhorst, attracted by his pupil’s industry and force of character, paid special attention to his training, and profoundly influenced the development of his mind. In 1803, on Scharnhorst’s recommendation, Clausewitz was made “adjutant” (aide-de-camp) to Prince August, and he served in this capacity in the campaign of Jena (1806), being captured along with the prince by the French at Prenzlau. A prisoner in France and Switzerland for the next two years, he returned to Prussia in 1809; and for the next three years, as a departmental chief in the ministry of war, as a teacher in the military school, and as military instructor to the crown prince, he assisted Scharnhorst in the famous reorganization of the Prussian army. In 1810 he married the countess Marie von Brühl.
On the outbreak of the Russian war in 1812, Clausewitz, like many other Prussian officers, took service with his country’s nominal enemy. This step he justified in a memorial, published for the first time in the Leben Gneisenaus by Pertz (Berlin, 1869). At first adjutant to General Phull, who had himself been a Prussian officer, he served later under Pahlen at Witepsk and Smolensk, and from the final Russian position at Kaluga he was sent to the army of Wittgenstein. It was Clausewitz who negotiated the convention of Tauroggen, which separated the cause of Yorck’s Prussians from that of the French, and began the War of Liberation (see Yorck Von Wartenburg; also Blumenthal’s Die Konvention von Tauroggen, Berlin, 1901). As a Russian officer he superintended the formation of the Landwehr of east Prussia (see Stein, Baron Vom), and in the campaign of 1813 served as chief of staff to Count Wallmoden. He conducted the fight at Göhrde, and after the armistice, with Gneisenau’s permission, published an account of the campaign (Der Feldzug von 1813 bis zum Waffenstillstand, Leipzig, 1813). This work was long attributed to Gneisenau himself. After the peace of 1814 Clausewitz re-entered the Prussian service, and in the Waterloo campaign was present at Ligny and Wavre as General Thielmann’s chief of staff. This post he retained till 1818, when he was promoted major-general and appointed director of the Allgemeine Kriegsschule. Here he remained till in 1830 he was made chief of the 3rd Artillery Inspection at Breslau. Next year he became chief of staff to Field-marshal Gneisenau, who commanded an army of observation on the Polish frontier. After the dissolution of this army Clausewitz returned to his artillery duties; but on the 18th of November 1831 he died at Breslau of cholera, which had proved fatal to his chief also, and a little previously, to his old Russian commander Diebitsch on the other side of the frontier.
His collected works were edited and published by his widow, who was aided by some officers, personal friends of the general, in her task. Of the ten volumes of Hinterlassene Werke über Krieg und Kriegführung (Berlin, 1832–1837, later edition called Clausewitz’s Gesammte Werke, Berlin, 1874) the first three contain Clausewitz’s masterpiece, Vom Kriege, an exposition of the philosophy of war which is absolutely unrivalled. He produced no “system” of strategy, and his critics styled his work “negative” and asked “Qu’a-t-il fondé?” What he had “founded” was that modern strategy which, by its hold on the Prussian mind, carried the Prussian arms to victory in 1866 and 1870 over the “systematic” strategists Krismánic and Bazaine, and his philosophy of war became, not only in Germany but in many other countries, the essential basis of all serious study of the art of war. The English and French translations (Graham, On War, London, 1873; Neuens, La Guerre, Paris, 1849–1852; or Vatry, Théorie de la grande guerre, Paris, 1899), with the German original, place the work at the disposal of students of most nationalities. The remaining volumes deal with military history: vol. 4, the Italian campaign of 1796–97; vols. 5 and 6, the campaign of 1799 in Switzerland and Italy; vol. 7, the wars of 1812, 1813 to the armistice, and 1814; vol. 8, the Waterloo Campaign; vols. 9 and 10, papers on the campaigns of Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Luxemburg, Münnich, John Sobieski, Frederick the Great, Ferdinand of Brunswick, &c. He also wrote Über das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst (printed in Ranke’s Historisch-politischer Zeitschrift, 1832). A manuscript on the catastrophe of 1806 long remained unpublished. It was used by v. Höpfner in his history of that war, and eventually published by the Great General Staff in 1888 (French translation, 1903). Letters from Clausewitz to his wife were published in Zeitschrift für preussische Landeskunde (1876). His name is borne by the 28th Field Artillery regiment of the German army.
See Schwartz, Leben des General von Clausewitz und der Frau Marie von Clausewitz (2 vols., Berlin, 1877); von Meerheimb, Karl von Clausewitz (Berlin, 1875), also Memoir in Allgemeine deutsche Biographie; Bernhardi, Leben des Generals von Clausewitz (10th Supplement, Militär. Wochenblatt, 1878).