Antoine Henri Jomini 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.
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 (sic aborted)
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
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 activitystrategy, tactics, and logisticsand 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 attackpreferably 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
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,
Charters, David A., and others, editors, Military History and the Military
Profession, Praeger, 1992.
Earle, Edward M., editor, Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from
Machiavelli to Hitler, Princeton University Press, 1944.
Handel, Michael I., Masters of War: Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and Jomini, Frank
Howard, Michael, editor, The Theory and Practice of War, Indiana University
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.