Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini (March 6, 1779–March 24, 1869), general in the French and afterwards in the Russian service, and one of the most celebrated writers on the Napoleonic art of war, was born at Payerne in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland, where his father was syndic.
Early life and career
Jomini's youthful preference for a military life was disappointed by the dissolution of the Swiss regiments of France at the start of the Revolution. For some time he was a clerk in a Paris banking-house, until the outbreak of the Swiss Revolution. At the age of nineteen he was appointed to a post on the Swiss headquarters staff, and when scarcely twenty-one to the command of a battalion. At the peace of Lunéville 1801 he returned to business life in Paris, but devoted himself chiefly to preparing the celebrated Traité des grandes operations militaires, which was published in 1804–1805.
Service in the Napoleonic Wars
Service in the French Army
Introduced to Marshal Michel Ney, Jomini served in the campaign of Austerlitz as a volunteer aide-de-camp on Ney's personal staff. In December 1805 Napoleon, being much impressed by a chapter in Jomini's treatise, made him a colonel in the French service. Ney thereupon made Jomini his principal aide-de-camp.
In 1806 Jomini published his views as to the conduct of the impending war with Prussia. This, along with his knowledge of Frederick the Great's campaigns, which Jomini had described in the Traité, led Napoleon to attach him to his own headquarters. Jomini was present with Napoleon at the Jena, and at Eylau won the cross of the Legion of Honour.
After the peace of Tilsit Jomini was made chief of the staff to Ney, and created a baron. In the Spanish campaign of 1808 his advice was often of the highest value to the marshal, but Jomini quarrelled with his chief, and was left almost at the mercy of his numerous enemies, especially Louis Alexandre Berthier, the emperor's chief of staff.
Departure from French service, to join the Russian Army
Portrait by George Dawe from the Military Gallery of the Winter Palace.
Overtures had been made to him, as early as 1807, to enter the Russian service, but Napoleon, hearing of his intention to leave the French army, compelled him to remain in the service with the rank of general of brigade.
For some years thereafter Jomini held both a French and a Russian commission, with the consent of both sovereigns. But when war between France and Russia broke out, he was in a difficult position, which he dealt with by taking a non-combat command on the line of communication.
Jomini was thus engaged when the retreat from Moscow and the uprising of Prussia transferred the seat of war to central Germany. He promptly rejoined Ney, took part in the battle of Lützen. As chief of the staff of Ney's group of corps, he rendered distinguished services before and at the battle of Bautzen, and was recommended for the rank of general of division. Berthier, however, not only erased Jomini's name from the list but put him under arrest and censured him in army orders for failing to supply certain staff reports that had been called for.
How far Jomini was responsible for certain misunderstandings which prevented the attainment of all the results hoped for from Ney's attack at Bautzen there is no means of knowing. But the pretext for censure was in Jomini's own view trivial and baseless, and during the armistice Jomini did as he had intended to do in 1809–10, and went into the Russian service. As things then were, this was tantamount to deserting to the enemy, and so it was regarded by many in the French army, and by not a few of his new comrades. It must be observed, in Jomini's defense, that he had for years held a dormant commission in the Russian army and that he had declined to take part in the invasion of Russia in 1812. More important--and a point that Napoleon commented upon--was the fact that he was a Swiss citizen, not a Frenchman.
His Swiss patriotism was indeed strong, and he withdrew from the Allied Army in 1814 when he found that he could not prevent the allies' violation of Swiss neutrality. Apart from love of his own country, the desire to study, to teach and to practise the art of war was his ruling motive. At the critical moment of the battle of Eylau he had exclaimed, "If I were the Russian commander for two hours!" On joining the allies he received the rank of lieutenant-general and the appointment of aide-de-camp from the tsar, and rendered important assistance during the German campaign: an accusation that he had betrayed the numbers, positions and intentions of the French to the enemy was later acknowledged by Napoleon to be without foundation. As a Swiss patriot and as a French officer, he declined to take part in the passage of the Rhine at Basel and the subsequent invasion of France.
In 1815 he was with Tsar Alexander in Paris, and attempted in vain to save the life of his old commander Ney. This defense of Ney almost cost Jomini his position in the Russian service. He succeeded, however, in overcoming resistance his enemies, and took part in the Congress of Vienna.
Post-war service and retirement
After several years of retirement and literary work, Jomini resumed his post in the Russian army, and in about 1823 was made a full general. Thenceforward until his retirement in 1829 he was principally employed in the military education of the tsarevich Nicholas (afterwards emperor) and in the organization of the Russian staff college, which was opened in 1832 and bore its original name of the Nicholas Academy up to the October Revolution of 1917. In 1828 he was employed in the field in the Russo-Turkish War, and at the Siege of Varna he was awarded the grand cordon of the Alexander Order.
This was his last active service. In 1829 he settled in Brussels where he chiefly lived for the next thirty years. In 1853, after trying without success to bring about a political understanding between France and Russia, Jomini was called to St Petersburg to act as a military adviser to the tsar during the Crimean War. He returned to Brussels upon the conclusion of peace in 1856 and some years afterwards settled at Passy near Paris. He was busily employed up to the end of his life in writing treatises, pamphlets and open letters on subjects of military art and history. In 1859 he was asked by Napoleon III to furnish a plan of campaign for the Italian War. One of his last essays dealt with the Austro-=Prussian War of 1866 and the influence of the breech-loading rifle. He died at Passy only a year before the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
Jomini's military writings are frequently and unfairly caricatured: he took a didactic, prescriptive approach, reflected in a detailed vocabulary of geometric terms such as bases, strategic lines, and key points.*12 His operational prescription was fundamentally simple: put superior combat power at the decisive point. In the famous theoretical Chapter 25 of the Traité de grande tactique, he stressed the exclusive superiority of interior lines.
As one writer rather partial to Carl von Clausewitz--Jomini's great competitor in the field of military theory--put it:
Jomini was no fool, however. His intelligence, facile pen, and actual experience of war made his writings a great deal more credible and useful than so brief a description can imply. Once he left Napoleon's service, he maintained himself and his reputation primarily through prose. His writing style--unlike Clausewitz's--reflected his constant search for an audience. He dealt at length with a number of practical subjects (logistics, seapower) that Clausewitz had largely ignored. Elements of his discussion (his remarks on Great Britain and seapower, for instance, and his sycophantic treatment of Austria's Archduke Charles) are clearly aimed at protecting his political position or expanding his readership. And, one might add, at minimizing Clausewitz's, for he clearly perceived the Prussian writer as his chief competitor. For Jomini, Clausewitz's death thirty-eight years prior to his own came as a piece of rare good fortune.
(From Bassford, Christopher. "Jomini and Clausewitz: Their Interaction." Paper presented to the 24th Meeting of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe at Georgia State University, 26 February 1993. Proceedings of the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe, XX (1992). Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University, 1994.)
Jomini, Henri. Traité de grande tactique, ou, Relation de la guerre de sept ans, extraite de Tempelhof, commentée at comparée aux principales opérations de la derniére guerre; avec un recueil des maximes les plus important de l'art militaire, justifiées par ces différents évenéments. Paris: Giguet et Michaud, 1805. In English translation as: Jomini, Antoine-Henri, trans. Col. S.B. Holabird, U.S.A. Treatise on Grand Military Operations: or A Critical and Military History of the Wars of Frederick the Great as Contrasted with the Modern System, 2 vols. New York: D. van Nostrand, 1865.
Jomini, Le Baron de. Précis de l'Art de la Guerre: Des Principales Combinaisons de la Stratégie, de la Grande Tactique et de la Politique Militaire. Brussels: Meline, Cans et Copagnie, 1838. In English translation as: Jomini, Baron de, trans. Major O.F. Winship and Lieut. E.E. McLean [USA]. The Art of War. New York: G.P. Putnam, 1854; Jomini, Baron de, trans. Capt. G.H. Mendell and Lieut. W.P. Craighill [USA]. The Art of War. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1862; reprinted, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1971; reprinted, with a new introduction by Charles Messenger, London: Greenhill Books, 1992.
OTHER ASSESSMENTS OF JOMINI
Lecomte, Ferdinand. Le Général Jomini, sa vie et ses écrits (1861; new ed. 1888).
CA Sainte-Beuve, Le Général Jomini (1869).
Pascal, A. Observations historiques sur la vie, &c., du général Jomini (1842).
Elting, John R. "Jomini: Disciple of Napoleon?" Military Affairs, Spring 1964, 17-26.
Shy, John. "Jomini." In Peter Paret, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.
Swain, Colonel [USA] Richard M. "`The Hedgehog and the Fox': Jomini, Clausewitz, and History." Naval War College Review, Autumn 1990, 98-109.
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