Charles Jean Jacques Joseph Ardant du Picq (19 October 1819 – 15 August 1870) was a French colonel and military theorist of the mid-nineteenth century whose writings, as they were later interpreted by other theorists, had a great effect on French military theory and doctrine.
Ardant du Picq was born at Perigueux in the Dordogne on 19 October 1819. On 1 October 1844, upon graduation from the Ecole de St. Cyr, he was commissioned a sublieutenant in the 67th. As a captain, he saw action in the French expedition to Varna (April-June 1853) during the Crimean War, but he fell ill and was shipped home. Upon recovery, he rejoined his regiment in front of Sevastopol (September).
Transferred to the 9th Chasseurs a Pied battalion December 1854, he was captured during the storming of the central bastion of Sevastopol in September 1855. He was released in December 1855 and returned to active duty. As a major with the 16th Chasseur Battalion, Ardant du Picq served in Syria from August 1860 to June 1861 during the French intervention to restore order during Maronite-Druze sectarian violence.
Like virtually all his peers, he also saw extensive service in Algeria (1864-66), and in February 1869 was appointed colonel of the 10th Line Infantry Regiment. He was in France at the outbreak of war with Prussia on 15 July 1870 and took command of his regiment, the Tenth Regiment of the Line. He was killed leading his troops at the Battle of Borny, near Metz, on 15 August 1870.
Ardant du Picq's fame rests more with his writings than his martial exploits. By the time of his death, he had already published Combat antique (ancient battle), which was later expanded from his manuscripts into the classic Etudes sur les combat: Combat antique et moderne (see external links below), often referred to by its common English title as Battle Studies. This work was published in part in 1880; the complete text did not appear until 1902.
Although comparatively little is known of his life, his small corpus of writings has earned him a place in the ranks of great military analysts. His principal interest was in the moral and psychological aspects of battle; as he himself wrote of the battlefields of his day: "The soldier is unknown often to his closest companions. He loses them in the disorienting smoke and confusion of a battle which he is fighting, so to speak, on his own. Cohesion is no longer ensured by mutual observation." Nor did Ardant du Picq neglect the decisive importance of modern firepower, noting that it was necessary for the attacker to "employ fire up till the last possible moment; otherwise, given modern rates of fire, no attack will reach its objective." Despite these words, much of his work was later used to help justify the unfortunate doctrine of the offensive à outrance, put forward principally by Colonel de Grandmaison.
In sum, Ardant du Picq was a talented analyst and, had he lived, would have gained a fine reputation as a military historian. His analyses stressed the vital importance, especially in contemporary warfare, of discipline and unit cohesion. With Carl von Clausewitz, he was one of the first military analysts to pay particular attention to psychological and behavorial factors in combat.