Sunday, February 15, 2015

Jomini's "The Art of War"

Dover Publishing's The Art of War by Antoine-Henri, Baron de Jomini (1779-1869) is an unabridged 2007 reprint of the 1862 J.B. Lippincott edition translated by Capt. G.H. Mendell and Lt. W.P. Craighill. In their all too brief preface, Mendell and Craighill note that the practice of following maps while reading the text is an essential component of studying military history.  Appreciating this dictum, the publisher has reproduced in their paperback edition the 3 original pull-out maps in reduced, but still clear, size at the rear of the book. Apart from this format change, the content of the 2007 and 1862 editions is the same.

The Art of War is a work of remarkable breadth, from top level national strategy discussion all the way down to the proper deployment of battalions on the battlefield. Jomini begins with an overview of war and politics, defining the different types of war (invasion, intervention, civil, religious, etc.) before moving on to national military policies, institutions, command structures, and culture.

As many disagreements revolve around semantics, Jomini is very meticulous about defining terms in his section on strategy. His military nomenclature includes key words like theater of operations; bases of operation; strategic lines and points; decisive points; objective points; zones and lines of operation; and strategic lines of maneuver. He also brings into the discussion how depots, frontiers, forts, entrenched lines and camps, and bridgeheads relate to operations.

In the chapter on grand tactics and battles, Jomini takes great pains to differentiate between lines of battle (the positions occupied by battalions — the regiment being the rough scale equivalent for American Civil War armies — deployed with no particular object in mind) and orders of battle (the arrangement of troops with a specific movement planned). Lines of battle most often refer to the defensive posture and orders of battle offensive maneuvers. The different orders of battle (12 by Jomini's count, some examples being parallel, oblique, perpendicular, and echelon orders) are examined at length, with figures drawn for visual learning. Advice related to various types of battles, including turning maneuvers, meeting engagements, surprise attacks, and assaults on entrenched lines and forts, are also present in this section.

The next chapter takes on operational considerations like detachments, diversions, river crossings, retreats, pursuits, and amphibious landings. The logistics section offers practical suggestions on how to prepare and arrange campaign marches while also gathering information about the enemy. Finally, the author analyzes the various options for arranging lines of battle and the optimal component ratios of corps, divisions, and brigades within armies, with sections covering unit formations for each of the three main branches.

Three appendices not present in the 1838 first edition are included here.  A particularly interesting one speculates on how the proliferation of rifled arms might impact various aspects of his work. In general, naval warfare is beyond the scope of the book but the third appendix consists of a fairly lengthy, though not analytical in nature, history of sea operations through history.

Jomini constantly reminds readers that the conduct of war is more art than science and most of the "rules" he cites in his book should not be regarded as written in stone. He does demand a great deal of the reader in terms of historical and military background knowledge. Jomini pairs all of his defined terms and maxims with real world examples and though readers will be familiar with those drawn from the Napoleonic Wars others taken from the wars of Revolutionary France and earlier continental conflicts are far more obscure today. The author does employ conceptual aids where appropriate, his geometrical abstractions of theaters, zones of operation, and orders of battle being particularly helpful at getting to the heart of the matters at hand.

An interesting exercise might be to publish a new edition of Jomini in which all illustrative examples are drawn from the Civil War instead of Europe's campaigns and battles of the 18th and early 19th centuries. Civil War students reading The Art of War will likely find their minds racing to come up with applications from the American conflict. For instance, Jomini states that when an attacking side is confronted by a defender occupying a long, overextended position the center of the line is the correct target. Immediately, the 1862 Henry-Donelson Campaign that both pierced and completely unraveled Albert Sidney Johnston's western theater defense springs to mind. General Beauregard's often ridiculed order and line of battle arrangement for the Confederate army at Shiloh will find no friend in Jomini. Though dutifully citing instances where Napoleon used deep columns with success, in the Swiss's view it is not an effective practice to position corps one behind the other for a variety of reasons. The Union operation at First Deep Bottom is a textbook example of Jominian maxims related to river crossings and establishment of tetes de ponts. Though not well developed, Jomini's early industrial age opinion that small professional armies backed by a strong militia/reserve system is the best policy for national defense (massive standing armies being almost ruinously expensive) should interest critics and observers of the antebellum U.S. system. Also, for both foreign and domestic conflicts, Jomini favors what would later in the American Civil War be known as conciliatory policies over hard war, his thoughts not entirely theoretical given his observations of the Peninsular War's no holds barred brutality. On the Civil War debate over whether fixed strategic points or enemy armies should be the true target of operations, Jomini believes the proper course to lie in between, with circumstances particular to a given situation affecting the balance. It cannot be one principle or the other [note: lest one think this point an obvious one, I would refer the reader to the North & South (Vol. 11, No. 4) moderated discussion on the subject involving historians Allen Guelzo, James McPherson, Steven Newton, and Steven Woodworth].

Jomini does frequently criticize colleagues on specific points and responds to comments directed at his own work in The Art of War but he doesn't always put names to ideas and assumes on the part of the reader close familiarity with the state of the military theory literature at the time of his writing (much of it German, according to the author).  Today's audience would clearly benefit from a modern annotated edition that more explicitly differentiates Jomini from other European military theorists of his lifetime [does one already exist in English?  I don't know].  It might also be interesting to learn something about the careers of West Point translators Craighill and Mendell, not exactly a pair of household names to Civil War readers.

With the work of Jomini so frequently cited in the current Civil War literature, but too often without much in the way of meaningful analysis attached, serious students really owe it to themselves to go directly to the source and those wondering which edition to procure will find a very solid option with this one.

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