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Margaret Cochran Corbin
Sherman's March
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Was the Civil War Modern?
Agent 110: An American Spymaster
MacArthur and Baseball
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The Battle of Tondibi
From Shell Shock to PTSD
Rudolf Hess/Tancred Borenius
Soviet Rifle Corps of WWII
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Invention of Counterinsurgency
U.S. Army Model 1913 Cavalry Saber
The Somme
The First Class at RAF No. 31 Radio School
Second Battle of Ypres
Operation Dragoon and Invasion of Southern France
Soviet Invasion of Manchuria
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Timothy Webster, Pinkerton Man and Spy
Khrushchev’s Last Bluff
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In Memoriam: Lt(jg) James A. Nist, USNR
Third Romano-Samnite War - Phase 1
War Nurses
The Silent Service and the Turkey Shoot
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LtCol Adrian Grant-Duff, C.B. (1869-1914)
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq During Desert Storm
The New York Naval Militia - Part I
Alfred Thayer Mahan: Advocate for Seapower
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt3
Into the Special Forces: Rudi Horvath
American Airborne Units in WWII
Czechoslovak Exile Units of WWII
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Fulda Gap
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
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Force at la Difensa
The Third Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Return of Rogers' Rangers
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
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Americans in the Boer War
Logistics and Western Way of War
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Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
The Third Day at Gettysburg
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt2
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
Response to Everett L. Wheeler’s review
Marching to Timbuktu
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Adolphus, Genius of Sweden
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
British Infantry Tactics in WWI
Lodge Act Soldier
The Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events
Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra
Second Samnite War Phase 2
Air Recon in WWII
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Cyberwar in the 21st Century
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Bullets Quickly Write New Tactics
Second Lebanon War
WWII Veteran Interview - Walter Holy
The influence of Neurotechnology on Just War
Turning East: Hitler's only option
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Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
Son of an Artilleryman Follows Father’s Footsteps
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Plague of the Spanish Lady
Cairo’s Fortress on the Mountain
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
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End of the Battle of the Java Sea
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How Arnhem was Lost
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Second Samnite War
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Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
The Green Beret Affair: A Factual Review
Silent Service of the Pacific
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Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
Mexican Revolution and US Intervention 1910-1917
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
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War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
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Frederick: Battle of Leuthen
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Nathan Bedford Forrest
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Clark Field, Philippines
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The Fenian Raids
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MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
The Battle of Cowpens
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Japan's Monster Sub
Britain's Participation Justified?
Popski's Private Army
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An Odd Way to View WWII
America's Paradoxical Trinity
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Basic Counter-Insurgency
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The Battle of Pea Ridge
Tunisian Army in Crimean War
Japan's TA-Operation
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Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
Dien Bien Phu: A Battle Assessment
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Lafayette Escadrille Pilots
Governor Kieft's Personal War
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History of 138th PA
Giuseppe Garibaldi
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Caterpillar Club
Foundation of Modern Army Regiments
One of Ten Thousand
The Design Was Not Passed On
Subverting the Sultan
John Paul Jones and Asymetric Warfare
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later
The Battle of Mogadishu
"A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
StuIG at Stalingrad
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
What if?
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Tanks in the Garden of Eden
Early Texas Military History
Office of Strategic Services
The Mitrailleuse
The Grande Armee of 1812 in Russia
Role of Artillery in Korea
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
Battle of Mantinea
Pearl Harbor
American Revolution in the Caribbean
The French Campaign of 1859
The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Franklin
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Want of a Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Changing Generalship and Tactics
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Boudicca: What Do We Really Know?
Rulers of the World: The Hitler Youth
The Master's Misstep
The Order of St. Lazarus
Breakout From the Hedgerows
St. Etienne: US 36th Division in WWI
Memories of D-Day
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Infantry
The Raid on Dieppe

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Nathan Wells Articles
Western Way of War

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In the Support of Amorality: The Rise of the Staff in the Western Way of War
In the Support of Amorality: The Rise of the Staff in the Western Way of War
by Nathan D. Wells

Controversy abounds on the topic of whether or not a so-called 'Western Way of War" exists. There is much to be said for both sides of the debate, but it does appear that the West has given more than it has got in military operations over the last few centuries. Everything from an innate cultural propensity to violence to technological superiority has been used as an explanation for its existence. Western armies have certainly been used with devastating effect since the seventeenth century, or the beginning of the military revolution of gunpowder weapons and the reforms of Maurice of Nassau. Armies became larger, more professional entities, yet also grew more mobile, flexible and effective. A primary reason for this was the creation and rise of importance of the modern staff system. While a staff in its most basic form is merely a group tasked to assist an operational commander, the adoption of staffs in Western armies not only made them more effective, but also modified their world view. Staffs brought a cold, objective view to the battlefield. Victory through glory was not their aim; victory through crunching numbers was. The rise of the Staff in Western Armies; especially those of France and Prussia illustrate this process. By the end of the evolutionary period of staff systems; the mid-nineteenth century, the road to the cold, calculated operational slaughter of the First World War had been surveyed, and the business-orientated view of warfare since the end of the Second World War had its precedent.

The Staff Officers' Field Manual of the United States Army defines the staff as follows: 'The staff of a unit consists of the officers who assist the commander in his exercise of command." [1] Conversely, a Capital or Greater Staff was roughly, 'all military personnel not belonging in its active capacity to a particular regiment, but attached rather to the general headquarters of the field army." [2] Indeed, the term 'staff" most likely stems from the observation that these were the officers who the commander would lean on to successfully exercise is duties; indeed they are the vital cogs in the commanding machine." [3] It may seem ironic to begin with the American definition of what the staff is, considering that the United States was the last major Western nation to adopt a higher staff; doing so only in 1902 when the Spanish-American War of 1898 illustrated how wholly inadequate prepared the United States Army was for that conflict. Indeed, the United States will only be discussed in terms of its General Staff in the field; as it had not Great General Staff until after the covered timeline of this study. While General Staffs had their ancestors dating back to pre-Classical times, and were usually associated with professional, paid soldiers; it is to the Swedish King Gustavo's Adolph's (1594-1632) that most credit for the modern higher or Greater General Staff should be directed. It was he who also reintroduced an appreciation of sound logistics unheard of since Roman times. It is only through sound logistics that 'expansive and continued" warfare is possible. [4] Gustavus Adolphus' reforms went much further, however. Special duties such as Courts Martial, and control of intelligence were allocated to the Staff. In a sense then, the General Staff became the embodiment of the Enlightened Age in the realm of warfare. This was by no means an overall positive development; or even a truly realistic one. The Age of Enlightenment was an era marked by an intense desire to solve, categorize, calculate and control. The idea of a staff was directly in line with these principles. The great military theorist Maurice of Nassau had stressed the adoption of Roman Linear tactics as being compatible with the current Gunpowder Revolution. These were an enlightened theorist's dream come true. Linear tactics, as their name implies stresses orderly lines of troops arrayed against similar armies. The only major (theoretical) difference from Classical times was that weight of men was replace by weight of metal, as all soldiers became a missile troops. Uniforms and weapons were standardized on a scale not seen since Classical times, as well. While the mass-production of the Industrial Revolution was still almost two centuries in the future, the mentality of warfare through pure numbers had been born. Maurice's defeat of the Spanish at Nieuport in 1600 proved the merit of his tactics; but it was with Gustavus Adolphus that his reforms and the utility of a General Staff would be most marked. Nothing develops interest in a military axiom more than success; and Gustavus Adolphus was quite successful. If the Hundred Years War had seen the first great revolution in military affairs; then the reign of Gustavus Adolphus was the second. Delegating tasks such as intelligence, reconnaissance, operations and billeting to certain specialized officers illustrated a desire to maximize their effectiveness and promote based on merit. While his attention to field artillery and the military science of engineering and field fortification are the most studied; it should not be forgotten that 'a staff organization had emerged that was to serve as a pattern for the next 300 years." [5] Here again was the ideal Staff to be able to solve, categorize, calculate and control any issues that might exist on the battlefield. The Swedish King's willingness to employ foreign troops in his armies meant that even after his death in the Battle of Lutzen in 1632, the principles set forth would be disseminated around Europe. It is no surprise that the French would be at the forefront of Staff development, (not to mention nearly every other facet of military affairs) for in 1639 the remains of Gustavus's army were absorbed into that of France. The rise of the Staff in Gustavus Adolphus's army had paralled that of the Age of Enlightenment; for military theorists were enlightened theorists like their peers. Order and intellectual achievement were the ideals of the day; and have been since. With the growing attempts to reduce warfare to a rational set of events, it should be no surprise that the modern staff had its genesis here.

The modern French army can be dated to the reign of Charles VII (1403-1461) when the conglomeration of feudal forces was replaced with a more permanent standing army; complete with specialist units; with artillery being the most famous. It was not until Cardinal Richelieu's (1585-1642; prime minister of Louis XII) absorption of the remains of Gustavus Adolphus's army in 1639 that the French began their foray into staff warfare. These troops were concentrated into an elite corps under the command of Bernard of Saxe-Weimar, later a tutor to the great Marshal Turenne. In this age of 'gentlemanly warfare" lessons learned in the classroom and battlefield were equally important; especially as allies in one war might be enemies in the next, as professionals served as much for pay as patriotism. The methods that had worked so well for the Swedish King were now put to use by the French. The French went beyond simply adopting Swedish Linear tactics, however; instead reforming their entire staff system. The first part of this was the creation of the 'intendance" system, by which all administration of the army became the officer designated as the intendant. [6] However, it would be the influence of Louis XIV's minister of war, the Marquis de Louvois (1641-1691) that would begin the meteoric rise of the staff in the French army. Louvois was a true believer in the organizational method, and thus the importance of an efficient staff system appealed to him. It was to Louvois that the first French General Staff can be linked. This was prescient, for the army rapidly expanded during his term in office. When Louvois assumed his post, the field army stood at 20,000. At the time of his death, that number had increased to 100,000. [7] Without an efficient and effective Capital Staff, the armies of the 'Sun King" Louis XIV would never have been as powerful as they became. His successor Pierre de Bourcet, (1700-1780) a career staff officer, would be well-placed to continue staff reforms. The War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) would serve as the first showcase of his abilities. It was a succeeding conflict, the Seven Years War (1756-63) that would prove most important to the rise of the Staff. It was during this conflict that Bourcet and Frederick the Great could indeed be described as the forge of both the French and Prussian Capital Staffs, for it was during the war that Bourcet and Frederick the Great made their reforms on the French and Prussian Staff systems, respectively. Due to the increasing size of the armies involved, as well as the global stage that the conflict was fought; the lack of enough trained staff officers was keenly felt. Marshal de Broglie blamed many mistakes made by French forces on 'the complete ignorance of the officers, from sub-lieutenant to lieutenant generals, of the duties of their position and all the details of which they ought to be masters." [8] Following the cessation of hostilities, Bourcet was appointed director of the Grenoble Staff College and wrote Principles de la Guerre de Montagues. This work contains quite a few axioms that are traditionally equated with Napoleon, such as appreciation of the value for good reconnaissance, operational planning and adequate supply as the basis for any major military undertaking. With effective staffs often comes great expense; and in 1771, the Bourcet 'special quartermaster staff" was abolished; though it was briefly reconstituted in 1783 under the Marquis d'Aguesseau. The French Revolution ended both the ancient regime, and the staff system which had served it so well. The Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars would serve to create a new style of French Staff under Pierre Alexandre Berthier that would serve Napoleon well.

Berthier had served on the Staff under d'Aguesseau. He would prove to be one of the main reasons for Napoleon's early rise; especially in his ability to translate orders from Bonaparte to his Lieutenants, often in distant locales. He did have a great shortcoming, however, in that his mind was often too literal; often only serving to assist Napoleon in the intricacies of the French Language; and acting as a glorified chief clerk. He went even so far to comment that 'I am nothing in the army…I receive the marshals' reports in the name of the Emperor, and I sign his orders for him." [9] In terms of utilizing his Staff, Napoleon would on more than one occasion fall into the trap of many a great captain: micro-managing. As David Chandler comments:

There was no call for originality of thought or effort; Napoleon decided all, planned all, controlled all. The staff was merely the vehicle for the transmission of command and the provision of data---nothing more. [10]

A commander's staff is only as effective as his use of it. Napoleon in many ways was the last passionate great captain. While he did possess a keen objective military mind; he was also a product of the Revolutionary Age. A 'whiff of grapeshot" could define events, just as a 'King on horseback" might have prevented them in the first place. The fact that many of his Capital Staff officers had had to survive the anti-intellectualism of Robespierre did not help matters. Napoleon was one of the great Captains of his age, or any other for that matter. Yet, he strove to do too much on his own; and relegated those areas of his empire not visited by himself to their own devices. The experience of Andre Massena in Portugal is enlightening. Declared by Napoleon himself as 'the greatest name in my military empire," General Massena was tasked to invade Portugal, and defeat the English-backed insurgency there. [11] Beyond this basic order, however Massena was given little guidance to bring about this result. Making matters worse was the fact that contact between Massena and Berthier was by no means regular; and the latter was often ill-informed about the current state of affairs in Iberia. Indeed, after crossing into Portugal itself, communications completely broke down; forcing Massena to send a Captain Mascarenhas, a Portuguese officer to Paris in disguise. Unfortunately, he was captured and hanged as a traitor. [12] Napoleon was better informed on the progress of his general, due to English newspapers accurate accounts of Massena's Portuguese travails. From the point of view of a staff officer, the entire Iberian campaign was a disaster. The lack of communications, logistical ability, or reinforcements indicated an almost cavalier attitude among the French high command; especially of Napoleon. It would also prove to be an example of foreshadowing. While Napoleon's earlier dramatic victories, like those of Gustavus Adolphus, were over those Western Armies that were not modernized; his later Pyrrhic victories and defeats were at the hands of those armies that had learned from his example.

The post-Napoleonic era would not be kind to the French Capital Staff. While Marshal Gouvin Saint-Cyr strove for a level of competence among Staff officers. He did so by closing the corps to outsiders, and setting up a special school in Paris, the Ecole d'application d'etat-major. However, as Dallas Irvine comments, this was to prevent" crying abuse rather than the providing of a system of sifting out and exploiting to the utmost the best brains of the army." [13] Yet, the negative situation that had existed under Napoleon was recognized, and reforms instituted in 1826. The most important of these was that Staff officers must have actual line service. Unfortunately, a Capital Staff can only do so much service to a mediocre government. In 1831 the July Monarchy combined the Capital Staff with the Topographical Section. Thus, instead of being concerned with potential military issues, the Staff was tasked to be more concerned with the updating of a detailed map of France. [14] To make matters worse, the July Monarchy became embroiled in Algeria; (not the first or last time that this North African nation would prove to be an 'African Ulcer.") As the campaigns in Iberian had shown, a long drawn out campaign of guerilla warfare often proves the greatest Achilles heel to interest in the Capital Staff. Algeria was to be no As a final blow to the reborn Staff Corps was the Law of 1833, which dictated that appointments would be based on seniority, not merit; and ended the line service requirements for Staff officers. This law was still enforced at the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. Only after the deadly efficiency of the Prussians had been shown by both the defeat of the Danes and Austrians, were reforms dictated by the Minister of War, Marshal Niel. By then, it would be too late.

If the Prussian General Staff proved to be the superior by the mid nineteenth century, how was its lineage different from that of France? Walter Goerlitz comments that 'two sharply opposed influences have thus assisted in forming the character of the German General Staff, the stratified feudal society of old Prussia, and the new nationalism of the French Revolution." [15] The Prussian General Staff preceded this, however; as this refers to its glory years of the nineteenth century, where it helped defeat Napoleon; then later his nephew, Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War. When one thinks of Capital Staffs, Prussia/Germany almost invariably is the first military to come to mind. J. D. Hittle says quite succinctly that it was Prussian theorists who 'demonstrated conclusively that a strong staff was an indispensable component of any great nation's military machine." [16] Going a bit further, he comments that:

Of all the modern great powers of Europe, none has so consistently manifested such a progressive national aptitude toward the improvement of the military method as Germany. The intellectual approach has been the keynote of their military technique for centuries---an intellectual emphasis that proved not to be a straight-jacket on progressive thought, but rather a firm basis on which pioneering by military thinkers could be best directed into the channels of practical application. [17]

In a sense, the Prussian General Staff was a greater student of the ways and means of the 'Western Way of War." The General Staff was based upon the old 'Quartermaster-Generals" Staff of the preceding two centuries; to about 1635. This Staff (like other Western Staffs) was a direct copy of the Swedish pattern; and was a direct result of the chaos caused by the Thirty Years War (1618-48) which devastated Germany. The Quartermaster-General's Staff was mainly concerned with the supply and billeting of the army; an unglamorous, yet highly vital set of duties. As the quartering of troops in the field dictated the need for access to water, food, and roads, supplementary duties such as intelligence and reconnaissance became more pronounced. As vital as these functions were, the Quartermaster-General's Staff had all but been phased-out until the arrival of Frederick the Great; who provided the spark to resuscitate the Staff. This may have something to do with Frederick's introduction to military life. Frederick grew up demonstrating no ardor for the military or war; (possibly as a result of being awakened at dawn by the sound of a cannon firing.) Indeed, he even attempted to flee to England in the company of two friends, Lieutenants Katte and Keith. The plotters were discovered, and Frederick was stripped of his rank and forced to watch Katte's execution by beheading. While still on restriction, he was put to work in the auditing office of the war department checking invoices, payrolls and the like. [18] He was no royal prince whose first exposure to the military was the pomp and grandeur of the parade ground, or court guards in fancy uniforms. To Frederick, the Prussian Army was a community of paperwork, and individual costs. Combat in its most basic form may be killing; but warfare in its basic form was that of numbers. To have successful continued operations, the state must be able to cover the costs of warfare. These costs may be in terms of money, material, or manpower; but they are costs, nonetheless. Frederick, more that any other Captain of his day realized this. Barely had his reign begun than he invaded the Austrian province of Silesia, thereby beginning the First Silesian War (1740-42) part of the War of Austrian Succession. This was designed to provide capital and raw materials to Prussia, which was lacking in both. In the wars that filled much of his reign, it was often Frederick's amoral view of military operations that ensured the survival of the Prussian state. Experience in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and the Seven Years War (1756-63) had illustrated the need for trained Staff officers. While Frederick, like Napoleon might have been enough of a military genius to not require much of a staff; he had a much higher regard for their services than the Corsican. In his personal history of the Seven Years War, Frederick wrote that 'the army stood the test of many campaigns, but the want of a good Quartermaster-General's Staff was often felt at Headquarters." [19] Shortly after the cessation of hostilities, the king selected twelve officers who he felt had a special aptitude for Staff duties.

Frederick was definitely a child of his time. As one of the so-called 'Enlightened Monarchs" of Europe, he was fluent in several languages, showed an aptitude for music and was a lover of books. It should not be surprising that the Staff, or 'Brain of the Army" as British author Spenser Wilkinson described it a century and a half later, would appeal to Frederick. His own literacy has entailed that his own thought are still available to modern readers, while the establishment of the Kriegsacademie a year after Bourcet's Principles de la Guerre de Montagues was published illustrated that he realized that future commanders not to his level of genius would require Staff assistance. Not only was it useful in the completion of successful military operations, but the Staff utilized the same basic axioms that Frederick himself associated with the military. There was to be no chase for glory, merely the seeking out of victory. This more often than not was the result, and it was without a whit of sarcasm that Napoleon, visiting Frederick's grave after defeating the Fourth Coalition in 1807, remarked to his own staff: 'Gentleman, if this man were still alive I would not be here." Napoleon had understood the genius of Frederick, but not the genius of the Staff. Sadly, for the Prussians, he was not the only person of this mentality. For twenty years after the death of Frederick, the Prussian General Staff was allowed to erode in quality, leading to the disastrous defeat at the hands of Napoleon at Jena in 1806. Yet, even before this defeat, a few theorist saw the need to keep pace with the Revolutionary Armies that had turned back the Prussians at the Battle of Valmy in 1792. General von Lecoq and Colonel Christian von Massenbach were early proponents from about 1800. Indeed, so agonized was Massenbach at the state of affairs, that in January 1802 he addressed a memorandum to the king covering such topics as drawing plans for military operations, division of the country into three theaters of war and proposals concerning a topographical survey of the country. [20] After Jena, Massenbach's proposal was used as the core directive for the new War Ministry, and that his services 'must be regarded as marking a distinct stride in the gradual growth of the present general staff." [21] It is thanks to Gerhard Scharnhorst, however that the concept of the 'general staff with troops" was fully embraced. Ironically, it is perhaps Napoleon that the reborn Prussian General Staff should be most thankful to. His devastating victory at Jena removed the obstacles to reform. The wave of Revolutionary thought that his victories unleashed also served as a motivating force. Indeed, without Napoleon, there might have been no Scharnhorst, Gneisenau or Stein. Scharnhorst was actually present at Jena in the capacity of a general staff officer. First-hand knowledge of combat operations was a vital characteristic to a successful staff officer. Shortly before Jena, Sharnhorst penned the observation that 'What ought to be done, I know only too well; what is going to be done, only the gods know." [22] It is small wonder that he was all too wiling to organize the reforms of the Prussian army, especially that of its staff. Angered at his relative powerlessness as a chief-of-staff, in 1808 he issues guidelines so that general staff officers and generals of the army would realize what was expected of them, and generals 'should be cognizant of the duties of a general staff officer, so that misunderstandings, overlapping, wrong expectations, or accusations might be avoided." [23] As an additional step to improve command and control, beginning in 1809 officers of the general staff were assigned to the various army headquarters; this being extended to corps and brigades in the campaigns of 1813-14. These staff officers were not attached to the commander of these units; but rather to the headquarters as a whole.

The next great reform of the Prussian General Staff came following the fall of Napoleon. Beginning in 1821, both the General Staff and 'general staff with troops" was placed under a single chief, General von Muffling as Chief of the General Staff of the Army; with control being gradually shifted away from the War Minister. This was partially an attempt to guarantee the survival of the General Staff; especially in light of the belief that democracies were not able to develop and possess military power. Considering the lack of respect for the U.S. military at the time; as well as the metamorphosis of French Republican Armies into Imperial units, this is not surprising. Indeed, it would not be until the American Civil War that General Staffs on any level would be utilized. It can also be supposed that after Germany having been a battlefield for the better part of two centuries, the General Staff reformers were in no mood to jeopardize the security of Prussia for non-military ideals. Muffling is perhaps best known for the fact that it was during his term that Carl von Clausewitz wrote Vom Krieg. In 1828, the last of the pre-Moltke reforms was enacted. These reforms dealt with the manner in which field staffs at the corps level were to be organized, as well as the method in which the business of the commands would be handled through subsections of the staff. These subsections were general staff, routine staff, legal and departmental, or intendance sections. [24] This arrangement would continue to the end of the Second World War.

It was the period following the Napoleonic Wars that the Industrial Revolution took hold of the West. Mass production, booming population, and (perhaps most apt for this subject) the rise of the railroads were its hallmarks. In 1857, Helmut von Moltke became Chief of the General Staff. Moltke presents a study in contrasts to historians. A member of the rather large penniless lower nobility, he had written fiction, as well as translated all twelve volumes of Edward Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire into German to supplement his meager earnings as a junior officer. [25] An intellectual who prized other intellectuals, he sought to turn military affairs on its head. Before covering Moltke's influence, it might be wise to discuss Jomini and his effects on the American Civil War. It was at this time that Napoleon III was attempting to create a French military Renaissance. On the surface, he succeeded. French military treatises were widely read, and the half century from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until the end of the United States Civil War could best be described as the Age of Jomini. Antoine-Henri Jomini was a minor Swiss noble who served in various capacities in both the French and Russian Armies during the Napoleonic Wars. Whatever his skills as a staff officer, Jomini was definitely a prolific writer. The maxim of 'if Napoleon were the god of war, Jomini was his one true prophet." [26] Jomini is almost synonymous with the American Civil War, with the old joke that Officers on both sides went to war with a saber in one hand, and a copy of Jomini in the other. One of the earliest military textbooks used at the United States Military Academy at West Point proclaimed 'General Jomini has transcended all writers on war…and has reduced the hitherto mysterious science of war to a few self-evident principles and axioms." [27] Such lofty praise proclaiming the simplification of war explains a great deal about the slaughter that would occur between 1861 and 1865; not to mention how disillusioned Americans became of Jomini. Indeed, the conflict virtually assured that his best contemporary Clausewitz would rise from obscurity and greatly surpass him in renown. The U.S. Civil War began showing numerous influences from the French. Units on both sides, known as 'Zouaves" utilized gaudy French uniforms that were extraordinarily conspicuous on the battlefield; often featuring the pantaloon rouge or red trousers favored by the French. Even the basic forage cap was a near direct copy of that used by the army of Napoleon III. Of course, there was also Jomini. Both the Union and Confederacy were inspired by the French Staff system, for there was almost nothing else to go on. The United States Army Staff regulations dated to the Revolutionary War. Braxton Bragg called for a series of reforms that would have created an embryonic staff; but his calls went unheeded. [28] When war broke out, most commanders on both sides simply appointed friends and cronies to their staff. Members of Thomas 'Stonewall" Jackson included his brother-in-law, prewar friends and former students from the Virginia Military Institute. [29] What regulations existed was unknown to the mostly recent civilians on both sides. As Napoleon was still the Great Captain of the nineteenth century, it was to his historians that the combatants turned. Jomini proved the most prolific, primarily for the fact that he outlived the majority of his contemporaries. Indeed, had Clausewitz or Berthier lived longer, Jomini might never have had the influence he eventually wielded. His staff service was flawed for three major reasons. The first was that his ego convinced him that everyone else was wrong and criticism directed his way was by inferior minds (such as Berthier and Clausewitz) trying to sabotage his good name. The second, and more damning for our purposes flaw is his lack of tactical experience. Unlike most French Napoleonic officers; (but very much like those Staff officers under Napoleon III) Jomini had not commanded so much as a company of the line; actually believing that tactical experience was unnecessary. Finally, Jomini was a throwback to an earlier age; not a prophet for where the century was going. He preferred 'loyal and chivalrous warfare." [30] While not a very courteous fellow, he possessed an all too moral view of war. He was fascinated by the concept of interior lines, which in the pre-industrial society lacking railroads was not an all-together bad idea. Yet, Jomini lived until 1869, so he should have realized that railroads would change everything, as the American Civil War had shown. One man who realized the importance of railroads was Helmut von Moltke.

If Napoleon (and by extension Jomini) favored movement along interior lines; then Moltke stressed deployment on external lines. The key to this, and to victory was on rapid deployment via the railroads. The finest rail systems on the Continent were in Germany, and this would prove a distinct advantage. This also added a new element of complexity to war, and only an efficient General Staff would be able to deal with said complexity. While railroads have enabled troops to be deployed during the U.S. Civil War at a rate far surpassing previous conflicts, the lack of an effective staff system really only meant that the slaughter would begin that much sooner. The Seven Weeks War in 1866 changed the perception of the railroads during wartime dramatically. The Austro-Hungarian Empire had proved an obstacle to a unified Germany, both out of its own willingness to face another strong Central European power; as well as the fact that a majority of German-speaking Catholic states (in the south) backed the Hapsburg monarchy. If the Franco-Prussian War was Otto von Bismarck's; then the Seven Weeks War was Helmut von Moltke's While it is usually rarely a good thing for an army to be commanded by royal personage; let alone two out of three, this was not a hindrance; thanks to both the overall planning; and staff communication. The fact that the Austrians sent their ablest commander, the Archduke Albert to a backwater command; (replacing him with the Commanding General of the Ordnance Department, von Benedek to avoid royal humiliation,) only played into Moltke's hands. [31] The Austrians were not thinking amorally; only for glory, (or rather the avoidance of humiliation.) Even without the involuntary Austrian assistance, and occasional Prussian blunders, Moltke's plan worked to near perfection. The three Prussian armies merged on schedule near the village of Sadowa; winning a decisive victory over the Austrians. Moltke, Bismarck and King William I waited for reports of the battle. Bismarck offered Moltke his cigar case, upon which the Staff officer picked the finest cigar, and while lighting it remarked to the king, 'Your majesty is not merely winning the battle today. You are winning the campaign." [32] Moltke was right. Vienna lay open to the Prussian Armies, and the conflict was for all intents and purposes over. With the peace that followed; Prussia now became a major power in its own right, something that was not looked kindly upon by France. The road to the Franco-Prussian War was now open.

By 1870, the stage was set for two very different militaries; and their respective staffs to come to blows. France was considered the ideal in military circles; primarily since most conflicts she had been involved in were against armies with even worse staff systems than her own; such as Algeria, Mexico, and Russia. Much like a pugilist whose career has been against carefully chosen weaker fighters, France on the eve of the Franco-Prussian War suffered from a glass jaw; most prominently in her staff and mobilization method. The former manifested itself in the lack of a true French plan; the latter in the rather pell-mell style of reaching the frontier. Whereas the Prussians brought their regiments up to strength in the permanent corps districts and then transported them to the front, the French rushed whatever they had to each of their 120 regimental and battalion depots to the front, and only later completed the units with reservists and men returning from leave. [33] While problematic, this imperfect system did give the French numerical advantage for the first few days of the war. In fact, the major concern for the Prussians was that of a French advance across the Rhine. This would have been a real issue; but Napoleon III was far different than his celebrated namesake. It was here that the lack of a plan was most apparent. In 1867 Marshal Niel had suggested a plan near the Luxembourg border that would utilize the best concentration of French rail lines; but Napoleon III decided on a far different plan. Thinking that the Austrians would join any anti-Prussian war, he split the French army in two; with one half based at Metz; the other at Strasbourg. His logic was flawed due to the fact that the Hapsburg monarchy was doing all in its power to maintain good relations with the Prussians. A competent and forceful Capital Staff would have told him as much. The Prussians went to war with a plan of total victory. Their General Staff had rationally thought almost all aspects of the coming war. The French served merely as the pawns in their military experiment. It was a lesson that they would not completely heed.

When the Franco-Prussian war began in 1870; the combatants both had distinguished history of staff experience; and were indeed the most acquainted with staff nuances. Yet, upon the outbreak of hostilities, the Prussian General Staff was far superior to that of France. France had moved away from the key characteristics of Staff warfare. Domestic prosperity and involvement in 'little wars" had blunted the effectiveness of the French General Staff. The same malaise that had afflicted the Prussian General Staff in the twenty years following the death of Frederick the Great struck the French in the half century following Napoleon's exile. The Prussians had learned the lessons from the American Civil War. Indeed, disillusionment with Jomini had led U.S. commanders to Clausewitz, and eventually the vaunted Prussian staff system. Ralph Traxler comments that 'Two institutions are generally credited with preceding industry in the use of administrative practices as we know and understand their application today…the Roman Catholic Church and certain military organizations, especially that of the Prussian army." [34] Certain commanders, such as Confederate General James Longstreet, concerned more with intelligence and experience on his staff than prewar cronies, actually operated in a manner more related to Clausewitz than Jomini; while Union cavalry General Phil Sheridan was an observer with the Prussians in 1870. Clausewitz's maxim that 'War is a continuation of policy by other means" is key here. While the road to war can be composed of anger and hatred; the war itself should be fought with cold determination. The Franco-Prussian War featured many gallant charges by French, Prussian and Bavarian troops that accomplished little beyond pure slaughter. The road to the First World War was open. France would fight that war with fury, Germany with stoicism. The Battle of Verdun would illustrate these opposing views. The Staff systems created during the Age of Enlightenment received their final test in the First World War. The 'Days of August" saw plans more complex that Moltke had been faced with; and it was only the Staffs of the combatants that managed to wrest some order from the battlefield. Perhaps the final word here should be one of the great quips uttered by a staff officer. The German victory at Tannenberg in 1914 over a Russian invasion force has been largely used as a platform to elevate Generals Paul Von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff to near mythic levels. In reality, the overall plan for the counterattack was in place even before they boarded the train to take them to East Prussia. The Chief Staff officer on the scene was Colonel Max Hoffman. Pictures of him show a dour, monocled officer; not surprising in the least for a career staff officer. Escorting friends around Hindenburg's command post after the war, he commented that 'Here is where General Hindenburg slept before the battle, after the battle; and just between us…DURING the battle." The General could afford to sleep soundly; for he had a qualified staff officer in his service to dictate the battle.

Show Footnotes and Bibliography

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Copyright © 2008 Nathan D. Wells

Written by Nathan Wells. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Nathan Wells at:

About the author:
Nathan Wells received both a BA in History, and a Masters in Military History from Norwich University in Vermont.  Following service as a Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, he currently teaches in the Boston area.

Published online: 06/08/2008.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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