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On War by Carl von Clausewitz

Part 6 out of 7

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preparations, and as soon as the adversary opposes this,
there is a tension of powers; this lasts until the decision
takes place--that is, until one party either gives up his
object or the other has conceded it to him.

This decision--the foundation of which lies always in
the combat--combinations which are made on each side--
is followed by a movement in one or other direction.

When this movement has exhausted itself, either in
the difficulties which had to be mastered, in overcoming
its own internal friction, or through new resistant forces
prepared by the acts of the enemy, then either a state
of rest takes place or a new tension with a decision, and
then a new movement, in most cases in the opposite

This speculative distinction between equilibrium, tension,
and motion is more essential for practical action
than may at first sight appear.

In a state of rest and of equilibrium a varied kind
of activity may prevail on one side that results from
opportunity, and does not aim at a great alteration. Such
an activity may contain important combats--even pitched
battles--but yet it is still of quite a different nature, and
on that account generally different in its effects.

If a state of tension exists, the effects of the decision
are always greater partly because a greater force of will
and a greater pressure of circumstances manifest themselves
therein; partly because everything has been
prepared and arranged for a great movement. The decision
in such cases resembles the effect of a mine well
closed and tamped, whilst an event in itself perhaps just
as great, in a state of rest, is more or less like a mass of
powder puffed away in the open air.

At the same time, as a matter of course, the state of
tension must be imagined in different degrees of intensity,
and it may therefore approach gradually by many steps
towards the state of rest, so that at the last there is a
very slight difference between them.

Now the real use which we derive from these reflections
is the conclusion that every measure which is taken during
a state of tension is more important and more prolific
in results than the same measure could be in a state of
equilibrium, and that this importance increases immensely
in the highest degrees of tension.

The cannonade of Valmy, September 20, 1792, decided
more than the battle of Hochkirch, October 14, 1758.

In a tract of country which the enemy abandons to us
because he cannot defend it, we can settle ourselves
differently from what we should do if the retreat of the
enemy was only made with the view to a decision under
more favourable circumstances. Again, a strategic attack
in course of execution, a faulty position, a single false
march, may be decisive in its consequence; whilst in a
state of equilibrium such errors must be of a very glaring
kind, even to excite the activity of the enemy in a general

Most bygone Wars, as we have already said, consisted,
so far as regards the greater part of the time, in this state
of equilibrium, or at least in such short tensions with
long intervals between them, and weak in their effects,
that the events to which they gave rise were seldom
great successes, often they were theatrical exhibitions,
got up in honour of a royal birthday (Hochkirch), often
a mere satisfying of the honour of the arms (Kunersdorf),
or the personal vanity of the commander (Freiberg).

That a Commander should thoroughly understand these
states, that he should have the tact to act in the spirit of
them, we hold to be a great requisite, and we have had
experience in the campaign of 1806 how far it is sometimes
wanting. In that tremendous tension, when everything
pressed on towards a supreme decision, and that alone
with all its consequences should have occupied the whole
soul of the Commander, measures were proposed and even
partly carried out (such as the reconnaissance towards
Franconia), which at the most might have given a kind
of gentle play of oscillation within a state of equilibrium.
Over these blundering schemes and views, absorbing
the activity of the Army, the really necessary means,
which could alone save, were lost sight of.

But this speculative distinction which we have made
is also necessary for our further progress in the construction
of our theory, because all that we have to say on the
relation of attack and defence, and on the completion of
this double-sided act, concerns the state of the crisis in
which the forces are placed during the tension and motion,
and because all the activity which can take place during
the condition of equilibrium can only be regarded and
treated as a corollary; for that crisis is the real War
and this state of equilibrium only its reflection.



HAVING in the foregoing book examined the subjects
which may be regarded as the efficient elements of War,
we shall now turn our attention to the combat as the
real activity in Warfare, which, by its physical and moral
effects, embraces sometimes more simply, sometimes in a
more complex manner, the object of the whole campaign.
In this activity and in its effects these elements must
therefore, reappear.

The formation of the combat is tactical in its nature;
we only glance at it here in a general way in order to get
acquainted with it in its aspect as a whole. In practice
the minor or more immediate objects give every combat
a characteristic form; these minor objects we shall not
discuss until hereafter. But these peculiarities are in
comparison to the general characteristics of a combat
mostly only insignificant, so that most combats are very
like one another, and, therefore, in order to avoid repeating
that which is general at every stage, we are compelled
to look into it here, before taking up the subject of its
more special application.

In the first place, therefore, we shall give in the next
chapter, in a few words, the characteristics of the modern
battle in its tactical course, because that lies at the
of our conceptions of what the battle really is.


ACCORDING to the notion we have formed of tactics and
strategy, it follows, as a matter of course, that if the nature
of the former is changed, that change must have an influence
on the latter. If tactical facts in one case are
entirely different from those in another, then the strategic,
must be so also, if they are to continue consistent and
reasonable. It is therefore important to characterise
a general action in its modern form before we advance
with the study of its employment in strategy.

What do we do now usually in a great battle? We
place ourselves quietly in great masses arranged
contiguous to and behind one another. We deploy relatively
only a small portion of the whole, and let it wring itself
out in a fire-combat which lasts for several hours, only
interrupted now and again, and removed hither and thither
by separate small shocks from charges with the bayonet
and cavalry attacks. When this line has gradually
exhausted part of its warlike ardour in this manner
and there remains nothing more than the cinders, it is
withdrawn[*] and replaced by another.

[*] The relief of the fighting line played a great part in the
battles of
the Smooth-Bore era; it was necessitated by the fouling of the
physical fatigue of the men and consumption of ammunition, and
recognised as both necessary and advisable by Napoleon

In this manner the battle on a modified principle burns
slowly away like wet powder, and if the veil of night commands
it to stop, because neither party can any longer
see, and neither chooses to run the risk of blind chance,
then an account is taken by each side respectively of the
masses remaining, which can be called still effective, that
is, which have not yet quite collapsed like extinct volcanoes;
account is taken of the ground gained or lost,
and of how stands the security of the rear; these results
with the special impressions as to bravery and cowardice,
ability and stupidity, which are thought to have been
observed in ourselves and in the enemy are collected into
one single total impression, out of which there springs the
resolution to quit the field or to renew the combat on the

This description, which is not intended as a finished
picture of a modern battle, but only to give its general
tone, suits for the offensive and defensive, and the special
traits which are given, by the object proposed, the country,
&c. &c., may be introduced into it, without materially
altering the conception.

But modern battles are not so by accident; they are
so because the parties find themselves nearly on a level
as regards military organisation and the knowledge of
the Art of War, and because the warlike element inflamed
by great national interests has broken through artificial
limits and now flows in its natural channel. Under these
two conditions, battles will always preserve this character.

This general idea of the modern battle will be useful
to us in the sequel in more places than one, if we want
to estimate the value of the particular co-efficients of
strength, country, &c. &c. It is only for general, great,
and decisive combats, and such as come near to them that
this description stands good; inferior ones have changed
their character also in the same direction but less than
great ones. The proof of this belongs to tactics; we shall,
however, have an opportunity hereafter of making this
subject plainer by giving a few particulars.


THE Combat is the real warlike activity, everything else
is only its auxiliary; let us therefore take an attentive
look at its nature.

Combat means fighting, and in this the destruction or
conquest of the enemy is the object, and the enemy, in
the particular combat, is the armed force which stands
opposed to us.

This is the simple idea; we shall return to it, but
before we can do that we must insert a series of others.

If we suppose the State and its military force as a unit,
then the most natural idea is to imagine the War also as
one great combat, and in the simple relations of savage
nations it is also not much otherwise. But our Wars
are made up of a number of great and small simultaneous
or consecutive combats, and this severance of the activity
into so many separate actions is owing to the great
multiplicity of the relations out of which War arises
with us.

In point of fact, the ultimate object of our Wars the,
political one, is not always quite a simple one; and even
were it so, still the action is bound up with such a number
of conditions and considerations to be taken into account,
that the object can no longer be attained by one single
great act but only through a number of greater or smaller
acts which are bound up into a whole; each of these
separate acts is therefore a part of a whole, and has
consequently a special object by which it is bound to this

We have already said that every strategic act can be
referred to the idea of a combat, because it is an employment
of the military force, and at the root of that there
always lies the idea of fighting. We may therefore
reduce every military activity in the province of Strategy
to the unit of single combats, and occupy ourselves with
the object of these only; we shall get acquainted with
these special objects by degrees as we come to speak of
the causes which produce them; here we content ourselves
with saying that every combat, great or small, has its
own peculiar object in subordination to the main object.
If this is the case then, the destruction and conquest of
the enemy is only to be regarded as the means of gaining
this object; as it unquestionably is.

But this result is true only in its form, and important
only on account of the connection which the ideas have
between themselves, and we have only sought it out to
get rid of it at once.

What is overcoming the enemy? Invariably the
destruction of his military force, whether it be by death,
or wounds, or any means; whether it be completely
or only to such a degree that he can no longer continue
the contest; therefore as long as we set aside all special
objects of combats, we may look upon the complete or
partial destruction of the enemy as the only object of
all combats.

Now we maintain that in the majority of cases, and
especially in great battles, the special object by which
the battle is individualised and bound up with the great
whole is only a weak modification of that general object,
or an ancillary object bound up with it, important enough
to individualise the battle, but always insignificant in
comparison with that general object; so that if that
ancillary object alone should be obtained, only an unimportant
part of the purpose of the combat is fulfilled.
If this assertion is correct, then we see that the idea,
according to which the destruction of the enemy's force
is only the means, and something else always the object,
can only be true in form, but, that it would lead to false
conclusions if we did not recollect that this destruction
of the enemy's force is comprised in that object, and that
this object is only a weak modification of it.
Forgetfulness of this led to completely false views before
the Wars of the last period, and created tendencies as well
as fragments of systems, in which theory thought it raised
itself so much the more above handicraft, the less it
supposed itself to stand in need of the use of the real
instrument, that is the destruction of the enemy's force.

Certainly such a system could not have arisen unless
supported by other false suppositions, and unless in place
of the destruction of the enemy, other things had been
substituted to which an efficacy was ascribed which did
not rightly belong to them. We shall attack these falsehoods
whenever occasion requires, but we could not treat
of the combat without claiming for it the real importance
and value which belong to it, and giving warning against
the errors to which merely formal truth might lead.

But now how shall we manage to show that in most
cases, and in those of most importance, the destruction
of the enemy's Army is the chief thing? How shall we
manage to combat that extremely subtle idea, which
supposes it possible, through the use of a special artificial
form, to effect by a small direct destruction of the enemy's
forces a much greater destruction indirectly, or by means
of small but extremely well-directed blows to produce
such paralysation of the enemy's forces, such a command
over the enemy's will, that this mode of proceeding is to
be viewed as a great shortening of the road? Undoubtedly
a victory at one point may be of more value than at
another. Undoubtedly there is a scientific arrangement
of battles amongst themselves, even in Strategy, which is
in fact nothing but the Art of thus arranging them.
To deny that is not our intention, but we assert that
the direct destruction of the enemy's forces is everywhere
predominant; we contend here for the overruling
importance of this destructive principle and
nothing else.

We must, however, call to mind that we are now engaged
with Strategy, not with tactics, therefore we do not speak
of the means which the former may have of destroying
at a small expense a large body of the enemy's forces, but under
destruction we understand the tactical
results, and that, therefore, our assertion is that only
great tactical results can lead to great strategical ones, or,
as we have already once before more distinctly expressed
it, THE TACTICAL SUCCESSES are of paramount importance
in the conduct of War.

The proof of this assertion seems to us simple enough,
it lies in the time which every complicated (artificial)
combination requires. The question whether a simple
attack, or one more carefully prepared, i.e., more artificial,
will produce greater effects, may undoubtedly be decided
in favour of the latter as long as the enemy is assumed
to remain quite passive. But every carefully combined
attack requires time for its preparation, and if a counter-
stroke by the enemy intervenes, our whole design may be
upset. Now if the enemy should decide upon some simple
attack, which can be executed in a shorter time, then he
gains the initiative, and destroys the effect of the great
plan. Therefore, together with the expediency of a complicated
attack we must consider all the dangers which we
run during its preparation, and should only adopt it if
there is no reason to fear that the enemy will disconcert
our scheme. Whenever this is the case we must ourselves
choose the simpler, i.e., quicker way, and lower our views
in this sense as far as the character, the relations of the
enemy, and other circumstances may render necessary.
If we quit the weak impressions of abstract ideas and
descend to the region of practical life, then it is evident
that a bold, courageous, resolute enemy will not let us
have time for wide-reaching skilful combinations, and it
is just against such a one we should require skill the most.
By this it appears to us that the advantage of simple and
direct results over those that are complicated is conclusively

Our opinion is not on that account that the simple blow
is the best, but that we must not lift the arm too far for
the time given to strike, and that this condition will always
lead more to direct conflict the more warlike our opponent
is. Therefore, far from making it our aim to gain upon
the enemy by complicated plans, we must rather seek to
be beforehand with him by greater simplicity in our

If we seek for the lowest foundation-stones of these
converse propositions we find that in the one it is ability,
in the other, courage. Now, there is something very
attractive in the notion that a moderate degree of courage
joined to great ability will produce greater effects than
moderate ability with great courage. But unless we
suppose these elements in a disproportionate relation,
not logical, we have no right to assign to ability this
advantage over courage in a field which is called danger,
and which must be regarded as the true domain of

After this abstract view we shall only add that experience,
very far from leading to a different conclusion, is
rather the sole cause which has impelled us in this
direction, and given rise to such reflections.

Whoever reads history with a mind free from prejudice
cannot fail to arrive at a conviction that of all military
virtues, energy in the conduct of operations has always
contributed the most to the glory and success of arms.

How we make good our principle of regarding the
destruction of the enemy's force as the principal object,
not only in the War as a whole but also in each separate
combat, and how that principle suits all the forms and
conditions necessarily demanded by the relations out of
which War springs, the sequel will show. For the present
all that we desire is to uphold its general importance,
and with this result we return again to the combat.


IN the last chapter we showed the destruction of the enemy
as the true object of the combat, and we have sought
to prove by a special consideration of the point, that this
is true in the majority of cases, and in respect to the most
important battles, because the destruction of the enemy's
Army is always the preponderating object in War. The
other objects which may be mixed up with this destruction
of the enemy's force, and may have more or less influence,
we shall describe generally in the next chapter, and
become better acquainted with by degrees afterwards;
here we divest the combat of them entirely, and look
upon the destruction of the enemy as the complete and
sufficient object of any combat.

What are we now to understand by destruction of the
enemy's Army? A diminution of it relatively greater
than that on our own side. If we have a great superiority
in numbers over the enemy, then naturally the same absolute
amount of loss on both sides is for us a smaller one
than for him, and consequently may be regarded in itself
as an advantage. As we are here considering the combat
as divested of all (other) objects, we must also exclude
from our consideration the case in which the combat is
used only indirectly for a greater destruction of the
enemy's force; consequently also, only that direct gain
which has been made in the mutual process of destruction,
is to be regarded as the object, for this is an absolute gain,
which runs through the whole campaign, and at the end
of it will always appear as pure profit. But every other
kind of victory over our opponent will either have its
motive in other objects, which we have completely
excluded here, or it will only yield a temporary relative
advantage. An example will make this plain.

If by a skilful disposition we have reduced our opponent
to such a dilemma, that he cannot continue the combat
without danger, and after some resistance he retires, then
we may say, that we have conquered him at that point;
but if in this victory we have expended just as many
forces as the enemy, then in closing the account of the
campaign, there is no gain remaining from this victory,
if such a result can be called a victory. Therefore the
overcoming the enemy, that is, placing him in such a
position that he must give up the fight, counts for nothing
in itself, and for that reason cannot come under the
definition of object. There remains, therefore, as we have
said, nothing over except the direct gain which we have
made in the process of destruction; but to this belong
not only the losses which have taken place in the course
of the combat, but also those which, after the withdrawal
of the conquered part, take place as direct consequences
of the same.

Now it is known by experience, that the losses in physical
forces in the course of a battle seldom present a great
difference between victor and vanquished respectively,
often none at all, sometimes even one bearing an inverse
relation to the result, and that the most decisive losses
on the side of the vanquished only commence with the
retreat, that is, those which the conqueror does not share
with him. The weak remains of battalions already
in disorder are cut down by cavalry, exhausted men
strew the ground, disabled guns and broken caissons are
abandoned, others in the bad state of the roads cannot be
removed quickly enough, and are captured by the enemy's
troops, during the night numbers lose their way, and fall
defenceless into the enemy's hands, and thus the victory
mostly gains bodily substance after it is already decided.
Here would be a paradox, if it did not solve itself in the
following manner.

The loss in physical force is not the only one which the
two sides suffer in the course of the combat; the moral
forces also are shaken, broken, and go to ruin. It is not
only the loss in men, horses and guns, but in order, courage,
confidence, cohesion and plan, which come into consideration
when it is a question whether the fight can be still
continued or not. It is principally the moral forces which
decide here, and in all cases in which the conqueror has
lost as heavily as the conquered, it is these alone.

The comparative relation of the physical losses is difficult
to estimate in a battle, but not so the relation of the
moral ones. Two things principally make it known.
The one is the loss of the ground on which the fight has
taken place, the other the superiority of the enemy's. The more
our reserves
have diminished as compared
with those of the enemy, the more force we have
used to maintain the equilibrium; in this at once, an
evident proof of the moral superiority of the enemy is
given which seldom fails to stir up in the soul of the
Commander a certain bitterness of feeling, and a sort of
contempt for his own troops. But the principal thing is,
that men who have been engaged for a long continuance
of time are more or less like burnt-out cinders; their
ammunition is consumed; they have melted away to a
certain extent; physical and moral energies are exhausted,
perhaps their courage is broken as well. Such a force,
irrespective of the diminution in its number, if viewed as
an organic whole, is very different from what it was
before the combat; and thus it is that the loss of moral
force may be measured by the reserves that have been
used as if it were on a foot-rule.

Lost ground and want of fresh reserves, are, therefore,
usually the principal causes which determine a retreat;
but at the same time we by no means exclude or desire
to throw in the shade other reasons, which may lie in the
interdependence of parts of the Army, in the general
plan, &c.

Every combat is therefore the bloody and destructive
measuring of the strength of forces, physical and moral;
whoever at the close has the greatest amount of both left
is the conqueror.

In the combat the loss of moral force is the chief cause
of the decision; after that is given, this loss continues
to increase until it reaches its culminating-point at the
close of the whole act. This then is the opportunity the
victor should seize to reap his harvest by the utmost
possible restrictions of his enemy's forces, the real object
of engaging in the combat. On the beaten side, the loss
of all order and control often makes the prolongation
of resistance by individual units, by the further punishment
they are certain to suffer, more injurious than useful
to the whole. The spirit of the mass is broken; the
original excitement about losing or winning, through
which danger was forgotten, is spent, and to the majority
danger now appears no longer an appeal to their courage,
but rather the endurance of a cruel punishment. Thus
the instrument in the first moment of the enemy's victory
is weakened and blunted, and therefore no longer fit to
repay danger by danger.

This period, however, passes; the moral forces of the
conquered will recover by degrees, order will be restored,
courage will revive, and in the majority of cases there
remains only a small part of the superiority obtained,
often none at all. In some cases, even, although rarely,
the spirit of revenge and intensified hostility may bring
about an opposite result. On the other hand, whatever
is gained in killed, wounded, prisoners, and guns captured
can never disappear from the account.

The losses in a battle consist more in killed and
wounded; those after the battle, more in artillery taken
and prisoners. The first the conqueror shares with the
conquered, more or less, but the second not; and for that
reason they usually only take place on one side of the
conflict, at least, they are considerably in excess on one side.

Artillery and prisoners are therefore at all times regarded
as the true trophies of victory, as well as its measure,
because through these things its extent is declared beyond
a doubt. Even the degree of moral superiority may be
better judged of by them than by any other relation,
especially if the number of killed and wounded is compared
therewith; and here arises a new power increasing
the moral effects.

We have said that the moral forces, beaten to the
ground in the battle and in the immediately succeeding
movements, recover themselves gradually, and often bear
no traces of injury; this is the case with small divisions
of the whole, less frequently with large divisions; it
may, however, also be the case with the main Army, but
seldom or never in the State or Government to which the
Army belongs. These estimate the situation more impartially,
and from a more elevated point of view, and
recognise in the number of trophies taken by the enemy,
and their relation to the number of killed and wounded,
only too easily and well, the measure of their own weakness
and inefficiency.

In point of fact, the lost balance of moral power must
not be treated lightly because it has no absolute value,
and because it does not of necessity appear in all cases in
the amount of the results at the final close; it may
become of such excessive weight as to bring down everything
with an irresistible force. On that account it may
often become a great aim of the operations of which we
shall speak elsewhere. Here we have still to examine
some of its fundamental relations.

The moral effect of a victory increases, not merely
in proportion to the extent of the forces engaged, but in a
progressive ratio--that is to say, not only in extent, but
also in its intensity. In a beaten detachment order is easily
restored. As a single frozen limb is easily revived by the
rest of the body, so the courage of a defeated detachment
is easily raised again by the courage of the rest of the Army
as soon as it rejoins it. If, therefore, the effects of a small
victory are not completely done away with, still they are
partly lost to the enemy. This is not the case if the Army
itself sustains a great defeat; then one with the other
fall together. A great fire attains quite a different heat
from several small ones.

Another relation which determines the moral value of
a victory is the numerical relation of the forces which
have been in conflict with each other. To beat many
with few is not only a double success, but shows also a
greater, especially a more general superiority, which the
conquered must always be fearful of encountering again.
At the same time this influence is in reality hardly observable
in such a case. In the moment of real action, the
notions of the actual strength of the enemy are generally
so uncertain, the estimate of our own commonly so
incorrect, that the party superior in numbers either does
not admit the disproportion, or is very far from admitting
the full truth, owing to which, he evades almost entirely
the moral disadvantages which would spring from it.
It is only hereafter in history that the truth, long suppressed
through ignorance, vanity, or a wise discretion,
makes its appearance, and then it certainly casts a
lustre on the Army and its Leader, but it can then do
nothing more by its moral influence for events long

If prisoners and captured guns are those things by
which the victory principally gains substance, its true
crystallisations, then the plan of the battle should have
those things specially in view; the destruction of the
enemy by death and wounds appears here merely as a
means to an end.

How far this may influence the dispositions in the battle
is not an affair of Strategy, but the decision to fight the
battle is in intimate connection with it, as is shown by
the direction given to our forces, and their general grouping,
whether we threaten the enemy's flank or rear, or he
threatens ours. On this point, the number of prisoners
and captured guns depends very much, and it is a point
which, in many cases, tactics alone cannot satisfy, particularly
if the strategic relations are too much in opposition
to it.

The risk of having to fight on two sides, and the still
more dangerous position of having no line of retreat left
open, paralyse the movements and the power of resistance;
further, in case of defeat, they increase the loss,
often raising it to its extreme point, that is, to destruction.
Therefore, the rear being endangered makes
defeat more probable, and, at the same time, more

From this arises, in the whole conduct of the War,especially in
great and
small combats, a perfect instinct to secure our own line of
retreat and to
seize that of the enemy; this follows from the conception of
victory, which, as we have seen, is something beyond mere

In this effort we see, therefore, the first immediate
purpose in the combat, and one which is quite universal.
No combat is imaginable in which this effort, either in
its double or single form, does not go hand in hand with
the plain and simple stroke of force. Even the smallest
troop will not throw itself upon its enemy without thinking
of its line of retreat, and, in most cases, it will have
an eye upon that of the enemy also.

We should have to digress to show how often this
instinct is prevented from going the direct road, how
often it must yield to the difficulties arising from more
important considerations: we shall, therefore, rest contented
with affirming it to be a general natural law of
the combat.

It is, therefore, active; presses everywhere with its
natural weight, and so becomes the pivot on which
almost all tactical and strategic manoeuvres turn.

If we now take a look at the conception of victory as
a whole, we find in it three elements:--

1. The greater loss of the enemy in physical power.

2. In moral power.

3. His open avowal of this by the relinquishment of
his intentions.

The returns made up on each side of losses in killed
and wounded, are never exact, seldom truthful, and in
most cases, full of intentional misrepresentations. Even
the statement of the number of trophies is seldom to be
quite depended on; consequently, when it is not considerable
it may also cast a doubt even on the reality of
the victory. Of the loss in moral forces there is no
reliable measure, except in the trophies: therefore, in
many cases, the giving up the contest is the only real
evidence of the victory. It is, therefore, to be regarded
as a confession of inferiority--as the lowering of the flag,
by which, in this particular instance, right and superiority
are conceded to the enemy, and this degree of humiliation
and disgrace, which, however, must be distinguished
from all the other moral consequences of the loss of equilibrium,
is an essential part of the victory. It is this part
alone which acts upon the public opinion outside the
Army, upon the people and the Government in both
belligerent States, and upon all others in any way concerned.

But renouncement of the general object is not quite
identical with quitting the field of battle, even when the
battle has been very obstinate and long kept up; no one
says of advanced posts, when they retire after an obstinate
combat, that they have given up their object; even in
combats aimed at the destruction of the enemy's Army,
the retreat from the battlefield is not always to be
regarded as a relinquishment of this aim, as for instance,
in retreats planned beforehand, in which the ground is
disputed foot by foot; all this belongs to that part of our
subject where we shall speak of the separate object of the
combat; here we only wish to draw attention to the fact
that in most cases the giving up of the object is very
difficult to distinguish from the retirement from the
and that the impression produced by the latter,
both in and out of the Army, is not to be treated lightly.

For Generals and Armies whose reputation is not made,
this is in itself one of the difficulties in many operations,
justified by circumstances when a succession of combats,
each ending in retreat, may appear as a succession of
defeats, without being so in reality, and when that appearance
may exercise a very depressing influence. It is
impossible for the retreating General by making known his
real intentions to prevent the moral effect spreading to
the public and his troops, for to do that with effect he
must disclose his plans completely, which of course would
run counter to his principal interests to too great a degree.

In order to draw attention to the special importance of
this conception of victory we shall only refer to the battle
of Soor,[*] the trophies from which were not important (a
few thousand prisoners and twenty guns), and where
Frederick proclaimed his victory by remaining for five
days after on the field of battle, although his retreat into
Silesia had been previously determined on, and was a
measure natural to his whole situation. According to
his own account, he thought he would hasten a peace by
the moral effect of his victory. Now although a couple of
other successes were likewise required, namely, the battle
at Katholisch Hennersdorf, in Lusatia, and the battle of
Kesseldorf, before this peace took place, still we cannot
say that the moral effect of the battle of Soor was nil.

[*] Soor, or Sohr, Sept. 30, 1745; Hennersdorf, Nov. 23, 1745;
Kealteldorf, Dec. 15, 1745, all in the Second Silesian War.

If it is chiefly the moral force which is shaken by defeat,
and if the number of trophies reaped by the enemy mounts
up to an unusual height, then the lost combat becomes a
rout, but this is not the necessary consequence of every
victory. A rout only sets in when the moral force of the
defeated is very severely shaken then there often ensues
a complete incapability of further resistance, and the
whole action consists of giving way, that is of flight.

Jena and Belle Alliance were routs, but not so Borodino.

Although without pedantry we can here give no single
line of separation, because the difference between the
things is one of degrees, yet still the retention of the
is essential as a central point to give clearness to
our theoretical ideas and it is a want in our terminology
that for a victory over the enemy tantamount to a rout,
and a conquest of the enemy only tantamount to a simple
victory, there is only one and the same word to use.


HAVING in the preceding chapter examined the combat
in its absolute form, as the miniature picture of the whole
War, we now turn to the relations which it bears to the
other parts of the great whole. First we inquire what is
more precisely the signification of a combat.

As War is nothing else but a mutual process of destruction,
then the most natural answer in conception, and
perhaps also in reality, appears to be that all the powers
of each party unite in one great volume and all results
in one great shock of these masses. There is certainly
much truth in this idea, and it seems to be very advisable
that we should adhere to it and should on that account
look upon small combats at first only as necessary loss,
like the shavings from a carpenter's plane. Still, however,
the thing cannot be settled so easily.

That a multiplication of combats should arise from a
fractioning of forces is a matter of course, and the more
immediate objects of separate combats will therefore
come before us in the subject of a fractioning of forces;
but these objects, and together with them, the whole mass
of combats may in a general way be brought under certain
classes, and the knowledge of these classes will contribute
to make our observations more intelligible.

Destruction of the enemy's military forces is in reality
the object of all combats; but other objects may be joined
thereto, and these other objects may be at the same time
predominant; we must therefore draw a distinction
between those in which the destruction of the enemy's
forces is the principal object, and those in which it is more
the means. The destruction of the enemy's force, the
possession of a place or the possession of some object may
be the general motive for a combat, and it may be either
one of these alone or several together, in which case
however usually one is the principal motive. Now the
two principal forms of War, the offensive and defensive,
of which we shall shortly speak, do not modify the first
of these motives, but they certainly do modify the other
two, and therefore if we arrange them in a scheme they
would appear thus:--

1. Destruction of enemy's 1. Destruction of enemy's
force. force.
2. Conquest of a place. 2. Defence of a place.
3. Conquest of some object. 3. Defence of some object.

These motives, however, do not seem to embrace completely
the whole of the subject, if we recollect that there
are reconnaissances and demonstrations, in which plainly
none of these three points is the object of the combat.
In reality we must, therefore, on this account be allowed
a fourth class. Strictly speaking, in reconnaissances in
which we wish the enemy to show himself, in alarms by
which we wish to wear him out, in demonstrations by
which we wish to prevent his leaving some point or to
draw him off to another, the objects are all such as can
only be attained indirectly and UNDER THE PRETEXT OF ONE
for the enemy whose aim is to reconnoitre must draw up
his force as if he really intended to attack and defeat us,
or drive us off, &c. &c. But this pretended object is not
the real one, and our present question is only as to the
latter; therefore, we must to the above three objects of
the offensive further add a fourth, which is to lead the
enemy to make a false conclusion. That offensive means are
conceivable in
connection with this object, lies in the nature of the thing.

On the other hand we must observe that the defence of
a place may be of two kinds, either absolute, if as a general
question the point is not to be given up, or relative if it
is only required for a certain time. The latter happens
perpetually in the combats of advanced posts and rear

That the nature of these different intentions of a combat
must have an essential influence on the dispositions which
are its preliminaries, is a thing clear in itself. We act
differently if our object is merely to drive an enemy's post
out of its place from what we should if our object was to
beat him completely; differently, if we mean to defend
a place to the last extremity from what we should do if
our design is only to detain the enemy for a certain time.
In the first case we trouble ourselves little about the line
of retreat, in the latter it is the principal point, &c.

But these reflections belong properly to tactics, and are
only introduced here by way of example for the sake
of greater clearness. What Strategy has to say on the
different objects of the combat will appear in the chapters
which touch upon these objects. Here we have only a
few general observations to make, first, that the importance
of the object decreases nearly in the order as they
stand above, therefore, that the first of these objects must
always predominate in the great battle; lastly, that the
two last in a defensive battle are in reality such as yield
no fruit, they are, that is to say, purely negative, and can,
therefore, only be serviceable, indirectly, by facilitating
something else which is positive. IT IS, THEREFORE, A BAD


IF we consider the combat no longer in itself but in relation
to the other forces of War, then its duration acquires
a special importance.

This duration is to be regarded to a certain extent as a
second subordinate success. For the conqueror the combat
can never be finished too quickly, for the vanquished
it can never last too long. A speedy victory indicates a
higher power of victory, a tardy decision is, on the side of
the defeated, some compensation for the loss.

This is in general true, but it acquires a practical
importance in its application to those combats, the object
of which is a relative defence.

Here the whole success often lies in the mere duration.
This is the reason why we have included it amongst the
strategic elements.

The duration of a combat is necessarily bound up with
its essential relations. These relations are, absolute
magnitude of force, relation of force and of the different
arms mutually, and nature of the country. Twenty
thousand men do not wear themselves out upon one
another as quickly as two thousand: we cannot resist an
enemy double or three times our strength as long as one of
the same strength; a cavalry combat is decided sooner than
an infantry combat; and a combat between infantry
only, quicker than if there is artillery[*] as well; in hills
and forests we cannot advance as quickly as on a level
country; all this is clear enough.

[*] The increase in the relative range of artillery and the
introduction of shrapnel has altogether modified this conclusion.

From this it follows, therefore, that strength, relation
of the three arms, and position, must be considered if the
combat is to fulfil an object by its duration; but to set
up this rule was of less importance to us in our present
considerations than to connect with it at once the chief
results which experience gives us on the subject.

Even the resistance of an ordinary Division of 8000 to
10,000 men of all arms even opposed to an enemy considerably
superior in numbers, will last several hours, if
the advantages of country are not too preponderating, and
if the enemy is only a little, or not at all, superior in
numbers, the combat will last half a day. A Corps of
three or four Divisions will prolong it to double the time;
an Army of 80,000 or 100,000 to three or four times.
Therefore the masses may be left to themselves for that
length of time, and no separate combat takes place if
within that time other forces can be brought up, whose
co-operation mingles then at once into one stream with
the results of the combat which has taken place.

These calculations are the result of experience; but
it is important to us at the same time to characterise more
particularly the moment of the decision, and consequently
the termination.


No battle is decided in a single moment, although in every
battle there arise moments of crisis, on which the result
depends. The loss of a battle is, therefore, a gradual falling
of the scale. But there is in every combat a point of time

[*] Under the then existing conditions of armament understood.
This point is of supreme importance, as practically the whole
of a great battle depends on a correct solution of this
How long can a given command prolong its resistance? If this is
incorrectly answered in practice--the whole manoeuvre depending
it may collapse--e.g., Kouroupatkin at Liao-Yang, September 1904.

when it may be regarded as decided, in such a way that
the renewal of the fight would be a new battle, not a
continuation of the old one. To have a clear notion on this
point of time, is very important, in order to be able to
decide whether, with the prompt assistance of reinforcements,
the combat can again be resumed with advantage.

Often in combats which are beyond restoration new
forces are sacrificed in vain; often through neglect the
decision has not been seized when it might easily have
been secured. Here are two examples, which could not
be more to the point:

When the Prince of Hohenlohe, in 1806, at Jena,[*] with
35,000 men opposed to from 60,000 to 70,000, under
Buonaparte, had accepted battle, and lost it--but lost
it in such a way that the 35,000 might be regarded as
dissolved--General Ruchel undertook to renew the
fight with about 12,000; the consequence was that in a
moment his force was scattered in like manner.

[*] October 14, 1806.

On the other hand, on the same day at Auerstadt,
the Prussians maintained a combat with 25,000, against
Davoust, who had 28,000, until mid-day, without success,
it is true, but still without the force being reduced to a
state of dissolution without even greater loss than the
enemy, who was very deficient in cavalry;--but they
neglected to use the reserve of 18,000, under General
Kalkreuth, to restore the battle which, under these
it would have been impossible to lose.

Each combat is a whole in which the partial combats
combine themselves into one total result. In this total
result lies the decision of the combat. This success need
not be exactly a victory such as we have denoted in the
sixth chapter, for often the preparations for that have not
been made, often there is no opportunity if the enemy
gives way too soon, and in most cases the decision, even
when the resistance has been obstinate, takes place before
such a degree of success is attained as would completely
satisfy the idea of a victory.

We therefore ask, Which is commonly the moment of
the decision, that is to say, that moment when a fresh,
effective, of course not disproportionate, force, can no
longer turn a disadvantageous battle?

If we pass over false attacks, which in accordance with
their nature are properly without decision, then

1. If the possession of a movable object was the object
of the combat, the loss of the same is always the decision.

2. If the possession of ground was the object of the combat,
then the decision generally lies in its loss. Still not
always, only if this ground is of peculiar strength, ground
which is easy to pass over, however important it may be
in other respects, can be re-taken without much danger.

3. But in all other cases, when these two circumstances
have not already decided the combat, therefore, particularly
in case the destruction of the enemy's force is the
principal object, the decision is reached at that moment
when the conqueror ceases to feel himself in a state of
disintegration, that is, of unserviceableness to a certain
extent, when therefore, there is no further advantage
in using the successive efforts spoken of in the twelfth
chapter of the third book. On this ground we have given
the strategic unity of the battle its place here.

A battle, therefore, in which the assailant has not lost
his condition of order and perfect efficiency at all, or, at
least, only in a small part of his force, whilst the opposing
forces are, more or less, disorganised throughout, is also
not to be retrieved; and just as little if the enemy has
recovered his efficiency.

The smaller, therefore, that part of a force is which
has really been engaged, the greater that portion which as
reserve has contributed to the result only by its presence.
so much the less will any new force of the enemy wrest
again the victory from our hands, and that Commander
who carries out to the furthest with his Army the principle
of conducting the combat with the greatest economy of
forces, and making the most of the moral effect of strong
reserves, goes the surest way to victory. We must allow
that the French, in modern times, especially when led by
Buonaparte, have shown a thorough mastery in this.

Further, the moment when the crisis-stage of the combat
ceases with the conqueror, and his original state of
order is restored, takes place sooner the smaller the unit
he controls. A picket of cavalry pursuing an enemy at
full gallop will in a few minutes resume its proper order,
and the crisis ceases. A whole regiment of cavalry requires
a longer time. It lasts still longer with infantry,
if extended in single lines of skirmishers, and longer again
with Divisions of all arms, when it happens by chance that
one part has taken one direction and another part another
direction, and the combat has therefore caused a loss of
the order of formation, which usually becomes still worse
from no part knowing exactly where the other is. Thus,
therefore, the point of time when the conqueror has collected
the instruments he has been using, and which are
mixed up and partly out of order, the moment when he
has in some measure rearranged them and put them in
their proper places, and thus brought the battle-workshop
into a little order, this moment, we say, is always later,
the greater the total force.

Again, this moment comes later if night overtakes the
conqueror in the crisis, and, lastly, it comes later still if the
country is broken and thickly wooded. But with regard
to these two points, we must observe that night is also
a great means of protection, and it is only seldom that
circumstances favour the expectation of a successful
result from a night attack, as on March 10, 1814, at
Laon,[*] where York against Marmont gives us an example
completely in place here. In the same way a wooded
and broken country will afford protection against a reaction
to those who are engaged in the long crisis of victory.
Both, therefore, the night as well as the wooded and
broken country are obstacles which make the renewal
of the same battle more difficult instead of facilitating it.

[*] The celebrated charge at night upon Marmont's Corps.

Hitherto, we have considered assistance arriving for the
losing side as a mere increase of force, therefore, as a
reinforcement coming up directly from the rear, which is
the most usual case. But the case is quite different if
these fresh forces come upon the enemy in flank or rear.

On the effect of flank or rear attacks so far as they belong
to Strategy, we shall speak in another place: such a one
as we have here in view, intended for the restoration of the
combat, belongs chiefly to tactics, and is only mentioned
because we are here speaking of tactical results, our ideas,
therefore, must trench upon the province of tactics.

By directing a force against the enemy's flank and rear
its efficacy may be much intensified; but this is so far
from being a necessary result always that the efficacy
may, on the other hand, be just as much weakened. The
circumstances under which the combat has taken place
decide upon this part of the plan as well as upon every
other, without our being able to enter thereupon here.
But, at the same time, there are in it two things of importance
for our subject: first, FLANK AND REAR ATTACKS HAVE, AS
the retrieving a battle, the first thing to be arrived at
above all is a favourable decision and not magnitude of
success. In this view one would therefore think that a
force which comes to re-establish our combat is of less
assistance if it falls upon the enemy in flank and rear,
therefore separated from us, than if it joins itself to us
directly; certainly, cases are not wanting where it is so,
but we must say that the majority are on the other side,
and they are so on account of the second point which is
here important to us.

HAS GENERALLY IN ITS FAVOUR. Now the effect of a surprise
is always heightened if it takes place in the flank or rear,
and an enemy completely engaged in the crisis of victory
in his extended and scattered order, is less in a state to
counteract it. Who does not feel that an attack in flank
or rear, which at the commencement of the battle, when
the forces are concentrated and prepared for such an event
would be of little importance, gains quite another weight
in the last moment of the combat.

We must, therefore, at once admit that in most cases a
reinforcement coming up on the flank or rear of the enemy
will be more efficacious, will be like the same weight at
the end of a longer lever, and therefore that under these
circumstances, we may undertake to restore the battle
with the same force which employed in a direct attack
would be quite insufficient. Here results almost defy
calculation, because the moral forces gain completely
the ascendency. This is therefore the right field for
boldness and daring.

The eye must, therefore, be directed on all these objects,
all these moments of co-operating forces must be taken
into consideration, when we have to decide in doubtful
cases whether or not it is still possible to restore a combat
which has taken an unfavourable turn.

If the combat is to be regarded as not yet ended, then
the new contest which is opened by the arrival of assistance
fuses into the former; therefore they flow together into
one common result, and the first disadvantage vanishes
completely out of the calculation. But this is not the
case if the combat was already decided; then there are
two results separate from each other. Now if the assistance
which arrives is only of a relative strength, that is,
if it is not in itself alone a match for the enemy, then
a favourable result is hardly to be expected from this
second combat: but if it is so strong that it can undertake
the second combat without regard to the first, then it may
be able by a favourable issue to compensate or even overbalance
the first combat, but never to make it disappear
altogether from the account.

At the battle of Kunersdorf,[*] Frederick the Great at the
first onset carried the left of the Russian position, and took
seventy pieces of artillery; at the end of the battle both
were lost again, and the whole result of the first combat
was wiped out of the account. Had it been possible to stop
at the first success, and to put off the second part of the
battle to the coming day, then, even if the King had lost
it, the advantages of the first would always have been a
set off to the second.

[*] August 12, 1759.

But when a battle proceeding disadvantageously is
arrested and turned before its conclusion, its minus result
on our side not only disappears from the account, but also
becomes the foundation of a greater victory. If, for
instance, we picture to ourselves exactly the tactical
course of the battle, we may easily see that until it is
finally concluded all successes in partial combats are only
decisions in suspense, which by the capital decision may
not only be destroyed, but changed into the opposite.
The more our forces have suffered, the more the enemy
will have expended on his side; the greater, therefore,
will be the crisis for the enemy, and the more the superiority
of our fresh troops will tell. If now the total
result turns in our favour, if we wrest from the enemy the
field of battle and recover all the trophies again, then
all the forces which he has sacrificed in obtaining them
become sheer gain for us, and our former defeat becomes
a stepping-stone to a greater triumph. The most brilliant
feats which with victory the enemy would have so highly
prized that the loss of forces which they cost would have
been disregarded, leave nothing now behind but regret
at the sacrifice entailed. Such is the alteration which the
magic of victory and the curse of defeat produces in the
specific weight of the same elements.

Therefore, even if we are decidedly superior in strength,
and are able to repay the enemy his victory by a greater
still, it is always better to forestall the conclusion of a
disadvantageous combat, if it is of proportionate importance,
so as to turn its course rather than to deliver
a second battle.

Field-Marshal Daun attempted in the year 1760 to
come to the assistance of General Laudon at Leignitz,
whilst the battle lasted; but when he failed, he did not
attack the King next day, although he did not want for
means to do so.

For these reasons serious combats of advance guards
which precede a battle are to be looked upon only as necessary
evils, and when not necessary they are to be avoided.[*]

[*] This, however, was not Napoleon's view. A vigorous attack of
advance guard he held to be necessary always, to fix the enemy's
and "paralyse his independent will-power." It was the failure to
make this point which, in August 1870, led von Moltke repeatedly
into the
very jaws of defeat, from which only the lethargy of Bazaine on
the one
hand and the initiative of his subordinates, notably of von
rescued him. This is the essence of the new Strategic Doctrine of
French General Staff. See the works of Bonnal, Foch, &C.--EDITOR

We have still another conclusion to examine.

If on a regular pitched battle, the decision has gone
against one, this does not constitute a motive for
determining on a new one. The determination for this new
one must proceed from other relations. This conclusion,
however, is opposed by a moral force, which we must take
into account: it is the feeling of rage and revenge. From
the oldest Field-Marshal to the youngest drummer-boy
this feeling is general, and, therefore, troops are never
in better spirits for fighting than when they have to wipe
out a stain. This is, however, only on the supposition
that the beaten portion is not too great in proportion to
the whole, because otherwise the above feeling is lost in
that of powerlessness.

There is therefore a very natural tendency to use this
moral force to repair the disaster on the spot, and on that
account chiefly to seek another battle if other circumstances
permit. It then lies in the nature of the case that
this second battle must be an offensive one.

In the catalogue of battles of second-rate importance
there are many examples to be found of such retaliatory
battles; but great battles have generally too many other
determining causes to be brought on by this weaker motive.

Such a feeling must undoubtedly have led the noble
Bluecher with his third Corps to the field of battle on
February 14, 1814, when the other two had been beaten
three days before at Montmirail. Had he known that he
would have come upon Buonaparte in person, then,
naturally, preponderating reasons would have determined
him to put off his revenge to another day: but he
hoped to revenge himself on Marmont, and instead of
gaining the reward of his desire for honourable satisfaction,
he suffered the penalty of his erroneous calculation.

On the duration of the combat and the moment of its
decision depend the distances from each other at which
those masses should be placed which are intended to fight
IN CONJUNCTION WITH each other. This disposition would be
a tactical arrangement in so far as it relates to one and the
same battle; it can, however, only be regarded as such,
provided the position of the troops is so compact that
two separate combats cannot be imagined, and consequently
that the space which the whole occupies can be
regarded strategically as a mere point. But in War,
cases frequently occur where even those forces intended
to fight IN UNISON must be so far separated from each
other that while their union for one common combat
certainly remains the principal object, still the occurrence
of separate combats remains possible. Such a disposition
is therefore strategic.

Dispositions of this kind are: marches in separate
masses and columns, the formation of advance guards,
and flanking columns, also the grouping of reserves
intended to serve as supports for more than one strategic
point; the concentration of several Corps from widely
extended cantonments, &c. &c. We can see that the
necessity for these arrangements may constantly arise,
and may consider them something like the small change
in the strategic economy, whilst the capital battles, and
all that rank with them are the gold and silver pieces.


NO battle can take place unless by mutual consent; and
in this idea, which constitutes the whole basis of a duel, is
the root of a certain phraseology used by historical writers,
which leads to many indefinite and false conceptions.

According to the view of the writers to whom we
refer, it has frequently happened that one Commander
has offered battle to the other, and the latter has not
accepted it.

But the battle is a very modified duel, and its foundation
is not merely in the mutual wish to fight, that is in
consent, but in the objects which are bound up with the
battle: these belong always to a greater whole, and that
so much the more, as even the whole war considered as
a "combat-unit" has political objects and conditions
which belong to a higher standpoint. The mere desire
to conquer each other therefore falls into quite a subordinate
relation, or rather it ceases completely to be anything
of itself, and only becomes the nerve which conveys the
impulse of action from the higher will.

Amongst the ancients, and then again during the early
period of standing Armies, the expression that we had
offered battle to the enemy in vain, had more sense in it
than it has now. By the ancients everything was constituted
with a view to measuring each other's strength
in the open field free from anything in the nature of a
hindrance,[*] and the whole Art of War consisted in the
organisation, and formation of the Army, that is in the
order of battle.

[*] Note the custom of sending formal challenges, fix time and
for action, and "enhazelug" the battlefield in Anglo-Saxon

Now as their Armies regularly entrenched themselves in
their camps, therefore the position in a camp was regarded
as something unassailable, and a battle did not become
possible until the enemy left his camp, and placed himself
in a practicable country, as it were entered the lists.

If therefore we hear about Hannibal having offered
battle to Fabius in vain, that tells us nothing more as
regards the latter than that a battle was not part of his
plan, and in itself neither proves the physical nor moral
superiority of Hannibal; but with respect to him the
expression is still correct enough in the sense that Hannibal
really wished a battle.

In the early period of modern Armies, the relations were
similar in great combats and battles. That is to say,
great masses were brought into action, and managed
throughout it by means of an order of battle, which like
a great helpless whole required a more or less level plain
and was neither suited to attack, nor yet to defence in a
broken, close or even mountainous country. The defender
therefore had here also to some extent the means of
avoiding battle. These relations although gradually becoming
modified, continued until the first Silesian War,
and it was not until the Seven Years' War that attacksan enemy
posted in a
difficult country gradually
became feasible, and of ordinary occurrence: ground did
not certainly cease to be a principle of strength to those
making use of its aid, but it was no longer a charmed
circle, which shut out the natural forces of War.

During the past thirty years War has perfected itself
much more in this respect, and there is no longer anything
which stands in the way of a General who is in earnest
about a decision by means of battle; he can seek out his
enemy, and attack him: if he does not do so he cannot
take credit for having wished to fight, and the expression
he offered a battle which his opponent did not accept,
therefore now means nothing more than that he did not
find circumstances advantageous enough for a battle, an
admission which the above expression does not suit, but
which it only strives to throw a veil over.

It is true the defensive side can no longer refuse a
battle, yet he may still avoid it by giving up his position,
and the role with which that position was connected:
this is however half a victory for the offensive side, and
an acknowledgment of his superiority for the present.

This idea in connection with the cartel of defiance can
therefore no longer be made use of in order by such
rhodomontade to qualify the inaction of him whose part
it is to advance, that is, the offensive. The defender who
as long as he does not give way, must have the credit of
willing the battle, may certainly say, he has offered
it if he is not attacked, if that is not understood of

But on the other hand, he who now wishes to, and can
retreat cannot easily be forced to give battle. Now as the
advantages to the aggressor from this retreat are often
not sufficient, and a substantial victory is a matter of
urgent necessity for him, in that way the few means which
there are to compel such an opponent also to give battle are
often sought for and applied with particular skill.

The principal means for this are--first SURROUNDING the
enemy so as to make his retreat impossible, or at least so
difficult that it is better for him to accept battle; and,
secondly, SURPRISING him. This last way, for which there
was a motive formerly in the extreme difficulty of all
movements, has become in modern times very inefficacious.

From the pliability and manoeuvring capabilities
of troops in the present day, one does not hesitate to
commence a retreat even in sight of the enemy, and only
some special obstacles in the nature of the country can
cause serious difficulties in the operation.

As an example of this kind the battle of Neresheim
may be given, fought by the Archduke Charles with
Moreau in the Rauhe Alp, August 11, 1796, merely with a
view to facilitate his retreat, although we freely confess
we have never been able quite to understand the argument
of the renowned general and author himself in this case.

The battle of Rosbach[*] is another example, if we suppose
the commander of the allied army had not really the
intention of attacking Frederick the Great.

[*] November 5, 1757.

Of the battle of Soor,[*] the King himself says that it was
only fought because a retreat in the presence of the enemy
appeared to him a critical operation; at the same time
the King has also given other reasons for the battle.

[*] Or Sohr, September 30, 1745.

On the whole, regular night surprises excepted, such
cases will always be of rare occurrence, and those in which
an enemy is compelled to fight by being practically surrounded,
will happen mostly to single corps only, like
Mortier's at Durrenstein 1809, and Vandamme at Kulm,


[*] Clausewitz still uses the word "die Hauptschlacht" but modern
usage employs only the word "die Schlacht" to designate the
act of a whole campaign--encounters arising from the collision or
troops marching towards the strategic culmination of each portion
the campaign are spoken of either as "Treffen," i.e.,
or "Gefecht," i.e., "combat" or "action." Thus technically,
was a "Schlacht," i.e., "battle," but Spicheren, Woerth, Borny,
even Vionville were only "Treffen."


WHAT is a battle? A conflict of the main body, but not
an unimportant one about a secondary object, not a mere
attempt which is given up when we see betimes that
our object is hardly within our reach: it is a conflict waged
with all our forces for the attainment of a decisive victory.

Minor objects may also be mixed up with the principal
object, and it will take many different tones of colour from
the circumstances out of which it originates, for a battle
belongs also to a greater whole of which it is only a part,
but because the essence of War is conflict, and the battle
is the conflict of the main Armies, it is always to be
regarded as the real centre of gravity of the War, and
therefore its distinguishing character is, that unlike all
other encounters, it is arranged for, and undertaken
with the sole purpose of obtaining a decisive victory.

This has an influence on the MANNER OF ITS DECISION, on

On that account we make it the subject of our special
consideration, and at this stage before we enter upon the
special ends which may be bound up with it, but which
do not essentially alter its character if it really deserves
to be termed a battle.

If a battle takes place principally on its own account,
the elements of its decision must be contained in itself;
in other words, victory must be striven for as long as a
possibility or hope remains. It must not, therefore, be
given up on account of secondary circumstances, but only
and alone in the event of the forces appearing completely

Now how is that precise moment to be described?

If a certain artificial formation and cohesion of an Army
is the principal condition under which the bravery of the
troops can gain a victory, as was the case during a great
part of the period of the modern Art of War, THEN THE
BREAKING UP OF THIS FORMATION is the decision. A beaten
wing which is put out of joint decides the fate of all that
was connected with it. If as was the case at another time
the essence of the defence consists in an intimate alliance
of the Army with the ground on which it fights and its
obstacles, so that Army and position are only one, then
the CONQUEST of AN ESSENTIAL POINT in this position is
the decision. It is said the key of the position is lost,
it cannot therefore be defended any further; the battle
cannot be continued. In both cases the beaten Armies
are very much like the broken strings of an instrument
which cannot do their work.

That geometrical as well as this geographical principle
which had a tendency to place an Army in a state of
crystallising tension which did not allow of the available
powers being made use of up to the last man, have at least
so far lost their influence that they no longer predominate.
Armies are still led into battle in a certain order, but that
order is no longer of decisive importance; obstacles of
ground are also still turned to account to strengthen a
position, but they are no longer the only support.

We attempted in the second chapter of this book to take
a general view of the nature of the modern battle. According
to our conception of it, the order of battle is only
a disposition of the forces suitable to the convenient use
of them, and the course of the battle a mutual slow
wearing away of these forces upon one another, to see
which will have soonest exhausted his adversary.

The resolution therefore to give up the fight arises, in
a battle more than in any other combat, from the relation
of the fresh reserves remaining available; for only these
still retain all their moral vigour, and the cinders of the
battered, knocked-about battalions, already burnt out in
the destroying element, must not be placed on a level
with them; also lost ground as we have elsewhere said,
is a standard of lost moral force; it therefore comes also
into account, but more as a sign of loss suffered than for
the loss itself, and the number of fresh reserves is always
the chief point to be looked at by both Commanders.

In general, an action inclines in one direction from the
very commencement, but in a manner little observable.
This direction is also frequently given in a very decided
manner by the arrangements which have been made
previously, and then it shows a want of discernment in
that General who commences battle under these unfavourable
circumstances without being aware of them. Even
when this does not occur it lies in the nature of things that
the course of a battle resembles rather a slow disturbance
of equilibrium which commences soon, but as we have said
almost imperceptibly at first, and then with each moment
of time becomes stronger and more visible, than an
oscillating to and fro, as those who are misled by mendacious
descriptions usually suppose.

But whether it happens that the balance is for a long
time little disturbed, or that even after it has been lost on
one side it rights itself again, and is then lost on the other
side, it is certain at all events that in most instances the
defeated General foresees his fate long before he retreats,
and that cases in which some critical event acts with unexpected
force upon the course of the whole have their
existence mostly in the colouring with which every one
depicts his lost battle.

We can only here appeal to the decision of unprejudiced
men of experience, who will, we are sure, assent to what
we have said, and answer for us to such of our readers as
do not know War from their own experience. To develop
the necessity of this course from the nature of the thing
would lead us too far into the province of tactics, to which
this branch of the subject belongs; we are here only
concerned with its results.

If we say that the defeated General foresees the unfavourable
result usually some time before he makes up his mind
to give up the battle, we admit that there are also instances
to the contrary, because otherwise we should maintain a
proposition contradictory in itself. If at the moment of
each decisive tendency of a battle it should be considered
as lost, then also no further forces should be used to give
it a turn, and consequently this decisive tendency could
not precede the retreat by any length of time. Certainly
there are instances of battles which after having taken a
decided turn to one side have still ended in favour of the
other; but they are rare, not usual; these exceptional
cases, however, are reckoned upon by every General against
whom fortune declares itself, and he must reckon upon
them as long as there remains a possibility of a turn of
fortune. He hopes by stronger efforts, by raising the
remaining moral forces, by surpassing himself, or also by
some fortunate chance that the next moment will bring a
change, and pursues this as far as his courage and his judgment
can agree. We shall have something more to say
on this subject, but before that we must show what are
the signs of the scales turning.

The result of the whole combat consists in the sum total
of the results of all partial combats; but these results of
separate combats are settled by different considerations.

First by the pure moral power in the mind of the leading
officers. If a General of Division has seen his battalions
forced to succumb, it will have an influence on his demeanour
and his reports, and these again will have an influence
on the measures of the Commander-in-Chief; therefore
even those unsuccessful partial combats which to all
appearance are retrieved, are not lost in their results,
and the impressions from them sum themselves up in the
mind of the Commander without much trouble, and even
against his will.

Secondly, by the quicker melting away of our troops,
which can be easily estimated in the slow and relatively[*]
little tumultuary course of our battles.

[*] Relatively, that is say to the shock of former days.

Thirdly, by lost ground.

All these things serve for the eye of the General as a
compass to tell the course of the battle in which he is
embarked. If whole batteries have been lost and none of
the enemy's taken; if battalions have been overthrown by
the enemy's cavalry, whilst those of the enemy everywhere
present impenetrable masses; if the line of fire
from his order of battle wavers involuntarily from one
point to another; if fruitless efforts have been made to
gain certain points, and the assaulting battalions each,
time been scattered by well-directed volleys of grape and
case;--if our artillery begins to reply feebly to that of the
enemy--if the battalions under fire diminish unusually,
fast, because with the wounded crowds of unwounded men
go to the rear;--if single Divisions have been cut off and
made prisoners through the disruption of the plan of the
battle;--if the line of retreat begins to be endangered:
the Commander may tell very well in which direction he
is going with his battle. The longer this direction
continues, the more decided it becomes, so much the more
difficult will be the turning, so much the nearer the moment
when he must give up the battle. We shall now make
some observations on this moment.

We have already said more than once that the final
decision is ruled mostly by the relative number of the
fresh reserves remaining at the last; that Commander
who sees his adversary is decidedly superior to him in
this respect makes up his mind to retreat. It is the
of modern battles that all mischances and losses
which take place in the course of the same can be retrieved
by fresh forces, because the arrangement of the modern
order of battle, and the way in which troops are brought
into action, allow of their use almost generally, and in
each position. So long, therefore, as that Commander
against whom the issue seems to declare itself still retains
a superiority in reserve force, he will not give up the day.
But from the moment that his reserves begin to become
weaker than his enemy's, the decision may be regarded as
settled, and what he now does depends partly on special
circumstances, partly on the degree of courage and perseverance
which he personally possesses, and which may
degenerate into foolish obstinacy. How a Commander
can attain to the power of estimating correctly the still
remaining reserves on both sides is an affair of skilful
practical genius, which does not in any way belong to this
place; we keep ourselves to the result as it forms itself
in his mind. But this conclusion is still not the moment
of decision properly, for a motive which only arises gradually
does not answer to that, but is only a general motive
towards resolution, and the resolution itself requires still
some special immediate causes. Of these there are two
chief ones which constantly recur, that is, the danger of
retreat, and the arrival of night.

If the retreat with every new step which the battle
takes in its course becomes constantly in greater danger,
and if the reserves are so much diminished that they are
no longer adequate to get breathing room, then there is
nothing left but to submit to fate, and by a well-conducted
retreat to save what, by a longer delay ending in flight
and disaster, would be lost.

But night as a rule puts an end to all battles, because a
night combat holds out no hope of advantage except under
particular circumstances; and as night is better suited for
a retreat than the day, so, therefore, the Commander
who must look at the retreat as a thing inevitable, or as
most probable, will prefer to make use of the night for his

That there are, besides the above two usual and chief
causes, yet many others also, which are less or more
individual and not to be overlooked, is a matter of course;
for the more a battle tends towards a complete upset of
equilibrium the more sensible is the influence of each
partial result in hastening the turn. Thus the loss of a
battery, a successful charge of a couple of regiments of
cavalry, may call into life the resolution to retreat already

As a conclusion to this subject, we must dwell for a
moment on the point at which the courage of the Commander
engages in a sort of conflict with his reason.

If, on the one hand the overbearing pride of a victorious
conqueror, if the inflexible will of a naturally obstinate
spirit, if the strenuous resistance of noble feelings will
not yield the battlefield, where they must leave their
honour, yet on the other hand, reason counsels not to
give up everything, not to risk the last upon the game,
but to retain as much over as is necessary for an orderly
retreat. However highly we must esteem courage and
firmness in War, and however little prospect there is of
victory to him who cannot resolve to seek it by the exertion
of all his power, still there is a point beyond which
can only be termed desperate folly, and therefore
can meet with no approbation from any critic. In
the most celebrated of all battles, that of Belle-Alliance,
Buonaparte used his last reserve in an effort to retrieve a
battle which was past being retrieved. He spent his last
farthing, and then, as a beggar, abandoned both the
battle-field and his crown.


ACCORDING to the point from which our view is taken, we
may feel as much astonished at the extraordinary results
of some great battles as at the want of results in others.
We shall dwell for a moment on the nature of the effect
of a great victory.

Three things may easily be distinguished here: the
effect upon the instrument itself, that is, upon the
Generals and their Armies; the effect upon the States
interested in the War; and the particular result of these
effects as manifested in the subsequent course of the

If we only think of the trifling difference which there
usually is between victor and vanquished in killed,
wounded, prisoners, and artillery lost on the field of battle
itself, the consequences which are developed out of this
insignificant point seem often quite incomprehensible, and
yet, usually, everything only happens quite naturally.

We have already said in the seventh chapter that the
magnitude of a victory increases not merely in the same
measure as the vanquished forces increase in number,
but in a higher ratio. The moral effects resulting from the
issue of a great battle are greater on the side of the conquered
than on that of the conqueror: they lead to greater
losses in physical force, which then in turn react on the
moral element, and so they go on mutually supporting
and intensifying each other. On this moral effect we
must therefore lay special weight. It takes an opposite
direction on the one side from that on the other; as it
undermines the energies of the conquered so it elevates
the powers and energy of the conqueror. But its chief
effect is upon the vanquished, because here it is the direct
cause of fresh losses, and besides it is homogeneous in
nature with danger, with the fatigues, the hardships, and
generally with all those embarrassing circumstances by
which War is surrounded, therefore enters into league with
them and increases by their help, whilst with the conqueror
all these things are like weights which give a higher swing
to his courage. It is therefore found, that the vanquished
sinks much further below the original line of equilibrium
than the conqueror raises himself above it; on this
account, if we speak of the effects of victory we allude more
particularly to those which manifest themselves in the
army. If this effect is more powerful in an
important combat than in a smaller one, so again it is
much more powerful in a great battle than in a minor one.
The great battle takes place for the sake of itself, for the
sake of the victory which it is to give, and which is sought
for with the utmost effort. Here on this spot, in this very
hour, to conquer the enemy is the purpose in which the
plan of the War with all its threads converges, in which
all distant hopes, all dim glimmerings of the future meet,
fate steps in before us to give an answer to the bold
question.--This is the
state of mental tension not only of the
Commander but of his whole Army down to the lowest
waggon-driver, no doubt in decreasing strength but also
in decreasing importance.

According to the nature of the thing, a great battle has
never at any time been an unprepared, unexpected, blind
routine service, but a grand act, which, partly of itself
and partly from the aim of the Commander, stands out
from amongst the mass of ordinary efforts, sufficiently to
raise the tension of all minds to a higher degree. But the
higher this tension with respect to the issue, the more
powerful must be the effect of that issue.

Again, the moral effect of victory in our battles is
greater than it was in the earlier ones of modern military
history. If the former are as we have depicted them, a
real struggle of forces to the utmost, then the sum total
of all these forces, of the physical as well as the moral,
must decide more than certain special dispositions or
mere chance.

A single fault committed may be repaired next time;
from good fortune and chance we can hope for more favour
on another occasion; but the sum total of moral and
physical powers cannot be so quickly altered, and, therefore,
what the award of a victory has decided appears
of much greater importance for all futurity. Very probably,
of all concerned in battles, whether in or out of
the Army, very few have given a thought to this difference,
but the course of the battle itself impresses on the
minds of all present in it such a conviction, and the
relation of this course in public documents, however
much it may be coloured by twisting particular circumstances,
shows also, more or less, to the world at large
that the causes were more of a general than of a particular

He who has not been present at the loss of a great
battle will have difficulty in forming for himself a living
or quite true idea of it, and the abstract notions of this or
that small untoward affair will never come up to the perfect
conception of a lost battle. Let us stop a moment
at the picture.

The first thing which overpowers the imagination--and
we may indeed say, also the understanding--is the
diminution of the masses; then the loss of ground, which
takes place always, more or less, and, therefore, on the
side of the assailant also, if he is not fortunate; then the
rupture of the original formation, the jumbling together
of troops, the risks of retreat, which, with few exceptions
may always be seen sometimes in a less sometimes in a
greater degree; next the retreat, the most part of which
commences at night, or, at least, goes on throughout the
night. On this first march we must at once leave behind,
a number of men completely worn out and scattered about,
often just the bravest, who have been foremost in the fight
who held out the longest: the feeling of being conquered,
which only seized the superior officers on the battlefield,
now spreads through all ranks, even down to the common
soldiers, aggravated by the horrible idea of being obliged
to leave in the enemy's hands so many brave comrades,
who but a moment since were of such value to us in the
battle, and aggravated by a rising distrust of the chief, to
whom, more or
less, every subordinate attributes as a fault the fruitless
efforts he has
made; and this feeling of being conquered is no ideal picture
which one might become master; it is an evident truth
that the enemy is superior to us; a truth of which the
causes might have been so latent before that they were
not to be discovered, but which, in the issue, comes out
clear and palpable, or which was also, perhaps, before
suspected, but which in the want of any certainty, we
had to oppose by the hope of chance, reliance on good
fortune, Providence or a bold attitude. Now, all this has
proved insufficient, and the bitter truth meets us harsh
and imperious.

All these feelings are widely different from a panic,
which in an army fortified by military virtue never, and
in any other, only exceptionally, follows the loss of a
battle. They must arise even in the best of Armies, and
although long habituation to War and victory together
with great confidence in a Commander may modify them
a little here and there, they are never entirely wanting
in the first moment. They are not the pure consequences
of lost trophies; these are usually lost at a later period,
and the loss of them does not become generally known so
quickly; they will therefore not fail to appear even when
the scale turns in the slowest and most gradual manner,
and they constitute that effect of a victory upon which
we can always count in every case.

We have already said that the number of trophies
intensifies this effect.

It is evident that an Army in this condition, looked at as
an instrument, is weakened! How can we expect that
when reduced to such a degree that, as we said before, it
finds new enemies in all the ordinary difficulties of making
War, it will be able to recover by fresh efforts what has
been lost! Before the battle there was a real or assumed
equilibrium between the two sides; this is lost, and,
therefore, some external assistance is requisite to restore
it; every new effort without such external support can
only lead to fresh losses.

Thus, therefore, the most moderate victory of the chief
Army must tend to cause a constant sinking of the scale
on the opponent's side, until new external circumstances
bring about a change. If these are not near, if the conqueror
is an eager opponent, who, thirsting for glory,
pursues great aims, then a first-rate Commander, and in
the beaten Army a true military spirit, hardened by many
campaigns are required, in order to stop the swollen
stream of prosperity from bursting all bounds, and to
moderate its course by small but reiterated acts of
resistance, until the force of victory has spent itself at
the goal of its career.

And now as to the effect of defeat beyond the Army,
upon the Nation and Government! It is the sudden
collapse of hopes stretched to the utmost, the downfall
of all self-reliance. In place of these extinct forces, fear,
with its destructive properties of expansion, rushes into
the vacuum left, and completes the prostration. It is
a real shock upon the nerves, which one of the two athletes
receives from the electric spark of victory. And that
effect, however different in its degrees, is never completely
wanting. Instead of every one hastening with a spirit
of determination to aid in repairing the disaster, every one
fears that his efforts will only be in vain, and stops,
hesitating with himself, when he should rush forward;
or in despondency he lets his arm drop, leaving everything
to fate.

The consequence which this effect of victory brings forth
in the course of the War itself depend in part on the
character and talent of the victorious General, but more
on the circumstances from which the victory proceeds,
and to which it leads. Without boldness and an enterprising
spirit on the part of the leader, the most brilliant
victory will lead to no great success, and its force exhausts
itself all the sooner on circumstances, if these offer a
strong and stubborn opposition to it. How very differently
from Daun, Frederick the Great would have used the victory
at Kollin; and what different consequences France,
in place of Prussia, might have given a battle of Leuthen!

The conditions which allow us to expect great results
from a great victory we shall learn when we come to the
subjects with which they are connected; then it will
be possible to explain the disproportion which appears at
first sight between the magnitude of a victory and its
results, and which is only too readily attributed to a want
of energy on the part of the conqueror. Here, where we

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