The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview

1
The Napoleonic Inheritance: Strategic Planning in the Wars of the Revolution and the Empire

The common use of the word "strategy", was one legacy of Napoleon and his long and bloody wars. Soldiers since time immemorial had formulated strategy, but the word itself did not come into common usage before the early nineteenth century, prompted in part by the tidal wave of memoirs and analyses dissecting a quarter-century of conflict.

Today soldiers and military theorists have evolved fairly precise terminology to describe the various phases of the conduct of war. At the lowest level of complexity are tactics, the maneuvering of combat units to gain advantage on the battlefield. 1 Above tactics comes a relatively new concept, inspired by both the American Civil War and the campaigns of Helmuth von Moltkc the Elder of Prussia: operational art. Operational art describes the use of combat forces throughout a theater of operations or during a campaign. 2 The distinction is an important insight into the conduct of modern war. Beginning with the railroad, continuing with the internal combustion engine and the airplane, military forces drastically increased their mobility, enabling them to strike simultaneously throughout an area encompassing hundreds or even thousands of square miles. Thus the old term "battle," focusing on a single event or a single area, does not adequately describe this kind of combat.

Strategy, as used in the modern sense, is the highest, most complex aspect of this war trinity. It involves the assembly, allocation, and utilization of all available means to obtain national objectives. 3 In this orchestration of political, economic, and military means and ends, the statesman and the soldier face the continuing challenge of melding disparate elements of national power into a coherent effort.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century these definitions had not evolved. The taxonomy of the military art was simpler, if more ambiguous. The word "strategy" was used to describe "military science," especially that branch practiced by generals. 4 Based on his study of the wars of Frederick and

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