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

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview
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4
The Defense Commission of 1818

The military staffs of nineteenth century armies did little strategic planning before the development of the railroad. 1 Concentrating troops took too long, and lines of operations were too problematical, to permit the kind of accurate forecasting necessary to develop true strategic plans in the modern sense. The little planning done was usually an intellectual exercise to train the staff. But Saint-Cyr was not asking the men he assembled in 1818 for a mere theoretical assessment. Facing the prospect of invasion by the other four great powers and their allies if war broke out, the war minister wanted his commission to develop some kind of plan to meet this overwhelming threat.

Saint-Cyr heavily weighted his commission in favor of the technical arms, especially the engineers, owing to the vital role fortifications would have to play as a force multiplier for the small French Army. His most important appointment, however, came from the infantry: Colonel Jean Jacques Germain Pelet, who in the years to come probably contributed more to the development of French strategic planning than any other French officer. Long after Saint-Cyr was dead Pelet would animate the French Army with drive and fresh ideas.

Pelet was a fighter, a man who had risen from the ranks to the highest councils of the Empire. Along the way he would learn more than a little about politics and professional survival, for during his career he served Napoleon, Louis XVIII, Charles X, Louis-Phillipe, the Second Republic, and Napoleon III. He was the prototypical Restoration officer, making his way in a world that valued his skills and used his talents but never quite trusted his intentions. Like so many of his contemporaries, the politics of seeming to have no politics -- what would be ultimately worked out as the doctrine of passive obedience -- had become a necessary part of his life. Though he would sit in the French parliament before his public career ended, more than one regime would question his true political allegiance.

Jean Pelet began his military career on 7 August 1799 as a volunteer. 2 Interestingly enough, this man who was to make his mark as an infantry commander and staff officer obtained his commission as an engineer ( 9 June 1801). He first won the emperor's notice with the Army of Germany, con

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