Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz (July 1, 1780 - October 12, 1856) was a Prussian soldier, intellectual, writer and politician. He is most famous for his seminal work Vom Kriege (On War), which has been translated into over 50 languages since its completion in 1848.
Clausewitz was born in the town of Burg bei Magdeburg, in Prussia, in 1780, the son of a tax officer. He was the youngest of 4 sons, and entered the Prussian military at the age of 12, eventually rising to the rank of Major-General in the army. He entered the Prussian Military Academy in Berlin in 1801 and studied philosophy as well as war, giving him the intellectual foundations he was later to draw so strongly on. He supported efforts to reform the Prussian Army from within the Academy and again when he left in 1804.
In 1806, he was a member of the Prussian army in the disastrous campaign before the battles of Jena and Auestedt, and saw the defeat of the Prussian army, once the mightiest in Europe, at those battles. He followed the army as it retreat all the way to the Russian border, but was then captured and became a prisoner of the French, where he remained until 1808. Upon his release, he retreated into exile in Russia, where he served in the Russian Army during Napoleon's invasion of that country.
Clausewitz was also present in the Waterloo campaign of 1815, where he helped hold off the corps of Marshal Grouchy long enough to enable victory over the main French army under Napoleon by the Allies at Waterloo. Once the war was over, he was appointed to the leadership of the Academy he had served at before the war in 1818, and would sit in this position for many years to come.
Ascendancy to office
During his long service at the Academy, Clausewitz turned his intellectual attentions to the serious questions raised by the Prussian defeat in the Napoleonic wars. He began to compile his experiences and ideas into a book during this time, using the great resources of the Academy to greatly enhance his work. When war nearly started in Poland in 1831, he was nearly taken away from his duties to command the army, but was replaced at the last moment by his friend Karl von Grolman.
Clausewitz worked for nearly 12 years at the Academy, but in 1840 was called away by the new King, Frederick William IV, to serve as Minister of War. In tandem with his great friend, Hermann von Boyen, the Chief of Staff, he completed the reforms his mentor, Scharnhost, had begun in 1807 and helped Prussia retain her great power status. He also invested heavily in the academic institutions of the military, considering them to be vital to the future success of Prussia. He was a noted liberal in the cabinet, helping support liberalisation of the press and academic bodies of Prussia and supporting the moves towards limited democracy by the King. However, his loyalty to the monarchy was never called into question, and he faithfully served the king for 6 years, before being allowed to retire from his post in 1846 to take up the Chair of Military Studies at the University of Berlin.
For the next two years, Clausewitz worked on completing his magnum opus, being still able to draw on the Prussian Military Academy as well as the University, and having the support of the King. The finished text was ready for publication in 1848, and the King personally kept it free from any censorship when it was sent to the publishers.
Vom Kriege was extremely well-received by both the army and the intelligentsia as a whole. The book was adapted for general study by the Academy within two years, and by 1856 it had also been taken up by bodies in most European states. Clausewitz didn't have much time to tend to the book after its release, however, as in 1848 his commission was re-activated to help deal with the revolutions sweeping Prussia, and Europe as a whole.
Once that threat had been dealt with, Clausewitz retired into private life, where he remained until his death in October 1856. During that time, he released a slightly revised edition of Vom Kriege in 1853, and advised the General Staff on plans to make war with Austria and Denmark that were drawn up during this time. He also is known to have met, and been impressed by, a Deputy in the Prussian Assembly by the name of Otto von Bismarck, and to have influenced Bismark in many of the decisions he later made.
Clausewitz died on October 12, 1856, at his house in the centre of Berlin, with his wife and three children at his bedside. At news of his dying, the King, Fredrick William IV, ordered the flag over the palace to be lowered in respect to the man who had served him so well.