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Antoine-Henri, baron Jomini (March 6, 1779 - March 24, 1869), general in the French and afterwards in the Russian service, and one of the most celebrated writers on the art of war, was born at Payerne in the canton of Vaud, Switzerland, where his father was syndic .
Early Life and Career
His youthful preference for a military life was disappointed by the dissolution of the Swiss regiments of France at the Revolution. For some time he was a clerk in a Paris banking-house, until the outbreak of the Swiss revolution . At the age of nineteen he was appointed to a post on the Swiss headquarters staff, and when scarcely twenty-one to the command of a battalion. At the peace of Lunéville 1801 he returned to business life in Paris, but devoted himself chiefly to preparing the celebrated Traité des grandes operations militaires, which was published in 1804-1805.
Service in the Napoleonic Wars
Service in the French Army
Introduced to Marshal Ney, Jomini served in the campaign of Austerlitz as a volunteer aide-de-camp on Ney's personal staff. In December 1805 Napoleon, being much impressed by a chapter in Jomini's treatise, made him a colonel in the French service. Ney thereupon made Jomini his principal aide-de-camp.
In 1806 Jomini published his views as to the conduct of the impending war with Prussia. This, along with his knowledge of Frederick the Great's campaigns, which Jomini had described in the Traité, led Napoleon to attach him to his own headquarters. Jomini was present with Napoleon at the battle of Jena, and at Eylau won the cross of the Legion of Honour.
After the peace of Tilsit Jomini was made chief of the staff to Ney, and created a baron. In the Spanish campaign of 1808 his advice was often of the highest value to the marshal, but Jomini quarrelled with his chief, and was left almost at the mercy of his numerous enemies, especially Berthier, the emperor's chief of staff.
Departure from French Service, to Join the Russian Army
Overtures had been made to him, as early as 1807, to enter the Russian service, but Napoleon, hearing of his intention to leave the French army, compelled him to remain in the service with the rank of general of brigade.
For some years thereafter Jomini held both a French and a Russian commission, with the consent of both sovereigns. But when war between France and Russia broke out, he was in a difficult position, which he ended by taking a command on the line of communication.
Jomini was thus engaged when the retreat from Moscow and the uprising of Prussia transferred the seat of war to central Germany. He promptly rejoined Ney, took part in the battle of Lützen and, as chief of the staff of Ney's group of corps, rendered distinguished services before and at the battle of Bautzen, and was recommended for the rank of general of division. Berthier, however, not only erased Jomini's name from the list, but put him under arrest and censured him in army orders for failing to supply certain returns that had been called for.
How far Jomini was held responsible for certain misunderstandings which prevented the attainment of all the results hoped for from Ney's attack there is no means of knowing. But the pretext for censure was trivial and baseless, and during the armistice Jomini did as he had intended to do in 1809-10, and went into the Russian service. As things then were, this was tantamount to deserting to the enemy, and so it was regarded by Napoleon and by the French army, and by not a few of his new comrades. It must be observed, in Jomini's defence, that be had for years held a dormant commission in the Russian army, that he had declined to take part in the invasion of Russia in 1812, and that he was a Swiss and not a Frenchman.
His patriotism was indeed unquestioned, and he withdrew from the Allied Army in 1814 when he found that he could not prevent the violation of Swiss neutrality. Apart from love of his own country, the desire to study, to teach and to practise the art of war was his ruling motive. At the critical moment of the battle of Eylau he exclaimed, "If I were the Russian commander for two hours!" On joining the allies he received the rank of lieutenant-general and the appointment of aide-de-camp from the tsar, and rendered important assistance during the German campaign, though the charge that he betrayed the numbers, positions and intentions of the French to the enemy was later acknowledged by Napoleon to be without foundation. He declined as a Swiss patriot and as a French officer to take part in the passage of the Rhine at Basel and the subsequent invasion of France.
In 1815 he was with the emperor Alexander in Paris, and attempted in vain to save the life of his old commander Ney. This defense of Ney almost cost Jomini his position in the Russian service. He succeeded, however, in making head against his enemies, and took part in the Congress of Vienna.
Post-War Service and Retirement
After several years of retirement and literary work, Jomini resumed his post in the Russian army and in about 1823 was made a full general. Thenceforward until his retirement in 1829 he was principally employed in the military education of the tsarevich Nicholas (afterwards emperor) and in the organization of the Russian staff college, which was opened in 1832 and still bears its original name of the Nicholas Academy. In 1828 he was employed in the field in the Russo-Turkish War, and at the siege of Varna he was given the grand cordon of the Alexander Order.
This was his last active service. In 1829 he settled at Brussels where he chiefly lived for the next thirty years. In 1853, after trying without success to bring about a political understanding between France and Russia, Jomini was called to St Petersburg to act as a military adviser to the tsar during the Crimean War. He returned to Brussels on the conclusion of peace in 1856 and some years afterwards settled at Passy near Paris. He was busily employed up to the end of his life in writing treatises, pamphlets and open letters on subjects of military art and history, and in 1859 he was asked by Napoleon III to furnish a plan of campaign in the Italian War. One of his last essays dealt with the war of 1866 and the influence of the breech-loading rifle, and he died at Passy only a year before the Franco-German War. Thus one of the earliest of the great military theorists lived to speculate on the tactics of the present day.
Amongst his numerous works the principal, besides the Trait, are: Histoire critique et militaire des campagnes de la Révolution (1806; new ed. 1819-1824); Vie politique et militaire de Napoleon raconte par lui-même (1827) and, perhaps the best known of all his publications, the theoretical Précis de l'art de la guerre (1836).
See Ferdinand Lecomte, Le Général Jomini, sa vie et ses écrits (1861; new ed. 1888); CA Sainte-Beuve, Le Général Jomini (1869); A Pascal, Observations historiques sur la vie, &c., du général Jomini (1842).
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