Fall 2019

A splendid autumn has arrived in the Shenandoah Valley where I just returned to the farm after leading a Civil War tour. Jackson’s Valley Campaign is often described as Napoleon-like. Accordingly, I emphasized the exploits of the Valley’s two “marshals,” Stonewall Jackson and Phil Sheridan. Always in the back of my mind: my ongoing progress with 1806.

The first days of October 1806 found Napoleon preparing for a war that he still hoped would not occur. He had arrived in Mainz on September 28 and spent the afternoon talking with the Swiss military theorist and author, Henri Jomini, about Frederick the Great’s campaigns. Although Frederick the Great had been dead for twenty years, Prussia’s reputation continued to rest on the prestige conferred upon it by Frederick’s fame. The Emperor wanted to learn everything he could about the Prussian way of war. Meanwhile, the Grande Armeé was demonstrating its superb marching capacity as it rapidly concentrated along Saxony’s southern border. If war began, Napoleon would be in close control of a veteran host commanded by the era’s most able corps commanders.

Whereas the French benefitted from unity of command, Prussia did not. Seventy-year-old Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, known to English speakers as the Duke of Brunswick, had impeccable blue blood, being the nephew of Frederick the Great and the husband of British King George III’s sister. At the age of twenty-one, he had entered military service as part of a coalition to defend Hanover from the French. He subsequently distinguished himself during the Seven Years’ War, displaying both personal courage and command quality. His dismal performance at Valmy should have rung some alarms. Instead, he remained popular within the Prussian court. Significantly, he was inactive after 1794 and thus missed out on all of the significant French military innovations that had taken place over the past twelve years.

Normally, a chief of staff might have been able to inform the old man. However, Brunswick despised the senior candidate for this position, Major General Karl von Phull. So it fell to the talented Gerhard Scharnhorst to serve. The appointment annoyed the army establishment who observed that Scharnhorst was a mere major and a Hanoverian to boot. Worse, the Duke did not trust him either. Nor did Brunswick get along with his two main subordinates.

In the future, the position of Prussian Chief of Staff would be associated with forming high level strategy and guiding operational decision making. But that time was not yet. In 1806, the three chiefs of staff did not even try to cooperate. Indeed, two of them detested one another and were not on speaking terms. How such a collection was going to make the rapid decisions necessary when confronting a foe like Napoleon remained an open question. It was not promising that Prussian orders for mobilization had been issued on August 9, but Brunswick did not submit his first strategic plan to the king until September 25.

And yet, the Jena Campaign was far from a cakewalk for Napoleon and his army. The metaphorical fog of war confused both sides, leading to miscalculation and blunder. The real fog that shrouded the battlefields on October 14 created huge, tactical challenges.

I have completed the draft text for the majority of the book. During this process, I have been surprised to learn things that go against received wisdom. For example, most Saxon forces performed exceedingly well during the campaign. Prussian mistreatment of them caused a mutiny among senior Saxon leaders on the eve of Jena. Afterward, each nation bitterly blamed the other for the defeat, although this part is unsurprising!

Readers continue to ask when the book will be done. My target is to have it available for Christmas 2020. Rest assured, when it is available, we will let you know.

Until then, wishing you and yours all good things,

James R. Arnold
Lexington, VA
Autumn 2019