He began his military career at the age of 12. He started off by serving as the Lanco-Corporal and soon moved up the ladder to serve as a Major General in the army.
From 1793 to 1794, he served in the Rhine Campaigns, including the Siege of Mainz at the time when the Prussian army invaded France in the French Revolution.
In 1801, he enrolled at the Kriegsakademie or German War School. Thereafter, he studied at the Military Academy in Berlin and the Brussian Military Academy. It was there that he studied the works of philosopher Immanuel Kant.
His deep acumen and intelligence won him the regard of General Gerhard von Scharnhorst. Along with Hermann von Boyen and Karl von Grolman, he became a close associate of Scharnhorst and helped the latter in the reform of the Prussian army from 1807 to 1814.
Meanwhile, from 1806, he took to serving in the Napoleonic Wars which he continued until 1815. In the Jena Campaign, he served as an aide-de-camp to Prince August. During the battle, Napolean invaded Prussia and defeated the Prussian-Saxon army commanded by Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick.
He was captured by the Napoleon army and became a prisoner of war held in France from 1807 to 1808. After serving his sentence, he returned to Prussia to assist Scharnhorst, who was the Chief of Staff of the Prussian Army and state.
With Prussia forming an alliance with Napoleon I, he left the Prussian army and instead took to serving the Russian armed forces. From 1812 to 1813, he served in the Russian campaign fighting in the Battle of Borodino.
In 1813, he joined the Russian-German Legion along with other Prussian officers serving the Russian Army. It was during his service with the Russian army that he helped negotiate the Convention of Tauroggen, thus accentuating the coalition of Prussia, Russia and United Kingdom. The alliance eventually helped to defeat the Napoleon and bring down his rule.
With the Russo-German Legion being integrated into the Prussian Army, he left his service at the Russian Army and instead joined hands with the Prussian Empire. Immediately thereafter, he was appointed to the seat of chief of staff of Johann von Thielmann's III Corps.
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In the new position, he served in the Battle of Ligny and the Battle of Wavre in the Waterloo Campaign in 1815. Though his army lost the Battle of Ligny, they revived and later attacked the Napoleon-led forces in the Battle of Waterloo successfully.
The success in the Battle of Waterloo helped him to rise to the position of major General. Furthermore, he was appointed as the director of his alma mater Kriegsakademie, where he served until 1830.
Though his contribution as a soldier is unquestionable, what gained him much popularity was his works which he released as a military theorist. With a careful, systematic and philosophical examination of war, he came up with his book, ‘On War’ that highlighted his principle ideas and philosophies of war
Despite being unfinished at the time of his death, the book was very valuable as it introduced systematic philosophical contemplation into Western military thinking. The content of the book comprised of powerful implications which are beneficial not only for historical and analytical writing but also for practical policy, military instruction, and operational planning.
It was his wife who published his magnum opus posthumously in 1832. She penned the preface of the book and by 1834, published several of his works.
Personal Life & Legacy
He first met Countess Marie von Bruhl, who was a member of the noble German von Br�hl family originating in Thuringia, in 1803.
In December 1810, he went into the wedlock with the Countess. The marriage gave him an opportunity to socialize with Berlin’s literary and intellectual elite class.
He breathed his last on November 16, 1831 in Breslau, Prussia after commanding the Prussian army to construct a cordon sanitaire to restrict the outbreak of cholera in 1831.