On War - title image

Carl von Clausewitz

[Table of Contents]

NOTE: This version of Carl von Clausewitz's On War is the long-obsolete J.J. Graham translation of Clausewitz's Vom Kriege (1832) published in London in 1873. The 1976/84 Howard/Paret version is the  standard translation today; for the most accurate text one should always consult the 1943 Jolles translation. Consider the more modern versions and other relevant books shown below.

Book Cover, ON WATERLOOOn Waterloo: Clausewitz, Wellington, and the Campaign of 1815. Ed./trans. Christopher Bassford, Daniel Moran, and Gregory W. Pedlow (, 2010). ISBN: 1453701508. This book is built around a new and complete translation of Clausewitz's study of the Waterloo campaign [Berlin: 1835], which is a strategic analysis of the entire campaign (not just the Battle of Waterloo), and the Duke of Wellington's detailed 1842 response to it.

Jolles translation, book coverBuy the best translation—recommended for serious readers. The Book of War (The Modern Library, February 2000). ISBN: 0375754776. Clausewitz's On War and Sun Tzu's Art of War in one volume. The translation of Clausewitz's On War is the 1943 version done by German literary scholar O.J. Matthijs Jolles at the University of Chicago during World War II—not today's standard translation, but certainly the most accurate.

On War, Princeton ed.Buy the standard English translation of Clausewitz's On War, by Michael Howard and Peter Paret  (Princeton University Press, 1976/84). ISBN: 0691018545 (paperback). Kindle edition. This quite readable translation appeared at the close of the Vietnam War and—principally for marketing and copyright reasons—has become the modern standard.

Book coverVanya Eftimova Bellinger, Marie von Clausewitz: The Woman Behind the Making of On War (Oxford University Press, 2015), ISBN: 0190225432. A rich biography of Countess Marie von Clausewitz that also sheds enormous light on the life, ideas, influences upon, and character of the great military thinker himself.




1. WE have already touched upon this subject in the thirtieth chapter of the sixth book. It is one which concerns the defence and the attack in common; nevertheless it has always in it something more of the nature of the offensive than the defensive. We shall therefore now examine it more thoroughly.

2. Manœuvring is not only the opposite of executing the offensive by force, by means of great battles; it stands also opposed to every such execution of the offensive as proceeds directly from offensive means, let it be either an operation against the enemy's communications, or line of retreat, a diversion, etc., etc.

3. If we adhere to the ordinary use of the word, there is in the conception of manœuvring an effect which is first produced, to a certain extent, from nothing, that is, from a state of rest or equilibrium through the mistakes into which the enemy is enticed. It is like the first moves in a game of chess. It is, therefore, a game of evenly-balanced powers, to obtain results from favourable opportunity, and then to use these as an advantage over the enemy.

4. But those interests which, partly as the final object, partly as the principal supports (pivot) of action, must be considered in this matter, are chiefly:—

(a) The subsistence from which it is our object to cut off the enemy, or to impede his obtaining.

(b) The junction with other corps.

(c) The threatening other communications with the interior of the country, or with other armies or corps.

(d) Threatening the retreat.

(e) Attack of isolated points with superior forces

These five interests may establish themselves in the smallest features of detail belonging to any particular situation; and any such object then becomes, on that account, a point round which everything for a time revolves. A bridge, a road, or an entrenchment, often thus plays the principal part. It is easy to show in each case that it is only the relation which any such object has to one of the above interests which gives it importance.

(f) The result of a successful manœuvre, then, is for the offensive, or rather for the active party (which may certainly be just as well the defensive), a piece of land, a magazine, etc.

(g) In a strategic manœuvre two converse propositions appear, which look like different manœuvres, and have sometimes served for the derivation of false maxims and rules, and have four branches, which are, however, in reality, all necessary constituents of the same thing, and are to be regarded as such. The first antithesis is the surrounding the enemy, and the operating on interior lines; the second is the concentration of forces, and their extension over several posts.

(h) As regards the first antithesis, we certainly cannot say that one of its members deserves a general preference over the other; for partly it is natural that action of one kind calls forth the other as its natural counterpoise, its true remedy; partly the enveloping form is homogeneous to the attack, but the use of interior lines to the defence; and therefore, in most cases, the first is more suitable to the offensive side, the latter to the defensive. That form will gain the upper hand which is used with the greatest skill.

(i) The branches of the other antithesis can just as little be classed the one above the other. The stronger force has the choice of extending itself over several posts; by that means he will obtain for himself a convenient strategic situation, and liberty of action in many respects, and spare the physical powers of his troops. The weaker, on the other hand, must keep himself more concentrated, and seek by rapidity of movement to counteract the disadvantage of his inferior numbers. This greater mobility supposes greater readiness in marching. The weaker must therefore put a greater strain on his physical and moral forces,—a final result which we must naturally come upon everywhere if we would always be consistent, and which, therefore, we regard, to a certain extent, as the logical test of the reasoning. The campaigns of Frederick the Great against Daun, in the years 1759 and 1760, and against Laudon, 1761, and Montecuculis against Turenne in 1673, 1675, have always been reckoned the most scientific combinations of this kind, and from them we have chiefly derived our view.

(j.) Just as the four parts of the two antitheses above supposed must not be abused by being made the foundation of false maxims and rules, so we must also give a caution against attaching to other general relations, such as base, ground, etc., an importance and a decisive influence which they do not in reality possess. The smaller the interests at stake, so much the more important the details of time and place become, so much the more that which is general and great falls into the background, having, in a certain measure no place in small calculations. Is there to be found, viewed generally, a more absurd situation than that of Turenne in 1675, when he stood with his back close to the Rhine, his army along a line of three miles in extent, and with his bridge of retreat at the extremity of his right wing? But his measures answered their object, and it is not without reason that they are acknowledged to show a high degree of skill and intelligence. We can only understand this result and this skill when we look more closely into details, and judge of them according to the value which they must have had in this particular case.

We are convinced that there are no rules of any kind for strategic manœuvring; that no method, no general principle can determine the mode of action; but that superior energy, precision, order, obedience, intrepidity in the most special and trifling circumstances may find means to obtain for themselves signal advantages, and that, therefore, chiefly on those qualities will depend the victory in this sort of contest.


Return to the top of this page

Go to next chapter

Go to Table of Contents

Visit The Clausewitz Homepage logo Visit the
Clausewitz Bookstores!
US UK France Germany