How I Came to Work With Marie and Carl von Clausewitz’s Correspondence

The last two weeks have been a time of great excitement for me. My article about the newly found correspondence between Marie and Carl von Clausewitz was published in the Journal of Military History. Since then I have been answering emails, exchanging twits and chatting over Facebook.

For the past two years, I’ve immersed myself in the correspondence between Marie and Carl von Clausewitz. So in many way, I have forgotten the excitement I felt when in December 2012 an email from the Prussian Privy State Archives informed me that they have received as a deposit the Buttlar Family Estate containing a mammoth amount of papers. Within these dusty boxes, the almost complete private correspondence between Marie and Carl von Clausewitz was found. Having visited the Prussian Privy State Archives that same summer, the archivists had my name on file. ” Are you still looking for the Clausewitz’s papers?,” Dr.Ingeborg Schnelling-Reinicke, the chief archivist, asked in her email.

The Buttlars were a wide-branched and prominent Prussian aristocratic family. Since Carl and Marie remained childless, the majority of Clausewitz estate went to Marie’s brother, Friedrich (Fritz) von Brühl, and his wife Hedwig. Fritz and Hedwig’s youngest daughter, Franziska, married the owner of the Venedien Manor, Ludwig von Lücken, and after her death the correspondence and other personal belongings passed to their daughter Hedda. Hedda, for her part, married into the Buttlar family. Hence the Clausewitz correspondence is cataloged in the Prussian Privy St1ate Archives under “Buttlar-Venedien” literary estate.

While most of Carl’s letters to Marie have been published, only twenty-six of her correspondences to him are known. The “Buttler-Venedien” boxes contain 283 previously unknown letters written by Marie from 1807 to 1831. Although for the most part published, I still had to read many of Carl’s writings in original because, as I have discovered, significant and interesting passages were omitted in the known versions.

Months after that initial email from the chief archivist  long and data heavy files stared arriving to my email. When I first opened the e-copies, I was deeply frustrated. I could not read a single word in Marie’s handwriting, never mind Carl’s scribblings. What saved the day were e-copies of Carl von Brühl’s letters that I had received from the Saxon State Archive. A beloved cousin and an artist, his penmanship was clearer and after deciphering his correspondence to Marie, I was ready to tackle hers.

Carl von Clausewitz’s handwriting presented a challenge, and required three times the effort to decipher compared to Marie’s.

Occasionally, the information contained within the letters was very mundane. Gossips about Berlin high society, long discussions about the best travel routs, horses, servants, etc. But then the letters from the wars in 1813-14 and 1815 kept me up all night. From time to time I couldn’t stop laughing, such as when Marie and Carl argued over moving their household goods to a new duty station. She fussed over his decision to open the boxes and start setting up the furniture without her. (Ironically, we were PCS at the very same moment; my husband’s comment: “Carl, I feel you, dude!”)

So this is the glorious story about how I came with work with the newly found Clausewitz correspondence. I was just at the right place in the right time.

I have repeatedly related this story, for one to set the record straight that I have not found the complete Clausewitz correspondence. I am the one who happened to work first with it. Second, it is even somewhat problematic to say “newly found correspondence” because, strictly speaking, it has never been lost. For some hundred and fifty years the Buttlar Family has kept it safe. It merely remained out of sight from the public eye.

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  1. #1 by JD Lenaburg on 27 April 2015 - 1:55 am

    I read your recent article in the SMH Journal with great interest. I have read On War several times and am currently reading Paret’s “Clausewitz and the State.”

    Based on your findings, I think a biography of Marie would be a welcome addition to Clausewitz scholarship and students.

    I look forward to reading it.

(will not be published)