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The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

General Antoine-Henri Baron de Jomini with the État-Major Général in 1812

By Eman Vovsi

The beginning of the year 1812 brought happiness to the family of Antoine-Henri and Adélaïde Jomini; on 22 January they celebrated a baptism of their son, Charles-Henri.[1]  In the meantime, the head of the family continued his service on Napoléon’s General Staff in its preparation for a probable war with Russia .

In order to follow Jomini’s career path in this capacity, it is profitable to examine briefly the characteristics of the General Staff’s numerous offices and functions.[2]  In his Manuel des Adjudans-généraux, an experienced staff officer and participant in many campaigns of the French Revolution and First Empire, Paul Thiébault, defined État-major or Staff as “the totality or aggregate of officers and non-commissioned officers, who pursuant to the nature of their respective functions are appointed to transmit the orders addressed to them by the commander and chief, or to superintend the execution of the various branches of military service, that are respectively instructed to them.”[3]       

It is notable that operational control requirements over the Grande Armée increased as  Napoléon’s European Empire developed.  Once established during his earlier campaigns, the Staff assisted on all levels of military, administrative and even civil service; it also reduced Napoléon’s workload while keeping the Emperor knowledgeable about the state of his army, which grew tremendously. According to Tableau général, on 1 November 1811, military forces of the First Empire had under arms 1,046,567 men in all branches of services.[4]

The Staff helped to translate Napoléon’s thoughts into action by collecting, registering and transmitting his orders to major subordinate commanders and ministers of state.  Moreover, the Staff provided the Emperor with a body of loyal, reliable and well-educated officers. Since 1796 its first organization was running under one of the most able man in his domain, indispensable Chef of Staff, maréchal Louis-Alexandre Berthier.[5]  By 1812 Berthier established a Staff that was responsive to the management of the vast Grande Armée while retaining the flexibility necessary to meet changing situations in the course of the upcoming campaign.

By 1812 the newly reorganized Le Grand-Quartier-Général Impérial  (the Grand Imperial Headquarters) was more than just a complex of various offices, services and departments.  It was composed of two major parts: La Maison Militaire de l’Empereur (Napoleon’s Household) and Le Quartier-Général Imperial  (the Main Imperial Headquarter), which included État-major général (General Staff), secretariat, various bureau, topographical service, escort of troops – all headed by maréchal Berthier, who was appointed Major-général de la Grande Armée effective 1 February 1812[6].  To assist him in his workload of immense every-day tasks, down the ladder of the staff hierarchy, Berthier had several departments, including his private staff, cabinet, topographical and administrative sections.[7]  Therefore, Berthier headed a complex of departments on various levels, and his position as Napoléon’s Chief of Staff differs from the similar staffs employed on army corps or divisional levels.

Operating separately, but adjacent to maréchal Berthier’s numerous needs, these four parts were the nucleus of the complex machinery, generally referred to as the Emperor Napoléon’s General Staff.  Each of these major components was headed by a senior officer bearing rather a complicated title of aide-Major-général, Chef d’État-major général  (assistant to Major-Général, Chief of General Staff).

Particularly, the administrative section was divided into three subdivisions, responsible for daily orders, lodging and substance and for government laws and decrees.  Since 1809 it was led by général de brigade Count François-Gédéon Bailly de Monthyon.[8]  It was this exact general officer under whose orders Jomini continued his military career.     

In the process of the further reorganization, the topographical bureau, and office of general administration conjoined together under the title of État-major as a part of État-major général, or General Staff.  On 29 January 1812 Napoléon approved the composition and nomination for the État-major proposed to him by maréchal Berthier.  By the new provision, Général de brigade Jomini was put by the Emperor in charge of history. [9]

According to maréchal Berthier’s proposal, each general officer should be assisted with two aide-de-camps.  As for Jomini, one of them became Captain and his brother-in-law François Fivaz and Lieutenant de Point-Béllanger, the other.[10]  However, in the same correspondence Napoléon suggested certain adjustments.  According to the Emperor’s wishes, maréchal Berthier suggested certain replacements.  In his February letter to the Emperor, he outlined his response to the changes concerning the position of the général commandant of the Imperial Headquarters:

"Your Majesty decided that général Lecamus, who was in charge of this service in previous campaigns, should remain in Spain; therefore, it [the office of général commandant] is being transferred under command of Général de brigade Baron de Jomini who, at the same time, occupies historical service."[11]

The functions of the général commandant, although semi-bureaucratic, nonetheless placed Jomini in charge of police, the necessity of providing security for the Emperor’s Household and conduct of inspections.  With a certain degree of autonomy, it still placed him under direct orders of Major-général Berthier.[12]  But Jomini was more concerned about continuing his military writing; being put by the Emperor in charge of the history, Jomini turned to the archives of the War Ministry and its historical department.[13]

Although Napoléon issued orders to open the library and archives of the Department for Jomini to continue military writings on the Italian campaigns of 1796-97 and 1800, there are claims that maréchal Berthier clearly blocked access for Jomini to the important information due to his jealousy of the talented Swiss.[14]

This long-lived assertion should be reconsidered with several obvious factors.  First and foremost among these was that maréchal Berthier’s General Staff and the Military Department were two different services, the latter under orders of the Minister of War and général de division Henry-Jacques-Guillaume Clarke, Duke of Feltre (from 1807 to 1814).  Général Sanson, as head of the Military Depot, not Colonel Muriel, as usually mentioned[15], might, have some power over Jomini, but not since the latter was designated as an official historian at the General Staff after 29 January 1812.  It is also confirmed by then the Napoléon’s Ministère de la Police générale René Savary who noted that “this general [Jomini] was considered in the army as the one having talent for historiography; being attached in this quality to the Emperor’s General Staff, for his work.”[16]  As a result, this is why the Emperor appointed Jomini the général commandant of the Imperial Headquarters later in February to provide him with access in the corridors of a military and administrative bureaucracy.

Another reason is that the historical issue, the Mémorial, was published by the Dépôt in seven consecutive volumes (from 1802 to 1810) and was specifically designed to enlighten its readers on current orders and regulations and various issues of historical significance.[17] 

Therefore, number of materials was produced long before Jomini has been officially assigned to his historical duties.  Knowing that Jomini was working on Bonaparte’s Italian campaigns, maréchal Berthier could, for example, try to conceal from Jomini his Relation de la bataille de Marengo published in 1805[18].  But there were other works available to any scholar, such as Petit’s Marengo ou campagne d’Italie by the independent company of Favre, and then Recueil de plans de batailles attacques et combat gagnés par Bonaparte, to name but a few.[19] 

Finally, maréchal Berthier was one of the most recognized and distinguished men of the Napoleonic Empire, drawing nearly 1.254,945 francs annually based on dotations, not to mention his regular salary of 40,000 francs per year designated for the maréchaux de l’Empire.   Perhaps, Jomini, with his modest annual compensation of 10,000 francs for the général de brigade and endowment of 15,000 Francs for his baron’s title was jealous of Berthier?[20]  It appears doubtful, that a controversy between maréchal Berthier and Jomini – at least at this stage, – had anything to do with professional achievement of either man or personal preferences.    

Here is another opinion that merits attention and confirms various internal problems developing in the French high command.   Thus, général de brigade of the Imperial Guard Pierre Berthèzene left his observation on Jomini with respect to the military hierarchy in the Grande Armée, potential favoritism, and grounds of alleged “jealousy”:

"The Swiss [Jomini] did not have a chance for direct troop commands; perhaps because of this he was favorite of Berthier…  Working in the various bureaus, he proved what a man can achieve if he was in a pursuit of knowledge."[21]   

However, new duties soon called Jomini away from his historical endeavors.  Along with troops of the Imperial Headquarters, all offices of maréchal Berthier and Napoleon’s General Staff were ordered to Mayence.  The column was headed by général de brigade Guilleminot, assisted by généraux Jomini and Jean-Joseph Tarayre.[22]  Leaving Paris on 5 March, they arrived at the designated place on 14 March, where Guilleminot temporarily assumed the position of the général commandant of the Imperial Headquarter, which was nominally held by Jomini.  There, they were immediately overloaded with organization, placement and lodging of its numerous personnel including staff officers, artillery parcs and wagons, engineers, military and civil administration of all levels.[23]  From Mayence Jomini’s route destined him further to Erfurt and Magdeburg, where the first marching column of the Grand Imperial Headquarters arrived on March 25.    

By the spring of 1812 the war with Russia had become inevitable.  Napoléon had already induced both Prussia (24 February) and Austria (14 March) to sign agreements providing auxiliary corps for the Grande Armée.  But his peace offer to England in April of 1812, based on the restoration Portugal for the House of Braganza, Spain for his brother Joseph Bonaparte, and Sicily for King Ferdinand III was rebuffed.  Public opinion in Sweden was reduced to desperation by the hardships of the Continental Blockade and the French occupation of Swedish Pomerania in January of 1812.  The former maréchal de l’Empire, Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, and now the hereditary prince Charles-Johan, brought Sweden to the Russian side by the April agreement in exchange for “Russian assistance in attaching Norway to Sweden .”[24]  At the end of May the Turks finally signed the Peace of Bucharest with Russia .[25] 

Thus, Tsar Alexander I was relieved of anxiety of defending his northern and southern flanks, because he could concentrate his forces.  He did not abandon his offensive plans to make a preventive strike that Russia had plotted since early 1811.  According to correspondence with his close advisor, a Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski, the Tsar planned to strike into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw to make Poles “accept him as their liberator and restorer.”[26]  Additional instructions were sent to his accredited attachés in Prussia and Austria on this plan to initiate military actions against the French Empire.  By the end of October, the five Russian army corps concentrated on the western borders and were issued a “monarchic order” to be prepared for the campaign.[27]  But it turned out to be otherwise; while the tsarist government made plans, Napoléon carried out the invasion. 

On 9 May 1812 the Emperor Napoléon left his residence at Saint-Cloud to join his Grande Armée on its march through Germany .  Assigned to the Imperial Headquarter, Baron de Jomini became a part of the mightiest military host the Continent of Europe had ever seen assembled under one command. 


[1] Langendorf, Faire la guerre: Jomini, 64.   Napoléon-Charles-Henri de Jomini (1811-1860) along with his famous father later served in the Russian army where he attained the rank of colonel.

[2]  See Colonel de Philip, Étude sur le service d’État-major pendant les guerres du Premier Empire ( Paris, 1912); James D. Hittle, The Military Staff ( Harrisburg, 1961), 98-113; Gunther E. Rothenberg, The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon ( Bloomington, 1978), 208-12. 

[3] Paul Thiébault, Manuel des Adjudans-généraux et des adjoints employés dans les etats-majors-divisionnaires des armées ( Paris, 1801), 3.

[4] Out of this monstrous number 396,345 men were occupied in various provinces of Spain and Portugal , nearly 250,000 were garrisoning at the various ends of Europe.  Otetchestvennaya Voina 1812 goda.  Materiali Voenno-Uchenogo Arkhiva Glavnogo Shtaba [The Patriotic War of 1812.  Documents from the Military-Scholarly Archive of the General Staff, hereinafter The Patriotic War of 1812.  Materials of VUA] (St.-Petersburg, 1900-1914), vol. VI, 2-46.

[5] Maréchal d’Empire Louis Alexandre Berthier (1753-1815), a most distinguished dignitary created by Napoléon; in 1812 he carried the title of Grand-veneur (1804) Prince of Neuchâtel and Valengin (1806), Vice-connétable of the French Empire (1807) Prince of Wagram and Major-général de l’armée d’Espagne (1809), Colonel-général des Suisses (1810). Six, Dictionnaire, vol. I, 87.

[6] Napoléon to Berthier, 16 January 1812.  Correspondence de Napoléon 1er, publiée par ordre de l’Empereur Napoléon III (Paris, 1858-69) No. 18442, vol. XXIII, 210.  Berthier’s title Major-général roughly means “general (main) head of staff for the entire army”, commonly referred as the Chief of Staff. 

[7] This practically meant that maréchal Berthier, as Major-général and Napoleon’s Chief of Staff had his “own staff” as part of Le Quarter-Général Imperial.  To avoid confusion it will be noted further in the lowercase.

[8] Attached to the General Staff, but functioning separately, there were a great number of intendants, financial, administrative, medical employees and other services.   Alain Pigeard, L’armée Napoléonniene ( Paris, 1993), 42-43.

[9] Napoléon to Berthier, 29 January 1812.  Quoted in Louis Margueron, Campagne en Russie, 1810-1812 ( Paris, 1897), vol. IV, 625.

[10] “État du personnel du Grand Quarter général de la Grande Armée”, cited in  Margueron, Campagne en Russie, vol. IV, 474.  Note that Samuel-François Fivaz was married to Jomini’s middle sister, Julie-Catherine (1781-1831).  He joined his superior on May 9, 1812 en route to Dresden.  Langendorf, Jomini, 71.

[11] Berthier to Napoléon, 24 February 1812.  France, Archives Nationales, Series AFIV (Secrétaire d’état impériale) 1642.

[12] Alain Pigeard, Dictionnaire de la Grande Armée ( Paris, 2002), 492.

[13] Known today as the Archive de la Guerre located in Château of Vincennes, its historical section originated in 1795-96, when Revolutionary government decided to build a historical library for the future military operations. In 1800 the library had over 8,000 volumes; by 1813 it enlarged up to 10,500 and contained many rare books and ancient manuscripts.  Reorganized by Napoléon within the War Ministry, the library and archives were placed under supervision of its Eighth Division that handled Military Depot.  By 1812 it was headed by général de division Sanson.  Pierre Paul, “La Bibliothèque du Ministère de la Guerre”, Revue Historique de l’armée, 2 (1946), 120-22; Almanach Impérial ( Paris, 1812), 237.

[14] Lecomte, Le Général Jomini, 98-100; Courville, Jomini, ou Devin de Napoléon, 161; Hittle, The military Staff, 111; almost all past and recent works mention this statement, obviously having Jomini as a sole source.

[15] Colonel Muriel was adjoint provisoire (temporary assistant) at the Military Dépôt.  Almanach Impérial 1812, 237.  Captain Salamon is also mentioned in this capacity, but although working under maréchal Berthier he had nothing to do with it and he was part of the Third Division at the Military Department heading the bureau of troop movement.  Courville, Jomini, ou Devin de Napoléon, 161.   In 1812, the Military Department consisted of nine divisions, each subdivided on various bureaus.  Almanach Impérial 1812. 232-43.

[16] Anne-Jean-Marie-René Savary, Mémoires du duc de Rovigo pour servir à l’histoire de l’Empereur Napoléon ( Paris, 1828), vol. V, 207.

[17] Effective 6 October 1802; by proposal of Berthier dated 14 November 1801.  Unfortunately, no volume survived.  See Colonel Corlier, “Les tribulations des Archives de la Guerre”, Revue Historique de l’Armée, 3 (1949), 76-85.

[18] During the Second Italian campaign of 1800, Berthier officially commanded l’armée de Réserve and then until 1804 he headed the War Ministry. Note that Berthier’s Relation de la bataille de Marengo was both a work of historical significance and a piece of revisionist history intended to praise Napoléon.

[19] Joseph Petit’s Marengo ou campagne d’Italie par l’armée de reserve ( Paris, 1801); Anon., Recueil de plans de batailles attacques et combat gagnés par Bonaparte ( Leipzig, 1805).

[20] “Tarif de la solde, ainsi que des frais de représentation et de bureau des grands-officiers et de l’état-major général”, Journal Militaire An XIV (1805), 75; Georges Six, Les généraux de la Révolution et de l’Empire ( Paris, 1948), 250-51. 

[21] Pierre Berthèzene, Souvenirs Militaires de la République et de l’Empire ( Paris, 1855), vol. II, 264.

[22] Berthier to Napoleon, 29 February and 5 March 1812.  France, Archives Nationales, Series AFIV (Secrétaire d’état impériale) 1642.

[23] Report of Guilleminot to Berthier, 14 March 1812, quoted in Margueron, Campagne de Russie, vol. IV, 367-68.  In no way should this appointment be considered as Berthier’s suppressing position over Jomini: Guilleminot was promoted to général de brigade on 19 July 1808, year and a half before Jomini, hence a priority (not to mention his actual combat experience).  Six, Dictionnaire, vol. II, 514.

[24] Agreement between Sweden and Russia , 5 April 1812.  Vneshyaa politika Rossii XIX – nachala XX vekov.  Documenti Rossisskogo Ministerstva Inostrannix Del [Russian foreign policy from nineteenth to twentieth centuries.  Documents of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs] (Moscow: Politicheskaya Literatura, 1960-67), first série, vol. IV, 324-25, 548-50.

[25] Russo-Turkish Peace Agreement, 28 May 1812.  Ibid, 412-17.

[26] Letter from Tsar Alexander to Czartoryski, 6 January 1811.  Mémoires du Prince Adam Czartoryski et Correspondance avec l’Empereur Alexander 1er ( Paris, 1887), vol. II, 248-49. 

[27] The Patriotic War of 1812.  Materials of VUA, vol. V, 268-70, 302-04, 313-15.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: May 2007