If It 'Ent' Broke, Don't Fix It
Paret, Peter. Yorck
and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 Princeton, NJ:
Princeton Univ., 1966. Hardcover. Out of Print.
This excellent study is, unfortunately for all of us, out of print.
It is an engrossing study of both the defeat and the resurgence of the
Prussian Army in 1806 and after, and covers more time and material than
the title would lead you to believe. It also isn't solely a biography
of Yorck, the "cantankerous" soldier cashiered by Frederick
the Great fpr insubordination and who was reinstated after that sovereign's
death in the Prussian army and helped to rebuild its light infantry.
Yorck not only was one of the important reformers after 1806, but he
was considered by some to be the best of the Prussian generals. Critical,
unforgiving, and outspoken, he served more than competently in 1813
and 1814, set a good example to his men in the field and in garrison,
and was a superb leader of men. His treacherous conduct in 1812 that
led to the Convention of Taurrogen with the Russians while assigned
to MacDonald's French command can be considered dishonorable as he gave
MacDonald no warning, but to him it was the act of a loyal Prussian
The author has done an excellent job of both research and analysis
here. The sources used for this study are impeccable, both primary
material, and credible secondary material, including the highly thought
of German General Staff studies produced by the Kriegsgeschichtliche
Abteilung. Interestingly, while praising these studies as "a
collection of sources on all aspects of the Prussian military establishment"
Paret is critical of them, and stating that their authors, Jany in particular,
"rejects historical objectivity as something unpatriotic"
and that some primary source material produced during the Napoleonic
period "was ignored" and much of it "was cavalierly misinterpreted."
This tends to put the works, and their errors, in perspective, which
undoubtedly helps the researcher and historian in the unending quest
to find out what really happened.
This is an excellent study; superior in my opinion, to the author's
other study of the period, Clausewitz and the State, though that, too,
is an excellent study. The two volumes, although written ten years
apart, actually compliment each other and give an excellent and accurate
picture of the Prussian army of 1806, the reasons it was defeated so
thoroughly by Napoleon and the Grande Armee, and how the reformers "with
vengeance very much in mind" set about revitalizing the Prussian
army to be able to meet the Grande Armee on something like even terms.
This story in itself is worthy of the telling as well as studying, and
for that reason alone this volume is valuable.
This excellent volume is highly recommended for all and sundry. Some
of the author's conclusions, backed up by documentary evidence, are
not popular with some of the revisionists today, but it is difficult
to argue with Paret based on the common sense approach to history that
is evident in the study, backed up by impeccable research. His conclusions
on such topics as the superiority of French tactics in 1806 are irrefutable.
This is a valuable study that, hopefully, will be reprinted in a current
volume at a reasonable price.
Reviewed by Kevin Kiley