Army Aviation

“Gaining Information of the Enemy’s Movements.”

lb jomini152 Years Ago, 1862

Warfare theorist Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini, with Article XLII, of his, The Art of War, outlined various methods of obtaining information and reconnaissance by which a commander could gather intelligence on an opposing army:  Questioning prisoners or deserters; well-organized system of spies; and mobile formations of cavalry.  With the latter he specifically mentions the famed Cossacks by name.  But  Baron de Jomini seemed to have little regard for the use of balloons as a vehicle for observation with the following:  “An attempt of another kind was made in 1794, at the battle of Fleurus, where General Jourdan made use of the services of a balloonist to observe and give notice of the movements of the Austrians.  I am not aware that he found the method a very useful one, as it was not again used; but it was claimed at the time that it assisted in gaining him victory; of this, however, I have great doubts.

lb artofwarThe Art of War, by de Jomini“It is probable that the difficulty of having a balloonist in readiness to make an ascension at the proper moment, and of his making careful observations upon what is going on below, whilst floating at the mercy of the winds above, has led to the abandonment of this method of gaining information.  By giving the balloon no great elevation, sending up with it an officer capable of forming correct opinions as to the enemy’s movements, and perfecting a system of signals to be used in connection with the balloon, considerable advantages might be expected from its use.  Sometimes the smoke of the battle, and the difficulty of distinguishing the columns, that look like lilliputians, so as to know to which party they belong, will make the reports of the balloonists very unreliable.”

The above appears on pages 251 and 252, in The Art of War,by de Jomini.                                                                                      

Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini was actually Swiss, born in 1779.  He joined the French Army at 17.  His writings on the campaigns of Frederick the Great caught the attention of Napoleon.  Among de Jomini’s functions was that of chief of staff to Marshal Michel Ney.  Napoleon appointed him head of the Historical Department of the Headquarters of the Grand Armee; and during the 1812 Russian campaign, he served as Governor of Vilnius and Governor of Smolensk.  After having a fallout with members of the French High Command, especially Napoleon’s Chief of Staff, Louis-Alexandre Berthier, de Jomini became an aide-de-camp to Czar Alexander I.  Together with Carl von Clausewitz, de Jomini became one the ranking military theorists of his day.  He died in 1869.

It is important to keep in mind that Baron de Jomini’s writings and theories heavily influenced American military thinking in the 19th century.  American generalship was dominated by the Napoleonic aspects of war, as seen by lines of Federal and Confederate troops which advanced on each other at great cost; a situation which persisted even with the introduction of rapid firing weapons, which helped to send troops to ground digging like moles . . . trench warfare.  This process would be repeated in 1914.  It should, then, come as no surprise that, for the most part, the Union Army stable of generals had no use for Thaddeus Lowe’s Balloon Corps, despite its obvious potential.  This was one of the major causes for the demise of the North’s aeronautical experiment by the summer of 1863.  In this, the Union Army followed the teachings of de Jomini.   

Source:  The Art of War, by Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini.  Translated from the French by Captain G.H. Mendell, Corps of Topographical Engineers, U.S. Army and Lieutenant W.P. Craighill, Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, published by J.B. Lippincott & Co., Philadelphia, PA., 1862.