- USAF Academy Department of History
The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan
by Gary P. Cox
Historians have traditionally seen Prussia as the creator of modern strategic planning. The members of the Great General Staff in the carmine-striped trousers have long received credit for perfecting “off the shelf’ plans for any contingency. In contrast, the French have been depicted as effete martinets or feckless hussars, fearless in battle but utterly unconcerned with such arcane matters as national strategy. The French Army in the years following Waterloo has been depicted as an institution mired in reactionary politics, and the entire period of French military history from 1815 to 1870 has most often been seen as a “halt in the mud.” But in this important new book, Gary Cox demonstrates that nineteenth-century French defense policy was much more dynamic and creative than has been previously supposed. In The Halt in the Mud, Cox illustrates that contrary to most generally held opinions, France began formulating long-range strategic plans in the years immediately following Waterloo. Carefully buttressing his thesis with evidence gleaned from the French Army’s own archives, Cox argues that these plans were firmly rooted in the Napoleonic conception of strategy and staff work and strongly influenced French strategic planning all the way down to the outbreak of the Great War. The author also analyzes the development of the crucial rivalry between France and Germany in the years leading up to the Franco-Prussian War. He traces the roots of this conflict, shows the essential similarities in approach between early German and French strategic planning, and then discusses why French and German strategic planning methods diverged so fundamentally. The Halt in the Mud fills an important gap in our understanding of how France and her army prepared for war in the nineteenth century and sheds new light on France’s preparations for the Franco-Prussian War and her reaction to the catastrophic defeat of 1870.