Helmuth von Moltke the Elder

Nation: Germany

Military Leader

Birth Date: October 26, 1800
Germany Helmuth von Moltke the Elder Military Leader Cover
I. Journey to Prussian Service
II. Advisor to Ottoman Empire
III. Ascension to Chief of General Staff
IV. Wars with Denmark (1864) and Austria (1866)
V. Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the Second Reich
VI. Post-War Glory and Legacy
[ART] Portrait
[Chronology] Life of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
I. Journey to Prussian Service
Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke was born at Parchim, in Mecklenburg, on October 26, 1800. In that minor German State, his family had long been established, and in its army his father was an officer. Yet in his childhood they moved to Holstein, and Helmuth was trained in the military school at Copenhagen. For a time, he was a lieutenant in the Danish service, but a visit to Berlin filled him with a desire to join the Prussian army. He soon obtained leave and entered it as second lieutenant in 1822.

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, p. 351). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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II. Advisor to Ottoman Empire
Moltke became a staff-officer in 1832. When he visited Constantinople in 1835, the Sultan Mahmud II saw in the thoroughly trained Prussian the man he needed for reorganizing his army and planning the defense of his empire. Therefore Moltke spent four years in Turkey, during half of which he was with the army in Asia Minor. He ventured into Mesopotamia and took part in the campaigns in Syria against Mehemet Ali. In the Battle of Nisib, which the Turks had fought against his advice, he lost all his baggage. On his return to Prussia, he published Letters on Conditions and Events in Turkey in the Years 1835 to 1839, which detailed his observations and experiences.

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, pp. 351-352). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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III. Ascension to Chief of General Staff
Moltke was married in 1842, and on his wedding-day he was appointed by the King to be a major on the Prussian General Staff.

Moltke's next foreign trip was in 1845, when he was made adjutant to Prince Henry of Prussia, who was obliged to go to Italy for the sake of his health. This provided Moltke the opportunity to study the city of Rome and its environs, and the result appeared in a topographical map and some more letters. The Prince died in July 1846, and Moltke returned with his body to Berlin. He then made a journey into Spain, and then returned to a quiet farm-life on an estate which he had purchased at Creisau.

Moltke retained his staff connection, however, and in 1848 he became Chief of Staff of the Fourth Army Corps at Magdeburg. In 1854, some drawings of his attracted the attention of Friedrich Wilhelm (later Emperor Friedrich III), then Prince of Prussia, who procured for him an appointment as senior aide-de-camp. In this capacity, Baron von Moltke attended the Crown Prince when he was married to Victoria, Princess Royal of England. He also paid two other visits to England.

In 1857, Moltke was appointed General von Moltke Chief of Staff of the entire Prussian Army. He henceforth devoted himself to increasing and perfecting the efficiency of the military. By him and his subordinates, the great problems of mobilizing and concentrating scattered corps on any desired spot were thoroughly wrought out. The proper distribution of supplies and stores of all kinds with reference to possible movements was carefully planned.

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, p. 352). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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IV. Wars with Denmark (1864) and Austria (1866)
At last came the opportunity to prove how thoroughly Moltke's lessons had been taught and learned. Prussia declared war in 1864 against Denmark to enforce the claims to Schleswig-Holstein as belonging to the German Confederation. Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, the Red Prince, took the field, but General Moltke had already drawn up a plan of the campaign, which was almost exactly carried out until Denmark relinquished the disputed territory. In this war, Austria was an ally and had furnished part of the forces. But hardly had it ended, when territorial disputes arose between the two leading powers. It was evident that another war was needed to decide the matter, as well as establish leadership among the German nations.

In the summer of 1866, the Austro-Prussian War or Seven Week's War began when Prussia took the initiative by invading Bohemia. Again, Moltke's superior preparations for the advance were critical. The main army, under King Wilhelm I, initially gained the overwhelming victory of Sadowa (or Koniggratz), then pushed on boldly to Olmutz, and threatened Vienna. The war not only destroyed the supremacy of Austria, but expelled it from the German Confederation.

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, pp. 352-353). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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V. Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and the Second Reich
The crowning triumph of Moltke's career was yet to come. The rapid rise of Prussia excited the apprehension of Napoleon III for the prestige of France. Though that country, its army, and its sovereign were all unfit to cope with their opponents, flushed with victory, war was hastily provoked. But again Moltke had made complete plans and all necessary preparations. Some deviations were, of course, unavoidable, yet the invading army moved forward on the predetermined line of attack. Even the armies sent by Bavaria and other South German States were enabled by careful observance of the plans to concentrate with the Prussians in most effective operations. On the day of the capitulation of Metz, October 28, 1870, King Wilhelm I showed his sense of General Moltke's services by creating him a count. When the Prussian army returned in triumph to Berlin in September 1871, the Count was further honored by being made Chief Marshal of the new German Empire (the Second Reich).

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, p. 353). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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VI. Post-War Glory and Legacy
After the Franco-Prussian War, the veteran lived a quiet life, enjoying the honors due to his successful career. Yet he kept a watchful eye on public affairs and the movements in the nations around. The thorough system which he had organized, and the skillful subordinates whom he had trained were well qualified to maintain the military prestige of Germany. On March 9, 1888, Emperor Wilhelm I died, and the aged Field-Marshal took the oath of allegiance to his successor, Friedrich III. After Friedrich's brief reign of a hundred days, the veteran took the oath to his son Wilhelm II.

On August 3, 1888, he feit compelled by the burden and infirmities of age to resign his commission as Chief of Staff. He had held the position for over 30 years. Emperor Wilhelm II graciously accepted the resignation, and appointed the aged soldier President of the Committee for National Defense. Field-Marshal Von Moltke's ninetieth birthday was celebrated with great enthusiasm, especially at Berlin, where the Emperor and German princes personally congratulated him. On the April 24, 1891, the Field-Marshal went out as usual, but after his return had an attack of asthma and died.

Thoughout his long life Count von Moltke was noted for his simple, unpretending ways, his earnest desire to do his duty, his patriotism and loyalty. His name is connected inseparably with the unification of the Germanic lands through the creation of the Second Reich. The victories which led to that stupendous change in European affairs were due to his prudent advice, thorough preparation and great deeds.

Spofford, A. R., Weitenkampf, F., & Lamberton, J. P. (1899). Marshal von Moltke. In The library of historic characters and famous events of all nations and all ages (Vol. 9, pp. 353-354). Boston: Art-Library Pub. Co.
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[ART] Portrait


Portrait of Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke. He is now often called Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, to distinguish him from his nephew who served in World War I.

Painting [1898] after Franz Seraph von Lenbach (18361904)

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[Chronology] Life of Helmuth von Moltke the Elder
1800: Moltke born (October 26).
1806: Battle of Jena.
1807: Treaty of Tilsit.
1811: Moltke enters Danish Military Academy.
1813: The War of Liberation. Battle of Leipzig.
1815: Congress of Vienna.
1819-22: Moltke's service in Danish Army.
1822: Enters Prussian Army (March 12).
1823-1826: At Staff College.
1832: Appointed to Great General Staff.
1835: Moltke promoted Captain (March 30).
1835-39: Service in Turkey and Asia Minor.
1839: Returns to Great General Staff.
1840: Appointed to General Staff IVth Army Corps.
1842: Marriage of Moltke. Promotion to Major.
1845-46: A.D.C. to Prince Henry, at Rome.
1848: The Year of Revolution.
Moltke appointed Chief of Staff of IVth Army Corps.
War between Prussia and Denmark.
1849: The Imperial Crown refused by the King of Prussia.
1850: Convention of Olmutz.
Moltke promoted Lieutenant-Colonel.
1851: Promotion to Colonel.
1852: Louis Napoleon proclaimed Emperor of the French.
1854-56: The Crimean War.
1855-56: Moltke visits England, France, and Russia.
1856: Moltke promoted Major-General.
The Treaty of Paris.
1858: Moltke appointed Chief of the Staff of the Army.
1859: Italian War - War between France (with Piedmont) and Austria.
Roon becomes Minister of War.
Beginning of Scheme of Army Reform.
Moltke promoted Lieutenant-General.
1861: The Prince Regent becomes King of Prussia as Wilhelm I.
1862: Rejection of the Military Budget.
1862: Bismarck becomes Minister-President of Prussia.
Bismarck's "blood and iron" speech (September 29).
1864: Alliance of Prussia and Austria.
War with Denmark.
Treaty of Vienna. The Duchies ceded to Austria and Prussia.
1865: Convention of Gastein.
1866: Moltke promoted General of Infantry.
Austria and Prussia (in alliance with Italy) at war (June 15).
Battle of Custozza (June 24).
Battle of Koniggratz (July 3).
Treaty of Prague (August 23).
1867: Moltke at Paris.
1868: Death of Moltke's wife.
1870: The Hohenzollern candidature.
Benedetti at Ems (July 13).
France declares war on Prussia (July 14).
French cross the frontier at Saarbucken (August 2).
French defeated at Weissenburg (August 4).
French defeated at Spicheren (August 6).
French defeated at Woerth (August 6).
Indecisive battle at Borny (August 14).
French defeated at Mars-la-Tour (August 16).
French defeated at Gravelotte (August 18).
Metz beseiged (August 19).
MacMahon begins his march from Chalons to Metz (August 23).
French defeated at Beaumont (August 30).
French defeated and surrender at Sedan (September 1-2).
Fall of the Empire (September 4).
Paris beseiged by Germans (September 19).
Fall of Strasburg (September 28).
Germans take Orleans (October 12).
Capitulation of Metz (October 27).
Moltke receives title of Count (October 28).
Germans defeated at Coulmiers and driven from Orleans (November 9).
French defeated at Amiens (November 27).
Germans retake Orleans (December 5).
Germans occupy Rouen (December 6).
1871: Indecisive battle at Bapaume (January 3).
French defeated at Le Mans (January 12).
Proclamation of German Empire (January 18).
French defeated at St. Quentin (January 19).
Capitulation of Paris (January 28).
Bourbaki driven into Switzerland (February 1).
Garrison of Belfort marches out with the honors of war (February 5).
Germans enter Paris (March 1).
Treaty of Frankfort (May 10).
Moltke promoted General Field-Marshal (June 16).
1875: Franco-German Crisis.
1877-78: Russo-Turkish War.
1879: The Dual Alliance (Germany and Austria).
1881: Moltke's resignation refused.
1882: The Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria, Italy).
1887: Moltke in attendance with the King during maneuvers, for the last time.
1888: Moltke released from his post as Chief of the Staff.
Death of Emperors Wilhelm I and Friedrich III.
Accession of Emperor Wilhelm II.
1890: Bismarck "resigns".
1891: Death of Moltke (April 24).

Whitton, F. E. (1921). Chronological table. In B. Williams (Ed.), Moltke (pp. 317-319). London: Constable.
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