Scharnhorst, Gerhard Johann David von
, 1755-1813, Prussian general. A Hanoverian army officer, military writer, and director of the war college, he entered Prussian service in 1801. He fought in the disastrous war (1806-7) against Napoleon I, headed the commission for reorganizing the army, and controlled the war ministry from 1807. He resigned his posts early in 1812, when Prussia was forced into an alliance with Napoleon I against Russia. When the French defeat in Russia enabled Prussia to break its alliance with France and join the anti-French coalition (1813), Scharnhorst served as chief of staff to the commander of the army, Field Marshal Blücher
. Scharnhorst transformed the Prussian army from a mercenary force into a people's army. Since the introduction of general conscription was impossible under Napoleonic rule, Scharnhorst invented the Krümpersystem
under which a larger number of men than that allowed to Prussia could be trained in the use of arms; citizens were called to service for a short training period to be then replaced by another group. Although the system was highly acclaimed, in reality only a small number exceeding the 42,000 man limit were trained. The abolition of physical punishment and the admission of nonnobles into the officers' corps further helped to popularize the army's cause. General conscription, however, was introduced formally only in 1814 after Scharnhorst's death. His military reforms were aided by August Neithhardt von Gneisenau
and Karl vom und zum Stein
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia Copyright © 2004.
Licensed from Columbia University Press