Scharnhorst, Gerhard Johann David von

Scharnhorst, Gerhard Johann David von

(gĕr`härt yō`hän dä`vēt fən shärn`hôrst), 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 BlücherBlücher, Gebhard Leberecht von
, 1742–1819, Prussian field marshal, an outstanding military opponent of Napoleon I. An officer in the army of King Frederick II from 1760, he incurred royal displeasure when, believing himself passed over for promotion, he abruptly
..... Click the link for more information.
. 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 GneisenauGneisenau, August, Graf Neithardt von
, 1760–1831, Prussian field marshal. In the Napoleonic Wars he fought at Jena (1806) and, as a major, won fame for his valiant defense of Kolberg.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and Karl vom und zum SteinStein, Karl, Freiherr vom und zum
, 1757–1831, Prussian statesman and reformer. Rising through the Prussian bureaucracy, he became minister of commerce (1804–7) but was dismissed by King Frederick William III for his attempts to increase the power of the heads of the
..... Click the link for more information.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Scharnhorst, Gerhard Johann David Von


Born Nov. 12, 1755, in Bordenau, Hanover; died June 28, 1813, in Prague. Prussian military figure. General (1807).

The son of a sergeant major, Scharnhorst entered the Hanoverian Army in 1777 and served in the artillery. After joining the Prussian Army in 1801, he became head of the German War College in Berlin in 1802 and was knighted in 1804. In 1806, during the war with France, Scharnhorst served as chief of staff to the commander in chief, the duke of Braunschweig, and fought in battles at Auerstedt and Preussisch Eylau. In July 1807 he was appointed director of the war department, head of the general staff, and chairman of the commission for the reorganization of the army. In 1808, Scharnhorst headed the newly re-created war ministry, although he did not hold the rank of minister.

Scharnhorst and A. Gneisenau significantly improved the army’s organization and its officer training. They made progressive changes in tactics, shortened the length of mandatory service (as a result of which a trained reserve was created), and prepared the way for military conscription, which was introduced in 1813. Because Scharnhorst supported war against France, he was forced to retire in 1811 at the insistence of the French government.

Serving in the war of liberation of 1813 as chief of staff to General G. Blücher in the Silesian Army, Scharnhorst was critically wounded in fighting near Lützen in May 1813.


Usczeck, H. J. Scharnhorst: Theoretiker, Reformer, Patriot: Sein Werk und seine Wirkung in seiner und für unsere Zeit [2nd ed. Berlin, 1974].
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.