From the DATE issue of The New York Times.


Something of the Career of the Chief of the Allied Forces, Whose Strategy Has Raised High the Hopes of Those with Him.

By Richard Barry.

WHILE he was in school Napoleon excelled in only one study—mathematics. Robert E. Lee stood at the head of his class at West Point in mathematics. The only study that Ulysses S. Grant really cared for was mathematics. While at the College of Perpignan, as a boy of 16, just previous to the Franco-Prussian war, Joseph Joffre stood at the head of his class in mathematics. While he excelled in other studies, mathematics was the only one in which some one else did not excel him.

From this boy has risen the General Joffre who is leading the French armies from defeat to victory. History will doubtless class him with Fabius and George Washington as a master of defensive military strategy who, by the skillful use of an inferior force, saved his country from the conquest of a mighty war machine.

Joffre as a French General is an anomoly. He is of quite different timber from the Napoleonic Marshals to whom temperament, personality, and inspiration were the chief requisites. He is an equally strong contrast with the Generals of Napoleon III, the rash MacMahon, the timid Frossard, and the fatuous Bazaine.

The present leader of the armies of the tricolor is thoroughly twentieth century in his methods and temperament. He is an organizer of victory. For years he has preached and practiced thorough preparation. The consciousness of this careful preparation was with him when the war came, and permitted him to endure a month of reverse without casting his all in a decisive battle, while he chose his own time and place for the final test of arms.

The temper of Joffre’s mental habit is well expressed in an address he delivered a few years ago to former pupils of the Polytechnic School in Paris.

Organization Above All.

“Everything must be organized,” he said then. “Everything forseen. Once hostilities commence, improvised measures will be worthless. Men will have to be organized with the utmost detail in order to give the maximum of force and of mobility. In order that they may know how to join the colors they must be shown how to get there. There must be on our lines of communication a movement of circulation as vital as is that of blood to the human body. Ours is a struggle of speed, of order, of intensity. Money and trouble spent on armaments and preparation are not wasted. Woe to those who fall into the snare of pacific illusions! Woe to those who are not ready!”

It thus appears that the recent triumphs of the French arms were not the triumphs of the days or weeks in which they were made, but were the triumphs of Joffre and his system in the years that have preceded.

When the great war began very few Americans had ever heard of Gen. Joffre. We were familiar with the names of English and German leaders, and with the Russians we had become familiar during the Russo-Japanese war. But of the Frenchmen we were quite ignorant.

Yet in France the name of Joffre has been eminent for a decade, and since the beginning of the war has become a household word. His sway is now as absolute as that of any Czar. He sends a messenger each day to the Government, but he receives none in return. A writer in The London Daily Mail recently quoted the Minister of War, M. Millerand, as saying, and with pride, not resentment: “If I were to take a motor car and drive into the zone of operations without Gen. Joffre’s permission, Gen. Joffre would have me turned out.”

Joffre has always been known in the French Army, so says an officer who formerly served under him, as a soldier who has always passionately contended that when fighting once begins a commander must take absolute charge; and that no pity, no personal favor, above all no politics, should be allowed to influence in the slightest the conduct of the campaign. He must be, within the zone of operations, the undisputed master. Joffre has several times publicly said that if requested by the proper authority he will give up his post as “generalissimo” to another, but that as long as he is in supreme command he will not share either responsibility or power.

Suppose France had had a Joffre in 1870. He would not have done as did MacMahon, who marched his magnificent army into the trap at Metz at the request of Empress Eugenie. In fact, so far he has avoided most of the blunders made in that terrible year.

Joffre’s career has been meagrely reported in this country. From conversations with a retired French officer who once served under him and from an article by Dr. P. Pujade, a former member of the French Chamber of Deputies, in the Paris Matin, I have gleaned the following facts and anecdotes:

He was born in 1852, and is therefore 62 years old. As a boy he was unusually quiet and well behaved, so well behaved that he was looked on with aversion by some of his boyish associates who were bubbling over with the normal mischief and indirection of youth. Joffre, even as a boy, seemed to be under careful restraint, studious and orderly, though not exceptionally brilliant save in mathematics.

At the College of Perpignan he passed his examinations as a Bachelor of Science at the early age of 16, and though he received a special mention and led his class in mathematics, he seemed to take it as a matter of course. Dr. Pujade says that he did not even notify his parents of his honors.

Nine months later, before he was 17, he was the fourteenth from the top of a list of several hundred applicants for admission to the Polytechnic Institute, which is the West Point of the French Republic. He had scarcely finished one year at the Institute when the Franco-Prussian war commenced.

Thus, at the age of 18, he received his commission in the French Army as an artillery subaltern. His excellence in mathematics had marked him for appointment to the artillery, which in all modern armies is considered the choice branch of service. During the war he was employed in the defense of Paris.

Captain at 22.

In the construction of barricades and their quick adaptation to the hurried needs of an army at bay he attracted attention. After the war he was placed in charge of the reconstruction of a portion of the new defenses of Paris. He drew up the plans for the fortifications in the direction of Enghien. There, one day, Marshal MacMahon appeared, accompanied by his entire staff, called to him the young Sous-Lieutenant Joffre and said to him, in the presence of the staff: “I congratulate you, Captain!” A Captain at 22!

The General Staff was so well pleased with Joffre’s work in rebuilding fortifications that he was sent to Pontarlier, on the eastern frontier, and again was placed in charge of all the work of rebuilding fortifications.

Joffre protested. “I do not want to spend my whole life building fortifications,” he said. “I hope they will soon give me an active command.” The protest was unavailing. They sent him to Tonkin, Cochin-China, where he constructed a chain of forts.

In command in French China at that time was Gen. Courbet, with whom Joffre soon became distinctly persona grata. The forts being finished, Joffre was about to be ordered back to France to take charge of further work in building fortifications when old Gen. Courbet took pity on his disinclination to continue such uninteresting work, and said: “Before you go back to France I will give you once chance at field service. The natives hae broken out in the interior, and the campaign against them will be a difficult one, because they are in many small parties and will be able to harass our forces to an alarming extent without giving battle. It is work for a cavalryman, and one who has been tested in the field. You are an artillery officer and an engineer, without experience in offensive warfare. I would advise you to return and follow the bent in which you are certain to succeed, but if you insist I will intrust you with this command.”

His Work in Formosa.

Young Major Joffre did not hesitate. He mounted a horse and rode off into the tropical jungle as if mathematics were the last thing in the world to interest him. And he won all his battles against the natives, too.

So well was Courbet pleased with Joffre’s work that he prevailed on the General Staff to lengthen his stay in the Far East. A few years later Courbet went to Formosa and took Joffre with him. There the future Commander in Chief, in spite of great natural difficulties, reorganized the entire defenses of the island.

The next stage of Joffre’s career was his command in Madagascar. It was this work that first brought him into national celebrity in his own land. His problems were twofold. First, those of a colonial administrator. Second, those of an engineer.

As a military governor he proved himself the equal of any France ever sent to her colonies. A man of the most strict personal habits, even in the tropics, he soon had the island under a discipline which was not particularly agreeable to the native population, but which resulted in doubling the revenues of the Government the second year.

As an engineer he constructed the fortifications of Diego Suarez, the principal port in the island, which are regarded as being models of their kind.

After that, in the late eighties, he went to Dahomey with Col. Bonnier’s expedition. Bonnier was defeated and killed by the natives, and the entire French column would have been wiped out had it not been for Joffre, who commanded the rear guard. He rallied his men, drove back the enemy, and earned the honor of being the first French commander to reach Timbuctoo.

In the early nineties, not quite 45 years old, he came back to France, gray, lean, hardened, and known throughout the French Army as “Joffre the Taciturn.” He seldom spoke, and his written orders were models of laconic direction. He was a bachelor of exemplary habits, and from that time on has been marked as a man destined for the highest honors.

Shortly after his return to France he married, but he has no children. He grew a bit stout; his mustaches grew long; his hair white. He is of medium stature, but his shoulders have tremendous width.

“Hard as Nails.”

A visitor to his home in Paris a month before the war describes it (in The London Daily Mail) as “a pleasant, airy house.” If you were asked if anything had made a particular impression upon you you would probably say, “Yes, its restfulness.” Gen. Joffre is a restful man. His wide brow, under close-cropped hair, is tranquil. His blue eyes are calm and clear. Beneath a heavy white mustache his lips are firm. They show his teeth a little when he talks.

Others describe him as a man of most affable manners in his home or in society, exceedingly courteous, of an even and happy temperament.

Yet in the field, or in his office at the Ministry of War, he is another man, a man “hard as nails.” He accepts no excuses when his orders are not carried out. There are as many stories about his strict discipline in the French Army as there are about the discipline of Kitchener in the English Army. Once an officer in Madagascar, when asked how soon he could bring up certain supplies from the interior, replied casually, “I don’t know. Perhaps in two weeks; perhaps in a month.” Joffre replied: “They will be here in a week or you will return to France.”

The commander in Chief may sympathize with the incompetent, but he cannot endure failure. Last year he dismissed five Generals from the active list immediately following the manoeuvres. Paris gasped. Every garrison in France was excited. Nothing like it had ever happened before.

Joffre said nothing. The five Generals had failed in measuring up to the requirements for physical fitness. It was essential for France’s security that they be deprived of their commands. They disappeared from the active list. The general public of France, which had paid little attention to the new Chief of its General Staff heretofore, suddenly became aware that its armies were being reorganized by an exceptional man.

For the past two decades, nearly, Joffre has pursued his career in France, having previously seen a well rounded experience in many of the French possessions and in all branches of the military service. He became a professor in the War College, and was promoted successively to the command of a brigade, a division, an army corps, and finally, of all the military forces of France.

When the honor of Chief of the General Staff was awarded him by a unanimous vote of the superior Council of War he made no commant. He did not thank the council, and he showed no signs either of elation at reaching the highest post which a soldier could desire, nor of depression at a consciousness of the gravity of his new responsibilities. He was simply “Joffre the Taciturn.”

Knows French Character.

Yet on occasion he knows how to appeal to the peculiar pride and verve which is half the battle with the Frenchman. Witness his proclamation to Alsace on Aug. 9: “After fourty-four years of sorrowful waiting, French soldiers once more trod the soil of your noble country. They are pioneers in a great work of revenge. For them what emotion it calls forth and what pride to complete the work which they have made at the sacrifice of their lives! The French Nation unanimously urges them on, and in the folds of their flag are inscribed the magic words: Right and Liberty! Long Live Alsace! Long Live France!”

In his present capacity it has become incumbent on Gen. Joffre frequently to come into close relations with the Czar of Russia and the King of England. It has been noted of him that on such occasions he does not show any more than a formal courtesy to the crowned heads who have not earned by right of inherent merit their positions at the head of great armies.

Both the Czar and the King are accustomed to receive the homage of Generals, but Joffre offers nothing beyond the courtesy required by a rigorous etiquette.

Gen. Joffre’s first official act in the present war has a peculiar significance. It was the appointment as his private chauffeur of Georges Boillet, the greatest motor driver in France, the three times winner of the Grand Prix.

With Boillet driving his car Gen. Joffre frequently covers seventy miles an hour over the roads of France, and since the beginning of hostilities has covered thousands of miles.

The Germans have been wont to claim that the French were undisciplined as soldiers and had no Generals. But one French soldier is worth two Germans, and instead of the German brand of discipline the French have developed a spirit of genuine affection between the officers and the men, thanks to which the French officers can depend on their men to the last gasp.

“As for Generals,” said Dr. Pujade, replying to a German who was slurring the French Army in 1911, “we have at least one; his name is Joffre.”