THE NAPOLEONIC ERA
Born August 15, 1769 on Corsica.
First Consul, 1799
Consul for Life, 1802
Coronated Emperor Napoleon I of France, December 2, 1804
Married to Josephine de Beauharnais; Marie Louise of Austria
Died May 5, 1821, St Helena's Island
Buried at Les Invalides, Paris
Napoleon Bonaparte is oftentimes seen as a true son of the French Revolution, that is, someone who was successful because he was allowed to advance based on his own talents. Others see him as a successful enlightened despot. He was, indeed, bright, ambitious, and lucky. His placed in history is secure; very few have obtained his level of success. To Frenchmen, he will forever be the hero on horseback; to Europeans he will always be an evil genius who brought a generation of war to the empire. There have been successful generals and there have been successful national leaders, but very few successful in both endeavors. He restored calm to France and tried to bring a halt to the excesses of the French Revolution, while he spread its ideals across Europe as he fought France=s enemies. History remains intrigued with the Emperor; hardly a year passes without a new biography appearing about him or one of his marshals.
The French Revolution gave Napoleon the chance to demonstrate his talents, first at Toulon, then during the 13 Vendemiare uprising against the Directory (in which he supposedly dispatched the insurgents with a mere Awhiff of grapeshot@), and in Italy. By the time he was 26 years old, he had been named a general and successfully fought the Austrians in northern Italy. Though his military operation in Egypt failed, he returned home and joined in the 18 Brumaire coup d=etat against the Directory which made him First Consul under the three man Consulate.
Napoleon=s campaign are all part of the Napoleonic legend. He fought and defeated the Austrians four times. His army captured Moscow, then suffered through the worst debacle any army has ever suffered through during the winter retreat. Though he was not present himself, his navy fought and lost to Lord Horatio Nelson what is arguably history=s greatest naval encounter, the Battle of Trafalgar. His rout of the vaunted Prussian Army at Jena is one of the great victories of all time, and his defeat of the combined Austrian-Russian armies at Austerlitz remains a standard for those who study military history. Napoleon=s defeat at the hands of the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo is arguably the most important land battle in all history. The successes of Wellington and Nelson against Napoleon have made them the most noted military figures in British history.
The Battle of Waterloo
Having escaped exile from Elba and returning to Paris for the period known as the Hundred Days, Napoleon learned that the Allies had no intention of allowing him to remain in control of France. From Vienna, the Allies declared the Emperor an outlaw, and vowed to destroy him and restore Louis XVIII to the French throne. Having no other choice, Napoleon again raised troops to face a combined Allied Army.
As the Allies gathered their forces, Napoleon decided to strike first, before the Allied numerical advantage could be brought to bear against him. He planned to march into the Kingdom of the Netherlands and attack the Prussian forces under Marshal Blucher and the Duke of Wellington=s combined Anglo-Dutch Army (a number of Dutch soldiers under Wellington=s command had ben fighting for Napoleon the year prior to Waterloo). If Napoleon could defeat this force, he could re-establish his military genius and drive a wedge between the Allies, in hopes of negotiating a favorable peace.
Stealing the march on Blucher and Wellington, Napoleon launched his first attack against them on June 16, 1815 at Quatre Bras and Ligny. The French were successful in dividing Blucher from Wellington, and now had the opportunity to defeat them separately. Dispatching Marshal Grouchy eastward to follow Blucher, Napoleon marched northward to meet Wellington in battle at Mont St. Jean. Napoleon ordered Grouchy to follow Blucher and insure the Prussians did not reunite with Wellington. Unfortunately, Wellington and Blucher had already decided before Quatre Bras and Ligny that, if they were divided in battle, their first goal would be to re-unite. Meanwhile, Grouchy had lost contact with Blucher, and had no idea where he had gone. Blucher had indeed marched east, but he had already shifted north and planned to march west to rejoin Wellington. Unless Grouchy re-established contact with the Prussians, Napoleon faced the specter of a reunited Allied Army. Time was against the Emperor. He had to defeat Wellington before this happened.
On June 18, Napoleon and Wellington met on the battlefield of Le Haye Sainte (a farmhouse in the middle of the battlefield). It is known as the Battle of Waterloo, because it is from Waterloo that Wellington later wrote his dispatches describing the conflict ('A close run thing'). Napoleon did not attack until after lunchtime, because it had rained very hard overnight, and a softened ground was not favorable to cannonball fire. But since the daylight period was quite long on June 18, the battle would rage until after 10 p.m.
Wellington had established an excellent defensive position, using the available high ground which ran east and west from Mont St. Jean, a defense of which he was an expert at creating. Marshal Ney, Napoleon=s field commander, began his attack by wasting troops trying to seize Hougoumont, a farmhouse on Wellington=s right flank. Ney=s attacks against Wellington=s center were poorly planned. Rather than combining cavalry and infantry, Ney sent them forward separately against the British. Wellington was able to withstand these assaults in bitter back and forth fighting.
Meanwhile, Marshal Grouchy had failed to find Blucher, who was heading west to rejoin Wellington. By 4 p.m., the Prussians, having arrived in the battleground=s vicinity, began to assault Napoleon=s right flank. This forced the Emperor to send his vaunted Imperial Guard to hold off Blucher, rather than to save them for the final blow against Wellington. To make matters worse, Grouchy, hearing the sound of battle, failed to Amarch to the sound of the guns,@ a maxim all Napoleonic officers were taught. Wellington thus was reinforced, while Grouchy never helped Napoleon.
The French managed to withstand the Prussian arrival, until late in the evening. The unused portion of the Imperial Guard was finally sent against Wellington=s center. The attack failed, and the Guard retreated. As they did, Wellington then counterattacked and, combined with the Prussian attack on Napoleon=s right flank, the French Army totally collapsed. The army broke and ran, with the Prussians in pursuit. Thus ended the Napoleonic era.
The Emperor escaped on horseback amidst the debacle, and eventually turned himself over to the British Navy. He was interned and, by Allied agreement, was sent in exile to St Helena, a rather inhospitable island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. The Emperor died there in 1821. Louis XVIII, escorted by Wellington, was restored to power in France. He remained in power until his death in 1824. The Bourbons were overthrown forever in the French Revolution of 1830. An Allied occupation army was stationed in France until 1818, under the command of Wellington. Wellington later rose to become British prime minister, and died in 1852. He remains Britain=s most successful army commander.
The Hundred Days - the period of Napoleon's return from
exile in Elba in February/March of 1815 until his final defeat at Waterloo.
Continental System - Napoleon's economic war against Britain, by closing the continent to trade with Britain.
Peace of Amiens - nine month period of peace between France and Britain, 1802-03.
Code Napoleon - Napoleon's codification of laws in France, largely written by himself, spread across Europe by his armies.
Treaty of Tilsit - 1807 agreement between Napoleon and Czar Alexander I of Russia, after napoleon defeated Russians at Battle of Friedland. Alexander and Napoleon agree to divide Europe up into spheres of control, and Russia agrees to abide by Continental System. Prussia is greatly reduced in size.
Grand Duchy of Warsaw - Poland had disappeared from the map in the 1790s, after it was partitioned three times by Prussia, Austria, and Russia. The Grand Duchy is Napoleon's effort to restore some level of liberty, equality and fraternity to the Poles, as long as they remained allied with France. Poles become France's most loyal allies.
Treaty of Chaumont - As the end neared for Napoleon in the March of 1814, the Emperor still believed he could defeat the coalition directed against him (primarily Russia, Prussia and Austria) by separately defeating the armies of those in the coalition. At Chaumont, the Allies agreed not to seek a separate peace with France, but rather fight on collectively until Napoleon was defeated. The treaty was renewed by the Allies when Napoleon returned for the Hundred Days.
Peninsular Campaign - lasted from 1808 until 1814 in Iberia. It began when Napoleon wished to place his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne and to close the Portuguese loophole in his Continental System. The British sent a land force to support the Portuguese government and the Spanish Junta against Napoleon. The Duke of Wellington emerged as the man who defeat the Napoleonic armies in battle, though napoleon himself departed Iberia in 1808, believing this campaign successful. In 1814, Wellington finally crossed over the Pyrenees into France, having recaptured Madrid and defeated the French army occupying Spain.
Battle of Trafalgar - October 21, 1805, a British fleet under Lord Horatio Nelson overwhelmingly destroyed a combined French-Spanish fleet under Admiral Villeneuve, off the southwestern coast of Spain and the port of Cadiz. The defeat forced Napoleon to give up any hope of ever invading the British Isles. Lord Nelson died of combat wounds shortly after his victory was complete, his place in naval history assured.
Bourbon Restoration - occurred twice, first in April, 1814, after Napoleon's first abdication, and a second time, in June, 1815, after Waterloo. Louis XVIII, younger brother of Louis XVI was restored on both occasions, literally in the "baggage train" of Wellington.
Napoleon's Marshals - Napoleon created for his best battle commanders the position of Marshal of France. This is a good example of how the French Revolution allowed men of talent to achieve their full potential. Among the best: Soult, Davout, Murat, Ney, and Napoleon's Chief of Staff, Berthier ('The Emperor's Mistress').
18 Brumaire - 9-10 November, 1799; Napoleon seized power and becomes First Consul.
Concordat - Napoleon's agreement with Pope which agreed that a majority of Frenchmen were Catholic, and made Catholic Church a ward of the state, and subservient to Napoleon.
POWER POINT PRESENTATION: NAPOLEON (Best to view in Internet Explorer 4.X or higher)
Coffin and Stacey, Western Civilizations. Test Chapter 18.
Terms to Know
Corsica 18 Brumaire First Consul Consul for Life Egyptian Expedition and the Battle of the Pyramids Legion of Honor Peninsular Campaign Austerlitz Jena Continental System Czar Alexander I Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington Imperial Guard Concordat Congress of Vienna Elba St. Helena First French Empire The Battle of Waterloo Le Moniteur University of France Bank of France The Hundred Days Restoration of Louis XVIII First and Second Abdication Marshal Michel Ney The Russian Campaign and the Battle of Borodino Viscount Castlereagh Prince Metternich Allied Army of Occupation AThe Emperor=s Mistress@ Josephine Marie-Louise Marie Waleska
Sample Test Questions
Who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo?
Identify the key Napoleonic Marshals
Why did military events turn against the French in the Iberian Peninsula and in Russia?
Who commanded the Allied Army of Occupation in France after the Battle of Waterloo?
What is the Napoleonic Legend?
Who famous naval officer led the British fleet to victory at Trafalgar?
What were the principles which guided the victorious powers at the Congress of Vienna?
Robert Asprey, The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte
Robert Asprey, The Reign of Napoleon Bonaparte
Alan Schom, Napoleon Bonaparte
David Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon
David Chandler, Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars
Harold Nicolson, The Congress of Vienna
Henry Kissinger, A World Restored
General de Caulaincourt, With Napoleon in Russia
Christopher Hibbert, Wellington
John Elting, Swords Around A Throne
Thomas D. Veve, The Duke of Wellington and the British Army of Occupation in France