Napoleonic Wars

The Napoleonic Wars was a series of wars fought during Napoleon Bonaparte's rule of France. They were partly an extension of conflicts sparked by the French Revolution, and continued during the regime of the First French Empire. These wars revolutionized European army and artillery systems. French power rose quickly, conquering most of Europe; the fall was also rapid, beginning with the disastrous invasion of Russia, and Napoleon's empire ultimately suffered complete military defeat, resulting in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France.

Portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte

Portrait of Napoléon Bonaparte

There is no consensus on when the French Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars began; the latter are sometimes considered to have begun when Bonaparte seized power in France, in November 1799. Other versions put the period of warfare between 1799 and 1802 in the context of the French Revolutionary Wars, and set the Napoleonic Wars' beginning at the outbreak of war between Britain and France in 1803, following the brief peace concluded at Amiens in 1802. The Napoleonic Wars ended on 20 November 1815, following Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo and the Second Treaty of Paris. Collectively, the nearly continuous period of warfare from April 20, 1792, until November 20, 1815, is sometimes (though rarely these days) refered to as the Great French War.

Political effects of the wars

The Napoleonic Wars had three great resounding effects upon the face of Europe:

  • France was no longer a dominating power over Europe as it had been since the times of Louis XIV.

  • Great Britain emerged as the most powerful nation in the world. The Royal Navy held unquestioned naval superiority throughout the world, and Britain's industrial economy made it the most powerful commercial nation as well.

  • In most European countries, the importation of the ideals of the French Revolution (democracy, due process in courts, abolition of privileges, etc.) had left a mark. Even though Napoleonic rule was authoritarian, it was often less authoritarian and arbitrary than that of previous monarchs (or for that matter the Jacobin and Directory regimes of France during the Revolution). European monarchs found it difficult to reinstate pre-revolutionary absolutism, and were forced to keep some of the reforms induced by the occupation. Institutional legacies have remained: for instance, many European countries have a Civil law legal system, with clearly redacted codes compiling the basic laws.

  • A new and potentially powerful movement had been sprung: Nationalism. Nationalism was to re-shape the course of European History, forever. It was the force that spelled the beginning of some nations, and the end of others. The map of Europe was to be re-drawn in the next hundred years following Napoleon's wars, not based on fiefs and aristocracy, but on the basis of human culture, origin, and ideology.

  • On the other hand, another concept had been brought about - that of Europe. Napoleon mentioned on several occasions his intention to create a single European state, and, although Napoleon's defeat set this internationalism back over one and a half centuries, the European identity was rediscovered following the Second World War.

Military legacy of the wars

The Napoleonic Wars also had a profound military impact. Until the time of Napoleon, European states had employed relatively small armies with a large proportion of mercenaries that sometimes fought for foreign states against their native countries. However, military innovators in the middle of the 18th century began to recognize the potential of a "nation at war".

Napoleon was an innovator in the use of mobility to offset numerical disadvantages, as he brilliantly demonstrated in his rout of the Austro-Russian forces in 1805 in the Battle of Austerlitz. The French Army reorganized the role of artillery in warfare, forming independent and mobile artillery units as opposed to the previous tradition of attaching artillery pieces in support of other troop units. Napoleon standardized the cannonball sizes to ensure easier resupply and compatibility among his army's artillery pieces.

With the fourth-largest population in the world by the end of the 18th century (27 million, as compared to the United Kingdom's 12 million and Russia's 35-40 million), France was well poised to take advantage of the 'levée en masse'. Because the revolution and Napoleon's reign witnessed the first application of the lessons of the 18th century's wars on trade and dynastic disputes, it is often falsely assumed that such ideas were the fruit of the revolution rather than ideas which found their implementation in it.

Not all the credit for the innovations of this period should be given to Napoleon, however. Lazare Carnot played a large part in the reorganization of the French army in 1793-1794 -- a time in which French fortunes were reversed with Republican armies advancing on all fronts.

The sizes of the armies involved give an obvious indication of the change in warfare. During Europe's last major war, the Seven Years War, few armies ever numbered more than 200,000. By contrast, the French army peaked in size in the 1790s when about 1.5 million Frenchmen were enlisted. In total, about 2.8 million Frenchmen fought in the conflict on land, and about 150,000 fought at sea, bringing the total for France to almost 3 million combatants.

The United Kingdom had 747,670 men under arms between 1792 and 1815. In addition, about a quarter of a million personnel served in the Royal Navy. Totals for other major combatants are difficult to find, but in September 1812, Russia had about 904,000 enlisted men in its land forces -- meaning the total number of Russians that fought must have been in the vicinity of 2 million or more. Austria's forces peaked in number at about 576,000 and had little or no naval forces. After Britain, Austria was the most persistent enemy of France, and it is reasonable to assume that more than a million Austrians served in total. Prussia never had more than 320,000 men under arms at any given point, only just ahead of the United Kingdom. Spain's armies also peaked in size at around 300,000, but to this we need to add a considerable force of guerrillas.

The only other nations to ever have more than 100,000 under arms were the Ottoman Empire, Italy, Naples and Poland (not including the United States (286,730 total combatants) or the Maratha Confederation). Even small nations now had armies rivalling the Great Powers of past wars in size. However it is necessary to bear in mind that the above numbers of soldiers are obtained from military records and in practice the actual numbers of fighting men would be below this level due to desertion, fraud by officers claiming non-existent soldiers pay, death and, in some countries, deliberate exaggeration to ensure enlistment targets were met. Despite this there clearly was an expansion in the size of armed forces at this time.

The initial stages of the Industrial Revolution had much to do with this -- it now became easy to mass-produce weapons and thus equip significantly larger forces. The United Kingdom was the largest single manufacturer of armaments in this period, supplying most of the weapons used by the Allied powers throughout the conflicts (although using relatively few themselves). France was the second-largest producer, arming its own huge forces as well as those of the Confederation of the Rhine and other allies.

Another advance which affected warfare was the semaphore system that allowed the war minister Carnot to communicate with French forces on the frontiers throughout the 1790s. This system continued to be used for the whole period of the wars. Additionally, aerial surveillance was used for the first time, when the French used a hot-air balloon to survey Allied positions before the Battle of Fleurus, on June 26, 1794. There were also advances in ordnance and rocketry during the conflict.

The First and Second Coalitions

The first attempt to crush the new French republic was made in 1792-1797 by the First Coalition, which consisted of:

  • Austria,

  • Piedmont,

  • Prussia,

  • Spain and

  • the United Kingdom.

It was defeated by the French efforts, which consisted of general conscription (levée en masse), military reform and total war. Napoleon Bonaparte's Italian campaign in 1796 and 1797 successfully knocked Piedmont out of the war. Piedmont had been one of the original members of the Coalition and had been a persistent threat to the French on the Italian front for four years by the time Bonaparte assumed command of the French Army of Italy. It took Bonaparte only a month to defeat Piedmont and push its Austrian allies back.

The Papal forces were defeated by the French at Fort Urban, (forcing Pope Pius VI to sign a provisional peace treaty) and successive Austrian counteroffensives into Italy failed, leading to Bonaparte's entry into Friuli. The war was ended by Bonaparte when the Austrians were forced to accept his terms in the Treaty of Campo Formio. The United Kingdom remained the only power still at war with France by 1797.

The Second Coalition (1798-1801) consisted of Russia, the United Kingdom, Austria, The Ottoman Empire, Portugal, Naples and the Papal States.

The corrupt and divided French government, under the Executive Directory, was in turmoil, and the Republic was almost broken up and very short of funds (indeed in 1799, when Bonaparte assumed power, he found only 60,000 francs in the national treasury).

Russian involvement was also a key change from the War of the First Coalition. Russian forces in Italy were commanded by the notoriously ruthless and militarily successful Alexander Suvorov.

The French Republic was also stripped of Lazare Carnot—the war minister who had guided France to successive victories following massive reform during the first war. Furthermore, Bonaparte was involved in an Egyptian campaign with the objective of threatening British India. Stripped of two of its most important military commanders from the previous conflict, the Republic suffered successive defeats against revitalized enemies, brought back into the war by British financial support.

Bonaparte returned to France in 1799, leaving the Egyptian campaign to his second-in-command, General Kléber, who was later assassinated. Napoleon seized control of the French government in 1799, toppling the Directory with the aid of ideologue Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès.

The offensive of the Austrian forces on the Rhine and in Italy was a pressing threat to France, but all Russian troops were withdrawn from the front, following Tsarina Catherine II of Russia's death. Napoleon reorganised the French military and created a reserve army positioned to support the efforts either on the Rhine or in Italy. On all fronts, French advances caught Austrians off-guard. At the time, the French army had 300,000 troops fighting the Coalition's forces. In Italy, the situation was reversed by increased Austrian pressure, however, and Napoleon was forced to mobilise the Reserve Army. He clashed with the Austrians at Marengo (June 14, 1800) and would have lost had it not been for General Desaix's timely intervention to turn back the Austrian attacks and defeat them. Desaix died in the battle and Napoleon later commemorated his bravery by building monuments to him and including his name in the list of generals engraved on the face of the Arc de Triomphe. However, on the Rhine the decisive battle came when the French army of 180,000 faced the Austrian army of 120,000 at Hohenlinden (December 3). The Austrians were defeated and temporarily left the conflict after the Treaty of Lunéville (February 1801).

Napoleon's main problem was now the United Kingdom, which remained an important influence on the continental powers in encouraging resistance to France. Great Britain had brought the second coalition together through subsidies and Napoleon realised that without British defeat or a treaty with the UK there could not be a complete peace. The British army was small and presented little or no threat to France itself, but the Royal Navy was a continuing threat to French shipping and to the French colonies in the Caribbean. Additionally, British funds were sufficient to unite the Great Powers on the continent against France and, despite numerous defeats, the Austrian army remained a potent danger for Napoleonic France. Napoleon was, however, unable to invade Great Britain directly. In the British Admiral Jervis's famous phrase, "I do not say, my Lords, that the French will not come. I say only they will not come by sea". The French fleet was defeated by Admiral Horatio Nelson in the Battle of the Nile (August 1) at Aboukir (Abu Qir), and a French expedition to Ireland was also quickly contained.

The Treaty of Amiens (1802) resulted in peace between the UK and France, and marked the final collapse of the Second Coalition. However, the treaty was never likely to endure: neither side was satisfied by it and both sides dishonoured parts of it. Hostilities were renewed on May 18, 1803. The conflict changed over its course from a general desire to restore the French monarchy into an almost Manichean struggle against Bonaparte.

Bonaparte declared France an empire on May 28, 1804 and was crowned emperor at Notre-Dame on December 2.

The Third Coalition

Napoleon planned an invasion of the British Isles, and massed 180,000 troops at Boulogne. However, he needed to achieve naval superiority to mount his invasion, or at least to pull the British fleet away from the English Channel. A complex plan to distract

The Battle of Trafalgar

the British by threatening their possessions in the West Indies failed when a Franco-Spanish fleet under Admiral Villeneuve turned back after an inconclusive action off Cape Finisterre. Villeneuve was blockaded in Cádiz until he left for Naples on October 19, but was caught and defeated at the battle of Trafalgar on October 21 by Lord Nelson. Napoleon had sent nine different plans to Villeneuve and the indecisive French commander hesitated continually. By this time, however, Napoleon had already all but abandoned plans to invade the British Isles, and turned his attention to enemies on the Continent once again. The French army left Boulogne and moved towards Austria.

The series of naval and colonial conflicts, including a large number of minor naval actions, such as the Action of 1805, that characterised the months leading up to Napoleon's decision to abort the invasion of England were perhaps a clear sign of the new nature of war. Conflicts in the Caribbean, and in particular the seizure of colonial bases and islands throughout the wars, would directly and immediately have an effect upon the European conflict and battles thousands of kilometres apart could influence each other's outcomes. This could be considered a sign that the Napoleonic conflict had reached the point at which it had become a world war. The only precedent for widespread conflict on such a scale was the Seven Years' War.

In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty to remove the French from Holland and Switzerland. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy. The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Lieberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July, 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (September 25 - October 20) Napoleon managed to surround Mack's army by a brilliant envelopment, forcing its surrender without significant losses. With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charles maneuvered inconclusively against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna.

Far from his supply lines, he was faced with a superior Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperors Francis of Austria and Alexander of Russia personally present. On December 2 Napoleon crushed the joint Austro-Russian army at the Austerlitz in Moravia (this is usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted a total of 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army whilst sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force. After Austerlitz, Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg, leaving the coalition. This required the Austrians to give up Venetia to the French dominated Kingdom of Italy and Tyrol to Bavaria.

With the withdrawal of Austria from the war, stalemate ensued. Napoleon's army had a record of continuous unbroken victory on land, but the full force of the Russian army had not yet come into play.

The Fourth Coalition

The Fourth Coalition (1806-1807) of Great Britain, Prussia, Saxony, Russia and Sweden against France was formed within months of the collapse of the previous coalition. In July 1806 Napoleon formed the Confederation of the Rhine out of the many tiny German states which constituted the Rhineland and most other parts of Germany. Many of the smaller states were amalgamated into larger electorates, duchies and kingdoms to make the governance of non-Prussian Germany a smoother affair. The largest states were Saxony and Bavaria, both of which had their leaders elevated to the status of kings by Napoleon.

In August the Prussian king, Friedrich Wilhelm III made the foolish decision to go to war independently of any other great power, save the distant Russia. The more sensible course of action would have been to declare war the previous year and join Austria and Russia. This might have contained Napoleon and prevented the Allied disaster at Austerlitz. As it was, the Russian army, an ally of Prussia, was far away when the declaration of war was made. In September Napoleon launched all French forces east of the Rhine. The Prussian army was defeated by Napoleon at Jena and by Davout at Auerstädt (October 14, 1806). Some 160,000 (swelling as the campaign went on) French went against Prussia and moved with such speed that Napoleon was able to destroy as an effective military force the entire quarter of a million strong Prussian army - which sustained 25,000 casualties, lost a further 150,000 prisoners and 4,000 artillery pieces, and over 100,000 muskets stockpiled in Berlin. In the former battle Napoleon only fought a detachment of the Prussian force. The latter battle involved a single French corps defeating the bulk of the Prussian army. Napoleon entered into Berlin on the 27th and visited the tomb of Frederick the Great, there instructing his marshals to remove their hats, saying, "If he was alive we wouldn't be here today." In total Napoleon had taken only 19 days from beginning his attack on Prussia until knocking it out of the war with the capture of Berlin and the destruction of its principal armies at Jena and Auerstadt. By contrast Prussia had fought for three years in the War of the First Coalition with little achievement.

In Berlin Napoleon issued a series of decrees which, on November 1, 1806 brought the Continental System into effect, which aimed to eliminate the threat of Britain by closing French controlled territory to her trade. As explained earlier in this article, Britain's army was of little threat to France - the United Kingdom maintained a standing army of just 220,000 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, whereas France's strength peaked at over 1,500,000 in addition to the armies of numerous allies and several hundred thousand national guards that could be drafted into the military if necessary.

The Royal Navy however was instrumental in disrupting France's extra-continental trade - both by seizing and threatening French shipping and by seizing French colonial possessions - but could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed no threat to French territory in Europe. In addition France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of Britain. However, the United Kingdom's industrial capacity was the greatest in Europe and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade. That was sufficient to ensure that France was never able to consolidate its control over Europe in peace. However many in the French government believed that cutting Britain off from the Continent would end its economic influence over Europe and isolated it. This was what the Continental System was designed to achieve, although it never succeeded in this objective.

The next stage of the war involved driving Russian forces out of Poland and creating a new Grand Duchy of Warsaw. Napoleon then turned north to confront the remainder of the Russian army and attempt to capture the new Prussian capital at Königsberg. A tactical draw at Eylau (February 7-8) forced the Russians to withdraw further north. Napoleon then routed the Russian army at Friedland (June 14). Following this defeat, Alexander was forced to make peace with Napoleon at Tilsit (July 7, 1807). By September, Marshal Brune completed the occupation of Swedish Pomerania allowing the Swedish army, however, to withdraw with all its munitions of war.

At the Congress of Erfurt (1808) Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I agreed that Russia should force Sweden to join the Continental System, which led to the Finnish War and the division of Sweden through the Gulf of Bothnia. The eastern part becoming the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland.

The Fifth Coalition

The Fifth Coalition (1809) of the United Kingdom and Austria against France was formed whilst the United Kingdom was also engaged in the Peninsular War against France.

Once again, the United Kingdom stood alone, owing much to the existence of the English Channel, Britain's emphasis on naval rather than military strength and the fact that Britain's army had never been completely engaged against the French. British military activity was reduced to a succession of victories in the French colonies and another naval victory at Copenhagen (September 2, 1807). On land, only the disastrous Walcheren Expedition (1809) was attempted. In Europe the struggle was carried on in the sphere of economic warfare - the French Continental System vs. the British naval blockade of French controlled territory. Due to shortages in French territory there were numerous breaches of the Continental System, as French dominated states engaged in illicit, although often tolerated, trade with British smugglers. Both sides entered additional conflicts in attempts to enforce their blockade; the British fought the United States in the War of 1812 (1812-1814), and the French engaged in the Peninsular War (1808-1814). The Iberian conflict began when Portugal continued trade with Britain despite French restrictions. When Spain failed to maintain the system the alliance with France came to an end and French troops gradually encroached on its territory until Madrid was occupied. British intervention soon followed.

Austria, previously an ally of the French, took the opportunity to attempt to restore its German empire held prior to Austerlitz. Austria achieved a number of initial victories against the thinly spread army of Marshal Davout. Napoleon had left Davout with only 170,000 troops to defend France's entire Eastern frontier. The same task had been carried out in the 1790s by 800,000 troops and at that time those forces were required to hold a much shorter front.

Napoleon had enjoyed easy success in Spain, retaking Madrid, defeating the Spanish and British and driving the main British army from the peninsula. Austria's attack prevented Napoleon from successfully wrapping up operations against British forces by necessitating his departure to Austria, he never returned to the Peninsula theatre. In his absence and the absence of his best marshals (Davout remained in the east throughout the war) the situation deteriorated, especially when the prodigious British general, Sir Arthur Wellesley, arrived to command British forces.

The Austrians drove into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw, but were defeated at the Battle of Radzyn April 19, 1809. The Polish army captured West Galicia following its earlier success.

Napoleon assumed command in the east and bolstered the army there for his counterattack on Austria. A series of relatively minor battles ensued until the massive Battle of Aspern-Essling - Napoleon's first tactical defeat. Failure by the Austrian commander, Archduke Karl, to follow up on his small victory, meant that Napoleon was able to prepare for a renewed attempt to seize Vienna and in early July he did so. He defeated the Austrians at Wagram, on July 5-6. It was during this battle that Marshal Bernadotte was stripped of his title and ridiculed by Napoleon in front of other senior officers. Bernadotte was offered the vacant position of Crown Prince of Sweden and took this, thus betraying Napoleon. Later he would actively participate in wars against his former Emperor.

The Fifth Coalition was ended by the Treaty of Schönbrunn (October 14, 1809). In the east only the Tyrolese rebels led by Andreas Hofer continued to fight the French-Bavarian army until being finally demolished in November 1809, while in the west the Peninsular War continued.

In 1810 the French empire reached its greatest extent. The British and Portuguese were restricted to the area around Lisbon behind their impregnable lines of Torres Vedras. Napoleon married Marie-Louise, an Austrian Archduchess in order to ensure a more stable alliance with Austria and to provide the Emperor with an heir, something his first wife, Josephine, had failed to do. As well as the French empire, Napoleon controlled the Swiss Confederation, the Confederation of the Rhine, the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Italy. Allied territories included: the Kingdom of Spain (Joseph Bonaparte); Kingdom of Westphalia (Jerome Bonaparte); the Kingdom of Naples (Joachim Murat, brother-in-law); Principality of Lucca and Piombino (Felix Bacciochi, brother-in-law); and his former enemies, Prussia and Austria.

The Sixth Coalition

The Sixth Coalition (1812-1814) consisted of the United Kingdom and Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria and a number of German States.

In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia to compel Emperor Alexander I to remain in the Continental System and to remove the imminent threat of Russian invasion of Poland. The Grande Armée, 650,000 men (270,000 Frenchmen and many soldiers of allies or subject powers), crossed the Niemen River on June 23, 1812. Russia proclaimed a Patriotic War, while Napoleon proclaimed a Second Polish war, but against the expectations of the Poles who supplied almost 100,000 troops for the invasion force he avoided any concessions toward Poland, having in mind further negotiations with Russia. Russia maintained a scorched earth policy of retreat broken only by the battle of Borodino (September 7), when the Russians stood and fought. This was bloody and the Russians were eventually forced to back down and open the road to Moscow.

By September 14, Moscow was captured although by this point it had been largely abandoned by the Russians and prisoners had been released from Moscows prisons to inconvenience the French. Alexander I refused to capitulate and with no sign of clear victory in sight Napoleon was forced to withdraw from Moscow after the governor, Prince Rasotpchin, ordered the city burnt to the ground. So the disastrous Great Retreat began, with 370,000 casualties largely as a result of starvation and the freezing weather conditions, and 200,000 captured. By November only 27,000 fit soldiers were among those who crossed the Berezina River.

Napoleon now left his army to return to Paris and prepare a defence of Poland from the advancing Russians. The situation was not as dire as it might at first have seemed - the Russians had lost around 400,000 men and their army was similarly depleted. However they had the advantage of shorter supply lines and were able to replenish their armies with greater speed than the French.

Meanwhile, in the Peninsular War, at Vitoria (June 21, 1813) the French power in Spain was finally broken by Arthur Wellesley's victory over Joseph Bonaparte. The French were forced to retreat out of Spain, over the Pyrenees.

Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia re-entered the war. Napoleon vowed that he would create a new army as large as that he had sent into Russia and quickly built up his forces in the east from 30,000 to 130,000 and eventually to 400,000. Napoleon inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen (May 2) and Bautzen (May 20-21). Both battles involved total forces of over 250,000 - making them some of the largest conflicts of the wars so far.

An armistice was declared from June 4 continuing until August 13 during which time both sides attempted to recover from approximately quarter of a million losses since April. It was during this time that Allied negotiations finally brought Austria out in open opposition to France. Two principal Austrian armies were deployed, adding an additional 300,000 troops to the Allied armies in Germany. In total the Allies now had around 800,000 frontline troops in the German theatre with a strategic reserve of 350,000 being formed to support the frontline operations.

Napoleon was able to bring the total imperial forces in the region up to around 650,000 - although only 250,000 were under his direct command, with another 120,000 under Nicolas Charles Oudinot and 30,000 under Davout. The Confederation of the Rhine furnished Napoleon with the bulk of the remainder of the forces with Saxony and Bavaria as principal contributors. In addition, to the south Murat's Kingdom of Naples and Eugène de Beauharnais's Kingdom of Italy had a combined total of 100,000 men under arms. In Spain an additional 150-200,000 French troops were being steadily beaten back by Spanish and British forces numbering around 150,000. Thus in total around 900,000 French troops were opposed in all theatres by somewhere around a million Allied troops (not including the strategic reserve being formed in Germany). The figures are however slightly misleading as most of the German troops fighting on the side of the French were unreliable at best and on the verge of defecting to the Allies.

It is reasonable to say that Napoleon could count on no more than 450,000 troops in Germany - which meant he was outnumbered by about two to one.

Following the end of the armistice Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden where he defeated a numerically superior allied army inflicting enormous casualties whilst the French army sustained relatively few. However the failures of his Marshals and a slow resumption of the offensive on his part cost him any advantage that this victory might have secured him. At the Battle of Leipzig in Saxony (October 16-19, 1813), also called the "Battle of the Nations", 191,000 French fought more than 450,000 Allies, and the French were defeated and forced to retreat into France. Napoleon then fought a series of battles, including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube, in France, but was steadily forced back against overwhelming odds.

During this time his Six Days Campaign was fought, in which he won multiple battles against the enemy forces advancing towards Paris. However he never managed to field more than 70,000 troops during this entire campaign against more than half a million Allied troops. At the Treaty of Chaumont (March 9) the Allies agreed to preserve the Coalition until Napoleon's total defeat. The Allies entered Paris on March 30, 1814. Napoleon was determined to fight on, even now, incapable of fathoming his massive fall from power. During the campaign he had issued a decree for 900,000 fresh conscripts, but only a fraction of these were ever raised and Napoleon's increasingly unrealistic schemes for victory eventually gave way to the reality of the hopeless situation. Napoleon abdicated on April 6. However, occasional military actions continued in Italy, Spain and Holland throughout the spring of 1814.

Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, and the Bourbon kings were restored under Louis XVIII.The Treaty of Fontainebleau was signed and the Congress of Vienna was held to redraw the map of Europe.

Gunboat War

Denmark-Norway originally declared itself neutral in the Napoleonic Wars, but engaged in trade that profited from the war and established a navy. After a show of intimidation in the first Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, the British captured large portions of the entire Danish fleet in the Second Battle of Copenhagen. This ended the Danish neutrality, and the Danish engaged in a naval guerilla war in which small gunboats would attack larger British ships in Danish and Norwegian waters. The Gunboat War effectively ended with a British victory at the Battle of Lyngør in 1812, in which the last Danish battleship - a frigate - was destroyed.

The Seventh Coalition

The Seventh Coalition (1815) of the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, The Netherlands and a number of German States against France.

The period known as the Hundred Days began after Napoleon left Elba and landed at Cannes, March 1, 1815. Travelling to Paris, picking up support as he went, eventually overthrowing the restored Louis XVIII. The allies immediately gathered their armies to meet him again. Napoleon raised 280,000 men which were divided into several armies. To the 90,000 troops in the standing army he recalled well over a quarter of a million veterans from past campaigns and issued a decree for the eventual draft of around 2.5 million new men into the French army. This was arrayed against an initial Allied force of about 700,000 - although Allied campaign plans provided for one million frontline troops supported by around 200,000 garrison, logistics and other auxiliary personnel. This force was intended to be overwhelming against the numerically inferior imperial French army which never came close to reaching Napoleon's goal of more than 2.5 million under arms.

The Battle of Waterloo

Napoleon took about 124,000 men of the Army of the North on a pre-emptive strike, to attack the Allies in Belgium. His intention was to attack the Allied armies before they combined, in the hope of driving the British into the sea and the Prussians out of the war. His march to the frontier achieved the surprise he had planned. He forced the Prussians to fight at Ligny on June 16 and the defeated Prussians retreated in some disorder. On the same day the left wing of the Army of the North, under the command of Marshal Michel Ney, succeeded in stopping any of Wellington's forces going to the aid of Blücher's Prussians by fighting a blocking action at Quatre Bras. However Ney failed to clear the cross-roads and Wellington reinforced the position. With the Prussian retreat, Wellington was forced to retreat as well, however. He fell back to a previously reconnoitred position on an escarpment at Mont St Jean, a few miles south of the village of Waterloo.

Napoleon took the reserve of the Army of the North, and reunited his forces with those of Ney to pursue Wellington's army, but not before he ordered Marshal Grouchy to take the right wing of the Army of the North and stop the Prussians reorganising. Grouchy failed and although he engaged and defeated the Prussian rearguard under the command of Lt-Gen. von Thielmann in the Battle of Wavre (18-19 June), the rest of the Prussian army "marched towards the sound of the guns" at Waterloo. The start of the Battle of Waterloo on the morning of June 18 1815 was delayed for several hours as Napoleon waited until the ground had dried from the previous night's rain. By late afternoon the French army had not succeeded in driving Wellington's Allied forces from the escarpment on which they stood. When the Prussians arrived and attacked the French right flank in ever increasing numbers, Napoleon's strategy of keeping the Allied armies divided had failed and his army was driven from the field in confusion by a combined Allied general advance.

Grouchy partially redeemed himself by organizing a successful and well-ordered retreat towards Paris where Marsal Davout had 117,000 men at the ready to turn back the 116,000 men of Blucher and Wellington. Militarily it would still have been quite possible (indeed it was probable) for the French to defeat Wellington and Blucher, but politics was to be the source of the Emperor's downfall.

On arriving at Paris three days after Waterloo, Napoleon still clung to the hope of a concerted national resistance; but the temper of the chambers, and of the public generally, was not in his favour. Napoleon was forced to abdicate again on June 22, 1815. The Allies exiled him to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena.

References

  • Asprey, Robert (2000). The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04879-X.

  • Cronin, Vincent (1994). Napoleon. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-637521-9.

  • Pope, Stephen (1999). The Cassel Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. Cassel. ISBN 0-304-35229-2.

  • Schom, Alan (1998). Napoleon Bonaparte: A Life. Perennial. ISBN 0-06-092958-8.

  • Zamoyski, Adam (2004). 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow. HarperCollins. ISBN 0-00-718489-1.


 

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