Rise and fall
author Maxim Pretula, October 2016

Napoleon Bonaparte profoundly changed the history of humanity. Besides his extraordinary military career, Napoleon also introduced a series of reforms in France, which spread over the entire continent and have had an extraordinary impact up until the present day.


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Great Britain broke the peace of Amiens and declared war on France. An English-Swedish accord followed, which became the first step towards the creation of the third Coalition. Subsequently, Great Britain signed an agreement with Russia. Austria also joined the Coalition, having been defeated twice by Napoleon and considering itself justified in not allowing French intervention in the domestic policy of the German States.

Before the formation of the third Coalition, Napoleon organized an army to invade Great Britain, ‘L’Armée d'Angleterre’, in Boulogne, in northern France. The invasion never took place, but these troops later became the core of the ‘Grand Armée’ in the following military operations. Aiming to strike before the Russians could come to Austria’s aid, Napoleon ordered his army across the Rhine in a forced march. The Austrian troops were concentrated around the fortress of Ulm, which the French troops had managed to surround in a huge outflanking maneuver.

In the battle of Wertingen, Austrian General Franz Auffenberg’s division was initially attacked and defeated by the cavalry corps of the French General Joachim Murat and the 5th Infantry Corps of General Jean Lannes. The next day, the commander of the Austrian army, Karl Mack von Leiberich, tried to cross the Danube and move north. He was defeated in the battle of Gunzburg by Jean-Pierre Firmin Malher’s division from the 6th Infantry Corps, commanded by the French General Michel Ney. After the battle, the French occupied a bridgehead on the southern bank of the Danube.

After this first confrontation, General Mack withdrew his army to Ulm; however he later tried to break through the northern French front. His troops were blocked by General Dupont de l’Etang’s division in the battle of Haslach-Jungingen. From that moment, the Austrian positions were completely surrounded. Thus, Napoleon fulfilled his objective of not permitting the Russian army to join up with the Austrian army.

The French continued to tighten the noose around the Austrian army. General Ney defeated a small corps commanded by the Austrian General Riesch, in the battle of Elchingen, the survivors of which retreated to Ulm. General Murat intercepted the troops of General Werneck. Over the next few days, Werneck’s corps was overwhelmed in a series of actions, at Langenau, Herbrechtingen, Nördlingen and Neresheim, and he later surrendered the rest of his troops. Out of all the Austrian generals, only Archduke Ferdinand Karl Joseph of Austria-Este and a few other generals managed to flee to Bohemia.

Mack’s entire army was surrounded in the fortress of Ulm. Later, he surrendered, with 25,000 men, 18 generals, 65 cannons and 40 banners. In less than 15 days, Napoleon’s army neutralized 60,000 Austrians and 30 generals. At the surrender, named the ‘Ulm Convention’, Mack offered his sword and introduced himself to Napoleon as ‘the unhappy General Mack.’ Bonaparte replied: “I give the unhappy general back his sword and his freedom, together with my best wishes to his Emperor.” Francis II, emperor of Austria, was not, however, as understanding. Karl Mack was tried by the Court Martial and condemned to two years of prison.

The Ulm Campaign was considered to be one of the best examples of a strategic victory. This campaign was won without a single major battle, which would have produced heavy losses for the French army. Everything was done to mislead the enemy. In his proclamation in the Army Bulletin, Napoleon declared: “Soldiers, I announced a long and hard fight. Due to the incoherent plans of the enemy however, we have obtained the same success without any risks. In 15 days, we have won a campaign.” Through the defeat of the Austrian army, Napoleon ensured the conquest of Vienna, which was occupied one month later.

Napoleon’s success on land was not replicated on the seas. The Battle of Trafalgar has remained in history as one of the most brilliant victories of the British Royal Navy. With this victory, Napoleon’s plans of invading Great Britain were completely abandoned. The Royal Navy dominated European waters up until the end of the Napoleonic wars.

Before this battle, Napoleon planned to break the British blockade using the French fleet. This fleet would unite with the allied vessels of the Spanish fleet and with the French naval forces from the Caribbean Sea. This reunion had the goal of safely attacking the British fleet, which was defending the English Channel. An important aspect of the maritime conflicts which followed was that, in contrast to the French, the British had very well-trained naval officers, an advantage which proved vital. The French naval officer corps was decimated during the French Revolution, which led to a much lower level of tactical expertise in battle.

The plan was put into action and the French fleet, commanded by Admiral Villeneuve, successfully broke through the British fleet’s blockade, commanded by Admiral Horatio Nelson. The English were looking for the French fleet in the Mediterranean Sea, erroneously assuming that Villeneuve was intending to sail towards Egypt. At the same time, the French fleet passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, joined up with the Spanish fleet and sailed, according to plan, for the Caribbean. Nelson realized that the French had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and set out in pursuit.

Villeneuve returned from the Caribbean with the intention of breaking the Brest blockade. Two of the Spanish ships under his command were captured during the battle of Cape Finisterre by a British squadron commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Robert Calder, who had been sent to intercept the French-Spanish fleet. After these events, Villeneuve abandoned the plan and sailed towards southern Spain.

The British quickly pulled together a fleet of ships from those protecting the English Channel and sent them south. The fleet was commanded by Admiral Nelson, who ordered them to stay at a distance from the coast, waiting for the French to make the first move. In the meantime, Napoleon modified his initial plan and ordered Admiral Villeneuve to sail towards Naples. Villeneuve hesitated, aware of the disadvantages of a direct confrontation with the British fleet, especially since he had an ever-greater lack of provisions. After almost a month of delays, the French fleet left port.

Admiral Nelson’s fleet adopted a different battle formation than that usually used in naval tactical confrontations. Instead of forming a battle line which would engage the enemy fleet on a parallel line, Nelson decided to engage the French-Spanish fleet in a perpendicular formation, in two columns. Thus, he would cut the enemy line into three segments and destroy the middle segment of ships, between the two British columns. Then, the ships to the left and right of the British lines would be dispersed by destroying the command ship of the French-Spanish fleet in the central section.

Nelson’s plan worked, although initially the British ships leading the two battle columns suffered losses, since they were exposed to lateral fire from the French. In short time, the British fleet finalized the maneuver and cut the enemy line into three sections, and then began a heavy bombardment of the French and Spanish ships. The superior naval abilities of the British also played their part, and out of the fleet of 41 French and Spanish ships, 21 were captured. Admiral Nelson was wounded and died shortly afterwards, his last words being: “For God and country!”

The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic wars. In what is considered Napoleon’s greatest victory, the French army defeated a numerically superior Russian-Austrian army led by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The Battle of Austerlitz brought the War of the Third Coalition to a swift end, culminating with the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg by the Austrians one month later.

After the occupation of Vienna by the French, the Austrians avoided direct confrontation, waiting for the Russian troops to appear. Napoleon sent his army north to intercept the allies, but then ordered his forces to retreat, pretending to be very weak. Desperate to draw the allies into battle, he tried to create the impression that the French army was in a terrible state and ordered that the dominant position on the heights of Pratzen, close to the village of Austerlitz, be abandoned. Napoleon arranged the French army to the west of this position and deliberately weakened his right flank in order to attract the allies’ attack to that point.

In the meantime, heavy fighting was going on in the northern part of the the front. The heavy cavalry, under the command of the prince of Liechtenstein, attacked French General Kellerman’s light cavalry troops. Initially, the battle went in the favor of the French. Kellerman’s forces withdrew, however, behind the infantry division, commanded by General Caffarelli, as soon as it became clear that they could not stop the Russian cavalry. Caffarelli’s infantrymen stopped the Russian attack. This allowed General Murat to send two divisions of cuirassier cavalry. The skirmish which followed was long and difficult, but in the end, the French came out victorious.

The allied columns began to attack the French right flank, but not in an orderly fashion, so the French successfully repelled their attacks. The uncoordinated movement of the allied troops was caused by weak organization and planning. While the allied troops were attacking the French right flank, the Russian general Kutuzov moved his troops to the Pratzen heights. Like Napoleon, Kutuzov realised the importance of this position and tried to protect it. Tsar Alexander however, considering the position to be unimportant at that point in the battle, ordered Kutuzov to leave it, which proved to be a catastrophic decision for the Russian-Austrian army.

Napoleon then turned his attention to the southern flank, where the French and their allies were already fighting for control of the localities of Sokolnitz and Telnitz. Attacking simultaneously in two parallel directions, General St. Hilaire’s division and part of the Corps III, commanded by General Davout, destroyed the allied positions at Sokolnitz. Thus, the commanders of the first two allied columns, Generals Kienmayer and Langeron, left the battlefield in panic. Friedrich Wilhelm Buxhowden, commander of the left flank of the allied army, also abandoned his troops and left the battlefield. Napoleon’s victory was complete.

Observing the retreat of Kutuzov’s troops from the heights, Napoleon gave the order to attack, thus hitting the center of the allied army, as he had planned. This attack was perfectly synchronized with the morning fog, due to which the Austrian and Russian troops, remaining in Pratzen, were taken completely by surprise by the great number of French troops attacking them. After an hour of heavy fighting, in which the allies tried desperately to maintain their position in Pratzen, bringing reinforcements from other parts of the front line, the French gained the victory, destroying the center of the allied army.

Austria signed an armistice, and on the 26th of December 1805, the Treaty of Pressburg was signed. Austria agreed to acknowledge the territories occupied by the French, being forced to cede the states of Bavaria, Wurttemberg and Baden, German states allied to France. It was also obliged to pay 40 million francs as war damages. Venice, previously ceded to Austria, was given to the Kingdom of Italy. Napoleon also created the Confederation of the Rhine, an alliance of German states he could control, designed to serve as a buffer zone between France and Prussia.

Some historians maintain that Napoleon’s success at Austerlitz caused him to lose touch with reality, and that French foreign policy from that point became personal Napoleonic policy. Even so, except for the harsh conditions imposed on Austria through the Treaty of Pressburg, the Russian army was allowed to retreat in peace. Napoleon wanted to befriend Russia to the detriment of Great Britain. Another important consequence of the victory at Austerlitz was the dissolution of the Holy Roman-German Empire. Both this event and the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine created strong tensions between France and Prussia, which felt threatened by French power.

The creation of the Confederacy of the Rhine created tensions in relations between France and Prussia. Up to that moment, Prussia had remained neutral in all the Napoleonic conflicts, so long as its interests were not endangered. Napoleon’s political domination of the other German states, however, changed this perspective. After the victory at Austerlitz, Napoleon wanted to ensure peace on the eastern front, becoming closer to Russia, in order to attack Great Britain again. To this end, he worked to create alliances in the Middle East and Central Europe.

Although the invasion of Egypt was a failure, Napoleon still wanted a French presence in the Middle East, with the goal of putting pressure on Great Britain and Russia. Thus, he proposed forming an alliance with the Ottoman Empire. Sultan Selim III acknowledged Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperor of France and signed a treaty of alliance. This decision brought the Ottoman Empire into war with Russia and Great Britain, a war which it could not win. A French-Persian alliance was also formed between Napoleon and the Sheik of Persia, Fat’h-Ali Shah Qajar, which fell through after the treaty was signed between France and Russia at Tilsit.

Napoleon tried to sign a peace treaty with Russia, but Tsar Alexander I refused, remaining in a state of enmity with France. Great Britain tightened the economic blockade of France. Napoleon tried to stabilize the peace, creating alliances which were necessary to him for the fight against Great Britain. Even so, the events after the War of the Third Coalition produced the context which led to the beginning of the War of the Fourth Coalition.

The Fourth Coalition against Napoleon’s French Empire included Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden and Great Britain. Several members of the coalition had previously fought against France in the Third Coalition. Prussia joined this renewed coalition, based on the rise in French power after the defeat of Austria and the creation of the Confederacy of the Rhine.

Napoleon began this war, decisively defeating the Prussians in a lightning campaign which ended with the battle of Jena-Auerstedt. The French forces occupied Prussia, pursued the remnants of the Prussian army and captured Berlin. Then, they advanced towards Eastern Prussia, Poland and the Russian border, where an inconclusive battle was fought, at Eylau. Napoleon’s advance on the Russian border was halted for a short time. However, in the spring the Russian forces were finally crushed by the French in the Friedland battle and, three days later, Russia requested an armistice.

With his forces concentrated in central Germany, Napoleon organized a forced march which took the Prussians by surprise. The Prussians had not been able to determine the size and movements of the French troops and thus were not able to create a coherent battle plan. During the first clash, a Prussian division was defeated in the battle of Schleiz. On the next day, the French Marshal, Lannes, crushed a Prussian division at Saalfeld, a battle in which Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia was killed.

Initially, Napoleon didn’t believe that a single French corps, without assistance, had defeated the main Prussian army. As the information became clearer, the emperor praised Davout, who later received the title of Duke of Auerstedt. General Bernadotte was severely rebuked and was almost dismissed for not intervening in either of the battles. General Lannes, the hero of the battle of Jena, was not honored as highly as Davout. Napoleon preferred to keep the glory of victory for himself. One possible reason for this attitude was that, during the battle, Napoleon actually had little control over the tide of action, while his generals managed alone.

A few days later, Napoleon’s troops met the bulk of the Prussian army, at Jena and Auerstedt. The battles began when Napoleon’s main force met the troops of the Prussian General Hohenlohe, near Jena. With only 48,000 men at his disposition at the beginning, Napoleon rapidly managed to gather troops which outnumbered his enemy. The Prussians reacted too late, losing any initiative they might have had. Before General Rüchel, with 15,000 men, could arrive to help, Hohenlohe’s forces were destroyed. Even so, it was a fierce fight, and Napoleon mistakenly believed that he had confronted the principal body of the Prussian army.

In the north, at Auerstedt, Generals Davout and Bernadotte received orders to come to Napoleon’s aid. Davout set out south, through Ekartsberg, and Bernadotte through Dornburg. Davout’s infantry corps was blocked by the main Prussian force, made up of 55,000 men, under the command of the Prussian king Frederick III, Duke Brunswick and Field Marshals von Möllendorf and von Kalckreuth. A savage battle ensued. Even though they were outnumbered two to one, Davout’s well-trained and disciplined Corps III weathered repeated attacks before taking the offensive and eventually scattering the Prussian army.

At Erfurt, a large corps of Prussian troops fell prisoner, almost without a fight. General Bernadotte then destroyed the Prussian reserve corps, led by General Eugene Frederick Henry, in the battle of Halle. Davout’s Third Corps entered Berlin. The troops of General Hohenlohe surrendered after the battle of Prenzlau, followed shortly by the surrender at Pasewalk. The army corps under the command of Generals Blucher and Winning was destroyed in the Battle of Lübeck. The siege of Magdeburg ended with General Ney’s capture of the fortress. Prussia was defeated.

Towards the end of 1806, the French entered Poland. Napoleon Bonaparte created the Duchy of Warsaw which was to be led by his new ally, Frederick Augustus I of Saxony. The local population had already overthrown the Prussian leadership after a revolt against the forced conscription imposed by the Prussians in preparation for the battle with Napoleon. Napoleon then turned north to confront the Russian armies and to attempt to capture the Prussian capital, temporarily settled in Konigsberg.

The first confrontation with the Russians took place in Eylau. General Bennigsen of the Russian army had 67,000 men and 400 cannons, whereas Napoleon had only 49,000 soldiers and 300 cannons. Later, both the Russians and the French received reinforcements, with the Russian front being strengthened on the left flank by 9,000 Prussians who proved crucial in giving the Russians the space to retreat. Napoleon was not able to obtain a victory in his decisive manner, and his aura of invincibility in battle was diminished after this confrontation. The Russians put up a strong resistance, causing many casualties in the French ranks.

The next confrontation took place in Friedland. The battle began when Bennigsen observed the apparently isolated corps of the French Marshal Lannes, in the town of Friedland. Believing he had the opportunity to destroy these isolated French units, Bennigsen ordered the entire Russian army to cross the river Alle. Lannes repelled the sustained attacks of the Russians, until Napoleon could bring extra forces. Late in the afternoon, the French had gathered 80,000 soldiers on the battlefield. Relying on his numerical superiority, Napoleon ordered a massive attack against the Russian left flank, which collapsed. A large part of the Russian soldiers drowned, trying to cross the Alle river, and the total losses of the Russian army were approximately 40% of the troops.

The Swedes, allies of the Russians and Prussians, were initially defeated at Lübeck, but later successfully defended the fort of Stralsund during its first siege. France and Sweden agreed to a ceasefire, which led to the retreat of all the French troops. Even so, the refusal of Sweden to take part in the Continental System proposed by Napoleon to isolate Great Britain led to a second invasion of Swedish Pomerania. Fort Stralsund fell after a second siege, and the Swedish army surrendered at Rügen.

After the victory at Friedland, the Treaty of Tilsit was signed, between Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Napoleon. The meeting took place, symbolically, on a raft in the middle of the Neman River. Through these agreements, Napoleon created a number of client states to the French Empire: The Westphalian Kingdom, The Warsaw Duchy and the Free City of Danzig. Other Prussian territories were accorded to other allies of France and Russia. Napoleon cemented his control over Central Europe. He formed an alliance with Russia and Prussia against the enemies remaining in the battle, Great Britain and Sweden. Thus, he began the English-Russian war and the Finnish war, after which Finland was incorporated in the Tsarist Empire.

The War of the Fourth Coalition ended with Napoleon’s total victory over his European enemies. The French Empire controlled the European continent, and the system of alliances, the so-called Continental System, left Great Britain isolated. Even so, this System and the exclusive control exercised by Napoleon were the cause of the next series of conflicts in the Napoleonic wars. Several European states such as Portugal, and later Russia, didn’t respect the treaties of the system, forming political and commercial ties with Great Britain.

The Treaties of Tilsit created conditions of peace necessary for Napoleon to organize his empire. One of his major objectives was instituting the Continental System in order to isolate the British. The Kingdom of Portugal continually disobeyed his interdictions of trading with Great Britain. After the defeat in the so-called War of Oranges, Portugal adopted a duplicitous policy. The Portuguese king, John VI, agreed to close his ports to British trade. The situation changed, however, after the French-Spanish defeat at Trafalgar, when the Portuguese officially resumed diplomatic and commercial relations with Great Britain. French troops, under the command of General Junot, crossed the Pyrenees and headed towards Portugal.

The political situation in the Iberian peninsula became complicated when the French got involved in the domestic affairs of their Spanish allies. They tried to incite discord between members of the Spanish royal family. The interventions led, in the end, to Napoleon’s direct involvement. Marshal Murat entered Spain with an army to supplement Junot’s troops, and Napoleon named his brother, Joseph Bonaparte, king of Spain. This act provoked a revolt by the Spanish population, starting a war which lasted 6 years and which significantly shook Napoleon’s power.

After the surrender of the French army corps at Bailén and the loss of Portugal, Napoleon decided to intervene personally, bringing another 100,000 veterans of the Grande Armée to Spain. Napoleon led his troops in an offensive which involved a massive double encirclement of the Spanish lines. The attack was described as ‘an avalanche of fire and steel’. After a short time, the French gained several victories and the Spanish resistance was defeated, at least for the moment. The British were forced to leave Iberia, but came back, against French expectations, and the peninsular war continued in the following years.

In the battle of Bailén, the Spanish army of Andalusia was led by Generals Francisco Castańos and Theodor von Reding. The other force, Observation Corps II of the Imperial French Army, was under the command of General Pierre Dupont de l’Etang. The hardest battle took place close to Bailén, a village in the Jaén province in southern Spain, where the Spanish broke the French front. After some unsuccessful counter-attacks, General Dupont requested an armistice and was forced to sign the Andújar convention which called for the surrender of the remaining French troops, numbering approx. 18,000 men.

Napoleon left Iberia at the beginning of the battles of the Fifth Coalition. A few months after the battle of Coruna, in which the British were driven off the peninsula, the British sent another army under the command of the future Duke of Wellington. The war entered a complex strategic stalemate and was transformed into a brutal guerilla war which overwhelmed much of the Spanish rural area. This had serious consequences on the local population, with the most serious war crimes of the Napoleonic wars being committed in Spain.

The war on the Iberian peninsula took 300,000 soldiers away from other military campaigns. Most of these armies carried out garrison activities. The French never managed to concentrate all its forces efficiently, and the conflict went on until, in the end, the tide turned in favor of the allies in Europe. After the invasion of Russia, Napoleon withdrew a significant number of soldiers from Spain, because he needed reinforcements for the battles in Europe. On the whole, the peninsular war had the role of slowly but surely draining French resources and thus contributing to Napoleon’s future defeat.

The War of the Fifth Coalition was started on Austria’s initiative. The Austrians wanted to do away with the provisions of the Treaty of Pressburg, after the defeat at Ulm. In this sense, they had the support of Great Britain and initially of the king of Prussia, who however pulled out before the beginning of the confrontations. Russia remained faithful to the Treaty of Tilsit, which they had signed with Napoleon. At that moment, Russia was involved in a conflict with Sweden, Great Britain and the Ottoman Empire, as a result of agreements between Tsar Alexander I and Napoleon.

Vanguard elements of the Austrian armies crossed the Inn River and invaded Bavaria. The Austrian attack took the French by surprise. When he received news of the invasion, Napoleon was still in Paris. He arrived in Donauwörth, where he discovered that the French troops were in a dangerous position. The flanks were approx. 120 km from each other, united by a thin line of Bavarian troops. Archduke Charles of Austria attacked the left flank of the French army, defended by Corps III, under the command of Marshal Davout. In response, Napoleon realigned the axis of his army and headed towards the town of Eckmühl.

At Eckmühl, the defence was sustained by Davout’s Corps III and the Bavarian Corps VII, commanded by Marshal Lefebvre. Thus, Napoleon was able to defeat the Austrian army and snatch the strategic initiative out of Austria’s hands. The battle of Eckmühl ended with a French victory, and Archduke Charles decided to withdraw his army across the Danube, towards Regensburg.

In the battle of Aspern-Essling, Napoleon tried to force a crossing of the Danube near Vienna, but the French and their allies were repelled by the Austrian troops. This was the first battle in which Napoleon was personally defeated. Even so, Archduke Charles could not capitalize on his victory, and Napoleon managed to withdraw most of his forces. The French lost over 20,000 men, including one of Napoleon’s most skilled ground troops commanders, Marshal Jean Lannes. The Austrians also suffered heavy losses, but they had won their first major victory over the French.

After the defeat at Aspern and Essling, Napoleon started preparations and planning for a new crossing of the Danube. The French concentrated more troops, more cannons, and prepared better defensive measures to ensure the success of the crossing. The French crossed the Danube in force, with approx. 188,000 soldiers advancing towards the Austrian lines. The divisions commanded by Generals Nordmann and Johann von Klenau immediately resisted. The main Austrian force was stationed close to the locality of Wagram, where the greatest battle of Napoleon’s career - up to that point - took place.

Vienna fell into French hands for the second time in four years, but the war continued, since most of the Austrian army had survived the initial engagements in southern Germany. The main Austrian army, under the command of Charles, arrived in Marchfeld. Charles kept most of his troops a few kilometers from the bank of the Danube. His intention was to concentrate the troops in the area in which Napoleon would decide to cross. In the following days, the French made their first effort to cross, sparking the Battle of Aspern and Essling.

The Battle of Wagram was one of the greatest of the Napoleonic Wars. It ended with a decisive victory for the French army over the Austrians, a victory which led to the dissolution of the Fifth Coalition.

The Battle of Wagram began after Napoleon crossed the Danube with most of his forces and attacked the Austrian army of approx. 150,000 soldiers. The Austrians positioned themselves into a wide semi-circle arrangement, using the specific relief of the area to their advantage. After the attackers initially enjoyed a certain success, those in defense retook the initiative and the attacks failed. The next day, at dawn, encouraged by his success, Archduke Charles launched a series of attacks along the entire line of battle, trying to use a tactic of double encirclement.

Towards the end of the afternoon, Archduke Charles ordered a retreat, using skillful moves to prohibit the French army from pursuing them. These maneuvers once again prevented Napoleon from completely destroying the enemy army, an aspect which had defined his previous victories. After the battle, Charles decided to retreat to Bohemia. The French troops caught up with the Austrian lines close to the locality of Znaim.

The offensive against the French right flank failed; however, on the left flank, the Austrians almost broke the French lines. Napoleon countered the attack with cavalry troops which temporarily halted the Austrian advance. Then, he sent the fourth corps to the weakened left flank while he ordered a heavy bombardment on the centre and the right flank of the Austrian army. Thus, the situation began to change, and Napoleon ordered an attack on the whole of the front line, with the troops led by Marshal Davout managing to crush the Austrian left flank.

At Znaim, Archduke Charles, knowing that his troops could not survive another battle, proposed negotiations for an armistice. Even so, Marshal Auguste de Marmont refused this offer and engaged approximately 10,000 men in battle. Since Marmont’s troops were outnumbered, the corps commanded by General Massena also intervened. After two days of useless fighting, with losses on both sides and no conclusive results, Napoleon arrived and ordered Marmont to end the battle and begin peace talks.

The Battle of Wagram was unusually bloody, due mainly to the large-scale use of artillery. Even though Napoleon was the uncontested victor of the battle, he was not able to obtain a complete victory by destroying the Austrian army, and the Austrian losses were only slightly greater than those of the French. The defeat was, however, severe enough to crush the morale of the Austrians, who lost the will to continue fighting. The Treaty of Schönbrunn, which ended the War of the Fifth Coalition, involved the loss of one-sixth of the subjects of the Habsburg Empire.

In 1808, at the Erfurt Congress, a meeting took place between Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I to reconfirm the Russian-French alliance. Napoleon had managed to win the appreciation of the Russian Tsar at Tilsit in 1807. The Russian nobility, however, was opposed to this alliance, based on the fear that the reformational ideas of the French Revolution, most of which Napoleon had absorbed into the new French Empire, would spread into Russia. The main reason for the breakout of conflict between the two empires was, however, the fact that the Russians did not respect the Continental System and had developed economic ties with Great Britain.

The counsellors of Tsar Alexander I proposed the invasion of the French Empire and the re-conquest of Poland. Informed of this, Napoleon decided to attack first, and gathered La Grande Armée, made up of over 450,000 soldiers, at the Russian border. Several counsellors warned him against an invasion of the vast Russian territory, but he ignored them. The invasion began on the 24th of June 1812. Napoleon named this invasion ‘The second Polish war’. Officially, the purpose of this invasion was to liberate the Polish territories which were occupied by the Russians. Napoleon claimed to have noble intentions in order to attract not only support from the French public, but also the participation of thousands of Polish soldiers in battle.

The I, II and III Corps of the French army, the main attack force, numbering approximately 120,000 men, crossed the River Neman, close to the locality of Alexiote. In this area, three raft bridges were built. Napoleon personally chose the position of these bridges and set up his campaign tent close by, in order to watch the crossing of his troops. The general direction of the advance was the town of Kaunas. Napoleon intended to first engage the Russian army in battle and destroy it, then occupy Moscow.

The first confrontation took place in Smolensk. A vanguard French force attacked, trying to draw the Russian army out of its fortress in a direct confrontation, but the Russians refused to fight. Napoleon ordered a general attack with three army corps and 200 pieces of artillery. The subsequent bombardment started fires throughout the town, however the French troops could not get in, since they did not have the necessary equipment for scaling walls. In order to save his army, General Barclay de Tolly ordered the town to be abandoned and the stores of ammunition and food destroyed, leaving behind a small force to cover their retreat.

The Russian army avoided an immediate direct confrontation, knowing that it was at a disadvantage to the tactical superiority of the French army and, instead, withdrew farther and farther into Russia. It also adopted the scorched-earth policy, destroying all possible sources of provisions for the French army in their retreat. This strategy proved to be very efficient. The more they advanced into Russian territory, the weaker the French army became due to lack of food and bad roads which hindered supplies.

After Smolensk, the Russians continued to retreat towards the east. The Russian leadership was putting more and more pressure on General Barclay de Tolly to engage the French forces in battle. He refused, and was replaced by General Kutuzov, who fell into disgrace after the defeat at Austerlitz. However, Kutuzov adopted the same tactic and retreated to Borodino, almost 100 km from Moscow, where he decided to prepare a defensive position to stop the advance of Napoleon’s army.

The Battle of Borodino was the Russians’ last effort to stop the French advance towards Moscow. Over 250,000 soldiers were engaged in the battle, and the losses reached approximately 70,000 victims. Although he was victorious, Napoleon was unable to obtain the result he wanted - the destruction of the Russian army. Both armies were exhausted after the battle, and the Russians retreated from the battlefield the following day. Thus, although the French could now advance towards Moscow, Tsar Alexander could not be forced to surrender.

The Russian defensive positions were concentrated between the Moscow river on the right, and the locality of Utitsa, on the left. The center of the Russian line was defended by a massive redoubt, later named the Raevski redoubt, on which were placed 19 120mm-caliber cannons. From this position, the Russians could observe and bombard the entire battle field. Other features of the terrain, such as the dense forests on the left flank of the Russian lines, also offered advantages to the defending forces and proved essential in hindering the French attack.

The battle began with a strong barrage from the French artillery. Then came an attack by two divisions of the French infantry against the Russian redoubts on the left flank. Both divisions lost their commanders, but the attack continued until the Russian positions were occupied. Prince Bagration, commander of the Russian left flank, led a counter-attack, but was stopped by the intervention of French General Ney.

The battles became confused. The French and Russian infantry units were forced to maneuver through clouds of smoke. This reduced visibility, exposing the units to artillery fire. At one point, the piles of bodies were so large that they got in the way of maneuvers. General Murat attacked the flanks of the redoubts defended by Bagration’s infantry, but was repelled by the cuirassiers commanded by the Russian General Duka. The French attacked the redoubts seven times and were driven back each time.

Due to the general chaos caused by these attacks, the French generals didn’t realise that the Russian left flank had begun to disintegrate. The command structure of the 2nd Russian Army fell apart, and the commander of the army, prince Bagration, was wounded and evacuated from the battlefield. Napoleon was also far from the battlefield and couldn’t personally observe the situation. When it was suggested that he send the French Imperial Guards in a final effort to finish the Russians off, Napoleon refused, stating that he could not sacrifice his most valuable unit so far from the borders of the French Empire.

To the north of the front defended by Prince Bagration, General Barclay’s troops, which were defending the Raevski redoubt, were violently attacked by French troops. After heavy fighting, the French finally managed, at the end of the day, to capture the redoubt. However, the conquest of the redoubt did not ultimately influence the result of the battle. Although they had suffered heavy losses, the Russian troops managed to retreat in an orderly manner, and the Russian line did not fall. The French also suffered huge losses in order to capture the redoubt. Knowing that his troops were exhausted, Napoleon ordered the redoubt be abandoned, and that the initial attack positions be retaken. The Russians returned and reoccupied their earlier positions.

Attacking again, the French managed in the end to occupy the Russian defensive positions. They were unable, however, to bring about the collapse of the Russian army. Two days after the battle, the Russians retreated, leaving the road to Moscow open. This battle, although it was considered a victory, was seen as the beginning of the end of Napoleon’s plan to force Russia to surrender. The Russian army was still intact, and in the period following the battle it continued its scorched-earth policy, making the French logistic problem worse than ever.

On the 14th of September 1812, Napoleon entered Moscow; however, he found the town abandoned by most of the population. He didn’t even receive an official welcome, as he had on other occasions when he had conquered enemy cities. The governor of Moscow, Feodor Rostopchin, ordered everything which could be useful to the French army to be destroyed. Moscow was considered to be the spiritual capital of the Tsarist Empire, with the government installed in Saint Petersburg. Based on the classic rules of warfare which called for the surrender of the enemy on the occupation of his capital, Napoleon waited five weeks, but the surrender of Tsar Alexander I did not come.

Besides the order to abandon the city, Rostopchin also ordered the prisons to be opened, in order to create chaos. The small police force left in the city received orders to destroy all fire fighting equipment and to start fires in the city. Devoid of efficient administration, the city was prey to theft and scandals committed even by the French troops. Fires spread. The French troops tried to put them out, since the fire threatened the weapons store and even the Kremlin. Most of the houses in Moscow were made of wood, which made all efforts to quench the fires futile.

Supplying the French army became impossible. The lack of feed for animals weakened the remaining horses, which almost all died or were killed by starving soldiers. Without horses, the French cavalry ceased to exist, and many cannons and supply wagons were abandoned. The starvation and diseases which began to spread increased the number of deserters. Many of these were taken prisoner or killed by the Russian peasants.

Napoleon’s situation was critical. The conquered capital was in ruins, his troops were suffering from lack of provisions, and the Russians were far from surrendering. With no other option, he ordered retreat. The Russians realised that the moment they had been waiting for had arrived - the logistical collapse of the great French army. General Kutuzov attacked close to the locality of Maloyaroslavets, forcing the French to retreat along the same road they had come, in order to deprive them even further of provisions. At the same time, Kutuzov ordered his Cossack troops to continually harass the French troops and supply lines.

At the Berezina River, the Russian army intercepted Napoleon’s army. Although Napoleon managed to cross the river, the Russian attack caused heavy losses for the French troops. Many soldiers drowned in the crossing. The word Berezina came to be a synonym for disaster to the French. Shortly after this, Napoleon heard that there had been an attempted coup d’etat in France, led by General Claude de Malet. He left the army in Russia, leaving it in the command of Marshal Murat.

The disastrous Russian campaign was the beginning of the end for Napoleon. Of the approximately 500,000 soldiers who began the battle, less than 22,000 survived. The Russian strategy and the difficulties caused by terrain and weather, which Napoleon had not taken into account, caused the defeat he had feared. The winter of 1812 was especially harsh, and thousands of French soldiers froze to death. With his great army in ruins, the strategic situation in Europe began to change. The former enemies of Napoleon - Prussia, Austria and Sweden - felt that the moment had come to put an end to French hegemony on the continent.

Austria and later Prussia joined Russia, Great Britain, Portugal and the rebels in Spain. For almost a year, there were no battles. Napoleon and the allied commanders took advantage of this moment to reorganize and complete their armies. The allies gathered, on all fronts, almost one million men. Napoleon managed, through massive conscription, to gather a force almost as large; however this army was incomparable in quality to the one destroyed in Russia. The inevitable victory of the allies led to the conquest of Paris and the imposition of the Treaty of Chaumont in which Napoleon was forced to abdicate power.

Initial confrontations in Germany went in Napoleon’s favor. In the Battles of Lützen and Bautzen, the French army inflicted around 40,000 victims on the allied troops. The French army also suffered great losses which, unlike the allies, Napoleon could not replace. The allied plan was to avoid direct fighting with Napoleon’s army corps. Although he had been defeated in Russia, Napoleon was still feared on the battlefield, and practised the tactic of isolating and destroying the allied army corps.

After these initial confrontations, a short armistice was drawn up, after which the Battle of Dresda took place, in which Napoleon finally obtained a great victory over the allies. But once again Napoleon was unable to transform this success into a complete annihilation of the enemy army, as he had done years earlier at Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena. Part of the French troops which had attacked the flanks of the allied line found themselves surrounded by allies a few days later. After another bloody confrontation at the Battle of Kulm, the French corps were forced to surrender.

Events in other parts of Europe influenced the situation in Germany. The costly war in Spain forced Napoleon to maintain great numbers of troops in the peninsula, which kept them away from the battles in Germany. On the other hand, the duke of Wellington, commander of the allied forces in Spain, began to push the French army towards the Pyrenees mountains. The French Marshal Soult tried a counter-attack, but after a few initial victories was forced to retreat. The British, Portuguese and Spanish entered southern France, drawing the noose tighter around Napoleon.

The Battle of Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations due to the large number of armies involved, was the climax of the campaign in Germany. In the greatest battle in Europe up until World War I, almost half a million allied soldiers definitively defeated Napoleon’s army, forcing him to retreat to France. Losses on both sides reached 90,000 men, making the battle of Leipzig even bloodier than that of Borodino. Napoleon changed the way battle was fought - in size and amplitude - and in this sense his battles were a foretaste of the carnage of World War I.

Even after the defeat at Leipzig, Napoleon was determined to continue fighting. Conscription took place in France, but the French army was only able to raise 80,000 men to defend the country. The allies formed three major columns to advance into French territory. The column commanded by the Prussian General Blücher advanced faster than the rest, thus arriving in an isolated point which allowed Napoleon to gain a few victories. In the big picture, however, these victories were meaningless, since the advance of the allies could no longer be stopped.

After the victory at Leipzig, the allies proposed signing a peace treaty, but Napoleon refused. The proposals would have allowed Napoleon to remain emperor of France, with the condition that he give back all the other conquered territories he had added to the French Empire. The Austrian foreign secretary, Metternich, declared that these were the best terms the allies could offer, and that even this offer would be withdrawn later. Napoleon’s refusal meant that the war continued until Paris was occupied by Russian troops in 1814.

At Chaumont, the allies signed a treaty agreeing to continue the war against Napoleon if he did not accept the offer of peace. The four great powers which signed the treaty were Great Britain, the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. They each committed to sending 150,000 soldiers, until the victory against Napoleon was won. They also committed to create a system to guarantee the safety of the European continent from French attack in the next 20 years. This treaty ensured that Napoleon’s enemies were united, which led to his defeat.

At the same time, Tsar Alexander I addressed the French Senate, declaring that the allies were not fighting against France, but against Napoleon, and that France would receive honorable peace terms if Napoleon was overthrown from power. The next day, influenced by the minister, Talleyrand, who had turned against Napoleon, the French Senate passed the Emperor’s Demise Act.

In order to occupy Paris, the allies used a strategy to fool Napoleon, so that his army could not defend the city. A vanguard corps pursued Napoleon’s retreating army, while the majority of the allied armies headed for Paris. Napoleon continued his retreat to the south, believing that the allied army was on his tail. By the time he realised the allied strategy, those defending Paris had already surrendered the city to the allied army. The fighting was soon over, and Tsar Alexander offered the Parisians very advantageous conditions of surrender.

Napoleon abdicated on the 11th of April 1814, signing the Treaty of Fontainebleau. The war officially ended shortly after, when the Treaty of Paris was signed on the 30th of May 1814. Through these treaties, Napoleon was exiled to the island of Elba, the Bourbon monarchy was restored, and Louis XVIII was proclaimed king of France. Napoleon’s initial wish, to abdicate in favor of his son, Napoleon II, under the regency of his second wife, empress Maria Luiza, was rejected by the allies. They feared that this arrangement would allow Napoleon to return to the throne of France.

Infuriated by the fall of Paris, Napoleon ordered his army to turn around and recapture the city. Most of the soldiers complied;however his generals, led by Marshal Ney, resisted. Napoleon said that the army would follow him, but Ney declared that the troops would follow their commanders.

Elba island is situated in the Mediterranean Sea, close to the Tuscan coast of Italy. As a favor, or perhaps a humiliation, Napoleon was allowed to maintain his title of Emperor and was given sovereignty of the island. Napoleon tried to kill himself with a pill of poison he had been carrying since the Russian campaign, but its potency had weakened and it did not have the desired result. During his exile, he was actively involved in community life on the island, developing the economy by investing in the island’s iron mines and applying new agricultural techniques. A few months after arriving on Elba, he discovered that his first wife, Josephine de Beaumarchais, had died in France. He was devastated by the news.

During his exile, Napoleon remained constantly informed about events on the continent. Thus, he heard of the allied intentions to exile him to the island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean. He also discovered that a series of tensions had arisen between the allies, in the Congress of Vienna in 1815, concerning dividing up areas of influence in Europe. He also discovered that the new monarchy which had been installed in France had very weak support from the French population. Due to this, he decided to escape from Elba and return to France.

Napoleon reached the southern coast of France, near Cannes, and set off towards the north. He was met by French troops, whom he approached, saying in his charismatic style: “Here I am. Shoot your Emperor if you wish.” The soldiers replied with “Vive L’Empereur!!!” Marshal Ney, who had promised the new king, Louis XVIII, that he would bring Napoleon to Paris in an iron cage, came to him and kissed him. Thus, he abandoned his vow to Louis and headed for Paris together with Napoleon.

As they marched toward Paris, more and more French military units joined Napoleon. Enjoying the support of the population which did not like the Bourbon regime, he decided to gather an entire army. The allies of the Congress of Vienna were immediately alarmed by these events and, declaring Napoleon an outlaw, immediately set about forming an army to defeat and capture him. The weak political support in France forced Louis XVIII to leave Paris, thus beginning the so-called 100-day reign of Napoleon.

Knowing that the allies would attack soon, Napoleon began to organize his forces. He was especially relying on the veterans of his past campaigns, 150,000 of which had been liberated by the Russians following the Treaty of Paris. The forces of the French army had 200,000 men; however, the allies outnumbered them. Napoleon had to choose between two strategies. A defensive strategy would be centered on defending Paris and the city of Lyon. An offensive strategy would mean attacking the British and Prussian troops before the Russian and Austrian armies could come to their aid.

Napoleon chose the offensive strategy. The circumstances were unfavorable both for defense and for attack. Even so, Napoleon considered that he had greater chances of winning a victory over the allies by attacking them and not allowing them to group together. Thus, the French army marched into Belgium, towards Brussels. At Waterloo, a small locality close to the Belgian capital, Napoleon commanded the last battle of his military career.

The Battle of Waterloo took place between the French armed forces, under Napoleon’s command, and two allied armies. One was British, commanded by the Duke of Wellington, and the other was Prussian, commanded by General Leberecht von Blücher. Napoleon’s troops behaved admirably. The British army suffered the first French attack and was almost defeated. The allied situation was saved by the intervention of Prussian troops which defeated the French. This defeat led to the definitive end of Napoleon’s reign and his exile on the island of Saint Helena.

Advancing towards the north-east, Napoleon first attacked the Prussian army. With part of his reserve forces and with the right wing of his army, he defeated the army commanded by Blücher in the battle of Ligny. At the same time, Marshal Ney attacked the British troops close to the locality of Quatre Bras. The Prince of Orange, commander of one of the allied corps, was forced to acknowledge defeat, under pressure from French troops. The Duke of Wellington intervened and pushed Ney’s units back. However, due to the defeat at Ligny of the Prussians, he decided to leave the position at Quatre Bras and retreat further north, close to Waterloo.

The attack began with a massive bombardment from the French artillery which did not prove to be very accurate, due to the great distance from the British lines. In front of these lines, the British had fortified three positions around the farms of Papelotte, la Haye Sainte and Hougoumont. Once the French battle line started moving, they first had to take these positions. The battles were extremely violent, and the positions passed from the French to the British and back again for the whole duration of the battle.

While the Prussian army was retreating, Napoleon ordered his right flank, commanded by General Grouchy, to follow them. The Duke of Wellington positioned his troops on an east-west axis, south of Waterloo. This position was ideal for defense, since it was on a hill from which the French troops’ movements could be observed. Napoleon placed his heavy artillery in the center of the line of battle. His plan was to attack the center of Wellington’s line. Besides British troops, Wellington’s army was also made up of Dutch, Belgian and German soldiers.

Napoleon ordered a concentrated attack on the center of the British line. Marshal Ney personally commanded the attack of the French cavalry, but, without adequate support from the infantry, this attack failed. In the meantime, towards the afternoon, the troops of General Blücher were observed taking positions to the right of Napoleon’s army. Napoleon was forced to reorganize his line to cover his right flank, which ultimately contributed to his defeat. Not even the final attack of the Imperial Guards was enough to break the British line, supported this time by the Prussians.

Slowly, the French troops began to be pushed back to the point in which they began to lose their unity, and the retreat was transformed into chaos. Only the Imperial Guard kept their positions in retreat, which led to their suffering great losses. Napoleon left the battlefield and returned to France. The victorious allied armies also set off towards the capital of France. In Paris, Napoleon met with the hostility of the population and the governors, which forced him to abdicate in favor of his son, Napoleon II. He was aware of the futility of this act, since his son, aged 4, was in Austria with his wife.

While the allies were reinstating Louis XVIII as king of France, Napoleon headed west with the intention of reaching the United States. However, the French ports were under British blockade and, realising the futility of his attempt to escape, Napoleon surrendered to Commander Maitland of the British ship HMS Bellerophon. In order to eliminate the possibility of Napoleon becoming once again Emperor of France, the allies decided he must be exiled to the island of Saint Helena, in the southern Atlantic Ocean.

On arrival on the island of Saint Helena, Napoleon went into isolation and began to write his memoirs. His living conditions were difficult due to the run-down state of the house he was living in. His supporters began to insinuate that the British authorities were trying to hasten his death. Napoleon died on the 5th of May 1821. Before his death, he was reconciled to the Catholic Church and confessed. His last words were: “France, army, head of the army, Josephine.”

In his will, Napoleon asked to be buried on the banks of the Seine, but the British authorities decided he should be buried on the island of Saint Helena, in the Valley of the Willows. In 1840, Louis Philippe I requested and obtained the repatriation of Napoleon’s body, which was laid to rest under the dome of the Hôtel de Les Invalides, dedicated to the military history of France.

There are still many controversies concerning Napoleon’s death. There have been suggestions that he was poisoned while receiving treatment for his ulcer. Recent studies, carried out on samples of the emperor’s hair, have shown a very high concentration of arsenic. Even so, this discovery cannot be considered conclusive for the hypothesis of an assassination since, at that time, arsenic poisoning was commonplace due to the high concentration of arsenic found in paints and other substances.

Napoleon Bonaparte profoundly changed the history of humanity, from political, social, economic and cultural viewpoints. The battle between the aristocratic class and the lower classes gained new aspects in the light of Napoleon’s influence. The French Empire he created represented an amalgamation of ideas which contained both elements of social order from before the revolution and social rights and changes gained through the French revolution. Besides his extraordinary military career, Napoleon also introduced a series of reforms in France, which spread over the entire continent and have had an extraordinary impact up until the present day.

Towards the end of his life, Napoleon said that he would not be remembered for the 40 battles he won, since Waterloo would erase the memory of those victories, but for the creation of the Napoleonic Civil Code. This set of laws fundamentally modified the way the judicial relationships of the country’s citizens were viewed, since it was in written form and accessible to anyone. Thus, Napoleon contributed to the definitive demise of feudal relations, replacing them with relationships based on citizenship, in which the right to property was guaranteed to all citizens. Napoleon’s Civil Code influenced the development of judicial systems in many countries in Europe, Africa and Latin America.

Napoleon also decisively contributed to drawing out, in general lines, the way future wars would be fought. His technique of completely destroying an enemy army through maneuvers and an efficient use of existing conditions, triggered a change in strategic military thinking. This influenced all later wars, including the two World Wars.

In France, Napoleon introduced the metric system, laid the foundations of the first state-run educational system, created the first systems of public roads and sewers and instituted the first central bank, Banque de France. On a social plane, Napoleon fought for the equality of citizens before the law. He liberated the Jews, mainly due to the contribution he realised they could bring to the French state. He did away with the Spanish Inquisition during the reign of his brother in Spain. His social, judicial and economic reforms were juxtaposed over the innovations of the Industrial Revolution and created the premises for the unprecedented development of the western European countries.

On a religious plane, Napoleon reconciled the French state with the Catholic Church. To this end, he signed a Concord with the representatives of the church, in which the Catholic priests were allowed to return to their parishes and officiate religious ceremonies. The lands lost by the church during the French Revolution were not returned, but Papa Pius VII was satisfied by the accord with Napoleon, due to the fact that the Church was allowed to return to France.

From a political point of view, Napoleon’s actions led to two very important historical events for Europe. The dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and the creation of the Confederacy of the Rhine ultimately led to the unification of the German states at the initiative of Prussia, and the creation of the German Empire. The political changes in Italy and the wane of Austrian influence, due to the Napoleonic wars, led to the political unification of the Italian states and the creation of the Kingdom of Italy.