Napoleon’s Battle of the Three Emperors
Born in Corsica the year of 1769, Napoleon’s family considered themselves more Italian than French. That same year, the Republic of Genoa ceded control of the Corsican Island to France under threatened conditions. His Father fought the French for Corsican independence but later resolved to become the State’s attorney.
By age ten, Napoleon was sent to mainland France to attend Military Academy. A poor child who would choose to save his meal money only to invest in books. At the young age of 16 he was commissioned as an Artillery officer in 1784.
Napoleon’s rapid rise in military rank coincided with the French Revolution. Over the span of 100 years, the French population grew from 18 to 26 million bringing forward extreme unemployment and inflation. By 1792 a boiling point was reached sending the country into revolution. This move initiated the end of the end Monarchy and the beginning of the Republic.
The revolution was a time of confusion where he spent most of the time in Corsica leading a national guard battery. Siding with the republic he gained prominence and subsequent promotions. Fighting a complex war of loyalties, he walked a fine line between a revolutionary hero and a trader bound for the gallows. After the defeat of the royalist insurrection Napoleon gained status as a future star.
At the age of 26, Napoleon, was promoted to Command of the Army of Italy. The dilapidated Army had been enduring a never-ending war with the Austrians over control of the Papal States. However, this proved to be Napoleon’s education in mastering the approach of supporting infantry with coordinated artillery fire. He left Italy as a conquering hero.
Following an expedition to Egypt, Napoleon returned to France. Fortunately, he returned to a bankrupt nation. A nation weary of revolution and political turmoil that was beckoning for stability. There he forced a coup d’etat becoming the Consul of France with little resistance.
Napoleon moved quickly in setting up a new government that threated the old European monarchy. The British formed an alliance with the Russian and Austrian monarchy to protect their rights to power. The immediate result was the declaration of war against France in 1803.
Coined as the Napoleonic Wars or the War of the Third Coalition. Napoleon changed tactics by having the French Army move directly into Austria instead of attacking Britain or Italy as they had in the previous wars. The French quickly took control of the capital Vienna and destroyed most of the Austrian Army in the process. The remnants of the Austrian army retreated to link with Russians attacking with a much larger force. France pushed deeper into Austria which depleted their forces in protecting their supply line. This left their offensive forces of 73,000 troops near the city of Austerlitz.
Napoleon first amassed his troops in the center causing the Russians to take the Pratzen Heights opposite of the French Army. Napoleon then feigned weakness and retreat on his right flank to lure a Russian attack to the South. The Russians made great progress and then fully committed to the attack by sending troops from the Pratzen Heights to the South. As Napoleon foresaw this progression, he then sent his troops to take the Heights and effectively split the Russian army into two. Using the geography and the aggressiveness of the Russians against them, he was able to ensnare 20,000 Russian troops marking one of the greatest battle strategies throughout history (Hart, 1967).
The Napoleonic wars continued over the next decade and it did not truly end until 1812 when he took 400,000 soldiers to conquer Russia. By September his Grande Armee took over an empty Moscow. The Russians had burned their fields and pillaged their city before the French could. They in turn starved the French Army out while enduring a brutally cold winter. At the end of the French retreat, only 10,000 fighting capable troops remained.
France found themselves in a weakened state, forced to surrender to the British. Napoleon gave up the throne and was exiled to the Island of Elba in 1814. This did not permanently stop him as Napoleon entered France secretly in 1815. There he was able to reclaim his throne, reorganize the government, and rebuild the army. The British attacked in response, narrowly defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. Dejected, Napoleon was sent back to exile and died six years later.
Napoleon’s legacy is many things. By the age of 45, his accomplished career was over. Truly known for his dictatorship and secondarily for his lost battles in Russia and Waterloo. However, that clouds the fact that he was a military genius with few peers of equal standing. His ability to forecast future movements to align his focus of fire remains unmatched throughout time. At heart, Napoleon truly was a mathematician that focused on probability to enlighten his decision making.
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