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Napoleon’s Worst Defeats

Posted By: TiranaDok
Napoleon’s Worst Defeats

Napoleon’s Worst Defeats: The History and Legacy of the Battles that Stalled France’s Expansion and Forced the Emperor’s Abdication by Charles River Editors
English | November 26, 2023 | ISBN: N/A | ASIN: B0CP2VQN1N | 307 pages | EPUB | 48 Mb

The impact of Trafalgar cannot be overstated, as it literally set the stage for the rest of the Napoleonic Era. Unable to invade England, Napoleon was limited to conducting war on the European continent. By 1812, he had succeeded in subduing most of his enemies – though in Spain, the British continued to be a perpetual thorn in his flank that drained the Empire of money and troops – but his relationship with Russia, never more than one of mutual suspicion at best, had now grown downright hostile. At the heart of it, aside from the obvious mistrust that two huge superpowers intent on dividing up Europe felt for one another, was Napoleon’s Continental blockade. Russia had initially agreed to uphold the blockade in the Treaty of Tilsit, but they had since taken to ignoring it altogether. Napoleon wanted an excuse to teach Russia a lesson, and in early 1812 his spies gave him just that: a preliminary plan for the invasion and annexation of Poland, then under French control.

Napoleon wasted no time attempting to defuse the situation. He increased his Grande Armee to 450,000 fighting men and prepared it for invasion. From a purely military standpoint, much of the campaign seemed to be going in Napoleon’s favor since he met with little opposition as he pushed forwards into the interior with his customary lightning speed, but gradually this lack of engagements became a hindrance more than a help; Napoleon needed to bring the Russians to battle if he was to defeat them. Moreover, the deeper Napoleon got his army sucked into Russia, the more vulnerable their lines of supply, now stretched almost to breaking point, became. What followed was one of the most grueling and horrific ordeals ever endured by an army in recorded history. The retreat from Moscow to the safety of the Berezina River, a march of 400 miles which almost all Napoleon’s men had to carry out on foot (most of the horses had long since perished of cold, hunger, or simply been eaten) in the middle of the merciless Russian winter, was a nightmare worse than Napoleon could ever have imagined.

Napoleon's Russian adventure gutted his veteran army, depriving him of the majority of his finest and most loyal soldiers. Those who remained formed the hard core of his new armies, but the Russian fiasco damaged their health and embittered their previously unquestioning loyalty. Napoleon raised vast new armies, but circumstances compelled him to fill the ranks with raw recruits, whose fighting skills did not equal their undoubted bravery and whose dedication to the Napoleonic cause was shaky, and in many cases due solely to coercion. The tough, experienced, faithful veteran found himself outnumbered by unwilling, sketchily trained amateurs. These factors set the stage for the second setback, which essentially sealed the fate of Napoleon's empire. The four-day Battle of Leipzig in October 1813, romantically but accurately dubbed the "Battle of the Nations," proved the decisive encounter of the War of the Sixth Coalition and essentially determined the course the Napoleonic Wars took from that moment forward.

Waterloo is the most famous battle in modern history if not all of history, and appropriately so. Gathering an army of 100,000 men, Napoleon marched into what is now Belgium, intent on driving his force between the advancing British army under the Duke of Wellington and the Prussian forces under Marshal Blucher. It was the kind of daring strategy that only Napoleon could pull off, as he had at places like Jena and Austerlitz. At Waterloo, however, it would end disastrously, as Napoleon’s armies were unable to dislodge Wellington and unable to keep the Prussians from linking up with the British. The battle would end with the French suffering nearly 60% casualties, the end of Napoleon’s reign, and the restructuring of the European map. Simply put, the next 200 years of European history can be traced back to the result of the battle that day in 1815.