Few individuals have come along that have totally captured the imaginations of their historians. Perhaps the most known of these characters is Napoleon Bonaparte. The part of his life often found most interesting was his modest beginnings. Here, like some Hollywood movie is the tale of an exceptional man whose intelligence and rise from the bottom is eventually defeated by his flaws, which cause him to fall from power. He was born in Corsica just off the coast of Italy. France had annexed Corsica in 1768, officially making him a French citizen.
His parents, although from an aristocratic family and onsidered nobility, were anything but wealthy. His father’s small income was not enough to fulfill his dreams of sending Napoleon to France to attend military school. He wrote a letter to the king, Louis XVI, for a scholarship for Napoleon. The king had set up a fund to pay for Napoleon’s attendance of military school. Upon arrival in France young Napoleon had to first overcome the obstacle of learning to speak French, since it was the only language spoken in the military schools.
To do this he would first have to attend a school in Autun before going to military school. When he finally arrived in Brienne to attend his military school, he soon discovered that his defeat of his hardship was spoiled by the criticism he received because of his Corsican upbringing and accent. But nothing could break Napoleon’s strong will and determination. Instead of giving up, he persevered and gave up socializing to put forth whatever effort he could into his studies. His desire for conquest and omens of his great future often surfaced at school.
In the winter he eagerly applied his military science knowledge into skillfully executed snowball ights with his squadron always being the victors. He also spent hours studying the conquests of rulers such as Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great. This severe study, however, did not make him a brilliant student except in math where he had a natural talent. At age 15, Napoleon graduated from Brienne and was accepted into the prestigious military college in Paris, receiving an all-expenses paid scholarship. While at military college, he learned of his father’s death from stomach cancer.
His father’s final startling words were a revelation that would predict Napoleon’s uture: “Where is Napoleon, my son Napoleon, whose sword will make Kings tremble and who will change the face of the world? ” Napoleon finished military academy two years ahead of schedule to help out his poor mother and graduated as a lieutenant. He made his way through the ranks of general, military commander, major general and finally at the age of 26 he was made commander-in-chief and was given full command over all soldiers garrisoned in France.
Napoleon reorganized the entire Army and prepared them for invasion at any moment. Although committed, Napoleon was anything but heartless. He gave high posts in the army to his friends and family, and promoted soldiers he had fought with before to higher ranks. Napoleon even found the time to marry a young woman named Josephine de Beauharnais. Napoleon’s lust for conquest ensured that he didn’t settle down. His ambitions were always growing greater. In 1799 France’s governing body, The Directory grew weak and unsteady.
The Austrians recaptured Italy and were among several nations threatening to invade France. If this wasn’t enough competition, Napoleon learned that the Royalists were planning on restoring the onarchy. But Napoleon used this conflict to his advantage and decided it was correct time to take over The Directory, which he still served. He used his influences in the government to gain political backing. His two advantages over his opponents were that he was a national hero for his many victories in battle and he had full command of the army, in case it was necessary.
Some often criticize his motives, saying he was driven more by ambition than for the love of his country. Napoleon appeared before the Council of the Ancients – the upper house of epresentatives – to make a passionate speech asking to be put in charge of the entire country. He won their support but faced resistance while trying to convince the lower House of Representatives. With the use of the military, Napoleon forced them into naming him First Consul of France without having to harm a soul. To those who viewed Napoleon as a tyrant, his actions as First Consul seemed puzzling.
Napoleon immediately reduced taxes, stabilized the economy, opened schools and universities around the country and even established programs to give jobs to the unemployed. Among his greatest accomplishments as First Consul, was the development of the Code Napoleon, which is the foundation for the French legal system and is in use to this day. He sought peace and to end the conflict in and outside of France. Peace was made with Austria and Britain and all the wars had concluded in the Treaty of Amiens made with Britain.
Emperor As First Consul, Napoleon was faced with much adversity but he always prevailed using the threats against his life as motive to secure his power permanently. Since he was not royalty he could not be made King so he decided to become Emperor. In a ceremony with the Pope, Napoleon decided to undertake the crowning himself. Some saw this move as a great warning of his craving for power. However, all fear about his motives faded with his generous use of the power. He gave royal titles to his siblings, allowing them to be monarchs over his conquered lands.
Many countries, afraid of his ambition to rule the continent, allied together to prevent him from conquering any more land. Among these were Austria and Great Britain. He defeated the Austrians on land but Napoleon’s greatest military flaw was realized when he met in battle with a quadron of the British Navy, and faced staggering losses. But Napoleon never admitted defeat and destroyed an Austrian-Russian army to force half of the allies in surrender. Defeat In Russia After years of battle Napoleon eventually defeat Russia and allied with them to try and destroy the British Empire.
However, both sides violated the treaty and waged war on each other. Napoleon, as always decided to go on the offensive and invade Russia. He took an army of 500,000 men and as he made his way through the vast plains of the country he noticed village after village was deserted. Finally just before reaching the capital of Moscow, Napoleon faced resistance from the Russian Army but after a hard-fought battle Napoleon’s troops prevailed. Upon his arrival in Moscow, Napoleon sees that the capital is also deserted and later that evening is lit on fire.
The great blaze could not be stopped because the Russians had smashed the water pumps before their departure. The fires roared for days but when the fires were finally over Napoleon stayed in Russia for nearly a month awaiting a reply for his demands of peace. However, upon inspection of the area for miles, Napoleon discovered that almost the entire ountry had been evacuated and moved. Napoleon then realized the strategy of the Russian czar. He had leaded the French Army into a trap in the heart of Russia near the start of the frigid Russian winter.
Napoleon’s wait in Moscow proved to be a fatal mistake. Realizing defeat, Napoleon ordered his troops home. Since Napoleon’s swift marches across wide areas of land called for light travel, his troops weren’t equipped with winter clothing or enough food for their unexpectedly long journey. The Russian winter took its toll on his men as they made their way ome and finish his army into nearly half the size of what it was. This campaign in Russia would prove to be the greatest military disaster in history. Napoleon’s enemies banded together to deliver him one final blow.
He put together a makeshift army recruiting 350,000 new soldiers from within his empire. He decided to go full force against the great odds of the allies and in several consecutive battles; his young army was victorious despite astonishing odds. His military genius and motivational words to the troops allowed them to overcome great obstacles. However, his forces were finally overwhelmed and Napoleon retreated back to Paris where months later, the capital was overtaken by the allies. His ego was too big to allow him to admit defeat so he fled outside Paris and showed his cowardess by an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
He finally relented and signed an act abdicating him as ruler of France. The Hundred Days Exiled to an island near his birthplace of Corsica, Napoleon immediately set to work to plan his comeback. With the few troops and small naval fleet his allies allowed him, he made his way back to France. Finally in early 1815, he arrived in France and made his way towards the capital. By the time he reached the capital his army had multiplied to several thousand as entire garrisons left the reign of King Louis XVIII to join his troops.
Reassuming the title of emperor, Napoleon immediately faced opposition from the allies. As always, Napoleon attacked first. The allied forces were not yet united and Napoleon knew he could defeat them if he met them separately. After meeting and defeating the Prussians, he met with the British army at Waterloo in Belgium. The British troops were able to withstand Napoleon’s fire and thousands from both sides fell during the battle with neither side achieving ictory. However, at twilight the Prussians met with the British troops to give them support.
They had regrouped their forces, coming to the rescue of their allies and creating a force Napoleon himself knew was too large to beat. Final Exile Again Napoleon was forced to relinquish, so he fled to the United States but when he learned that all ships were being inspected for his presence, he turned himself in. He was forced to the desolate island of St. Helena, 600 miles off the coast of nowhere. He lived out the rest of his weary days in solitude and nearly six ears later, Napoleon befell the same fate as his father and died of stomach cancer at the age of 51.
Few people in history have met such great achievements with having faced such great distress. He overcame great odds in every battle to satisfy his desire for power. To his enemies he was power-hungry tyrant often associated with the devil whose lust for conquest far outweighed his good will toward his people. Either way, history writes this man as one of the greatest military minds ever whose conquest and code influenced revolutions and legal systems, which would change the face of the earth.