This essay will illustrate why Napoleon Bonaparte is regarded as one of the greatest military masterminds in the history of mankind. It will show the life of Napoleon from when he was a young boy, till he died in 1821. It will show how he deceived the French into giving him power, and how he used this power for his own interests. It will also reveal how he almost killed of an entire generation of French people, and once again prove that all good things must come to an end. Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio on the island of Corsica.
This was only a few months after France had annexed the island. He had 7 brothers and sisters, and his father was a lawyer whose family stemmed from the Florentine nobility. His original nationality was Cursican-Italian. In 1779 Napoleon went to school at Brienne in France. There he took a great interest in history, especially in the lives of great ancient generals. Napoleon was often badly treated at Brienne because he was not as wealthy as his fellow classmates, and very short. He also did not speak French well, because Italian was spoken on Corsica where he grew up.
He studied very hard so that he could do better then those who snubbed him. Napoleon attended the Ecole Military School in Paris in 1784 after receiving a scholarship. This is were he received his military training. He studied to be an artillery man and an officer. Napoleon finished his training and joined the French army when he was 16 years old. He was appointed to an artillery regiment , and commissioned as a lieutenant. Once again he was not well liked by his fellow officers because he was short, spoke with an Italian accent, and had little money. Napoleon spent little time with his regiment.
He was more concerned with trying to free his home land of Corsica, witch had been taken with force by France. Soon after being commissioned his father died, and he was forced to provide for his family. Napoleon spent the next seven years reading the works of the philosophers, and educating himself in military matters by studying the campaigns of the great military leaders of the past. The French Revolution and the European war that followed broadened his sights and presented him with new opportunities. Napoleon was a supporter of the French Revolution . He went back and forth between Paris and Ajaccio, working for the Republic.
Napoleon rose quickly through the ranks and became a captain in 1792. In 1793, Corsica revolted against the Republic, and Napoleon’s family had to Flee to France. The Republic was in danger. France was at war with Austria, Prussia, England, Holland, and Spain. There was a revolt in western France, and there was a great need for good officers. At the age of 25, only one year after becoming captain, Napoleon performed so well that he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. He was given command of the artillery at Toulon, and in December of that same year, the French forced the English out of Toulon. The commander in chief wrote: “I Have no words to describe the merit of Bonaparte. Much science, as much intelligence, and too much bravery. ” (pg. 7 Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O). In August of 1794 Napoleon was arrested because he had been a supporter of Maximilien Rosbespierre. He was accused of treason. Although he was released his career seemed to be over. Then in October of 1795, the government was threatened with a revolt in Paris. Paul Barras, commander of the home forces, appointed Napoleon to defend the capital. With amazing swiftness Napoleon massed men and artillery at important places in Paris The attack of 30,000 national guards was driven back by his men. About 200 men were killed on each side, but he had saved France from civil war. ” (pg. 7 Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O). Napoleon saved the national convention from the Parisian mob and one year later at the age of 26, was rewarded with the position of commander in chief of the interior French army in Italy. When Napoleon accepted the position as the commander of the French Army he received a chilly reception by his generals.
They thought Napoleon was no better than intriguer who owed everything to Barras’s favour. None of these men were to be easily cowed by a “wild haired little runt “of only twenty six. Yet, as Augereau one of the generals admitted , something about this Bonaparte frightened them. That day Napoleon issued the following order, “Soldiers! You are badly fed, almost naked. The government owes you a great deal, but it can do nothing for you. Your patience and courage do you honor, but give you neither worldly goods nor glory. I shall lead you into the most fertile plains in the world where you will find big cities and wealthy provinces.
You will win honor, fame and riches. Soldiers of the Army of Italy! Could courage and constancy Once Napoleon took over it didn’t take long for him to turn the group of ill disciplined soldiers into an effective fighting force. In a series of stunning victories, Napoleon defeated four Austrian generals in succession, each army he fought got bigger and bigger. This forced Austria and its allies to make peace with France. Throughout his Italian campaigns, Napoleon won the confidence of his men by his energy, charm, and ability to comprehend complex issues quickly and make decisions rapidly.
These qualities, combined with his keen intelligence, ease with words, and supreme confidence in himself, enabled him throughout the rest of his life to influence people and win their firm support” (pg. 697 – 698 Western Civilization volume II). “No longer was Napoleon a poor Corsican with shabby clothes and cheap boots. He dressed well, took part in the gay life of Paris, and often visited the grand house of Barras. There he met Josephine de Beauharnais, the widow of a French nobleman. ” (pg. 7 Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O).
On March 9, 1796, Napoleon married Josephine and two days later left to command the army that was fighting the Austrians in Italy. On April 10 he started a new campaign, and with a series of clever movements he split the opposing Austrian army into three separate groups. Napoleon then defeated each one of them. This was first example of his rules of war, “Always be superior to the enemy at the point of attack. ” Three weeks later he crossed the Po River. Napoleon lead an attack and attempted to storm the bridge ver the Adda River. “He charged right into the blast of the Austrian guns.
The army went wild with enthusiasm and nicknamed him the “Little Corporal. ” ” (pg. 7 Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O). Napoleon formed three republics in northern Italy, and made peace with Naples without even telling the government in Pairs. In July the Austrians sent three powerful waves of men through the Alps. In only six days, Napoleon and his men attacked each wave of soldiers, and defeated each one separately. When the third was defeated in a two days’ battle at Rivoli on January 14th and 15th, 1797, he invaded Austria. In October of 1797, he signed a treaty of Campo-Formio.
With this treaty France was given Belgium and lands along the Rhine River. “Napoleon’s speed and his cleverness baffled his enemies. Besides the fighting, this 28-year-old general made his own treaties, and conducted his own diplomacy, He kept the Directory ( The French executive body ) happy by sending home all the money and works of art which he could seize. ” (pg. 7 Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O). In December, 1797, Napoleon returned to Paris as a conquering hero. When he returned he received a huge welcome. At this time he began thinking of ursuing more political power and military power.
He wanted to become the next Alexander the Great. The Director wanted to get rid of Napoleon as soon as possible. He felt that Napoleon was getting too popular and too powerful in Paris. He was given command of an army in training to invade England, but believing that the French were unready for such an invasion, Napoleon instead asked the Director if he could take a large army to Egypt. He proposed that by attacking Egypt, it would threaten England hold on India, a major source of British wealth. The Director gladly let him go. In May, 1798, Napoleon sailed to Egypt, and won the Battle of the Pyramids.
On July 23 he entered the city of Cairo. But the British controlled the sea, and on August 1 Horatio Nelson, a English admiral, lead an attack that destroyed the French Navy in Aboukir Bay. Napoleon could no longer keep in touch with France. The British had successfully cut off supplies from Napoleon’s men in Egypt. Napoleon then advanced in to Syria, but was stopped by the British defense of Acre. With no way of getting supplies from France, Napoleon’s men started dying from disease and heat. With his dreams of the Asiatic empire ended he retreated to Egypt.
On his way back to Egypt he came across the first French papers he had seen in ten months. He learned that Italy had been lost to the Austrians, and the Directory was unpopular. Seeing no future and certain defeat, Napoleon did not hesitate to abandon his army and return to Pairs. He left his army in the hands of General Jean Kleber. Napoleon sailed home along with three other ships, and on October 16, 1799 he arrived in Paris. Napoleon then participated in the coup d’etat that ultimately led to his virtual dictatorship of France. Barley thirty years old, he became First Consul of France.
As First Consul, Napoleon directly controlled the entire executive authority of the government. Napoleon had overwhelming influence over the legislature. He appointed members of the bureaucrach, controlled the army, and conducted foreign affairs. In may 1800 Napoleon invaded Italy. He crossed the path known as “Great Saint Bernard”, and occupied Milan. The Austrians had guarded every Pass in to Italy but this one. It was said to be impossible far an arm to cross this pass, but Napoleon proved this theory wrong. On June 14 the Austrians attacked him in the plains of Marengo where he only had a portion of his army.
At four in the afternoon the French had seemed to have been beaten, but Napoleon remained perfectly calm. Then his reinforcements came, and he lead a final charge to win the Battle of Marengo. Napoleon them reorganized almost everything- roads, factories, harbors- that had been destroyed by the Revolution. He now controlled every part of the French life. He invited the Nobles back who had fled abroad. He wrote laws that are still in use today. He reorganized the treasury department, forming the Bank of France, and regulating taxation. He also setup an education system with secondary and technical schools.
A Council of State was set up to give him advise, and help him write laws. France became one of the first efficiently organized modern states. In 1801, Napoleon made an agreement with the pope that made Catholicism the state religion, but all religions were tolerated. “My policy is to govern men as the greatest number wish to be governed,” said Napoleon. “I established myself in Egypt by becoming a Mussulman; I won over the priests in Italy by becoming ultramontane (a supporter of the authority of the Pope). If I governed the Jews I should have reestablished the temple of Solomon. ” (pg.
Britannica Junior Encyclopedia #11 N-O). In 1802, Napoleon was made First Council for life. Two years later, Napoleon not content with being First Council, crowned him self Emperor of France. At this time France was no longer a republic. Napoleon invited the Pope Pius VII to crown him Emperor, but when it came time to be crowned Napoleon took the crown from the Pope and placed it upon is own head. Meanwhile in 1812 war had broken out with England once again. Napoleon organized a huge army at Boulogne for the invasion of England. When Russia and Austria joined England Napoleon decided not to invade England.
Instead he marched his army in to Germany. They surrounded the Austrian army at Ulm, and forced them to surrender. Two days later Admiral Nelson, the same man to defeat the French navy in Egypt, once again destroyed the French navy at the battle of Trafalgar. This forever ended Napoleon’s hopes of invading England. Napoleon’s armies kept fighting, capturing Vienna, the Austrian capital. On December 2 1805, Napoleon met the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz. This was one of his best planed battles. When the morning light came he saw that the enemy had lined up in the exact order he had said they would.
The victory was decisive, Napoleon made himself king of Italy, his brother Joseph, king of Naples, and another brother Louis king of Holland. In October of 1806 Napoleon when to war again. He defeated the Prussians in the battle of Jena, and captured, Berlin. The Prussian king fled to Russia and Napoleon advanced through Poland. While away he was in constant communications with Paris. He received word every day of its internal affairs even though he was 1500 miles away. On February 8, 1997, Napoleon fought an even battle with the Russians at Eylan, Germany, and on June 14 he destroyed the Russian army at Friedland, Germany.
After this battle Napoleon and Alexander I, the Czar of Russia meet at Tilsit. Together they divided Europe, all except for Austria and Prussia. The whole of western Europe was now ruled by the Bonaparte family. Napoleon told them who to marry and what they were to do. The Bonapartes made many improvements to the laws of the countries the governed. However, Napoleon was not a nice man. In fact he was a tyrant, he charged high taxes and refused to allow freedom of speech and press. He also drafted many men from all over Europe. Most of these men did not want to serve in his armies, but the had no choice.
With all this power, Napoleon’s most hated enemy was still untouchable. At Austerlitz he said to his men: “Remember tomorrow that you are fighting against the allies of England! ” By the Berlin Decree of November 1806, Napoleon had closed all the ports of the continent against English trade. This became known as the Continental System. Napoleon figured that if he could not beat England in a battle, he would just cut off there supplies and force them to make a treaty with France. This strategy did not goes as planed. In Spain, Napoleon forced king Charles IV to abdicate and set up his brother Joseph as king.
The Spanish people rebelled , and an English army landed in Portugal. Napoleon himself took command, but early in 1809 the Austrians again declared war. Napoleon rushed back to France, and in May he went to Vienna and on July 5-6 fought at the Battle of Wagram. It was a hard fight, but he won it and peace was once again made. Napoleon wanted a son. Not having produced one, Napoleon divorced Josephine. On March 11, 1810, Napoleon married Marie Louise, daughter of the emperor of Austria. But this did not get peace. The constitutional system was hurting Russia and Sweden. Finally, Russia started trading with England again.
Napoleon gathered the ” Grand Army” of about 500,000 men. In June 1812, Napoleon endeavored on a new campaign. This was one of the worst mistakes he ever made. This would ultimately lead to the death of an entire generation of French men. Napoleon and his 500,000 men marched into Russia. Napoleon believed that after a few quick victorious battles, he would be able to convince Alexander to return to the Continental System. He also decided that if he could take Moscow, the Russian government would crumble and ask for peace. Napoleon was quoted as saying, “A single blow to the heart of the Russian Empire, at Moscow the
Great, at Moscow the Holly, will instantly put this whole blind, apathetic mass at my mercy”, (pg6, 1812 Napoleon’s Defeat in Russia). Napoleon would soon learn how wrong he was. At the beginning of Napoleon’s campaign he was fabulously victorious, but when he reached Moscow he found the city in ruins. Instead of giving in to Napoleon, Alexander had burned Moscow to the ground. Alexander knew that the winter was coming , and with no refuge Napoleon and his troops would be in grave danger. Alexander was right, Napoleon’s lost many men to frost bite and other such related winter ailments.
This single strategy killed almost half a million men. This was the beginning of the end for Napoleon. Out of the 500,000 troops that he brought, only 40,000 of his men managed to straggle back to Poland. This became known as the “Great Retreat”. The campaigns of 1813 were hopeless from the start. Prussia and Austria joined Russia. Napoleon started by winning the Battle of Leipzig in May, but could not follow it up. No longer being the super power, some of his German allies joined the Russians, and Napoleon lost the Battle of Leipzig. Soon the Austrians, Prussians, and Bavarians were in northern France.
The English in Spain were marching over the Pyrenees. France tired of fighting, out of money, and out of men could no longer support Napoleon. For all the time it took Napoleon to conquer Europe, it was almost over night that he lost it all. On April 11, 1814 Napoleon was abdicated. With the overthrow of Napoleon, the Countries of Europe came to Vienna to remake the map. Most of the old kings were given back there lands and France was reduced. They also decided to exile Napoleon to the island of Elba. Even there he was a king. He organized an army and made roads. But all the while still had his eyes on France.
On June 18, 1815 Napoleon with his new army once again attacked the English, led by the Duke of Wellington, at Waterloo. This battle was short lived and Napoleon was quickly defeated, and he was once again abdicated. But this time they sent him to live on the Island of St. Helena, where he died in may 1821. As you can see Napoleon Bonaparte was one of the greatest military masterminds of all times, but as is with all good thing, they must come to an end. For all his intelligence and skill he was a terrible man. He killed almost half a million of his men, not to mention the men he kill that were not his enemies.