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In the government of the country, the Convention was followed by a Directory, a body of five men chosen to rule France. The Directory lasted about four years, and during this time a great soldier was steadily winning the heart of France: this was the famous Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon was a native of Corsica, and when the Revolution broke out he was a young officer in the French army. He became famous when he took the town of Toulon from the English, who had seized it, and soon Napoleon was made a General. He became one of the greatest commanders the world has ever known, and led the French army to victory after victory in Italy

In 1799 the Directory was overturned, and Bonaparte became the chief man in France, under the title of First Consul. At first it was agreed that he should hold this power for ten years, but in 1802 the nation resolved that he should be Consul for life. Napoleon was powerful in France because he was the idol of the army, and because of his great victories, which filled the French people with pride and delight. He overcame almost every nation in Europe but Britain, and in 1804 he prepared a great army to cross the English Channel. But the British fleet watched every movement so closely that he did not dare to embark his troops, and he marched away to overthrow the Emperors of Austria and Russia at the great battle of Austerlitz. This battle is sometimes called the "Battle of the Three Emperors," for by this time Napoleon had become Emperor of the French, and France was thus ruled by an Emperor instead of a King.

Napoleon now seemed to be master of the Continent. He carved the map almost as he pleased, made his brothers kings, and his power in France was as great as that of any of her former rulers. By sea he was not so fortunate as by land, for the British fleet beat his ships time and again; the greatest British victory was won at Trafalgar in 1805, where Nelson fell.

In 1812, Napoleon's power received a great blow. He invaded Russia with a vast army and seized [Moscow. The Russians set the city on fire, and the French were compelled to retreat. It was winter, and the French troops fell fast from hunger and cold. Of the splendid army which had entered Russia, only a wretched remnant recrossed the frontier. Now his enemies gathered against him, and he was beaten at the great battle of Leipzig in 1814. The Austrians, Prussians, and Russians, marched into France, and the allied forces entered Paris. Napoleon was forced to resign his crown, and was sent as an exile to the island of Elba.

The brother of Louis XVI. was now made King under the title of Louis XVIII., and there was peace for a short time. But in 1815 Napoleon escaped from Elba, landed in France, and marched on Paris. He had trusted to the magic of his name, and he did not trust in vain. His old soldiers flocked to rejoin him in their thousands, and the French welcomed him with joy, for they did not like Louis XVIII.

The Allies quickly gathered their forces to assail Napoleon once more, and an English army was sent to Belgium under the Duke of Wellington. Here the French met the English and Germans at the great battle of Waterloo, which ended in the utter overthrow of Napoleon. Now it was resolved to shut him up securely, and he was sent to the little island of St. Helena in the Atlantic. Five years later he died, and was buried there, but some time afterwards his body was taken to France and laid in a splendid tomb in a church in Paris. 

Napoleon's empire in 1811     French Empire     French Satellites     Allied states


One of the greatest military commanders and a risk taking gambler; a workaholic genius and an impatient short term planner; a vicious cynic who forgave his closest betrayers; a misogynist who could enthrall men; Napoleon Bonaparte was all of these and more, the twice-emperor of France whose military endeavors and sheer personality dominated Europe in person for a decade, and in thought for a century.

 His genius is universally admitted, both as a general and an administrator. No general so great has appeared in our modern times. His military career was so brilliant that it dazzled contemporaries. Without the advantages of birth or early patronage, he rose to the highest pinnacle of human glory. His victories were prodigious and unexampled; and it took all Europe to resist him. He aimed at nothing less than universal sovereignty; and had he not, when intoxicated with his conquests, attempted impossibilities, his power would have been practically unlimited in France. He had all the qualities for success in war,--insight, fertility of resource, rapidity of movement, power of combination, coolness, intrepidity, audacity, boldness tempered by calculation, will, energy which was never relaxed, powers of endurance, and all the qualities which call out enthusiasm and attach soldiers and followers to personal interests. His victorious career was unchecked until all the nations of Europe, in fear and wrath, combined against him.

Napoleon as a dashing young soldier


His genius for civil administration was equally remarkable, and is universally admitted. Even Metternich, who detested him, admits that "he was as great as a statesman as he was as a warrior, and as great as an administrator as he was as a statesman." He brought order out of confusion, developed the industry of his country, restored the finances, appropriated and rewarded all eminent talents, made the whole machinery of government subservient to his aims, and even seemed to animate it by his individual will.


Napoleon's personality had a significant impact throughout his career. Many factors helped him rise to fame and enhance his abilities; his almost hypnotic power over his contemporaries; his intellectual capacity; the ability to work for long periods continually; his iron will and irresistible charm all helped during the early part of his career to establish himself at an early age as a very competent general.

He was tolerably well educated, and he possessed considerable critical powers in art, literature, and science. He penetrated through all shams and impostures. He was rarely deceived as to men or women. He could be eloquent and interesting in conversation. Some of his expressions pierced like lightning, and were exceedingly effective. His despatches were laconic and clear. He knew something about everybody of note, and if he had always been in a private station his intellectual force would have attracted attention in almost any vocation he might have selected. His natural vivacity, wit, and intensity would have secured friends and admirers in any sphere.

Napoleon had an unbelievable range of intellectual ability. His power of concentration was enormous as was his memory for detail and facts. It is argued that when on campaign in 1805 one of his subordinates could not locate his division, while his aids searched through maps and papers, the Emperor informed the officer of his unit's present location, where he would be for the next three nights, the status and resume of the units strength as well as the subordinates military record. This out of an army with seven corps, a total of 200,000 men, with all the units on the move.

Napoleon also possess an incredible capacity for work. He continually worked an eighteen to twenty hour day. When necessary he could work for up to three days without rest. He took great interest in even the smallest measures under his command and used his mental abilities to think out military problems days or even months in advance. More importantly he possessed the ability to inspire others. All of these personality traits were to prove invaluable to him in the period up to 1806. It was after this date that things started to work against him.


None can deny him many good qualities. His industry was marvellous; he was temperate in eating and drinking; he wasted no precious time; he rewarded his friends, to whom he was true; he did not persecute his enemies unless they stood in his way, and unless he had a strong personal dislike for them, as he had for Madame de Staël; he could be magnanimous at times; he was indulgent to his family, and allowed his wife to buy as many India shawls and diamonds as she pleased; he was never parsimonious in his gifts, although personally inclined to economy; he generally ruled by the laws he had accepted or enacted; he despised formalities and etiquette; he sought knowledge from every quarter; he encouraged merit in all departments; he was not ruled by women, like most of the kings of France; he was not enslaved by prejudices, and was lenient when he could afford to be; and in the earlier part of his career he was doubtless patriotic in his devotion to the interests of his country.


Moreover, many of his faults were the result of circumstances, and of the unprecedented prosperity which he enjoyed. Pride, egotism, tyranny, and ostentation were to be expected of a man whose will was law. Nearly all men would have exhibited these traits, had they been seated on such a throne as his; and almost any man's temper would have occasionally given way under such burdens as he assumed, such hostilities as he encountered, and such treasons as he detected. Surrounded by spies and secret enemies, he was obliged to be reserved. With a world at his feet, it was natural that he should be arbitrary and impatient of contradiction. There have been successful railway magnates as imperious as he, and bank presidents as supercilious, and clerical dignitaries as haughty, in their smaller spheres. Pride, consciousness, and egotism are the natural result of power and flattery in all conditions of life; and when a single man controls the destinies of nations, he is an exception to the infirmities of human nature if he does not seek to bend everything before his haughty will.

There were yet natural traits of character in Napoleon which call out the severest reprobation, and which make him an object of indignation and intense dislike among true-minded students of history. His egotism was almost superhuman, his selfishness was most unscrupulous, his ambition absolutely boundless. He claimed a monopoly in perfidy and lying; he had no idea of moral responsibility; he had no sympathy with misfortune, no conscience, no fear of God. He was cold, hard, ironical, and scornful. He was insolent in his treatment of women, brusque in manners, severe on all who thwarted or opposed him. He committed great crimes in his ascent to supreme dominion, and mocked the reason, the conscience, and the rights of mankind. He broke the most solemn treaties; he was faithless to his cause; he centred in himself the interests he was intrusted to guard; he recklessly insulted all the governments of Europe; he put himself above Providence; he disgracefully elevated his brothers; he sought to aggrandize himself at any cost, and ruthlessly grasped the sceptre of universal dominion as if he were an irresistible destiny whom it was folly to oppose, In all this he aimed to be greater than conscience.


"It is for my services to France that I claim to be judged. I do not claim perfection. I admit I made grand mistakes; I even committed acts which the world stigmatizes as crimes. I seized powers which did not belong to me; I overthrew constitutions; I made myself supreme; I mocked the old powers of earth; I repudiated the ideas in the name of which I climbed to a throne; I was harsh, insolent, and tyrannical; I divorced the wife who was the maker of my fortune; I caused the assassination of the Duc d'Enghien; I invaded Spain and Russia; and I wafted the names of my conquering generals to the ends of the earth in imprecations and curses. These were my mistakes,--crimes, if you please to call them; but it is not for these you must judge me. Did I not come to the rescue of law and order when France was torn with anarchies? Did I not deliver the constituted authorities from the mob? Did I not rescue France from foreign enemies when they sought to repress the Revolution and restore the Bourbons? Was I not the avenger of twenty-five hungry millions on those old tyrants who would have destroyed their nationality? Did I not break up those combinations which would have perpetuated the enslavement of Europe? Did I not seek to plant liberty in Italy and destroy the despotisms of German princes? Did I not give unity to great States and enlarge their civilization? Did I not rebuke and punish Austria, Prussia, Russia, and England for interfering with our Revolution and combining against the rights of a republic? Did I not elevate France, and give scope to its enterprise, and develop its resources, and inspire its citizens with an unknown enthusiasm, and make the country glorious, so that even my enemies came to my court to wonder and applaud? And did I not leave such an immortal prestige, even when I was disarmed and overthrown by the armies of combined Christendom, that my illustrious name, indelibly engraved in the hearts of my countrymen, was enough to seat my nephew on the throne from which I was torn, and give to his reign a glory scarcely inferior to my own? These were my services to France,--the return of centralized power amid anarchies and discontents and laws which successive revolutions have not destroyed, but which shall blaze in wisdom through successive generations."

The man of boundless ambition


There was something new in his system of fighting, not seen at least in modern times,--a rapid massing of his troops, and a still more rapid concentration of them upon the weak points of the enemy's lines, coming down on them like a mountain torrent, and sweeping everything before him, in defiance of all rules and precedents. A new master in the art of war, greater than Condé, or Turenne, or Marlborough, or Frederic II., had suddenly arisen, with amazing audacity and faith in himself.

Napoleon's genius lay not in revolutionizing of warfare itself, but in the refinement of existing means. He did not propose any drastic changes in tactics nor invent a new method of waging warfare, instead he excelled at the tactical handling of the armies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Napoleon established himself as a great leader of men during the revolutionary period with the siege of Toulon and his triumphs in Italy in 1796. These talents were refined and reached their height during the battles of Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena in the period of 1805-1806. Towards the end of the Empire the weaknesses of Napoleon as a military commander became more evident. His insistence on the micro management of the army and the awarding of Marshal batons to those who excelled under his leadership, but who possessed no great talent for individual command, worked to his determent. The strategic failures of the decisions to invade Spain and Russia and the inability to keep the other major European powers divided proved disastrous. The increasing size and static nature of armies and the increasingly murderous nature of warfare during the latter part of the Empire revealed Napoleon's inability to adapt to the changing shape of war. It is in the light of his triumphs and later failures that Napoleon's traditional reputation as a great military leader must be judged.

One of the most important factors of Napoleon's personality and its effect on his abilities as a military commander was his genius to inspire others. Contrary to the beliefs of Count von Wartenburg, Napoleon was eminently aware of the impact of morale on modern warfare. He believed in the maxim that "morale is to the physical as three is to one", further emphasizing the point while in exile on St Helena: "Moral force rather than numbers, decides victory." It was through his system of awards an appealing to soldiers "soul in order to electrify the man" that Napoleon was so successful in obtaining unquestionable obedience from his rank and file.



With relations worsening between France and Russia, British diplomatic pressure persuaded Russia and Sweden to withdraw from Napoleon's Continental System and sign a treaty with Britain in June 1812. Napoleon was about to make the mistake that would cost him his Empire. He gathered 450,000 troops in Poland and on 24th June he crossed into Russia to crush her once and for all. Of this huge army only 200,000 were French the rest were made up of troops from allies and subject nations across Europe. Russian troops in the immediate area amounted to about 215,000 but the French advance was delayed by heavy rain and bad weather, a taste of things to come. Like they would do in the future the Russians fell back destroying all resources as they went increasing the huge supply demands on the invaders. After a few brief clashes the Russians continued to fall back and in August came under the command of Kutuzov. Napoleon had planned to winter the Army at Smolensk, but Russian forces and the logistical problems force him to try and bring the Russians to battle in a decisive encounter. The result was the battle of Borodino 7th September 1812, during which Napoleon's generalship was less than impressive, possibly due to illness. The battle was a pointless bloodbath in which the Russians were defeated with the loss of 40,000 men and the French suffered 30,000 casualties. The French now entered an empty Moscow and found it devoid of much needed supplies and on fire soon after they entered. The forward elements of the army number about 100,000 men with the rest spread out all along the line of advance, morale was poor particularly among the allies and raids against the French supply lines by Russian Cossacks were taking a toll. Facing 110,000 well-supplied troops under Kutuzov the French began the famous retreat from Moscow on 19th October 1812. The snows came early and the retreat became a disaster, men starving, horse often eaten by the men and harassing attacks by Russian irregulars and Cossacks. Ney’s Rearguard fought bravely but the Army was doomed, with only 37,000 effective troops under Napoleons command when it reached the bridgehead at Berezina in late November. The defence allowed most of the French to cross but by the 8th December only 10,000 effective troops remained. The Russians who had suffered very heavy casualties halted the pursuit but the French had lost 300,000 men. Napoleon's army was destroyed, many veteran troops had died, tens of thousands of military horses, thousands of wagons and hundreds of guns. Europe now rose against the weakened Tyrant, many states had uprisings and many allies now deserted, and it was the beginning of the end.


Never in history, perhaps, did a man of such extraordinary military genius suffer so extraordinary a military disaster. On June 24, 1812, Napoleon Bonaparte, the master of continental Europe, led nearly half a million men into the depths of Russia to enforce his will upon Czar Alexander I. With greatly inferior forces, Russia could not afford to confront Napoleon head on. Instead, the Russian commander, Mikhail Kutuzov, of necessity adopted Fabian tactics, harassing the invaders but avoiding pitched battle when possible.

The one really big battle, Borodino, was more or less a draw, after Napoleon gave up personal command for reasons never satisfactorily explained. On Sept. 14 Moscow fell to Napoleon, and he sent peace overtures to Alexander, thinking the czar had no option but to negotiate.

 The Russians stalled and hinted but never gave a firm answer, seeking to keep Napoleon in Moscow as long as possible. On Oct. 19, with the czar still dawdling, French food supplies dwindling rapidly, and the Russian winter closing in, Napoleon had no choice but to begin withdrawal. The weather, disease and constant Russian harassment then destroyed his Grande Armée. He started the invasion with 450,000 men; 6,000 returned home.

New York Times


  1. The French historians say this was because of the harsh Russian winter.
  2. According to Leo Tolstoy (in the book 'War and Peace') it was because of the strong nationalistic spirit of the Russian people.
  3. Historian Dominic Lieven says in his new book Russia Against Napoleon: The True Story of the Campaigns of War and Peace that it was owing to to its military excellence, superior cavalry, the high standards of Russia’s diplomatic and intelligence services and the quality of its European elite. Thanks to the intelligence he obtained, Alexander was able to outwit Napoleon, anticipating his invasion. (Economist)


A celebrated people lose dignity upon a closer view.

A man will fight harder for his interests than for his rights.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

A revolution is an idea which has found its bayonets.

A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.

A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.

A true man hates no one.

An army marches on its stomach.

Death is nothing, but to live defeated and inglorious is to die daily.

Doctors will have more lives to answer for in the next world than even we generals.

England is a nation of shopkeepers.

Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.

He who knows how to flatter also knows how to slander.

I am sometimes a fox and sometimes a lion. The whole secret of government lies in knowing when to be the one or the other.

If you want a thing done well, do it yourself.

If you wish to be a success in the world, promise everything, deliver nothing.

In politics... never retreat, never retract... never admit a mistake.

It requires more courage to suffer than to die.

Men are moved by two levers only: fear and self interest.

Music is the voice that tells us that the human race is greater than it knows.

Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.

Power is my mistress. I have worked too hard at her conquest to allow anyone to take her away from me.

Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.

Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich.

The act of policing is, in order to punish less often, to punish more severely.

The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue.

The people to fear are not those who disagree with you, but those who disagree with you and are too cowardly to let you know.

The surest way to remain poor is to be an honest man.

Victory belongs to the most persevering.

War is the business of barbarians.

When soldiers have been baptized in the fire of a battle-field, they have all one rank in my eyes.

Women are nothing but machines for producing children. 


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1 Comment:

Hasibur Rahman said...

Personally I like this author. Great article about Napoleon Bonaparte. Thanks for sharing with us.

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