Napoleonic Wars

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On 26 February 1815, Napoleon fled from his exile on the island of Elba, which had become a principality, and returned to France with fantasies of war. He should be able to act again with his "Great Army" for 111 days. After his defeat and abdication, Napoleon boarded the British battleship Bellerophon on 15 July 1815, which took him to Plymouth. From there he sailed on to St. Helena in August, where he died in 1821. To the end, he was concerned with the question of why Waterloo became "his Waterloo".

The Napoleonic Wars, a series of wars fought during Napoleon Bonaparte's rule over France (1799 to 1815), took place mainly in Europe but also involved some other parts of the world. They continued to some extent the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789. Napoleon was defeated 1813 by a German army led by the Prussian Army and finally 1815 during and after the Battle of Waterloo.



These wars revolutionized European armies and artillery, as well as other military systems, and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to the application of modern mass conscription. French power rose quickly, conquering most of Europe, but collapsed rapidly after France's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon's empire ultimately suffered complete military defeat during the Battle of Leipzig (de), the culmination of the German Campaign of 1813 (de), resulting in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. Meanwhile the Spanish Empire began to unravel as French occupation of Spain weakened the Spanish hold over its colonies, providing an opening for nationalist revolutions in Latin America.

No consensus exists as to when the French Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars began. Possible dates include 9 November 1799, when Bonaparte seized power in France; 18 May 1803, when Britain and France ended the only period of peace in Europe between 1792 and 1814, and 2 December 1804, when Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor.

Napoleon had seen great success in Germany in 1806 with the twin victories of Jena and Auerstedt resulting in the complete subjugation of Prussia. Six years later he found himself back in Germany with a new but inexperienced army in an attempt to recover from his disastrous 1812 Russian campaign. His challenge was immense: his former Prussian allies had turned against him and were stoking the fires of German nationalism; his Austrian allies had abandoned him and withdrawn from the conflict; numerous French garrisons were isolated on the Vistula and Oder; and his recent Russian foe had had time to re-organise, reinforce and march to join their new Prussian partners. For a while, the Napoleon of old showed flashes of genius as he defeated the coalition forces in a series of pyrrhic victories which nevertheless won him an armistice. Meanwhile the Allies had learnt to avoid direct battle with Napoleon, defeating his subordinate commanders in a series of subsidiary actions instead. As his junior commanders were successively defeated, the Emperor found his enemies closing in on him from all directions and Napoleon’s last campaign in Germany came to its inevitable conclusion at the ‘Battle of Nations’ at Leipzig in October 1813.[1]

The Napoleonic Wars ended, after the "Hundred Days" (Herrschaft der Hundert Tage), following Napoleon's final defeat at the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815) against the Seventh Coalition (de) and the Second Treaty of Paris. It also led to the founding of the German Confederation. Some sources (chiefly in the United Kingdom) occasionally refer to the nearly continuous period of warfare from 1792 to 1815 as the Great French War, or as the final phase of the Anglo-French Second Hundred Years' War, spanning the period 1689 to 1815.

Quotes (Napoleon)

  • "I am the successor, not of Louis XIV, but of Charlemagne!"
  • "If I had to choose a religion, the sun as the universal giver of life would be my god."
  • “The joining together of the Germans had to be slower; that's why I had only simplified their monstrous complication. Not that they had not been prepared for this union; on the contrary, they were just too much and could have reacted blindly to us before they understood us. How was it that no German prince understood the mood of his nation or knew how to use it? Truly, had heaven allowed me to be born a German prince, amidst the innumerable crises of our day I should infallibly have united the thirty million Germans; and, as I think I know them, I still think that if they had once elected me and proclaimed me, they would never have left me, and I would not be here [...] However that may be, this union must take place, late or soon, by the force of things."[2]

Further reading

F. Lorraine Petre: Napoleon's Last Campaign in Germany, Published by Naval & Military Press (2015)

See also

External links



  1. Napoleon in Germany
  2. Original (in German): „Die Zusammenfügung der Deutschen mußte langsamer gehen; deswegen hatte ich auch ihre monströse Complication nur vereinfacht. Nicht, als wären sie zu dieser Vereinigung nicht vorbereitet gewesen; sie waren es im Gegentheil nur zu viel und hätten blind auf uns zurückwirken können, ehe sie uns begriffen. Wie kam es nur, daß kein deutscher Fürst die Stimmung seiner Nation verstand, oder dieselbe zu benutzen wußte? Wahrhaftig, hätte der Himmel mich als ein deutscher Fürst geboren werden lassen, mitten durch die zahllosen Krisen unsrer Tage würde ich unfehlbar die dreißig Millionen Deutsche vereinigt haben; und, wie ich sie zu kennen glaube, denke ich noch, daß, hatten sie mich einmal gewählt und proclamirt, sie mich nie verlassen hätten und ich nicht hier wäre … Wie dem auch nun seyn mag, diese Vereinigung muß, spät oder früh, durch die Gewalt der Dinge erfolgen.“ — Exilant auf St. Helena Bonaparte hatte die Deutschen unter- und die Franzosen überschätzt; zitiert nach dem Original von Staatsrat Emmanuel Graf de Las Cases (1766–1842) aus dessen Werk Mémorial de Sainte Hélène, in „Literarisches Conversations-Blatt für das Jahr 1823“, Zweiter Band, Juli bis Dezember, Brockhaus, Leipzig 1823, S. 1054