The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).
Napoleon, upon ascending to First Consul of France in 1799, had inherited a chaotic republic; he subsequently created a state with stable finances, a strong bureaucracy, and a well-trained army. In 1805, Austria and Russia started the Third Coalition and waged war against France. In response, Napoleon defeated the allied Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz in December 1805, which is considered his greatest victory. At sea, the British severely defeated the joint Franco-Spanish navy in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805. This victory secured British control of the seas and prevented the invasion of Britain itself. Concerned about increasing French power, Prussia led the creation of the Fourth Coalition with Russia, Saxony and Sweden, and the resumption of war in October 1806. Napoleon quickly defeated the Prussians in Jena and the Russians in Friedland, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. The peace failed, though, as war broke out in 1809, when the badly prepared Fifth Coalition, led by Austria, was quickly defeated in Wagram.
Hoping to isolate Britain economically, Napoleon launched an invasion of Portugal, the only remaining British ally in continental Europe. After occupying Lisbon in November 1807, and with the bulk of French troops present in Spain, Napoleon seized the opportunity to turn against his former ally, depose the reigning Spanish Bourbon family and declare his brother King of Spain in 1808 as Joseph I. The Spanish and Portuguese revolted with British support and expelled the French from Iberia in 1814 after six years of fighting.
Concurrently, Russia, unwilling to bear economic consequences of reduced trade, routinely violated the Continental System, enticing Napoleon to launch a massive invasion of Russia in 1812. The resulting campaign ended with the dissolution and disastrous withdrawal of the French Grande Armée
Encouraged by the defeat, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Sixth Coalition and began a new campaign against France, decisively defeating Napoleon at Leipzig in October 1813 after several inconclusive engagements. The Allies then invaded France from the east, while the Peninsular War spilled over into southwestern France. Coalition troops captured Paris at the end of March 1814 and forced Napoleon to abdicate in early April. He was exiled to the island of Elba, and the Bourbons were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped in February 1815, and reassumed control of France. The Allies responded with the Seventh Coalition, defeating Napoleon permanently at Waterloo in June 1815 and exiling him to St Helena, where he died six years later.
The Congress of Vienna redrew the borders of Europe, and brought a period of relative peace. The wars had profound consequences on global history, including the spread of nationalism and liberalism, the rise of the British Empire as the world's foremost power, the appearance of independence movements in Latin America and subsequent collapse of the Spanish Empire, the fundamental reorganisation of German and Italian territories into larger states, and the establishment of radically new methods of conducting warfare.
Napoleon seized power in 1799, creating a de facto military dictatorship. There are a number of opinions on the date to use as the formal beginning of the Napoleonic Wars; 18 May 1803 is often used, when Britain and France ended the only short period of peace between 1792 and 1814. The Napoleonic Wars began with the War of the Third Coalition, which was the first of the Coalition Wars against the First French Republic after Napoleon's accession as leader of France.
Britain ended the Treaty of Amiens and declared war on France in May 1803. Among the reasons were Napoleon's changes to the international system in Western Europe, especially in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Kagan argues that Britain was irritated in particular by Napoleon's assertion of control over Switzerland. Furthermore, Britons felt insulted when Napoleon stated that their country deserved no voice in European affairs, even though King George III was an elector of the Holy Roman Empire. For its part, Russia decided that the intervention in Switzerland indicated that Napoleon was not looking toward a peaceful resolution of his differences with the other European powers.
The British hastily enforced a naval blockade of France to starve it of resources. Napoleon responded with economic embargoes against Britain, and sought to eliminate Britain's Continental allies to break the coalitions arrayed against him. The so-called Continental System formed a league of armed neutrality to disrupt the blockade and enforce free trade with France. The British responded by capturing the Danish fleet, breaking up the league, and later secured dominance over the seas, allowing it to freely continue its strategy. Napoleon won the War of the Third Coalition at Austerlitz, forcing the Austrian Empire out of the war and formally dissolving the Holy Roman Empire. Within months, Prussia declared war, triggering a War of the Fourth Coalition. This war ended disastrously for Prussia, defeated and occupied within 19 days of the beginning of the campaign. Napoleon subsequently defeated the Russian Empire at Friedland, creating powerful client states in Eastern Europe and ending the fourth coalition.
Concurrently, the refusal of Portugal to commit to the Continental System, and Spain's failure to maintain it, led to the Peninsular War and the outbreak of the War of the Fifth Coalition. The French occupied Spain and formed a Spanish client kingdom, ending the alliance between the two. Heavy British involvement in the Iberian Peninsula soon followed, while a British effort to capture Antwerp failed. Napoleon oversaw the situation in Iberia, defeating the Spanish, and expelling the British from the Peninsula. Austria, keen to recover territory lost during the War of the Third Coalition, invaded France's client states in Eastern Europe. Napoleon defeated the fifth coalition at Wagram.
Attempts to disrupt the British blockade led to the United States declaring war on Britain, while grievances over control of Poland, and Russia's withdrawal from the Continental System, led to Napoleon invading Russia in June 1812. The invasion was an unmitigated disaster for Napoleon; scorched earth tactics, desertion, French strategic failures and the onset of the Russian winter compelled Napoleon to retreat with massive losses. Napoleon suffered further setbacks; French power in the Iberian Peninsula was broken at Battle of Vitoria the following summer, and a new coalition began the War of the Sixth Coalition.
The coalition defeated Napoleon at Leipzig, precipitating his fall from power and eventual abdication on 6 April 1814. The victors exiled Napoleon to Elba and restored the Bourbon monarchy. Napoleon escaped from Elba in 1815, gathering enough support to overthrow the monarchy of Louis XVIII, triggering a seventh, and final, coalition against him. Napoleon was decisively defeated at Waterloo, and he abdicated again on 22 June. On 15 July, he surrendered to the British at Rochefort, and was exiled to Saint Helena, where he died in 1821. The Treaty of Paris, signed on 20 November 1815, formally ended the war.
The Bourbon monarchy was restored once more, and the victors began the Congress of Vienna, to restore peace to the continent. As a direct result of the war, the Kingdom of Prussia rose to become a great power on the continent, while Great Britain, with its unequalled Royal Navy and growing Empire became the world's dominant superpower, beginning the Pax Britannica. The Holy Roman Empire was dissolved, and the philosophy of nationalism, that emerged early in the war, greatly contributed to the later unification of the German states, and those of the Italian peninsula. The war in Iberia greatly weakened Spanish power, and the Spanish Empire began to unravel; Spain would lose nearly all of its American possessions by 1833. The Portuguese Empire began a rapid decline, with Brazil declaring independence in 1822.
The wars revolutionised European warfare; the application of mass conscription and total war led to campaigns of unprecedented scale, as whole nations committed all their economic and industrial resources to a collective war effort. Tactically, the French Army redefined the role of artillery, while Napoleon emphasised mobility to offset numerical disadvantages, and aerial surveillance was used for the first time in warfare. While not a new tactic, the highly successful Spanish guerrillas demonstrated the capability of a people driven by fervent nationalism, liberalism and religious fundamentalism against an occupying force. Due to the longevity of the wars, and the extent of Napoleon's conquests, the ideals of the French Revolution had a massive impact on European social culture; many subsequent revolutions, such as that of Russia, looked to the French as their source of inspiration,The%20French%20Revolution%20and%20the]]its core founding tenets Human rights
The outbreak of the French Revolution had been received with great alarm by the rulers of Europe's continental powers, which had been further exacerbated by the execution of Louis XVI of France, and the overthrow of the French monarchy. In 1793, the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples, Prussia, the Spanish Empire, and the Kingdom of Great Britain formed the First Coalition to curtail the growing unrest in France. Measures such as mass conscription, military reforms, and total war allowed France to defeat the coalition, despite the concurrent civil war in France. Napoleon, then a general in the French army, forced the Austrians to sign the Treaty of Campo Formio, leaving only Great Britain opposed to the fledgling French Republic.
A Second Coalition was formed in 1798 by Great Britain, Austria, Naples, the Ottoman Empire, the Papal States, Portugal, Russia, and Sweden. The French Republic, under the Directory, suffered from heavy levels of corruption and internal strife. The new republic also lacked funds, and no longer enjoyed the services of Lazare Carnot, the minister of war who had guided France to its victories during the early stages of the Revolution. Bonaparte, commander of the Armée d'Italie in the latter stages of the First Coalition, had launched a campaign in Egypt, intending to disrupt the British economic powerhouse of India. Pressed from all sides, the Republic suffered a string of successive defeats against revitalised enemies, supported by Britain's financial help.
Bonaparte returned to France from Egypt on 23 August 1799, his campaign there having failed. He seized control of the French government on 9 November, in a bloodless coup d'état, replacing the Directory with the Consulate and transforming the republic into a de facto dictatorship. He further reorganised the French military forces, establishing a large reserve army positioned to support campaigns on the Rhine or in Italy. Russia had already been knocked out of the war, and, under Napoleon's leadership, the French decisively defeated the Austrians in June 1800, crippling Austrian capabilities in Italy. Austria was definitively defeated that December, by Moreau's forces in Bavaria. The Austrian defeat was sealed by the Treaty of Lunéville early the following year, further compelling the British to sign the Treaty of Amiens with France, establishing a tenuous peace.
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 on 18 Brumaire, the date according to the Republican Calendar then in use; 18 May 1803, when Britain and France ended the one short period of peace between 1792 and 1814; or 2 December 1804, when Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor.
British historians 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. Historian Mike Rapport (2013) suggested to use the term "French Wars" to unambiguously describe the entire period from 1792 to 1815.
In France, the Napoleonic Wars are generally integrated with the French Revolutionary Wars: Les guerres de la Révolution et de l'Empire.
German historiography may count the War of the Second Coalition (1798/9–1801/2), during which Napoleon seized power, as the Erster Napoleonischer Krieg ("First Napoleonic War").
In Dutch historiography, it is common to refer to the seven major wars between 1792 and 1815 as the Coalition Wars (coalitieoorlogen), referring to the first two as the French Revolution Wars (Franse Revolutieoorlogen).
Napoleon was, and remains, famous for his battlefield victories, and historians have spent enormous attention in analysing them. In 2008, Donald Sutherland wrote:
After 1807, Napoleon's creation of a highly mobile, well-armed artillery force gave artillery usage increased tactical importance.
Britain was irritated by several French actions following the Treaty of Amiens. Bonaparte had annexed Piedmont and Elba, made himself President of the Italian Republic, a state in northern Italy that France had set up, and failed to evacuate Holland, as it had agreed to do in the treaty. France continued to interfere with British trade despite peace having been made and complained about Britain harbouring certain individuals and not cracking down on the anti-French press. In fighting, Napoleon focused on penetration, gaining a central position, and surrounding small groups of enemy forces. To Napoleon, penetration meant "You engage, and then you wait and see." Central Positioning aimed to divide enemy forces into weaker smaller groups.
Malta had been captured by Britain during the war and was subject to a complex arrangement in the 10th article of the Treaty of Amiens where it was to be restored to the Knights of St. John with a Neapolitan garrison and placed under the guarantee of third powers. The weakening of the Knights of St. John by the confiscation of their assets in France and Spain along with delays in obtaining guarantees prevented the British from evacuating it after three months as stipulated in the treaty.
The Helvetic Republic had been set up by France when it invaded Switzerland in 1798. France had withdrawn its troops, but violent strife broke out against the government, which many Swiss saw as overly centralised. Bonaparte reoccupied the country in October 1802 and imposed a compromise settlement. This caused widespread outrage in Britain, which protested that this was a violation of the Treaty of Lunéville. Although continental powers were unprepared to act, the British decided to send an agent to help the Swiss obtain supplies, and also ordered their military not to return Cape Colony to Holland as they had committed to do in the Treaty of Amiens.
Swiss resistance collapsed before anything could be accomplished, and after a month Britain countermanded the orders not to restore Cape Colony.
In early March 1803 the Addington ministry received word that Cape Colony had been re-occupied by the British army in accordance with the orders which had subsequently been countermanded. On 8 March they ordered military preparations to guard against possible French retaliation, and justified them by falsely claiming that it was only in response to French preparations and that they were conducting serious negotiations with France. In a few days it was known that Cape Colony had been surrendered in accordance with the counter-orders, but it was too late. Bonaparte berated the British ambassador in front of 200 spectators over the military preparations.
The Addington ministry realised they would face an inquiry over their false reasons for the military preparations, and during April unsuccessfully attempted to secure the support of William Pitt the Younger to shield them from damage. In the same month the ministry issued an ultimatum to France demanding the retention of Malta for at least ten years, the permanent acquisition of the island of Lampedusa from the Kingdom of Sicily, and the evacuation of Holland. They also offered to recognise French gains in Italy if they evacuated Switzerland and compensated the King of Sardinia for his territorial losses. France offered to place Malta in the hands of Russia to satisfy British concerns, pull out of Holland when Malta was evacuated, and form a convention to give satisfaction to Britain on other issues. The British falsely denied that Russia had made an offer and their ambassador left Paris. Desperate to avoid war, Bonaparte sent a secret offer where he agreed to let Britain retain Malta if France could occupy the Otranto peninsula in Naples. All efforts were futile and Britain declared war on 18 May 1803.
War between Britain and France, 1803–1814
Britain ended the uneasy truce created by the Treaty of Amiens when it declared war on France in May 1803.
Britain had a sense of loss of control, as well as loss of markets, and was worried by Napoleon's possible threat to its overseas colonies.
The deeper British grievance was their perception that Napoleon was taking personal control of Europe, making the international system unstable, and forcing Britain to the sidelines.Amiens%20Truce%3A%20Britain%20%26%20Bonapa]]%20%281944]]The%20Transformation%20of%20European%20po]]Numerous scholars have argued that Napoleon's aggressive posture made him enemies and cost him potential allies.Peninsular War invasion of Russia
There was one serious attempt to negotiate peace with France during the war, made by Charles James Fox in 1806. The British wanted to retain their overseas conquests and have Hanover restored to George III in exchange for accepting French conquests on the continent. The French were willing to cede Malta, Cape Colony, Tobago, and French Indian posts to Britain but wanted to obtain Sicily in exchange for the restoration of Hanover, a condition the British refused.
Unlike its many coalition partners, Britain remained at war throughout the period of the Napoleonic Wars.
Beyond minor naval actions against British imperial interests, the Napoleonic Wars were much less global in scope than preceding conflicts such as the Seven Years' War, which historians term a "world war".
In response to the naval blockade of the French coasts enacted by the British government on 16 May 1806, Napoleon issued the Berlin Decree on 21 November 1806, which brought into effect the Continental System. This policy aimed to eliminate the threat from Britain by closing French-controlled territory to its trade. Britain maintained a standing army of 220,000 at the height of the Napoleonic Wars, of whom less than half were available for campaigning. The rest were necessary for garrisoning Ireland and the colonies, and providing security for Britain. France's strength peaked at around 2,500,000 full-time and part-time soldiers including several hundred thousand National Guardsmen whom Napoleon could draft into the military if necessary. Both nations enlisted large numbers of sedentary militia who were unsuited for campaigning, and were mostly employed to release regular forces for active duty.
The Royal Navy disrupted France's extra-continental trade by seizing and threatening French shipping and colonial possessions, but could do nothing about France's trade with the major continental economies and posed little threat to French territory in Europe. France's population and agricultural capacity far outstripped that of Britain. Britain had the greatest industrial capacity in Europe, and its mastery of the seas allowed it to build up considerable economic strength through trade. This ensured that France could never consolidate its control over Europe in peace. Many in the French government believed that cutting Britain off from the Continent would end its economic influence over Europe and isolate it.
A key element in British success was its ability to mobilise the nation's industrial and financial resources and apply them to defeating France.
British national output remained strong, and the well-organised business sector channeled products into what the military needed.
War of the Third Coalition 1805
Britain gathered together allies to form the Third Coalition against France. In response, Napoleon seriously considered an invasion of Great Britain, and massed 180,000 troops at Boulogne. Before he could invade, he needed to achieve naval superiority—or at least to pull the British fleet away from the English Channel. A complex plan to distract the British by threatening their possessions in the West Indies failed when a Franco-Spanish fleet under Admiral Villeneuve turned back after an indecisive action off Cape Finisterre on 22 July 1805. The Royal Navy blockaded Villeneuve in Cádiz until he left for Naples on 19 October; the British squadron caught and overwhelmingly defeated the combined enemy fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar on 21 October (the British commander, Lord Nelson, died in the battle). Napoleon never again had the opportunity to challenge the British at sea, nor to threaten an invasion. He again turned his attention to enemies on the Continent.
In April 1805, Britain and Russia signed a treaty with the aim of removing the French from the Batavian Republic (roughly present-day Netherlands) and the Swiss Confederation. Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy on 17 March 1805. Sweden, which had already agreed to lease Swedish Pomerania as a military base for British troops against France, entered the coalition on 9 August.
The Austrians began the war by invading Bavaria on 8 September 1805 with an army of about 70,000 under Karl Mack von Leiberich, and the French army marched out from Boulogne in late July 1805 to confront them. At Ulm (25 September – 20 October) Napoleon surrounded Mack's army, forcing its surrender without significant losses.
With the main Austrian army north of the Alps defeated (another army under Archduke Charles fought against André Masséna's French army in Italy), Napoleon occupied Vienna on 13 November. Far from his supply lines, he faced a larger Austro-Russian army under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, with the Emperor Alexander I of Russia personally present. On 2 December, Napoleon crushed the Austro-Russian force in Moravia at Austerlitz (usually considered his greatest victory). He inflicted 25,000 casualties on a numerically superior enemy army while sustaining fewer than 7,000 in his own force.
Austria signed the Treaty of Pressburg (26 December 1805) and left the coalition. The treaty required the Austrians to give up Venetia to the French-dominated Kingdom of Italy and the Tyrol to Bavaria. With the withdrawal of Austria from the war, stalemate ensued. Napoleon's army had a record of continuous unbroken victories on land, but the full force of the Russian army had not yet come into play. Napoleon had now consolidated his hold on France, had taken control of Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and most of Western Germany and northern Italy. His admirers say that Napoleon wanted to stop now, but was forced to continue in order to gain greater security from the countries that refused to accept his conquests. Esdaille rejects that explanation and instead says that it was a good time to stop expansion, for the major powers were ready to accept Napoleon as he was:
War of the Fourth Coalition 1806–1807
Within months of the collapse of the Third Coalition, the Fourth Coalition (1806–07) against France was formed by Britain, Prussia, Russia, Saxony, and Sweden. In July 1806, Napoleon formed the Confederation of the Rhine out of the many tiny German states which constituted the Rhineland and most other western parts of Germany. He amalgamated many of the smaller states into larger electorates, duchies, and kingdoms to make the governance of non-Prussian Germany smoother. Napoleon elevated the rulers of the two largest Confederation states, Saxony and Bavaria, to the status of kings.
In August 1806, the Prussian king, Frederick William III, decided to go to war independently of any other great power. The army of Russia, a Prussian ally, in particular was too far away to assist. On 8 October 1806, Napoleon unleashed all the French forces east of the Rhine into Prussia. Napoleon defeated a Prussian army at Jena (14 October 1806), and Davout defeated another at Auerstädt on the same day. 160,000 French soldiers (increasing in number as the campaign went on) attacked Prussia, moving with such speed that they destroyed the entire Prussian army as an effective military force. Out of 250,000 troops the Prussians sustained 25,000 casualties, lost a further 150,000 as prisoners, 4,000 artillery pieces, and over 100,000 muskets. At Jena, Napoleon had fought only a detachment of the Prussian force. The battle at Auerstädt involved a single French corps defeating the bulk of the Prussian army. Napoleon entered Berlin on 27 October 1806. He visited the tomb of Frederick the Great and instructed his marshals to remove their hats there, saying, "If he were alive we wouldn't be here today". Napoleon had taken only 19 days from beginning his attack on Prussia to knock it out of the war with the capture of Berlin and the destruction of its principal armies at Jena and Auerstädt. Saxony left Prussia, and together with small states from north Germany, allied with France.
In the next stage of the war, the French drove Russian forces out of Poland and employed many Polish and German soldiers in several sieges in Silesia and Pomerania, with the assistance of Dutch and Italian soldiers in the latter case. Napoleon then turned north to confront the remainder of the Russian army and to try to capture the temporary Prussian capital at Königsberg. A tactical draw at Eylau (7–8 February 1807), followed by capitulation at Danzig (24 May 1807) and the Battle of Heilsberg (10 June 1807), forced the Russians to withdraw further north. Napoleon decisively beat the Russian army at Friedland (14 June 1807), following which Alexander had to make peace with Napoleon at Tilsit (7 July 1807). In Germany and Poland, new Napoleonic client states, such as the Kingdom of Westphalia, Duchy of Warsaw, and Republic of Danzig, were established.
Britain's first response to Napoleon's Continental System was to launch a major naval attack against Denmark.
At Tilsit, Napoleon and Alexander had agreed that Russia should force Sweden to join the Continental System, which led to a Russian invasion of Finland in February 1808, followed by a Danish declaration of war in March. Napoleon also sent an auxiliary corps, consisting of troops from France, Spain and the Netherlands, led by Marshal Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte, to Denmark to participate in the invasion of Sweden. But British naval superiority prevented the armies from crossing the Øresund strait, and the war came mainly to be fought along the Swedish-Norwegian border. At the Congress of Erfurt (September–October 1808), France and Russia further agreed on the division of Sweden into two parts separated by the Gulf of Bothnia, where the eastern part became the Russian Grand Duchy of Finland. British voluntary attempts to assist Sweden with humanitarian aid remained limited and did not prevent Sweden from adopting a more Napoleon-friendly policy.
In 1807 Napoleon created a powerful outpost of his empire in Central Europe.
War of the Fifth Coalition 1809
The Fifth Coalition (1809) of Britain and Austria against France formed as Britain engaged in the Peninsular War in Spain and Portugal. The sea became a major theatre of war against Napoleon's allies. During the time of the Fifth Coalition, the Royal Navy won a succession of victories in the French colonies. On land the major battles included Battle of Raszyn, Battle of Aspern-Essling, and Battle of Wagram.
On land, the Fifth Coalition attempted few extensive military endeavours.
Economic warfare continued: the French Continental System against the British naval blockade of French-controlled territory. Due to military shortages and lack of organisation in French territory, many breaches of the Continental System occurred as French-dominated states tolerated or even encouraged trade with British smugglers. In terms of economic damage to Great Britain, the blockade was largely ineffective. As Napoleon realised that extensive trade was going through Spain and Russia, he invaded those two countries. He tied down his forces in Spain, and lost very badly in Russia in 1812.
Both sides entered further conflicts in attempts to enforce their blockade; the British fought the United States in the War of 1812 (1812–15), and the French engaged in the Peninsular War (1808–14) to prevent smuggling into Spain. The Iberian conflict began when Portugal continued trade with Britain despite French restrictions. When Spain failed to maintain the Continental System, the uneasy Spanish alliance with France ended in all but name. French troops gradually encroached on Spanish territory until they occupied Madrid, and installed a client monarchy. This provoked an explosion of popular rebellions across Spain. Heavy British involvement soon followed.
Austria, previously an ally of France, took the opportunity to attempt to restore its imperial territories in Germany as held prior to Austerlitz.
After defeats in Spain suffered by France, Napoleon took charge and enjoyed success, retaking Madrid, defeating the Spanish and forcing a withdrawal of the heavily out-numbered British army from the Iberian Peninsula (Battle of Corunna, 16 January 1809). But when he left, the guerrilla war against his forces in the countryside continued to tie down great numbers of troops. Austria's attack prevented Napoleon from successfully wrapping up operations against British forces by necessitating his departure for Austria, and he never returned to the Peninsular theatre. The British then sent in a fresh army under Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) whom the French could not stop.
The Peninsular war proved a major disaster for France.
The Peninsular campaigns witnessed 60 major battles and 30 major sieges, more than any other of the Napoleonic conflicts, and lasted over six years, far longer than any of the others. France and her allies lost at least 91,000 killed in action and 237,000 wounded in the peninsula.
In the east, the Austrians drove into the Duchy of Warsaw but suffered defeat at the Battle of Raszyn on 19 April 1809. The Polish army captured West Galicia following its earlier success. Napoleon assumed personal command and bolstered the army for a counter-attack on Austria. After a few small battles, the well-run campaign forced the Austrians to withdraw from Bavaria, and Napoleon advanced into Austria. His hurried attempt to cross the Danube resulted in the major Battle of Aspern-Essling (22 May 1809) — Napoleon's first significant tactical defeat. But the Austrian commander, Archduke Charles, failed to follow up on his indecisive victory, allowing Napoleon to prepare and seize Vienna in early July. He defeated the Austrians at Wagram, on 5–6 July. (It was during the middle of that battle that Marshal Bernadotte was stripped of his command after retreating contrary to Napoleon's orders. Shortly thereafter, Bernadotte took up the offer from Sweden to fill the vacant position of Crown Prince there. Later he actively participated in wars against his former Emperor.)
The War of the Fifth Coalition ended with the Treaty of Schönbrunn (14 October 1809). In the east, only the Tyrolese rebels led by Andreas Hofer continued to fight the French-Bavarian army until finally defeated in November 1809. In the west the Peninsular War continued. The British and Portuguese remained restricted to the area around Lisbon (behind their impregnable lines of Torres Vedras) but besieged Cadiz.
In 1810, the French Empire reached its greatest extent.
- the Kingdom of Denmark
- the Kingdom of Spain (under Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's elder brother)
- the Kingdom of Westphalia (Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon's younger brother)
- the Kingdom of Naples (under Joachim Murat, husband of Napoleon's sister Caroline)
- the Principality of Lucca and Piombino (under Elisa Bonaparte (Napoleon's sister) and her husband Felice Baciocchi);
and Napoleon's former enemies, Sweden, Prussia and Austria.
The Napoleonic Wars were the direct cause of wars in the Americas and elsewhere.
The War of 1812 coincided with the War of the Sixth Coalition. Historians in the United States and Canada see it as a war in its own right, while Europeans often see it as a minor theatre of the Napoleonic Wars. The United States declared war on Britain because of British interference with American merchant ships and forced enlistment into the British Royal Navy. France had interfered as well, and the US considered declaring war on France. The war ended in a military stalemate, and there were no boundary changes at the Treaty of Ghent, which took effect in early 1815 when Napoleon was on Elba.
The abdication of kings Carlos IV and Fernando VII of Spain and the installation of Napoleon's brother as King José provoked civil wars and revolutions leading to the independence of most of Spain's mainland American colonies. In Spanish America many local elites formed juntas and set up mechanisms to rule in the name of Ferdinand VII, whom they considered the legitimate Spanish monarch. The outbreak of the Spanish American wars of independence in most of the empire was a result of Napoleon's destabilizing actions in Spain and led to the rise of strongmen in the wake of these wars. The defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 caused an exodus of French soldiers into Latin America where they joined ranks with the armies of the independence movements. While these officials had a role in various victories such as the Capture of Valdivia (1820) some are held resposinble for significant defeats at the hands of the royalist as is the case of Second Battle of Cancha Rayada (1818).
In contrast, the Portuguese royal family escaped to Brazil and established the court there, resulting in political stability for Portuguese America. With the defeat of Napoleon and the return of the Braganza monarchy to Portugal, the heir remained in Brazil and declared Brazilian independence, achieving it peacefully with the territory intact.
The Haitian Revolution began in 1791, just before the French Revolutionary Wars, and continued until 1804. France's defeat resulted in the independence of Saint-Domingue and led Napoleon to sell the territory making up the Louisiana Purchase to the United States.
During the Napoleonic Wars, the United States, Sweden, and Sicily fought against the Barbary pirates in the Mediterranean.
Invasion of Russia 1812
The Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 resulted in the Anglo-Russian War (1807–12). Emperor Alexander I declared war on Britain after the British attack on Denmark in September 1807. British men-of-war supported the Swedish fleet during the Finnish War and won victories over the Russians in the Gulf of Finland in July 1808 and August 1809. The success of the Russian army on land, however, forced Sweden to sign peace treaties with Russia in 1809 and with France in 1810, and to join the blockade against Britain. But Franco-Russian relations became progressively worse after 1810, and the Russian war with Britain effectively ended. In April 1812, Britain, Russia and Sweden signed secret agreements directed against Napoleon.
The central issue for both Napoleon and Tsar Alexander I was control over Poland. Each wanted a semi-independent Poland he could control. As Esdaile notes, "Implicit in the idea of a Russian Poland was, of course, a war against Napoleon."Napoleon's%20Wars%3A%20An%20Internationa]]Schroeder says Poland was "the root cause" of Napoleon's war with Russia but Russia's refusal to support the Continental System was also a factor.
In 1812, at the height of his power, Napoleon invaded Russia with a pan-European Grande Armée, consisting of 650,000 men (270,000 Frenchmen and many soldiers of allies or subject areas). The French forces crossed the Niemen River on 24 June 1812. Russia proclaimed a Patriotic War, and Napoleon proclaimed a Second Polish war. The Poles supplied almost 100,000 men for the invasion force, but against their expectations, Napoleon avoided any concessions to Poland, having in mind further negotiations with Russia.
The Grande Armée marched through Russia, winning some relatively minor engagements and the major Battle of Smolensk on 16–18 August. In the same days, part of the French Army led by Marshal Nicolas Oudinot was stopped in the Battle of Polotsk by the right wing of the Russian Army, under command of General Peter Wittgenstein. This prevented the French march on the Russian capital, Saint Petersburg; the fate of the invasion was decided in Moscow, where Napoleon led his forces in person.
Russia used scorched-earth tactics, and harried the Grande Armée with light Cossack cavalry. The Grande Armée did not adjust its operational methods in response. This led to most of the losses of the main column of the Grande Armée, which in one case amounted to 95,000 men, including deserters, in a week.
The main Russian army retreated for almost three months.
Napoleon entered Moscow on 14 September, after the Russian Army had retreated yet again. By then, the Russians had largely evacuated the city and released criminals from the prisons to inconvenience the French; the governor, Count Fyodor Rostopchin, ordered the city to be burnt. Alexander I refused to capitulate, and the peace talks attempted by Napoleon failed. In October, with no sign of clear victory in sight, Napoleon began the disastrous Great Retreat from Moscow.
At the Battle of Maloyaroslavets the French tried to reach Kaluga, where they could find food and forage supplies. The replenished Russian Army blocked the road, and Napoleon was forced to retreat the same way he had come to Moscow, through the heavily ravaged areas along the Smolensk road. In the following weeks, the Grande Armée was dealt a catastrophic blow by the onset of the Russian Winter, the lack of supplies and constant guerrilla warfare by Russian peasants and irregular troops.
When the remnants of the Napoleon's army crossed the Berezina River in November, only 27,000 fit soldiers survived, with 380,000 men dead or missing and 100,000 captured. Napoleon then left his men and returned to Paris to prepare the defence against the advancing Russians. The campaign effectively ended on 14 December 1812, when the last enemy troops left Russia. The Russians had lost around 210,000 men, but with their shorter supply lines, they soon replenished their armies.
War of the Sixth Coalition 1812–1814
Seeing an opportunity in Napoleon's historic defeat, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, and several German states re-entered the war. Napoleon vowed that he would create a new army as large as the one he had sent into Russia, and quickly built up his forces in the east from 30,000 to 130,000 and eventually to 400,000. Napoleon inflicted 40,000 casualties on the Allies at Lützen (2 May 1813) and Bautzen (20–21 May 1813). Both battles involved forces of over 250,000, making them some of the largest conflicts of the wars so far. Metternich in November 1813 offered Napoleon the Frankfurt proposals. They would allow Napoleon to remain Emperor but France would be reduced to its "natural frontiers" and lose control of most of Italy and Germany and the Netherlands. Napoleon still expected to win the wars, and rejected the terms. By 1814, as the Allies were closing in on Paris, Napoleon did agree to the Frankfurt proposals, but it was too late and he rejected the new harsher terms proposed by the Allies.
In the Peninsular War, Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, renewed the Anglo-Portuguese advance into Spain just after New Year in 1812, besieging and capturing the fortified towns of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz, and in the Battle of Salamanca (which was a damaging defeat of the French). As the French regrouped, the Anglo–Portuguese entered Madrid and advanced towards Burgos, before retreating all the way to Portugal when renewed French concentrations threatened to trap them. As a consequence of the Salamanca campaign, the French were forced to end their long siege of Cadiz and to permanently evacuate the provinces of Andalusia and Asturias.
In a strategic move, Wellesley planned to move his supply base from Lisbon to Santander. The Anglo–Portuguese forces swept northwards in late May and seized Burgos. On 21 June, at Vitoria, the combined Anglo-Portuguese and Spanish armies won against Joseph Bonaparte, finally breaking French power in Spain. The French had to retreat out of the Iberian peninsula, over the Pyrenees.
The belligerents declared an armistice from 4 June 1813 (continuing until 13 August) during which time both sides attempted to recover from the loss of approximately a quarter of a million men in the preceding two months.
Napoleon succeeded in bringing the imperial forces in the region to around 650,000—although only 250,000 came under his direct command, with another 120,000 under Nicolas Charles Oudinot and 30,000 under Davout. The remainder of imperial forces came mostly from the Confederation of the Rhine, especially Saxony and Bavaria. In addition, to the south, Murat's Kingdom of Naples and Eugène de Beauharnais's Kingdom of Italy had 100,000 armed men. In Spain, another 150,000 to 200,000 French troops steadily retreated before Anglo–Portuguese forces numbering around 100,000. Thus around 900,000 Frenchmen in all theatres faced around 1,800,000 coalition soldiers (including the strategic reserve under formation in Germany). The gross figures may mislead slightly, as most of the German troops fighting on the side of the French fought at best unreliably and stood on the verge of defecting to the Allies. One can reasonably say that Napoleon could count on no more than 450,000 men in Germany—which left him outnumbered about four to one.
Following the end of the armistice, Napoleon seemed to have regained the initiative at Dresden (August 1813), where he once again defeated a numerically superior coalition army and inflicted enormous casualties, while sustaining relatively few. The failures of his marshals and a slow resumption of the offensive on his part cost him any advantage that this victory might have secured. At the Battle of Leipzig in Saxony (16–19 October 1813), also called the "Battle of the Nations", 191,000 French fought more than 300,000 Allies, and the defeated French had to retreat into France. After the French withdrawal from Germany, Napoleon's remaining ally, Denmark-Norway, became isolated and fell to the coalition.
Napoleon then fought a series of battles in France, including the Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube, but the overwhelming numbers of the Allies steadily forced him back. The Allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814. During this time Napoleon fought his Six Days' Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against the enemy forces advancing towards Paris. During this entire campaign he never managed to field more than 70,000 men against more than half a million coalition soldiers. At the Treaty of Chaumont (9 March 1814), the Allies agreed to preserve the coalition until Napoleon's total defeat.
Napoleon determined to fight on, even now, incapable of fathoming his fall from power.
The victors exiled Napoleon to the island of Elba, and restored the French Bourbon monarchy in the person of Louis XVIII. They signed the Treaty of Fontainebleau (11 April 1814) and initiated the Congress of Vienna to redraw the map of Europe.
War of the Seventh Coalition 1815
The Seventh Coalition (1815) pitted Britain, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands and several German states against France. The period known as the Hundred Days began after Napoleon escaped from Elba and landed at Cannes (1 March 1815). Travelling to Paris, picking up support as he went, he eventually overthrew the restored Louis XVIII. The Allies rapidly gathered their armies to meet him again. Napoleon raised 280,000 men, whom he distributed among several armies. To add to the 90,000-strong standing army, he recalled well over a quarter of a million veterans from past campaigns and issued a decree for the eventual draft of around 2.5 million new men into the French army, which was never achieved. This faced an initial coalition force of about 700,000—although coalition campaign plans provided for one million front-line soldiers, supported by around 200,000 garrison, logistics and other auxiliary personnel.
Napoleon took about 124,000 men of the Army of the North on a pre-emptive strike against the Allies in Belgium. He intended to attack the coalition armies before they combined, in hope of driving the British into the sea and the Prussians out of the war. His march to the frontier achieved the surprise he had planned, catching the Anglo-Dutch Army in a dispersed arrangement. The Prussians had been more wary, concentrating 3⁄4 of their army in and around Ligny. The Prussians forced the Armée du Nord to fight all the day of the 15th to reach Ligny in a delaying action by the Prussian 1st Corps. He forced Prussia to fight at Ligny on 16 June 1815, and the defeated Prussians retreated in disorder. On the same day, the left wing of the Armée du Nord, under the command of Marshal Michel Ney, succeeded in stopping any of Wellington's forces going to aid Blücher's Prussians by fighting a blocking action at Quatre Bras. Ney failed to clear the cross-roads and Wellington reinforced the position. But with the Prussian retreat, Wellington too had to retreat. He fell back to a previously reconnoitred position on an escarpment at Mont St Jean, a few miles south of the village of Waterloo.
Napoleon took the reserve of the Army of the North, and reunited his forces with those of Ney to pursue Wellington's army, after he ordered Marshal Grouchy to take the right wing of the Army of the North and stop the Prussians re-grouping. In the first of a series of miscalculations, both Grouchy and Napoleon failed to realise that the Prussian forces were already reorganised and were assembling at the village of Wavre. The French army did nothing to stop a rather leisurely retreat that took place throughout the night and into the early morning by the Prussians. As the 4th, 1st, and 2nd Prussian Corps marched through the town towards Waterloo the 3rd Prussian Corps took up blocking positions across the river, and although Grouchy engaged and defeated the Prussian rearguard under the command of Lt-Gen von Thielmann in the Battle of Wavre (18–19 June) it was 12 hours too late. In the end, 17,000 Prussians had kept 33,000 badly needed French reinforcements off the field.
Napoleon delayed the start of fighting at the Battle of Waterloo on the morning of 18 June for several hours while he waited for the ground to dry after the previous night's rain. By late afternoon, the French army had not succeeded in driving Wellington's forces from the escarpment on which they stood. When the Prussians arrived and attacked the French right flank in ever-increasing numbers, Napoleon's strategy of keeping the coalition armies divided had failed and a combined coalition general advance drove his army from the field in confusion.
Grouchy organised a successful and well-ordered retreat towards Paris, where Marshal Davout had 117,000 men ready to turn back the 116,000 men of Blücher and Wellington.
On arriving at Paris three days after Waterloo, Napoleon still clung to the hope of a concerted national resistance; but the temper of the legislative chambers, and of the public generally, did not favour his view. Lacking support Napoleon abdicated again on 22 June 1815, and on 15 July he surrendered to the British squadron at Rochefort. The Allies exiled him to the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, where he died on 5 May 1821.
In Italy, Joachim Murat, whom the Allies had allowed to remain King of Naples after Napoleon's initial defeat, once again allied with his brother-in-law, triggering the Neapolitan War (March to May 1815). Hoping to find support among Italian nationalists fearing the increasing influence of the Habsburgs in Italy, Murat issued the Rimini Proclamation inciting them to war. The proclamation failed and the Austrians soon crushed Murat at the Battle of Tolentino (2 May to 3 May 1815), forcing him to flee. The Bourbons returned to the throne of Naples on 20 May 1815. Murat tried to regain his throne, but after that failed, he was executed by firing squad on 13 October 1815.
The Napoleonic Wars brought radical changes to Europe, but the reactionary forces returned to power and tried to reverse some of them by restoring the Bourbon house on the French throne. Napoleon had succeeded in bringing most of Western Europe under one rule. In most European countries, subjugation in the French Empire brought with it many liberal features of the French Revolution including democracy, due process in courts, abolition of serfdom, reduction of the power of the Catholic Church, and a demand for constitutional limits on monarchs. The increasing voice of the middle classes with rising commerce and industry meant that restored European monarchs found it difficult to restore pre-revolutionary absolutism and had to retain many of the reforms enacted during Napoleon's rule. Institutional legacies remain to this day in the form of civil law, with clearly defined codes of law—an enduring legacy of the Napoleonic Code.
France's constant warfare with the combined forces of the other major powers of Europe for over two decades finally took its toll.
After the Napoleonic period, nationalism, a relatively new movement, became increasingly significant.
The Napoleonic wars also played a key role in the independence of the Latin American colonies from Spain and Portugal.
The century of relative transatlantic peace, after the Congress of Vienna, enabled the "greatest intercontinental migration in human history" beginning with "a big spurt of immigration after the release of the dam erected by the Napoleonic Wars." Immigration inflows relative to the US population rose to record levels (peaking at 1.6% in 1850–51) as 30 million Europeans relocated to the United States between 1815 and 1914.
Another concept emerged from the Congress of Vienna – that of a unified Europe.
Until the time of Napoleon, European states employed relatively small armies, made up of both national soldiers and mercenaries. These regulars were highly drilled professional soldiers. Ancien Régime armies could only deploy small field armies due to rudimentary staffs and comprehensive yet cumbersome logistics. Both issues combined to limit field forces to approximately 30,000 men under a single commander.
Military innovators in the mid-18th century began to recognise the potential of an entire nation at war: a "nation in arms".
The scale of warfare dramatically enlarged during the Revolutionary and subsequent Napoleonic Wars.
The Battle of Marengo, which largely ended the War of the Second Coalition, was fought with fewer than 60,000 men on both sides.
After these defeats, the continental powers developed various forms of mass conscription to allow them to face France on even terms, and the size of field armies increased rapidly.
About a million French soldiers became casualties (wounded, invalided or killed), a higher proportion than in the First World War.
France had the second-largest population in Europe by the end of the 18th century (27 million, as compared to Britain's 12 million and Russia's 35 to 40 million).Atlas%20of%20Worl]]It was well poised to take advantage of the levée en masse efforts, Lazare Carnot played a large part in the reorganisation of the French army from 1793 to 1794—a time which saw previous French misfortunes reversed, with Republican armies advancing on all fronts.
The French army peaked in size in the 1790s with 1.5 million Frenchmen enlisted although battlefield strength was much less.
About 2.8 million Frenchmen fought on land and about 150,000 at sea, bringing the total for France to almost 3 million combatants during almost 25 years of warfare.
Britain had 750,000 men under arms between 1792 and 1815 as its army expanded from 40,000 men in 1793 to a peak of 250,000 men in 1813. Over 250,000 sailors served in the Royal Navy. In September 1812, Russia had 900,000 enlisted men in its land forces, and between 1799 and 1815 2.1 million men served in its army. Another 200,000 served in the Russian Navy. Out of the 900,000 men, the field armies deployed against France numbered less than 250,000.
There are no consistent statistics for other major combatants.
Prussia never had more than 320,000 men under arms at any time.
Spain's armies also peaked at around 200,000 men, not including more than 50,000 guerrillas scattered over Spain.
The initial stages of the Industrial Revolution had much to do with larger military forces—it became easy to mass-produce weapons and thus to equip larger forces. Britain was the largest single manufacturer of armaments in this period. It supplied most of the weapons used by the coalition powers throughout the conflicts. France produced the second-largest total of armaments, equipping its own huge forces as well as those of the Confederation of the Rhine and other allies.
Napoleon showed innovative tendencies in his use of mobility to offset numerical disadvantages, as demonstrated in the rout of the Austro-Russian forces in 1805 in the Battle of Austerlitz. The French Army redefined the role of artillery, forming independent, mobile units, as opposed to the previous tradition of attaching artillery pieces in support of troops.
The semaphore system had allowed the French War-Minister, Carnot, to communicate with French forces on the frontiers throughout the 1790s. The French continued to use this system throughout the Napoleonic wars. Aerial surveillance was used for the first time when the French used a hot-air balloon to survey coalition positions before the Battle of Fleurus, on 26 June 1794.
Historians have explored how the Napoleonic wars became total wars.
The Use of Military Intelligence
Intelligence played a pivotal factor throughout the Napoleonic Wars and could very well have changed the tide of war.
The use of intelligence varied greatly across the major world powers of the war.
The methods of Intelligence during these wars were to include the formation of vast and complex networks of corresponding agents, codebreaking, and cryptanalysis.
- Austro-Polish War
- British Army during the Napoleonic Wars
- Coalition forces of the Napoleonic Wars
- French campaign in Egypt and Syria
- Haitian Revolution
- Imperial and Royal Army during the Napoleonic Wars
- International relations, 1648–1814, for diplomacy
- List of Napoleonic battles
- Peninsular War
- Royal Prussian Army of the Napoleonic Wars
- Spanish American wars of independence
- Uniforms of La Grande Armée
- War of 1812
- World war