Napoleon and The Empire

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Napoleon and The Empire

Napoleon came to power and promised to bring stability and peace to the French people. Stability was achieved. Peace was also achieved, temporarily. Ten years of off and on battles with Austria, Britain and other members of the coalitions were halted in 1802. Tensions remained however, and as a ‘career general’; Napoleon used the military to expand Frances power and might.

Treaty of Amiens – agreement not to fight signed between France and

Britain in 1802. This was the only year during Napoleon’s reign that European countries were not fighting each other.

The Coalitions – Many times during and just prior to Napoleon’s reign,

countries allied together to challenge France. Most of the time, these

coalitions were not successful because of the distrust between their


example: 1st Coalition – began as a response against the possible spread of the French revolution to the rest of Europe. (1792-95). Involves mainly Austria and Prussia, later includes Britain, Spain and Holland.

NAPOLEON’S Military Campaigns

There were two main objectives behind Napoleon’s foreign policy:

  • to isolate and defeat Britain

  • to dominate all of Europe

Napoleon’s career in the military began during the French revolution and he rose in importance through his early military victories. (vs Austria in northern Italy).

1) Egyptian Campaign

The French wanted to invade Britain, but Britain’s naval superiority made that impossible. Instead, France struck at Britain economically, by trying to push the British out of Egypt. The British needed access to the Suez Cannel to have a short route to its colony of India.

The French easily defeated the Mamelukes (Egyptian force) July 1798. The Battle of the Pyramids lasted only one hour. Two weeks later though, the British Fleet, lead by Admiral Horatio Nelson, smashed the French fleet anchored at Alexandria, trapping the 35,000 French soldiers in Egypt.

In Feb. 1799, Napoleon expanded the campaign into Syria, which also brought Turkey into the conflict. There were some quick victories, but the troops became tied down with a long siege on the city of Acre. Hundreds of French soldiers were killed in battle and hundreds more were either killed or weakened by an outbreak of the plague. Napoleon although refusing to admit defeat returned to Cairo. Hearing of the strife in Paris, he secretly left his troops and returned home in August, 1799.

  1. The Danube Campaign 1805

In 1805, with France’s power expanding, the Third Coalition (A,Br,R,Swd)

was born. Prussia, led by Fredrick William III, stayed out of this grouping. Napoleon had been planning on attacking Britain, but the British Naval Fleet defeated the French fleet at Trafalgar in Oct 1805. Napoleon decided to strengthen his power in Europe. The Danube campaign began in the fall of 1805.
Battle at ULM – Sept,Oct 1805

Austrian General Mack invades Bavaria (southern Germany today) and heads to Ulm. Napoleon’s forces sweep to the east, behind Mack, to cut him off from help he expected from the Russians. By Oct 20, Mack has to surrender along with all 50,000 of his troops.

  • Napoleon’s first major victory. Austrian influence in Europe decreases

Battle of AUSTERLITZ – Dec 1805 (Battle of the Emperors)

The French Army continued to move eastward for an eventual clash with the remnants of the Austrian army and the Russian force, led by Alexander I. The French were outnumbered (87,000 to 73,000), but an effective strategy kept the French string of victories going.

  • Napoleon pretends to have a weak right side and backs away from the high land. Reinforcements are on the way though. The Russians are drawn into this trap. Napoleon gives the order to retake the center (Prazten heights). The Russian army is split and Napoleon begins to surround it.

  • This battle practically destroyed the Austrian and Russian armies in one day. Peace was forced on Austria with the treaty of Pressburg.

  1. The Prussian Campaign 1806-1808

Prussia had remained neutral in 1805 and had received the territory of

Hanover as a bribe. In 1806 Napoleon continued to make land claims against Prussia and even considered giving Hanover to the British. Both sides prepared for battle, with the Prussians allying with the Russians starting the 4th coalition.

Battle of Jena - Oct 1806– 90,000 French vs 30,000 Prussians – The French almost lost but their cavalry saved the day. Napoleon thought he was facing the bulk of the Prussian army but most of it was gathered further north at Auerstädt. Here French commander Davout’s corps of 26,000 faced the Prussian army of 64,000. The French held a strong defensive position and when the time was right, attacked and the Prussian army began to break up.

The Prussian army was in disarray but Fredrick William refused Napoleon’s peace terms. Having arranged the support of the Russians, Prussia and France would continue to battle throughout the winter of 1806.

Battle of Eylau - Feb 1807 – France vs. Russia – generally considered a draw.

Battle of Freidland – June 1807 – France – 17,000 vs Russia 60,000.

The Russians were confident in victory, but once again Napoleon pulls out a miracle. The Russian commander sensed the French were weak and started sending his troops across the river on the night of June 13. The French soldiers put up a strong resistence the next day and around noon, Napoleon arrives with 80,000 more troops. The Russians are now trapped between a larger army and the river and the battle ended quickly.

Friedland ended the coalition and forced Russia and Prussia to sign the Treaty of Tilsit. Prussia lost one third of its land and basically became controlled by the French. Russia was forced into joining the Continental system. This was the height of Napoleon’s power.

The Russian Campaign – 1812 – 1813

(make your own notes from the handout and class discussion)

The Hundred Days and Waterloo

Following his loss at the Battle of the Nations (Leipzig), Napoleon was forced to abdicate as the coalition forces marched towards Paris. (April 1814) A Bourbon king (Louis XVIII) was placed back on the throne of France and Napoleon was exiled to a small island in the Mediterranean called Elba. His situation was not as terrible as it seemed. Napoleon kept his title, a ‘toy’ army of 400 men and received a yearly income of 2 million francs.

Napoleon was not content on Elba and Louis XVIII was struggling as the ruler of France, trying to bring back the old society. Napoleon, recognizing his chance, slipped off Elba with a small army or followers and returned to France. He was welcomed back as a hero by his former soldiers and began to march towards Paris. Louis fled and Napoleon was once again in charge.

(text pg.67)

Battle of WATERLOO

….THE CLASH OF THE TITANS ……Napoleon vs Wellington…

winner takes all…
Location – small region of Belgium called Waterloo
Napoleon had raised an army of over 70,000 but faced a combined British (68,000) and Prussian force (80,000). Once again he showed his former military genius. He knew he could defeat each individually, but together, he would be in tough.
The main battle took place on June 18, 1815. British and French forces clashed at Waterloo, while the Prussians remained separated from the action, a few miles away. The battle began at 11 am, because the field was muddy from rains the night prior. The fighting was fierce and bloody. By late afternoon, Napoleon made one last desperate attempt to break the British line with a cavalry charge. It almost succeeded. His elite Imperial Guard then charged but was repelled by the British, and with the Prussians closing in, Napoleon’s army began to break up.

Napoleon was not treated as kindly this time. He was exiled to a small British island in the south Atlantic, St.Helena.

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