Napoleon:  Warrior, Emperor, and Pariah

Napoleon: Warrior, Emperor, and Pariah

As night fell on 18 June 1815, Napoleon’s forces disintegrated and fled the battlefield. The allied coalition in Belgium, led by the United Kingdom and Prussia had successfully defeated the French in the Battle of Waterloo and staved off another Napoleonic conflict. With the second defeat of Napoleon, the allies ensured that he would not be given the opportunity to return so easily to France, as he had proven on his return from imprisonment on Elba. The second imprisonment resulted in Napoleon being detained thousands of miles away from France, on the British island of Saint Helena, where he would live out the rest of his life before passing away at the age of 51 in 1821. Napoleon remains a controversial figure in history. An astute military genius, he propelled France to the status of superpower and made the rest of Europe bow before their military might. In doing so he also brought about death and destruction throughout Europe, with his Napoleonic Wars accounting for the deaths of millions. These numbers would not be seen again on European battlefields for another century until the start of the First World War.

Napoleon Bonaparte was born in 1769 on the island of Corsica. His family, the Buonaparte’s, had been a minor noble family of Italian origin.  His father, Carlo, served as Corsica’s representative in the court of Louis XVI, and because of his families marked affluence, the young Napoleon was able to attend the elite Ecole Militaire in Paris, becoming the military academies first Corsican graduate. Following graduation, Napoleon was commissioned as an artillery officer and served 4 years in the French military before the outbreak of the French Revolution. In 1789, Napoleon changed his last name from Buonaparte to the more French sounding Bonaparte. With the overthrow of the French monarchy, Napoleon joined the Republic, and quickly rose through the ranks as he continued to attain victories.

The French victories in the Republics wars against both the First and Second Coalition, cemented Napoleon’s rise to power. The French Republic ceased to exist with the coronation of Napoleon as the French Emperor. His coronation occurred on 2 December 1804, bearing all the pomp and circumstance of the ancient Roman Imperial coronations. Like Caesar Augustus nearly two thousand years before him, Napoleon became the most powerful man on the Earth.

The Napoleonic Wars continued, with continued French victories against the Third, Fourth, and Fifth coalitions. Napoleon finally suffered defeat at the hands of the Sixth Coalition, following his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. The defeat in Russia resulted in the near complete destruction of the French military and resulted in Napoleon abdicating his thrown and being forced out of France. The resulting allied victory led to the Congress of Vienna, which helped formulate state borders in the fall of the French Empire. Peace would not be long lasting, and by March 1815, Napoleon was once again on the world stage. While the grandiose of the French military had been greatly weakened following the victory of the Sixth Coalition, Napoleon was soon able to reform a sizable military force, and for 100 days would have Europe on the brink of another Napoleonic victory.

Look for more information regarding the history of Napoleon and his rise to power in Strategy & Tactics issue #293 with the article “Napoleon’s Last Campaign: Belgium, 1815” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Senior Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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