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!