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Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte (1768-1821), a member of a family of Greek origin, but for some generations settled in Corsica, was educated at the military college of Brienne, where he formed the friendship of De Bourrienne, his future secretary and biographer. The death of their father reduced the Bonaparte family to poverty, and Napoleon, on joining the artillery regiment of La Fere in 1785. found difficulty in gaining a bare subsistence. It was probably owing to his early years of severe economy and self-denial that he gained the strength of mind and will so thoroughly developed at the outbreak of the Revolution. In 1793 Bonaparte was employed with the rank of captain at the siege of Toulon, at that time held by a British force in conjunction with French Royalists. As commander of the artillery he gained by force of character an ascendency over Carteaux, the general. Having persuaded the latter to attack Fort Eguillette, commanding the two harbours of Toulon, the withdrawal of the English naval squadron and the evacuation of the town followed the capture of this vital point. This success gained for Bonaparte the rank of general of brigade and employment with the Army of Italy, where he earned additional laurels (1794). Meanwhile the torrent of Revolutionary fury had spent its force. Robespierre had been executed, and the Reign of Terror was at an end. From the outset Napoleon had profoundly mistrusted the enthusiasm of the Jacobins, while his mind revolted from their excesses. Yet motives of policy and admiration of their success had induced him to make friends with men of the most extreme faction, among whom the younger Robespierre had been his intimate companion. The young general was now arrested as a Terrorist, and it was only after days of the utmost anxiety that, nothing having been proved against him, he was released. In 1795 Bonaparte was summoned to Paris, but, having declined service in La Vendee, his name was struck off the active list; called in, however, shortly afterwards to subdue the revolt of the Sections, his success was rewarded by his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Army of Italy. In March, 1796, having a few days previously married Josephine, widow of the Vicomte de Beauharnais, Bonaparte assumed command. His troops to the number of about 40,000 were occupying the passes of the Northern Apennines. Opposed to them was an allied force of Austrians and Sardinians of rather greater strength, but widely extended. Concentrating with rapidity, the French general threw himself against the allied centre, broke it at Montenotte and Millesimo, overtook the Sardinians, who were retiring separately northwards, at Mondovi, defeated them again, and before the end of April had forced their sovereign to make peace under the very walls of Turin. Turning without delay to the Austrians, he moved swiftly along the valley of the Po, forced the passage of the Adda at Lodi, and entered Milan in triumph on the 18th May. Nor did he even then rest on his laurels, but with a succession of victories at Lonato, Castiglione, Areola, and Rivoli completed the discomfiture of the enemy, and closed his campaign by the capture of Mantua (January, 1797). He was now ordered to Rome, where he gained an easy conquest over the Papal troops. Having returned to Mantua, and being reinforced from France by 20,000 men, Bonaparte next turned his arms northwards, violated without hesitation the territory of Venice, forced the passage of the Tagliamento, entered Carinthia, nor halted until, when within 30 miles of Vienna, the Austrian Emperor sued for peace, the terms of which - including the appropriation of Venice by Austria - were ratified at the treaty of Campo Formio (October, 1797). On his return to France Bonaparte was first offered command of the Army of England, and afterwards that of an expedition to Egypt, undertaken apparently by the Directory at his own instigation, with the rather vague idea of opening up communication with Tippoo Sahib in India, and possibly of founding an Eastern Empire. Having defeated the Mameluke forces near the Pyramids and having occupied Cairo, the general proceeded to invade Syria, but was repulsed from the walls of St. Jean d'Acre by Captain Sidney Smith, acting in conjunction with Djezzar Pasha; and, his troops being decimated by the plague, Bonaparte was compelled to return to Egypt. Here he received intelligence that matters had been going ill for France both at home and abroad. The Austrians had reoccupied Italy, and the government of the Directory was evidently shaken to its foundation. He resolved to return home, but the chances of doing so appeared desperate. Shortly after the landing in Egypt his fleet had been destroyed by Nelson at Aboukir, and the Mediterranean swarmed with British cruisers. Accompanied by a few friends, he nevertheless made the venture and, after many hairbreadth escapes, landed at Frejus in October, 1799. It had not been until after Lodi that Bonaparte had cherished the idea of becoming ruler of France. The favourable opportunity had now occurred; encouraged by the acclamations of the people and assured of the support of the army, by a coup d'etat he speedily overthrew the Directory, and established himself as First Consul with Cambaceres and Lebrun for his colleagues. Called to supreme power by the enthusiasm of the people, possessed of almost despotic authority, and, trampling under foot the embers of the Revolution, a series of laudable acts followed his elevation. Emigres were released from prison, the law of hostages was abolished, and 9,000 state prisoners received their liberty. It was now time to turn to Italy, where matters had gone badly for the French. Massena, commander-in-chief, was shut up in Genoa; Suchet with difficulty held the line of the Var. General Melas, with the Austrian main body, occupied Piedmont. With brilliant conception and execution the First Consul crossed the Great St. Bernard, struck the neck of the Austrian communications, and inflicted a crushing defeat on Melas at Marengo (June 14, 1800). A capitulation ensued, and Bonaparte returned to Paris. North of Switzerland Moreau's army proved equally successful, and gained the decisive victory of Hohenlinden. Prolonged negotiations followed, but at length by the treaties of Luneville and Amiens (March, 1802) a general peace was concluded. The First Consul was now occupied with matters of internal administration; the Cadastre, or Land Survey, was reformed, the Code Napoleon established, finances put in order. France appeared to be inaugurating a new era, but mistrust of England and complaints freely reciprocated proved too strong, and in May, 1804, war was again declared. The object of Bonaparte was now to invade England; an army of 130,000 men was assembled near Boulogne, and the First Consul repeatedly declared that, given the command of the Channel for forty-eight hours, England was at his mercy. Meanwhile usurpation of power had been attended by its usual consequences. A conspiracy, headed by Georges Cadoudal and the Chouan chiefs, had been detected. Many distinguished persons, including Generals Pichegru and Moreau, were implicated. A previous attempt at assassination had narrowly failed, and the Consul's life was evidently in instant peril. Cadoudal and a few others were executed, but still stronger measures followed. The Duc d'Enghien, son of the Duc de Bourbon, was seized within the territory of Baden, forcibly conveyed to Vincennes, arraigned before a military court at midnight, and immediately shot. As the year wore on, it became evident that the First Consul contemplated assuming the crown. In May the Senate declared Napoleon Emperor of the French, the decree being subsequently ratified by the almost unanimous vote of the nation, wearied of the despotism and incompetency of the republic and assured that a monarchy could alone produce tranquillity and order. The coronation took place in December, while in the following year Napoleon assumed in addition the iron crown of Lombardy. In August, 1805, the utter failure of the Emperor's naval combinations showed that the contemplated invasion of England was an impossibility. Without delay he resolved to transport this army, now in the highest state of efficiency, to take the field against Austria and Russia. His march to the Danube stands out a model of speed, calculation, and effect. On the 20th of October the Austrian general, Mack, surrendered at Ulm with 30,000 men. Three weeks later the Emperor entered Vienna, and, on the 2nd of December, was face to face with the united armies of the Allies at Austerlitz. An attempt to encircle his right flank was met by a vigorous attack on their weakened centre, which broke and was carried away in headlong flight, while the left wing of the Allies, assailed in front and flank and driven to retire across the frozen waters of Lake Satschau, found a watery grave beneath the ice quickly broken in pieces by the remorseless artillery of the French. The Russians retired northwards while the Austrians concluded a separate peace. During the following year Napoleon achieved his favourite project of a confederacy of the Southern German States in alliance with France and called the Confederation of the Rhine. Meanwhile the Prussians had taken fire at the insults and exactions of French troops in German territory, and early in October declared war. The French army, still on the right bank of the Rhine, was instantly put in motion and the Prussian forces annihilated on the 14th October, 1806, at the battles of Jena and Auerstadt. By this time the Russian army had again taken the field. Napoleon, entering Poland, encountered it at the indecisive fields of Pultusk and Eylau, but in the following June the decisive battle of Friedland, coupled with the refusal of the English Whig Government to render assistance, determined the Russian Emperor to make overtures of peace, and the Treaty of Tilsit was concluded in July, 1807, by the terms of which Prussian Poland was converted into the Grand Duchy of Warsaw and the Prussian provinces on the left bank of the Elbe formed into a kingdom of Westphalia, while mutual advantages were reaped by Fiance and Russia.

Napoleon now set to work to ruin England through her commercial trade. By means of what was termed the "Continental system" he attempted to exclude British goods from Continental ports. His scheme proved a failure, and even at the time when he was boasting of having struck a mortal blow his own armies were being clothed from Leeds and Northampton.

Meanwhile difficulties were arising in Spain. King Charles IV. having abdicated, his son Ferdinand placed himself in Napoleon's power and was detained a prisoner. The Emperor seized the pretext for interference. An army under Murat occupied Madrid; insurrections quickly broke out, and the French abandoned the capital. At this crisis Napoleon, finding his presence indispensable, crossed the frontier with 300,000 men, and once more captured Madrid (December 3rd, 1808). Alarming news soon reached him; a British force under Sir John Moore had advanced from Portugal, and was threatening the vital point of his line of communications. Quitting Madrid on the 20th, and crossing the Guadarrama Mountains in a tempest of hail and snow, the Emperor traversed 20O miles in ten days in the hope of cutting off his daring adversary. Moore, however, aware of his danger, had made good his retreat, and the blow failed. On the 1st of January, 1809, intelligence arrived of the imminence of hostilities on the part of Austria. Napoleon flew to his army in Germany, concentrated it in the valley of the Danube, gained the victory of Eckmuhl and occupied Vienna (May 12th). Repulsed by the Archduke Charles in an attack on Essling, the Emperor's position was for a time one of great danger until, on the 6th of July, the victory of Wagram terminated the war.

In the following year, Napoleon, desirous of an heir, divorced Josephine and married Marie Louise, daughter of the Emperor of Austria. He now contemplated resuming command in Spain, but difficulties with Russia, the result of mutual jealousy and mistrust, arose. In 1812 the climax was reached. Napoleon with an immense army, of which his allies contributed the greater part, crossed the Niemen, gained the indecisive battle of the Borodino, and occupied Moscow on the 14th of September. During the same night fires broke out in all directions and the city became untenable. The Russians declined all negotiation. Napoleon's hopes were frustrated; winter was at hand. A retreat became inevitable, and was begun on 26th of October. Disasters accumulated; news arrived of the British occupation of Madrid. The French army had already lost four-fifths of its numbers. and the strength of the Russians enforced a retreat over the same line - now devastated - by which the French had originally advanced. Smolensko was reached; but the retreating army soon degenerated into a mob of stragglers, and the terrible passage of the Beresina (November 28th) completed its wreck. On the 5th of December the Emperor, who had received news of a dangerous conspiracy at Paris for his overthrow, found himself compelled to quit the army and resume the government of France. The miserable remnant of the Grand Army, abandoning successively the lines of the Vistula and Oder, halted at length on the left bank of the Elbe. A crisis was evidently at hand. Prussia flew to arms. The efforts of Napoleon gathered 200,000 men to his standard. Joining the army in person, he defeated the Allies at Lutzen, reoccupied Dresden, and followed up his success by a victory at Bautzen. The Allies retreated to the Oder, and an armistice resulted. Negotiations ensued, but in August the Allies, with the adhesion of Austria, again took the field. Notwithstanding a defeat at Dresden, their numerical superiority began to tell. The French concentrated at Leipzig and for two days held their ground in the face of overwhelming numbers. A retreat then became inevitable, and early in November the shattered remains of the army recrossed the Rhine into France. The campaign of 1814 shed a last ray of glory upon Napoleon's arms. Never had his talents been displayed with greater brilliancy. Pivoting alternately between the Aube and Marne, he struck blow after blow at the invading armies. Ultimate success might still have attended him, but the capitulation of Paris and the utter weariness of war shown by the French nation caused his abdication (April 6th, 1814). Escaping in the following year from Elba, whither he had been exiled, he again occupied the imperial throne. The Allied Powers refused to acknowledge him, and their armies again surrounded the frontier. Napoleon's only chance was to take the offensive and separate the combined English and Prussian forces assembling in Belgium; but the numbers at his command (125,000) were quite inadequate to make head against the 206,000 of his opponents, and, though the rapidity of his blow gave him a momentary advantage, the battle of Waterloo proved a deathblow to his hopes; and. after a second abdication, the remainder of his life was lingered out on the rock of St. Helena.