August 15, 1769 - May 5, 1821
|The Early Years
Napoleon Bonaparte, who is also known as the "little Corsican", was born on August 15, 1769 in Ajaccio, Corsica. His original name was Napoleone. He had 7 brothers and sisters. His original nationality was Corsican-Italian. He also despised the French. He thought they were oppressors of his native land. His father was a lawyer, and was also anti-French. One reason Napoleon may have been such a conqueror was he was raised in a family of radicals. When Napoleon was nine, he was sent to a French military government school by his father. He attended Brienne in Paris. While there he was constantly teased by the French students. Because of this Napoleon started having dreams of personal glory and triumph.
In 1784 to 1785 Napoleon attended the Ecole Militaire in Paris. That was the place where he received his military training. He studied to be an artillery man and an officer. He finished his training and joined the French army when he was 16 years old! Soon after that his father died and he was left with the responsibility of taking care of the huge Bonaparte family. Napoleon was stationed in Paris in 1792. After the French monarchy was overthrown on August 10, 1792, Napoleon decided to make his move up in the ranks. After this, Napoleon started becoming a recognized officer.
In 1792 Napoleon was prompted to the rank of captain. In 1793 he was chosen to direct the artillery against the siege in Toulon. He seized ground where he could get his guns in range of the British ships. Soon after that Toulon fell and Napoleon was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. In 1795 he saved the revolutionary government by dispersing a group of rioting citizens by using his famous "Whiff of grapeshot" - He loaded a bunch on pellets into a cannon and fired it at the crowd.
Napoleons rise in power and conquests
Napoleon was made commander of the French army in Italy. He defeated four Austrian generals in succession, and each army he fought got bigger and bigger. This forced Austria and its allies to make peace with France. But after this Napoleon was relieved of his command. He was poor, he was suspected of treason, he had no friends. No one would have suspected what Napoleon would do next. In 1795 Napoleon was appointed to put down a revolt in Paris. He calmly took complete control of the situation. He just had his men shoot all the rebels in the streets. The French government was saved, but they decided to form a new government called the Directory.
Under the new government Napoleon was made commander of the French army in Italy. During this campaign the French realized how smart Napoleon was. He developed a tactic that worked very efficiently. He would cut the enemy's army in to two parts, then throw all his force on one side before the other side could rejoin them. This method was extremely effective against the Sardinian troops, because he defeated them five times in 11 days!! This made the King of Sardinia to try to make peace. Napoleon could not be stopped. He was a fast thinker who moved his troops extremely fast. Soon, instead of taking the defensive position Napoleon started taking the offensive position and thus, he started his conquest of Europe.
He started his attack on Austria. It was his first big campaign. During one attack he showed his bravery by forcing his way across a burning bridge. After that his troops gave him the name Petit Caporal" or in English "Little Corporal" the name stuck to him. He then attacked the Austrians in Mantua. Austria sent troops there four times, and every time Napoleon crushed them. In 1797 he came within 80 miles of Vienna when Austria surrendered. Napoleon had won 14 pitched battles and 70 combats. He had made the rich lands he conquered feed and pay the French soldiers. Plus millions of francs were send back to France. This helped France's poor economy tremendously. Napoleon negotiated a treaty called Campo Formio with Austria. Austria gave up it's Netherlands and Lombardy to France. Austria also recognized the Rhine as the eastern boundary of France. In return France gave Austria most of the old Venetian Republic.
When Napoleon returned to Paris he received a huge welcome. He then began thinking of pursuing political power and military power. He wanted to become the next Alexander the Great, so he asked the Directory if he could take a large army to Egypt. That way he could conquer an empire that included Egypt, India, and other middle and far east places. Napoleon came up with a neat idea to accomplish this. If he conquered Egypt, he could attack the English's route to India.
He won the battle of the Pyramids in July 1798. But his fleet was destroyed at the Battle of the Nile in Aboukir Bay. So Napoleon decided to invade Syria. The English and Turkish troops in Syria had held up against Napoleon. Napoleon then retreated to Egypt. Then later in July 1799, he defeated 10,000 Turks at Aoukir. He returned to France shortly after.
Napoleon returned to find the Directory was a mess. He, in his selfish way, saw this as the perfect time for self-advancement. So in November of 1799 he overthrew the Directory. Napoleon set up a government called the Consulate. He was the first of three consuls. About three years later he made himself first consul for life. Everyone in France loved Napoleon at that time. Then he started increasing his power...
Napoleon the Emperor
Napoleon started calling himself Napoleon I, instead of General Bonaparte. He had complete political and military power in France. But alas, he still hadn't built up his great eastern empire. He wanted to recreate the empire Charlemagne was ruler of many years ago. The Austrian's had been defeated at Marenegro. The German states and England were tired of fighting so they signed a peace treaty of Aimens in 1802. This was the first time since 1792 that France was at peace with the whole world!
During the next 14 months of peace Napoleon drastically altered Europe. He became president of the Italian Republic, he reshaped Switzerland with France. He annexed Piedmont, Parma, and the island of Elba to France. He also reshaped a lot of France. He re-established the University of France, reformed the education system, and he founded the Bank of France and Legion of Honor. He also made the Napoleonic Code: The first clear, compact statement of the French law. The Napolionic Code has served as a base for legal systems around the world!
In 1803 war broke out again. This time between France and England. Russia, Austria, and Sweden allied with Britain against the French. Napoleon didn't have any trouble with this. He defeated Austria and Russia at Austerlitz. He crushed the Prussians at Pena. And he defeated more Russians at Friedland. He then created a peace treaty called the Peace of Tilsit. This basically brought all of Europe to his feet. The only enemy left was England. Napoleon had planned to invade England but the "right moment" never showed up. England's navy under Admiral Horatio Nelson again crushed the French fleet at Trafalgar on October 21, 1805. So Napoleon went back to the drawing board to again to figure out how to defeat the British.
Meanwhile back in France, the people allowed Napoleon to remove the Consulate and turn it into an empire. He decided to hand the throne down to his descendants. But there was one problem: He had no descendants! He ended his marriage to Josephine de Beauharnais in 1809 and remarried in 1810. He married Marie Louise, who was the daughter of the Austrian emperor. Well, he got what he wanted, a son. He named his son King of Rome. Napoleon had also made all the rulers of his kingdom either family members or good friends. This made him very secure. He wiped out most of the German states, which totally dissolved what was left of the Holy Roman Empire.
Napoleon's dream had come true. He was the ruler of a huge empire. He had over 42 million people at his control. Only Britain, Russia, Sweden and Turkey were outside his control.
Napoleon Invades Russia
Russia did not like Napoleon's continental system. The continental system basically cut off trade with Britain. Most of Europe disliked the system because they needed goods from Britain. Everyone had found ways to work around the continental system, but Russia finally decided to abandon it. Napoleon found out about this and decided to invade Russia. Napoleon picked a bad time to invade. His forces in Spain were being driven out. Napoleon put together a huge army with soldiers from 20 different nations. This event would be the worst campaign Napoleon ever led. When they entered Russia they found that the Russians had retreated into Russia and torched everything along their way. The Russians kept retreating further and further into Russia. Finally on September 7, 1812 the Russians started battle. On September 14, Napoleon reached Moscow. He had expected to find shelter and food for his troops, but found the city in flames. Since it was starting to be winter, and he couldn't stay in ruined Moscow, so he started his retreat. On October 19, they set off on their retreat. When they had to cross Berezina River thousands had died. They set off from France with 500,000 soldiers. Fewer than 20,000 freezing, starving soldiers crossed the Russian frontier in December.
The fall of Napoleon
After the Russia incident Napoleon's empire fell apart. England, Russia, Prussia, and Austria allied together to fight the French. Napoleon did not win many victories against them. In a three-day battle at Leipzig, also known as the Battle of the Nations, the French were outnumbered in every way. The French had to retreat. Then on March 30, 1814 the allies captured Paris. Even Napoleon's generals realized it was a lost fight and gave up. Napoleon was forced to abdicate the throne on April 6, 1814.
Napoleon was exiled from France. He took a few soldiers to his new "empire" - the small island of Elba. He was allowed to keep his title of emperor and promised to pay two million francs every year to France. About ten months later Napoleon escaped and landed in France where he marched into Paris with a thousand of his old soldiers, and picking up support along the way. He was back in power for a short time known as the Hundred Days. While he was in power, he tried to make peace but the allies outlawed him. Napoleon decided to strike before the allies got to him again. This led him in a campaign to Belgium. He was defeated in the Battle of Waterloo. Meanwhile in Paris, the people were encouraging Napoleon to continue fighting, but the politicians didn't go along with that. Napoleon fled to Rochefort, where he surrendered on the British battleship Bellerophon. He was then again exiled, but this time to St. Helena, a remote island in the south Atlantic. He lived there until he died on May 5, 1821 from stomach cancer.
Napoleon's impact is still around today. Many laws are based on the Napoleonic Code. In Paris there are many monuments saluting him. His remains were brought to Paris in 1840 and placed in the Invalides, where they still lie.
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