Napoleon Bonaparte is generally regarded as one of history’s top military tacticians. But 200 years ago , he committed a grave error by leading his Grande Armée—possibly the largest European armed force ever built to that point—across the Niemen River into Russia. Without losing a single battle there, the Grande Armée was almost completely wiped out within six months by freezing temperatures, food shortages, disease and Russian assaults. This proved to be the beginning of the end for Napoleon, who was forced into exile in April 1814.
Considered as one of the world's legendary military leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte was born on August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica, France. He was the fourth, and second surviving, child of Carlo Buonaparte, a lawyer, and the appointed assessor of the judicial district of Ajaccio in 1771. (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2002) Eventually, Napoleon ended up at the military college of Brienne, for five years, before he moves on to the military academy in Paris. In 1785, while Napoleon was at the academy, his father died of stomach cancer. This forced Napoleon to go back to Corsica and take the reins as the head of the family. Graduating early from the military academy as a second lieutenant of artillery, Napoleon returns to Corsica in 1786. (Kurtiz, 2012) When a civil war in Corsica began in April 1793, Napoleon, now an enemy of Paoli,had his family relocated to France, where they changed to the French version of their name: Bonaparte. For Napoleon, the return to France meant a return to service with the French military. Upon rejoining his regiment at Nice in June 1793, the young leader quickly showed his support for the government, where he became a hero in 1795, defending the government from angry counter-revolutionary forces; he was rewarded by being promoted to high military office, a position with access to the political spine of France. Bonaparte quickly grew to become one of the country's most respected military authorities - largely by never keeping his opinions to himself. (Forrest, 2013) From Consul to Emperor
By February 1800 he was established as the First Consul, a practical dictatorship with a constitution wrapped firmly around him. However, France was still at war with her fellows in Europe and Napoleon was determined to beat them. He did so within a year, although the key triumph - the Battle of Marengo, fought in June 1800 - was won by the French General Desaix. (Wilde) Having concluded treaties that left Europe at peace Bonaparte began reforming France, he revolutionized military organization and training, sponsored Napoleonic Code, reorganized education and established the long-lived Concordat with the papacy. Bonaparte showed an incredible skill as both a legislator and a statesman but many have argued that this talent was deeply flawed and even fervent supporters admit that Napoleon made mistakes. Bonaparte's popularity remained high and eventually was elected Consulate for life by the French people in 1802 and Emperor of France in 1804, a title which Bonaparte worked hard to maintain and glorify. ("Eighteenth century Europe,”) Expansions
Since he took power in 1799, French leader Napoleon Bonaparte won a series of military victories that made him control most of Europe. He controlled present-day Belgium and Holland, with large parts of present-day Italy, Croatia and Germany, and he set up dependencies in Switzerland, Poland and various German states. Spain was largely under his political system despite continuing guerilla warfare there, and Austria, Prussia and Russia had been browbeaten into becoming allies. Only Great Britain remained completely outside of his grasp. ("Eighteenth century Europe,”) French – Russian relations
In 1806 Napoleon decided to punish the British with an embargo that became known as the Continental System. But by the end of 1810, Czar Alexander I had stopped supporting because of the ruining effect on...