1799- 1814: Napoleon Bonaparte Era

Tanner O’Donnell

Napoleon began to rise to power on December 12, 1799 when he was elected the first Consul of the Consulate, after he had overthrown the directory, which was the government body during the French Revolution era, just a month earlier on November 9-10 of 1799. Napoleon was then in December of 1802 declared First Consult for Life, after a new constitution was adopted. Two years later in May of 1804, he was elected emperor of France by the senate, and on December , 1804 was vested by Pope Pius VII as the emperor of France.

Beginning in May of 1805, the Emperor, Napoleon, declared war on Great Britain again, and moved many French troops to sea ports on the English channel to begin an invasion. When Napoleon began to move the French fleet to the English Channel, British Admiral Horatio Nelson stopped the fleet at Trafalgar off the cost of Gibraltar,  on October 21, 1805, and beat both the combined forces of the French and Spanish, and ended the chances of an invasion to Britain. Just before the Battle of Trafalgar had begun, Austria and Russia joined forces with Britain and Sweden in a third coalition to counter Napoleon. Then on December 2, 1805, the Battle of Austerlitz took place, where
Napoleon’s army of 68,000 troops crushed the nearly 90,000 troop army of the combined powers of Austria and Russia. Soon after. the emperor of Austria was forced to sign a Peace-Treaty, called the Treaty of Pressburg, which removed Austria from the third coalition, and gave much of Austrian land to the French.

After the decisive victory and the new lands acquired, Napoleon reorganized the German states into a confederation, called the Confederation of the Rhine* in July of 1806 and names himself ‘protector’ of them. The confederation contaminated most German states, about 16, excluding Austria, Prussia, and Saxony. This caused both Prussia and Russia to declare war on Napoleon again, but the Prussian army was swiftly defeated in the Battle of Jena–Auerstedt, which then led to the Berlin Decree. The decree did not allow for the importation of goods into the European continent if the country was allied or dependent on the French Empire, also sometimes known as the Continental Divide or Continental Blockade.

Napoleon continued to wage war on the last standing enemy he had not defeated and that was Russia, who was led by Alexander I. On June 14, 1807, the French army of roughly 80,000 troops and Russian army of roughly 58,000 troops, meet at the Battle of Friedland, where the French army prevailed after a bloody battle and defeated the Russian army, forcing the Russians to surrender and lead to the Treaty of Tilsit being signed. The Treaty was signed by both Prussia and Russia, but each country had different terms. For Prussia, the country lost half of it’s territory and was then forced to be put under the rule of the Napoleon. For Russia, it was an alliance that was created with the French empire, bringing the European continent under control of the two countries, and combining the two forces against Britain and Sweden, as well as Russia’s enemy, Ottoman Turkey.

Napoleon then began to occupy Spain, after splitting Portugal between the two countries, On May 2 1808, Spanish citizens rose up against the French army in the city of Madrid, causing a suppression against the Spanish people and the beginning of the Peninsular War between Napoleon and the allied powers of Britain, Portugal, and Spain. The next year on July 8-9, 1909 the Battle of Wagram took place between the French and allied army’s against the Austrian army with a victory for Napoleon’s forces, leading to an armistice, and the Treaty of  Schönbrunn, which was signed on October 14, 1809. The treaty forced Austria to lose many Eastern and Southern lands, as well as cutting all diplomatic ties with Britain.

In 1812, Napoleon created the “Grande Armee” to invade Russia, with over 600,000 troops enlisted from different locations throughout his empire.  The first major battle that took place was the Battle of Smolensk on the dates of August 16-18, 1812, where Napoleon took the city by force, unfortunately for Napoleon, the Russian army evacuated the city and burnt much of the city to the ground. This made it difficult for Napoleon to make a base camp for his invasion, with little buildings left for a camp, and continued to follow the Russian army further into the country, until the Battle of Borodino on September 7, 1812 in a bloodstained engagement, just 70 miles West of Moscow. Napoleon had committed 130,000 troops to the battle, and Russia fought back with 120,000 troops, but did not come out with a victory against Napoleon, and under the cover of night the Russian army retreated from the battle. A week later, Napoleon marched his army into Moscow, unopposed, and took the city, which had been badly burnt and torched before the inhabitants had left it a few weeks earlier. Napoleon had hoped taking Moscow would lead to a peace agreement with Russia. After a month of staying in Moscow hoping for peace discussions, that never happened, Napoleon left Moscow and headed South, where the Russian army was located, and confronted them at the Battle of Maloyaroslavets on October 12, 1812. Napoleon had his stepson lead the army, which resulted in a victory, though not a decisive victory, which led Napoleon to retreat to the West in hopes of receiving supplies and food, which he was lacking to continue his campaign. In the time it took Napoleon and his troops to reach the River Berezina in November of 1812, the harsh winter and random attacks from peasants had taken its toll, with about only 30,000 troops of the 600,000, surviving the failed invasion.

After this failed attempt, Russia created an alliance called the Sixth Coalition, which included Austria, Prussia, Russia, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Spain and a number of German States, to defeat Napoleon and his allies. Beginning in May of 1813, fighting had begun between Napoleon’s army and the Sixth Coalition, with each side having its respective victories, until the coalition army had advanced to the capital of France, and began the Battle of Paris on March 30, 1814. After a long day of fighting, the French surrendered on March 31, forcing Napoleon to go into exile and abdicate. Louis XVIII is then brought back into power, restoring the Bourbon rule. On April 11, 1814 the Treaty of Fontainebleau, took away Napoleon’s powers and exiled him to the island of Elba, just off the French Southern coast. He was finally exiled to Elba in May of 1814.


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