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Gutzler Napoleon’s Greatest Defeat
Jim DiCesare 12/23/09
Emperor Napoleon I was one of histories most fascinating figures. Starting off life as the second of eight children to a family of the Corsican gentry, he quickly rose to prominence. He graduated from Ecole Militaire at age 16, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Artillery. At the Battle of Toulon, as a captain, he replaced an artillery general and seized ground where he could fire at the British ships supporting the rebels. Without support Toulon quickly fell, and Napoleon was promoted to Brigadier General at the age of 24. As a General he was put in charge of the French Army of Italy in 1796. He successfully defeated 4 Austrian Generals in succession. In 1798 he conquered Ottoman Egypt, but was stranded because of the French naval defeat by Admiral Nelson at the Battle of the Nile. Undeterred he reformed Egyptian government and law, and the French scholars he brought with him began studying ancient Egyptian civilization. He failed to capture Syria, but won a great victory at Abukir. Following his success in Egypt, Napoleon returned to Paris where he participated in a Coup d’Etat. He was made first consul of France, and by 1804 he crowned himself Emperor. He went on to conquer most of Europe, before being exiled to Isle Elba upon his first abdication. Although Napoleon was the greatest military leader of all time, and history has blamed his generals for the loss at Waterloo, it was in fact the Emperor himself that blundered. The Battle of Waterloo was the climax of napoleon’s 100 Days Campaign. Upon his first abdication he signed the Treat of Fontainbleau, April 11, 1814. The Treaty granted him the title of Emperor, sovereignty over Isle Elba, and 2 million francs. It was on this Isle that Napoleon attempted suicide by poison. But the poison was old and the potency had worn off, and he survived.
In his speech to the troops the general in charge pointed out that Napoleon only had 1.000 under Arthur Wellsely. to stock for a voyage. Continuing onto Paris. Napoleon found a regiment barring the road. When he arrived at the gates of Grenoble.The political situation in France was deteriorating every minute he was gone.000 men. There were two armies in the Low Countries preparing to invade France: an Anglo-Allied army of 90. The men pointed out to the general that they counted too.000 for an Armee du Nord. the brig Inconstant. The evening of March 20th Napoleon was carried up the steps of Tuilleries. His mother encouraged him to return. The people also had low opinions of the Bourbons. 2 . He stepped in front of his troops with his familiar gray overcoat and shouted: “Kill your Emperor if you wish”. He concluded that the best offense is a good defense. and managed to scrape up men to secure southern France and 130. The garrison troops ignored all orders from their officers to shoot. the gunners refused to fire. On his march to Paris he was met enthusiastically by peasants from Douphine. The whole garrison wound up going over to him. and a few lancers. General Ney joined Napoleon. Fleury de Chaboulon informed Napoleon of the situation. Campbell returned February 28th to find Napoleon and his guard gone. Napoleon landed near Antibes with his “handful of braves”: less than 1. The English commissioner.000 men. Napoleon dared not risk a defensive campaign. Instead they broke ranks and surrounded their Emperor. The army wasn’t fond of Louis XVIII because the Bourbon government was refusing to pay pensions. March 1st. and participating nations declared war on France. 1815. At Grenoble he encountered a Royalist garrison. Campbell. left the Isle for a visit to Italy on February 16th. Napoleon ordered his only ship of war. The Congress of Vienna declared him to be in breech of the Treaty of Fontainbleau. and Louis XVIII fled north on March 19th. and summoned the Electoral College in order to reform the constitution.
After this he once again returned to his farms. He was defeated by Napoleon at Chanpoubet.00 under Field Marshall Gebhard Furst Blucher von Wahlstatt1. again. He planned on dislocating the enemies “joint” and fighting the armies separately. Wellington placed 68. On the 17th of June. He engaged the French at Obidos. and Craonne. However this turncoat was somewhat uncontrollable and was forced to retire to his farms in 1773. Racing north to meet the enemy.the Duke of Wellington. His approach succeeded in dislocating the “joint” and the French defeated the Prussians at the Battles of Ligny and Quatre Bras. Prussia finally beat the Emperor at Laon. He took part in three campaigns against Frederick the Great. Montmirail. Napoleon’s timing surprised the allies.000 men along the 2-mile crescent ridge. In 1806 he was recalled to fight France’s revolutionary armies. Jean. The Prussians suffered serious losses at the latter and were forced to retreat north to Wavre. Arthur Wellesley learned the art of war in British India. In 1808 he was made Lieutenant General and sent to Portugal to fight against the Napoleonic armies. Wellington marched north and deployed his army on a ridge just south of Mont St. to lead the Black Coat Army in the 100 Days Campaign. and 1 Marshall Blucher for short 3 . Field Marshall Gebhard Furst Blucher von Wahlstatt joined the Swedish army as a cavalry officer in 1742. He was made Duke of Wellington in 1814. He was a master of the reverse-slope tactic: keeping his forces screened from artillery fire behind the brow of a hill. He was called back. and Rolino where the French routed to Vimiero. Vauchamps. In 1760 he was captured and changed sides. only to be defeated again. and Assaye (1803) while in command. Chateau Thierry. and a Prussian army of 120. In 1799 he led a division at Seringapatum. He went on to win the Battles of Argaum (1803).
and Grouchy was moving north towards Wavre. He also placed strong garrisons at Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte to provide obstacles for the French. following the Prussian defeats at Ligny and Quatre Bras. Fields of chest high grain would provide the allies with hiding places to jump the French. 5 4 . If anything he should have attempted an outflanking maneuver: “…throughout the ages. after Wellington’s deployment on the ridge. break through. Napoleon should have withdrawn to a field of his choosing. Second. However Blucher was going west on his way to support Wellington at Mont St. (New York: Penguin Group. and succeeded in throwing the enemy onto the defensive: “Wellington’s dispositions might have suggested a different course to a more cautious attacker: either to withdraw and fight another day on a field of Napoleon’s choosing or to execute a wide 2 B. Some historians have argued that because Grouchy was unable to intercept Blucher. He would use the classic Napoleonic tactic of mass artillery to weaken the enemy.detached 18. assaulting up a hill against a dug in enemy yields a low probability of success.000 men west to the village of Tubize. After dealing with the Prussians Napoleon intended to assault the center of the allied line. This would be the logical choice because Napoleon had gained the initiative through his superb timing. then assault up the hill with infantry and cavalry. and sever his communications. Strategy. 1967). Liddell Hart. First. There were also significant amounts of mud on the battlefield. and Blucher was able to arrive on Napoleon’s right flank. cut Wellington in two. Napoleon became overextended and thus lost. There are two things wrong with this plan. Jean. effective results in war have rarely been attained unless the approach has had such indirectness as to ensure the opponent’s unreadiness to meet it”2. preventing canon shot from bouncing. Also on the 17th of June Napoleon sent Grouchy to finish off the Prussians.H.
000 allies would resist 13. Instead of aiding Napoleon. a lull sounded across the battlefield.000 guards under artillery fire and captured the hamlet of Papelotte.outflanking maneuver so as to rob the the duke of the advantages of his strong defensive position on the ridge”3 B.H.m. The enemy would have to come and meet him because the Allies were invading France. as these became the only places of fighting. 4 Hart 324 5 . Grouchy attacked the 15. In all 3. By 4:30 the bulk of the Prussians had arrived. General Picton’s attack was supported by a cavalry attack on Drouet’s left flank. Meanwhile the defenders of Hougoumont were holding out against Jerome Bonaparte’s assault. the Prussians began arriving on Wellington’s left. and Major George Baring’s Hanoverians clung on at La Haye Sainte.000 Prussians left at Wavre. The idea was to force Wellington to weaken his lines in order to reinforce the stronghold.000 Frenchman.m. At 1:30 p. Drouet’s advance reached as far as the crest of the ridge before General Picton ordered a bayonet attack. with an attack on fortified Hougoumont. Napoleon ordered General Drouet to advance with 16. and the French attacked with cavalry on both sides. By 3:00 p. He marched 13. The French were driven down the slope and the British took 2. However the British were celebrating a little too much.000 prisoners. The plan actually completely backfired in that Napoleon had to commit more and more troops to the assault. Hart further supports this argument: “For even if decisive battle be the goal. A brigade was dispatched to La Haye Sainte.000 men against the allied center-left. Marshall Ney attempted an assault on La Haye Sainte. not the other way around. but failed. “Waterloo Battle of” in The Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. He then 3 Gregory Fremont-Barnes.m. Nevertheless Napoleon opened the battle at 11:30 a. the aim of strategy must be to bring about this battle under the most advantageous circumstances”4.
Instead he committed the Old Guard to recapturing Placenoit (on the right). The French artillery had to cease firing during the waves. Napoleon chose not to gamble. The first wave had five battalions and the second wave had three. Napoleon circulated that these men were Grouchy in order to keep morale intact. Despite this huge initiative the French could not pull enough troops fast enough. Ney organized them into two waves. The men at La Haye Sainte began running out of ammunition by 6:00. These men he committed to assaulting the ridge under Ney. repulsed an attempt to recapture. Wellington closed his lines and deployed his cavalry to the rear to prevent gaps. The Young Guard was defeated on the right. but eventually hit the solid wall that is superior numbers. Napoleon could not stop the Prussians from joining Wellington’s left flank.proposed an unsupported cavalry charge up the ridge. Wellington was able to pull troops from his left to reinforce his center. Ney brought up the artillery and began to bombard the ridge. which Napoleon accepted.000 defenders. Napoleon still had 5. He also refused Ney’s request to commit the Old Guard.000 men from the Middle and Old Guard. In addition British gunners would discharge their guns at close range then retreat to the safety of the squares. and bodies of the dead choked later efforts. Despite large gaps in Wellington’s lines. and quickly overwhelmed the 10. Napoleon sent the Young Guard around 7:00 p. The French were finally able to capture this stronghold and gain access to the Charleroi-Brussels road. They sent 30. With less troops at Napoleon’s center. They were able to reclaim former positions and advance. The Prussians began attacking Napoleon’s right flank.m. 6 .000 men to Frischermont and Bois de Paris. The British infantry formed themselves into squares. The cavalry could only swarm around the squares. and drove riflemen out of the sandpit.
000 unsupported cavalry to assault up the hill. Wave after wave they failed to puncture the British squares.000 of his elite troops. he attempted to assault the hill with 5. Bibliography 7 . All attacks to assault up the ridge failed. and surprise attacks from the cornfields. Napoleon committed 10. Another battalion fought a British brigade and was repulsed by musket fire and horse artillery. When the middle guard attempted to assault they were subjected to intense artillery. The Guard was driven back. Jean. they could never be defeated by a frontal assault. Proving that Napoleon should not have attempted to fight Wellington head on. After defeating the Prussians at Ligny and Quatre Bras. Later. Napoleon was the man who decided to attack directly and thus the repercussions solely belong to him. and was thus unable to continue the assault. However they too failed. and then followed it by a bayonet attack. The allies were too dug in on their ridge. and Wellington ordered a general advance to cut down the retreating French army. Wellington deployed his men on the ridge of Mont St. after an artillery bombardment. Some would argue that Napoleon was over-committed due to Grouchy’s failure to defeat the Prussians. A Dutch-Belgian brigade had their canons fire at short range. The problem did not lie with the number of troops. the problem lied with the approach.Thirty canons were waiting for the Guard on their march up. The last battalion was overwhelmed from all sides. Or move west and attempt to flank the allies so as to rob them of their advantage. At that point Napoleon should have withdrawn to a field of his choosing.
accessed December 12. 2009 Napoleonic Guide “Gebhard von Blucher” updated 18 November 2009 http://www. New York: Penguin Group.com/waterloo_ney.com/archives/napoleon/nap615be.htm. 2009 Napoleonic Guide “Arthur Wellsely” updated 18 November 2009 http://www.htm. 24 8 . New York: Penguin Group.com/archives/napoleon/nap615be. WA: Microsoft Corporation. Strategy.napoleonguide.B. but its possession would determine the outcome of the Battle of Waterloo” Military History June 2002.napoleonguide. 2009 Satterfield. accessed December 12. ‘Wellington’s Smallest victory’” Weekend Edition Sunday.com/leaders_blucher.htm. “Interview: Peter Hofschroer discusses the secret of the Battle of Waterloo as told in his book.napoleonguide. Peter “Prussian Assault on Placenoit: Placenoit was only a nondescript village. “Waterloo: the end of an age” Calliope April 2004. Gregory Fremont-Barnes.wtj.htm. accessed December 15.htm. 1967. 19 June 2005 Hofschroer. George D. in the Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon. 1967.wtj. Liane and Peter Hofschroer. Hansen. accessed December 12. Napoleonic Guide “Waterloo: Ney Defends Himself” updated 18 November 2009 http://www. 2007).com/leaders_welling. Liddell Hart. 26 Microsoft Student 2008 “Battle of Waterloo” [DVD] (Redmond. accessed December 12. “Waterloo Battle of (18 June 1815)”. Felix Markham.H. 2009 The War Time Journal “Napoleon’s Correspondence June 18 through 21”updated 16 December 2009 http://www. 2009 The War Time Journal “Napoleon’s Correspondence June 12 through 16” updated 10 December 2009 http://www.
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