Napoleon Bonaparte/Napoleone Buonaparte (1769-1821) served as Emperor of France from 1804 to 1814 and again in 1815. He rose from the ranks of the army to create the First French Empire, establish his hegemony over Europe and earn a lasting position among the most brilliant and influential commanders in military history.
Early Life and Career
Napoleon was born in Ajaccio, Corsica to Carlo Buonaparte and Letizia Ramolino. Corsica had been owned by the Republic of Genoa until 1768, when it was annexed by the Kingdom of France. His ancestors on both sides of the family were members of the Italian nobility, though their financial situation was modest at best. His father was a lawyer. The future emperor was baptized as "Napoleone (di) Buonaparte". The name would eventually chase to Napoleon Bonaparte to make it sound French and allow easier integration into French society.
Napoleon was the second surviving son in his family and his parents considered a military career suitable for him. He had limited training in his early years. In May, 1779, 10-year-old Napoleon was enrolled in the Military Academy of Brienne-le-Chateau. He had trouble with spelling correctly but excelled at mathematics, history and geography. He graduated in 1784 and was able to enlist in the Ecole Militaire (Military School) of Paris, a military college training cadet officers for the French Army. The typical study course lasted two years. But the death of his father and the declining financial situation of his family, motivated Napoleon to aim for a faster graduation. He completed the entire course in a single year and graduated in September, 1785.
Napoleon was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the French Artillery while still 16-years-old. His service was undistinguished until the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789. With the country in army in disarray, Napoleon returned to Corsica. The island was theater to a three-way-struggle between French Royalists, French Revolutionaries and Corsican Nationalists striving for independence. Napoleon sympathized with the Nationalists but aligned himself with the Jacobins, a revolutionary faction. He gained leadership of a local volunteer force and was promoted to the rank for Captain. Napoleon and his family had to flee the island in June, 1793 as Pasquale Paoli, leader of the Nationalists, led the island in openly seceding from France.
Napoleon was soon able to gain a new position. He was appointed Chief of Artillery in the revolutionary forces at the Siege of Toulon (September 18 - December 18, 1793). Toulon was a French City but was under the control of the Royalist Faction. The besieged forces of Toulon had been recently reinforced by a combined force of British, Spanish, Sicilian and Sardinian troops. There were few hopes for a Revolutionary victory in the continued battle. But Napoleon was able to devise a strategy towards victory, though he had trouble to convince his superiors to follow it. His plan, when materialized, led to first the capture of Charles O'Hara (1740-1802), the British commander of the Allied forces and then to the fall of Toulon. Napoleon received a thigh wound in the battle but won his first major victory. It should be noted that his opponent O'Hara already had a poor reputation as the British officer who surrendered in the Siege of Yorktown (October 19, 1781). Having lost battles to both George Washington and Napoleon, O'Hara is not a particularly respected figure.
Napoleon was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General for his victory and appointed Chief of Artillery in the French "Army of Italy" , a field army stationed at the French borders with the Italian states. The so-called Thermidorian Reaction of July, 1794 threatened his position and life. His faction, the Jacobins, had managed to rule Revolutionary France for a while. With their leader Maximilien Robespierre (1758-1794) serving as de facto head of government. The Reaction involved the violent deposition of Robespierre, followed by the executions of him and other leading Jacobins. Napoleon was arrested as well. But he was deemed too useful for the Army to execute, soon allowed to return to his duties.
However, he did suffer consequences. In April, 1795, the new government offered him an infantry command in the Army of the West, serving under the orders of Lazare Hoche (1768-1797). This division of the French Army was involved in the War in the Vindee (1793-1796), a bloody civil war against French Royalist forces which still held their own. The position for Napoleon was both a de facto demotion and a posting in an extremely undesirable area of operations. He declined, citing poor health and was then dropped from the list of active generals. Becoming a reservist with an uncertain financial future.
However, his reputation for competent leadership helped him. On October 3, 1795, royalists started a counter-revolution within Paris itself. An army of 30,000 Royalists marched within the Capital. The National Convention (serving as French Parliament) was in danger, the Paris National Guard was considering defection and only about 5,000 Revolutionary troops were available in the vicinity of Paris. But even they lacked in leadership. Paul Barras (1755-1829), de facto head of the Convention, decided to recall Napoleon to action and offer him leadership of this small force. On October 5, Napoleon accepted on the condition of having freedom of movement (able to act without orders by any superior, military or political). Once Barras accepted, Napoleon had his new officer Joachim Murat (1767-1815) seize 40 cannons and turn them against the Royalists. They suffered heavy casualties before also assaulted by the Revolutionary Infantry. The Royalists fled Paris before the end of the day.
This victory had lasting influences. Napoleon gained in fame and prestige. He won the favor of Barras and all Directors of French government and was compensated financially for his victory. He was effectively joining the ruling elite. Murat joined Napoleon's close circle of friends and would soon marry one of the sisters of his general. Barras also played match-maker by introducing Napoleon to one of his own former mistresses, a young widow by the name of Josephine de Beauharnais (1763-1814). Napoleon and Josephine married in 1796. Her kids Eugene (1781-1824) and Hortense (1783-1837) were effectively adopted by Napoleon and would later play a major part in his dynastic policies.
In March 1796, the French Army of Italy actually invaded the Italian Peninsula with Napoleon as its general-in-command. This campaign lasted to October, 1797 and was a spectacular success for the French forces. The army fought 67 actions and 18 pitched battles, winning in the majority of them. Napoleon captured 150,000 enemy troops, 540 cannons and 170 standards. He humiliated the Austrians (which held much of Italy) and forced to make significant concessions in exchange for peace, ended the independence of the Republic of Venice and won control over over most of Northern Italy for France. The Italian North was looted and much of its wealth passed to French hands (including that of Napoleon). Much of his success was based on superior strategy and excellent application of artillery in combat situations. His background as an artillery officer proved useful.
Within France itself, Napoleon had started building a power base. Barras and his government increasingly came to depend on Napoleon to stay in power. Napoleon's next plan involved an invasion of the Ottoman Empire. He wanted to conquer Egypt and Syria, both for their own value and use them as strongholds against the British. More specifically, at the time British trade relied on uninterrupted contact with their colonies in India. A French fleet in the Indian Ocean could disrupt this trade and undermine British economy. Napoleon led his first naval campaign in May, 1798, heading for Egypt.He conquered Malta on his way. Napoleon managed to conquer Egypt and invaded Syria. But this campaign ultimately failed as the French forces relied on their fleet for supplies. Horatio Nelson (1758-1805), a British naval commander, managed to destroy most of the French fleet in the Battle of the Nile August 1-3, 1798), and French Forces were facing the danger of being trapped in the African and Asian coast while facing Ottoman counter-attacks. Napoleon gave up on his campaign on August 24, 1799, having learned of recent French military disasters in the European front. Remnants of Napoleon conquests in the Middle East would fall back to the Ottomans by 1801.
The most enduring results of this failed campaign were in the realm of science. Napoleon had decided to have scientists follow his campaign and research Egypt and its monuments. One of their discoveries was the Rosetta Stone (196 BC), a royal decree of Ptolemy V (reigned 204-181 BC) written in three languages: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Ancient Egyptian demotic, and Ancient Greek. The Greek language was widely known and studied in Europe and studied for centuries. But nobody had managed to decipher the Egyptian texts. A few decades later, Jean-Francois Champolion (1790-1832) managed to match the portions of the Egyptian texts responding to the Greek text. Effectively deciphering Ancient Egyptian and allowing others to translate further Egyptian texts. It was to be a lead ahead for archaeology, then in its infancy.
Napoleon reached France in October, 1799. A few recent French victories in the European front had largely reversed the situation concerning external threats. But internal threats remained. The Directory had mismanaged the political situation: France was nearly bankrupt, the populace no longer supported this government, there was rumors of internal revolts and the Directors' infighting was threatening to result in a civil war between them. Napoleon had enough. On November 9, 1799, Napoleon ceased control of the government . He soon prepared a new French Constitution and a new form of government, modeled on the Roman Republic. He held the position of "First Consul" created for himself, becoming head of state.
In 1800, Napoleon took to leading French troops in the European front again. This time facing the Austrians, who had reconquered much of Italy in his absence. He seemed to have trouble adapting to the new military and political situation, as the early phases of the campaign had French forces suffering losses. For example a relief effort to lift the Siege of Genoa failed and the city fell. However, the campaign concluded in victory at the Battle of Marengo (June 14, 1800). Napoleon was leading 22,000 French troops and 15 guns (cannons) against 30,000 Austrians and their 100 cannons. Severely outnumbered, the French forces were loosing the battle. When the arrival of 6,000 French reinforcements with 9 additional guns, allowed Napoleon to organize a surprise counterattack. The Austrian forces while advancing had marched towards different directions while giving chase to the retreating French. Now they were unable to effectively regroup to face a counterattack. 1/3 of the Austrian force was lost in Marengo and they suffered further defeats later. Resulting in the Treaty of Luneville (February 9, 1801) which had the Austrians accepting defeat and evacuating Italy.
By 1801, France was at peace with all surviving European powers except the British. Napoleon started contemplating an invasion of Great Britain. However, both countries were facing financial difficulties due to the expenses of about a decade of constant war campaigns and the disruption of their trading activities. The British islands were also facing an ongoing famine and consequent social unrest. In practice, both opponents needed to take care of their domestic problems and war operations were postponed. Diplomatic negotiations resulted in a truce by October, 1801 and a full peace treaty (the Treaty of Amiens) on March 25, 1802.
On May 20, 1802, a controversial decision of Napoleon re-established the legality of slavery in the French colonies. Slavery had been abolished early in the Revolution and the former slaves were unwilling to return to chains. Haiti would be the island most affected by the decision. But a Haitian Revolution was already ongoing and the anti-slavery sentiments of the local population helped establish the independence of the new state.
Otherwise, Napoleon took advantage of the Treaty of Amiens to turn his attention to the legal reforms needed to reorganize France. The Napoleonic Code had started being prepared in 1800 but was still not ready. It was first published in 1804. With its focus on clearly written and accessible law, allowing certain civil rights, particularly freedom of religion, and placing merit over social rank in appointments, the Code was much different that any of those preceding it. It was essentially the first modern legal code and would influence the legal systems of most European countries over the following centuries.
By 1803, Britain had largely recovered from its internal problems and was ready to face France one again. Hostilities soon begun. France had not fully recovered and Napoleon needed financing for his new campaigns. A major event of the year was a result of this lack of funds. Napoleon offered French Louisiana for sale to the United States. In exchange for 80 million francs (15 million dollars). Louisiana was the last major French colony, though rather scarcely populated. The territories sold at this point were 2,147,000 square kilometers (828,800 square miles). "Louisiana" would be eventually divided into different states within the American federal system. Its territory is currently divided among the states of Louisiana, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In addition part of the area was ceded by the United States to the British in 1818. Later passing to the nation of Canada. This area is currently divided among the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.
In Europe, Great Britain sought to form the Third Coalition against France. Proposing alliances to Austria, Russia, Naples, Sicily, Portugal, and Sweden. Meanwhile, Napoleon faced a new Royalist plot against his person. One of the problems was that what would happen in the occasion of his death, violent or not, had not been determined by the current constitution of France. The Royalists had hopes that his death would leave the state leaderless and allow a restoration of the Bourbons to the throne. Napoleon at this point decided to recreate the French monarchy. But with himself as his throne and his extended family as the new reigning dynasty. He was proclaimed "Emperor of the French" on May 18, 1804. Adding the title of "King of Italy" on March 17, 1805.
The year 1805 was another key point of the new emperor's career. The early phase of the year was spend with Napoleon planning an invasion of Great Britain. Well aware that his naval forces were inferior to the Royal Navy of the British, Napoleon was planning to have part of the French Navy harass British ports in the West Indies (the Caribbean islands) . He hoped that the British would be forced to send a major fleet to the Caribbean Sea, consequently leaving the British Islands themselves with weak defenses. Then the main force of the combined French and Spanish fleets would be able to take control of the English Channel, the first phase of the planned invasion. However his plans were largely undone by his own admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve (1763-1806).
Villeneuve failed to achieve any success in the Caribbean and sailed for Europe again, with Horatio Nelson in pursuit of him. Villeneuve escaped Nelson but encountered a second British flee off the coast of Spain, that one led by Robert Calder (1745-1818). Villeneuve and Calder engaged each other in the inconclusive Battle of Cape Finisterre (July 22, 1805). Neither of them managed to win, but the Battle forced British attention back to European waters and prevented any invasion plan from taking place. Napoleon canceled his plans at this point. The naval operations of the following few months culminated in the defeat of the combined French and Spanish fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805).
Meanwhile, Napoleon had trained a large land force to use against the British. Now he had to use them elsewhere. So he decided to reorganize this force into his Grand Army, consisting of 350,000 well-equipped, well-trained troops under competent leadership. He then prepared to lead most this force into the areas of the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) to face the combined Austrian in their own territories armies. The land operations of the time are typically divided in two phases. First in the Ulm Campaign (September 25 - October 20, 1805) which allowed Napoleon to capture 60,000 Austrian troops and force other 10,000 to flee. Then a successful advance towards Vienna, defeating Austrian and Russian forces guarding the area. Finally, in the Battle of Austerlitz (December 2, 1805) where Napoleon had to face the main force of the combined Austrian and Russian armies.
Austerlitz is also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors. His opponents in the battle were Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor (1768-1835, reigned 1792-1806) and Alexander I, Emperor of Russia (1777-1825, reigned 1801-1825) who had both assumed personal command of their armies. Due to the French forces being spread out across Central Europe, Napoleon arrived at the Battle with only 72,000 men. The combined Austrian-Russian forces consisted of 85,000 men. However Napoleon managed to outmaneuver his opponents and win one his most brilliant victories. The political results of Austerlitz were impressive. Both Austria and Russia agreed to surrender within days of the Battle. Dissolving the Third Coalition. The Russians were allowed to retreat back to their homeland. The Austrians however had to officially dissolve the Holy Roman Empire, quit all claims to lands lost to the French in previous campaign and cede further lands to French protectorates and allies (specifically to Italy, Bavaria, Wurttemberg, and Baden). In 1806, Napoleon was able to organize much of Germany in the Confederation of the Rhine, under his benevolent protection.
Ruler of Central Europe
Napoleon had arguably become the dominant ruler of both Western and Central Europe. However he might have been too hasty in letting the Russians go without incident. In 1806, a new anti-French Coalition formed. This time consisting of the British,the Prussians, the Russians, the Saxons, the Sicilians, and the Swedes. Prussia seems to have miscalculated the willingness of its allies to actually go to war. The British and French were unwilling to face each other in direct combat again, spending this "war" largely by trying to sabotage each other's trading activities. Russia spend the year reorganizing its armies. Leaving Prussia alone to face the initial French attack.
Napoleon had a relatively easy time moving forces from the rest of Germany to invade Prussia. About 160,000 French soldiers were available in the area. The campaign started in September with the first real battle being that of Schleiz (October 9, 1806). The first French victory in what proved to be an uninterrupted series of them. Napoleon pretty much smashed his way to Berlin, capturing the city on October 27. Prussia was placed under occupation. Napoleon was then able to strip Prussia of half of its territory, distributing areas to various puppet rulers.
In 1807, the War of the Fourth Coalition continued with brief campaigns against Russia and Sweden. Battles with Russia was the main event lasting from February to July, 1807. But a decisive French victory in the Battle of Friedland (June 14, 1807) convinced Alexander I to start negotiating peace terms. The two empires even formed a brief alliance. The conflict with Sweden mainly took place in the so-called Swedish Pomerania, an area of northern Germany controlled by Sweden since the 17th century. The campaign concluded with the fall of Stralsund (August 24, 1807) and the retreat of the remnants of the Swedish forces. The diplomatic situation with Sweden was not resolved, but Napoleon reached the height of his power.
But at this point Napoleon turned his attention to another British ally:Portugal. Portugal played little to no part in the recent European wars. But its trade relations with the British interfered with Napoleon's plan to isolate the British Empire from all its former allies and trading partners. Napoleon could rely on his old ally, Spain. Napoleon directed the French forces to move through Spain. But he became aware of the internal conflicts within Spain. By February, 1808, Napoleon had formed his plan of capturing key Spanish cities, deposing the Bourbon Kings and creating another puppet ruler for the Iberian peninsula. By May, the so-called Peninsular War begun. In retrospect this War a major blunder.
The Peninsular War lasted to 1814. The French forces had to face Spanish guerrillas, Portuguese forces and British forces for five long years. The Spanish and Portuguese wanted to have the invaders leave their Peninsula. The British seized on the opportunity to have a war front constantly open to the south of France. Napoleon was forced to devote about 300,000 of his finest troops in fighting a brutal war with no resolution in sight. The open front would serve as a thorn to Napoleon's side. Meanwhile it serve as a training ground for some ambitious British officers who tested new tactics there. Notably including Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852), who would becdome one of Napoleon's most successful opponents.
Napoleon could only devote his full attention to the Iberian Peninsula until 1809. At this point a Fifth Coalition was formed by the Austrians and the British. Austria had been re-organizing its troops since 1806 and believed it was the time to strike back. The British were eager to see an Eastern Front open. Napoleon was taken by surprise and had to move in haste to join his troops in Germany, without having time to form a concrete plan. The War started on April 10, 1809 with Napoleon having a formidable opponent in the person of Archduke Charles of Austria (1771-1847) , master strategist and military reformer.
The campaign is mainly notable for the Battle of Aspern-Essling (May 21-22, 1809) where Napoleon was defeated by Charles. It was the first major defeat of Napoleon, since he lost 23,000 troops on the battlefield. But Napoleon was then able to reorganize his forces by calling for reinforcements from other areas of the French Empire. He won a revanche at the Battle of Wagram (July 5-July 6, 1809). The demoralized Austrians asked for a ceasefire and had to surrender much of their land to France.
Weeks later, the British finally made their move in this War. A force of 40,000 British troops invaded the Netherlands (then-controlled by France) in the so-called Walcheren Campaign (July 30-December 9, 1809). The local French forces under Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte (1763-1844), a high-ranking officer who had recently fallen out of Napoleon's favor, fought competently. But the campaign was largely determined by the British poor choice to turn the minor island of Walcheren to their headquarters. They effectively camped in a swamp and were soon suffering from a malaria epidemic. At least 12,000 men fell sick. Even after their eventual retreat, they reportedly infected others with the disease.
Napoleon made two fateful decisions in 1810. The first involved his own family. His marriage to Josephine was childless and he decided to divorce her. Choosing Marie-Louise, Archduchess of Austria (1791-1847) as his second wife. She was one of the daughters of Francis II and a member of the Habsburg-Lorraine dynasty, legitimizing his entry into the ranks of European royalty. But her loyalties would remain in doubt and this was certainly no love match. The second was allowing Bernadotte to accept an unexpected offer to become a royal himself. Charles XIII, King of Sweden (1748-1818, reigned 1809-1818) was childless and offered to name Bernadotte his heir. Napoleon believed that a French general on the Swedish throne would help establish French influence over Scandinavia. But in effect Sweden gained a new, competed general to reorganize its armies while Bernadotte seized on an opportunity to act independently of Napoleon. Bernadotte would indeed become one of Napoleon's chief opponents.
In 1812, Napoleon intercepted information that his ally Alexander I of Russia was preparing to turn against him. He decided to act first by starting preparations for a French Invasion of Russia. Following the Peninsular War, this turned out to be a second major blunder by Napoleon. The invasion begun on June 24, 1812 with Napoleon personally leading his Grand Army into Russia. The French forces consisted of about 690,000 men, significantly outnumbering the Russian military forces of the time. However this huge army also needed huge amounts of supplies. The supplies had to be transported from Central Europe to Russia and any problem in the transfer could result in men and animals starving to death.
Over the following months, Napoleon attempted to face the Russian forces in a decisive battle that could cripple their capabilities to continue the War. Or at least demoralize their leadership. Such tactics had succeeded against Austria and Prussia in previous encounters. But the Russians managed to avoid any such battle. Their leaders either retreated further east or managed to disengage from any battle before casualties became overwhelming. The Russians were retreating and using scorched earth politics. Allowing Napoleon to claim control of new territories, without said territories offering much in supplies or new recruits for his army.
A tactical mistake of the time was that Napoleon chose to bypass Saint Petersburg (the current Russian capital) and march for Moscow, the traditional Russian capital. He believed that its capture would have similar effects to the capture of Vienna and Berlin in previous encounters. He met the Russian army in the Battle of Borodino (September 7, 1812) and won a bloody victory. Capturing Moscow on September 14. But neither event particularly helped his cause. Moscow had been evacuated and partly burned by the retreating Russians. There were no supplies available for his army and 2/3 of the Russian army had left Borodino intact. Far from being demoralized, the Russians were now engaging in a guerrilla campaign to disrupt the French supplies and trap the great Army within Russia. What followed was a long march of the French Army towards the west, trying to return to the relative safety of Central Europe while dying of starvation, thirst, exhaustion, sickness and cold. Particularly as winter weather in Russia negatively affected their chances of survival. By December, the last France troops evacuated Russia. Estimates of how many actually survived the campaign vary. Low estimations point to about 22,000 survivors, high estimations point to up to 110,000 survivors. But few were actually able to serve in another campaign.
Until his Russian campaign, Napoleon was seen as an almost invincible military genius. His reputation encouraging his soldiers and allies while discouraging his opponents. Now his reputation was undermined, his own army demoralized, his subordinates and allies were starting to turn against him. While his enemies were encouraged to renew their efforts against him. Napoleon spend the winter of 1812-1813 rebuilding his forces. By spring he had built a force of about 350,000 men.
But now a Sixth Coalition had formed against France. With several of his recent allies defecting to the Coalition before the battles even begun. The Coalition united the Austrians, the British, the Portuguese, the Prussians, the Russians, the Sardinians, the Sicilians, the Spanish, and the Swedes against him. The initial battleground was Germany. The battles of Spring, 1813 are thought to have cost heavy casualties to both sides. So they agreed to an armistice lasting for most of the Summer while trying to regroup and recruit new forces. In the second phase of the campaigns initially won a major victory in the Battle of Dresden (August 26-27, 1813) with the forces he was personally leading in battle. But the War was going poorly for the French in the other fronts. Allowing the Coalition Allies to send more forces to Germany.
The French Army was heavily outnumbered in the Battle of Leipzig (October 16-19, 1813) and Napoleon suffered one of his worst defeats. Approximately 40,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded, other 20,000 captured by the enemy. The French forces had to retreat west of the Rhine, leaving the Coalition to approach the northern borders of France with relative ease. The Peninsular War was also going badly. Wellington and his troops managed to pass from Northern Spain to Southern France by December. In Scandinavia, Denmark-Norway (a Crown Union), an ally to Napoleon, was facing a Swedish attack on its borders.
Unsurprisingly, the campaign season of 1814 started with France facing invasions from multiple directions. In February, Napoleon was reduced to leading 70,000 men in defending areas of Northeastern France from the first wave of invaders. His enemies consisted mostly of Prussian forces under Gebhard Lebehard von Blucher (1742-1819). Napoleon won a number of battles, but these were mostly delay actions. Coalition reinforcements kept entering France. The campaign largely concluded with the Battle of Paris (March 30-31, 1814). The French capital fell to the combined forces of Austria, Prussia, and Russia. Napoleon considered organizing a counter-attack. But his own officers refused to lead their exhausted army into a suicide attack. Napoleon ended up negotiating his own abdication from April 6 to April 11, 1814.
His reign over, Napoleon was able to witness the rise of Louis XVIII, King of France (1755-1824) to the throne. His victors were gracious enough to offer him sovereignty over the island of Elba which would serve as his exile spot. The island had a population of 12,000 people and Napoleon was reduced from the status of an emperor to that a provincial lord. This was a depressing period of his life and there are records of a failed suicide attempt.
Back to the Throne
The following months were a distressing period for France. While the occupation forces of the Coalition were eventually withdrawn, the terms of victory were way too harsh. Land areas won by the French Army in the last twenty years would be lost, the unpopular old nobility would be restored to their positions and wealth, the fate of the old veterans was at best uncertain. Assuming they would not face persecution. Louis XVIII and his regime were seen as puppets of the Coalition. Napoleon started seeing these turn of events as positive for his own cause.
On February 26, 1815, Napoleon and 600 men escaped from Elva. Landing on the French coast by March 1. Within a month, many of his surviving veterans eagerly offered their services to him. He captured Paris on March 20, 1815. Starting to reorganize his army. His old enemies had mostly demobilized their forces and needed time to prepare foe a new War.In June, Napoleon took the initiative to invade the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, a new state created to the north of France. The battleground of this campaign was the area of modern Belgium.
His chief opponent in this campaign was Wellington, the British veteran of the Peninsular War. On June 16, 1815, two concurrent battles took place. Michel Ney (1769-1815), one of Napoleon's leading officers, managed to defeat Wellington in the Battle of Quatre Bras. Napoleon himself defeated Blucher in the Battle of Ligny. Neither battle was particularly decisive. But Napoleon was then able to devote his efforts to a decisive battle with wellington. Blucher was believed to be retreating towards the east.
The decisive battle Napoleon had wanted was the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815). Napoleon led a force of 72,000 French veterans against Wellington's force of 68,000 Coalition troops. About 25,000 of them were British. However, there was a disadvantage for Wellington. Of the British troops under his direct command only 7,000 were hardened veterans. Most of the others, including their officers, had either never participated in a battle or had previously only served in minor campaigns of the Napoleonic Wars. The battle was closely-contested for most of the day. But unexpectedly Blucher managed to lead 50,000 of his own Coalitions troops in reinforcing Wellington. Giving the needed numerical superiority to their side. Blucher had not actually been fleeing as Napoleon thought, he was maneuvering his troops away from the attention of the other combatants.
While the French forces did not immediately disintegrate, Napoleon himself was demoralized. He lost any hope of winning this war and abdicated again on june 24, 1815. He surrendered to British custody on July 25. Some of his supporters actually managed to fight on for a few more months. The last Napoleonic stronghold, Longwy, fell on September 13, 1815.
Exile and Death
The British were determined to not allow Napoleon to escape again. They took the initiative in selecting his exile spot, since Napoleon had surrendered to them and not to their allies. They chose the isolated island of Saint Helena, a minor colony in the Atlantic Ocean. At a distance of 1,870 kilometers from the nearest African coast, the island offered no chances of escape. He had plenty of free time in his hands and dictated his memoirs.
There were controversies in Britain over the rather poor living conditions of their most famous captive. He lived in relative isolation until his death on May 5, 1821. The causes of his death are disputed. The official report, made his physician Francois Carlo Antommarchi (1780-1838), attributed the death to stomach cancer. But there were also indications that the actual cause of death was arsenic poisoning. Both causes have been supported by various researchers. Recent testings of preserved hair of Napoleon indicate high concentrations of arsenic in his body. But some of the samples were actually taken from before his captivity. Which might indicate his exposure to arsenic started earlier in his life. Arsenic was used as an ingredient for medicine throughout the period of Napoleon's life.
Some of Napoleon Bonaparte's organs ended up in the Hunterian Collection in London's Royal College of Surgeons, but were lost during the London Blitz of 1941.