Portal:Napoleonic Wars

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The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

Napoleon, upon ascending to First Consul of France in 1799, had inherited a chaotic republic; he subsequently created a state with stable finances, a strong bureaucracy, and a well-trained army. In 1805, Austria and Russia started the Third Coalition and waged war against France. In response, Napoleon defeated the allied Russo-Austrian army at Austerlitz in December 1805, which is considered his greatest victory. At sea, the British severely defeated the joint Franco-Spanish navy in the Battle of Trafalgar on October 1805. This victory secured British control of the seas and prevented the invasion of Britain itself. Concerned about the increasing French power, Prussia led the creation of the Fourth Coalition with Russia, Saxony and Sweden, and the resumption of war in October 1806. Napoleon quickly defeated the Prussians in Jena and the Russians in Friedland, bringing an uneasy peace to the continent. The peace failed, though, as war broke out in 1809, when the badly prepared Fifth Coalition, led by Austria, was quickly defeated in Wagram.

Hoping to isolate Britain economically, Napoleon launched an invasion of Portugal, the only remaining British ally in continental Europe. After occupying Lisbon in November 1807, and with the bulk of French troops present in Spain, Napoleon seized the opportunity to turn against his former ally, depose the reigning Spanish Bourbon family and declare his brother King of Spain in 1808 as Joseph I. The Spanish and Portuguese revolted with British support, and, after six years of fighting, expelled the French from Iberia in 1814.

Concurrently, Russia, unwilling to bear economic consequences of reduced trade, routinely violated the Continental System, enticing Napoleon to launch a massive invasion of Russia in 1812. The resulting campaign ended with the dissolution and disastrous withdrawal of the French Grande Armée.

Encouraged by the defeat, Prussia, Austria, and Russia formed the Sixth Coalition and began a new campaign against France, decisively defeating Napoleon at Leipzig in October 1813 after several inconclusive engagements. The Allies then invaded France from the East, while the Peninsular War spilled over southwestern French territory. Coalition troops captured Paris at the end of March 1814 and forced Napoleon to abdicate in early April. He was exiled to the island of Elba, and the Bourbons were restored to power. However, Napoleon escaped in February 1815, and reassumed control of France. The Allies responded with the Seventh Coalition, defeating Napoleon permanently at Waterloo in June 1815 and exiling him to St Helena a British territory midway between Africa and Brazil, where he died six years later.

The Congress of Vienna redrew the borders of Europe, and brought a lasting peace to the continent. The wars had profound consequences on global history, including the spread of nationalism and liberalism, the rise of the British Empire as the world's foremost power, the appearance of independence movements in Latin America and subsequent collapse of the Spanish Empire, the fundamental reorganisation of German and Italian territories into larger states, and the establishment of radically new methods of conducting warfare.

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The Battle of Trafalgar
Painted by William Clarkson Stanfield in 1836, this artwork depicts the The Battle of Trafalgar, 21 October 1805.

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Battle of Leipzig
The Battle of Leipzig or Battle of the Nations, on 16–19 October 1813, was fought by the coalition armies of Russia, Prussia, Austria and Sweden against the French army of Napoleon. Napoleon's army also contained Polish and Italian troops as well as Germans from the Confederation of the Rhine. The battle involved over 600,000 soldiers, making it the largest battle in Europe prior to World War I.

In total, the French had around 190,000 soldiers and the Allies almost 330,000 with both sides having significant artillery—in total there were over 2,500 pieces of ordnance on the field. The battle began on 16 October with an attack by 78,000 Allied troops from the south and 54,000 from the north, with Napoleon using the bulk of his army in the south. The allied offensives achieved little and were soon forced back, but Napoleon's outnumbered forces were unable to break the allied lines, resulting in a hard fought stalemate.

There were only two actions on 17 October: an attack by the Russian General Sacken on General Dabrowski's Polish Division at the village of Gohlis. In the end, the numbers and determination of the Russians prevailed and the Poles retired to Pfaffendorf. Blücher, who was made a field marshal the day before, ordered General Lanskoi's 2nd Hussar Division (Russian) to attack General Arrighi's III Cavalry corps. As they had the day before the Sixth Coalition's cavalry proved to be superior, driving the French away with great loss.

On 18 October, the Allies launched a huge assault from all sides. In over nine hours of fighting, in which both sides suffered heavy casualties, the French troops prevented a breakthrough but were slowly forced back towards Leipzig. The Sixth Coalition had Field Marshal Blücher (Prussian) and Prince Charles John of Sweden to the north, the Generals Barclay De Tolly, Bennigsen (both Russian) and Prince von Hessen-Homburg (Austrian) to the south, and Ignaz Gyulai (Austrian) to the west.

Defeated, Napoleon was compelled to return to France while the Allies hurried to keep their momentum, invading France early the next year. Napoleon was forced to abdicate, and was exiled to Elba that spring.

• • • Selected biography • • •

Mikhail Kutuzov
Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov (16 September 1745 – 28 April 1813) was a Field Marshal of the Russian Empire. He served as one of the finest military officer and diplomat of Russia under the reign of three Romanov Tsar: Catherine II, Paul I and Alexander I. His military career closely associated with the rising period Russia from the end of 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. Kutuzov paid a considerable portion to the military history of Russia and is considered to be one of the best Russian generals under the reign of Catherine II. He took part in the suppression of the Bar Confederation's uprising, in three of the Russo-Turkish Wars and in Napoleonic War, including two major battles at Austerlitz and Borodino.

However, Kutuzov is credited most with his brilliant leadership in Patriotic war of 1812. Under Kutuzov's command, the Russian army stopped the Grande Armée at Battle of Borodino and then counter-attacked, pushing the French out of the Russians' homeland. With this merit, Kutuzov was awarded the title of Prince of Smolensk. A memorial was built at Moskva in 1973 to commemorate the 1812 war and Kutuzov's leadership. An order of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation is also named after him. And, Kutuzov was highly regarded in the works of the Russian and Soviet's historians.

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• • • Did you know? • • •

Did You Know? ... that after the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon predicted General Michel Ordener would die within five or six years – and although he retired, Ordener died in 1811?

Did You Know? ... that the French stormed the Bagration flèches eight times during the Battle of Borodino in 1812?

Did You Know? ... that Moustache, a French poodle, is said to have been awarded a medal by Marshal Jean Lannes for saving a regimental flag at the Battle of Austerlitz?

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