Victory belongs to the most persevering.-Napoleon
Napoleon was a man of extraordinary capabilities. He wanted to fulfil the aspirations of French people and himself at the same time. Two contradictories aspirations eventually led to the blunders of Napoleon. We are going to discuss battles fought by Napoleon like Battle of Leipzig, Battle of Waterloo etc. and his demise.
Napoleon’s Dream to Establish Dynasty
Napoleon was having a strange desire to be treated as an equal by the old and effete kings and emperors. He advanced his brothers and sister in almost every field though they were very incompetent. Almost every one of them played him false and deserted him when he was in trouble.
Napoleon’s keen interest was to establish a dynasty. He was very much disappointed by his wife Josephine de Beauharnais, as he did not have children by her. So he decided to divorce Josephine and marry another woman. He wanted to marry a Russian Grand Duchess, but the Tsar would not agree to this. Napoleon was not having the royalty of blood. Napoleon might have become the master of almost entire Europe, but Tsar considered it somewhat presumptuous of him to aspire to marry into the Russian imperial family!
He then more or less forced the Hapsburg Emperor of Austria to give him his daughter Marie Louis in marriage. He had a son by her, but she was dull and unintelligent. She did not like him. When Napoleon was in trouble, she deserted him too.
Tension with Russia: Battle of Leipzig
The difference between Napoleon and Russia had already started on the issue of the marriage proposal. This turned into a rift when Russia decided to leave France on the issue of continental policy. It seems the French and Russian rulers suspected each other of having competing designs on Poland. To irritate Russia Napoleon organised a Grand Darbar in Warsaw. This increased tension between Russia and France.
War with Russia
Napoleon decided to invade Russia. In June 1812, he and his Grand Army marched into Russia. Many of his troops were not French. They had drafted from all over Europe. They felt little loyalty to Napoleon. As his army entered Russia, Alexander pulled back his troops, refusing to be lured into an unequal battle. As the Russians retreated toward Moscow, they practised a scorched-earth policy, burning grain ﬁelds and slaughtering livestock so as to leave nothing that the enemy could eat.
Battle of Leipzig
Desperate soldiers deserted the French army to search for scraps of food. On September 7, 1812, the two armies ﬁnally clashed in the Battle of Borodino. During the morning, the advantage swung back and forth between the Russians and the French. After several more hours of indecisive ﬁghting, the Russians retreated— giving Napoleon a narrow victory that allowed him to take Moscow.
This attack on Russia proved to be a graveyard for Napoleon. His two-third army was destroyed which became enthusiasm for European rulers. They once again formed United Front and defeated him in the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. After Leipzig, Napoleon was sent to the little island of Elbe in the Mediterranean. Another Bourbon came to the throne of France. The Bourbons were thus back again, with them came back much of the old tyranny.
Last Days of Napoleon
Battle of Waterloo
In less than a year Napoleon had had enough of Elbe and France had had enough of the Bourbons. He managed to escape in a little boat and landed to Cannes on the Riviera on February 26, 1815. He started pleading to European countries for peace but Europe once again United and defeated him in the Battle of Waterloo, 1815. Waterloo was a hardly contested battle and victory hung in the balance. Napoleon abdicated for the second time. He handed himself over to the captain of English ship saying that he wanted to live quietly in England.
He expected liberal and courteous treatment from Britain or Europe. But frightened Britain and Europe had convinced that Napoleon must be kept as far as possible. So in spite of his protests, he was declared a prisoner and sent with a few companions, to the far-away island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean. He died in May 1821. This was the end of Napoleon in France and Europe. He himself was correct when he said afterwards:
No one but myself can be blamed for my fall. I have been my own greatest enemy, the cause of my disastrous fate.
Napoleon was a military genius and a brilliant administrator. Yet all his victories must be measured against the millions of lives that were lost in his wars. Of his many achievements, only his law code and some of his reforms in France’s government proved lasting. A later French statesman and writer, Alexis de Tocqueville, described Napoleon’s character by saying,
He was as great as a man can be without virtue.
His defeat opened the door for the freed European countries to establish a new order. A new order started gaining power in Europe and old order faced problem from new order’s rising.
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