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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts declared against Napoleon's French Empire and changing sets of European allies by opposing coalitions that ran from 1803 to 1815. As a continuation of the wars sparked by the French Revolution of 1789, they revolutionized European armies and played out on an unprecedented scale, mainly due to the application of modern mass conscription. French power rose quickly, conquering most of Europe, but collapsed rapidly after France's disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon's empire ultimately suffered complete military defeat resulting in the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in France. The wars resulted in the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and sowed the seeds of nascent nationalism in Germany and Italy that would lead to the two nations' consolidation later in the century. Meanwhile the Spanish Empire began to unravel as French occupation of Spain weakened Spain's hold over its colonies, providing an opening for nationalist revolutions in Spanish America. As a direct result of the Napoleonic wars the British Empire became the foremost world power for the next century, thus beginning Pax Britannica.
No consensus exists as to when the French Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars began. One possible date is 9 November 1799, when Bonaparte seized power in France with the coup of 18 Brumaire. 18 May 1803 is probably the most commonly used date, as this was when a renewed declaration of war between Britain and France (resulting from the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens), ended the only period of general peace in Europe between 1792 and 1814. The latest proposed date is 2 December 1804, when Napoleon crowned himself Emperor.
The Napoleonic Wars ended following Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and the Second Treaty of Paris.
1 Background 1789–1802
1.1 Start date and nomenclature
2 War between Britain and France, 1803–1814
3 War of the Third Coalition 1805
4 War of the Fourth Coalition 1806–1807
5 War of the Fifth Coalition 1809
6 The Invasion of Russia 1812
7 War of the Sixth Coalition 1812–1814
8 Gunboat War 1807–1814
9 War of 1812
10 War of the Seventh Coalition 1815
11 Political effects
12 Military legacy
13 Last veterans
14 In fiction
15 See also
18 External links
Bonaparte declared France an Empire on 18 May 1804 and crowned himself Emperor at Notre-Dame on 2 December.
In April 1805, the United Kingdom and Russia signed a treaty with the aim of removing the French from the Batavian Republic (roughly present-day Netherlands) and the Swiss Confederation (Switzerland). Austria joined the alliance after the annexation of Genoa and the proclamation of Napoleon as King of Italy on 17 March 1805. Sweden, who had already agreed to lease Swedish Pomerania as a military base for British troops against France, formally entered the coalition on 9 August.
Within months of the collapse of the Third Coalition, the Fourth Coalition (1806–07) against France was formed by Prussia, Russia, Saxony, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. In July 1806, Napoleon formed the Confederation of the Rhine out of the many tiny German states which constituted the Rhineland and most other western parts of Germany. He amalgamated many of the smaller states into larger electorates, duchies and kingdoms to make the governance of non-Prussian Germany smoother. Napoleon elevated the rulers of the two largest Confederation states, Saxony and Bavaria, to the status of kings.
The Fifth Coalition (1809) of the United Kingdom and Austria against France formed as the UK engaged in the Peninsular War against France.
Economic warfare also continued—the French Continental System against the British naval blockade of French-controlled territory. Due to military shortages and lack of organization in French territory, many breaches of the Continental System occurred as French-dominated states engaged in illicit (though often tolerated) trade with British smugglers. Both sides entered additional conflicts in attempts to enforce their blockade; the British fought the United States in the War of 1812 (1812–15), and the French engaged in the Peninsular War (1808–14). The Iberian conflict began when Portugal continued trade with the UK despite French restrictions. When Spain failed to maintain the continental system, the uneasy Spanish alliance with France ended in all but name. French troops gradually encroached on Spanish territory until they occupied Madrid, and installed a client monarchy. This provoked an explosion of popular rebellions across Spain. Heavy British involvement soon followed.
Napoleon assumed personal command in the east and bolstered the army there for his counter-attack on Austria. After a few small battles, the well-run campaign forced the Austrians to withdraw from Bavaria, and Napoleon advanced into Austria. His hurried attempt to cross the Danube resulted in the massive Battle of Aspern-Essling (22 May 1809)— Napoleon's first significant tactical defeat. But the Austrian commander, Archduke Karl, failed to follow up on his indecisive victory, allowing Napoleon to prepare and seize Vienna in early July. He defeated the Austrians at Wagram, on 5–6 July. (It was during the middle of that battle that Marshal Bernadotte was stripped of his command after retreating contrary to Napoleon's orders. Shortly thereafter, Bernadotte took up the offer from Sweden to fill the vacant position of Crown Prince there. Later he would actively participate in wars against his former Emperor.)
The Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 resulted in the Anglo-Russian War (1807–12). Emperor Alexander I declared war on the United Kingdom after the British attack on Denmark in September 1807. British men-of-war supported the Swedish fleet during the Finnish War and had victories over the Russians in the Gulf of Finland in July 1808 and August 1809. However, the success of the Russian army on the land forced Sweden to sign peace-treaties with Russia in 1809 and with France in 1810 and to join the Continental Blockade against Britain. But Franco-Russian relations became progressively worse after 1810, and the Russian war with the UK effectively ended. In April 1812, Britain, Russia and Sweden signed secret agreements directed against Napoleon.
The Allies entered Paris on 30 March 1814. During this time Napoleon fought his Six Days Campaign, in which he won multiple battles against the enemy forces advancing towards Paris. However, during this entire campaign he never managed to field more than 70,000 troops against more than half a million Coalition troops. At the Treaty of Chaumont (9 March 1814), the Allies agreed to preserve the Coalition until Napoleon's total defeat.
The Seventh Coalition (1815) pitted the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, the Netherlands and a number of German states against France. The period known as the Hundred Days began after Napoleon left Elba and landed at Cannes (1 March 1815). Travelling to Paris, picking up support as he went, he eventually overthrew the restored Louis XVIII. The Allies rapidly gathered their armies to meet him again. Napoleon raised 280,000 men, whom he distributed among several armies. To add to the 90,000 troops in the standing army, he recalled well over a quarter of a million veterans from past campaigns and issued a decree for the eventual draft of around 2.5 million new men into the French army. This faced an initial Coalition force of about 700,000—although Coalition campaign-plans provided for one million front-line troops, supported by around 200,000 garrison, logistics and other auxiliary personnel. The Coalition intended this force to have overwhelming numbers against the numerically inferior imperial French army—which in fact never came close to reaching Napoleon's goal of more than 2.5 million under arms.
Napoleon took about 124,000 men of the Army of the North on a pre-emptive strike against the Allies in Belgium. He intended to attack the Coalition armies before they combined, in hope of driving the British into the sea and the Prussians out of the war. His march to the frontier achieved the surprise he had planned, catching the Anglo-Dutch Army in a dispersed arrangement. The Prussians had been more wary, concentrating 3/4 of their Army in and around Ligny. The Prussians forced the Armee du Nord to fight all the day of the 15th to reach Ligny in a delaying action by the Prussian 1st Corps. He forced Prussia to fight at Ligny on 16 June 1815, and the defeated Prussians retreated in some disorder. On the same day, the left wing of the Army of the North, under the command of Marshal Michel Ney, succeeded in stopping any of Wellington's forces going to aid Blücher's Prussians by fighting a blocking action at Quatre Bras. Ney failed to clear the cross-roads and Wellington reinforced the position. But with the Prussian retreat, Wellington too had to retreat. He fell back to a previously reconnoitred position on an escarpment at Mont St Jean, a few miles south of the village of Waterloo.
Napoleon took the reserve of the Army of the North, and reunited his forces with those of Ney to pursue Wellington's army, after he ordered Marshal Grouchy to take the right wing of the Army of the North and stop the Prussians re-grouping. In the first of a series of miscalculations, both Grouchy and Napoleon failed to realize that the Prussian forces were already reorganized and were assembling at the village of Wavre. In any event the French army did nothing to stop a rather leisurely retreat that took place throughout the night and into the early morning by the Prussians. As the 4th, 1st, and 2nd Prussian Corps marched through the town towards the Battlefield of Waterloo the 3rd Prussian Corp took up blocking positions across the river, and although Grouchy engaged and defeated the Prussian rearguard under the command of Lt-Gen von Thielmann in the Battle of Wavre (18–19 June) it was 12 hours too late. In the end, 17,000 Prussians had kept 33,000 badly needed French reinforcements off the field.
The Napoleonic Wars brought great changes both to Europe and the Americas. Napoleon had succeeded in bringing most of Western Europe under one rule—a feat that had not been accomplished since the days of the Roman Empire (although Charlemagne had nearly done so around 800 CE). However, France's constant warfare with the combined forces of the other major powers of Europe for over two decades finally took its toll. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars, France no longer held the role of the dominant power in Europe, as it had since the times of Louis XIV. In its place, the United Kingdom emerged as by far the most powerful country in the world and the Royal Navy gained unquestioned naval superiority across the globe. This, coupled with Britain's large and powerful industrial economy, made it perhaps the first truly global superpower and ushered in the Pax Britannia that lasted for the next 100 years.