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Friday, 19 June 2015

History in Focus: The Napoleonic Wars

Yesterday marked the 200th anniversary of the end of the Napoleonic Wars. These were a series of wars fought between Napoleon (hence the title) and the various nations of Europe and even, for two years, the United States. For sixteen years war raged across Europe which created a lasting effect on Europe. Entire borders changed dramatically and new ideas spread across the world. Today we'll be looking at the Napoleonic Wars in detail.

The origin of the Napoleonic Wars can be traced to the French Revolution. In 1793 the French revolutionaries guillotined the King, Louis XVI, prompting the First Coalition to be formed out of Austria, Sardinia, Naples, Prussia, Spain and Great Britain to invade France. Austria and Prussia however had been at war with France since the year before following a French declaration of war. Despite there being no money, most of Europe invading France and a civil war France managed to successfully fight the First Coalition thanks to the newly risen Corsican general Napoleon Bonaparte who forced Austria to sign the Treaty of Campo Formio in 1797 giving France multiple Mediterranean islands, modern day Belgium and forced Britain to stand against France alone. This peace lasted a year as Napoleon copying his hero Alexander the Great invaded Egypt to cut Britain off from her Indian Empire. This prompted in 1798 for Britain, Austria, Russia, the Papal States, Sweden, Portugal and the Ottoman Empire to form the Second Coalition to take advantage of France's defended being trapped in Egypt by the British. Napoleon managed to sneak out of Egypt and return to France where he overthrew the French Directory (a government where five Directors ruled with an upper and lower house) to form the French Consulate with himself as First Consul. With Napoleon back in Europe he knocked Russia out of the war, defeated the Austrians in 1800 at Marengo in Italy and Hohenlinden in Bavaria. Following the Treaty of Luneville of 1801 Austria left the war as well as weakening the Holy Roman Empire (a confederacy of German states dating from the middle ages) and establishing puppet states in the Rhineland, Balkans and Italy. In 1802 the British signed the Treaty of Amiens which forced Britain out of Malta, the Cape Colony and made them recognize the Ionian Islands' independence while the French would withdraw from the Papal States and Naples.

The Wars Begin
Following the Treaty of Amiens Napoleon had declared himself the President of Italy and had invaded Switzerland to reassert his control over the country. This had angered Britain as well as Napoleon reordering European economies which excluded the British who feared losing money from trade. Their anger at withdrawing from Malta and Napoleon insisting that the British shut down papers that were insulting him (such as the above caricature) inflamed situations. Following Napoleon's invasion of Switzerland Britain returned to the Cape Colony and declared war in 1803. The following year Napoleon would be made Emperor of France forming the First French Empire on the 2nd December 1804. He secured this further by making himself King of Italy in 1805. That same year Britain had convinced Sweden, Russia, Naples, Sicily and Austria to form the Third Coalition. The French fleet faced a major defeat during their plan to divert British attention by threatening the West Indies. The British instead blockaded Cadiz in southern Spain and Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated the French at the Battle of Trafalgar on the 21st October although Nelson did die in the battle. After Napoleon never tried to defeat the British navy again. In the Caribbean from 1791 inspired by the French Revolution Haitian revolutionaries under Toussaint Louverture had been fighting for independence and after defeating the French force of 7,000 had finally won their independence in 1804, especially with the French forces spread thin in Europe. This also caused Napoleon to sell the French colonies along the Mississippi to the US in 1804 for 50 million francs. For US $15 million Napoleon had sold what is now 23% of the United States to the USA.

Meanwhile in Europe despite the defeat at Trafalgar Napoleon won what is seen as his greatest victory in the October of 1805. With an army of 7,000 Napoleon defeated a Russian-Austrian coalition of 70,000 at Austerlitz. His army had killed 20,000 Austrians and Russians during the battle forcing Austria to sign the Treaty of Pressburg handing Venetia over to the Kingdom of Italy.

Fourth Coalition and advances
During the Napoleonic Wars Napoleon managed to progress warfare astronomically. This was benefited by the Industrial Revolution as both the French and British managed to benefit from increased arms production. His use of conscription of both French and conquered troops and relying on the land allowed his armies to both be huge and well feed as they did not have to wait on supply lines. He also made artillery a separate brigade instead of tagging it alongside cavalry and infantry which allowed his cannons to move more independently; again this led to easier victories. In 1806 the British had established a blockade of France preventing goods from getting to the country and to the irateness of the US who had been trading with France had started to seize American trade ships going to Europe. Some American sailors were even press-ganged into joining the British navy! The Fourth Coaltion was formed in 1806 among the British, Swedish, Russians, Prussians and Saxony. Napoleon though saw more victories and disbanded the Holy Roman Empire and formed a puppet called the Confederacy of the Rhine. He then turned on Prussia defeating the Prussians at Jena and Auerstadt on the same day using a force of 160,000 which grew from conscripted Germans. In 19 days Napoleon had defeated Prussia! To counteract the British blockade Napoleon formed the Continental System which offered a European blockade of British goods. In response the British angered the Americans further by enforcing tighter blockades on the Atlantic. In 1807 Napoleon attacked the Russians in Poland defeating them and at Tilsit he forced Russia to join the Continental System as well as forming the puppet states of Poland, Warsaw and Danzig. The same year Britain bombarded the Danish fleet in Copenhagen fearing the French might take it which made Denmark join the Continental System (really must have been one of the most stupid ideas ever!). At the same time war broke out between Sweden and Russia over Finland with France supporting Russia and Britain supporting Sweden which resulted in Russia taking Finland.
Fifth Coalition and Peninsular War
Portugal had been a long term ally of Britain for centuries and had refused to join the Continental System. Napoleon did not trust Spain's Prime Minister Godoy and the Spanish king, Charles IV. Napoleon invaded in 1808 declaring his brother Joseph as King resulting in the invading French to massacre the rebelling citizens of Madrid. What followed was the Spanish colonies rebelling including Mexico, Argentina and Chile while the Portuguese royalty fled to Brazil. The British and Austrians formed the Fifth Coalition. Britain invaded the peninsular and succeeded in pushing the French out of Cadiz and Lisbon where the future Duke of Wellington Sir Arthur Wellesley. Spain was a major disaster for the French who was hounded by the British and Spanish guerrilla forces. in fact this was the war that coined the term guerrilla warfare. The war would continue until 1814. In the east Austria had won successive victories against the Duchy of Warsaw and had even dealt Napoleon his first defeat in 1809 at Aspern-Essling. However the Austrians were defeated at Aspern and Wagram the same year. Napoleon was determined to end the threat of Austria and divorced his wife Josephine to marry Archduchess Marie Louise in 1810. He made his older brother Joseph King of Spain, his younger brother Jerome King of Westphalia, his brother-in-law the King of Naples and had made Austria and Prussia his allies.

Russia and America
In 1812 Britain and France went to war with two of their archenemies: the USA and Russia. As the Sixth Coalition was formed the USA declared war on Britain for the British interfering on their maritime trade (France had done so as well and the US almost declared war on France as well). Thus started the War of 1812 (aptly named). The war raged for two years and included the British invading the USA where a force of 4,000 burned the White House and the Americans dealt a massive victory against the British at the Battle of New Orleans. Future president Andrew Jackson led the Americans in a trench warfare and the Duke of Wellington's brother-in-law Edward Pakenham was killed; although this battle took place a week after the peace treaty had been signed! In Europe Napoleon angered by Russia trying to control Poland invaded with a Grande Armee of  650,000, 270,000 were French the rest were from conquered regions. Napoleon's army easily swept over the Russian forces who instead opted for a scorched-earth tactic, destroying the resources as they retreated, something which Joseph Stalin would adopt nearly 130 years later during World War Two. When Napoleon arrived in Moscow the Russians had already burned the city. Facing no prospect in chasing Tsar Alexander I through the Russian Winter and without any resources Napoleon was forced to retreat. Only 27,000 survived the march back over the vast expanses of Russia and Poland with 380,000 dead and 100,000 captured.

Exile and Return
In 1813 at the Battle of Vittoria the Duke of Wellington managed to force Joseph Bonaparte out of Spain. Prussia and Austria meanwhile decided to join the Sixth Coalition as Napoleon fled to Paris. Napoleon abdicated on April 6th 1814 as the Russians, Austrians and Prussians marched on Paris. The Allies ignored Napoleon's request to put his son to his second wife on the throne and instead restored the Bourbon dynasty. Napoleon was exiled to Elba off the coast of Corsica as an insult. Napoleon however slipped past his guards on the 26th February 1815 and landed on the French coast where the first soldiers he met declared their allegiance to him. He returned to Paris and the king fled to Belgium. For 100 Days Napoleon ruled France until he challenged the Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo on June 18th (exactly 200 years ago yesterday as of writing). Napoleon held back from attacking the Duke due to an unpleasant mixture of piles and bad weather. Napoleon started the battle with artillery bombardment, then infantry fire and then a cavalry charge. When Wellington seemed that he was about to be defeated the Prussian army under Marshal Blucher arrived. Napoleon was defeated and was exiled to St Helena in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean where he died in 1821.

The aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars is great. On French politics it had two effects: one was trying to avert the possibility of one person dominating autocratically and at the same time gave the French for a longing of powerful leaders such as Charles de Gaulle in years to come. In Britain the income tax was introduced as well as the Charter of Freedom which outlawed the slave trade (although not slavery) in the British Empire. The wars introduced the metric system to Europe which is now used worldwide and today only the USA and Liberia are the only countries not to use this system (Britain though uses a mixture of the metric system and imperial measures). The changes to European regions though would help form Italy and Germany years later. Britain emerged as the world's dominant power with the world's strongest navy that would be uncontested for years. Napoleon's Continental System is actually partially realized also with the European Union and it would be the last war in Europe until the First World War to involve all of the most powerful European nations. These are just a few legacies of the Napoleonic Wars and to be honest the Napoleonic Wars will have a lasting legacy for years to come.

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