It does not help us become smarter.
Memorial de saint-helene
It does not help us become smarter.
Memorial de saint-helene
Not easy to find in stories a figure as bright and more controversial than the emperor Napoleon. It is unlikely that any of the other greats got so much attention, so much enthusiasm and scathing criticism. His military activities, which seemed to be studied far and wide, still leave food not only for serious research, but also for the most fantastic versions and assumptions. Researchers almost unanimously and, it seems, forever gave Napoleon the first place in the row of outstanding military leaders.
Even Clausewitz called him "the last of the great commanders." This conclusion confirmed, it seems, time itself. The global conflicts of the 20th century turned both the preparation of wars and the leadership of the battle into the work of numerous headquarters. after that, it is considered almost an axiom that the mind and will of one person can never have such a powerful influence on the course of events as Napoleon did.
Yes, the military craft at the turn of the second and third millennia more and more becomes a collective matter. Awesome technological advances put the commander in the position of manager of a powerful military machine, consisting of all the armed forces. Already in August, 1914, the barbed wire and machine guns, seemed to have finally written off the image of the great commander in the archives of the cabinet historians.
However, the First World War died down, followed by the Second, the era of nuclear confrontation has come, and interest in Napoleon’s military art has not abated. He just broke out with a new force. Especially since with the appearance in all parts of the world of a considerable number of applicants for Bonaparte, an outdated topic seems to be becoming more urgent than ever. Bonapartism has become surprisingly popular in Russia, as, indeed, the cult of Napoleon himself, although he sometimes takes on the character of a painful mania.
Campaigns and battles of the genius commander, whose very participation in hostilities, according to contemporaries, "did honor to war", have long been laid out on the shelves. Its place is given to brilliant insights and painstaking preparation of future triumphs, fatal decisions and tragic mistakes. Almost every step and Napoleon and his every word - from Toulon to Waterloo and St. Helena, has long been a corresponding justification. The theoretical is from the point of view of the “high” rules of military art, or, when the Napoleonic legend demands it, is mystical. Hence, it was so preordained from above — no more, no less. The latter, of course, is best suited when it comes to the failures of General Bonaparte, and then the Emperor of the French.
The successes and failures of Napoleon on the battlefields are the embodiment of his personal qualities into reality. Over and over again, calling him the genius commander of the captain of artillery, the revolutionary general, the first consul, the emperor, we give him his due, as a military and statesman. It must be admitted that Napoleon did everything to at least in military affairs not to depend on the whims and whims of politicians. And he did it so quickly that Europe simply did not have time to gasp as it received a new sovereign monarch. And after him - a whole dynasty of upstarts, who settled "on the old rotten thrones."
But long before that, in the Italian campaign, Napoleon had fought, practically not consulting with Paris. And not only that - he ignored the recommendations of the Directory, and even allowed himself to dictate to the directors a political solution to the problems. When the Italian army entered Milan, it resembled a mob of rags - they were thousands of soldiers dressed in rags, who had not seen their salaries for several months.
Nevertheless, her 27-year-old commander, who had won only four battles so far, ordered her entrance to the capital of Lombardy as if after thousands of years, Hannibal or Caesar entered it. “It strides widely, it’s time to stop” - these almost legendary words of the great Suvorov should have been well heard and appreciated both in Schönbrunn and in San Souci and Buckingham Palace.
To converge on the battlefield, they were not destined. When the regiments of Suvorov entered Italy, Bonaparte was already in Egypt. There, he did feel himself the absolute master of a huge country. In the East, the general not only fights and creates conditions for the work of countless staff of engineers and scientists who are “lucky enough” to go with him on an expedition. He concludes agreements, rewrites laws, conducts financial reforms, draws up large-scale projects of social transformations, builds channels and roads.
Napoleon in Egypt examines the mummy. "History of the Hutchinson Peoples", illustration 1915
However, the most ambitious of all ambitious and this is not enough. When besieging Acre, General Bonaparte ponders whether to move to Constantinople to get even with the Turkish Sultan with one blow, or to go to "fight India," and then rightfully crown himself with the crown of the Emperor of the East. But fate decreed otherwise. The imperial crown went to Napoleon, after Brumaire 18 and five brilliant years of the first consul's rule, who brought France out of the protracted crisis and returned her primacy among the European powers.
So, getting rid of extraneous influences, Napoleon immediately and without undue hesitation assumed responsibility for all possible failures. That is why military historians are so intriguing, moreover, it is literally that the great commander’s defeats literally hypnotize. It is better to study, as it is known, on the mistakes of others — if these are miscalculations of a genius, it is doubly instructive to analyze them.
There is no reason to try to open an unknown page of the history of the Napoleonic Wars in a series of online publications. Such, it seems, is almost gone. No one has any claims to the role of the discoverers of such an attractive topic as the defeat or failure of Napoleon Bonaparte. However, in the extensive Napoleonic bibliography it is still difficult to find a special study where an attempt would be made to summarize the experience of victories over the greatest of the generals.
The Military Review does not claim to be an exclusive researcher, and articles from other sources may well be used in thematic publications of the anniversary 2019 year, there may be repetitions, including our articles, although with new comments. Napoleonic series can be considered "open", including for new authors. At the same time, we do not need to observe the chronological sequence, we are not going to rank the winners of Napoleon somehow. The very same content of their own short essays will, as a rule, boil down to trying to look at the failures of the genius Corsican from a new perspective.
The tragic outcome of all the state and military activities of Napoleon was a final and irrevocable defeat. Although even after the death of Napoleon, many were ready to believe in the victorious return of the emperor from Saint Helena. Perhaps only Kutuzov and Alexander I were able to strategically outplay the French emperor. Strategically, France eventually gave way to confrontation with Britain.
Napoleon on Saint Helena. Not the most replicated image of the emperor in exile
But Napoleon lost no more than a dozen battles and only three companies as a whole. 1815 year is not counted here, because the emperor decided to renounce when the French were ready to give him a blank check on the deployment of a popular war. More rarely, Napoleon admitted his failures. Even such an undeniable defeat as Aspern, stubborn Corsican until the end of his days considered his tactical success. There is a certain logic in this conclusion - as a result of the battle, all conditions were created for a future victory, and the enemy, despite a rather unexpected success, did not receive any real advantages.
Yet, even such mediocrities as the Russian General Bennigsen or the Austrian Field Marshal Schwarzenberg could resist against Napoleon himself. It is no accident that in the proposed series of articles the emphasis will be placed on direct battles unsuccessful for the French commander - where success was decided within one or two days, when the circumstances were no longer able to change anything or almost nothing in the position of commanders. This means that everything was decided directly on the battlefield, and the role of military leaders - the winner and the loser, was most clearly manifested. An exception was made only for the siege of Acre, stretching for two months - the temptation was too great to understand the reasons for the first defeat of Napoleon, then also of the revolutionary General Bonaparte.
After more than two centuries after the Napoleonic wars, even the ardent apologists of the emperor do not take the liberty to assert that the failures of their idol are more a result of the loser’s mistakes than the winners ’merit. However, the British historian David Chandler, in a sense, went even further, arguing that "if the Austrian nucleus carried General Bonaparte to the grave, say on the Arcola bridge, then there would be no war." But accepting this point of view, any researcher obviously exaggerates the role of the French emperor himself. And ignore the objective historical causes of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
Today, the researcher has almost unlimited sources at his disposal, and it’s not the simplest to study the defeats of Napoleon, it seemed to reduce the matter to just “parsing his flights”. But in this case, it is easy to become like the most ardent Bonapartists, who for a long time and forever denied the right to the role of the first plan to those who managed, or dared to fight with Napoleon on equal terms. No, of course, Kutuzov, the Archduke Charles, Blucher or Wellington, is not turned into mediocre extras - so the emperor himself will be humiliated. But the most that they, with this approach, are entitled to claim is to be worthy opponents of a great player. Sometimes they are even “allowed” not to be crushed, and only at best - “allowed” to take advantage of Napoleon’s misses.
Historical assessments and now, despite all the elaboration of the topic, are surprisingly one-sided. In order to understand this, it is enough to get acquainted with the most striking characteristics drawn from the worldwide network that modern nouveau Napoleonologists give the winners their idol.
Emperor Alexander I, the Russian Tsar - an oriental despot, forever playing a liberal.
Field Marshal Kutuzov is an old gentleman, a decrepit satrap and a libertine, adored by his fortress-soldiers already for feeding them nourishingly.
Admiral William Sydney Smith is an unprincipled pirate who dreamed of becoming, but never reached the new Francis Drake.
The Duke of Wellington is a sleek gentleman, erudite leader of a gang of drunks and robbers.
Field Marshal Blucher is the Prussian Junker, who took charge of a pack of embittered idlers, who are as poor as he is.
But after all, it was they who fell to cope with the indomitable Napoleon's genius. However, after each lost, more precisely, not won a battle, with the exception of Waterloo, Napoleon showed a truly wonderful rebirth and tried to quickly "return the debt" to the offender. Judge for yourself - after lifting the siege of the fortress of Saint-Jean d'Acre, they completely defeated the army of the Turkish Sultan, who landed at Abukir, without breaking Bennigsen at Eylau, Napoleon soon crushed him near Friedland, after Aspern follows Wahram, after hard failures 1812 - an impressive start to the next campaign, and after Leipzig - Hanau, finally, in 1814, the emperor already in France literally responds with a blow to every blow of the Allies.
The true greatness of Napoleon as a commander is revealed precisely in his amazing ability to turn defeat into victory. It is possible to take the liberty to assert that Napoleon is greater in his defeats than in victories. Even the most brilliant. It will be all the more fascinating with readers to consistently analyze the causes and consequences of each of the failures of the great master of military affairs. We will not intentionally mention in the preface all the 12 failures of Napoleon. Let at least some of them be a discovery for you.