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The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815


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Nov 5, 2009
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The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts involving Napoleon's French Empire and changing sets of European allies and 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. 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 Latin America. As a direct result of the Napoleonic wars the British Empire became the foremost world power for the next century.

No consensus exists as to when the French Revolutionary Wars ended and the Napoleonic Wars began.

Possible dates include 9 November 1799, when Bonaparte seized power in France; 18 May 1803, when a renewed declaration of war between Britain and France ended the only period of peace in Europe between 1792 and 1814; and 2 December 1804, when Bonaparte crowned himself Emperor.

The Napoleonic Wars ended following Napoleon's final defeat at Waterloo (18 June 1815) and the Second Treaty of Paris.


Joséphine kneels before Napoléon during his coronation at Notre Dame. Crowning of Napoleon, memorialized by Jacques-Louis David.
Background 1789–1802

The French Revolution of 1789 had a significant impact throughout Europe, which only increased with the arrest of King Louis XVI of France in 1792 and his execution in January 1793.


King Louis XVI who was beheaded by a guillotine.

The first attempt to crush the French Republic came in 1793 when Austria, the Kingdom of Sardinia, the Kingdom of Naples, Prussia, Spain, and the Kingdom of Great Britain formed the First Coalition.

French measures, including general conscription (levée en masse), military reform, and total war, contributed to the defeat of the First Coalition. The war ended when Bonaparte forced the Austrians to accept his terms in the Treaty of Campo Formio. Great Britain remained the only anti-French power still in the field by 1797.

Treaty of Campo Formio

The Treaty of Campo Formio or Peace of Campo Formio was signed on October 17, 1797 (26 Vendémiaire, Year VI of the French Republic) by Napoleon Bonaparte and Count Ludwig von Cobenzl as representatives of France and Austria.

It marked the collapse of the First Coalition, the victorious conclusion to Napoleon's campaigns in Italy and the end of the first phase of the Napoleonic Wars.

Beyond the usual clauses of "firm and inviolable peace" the treaty passed a number of Austrian territories into French hands. Lands ceded included the Austrian Netherlands (now Belgium) and certain islands in the Mediterranean, including Corfu and other Venetian islands in the Adriatic. Venice and its territories (Venetia) were divided between the two states: Venice, Istria and Dalmatia were turned over to the Austrian emperor.

Austria recognized the Cisalpine Republic and the newly-created Ligurian Republic, formed of Genovese territories, as independent powers.

The treaty also contained non-public clauses, which divided up certain other territories, made Liguria independent, and also agreed to the extension of the borders of France up to the Rhine, the Nette, and the Roer. Free French navigation was guaranteed on the Rhine, the Meuse and the Moselle. The French Republic had been expanded into Germany and Italy's natural boundaries.

The treaty was composed and signed after five months of negotiations. It was basically what had been agreed earlier at the Peace of Leoben in April 1797, but the negotiations had been spun out by both parties for a number of reasons. During the negotiating period the French had to crush a royalist coup in September. This was used as a cause for the arrest and deportation of royalist and moderate deputies in the Directory.

Napoleon's biographer, Felix Markham, wrote "the partition of Venice was not only a moral blot on the peace settlement but left Austria a foothold in Italy, which could only lead to further war." In fact the Peace of Campo Formio, though it reshaped the map of Europe and marked a major step in Napoleon's fame, was only a respite.

As a result of the treaty, Gilbert du Motier, marquis de La Fayette, a prisoner from the French revolution, was released from Austrian captivity.

Campo Formio, now called Campoformido, is a village west of Udine in north-eastern Italy, in the middle between Austrian headquarters in Udine and Napoleon's residence.

The French commander resided at Villa Manin near Codroipo, country mansion of Ludovico Manin, last Doge of Venice. It was there that Napoleon signed the treaty.
The Second Coalition was formed in 1798 by Austria, Great Britain, the Kingdom of Naples, the Ottoman Empire, Papal States, Portugal, and Russia.

During the War of the Second Coalition, the French Republic suffered from corruption and division under the Directory.

France also lacked funds, and no longer had the services of Lazare Carnot, the war-minister who had guided it to successive victories following extensive reforms during the early 1790s.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the main architect of victory in the last years of the First Coalition, had gone to campaign in Egypt. Missing two of its most important military figures from the previous conflict, the Republic suffered successive defeats against revitalized enemies which British financial support brought back into the war.


Napoleon in Egypt

An interesting aside to Napoleons Egyptian Campaign is the finding of the Rosetta Stone.


Read more HERE
Bonaparte returned from Egypt to France on August 23, 1799, and seized control of the French government on 9 November 1799 in the coup of 18 Brumaire, replacing the Directory with the Consulate. He reorganized the French military and created a reserve army positioned to support campaigns either on the Rhine or in Italy. On all fronts, French advances caught the Austrians off-guard and knocked Russia out of the war. In Italy, Bonaparte won a victory against the Austrians at Marengo (1800). But the decisive win came on the Rhine at Hohenlinden in 1800. The defeated Austrians left the conflict after the Treaty of Lunéville (9 February 1801). Thus the Second Coalition ended in another French triumph. However, the United Kingdom remained an important influence on the continental powers in encouraging their resistance to France. London had brought the Second Coalition together through subsidies, and Bonaparte realised that without either defeating the British or signing a treaty with them he could not achieve complete peace.
I would love to play a good internet game about this time period. :frown:

'The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras' by Elizabeth Thompson (Lady Butler), 1846-1933

Two days before Waterloo the 28th (North Gloucestershire) Regiment, popularly known as the Glorious Glosters, successfully resisted wave upon wave of French cavalry at a position they defended on the Charleroi road, at a place called Quatre Bras.
HMS Bellisle at Trafalgar, dismasted but later towed to Gibraltar and repaired

Re: The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815

Is there any that are recommended?

I enjoy Total War's Napoleonic Wars.
Land battle
or naval
Hi Spike,

Since you are a one-man-search machine, can you also find paintings made by Richard Knotel and Carl Rochling about the napoleonic wars?
Yes, it ain't easy to find, Spike, hence my question. Thanks for the links.
The following is a list of links to web sites dedicated to the Napoleonic wars that I have used as references over the years. Images to be found on most of them and some related primarily to maps and /or articles.

http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/index.html One of my favorite sites on the subject.



http://www.napoleon-series.org/military/c_maps.html Great site for battle and campaign maps.


http://centjours.mont-saint-jean.com/index.php Another uniform site,this one is French language and again easy enough to sort out . Strictly relates to the uniforms of the nations involved in the 100 days campaign of 1815 ( Waterloo,Ligny,Warve etc. )

More to follow if I can find them again...seems several very good sites are gone.
Thanks for the above information on sources for Napoleonic Wars, 7thCav.
I still rely on about 5 to 6 books I have too.
Thanks for the above information on sources for Napoleonic Wars, 7thCav.
I still rely on about 5 to 6 books I have too.

Hello Lighthorse
I have my little library of books as well and rely on them considerably more then whats found on the Internet. Although in some cases you have to wade through the Nationalism a bit especially with the 100 days campaign. From the stand point of military history this era with the addition of the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 are far and away the most interesting at least for me.
Responding to 2054172 quesiton, the game series of Total War has released a game about a year ago called Napelon Total War. Like the previous Total War games, Napoleon combines a turn-based strategy mode with tactical, real-time battles. The turn-based portion of the game takes place on the strategic map where you make various strategic decisions, build infrastructure, develop research technologies, and move your armies. When an army engages in combat, you can either use the improved auto-resolve feature or fight it out in real time. As the attacker, your goal is to route the enemy army, but as the defender, you merely have to hold out until the time limit expires (20 minutes, 40 minutes, or 1 hour, depending on your settings). The optional time limit is a mixed blessing. Although it ensures that battles will eventually end, it also means that you can employ incredibly cheap tactics to win a defensive battle against an army of thousands by kiting your general around the map until the time runs out.

Napoleon: Total War takes you on a near-exhaustive journey through 20 years of Napoleon's major campaigns, from the Franco-Austrian fighting in Italy and the Egyptian expedition to the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the battle of Waterloo. Another campaign lets you choose one of the other European powers--Austria, Prussia, Russia, or the United Kingdom--with which to destroy Napoleon's empire. Sadly, omitted is a Napoleonic campaign to drive the British out of India with the help of Muslim Indian leader Tipu Sultan, which was the ultimate goal of the Egyptian adventure. This alternate history scenario could have provided some novelty and widened the game's scale to a more global level. With the exception of Waterloo, each campaign takes place on a large strategic map comparable in size to one of Empire's theaters and provides up to 10 or more hours of gameplay. In another single-player mode, you control the French in a series of 10 historical battles, starting at Lodi in 1796 and ending at Waterloo in 1815.

Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, once said that Napoleon's presence on the battlefield "made the difference of 40,000 men." While that's not quite the case in NTW, generals do play a much larger role. First, depleted units automatically reinforce back to full strength when they're attached to a general and within friendly territory, eliminating the need to buy reinforcements. In addition, each general has two special abilities that he can use in battle; one boosts the morale of nearby troops, while the other improves the accuracy of a specific unit. As with the previous Total War games, your troops will suffer major morale penalties if their general dies on the battlefield--it will probably hit you pretty hard as well--so you have ample reason to keep him alive. Thankfully, Napoleon himself never dies. Instead, he returns to his capital to convalesce for a while, which is a preferable alternative to losing the entire campaign because you neglected the emperor for a few seconds. In addition to Napoleon, the game portrays numerous historical generals and admirals. These range from the illustrious English Admiral Nelson, who devastated the French and Spanish fleets in an almost flawless victory at Trafalgar, to the ill-fated Marshal Ney, who led a disastrous French cavalry charge that may have lost Waterloo for Napoleon. The generals also gain bonus traits based on how you use them in battle during the course of the campaign, which can profoundly influence your success.

http://www.totalwar.com/napoleon/ <- the main page

I personally play this game and i love it, the Total War series is amazing!

buy Napelon Total War on Steam now! http://store.steampowered.com/