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Important wars

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Napoleon quickly moved against the new alliance. Since 1798 he had exerted pressure on Great Britain by keeping an army concentrated at Boulogne on the English Channel, ostensibly preparing to invade England. During the dissensions leading to the outbreak of war in 1803, Napoleon had greatly increased the French forces at Boulogne. After the formation of the Third Coalition against France, he moved his troops from Boulogne to meet the Austrians, who, under Ferdinand III, grand duke of Tuscany, and General Karl Mack von Leiberich, had invaded Bavaria...

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Napoleonic Wars, series of wars fought between France and a number of European nations from 1799 to 1815. In 1799 France came under the domination of Napoleon Bonaparte, who later became Napoleon I, emperor of France, in 1804. The Napoleonic Wars were a continuation of the wars of the French Revolution (1789-1799), in which the Habsburgs and other dynastic rulers of Europe combined in an effort to overthrow the revolutionary government of France and restore the rule of the French monarchy.

First Coalition


In the War of the First Coalition (1793-1797), France fought against an alliance consisting of Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, Spain, the Netherlands, and the Kingdom of Sardinia. In 1796 Napoleon was entrusted by the government of France, the Directory, with conducting military operations against Austrian forces in northern Italy. In less than a year, Napoleon had led his troops to victory over the larger Austrian army. In 1798, he was made the leader of an expedition to conquer Egypt as a base for future attack against the British possession of India. The invasion was ultimately unsuccessful, and Napoleon returned to France. Although the two campaigns took place before Napoleon's government, the Consulate, was established, they are generally regarded as the opening phases of the Napoleonic Wars. The campaigns were the first in which Napoleon displayed on a large scale his genius as a commander; early battles of the War of the Second Coalition are also included in this category.

Second Coalition

Napoleon's success against Austria in his northern Italian campaign had put an end to the First Coalition. During his absence in Egypt, however, a new alliance known as the Second Coalition was formed on December 24, 1798. The alliance was composed of Russia, Great Britain, Austria, the kingdom of Naples (see Sicily: History), Portugal, and the Ottoman Empire. The principal fighting of the War of the Second Coalition, which broke out at the end of 1798, took place during the following year in northern Italy and in Switzerland. The Austrians and Russians, under the leadership chiefly of the noted Russian general Count Aleksandr Suvorov, were uniformly successful against the French in northern Italy. They defeated the French in the battles of Magnano (April 5, 1799), Cassano (April 27), the Trebbia (June 17-19), and Novi (August 15). The coalition also captured Milan; put an end to the Cisalpine Republic, which had been formed under French auspices in 1797; occupied Turin; and in general deprived the French of their previous victories in Italy. In Switzerland, matters went better for the French. After a defeat at Zьrich (June 4-7) by Charles Louis John, archduke of Austria, French forces under General Andrй Massйna defeated a Russian army under General Alexander Korsakov on September 26. The victorious Suvorov led his forces from northern Italy across the Alps to join those of Korsakov in Switzerland. He found Korsakov's forces already defeated and scattered; Suvorov was forced by the French to take refuge in the mountains of the canton of Grisons, where, during the early fall, his army was practically destroyed by cold and starvation. On October 22, alleging lack of cooperation by the Austrians, the Russians withdrew from the Second Coalition.

After Napoleon returned to France from Egypt in October 1799, he became leader of the Consulate and offered to make peace with the allies. The Coalition refused, and Napoleon planned a series of moves against Austria, and various German states in alliance with Austria, for the spring of 1800. Napoleon crossed the Alps into northern Italy with a newly raised army of 40,000 men and on June 14 defeated the Austrians in the Battle of Marengo. In the meantime French forces under General Jean Victor Moreau had crossed the Rhine into southern Germany and taken Munich. Moreau had also defeated the Austrians under Archduke John of Austria in the Battle of Hohenlinden in Bavaria on December 3, and had advanced to the city of Linz, Austria. These and other French successes caused Austria to capitulate. On February 9, 1801, by the Treaty of Lunйville, Austria and its German allies ceded the left bank of the Rhine River to France, recognized the Batavian, Helvetian, Cisalpine, and Ligurian republics, and made other concessions. The Treaty of Lunйville also marked the breakup of the Second Coalition. The only allied nation that continued fighting was Great Britain. British troops had unsuccessfully engaged the French on Dutch soil in 1799, but had made some territorial gains at the expense of France in Asia and elsewhere. On March 27, 1802, Great Britain made peace with France through the Treaty of Amiens.

This peace, however, turned out to be a mere truce. In 1803 a dispute arose between the two nations because of the treaty provision that Great Britain return the island of Malta to its original possessors, the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem. The people of Malta preferred the British crown, and the British did not surrender the island, so war again broke out between Great Britain and France. An important consequence of this war was Napoleon's abandonment, because of the need to concentrate his resources in Europe, of his plan to establish a great French colonial empire in the region known as Louisiana in North America. Instead, he sold Louisiana to the United States. In 1805 Great Britain was joined in its new war by Austria, Russia, and Sweden, and Spain allied itself to France. The ensuing war is known as the War of the Third Coalition.

Third Coalition

Napoleon quickly moved against the new alliance. Since 1798 he had exerted pressure on Great Britain by keeping an army concentrated at Boulogne on the English Channel, ostensibly preparing to invade England. During the dissensions leading to the outbreak of war in 1803, Napoleon had greatly increased the French forces at Boulogne. After the formation of the Third Coalition against France, he moved his troops from Boulogne to meet the Austrians, who, under Ferdinand III, grand duke of Tuscany, and General Karl Mack von Leiberich, had invaded Bavaria. A number of German states, including Bavaria, Wьrttemberg, and Baden, allied themselves with France. Napoleon defeated the Austrians at Ulm, taking 23,000 prisoners, and then marched his troops along the Danube River and captured Vienna. Russian armies under General Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov and Alexander I, emperor of Russia, reinforced the Austrians, but Napoleon crushed the combined Austro-Russian forces in the Battle of Austerlitz, sometimes known as the Battle of the Three Emperors. Austria again capitulated, signing the Treaty of Pressburg on December 26, 1805. Among the terms of this treaty 1

was the concession by Austria to France of territory in northern Italy and to Bavaria of territory in Austria itself; in addition, Austria recognized the duchies of Wьrttemberg and Baden as kingdoms.

Confederation of the Rhine

In Italy, where French forces under Massйna had defeated the Austrians under Charles Louis John, Napoleon made his elder brother, Joseph Bonaparte, king of Naples in 1806. Elsewhere in Europe, he made his third brother, Louis Bonaparte, king of Holland (the former Batavian Republic); and on July 12 he established the Confederation of the Rhine, which eventually consisted of all the states of Germany except Austria, Prussia, Brunswick, and Hessen. The formation of the Confederation put an end to the Holy Roman Empire and brought most of Germany under Napoleon's control. His continental successes, however, were largely offset by the victory on October 21, 1805, off Cape Trafalgar, of the British under Admiral Horatio Nelson over the combined fleets of France and Spain. This victory gave Great Britain mastery of the sea throughout the remainder of the Napoleonic era. In 1806 economic warfare between Great Britain and France was initiated. Napoleon formulated his so-called Continental System, issuing decrees, in 1806 and later, forbidding British trade with all European nations. Great Britain retaliated with the Orders of Council, which in effect prohibited neutrals from trading between the ports of any nations obeying Napoleon's decrees. British mastery of the sea made it difficult for Napoleon to enforce the Continental System and resulted eventually in the failure of his economic policy for Europe.

Fourth Coalition

Before the effect of British sea power could be manifest, however, Napoleon increased his power over the Continent. In 1806 Prussia, aroused by Napoleon's growing strength in Germany, joined in a Fourth Coalition with Great Britain, Russia, and Sweden. Napoleon badly defeated the Prussians in the Battle of Jena on October 14, 1806, and captured Berlin. He then defeated the Russians in the Battle of Friedland and forced Alexander I to make peace. By the principal terms of the Treaty of Tilsit, Russia gave up its Polish possessions and became an ally of France, and Prussia was reduced to the status of a third-rate power, deprived of almost half its territory and crippled by heavy indemnity payments and severe restrictions on the size of its standing army. Through military action against Sweden on the part of Russia and Denmark, Gustav IV Adolph of Sweden was forced to abdicate in favor of his uncle, Charles XIII, on the condition that the latter name as his heir General Jean Baptiste Jules Bernadotte, one of Napoleon's marshals. Bernadotte became king in 1818, as Charles XIV John, founding the present royal line.

Anti-Napoleonic Nationalism

In 1808 Napoleon was master of all Europe except Russia and Great Britain, but from this time on his power began to decline. The chief reasons for this decline were the rise of a nationalistic spirit in the various defeated nations of Europe and the persistent opposition of Great Britain, which, safe from invasion because of its superior navy, never ceased to organize and subsidize new coalitions against Napoleon.

In Spain, Napoleon first encountered the nationalistic spirit that led to his downfall. In 1808, after dethroning King Charles IV of Spain, Napoleon made his brother Joseph Bonaparte king of the country. The Spanish revolted and drove Joseph out of Madrid. A violent struggle known as the Peninsular War (1808-1814) then took place between the French, intent on restoring Joseph as king, and the Spaniards, aided by British forces under Arthur Wellesley, 1st duke of Wellington. The French were eventually defeated, suffering losses in manpower that severely handicapped Napoleon when he was later forced to meet new enemies in the east and north of Europe. The first of these new enemies was Austria, which, inflamed by patriotic feeling, entered the Fifth Coalition, with Great Britain, in 1809. Napoleon defeated the Austrians at Wagram (July 1809), and inflicted on them the Treaty of Vienna, by which Austria lost Salzburg, part of Galicia, and a large part of its southern European territory. He also divorced his first wife and married the daughter of Francis II of Austria in the vain hope of keeping Austria out of further coalitions against him.

Defeat of Napoleon


The turning point of Napoleon's career came in 1812, when war again broke out between France and Russia because of Alexander's refusal to enforce the Continental System. With one large army already tied down by the “Spanish ulcer,” Napoleon invaded Russia with an army of 500,000. He defeated the Russians at Borodino and took Moscow on September 14, 1812. The Russians burned the city, making it impossible for Napoleon's troops to establish winter quarters there. The French retreated across Russia into Germany, suffering the loss of most of their men through cold, starvation, and Russian guerrilla attacks. Russia then joined the Fifth Coalition, which also included Prussia, Great Britain, and Sweden. In 1813, in a burst of patriotic fervor caused by the political and economic reforms that had taken place since its defeat at Jena, Prussia opened the War of Liberation against Napoleon. He defeated the Prussians at Lьtzen and Bautzen and achieved his last important victory at the Battle of Dresden, where on August 27, 1813, a French force of about 100,000 defeated a combined Austrian, Prussian, and Russian force of about 150,000. The following October, however, Napoleon was forced by the Battle of Leipzig to retreat across the Rhine, thus freeing Germany. The following year the Russians, Austrians, and Prussians invaded France from the north. In March 1814 they took Paris, whereupon Napoleon abdicated and was sent into exile on the island of Elba in the Mediterranean Sea.

The members of the Fifth Coalition assembled at the Congress of Vienna to restore in Europe the monarchies Napoleon had overthrown. During their deliberations Napoleon escaped from Elba to France, quickly raised an army, and marched into Belgium to meet the forces of Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, and Austria. He defeated his enemies at Ligny, but was defeated by them at Quatre-Bras. Napoleon met final defeat on June 18, 1815, at the Battle of Waterloo, which marked the end of the Napoleonic Wars.


Initially the Napoleonic Wars perpetuated the ideological conflict between revolutionary France and monarchical Europe. At some point, however, the elusive
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