DAY 20: Napoleon I

Napoleon Bonaparte was an interesting fellow; a tactical genius on the field, but not in the overall strategic arc of things.

The latter part I’ll explain later.

Napoleon was born in Corsica on August 15th 1769, to a noble Italian family that lived there. At ten, Napoleon traveled to mainland France and attended a religious school in the town of Autun for a time, in particular to learn French. Despite his attempts to master the language, his spelling was never as fluent as his speaking, and his Corsican accent remained with him persistently throughout his entire life. I find that interesting; often Napoleon is portrayed with a heavy French accent, but, in truth, that’s not accurate! Yet I can hardly imagine him any other way, and so continue to hear his voice in my mind as if it were a Frenchman speaking.

After attending Autun for four months, Napoleon traveled to Brienne-le-Chateau – a military academy – in the Aube department, located in northeastern France. He remained there for five years, and, upon graduating, was accepted into the Ecole Militaire. Having aspired to join the navy, and witnessing his hopes dashed across the bluffs when being admitted into this society, he considered joining the British Royal Navy, but he opted against it. Instead, he trained to become an artillery officer. When his father died, though, his income plummeted significantly, and he was forced to complete two years of study in one year. He did it, and became the first man from Corsica to graduate from the Ecole Militaire.

From there, Napoleon’s career began in the military, and he rose to prominence after several victories and a few serendipitous occurrences, such as his campaigns in Austria and Egypt. In 1799, he and two other Frenchmen orchestrated a coup that supplanted the French government and installed them as the French Consulate, with Napoleon as First Consul.

Five years later, Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of the French Empire. Literally. When the pope approached to crown him, Napoleon seized the crown out of his hands and placed it on his own head.

That was in 1804. In 1803, the Napoleonic Wars began.

Napoleon, thereafter, changed the face of Europe. He stretched his hand to the east across the continent, taking control of everything as he went, reaching as far as the Russian border. The picture below gives us an idea of the extent of Napoleon’s holdings and allies.

Napoleonic Europe in 1811, at the greatest extent of the French Empire and its allies

Then, Napoleon made the most ridiculous move he could have made at the time, possibly costing him the fall of the French Empire. He invaded Russia and 1812.

Russia is massive, and the winters there are brutal. You don’t invade Russia in a land war; that’s the first rule in military command. But Napoleon obviously felt that he was invincible – that no one could defeat him in battle, no matter how strong they were – and, therefore, pressed forward to the east into Russian lands.

The campaign was a joke. Though Napoleon won at the battle outside of Moscow against the Russians, he lost the war against them overall; when the Russian army retreated, Napoleon assumed that he would be able to occupy Moscow, and procure rations for his troops. But it wasn’t so. The Russians burned Moscow as they withdrew, and Napoleon was forced to retreat his army to the west a month later.

Napoleon entered Russia with 400,000 men. He left it with 40,000.

It was the greatest mistake he had made. And he paid for it dearly. In March of 1814, Paris was taken by the Sixth Coalition, and Napoleon was forced to relinquish his emperorship.

He was exiled to Elba, but in 1815, he returned, and took control for another hundred days.

Then came the Battle of Waterloo, in which Napoleon was defeated by the British and the Prussians under the command of the Duke of

Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821)

Wellington, Arthur Wellesley, and  Gebhard von Blucher, respectively. Before the battle began, one of Napoleon’s subordinates said to the Napoleon, after the emperor had outlined his plan to him, “Man proposes, but God disposes.”

Napoleon, with an air of perfect superiority, replied, “Napoleon proposes, and Napoleon disposes.”

Then a rain began to fall, transforming the ground into a field of pure mud and hindering the French advance. In the end, Napoleon was defeated, and sent to the island of Saint Helena, where he died six years later of what is speculated to be arsenic poisoning.

What do I think of Napoleon? I’m not quite sure. I admire his genius in military command, that’s for certain, but I think that, in the end, he grew so arrogant and and assured of his superiority and invincibility that he thought himself greater than his Creator and Father. That, ultimately, led to his downfall. But Napoleon’s actions led Europe into the 19th century, and compelled the nations in the Congress of Vienna to redraw borders and establish the Concert of Europe, which held up, for the most part, until WWI. Some good did come of his actions, but that does not justify his high opinion of himself – his pride.

Oh, and I’m not talking about Napoleon Dynamite. If that Napoleon would’ve been in command, France probably wouldn’t exist today.

And it’s really weird to think that I’m taller than Napoleon. I guess it just goes to show that size doesn’t dictate greatness, and that God can bless anyone, no matter their appearance or physical structure, with marvelous gifts.

In Christ,




  1. May 25, 2011 at 8:34 pm


    In Les Miserables, quite a bit of time is devoted to the battle of Waterloo (is that the historical stuff that was cut out in some versions?). He is quite an interesting fellow indeed. This a well written, informative post. Keep it up 🙂

  2. ryan4143 said,

    May 27, 2011 at 6:27 am

    Thanks John! 🙂

    Yes, in most abridged versions, the Battle of Waterloo is omitted, as is a lot of contextual and background information. That is, the focus is more on the story than what’s going on BEHIND the story.

    What do you think of the book so far?

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