TIMELINE OF WORLD HISTORY
 

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  Warfare

Nations in Arms

(1763-1815)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Warfare

Nations in Arms

(1763-1815)
 
 
 
Between 1763 and 1815 revolution and war changed the face and the heart of the Western world. In 1763, at the end of the Seven Years War, the British settlements along the Atlantic coast of North America were still colonies, dependent upon Britain. Across the sea in France, a monarchy that could trace its roots back over eight hundred years ruled over a privileged aristocratic society, while serfs still worked the fields of their lords. The American and French Revolutions not only stand out as paramount events in the history of those two countries, but went on to influence every corner of the western world. The revolutionary tide that began in the United States eventually swept through Latin America as well. The transformation of French society that followed the fall of the Bastille to a Parisian crowd in 1789 changed not only France but Europe for ever.

Warfare too was transformed. The French Revolution realized the ideal of the nation in arms, and so nationalism added its force to the western emphasis on discipline. Common soldiers were now expected to display the same kind of commitment once reserved only to officers, and the new loyalties of the rank and file influenced tactics, logistics, and strategy. Eventually, Napoleon demonstrated the potential implicit in the new form of warfare and thus altered the conduct of military operations forever.
 
 

At the battle of Princeton, portrayed in this primitive painting, Washington scored a victory over some 2,000 British troops on 3 January 1777. This, combined with his defeat of 1,400 Hessians at Trenton a week before, gave heart to the revolutionaries. During this war, the American cause often benefited from small-scale triumphs that had political or morale effects far in excess of the numbers involved.
 
 
 
REVOLUTIONARY WAR IN AMERICA
 
Revolution came first to America. After driving the French from Canada and the lands west of the Mississippi by 1763, the British authorities attempted to place greater burdens upon, and exert greater control over, the Atlantic colonies. The process of demand, resistance, and repression finally led to war in April 1775 when the British governor of Massachusetts dispatched troops to seize arms and ammunition stored by the colonials at Concord, and the local militia resisted. The War of American Independence that began that day with 'the shot heard round the world' was a small-scale conflict by European standards; significant actions often involved no more than a few battalions. Both sides, but particularly the rebel Americans, committed militia to battle, often with disappointing results, but. in addition to militia the Americans fashioned a force of regulars, or 'Continentals'. Skirmishers and sharpshooters mattered in the war, albeit not as much as legend would have it, and key battles were fought very much in traditional European style. Yet even though the number of troops remained small and their style of fighting essentially traditional, nonetheless the war decided great issues. Moreover, in their battle to win independence, American patriots upheld the ideal of a people's government defended by a people's army fourteen years before the outbreak of the French Revolution.
Soon after the fighting around Lexington and Concord, a force of 15,000 colonials besieged Boston, garrisoned by 7,000 British troops. The American Continental Congress chose George Washington to command the forces encircling the city and history would justify their confidence in this Virginian planter and veteran of the Seven Years War - a man of great judgement and political virtue. At the battle of Bunker Hill (actually fought on Breeds Hill), on 17 June 1775, 1,500 entrenched colonials beat, back two assaults by superior numbers of British, only to succumb when ammunition ran out. While a British victory, this battle gave the Revolutionary soldiers confidence that they could stand up to the redcoats.
 
 

General George Washington
 
 
After abandoning Boston in March 1776. the British directed their efforts to taking New York. Expecting that this would be the next flash point, Washington had already marched his army there, planning to resist by entrenching his troops, the tactic that had shown such promise at Bunker hill; but British forces under the command of Sir William Howe outmanoeuvred and outfought the Americans on Long Island, forcing Washington to abandon the city on 12 September and to retreat across New Jersey and into Pennsylvania, vigorously pursued by the British. 'The chain [of garrisons]. I own, is rather extensive', General Howe presciently admitted on 20 December, but only a miracle seemed likely to save Washington's bedraggled army. Christmas Day brought it. Crossing the Delaware River with 2,400 men, Washington overwhelmed a surprised garrison of Hessians in British pay at Trenton the next morning. Nine days later he defeated a British detachment at Princeton. Small triumphs though they were, the battles of Trenton and Princeton gave back some measure of confidence to his bruised army.

The fighting around New York taught Washington that he could probably not match the British in open battle. It also showed him that he did not have to; he need only keep his army in being, restrict the area controlled by the British, and wait for the right opportunity. Apart from a futile attempt to derail the British assault on Philadelphia in 1777, Washington generally avoided battle and conducted a war of attrition. And while his troops suffered terribly most infamously during the winter of 1777-78 at Valley Forge, he somehow managed to keep his meagre forces together, and1 in that achievement lay the seeds of victory.

All this time Washington tried to transform his troops into an army capable of disciplined combat in the European style, an effort assisted by Augustus von Steuben, an officer with experience in the army of Frederick the Great. Von Steuben fashioned a new and simplified drill for Washington's army and taught it effectively, so by 1779 Washington's regulars came to rival the British in battlefield drill; but there were never enough of them.

After the British drove Washington from New York, the main fighting shifted to other fronts. Howe conceived an ambitious strategy for the 1777 campaign 'in order, if possible, to finish the war in one year by an extensive and rigorous exertion of His Majesty's armies'. Ten thousand men were to capture Providence and then (if possible) Boston; 10,000 more were to move up the Hudson from New York to Albany; while a further 8,000 would defend New Jersey and threaten Philadelphia. Another column of British, Iroquois, and loyalists would advance down the Mohawk Valley. Finally, a force from Canada, following first Lake Champlain and then the Hudson, would march south towards the army advancing northwards from New York. New England would thus be split off from the rest of the rebellious states.
It was a good plan, but it depended for success upon the arrival of 15,000 reinforcements (which Howe ingeniously suggested might be raised in Russia as well as in Germany and Britain) and an artillery battalion. However the government in London absolutely refused to commit further resources, so in April 1777 Howe decided to abandon his ambitious strategy - 'My hopes of terminating the war this year are vanished,' he complained - and instead concentrate his forces in an attack on Philadelphia.

Nevertheless, the army from Canada set forth for the Hudson under the command of General John Burgoyne. At first his campaign went well, but as the summer wore on he moved more slowly and suffered supply problems. Howe, as he had warned London (and Canada), moved with his main forces against Philadelphia and sent only a small army of 4,000 under Sir Henry Clinton in a half-hearted effort to link up with Burgoyne. After minor victories, Clinton turned back. Finally at the end of a long tether, Burgoyne met stiffening resistance, and in two battles near Saratoga, an army under General Horatio Gates defeated Burgoyne, who surrendered his troops on 17 October. Heartened by this American victory, France entered the war in February 1778 and two years later 6,000 French soldiers, who would do much to win the last great battle of the war, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island.
 
 
 

Nathanael Greene's South Carolina campaign

The Napoleonic battle of annihilation was not the only style of fighting to prove decisive in the period 1763-1815. In contrast, American General Nathanael Greene combined regular forces with guerrilla bands to exhaust and defeat an enemy army in a way that foreshadowed the tactics of twentieth-century wars of national liberation.
When Greene, a self-taught soldier, arrived in the south in December 1780, the British had essentially destroyed the American army in the Carolinas. Greene assembled a small army in South Carolina with the intention of working in conjunction with the established partisan bands to wear down Cornwallis.

Greene opened the campaign by splitting his small army of 3,000 troops, and Daniel Morgan in command of 1,000 of them smashed a British force at the battle of the Cowpens. The bait was set, and Cornwallis rose to take it. He rushed to the Cowpens where he burned his stores in order to free his column from impediment in their pursuit of the brash Americans. When news that Cornwallis had destroyed his own supplies reached Greene, he proclaimed 'Then, he is ours!

Greene realized that partisan bands nipping at Cornwallis's army would keep it from supplying itself on the march: his men would have only what was on their backs, and that would not be enough. So Greene ran fast and hard to the River Dan, Virginia, and safety; Corn wall is obliged by following. It was all Greene's men could do to keep out of the grasp of Cornwallis, but they won the race. In the chase, Cornwallis lost 500 of his 2,500 men to hunger and exhaustion.
After a brief pause, Greene re-crossed the Dan, pursuing Cornwallis to Guilford Courthouse, where Greene offered Cornwallis the battle he had always wanted. Greene knew that he could win even if he lost, and while Cornwallis gained the day, he lost an additional 530 casualties. With his battered survivors he now felt compelled to retreat to Cape Fear. From there he abandoned the Carolinas and marched to his rendezvous with defeat at Yorktown. Greene lost two more battles against other British forces, but again the victors suffered so much that they withdrew into Charleston and left the rest of the Carolinas to Greene. Greene commented:

There are few generals that has run oftener, or more lustily than I have done...But I have taken care not to run too far and commonly have run as fast forward as backward, to convince our Enemy that we were like a Crab, that could run either way.

One hundred and fifty years later Mao Tse Tung echoed Greene's tactics, 'enemy advances, we retreat; enemy halts, we harass; enemy tires, we attack; enemy retreats, we pursue.'



At the battle of the Cowpens on 17 January 1781, General Daniel Morgan won the Americans' most brilliant tactical victory of the war, although the battle was on a small scale with only about a thousand soldiers on each side. Morgan understood the abilities and limitations of the troops under his command: asking his militia to do no more than they could accomplish, he relied upon his Continentals to anchor the line. In this painting, at the critical moment of the battle, Maryland and Delaware Continentals repulse the attack by British infantry.

 
 
 
THE WAR IN THE SOUTH
 
The years 1778-81 remained relatively quiet in the north. In June 1778, Clinton, who replaced Howe in command, withdrew from Philadelphia to New York. Washington resumed his waiting game, and the action moved south. With the exception of an unsuccessful attempt by Clinton to seize Charleston, South Carolina, in 1776, the southern states had witnessed relatively little fighting before the redcoats took Savannah, Georgia, in December 1778. The next fall, a major French and American expedition tried to retake Savannah, but failed. In 1780 Clinton undertook another siege of Charleston, which fell in May. He then sailed back to New York but left an army of 8,000 behind to conquer the rest of the south. At the head of this force, Charles Cornwallis smashed an army under Gates at the battle of Camden, South Carolina, on 16 August 1780. Having defeated the victor of Saratoga, Cornwallis expected to win the war, but this was not to be the case.
 
 

Three commanders who freed the Carolinas from British control, Nathanael Greene (left), Daniel Morgan (centre), and Andrew Pickens (right). Greene, a Rhode Islander, served as Washington's quartermaster general before being sent south to rescue the situation in the Carolinas. Greene was a talented amateur who recognized that he could defeat the British by running as well as by fighting. Morgan came out of retirement to serve as Greene's lieutenant and won the key tactical victory at the Cowpens. Pickens commanded militia guerrillas who harassed the British and hampered their ability to maintain themselves in the hostile countryside.
 
 
The agent of this reversal of fortune, Nathanael Greene, took command of 3,000 Continentals and militia at Charlotte, North Carolina, to face Cornwallis's army of 4,000 regulars. In an amazing campaign, during which Greene won not a single battle, he so wore down the British that Cornwallis abandoned the Carolinas and led his army to Virginia by May 1781. In Virginia he sparred with another American force under the command of the marquis de Lafayette but, unable to bring him to battle, Cornwallis withdrew to Yorktown with 7,000 troops. Cornwallis had failed at being the cat; he was about to become the mouse.
Learning that Cornwallis had taken refuge at Yorktown, Washington sprang into action and rapidly marched his army south, accompanied by the newly arrived French troops under Jean-Baptiste Rochambeau. Meanwhile, at the battle of the Virginia Capes on 5-9 September, a French fleet stood off a British force, which sailed back to New York, sealing Cornwallis's fate. By late September 9,000 American and 7,800 French troops surrounded Cornwallis's 7,000 soldiers; the formal siege works were directed by French engineers under the command of Washington. Without hope of relief, Cornwallis surrendered on 19 October. This victory ended the major campaigns of the war in North America, and negotiations for peace soon began that resulted in the Treaty of Paris (1783), recognizing the independence of the United States of America.
 
 
 
NEW IDEAS, NEW WEAPONS

American victory gave France a sweet taste of revenge. Moreover, the French part in beating their British rivals to some extent legitimized the reform movement that had improved the French army after the humiliation of the Seven Years War.

At the heart of this movement lay a tactical debate between proponents of columns and lines. The supporters of deep column formations, the ordre profond, based their conclusions on time-honoured notions that the French were better at spirited assault than at stolid defence. No less an authority than Voltaire agreed 'that the French nation attacks with the greatest impetuosity and that it is extremely difficult to resist its shock.' Advocates of line tactics, the ordre mince, took heart from the success of Frederick the Great, however, and for a time French drill books aped the Prussians. Recognizing the advantages of the two basic formations, Count Jacques de Guibert published his Essai general de tactique in 1772. His solution was to use both in battle, in what can be called the ordre mixte. The tactical controversy finally produced the drill manual of August 1791 which did not force any single solution, but offered a menu of formations and evolutions that could be served up according to a commander's taste.
As the French engaged in a war of words over the best tactics for heavy infantry, they also experimented with greater numbers of light infantry. Owing to the fear of desertion, at mid-century few commanders employed open order infantry which sought cover and targets at will. However, all major European armies returned to the use of light infantry on a limited basis during the second half of the eighteenth century. Combat in the New World during the Seven Years War and the War of American Independence exerted only a tangential influence on this movement, but nevertheless by 1789 French infantry regiments included a light company, and the army boasted twelve entire battalions of chasseurs a pied.

This development was not tied to any improved technology, such as the rifle, since the French continued to arm their light infantry with smooth-bore muskets; however, if infantry weapons did not change much, artillery did. The Gribeauval system, adopted in 1774, significantly improved French cannon. Jean Vacquette de Gribeauval, who rose to supreme command of French artillery after the Seven Years War, changed the manufacture of guns: instead of casting the bore into cannon as before, cannon were now cast solid and then bored out, a process that resulted in much closer tolerances, permitting greater range with smaller powder charges. The Gribeauval system also brought in shorter, lighter and, therefore, more mobile field pieces. Along with the new materiel went improved training for artillery officers.
As well as proposing tactical and technological improvements, reformers spoke of a new kind of soldier and even of a new kind of society.

Guibert wrote in his Essai:

Imagine that there arose in Europe a people who united austere virtues with a national militia and a fixed plan of expansion, who did not lose sight of their system, who, knowing how to make war cheaply and to live by their victories, were not reduced to putting their arms aside because of financial calculations. One would see this people subjugate its neighbours, and overturn feeble constitutions like the wind bends over fragile reeds.


Others, including that influential intellectual Montesquieu, heaped similar praise upon the ideal of the citizen soldier.
Yet this does not mean that the reformers were revolutionaries; on the contrary, the reform movement as a whole exhibited profound social conservatism. A dominant theme was the demand for a strongly professional but exclusively aristocratic officer corps. As Maurice de Saxe claimed, 'Truly the only good officers are the poor gentlemen who have nothing but their sword and their cape,' and reformers condemned the purchase of commissions because it benefited rich aristocratic dilettantes of only recent noble origins and wealthy non-nobles. As a response to this criticism, the French began to phase out the purchase of commissions in 1776. The French also improved the professional education of officers by founding new cadet schools after 1750; however, admission to them soon required aristocratic status. As the crowning effort of this brand of reform, the Segur law of 1781 denied a direct commission to any aspirant who could not demonstrate four generations of nobility in his paternal line. So while the French army made important changes before 1789, some of them were such that the Revolution could only reject them and fashion its own unique military institutions.
 
 

Francois Kellermann, riding the white horse on the right, commanded at Valmy, the battle that turned back the Prussian invasion of 1792. The commander of the invading army, the duke of Brunswick, expected the French to turn and run when they came face to face with the Prussians, then regarded as the finest soldiers in Europe. But as the Prussians attacked, Kellermann led his troops in a thundering cry of 'Vive la nation!1 Later that day. seeing the firm defiance of the French, Brunswick told his generals, 'We shall not fight here today.' There would be no advance on Paris.
 
 
CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION

The Revolution that struck France in July 1789 shook the army almost as much as it shook the monarchy. When Louis XVI (1774-93) tried to use his soldiers against the crowds during the first year of the Revolution, the troops proved ineffective, reluctant, even rebellious. The year 1790 witnessed a series of revolutionary mutinies among regiments all over France, the worst breaking out at Nancy in Lorraine. Later, after the king tried to flee France in June 1791, mass resignations eviscerated the officer corps. The army of the ancien regime dissolved; France would need a very different force when war came again, as it did in April 1792.
The army first reconstituted its ranks through voluntary enlistments. As early as the summer of 1791 the government ordered the expansion of the line army; however, the revolutionaries did not want to rely exclusively upon it, since they saw it as a potential political threat. Therefore, at the same time, Paris issued a call for 100,000 volunteers to come from the recently-formed citizen militia, the National Guard. These Volunteers of 1791 grouped in their own battalions were later joined by the Volunteers of 1792, called up in July of that year. Yet by 1793 volunteerism could not fill the massive manpower needs of the war, so in August the revolutionary government decreed the levee en masse, or the total levy of the French people, something even more extreme than universal conscription:

Young men will go to battle; married men will forge arms and transport supplies; women will make tents, uniforms, and serve in the hospitals; children will pick rags; old men will have themselves carried to public squares, to inspire the courage of the warriors, and to preach the hatred of kings and the unity of the Republic.

By the summer of 1794 the revolutionary army listed a million men on its rolls, of whom 750,000 were present under arms - a great force which, in terms of social class, occupation, and geographical origin, accurately reflected French society. It was the nation in arms composed of the best young men that France could offer.



The disdain of the combat soldiers for the officials (Representatives on Mission) sent to supervise at the front and to ensure the political reliability of French officers stands out in this ironic lithograph by Raffet, whose father had been a soldier in the revolutionary army. The cold and ragged French soldiers stand waist high in water while the Representative boasts: 'The enemy does not suspect that we are here. It is seven o'clock—we will surprise him tomorrow at four in the morning.'


To lead these troops the French created a radically new officer corps. The flight of officers from the old royal army left so many vacancies that they could only be filled by rapidly promoting non-commissioned officers into the commissioned ranks. Volunteer battalions elected their own officers. Some officers rose with meteoric speed but, on the whole, the officer corps became more and more professional, as seniority and talent determined promotion. Before the Revolution, aristocrats constituted about 85 per cent of army officers, but by the summer of f 794 they composed under 3 per cent. Yet even though the officer corps did not represent the old privileged classes, the revolutionary government never really trusted its commanders. In order to monitor them, Paris dispatched the famous 'Representatives on Mission' and the less well known but far more numerous commissars. At the front, these agents scrutinized the actions and sentiments of officers; to earn their disapproval could mean the guillotine. In order to insure proper opinions among the rank and file, the revolutionary government also engaged in a campaign of political education, distributing millions of copies of official bulletins, radical newspapers, and even patriotic song-sheets to the troops. With the 1791 drill book as a guide, this citizen army evolved an effective tactical system, although the new levies may never have mastered the minutiae of parade ground drill. Battalions still stood in line to mass firepower, but they also exploited the advantages of the battalion attack column, a new formation which stood twelve ranks deep and about sixty men across. This compact formation manoeuvred adroitly, deployed into line easily, and charged the enemy rapidly. In front of the main line, the French dispersed crowds of skirmishers to unsettle the enemy in preparation for assault. The greatest advantage enjoyed by revolutionary infantry lay not in any one element, but in its flexible combination of tactics that could match the style of fighting to terrain and circumstance.

French cavalrymen exercised only a minor influence on the battlefield, since they were few in number and deficient in ability for the first several years of the war, but artillery proved invaluable. The French devoted more and more of their resources to horse artillery, mobile guns pulled by larger teams of horses and served by crewmen who were mounted in order to keep up with the guns. Such batteries could gallop forward, unlimber, fire, limber again, and dash off to the next critical position to provide powerful support for the infantry.
 
 
 

The duke of Brunswick who led the invasion intended to halt the course of the French Revolution, was no reactionary himself. He enjoyed such a high reputation as both a soldier and a liberal that early in 1792 the French minister of war considered offering him command of French forces.

Charles Dumouriez deserves more credit than he generally receives for the French victory at Valmy. His energetic and brilliant manoeuvre seized the Argonne passes, blocked Brunswick's path, and forced battle on Brunswick at a time and place advantageous to the French.
 
 
THE REVOLUTION ON THE BATTLEFIELD
 
When war began in April 1792, the half-trained troops of the French army met repeated disasters, particularly on the key northeast frontier. After a succession of unsuccessful generals, Charles Dumouriez finally assumed command there, with Francois Kellermann leading the army just to the south. In the late summer, an invasion by Prussian and Austrian troops under the command of the duke of Brunswick — who five years earlier had carried out a strikingly successful invasion of the Dutch Repttblic - pierced the French frontier at Longwy took Verdun, and threatened to march all the way to Paris. Dumouriez manoeuvred brilliantly to frustrate Brunswick's plans, and at Valmy on 20 September Kellermann with 36,000 troops stood off Brunswick with 30,000-34,000. Valmy was little more than an artillery duel, but when the French gunners had the best of it and Kellermann's infantry stood firm, Brunswick called off his attacks. This unspectacular victory-secured the Revolution. The great German poet Goethe witnessed the battle and prophesied to his comrades that evening: 'From this place and from this day forth commences a new era in the world's history, and you were there at its birth.' After Valmy, the French army went over to the offensive, winning triumphs in the Austrian Netherlands and along the Rhine before the end of the year.

However, 1793 began badly for the French. Dumouriez lost the Austrian Netherlands to a counter-offensive; but, instead of advancing, the allies, who now included the British, stopped to lay siege to frontier fortresses, Vauban's legacy to the Revolution. Defeat, coupled with the outbreak of a counter-revolutionary rebellion in the Vendee, shook the revolutionary government, which now created the dictatorial Committee of Public Safety and ruthlessly mobilized for war. Lazare Carnot, an experienced military engineer who came to be hailed as the 'Organizer of Victory' stepped forward as the Committee's most able military authority. More than any other individual he drove war production, logistics, and strategy.

By the autumn of 1793 the French had stabilized the front in the north. Meanwhile, on the shores of the Mediterranean, owing to the effective use of artillery commanded by young Napoleon Bonaparte, the French successfully retook Toulon, previously seized by the British. Again the revolutionary armies surged forward. On 17-18 May 1794 around Tourcoing a French army of 60,000 defeated an encircling manoeuvre by six columns totalling 73,000 Austrian, British and Hanoverian troops. This French victory paved the way for the better-known triumph at Fleurus on 26 June, when 75,000 French troops fought a successful defensive action against 52,000 troops under the prince of Saxe-Coburg. Marshal Nicolas Soult later said that it was the most desperate fighting he had ever seen. After Fleurus, the Austrians abandoned the Netherlands. Victories continued: the French forced the allies back across the Rhine, met success in Savoy and, early in 1795, conquered the Dutch Republic (restyling it the 'Batavian Republic').
After this last success, however, the war bogged down in Germany, partly because treason by a French general placed the Republic's invasion plans in the hands of the enemy. In Italy the French held on to the coast around Genoa but made little progress.

The army's first victories of 1792 and later triumphs in 1794 carried the Revolution beyond the borders of France. But if the tactical abilities of French troops raised the possibility of sparking sympathetic revolutions among oppressed peoples across Europe, the behaviour of those troops in occupied territories turned populations against their liberators. Poorly supported by an inefficient and corrupt supply service, French soldiers turned to pillage in order to survive. It was not what they wanted to do; it is what they had to do. In 1795 the Directory replaced earlier revolutionary regimes, and it became increasingly corrupt as it neglected the army while lining the pockets of war profiteers. However, the Parisian government would eventually pay for its neglect of the army. At the height of revolutionary fervour, soldiers had been treated as heroes; but as time passed the army began to see itself as neglected and victimized. Casualties and desertion drastically reduced the number of troops - from 750,000 men in the summer of 1794, to about 480,000 a year later and about 400,000 in 1796, little larger than it had been under Louis XIV With good cause, the army believed that it represented the highest ideals of the Revolution: sacrifice for the common good, careers open to talent, and fraternity among equals. In contrast, the Directory seemed to have abandoned not only the army but the Revolution itself. Such a disaffected army could eventually be turned against that government, and Napoleon Bonaparte came to realize this.
 
 
 

Jacques-Louis David. Portrait of General Bonaparte.

This unfinished portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by Jacques-Louis David now hangs in the Louvre. It shows the young and lean general who conquered northern Italy in the 1796 campaign. Born on the island of Corsica in 1769. Napoleon first cast himself as a Corsican patriot, but became disillusioned and threw his lot in with revolutionary France. While he earned a high reputation in 1793 at the siege of Toulon, his military career was soon compromised by his association with the radical revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre, and Bonaparte spend some time under arrest. In 1795, he regained favour when he brutally suppressed a riot by turning cannon on the crowd in the famous whiff of grapeshot.'
 
 
 
BONAPARTE'S TOOLS OF WAR

On 27 March 1796 the 26-year-old general took command of the Army of Italy, a rag-tag force clinging to the Mediterranean coast between the French border and Genoa. Bonaparte promised them food and fame, even if he put little stock in Revolutionary ideals.
Soldiers! You are hungry and naked; the government owes you much but can give you nothing. The patience and courage which you have displayed among these rocks are admirable; but they bring you no glory - not a glimmer falls upon you. I will lead you into the most fertile plains on earth. Rich provinces, opulent towns, all shall be at your disposal; there you will find honour, glory and riches. Soldiers of Italy! Will you be lacking in courage or endurance?
In this, his first great campaign, Bonaparte faced and defeated combined Piedmontese and Austrian forces through a series of brilliant manoeuvres and hard fighting. He first split the Piedmontese from the Austrians by beating both in turn and driving them back on their diverging lines of communication. Then he pounced on the Piedmontese, forcing them out of the war on 28 April. Bonaparte next outmanoeuvred and outfought his Austrian opponent, Beaulieu, forcing him to abandon Lombard)7 to the French. Bonaparte's success, only six weeks after taking command, was truly astounding. Driving the Austrians from the rest of northern Italy took longer, since they held on to Mantua and repeatedly sent armies lo relieve that beleaguered fortress. However, he defeated each in turn, and on 18 April 1797 the Austrians agreed to an armistice, later formalized as the Treaty of Campo Formio.

In 1798, the victorious Bonaparte led an expedition against Egypt, since he believed that control of Egypt would open the door to India - a romantic notion at best. After avoiding Admiral Horatio Nelson, who prowled the Mediterranean. Bonaparte landed his army of almost 40,000 men near Alexandria on 1—3 July and stormed the city. On 21 July he destroyed a large Mameluke army at the battle of the Pyramids. However, all of this counted for naught, because at the battle of the Nile on 1 August Nelson smashed the French fleet - only two of the thirteen ships of the line escaped - and marooned Bonaparte's army. Bonaparte put a brave face on the disaster by campaigning into Syria, but after failing to take Acre he was forced to turn back. Taking what glory he could from his Egyptian expedition, the frustrated but ambitious general deserted his army, boarded a frigate, and landed at Toulon on 9 October.
When he arrived in France, Bonaparte converted his military credit into political capital and, with the support of troops around Paris, overthrew the Directory on 9-10 November. Proclaimed First Consul, Bonaparte now ruled France, but he soon marched off to drive back the Austrians who had reconquered much oi northern Italy during his Egyptian gambit. At Marengo on 14 June 1800 he won a narrow victory and this, combined with Jean Moreau's triumph at Hohenlinden on 3 December, compelled Austria to accept French terms once more. The British too signed a treaty with the French in 1802, and France was at peace. In 1804, Bonaparte assumed even greater office by crowning himself Emperor Napoleon.

Why had Napoleon won so many battles and risen to such heights in such a short period? There is no question that he inherited the legacy of the revolutionary army including a dedicated soldiery, an officer corps based on talent, generals proven in battle, and a flexible tactical system superior to those of Frances enemies. Napoleonic troops were no longer the revolutionaries of 1793—94, but they were still Frenchmen, sons of their nation, dedicated to it, and inspired by its leader. The Jourdan law of 1798 established a new system of universal conscription that required all young men to register, and each year the government set a quota of conscripts to be drawn from those eligible for the draft. This new conscription law provided the soldiers for Napoleons army - more than two million by 1815 - and served as the model for conscription laws throughout western and central Europe.
 
 

In this romantic vision of the Battle of Friedland, 1807, jubilant galloping cuirassiers, heavy armoured cavalry, salute Napoleon as they charge past. Behind the emperor stand infantry of his Imperial Guard in white breeches and waistcoats and tall bearskin headgear. This painting displays some of the visual majesty of Napoleonic battle that captured the popular imagination. Colourful uniforms, dramatic action, and great victories constituted only part of reality: never-ending casualty lists were another consequence of Napoleon's limitless ambition.
 
 
Napoleon continued and refined a method of warfare suitable to his army. Often he simply adapted what he found, such as his tactical emphasis on a form of the ordre mixte that combined battalions in column and line. In addition, he benefited from the resurgence of French cavalry, which had slowly re-established itself in the late 1790s. He also appreciated the importance of artillery and increased its numbers.
Beyond this, he improved the organizational structure of the revolutionary army. In 1792 and 1793 the French had pioneered the use of the combat division, combining infantry, cavalry, and artillery to create a small army of a few thousand men which could operate either independently or in conjunction with other divisions. Before he undertook his 1805 campaign. Napoleon extended this organizational concept by combining divisions into corps, which varied a great deal in size, from less than 10,000 to nearly 30,000. The corps functioned even better than divisions as independent formations co-ordinated with other corps under the supreme command of Napoleon. Corps organization eased problems of command and supply. The new field forces that Napoleon committed to battle were simply too large to be controlled eflectively by one man, and by subdividing his army into corps, Napoleon enhanced command and control (although nothing could entirely eliminate confusion from the battlefield). Corps also improved logistics, since several corps operating along separate lines of advance could supply themselves more easily than could a single large army operating along a single route.

Nevertheless, Napoleonic mobility demanded a more flexible and improvised supply system. Commanders of the ancien regime tied themselves to cumbrous supply lines out of fear that hungry troops would either desert or mutiny; the soldiers of the French Revolution, by contrast, were expected to forage for their food if need be, yet still retain their integrity as fighting units. Living off the country-made rapid movement possible at key times on campaign, but it proved no panacea because, although foraging could maintain an army on the move through rich country, it could not sustain an army stopped for long in one place or one that had to move through poor or denuded terrain (as Napoleon would find in Russia).

No analysis of his success can avoid Napoleon's genius. A superb master of tactics and operations, he aimed not simply at defeating an enemy army, but at destroying it. His classic manner of accomplishing this was through a manoeuvre sur les derrieres, designed to threaten the flank and rear of an opponent. He held the attention of his enemy with part of his own army while directing another element, usually a corps, to march around the enemy's flank. This could turn a field defeat into annihilation, because Napoleons army now commanded the enemy's line of retreat. When possible, an active pursuit finished off the work completed in battle, as when Napoleon bagged nearly the entire Prussian army after its defeat at Jena-Auerstadt in 1806.
 
 
 

Napoleon shown in repose on the evening before Austerlitz, would often formulate his plans at night, after messengers had arrived to report the status and position of his corps. In the background a staff officer transcribes orders while Napoleon's Egyptian Mameluke servant rests in the foreground.
 
 
THE GRANDE ARMEE

Napoleon displayed his genius to best effect in his masterpiece, the campaign of 1805. France and Britain went to war again in May 1803, but at first the two opponents could not really come to grips; the French encamped at Boulogne and threatened an invasion that never came. But when the Austrians and Russians joined Britain to form the Third Coalition in 1805, Napoleon put aside any invasion plans and moved against Austria with all haste in August.
The Grande Armee that Napoleon shifted down to the Rhine now totalled about 210,000 troops. He left an additional 50,000 troops in his Kingdom of Italy under Marshal Andre Massena. Against this latter force, the Austrians concentrated their main effort, with 95,000 men under Archduke Charles. This meant that the Austrians could station only about 72,000 troops at Ulm and 22,000 in the Tyrol, linking Ulm with Italy.

Unlike his previous campaigns against the Austrians, this time Napoleon intended to march directly down the Danube. In the manoeuvre warfare now practised by the French, fortresses had lost the dominant role they had enjoyed in the seventeenth century, but Napoleon could still not advance down the Danube with Ulm threatening the rear of his army. Living by foraging, the Grande Armee crossed the Rhine on 26 September and rapidly swung down to the east of Ulm, cutting the Austrians off from their lines of communications, and bagged nearly the entire Austrian force. Next, Napoleon moved on Vienna. Russian troops committed to the war provided the main opposition to his advance but, in spite of their efforts, Napoleon occupied the Austrian capital by 14 November.

 

Marshal Davout played a key role in Napoleon's scheme at Austerlitz, for the Emperor expected him to hold the Russian flanking attack with his small corps. Davout would prove to be one of the greatest marshals both at Austerlitz and Auerstadt.
 
Marshal Soult delivered the fatal blow to the Russians at Austerlitz, when his large corps drove into the Russian centre. His division commanders would complain, however, that Soult absented himself from the worst of the fighting. He had already amassed so much wealth and prestige that he was no longer eager to risk his life.


Yet Vienna too was not his ultimate goal, since he knew that only by defeating the main forces of the enemy could he drive Austria out of the war. This needed to be done soon, because the Prussians threatened too to enter the war (and this would have made Napoleon's task far more difficult). So Napoleon conspired to force battle on the combined Austrian and Russian army hovering north of Vienna. He lured the allies forward by feigning disorder and by assuming what appeared to be an exposed position. Tsar Alexander and his general Mikhail Kutusov in command of the allied force took the bait, but even this was not enough for Napoleon's plans. He also had to entice the allies to attack him in such a way that they would expose themselves to destruction. He did this by presenting what appeared to be a weak right flank to Kutusov at Austerlitz on 2 December. The Russian obligingly sent the bulk of his army on a lateral manoeuvre to envelop the French, but the flank that appeared so weak had been reinforced by the arrival of Davout's corps which made a forced march during the night to arrive on the battlefield. Through heroic combat, Louis Nicholas Davout stopped the head of the oncoming Russian columns. Meanwhile, Kutusov had weakened his centre by drawing troops from it for his flanking manoeuvre. This is what Napoleon had hoped for and, at the proper moment, he hurled Souk's large corps into the Russian centre, shattering it, and then wheeling right to come down on the rear of the Russian flanking columns. The centre and left wing of the Allied army dissolved. Only the Russian right was able to withdraw in good order. Two days later the Austrians surrendered. No Napoleonic victory changed the map of Europe more than did Austerlitz for, as a result of it, in 1806 the Holy Roman Empire, a creation of the tenth century, ceased to exist, and the Habsburg ruler now simply styled himself emperor of Austria.




At Austerlitz, Napoleon drew the Russians into a battle they would have done better to avoid, and he tempted them to attack the right of his army, thus weakening the Russian centre for a French assault. The battle can be seen in three phases. (1) The Russians try to envelop the French right flank with the bulk of their forces, but the French under Davout stall the assault. (2) Napoleon hurls Soult's corps in an attack against the now weakened Russian centre, and after furious combat the French break the Russian line. (3) The French who have triumphed in the centre swing south to shatter the Russian left wing around the Satschan Mere.



Austerlitz alone would have gained Napoleon fame as one of the greatest commanders of all time, yet despite his undeniable genius he ultimately met defeat. Four reasons explain his downfall: strategic greed, increasing local resentment towards French occupation, marked improvements and reforms among the armies that faced him, and the continued opposition of the world's dominant naval and commercial power, Britain. For all his tactical and operational abilities, Napoleon fell victim to a fatal strategic flaw: he neither knew what was enough nor when to stop. As such, he was doomed to fail sooner or later. In the narrow sense of knowing how to defeat one opponent at a time on campaign, Napoleon showed great talent: he devised campaigns in 1805, 1806, and 1807 which effectively imposed peace first upon Austria, then Prussia, and finally Russia. But Napoleon never seems to have had a final goal that would satisfy him and guarantee a lasting stability to Europe. In contrast, Frederick the Great said after he had seized Silesia, the object of his ambition, 'Henceforth I would not attack a cat except to defend myself.' In a very real sense, the Seven Years War was forced upon Frederick; he would have preferred continued peace. Napoleon by contrast, seemed to be all ambition and very little restraint.

As part of his grand vision of victory against his long-standing enemy, Napoleon tried to organize the entire European continent in an economic war against Britain. In fact, the British had blockaded French ports since 1803; now Napoleon retaliated with his Continental System, designed to exclude all British goods from Europe. He first fashioned the System in the Berlin Decree of 1806 and then expanded it to include Russian participation by the Treaty of Tilsit the next year. While this was certainly not the first instance when one power exerted economic pressure during wartime in hopes of defeating its enemy, it was the grandest to date. However, Napoleon did not combine all the continental European states in a single free trade zone, but instead rigged tariffs to benefit France; consequently the Continental System represented French domination more than simply a common front against the British. Wrilh time, the exclusion of British goods was modified by various exceptions and a strong black market trade. Nevertheless, extension or preservation of the Continental System served as a casus belli as early as 1807 when the French invaded Portugal; moreover, when in December 1810 Tsar Alexander pulled away from Napoleon by declaring Russian ports open to neutral shipping carrying British goods, war between the two emperors became virtually inevitable.

 
 
 
One soldier's experience of supply by foraging

Essential to Napoleon's ability to destroy opposing armies was the French soldier's capacity to outmarch anyone else in Europe. The Emperor recognized that speed gained him time, and repeatedly stressed that 'The loss of time is irreplaceable in war.' As his grumbling troops, his grognards, were said to boast, 'The Emperor has found a new way to make war: he uses only our legs and not our bayonets.' But this was also an army that marched on its stomach, and rapid marches required a style of logistics that did not slow the pace.

In contrast to the commanders of the old royal army, Napoleon professed contempt for formal supply arrangements and called upon his troops to forage on the march. At no time did he exploit more brilliantly the mobility allowed by living off the country than in his grand manoeuvre sur les derrieres against (Jim in September and October 1805, when his troops covered anaverageof sixteen to nineteen miles per day without impairing their military effectiveness.
The testimony of one of his grognards puts it best. Corporal Jean-Pierre Blaise wrote home to his family after taking part in this historic march:

The Emperor reviewed us [at Boulogne] on 25 August 1805. We learned that day with joy that we were going to leave the coast...to make war in Germany...[W]e were certain that led by the Emperor we would march to victory...! have nothing to say worth your attention concerning our route up to the Rhine, which we crossed, without seeing the enemy on 26 September...We left the enemy on the right in order to cross the Rhine at Mannheim; on the twenty-fifth, cartridges were given to each man and we were ordered to leave all unnecessary possessions at the depot at Frankenthal, so that we would be burdened with as little as possible...The rapidity of our march not permitting food supplies to follow us, we often lacked bread, despite all the care that our general in chief, Davout, gave to it; and when we did receive it, it was so bad that it could not be eaten. Yet we were all the more able to do without bread because we were in the midst of the best season for potatoes in a country where they are very good. How many times did we ruin the hopes of the villagers! We stole the product of a year's work. However, we were, so to speak, forced to do so. We might have been able to dispense with pillaging the fruits of which there was a great quantity; I have never seen so many apples in the country we crossed up to Neuburg. But the soldiers also ate many of these, however without this causing any sickness.



In 1805, the Grande Armee pivoted from the Rhine to the Danube in a huge manoeuvre sur les derrieres that cut off Ulm from its lines of communication and retreat. Napoleon froze the Austrians in place by feinting a direct advance through the Black Forest with Murat's cavalry and Lannes' corps. French cavalry threw up a screen that hid the movements of the Grande Armee, which, aided by a corps-sized force of Bavarian allies, swung down behind Ulm, crossed the Danube, and surrounded the unfortunate fortress.
 
 
 

Francisco de Goya captured the outrage and fury of the Spaniards in his series of etchings. The Disasters of War. Here a peasant hacks at French soldiers who have raped his country. Goya recorded the fires of the 'peoples war' in Spain that Napoleon never succeeded in extinguishing.
 
 
SPANISH ULCER AND RUSSIAN HAEMORRHAGE
 
When he set up his brother Joseph as king of Spain in 1808, Napoleon opened a constant lesion which drained French blood and resources for five years. The first British expedition landed in Portugal in 1808 and held on there, although it was pushed out of Spain. From his base in Portugal, Arthur Wellesley moved his forces into Spain again in mid-1809, only to be driven back once again. However, Wellesley, now Viscount Wellington, conducted a masterly defence ol Portugal in 1810, exhausting the French army which stalled and starved before the fortified lines of Torres Vedras outside Lisbon. In 1812 Wellington took the offensive again and, although his forces suffered some setbacks, achieved great success in 1813. At the climactic battle of Vitoria on 21 June, Wellington with 80,000 men defeated an army of 65,000 commanded by Joseph Bonaparte.

Throughout the Peninsular War Spanish guerrillas terrorized the French and limited their ability to live off the country. The French staff officer Pelet described how guerrillas 'attempted to destroy us in detail, falling upon small detachments, massacring sick and isolated men, destroying convoys, and kidnapping messengers." Just like the partisans during the War of American Independence, Spanish partisans confronted their enemies with a dilemma. The presence of British, Portuguese, and Spanish regular forces prohibited the French irom dispersing to light the guerrillas; but when the French did not disperse they found it difficult either to deal with guerrilla bands or to supply themselves by foraging. If the role of guerrillas was similar in Spain and in America, however, the brutal intensity of the Spanish war set it apart. Spanish guerrillas gave no quarter to Frenchmen who fell into their grasp, and French troops countered with brutal reprisals.

While the 'Spanish ulcer' slowly bled France, she suffered a massive haemorrhage in Russia. When he invaded Russia in June 1812, Napoleon massed a combined army of over 600,000 French and allied troops, but by the most generous estimate he returned with only 93,000 in December. He undertook this invasion, the greatest Napoleonic catastrophe, in the hopes of forcing the independent Russians back into the French orbit and of reasserting his faltering Continental System. The Russians realized that their strengths lay in a stout army and in the ability to trade space for time, so after the French won indecisive battles at Smolensk and Valutino, General Kutusov refused Napoleon the great battle he desired until Borodino, just 60 miles from Moscow, on 7 September. Napoleon addressed his troops that day: 'Soldiers! Here is the battle you have so long desired! Henceforth, victory depends on you; we have need of it." In fact, it was the Emperor who desired and needed battle, but he did not make the best of his opportunity; he simply hurled his corps directly at the Russian position, and while he eventually won the day, he did so at great cost. With a total butcher's bill of 68,000 killed and wounded, Borodino produced the greatest blood-letting of the Napoleonic wars to date.

After the battle Kutusov simply stayed a tempting step ahead of Napoleon, and the French entered Moscow on 14 September. Rather than defend their capital, the Russians burned it, so Napoleon succeeded only in conquering its ashes and, failing to bring the Russians to terms, began his withdrawal a month later. With its logistics in a shambles and incapable of living off the barren winter landscape, Napoleon's massive army disintegrated in a retreat which ended in a desperate crossing of the Berezina River at the end of November. His losses in Spain and Russia, coupled with his continued unwillingness to pare down his strategic goals, doomed his attempts to hold on to Germany in 1813 and then to save his throne in 1814. But in these last campaigns the third factor also came into play: the improved abilities of his enemies.

Napoleon had benefited from the transition from dynastic to national warfare. The French Revolution had realized the ideal of the citizen soldier, committed to the cause and the people for which he fought. Napoleon exploited the nationalism of his own troops, but was taken aback when French conquest kindled opposing national sentiments in those peoples he had subjugated or humiliated. Spanish resentment against the French spawned the most bitter and brutal fighting of the Napoleonic wars. Russian resistance in 1812 proved to be unrelenting as well and, once pushed back into Germany, Napoleon faced a German uprising.
The German armies that fought to overturn French dominance over central Europe in 1813-14 were now motivated both by resentment, even hatred, towards the French and by an early form of German nationalism. In other ways as well, they were tougher opponents. German military reformers had imposed institutional and tactical changes since the humiliations of 1805-09. Moreover, Napoleon had taught Europe a new style of warfare, and, unfortunately for him, his enemies were excellent students.

Thus the vanquished Archduke Charles spearheaded a reform of the Austrian army after 1805. He tried to create as national a force as he could in the multinational Austrian domains. In 1808 the Austrians created a Landwehr, or popular militia which eventually produced 240,000 troops, although these were best suited to rear echelon duties. Charles also borrowed the corps system of organization from the French. The new drill book incorporated skirmishing tactics, and light infantry battalions appeared on the army list. He also laboured to improve cavalry and, especially, artillery. However the new army had not yet time to gel before the Austrians took on Napoleon in 1809. And while they handed the emperor a setback at the battle of Aspern-Essling on 21-22 May 1809, Napoleon defeated them once again at Wagram on 5-6 July.

A more profound and effective series of reforms transformed the Prussian army after the defeat at Jena-Auerstadt in 1806. The leading reformer, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, wished to create an army which could benefit from the dedication of the common soldier. He wrote, 'We shall be victorious when one learns to appeal, like the Jacobins, to the spirit of the people.' This would require more than simply military action and so, on 9 October 1807, the Prussian government issued an Edict of Emancipation to eliminate serfdom, much as the French had done in their Revolution. Scharnhorst also insisted upon a professional, educated officer class open to all without regard to aristocratic status. In 1808 an order redefined the officer corps as one based on talent and not on birth:
From the whole nation, therefore, all individuals who possess these qualities can lay title to the highest positions of honour in the military establishment. All social preference which has hitherto existed is herewith terminated in the military establishment and everyone, without regard for his background has the same duties and the same rights.
To instruct this more inclusive officer corps, Prussian reformers established institutions for officer education superior to any others found in Europe, including a war college to train staff officers. Scharnhorst also laid the foundations of the Prussian General Staff that would become such an influence in nineteenth century warfare.

Prussian reform aimed at creating a people's army. The Treaty of Tilsit (1807) limited the regular army to only 42,000 men; however, the Prussians did what they could to circumvent these restrictions, creating a trained reserve of 33,600 additional men. Once war became likely with France in 1813, the Prussians expanded the regular army and created new forces. Jager, volunteer riflemen of largely middle-class origins, displayed their patriotism; royal decrees called up the Landwehr, a militia of all men aged between seventeen and forty not enrolled in other forms of military service; the Landsturm (composed of all other men) served as a last line of defence. By August 1813, Prussia's fighting forces had climbed to 280,000 troops.
 
 
 
 

At Waterloo, the French repeatedly fought without sufficient co-ordination between infantry, cavalry, and artillery. In his heroic canvas, Henri Philippoteaux portrayed the ill-fated charge by French cuirassiers against British infantry squares. At about 4 p.m. Ney ordered this attack which quickly got out ot hand as additional unsupported French cavalry joined the fray.
 
 
WATERLOO
 
Napoleon's foes in 1813 adopted his own operational principles and turned them against their creator. His enemies became more aggressive, and they sought not to defeat him but to destroy his major forces. The niceties of eighteenth-century combat and manoeuvre became a thing of the past. The allies struggled not to be defeated in detail as they had so often been before, but to unite for battle and march to the sound of guns. In 1813 at the climactic battle of Leipzig, the combined armies of Austria, Prussia, Russia, and Sweden, totalling 340,000 allied soldiers, defeated Napoleon's army of nearly 200,000 and ended his dominion in Germany. Napoleon showed something of his old brilliance in the defensive campaign of 1814, although he was assailed by Wellington's army - fresh from its victories in the Peninsular War - in the south while several armies in the east and north converged upon Paris. But when Napoleon manoeuvred to threaten Prussian and Austrian lines ol communication in order to force a withdrawal in late March, they demonstrated that the)1 had mastered the essentials ol Napoleonic warfare by ignoring the threat and marching on Paris. With the allies in Paris, Napoleon abdicated.
 
 

The duke of Wellington, shown here in a portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, mastered the soldier's trade in India. Napoleon at first dismissed Wellington as a sepoy general', but soon came to respect him. In Portugal and Spain Wellington fought a series ol campaigns that drove the French from Iberia, 1809-13. Wellington next invaded France, in 1814. reaching Toulouse before Napoleon abdicated. In 1815 he commanded British and allied forces at Waterloo.
 
 
Vanquished, the unhappy emperor retired to exile on the island of Elba, but soon conspired to retake his throne. On 1 March 181 5 he landed at Cannes to begin the ill-starred Hundred Days. The outcome was never really in doubt: European governments knew him too well to trust his pledge that he only wished to rule France in peace, and once the fighting commenced, his opponents had learned his art of war too well to fall victim to it. At Waterloo, Wellington and Blucher joined forces to defeat him once again on 18 June, and even had Napoleon won that day. he would surely have fallen before the massive armies of Austria and Russia, which had already put 450,000 troops in the field between them to finish the job.
In any case, it is doubtful whether France could have continued to field armies on the same scale. Of the two million Frenchmen who served in Napoleon's armies between 1806 and 1814, almost 15,000 officers were killed or wounded. 90,000 enlisted men died in battle and a further 300,000 in hospital, while no less than 625,000 others were recorded as either prisoners' or 'disappeared' when the conscription lists were closed in 1814. Of the dead, 84,000 met their end in Spain and Portugal, 171,000 in Russia, and 181,000 in Germany. In all, the wars of Napoleon killed 20 per cent - one in five - of all Frenchmen born between 1790 and 1795 (compared with the 25 per cent, or one in four, Frenchmen born between 1891 and 1895 killed in World War 1).
 
 

  The cuirass, worn at the battle of Waterloo by Francois-Antoine Fauveau, bears witness to the inadequacy of the breastplates worn by the charging cavalrymen against cannon fire.

There is something particularly symbolic about Fauveau's fate, for his life exactly spanned the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. Born in 1792, Fauveau died, his chest crushed, on the field of Waterloo at the same fatal moment that brought down the empire.
 
 
The opposite side of the coin to French defeat was British victory. Britain had opposed France from 1793 to the final exile of Napoleon on St Helena, with only a brief respite in 1802-03. Britain remained the mistress of the seas throughout, and her naval pre-eminence won for her commercial and colonial wealth that allowed her to bankroll the continental wars against Napoleon.
While France had enjoyed a brief naval renaissance during the War ol American Independence, her own Revolution hurt her navy badly. Revolutionary enthusiasm could not accomplish at sea what it could on land. Skilled aristocratic naval captains lost through emigration or purged by revolutionary action could not be replaced with the same facility as could infantry officers. Moreover ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity were probably less congenial to the duties and discipline of life at sea than they were to life in the camps.
 
 
 
 

Clarkson Stanfield's painting of the battle of Trafalgar catches the action as Nelson's Victory, centre right, takes on the Redoutable, immediately to the left, and the Bucentaire, to the right with its stern to the viewer. At the far left, Collingwood's Royal Sovereign pierces the French—Spanish line at another point. On the extreme right is the Santissima Trinidad, the world's largest ship of the line with 130 guns. The key to Nelson's tactical style was to break into the enemy line of battle and fight in a pell-mell fashion, ship to ship. This view of the battle portrays the deadly and seemingly chaotic combat typical of the 'Nelson touch'.
 
 
THE NELSON TOUCH
 
While the French periodically confronted the British on the seas during the wars of the French Revolution, it was to little avail. Admiral Richard Howe won the first major naval action of this long era of warfare on 29 May-1 June 1794, the battle of the Glorious First of June, when he defeated a fleet of French escort vessels, although the merchant vessels they were escorting managed to slip safely into the French port of Brest. The next major action saw the French try and fail to land 13,000 troops at Bantry Bay (in southwest Ireland) in 1796; but this effort came to nothing, as much because of bad weather as because of British fleet action. The Royal Navy tangled with some of France's new allies in 1797. In February a British fleet under Admiral John Jervis, with Commodore Horatio Nelson as one of his subordinates, smashed a Spanish fleet at the battle of Cape St Vincent; while Admiral Adam Duncan ended Dutch naval competition with Britain for good at the battle of Camperdown on 11 October. But mutinies aboard British ships rivalled these victories in importance; during the spring and summer, the home fleet mutinied at Spithead and the Nore. In the first case the navy accommodated the mutineers, and in the second it suppressed them, but as a result of this turmoil life at sea for the common sailor improved.
The year 1798 proved to be particularly decisive, as the British dealt with two French amphibious operations. The French succeeded in landing a small force in Ireland, but it was soon captured by the British, and this led to still one more British victory over a French fleet sent to reinforce the effort. Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean, Nelson utterly destroyed the French fleet at the battle of the Nile.
 
 

Horatio Lord Nelson became England's most famous admiral. Entering service in the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 12, he rose very fast, reaching the rank of captain at 21. His daring tactics changed naval warfare. His portrait testifies to his personal bravery, for the limp right sleeve of his coat betrays the loss of his arm in battle in 1797. Three years earlier he lost the sight of his right eye fighting in Corsica. There is little surprise in the fact that he died on the deck of his flagship, Victory, shot through by a musket ball at the battle of Trafalgar.
 
 
Nelson and Britain's other admirals transformed the character of naval combat in less than a decade. The standard naval tactic of the eighteenth century had been the line ahead which required that a fleet fight as a unit, with one ship of the line after the other discharging its broadside in neat procession. This tactic put a premium on order and stressed maximum control by a fleet admiral over his subordinates; however, time and again line ahead tactics resulted in indecisive battles during which both sides battered each other but won or lost little advantage. Fighting instructions insisted that commanders rigidly apply the line ahead, and at times they seemed more intent on doing so than on defeating the enemy. This seems to have been the case for the unfortunate Admiral John Byng, who was shot after a court martial found him guilty of having failed to do his utmost in a losing fight off Minorca in 1756.
In contrast to the line ahead, melee tactics turned a fleet action into a series of ship-to-ship battles by breaking up the enemy's formation. This meant sacrificing the order of the attacking fleet and relying on the skill and initiative of individual captains. Ideally there was some method to the mayhem of the melee, as the attacking fleet attempted to turn superior numbers or position to advantage before hurling itself upon its enemy.
Historians have long criticized the dead hand of line ahead tactics and praised the melee as Nelson applied it, particularly at his masterpiece, Trafalgar. But melee tactics only held the promise of victory to the fleet with the better captains and crews, since so much depended on the superiority of one fleet's ships over the other's. By the late eighteenth century, the British simply outstripped their Continental rivals in the quality of captains and crews; they needed little else to win but a chance to get at their foes. Nelson recognized this and brought the matter to a head, but he was neither the only nor the first British admiral to do so. Howe imposed a melee on the French at the Glorious First of June in 1794, as did Jervis at Cape St Vincent in 1797.
At Trafalgar, Nelson relied upon melee tactics to his great renown. During that campaign in 1805 Nelson consulted regularly with his captains until that 'band of brothers' understood his goals and methods. He reported one of the conferences with his captains:

[W]hen I came to explain to them the 'Nelson Touch', it was like an electric shock. Some shed tears, all approved...and from Admirals downwards, it was repeated - 'It must succeed, if ever they will allow us to get at them! You are, my Lord, surrounded by friends whom you inspire with confidence.'

Nelson could rely on his captains' abilities, and those of British tars in the rigging and at the guns, to win a great battle if brought head to head with the French. After what seemed like a wild goose chase to the West Indies in search of the French fleet, he finally encountered the combined French and Spanish fleet under Pierre Villeneuve off Cape Trafalgar on 21 October, as it tried to regain the safety of Cadiz. Nelson instructed his captains that he intended to attack in two divisions, led by himself and Cuthbert Collingwood. At 11:48 am, just as the two fleets were about to collide, Nelson ordered the signal: 'England expects that every man will do his duty' The two British divisions then broke through the enemy line, Nelson toward the van of the allies and Collingwood about midway through their line. When the Victory, Nelson's flagship, smashed through the enemy fleet, it became ensnared with a French '74', the Redoutable. Musket fire from the Redoutable brought down many of the Victory's crew and mortally wounded Nelson. But as the dying admiral had planned, once the British had broken the allied line a huge melee resulted which yielded victory. British seamanship enabled Nelson's ships to outmanoeuvre the allies and concentrate superior gunpower against isolated allied vessels. At the end of the day the British had sunk one enemy ship and captured seventeen others. While the British continued a wary watch to seaward after 1805 and continued to augment their fleet, never again did the French contest British naval mastery in blue water fleet action. The British did conduct a series of amphibious operations against various French islands, Copenhagen, and Antwerp, not to mention Washington and New Orleans in the War of 1812 against the new United States. The most successful amphibious operation of the war, however, was the British effort in the Iberian Peninsula, 1808-13. Obviously without command of the sea, the greatest British land campaign of the war would have been inconceivable.
 
 
 
 
BRITANNIA: MISTRESS OF COMMERCE AND EMPIRE
 
However, perhaps the major advantages won by the exercise of British naval power were colonial and commercial. With France eliminated as a naval power and Spain reduced to impotence - and often on the 'wrong side' of the struggle - Britain enjoyed a virtually free hand overseas and in world trade. Over the course of the war, the British deprived the French of much of their colonial empire. (In addition, Napoleon wisely jettisoned Louisiana, the last French holding in North America and one he could not defend, by selling it to the United States.) The British swept the seas of French merchant vessels, and all the French could do in reprisal was to build powerful raiders capable of operating independently against British commerce, seizing or destroying what ships they could. Other states that opposed Britain also put their colonies and trade at risk. Thus in 1795 the British seized the Dutch Cape Colony, restored it in the Treaty of Amiens (1802), but then retook it in 1806, this time not to relinquish it again until the twentieth century.
The most important colonial acquisitions garnered by the British during the long struggle with France came not in the Americas or Africa but in India. As was the case before, warfare in India followed its own logic and timetable. Once possessed of the large sepoy armies that the conquest of Bengal had made possible, the British East India company took on two major opponents, Mysore and the Marathas, in a series of conflicts that lasted from 1766 to 1805. The south Indian state of Mysore confronted the British East India Company's new military power in four wars. In the first, 1766-69, Haider Ali fought the Company's armies effectively, but he fared worse in the second, 1780-83, although aided by a French naval squadron operating in the Indian Ocean. The Third Mysore War, 1789-92, was the most important of the struggles, and although the British experienced great difficulties in dealing with the Mysore light cavalry, they triumphed by enlisting the aid of Maratha light horse. In order to buy peace, Haider Ali's successor, Tippoo Sultan, ceded his most lucrative and populous territories to the Company, so he could not put up effective resistance in a final struggle in 1799, when he died fighting to defend his capital. In this brief war, Arthur Wellesley the future duke of Wellington, saw his first action.

Wellesley played a key role in the next colonial drama, as the East India Company took advantage of civil war among the Marathas to challenge their erstwhile allies in the Second Maratha War, 1803-05. Although weakened by internal dissension, the Marathas put up a good fight; Wellesley later stated that his victory at Assaye on 23 September 1803 was the hardest-fought battle of his entire career. Victories against Mysore and the Marathas won the East India Company control over the Deccan to match its mastery of Bengal. During these conflicts, the East India Company accomplished its goals as much by learning the value of native Indian methods of warfare and by exploiting the political weaknesses of its Indian enemies as it did by deploying the superior fighting qualities of Company armies.
In the commercial and colonial phases of her struggle with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, Britain rose as a colossus over world trade. She took full advantage of the first stages of the Industrial Revolution that magnified Britain's traditional commercial prowess. While the Industrial Revolution had yet to transform the weapons actually employed on the battlefield, it influenced the course of war by adding to Britain's coffers during her struggle with France. The eighteenth century produced a number of basic inventions that would eventually transform the textile industry, and these were linked to improvements in water and steam power. Between 1740 and 1806 British iron production grew from 17,000 tons to 260,000 tons and by 1813, the year of Vitoria, there were 3,000 power looms in use in Britain. It was production and trade that gave her the riches to finance her own efforts against Napoleon and to offer subsidies to the continental states that braved the French in the field.

The British possessed the most rational and effective system of war finance in Europe. To pay the costs of his armies and wars, Napoleon pillaged Europe - a method that, even when it produced adequate funds, alienated subject peoples and reluctant allies, thus preparing the way for his downfall. In contrast, Britain based her capacity to produce the sinews of war upon her government and credit institutions and upon her commerce. The Bank of England repeatedly proved its ability to mobilize credit at low rates, and Parliament built up an admirable record of paying off its debts. As workshop and entrepot for the world, particularly in the midst of war, Britain benefited from levies on trade that no other state could match - although, to be sure, tax rates also soared to foot the bill.

Britain's wealth allowed her to subsidize coalition after coalition against the French. Major opponents of Napoleonic France could count on payments, but it would be incorrect to argue that Britain carried the greatest burden of the effort. When in 1805 Britain promised support to members of the Third Coalition, she pledged to pay £1.250,000 pounds annually for every 100,000 men raised, but this sum would, according to Austrian estimates, pay only a quarter of the cost of Austria's war effort. The subsidies thus seem to have functioned as incentive as well as actual aid. Britain also supplied arms to her allies: for example, in 1813 the bulk of the weapons that re-equipped the Prussian Army came from England. Ultimately Napoleon could not carry the war to Britain, guarded as she was by her navy, while the British could find continental allies to carry the war to France; so that, unless Napoleon agreed to limitations on his empire that the commercial giant could accept, he could not escape frustration and failure.

The American and French Revolutions changed the nature of warfare forever. Before these revolutions, international conflict had been a dynastic affair between kings and princes, although the Dutch and the British cases modified this picture to some degree. When revolution or reform transformed a population from subjects to citizens by giving them more of a stake in society and more of a say in government, those citizens saw the struggles of the state as their own. As such, wars became contests between nations in arms.

Radical changes in government, society, and (consequently) motivation did not sweep through all of the western world at the same moment, or even in the same decade. In the late eighteenth century, their revolutions and representative institutions put the United States and France in the lead of this trend. Even earlier the British too had developed their own sense of identity and brand of nationalism based on their insular history and the triumph of Parliament over the monarchy in the seventeenth century. While nationalism may only have permeated the masses in Italy and Germany later in the nineteenth century, by 1813 the concept had taken hold among the literate elites and had become a factor in policy and war. The future would see all Europe engulfed in strong currents of nationalism with unforeseen and bloody results.
 
 
 

 
 
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