18/02/2018 · Why was Napoleon a great leader

As a student of military history and leadership, I was delighted to stumble across your website and this article. Once I figure out how to at least be competent in WordPress, I will set up something similar from my perch in the American midwest.

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Remembering Vietnam is free and open to the public, and will be on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC, through January 6, 2019. It is presented in part by the Lawrence F. O’Brien Family, Pritzker Military Museum & Library, AARP, FedEx Corporation, and the National Archives Foundation. Additional support provided by the Maris S. Cuneo Foundation, The Eliasberg Family Foundation, Inc., and HISTORYⓇ.


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The Allies defeated him in battle over the course of the next two years, and finally, on March 31, 1814, Paris fell. Napoleon abdicated to Elba. There Napoleon learned that the French, and especially the army, were unhappy with the treatment of the restored Bourbon leadership. He took this opportunity to march on Paris and reinstate himself for his fateful ‘100 Days’. The Battle of Waterloo ended his brief reign. He surrendered to Britain, hoping for leniency, and instead was exiled to St. Helena.


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Napoleon’s personality had a significant impact throughout his career. Many factors helped him rise to fame and enhance his abilities; his almost hypnotic power over his contemporaries; his intellectual capacity; the ability to work for long periods continually; his iron will and irresistible charm all helped during the early part of his career to establish himself at an early age as a very competent general. The later point was especially significant when he took command of the Army of Italy in 1796 at the age of only 27.

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Napoleon might even have won the ensuing battle of Waterloo – a contest that the victorious Duke of Wellington famously described as ‘the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life’. Napoleon had already pulled off one of his trademark military coups – defeating the Prussian army before they could join forces with their British allies, intending to defeat piecemeal a army that would overwhelm him if combined – but his Marshalls, and Napoleon himself, were unusually slow to exploit their advantage and strangely indecisive. They made uncharacteristic mistakes. Luck and the weather was against them. Marshall Ney – indefatigable hero of the appalling retreat from Moscow; ‘the bravest of the brave’ – wasted and destroyed the French cavalry, unsupported by sufficient infantry or artillery, in pointless repeated attacks against the formidable defensive squares of British infantry. At the end, and too late, Napoleon’s elite Guard were thrown into the fray, only to be cut down by disciplined, close-range musket fire. The Guard broke and recoiled – it was all over.

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Once he had gained political power, he famously crossed the Alps in (with far less effort or ingenuity, but with great daring nevertheless) and surprised the Austrians in northern Italy, which they had largely regained from French control while Napoleon had been campaigning in Egypt, prior to the coup that brought him to power. Napoleon’s unexpected arrival across the Alps threatened Austrian supply lines along the river Po. Napoleon won a decisive victory at Marengo – thanks, on this occasion, more to the military brilliance and dedication of his senior generals and to a substantial element of luck, rather than to Napoleon’s own contribution on the day. Napoleon was convinced that the Austrians were retreating after a previous defeat, and had therefore dispersed his army in an attempt to cut off the supposed retreat: the unexpected Austrian attack took him completely by surprise. A dogged defence by his generals prevented a French rout, however, and another of Napoleon’s star generals, Desaix, who had been despatched to the south to search for the supposedly retreating Austrians, marched his troops back towards the sounds of the guns. A French counter-attack aided by a strong element of luck won the day. The Austrians withdrew from Italy and signed a peace treaty which led to the only significant period of peace in the whole Napoleonic era. In France, not surprisingly, hero-worship of Napoleon was about to begin in earnest.