In 1796, a practically unknown officer, appointed by favor, became head of the Army of Italy, which had to serve as a diversion from the main French offensive in Germany. A year later, after a succession of victories that gave him an unrivaled prestige, General Napoleon Bonaparte spoke as equals with the French and Austrian governments.
General Bonaparte entered the scene by a first brilliant stroke.
After fifteen days of campaign, the Sardinians were already knocked out.
The French crossed the river Adda in strength, pursuing the Austrians.
The passage of the river Mincio, near Valeggio, gave rise to a fierce confrontation.
Their defeat forced the Austrians to retreat towards Tyrol.
Again beaten, the Austrians led by Dagobert von Wurmser had to seek refuge into Mantua.
The crossing of the river Alpone required three days of fierce fighting.
Following this battle, the Austrian hopes of unlocking the city of Mantua were dashed.
There failed the last Austrian effort to get out of Mantua.
Being too popular for the French Directory, whose deep corruption had not yet made imminent its fall, Bonaparte received the mission to carry on getting fame and honor far from Europe, in the fascinating Middle-East.
A few miles from the Pyramids of Giza, just before the battle, General Bonaparte harangued his troops with those words that passed to posterity:
Soldiers, from the summit of yonder pyramids forty centuries look down upon you!
The Mamluks, intrepid horsemen, impetuously rushed over the French squares, but found there nothing but death and defeat.
Subsequently to this naval battle won by Horatio Nelson, Bonaparte found himself deprived of his fleet, and prisoner of his conquest.
The Turkish army, which had come to rescue the besieged city of Acre, was destroyed in this battle.
The Ottomans, that the British had landed at Alexandria, were thrown there into the sea.
General Jean-Baptiste Kléber gave there to the French Republic its last victory in Egypt.
Napoleon Bonaparte, once became First Consul, planned to beat the second coalition, which had almost defeat the republican France, while himself was fighting in Egypt.
What better way for that, than returning to the scene of his first exploits, to combat once again Austria?
This victory of General Jean Lannes opened the road to Alessandria and Marengo.
That day, in the plain of the Bormida, east of the city of Alessandria, the First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte rolled the dice, and won in extremis against the troops of the Holy Roman Empire led by General Michael von Melas!
General Jean-Victor Moreau won a decisive battle in Bavaria, that forced Austria to leave the second coalition.
The French army was gathered around Boulogne and everything was ready for the invasion of England. Admirals had their instructions, which were to attract the English fleet far, far away, on the other side of the Atlantic ocean. Then it would be sufficient to cross the Channel on thousands of barges gathered for this purpose. But the defeat of Trafalgar and the bustle in Europe forced Napoleon to change his plans. Steering: Vienna!
Marshal Michel Ney, present everywhere in the heart of the fighting, wrote one of the pages of his legend.
20,000 Austrians were forced to surrender almost without a fight.
Horatio Nelson finished on that day his work of destruction of the French fleet.
Emperor Napoleon I won in Moravia his most striking and most historic victory, against Russian and Austrian troops, under the gaze of Emperors Alexander I of Russia and Francis II of the Holy Roman Empire. This fight was named "The Battle of the three Emperors".
Prussia, prudent during the 1805 campaign, allowed himself to circumvent the following year by Russian and British promises. This proved to be wrong: two weeks after its ultimatum, it had no more army. Fifteen days later, Napoleon entered Berlin.
Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout, alone, defeated the largest contingent of the Prussian troops.
While Marshal Davoust was victorious at Auerstaedt, the second part of the Prussian army was destroyed at Jena by Napoleon himself. The campaign had begun only last fortnight...
In autumn 1806 the Russians had not had the time to lend a hand to their Prussian ally, whose collapse was as sudden as unforeseen. They gave asylum to the King of Prussia and continued fighting in East Prussia, under the command of General Levin August von Bennigsen.
A terrible slaughter and a huge cavalry charge for an uncertain result.
For the anniversary of Marengo, the battle of Friedland was a total victory for Napoleon, which forced the Russians and Prussians to deal with him: thus the Treaty of Tilsit marked the end of the War of the Fourth Coalition.
During five years, the Peninsular war eroded the French army and consummated its best soldiers. The French were unable to defeat a Resistance that came from the depths of a spanish population fanaticized by priests, in which the Afrancesados (partisans of the French, often imbued with the ideas of the Enlightenment) were a minority.
First terrestrial defeat of the Napoleonic armies, Bailen gave hope to all the enemies of France.
This battle opened the road to Madrid to Napoleon, who had personnally come to install his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne.
After two months of siege and 100,000 dead, the city fell into the hands of the French.
By inflicting the Spanish army its biggest defeat of the war, Marshal Jean-de-Dieu Soult opened to himself the way to Andalusia.
Two months after this French defeat south of Salamanca, the Anglo-Iberian troops took Madrid.
The French army, fleeing, suffered a rout, which was however tempered by the greed of the conquerors.
Noting the French difficulties in Spain, Austria believed the time for revenge had come, and declared war on France. Its army was intrusted to one of the brightest opponents that Napoleon never had to fight: the Archduke Charles. Unprepared, the French experienced a difficult campaign.
Near Regensburg in Bavaria, the stubborn resistance of Marshal Davout then Napoleon's arrival made this confrontation a victory, but not the decisive battle the Emperor had dreamed of.
Cut off from its bases by the rupture of a bridge over the Danube, half of the French army managed to avoid annihilation but suffered heavy losses.
On a battlefield near Aspern and Essling, in the plain of Marchfeld, Napoleon finally won the big victory that forced Austria to treat with him. But the time for quick wins had gone, giving way to that of slaughters.
Russia, unwilling to respect the treaty of Tilsit whose clauses in international trade faced its interests, had increasingly distanced itself from France over the years. Napoleon could not compromise, since it undermined his struggle against England. The confrontation, which had become inevitable, was gigantic.
Napoleon seized the city of Smolensk on fire and in ruins, which could not serve him as a source of supplies for the continuation of the campaign.
A part of the French army managed to cross the Berezina River under threat from the enemy, with heavy sacrifices.
Who else but Napoleon could have been able to face the European coalition in the aftermath of a rout like in Russia? Yet in 1813, the fate was several times about to declare in his favor.
The lack of cavalry prevented the French army to exploit this considerable success as it would have had.
The French won in Bautzen a new but insufficient victory.
This was the last major success in Germany for Napoleon, who was ill and could not exploit his success.
Cornered, fighting for the first time on French soil, Napoleon was more than ever to rise to the occasion. As he said himself, he had "put on his Italian boots" and realized one of his finest campaigns.
Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, too audacious, only just managed to elude capture, which could have changed the face of the campaign.
Napoleon, who had not wanted this battle, was defeated after a great resistance.
This was the first of four commitments, which turned into a disaster for the invaders.
Although twice as numerous, Russians and Prussians were defeated by French.
The Emperor pursued his enemies of yesterday and inflicted them another failure.
It was the turn of Blücher in person to be punished. In four days, his army lost 30,000 men.
The Emperor triumphed again but his plans were undermined by the slowness of some subordinates.
Another success for the Emperor, yes, but this time it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Napoleon attacked Blücher: an attempt that was difficult to justify, and which did not succeed.
The capital of Champagne offered to the Emperor the "last smile of victory".
Considerating that this battle was turning into a strategic failure, Napoleon abruptly broke the struggle to make other arrangements.
It took little time for Napoleon, after his return from Elba, to understand that his throne, again, depended on his ability in defending it. He accepted the challenge.
In other circumstances, could have he achieved that goal?
For the very last time, Napoleon inflicted another setback to his old adversary Blücher, this in Walloon Brabant, south of Brussels.
Simultaneously, fifteen kilometers from Ligny, Marshal Michel Ney fiercely fought against the troops of the Duke of Wellington.
The Imperial epic reached its denouement in this confrontation without mercy among Arthur Wellesley of Wellington's defence and Napoleon's offensive.
But it was ultimately the General perhaps most often defeated by the Emperor, who tipped the scales: Blücher, whose late arrival closed the final chapter in the military history of the French Empire.