12 defeats of Napoleon Bonaparte. Epilogue of Saint Helena

Chandler’s Lists

In modern Napoleonics, lists of military clashes, as well as their participants, compiled, more precisely, meticulously systematized, by the British historian David Chandler are considered classic. He prepared them in parallel with an extensive Napoleonic bibliography, free from empty blanks and outright propaganda, while working on his books that later became famous: “On the Napoleonic Wars”, “Napoleon’s War Campaigns”, “Waterloo” and “Napoleon’s Marshals”.

All apologists of Napoleon Bonaparte rely on them today, analyzing the campaigns and battles of the general, the first consul and twice the emperor of the French, his numerous victories and defeats. Even before Chandler, it was believed that the French commander fought 60 battles, and only 12 of them failed to win.

12 defeats of Napoleon Bonaparte.  Epilogue of Saint Helena

It is worth recalling in this regard that many generals, and above all the great Suvorov, whom foreign military historians stubbornly refuse to recognize as such, did not know defeat at all. But it is also worth recognizing that too much in that era was against Napoleon, and against France and the French, who were looking for their own path to freedom. The more weighty their victories seem, and the more interesting are their defeats.

So, 12 defeats of Napoleon Bonaparte are the failed siege of Saint-Jean d’Acre in 1799, Preussisch-Eylau in 1807, Aspern-Essling in May 1809, four battles of 1812 – the Battle of Borodino, bloody battles at Maloyaroslavets and Krasny , as well as the collapse and amazing salvation on the Berezina, the four-day Leipzig of 1813, rightly called the “Battle of the Nations”, La Rothiere, Laon and Arsy-sur-Aub in the French campaign, and finally, the epic Waterloo on June 18, 1815.

To these twelve failures on the battlefield, the authors of the cycle decided to add two large military campaigns – the Spanish and the Russian, in which even the repeated brilliant victories of the emperor did not help change absolutely nothing. Many, with good reason, consider the Egyptian campaign to be unsuccessful, although, in addition to glory, it also brought power to General Bonaparte.


Napoleon on the “Bellerophon” goes to about. Saint Helena

For the six years that after Waterloo and the second abdication, the prisoner of Europe spent on about. Saint Helena, he did not have time to tell or describe many of his victories, but he did not miss almost a single defeat. The same Egyptian campaign is devoted to a separate work of Napoleon with a detailed analysis of the reasons for the first failure of the genius. However, he managed to complain to the Count of Las Kaz that no one even tried in hot pursuit to tell about the unprecedented campaign of 1814.

It was Las Kaz, who spent only eight months with the emperor on a distant island, that laid the foundation for the creation of the Napoleonic legend. It is hardly possible to take for such the famous bulletins of Napoleon, in which he, with a persistence worthy of better application, deceived not the public, but himself.

Amazing in laconicism “Thoughts and Maxims”, written down by the count, are several times inferior in volume to the memoirs and later works of his sovereign and sovereign. Nevertheless, it seems that it was in them that there was a place for those assessments and emotions that Napoleon experienced in relation to his own failures. And yet the emperor, in his conversations with Las Kaz, did not have time or, most likely, did not want to speak out about most of those who defeated him.

By the way, among the failures, a really worthy place was found only for Waterloo, which, according to Napoleon himself, outweighed all his 40 victories. But here, too, the great vanquished did not deny himself the right to voice some alternative option, at the same time giving an exclusive compliment to Marshal Grusha.

The emperor did not hesitate to call the passage of Pears from Namur to Paris (after Waterloo) “one of the most brilliant feats of the war of 1815″. “I already thought,” he wrote, “that Pears with his forty thousand soldiers were lost to me and I would not be able to re-attach them to my army beyond Valenciennes and Bushen, relying on the northern fortresses. I could organize a defense system there and defend every inch of the earth. ”


Battle of Preussisch Eylau. thin A. Averyanov

Napoleon also mentioned the Battle of Eylau, which, in his words, “cost dearly to both sides and did not have a decisive outcome.” And nothing else, and no analysis of their own flights and even a mention of General Bennigsen. It is better to beautifully broadcast to the interlocutor about “one of those vague battles when every inch of the earth is being defended.”

It is not so important for us that Napoleon decided to point out that “he would not choose such a place for battle,” the very fact that Las Kazu, in his extremely lapidary work, still had to recall Eylau, is important. Hooked, and how could it be otherwise, and here, as under Borodino or on the Berezina, there is no need to convince anyone of his dubious victory.

In his own writings, Napoleon, one way or another, will remember almost all the failures that befell him. He will start with Saint-Jean d’Acr, the description of the siege of which will take more than a third of the book devoted to the Egyptian campaign. And Napoleon simply will not have time to complete everything with a detailed analysis of the 1815 campaign.

The right of the vanquished

Don’t you think, dear readers, that the well-known maxim that history is written by the winners is by no means an axiom? On the example of the Napoleonic wars, this is felt especially strongly. By right of the conquered, Napoleon was able to masterfully place accents both in his personal history and in the history of France and the entire civilized world of that time.

The 30-year-old General Bonaparte, who seriously tried on the laurels and right of power of Alexander the Great, will study his first defeat in Syria, one might say, up and down. It is difficult to find a better textbook for a general who is preparing a long siege of a fortress. However, Napoleon himself always subsequently avoided sieges, preferring to settle matters in open battles.

Fortresses, Napoleon preferred either to bypass, trying to find other strong points for communications, or to isolate, and so as to immediately make the prolonged resistance senseless. However, he himself, having not yet tried on the imperial crown, began to actively build fortresses in France and the occupied countries. And he himself more than once relied on them already in his last campaigns, when he had to retreat much more often than to wage an offensive war.

More than once he considered the fortress garrisons as the last reserve. But it is not at all accidental that all the wars that he waged up to the Russian campaign, Napoleon began with a great advantage in strength, following his own rule that in a different scenario it is better not to start at all. Nevertheless, during the siege of Saint-Jean d’Acre (Acre), the French had no question of any advantage in forces, but in the East, Bonaparte was not too embarrassed.


Sydney Smith at Acre, 1799

Particular attention to Acre prompted Napoleon not only to avoid a protracted struggle for fortresses, but also to a very close analysis of such a struggle. Moreover, in two works at once, which even today can be considered textbook: “On a defensive war” and “On an offensive war.”

What brought him down near Akra was, by and large, just a coincidence that deprived a professional artilleryman of a sufficient number of heavy guns. And no engineering talent of Picard de Filippo, no persistence of the future Sir Sydney Smith would have helped the defenders. Although it is unlikely, even taking Saint-Jean d’Acre, General Bonaparte could really become the emperor of the East. And the point here is not in his talents and ambitions, but in the real possibilities of revolutionary France.

Nevertheless, Napoleon, in his memoirs and notes, by no means out of academic interest, devoted to Sydney Smith some of the most caustic and lengthy comments. And this is among all who managed to deprive him of the laurels of the winner.

It should also be noted that Napoleon, in his writings and even working notes, minimized everything related to the Spanish and Russian campaigns. In the same way, such generals as Kutuzov, as well as every one of the Spanish military leaders, did not receive anything, except for individual critical and sometimes offensive statements that fell into the memoirs and memoirs of comrades-in-arms.


Evening after Waterloo

In fact, the great commander is very stingy with attention not only to his failures, but also to those commanders who defeated him. The winner of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington, did not receive any close attention, the emperor emphasized his contempt for very regularly, although, excuse the repetition, Napoleon, most likely, simply did not have time to get to him in his memories and writings.

And for example, Schwarzenberg, in the future generalissimo, who received the field marshal’s baton actually under the patronage of the French emperor, is mentioned only twice in the writings of Napoleon – in the context of specific events. For Kutuzov, the one whom the army of the aged prince, as it was said, “in the face and in the … o”, did not even find a word. But Napoleon obviously remembered Admiral Chichagov not without pleasure, because he “threw him behind the Berezina.”

By the way, leaving Britain aside, the Corsican upstart did not have time to speak about his main geopolitical rival, Emperor Alexander I, either. However, even Blucher, who more than once literally infuriated the emperor, could consider himself deprived of Napoleon’s attention if he had not completed his voluminous research on the 1813 campaign. With regard to Waterloo, Blucher is also said mostly just in the course of the narrative. Without ratings and characteristics, as well as without emotions.


Napoleon is resurrected. thin V. Kossak

In addition to Acre, only an almost complete defeat at Aspern and Esling was awarded a really scrupulous analysis, which Napoleon himself stubbornly did not consider a failure. At the same time, the Emperor of France never skimped on compliments to the Austrian commander-in-chief, Archduke Charles. We conclude our epilogue with a short quote, containing just two paragraphs from several pages about this battle. Without any reservations, they can be considered the pinnacle of Napoleonic myth-making.

“Was the Battle of Esslingen lost because we attacked the center of the enemy line in columns? Or did we lose it due to the cunning of the Archduke Charles, who tore down our bridges, attacked us in this critical situation, with 100,000 men against 45,000?
But, firstly, we did not lose the Battle of Esslingen, but won it, because the battlefield from Gross-Aspern to Esslingen remained in our power, the Duke of Montebella (Marshal Lannes – Author) attacked not in columns, but in a deployed formation ; on the battlefield he maneuvered more skillfully than any other general in the army; thirdly, it was not the Archduke who tore down our bridges, but the Danube, which rose 14 feet in three days. “

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