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Napoleon

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Napoleon was one of the greatest military minds in the history of warfare. He expanded the conquests of France from her revolutionary borders to that of an Empire that stretched from Spain to the edges of Russia. Napoleon's genius lay not in revolutionizing of warfare itself, but in the refinement of existing means. He did not propose any drastic changes in tactics nor did he invent a new method of waging warfare. Instead he excelled at the tactical handling of the armies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Napoleon established himself as a great leader of men during the revolutionary period with the siege of Toulon and his triumphs in Italy in 1796. These talents were reached and rose to their height during the battles of Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena in the period of 1805-1806. Towards the end of the Empire the weaknesses of Napoleon as a military commander became more evident. His insistence on the micro management of the army and the awarding of Marshal batons to those who excelled under his leadership, but who possessed no great talent for individual command, worked to his determent. The strategic failures of the decisions to invade Spain and Russia and the inability to keep the other major European powers divided proved disastrous. The increasing size and static nature of armies and the increasingly murderous nature of warfare during the latter part of the Empire revealed Napoleon's in ability to adapt to the changing shape of war. It is in the light of his triumphs and later failures that Napoleon's traditional reputation as a great military leader must be judged. Historiographical interpretations of Napoleon's military abilities have under gone several changes. In his epic work The Campaigns of Napoleon David Chandler accurately portrays how the "wheel has turned full cycle several times" as to the impressions of Napoleon's abilities. He had been regarded from at best a "talented thug", to a military genius. General James Marshal-Cornwall, a contemporary of Chandler, regards Napoleon as "...a master of the conduct of war; he was the supreme craftsman of his trade, who new how to make to most effective, though not the most economical use of the tools and techniques which he found ready to his hand." Like Chandler he regards Napoleon's military genius as stemming from his use of the 'tools at hand' but, he is also aware of Napoleon's weaknesses as a military commander. A contemporary historian Owen Connelly argues in Blundering to Glory, despite his more negative attitude to Napoleon, that he was "probably the greatest commander of all time", but again he emphasized that this genius must be placed in context and Connolly's admiration is certainly not biased. Geoffrey Ellis in The Napoleonic Empire, agrees with Connolly and his argument that Napoleon's successes held a certain makeshift quality and herein lay his talent and genius. Russell Weigley argues a slightly different point in The Age of Battles. Weigley is concerned generally with the obsession of the European powers in gaining the destruction of the enemy's army in a single climatic battle. Weigley regards Napoleon as the most proficient strategist since Gustavus Adolphus in achieving this masterstroke and the battle of Austerlitz as its crowning achievement during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic epochs. Weigley argues that the result of the Battle of Austerlitz and the destruction of the Austro-Russian army was the worship of battle among European soldiers as the means to annihilation. Weigley regards that despite this belief among European soldiers and statesman the period after 1806 and Austerlitz was dominated by the change from the battle of annihilation to the battle of attrition. As a result the search for a decisive result in a single climatic battle was futile, although it still dominated the minds of European soldiers during this period and in particular Napoleon. Weigley goes on to argue that the inherent weaknesses in Napoleon's genius were his over-extension of the Empire and himself, as well as his megalomaniac personality. He believes that Napoleon was more the "instinctive genius than the professional." Robert Epstein puts forward a similar argument to Weigley. Epstein differs in that he regards that there were two distinct eras in Napoleonic warfare. The first, consisted of the period of 1805-1807. It was during this time period that Napoleon had enough political autonomy to enforce his military plans and the full-scale adoption of the army corps system. Esptein regards that the army corps and the Napoleonic command and control structure allowed for the decisive battles of annihilation that accrued between 1805-1807. The second period, that of 1809-1815, is marked by the modernization of the armies of Napoleon's advisories, principally Austria and Prussia. The result was that from the time of the 1809 campaign against Austria and the battle of Aspern-Essling, were Napoleon suffered his first defeat on the battle field, the key factor in warfare became firepower through the increasing scale of men and in particular artillery. As a result the scale of warfare increased and Napoleon did not keep pace. The end result was that the "...one time god of battles (was) overthrown by the dynamics of warfare that he had unleashed but failed to comprehend." Harold Parker in his articles on Napoleon, his impact on the French army and the course of the Empire places greater emphasis on his personality as a window to events. Parker emphasizes a psycho-biographical approach of Napoleon placing him into the Corsican, French and European society that he moved in. Parker sees Napoleon's second home as that of the French army. Parker's articles although not dealing explicitly with Napoleon as a military commander offers an alternative insight to his personality and reflections on some of the motivations behind his military triumphs and failures. Writing at the turn of the century historian Maximilien Von Wartenburg regarded Napoleon as a military genius, arguing that Napoleon had "no equal as a general", but at the same time he was eminently aware of the limitations of Napoleon's personality. Wartenburg regarded this as the "predominant factor of our (and in particular Napoleon's) fate." William Morris, writing during the same period, regarded Napoleon as possessing "extraordinary gifts as a warrior," but during the later part of his reign he was "like a thundercloud streaming against the wind, and doing violence to

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