, ,

Napoleon: Shaping Modern Europe

“Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools.” 

Napoleon Bonaparte, born in 1769, was a French military and political leader, and the first emperor of France. He’s considered by many historians to be one of the greatest military commanders in history, revolutionizing military training and organization, and changing the world with his wars and campaigns that continue to be studied at military schools around the globe to this day. For him, nothing was impossible: “Impossible is a word found only in the dictionary of fools. Wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible.”

So what opportunities did Napoleon create for himself? Well, in 1793, Napoleon won his first major military battle at Toulon in France after forcing British troops to evacuate. This earned him a promotion to brigadier general at the age of just 24, and his career was on the up. In 1795, he defeated a royalist revolt that threatened to overthrow the French government, a victory that earned him even greater recognition and the admiration of the Directory now running the country, and his campaign to expand the French empire was underway.

Great Motivator

In 1796, Napoleon’s loyalty to the Directory was rewarded with the new post of commander in chief of the Army of Italy. Despite the discovery that his army of 30,000 men was significantly smaller than the promised 43,000, and those he had were underfed and unhappy, he turned the situation around to create a strong, loyal, victorious and seemingly unstoppable military force. He did this by winning the respect of his men; inspiring and motivating them to fight for a shared cause. As he addressed his new army in 1796, he said, “Soldiers, you are naked, badly fed… Rich provinces and great towns will be in your power, and in them you will find honour, glory, wealth.”

Napoleon’s troops trusted him without question. He made sure they always had appropriate combat clothing and equipment and he kept them well fed, saying, “An army marches on its stomach.” He also fought alongside his men, earning the nickname of “little corporal” through frequently setting up the artillery guns himself, and on one occasion immediately taking up the task of sighting a cannon after the corporal in the post was killed. His active role earned him the admiration of his men, and the more victorious they became, the more they gave.

Great Victory

Napoleon’s notoriety grew and by 1798, his campaign to expand the French Empire into Egypt, thereby disrupting the British trade routes into India, was underway. At the Battle of Shubra Khit, Napoleon’s army encountered Mamluk cavalry on their march to Cairo. The Mamluk heavily outnumbered the French, but Napoleon split his infantry into squares, a tactic that brought him victory. In the following Battle of the Pyramids, the same divisional square tactic once again brought victory as Napoleon’s troops virtually wiped out the Egyptian army.

Napoleon was now a legend. Not only his tactics, but also his capacity to adapt to changing circumstances as they unfolded around him on the battlefield made him one of the greatest military commanders in history. In 1805, he won perhaps his greatest military victory at the Battle of Austerlitz. Once again, his troops were heavily outnumbered by Austrian and Russian troops, but his belief that nothing was impossible and the motivational effect this had on his men once again brought him victory.

His abilities as a commander are beyond question, but whether or not Napoleon was a good leader beyond his victories is a question that remains open for debate. He said, “Ability is nothing without opportunity,” and he certainly lived up to his belief that wise people create opportunities for themselves and make everything possible. This is something we might all learn from. Napoleon created the opportunities he needed to showcase his abilities, adapting quickly to changing circumstances rather than allowing circumstances to dictate his outcomes… are you showcasing your abilities, and are you adaptable enough to create the opportunities you need to expand your “empire”?

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *