Military career of Napoleon Bonaparte

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Napoleon Bonaparte
1801 Antoine-Jean Gros - Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole.jpg
Napoleon at the Bridge of the Arcole, by Baron Antoine-Jean Gros, (ca. 1801), Louvre, Paris
Nickname(s) General Vendémiaire, The Little Corporal, Napoleon the Great
Born (1769-08-15)August 15, 1769
Ajaccio, Corsica
Died 5 May 1821(1821-05-05) (aged 51)
Longwood, St. Helena
Allegiance France
Service/branch Trained as an artillerist
Years of service 1779 - 1815
Rank General, Emperor
Commands held Army of Italy
Army of the Orient
French Army
Grande Armée
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars
Awards Grand Master of the Legion of Honour
Grand Master of the Order of the Reunion
Grand Master of the Order of the Iron Crown
Grand Master of the Order of the Three Golden Fleeces
Relations House of Bonaparte
Other work Sovereign of Elba, Writer

The military career of Napoleon Bonaparte spanned over 20 years. As emperor, he led the French Armies in the Napoleonic Wars. He is widely regarded as a military genius and one of the finest commanders in world history. He fought 60 battles, losing only seven, mostly at the end.[1] The great French dominion collapsed rapidly after the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. Napoleon was defeated in 1814; he returned and was finally defeated in 1815 at Waterloo. He spent his remaining days in British custody on the remote island of St. Helena.[2]

Early career[edit]

Napoleon's early career is well covered.[3][4] The most thorough coverage of his campaigns is by David Chandler.[5]


August 15 - Napoleon born Nabulione di Buonaparte in Ajaccio, Corsica.


December 15 - Napoleon leaves Corsica for mainland France.


January 1 - Napoleon enters religious school at Autun.

May 15 - Napoleon enters cadet school at Brienne-le-Château.


October 30 - Napoleon enters École Militaire in Paris.


September 1 - Napoleon graduates from École Militaire and is commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant of Artillery.

October 30 - Napoleon reports to first posting with the La Fère Artillery Regiment at Valence-sur-Rhône.


September 1 - Napoleon goes to Corsica on long furlough until June 1788.


June - Napoleon rejoins his regiment at Auxonne, attached to School of Artillery.


September 15 - Napoleon goes on second leave to Corsica, becomes involved in revolutionary activities and attempts to gain favour with Pasquale Paoli.


February 10 - Napoleon returns from Corsica to regimental duty at Auxonne.

April 1 - Napoleon promoted to 1st Lieutenant.

September 1 - Napoleon's third furlough to Corsica.


February 6 - Napoleon promoted to Captain (antedated).

April 1 - Napoleon is elected Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd Battalion, Corsican Volunteers. Is implicated in a riot in Ajaccio.

May 28 - Napoleon returns to Paris, instead of rejoining his regiment.

September 15 - Napoleon escorts his sister, Elisa, back to Corsica.


February 22–25 - Napoleon commands artillery during an abortive French landing on Maddalena Island, Sardinia.

March 3 - Napoleon breaks with Paoli, blaming the failed landing on him.

June 13 - Napoleon and his family arrive in Toulon, having been banished from Corsica by Paoli.

August 27 - Toulon handed over to the British by Royalists.

September 16 - Napoleon given command of artillery besieging Toulon.

October 18 - Napoleon promoted to Major.

December 17–19 - Successful recapture of Toulon from British and Royalists.

December 22 - Napoleon promoted to Brigadier General.


For comprehensive coverage, see Chandler (1973).[6] For an overall view of the military history of the era see Trevor N. Dupuy and R. Ernest Dupuy, The Encyclopedia of Military History (2nd ed. 1970) pp 730–770.





Napoleon thus won 54 battles when personally heading his army, with only 7 losses and none against a weaker force. Following this trend, he was on way to defeat the British army under Wellington in Waterloo (he had 73,000 men on field against Wellington's 68,000) and was about to break the Wellington's centre when the Prussians arrived at 16h30 hours and reversed the tide.

Most of his victories came in 1796 and 1814, and he won 10 battles both year. Between 1799 and 1809, he went undefeated, and his losses after 1809 came against armies of Fifth and Sixth Coalition where he was generally outnumbered by insurmountable proportions.

Notably, his last great adversary Arthur Wellesley won 34 and lost 6 battles in his lifetime.[7]


  1. ^ Roberts says his losses came at Siege of Acre (1799), Battle of Aspern-Essling (1809), Battle of Leipzig (1813), Battle of La Rothière (1814), Battle of Laon (1814), Battle of Arcis-sur-Aube (1814), and Battle of Waterloo (1815). Andrew Roberts, "Why Napoleon merits the title 'the Great,'" BBC History Magazine (1 November 2014)
  2. ^ Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (2014)
  3. ^ Andrew Roberts, Napoleon: A Life (2014)
  4. ^ Frank McLynn, Napoleon: A Biography (1997)
  5. ^ David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (1973) 1172 pp; a detailed guide to all major battles excerpt and text search
  6. ^ David G. Chandler, The Campaigns of Napoleon (1973) excerpt and text search
  7. ^ Battle record of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

Further reading[edit]

  • Bell, David A. The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Bruce, Robert B. et al. Fighting Techniques of the Napoleonic Age 1792–1815: Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics (2008) excerpt and text search
  • Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon (1973) 1172 pp; a detailed guide to all major battles excerpt and text search
  • Crowdy, Terry. Napoleon's Infantry Handbook (2015)
  • Delderfield, R.F. //Imperial Sunset: The Fall of Napoleon, 1813-14 (2014)
  • Dupuy, Trevor N. and Dupuy, R. Ernest. The Encyclopedia of Military History (2nd ed. 1970) pp 730–770
  • Dwyer, Philip. Napoleon: The Path to Power (2008) excerpt vol 1; Citizen Emperor: Napoleon in Power (2013) excerpt and text search v 2; most recent scholarly biography
  • Elting, John R. Swords Around a Throne: Napoleon's Grand Armee (1988)
  • Esdaile, Charles. Napoleon's Wars: An International History 1803-1815 (2008), 621pp
  • Gates, David. The Napoleonic Wars 1803-1815 (NY: Random House, 2011)
  • Griffith, Paddy. The Art of War of Revolutionary France, 1789–1802 (1998) excerpt and text search
  • Harvey, Robert (2013). The War of Wars. Constable & Robinson. p. 328. , well-written popular survey of these wars
  • Haythornthwaite, Philip J. Napoleon's Military Machine (1995) excerpt and text search
  • Hazen, Charles Downer. The French Revolution and Napoleon (1917) online free
  • Kagan, Frederick W. The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805 (2007)
  • McLynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography (1997)
  • Nafziger, George F. The End of Empire: Napoleon's 1814 Campaign (2014)
  • Parker, Harold T. "Why Did Napoleon Invade Russia? A Study in Motivation and the Interrelations of Personality and Social Structure," Journal of Military History (1990) 54#2 pp 131–46 in JSTOR.
  • Pope, Stephen (1999). The Cassel Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars. Cassel. ISBN 0-304-35229-2. 
  • Rapport, Mike. The Napoleonic Wars: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford UP, 2013)
  • Riley, Jonathon P. Napoleon as a General (Hambledon Press, 2007)
  • Roberts, Andrew. Napoleon: A Life (2014) Major new biography by a leading British historian; 926 pp
  • Rothenberg, Gunther E. (1988). "The Origins, Causes, and Extension of the Wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon". Journal of Interdisciplinary History 18 (4): 771–793.  JSTOR 204824
  • Rothenberg, E. Gunther. The Art of Warfare in the Age of Napoleon (1977)
  • Schneid, Frederick C. (2011). The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Mainz: Institute of European History. 
  • Schneid, Frederick C. Napoleon's Conquest of Europe: The War of the Third Coalition (2005) excerpt and text search
  • Shoffner, Thomas A. Napoleon's Cavalry: A Key Element to Decisive Victory (2014)
  • Smith, Digby George. The Greenhill Napoleonic Wars Data Book: Actions and Losses in Personnel, Colours, Standards and Artillery (1998)