Military career of Napoleon Bonaparte

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1801 Antoine-Jean Gros - Bonaparte on the Bridge at Arcole.jpg
Napoleon Bonaparte 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
DiedMay 5, 1821(1821-05-05) (aged 51)
Longwood, St. Helena
Service/branchTrained as an artillerist
Years of service1779–1815
Rank Commander in Chief (Head of State)
Commands held Army of Italy
Army of the Orient
French Army
Grande Armée
Battles/wars French Revolutionary Wars

Napoleonic 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 workSovereign 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 eight, 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]

Napoleon 18th/19th-century French monarch, military and political leader

Napoléon Bonaparte was a French statesman and military leader of Italian descent who rose to prominence during the French Revolution and led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars. He was Emperor of the French as Napoleon I from 1804 until 1814 and again briefly in 1815 during the Hundred Days. Napoleon dominated European and global affairs for more than a decade while leading France against a series of coalitions in the Napoleonic Wars. He won most of these wars and the vast majority of his battles, building a large empire that ruled over much of continental Europe before its final collapse in 1815. He is considered one of the greatest commanders in history, and his wars and campaigns are studied at military schools worldwide. Napoleon's political and cultural legacy has endured as one of the most celebrated and controversial leaders in human history.

Napoleonic Wars Series of early 19th century European wars

The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) were a series of major conflicts pitting the French Empire and its allies, led by Napoleon I, against a fluctuating array of European powers formed into various coalitions, financed and usually led by the United Kingdom. The wars stemmed from the unresolved disputes associated with the French Revolution and its resultant conflict. The wars are often categorised into five conflicts, each termed after the coalition that fought Napoleon: the Third Coalition (1805), the Fourth (1806–07), the Fifth (1809), the Sixth (1813), and the Seventh (1815).

French invasion of Russia Napoleon Bonapartes attempted conquest of the Russian Empire

The French invasion of Russia, known in Russia as the Patriotic War of 1812 and in France as the Russian Campaign, began on 24 June 1812 when Napoleon's Grande Armée crossed the Neman River in an attempt to engage and defeat the Russian army. Napoleon hoped to compel Emperor of All Russia Alexander I to cease trading with British merchants through proxies in an effort to pressure the United Kingdom to sue for peace. The official political aim of the campaign was to liberate Poland from the threat of Russia. Napoleon named the campaign the Second Polish War to gain favor with the Poles and provide a political pretext for his actions.


Early career

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

David Geoffrey Chandler was a British historian whose study focused on the Napoleonic era.


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

Ajaccio Prefecture and commune in Corsica, France

Ajaccio is a French commune, prefecture of the department of Corse-du-Sud, and head office of the Collectivité territoriale de Corse. It is also the largest settlement on the island. Ajaccio is located on the west coast of the island of Corsica, 210 nautical miles (390 km) southeast of Marseille.

Corsica Island in the Mediterranean, also a region and a department of France

Corsica is an island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 18 regions of France. It is located southeast of the French mainland and west of the Italian Peninsula, with the nearest land mass being the Italian island of Sardinia to the immediate south. A single chain of mountains makes up two-thirds of the island.


December 15 – Napoleon leaves Corsica for mainland France.


January 1 – Napoleon enters religious school at Autun.

Autun Subprefecture and commune in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, France

Autun is a commune in the Saône-et-Loire department, France. Located in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, it was founded during the Principate era of the early Roman Empire by Emperor Augustus as Augustodunum to give a Roman capital to the Gallic people Aedui, who had Bibracte as their political centre. In Roman times the city may have been home to 30,000 to 100,000 people, according to different estimates. Nowadays, Autun has a population of about 15,000.

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

Brienne-le-Château Commune in Grand Est, France

Brienne-le-Château[bʁi.jɛn.lə.ʃ] is a commune in the Aube department in north-central France. It is located 1 mile (2 km) from the right bank of the Aube River and 26 miles northeast of Troyes.


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.





  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

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