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 Napoleon Bonaparte

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Napoleon Bonaparte

  • Birth 15 Aug 1769 Ajaccio, Departement de la Corse-du-Sud, Corse, France
  • Death 5 May 1821 Longwood, Saint Helena, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tr
  • Burial Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France
  • Plot L'eglise du Dôme
  • Memorial ID 1350

French Military and Political Leader, and Emperor of France. He ruled France as Emperor Napoleon I from May 1804 to April 1814 and again briefly from March 1815 to June 1815. He is best remembered for his role in the wars (commonly referred to as the Napoleonic Wars) led against France by a number of European coalitions and is regarded as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, and his campaigns are studied by military academies worldwide. His ability to apply conventional military ideas to real-world situations effected his military triumphs, such as the creative use of artillery as a mobile force to support his infantry. His empire at its apex stretched from Russia to Spain and Egypt. He also brought legal reform to France with the institution of the Napoleonic Code, which has been a major influence on the civil laws of other countries. He was born the 4th of 10 children at his ancestral home in Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica where his father, an attorney, was Corsica's representative to the court of French King Louis XVI in 1777. In January 1779 he was sent to France and enrolled at a religious school in Autun and in May of that year he was admitted to a military academy at Brienne-le-Chateau. After his studies were completed in 1784 he was admitted to the Ecole Militaire in Paris, France where he trained as an artillery officer. While there, his father died and because of limited income he was forced to complete the 2-year course in one year, becoming the first Corsican to graduate from that military training school. He graduated in September 1785 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the La Fere artillery regiment, serving on garrison duty in Valence, Drome, and Auxonne, France until after the outbreak to the French Revolution in 1789. He spent the early years of the Revolution in Corsica where, as a fervent Corsican nationalist, supported the revolutionary Jacobin faction and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Corsican militia. He came into conflict with Nationalist Corsican leader Pasquale Paoli and in June 1793 he and his family fled to France. A month later he was appointed artillery commander of the republican forces at the siege of Toulon, in southern France, against British occupational forces and although he was wounded, his military skills led to the capture of the city for which he was rewarded with a promotion to brigadier general at the age of only 24 and was placed in charge of the artillery of France's Army of Italy. He formulated plans for attacking the Kingdom of Sardinia as part of France's campaign against the First Coalition and helped to win a French victory at the Battle of Saorgio in April 1794. He then took part in an expedition to take back Corsica from the British but the French were repulsed by the British Royal Navy. He became engaged to Desiree Clary, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from Marseilles, France and whose sister, Julie Clary, was married to his older brother Joseph. In April 1795 he was assigned as an infantry commander to the French Army of the West that was engaged in a civil war with the royalist counter-revolution in Vendee, west-central France and he avoided the assignment by pleading ill health. He was reassigned to the Bureau of Topography of the Committee of Public Safety and tried to be transferred to Constantinople for the purposes of offering his services to the Sultan but was unsuccessful. During this time he wrote a romantic novella, Clisson et Eugenie," about a soldier and his lover, a clear parallel to his own relationship to his finance. In September 1795 he was removed from the list of generals in regular service for his refusal to serve in the Vendee campaign and as a result he faced financial difficulties along with reduced career prospects. The following month royalists in Paris declared a rebellion against the National Convention after they were excluded from the new French government, the Directory. He was called in to rebuff the insurrection and the royalists were quickly defeated by the strategic use of artillery at his command. His action earned him sudden fame, wealth, and the patronage of the new French government and he was promoted to Commander of the Interior and given command of the French Army of Italy. He soon became romantically attached to Josephine de Beauharnias who was six years his senior and they were married on March 9, 1796 after he had broken his engagement with Desiree Clary. Two days later he left Paris to take command of the Army of Italy and led a successful invasion of Italy, defeating the Austrian Forces at the Battle of Lodi. He was subsequently defeated at Caldiero by Austrian reinforcements but he regained the initiative at the Battle of the Bridge of Arcole and proceeded to subdue the Papal States. In March 1797 he invaded Austria, forcing it to negotiate peace. The Treaty of Leoben gave France control of most of northern Italy and the Low Countries and a secret clause that promised the Republic of Venice to Austria. He then marched on Venice, forcing it to surrender and ending its 1,100 years of independence. During this time he became increasing influential in French politics and he founded two newspapers, one for his army and another for circulation in France. Returning to Paris, set out to prepare for an invasion of England but soon decided that France's navy was not yet strong enough to conform the British Royal Navy in the English Channel, and he proposed a military expedition to conquer Egypt in an effort to undermine British access to its trade interests in India as well as to establish a French presence in the Middle East. In May 1797 he was elected a member of the French Academy of Sciences and his Egyptian expedition included a large group of scientists, including mathematicians, naturalists, chemists, and geodesists. Their discoveries included the Rosetta Stone and their work was published in the "Description de l'Egyte" in 1809. He managed to elude the British Royal Navy, landed at Alexandria, Egypt on July 3, 1798, and fought and defeated the Mamluks (Egypt's ruling military caste) at the Battle of Shubra Khit and later at the Battle of the Pyramids on July 21, 1798. However, on August 1, 1798 the British fleet under Admiral Horatio Nelson captured or destroyed all but two French ships at the Battle of the Nile and his goal of a strong French position in the Mediterranean was severely compromised. In early 1799 he moved part of his army into the Ottoman province of Damascus (Syria and Galilee), capturing the coastal cities of Arish, Gaza, Jaffa, and Haifa. He returned to Egypt in May 1799 after his army, weakened by disease and lack of supplies, was unable to capture the fortress of Acre and he defeated an Ottoman amphibious invasion at Abukir at the end of July 1799. He returned to France the following month on his own volition after learning that France had suffered a series of defeats in the War of the Second Coalition. Upon arriving in Paris in October 1799, the government's situation had improved with a series of victories but was bankrupt, ineffective, and unpopular with the French people. He was approached by one of the Directors, Emmanuel Joseph Sieyes, to join in a plot to overthrow the government and on November 10, 1799 he led troops to seize control and disperse the legislative councils, leaving him, Sieyes, and Roger Ducos as provisional Consuls to administer the government. Although Sieyes expected to dominate the new regime, he was outmaneuvered by Bonaparte, who drafted the Constitution of the Year VIII and secured his own election as First Consul, making him the most powerful person in France. In 1800 he led his army back into Italy via the Alps where the Austrian Army had driven out the French forces while he was in Egypt and after a few setbacks he managed to avoid defeat and triumphed over the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo. When peace negotiations failed, the French army attacked Austria and defeated them at Hohenlinden, forcing them to sign the Treaty of Luneville in February 1801. In October 1801 and March 1802 France and Britain, who had become war-weary, signed the Treaty of Amiens which called for the withdrawal of British troops from most colonial territories they had recently occupied. The peace was uneasy and short-lived, and unresolved disputes would ultimately lead to a declaration of War by Britain in May 1803. He faced a major setback when in May 1802 he reestablished slavery in the French colonial possessions, where it had been banned after the French Revolution. In Haiti, the slaves revolted and he sent an army to Saint-Domingue to quell the revolution but it was devastated by yellow fever and fierce Haitian resistance. Faced with imminent war with Britain along with France's insolvency he realized that any French possessions on the mainland of North America would be indefensible and he subsequently sold France's holdings of about 828,000 square miles to the US for $15 million dollars (including the cancellation of debts) on April 30, 1803, which became known as the Louisiana Purchase. In May 1803 Britain broke the Peace of Amiens and declared war on France and he planned for an invasion of Britain. On December 2, 1804 he was crowned as Napoleon I by Pope Pius VII at Notre Dame de Paris and five months later he was crowned King of Italy at the Milan Cathedral. By 1805 Britain had convinced Austria and Russia to join a Third Coalition against France. As the Austrian army marched on Bavaria, he called the invasion of Britain off and ordered the army stationed at Boulogne, his Grande Armée, to march to Germany secretly in a turning movement, known as the Ulm Campaign, encircling the Austrian forces about to attack France and severing their lines of communication. On October 20, 1805 the French captured 30,000 prisoners at Ulm, though the next day Britain's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar meant the Royal Navy gained control of the seas. On December 5, 1805 he defeated the combined Austrian and Russian forces at the Battle of Austerlitz (or Battle of the Three Emperors), his greatest victory, which effectively ended the Third Coalition. He commissioned the Arc de Triomphe to commemorate the victory. Austria was forced to concede territory and the Peace of Pressburg led to the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and creation of the Confederation of the Rhine and he was as its Protector. In 1806 the Fourth Coalition was assembled against France and he defeated Prussia at the Battle of Jena-Auerstedt in present-day Germany on October 14, 1806. He then marched against advancing Russian armies through Poland and was involved in the bloody stalemate of the Battle of Eylau, in East Prussia on 7-8 February 1807. Later, after a decisive victory at the Battle of Friedland on June 14, 1807, he signed the Treaties of Tilsit; one with Tsar Alexander I of Russia which divided the continent between the two powers, and the other with Prussia which stripped that country of half its territory. He attempted to enforce a Europe-wide commercial boycott of Britain called the Continental System, which was unsuccessful. When Portugal did not comply with the Continental System, he invaded in 1807 with the support of Spain. Under the pretext of a reinforcement of the Franco-Spanish army occupying Portugal, Napoleon invaded Spain as well, replaced Spanish King Charles IV with his brother Joseph. In Spain, he faced a new type of war, coined since then as guerrilla, in which the local population was heavily involved with low intensity fighting (ambushes, sabotage, uprisings) and open support to the Spanish-allied regular armies. Following a French retreat from much of the country, Napoleon took command and defeated the Spanish Army. He retook Madrid, then outmaneuvered a British army sent to support the Spanish and drove it to the coast. Before the Spanish population had been fully subdued, Austria again threatened war, forcing him returned to France. In April 1809, Austria abruptly broke its alliance with France, and he was forced to assume command of French forces on the Danube and German fronts. After early successes, he faced difficulties in crossing the Danube and suffered a defeat in May 1809 at the Battle of Aspern-Essling near Vienna. The Austrians failed to capitalize on the situation and allowed his forces to regroup and he defeated the Austrians again at the Battle of Wagram, near Vienna, Austria on 5-6 July 1809, and the Treaty of Schonbrunn was signed between Austria and France. He concurrently annexed the Papal States because of the Church's refusal to support the Continental System and Pope Pius VII responded by excommunicating him. The pope was then abducted by Napoleon's officers, and though he had not ordered his abduction, he did not order Pius' release. The pope was moved throughout French-conquered territories, sometimes while ill, and Napoleon sent delegations to pressure him on issues including agreement to a new concordat with France, which Pius refused. In 1810 he married Archduchess Marie Louise of Austria, following his divorce of Josephine (she was unable to bear him any children), further straining his relations with the Church. The pope would remain confined for 5 years and he did not return to Rome until May 1814. On June 23, 1812, against advice from his military advisors, he invaded Russia, who had wanted to break their alliance with France and attack the French Empire and recapture Poland. The Russians retreated into their heartland and applied their "scorched earth" strategy, making it difficult for the French army to sustain itself. A brief attempt at resistance was made at Smolensk in August and the Russians were defeated in a series of battles, and Napoleon resumed his advance. The Russians eventually offered battle outside Moscow on September 7 1812 at the Battle of Borodino, which resulted in approximately 44,000 Russian and 35,000 French dead, wounded or captured, and may have been the bloodiest day of battle in history up to that point in time. The Russian army withdrew past Moscow and the French entered the city, thinking it would end the war but the city's governor ordered it burned, rather than surrendering. Concerned about the loss of control in France, Napoleon and his army left after a month. The Russian Winter of 1812-1813 along with revenge by the Russian serfs took its toll on the French army as it struggled to return. Of the 400,000-plus troops that started the Russian campaign, fewer than 40,000 crossed the Berezina River into friendly territory in November 1812. Heartened by France's loss in Russia, Prussia joined with Austria, Sweden, Russia, Great Britain, Spain, and Portugal and formed the Sixth Coalition. Napoleon rebuilt his army and assumed command in Germany and inflicted a series of defeats on the Coalition, culminating with the Battle of Dresden in August 1813. However, he soon found himself surrounded by an enemy force twice his size and lost at the Battle of Leipzig on 16-19 October 1813. He retreated back to France with what was left of his army and Paris was ultimately captured by the Coalition forces in March 1814. On April 11, 1814 he was forced to abdicate unconditionally and was exiled to the island of Elba while his second wife and son took refuge in Austria. On February 26, 1815 he escaped from Elba and returned to France. The French forces sent to intercept him and made contact just south of Grenoble on March 7, 1815 and marched back with him to Paris in triumph, arriving on March 20, 1815. He regained control of the government and by June 1815 he had built an army of 200,000 men. On June 18, 1815 he engaged the British and its allied force's army at the battle of Waterloo, south of Brussels in present-day Belgium. The British army had an excellent defensive position on the battlefield and withstood his attacks. His poor health that day may have affected his presence and vigor on the field, coupled with the fact that his subordinates may have let him down. Despite this, he came very close to victory. Outnumbered, the French army left the battlefield in disorder, which allowed Coalition forces to enter Paris and restore Louis XVIII to the French throne. He was imprisoned and then exiled to the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean, where he was eventually moved into the Longwood House, a location that was damp, windswept, and unhealthy. In February 1821 his health began to fail rapidly and on May 3, 1821 two newly arrived British physicians tended to him but could only recommend palliatives. He died two days later at the age of 51. His last words were reported to have been: "France, army, head of the army, Josephine." According to the autopsy performed by his personal physician, the cause of death was stomach cancer, based on evidence of a stomach ulcer. Other possible causes of death have surfaced over the years, including deliberate arsenic poisoning. However, modern studies have supported the cause of death in the original autopsy.

Bio by: William Bjornstad





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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 1350
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Napoleon Bonaparte (15 Aug 1769–5 May 1821), Find A Grave Memorial no. 1350, citing Les Invalides, Paris, City of Paris, Île-de-France, France ; Maintained by Find A Grave .