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How was Naoplean Bonaparte an effective leader?

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nhl123 | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

Posted January 22, 2012 at 9:24 AM via web

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How was Naoplean Bonaparte an effective leader?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 22, 2012 at 10:43 AM (Answer #1)

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Above all else, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) was a superlative military strategist and one of the greatest battlefield commanders in history. He first came to prominence when, as the artillery commander of French forces at the Siege of Toulon (1793), he recognized the importance of a hill occupied by the British that, if captured, would give his guns a clear shot at the enemy ships in the harbor. Napoleon's assault (in which he received a thigh wound) was successful: The city was captured, the British fleet was forced to evacuate, and the 24-year-old was promoted to brigadier general. He next put down a royalist rebellion in 1795--using primarily cannon grapeshot--which earned him the command of the Army of Italy. He captured most of Italy before marching into Austria, which culminated in the Treaty of Leoben.

Shortly afterward, Napoleon entered the political arena, purchasing two newspapers before initiating a coup d'etat that left him as the most powerful figure in France. After a second peace treaty with Austria, Napoleon returned to Paris, where he planned a naval invasion of the British Isles. Recognizing that the French navy was incapable of fulfilling his plans, he made plans to invade Egypt and eventually take control of British-held India. After capturing Malta, an important base of operations in the Mediterranean, he subdued Egypt and other areas of the Middle East before he was forced to return to France following the French navy's defeat on the Nile.

Napoleon instituted many social and political reforms upon his return to Paris, improving roads, sewers and schools as well as civil laws, which became known as the Napoleonic code. Crowning himself Emperor Napoleon I in 1804, he reestablished a "hereditary monarchy" designed to keep his descendants in power following his death. He established alliances in the Middle East and successfully defeated the combined armies of the Third, Fourth and Fifth Coalitions. His military luck ended with losses in Russia and at the Battle of Leipzig, and he was forced to abdicate. His return from Elba also ended in disaster at the Battle of Waterloo, and Napoleon's political and military career came to and end. 

His application of conventional military ideas to real-world situations effected his military triumphs, such as creative use of artillery as a mobile force to support his infantry. He referred to his tactics thus: "I have fought sixty battles and I have learned nothing which I did not know at the beginning. Look at Caesar; he fought the first like the last." He was adept at espionage and deception and could win battles by concealment of troop deployments and concentration of his forces on the 'hinge' of an enemy's weakened front. If he could not use his favourite envelopment strategy, he would take up the central position and attack two co-operating forces at their hinge, swing round to fight one until it fled, then turn to face the other.

Militarily, Napoleon revolutionized the use of artillery and cavalry techniques; destruction and maneuvering of troops over a broader base during invasions became a trademark which further impacted the political nature of war.

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