Napoleon's Strategy and Tactics
"Read over and over again the campaigns of Alexander,
Hannibal, Caesar, Gustavus, Turenne, and Frederic the Great.
This is the only way to become a great general..."
- Napoleon Bonaparte

1. Introduction.
2. Napoleon's Strategy and Tactics.
3. Napoleon's Failures and Defeats.
4. Napoleon's Staff.
5. Rapidity of Movements and Concentration of Troops.
6. Morale of Napoleon's Troops.
7. Napoleon's Largest and Bloodiest Battles.

Napoleon at Borodino, by Vereschagin
"There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign.
I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the
circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation.
This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage;
I am like an unmarried girl laboring with child." :=)))
- Napoleon

"Tactics is the art of using troops in battle;
strategy is the art of using battles to win the war"
- Carl von Clausewitz

"Why, in this age of nuclear weapons and guided missiles,
should the student of military affairs be concerned with
the campaigns of Napoleon ?" - John Elting (US Army)

Napoleon is credited with being great tactician and a military genius of his time. He took on all of Europe and gave everyone a pretty good run for the money. His campaigns formed the basic of military education throughout the western world and a lot of the military thinking is still influenced by the great Frenchman. In military academies around the World, including the famous West Point (USA), students were taught French language so that they might be able to read books on Napoleon's strategy and tactics. Majority of European and Civil War generals copied the methods of Napoleon with various success. British general Wellington: "I used to say of him (Napoleon) that his presence on the field made the difference of 40,000 men."
Few, if any, commanders, before or since, fought more wars and battles under more varied conditions of weather, terrain, and climate, and against a greater variety of enemies than the French Emperor. His understanding of mass warfare and his success in raising, organizing, and equipping mass armies revolutionized the conduct of war and marked the origin of modern warfare ... General Sir Archibald P. Wavell writes: "If you discover how ... [Bonaparte] inspired a ragged, mutinous, half-starved army and made it fight as it did, how he dominated and controlled generals older and more experienced than himself, then you will have learnt something." From 1796, when he assumed his first independent military command, until 1809, Napoleon displayed an astonishing near-invincibility in battle and an equally astounding ability to use that battlefield success to compel his enemies to grant him his political objectives. A dazzled Clausewitz had good reason to call Napoleon the "god of war."

Napoleon played a major role in the history and development of the military art. But "Napoleon was no great innovator as a soldier. He distrusted novel ideas, disbanding the balloon companies inherited from the armies of the Revolution and rejecting Roger Fulton's offer of submarines and naval mines. His genius was essentially practical, and his military concepts evolved from the close study of earlier commanders, particularly Frederick the Great. He made the fullest use of the ideas of his predecessors and breathed life into them." (David Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic wars" p 18)

John Elting, colonel of US Army, asked why, in this age of nuclear weapons and guided missiles, should the student of military affairs be concerned with the campaigns of Napoleon ? A simple answer would be: for historical or professional background. But there are more compelling reasons. ... Gigantic operations of huge forces, such as were undertaken on World War II, are no longer feasible. Dispersion of forces and logistical facilities is essential to avoid appalling casualties and massive destruction. ... Over-all success in military ground operations will be dependent upon the aggregate of the individual tactical successes and failures of basic units, operating virtually independently. Such basic units must be of moderate size, highly mobile, compact and powerful armed, self-sustaining, and bravely led - precisely the attributes that characterized a typical Napoleonic force. Napoleon was one of the major advocates of mobile warfare of the type that is necessary in an age of possible nuclear warfare. It matters not whether tactical nuclear weapons would or would not be used; the mere threat posed by their existence dictates a corresponding reorganization of forces and modification of tactics. There is no assurance that Napoleon's advice would not be taken literally; "It is principle of war that when thunderbolts are available, they should be used in place of cannon."
The conduct of war is an art based on ageless fundamental concepts that have remained valid irrespective of the prevailling means and methods of warfare. Furthermore, though weapons and tactics have changed continually in step with technological progress, the basic controlling element in war - man - has remained relatively constant ... The Emperor did not imply that one must seek to memorize all the details of the campaigns of great captains of past wars (Alexander, Hannibal, Ceasar, Gustavus, Turenne, and Frederick the Great). No two battles or campaigns have ever been exactly the same. Many fluctuating factors exert their influences; weather and terrain conditions tactics, weapons,transportation facilities, training, morale, and leadership. The specific nature of all these factors is pertinent in a military study, but the subject of paramount importance is the skill with which the leader wielded the means available and exploited the victory, or, conversely, how through ineptitude, poor judgement, or other deficiencies he lost opportunities or suffered defeat.


"No one should imagine that sound heads are common in armies.
Offensive generals are rare among us; I know only few, and,
nevertheless, it is only to these that ... a detachment can be
entrusted." - Frederick the Great

Napoleon's Strategy and Tactics.
"There are in Europe many good generals,
but they see too many things at once."
- Napoleon

Chandler writes: "At the level of strategy Napoleon had no contemporary peer. To make the utmost use of the superior mobility and inspiration of his armies, he developed two major strategic systems. When facing a foe superior in numbers, the strategy of the central position was employed to split the enemy into separate parts, each of which could then be eliminated in turn by adroit maneuvering to gain the French a local superiority of force in successive actions by bringing the reserve into action at the critical time and place. ... Conversely, when the enemy was inferior to the French, Napoleon would often employ a maneuver of envelopment - pinning the foe's attention with a detachment while the bulk of the army swept against the hostile lines of communications to sever the enemy's links with his bases. ... On occasion, Napoleon would merge features of these two classic strategies." (David Chandler - "Dictionary of the Napoleonic Wars" p 19)

Before every campaign Napoleon considered all possible options. The Emperor wrote: "There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with child." He had one clearly identified objective: enemy's army, which he intended to destroy. That done, any remaining problems could be easily solved. If the enemy did not want to risk a battle, they might be forced to do so by a threat to their capital city. Always, he sought to seize and keep the initiative, to impose his will on the enemy ... When badly outnumbered he managed, by swift marching and maneuvering, to throw the mass of his army against portion of the enemy's, thus being stronger at the decisive point. His favorite strategy was to envelop one of the enemy's army's flanks and threaten its rear and communications, forcing it either to retire hurriedly or to turn and fight at a disadvantage.

Napoleon's army's tactics came from a shotgun marriage of Royal Army with Revolutionary improvisation. In his battles as in his campaigns, Napoleon depended on speed, mass, and aggressive maneuver: normally he struck at one wing of a hostile army, preferably the one nearer its communications. Only at Austerlitz did he actually stand on the defensive and lure his enemies into a trap.
His army moved with different corps within mutually supporting distance. Ahead was a screen of light cavalry with the mission of covering the army's advance and finding the enemy. Dragoons or lancers might stiffen the screen. Once enemy contact was established, the advance guard seized the most favorable position available, striving to fix the enemy and to form a pivot of maneuver for the army in the rear. While the advance guard spent itself, these fresh units went into action on its flanks. The light infantry probed in, developing weak spots and tying down the enemy. Behind the light infantry the light artillery moved aggressively forward and the real fighting began.

On map: formation called bataillon care (battalion square). There were several combinations of this formation. The light cavalry rode ahead, probed and located the enemy, then reported back to headquarters (to Napoleon and his chief of staff) the positions of enemy's troops. As soon as the Emperor plotted them on the map, he would order one or both of his wing commanders to engage the nearest enemy force. The reserve was made of heavy cavalry and the Imperial Guard. All troops marched within supporting distance of one another. The wings consisted of one or two army corps each.
(Although the French army corps varied in size, they all shared one thing: each was a balanced, all-arm force of infantry, cavalry, artillery, engineers and staff. It was in fact a self-reliant miniature army able to take on much stronger enemy for a limited time. According to British historian David Chandler the French army corps could be left to move on its own, greatly easing the traffic on any particular set of roads.)

Napoleon had devised a strategy of the central position. It was designed to place the French army in such a position that it could defeat detachments of the enemy in turn. Napoleon could use a mere part of his force to tie down and occupy the attention of one enemy, then rapidly move his remaining forces to build up a local superiority against the other. This brilliant strategy brought him fantastic victories against stronger enemies. Even in 1815 "the Emperor came within a hairsbreadth of bringing off a major success by using this system." (Chandler - "Waterloo the hundred days" p 76)
According to David Chandler only Napoleon's computer-like mind and his fast marching army were suited to accepting this type of challenge.

Napoleon often outflanked his enemy. The flanking movement forced the enemy to turn, to make quick adjustments in the midst of fighting, either through a retreat or reinforcing the threatened flank and weakening other flank, center or reserves. Napoleon recommended a maneuver upon the flank of enemy and assured that in such situation "The victory is in your hands". Napoleon's flank was attacked at Leipzig, La Rothiere and at Waterloo, and in the three battles he was defeated.


"One must change one's tactics every 10 years
if one wishes to maintain one's superiority ..."

"A man has his day in war as in other things,
I myself shall be good for it another 6 years
after which even I shall have to stop."
- Napoleon ... in 1806

Napoleon's Failures and Defeats.
"Everything conspires against the commander
- dumb execution, weather, brakdowns, misunderstandings,
deliberate obstructions and jealousies. He must be prepared
to accept 50 % results in twice the time calculated."
- US Army general Joseph W. Stilwell

Napoleon possessed the common human habit of embellishing his best exploits and blaming others for his reverses. For example he developed the account of his mediocre Marengo Campaign into a first-class epic romance. According to Colonel John Elting, "Napoleon's close followers, because of hero worship or personal considerations, also suppressed and invented. On the other hand, his enemies strove to portray him as a monster, and to present his best victories as lucky accidents."

Napoleon made strategical, tactical and political mistakes. For example the most serious mistake was fighting on several fronts at once. The French fought Spaniards and British in the west and the Russians, Prussians and Austrians in the east. Below other mistakes:

  • the severity of Napoleon's terms to Prussia undermined the security of the peace
  • his policy towards England contemplated nothing short of her total ruin
  • his aggression raised Tirol, Portugal and Spain as fresh enemies
  • his invasion of Russia resulted in the loss of half-million of his best troops and one thousand cannons. After that disaster Napoleon's never regained his greatness.
    Karl von Clausewitz (Napoleon believed that after a few quick battles, he could convince Tzar Alexander to return to the Continental System. Then he also decided that if he occupied Moscow, the Russians would ask for peace. However, when Napoleon eventually took over Moscow, the Tsar still did not surrender. He could not surrender because if he did, he would be assassinated by the nobles. Karl von Clausewitz explained "Napoleon was unable to grasp the fact that Alexander would not, could not negotiate. The Tsar knew well that he would be disposed and assassinated if he tried so." (Clausewitz - "The Campaign of 1812 in Russia." p 256)

    Some of Napoleon's major defeats:

  • 1809 Aspern and Essling - .although he would later claim a victory, Napoleon had sufferred his first major defeat. He lost out to the determined Austrians under Archduke Charles.
  • 1812 Beresina - Napoleon lost 25,000 killed and wounded, Russians lost 20,000. Additionally at least 10,000 Frenchmen were massacred by Cossacks, while another 20,000 died in the freezing river or were crushed to death in the panic to cross the bridges. Remnants of Napoleon's army managed to escape. (Some authors consider Beresina as French tactical and strategical victory).
  • 1813 Leipzig - Napoleon withstood all Allies assaults and then counterattacked. Meanwhile another army (under Bennigsen) attacked his flank. It forced him to abandon his strongpoints and withdraw his army closer to Leipzig. Then he was surrounded and defeated. In terms of casualties and political and strategical results it was probably Napoleon's greatest defeat.
  • 1814 La Rothiere - while Napoleon exchanged blows with Blucher's and Sacken's army to his front, another army (under Wrede) attacked his flank. Napoleon retreated, it was his first defeat on French soil.
  • 1815 Waterloo - while Napoleon attacked Wellington's German-British-Netherland army, another army (under Blucher) attacked his flank. Napoleon was routed.

    As a commander, Napoleon was becoming predictable, and his enemies were beginning to appreciate the counter-measures and use them against him. Increasingly he refused to face up to reality and suppressed all traces of criticism. "Nevertheless, when all was said and done, he remained a giant surrounded by pygmies; his reputation survived his fall, for his basic greatness was inviolable." (Chandler - "Waterloo - the hundred days" p 41)

    Allies' new (and successful) strategy in 1813.
    "In the autumn of 1813, the Allies adopted a strategy of not letting any one of their three armies face Napoleon alone. Should the master place himself at the head of his troops, then the Allied army facing him was to withdraw, while the other advanced. While Napoleon was chasing air, the opportunity was taken to bring certain of his marshals to battle and defeat them individually." (Peter Hofschroer) It worked wonders. In August Oudinot's corps was trashed at Gross Beeren, MacDonald was defeated at Katzbach, and Vandamme at Kulm. In September Ney was routed at Dennewitz.

  • ~

    It was the French, and most probably Napoleon himself,
    who brought the first truly modern military staff into existence.
    - George Nafziger, USA

    Napoleon's Staff.
    The professionalism of Napoleon's staff shortly before Austerlitz contrasted
    sharply with the confusion prevailing in the Russian and Austrian staffs.
    - Robert Goetz

    Marshal Berthier On picture: Louis Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon's chief of staff.
    In 1780 Bertheir went to America, and on his return, having attained the rank of colonel, he was employed in various staff posts. Berthier's incredible accuracy and quick comprehension, combined with his complete mastery of detail, made him the ideal chief of staff to commander like Napoleon. Berthier took part in numerous campaigns. The manner of his death is uncertain; according to some accounts he was assassinated, others say that, maddened by the sight of Russian troops marching to invade France, he threw himself from his window and was killed. Berthier is one of the most known chiefs-of-staff.

    The hardworking staff officers who followed Bertheir, their taskmaster, had to know their jobs and perform them well. The staff of Napoleon's army provided the administrative, logistical and communications support that Napoleon found necessary to make his army operate over long distances and in little known territories. Napoleon's army was able to operate across Europe with great easy and speed. For example in 1796 Napoleon's army dropped out of the clouds of Switzerland, passed through terrain thought impassable for an army, to strike and destroy the enemy in Italy. In 1805 Napoleon's army flew across northern France at speeds unimaginable to the rest of Europe's army commanders. In 1814 Napoleon's found enemy scattered armies along the road to Paris, with none of them being within supporting distance of any other. This led Napoleon's 4 stunning victories at Champaubert, Montmirail, Chatteu Thierry and Vauchamps.

    The staff of the army was not something new before Napoleonic Wars. Oliver Cromwell, King Jan Sobieski, marshals of King Louis XIV and some other commanders had their own staffs that had been efficient enough in their times but were temporary organizations. Pierre-Joseph Bourcet wanted specifically trained officers and permanent staff corps. The officers were expected to be trained in topography, geography, science of the art of war, history etc. Shortly speaking they had to be able to handle records and reports. In 1783 the French was the first who formed Corps d'Etat Major (staff corps), although it was soon abolished by the Revolution. In 1805 Mathieu Dumas proposed to reestablish a permanent staff corps. Napoleon quickly accepted this idea. According to writer George Nafziger (USA), it was the French, and most probably Napoleon himself, who brought the first truly modern military staff into existence. The staff consisted of several "divisions":

  • 1st - handled troop movements, orders of the day, officers assignements and general correspondence
  • 2nd - supply, police, hospitals and headquarters administration
  • 3rd - recruiting, prisoners of war, deserters, and military justice
  • 4th - supervising the army's lengthening line of communications
  • 5th - reconnaissance, correspondence with fortress commanders etc.

    In 1812 the chief of staff had 9 aides , a General Staff with 5 generals, 11 adjutants and 50 supporting officers. There were also geographical engineers and cartographers, 19 officers of military administration, war commissioners, inspectors of reviews, and artillery staff.
    The professionalism of Napoleon's staff shortly before the battle of Austerlitz contrasted sharply with the confusion prevailing in the Russian and Austrian staffs. Napoleon had produced a plan of battle well in advance and his staff had issued written orders the evening before, in the Russian and Austrian headquarters the plan had not been completed until the night of DEcember 1st and "the column commanders had only learned of the details after midnight. "Under such circumstances, confusion was inevitable." (Goetz - "1805: Austerlitz" pp 120-121)

    Napoleon's cartography staffs were the most developed in Europe. The conduct of every battle and campaign is strongly influenced by the topography of the area involved. Frequently, this topography dictates the course of action, and it often introduces significant hazards. An initial study of the ground over which the campaign was fought - mountains, roads, rivers, vegetation - will prove most helpful in understanding the reasons for many of the actions.

    Napoleon wanted quick, accurate mapping as the army advanced. Part of the staff was made responsible for the army's map supply, terrain studies and map making. It was accompanied by a mobile printing shop and a small copper-plate press. It could produce hundreds of rough maps in a few hours !

    According to Colonel Elting, Napoleon and the Grand Army were served by the first really effective long-distance communications system. Chappe designed a new semaphore telegraph. It consisted of a tower, from which rose a 30-foot mast with movable wooden crosspiece pivoted at its top. The telegraph looked like a large T and was painted black for better visibility. Messages were sent 1 letter at a time. In good weather one sign could be sent for 150 miles in 5 minutes !
    Napoleon made good use of the Chappe telegraph in his invasion of Italy.

    The Swedes and Brits also had built their own telegraphs but these were slower and less advanced technologically.

  • ~

    "The art of war is like everything else that is beautiful.
    The simplest moves are the best." - Napoleon

    Rapidity of Movements and Concentration of Troops.
    "The strength of an army, like the power in mechanics,
    is estimated by multiplying the mass by the rapidity
    ... so press on !"
    - Napoleon

    "In the 17th and 18th centuries the military had evolved a supply system based on the amassing of supplies in magazines and fortifications augmented by purchases from civilian contractors who followed in the wake of every army. These supply systems were rudimentary at best, and it was not possible for any army to sustain itself at any distance from its magazines. This restriction led to a system of military operations that were carefully planned, long in advance, and supported by the accumulation of military supplies for months prior to the actual inception of the campaign.
    Once a war had begun, it was heavily influenced by supply considerations. There were no lightning maneuvers, troops marching hundreds of miles as was seen in the 1805 campaign. The wars of this period were like the jousting of turtles and seldom penetrated far into the country of either nation involved. These wars were primarily wars of maneuver where one army attempted to establish itself in the enemy's territory in a strong position. ... These wars resulted in a continual squabbling over border provinces that exchanged hands every few years.
    When the French Revolution erupted, the French military establishment found itself undergoing a major revolution itself. The logistical administration and its supply system rapidly decayed, proving incapable of providing the logistical support required by the newly raised French armies. As a result, the French armies wee frequently on the verge of starvation. ... By necessity they found themselves forced to fend for themselves, as their government had proven incapable of providing for them. What began initially as the simple pillaging of the countryside by starving soldiers rapidly evolved into a systematic requisitioning and amassing of supplies in a given area. A relatively sophisticated system evolved, where individual companies would detach 8 to 10 men under the direction of a corporal or a sergeant on a periodic basis. These squads operated independent of the main body for periods of a week or a day, collecting supplies and material necessary for sustaining their parent company. They would then return and distribute this material amongst their fellows. ... In the case of the French moving through conquered territory, there was seldom any remuneration. However, only rarely were provisions forcefully taken. ...
    Through during the previous centuries armies had depended on magazines, starving armies had often moved through provinces, stripping them bare and wasting much of what they found. In contrast, the highly organized French system wasted little.
    The French quickly became expert at estimating the ability of an area to support an army and developed skills in locating supplies in areas where other armies would have quickly starved if forced to live off the land. These skills had permitted the French to execute the massive maneuvers that gave them smashing victories in 1800, 1805, 1806, and 1809. It also led to the mystique that the French army could outmarch every other army in Europe. The ablity to maneuver strategically had been seriously handicapped for years by the necessity to provide a wagon train for supplies. ... The French, lacking this military train and having the ability to live off the land they were traversing, were able to march as fast as their soldiers' legs could carry them, instead of at the pace of the oxen pulling the wagons." (George Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia." pp 83-85, 1998)
    (However, the French troops were unable to live off the land in 1812 during the campaign in Russia. Russia was described by many westerners as a "wasteland" with poor roads, few cities, and long distances. There was also the retreating Russian army and scorched earth tactic. Napoleon was forced to reorganize and expand his military train and supply system. Supplies were stockpiled all along the Vistula and Odra rivers. The munitions Napoleon gathered together for his 1812 campaign compare favorably with the efforts of the heavily industralized nations during the First World War.)

    Napoleon used to say: "Strategy is the art of making use of time and space. I am less concerned about the later than the former. Space we can recover, lost time never." Most often he pushed on with the attack, maintaining a constant element of surprise. He used to say: "I have destroyed the enemy merely by marches." Napoleon never encamped or entrenched, it was the general maxim of the war - where is the enemy ? Let us go and fight him ! It gave him the advantage of selecting one or another part of enemy line and forcing the enemy to time consuming regrouping and sometimes causing temporary disorder in his ranks. Napoleon believed always in the attack, speed, maneuver and surprise. Napoleon: "When an army is inferior in number, inferior in cavalry, and in artillery, it is essential to avoid a general action. The first deficiency should be supplied by rapidity of movement ..." In 1813 despite the fact that the Allies had been fighting Napoleon, and knew of his talent for maneuvering, they chose to back themselves into a corner, dig in, and wait for several days while Napoleon, almost in his leisure, maneuvered against them." (Nafziger - "Lutzen and Bautzen" p 248)

    Napoleons troops travelled light, marching 15-50 km a day without any cumbersome baggage trains as they lived off the land. Napoleon: "The strength of an army, like the power in mechanics, is estimated by multiplying the mass by the rapidity; a rapid march augments the morale of an army, and increases its means of victory, Press on !" Such light travelling was possible in rich Western and Central Europe but not in Russia. On the vast and poorly inhabited lands of Eastern Europe Napoleon was forced to use the baggage trains to feed his troops. But still inIn 1812 Roguet's division had covered a distance of 465 miles by wagon and over 700 on foot ! Paul Britten Austin described how the French marched during the invasion of Russia: "Each division sets out after the one ahead of it at 2-day intervals. With a distance of 100 paces (70 m) between battalions, its regiments march "in two files sharing the road whose crown they leave free.' Halting for '5 minutes in every hour and at three-quarters of the day's march for half an hour' and with a day's rest every fifth, they tramp on northwards at an everage speed of 25 miles a day. Every second day they pick up rations, provided along the route by Count Daru's administration." (Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow" pp 27-28)
    Not only on strategical level the French were fast, but also in battles. Tsar Alexander of Russia made this comment in 1805: "... the rapidity of Napoleon's manoeuvres never allowed time to succour any of the points which he successively attacked: his troops everywhere were twice as numerous as we were." One of Napoleon's generals replied: "We manoeuvered, indeed, a great deal: the same division fought successively in different directions - this is what multiplied us during the whole day." Austrian General Stutterheim praised the French too: "... the French generals manoeuvered their troops with that ability which is the result of the military eye, and of experience ..."

    Napoleon expertly concentrated troops before battle. He wrote: "Gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, and Frederick, as well as Alexander, Hannibal, and Caesar, have all acted upon the same principles. These have been - to keep their forces united ..." It was Napoleon's method that when several corps begin an aggressive action they should concentrate at a place away from the enemy to prevent the opposing army from destroying the approaching armies piecemeal. Speed of maneuver and speed of concentration were crucial components of victory. Napoleon wrote: "Fire must be concentrated on one point, and as soon as the breach is made, the equilibrium is broken and the rest is nothing." There is however misunderstanding of this theory. Lidell Hart explained "Subsequent military theory has put the accent on the first clause instead of on the last: in particular, on the words 'one point' instead of on the 'equilibrium'. The former is but a physical metaphor, whereas the latter expressess the actual psychological result which ensures 'that the rest is nothing.' His own emphasis can be traced in the strategic course of his campaigns.
    The word 'point' even, has been the source of much confusion, and more controversy. One school has argued that Napoleon meant that the concentrated blow must be aimed at the enemy's strongest point, on the ground that this, and this only, ensures decisive results. For if the enemy's main resistance be broken, its rupture will involve that of any lesser opposition. This argument ignores the factor of cost, and the fact that the victor may be too exhausted to exploit his success - so that even a weaker opponent may acquire a relatively higher resisting power than the original.
    The other school - better imbued with the idea of economy of force, but only in the limited sense of first costs - has contended that the offensive should be aimed at the enemy's weakest point. But where a point is obviously weak this is usually because it is remote from any vital artery or nerve centre, or because it is deliberately left weak to draw the assailant into a trap. Here, again, illumination comes from the actual campaign in which Bonaparte put his maxim into execution. It clearly suggests that what he really meant was no 'point', but 'joint' - and that at this stage of his career he was too firmly imbued with the economy of force to waste his limited strength in battering at the enemy's strong point. A joint, however, is both vital and vulnerable." (Hart - "Strategy" 1991 pp 98-99)
    Napoleon used as little force as possible against non-critical objectives.
    "There are in Europe many good generals," he declared in 1797, "but they see too many things at once. I see only one thing, namely the enemy’s main body. I try to crush it, confident that secondary matters will then settle themselves." According to David Chandler here lies the central theme, of Napoleon’s concept of warfare. In order to concentrate superior combat strength in one place, economy of force must be exercised in other places. Economy of force requires the acceptance of prudent risks in selected areas to achieve superiority at the point of decision.


    "Bonaparte's reception by the troops
    was nothing short of rapturous.
    It was well worth seeing how
    he talked to the soldiers..."
    - de Rémusat

    "We should always go before our enemies with confidence,
    otherwise our apparent uneasiness inspires them
    with greater boldness. " - Napoleon

    Morale of Napoleon's Troops.
    "Every one of you carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack;
    It is up to you to bring it out". - Napoleon

    Before battle it was important for Napoleon to have morale of his troops set on a very high level. Napoleon: "It is not set speeches at the moment of battle that render soldiers brave. The veteran scarcely listens to them, and the recruit forgets them at the first discharge. If discourses and harangues are useful, it is during the campaign; to do away with unfavourable impressions, to correct false reports, to keep alive a proper spirit in the camp, and to furnish materials and amusement for the bivouac."

    Promotion was open to everyone, and was not restricted to the gentry and aristocrats. Even a private could become a general. There was saying in Napoleon's army: "Every one of you carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack; it is up to you to bring it out".

    In addition to the Legion of Honor and promotion, there were gifts of ca$h. Officer of cavalry wrote "... we were informed by an order of the Emperor that out of the war contributions exacted from that monarchy [Prussia] he had forstalled a sum of 100 million francs to be distributed among the troops. Every soldier of the army, be he NCO or private, was to receive 15 francs if he had been in arms at the battle of Jena; if he had been present also at Eylau he was entitled to 30 francs; and if his campaign included the battle of Friedland he was to receive 45 francs." (Parquin - "Napoleon's Victories" p 91)
    When a small group of voltigeurs rescued officer Marbot from Spaniards, Napoleon gave each private 100 francs ! After the great victory at Austerlitz, all wounded soldiers got 3 months' extra pay. For such commander the men were ready to do everything. In 1814 officer Skarzynski overwhelmed and ridden down by a flood of Cossacks, wrenched an "especially heavy" lance from one of them and - wild with the outraged fury of despair - spurred amuck down the road, bashing every Cossack skull that came within his reach. Rallying and wedging in behind him, his Polish handful cleared the field. The same day greatly impressed Napoleon made Skarzynski the Baron of the Empire.

    Napoleon knew how 'to speak to the soul' of his officers and men. Partly he used material rewards and incentives - titles, medals, awards; partly he resorted to deliberate theatrical meausures to bend men to his will; but above all there was the sheer power of personality or charisma that emanated from his large, grey eyes which so many of his contemporaries described.

    He was a master of man-management. The least word of praise was treasured unto death by the recipient; the slightest rebuke could reduce a hardened grenadier to tears. Ministers and marshals wondered at the breadth of his intellect; ordinary citizens and soldierly became willing propagators of his legend. All feared his rages; all admired his abilities and application, for no subject seemed beyond his powers. His memory appeared limitless, as did his capacity for applied hard work.
    This combination of qualities set him apart from other men, and accounts in large measure for their willingness to accept his will, and even die in execution of his orders. 'So it is', recalled the war-hardened General Vandamme, 'that I, who fear neither God nor devil, tremble like a child at his approach." (Chandler - "Waterloo - the hundred days" pp 39-40)


    "If you had seen one day of war,
    you would pray to God that you would
    never see another." - Napoleon

    Napoleon's Largest and Bloodiest Battles.
    "Of all my 50 battles,the most terrible was
    the one I fought at Moscow (Borodino).
    In it the French showed themselves worhy of victory,
    but the Russians gained the right to be unvanquished."
    - Napoleon

    The era of French Revolution was time when the traditional dynastic wars of monarchs had been replaced by wars of peoples. The armies became bigger and they fought bigger battles. Wars with Napoleon Bonaparte’s army brought with them destruction never before known to the World.

    Napoleonic battles were the largest and one of the bloodiest battles in human history. The battle of Leipzig is also called The Battle of the Nations and is so far the largest. In terms of casualties (killed and wounded) only the battles of Seven Years War and the Civil War (in USA) can match the Napoleonic battles.

    Napoleon's Largest Battles
    1. Leipzig (1813 in Saxony) 400,000-550,000 combatants
    2. Dresden (1813 in Saxony)
    3. Wagram (1809 in Austria)
    4. Borodino (1812 in Russia)
    5. Bautzen (1813 in Saxony)
    6. Waterloo (1815 in Belgium)
    300,000-350,000 combatants
    300,000-320,000 combatants
    250,000-260,000 combatants
    180,000-200,000 combatants
    180,000-190,000 combatants

    The biggest battles in history
    from the earliest to the latest (except 20th Century):

    Gaugamela(331 BC): 230,000-270,000 combtatants.
    Cannae (216 BC): 110,000-130,000 combatants.
    Hastings (1066): 12,500-17,500 combatants. The most famous medieval battle.
    Grunwald- or Tannenberg (1410): 85,000-95,000 combatants.
    Lützen (1632): 35,000-45,000 combatants.
    Naseby (1645): 25,000-30,000 combatants.
    Beresteczko (1651): 150,000-185,000 combatants
    Vienna (1683): 250,000-290,000 combatants
    Malplaquet (1709): 170,000-190,000 combatants
    Leuthen (1757): 90,000-105,000 combatants
    Kolin (1757): 70,000-80,000 combatants
    Rossbach (1757): 60,000-70,000 combatants
    Yorktown (1781): 24,000-26,000 combatants
    Trebia (1799): 70,000-80,000 combatants
    Hohenlinden (1799): 115,000-120,000 combatants
    2nd Zürich (1799): 120,000-130,000 combatants
    Leipzig (1813)
    Olszynka Grochowska (1831): 95,000-105,000 combatants
    Solferino (1859): 210,000-220,000 combatants
    Magenta (1859): 115,000-120,000 combatants
    Antietam (1862): 130,000-135,000 combatants
    Gettysburg (1863): 155,000-160,000 combatants.
    Sadowa- or Königgrätz (1866): 220,000-240,000
    Gravelotte (1870): 290,000-310,000 combatants.
    Sedan (1870): 310,000-330,000 combatants
    Little Big Horn (1876): 2,000-3,000 combatants.

    Napoleon's Bloodiest Battles
    1. Borodino 34 % (87,000 1) French vs Russians
    2. Eylau
    3. Waterloo
    4. Wagram
    5. Leipzig
    25 % (37,500 2) French vs Russians
    22 % (42,000 3)French vs Germans, Brits, Dutch/Belgians
    21 % (69,500 4) French vs Austrians
    20 % (90,000 5) French vs Russians, Prussians, Austrians

    1 - French losses: 28,000-50,000 (average 39,000) killed and wounded.
    Russian losses: 38,500-58,000 (average 48,000) killed and wounded.
    2 - French losses: 20,000-25,000 (average 22,500) killed and wounded.
    Russian (and Prussian) losses: 15,000 killed and wounded.
    3 -French losses: 18,000 killed and wounded,
    German-British-Netherland losses: 24,000 killed and wounded.
    4 - French losses: 32,500 killed and wounded.
    Austrian losses: 37,000 killed and wounded.
    5 - French losses: 38,000 killed and wounded
    Allies losses: 52,000 killed and wounded

    NOTE: Prisoners and deserters are also 'casualties/losses' but were not included in the count. The number of prisoners reflects the 'bloodiness of combat' but only to a certain degree. There were battles where after few shots entire battalions surrendered or during retreat after battle thousands of men surrendered or abandoned their ranks.

    The bloodiest battles in history
    (excluding battles of 20th Century)

    Borodino (1812, Napoleon's Invasion of Russia) - 38 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    French vs Russians
    Zorndorf (1758, Seven Years' War) - 37 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Prussians vs Russians
    Kunersdorf (1759, Seven Years' War) - 31 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Prussians vs Russians & Austrians
    Gettysburg (1863, American Civil War) - 25 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Americans vs Americans
    Sadowa (1866, Austro-Prussian War) - 23 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Prussians vs Austrians
    Chickamauga (1863, American Civil War) - 22 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Americans vs Americans
    Poltava (1709, Great Northern War) - 20 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Russians vs Swedes
    Leuthen (1757, Seven Years' War) - 17 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    Prussians vs Austrians
    Malplaquet (1709, War of the Spanish Succession) - 16 % casualties
    Brits-Austrians-Germans vs French
    Solferino (1859, Austro-Sardinian war) - 12 % casualties (excl. prisoners)
    French & Italians vs Austrians

    "In a fortnight he [Bonaparte] was ready for the field and made his first move.
    Five days later he had already four times defeated the Austrians.
    Then he turned upon the Sardinians, who in another 5 days
    were in helpless retreat on Turin."
    - Wilkinson, Spenser - "The French army before Napoleon;
    lectures delivered before the University of Oxford ..." pp 9-10

    Sources and Links

    Karl von Clausewitz - "On War".
    David Chandler - "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
    William Cairnes - "The Military Maxims of Napoleon"
    John I. Alger - "The Quest for Victory: The History of the Principles of War."
    Ferdinand Foch - "The Principles of War" translated by Hilaire Belloc.
    On War - by Karl von Clausewitz (ext. link)

    Napoleon, His Army and Enemies