The Strategic Advantages of Early Napoleonic Wars

Updated September 10, 2022

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The Strategic Advantages of Early Napoleonic Wars essay

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The Napoleonic Wars raged from 1799-1815 and helped revolutionize the political and military landscape of Europe in the 19th century. The ambitious Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself emperor of France after a coup d’état in 1799 and set out to capitalize on the mass cultural identity shift from the French Revolution. The success of Napoleon stands as a testament to his extraordinary talent as a progressive military leader. For over twenty years, he waged war with the Empires of Europe and fought against many coalitions.

A few of his strategies that improved the French army are national pride, tactical organization, and flexibility mobility. These ideas of warfare influenced most European countries and are still around today. For instance, through the utility and use of force, he mobilized all his countries resources and manpower to decisively engage in a total war with key advantages distinguishing him from predecessors such as; a flexibly organized army, an innovative political war machine, and speed driven strategies.

To begin, Napoleon, inherited a professional army corp and weaponry division from the old regime. To his advantage, Napoleon used the existing organizational structure to build a more flexible model adopted later by most of Europe. It included a citizens army, Grande Armee, and general staff. A key advantage was the population of France and its ever-growing nationalism. Napoleon capitalized on the idea of a French mass identity when he revived the age-old concept of a citizen’s army. Which in turn, rebirthed the use of “levee en masse” or conscription.

As author General Rupert Smith points out, “…it was an absolute revolution: establishing and maintaining a standing army not through money, or duty to a lord…but rather through universal service on the basis of citizenship and gender. (Smith, 2007 p.33) He goes on to infer the set number of conscripts and the steady supply of manpower from the levees helped to fuel Napoleon’s Grande Armee and later his mini tactical army, the Corps d’ Armee Ibid A flexible organization capable of decisive independent maneuvering within the adopted army corps system. In his innovation, each corp had infantry, artillery, and cavalry divisions capable of swift mobility and use of force via skirmishers (light infantry). Likewise, it is clear to assume that the mass of the citizen’s army was an innovative political machine and the flexibility of the Grande Armee had advantages over the other European powers.

An example of a positive result from Bonaparte’s use of manpower and tactical strategy was the Treaty of Tilsit in 1807 between the Czar and Napoleon. To sum up Smith’s findings the French troops formed a non-penetrable battalion square and multiple divisions of Marshal Davout’s Prussian corps were defeated. Leaving him with only a single regiment and proving Napoleons organizational and flexibility of massive manpower to be superior. This is a clear result of the genius behind using mass as a force to conquer since half of the Prussian territory and population become a French satellite. In other words, men to feed into his citizen’s army and fuel his political agenda. (Smith, 2007 p.51)

Again, his use of force is evident in The Ulm Campaign of 1805, in which Napoleon reaches the apex of his flank arch attack strategy against the Austrian and Russian armies. He gains an advantage over the enemies by splitting their forces and gaining the high plateau ground ending in victory. This becomes a strategy adopted by others an idea based on his Maxims, “ March divide, fight united” a true use of the force of utility within the corp system. Bonaparte showed military superiority in his tactical advantage organized planning, and divisional operations via the Grande Armee and Corps d’ Armee. Another key advantage over his predecessors was his general staff trained in military logistics, intelligence, legality, and divisional planning.

They were skillfully used to organize the division’s of corps and establish a chain of command. Author Geoffrey Wawro discusses the implementation of Bonaparte’s operational strategies by saying, “ Between 1807 and 1813, the Prussian s developed a French-style general staff to centralize and expedite the conception and transmission of orders. Like the Austrians, the Prussians adopted the French corps and division, as well as French tactics. ( Wawro, 2000 p. 19) 3 Through his structural and organizational innovations, Napoleon skillfully showed the use of force through a flexible yet unified vision. He mastered the soon to be standard for warfare, a separate self-contained unit with firepower and manpower.

Next, Bonaparte’s key factor was his speed-driven firepower strategies designed around the manpower and artillery speed used for column attack tactics. The Napoleonic wars were famous for there skirmishers or light infantry attacks a different model than the old regime. Author Roy Muir suggests, “… the success of French armies in the early years of the Revolutionary War which was often attributed to their use of skirmishers, who were supposed to have overwhelmed the slow rigid formations of the armies of the ancien régime which opposed them. (Rory Muir, 1998 p 51-67) 4

The infantry of Napoleon was fast and trained in guerilla warfare tactics new to the other European countries. His intelligence gathering through scouts helped design the placement of the line shift in the column. A French attack system which gained the advantage by getting up close to the enemies column and then shifting into a line only to push through with the skirmishers. An asymmetrical line advantage to draw in his enemies and attack the weak side.

In conclusion, Napoleon Bonaparte influenced the armies of Europe with his innovative operational mobility. His success was due to the ability of independent movement within smaller units and skilled artillery divisions. His ability to capture the will of a population and use its force for the attack seperated him from his predecessors. For instance, through the utility of force, he mobilized all his countries resources and manpower to decisively engage in a total war with key advantages distinguishing him from his predecessors such as; a flexibly organized army, an innovative political war machine, and speed driven strategies.

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The Strategic Advantages of Early Napoleonic Wars. (2021, May 28). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-strategic-advantages-of-early-napoleonic-wars/


Was the Napoleonic Wars successful?
Only Britain remained strong, and its victory at the Battle of Trafalgar (1805) ended Napoleon's threat to invade England . Napoleon won major victories in the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz (1805), Jena and Auerstedt (1806), and Friedland (1807) against an alliance of Russia, Austria, and Prussia.
What did the Napoleonic Wars accomplish?
Most importantly, the major defeated power, France, was offered a generous peace and was soon allowed back into the European system with dignity . While France lost all the territory it gained during the Napoleonic Wars, it kept all of its original territory.
What strategies did Napoleon use?
Napoleonic tactics are characterized by intense drilling of the soldiers; speedy battlefield movement; combined arms assaults between infantry, cavalry, and artillery; and a relatively small numbers of cannon, short-range musket fire, and bayonet charges.
What was the most significant effect of the Napoleonic Wars?
While the Napoleonic Wars led to few significant border changes in the short term, the long-term impacts within Europe were immense. The formation of the Confederation of the Rhine and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire laid the groundwork for the eventual unification of Germany .
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