in positions of supreme power
have made terrible mistake
s. The ones of greatest infamy
were famous for making very few
made one great one, and lost an Empire that spanned the entire continent of Europe
. Perhaps some simple prudence
on part of the general could have avoided his catastrophe
, or perhaps his empire was doomed from the start like the best laid plans of mice and men
. In either case, pride is the ultimate assassin
of powerful men
In 1806, Napoleon had control of Germany in what he called the "Confederation of the Rhine". Farcically using French Independence as propaganda to gain the support of the people in these countries, he basically deposed the rulers of Germany and appointed his family members as kings, maintaining age old systems of government in principalities. It was around this time that Prussia and Russia allied to put up a united front against Napoleon, in a last ditch effort of the Third Coalition. Like most armies, he defeated them swiftly and efficiently using his new combat tactic of the Continental Army. He defeated the Prussians at Jena and Auerstädt in 1806 and the defeated the Russian army at Friedland that same year. In July 1807, he struck a pact with Czar Alexander I at Tilsit in East Prussia, ensuring the end of the Third Coalition. The treaty gave control of Polish territories acquired by the Prussians in 1793 back to France, and it also gave all Prussian Territory west of the Elb to France. Russia itself got a small portion of East Prussia, but none the less the effect of the agreement divided up Europe among France and Russia. Both were to join in embargo on England.
Six years later in 1812, Czar Alexander I reopened his ports to England. This was prompted brought on by the economic strife brought on by Napoleon's Continental System. Without England, a crucial part of the world economy, all of Europe was suffering from the same decadence that France's government was befalling. The banks of Europe could only support so many wars, and debt was amassing. The sparks of nationalistic revolution in Spain were cropping up, and much of Napoleons funds were being moved to Spain to hold down the revolution. Napoleon did little to support infrastructure, as the Romans had done before. Russia, which was heavily reliant on trade with Europe, had no choice but to abandon the Treaty of Tilsit. Napoleon reacted in turn, and began plans for an insurrection of Russia.
Napoleon began his march on Russia in June (1812) with roughly 450,000 men. The only problem is that these men had very few supplies, and were not ready at all for camping in Russian weather. Logistics during Napoleon's Era for land based combat were pretty much limited to living off conquered land. Napoleon had been very successful with this technique during his famous Italian Campaign. However, the Russian General Kutuzov had no intention with supplying the enemy with quarters or rations. As the Russians retreated from their Western fronts, they burned the land behind them. This Scorched Earth Campaign would be used again under Stallin, a century later against Hitler. It worked better then the Russians could have hoped for. Without lodging or food, Napoleon's army was reduced to 2/3 it's size, due to starvation, fatigue, desertion, and Russian raids. None the less, Napoleon in Blind Arrogance marched on to take Moscow. Czar Alexander I sent his forces lead by General Kutuzov to meet Napoleon's Continental Army. The battle occurred on September 7, 110 km away from Moscow. Throughout the course of the battle, 107,000 men died. Kutuzov immediately saw the drain, and told the Czar to evacuate Moscow. Alexander did, taking all of Moscow's supplies with him, and on September 14 Napoleon marched into a barren and deserted city. He did not hold Moscow for long. That night Moscow went up in flames and by the morning the French Army was left without supplies or shelter. Napoleon waited a long time at the ruins of Moscow for Alexander I's concession, but did not get one. By mid October, he was done waiting. His men could not go South because Kutuzov's forces blocked the way (the army was in no shape to fight), so Napoleon turned onto the 1500 km retreat back to France.
General Winter came early that year, and came unusually strong, and so did Kutuzov. Napoleon faced the same problems he had during his march to Moscow marching back, only much more prolific. Kutuzov took the opportunity to rally his forces to take the fleeing French Army, which was already starving and dieing of exposure. By the time of the Armies return it had been reduced to 10,000 men, the majority which had split up from the Moscow Campaign at the very beginning. About 1 in every 100 men survived an ordeal instigated purely out of Napoleon's pride and refusal to admit defeat.
Napoleon faced revolt in all of Europe upon his return, and without the vast Army he had built his Empire on, it collapsed beneath him.