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Napoleon as a military commander: The limitations of genius


Napoleon was one of the greatest military minds in the history of warfare. He expanded the conquests of France from her revolutionary borders to that of an Empire that stretched from Spain to the steppes of Russia. Napoleon's genius lay not in revolutionizing of warfare itself, but in the refinement of existing means. He did not propose any drastic changes in tactics nor invent a new method of waging warfare, instead he excelled at the tactical handling of the armies of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Napoleon established himself as a great leader of men during the revolutionary period with the siege of Toulon and his triumphs in Italy in 1796. These talents were refined and reached their height during the battles of Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena in the period of 1805-1806. Towards the end of the Empire the weaknesses of Napoleon as a military commander became more evident. His insistence on the micro management of the army and the awarding of Marshal batons to those who excelled under his leadership, but who possessed no great talent for individual command, worked to his determent. The strategic failures of the decisions to invade Spain and Russia and the inability to keep the other major European powers divided proved disastrous. The increasing size and static nature of armies and the increasingly murderous nature of warfare during the latter part of the Empire revealed Napoleon's in ability to adapt to the changing shape of war. It is in the light of his triumphs and later failures that Napoleon's traditional reputation as a great military leader must be judged.


Napoleon, military history

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