The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814

The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814

The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814

The Defense of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Northern Italy, 1813-1814

Excerpt

The destruction of the Grande Armée in Russia had resulted in the withdrawal of the French armies into Germany, where war soon followed it. The debris of the Grande Armée, destroyed by the cold of winter, starvation, and disease, was unable to reunite until it was behind the Oder River and in the Prussian heartland, which seethed with anti-French hatred and treachery. Despite this, once free of the snow and ice of the Russian winter, Napoleon immediately began rebuilding his war machine.

In January 1813, Prince Eugène, viceroy of Italy and Napoleon’s adopted son, was placed in command of the Grande Armée and told to hold the line in Germany against the advancing Russians. In fact, Napoleon had left Maréchal Murat, king of Naples, in command as he returned to France to begin the effort of rebuilding his armies. Murat, however, had little stomach for the job, promptly dropped the command into Eugène’s lap, and headed south for the warm climes of Naples.

Eugène’s efforts to stop the combined advance of the Russians and their new Allies, the Prussians, failed. He was obliged to withdraw before their combined superior numbers, but to be fair, though he displayed little inspiration for the task, he was bombarded with directions from Napoleon, who attempted to run the war from Paris and whose letters were always many days out of date. Eugène soon abandoned the line of the Oder and withdrew to the Elbe. Napoleon was furious at his abandonment of so much territory to the Russians and soon found it necessary to return to the army. On 15 April Napoleon departed France for Germany, and on 10 May Eugène was ordered to Italy. It is unlikely that he was dismissed because Napoleon felt him a failure. Instead, it is far more likely that Eugène’s trusted hand was required in Italy.

As Napoleon had prepared for the Russian campaign in 1811 and early 1812 . . .

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