Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814

Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814

Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814

Napoleon against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814

Synopsis

French defeat in 1814 is too often shrugged off as the result of obvious and understandable factors. Napoleon Against Great Odds: The Emperor and the Defenders of France, 1814 challenges the widely accepted notion that war-weariness and internal political opposition to Napoleon were the decisive and direct causes of French defeat. At least as important, it argues, were material shortages, diplomatic missteps, and even faulty strategic planning on Napoleon's part. The book not only traces the narrative of Napoleon's 1814 Campaign in France, but explores the formation of the French army tasked with defending France against the Coalition invasion. Diplomatic, political, and social factors are taken into account and the issue of war-weariness is analyzed carefully and critically. Each branch and arm of the French forces is examined, as are military mobilization under difficult circumstances and partisan and guerilla warfare. Designed to encourage fresh debate about the 1814 campaign, the book offers thought-provoking reading for scholars and general readers alike.

Excerpt

At the end of 1813, France faced imminent invasion by colossal enemy forces. Three hundred thousand Prussians, Russians, and Austrian Empire troops were on the Rhine. An Anglo-SpanishPortuguese army of over 100,000 advanced on the Pyrenees. More enemy forces were gathering from all over Europe to attack France. Napoleon’s costly campaign in Germany in 1813 had left him with less than 80,000 men to cover the Rhine. His desperate plans for defending France in 1814 involved raising 936,000 new troops. In fact, only about 120,000 recruits arrived in time to serve in active units. This striking statistic is generally interpreted as being due to war weariness and opposition to Napoleon’s regime. After almost a quarter century of warfare, France was physically and morally exhausted. Likewise, Napoleon’s political capital was tapped out after the disaster of 1812 in Russia and the defeat in Germany in 1813.

But was it as simple as that? Were there really some 800,000 deserters and insoumis (draft dodgers) skulking about France in 1814? Did France fall in 1814 because there were few Frenchmen willing or able to defend their country? Were most Frenchmen unwilling to fight any longer for a France ruled by Napoleon? Was war-weariness and disenchantment with the Emperor so prevalent as to cancel out a patriotic response to foreign invasion? These questions are not easily answered. Shedding light on these questions requires more than retelling the story of the Campaign of France in 1814. This book will outline the campaign to establish a context, but the focus is on Napoleon’s army in 1814, as well as on partisans and other civilians who defended France. We cannot dismiss 1814 France as warweary to the point of virtual military helplessness without looking at those Frenchmen who did fight in 1814.

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