The Halt in the Mud: French Strategic Planning from Waterloo to Sedan

By Gary P. Cox | Go to book overview

2
The French Defense Problem in 1815

The French Army was forced to reassess its strategic situation comprehensively in the aftermath of the European peace treaties of 1815. The final settlement ending the long series of wars that began in 1792 had as its cornerstone the containment of France. Despite her active participation in the final Vienna settlement, the restored Bourbon monarchy remained diplomatically isolated. France faced the overwhelming military might of the other great powers Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, and Russia -- along with a host of lesser states allied to this imposing constellation.

This policy of containment had three basic components. The first originated in the various treaties and agreements concluded in Vienna in 1815. One major reason why the powers had assembled at Vienna was to erect a barrier against renewed French aggression. 1 Although the French representative to the Congress, the wily Prince Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, had successfully played the great powers off against each other in the early stages of the deliberations, whatever gains he might have won for his country were quickly erased by the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba. 2

In its final form, this cordon sanitaire was formidable. In the north, the Dutch Republic, now renamed the Kingdom of the United Netherlands, added Belgium to its territory. With this province came custody of the aging barrier fortresses along the French frontier. 3 In the southeast, the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont was bolstered by the acquisition of the port of Genoa and a geographically stronger western frontier including Nice and the southern Alps that guarded western Savoy and the gateway into northern Italy. Behind this strengthened Italian state stood Austria, compensated for her cession of Belgium by the annexation of Lombardy and Venetia. The addition of these provinces also brought the four fortresses of the "Quadrilateral" -- Mantua, Verona, Peschiera, and Legnano, the keys to the possession of northern Italy -- firmly into Austrian hands. To tighten this hold, Vienna also placed Habsburg relatives on the thrones of several of the neighboring Italian states. With the flanks of this anti-French cordon thus reinforced, the center was

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