Born in Corsica and trained in mainland France as an artillery officer, he first rose to prominence as a general of the French Revolution, leading several successful campaigns against the First Coalition and the Second Coalition arrayed against France. In late 1799, Napoleon staged a coup d'état and installed himself as First Consul; five years later he became the Emperor of the French. In the first decade of the nineteenth century, he turned the armies of France against almost every major European power, dominating continental Europe through a lengthy streak of military victories—epitomized through battles such as Austerlitz and Friedland—and through the formation of extensive alliance systems. He appointed close friends and several members of his family as monarchs and important government figures of French-dominated states.
The disastrous French invasion of Russia in 1812 marked a turning point in Napoleon's fortunes. The campaign wrecked the Grande Armée, which never regained its previous strength. In October 1813, the Sixth Coalition defeated his forces at Leipzig and then invaded France. The coalition forced Napoleon to abdicate in April 1814, exiling him to the island of Elba. Less than a year later, he returned to France and regained control of the government in the Hundred Days (les Cent Jours) prior to his final defeat at Waterloo on 18 June 1815. Napoleon spent the remaining six years of his life under British supervision on the island of St. Helena. Napoleon developed relatively few military innovations, although his placement of artillery into batteries and the elevation of the army corps as the standard all-arms unit have become accepted doctrines in virtually all large modern armies. He drew his best tactics from a variety of sources and scored several major victories with a modernized and reformed French army. His campaigns are studied at military academies all over the world and he is widely regarded as one of history's greatest commanders. Aside from his military achievements, Napoleon is also remembered for the establishment of the Napoleonic Code (Code Napoléon), which laid the bureaucratic foundations for the modern French state.
eBook The Waterloo Campaign