Napoleon As a Military Commander

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,791
Well, sure, Kulm was too small of an encounter to end the war on its own, but considering the surrounding circumstances it may have saved the war for the Coalition, as Lieven argues. The parts of VanDamme's command that did not directly become casualties were scattered to the four winds and we don't know how many actually made it back to their commands.

Harassing an enemy with its tail between its legs is precisely what causes something like the bridge incident to happen. Harassment like this is to strike panic into one's opponents and cause them to do things inimical to their cause. It need not have this kind of specific goal in mind beforehand and it almost never does.

The lack of Napoleon's presence was an issue for his marshals when they were sent on independent commands in 1813, sure. This was the shadow that loomed over their defeats at Katzbach, Kulm, Dennewitz, etc. However, it was an advantage for the main army directly under his command, probably about 200-250,000 strong, and it was certainly an advantage for his forces engaged at Leipzig, about 200,000. He was also no Schwarzenberg and so that's an advantage as well. Schwarzenberg's moves here (and at Dresden) weren't even always stuck in the last century; they were foolish by those standards, too.

Might I also add that it was Napoleon's own problem that he gave independent commands in the Autumn of 1813 to those like Ney, MacDonald, and Oudinot, and yet completely under-utilized better commanders such as Davout and St. Cyr? Napoleon didn't need to have Davout to administer Hamburg, and he didn't need 40,000 men for it either. Napoleon also certainly didn't need to leave 35,000 men in Dresden under St. Cyr when Leipzig was about to be fought.

As for the stragglers who were picked up after Leipzig, consider that there were probably at least 160,000 French troops fighting at Leipzig (with the remaining 30-40,000 in Napoleon's army being satellite allies, with 5,000 deserting during battle and 30,000 being captured or deserting after battle). Only about half this number of French troops ultimately ended up making their way back to France, at least before peace came.
The problems of Napoleon's man management was that there was no clear line of command among his Marshals and Generals. Power was not efefctively delegated to subordinates to enable them to function effetcively. He encoruaged squabbling, and to function they needed arbietration of their master, and that's they way Napoleon chose to set it up. The Whole apapratus of the Empure and Army was over centralized into Napoleon's person. Nothing really worked when he was not Present. Some nobody like Malet could start a coup in France in 1812. The Back areas of 1812 where chaotic. The organization of army for the 1813 campaign needed Napoleon. The whole Spanish campaign with divided commands and petty squabbling. In 1813 none of the other Generals were resourced so they could achieve anything, and Napoleon danced to the coalition tune snapping from one threat to another. Really Schwartzenberg was over cautious and Blucher overbold, both cartoonish so and well known by this stage, both could be countered on to perform to type. Really distracting Schwartzenberg crush Blucher was the obvious move.

Napoleon kept appionting his friends and formaily to high office and maintaining them despite repested failures. Murat. Jerome. The myth is that Napoloen's empire was some Meritocracy well the worst examples of Nepotism in the period are Napoleon's appointments. Arch Duke Constantine was dedicated Miliatry man, not that bright, but non one was about to grant Constantine much responsibility, and when a long military career really only marginally promoted above his meirts. If after 15 years of running an Empire of meriotiactic system of generals and some allagedly great standrad of command staff ssystem why were there so few competnets available in 1813-1815 and the absence of Dvaout and Berrhier is talked about so much?
 
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Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,135
But look at the 1806 Campaign what did Napoleon do that was outstanding? With slight superiority in Numbers, with a much better trained and lead Army, using superior doctrine and organization he stumbled into two encounter battles at Jena And Auerstadt. He did not as a strategist set the terms of battle, it was an accidental encounter where the numbers on each side at each battle were mostly chance. Napoleon out number his opponent almost 2:1 and Davout was outnumbered almost 1:2 the other way.

It was not some cunning plan or stratagem from Napoleon, he stumbled into thee battles (equally so the Prussians). if Davout had been utterly defeated and his army destroyed whose fault would it have been? Napoleon stumbled badly as a strategist . Fortunately for him Davout the most stunning victory of the period., which reflect well on Davout but not on Napoleon, who can really claim zero credit for the victory.

Yes his political spider sense let him jump start the cmapaignb grabbing a march on the Prussians, and the superior training an do organization of the French army were partly due to Napoleon so some credit there (divisions and doctrine predated Napoleon).

As a strategist it's a poor performance. As a General beating a opponet you outnumber almost 2:! with a clearly superoir quclity force is hardly some great achievement an Avergae to Good Perfomance as a General.

1807 the Polish Campaign, Napoloen with now a clear superiority of forces dos not do particularity well. Benningsen make a misstep at Freidland and is well beaten. But it was not Napoleon with some cumming plan, Napolen did not carefully set the terms for the battle, both sides had misread the other and Benningsen thought he was pounced on an isolated divsion when the encounter developed, for Napoloen it was an Happy accident, he had a clearly superior force. Once the bulk of the Russian army had crosed the river and the size of the French army arriving was becoming apparant it was too late , and teh French army was in a clealry superoir position and the result was a forgorn concusion. Sure Lannes had to do the heavy lifting at the starrt of the Battle, delaying the Russians while Napoleon arrived with the bulk of the Army. By the time Napoloen was aware of what was happening and directing the Battle it was relatively simple when for any good commander. As a ageneral or as as astrategist nothing outstanding. An average to good sort of performance.
I don’t know what else to say. The overwhelming majority of military historians and officers that I’ve read have a high opinion of Napoleons generalship. Very few of the ones that I’ve read are critical of him and the few that were, criticize him more for his politics than his command (although in fairness, war and politics can’t be entirely divorced).
 
Feb 2014
1,875
Kingdom of the Netherlands
The problems of Napoleon's man management was that there was no clear line of command among his Marshals and Generals. Power was not efefctively delegated to subordinates to enable them to function effetcively. He encoruaged squabbling, and to function they needed arbietration of their master, and that's they way Napoleon chose to set it up. The Whole apapratus of the Empure and Army was over centralized into Napoleon's person. Nothing really worked when he was not Present. Some nobody like Malet could start a coup in France in 1812. The Back areas of 1812 where chaotic. The organization of army for the 1813 campaign needed Napoleon. The whole Spanish campaign with divided commands and petty squabbling. In 1813 none of the other Generals were resourced so they could achieve anything, and Napoleon danced to the coalition tune snapping from one threat to another. Really Schwartzenberg was over cautious and Blucher overbold, both cartoonish so and well known by this stage, both could be countered on to perform to type. Really distracting Schwartzenberg crush Blucher was the obvious move.

Napoleon kept appionting his friends and formaily to high office and maintaining them despite repested failures. Murat. Jerome. The myth is that Napoloen's empire was some Meritocracy well the worst examples of Nepotism in the period are Napoleon's appointments. Arch Duke Constantine was dedicated Miliatry man, not that bright, but non one was about to grant Constantine much responsibility, and when a long military career really only marginally promoted above his meirts. If after 15 years of running an Empire of meriotiactic system of generals and some allagedly great standrad of command staff ssystem why were there so few competnets available in 1813-1815 and the absence of Dvaout and Berrhier is talked about so much?
This is what I meant when I said you downgrade even some of his most decisive campaigns. I get the feeling you only consider 1796 a good campaign for Napoleon, the rest being mostly stumbling luck or due to his divisional commanders. Although I have seen you emphasize the issue that Napoleon only faced so called bad outdated generals in Italy so maybe even that campaign isnt all that amazing?

I take it you are a fan of Connelly's work: Blundering to Glory?

This is the general idea im getting when I look at your posts. You possibly see me in the exact opposite (kettle black) and together we bring balance I hope.

Later I will respond to you and nuc in detail.