Napoleon As a Military Commander

Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,088
One of the most sucessful commanders of all time, he had great strengths but also great weaknesses. Often unobjective seeingtings as he wanted things to be, and making decsions on the bais of ego than objetcive military need, his weaknesses were much less apparent in his early career where his armies were much better the the opposition, with some very good sub commanders, and he egnerally out numbered the opposition. If that context his optimism tended to pay off. IN his later career when he was under pressure his flaws were more apparant and costly.

Tactics - (? C?) Very little evidence that he ever took effective tactical control of a battle. Napoloen come in as an Amry commander without any real experince leading troops in battle, not a battalion, a regiment, a brigade or division. He had very effetcive and experinced divsion commanders from the start. He seems to have been happy enough to run batttles form the rear, dealing in broad strokes leaving the divsion commanders to run their own show.

Strategy - (C) Not a strong piont, whenever the campaign was not just two armies rushing towards each other he struggled to be effective. His strategic judgement was highly questionable as he tended to be unobjective.

Logistsics. - (D) just poor. Motsly as a matter of ploicy, that pushing men and troops could lead to short term success. Successful in short campaigns in central Europe. pretty awful outside that context. Never seemed to graped the importance.

Operational Maneuver - (A+) Great Strength, Napoleon understood the implications of the Corps/Division system and how that could be used in opertaions. This is the core of most of his sucess and improtance.

Organization - (A) Great Strength - a great ability to organize things, not flawless asteh acavlry corps in Russia shows.

Man management (Generals) - (D) promoted Generals on family relations and favoruitism, leaidng to poor commanders in vital roles, tolerated repeated poor performance, encouraged sqaubbling and never defined clear chain of command leading to confusion and lack of clear authority.

Man Management (Troops) - (A) one of the great manipulators of his men's morale. He knew how to motivate the troops. They generally loved him.

Care of Troops - Poor. (E) uncaring.
Didn’t he personally lead his troops across a bridge in Italy? You have a fairly low opinion of his generalship, it seems. Most military historians and soldiers alike, consider him to rank among the greatest Generals of all time, Clausewitz considered him the god of war.
 

Lee-Sensei

Ad Honorem
Aug 2012
2,088
So this is small unit tactics. Actually you are judging him only on that, and you called battle tactic "broad strikes". There is no point in continuing arguing on that matter, this narrow position about what is tactic go against 200 years of military sciences.


Well, actually, it was but as there is no evidence supporting your point of view, only a peremptory "no it’s not", I won’t bother elaborate.


The charge actually got to the bridge as many contemporary witness told (Jean Antoine François Ozanam or Joseph Sulkowski for example). I was trying to give example of the impossible task to command a battalion and yet command a battle. But this impossible as I have said so… and as you challenge Napoleon to have done…


Or, maybe, it was because the British raised multiple ennemies not at the same time (like austria + russia, prussia + russia, austria, prussia + russia + austria) ? No it’s only because of logistic according to who ?


Don’t reverse the burden of proof. You claimed that Napoleon was bad. So you should prove that, except few time where is was good, he was usually bad. Yet you come with only one or two examples....


Proof that he struggled in Germany or Austria ?


It’s good to have them yet you have to read them.


"My claims", as you qualified, are supported by quotes and evidences. That I have provided. I’m still waiting for yours.
Moreover it’s easy to write "it's planning and preparation was woefully inadequate" with the full insight we have now, but that does not remove the fact that it was his most prepared campaign.


This is no evidence but personnal statement. I asked for evidences. Plus you say that about a guy that had at least 200 000+ troops killed by cold and hunger (Barclay)… Besides, this has little, to say the least, connections with his (Barclay) careness.
Napoleon managed to win a number of his battles while outnumbered by moving his men quickly and concentrating them at a single point, right? He excelled in mathematics as a student at his military school.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,664
Didn’t he personally lead his troops across a bridge in Italy? You have a fairly low opinion of his generalship, it seems. Most military historians and soldiers alike, consider him to rank among the greatest Generals of all time, Clausewitz considered him the god of war.
No he did not. He ONCE tried to organise an assult across a bridge, but it was quicikly disperased and they did not corss the bridge. One isolated instance proves what? One swallow does not make a summer. He *IS* one the greatest Generals of all times, it does not make him all things to all men at all times he had strengths and weaknesses. But he was not a lead form the fornt soprt of guy. ALmost always he left the tatcical conrtrol of his troops to his subordinates. He had simply had no real experience doing so. He never lead a regimenet, a bridgade or a divsion in battle before his was Amry commander. He had Lannes, Davout, Soultm, Massena generlaly he had sub commanders he could reply on.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,664
Napoleon managed to win a number of his battles while outnumbered by moving his men quickly and concentrating them at a single point, right? He excelled in mathematics as a student at his military school.
Yeah like tha's never been done before. He did so on a couple of occasions. So?

So he did alright at maths at his military school. So?
 
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nuclearguy165

Ad Honorem
Nov 2011
4,822
Ohio, USA
So this is small unit tactics. Actually you are judging him only on that, and you called battle tactic "broad strikes". There is no point in continuing arguing on that matter, this narrow position about what is tactic go against 200 years of military sciences.


Well, actually, it was but as there is no evidence supporting your point of view, only a peremptory "no it’s not", I won’t bother elaborate.


The charge actually got to the bridge as many contemporary witness told (Jean Antoine François Ozanam or Joseph Sulkowski for example). I was trying to give example of the impossible task to command a battalion and yet command a battle. But this impossible as I have said so… and as you challenge Napoleon to have done…


Or, maybe, it was because the British raised multiple ennemies not at the same time (like austria + russia, prussia + russia, austria, prussia + russia + austria) ? No it’s only because of logistic according to who ?


Don’t reverse the burden of proof. You claimed that Napoleon was bad. So you should prove that, except few time where is was good, he was usually bad. Yet you come with only one or two examples....


Proof that he struggled in Germany or Austria ?


It’s good to have them yet you have to read them.


"My claims", as you qualified, are supported by quotes and evidences. That I have provided. I’m still waiting for yours.
Moreover it’s easy to write "it's planning and preparation was woefully inadequate" with the full insight we have now, but that does not remove the fact that it was his most prepared campaign.


This is no evidence but personnal statement. I asked for evidences. Plus you say that about a guy that had at least 200 000+ troops killed by cold and hunger (Barclay)… Besides, this has little, to say the least, connections with his (Barclay) careness.
Source on your claim that Barclay lost 200,000 to cold and hunger? If anything, Napoleon lost WAY more. Multiple sources, namely Zamoyski and Lieven, say Napoleon lost about 550,000 men in Russia; 350,000 dead of any causes and 200,000 captured. The Russian army, including under all of Barclay, Bagration, and Kutuzov, lost about 250,000 dead, wounded and captured in 1812 (of course, these aren't including Russian civilian losses, which were probably at least a couple hundred thousand as well), according to the same sources. Most of the Russian wounded returned to the ranks, whereas most if the 'French' wounded did not. They were mostly either dead or captured.
 
Feb 2014
1,874
Kingdom of the Netherlands
Overall: The greatest general of his time and one of the most effective generals in world history. I would probably still rank him in the top 5. Russia is a stain on his reputation, but it certainly shouldn't deny him the fact that his previous victories carved him out an Empire that was larger than that of Charlemagne.

Early Napoleon: Creative, energetic and effective. Early Napoleon is interesting because it is here we see him start realizing the power the new French army was capable of. Optimal use of the speed offered by Republican methods, the use of concentrated firepower, more reliance on subordinates not under direct guidance, the power of creating a local majority over the enemy, interior lines exploitation etc. This is the Napoleon that survived the four Austrian relieve attempts at Mantua and the Napoleon in the Austerlitz campaign. Daring, but not necessarely reckless.

Late Napoleon: Conservative, steadfast and relying on former succes. Late Napoleon, so lets say from Tilsit onwards is a little different. Multiple reasons can play a role here like for example dynastic concerns or the fact that he now dealt with a multinational army. Still, Napoleon became somewhat less risky and more predictable within pitched battles. Outside these battles, with regards to his operational tricks he still managed to surprise most people he encountered. He believed more and more that artillery was the decisive factor in late Napoleonic battles and this is why he is sometimes referred to as a 'pounder'. From Tilsit onwards he still pulled a number of victories, but in general they became more costly. Notable examples are Dresden and Vauchamps.

If Napoleon had died at the battle of Friedland he might be regarded as the greatest general in history. His period during and after Russia (1812) somewhat pulls him down on that list, though with a notable intermission during the 1814 campaign in France.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,664
Overall: The greatest general of his time and one of the most effective generals in world history. I would probably still rank him in the top 5. Russia is a stain on his reputation, but it certainly shouldn't deny him the fact that his previous victories carved him out an Empire that was larger than that of Charlemagne.

Early Napoleon: Creative, energetic and effective. Early Napoleon is interesting because it is here we see him start realizing the power the new French army was capable of. Optimal use of the speed offered by Republican methods, the use of concentrated firepower, more reliance on subordinates not under direct guidance, the power of creating a local majority over the enemy, interior lines exploitation etc. This is the Napoleon that survived the four Austrian relieve attempts at Mantua and the Napoleon in the Austerlitz campaign. Daring, but not necessarely reckless.

Late Napoleon: Conservative, steadfast and relying on former succes. Late Napoleon, so lets say from Tilsit onwards is a little different. Multiple reasons can play a role here like for example dynastic concerns or the fact that he now dealt with a multinational army. Still, Napoleon became somewhat less risky and more predictable within pitched battles. Outside these battles, with regards to his operational tricks he still managed to surprise most people he encountered. He believed more and more that artillery was the decisive factor in late Napoleonic battles and this is why he is sometimes referred to as a 'pounder'. From Tilsit onwards he still pulled a number of victories, but in general they became more costly. Notable examples are Dresden and Vauchamps.

If Napoleon had died at the battle of Friedland he might be regarded as the greatest general in history. His period during and after Russia (1812) somewhat pulls him down on that list, though with a notable intermission during the 1814 campaign in France.
I see almost no difference in Early and Late Napoleon. It was the change of circumstances. His Blind march into Syria is every bit as rash as stumbling deep into Russia. When your armies are faster, btter organized, resiliant, lead by good commanders (Napoleon inhirted a swaith of good commanders which were generally not replaced, of all the leaders appionted commanders, Napoleon was the least mericratic and most nepotisic ) and the opponet is making plenbty of msitakes,being optimistic tends to work, when your up against it in real advseity it tends to work the other way.

For most of his caereer he enjoyed many advantages, the French Amry enjoyed a clear advantage in doctrine, tactics and organization (Some of which Napoleon should get credit for) He often enjoyed an advantage in numbers (and at times he deserves credit for that) , his popposing generals were often very poor, or following outdated principles of war. The Strategies of the ealry coalitions wer pretty bad, and the coalitions very shaky. Later his opponests, had reformed their armies, found better commanders, learnt better strategies and the need for firmer coalitions.

Facing an Austrian Army that was retty poor at almost every level organization, tactical doctrine, morale, logistical support, officers, generals, political direction his defeat of armies of much the same size, is hardly as startling as many suggest.

Napoleon grasped the shift of pareadigm in opertaions and organization much more firmly and earlier than others. The Corps/.Division system, mass armies, he recognised the reforms in the french army and made efeftcive synthesis of that in action. A grasp he had from his earliest days. Everyone else had to learn from bitter experince. But learn they did/. And to some extent they learned more throughly. The French army remained half arse and amatuer is soem ways never seriously addressing some of the shaky foundations of it's revolutionary birth. Discipline, Logistics, Staff Work, Command Structure. As armies got bigger though the period these things started to matter a lot more. Napoleon over centratilised and over concetrated. Whats was effective organization in smaller armies was not in larger ones, the Cavalry corps just were too big and overly centralized.
 
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Mar 2014
53
Paris (France)
Source on your claim that Barclay lost 200,000 to cold and hunger? If anything, Napoleon lost WAY more. Multiple sources, namely Zamoyski and Lieven, say Napoleon lost about 550,000 men in Russia; 350,000 dead of any causes and 200,000 captured. The Russian army, including under all of Barclay, Bagration, and Kutuzov, lost about 250,000 dead, wounded and captured in 1812 (of course, these aren't including Russian civilian losses, which were probably at least a couple hundred thousand as well), according to the same sources. Most of the Russian wounded returned to the ranks, whereas most if the 'French' wounded did not. They were mostly either dead or captured.
1. I think you are missing my point here. I was talking about death toll due to logistics, not casualties in general. My point is that Russia suffered as well as the French in that campaign (if not more due to civilian losses).
2. Wounded generally did not returned to the ranks : they usually died after the battle. And remember that "only" 200,000 russians could participate in the following campaigns out of 623,000 according to Beskrovny. And this counting reinforcements…
3. After it’s a battle of sources. Many sources state that only 450,000 men crossed the Niemen (Lentz, Tarle, Markham) which is clearly incompatible with Zamoyski. You are sure about Lieven ?
4. For example, according to Sokolov, the russian army lost 300,000 men, including 175,000 in combat.
5. About the French losses, they are usually overestimated. According to a statistical analysis (the only one I’m aware of) on the French and French allies matricules (they analysed 1 on 500 which is quite robust given the hundreds of thousands), sorry in French only — Pertes de l'armée de terre sous le premier Empire, d'après les registres matricules. - Persée p.45, here are the results for the russian campaign (in thousands) :

KIA or death after WIA — French5
KIA or death after WIA — French allies2
Missing and prisoners that did not come back — French147
Missing and prisoners that did not come back — French allies61
Death in hospitals — French19
Death in hospitals — French allies9
Scratch out in hospitals — French
Scratch out in hospitals — French allies
Total — French171
Total — French allies72
Grand total243
They are stating that figures can be perfected and a good estimation is 270,000 men that did not came back of Russia which is far from 550,000.

The main point is that around 120,000 men "only" participated to the retreat. A big part of the men deserted before and did not say that they returned until a census for a pension in 1853 show it.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,800
Cornwall
Overall: The greatest general of his time and one of the most effective generals in world history. I would probably still rank him in the top 5. Russia is a stain on his reputation, but it certainly shouldn't deny him the fact that his previous victories carved him out an Empire that was larger than that of Charlemagne.
Spain is another stain on his reputation, for a whole load of different reasons political and military.

So apart from 2 huge immense catastrophic collections of blunders ...............................................................

Charlemagne too had his moments - Spain for one, Vikings for another
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,664
1. I think you are missing my point here. I was talking about death toll due to logistics, not casualties in general. My point is that Russia suffered as well as the French in that campaign (if not more due to civilian losses).
2. Wounded generally did not returned to the ranks : they usually died after the battle. And remember that "only" 200,000 russians could participate in the following campaigns out of 623,000 according to Beskrovny. And this counting reinforcements…
3. After it’s a battle of sources. Many sources state that only 450,000 men crossed the Niemen (Lentz, Tarle, Markham) which is clearly incompatible with Zamoyski. You are sure about Lieven ?
4. For example, according to Sokolov, the russian army lost 300,000 men, including 175,000 in combat.
5. About the French losses, they are usually overestimated. According to a statistical analysis (the only one I’m aware of) on the French and French allies matricules (they analysed 1 on 500 which is quite robust given the hundreds of thousands), sorry in French only — Pertes de l'armée de terre sous le premier Empire, d'après les registres matricules. - Persée p.45, here are the results for the russian campaign (in thousands) :

KIA or death after WIA — French5
KIA or death after WIA — French allies2
Missing and prisoners that did not come back — French147
Missing and prisoners that did not come back — French allies61
Death in hospitals — French19
Death in hospitals — French allies9
Scratch out in hospitals — French
Scratch out in hospitals — French allies
Total — French171
Total — French allies72
Grand total243
They are stating that figures can be perfected and a good estimation is 270,000 men that did not came back of Russia which is far from 550,000.


The main point is that around 120,000 men "only" participated to the retreat. A big part of the men deserted before and did not say that they returned until a census for a pension in 1853 show it.
7000 combat deaths included dying from wounds. So ho wmany do you think Died at Borodino, How many Wounded? And how did anyof the owunded make it out?