What do you think was the last point at which Napoléon could realistically have won?

Mar 2016
1,207
Australia
#1
Or at least maintained the power and integrity of his empire?

Many people cite the Russian campaign as the beginning of the end for Napoléon, but I don't think that's quite true (certainly not as accurate as it is for Hitler's invasion of Russia).

Obviously the 1815 campaign was doomed to fail from the start - even if he beat Wellington he'd still have to fight the Prussians with reduced troop numbers exhausted from Waterloo before quickly marching on Brussels and preparing to fight the combined forces of Austria and Russia, each of them having more troops than he did by a considerable margin. I think everyone agrees that even if he was lucky and performing at the top of his game (which he certainly wasn't in 1815) he wouldn't be able to pull an Austerlitz 2.0.

So perhaps the 1814 campaign? I personally don't think so. Not only was Napoléon fighting the three major continental European powers at once (something he'd never done before), he was doing it on French soil, and every French defeat and every capturing of a French town further demoralized the French people. Not only was the Senate completely antagonistic and uncooperative towards him, even his own generals and marshals were conspiring against him, because they realized what Napoléon didn't, which was that this war was already over. So the 1814 was never going to succeed either. This one was perhaps even more hopeless than the 1815 campaign.

I think the 1813 campaign is the last point in which Napoléon could have won. Austria still wasn't committed to the cause of the Coalition at this point, and while the severe shortage of cavalry (due to the Russian campaign) made pursuing the routed Prussian and Russian forces difficult, I think that if Napoléon had have pushed more aggressively the Coalition forces out of Germany he could have won the 1813 campaign and maybe even inspired enough confidence in Austria to actively assist him militarily. With a French-Austrian military alliance, I really don't believe the other European powers would have attempted to defeat him again.

What are your thoughts on this question?
 
Apr 2011
3,075
New Jersey
#2
Or at least maintained the power and integrity of his empire?

Many people cite the Russian campaign as the beginning of the end for Napoléon, but I don't think that's quite true (certainly not as accurate as it is for Hitler's invasion of Russia).

Obviously the 1815 campaign was doomed to fail from the start - even if he beat Wellington he'd still have to fight the Prussians with reduced troop numbers exhausted from Waterloo before quickly marching on Brussels and preparing to fight the combined forces of Austria and Russia, each of them having more troops than he did by a considerable margin. I think everyone agrees that even if he was lucky and performing at the top of his game (which he certainly wasn't in 1815) he wouldn't be able to pull an Austerlitz 2.0.
No, everyone does not agree. For example, Chandler in "Campaigns of Napoleon", writes, "Yet so much more might have resulted. As Becke describes it, the possible repercussions of a complete French triumph at Ligny would have been barely calculable" (1046).

The French had less troops, but they were gathering their forces like everyone else. It isn't as though what he had against Wellington and Blucher was all he was going to have.

1815 would have been unlikely victory, but the odds were probably better than they'd been in the previous year considering the French had more veterans back in the ranks and were getting the drop on the allies as opposed to the other way around.

Waterloo is a workable date, but Ligny and Quatre Bras being more decisive is a better scenario for the allied armies being finished quickly.

The Russians would not get to the Rhine at the same time as the Austrians and, in addition to forces raised in the meantime, small numbers contesting the coalition forces on other fronts. To take one case, depending on the time, he would have been able to link up with around 20,000 under Rapp against the Austrian army.

So perhaps the 1814 campaign? I personally don't think so. Not only was Napoléon fighting the three major continental European powers at once (something he'd never done before), he was doing it on French soil, and every French defeat and every capturing of a French town further demoralized the French people. Not only was the Senate completely antagonistic and uncooperative towards him, even his own generals and marshals were conspiring against him, because they realized what Napoléon didn't, which was that this war was already over. So the 1814 was never going to succeed either. This one was perhaps even more hopeless than the 1815 campaign.
1814 was practically hopeless militarily. Politically, it was less so, but I agree, incredibly low odds and 1815 presented a better chance.

I think the 1813 campaign is the last point in which Napoléon could have won. Austria still wasn't committed to the cause of the Coalition at this point, and while the severe shortage of cavalry (due to the Russian campaign) made pursuing the routed Prussian and Russian forces difficult, I think that if Napoléon had have pushed more aggressively the Coalition forces out of Germany he could have won the 1813 campaign and maybe even inspired enough confidence in Austria to actively assist him militarily. With a French-Austrian military alliance, I really don't believe the other European powers would have attempted to defeat him again.

What are your thoughts on this question?
The 1813 campaign was in doubt until Leipzig and in that case only until Napoleon delayed his retreat and ended up suffering badly during it. 1813 was probably his last really good chance.

I'm not sure he could have pursued the allies more aggressively at Lutzen with the cavalry situation. At Bautzen, it was the execution during the battle which was off. Dresden was his greatest opportunity, but I think it should have been managed differently allowing just Vandamme to help in Dresden instead.
 
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Likes: Futurist
Mar 2012
3,474
Redneck Country, AKA Texas
#3
To maintain mastery of Europe, I think he needed to have handled Spain better. It drained a lot of his troops and energy that should have been spent on Russia. Not installing his brother as king of Spain and instead using Ferdinand VII as a puppet ruler with minimal French troops might work.

To just keep control of France, a better 1813. Different results at Leipzig and/or Dresden would have gone a long way.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,270
#4
Bautzen in 1813 Napoleon had serious chances of inflicted a very large defeat of the combined armies of Prussia and Russia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Bautzen

At Bautzen Alexander was sucked in to Napoleon's feint attack, in the south/central of the battlefield and feed in much of the allied reserves, When the main French attack started in the North the allies were in very serious trouble, the very good performances by Blucher and Barclay and the poor performance of Ney who lost any sense of the overall battle and get sucked into the fight in front oh him and fails dot follow his order and continue to cave in the allied northern flank and cut of the line of retreat of the Allied army.

The allies were in a fairly bad way, Napoleon had operational superiority in the area of operations, the Russian Army had become heavily disorganised during the campaign and the poor administrative leadership of Wittgenstein (while a fine corps commander he had mixed up units and formation all over the place making the workings of the army harder than they should have been) Barclay when he was restored to command after the Battle wanted a month re-organise the Army before fighting and was looking to fall back to buy time.

This lead to a major disagreement between the Prussians and Russians, the Russians wanted to fall back their line of supplies and their reinforcements in Poland back due east, the Prussians wanted to protect Prussian lands and fall back much more northerly direction.

So the Allies were bickering about what to do the armies were on the verge of parting and allowing Napoleon to use one of favourite operational themes , the central positioned defeating enemy armies in detail, Napoleon also outnumbered the Allied armies significantly.

At this point Napoleon offered the allies a 6 week armistice.

Barclay re-ordered the Russian army, Russian reserve army arrived, enabling many troops who where besieging French garrisons to be relived for service with the main Russian army. Prussian reserves continued to mobilise. And the Austrians entered the war , drastically changing the overall numbers.

Once the Russian reserve army arrived, Napoleon chances of getting his troops out of garrison was drastically reduced. (and when later after Dresden he had the chance to get St Cyr's troops out he makes the wrong call, )

The 6 weeks armistice blew Napoleon's chances of winning dramatically, the allies with their various problems it offered the chance to re-order and cam back much stronger, while doing very little for the French. Napoleon was also unrealistic and Rubbish diplomatically at this time, if he had been willingly to give something out he could have perhaps avoiding the Austrians entering (the Austrian ultimatum was why Napoleon offered the 6 weeks armistice, though he should have just called their bluff, even if the Austrians declared war they were hardly going to ,mobilise fully and act quickly, they were after all Austrians, and with Schwartzenberg in command/.)

On the shortage of Cavalry, in the early part of the campaign the Allies did not have a huge superiority in cavalry (though they had some) as vast amounts of the Russian cavalry had been detached for large scale rating parties, 9which were on the whole pretty effective causing much disruption and providing very real value) but meaning on the field of battle the disparity in numbers was not that large. much of the Prussian cavalry raised in this and later campaigns the land where cavalry was hardly top quality.

Actually there were a few chances in the 1813 campaign, both before and after Bautzen

if Ney had not been criminally negligiant in his duties at Latzen. Hey was not were ehe had been ordered to be ( and he was just being slack) and failed to carry out even basic reconnoissance. The Allies attacked across some water courses and then up a large slope up to the plateau were the villages were most of the fighting raged. The Allies took a very long time to get organised. All of Ney's corps was m,want to be at the villages, and Ney failed to do ANY reconnoissance., troops were camped quite close to the the top the plateau and if the someone had just wandered over and looked they would have seen theAllied troops well before they were spotted. Napoleon bears some of the blame as he had discounting the possibility of an Allied attack, but Ney was awful (yet again).

After Dresden, Napoleon had some chance which was also wasted, The Allies (who had only been beaten to Dresden by Schwartenbergs slow movement, Schwartzenberg remained through 1813/1814 Napoleon's best hope of allies mistakes and he repeated offered up blunders) were forced to retreat along very bad roads going through poor terrain with plenty of bottlenecks for allowing down movement and forced to seperate to travel on different rods all of which were quite il suited for movement of large armies.

here was a perfect moment for a swift followup, Vandamme Corps was already operating towards the rear of the allied armies.

Napoleon received news from the north of Ktzbatch and feeling il called of the pruisuit of the allies armies, failing to reorder Vandamme's corps which would be mostly destroyed at Klum, and march off leaving St Cyr's troops in garrison at Dresden , 40,000 men who would badly need later.

Even Leipzig if Napoleon had not just hang out Vandamme's corps and withdrawn St Cyr's corps he could have substantially outnumbered the allies on Day 1 of Leipzig, (of Day 1 the numbers were pretty close to being even) , Schwartzenberg had once again deployed very very badly (Dresden was also his fault, and so would be the 6 days campaign in 1814) and it was only Alexander deciding to over rule Schwartenberg and move the Russian reserves (Guard and Grenadiers) from the extremely poor placement by Schwartzenberg , across a river and away from the main area , (as were almost all the Austrians, which Alexander could not move) if Alexander had not intervened allied defeat could have quite probable. The addition St Cyr's and Vandamme's troops would have mad wit a certainty, though the counter argument is if Napoleon was stringer the Allies would not have sought battle.

There's also an argument that if Davout had been in Ney's place in 1813 the mistakes Ney made would not have been made.

And yet people often rate Napoleon's performance in 1813 quite highly. His made errors in use of his subinordites choosing to use Ney and sideline Davout, blundered Diplomatically, the armistice and refusal to give up anything, which at the very least could have at least stalled the Austrians, failed to develop a real plan of campaign, very much dating to the allied tune, made bad decision in the Aftermath of Dresden, the pursuit, VanDamme's corps, leaving St Cyr's garrison. And failed to really damage the allied armies at Lutzen (Napoleon's complacent attitude about the Allied armies and the prospect of them attacking, another example of Napoloen's poor "reading" of opposing commanders) and Bautzen despite having a substantial advanatge in numbers, though almost all the fault was Ney's.

the poll in the thread on this site about Napoleon's performance in 1813 rated it on average 7.2 out of 10. IMHO quite overrated.
 
Aug 2015
2,359
uk
#5
Napoleon could have kept Spain as an ally; if he had then England would never have got out of Portugal. As it was, he threw away too many lives in a futile and pointless attack on Russia.

If he had consolidated his forces and not attacked Russia, he would have been far too powerful an opponent to face. Russia broke the back of his army, Spain was like a slow stranglehold choking away men, money and supplies.

Napoleon was a great tactician, but in many ways he was naive. Just as he seemed surprised that no-one would heed his calls for peace after his return from Elba, or turned down his request to end his days quietly in England, or his expectation that either Britain or Russia would sue for peace. He didn't understand people; I don't think he could understand why other cultures rebelled against the 'liberation' of their countries or the 'enlightenment' he brought when invading their countries, or how much fury he brought about by placing his relatives on the thrones of other countries.

But back on topic, it was all over the day he marched on Russia.
 
Jul 2016
243
Just outside the Rust Belt
#6
Coming as a person curious, how could Napoleon could have diplomatically achieved greater ends? We often hear what if he won at Waterloo or better at Lingy or at Leipzig or other things but what if Napoleon simply was a better diplomat? Could he have keep a enlarged French Empire together?
 
Oct 2011
478
Sloboda
#7
There are two answers to the question.

The first. Napoleon was doomed as soon as he became determined to rule as an absolute monarch. It is difficult to say when exactly did he decide to become the king? 9 November 1799? Or 2 December 1804 ? It seems that it happened somewhen after he overthrew the Directory and before he put a crown on his head. Until that moment there was a hope for Napoleon to reconcile himself to the fate of a humble general. If he could have resigned, he would have certainly become a true hero, a patriot who had become a dictator to save his country from enemies, and who was great enough to step down when the danger disappeared.

It happened that Napoleon was extremely successful during the campaigns of 1805-1806. It seems that after such success nothing could satisfy his desire for conquer and power. He became unstoppable. But neither France nor Europe were ready to be governed by an emperor. Sooner or later his schemes had to fail him.

The second answer. Although his empire was doomed it could have lasted longer. Russian campaign was that stupid mistake which speeded up the collapse. If Napoleon could have won in Russia, or at least delayed his defeat, no doubt, his empire would have existed longer.
 
Feb 2016
4,358
Japan
#8
If he'd stopped around 1807/08.... not invaded Spain and sued for peace. I think he would have been tolerated in a fashion not by Britain but the Austrians, Spanish and Russians maybe.
 
Jan 2015
5,528
Ontario, Canada
#9
Had Napoleon accepted Austria's terms in 1813 to cede them all of Germany in exchange for their neutrality he may well have defeated the Prussians and Russians and continued ruling his empire. Although said empire would be devoid of Poland and Germany and he would still have to get the British to make peace.

I for one am for the invasions of the Iberian Peninsula as they were key to controlling the European ports and challenging the British. What he should have done was handle the situation better but it was doable and most likely necessary.