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"Napoléon: What Made Him Great?" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2019 12:25 p.m. PST

"That gift of being able to inspire others to enthusiastically undertake unpleasant tasks is especially critical in the armed forces, where the unpleasantness of the tasks, not to mention their potentially fatal consequences, can be extreme. A combat leader faces the most difficult of motivational challenges: to get soldiers to willingly forgo the most basic of human instincts, namely comfort and self-preservation. The incentives that grease the wheels of civilian society—money and other material benefits—are of little avail on a battlefield. How, then, can wartime leaders induce their subordinates to sacrifice fundamental self-interest for the good of the collective military endeavor? Napoléon Bonaparte believed he knew the answer: "It is with baubles men are led." And judging by the legendary devotion of his troops, his answer seems valid…."
See here



Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2019 12:39 p.m. PST

You are trying to break the TMP record? Offhand I cannot recall, but some went to six pages at 50 per page.

OK, I will start it. He was not Napoleon the Great because

He was a very little guy, whatever folk tell us here about French inches etc.

He was a thoroughly unpleasant and arrogant individual personality (as was Wellington, Patton, Monty etc)

He was a total failure in the end…actually that cannot be argued.

His Code was easily broken by any cryptanalysts.

Talleyrand The Great would be better, considering what he achieved for a beaten humiliated France, but he will never appear on a table in 28mm.

von Winterfeldt19 Apr 2019 1:00 p.m. PST

his propaganda machine

nsolomon9919 Apr 2019 4:32 p.m. PST

Tango … sigh …. honestly mate …. this topic, and on this site … well, its pretty close to trolling … I'm serious!!

This thread will explode … you know this already … and potentially several well known contributors will get into heated exchanges, as they always do, lose their cool, as they always do, and level personal insults at each other and several will land in the dawghouse.

We know this because it has happened SOOOOOO many time before.

I would, respectfully, ask the editors to delete this thread before the trouble gathers any more strength.

von Winterfeldt (whose disposition is declared by his chosen username) has already demonstrated restraint in his INITIAL response but I fear that may not last.

FWIW I rate Napoleon as Chandler rated him – history's greatest soldier.

I'm not concerned with what colour socks he wore, how often he changed his undies, the insults he exchanged with British Prime Ministers in time of war, the secret police he ran to preserve his regime, as did (and do) every other government even down until this day.

Full power to the forward shields, all hands, brace for impact!

SOB Van Owen19 Apr 2019 5:01 p.m. PST

Nothing made him Great.
He was a ruthless grubby opportunist who tried to install his even more worthless relatives in cushy royal jobs.
For around 20 years, he fought "defensive wars", miraculously never on French soil.
And in the end, he was a total failure.
He was nothing better than a gangster who failed.

Please do not say anything dumb like "You have to respect him for XXXXX."
No. I don't. Nobody has the right to tell me what I have to respect.
Well, technically you do have that right, but I do not have to respect what you said, and can lower my opinion of you because of that.

Now. Who has the chip dip? grin

You're right. I'm just a troll and have no intention of arguing about it. If you disagree, I'm right and you're wrong.

Mike Petro19 Apr 2019 5:28 p.m. PST

He did have a cool hat.

Musketballs19 Apr 2019 5:53 p.m. PST

Even cooler, his hat was made from beaver.

khanscom19 Apr 2019 7:03 p.m. PST

Chicken Marengo???

Whirlwind19 Apr 2019 7:19 p.m. PST

In the actual article, the author agrees with vonW (sort of). It is arguing that Napoleon instigated the modern age of charismatic military leadership: awarding decorations, making sure that he had personal contact with the troops which was then publicized, printing out his bulletins and his harangues etc.

evilgong19 Apr 2019 7:24 p.m. PST

Bicornes, he lead armies clad in bicornes.

Weddier19 Apr 2019 7:47 p.m. PST

He was pretty bright at his best. He had commanded 11 subordinate corps from his own headquarters at one point in time, and got 9 of them into battle and won. Most commanders have trouble with more than 3 subordinate formations, which is why we have triangular formations today as a rule. Whatever failings we perceive in him in our time, his basic competency was really impressive.

Another reason why his men liked him was because he won frequently. It's hard to argue with success.

Kevin C Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2019 8:36 p.m. PST

What made Napoleon great? His soldiers' uniforms (as well as those of his enemies). Say what you want about my answer, but I bet that it is one of the few on which his critics and fans on this site can agree.


Zephyr119 Apr 2019 8:57 p.m. PST

I don't know about Napoléon himself, but the similarly named pastry is great… ;-)

Personal logo COL Scott ret Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2019 9:53 p.m. PST

I and many others have used the wars named after him as a basis for MANY MANY enjoyable war games.

He was a very good leader and like most he had many flaws as well. Neither evil incarnate nor perfect- Like most of the world, just more famous.

Lets party with Cossacks Supporting Member of TMP19 Apr 2019 10:01 p.m. PST

He generated this hobby.

42flanker19 Apr 2019 11:34 p.m. PST

I thought the fact that he wasn't dubbed 'Great'* prompted Andrew Roberts into churning out reams of prose and hours of tape to redress this fact and change history.

That should be worth a few demerits in itself.

{* Bonaparte, not Roberts. In theory…)

dogtail20 Apr 2019 12:05 a.m. PST

La Gloire

Gazzola20 Apr 2019 3:23 a.m. PST

I think the problem some sad people are having is that they just don't want to accept that you don't have to be a winner to be great. Deleted by Moderator

Napoleon was a great commander and it still took two armies to beat him and even then only after he had reduced his forces dramatically sending them off to stop the Prussians coming to Wellington's rescue. Big mistake as we all know, in hindsight, but he wasn't psychic and unfortunately, not he (nor anyone else) could forecast that Grouchy would not be up to such a simple task.
And all the greats make mistakes because they are human. Deleted by Moderator Hannibal and Lee, to name but two, were also great commanders. They also lost in the end Deleted by Moderator. Accept history. Accept reality. Like them, he lost, but he is still great and always will be. And if it wasn't for Napoleon, the memory of Wellington and Blucher would be lost in the dusty cobwebs of historical nobodies.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2019 5:48 a.m. PST

I read once some time ago is that Napoleon usually isn't referred to as 'great' or 'the great' because it was quite obvious to the casual observer that he was and didn't need the title.

I tend to agree with that assessment.

Nine pound round20 Apr 2019 6:37 a.m. PST

+1 Brechtel. He was sui generis; if not the greatest, than one in a very, very small group of men: Alexander, and I'm not sure who else.

Murvihill20 Apr 2019 7:55 a.m. PST

It is to contrast him to Napoleon III, who was not so great…

SOB Van Owen20 Apr 2019 8:46 a.m. PST

So, his greatness is axiomatic?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2019 9:53 a.m. PST

As David Chandler once wrote, Napoleon was a giant surrounded by pygmies.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse20 Apr 2019 10:01 a.m. PST

As David Chandler once wrote, Napoleon was a giant surrounded by pygmies.

If that was true, he would never have gotten as far as he did, with out Lannes, Devout etc, his plans would never have come to fruition.

Not to mention the hundreds of other generals and colonels that helped the grand armee be as dynamic was it was.

Musketballs20 Apr 2019 10:32 a.m. PST

'Wars not make one great…'

Musketballs20 Apr 2019 10:36 a.m. PST

As David Chandler once wrote, Napoleon was a giant surrounded by pygmies.

And who selected and promoted the pygmies?

And the actual Chandler quote is 'the failure of a giant surrounded by pygmies'.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2019 11:41 a.m. PST

Dear Nick…you must have a little more faith in your fellow members … if our average of life is here of 55 years … it is possible to discern with education and good manners … as you can see … no storm has happened in this thread … never lose your faith ….

Thanks to all for the civiliced comments…. and especially the outstanding humor that I enjoy so much


Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2019 1:44 p.m. PST

If that was true, he would never have gotten as far as he did, with out Lannes, Devout etc, his plans would never have come to fruition.
Not to mention the hundreds of other generals and colonels that helped the grand armee be as dynamic was it was.

I don't believe that Chandler was referring to the French generals, but to Napoleon's opponents.

And I do agree wholeheartedly that Napoleon would never have gotten to where he did without the subordinate generals who worked for him. I would submit that they were probably the greatest collection of military talent who ever worked for one man.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse20 Apr 2019 2:02 p.m. PST

I agree that Napoleon was lucky at times with his enemies(much like Robert E Lee)
Alexander I handed him a victory at Austerlitz, the prussian high command was totally behind the curve.
And fumbeling, timid generals were no match one on one in 1813-1814.

On the other hand, it wasn't winter that beat Napoleon in 1812, it was Barcley de Tolly. Napoleon did exactly like de Tolly expected him to do, Slomensk and Borodino were unnecessary. The end result would have been the same.

von Winterfeldt20 Apr 2019 2:03 p.m. PST

well – the pygmies are a highly successful tribe surviving under harsh conditions, in case they hunted down more than one giant.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP20 Apr 2019 2:53 p.m. PST

I am sure the best folk to ask would have been Josephine, Marie-Louise or his various lady friends, as to whether he earned this title. The rumour is, well not quite so great. Lightning campaigns were his forte after all

I have no idea what earns one this title. Catherine TG, I can follow, but Peter TG? Darius TG was beaten by Alex TG. Alfred TG just burnt some cakes. Fred TG of Prussia…yes…good shout. Rameses TG, well yes, lots of nice monuments for us tourists. Must be loads more but not enough to explain why a book needed for Boney TG

42flanker20 Apr 2019 3:36 p.m. PST

Alfred of Wessex tamed the Danes and laid the foundations of the kingdom of England founded by his descendants. He was also a devout patron of the English church and a scholar. I think he may have also invented a clock, which certain railway companies appear still to be using.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse21 Apr 2019 1:37 a.m. PST

Peter the great basically created the Russia we know, and unlike Freddie and Alex he actually had to create an army from scratch. Under his rule, Russia went from a quaint backwards feudal society, to be the dominant power in the north and east.

Kinda a Bleeped text, but I think few have more earned the title of great.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 2:40 a.m. PST

On the other hand, it wasn't winter that beat Napoleon in 1812, it was Barcley de Tolly. Napoleon did exactly like de Tolly expected him to do, Slomensk and Borodino were unnecessary. The end result would have been the same.

Barclay was relieved as the Russian commander-in-chief on 29 August and replaced by Kutusov. So, it is inaccurate to believe that Barclay defeated Napoleon. Kutusov didn't either-he lost every engagement he fought against Napoleon and Eugene defeated him at Maloyaroslavets. And Kutusov deliberately stayed out of the fight of the Berezina because he didn't want to face Napoleon again.

Russia is just too large and that is the problem with invading Russia. There are three additional principles of war-don't invade China, Russia, or the United States. All three are just too large.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse21 Apr 2019 3:03 a.m. PST

It was De Tolly's plan that whipped out Napoleons army of 650 000 men, so yes he beat Napoleon.

Personal logo deadhead Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 3:08 a.m. PST

Large empires have collapsed before, even to small invading armies. Size is not everything.

China, Russia, US simply do not know when to give up…and it does help to be vast as well. It may not stop you losing a war, but it certainly protects you against invasion and subsequent occupation of the homeland.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 3:47 a.m. PST

It was De Tolly's plan that whipped out Napoleons army of 650 000 men, so yes he beat Napoleon.

And what was Barclay's plan?

The initial plan was to entice Napoleon to the Drissa camp and then destroy the Grande Armee. That was Phull's plan and it collapsed shortly after the invasion began.

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse21 Apr 2019 3:51 a.m. PST

The plan was to pull back, never give battle and scorch the earth, and let Napoleon's army destroy it self.
That was de Tollys's plan, and except for a few unnecessary battles(Slomensk and Borodino) it worked.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 4:14 a.m. PST

Do you have a source or sources for that?

When the Drissa plan failed, the Russian high command was in a panic and really didn't know what to do.

And if Barclay's 'plan' was actually what you say it was, then he didn't follow it as the battle of Smolensk and others clearly demonstrate.

Bagration was completely against retreat and backstabbed Barclay whenever he could, as did Barclay's own staff.

Whirlwind21 Apr 2019 4:24 a.m. PST

A question: did Napoleon as a commander lose the greatest number of soldiers in battle and on campaign in all of history at the point of his downfall? If so, when was he overtaken by another general?

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 4:56 a.m. PST

Looks like you have a lot of work to do…

And that's two questions…

von Winterfeldt21 Apr 2019 5:11 a.m. PST

And what was Barclay's plan?

just read Fabry in case you don't trust any non French authors.

Do you have a source or sources for that?

Fabry again.

seneffe21 Apr 2019 10:06 a.m. PST

Kevin's observations about the problems faced by barclay are correct- he was assailed by intrigue on all sides and derided as a coward and even a traitorous 'German' by the 'Russian' patriot factions in court and army, including the (Georgian) Bagration. On top of that, he to contend with the 'help' from 'Germans' still in favour like Phull.

But in the face of all of this- he persisted throughout the summer in his absolutely correct strategy of retreat from Napoleon's initially numerically superior forces, knowing that an early battle might bring glory (but defeat) for the army, and potential ruin for the Russian state. When court and army faction opinion for a battle proved too strong, he managed the fight of Smolensk skillfully enough to allow Russian honour fully to be served and the army to be preserved- escaping repeated attempts of the French to catch him- attempts which look pretty clumsy.

In preserving the army for the Czar, Barclay used up so much of his personal capital, that his replacement by Kutusov was probably an inevitable result. But let's not forget that he wasn't fired and remained commander of more than two thirds of the troops at Borodino. By the time of Borodino, Barclay's strategy time, his strategy had left the Russians with 1st and 2nd Western armies almost as strong (or stronger by some reckoning) as it had been at the start of the campaign- while he had seen to it that Napoleon's main army was massively reduced by campaign wastage.

For my money, Barclay is the absolutely stand out commander in the 1812 campaign on either side- his strategic judgements look far sounder and more realistic than Napoleon's.

In Mikaberdize's great volume on Borodino, one of the most uplifting things to read (pp199-200) is the Russian officer's account of how at the end of the battle, following his numerous displays of cool bravery on the field, and in complete contrast to the scorn with he had been treated- whole regiments greeted Barclay with spontaneous 'hurrahs'.

A great and very underrated general

Gunfreak Supporting Member of TMP In the TMP Dawghouse21 Apr 2019 10:14 a.m. PST

I agree, Barclay is extremely underrated.
1812 shows he is easily top 3 strategic generals of the period.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP21 Apr 2019 5:07 p.m. PST

IF that is so, then why was Wittgenstein chosen to command the Russian army in 1813 after Kutusov's death?

Musketballs21 Apr 2019 8:11 p.m. PST

IF that is so, then why was Wittgenstein chosen to command the Russian army in 1813 after Kutusov's death?

Simply put: Because he was the best available choice actually with the main army. By the time Kutuzov fell ill and died in late April 1813, this army was in Saxony. Barclay de Tolly by this point had been sent to replace the unsatisfactory Chichagov and was busy besieging the key fortress of Thorn. Barclay did not rejoin the main army until the eve of Bautzen.

The Tsar was not exactly spoilt for choice to replace Kutuzov, but Wittgenstein stood out for a fine performance in 1812 and in the initial campaign in Prussia. He'd also forged warm ties with key Prussian leaders, something that weighed to his benefit. It was not an obviously bad call to give him an opportunity in army command.

As things turned out, it was too much, too soon for Wittgenstein, and his performance at army command was not impressive (in his defence, he inherited a truly chaotic staff and administrative situation from the notoriously disorganised Kutuzov). A week after Bautzen, he was replaced by Barclay.

von Winterfeldt21 Apr 2019 11:38 p.m. PST

Yes Wittgenstein was only a stop gap,one has to understand that Barclay de Tolly executed the plans worked out by several generals and the Russian emperor himself, of course the emperor could not publicly announce that – a battle before Moscow was political unavoidable, though military senseless.
Barclay de Tolly had to be sacrificed for that.
In the end the strategy of retreat and wait for good opportunities did pay out successfully.
You would play exactly into the hand of Boney to give an early battle where his army was superior in numbers.
So then consequently when Wittgenstein, himself being among those generals – as well as Kutusov to help Boney escape in person – though ruining his army at the Beresina – proved himself not capable to command the Russian Armies, Barclay comes back.
Yes indeed underrated – his retreat in Russia – alone showed his strategic abilities and he frustrated Boney again and again and again.
The Russian emperor did well know the weaknesses of Boney's operational art of war, he told Caulaincourt what he would do – and he just did it.

MiniPigs24 Apr 2019 5:55 a.m. PST

I understand that for his marshal's he often had men who were brilliant at the level of running a Corps but not good at individual command. That may have been a result of his incredible micromanagement.

Someone mentioned he installed mediocre relatives into positions of power which was probably an extension of his micromanagement. He also seems to have been in a lonely, exhausted place due to an element of only-I-can-do-anything-right in his personality.

I think also, he wanted to be accepted by the "IN" crowd and those ruling families were never going to sanction that. In the end, his greatest gift might have been continually challenging and old order he ironically wanted to become a part of.

A man of many contradictions and talents. It seems like it is easier to read about his campaigns and more difficult to read about his person.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2019 7:20 a.m. PST

Frederick the Great once remarked that there were few generals in any generation or era who were capable of independent command.

In the Grande Armee, the masters among the marshals were Davout, Lannes, Soult, Massena, St Cyr, and Suchet.

Savary, Delaborde, and Eugene were certainly capable of independent command, the latter performing well in 1809 and brilliantly in 1812-1814.

The idea that Napoleon was a 'micromanager' is just an exaggeration. His system of command, which included his staff headed by Berthier, was decentralized and his corps were always tailored to the capabilities of the corps commanders. Further, he usually issued general, mission-type orders which told his subordinate commanders what he wanted done-not how to do it.

If you compare Napoleon's generals with those of the other powers, including Great Britain's, I submit that they were probably the greatest collection of military talent to ever serve one man.

In comparison, Wellington is on record as keeping a tight leash on his subordinates and with a much smaller army than Napoleon. I do believe that he did not want his subordinate commanders to exhibit individual initiative but to obey orders.

If there is interest in studying Napoleon the man, and not Napoleon the army commander, I would suggest reading the memoirs of those close to him (Fain, Marchand, Savary, and Rapp come to mind), and stay away from the potboilers such as the supposed memoirs of Bourrienne, which was ghost-written.

Taking a look at Napoleon's civil accomplishments, which I believe are much more important and impressive than his military accomplishments, gives an excellent amount of insight into what Napoleon was actually like-that and reading his Correspondence-which is not the same thing as the Bulletins.

Brechtel198 Supporting Member of TMP24 Apr 2019 7:29 a.m. PST

Barclay is extremely underrated.
1812 shows he is easily top 3 strategic generals of the period.

Who were the other two?

Napoleon, Wellington, Davout, Eugene, Lannes, Suchet and undoubtedly others, were better generals than Barclay. Barclay was the best of the Russian general officers, but he was mistrusted as a 'foreigner' as his ancestry was Scottish.

Berthier was a much more efficient minister of war than Barclay was, and Berthier held both the post of major general and chief of staff of the Grande Armee and Minister of War until 1807 when Clarke was given the job.

Ferdinand von Funck, the Saxon liaison officer with the Grande Armee, left a valuable memoir which is useful regarding the marshals.

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