Napoleon Bonaparte: 1769 – 1821
The Battle of Waterloo: June 18th, 1815
“In politics stupidity is not a handicap.” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Previously on EPiK FAILs of History – Napoleon Bonaparte was instrumental in overthrowing the French monarchy during the (first) French Revolution (the Reign of Terror). He then rose through the ranks and as General helped to conquer much of the European continent (Napoleon – Part One: The Epic). Next he crowned himself Emperor of France and took on Great Britain in a series of campaigns called the Napoleonic Wars (Napoleon – Part Two: The Fail).
Part Three: THE ULTIMATE FAILURES OF EMPEROR NAPOLEON!
Right about now you’re probably feeling like Ted Mosby’s kids, but I can assure you that this story is in fact going somewhere. In fact the following might very well qualify as the greatest EPIC FAIL of all time!
It’s going to be LEGEND-! (wait for it…)
-DAIRY!!! – Legendary!
RUSSIA vs NAPOLEON – 1812
You see, back in 1806 Emperor Napoleon decided to get back at the British through a continental wide embargo. The Russian Czar, Alexander I, eventually got sick of his bull so raised taxes on the French. After divorcing Josephine, in an attempt to get Russia on his side, Napoleon asked for Alexander’s eldest sister’s hand in marriage, the Grand Duchess Catherine Pavlovna. Her family was horrified by the notion, and immediately had another arrangement made. Then Napoleon wanted to get freaky with Alexander’s youngest sister, Anna Pavolovna. When Alexander rebuffed Bonaparte yet again, the French Emperor declared war.
It had become entirely apparent that Napoleon did not know the meaning of limitations. As I mentioned previously, he never took no as an answer. You see, the concept of impossibility was not one he was familiar with, because he was constantly changing the definition.
So, in pursuit of this absurd goal of getting back at Russia (for a perceived slight), Napoleon gathered the largest European army ever assembled of the time: historical experts estimate as many as 650,000 soldiers marched into Russia, more than enough to match Russia’s own 200,000. Napoleon took command and led the Russian invasion, personally.
“I have come once and for all to finish off these barbarians of the North. The sword is now drawn. They must be pushed back into their ice, so that for the next 25 years they no longer come to busy themselves with the affairs of civilized Europe.”
The Grand Army crossed the Niemen River in June of 1812. When they arrived at the city of Vilna, the Russian troops retreated and left behind a deserted city. The French were beginning to think this would be an easy victory. That very night they were met with an ominous hail storm that killed a number of soldiers and horses. Many a deserter branched off in search of food and loot as the Russians continued retreating further and further into the harsh climate of enemy territory. The Russians abandoned town after town, destroying bridges and setting crops ablaze. If that wasn’t bad enough the brutal summer heat brought with it outbreaks of typhus and dysentery among the French ranks.
Still Napoleon did not waiver.
When the Russians did finally make a stand at Borodino, the casualties were enormous: a total of seventy thousand! The French had suffered heavy casualties deep in hostile territory, with nothing to show for it, nothing but starvation and a trail of scorched Earth. But Napoleon was obsessed; he saw the road to Moscow unguarded and swore that he would have his revenge, regardless of the staggering cost.
The Czar knowing Napoleon all too well had set a trap.
On September 14th, the Grand Army approached Moscow… just in time to watch in horror as it went up in flames before their eyes. The city was completely deserted. The French found very little in the way of food, but did discover vast quantities of hard liquor, so they at least had that going for them. Suffice it to say they got shit faced while the city went up in smoke. Meanwhile, Napoleon occupied the charred remains of Moscow as he awaited the terms of surrender – a peace treaty which never manifested.
It was far too late when Bonaparte realized he was right where Alexander wanted him. Not only had Napoleon miscalculated the provisions needed to support such an enormous undertaking, he had also greatly underestimated his opponent. Apparently God didn’t think Napoleon had learned his lesson either, because right as October rolled around snow began to fall: winter had come early.
Napoleon finally had the sense to throw in the towel, pack up his bags, and make the long walk of shame back home. Fate had other plans for the remainder of his army. The southern route was blocked by Russian troops, forcing them to retrace their steps as temperatures dropped rapidly all around them. The cherry on top: the entire road home was a barren wasteland devoid of forage. And so Napoleon’s Grand Army succumbed to their greatest adversary yet: Sub-Zero!
Thousands of men and horses died nightly as a record breaking blizzard set in. Stragglers were picked off by the pursuing Russians. By late November, less than half were still alive as they narrowly crossed the frigid Berezina River. Threats of mutiny made the rounds as the once Grand Army shivered in the endless tundra. On December the 5th, 1812, Napoleon left his men behind (as he did in Egypt) and sped for Paris at warp nine.
When all was said in done, Napoleon had lost more than 500,000 men on his ego trip. Five-HUNDRED-Thousand!
He’d played Russian roulette with a bazooka, and lost. In light of Napoleon’s drastic defeat, Austria, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia joined Great Britain to take him down for good. Within a year Napoleon was forced to surrender and subsequently exiled to the British Island colony of Elba to spend the remained of his days… or so everyone thought.
Just when you thought it was safe to make fun of his accent…
NAPOLEON RETURNS! – 1815
You know that saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” I’m pretty sure Napoleon coined it, seeing as the guy could not take ‘no’ for an answer. The very year after Napoleon was exiled, he was back to his old shenanigans.
The powers that be (the Royalists) had reinstated a ‘proper’ monarch to the throne of France, King Louis XVIII, in an attempt to reset all the damage. What they didn’t count on was that Napoleon had changed things forever, and there was simply no going back to the old ways. He’d challenged the status quo and proved once and for all that nobility was a myth. The world itself would never be the same again.
When Bonaparte was exiled to the little island of Elba, he was put in charge of governing the tiny colony and titled ‘the Emperor of Elba’ as a sort of backhanded compliment. He was under the constant watch of French and Austrian guards, and appeared to be resigned to his fate. Little did they know, Napoleon was just biding his time as he planned his daring escape, Alcatraz-style.
On February 26, 1815, Napoleon (somehow) managed to sneak past his guards, steal a ship, secure a crew, and set sail for France. When word reached Paris, there was a mixture of horror and rejoicing in the streets. When he landed ashore, French troops were sent in to apprehend the former Emperor. Instead, in his presence, the young soldiers bowed before him and joined his cause. Like a true gangster, Napoleon ripped open his coat to bare his chest and bellowed, “If any of you will shoot your Emperor, shoot him now.” King Louis fled to Belgium as Napoleon was welcomed back into his old crib: the Tuileries Palace.
Not only was Napoleon a real life super villain, he was also the first one to make a very unlikely comeback.
Meanwhile at the Congress of Vienna: the world leaders of Europe met to decide how to divvy up post-Napoleonic properties when suddenly they got the dreaded call: Napoleon was back. Presumably after having a good laugh they then realized to their shock and dismay that it was not in fact a candid camera prank, but rather a very troubling reality. The league of monarchs immediately jumped into action, and declared Napoleon an outlaw. Austria, Prussia, Russia, and the UK formed the Seventh Coalition, and assembled 150,000 men to end Napoleon’s reign once and for all!
For real this time.
Thus began the Hundred Days campaign against Napoleon. (111 days to be exact…)
WATERLOO: Judgement Day – 1815
Sunday, the 18th of June, 1815.
The Duke of Wellington, Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley (an Irish veteran of the Peninsular War) led an army of British troops into the Netherlands (modern Belgium) along with Marshall Von Blücher’s Prussian forces.
“I tell you, Wellington is a bad general, the English are bad soldiers; we will settle the matter by lunchtime,” Napoleon assured his troops. As irony would have it, things didn’t go according to Bonaparte’s plans – by nightfall Napoleon’s forces had surrendered to Wellington’s English army.
Napoleon was faced with two converging armies: the British and the Prussians. He decided to take them out one at a time. Napoleon ordered one of his Marshal’s, Emmanuel de Grouchy to intercept the Prussians while he dealt with Wellington. Unfortunately he delayed engaging the enemy because the ground was wet, so decided to take a nap. This would prove to be a fatal mistake. Before they knew it, Wellington’s army had arrived and all hell broke loose. Then the Prussians arrived unexpectedly from the right flank and plowed through. Their line had broken and the battle devolved into a free for all game of (lethal) paintball.
“Hougoumont and its wood sent up a broad flame through the dark masses of smoke that overhung the field; beneath this cloud the French were indistinctly visible. Here a waving mass of long red feathers could be seen; there, gleams as from a sheet of steel showed that the cuirassiers were moving; 400 cannon were belching forth fire and death on every side; the roaring and shouting were indistinguishably commixed—together they gave me an idea of a labouring volcano.” —Major Macready, Light Division, 30th British Regiment, Halkett’s brigade.
“The multitude of carcasses, the heaps of wounded men with mangled limbs unable to move, and perishing from not having their wounds dressed or from hunger, as the Allies were, of course, obliged to take their surgeons and waggons with them, formed a spectacle I shall never forget. The wounded, both of the Allies and the French, remain in an equally deplorable state.” —Major W. E. Frye (After Waterloo: Reminiscences of European Travel 1815–1819).
The Battle of Waterloo would be Napoleon’s last stand and is often referred to as the Waterloo Massacre, with a total of 50,000 deaths all together. So what happened?!
Although he’d never admit it, the Napoleon of Waterloo was both mentally and physically ill. He suffered from chronic diarrhea and hemorrhaging, so was a bit distracted between his inability to mount a horse for any length of time and constantly running off to the porto-potty. To make matters worse, he no longer had the same reliable commanders seeing as most of them had died in previous engagements, primarily Russia. Between his underestimation of his enemy and his inability to survey the battle, Napoleon suffered his last and greatest defeat.
After sixteen years of fighting, and a death toll somewhere between 3.5 and 7 million, the Napoleonic Wars had finally come to a close.
This time the Coalition shipped Napoleon off even further away to an isolated island in the middle of the Atlantic – Saint Helena, where he died on May 5th, 1821 at the age of 51 from one of several suspects: stomach cancer, an ulcer, poor medical treatment, or possibly even arsenic poisoning.
There was also a Napoleon II and even an Emperor Napoleon the Third, but just like the TMNT sequels, they’re barely worth mentioning.
In the end, Napoleon – the man, may have failed, but the legacy of Napoleon – the legend, lived on. The Napoleonic Code has since been adapted by many nations around the world, bringing about positive social renovations to all corners of the globe. Most importantly, Napoleon Bonaparte challenged the status quo. He rose from humble beginnings and accomplished the impossible. A commoner who overthrew kings. In doing so he spread the spirit of the French Revolution all corners of Europe and beyond. In all the chaos, Napoleon had planted the seed of hope.
For better or worse, love him or hate him, Napoleon changed the course of history.
“Napoleon: The Path to Power” by: Philip Dwyer
“NAPOLEON for Dummies” by J. David Markham
“Napoleon and His Collaborators: the making of a dictatorship” by Issuer Woloch
“Europe Under Napoleon: 1799-1815″ by Michael Broers
“Icons of Power: Napoleon” (2007) – National Geographic documentary
“A&E – Biography: Napoleon Bonaparte” by Elaine Landau
“Battles that changed the world: Waterloo” by Samuel Willard Crompton
“Badass” by Ben Thompson
“The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity have changed History” by Erik Durschmied