Saturday, April 6, 2013

Great Moments in Stupidity: Napoleon Bonaparte One More Time!
After reading the previous descriptions regarding the fortunes of Napoleon Bonaparte you would think that he would have considered himself lucky to have escaped with his life, let alone be exiled to a life of ease on Elba. In fact, Napoleon had a better lifestyle as a prisoner that most of his former soldiers, who found themselves serving the new French King Louis XVIII, the grandson of the man that their fathers and grandfathers had executed during the Revolution. Naturally, when Napoleon's desire for power merged with his own stupidity, all Hell broke loose again in Europe.
Napoleon managed to escape from Elba on February 26, 1815 and was back on French soil 3 days later. This event, as you might imagine, did not sit well with the new King of France, Louis XVIII who, thanks to the stupidity gene that had invaded the Bourbon family bloodlines centuries before, sent an entire regiment of troops to capture the fugitive and return him to somewhere other than France. Louis' mistake was that the commander of this regiment was Marshal Michel Ney, who had served under Napoleon and admired his former commander beyond the point of description.

According to eyewitness accounts, Napoleon met the soldiers that had been sent to arrest him alone on the outskirts of the city of Grenoble. In a move that has defined the term "a set of brass balls" ever since that day, he stood before Marshal Ney and the regiment and bet his life against the loyalty of his former subordinates, and made one statement:
"Soldiers of the Fifth [Regiment], you recognize me. If any man would shoot his emperor, he may do so now."
The regiment that had been sent to arrest this Corsican troublemaker immediately responded with cheers of "Vive L'Empereur!" Marshal Ney dismounted from his own horse so that Napoleon could ride at the head of the regiment as they reversed course and marched on to Paris.
Arriving in Paris on the morning of March 20th Napoleon quickly raised a professional army of 140,000 men and a volunteer corps of some 200,000. Louis XVIII, true to his Bourbon heritage, had left town as soon as he received word that Napoleon was on the way to Paris and had subsequently sought shelter from the British and the Prussians. What followed is referred to as "The Hundred Days" and would end near a small town in what is now Belgium, which was called Waterloo.
The Battle of Waterloo was essentially a battle fought by Napoleon Bonaparte against the rest of Europe, who had pooled their armies under the joint capable command of England's Duke of Wellington and the equally capable (and even bigger French-hater) Gebhard von Blücher of Prussia.
Napoleon had correctly anticipated that the response of the European powers would not be one of elation when they learned of his escape from Elba and had also correctly anticipated that if he were to have the proverbial snowball's chance in Hell of remaining in power that his only military option was to keep the English and Prussian armies from joining forces, which would allow him to engage (and hopefully defeat) two smaller armies rather than one that would be much closer in size to that of his own.
Napoleon managed to move his two armies northward without being detected by either the Prussians or the British. Crossing the Belgian border near the town of Charleroi he encountered a series of small Prussian forward observation positions whose occupants, upon seeing some 250,000 French soldiers bearing down on them, promptly fled to the relative safety of the main body of the Prussian Army. In doing so, they also revealed to the French the general position of von Blücher's Prussians.
Napoleon realized that since he had marched northward without encountering opposition and that since the Prussians had fled to the east; the English forces must be to his west. He then divided his army into 3 groups sending the center and right, which he personally commanded groups to engage von Blücher while sending the left wing (commanded by Marshal Ney) to block Wellington from coming to the aid of the aid of the Prussians.
The French engaged both the Prussians and the British almost simultaneously on the morning of June 16th. By the end of the day's fighting, Ney had managed to inflict only moderate casualties on the British forces but, more importantly, had blocked the main road that led from Wellington's position to von Blücher's army, which although it had not been defeated by Napoleon, had been forced to make as less than orderly retreat in the direction of the Rhine River. Under the heavy rain that fell throughout the day on June 17th Wellington withdrew, with Marshal Ney in close pursuit, to a ridge line about a mile south of the town of Waterloo.
Napoleon and Ney had joined forces on the night of the 17th and devised a plan to quickly defeat Wellington before von Blücher's Prussians could arrive. The only problem with this plan is that no one knew exactly where the Prussians had gone following their withdrawal on the afternoon and early evening of the 16th. At this point, Napoleon made a crucial mistake.
Both Ney and Napoleon reasoned that von Blücher would have withdrawn his army to the relative safety of the Rhine River and was thus at least a two day's march to the east and that therefore the French would throw everything they had at Wellington, defeat the English army, and then hold the high ground around Waterloo while waiting for von Blücher to come to them. Military historians generally agree that this was the proper course of action had the situation been as Napoleon and Ney had thought. There were only two factors that they hadn't considered.
The first was that von Blücher, in typical Prussian fashion, had not retreated to the banks of the Rhine but had instead regrouped his army only a few hours, rather than days, to the east of Waterloo. This possibility had not been anticipated by the French when, at around 10AM on the morning of June 18th, they went after Wellington's army. It was shortly after the fighting began that problem number 2 announced its presence on the field of battle.
You will recall that Wellington had repositioned his army during the previous day's driving rains. Now, Belgium is one of those countries that consider any collection of dirt and rocks over 100 feet tall to be a mountain. This in turn means that it takes very little rainfall to convert the countryside into a mud pit and that the said mud pit is not what you want to have to drag your heavy artillery through.
Napoleon's troops had been accustomed to attacking positions that had previously been pounded by the French artillery, which was now bogged down in mud. The English, however, had their artillery already in place and were demonstrating to the attacking French how unpleasant artillery barrages can be. In spite of all this the French were making a good showing of themselves; having forced Wellington to constantly shift both his main and reserve troops time and time again to deal with French penetrations of his battle lines. Then the one thing that Napoleon and Ney had failed to consider occurred: von Blücher's Prussians attacked from the east.
At this point we could add at least a dozen more pages to this epic testimony to the power of stupidity by describing the actions of one group of combatants or another, but that would lead to the ultimate form of literary stupidity in which an author will use many more words than necessary to describe what transpired that afternoon. I will now provide a brief summary of the events of the afternoon of June 18th, 1815.
Napoleon got his ass kicked.
The above-mentioned ass was exiled to a large rock in the Atlantic ocean that was misnamed the Island of St. Helena where it died a few years later.

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