Friday, March 24, 2017

Napoleon’s Army: Overextended

An analysis of Napoleon’s military activity yields the conclusion that his reach simply exceeded his grasp. To fight in Egypt, Spain, and Russia, and to contemplate an invasion of England beyond this, is ambitious to say the least.

With more modest goals, Napoleon might have succeeded and been able to retain both territory and his title as emperor. Archeologists find evidence which documents how his army faced insufficient supplies, as historian Samir Patel writes:

Between 1803 and 1805, Napoleon stationed armies along the French, Belgian, and Dutch coasts for an invasion of Britain that was abandoned after he decisively lost the Battle of Trafalgar. Recent analysis of charcoal excavated from one of these camps shows that official supplies of firewood were apparently not enough to keep the soldiers warm and fed, perhaps because sources were overtaxed by the war. Rather, the men supplemented by collecting their own locally.

Napoleon’s strategy of choice was to focus a conflict into a major battle, instead of a series of small battles. When this strategy worked well, it was a brilliant success. But it required huge armies, with massive amounts of equipment and supplies.

France’s national economy, even with whatever was commandeered or conscripted or impressed from conquered territories, was simply hard-pressed continuously to provide for Napoleon’s ever-expanding field of action.