David Aaron Gray

"Don't believe everything 
you hear on the radio"
- Charles Foster Kane

David Aaron Gray (Blog)

The Not So Little Corporal: Second Acts in Life and the Art of the Comeback, cont'd

Posted by davidaarongray on January 27, 2013 at 12:40 AM

1) Napoleon Bonaparte (Emperor of France)




Considered one of the world's greatest military leaders, Napoleon Bonaparte not even a Frenchman, was born August 15, 1769, in Ajaccio, Corsica.

During the years following the French Revolution, this unknown young soldier took advantage of the turmoil plaguing France by manipulating his way up the military hierarchy through a brilliant combination of cunning skill and popularity among fellow military officers.

When in 1796 France attacked Austria, Napoleon took the helm of the Army of Italy. The Austrian force of 30,000 strong was soon defeated by the young military commander. Under Napoleon’s direction he rebuilt the army and won numerous crucial victories against the Austrians, greatly expanded the French empire and helped make him the military's brightest star.

After his approval ratings took a hit from a defeat by the British, he hatched a plan for a coup, which succeeded in placing him at the head of France as First Consul.

Under his direction, Napoleon turned his reforms to other areas of the country, including its economy, legal system and education. He also instituted the Napoleonic Code, which forbade privileges based on birth, allowed freedom of religion and stated that government jobs must be given to the most qualified. Internationally, he negotiated a European peace.

Napoleon's reforms proved popular. In 1802 he was elected Consul for life, and two years later he was elected Emperor of France.

ABOVE: The Coronation of Napoleon by Jacques-Louis David in 1804 

Napoleon's negotiated peace with Europe lasted just three years. In 1803 Britain again returned to war with France, followed by Russia and Austria. The British registered a naval victory against Napoleon in 1805 at Trafalgar, which led Napoleon to scrap his plans to invade England. Instead he set his sights on Austria and Russia, and beat back both militaries in Austerlitz.

Other victories soon followed, allowing Napoleon to greatly expand the French empire, paving the way for loyalists to his government to be installed in Holland, Italy, Naples, Sweden, Spain and Westphalia.



Napoleon's military success, however, soon gave way to broader defeats, beginning in 1810, when France suffered a string of losses that tapped the country's military budget. In 1812 France was devastated when its invasion of Russia turned out to be a colossal failure (shocker!) in which scores of soldiers in Napoleon's Grand Army were killed or badly wounded. Out of an original fighting force of some 600,000 men, just 10,000 soldiers were still fit for battle.

News of the defeat reinvigorated Napoleon's enemies, both inside and outside France. A failed coup was attempted while Napoleon led his charge against Russia, while the British began to advance through French territories.

With international pressure mounting and his government lacking the resources to fight back against his enemies, Napoleon surrendered to allied forces on March 30, 1814 and was forced into exile on the island of Elba.


Napoleon's exile did not last long. He watched as France stumbled forward without him. In March 1815 he escaped the island and quickly made his way to Paris, where he triumphantly returned to power.

ABOVE: A map of the island of Elba (12 miles off the coast of Italy) and Napoleon's temporary residence

Napoleon immediately led his country back into battle. He led troops into Belgium and defeated the Prussians on June 16, 1815. As great as his comeback was, his second act was short lived. Two days later, at Waterloo, he was defeated in a raging battle against the British, who were reinforced by Prussian fighters. Napoleon suffered a humiliating loss and was ultimately exiled a second time to St. Helena (where he stayed until death).

Categories: Top Comebacks of All Time

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