Term Paper: Napoleon's Influence on Lee

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Napoleon's Influence On Lee

Robert E. Lee, in his attempt to use Napoleonic war strategy, made many of the mistakes that Napoleon made and came to defeat and victory in much the same manner as did Napoleon.

The purpose of this study is to identify the Napoleonic tactics utilized by Robert E. Lee in the Civil War and to show that use of these tactics resulted in Lee experiencing some of the same victories and defeats as did Napoleon in the use of the same tactics due to the changing nature of warfare in both cases.

Defensive-Offensive Maneuvers: Attack from a strong defensive position after the enemy who has attacked is weakened in strength. (the Molossian Naval Academy, nd)

Turning Maneuvers: Indirect approaches that attempt to swing wide around an enemy's flank to so threaten the enemy's supply and communication lines that the enemy is forced to abandon a strong position or be cut off and encircled.

Envelopment: This maneuver is one in which "a secondary attack attempts to hold the enemy's center while one (single envelopment) or both flanks (double envelopment) of the enemy are attacked or overlapped in a push to the enemy's rear in order to threaten the enemy's communications and line of retreat. This forces the enemy to fight in several directions and possibly be destroyed in position." (the Molossian Naval Academy, nd)


The work of Rothenberg states that warfare in the 19th century was quite different from the transformations that took place during the time of the wars of Napoleon. Prior to other weapons being introduced, specifically stated is that the: "...limitations of the musket determined battle tactics. To compensate for the extremely low accuracy of the individual shot, mass fire was required and to achieve this, the battalions were formed in elongated lines, three deep, firing volleys on command." (1978) This required precision timing and soldiers had to keep alignments of the formation "straight" and correctly spaced distances with commands timed precisely." (Rothenberg, 1978; p. 15)

To understand the context the duties in war of soldier this research looks to the work of Grimsley who informs this study that: "Infantrymen fought on foot, each with his own weapon. Cavalrymen were trained to fight on horseback or dismounted, also with their own weapons. Artillerists fought with cannon." (1997) Rothenberg writes that artillery had become "militarized and shed the last remnants of its ancient guild status. Generally, armies were well supplied with field pieces, firing 6-, 8-, or 12-pound projectiles, though they still lacked organic transport. Guns and ammunition supplies were dragged to the battlefield by hired civilian drivers." (1978)

It was not until sometime between 1756 and 1763, during the Seven Years' War that pieces were not very heavy or flexible in terms of mobility. Therefore, guns must be situated before the beginning of a battle therefore location, location, location...as the saying goes. (Rothenberg, 1978; p.15; paraphrased) Artillery underwent lighting quick evolution beginning the middle of the eighteen century and onward with artillery becoming "lighter and more maneuverable, and equipped with better aiming devices." (Rothenberg, 1978; p.15) the French Army, when taken over by Napoleon was characterized by a strategic aim resulting in "fast marches." (Slavkov U. Brna -Austerlitz, nd) the French army was stated to have been capable of cutting march time of a distance in half as compared to other armies. Furthermore, these armies were able to use a compact formation "of columns up to sixteen rows deep, which could consist of an infantry battalion, or a square foot of soldiers known as a 'carre'. These tactics put the enemy at loss, surprised by its violence and made it possible to defeat the enemy to a man." (Slavkov U. Brna - Austerlitz, nd)


The work entitled: "Introduction to Napoleon and Europe" states that one must understand that Napoleon did not "lose his wars by himself or with the help of the weather alone; his adversaries won them. The allies developed new methods of organizing and using their armies large in response to Napoleon's exploits. His continental foes aped what they saw as key aspects of Napoleon's military system in order to defeat him...Perhaps the allies defeated Napoleon by becoming Napoleon." (Rothenberg, 1978; p.15) the work entitled: "The Battle of Three Emperors" states that the feature that was most outstanding in Napoleon's system of warfare was "its flexibility and limitless variations." (2008) Napoleon's strategic maneuvers had "one specific purpose in mind, a decisive battle." (the Battle of Three Emperors, 2008) According to Ross (1985) Napoleon "always understood the necessity for combined arms operations and noted that 'infantry, cavalry and artillery cannot do without one another." (Ross, 1985) Ross further states that Napoleon "always relief upon surprise and speed." (1985) Also characteristic of Napoleon in terms of combat style was "boldness and flexibility." (Ross, 1985) the 'Old Regime' style battles were "marked by rigid tactics." (Ross, 1985) Formation of troops was in a linear fashion in which "close range volleys...[were]...traded...with enemies until one side broke." (Ross, 1985) Ross relates that this method resulted in casualties "as high as forty percent of the forces engaged." (1985; p.3) Napoleon learned some bitter lessons of war in the Battle of Waterloo.


The work of John Lord entitled: "American Leaders: Robert Edward Lee" states that Lee exhibited: "...the triumph of profound intelligence, of calculation, and of well-employed force over numbers and disunited counsels." Lee's campaigns and battles "exhibit the triumph of profound intelligence, of calculation, and of well-employed force over numbers and disunited counsels." (1990) Stated additionally is: "Lee's campaigns and battles "...exhibit the triumph of profound intelligence, of calculation, and of well-employed force over numbers and disunited counsels." (Lord, 1990) Lee followed the Napoleonic tactics of war and Napoleon's war maxims ultimately to the defeat of his army in the Civil War.


Battle of Pyramids

Napoleon marched his troops across many miles of desert in the country of Egypt in a battle against the Marmelukes in May 1798. The Maramlukes had been trained as soldiers since they were small children. This was a battle in which steady fire upon the Marmaluke horsemen quickly won the battle of the Pyramids for the French and left Napoleon's army entering the city of Cairo in victory.

Battle of Austerlitz

The Battle of Austerlitz was fought "on December 2, 1805" and "was the decisive victory that Napoleon sought.' (Ross, 1985) Napoleon's army caused the allied forces to fall on the right through weakening the center of the allied forces with the assistance of reserve corps that had arrived the previous night for this purpose. Napoleon's troops covered eighty miles in only 50 hours moving up from Vienna entering the battle on the right of Napoleon "right directly off the march." (Ross, 1985; p. 7) Ross (1985) states:

When he felt that the allies were fully committed against his right, Napoleon unleashed his strategic reserve against the Austro-Russian center. After bitter fighting, the French broke the allied center and pivoted south against the allied left wing. When the allies finally retreated, they left behind 27,000 casualties -- a third of their original strength. The Austrians soon sought an armistice while the Russians marched back to Poland." (p. 7)

The communications of the other army was weakened through Napoleon's striking his enemies "with deep, rapid, slashing maneuvers that threatened their communications and threw them off balance strategically and psychologically." (Ross, 1985; p. 7) the rapid and continuous blows on the enemy is accredited by Ross (1985) to be due to the ability of Napoleon's army to "...move rapidly with a minimum of logistic support and their tactical proficiency on the battlefield." (p. 7) the Defensive-Offensive maneuver was used in the battle of Austerlitz by Napoleon. (the Molossian Naval Academy, nd)

Lee's Second Battle of Bull Run

The second Battle of Bull Run was fought in 1962 between Union army General John Pope and Lee's army. Jackson's unit attacked Pope's advance units at Cedar Mountain situated near Culpeper Virginia. Jackson's unit comprised by 23,000 men "swing in a wide circle around Pope's army. On August 26 he swooped down on the federal base at Manassas Junction, captured or destroyed supplies, and then made a stand at Manassas, the site of the First Battle of Bullrun." (American Civil War, MSN Encarta, nd) the tactic used by Lee for winning in this battle is known as turning maneuvers. (the Molossian Naval Academy, nd)

Wagram Campaign

Napoleon's Wagram Campaign is stated in the work of Epstein (1994) to have been fought in two phases. The first phase involved building bridges from a "small series of islands in the middle of the Danube." (Epstein,; p. 148) the second phase was a night assault ordered by Napoleon. Epstein states: "The battle of Wagram was a battle of attrition determined by the number of troops and the volume of firepower." (p.163) Epstein writes that the battle of Wagram illustrates… [END OF PREVIEW]

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