The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte

Here is a fantastic BBC dramatization of the rise of Napoleon as a company and field grade officer. While it’s quite possible to quibble with the historical details and dramatization of the film, and actor Tom Burke looks about as much like Napoleon as he does Shaquille O’Neal, it’s quite well done and a lot of fun. It does bring out several things about Napoleon that made him an effective leader:

  1. His technical proficiency as an artilleryman;
  2. His intellect, the principal power that set him above his peers;
  3. The general incompetence of other French Revolutionary leaders;
  4. His remarkable nerve and audacity, which led him to irrational levels of risk taking; and, finally,
  5. His damnably good luck.

The speech before the Toulon attack is as good as any in fiction — yes, including the hortatory speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V. (We couldn’t determine whether Napoleon ever said such a thing).

It’s interesting to observe the number of times Napoleon was in mortal danger, and survived. Just consider the consequences of being wounded in the 1790s, and yet the Corsican’s robust constitution and impossible luck saved him for greater things.

Was Napoleon brilliant? Or was he a monster? Could he have been both? Regardless, the legend of Napoleon begins with a young artilleryman on his way to not just one but many dates with Destiny.

Enjoy the show!

20 thoughts on “The Rise of Napoleon Bonaparte

  1. ToastieTheCoastie

    It’s funny to read any book written before about 1900. Napoleon was the Hitler of the 19th century.

    1. LSWCHP

      I was gonna say exactly that. Napoleon was a brilliant monster. The way I’ve come to see him, he sacrificed the lives of millions pretty much to satisfy his own ego and ambition.

      Undoubtedly a genius on the battlefield and one of the greatest field commanders of all time but a monster nonetheless. Everybody would’ve been better off if one of those stray bullets had struck him and killed or disabled him as a young man.

  2. Matt in IL

    OFF TOPIC
    Hognose: Any suggested reading for someone going to the Direct Commission Course at Fort Benning in October? Perhaps something you wish your Lieutenants understood better?

    Thank you.

    1. Matt in IL

      Of course, I would care to hear from anyone with a (informed) opinion on the topic.

      Thank you all.

      1. archy

        This will be lengthy, and, I hope, comprehensive.

        I would note the Commandant USMC’s required reading list, tailored for junior enlisted men, NCOs, junior officers, and higher, and other categories. I’ve included a slice from 3 of the current categories, and another from a previous Commandant USMC, some guy named *Maddis,* for whom you will be working. But the lists are certainly instructive and worth some study in detail themselves, whether in the USMC or working with them, or just as a way of understanding the USMC’s own way of doing things.

        Commandant’s Choice: [current]

        “A Message to Garcia” by E. Hubbard
        “Leading Marines (MCWP 6-11)” by the United States Marine Corps.
        “The Warrior Ethos” by S. Pressfield
        “Warfighting (MCDP 1)” by the United States Marine Corps

        Entry Level Enlisted: Recruit/Poolee
        “Battle Cry” by L. Uris
        “Corps Values” by Z. Miller
        “Making the Corps” by T. Ricks (free audiobook)
        “The Red Badge of Courage” by S. Crane (free audiobook)

        Entry Level Officer: Candidate/Midshipman
        “Battle Cry” by L. Uris
        “Corps Values” by Z. Miller
        “I’m Staying With My Boys” J. Proser and J. Cutter
        “Making the Corps” by T. Ricks (free audiobook)
        “My Men Are My Heroes” by N. Helms
        “The Killer Angels” by M. Shaara (free audiobook)

        Primary Level Enlisted: Pvt.-Cpl.
        “Ender’s Game” by O. Card (free audiobook)
        “Gates of Fire” by S. Pressfield (free audiobook)
        “Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller” by B. Davis
        “My Men Are My Heroes” by N. Helms
        “Rifleman Dodd” by C.S. Forester
        “The Last Stand of Fox Company” by B. Drury and T. Clavin (free audiobook)
        “The Marines of Montford Point: America’s First Black Marines” by M. McLaurin

        Primary Level Officer: WO, 2nd Lt., 1st Lt.
        “All Quiet on the Western Front” by E. Remarque (free audiobook)
        “Battle Leadership” by A. Von Schell
        “Gates of Fire” by S. Pressfield (free audiobook)
        “Marine! The Life of Chesty Puller” by B. Davis
        “Matterhorn: a Novel of the Vietnam War” by K. Marlantes (free audiobook)
        “The Defense of Duffer’s Drift” by E. Swinton
        “The Forgotten Soldier” by G. Sajer
        “The Last Stand of Fox Company” by B. Drury and T. Clavin (free audiobook)
        “The Marines of Montford Point: America’s First Black Marines” by M. McLaurin
        “U.S. Constitution”
        “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” by E. Sledge (free audiobook)

        Career Level Enlisted: Sgt., SSgt.
        “First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps” by V. Krulak
        “Islands of the Damned” by R. Burgin and B. Marvel (free audiobook)
        “Outliers” by M. Gladwell (free audiobook)
        “Quartered Safe Out Here” by G. Fraserl (free audiobook)
        “Soldiers of God” by R. Kaplan
        “Storm of Steel” by E. Junger (free audiobook)
        “The Defense of Duffer’s Drift” by E. Swinton
        “The Forgotten Soldier” by G. Sajer
        “The Killer Angels” by M. Shaara (free audiobook)
        “U.S. Constitution”
        “With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa” by E. Sledge (free audiobook)

        Career Level Officer: CWO-2, CWO-3, Capt.
        “Attacks” by E. Rommel
        “Black Hearts” by J. Frederick (free audiobook)
        “First to Fight: An Inside View of the U.S. Marine Corps” by V. Krulak
        “Infantry in Battle (FMFRP 12-2)” by the United States Marine Corps
        “Into the Tiger’s Jaw” by F. Petersen
        “Islands of the Damned” by R. Burgin and B. Marvel (free audiobook)
        “On Killing” by D. Grossman (free audiobook)
        “Outliers” by M. Gladwell (free audiobook)
        “Quartered Safe Out Here” by G. Fraser (free audiobook)
        “Sources of Power” by G. Klein
        “The Virtues of War” by S. Pressfield (free audiobook)
        “U.S. Constitution”
        “War Made New” by M. Boot

        Intermediate Level Enlisted: GySgt., MSgt., 1st Sgt.
        “All Quiet on the Western Front” by E. Remarque (free audiobook)
        “American Spartan” by J. Warren (free audiobook)
        “Fields of Fire” by J. Webb (free audiobook)
        “Flags of Our Fathers” by J. Bradley (free audiobook)
        “Helmet For My Pillow” by R. Leckie
        “On Killing” by D. Grossman (free audiobook)
        “The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It” by J. Ramo (free audiobook)
        “The Changing Face of War” by M. Van Creveld
        “This Kind of War” by T. Fehrenbach (free audiobook)
        “U.S. Constitution”
        “We Were Soldiers Once…And Young” by H. Moore and J. Galloway

        Intermediate Level Officer: CWO-4, CWO-5, Maj., Lt.Col.
        “Battle Cry of Freedom” by J. McPherson (free audiobook)
        “Blink” by M. Gladwell (free audiobook)
        “Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War” by R. Coram (free audiobook)
        “Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak” by R. Coram (free audiobook)
        “Carnage and Culture” by V. Hanson
        “Command Culture” by J. Muth
        “Defeat into Victory” by W. Slim
        “Forgotten Warriors” by T. Hammes
        “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by T. Freidman (free audiobook)
        “Just and Unjust Wars” by M. Walzer (free audiobook)
        “Military Innovation in the Interwar Period” by W. Murray and A. Millett
        “Ripples of Battle” by V. Hanson
        “The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It” by J. Ramo (free audiobook)
        “The Warriors: Reflections on Men in Battle” by J. Gray
        “This Kind of War” by T. Fehrenbach (free audiobook)

        Senior Level Enlisted: MGySgt., SgtMaj.
        “Achilles in Vietnam” by J. Shay
        “Assignment Pentagon: How to Excel in a Bureaucracy” by P. Smith and D. Gerstein
        “Command Culture” by J. Muth
        “Forgotten Warriors” by T. Hammes
        “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” by T. Freidman (free audiobook)
        “Just and Unjust Wars” by M. Walzer (free audiobook)
        “No Bended Knee” by M. Twining
        “The Face of Battle” by J. Keegan (free audiobook)
        “The Mask of Command” by J. Keegan

        Senior Level Officer: Col.-Gen.
        “Another Bloody Century” by C. Gray
        “Assignment Pentagon: How to Excel in a Bureaucracy” by P. Smith and D. Gerstein
        “Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam” by H. McMaster
        “Diplomacy” by H. Kissinger
        “How Wars End” by G. Rose (free audiobook)
        “Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past” by J. Gaddis
        “Little Book of Economics: How the Economy Works in the Real World” by G. Ip
        “Military Power: Explaining Victory and Defeat in Modern Battle” by S. Biddle
        “Modern Strategy” by C. Gray
        “Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen and Leadership in Wartime” by E. Cohen
        “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by D. Goodwin (free audiobook)
        “The Federalist Papers” by A. Hamilton
        “The Guns of August” by B. Tuchman (free audiobook)
        “The Landmark of Thucydides” by R. Strassler
        “The Revenge of Geography” by R. Kaplan (free audiobook)

        Aviation
        “100 Years of Marine Corps Aviation: An Illustrated History” by R. Kaufman
        “Hammer From Above: Marine Air Combat Over Iraq” by J. Stout
        “Marine Air: The History of the Flying Leathernecks in Words and Photos” by R. Dorr
        “On Yankee Station: The Naval Air War over Vietnam” by J. Nichols and B. Tillman
        “The Art of Airpower, Sun Tzu Revisited” by S. Kainikara
        “The Naval Air War in Korea” by R. Hallion
        “U.S. Marine Corps Aviation Since 1912” by P. Mersky

        Logistics
        “Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army” by D. Engels
        “Clockspeed” by C. Fine
        “Feeding Mars: Logistics in Western Warfare from the Middle Ages to the Present” by J. Lynn
        “Keep from All Thoughtful Men: How U.S. Economists Won WWII” by J. Lacey
        “Pacific Express: The Critical Role of Military Logistics In WWII” by W. McGee
        “Recurring Logistic Problems as I Have Observed Them” by C. Magruder
        “Supplying War” by M. van Creveld

        Counterinsurgency
        “Counterinsurgency Warfare” by D. Galula
        “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife” by J. Nagl and P. Schoomaker (free audiobook)
        “Street Without Joy” by B. Fall (free audiobook)
        “The Accidental Guerilla” by D. Kilcullen (free audiobook)
        “The Village” by B. West
        “War Comes to Long An” by J. Race

        Roots of Maneuver Warfare
        “Airpower and Maneuver Warfare” by M. van Creveld
        “Assault from the Sea: Essays on the History of Amphibious Warfare” by M. Bartlett
        “Maneuver Warfare” by G. Galvin and R. Hooker
        “Maneuver Warfare Handbook” by W. Lind
        “The U.S. Marines and Amphibious War: Its Theory and Practice in the Pacific” by J. Isley and P. Crowl

        Wounded Warrior
        “Ascent” by B. McGhie
        “Courage After Fire: Coping Strategies for Troops Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and Their families” by K. Armstrong, S. Best, and P. Domenici
        “Down Range: To Iraq and Back” by B. Cantrell and C. Dean
        “Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming” by J. Shay
        “Once a Warrior Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home” by C. Hoge (free audiobook)
        “Once a Warrior: Wired for Life” by B. Cantrell and C. Dean
        “Overcoming Post-Deployment Syndrome: A Six Step Mission to Health” by D. Cifu and C. Blake
        “Shadow of the Sword” by J. Workman
        “Soft Spots: A Marine’s Memoir of Combat and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” by C. Van Winkle
        “Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by L. Hillenbrand (free audiobook)
        “War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation’s Veterans from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” by E. Tick
        “Warrior Mindset” by M. Asken, L. Christensen, D. Grossman
        “What It Is Like to Go to War” by K. Marlantes (free audiobook)

        Strategic Thinking
        “Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life” by R. Paul and L. Elder
        “General System Theory” by L. Von Bartalanffy
        “Harnessing Complexity” by R. Axelrod and M. Cohen
        “Rethinking the Principles of War” by A. McIvor
        “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable” by N. Taleb (free audiobook)
        “The Copernican Revolution” by T. Kuhn
        “Thinking Fast and Slow” by D. Kahneman (free audiobook)
        “Thinking in Time: The uses of Histry for Decision Makers” by R. Neustadt and E. May

        Regional and Cultural Studies
        “Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel” by J. Tayler
        “Eastward to Tartary: Travels in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Caucasus” by R. Kaplan
        “Monsoon” by R. Kaplan
        “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea” by B. Demick (free audiobook)
        “The Great Arab Conquests” by H. Kennedy
        “Understanding Arabs: A Contemporary Guide to Arab Society” by M. Nydell
        “What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in he Middle East” by B. Lewis (free audiobook)

        Leadership
        “Developing the Leaders Around You” by J. Maxwell (free audiobook)
        “Heoric Leadership” by C. Lowney (free audiobook)
        “Leadership and the New Science” by M. Wheatly
        “Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times” by D. Phillips (free audiobook)
        “Once a Marine” by N. Popaditch and M. Steere (free audiobook)
        “Start With Why” by S. Sinek (free audiobook)
        “The Power of Communication” by H. Garcia
        “The Starfish and the Spider” by O. Brafman and R. Beckstrom (free audiobook)

        Others:
        “One Bullet Away: The Making of A Marine Corps Officer” by Marine Recon Captain N. Fick.
        “Rivers of Fire” by Arnon Sofer (1999).

        LtGEN James *MadDog* Mattis’ USMC Commandant’s Required Reading list, 2007:

        http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/ltgen-james-mattis-reading-list

    2. Aesop

      If I might be so bold, suggest they read TC 7-22.30, Army Physical Readiness Training, with copious application of the lessons on upper body strength and cardiovascular stamina, primarily by doing a helluva lot of correct pushups and pull-ups, and getting to where they can run 5 miles at a first-class pace. Ideally, by doing it a couple of times a week regularly, beforehand. After they max out pushups.

      Breaking in two good pairs of boots (and thus breaking in the feet that go in them) would be wise as well.

      At that point, the mental challenges will be minimal.

      But if they insist, flawless familiarity with the relevant FMs on Army Leadership and the current Ranger Handbook seldom go amiss for those pursuing a commission.

      As every sergeant worth their stripes told their minions, including officer candidiots,
      Pay attention: You WILL see this material again.

      All of the above are available as free downloadable pdf files online, with about a minute or two of google-fu.

      1. Aesop

        Also, getting the current edition of the Army Officer’s Guide (Amazon is your best bet there) would be a good thing, after the other three.
        For overachievers, a copy of the Drill and Ceremonies field manual, with a focus on the basic commands for moving a formation of troops would be a good thing.
        (I suspect asking permission to tag along at the local ROTC or nearest National Guard unit on a drill weekend to see things in action would also be recommended.)
        That should be enough to keep a future butterbar busy from now until they report in.

        1. Pathfinder

          Stay the hell away from the D&C manual. You will be taught what you need to know. Once you get to a unit all D&C will be handled by NCO’s. As an officer you have no business moving a body of troops from one location to another. That’s you PSG’s job, not yours.

          Are you going to be a JAG or are you a doctor?

          I just looked at the graduation requirements and the training schedule for the DCC. Make sure you are in shape before you get there. You will be fed from a fire hose, get your mind ready for that.

          1. Aesop

            Hey, let’s be fair: D&C was 5th on my list, clearly marked for over-achievers, and frankly, for someone who’s never stood in any formation, a wee familiarity before T-1 with the basics wouldn’t hurt.
            After mastery of the other material.

            And it will be in the curriculum at DCC, as ever was.
            The point was to prepare for the course, not to prepare for the next unit after.
            In DCC, at some point, he’ll be the PSG, and be graded on his performance. Including by his peers. Right?
            But smoking the physical requirements first will enable much easier mastery of the mental.
            At least showing up in October he gets the mercy of not dealing with Benning in summer.

          2. Matt in IL

            Thanks for all of the information from all.

            To answer your question, I’ll be going in as a JAG.

  3. Haxo Angmark

    watched it on and off while dispatching. Pretty good for a budget of $1.35. Bonaparte had his +’s and -‘s. I mean, he scattered the Directory of Terrorist Lawyers with “a whiff of grapeshot” and saved what remained of the Old Regime. Then, alas, spent the next 15 years ravaging Europe. Another unforgiveable act was when he shot the nose off the Sphinx. Nobody’s perfect.

  4. RostislavDDD

    People of the era without antibiotics were sometimes very tenacious in this life.
    The winner of Napoleon in Russia, Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov:
    1774: “This staff officer was wounded with a bullet, which, striking him between his eye and his temple, came out in the same place on the other side of the face”
    1788: “… a bullet struck him on the cheek and flew to the back of the head. He fell. Everyone expected the wound to be fatal. But Kutuzov not only remained alive, but even soon joined the ranks “

  5. Aesop

    As his fortes and foibles affect me directly not a whit (except when travelling through Louisiana), I generally keep a soft spot for former corporals of artillery. And for better-done military history programs.
    Merci for the heads up, Mssr. Nez de cochon.

  6. archy

    ***The speech before the Toulon attack is as good as any in fiction — yes, including the hortatory speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V. (We couldn’t determine whether Napoleon ever said such a thing).***

    Not exactly fictional, though no actual recording exists of the actual event of LTC Tim Collins’ address to his troops before the Irish Guards took their tanks and Warrior APCs into Iraq. But actor and fellow Ulsterman Kenneth Branagh captured the effect chillingly well. And I think it beats the pants off Georgie Patton’s pre-D-Day address to the participating troops, some of whom would go on to become a part of his Third Army

    I’ve always figured a CO who can cut through the stuff and make his point clearly, giving the details they really need and enough of the big picture to appreciate their place in it, was someone who’d get the other stuff right, too. And so far, I’ve always been right about that, *Let’s bring everyone home safely, and leave Iraq a better place for us having been there.*

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpdeNcH1H8A

      1. archy

        Yep. because when I read your line, I also immediately first thought of Branagh’s 1989 Henry V *Band of Brothers* delivery. And I thought his version of Col. Collins’ more recent address made for a nice historical contrast; military bookends. I doubt we’ll see him deliver a version of Lincoln at Gettysburg, though, and there aren’t really that many of such that are both truly great and mercifully brief. One or two come to mind, Crockett in Memphis before leaving for Texas and the Alamo, and a couple of American Indian deliveries, passed down in oral tradition.

        Henry V *Band of Brothers* address – Kenneth Branagh, 1989
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GtU9mvw4c8M

    1. Aesop

      FTR, Patton made no such pre-D-Day speech.
      Farago and Coppola cobbled together the opening monologue in Patton verbatim from the copious actual written messages and speeches (literally dozens of them) Patton gave to troops going back to 1940, including before and during campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, and Europe.

      The Patton Papers, as well as newsreel footage of him, including stateside on bond tours, were literal goldmines to documenting this.
      It’s one of the cases where the movie character almost lives up to the genuine article.

      1. archy

        I became *really* familiar with *the speech* from The Patton Papers and from the shorthand transcript of the the 31 May ’44 *6th Armored Division* version of the speech in the collection at the Patton Museum [in its old WWII wood structure then] in 1966 while I was stationed at USATCA Armor and The Armor School- long before the George Scott film came out or was written.

        Per wikipedia:

        Patton began delivering speeches to his troops in the United Kingdom in February 1944.The extent of his giving the particular speech that became famous is unclear, with different sources saying it had taken this form by March, or around earlye ver May, or in late May.The number of speeches given is also not clear, with one source saying four to six, and others suggesting that every unit in the Third Army heard an instance. The most famous and well known of the speeches occurred on 5 June 1944, the day before D-Day. Though he was unaware of the actual date for the beginning of the invasion of Europe (as the Third Army was not part of the initial landing force), Patton used the speech as a motivational device to excite the men under his command and prevent them from losing their nerve. Patton delivered the speech without notes, and so though it was substantially the same at each occurrence, the order of some of its parts varied. One notable difference occurred in the speech he delivered on 31 May 1944, while addressing the U.S. 6th Armored Division, when he began with a remark that would later be among his most famous:

        No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

        Patton’s words were later written down by a number of troops who witnessed his remarks, and so a number of iterations exist with differences in wording. Historian Terry Brighton constructed a full speech from a number of soldiers who recounted the speech in their memoirs, including Gilbert R. Cook, Hobart R. Gay, and a number of other junior soldiers. Patton only wrote briefly of his orations in his diary, noting, “as in all of my talks, I stressed fighting and killing.”The speech later became so popular that it was called simply “Patton’s speech” or “The speech” when referencing the general.

        The research by author Charles Province of the Patton Society into *the speech* is even more interesting. His account of the 05 June 1944 version is probably the closest to the movie version. http://www.pattonhq.com/speech.html

Comments are closed.