Napoleonic Wars Facts for Kids

  • Napoleon Bonaparte is one of the most well-known figures in European history.
  • Napoleon was a French general who rose to power during the War of the First Coalition.
  • He won many famous battles against European forces and conquered much of Europe before he was finally defeated by British and Prussian forces at Waterloo.

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of battles when Napoleon Bonaparte ruled France. He was in charge for ten years.

These wars helped make armies in Europe fight better. They also made new cannons. These changes happened because people had to serve in the army for longer periods so they were not able to leave when they wanted to.

After the French conquered most of Europe, they had a big war with Russia. Napoleon’s empire had a lot of soldiers. The French were very successful but they were not successful in the end because they lost the war.

After Napoleon was defeated, the United Kingdom became one of the most powerful countries in the world. It was one of the first real hyperpowers. The British Royal Navy was better than other countries’ navies. Britain’s economy made it the richest country in the world.

Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon Bonaparte was a French leader and emperor. He conquered Europe in the early 19th century. 

He was born on Corsica, an island in the Mediterranean Sea. When he was 17, Napoleon led his first military campaign against local Italian forces.

He became involved in politics during the Revolution (which happened in France). In 1800 he seized power with the army and crowned himself emperor of France. 

Napoleon had many successes during his time as emperor of France but also failed at some battles like Waterloo when he tried to invade England by sea and land. He met defeat at this battle which ended his empire.

First Coalition (1792–1797)

These coalitions are moments in history when different countries came together to fight against France and Napoleon. 

The First Coalition happened when Austria, Great Britain, Spain, and Prussia were allies against Revolutionary France. The coalition collapsed with General Napoleon Bonaparte’s success in Italy led to the Treaty of Campo Formio.

The country of France won some land after the war. It got Belgium, the left bank of the Rhine, Savoy, and Nice.

Second Coalition (1799–1802)

Some countries including Russia and Austria were not happy about France expanding. 

Napoleon went to Egypt and won the Battle of the Pyramids. Napoleon’s army in Egypt found a rock that helped them read Egyptian hieroglyphics. It was written in a language that had been dead for 2,000 years and they were able to read it because of the Rosetta Stone.

Then Napoleon went back to France in 1799 and took control of the country as the First Consul.

England brought together the next coalition. Napoleon led his army across the Alps. The Peace of Luneville recognized that France had landed on the left side of the Rhine river again. England agreed to sign a treaty with France for peace, the Treaty of Amiens.

Third Coalition (1805)

Not long after the Treaty of Amiens, relationships between France and England had broken again. The English then looked for allies and found them among the major European powers who did not like Napoleon Bonaparte: Russia, Austria, Naples, and Sweden.

Napoleon did not invade England, but instead went to Germany. The Austrian army was trapped in Ulm. 

Napoleon took Vienna without fighting it. He had the decisive battle with the Austro-Russians at Austerlitz. They were defeated and lost because they ran away from a battle when they should have fought it out.

The Treaty of St. Germain said that Austria was not allowed to live in Germany and Italy anymore. The Holy Roman Empire, with Emperor Francis II as its sovereign, disappeared.

Fourth Coalition (1806–1807)

The war between Russia and France went on, but Prussia attacked France. The Fourth Coalition was made when Prussia joined the countries that were still at war with France. 

Napoleon entered Berlin and visited the tomb of Frederick the Great. He said, “If he was alive, we wouldn’t be here.” Napoleon had taken 19 days to enter Prussia and destroy it by capturing Berlin.

The second campaign happened in Poland and Russia resisted but was defeated. This time England remained alone.

Fifth Coalition (1809)

The Austrians and the British then got together again to try to get rid of Napoleon. But Napoleon beat them again.

By 1810, the French Empire reached its largest extent. Napoleon controlled a lot of countries:

  • the French empire
  • the Swiss Confederation
  • the Confederation of Rhine
  • the Duchy of Warsaw
  • the Kingdom of Italy

His allies included:

  • the Kingdom of Spain
  • the Kingdom of Westphalia
  • the Kingdom of Naples
  • the Principality of Lucca and Piombino

Members of his family were put in charge of these allied governments.

Napoleon married an Austrian princess named Marie-Louise to make a more stable relationship with Austria and to have a child. Napoleon’s first wife, Josephine, didn’t give him any children.

Sixth Coalition (1812–1814) 

Napoleon wanted to invade Russia, but Russia betrayed him. This led to Napoleon’s victory at Borodino. 

Napoleon’s withdrawal from Russia caused his allies to stop being friends. They ended up fighting against him in the Sixth Coalition. Napoleon lost the Battle of Leipzig and was exiled from France.

Seventh Coalition (1815)

The Seventh Coalition was when the United Kingdom, Russia, Prussia, Sweden, Austria, and other German states fought against France. The Hundred Days happened after Napoleon left Elba and landed at Cannes.

Napoleon came back to France in March 1815 for a second time. He had old enemies and they all united against him. Nevertheless, Napoleon gained support to become France’s leader again.

Napoleon raised 280,000 men. He distributed these men amongst several armies. He also recalled over a quarter of a million veterans from past campaigns. He also issued a law to get more than 2.5 million new men into the French army.

The Battle of Waterloo

Napoleon’s army fought an army led by the Duke of Wellington and Marshal Blücher. They had a battle on June 18, 1815. The most decisive battle of the Napoleonic Wars, the Battle of Waterloo ended a war that had been going on for 23 years and destroyed Napoleon’s power.

Napoleon crossed the Sambre on June 15th, entering what is now Belgium. The next day, he defeated the Prussians at Ligny and drove them into retreat with losses of over 20,000 men. French casualties were only half that number.

The day after the battle, the British won a fight near Quatre Bras. However, the Prussians had been defeated, so the enemies of Napoleon retreated to Waterloo.

The French Army had the best military commander named Napoleon Bonaparte. His troops were loyal and loved him because he made them feel good. They were afraid of him and respected him, too.

Napoleon had a plan. He would attack Hougoumont and then Wellington would send more people to that place. Then he would start attacking the rest of the army of Wellington and his friends.

Napoleon’s army attacked at 11.30 am with artillery and then an infantry charge. They were partly stopped by Wellington’s position and the wet ground.

When Napoleon saw that the Prussian army was arriving, he had to take some of his soldiers and send them to stop them from coming in on his right side.

British soldiers were shooting bullets at the French. The French stopped, became unsure of themselves, and then ran away.

Napoleon lost 40,000 men that day who were killed or wounded or captured by the Allies. The Allies had 22,000 casualties that day too. 

The Duke of Wellington said, ‘My heart is broken by the terrible loss I have sustained in my old friends and companions and my poor soldiers. Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won.’

Napoleon was defeated. He said he was going to keep fighting, but then the people who were on his side lost when the Allies came into Paris. 

He spent the rest of his life living on an island that is far away because he could not stay in France anymore. Napoleon died on May 5, 1821.

Consequences

Waterloo ended the war in Europe and peace lasted until 1914. France and Britain were allies and fought together in Crimea. They were still allied during World War I and World War II.

The Napoleonic Wars changed the face of war during this time. It became different, and it went to modern warfare. For a while, people thought of war as a sport of kings. But then they started thinking of war as more serious, with countries fighting against each other instead.

Conflicts in the Caribbean, and in particular the seizure of colonial bases and islands throughout the wars, would affect battles that were happening thousands of miles apart. The Napoleonic conflict had reached a point where historians talk about it as “a world war.”

Weaponry also changed at a much slower pace during this period than the thoughts on the nation in arms and conscription. At the end of this time, most European armies had riflemen, but not all armies had them by the mid-1800s. The colors at first were bright uniforms but then by the 1800s, they were dark blue or green uniforms.

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