Joining the army in 1785, Napoleon became the second lieutenant of an artillery regiment. He briefly attended the royal artillery school in Auxonne, near Dole. Napoleon was promoted to first lieutenant in 1791 and to captain in 1792.
In 1789, the French revolution swept the country. During the 1790ís, Napoleon spent many months in Corsica and served in the Corsican National Guard. He joined a radical political society called the Jacobins, who mostly wanted to make France a democratic republic. This membership brought Napoleon into a conflict with the governor of Corsica, Pasquale Paoli. Paoli was a royalist, a supporter of the French monarchy. In 1792, France went to war with Austria.
The French King, Louis XVI was executed in January of 1793. Paoli declared the Bonapartes outlaws, forcing them to flee to France. Once back in France, Napoleon returned to the French Army.
Robespierre and other Jacobins took over the government in June 1793 and began the Reign of Terror. French cities revolted against his government. The British Naval Fleet aided the city of Toulon and wounded the French artillery commander there.
Rejoining his regiment at Nice, Napoleon was put in charge of the artillery at the siege of Toulon, where his achievements earned him a favorable report to the Convention at Paris.
Napoleon seized ground where he could get his guns in range of the British ships. He positioned his artillery on high ground so he could shoot down at the British. The ships where unable to fire at the artillery and withdrew. Soon after that Toulon fell and Napoleon was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and the next year, 1794. At the age of 24, he became army general in charge of the Army of Italy.
Robespierre was executed on July of 1794 during the Thermidorian Reaction. In August, Napoleon was imprisoned for about a week. Napoleon was soon released because of his personal connections.
Over the next year, Napoleon rapidly moved up through the ranks of public office, ending up as commander of the Army of the Interior in 1795. Later that year, a mob of Royalist sympathizers threatened the deputies of the National Convention. Vicomte Paul de Barras was in charge of protecting the Convention and sent for Napoleon. Napoleon dispersed the crowd through the vicious use of "a whiff of grapeshot" - He loaded a bunch of pellets into a cannon and fired it at the crowd. This kind of point-blank cannon fire killed or wounded hundreds of people and cleared the streets.
In 1796, Napoleon was appointed to put down a revolt in Paris. He calmly took complete control of the situation. He just had his men shoot all the rebels in the streets. The French government was saved, but they decided to form a new government called the Directory.
Under the new government, Napoleon was made commander of the French army in Italy. Before leaving for the Italian Campaign, he married Josephine de Beauharnais in 1796.
Josephine was a beautiful woman of French descent from Martinique in the West Indies and a widow of a guillotined nobleman. Josephine was six years older than Napoleon and had two children by her previous marriage. At the same time, Napoleon changed the spelling of his name to the French form, to avoid drawing attention to his Italian origins.
The Italian Campaign showed Napoleon's skills as a general. It was during this campaign, the French realized how intelligent Napoleon was. He developed a tactic that worked very efficiently. He would cut the enemy's army in to two parts, then throw all his force on one side before the other side could rejoin them. This method was extremely effective against the Sardinian troops, because he defeated them five times in 11 days. The King of Sardinia was extremely frustrated and tried to make peace with Napoleon. Napoleon could not be stopped. He was a fast thinker who moved his troops extremely fast. Soon, instead of taking the defensive position, Napoleon started taking the offensive position. Thus, Napoleon started his conquest of Europe.
By 1796, Austria had become Franceís chief enemy. Napoleon started his attack on Austria, his first big campaign. Napoleon was put in charge of an ill-equipped force of 38,00 men. The Directory hoped he would hold off the Austrians for awhile, but Napoleon defeated four armies larger than his own. After that, his troops gave him the name "Petit Caporal" or "Little Corporal." In 1797, Napoleon marched across the Alps and came within 80 miles of Vienna forcing Austria to surrender. In October, France and Austria signed the Treaty of Campoformio, which gave the Netherlands and Lombardy to France. Austria also recognized the Rhine as the eastern boundary of France. In return, France gave Austria most of the old Venetian Republic.
Napoleon had won 14 pitched battles and 70 combats. He used the rich lands he conquered to feed and pay the French soldiers. In addition, millions of francs were send tacks to France. This helped France's poor economy tremendously.
When Napoleon returned to Paris and was welcomed as a hero. He then began thinking of pursuing political power and military power. Napoleon knew he needed more influence to gain control. Concentrating on improving his military reputation, Napoleon declined the offer to lead an attack on England. Instead, he asked the Directory if he could take a large army to Egypt. That way the British would lose control of Egypt, India, and the Middle East. He sailed off for Africa with 38,000 men in May 1798.
In July 1798, Napoleon won against the Mamelukes in the Battle of the Pyramids near Cairo. On August 1, however, Napoleon lost his fleet to British Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of the Nile in Abu Qir Bay. Napoleonís army was now stranded in Egypt. A prolonged stalemate ensued, as the French army was held in Egypt by the British naval blockade.
The Ottoman Empire formed an alliance with Great Britain and Russia. So, Napoleon decided to invade Syria. The English and Turkish troops in Syria was able to hold off the French at Acre. Casualties were mounting with no success. Napoleon wrote a letter to the French government saying all of the men had died of a plague raging in Acre. The letter told the Directory that Napoleon would withdraw his forces, because a plague-infested city is worthless. Using his lie, Napoleon retreated to Egypt.
Then later in July 1799, Napoleon defeated 10,000 Turks at Abu Qir Bay. In 1798, Austria, Britain, and Russia formed the Second Coalition against France. Napoleon returned to France, leaving General Jean Klé in charge.
Napoleon had returned before news of his fiasco in Egypt was known. It appeared that Napoleonís reputation was saved. Once back in France, he joined the plot to topple the Directory.
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