The Insects That Defeated Napoleon’s Army

insects defeated Napoleon's army
Napoleon Bonaparte. Author’s Collection.

Napoleon was a great military leader and strategist. He rose to prominence during the French Revolution, led several successful campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars, and served as Emperor of the French. He also dominated Europe for more than a decade and fought against a variety of fluctuating European coalitions during the Napoleonic Wars defeating many of his opponents. As a result, he became known as one of the greatest commanders in history, but for all the praise Napoleon received he found that wherever his troops marched or sailed, his biggest opponent was often the smallest one. This powerful opponent was millions of tiny insects, and among the insects that battled and defeated Napoleon were the mosquito, the flea, and the louse. Continue reading

Battlefield Communication Using Drums and Drumming

Battlefield Communication Using Drums and Drumming
Related to America’s War of Independence, This Illustration is a Famous Depiction From the 19th-century Called “The Spirit of ’76” by Archibald Willard, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Battlefield communication using drums and drumming was an important military aspect of war, and this type of communication lasted well into the nineteenth century. During this time, the drum most popular among drummers was the ordinary drum that consisted of a wooden or brass cylinder with a skin head at either end, and described in the following way:

“The skins [on these drums] are lapped at their edges around a small hoop which encircles the cylinder, and a large hoop rests on this and presses it down in place. The large hoops at each end are connected by an endless cord, running through holes in their outer edges and zigzagging up and down the sides of the cylinder from hoop to hoop. Each loop of this cord is surrounded by a sliding leather brace, and by pushing these down, so as to draw the loops together, or up, so as to loosen them, the drum is tightened or slackened, and the clear, tense or harsh, loose notes produced.”

Although it might appear that drum beats were simple, every beat was actually regulated and it was only through “long practice” that perfection by a drummer was attained. Furthermore, to achieve this perfection it was claimed that the drummer had to possess “a quick and nimble wrist.” Drum beats were also regular in the number and the division of strokes that could be produced using the two sticks. Thus, one person noted that if all the drummers in the British Army were assembled together, they would all beat alike.

Different drum beats and rolls signaled different commands to the troops and there were various regulation beats that included the following:

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Reasons British Feared Napoleon in 1803

Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia
Maniac Ravings or Little Boney in a Strong Fit, by James Gillray, which ridiculed Napoleon and annoyed the French. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite a temporary peace that was achieved between France and Britain in 1802, the English remained on edge. They became more panicked when a new dispute with France broke out and resulted in Britain declaring war against France in 1803. Almost immediately rumors were rife about the ill effects Englishmen would suffer if Napoleon was victorious. In July of 1803, the rumors came to life when one concerned magazine published an article stating what they believed were Napoleon’s schemes.

According to the magazine, one of Napoleon’s main schemes was the confiscation of property, similar to what had happened in France during the first years of the French Revolution. Based on this idea of property confiscation, they also asserted that assignats (French money) were being prepared and would allow the bearer to bid for confiscated property as soon as the French set foot on English soil. Moreover, when the assignats were offered, Englishmen would have to accept them “on pain of death.” Continue reading

French Heroine, Philis de La Tour

Philis de la Tour, Author's Collection
Philis de la Tour, Author’s Collection

Philippe de La Tour du Pin La Charce was born in Nyons, located in Dauphiné, France, in 1669. She grew up to be a well-educated woman and met a woman of letters, Antoinette Des Houlières, who then introduced her to an author named Honoré d’Urfé. He had written a romance titled L’Astree in which a shepherd named Celadon falls in love with a shepherdess named Astrée. It was a digressive tale with a complex plot and it made such an impact on Philippe, she changed her name to match one of its characters, and thereafter become known as Philis (Phylis or Phillis) de La Tour. Continue reading

Moustache, The French Army Poodle

French army poodle
Poodles, Author’s Collection

Moustache, or as he was sometimes called Mous, was a black French poodle who some people claim took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His feats became legendary and many people wrote about his exploits, sometimes exaggerating or fictionalizing them. Between the exaggeration and fiction it has become nearly impossible to know the precise truth, and so this post probably incorporates elements of both.

Moustache’s story begins with his birth in September 1799 at Falaise, in Normandy, France. Six months later he was the pet of a grocer living in Caen who treated him kindly. One day when out for a stroll, Moustache happened upon a parade of grenadiers who had just returned from Italy. “They were brilliantly equipped—their spirits were high—and their drums loud.” Enthralled by the noise, the excitement, and their marching, Moustache supposedly “joined the grenadiers … [before] they had marched an hour [away from town].” Continue reading

Origin of the French National Guard

Painting of Philippe Lenoir in 1814 His French National Guard Uniform by Horace Vernet, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Painting of Philippe Lenoir in 1814 in His National Guard Uniform by Horace Vernet, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The French National Guard (called la Garde nationale by the French) was a militia that existed from 1789 until 1872 and was separate from the French Army. It favored the middle class and served both as a military and policing force. According to one newspaper, a French politician and diplomat, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, better known simply as Talleyrand, often told a story about how the National Guard originated.

According to Talleyrand, he and Emmanuel Joseph Sieyès, a French Roman Catholic abbé, clergyman, and political writer, were walking through the gardens of Tuilieres prior to the French Revolution breaking out. Opposite the gate at the place de Louis XV (later the place de la Révolution and later renamed place de la Concorde), a little beggar girl, leading an old woman on crutches, approached Sieyès and solicited alms from him. He presented her with a sou, which in her zeal to seize, she dropped. Continue reading

Clever Ruse: Surprise at the Tabor Bridge by Napoleon’s Forces

"Surprise du pont du Danube" by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, Courtesy of Wikipedia
“Surprise du pont du Danube” by Guillaume Guillon-Lethière, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Napoleonic Wars were a series of conflicts that begin in 1803 and lasted until 1815. The wars pitted Napoleon I against various European powers. Among one of the cleverest ruses achieved during the Napoleonic Wars was an incident that occurred near Vienna in November 1805 and involved French forces against the Austrians.

The French were under the direction of two Marshals. The first was Jean Lannes, a daring and talented general, and, the second, Joachim Murat, brother-in-law to Napoleon having married Napoleon’s youngest sister, Caroline Bonaparte in 1800. Lannes and Murat had been pursuing the retreating Austrian army, and, at the time, they and their forces were near the market  town of Spitz, located on the Danube River. Continue reading

Napoleon and His Camel Corps

Napoleon's Camel Corps, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Napoleon’s Camel Corps, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The great general Napoleon employed a camel corps during his Egyptian Campaign between 1798 and 1799. He formed the camel corps after suffering Bedouin incursions and raids into Egypt proper. After their raids, the Bedouins would easily escape from the French cavalry because of their swift horses. To remedy this situation, Napoleon decided to form a camel corps partly because of the camel’s adaptability and partly because of the camel’s swiftness.

The men assigned to camel corps came from a variety of regiments. They used two-humped camels, known as bactrians, as their transportation. To establish the camel corps, French soldiers used “the Arab ‘camel language'” to work with the camels. It took about a month’s worth of training to make a solider skillful in the art of camel driving and maneuvering Continue reading

Ville d’Orléans, the Mail Balloon of the Franco-Prussian War

Ville d'Orléans, the Mail Balloon of the Franco-Prussian War
The Balloon Floating Away in Norway, Public Domain

On July 19, 1870, Napoleon III declared war on Prussia, which resulted in the siege of Paris that lasted from September 18, 1870, to January 28, 1871. During this time, it was impossible to get mail out, until a plan was devised to use balloons. These balloon flights produced some of the most interesting tales related to the history of balloons and the mail. During this 133 day siege, 64 balloons were launched. Of these 64 balloons, a few were captured and two were lost after being blown out to sea. Among the balloons carrying the mail, one of the most interesting voyages was the 28th voyage, undertaken on the 67th day of the siege (24 November 1870)  by the balloon known as Ville d’Orléans, having been named for the town that had recently been liberated by the French. Continue reading