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The Man and the MythNapoleon and JoesphinePolitics in Napoleon's TimesNapoleon at War

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First Italian Campaign | The Egyptian Campaign | Second Italian Campaign | The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign | The Prussian Campaign | The Peninsular War | The Austrian War | The Russian Campaign | From Lützen to Elba | The Waterloo Campaign


The Prussian Campaign, 1806-1807

Alarmed by France’s growing power, the Prussians now challenged Napoleon, who made short work of them. "The idea that Prussia could take the field against me by herself," he said, "seems so ridiculous that it does not merit discussion."

Within three weeks in October of 1806, he brought the Prussians to their knees. Defeating the Prussian army at the battles of Jéna and Auerstädt, Napoleon captured 140,000 prisoners and left 25,000 dead or wounded. The might of the Prussian army had been entirely crushed.

On October 27, Napoleon marched triumphantly through Berlin to the strains of the Marseilles, invoking the Revolution, equality, and the abolition of privilege. But as 1806 drew to a close, Napoleon was still at war. Austria and Prussia had both surrendered, but the Russians — bloodied after Austerlitz — and Great Britain — all powerful on the seas — remained dangerous enemies. To defeat Russia, Napoleon marched his soldiers deep into Poland.

WOLOCH: Napoleon’s justification is that you always have to take the war to your adversaries and you have to defeat them whatever it takes. So going out to the far reaches of Poland if that’s what it takes to get the Russians to capitulate, that’s what he’s going to do.

Napoleon was in Warsaw when he was stunned by the news of a surprise Russian attack. He struck back at once, first at Eylau, just 130 miles from the Russian border, then, later in nearby Friedland.

The carnage in both battles was terrible: 70,000 French and Russian soldiers killed or wounded. Napoleon’s army was torn and bloody; the Tsar’s army was in ruins. Alexander puzzled over what to do next.

SOKHOLOV: When Alexander the First was thinking about what to do after the battle of Friedland, his brother Constantine said, "Sire, if you are considering fighting the French, you might as well give each soldier a gun and let him put a bullet in his head. The result will be the same."

On June 25, 1807, Alexander traveled to Tilsit on the western border of the Russian empire to discuss peace with the Emperor of France. To signify their equal status, they met on a raft moored precisely in the center of the Niemen River — the boundary between Russia and Europe.

SOKHOLOV: When the Tsar met Napoleon he had one goal in mind: to find a peaceful solution that would benefit him. And the first thing he said to Napoleon in French was... "Sir, I hate the English as much as you do." And Napoleon said, "So we have made peace."

Napoleon’s peace terms were generous. He demanded no Russian territory at all. In return, the Tsar agreed to become France’s ally – to join the Continental Blockade and refuse to trade with Britain.

SOKHOLOV: Napoleon wanted to have this alliance very much and he was prepared to sacrifice for it. The alliance of Russia and France, two great empires, would force the British to make peace. Finally there would be peace and calm in Europe.

Only ten days before, they had been bleeding each other dry. Now the two old enemies were acting like old friends. The Tsar and Napoleon spent long hours together, inspecting each other's armies, awarding medals to soldiers on both sides. After two weeks, the two men seemed to have grown genuinely fond of one another.

Napoleon was charmed by Alexander, describing him as "especially handsome, like a hero with all the graces of an amiable Parisian." The Tsar, in turn, seemed in awe of Napoleon and his sheer power. As they said goodbye, Napoleon was convinced he had turned the Tsar into a friend and ally.

JOURQUIN: He tries to seduce Alexander. He tries to please him. He pays him a lot of compliments. Napoleon is a great seducer.

"If Alexander were a woman," he wrote Josephine, "I would make him my mistress."

SOKHOLOV: This was Napoleon's biggest mistake. He thought he actually did charm Alexander. What Napoleon didn’t understand was that Alexander would never stick to their agreement. But for Napoleon, the Tilsit peace seemed to be his finest moment - for him and for his Empire. He came back to Paris in 1807 to a huge celebration.

France rejoiced at the signing of the treaty between the two giant powers. Once again, peace in Europe seemed secure.

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