Five Napoleonic Era Battles & What To Know About Them

Nope. This isn’t exactly keeping with our Irish theme of the week. But it is part of the Friday history series of the month: Napoleonic Era. I promise, promise, promise, that tomorrow there will be our final post for “A Week in Ireland.” Until then, enjoy the Napoleonic Era and check Facebook for our Irish post of the day.

There were hundreds of battles and skirmishes during the Napoleonic Era. Now, I don’t want to write a book about the battles (and you might not want to read such a book), but I think there are a couple of battles that were so important that everyone should at least know a little about them.

Battle of Marengo

(Details about Napoleon Bonaparte and his Grande Armee can be found in our last few posts on the topic.)

Italian Campaign  

In 1796 Napoleon took a French army over the Alps and into Northern Italy and successfully introduced his “art of war.” Napoleon’s strategies included keeping enemy armies from uniting, move fast and strike hard, use the flank attack tactic, and build a reputation to make the enemy afraid. This campaign is significant because it established Napoleon as a “military genius” and his strategy was (is) often studied in military schools.


Sorry, folks, you can’t really visit this battle site and see monuments. Why? It’s in the ocean, off Cape Trafalgar on the coast of Spain. The battle was British Lord Admiral Nelson’s greatest victory. It decisively ended the contest of which nation (France or Britain) would control the high-seas. October 21, 1805, was the date of this large-scale naval battle, including 33 British ships and 41 French/Spanish vessels. The British victory came at high cost; Lord Nelson was mortally wounded.



December 2, 1805, was Napoleon’s finest military victory and he destroyed the Austrian and Russian armies fighting against him. (Austerlitz battlefield is located in modern day Czech Republic). The battle is sometimes called “the battle of the three emperors” because the Russian, Austrian, and French rulers were all present. At one point in the battle the French counterattacked in the fog; the sun broke through as they made their charge and the legend of the “sun of Austerlitz” was born in the French army. In my opinion the Austerlitz victory is the high point of Napoleon’s career.

Invasion of Russian

The Russian Campaign in 1812 was a major blunder in Napoleon’s empire strategy. After a long march with limited supplies and a couple battles, the emperor and his Grande Armee arrived at Moscow. The city was deserted and the Russian emperor would not meet to discuss terms of surrender. (Not when General Winter was coming!) With anger and great frustration the French retreated from Moscow and then winter came. Snow, ice, and exhaustion hammered the retreating army and the Russian peasants attacked the marching columns. Napoleon fled back to France, leaving his army frozen and half-dead in Russian snows. The Invasion of Russian weakened the French army and it would never again be the fighting force it had been in previous years.



In June 1814 Napoleon was defeated and exiled to the Mediterranean Island of Elba, but in March 1815 he escaped, returned to France, and raised a new army. The other European nations were horrified and wanted to defeat him as quickly as possible. On June 18, 1815, the British army commanded by Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington, and the Prussian army commanded by General Blucher defeated Napoleon at Waterloo (located in Belgium). After a day of fierce attacks and hand to hand combat, the French army broke and retreated. Napoleon surrendered to the British a few weeks later. Waterloo ends the Napoleonic Era.

From the beginning of Napoleon’s military successes to his final defeat, the era is filled with battles, questions of leadership, and tragedy, but these five battles/campaigns stand out as major milestones in the timeline of the era and military history.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you agree with the list? Would you nominate other battles?

12 thoughts on “Five Napoleonic Era Battles & What To Know About Them

  1. Good list. I throw into the mix as the second 5: the Nile, Jena-Auerstadt, Moore’s retreat across Spain, Leipzig, and the Pyramids.

    • Oh, I like your list too. I almost put the Spanish Peninsular War in the original list because it literally bled the Empire to death. Ended up deciding not to include it because it was going to be really complicated to explain all the significances and new military strategies evolving in that conflict and I had a short amount of time.

      • Thanks! The Peninsular War wasn’t really a battle in a strictest sense; rather an ongoing cancer that gradually sapped Napoleon’s strength. That said, I singled out Moore’s retreat because it preserved the instrument Wellington would use to such good effect.

        As a piece of trivia, Banastre Tarleton was considered for command of that army.

      • Oh my, I did not know Tarleton was an option for army commander. The fighting would probably have been even more brutal. BTW, I think Tarleton was the “model” for a certain Col. Tavington in an American War for Independence movie starring Mel Gibson.

      • That is true. I remember some Brits actually protested that “Tavington” was portrayed as harsher than Tarleton was historically.

        Tarleton was 22 in 1776, so would still have been of age for active service in 1809 when they needed a replacement for Moore. At the time he was MP for Liverpool.

      • I can definitely understand objection to the character role. Tavington is so cold-blooded; he’s a great/horrible antagonist. I remember hearing he (Tarleton) became an MP; I think his character is seen in the movie “Amazing Grace” but I didn’t check the accuracy of how they show his voting record. Anyway, thanks for the interesting conversation in the comments.

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