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Napoleon's Flintlock Fowler
This c.1800 engraved and inlaid shotgun was presented by Napoleon Bonaparte to the Marquis Faulte de Vanteaux of Limoges, a general in his army.
Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France and one of the greatest military leaders in the history of the world, was born on the Mediterranean island of Corsica on August 15, 1769. Corsica had been acquired by France from the Italian state of Genoa shortly before Napoleon's birth. The future emperor's father, Carlo Maria Buonaparte, claimed to be of noble birth, a claim that was rejected by Tuscan nobles but accepted by the French.
Three of Napoleon's brothers also became rulers in Europe, and two of his sisters married into nobility. Carlo Buonaparte became an ally of the French, and he secured a royal scholarship for Napoleon at the military academy at Brienne. Upon graduation in 1785, then-Lieutenant Napoleon served as an artillery officer in the French Army, but he looked to his native Corsica for his personal identity and his destiny. This would change in the aftermath of the French Revolution when the British Navy occupied the island. The Buonaparte family had been forced to flee to Marseille, and Napoleon's future became irrevocably linked to France.
Napoleon was strongly influence by the writers and theorists of the Enlightenment, and he studied their works closely. He also read extensively on history and military tactics, both of which would have a profound influence on his future. When the port of Toulon and the French Fleet were delivered to the British by anti-revolutionary groups, Napoleon served as commander of the artillery forces which besieged the city. His successful attack on the fort of Eguillette in December 1794 forced the British to retire and returned the Fleet and its port to French control.
Two months later, Napoleon was promoted to brigadier general. When the revolutionary government was faced with a monarchist insurrection at St. Roch Church, Napoleon's artillery played a deciding role in the defeat of the rebels. As a result, he was given command of the Army of Italy on March 2, 1796. Before reporting to his headquarters at Nice prior to initiating his Italian campaigns, Napoleon married Josephine de Beauharnais, whose husband had commanded the Army of the Rhine before he was guillotined in 1793. After his successes against the Italian and Austrian armies, Napoleon was named commander of the Army of England in 1797.
Convinced that the way to defeat England was by cutting her overland trade route to India, he mounted a military and scientific expedition to Egypt during the following year. After landing and Alexandria and marching on to Cairo, the French forces were left without naval support when Lord Nelson's British Fleet decisively defeated the French Fleet at Aboukir. After spending a year in Egypt, Napoleon's army secretly sailed for home, arriving in early October after slipping through the British blockade. Upon his return to France, Napoleon found that the political and economic situation had deteriorated dramatically. Through coup d'etat, Napoleon became one of three provisional consuls but his intelligence and drive soon placed him at the pinnacle of power in France.
After presiding over the drafting of a new constitution, the new First Consul set out to restore order and to reorganize the government. Some of the institutions instituted by Napoleon have survived to the present day. He also restored peace with England through the Peace of Amiens and reclaimed French territories in Italy and along the Rhine. Napoleon established supremacy of the state to church authority in France, and he eliminated his political opposition from both the right and left through exile and execution.
In 1804, the Senate's declaration that rule be entrusted to a hereditary Emperor was supported by French voters, and Napoleon crowned himself in the presence of the Pope at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in December of that year. The uneasy peace with Britain came apart in the spring of 1803. The superiority of the Royal Navy was assured by Lord Nelson's victory at Trafalgar, and the focus of the conflict turned to central Europe. Late in 1805, Napoleon won his most decisive victory when he defeated a superior force of Austrian and Russian troops at Austerlitz. The French pushed on to Berlin and into Russia, where he entered into an economic alliance with the Tsar against the British. With peace on his eastern front, Napoleon turned his attention to Portugal and Spain.
In 1808, the French army took Madrid, but, with British aid, Spanish guerillas slowly forced the French back, while renewed fighting in Austria strained but did not break French domination of Europe. By 1812, the alliance with Russia broke down. Napoleon's army was still heavily engaged in Spain, but the Emperor mobilized forces for a renewed campaign in the east. The Russians were forced back by the French advance, but their scorched earth policy left little or nothing for the sustenance of the invading army. Napoleon's lightning advance took his army to Moscow by mid-September, but, lacking supplies, French troops could not winter there.
As the first winds of approaching winter blew in, Napoleon's army left the Russian capital for the long march back to France. Continued fighting, defections, starvation, and the brutal Russian winter decimated the French army. By the end of the campaign, Napoleon had lost over 500,000 men. In the aftermath of the Russian invasion, the allied forces renewed their attacks against the French. Napoleon was forced back to his own borders, and in April 1814, the Allies marched into Paris. British refusal to negotiate with Napoleon left him no option but to abdicate.
After nearly a year in exile on the island of Elba, he escaped and returned to France once more in a vain effort to restore himself and France to the glory of past years. His defeat at Waterloo in June 1815 by British forces under the command of the Duke of Wellington marked the end of Napoleon's power. Exiled once again to the island of St. Helena, he lived out his remaining days. Napoleon died from a stomach disorder on May 5, 1821. -