All right, they weren't so magnificent. Do you have trouble keeping track of those pesky coalitions. Hopefully the following document will help you out.

The French Revolution with its unrestrained nationalism and violent convulsions threatened the security of the other established European monarchies. Their reaction was to form alliances in an attempt to force France to return to a Bourbon led kingdom.

There were seven of these alliances and they had many similar traits. The first thing in common was the consistent membership of England and Austria. England as the most commercially developed nation of the time had the most to lose by the rise of any of the other European countries. The close proximity of an unstable and militant France to their borders was also sure to cause alarm. Austria was one of the two strongest powers on the continent. Additionally, their royal line was related to the Bourbons. Another consistent factor in the alliances was the frequent funding of the wars by the British. In the latter stages of the Napoleonic Wars most of the belligerent countries and coffers were exhausted. If not for funding from England many of the other Allies would not have been able to place armies in the field. Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, was the consistent inability of the various allies to cooperate effectively. Whether through design or inability the coalitions were woeful at working together.

1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 . 7

The First Coalition

Countries - Austria and Prussia, followed by Great Britain, Spain, Russia, Holland, and many of the Italian states.
Dates - June 1792 through October of 1797
Motives - Reaction to the French Revolution and in support of the Bourbons
Major Battles - Valmy, Jemappes
Summary - Originally an alliance between Austria and Prussia, the execution of Louis XVI in January of 1793, roused all of the European monarchies in an effort to crush the revolution. Surrounded on all borders and threatened with invasion the French nation united and nationalistic fervor inspired the revolutionary armies. After three years of war the Allies had accomplished little. Facing a determined and relentless foe their resolve began to wear down. In 1795 Prussia, Spain and Tuscany made peace with France, and Holland, taking the path so feared by the other nations, caught the revolutionary fever, left the coalition and went as far as to join France's cause. In 1796, victories by the newly appointed commander of the French Army of Italy forced Sardinia and Piedmont out of the coalition. Bonaparte stormed across Northern Italy toward the borders of Austria, firing enthusiasm in France and breaking the will of the remaining allies. In October of 1797 when Austria and France signed the treaty of Campo Formio the coalition expired. The ardor of the French armies, determination of the French people, and the lack of coordination between the coalition members were leading causes for the failure of what was the longest lasting of the seven coalitions.

Suggested Reading

Napoleon it Italy by Adlow
Napoleon's First Campaign by Sargent

The Second Coalition

Countries - Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Naples and Turkey.
Dates - June 1798 through March 1802
Motives - The expansion of the French into Italy, Switzerland and the Middle East threatened vital commercial links. The exportation of Republicanism also increased the anxiety of the monarchs.
Major Battles - 'The Pyramids', Nile, Acre, Mount Tabor, 1st Zurich, Aboukir, Novi, 2nd Zurich, Marengo, Hohenlinden
Summary - In the summer of 1798 Napoleon moved his Army of the Orient into Egypt. Though his army was superior in many ways to the Mamelukes, his limited resources made it impossible to maintain his gains. While he was away from the continent war broke out in Holland, Switzerland, the Rhine, and in Italy where the Austrians regained most of what they had lost the previous two years. Making little progress in the Middle East and an Allied victory at the battle of Novi in Italy forced Napoleon to abandon his army in Egypt and return to France in August of 1799. His coup d'etat in November removed the directory from power and established the Consulate with himself at the head of the government. He quickly set about creating a new army, the Army of the Reserve. French counteroffensives and major victories in Northern Italy forced Russia out of the coalition in October of 1800 and Austria in February of 1801. With only Britain remaining it was only a matter of time before a treaty would be signed (Peace of Amiens, March 1802).

The second coalition had some success initially. While Napoleon was away their armies faired better than previously. In the Orient Napoleon wasted time and resources chasing elusive foes while the British navy harassed his communications and supply lines. Once Napoleon returned to the European theater his armies decisive victories broke the allies resolve. With himself in complete control of Frances' resources Napoleon used the next three years of peace to recruit, resupply and train his forces. The product of his energy and effort was the Grande Armee: A fighting force powerful enough to quickly crush the next three coalitions.

Suggested Reading

Marengo and Hohenlinden by Furse
Bonaparte in Egypt by Herold
The French Expedition to Syria by Berthier
The Campaign of Marengo by Sargent
The French Expedition to Egypt by Miot

The Third Coalition

Countries - Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Sweden and some of the German provinces.
Dates - April 1805 through December 1805.
Motives - Failure of both Great Britain and France to fully implement the terms of the Peace of Amiens led to acts of outward aggression. On May 16, 1803 Britain declared war on France which prompted Napoleon to seize Hanover, long held by the English. Royalist/Allied attempts to assassinate Napoleon led to the Enghien affair. The execution of this Prince of the Bourbons shocked Europe and induced the formation of a third alliance.
Major Battles - Ulm, Trafalgar, and Austerlitz.
Summary - With the French armies at the channel, poised for the invasion of England, General Mack led his Austrian army across Bavaria heading toward the Rhine. A second army coming from the interior of Russia was on its way. Mack could have waited and united his forces with the Russians but he felt secure in advancing because the bulk of the French forces were on the other side of France. Due to the failure of the French navy to secure the English Channel Napoleon cancelled the invasion. On the 25th of August 1805 the Grande Armee began its forced march towards Mack. By the 7th of October they had crossed the Danube. Napoleon's strategic plan worked to perfection as he completely enveloped the Austrian army at Ulm forcing their capitulation with the loss of 70% of their forces.

When the following Russian army heard of the disaster at Ulm they turned about and headed back toward Russia looking to link up with a second Russian army heading their way. Napoleon's pursuit of General Kutusov and his army ended at Austerlitz. Far from France and over extended Napoleon no longer felt safe pursuing the Russians especially when Kutusov's 40,000 were joined by the 30,000 under Buxhoden including Tsar Alexander and the Russian Imperial Guard. Late arriving Austrian troops swelled the Allied numbers to 85,000. On the French side, Napoleon's legions had numbered 200,000 strong during the encirclement of Ulm. After 100 days of continuous campaigning the Grande Armee found its own forces spread over central Europe with only 65,000 men to face the Allied army, and now 600 miles from home. Archduke Charles of Austria's 85,000 men had stung Massena in Venetia and were now racing North. Prudence would dictate that the French should withdraw to concentrate. Most Generals would have taken a conservative action. Always a risk taker, Napoleon devised a bold and ingenious plan. He first called a halt to the pursuit of the Russians. He then made arrangements that would give the appearance that his army was preparing to withdraw. He intentionally weakened the right wing of his army, the direction he would need to travel to rejoin his other forces and supplies. Lastly, he issued orders for available troops to concentrate at Austerlitz.

The Allies fell for the ploy completely. Thinking Napoleon to be over extended and exhausted they believed he was withdrawing. Seeing his right wing vulnerable they felt the opportunity to strike at that point and cut off his retreat was to good to pass up. What actually befell was the famous battle of Austerlitz which was one of Napoleon's greatest victories. Four days later on December 6, 1805 came the Peace of Pressburg. This coalition had ended in disaster.

The Naval victory of the British over the French at Trafalgar was another of a long list of examples of the British superiority at sea. But the Austerlitz campaign showed Napoleon's dominance on land. From 1805 through 1806 the Grande Armee was at its peak and was as formidable an army as Europe had ever seen. This tool when used in concert with Napoleon's genius may have been invincible: something the Prussians were about to discover.

Suggested Reading

Napoleon and Austerlitz by Bowden
The French are Comming by Lloyd
Trafalgar: The Nelson Touch by Howarth
Austerlitz 1805 by Chandler
Austerlitz by Manceron
Campaigns of 1805 by Furse

The Fourth Coalition

Countries - Great Britain, Russia, and Prussia.
Dates - October 1806 through July 1807.
Motives - During the Austerlitz campaign Napoleon had feared that neutral Prussia would declare itself for the allies and present a hostile army behind his lines. As a neutral nation Prussia was an uncontrollable variable in any of Napoleon's plans. At this time Prussia's military forces were still living in the shadow of Frederick the Great and were considered to be a polished army. To have them as an ally would be well but if things went otherwise then with Austria and Russia now subdued there would be no better time to deal with them. He was determined to have Prussia declare its intensions. The increasing friction between Prussia and France caused Prussia to seek allies. Britain desiring to recover Hanover supported and encouraged Prussia to enter hostilities. Alexander was anxious to avenge his most recent losses. The Fourth Coalition formed.
Major Battles - Saalfeld, Jena, Auerstadt, Magdeburg, Pultusk, Eylau, and Friedland.
Summary - The French Army wasted no time in sending corp size pincers sweeping into Saxony in search of the Prussin army. When the prey was found Napoleon quickly brought his army into line to entrap them.The Duke of Brunswick, the commander of the Prussian forces saw the trap and posted Prince Hohenlohe with 35,000 to hold off the French while the remaining 64,000 Prussians made off toward Magdeburg and friendly forces. On October the 14th Napoleon fell on Hohenlohe's army. The Prussians fought gallently but by days end they were routed and chased from the field.

A second battle was also being fought that day. Thirteen miles to Napoleon's right Davout's III corps was rushing to reach Auerstadt to cut off the retreat of any straglers moving that way. Instead what he found was the bulk of Brunswick's army. The French III corp had played a key role at Austerlitz and it had already established itself as a first rate fighting force. Led by Marshal Davout who many consider to be Napoleon's most able commander, a trio of outstanding Divisional Generals; Morand, Gudin, and Friant, and it's ranks filled with battle hardened veterans, this corp may have been the best of the entire Napoleonic era. Though they were outnumbered 2 to 1, and pushed to the breaking point, they held their ground. When Morand brought the last division onto the battle field the tide began to turn against the Allies who had suffered critical casualties in the high command. By the end of the day Davout had soundly defeated the Prussians whose troops were added to the chaos of those fleeing Jena.

Rather than rest on their laurels the French army did what it did well, it marched. They pursued the broken remnants of the Prussian war machine, capturing isolated units, overwhelming fortifications, and they entered the capital Berlin without resistance. The myth of Prussian invincibility had been shattered.

The coalition wasn't over yet. The King of Prussia refused to make peace even though his only cohesive army was the 15,000 men with Lestocq. But once again the Russian's were on their way. The French and Russians clashed inconclusivly during the winter before seeming to retire into winter quarters. The Russians commander Benningsen decided a sneak attack on the dispersed French corps would be a good opportunity to inflict a set back on the French. When Napoleon became aware he roused his army into action and pursued the Russians to Eylau where a major engagement occured on the 7th and 8th of February. The battle was fought in blizzard like conditions which affected both armies ability to operate. Napoleon's usually well organized plans were poorly coordinated and both sides suffered greatly. Both armies retired to settle into winter quarters and regroup.

In the spring hostilities were recommenced and culminated on June 14 at Friedland. Napoleon's decisive victory lead to the Treaty of Tilsit. Prussia was totally dismembered and Russia became another French Ally. At this time almost all of Europe was affiliated with the French Empire. Napoleon's power and reputation had reached its zenith.

Suggested Reading

Jena 1806 by Chandler
Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia - 1806 by Petre
Napoleon's Campaign in Poland 1806 - 1807 by Petre
Campaigns in Poland by Wilson

The Fifth Coalition

Countries - Great Britain and Austria.
Dates - April 1809 through October 1809.
Motives - The Continental System implemented by Napoleon caused great duress to most of Europe. With Napoleon transferring large amounts of troops to Spain Austria perceived an opportunity to open a second front.
Major Battles - Eckmuhl, Ratisbon, Aspern-Essling, Wagram.
Summary - Austria had been at peace with France for over 3 years. During that time she had rebuilt and reorganized her armies. Having suffered humiliating defeats at the hands of Napoleon she was anxious to avenge her loses. It was a matter of when the best time to strike would be. Beginning in 1808 Napoleon began moving more and more troops into Spain in an attempt to subdue the hostile populace. Great Britain countered by committing significant numbers of troops into Portugal. This was the largest use of land forces Great Britain had used in the wars so far. The Spanish Ulcer had begun.

With financial backing from Great Britain, Austria was persuaded to open hostilities on the eastern front. The Austrians moved up the Danube on the offensive until being checked at Eckmuhl. The French counter offensive pushed the Austrians back to Vienna where Napoleon received a serious setback while trying to cross the Danube with his army. A month later Napoleon crossed the Danube and was victorious on July 5th and 6th in the mammoth battle of Wagram where over 250,000 men participated. Austria and France came to terms on October 14th.

Though a success for Napoleon the period began to show weaknesses in the Imperial armor. Constant warfare had begun to deplete Frances manpower. Napoleon found it necessary to compliment his war hardened veterans with young conscripts and foreign troops. Supplies of horses were always short. The French populace was tired of war and grumblings were heard throughout political and social circles. Josephine had yet to produce an heir and the circumstance presented Napoleon with an opportunity to make a longer peace with Austria. Divorcing Josephine he married the Emperor of Austria's daughter Marie-Louise and the countries became allies. The following years found Napoleon busy at home trying to maintain his Empire while his Marshals exhausted themselves and France in the Peninsular.

Suggested Reading

Aspern & Wagram 1809 by Castle
Napoleon and the Archdule Charles by Petre
Napoleon Conquers Austria by Arnold

The Sixth Coalition

Countries - Great Britain and Russia followed by Spain, Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and the German States.
Dates - June 1812 through March 1814.
Motives - When Napoleon and the Grande Armee invaded Russia the Russians found a ready ally in Great Britain. When things began to turn against France most of the other countries saw this as their turn to exact vengeance and aligned themselves with the coalition.
Major Battles - Borodino, Lutzen, Bautzen, Leipzig.
Summary - Napoleon's Grande Armee numbered 600,000 men when the invasion of Russia began. Allied with France were Bavaria, the Confederation of the Rhine, Italy, Naples, Saxony, Duchy of Warsaw, Westphalia, Austria and Prussia. The level of commitment of these allies varied from true allies like the Poles and Bavarians to unwilling vassals like Austria and Prussia. The catistrophic demise of the French led armies in Russia is well documented. The combination of the brutal Russian habitat and a policy of 'scorched earth' implemented by the Russians led to thousands of non combat related casualties. When the French began their retreat from Russia the other European countries began to join the coalition. The Grande Armee disintegrated as it struggled westward. Napoleon hurried home to create a new army to rush to the frontier while the rest of Europe mobilized.

Napoleon's new army, laden with conscripts, it's cavalry decimated, advanced to meet the coalition. After initial success the French were overwhelmed at Leipzig, the largest battle of the Napoleonic era, and driven all the way back to Paris where Napoleon abdicated on April 6, 1814.

The Russian winter had dealt Napoleon his greatest defeat. The lions of Europe moved in for the kill and it did not take long for the vultures to gather for their share.

Suggested Reading

Campaign of 1812 by Clausewitz
1812 March on Moscow by Austin
1812 Napoleon in Moscow by Austin
1812 The Great Retreat by Austin
Lutzen & Bautzen by Nafziger
Memiors of the Invasion of France by Fain
Napoleon's Last Campaign in Germany 1813 by Petre
Napoleon at Bay 1814 by Petre

The Seventh Coalition

Countries - Great Britain, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Prussia, Austria, Sweden, and the German States.
Dates - March 1815 through June 1815.
Motives - The return of Napoleon to France.
Major Battles - Quatre Bras, Ligny, Wavre and Waterloo.
Summary - Though Napoleon tried to reassure the heads of Europe of his non aggressive intentions they would have none of it. He then felt his best chance would be to strike at the closest enemies and hope to beat them before the allies could unite. A victory would also go far to ensure popular support at home. As things turned out the Prussians under Blucher, though badly beaten at Ligny refused to abandon the allied contingent under Wellington. Their late arrival at Waterloo sealed Napoleon's fate and ended the Napoleonic Wars.

Suggested Reading

Battle of Wavre and Grouchy's Retreat by Hyde
Campaign of Waterloo by Ropes
Eagle's Last Triumph by Ufindell
History of the Waterloo Campaign by Siborne
Waterloo 1815 by Chandler

[Return to EB Home Page]