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The Battle of the Nations


Two hundred years ago this week, Napoleon’s forces battled those of the Sixth Coalition at the Battle of Leipzig, sometimes called the Battle of the Nations because soldiers from so many countries fought there. It was Napoleon’s first true defeat in battle and completed the work of the Russian campaign the year before. His mastery of Europe was destroyed and would never be regained.

He still had a chance, though. The victorious allies were willing to let him remain as Emperor of a France with generously drawn frontiers. Napoleon would have nothing to do with compromise proposals. (Some say it was his blind ambition that led him to refuse anything less than the throne of all Europe; others say he feared for his prospects in a France shorn of his conquests.)

The Battle of Leipzig was the biggest battle fought in Europe before the terrible trench battles of World War I. More than 600,000 soldiers are believed to have fought there; it was only after three days of brutal combat that Napoleon gave up hope.

After Leipzig, Napoleon would display some of the most brilliant tactics of his life as he fought to defend France from the invading armies, but the allied forces arrayed against him were too great.

Our guess: if human civilization survives the next 100 years, people will remember the Battle of Leipzig, and the effects of Napoleon’s rise and fall will still be felt across Europe. The 2013 budget shootout in Washington…not so much. There’s a difference, as Mark Twain once said, between the lightning…and the lightning bug.

[Battle of Leipzig courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • lukelea

    Good to see you are no longer holding up Napoleon as a model of ambition for students to emulate. Amoral megalomania is the last thing we need.

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