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1799-1801 - War of the Second Coalition

It was again fortunate for Bonaparte that he was engaged in the Eastern expedition, winning easy triumphs over Egyptian and Turkish troops during the dark days when the armies of the Directory were being everywhere defeated or checked by those of the Coalition. News from France told of the infidelity of Josephine and of the evil plight of France under the decadent Directory, which was being attacked by the newly formed Second Coalition of the Powers of Europe against France.

On the night of August 22-23, leaving Kleber in command, Bonaparte escaped from Alexandria and, evading the EngI lish ships, landed at Frejus on Oct. 9, 1799. He returned to France at the most opportune moment, bringing the tidings of his victory at Aboukir.

On reaching Paris he speedily took counsel with the members of his family and after a scene with Josephine forgave her, though he did not forget her offense. Councils with Talleyrand, Sieyes, and other important men of affairs followed, but most of all with his brother Lucien, who was now President of the Council of Five Hundred. Plans were speedily devised, and on 09 November 1799, the famous coup d'etat of the 18th Brumaire took place. The Directory was overthrown, the Council of Five Hundred dispersed by soldiers, and a provisional government composed of Bonaparte and two of the late Directors, Sieyes and Roger Ducos, installed. Sieyes expected to be the managing head of the new combination, but at the first meeting found that Bonaparte had everything in his own hands.

Bonaparte became master of France and was hailed as her deliverer. When he took the field for the campaign of northern Italy in 1800 he was both the ruler of the State and the commander-in-chief. It is doubtful if any general who had to persuade a Government to accept his plans would have been allowed to risk the daring enterprise of the campaign of 1800. He had an absolutely free hand for his combinations. It was an ideal position denied to many of the great leaders of war, and this position he held to the end of his career.

Having arranged the more important details of the administration and restored internal peace by the pacification of the Vendee, he turned his attention to the military situation. The victory of Massena at Zurich on Sept. 25-26, 1799, had freed France from the danger of invasion by the Second Coalition, but Italy and southern Germany were once more in the hands of the Austrians, and Massena with a French army was shut up in Genoa. Bonaparte suddenly and with the utmost secrecy gathered a new army for the invasion of Italy. Instead of taking the expected course of advancing along the Riviera as in 1796 and raising the siege of Genoa, he took his army, whose existence was unknown to the Austrians, across the Great St. Bernard Pass and occupied Milan on June 2, 1800.

The surprised Austrian General Melas endeavored to gather his forces and save himself. A detachment under Lannes defeated an Austrian detachment at Montebello on June 9, but on the 14th Bonaparte found himself forced to face the main Austrian army of 31,000 men at Marengo with only 18,000, and with difficulty saved himself from complete defeat. The opportune arrival of Desaix after the battle was really over led to a renewal of the fight, to the astonishment of the Austrians, who were driven from the field.

The campaign of Marengo was a masterpiece, but the honors of the victory itself belong to Desaix, who bought it with his life, and to Lannes, Bessieres, and the younger Kellermann. Melas evacuated all of Italy west of Mantua, but Austria was not ready to make peace until she had been defeated by Moreau at Hohenlinden on December 3 and Macdonald had crossed the Splttgen and threatened Vienna. Negotiations were then opened between Cobenz and Joseph Bonaparte, and on Feb. 9, . 1801, the Treaty of Luneville was signed.

England was now the only remaining foe of France. England forced the French to evacuate Egypt and captured Malta; while Bonaparte forced Naples and Portugal to abandon the English alliance. The faint-hearted Addington ministry in England signed preliminaries of peace with France on 01 October 1801, and on 27 March 1802, Cornwallis and Joseph Bonaparte signed the Treaty of Amiens, which gave France complete peace for the first time in 10 years. The diplomatic genius of Bonaparte shines brightly in these treaties, which enabled him to make real gains for France such as all the wars of Louis XIV had failed to obtain. He carefully hid many things in these treaties for future use, which enabled him to appear as the pacificator and reorganizer not only of France, but of Europe, and as the founder of a great colonial empire. Seeds for future war were as carefully sown, which were to bring forth fruit at the appropriate season.

Bonaparte had shown himself the greatest master of the art of war and one of the shrewdest of diplomats, when at 30 years of age he undertook the duties of a ruler, lawgiver, and administrator. His greatness lay in the universality of his genius and in his inordinate capacity for hard work. Further, he was able to command the services of many men of extraordinary ability and to make their work his own.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2012 19:13:16 ZULU