From 6% casualties at Fleurus in 1792 come 15% in ~ Austerlitz in 1806. There were 31% in ~ Eylau in 1807 and a terrifying 45% at Waterloo in 1815.

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The sheer number of men damaged by the battles was horrifying. Some endured their injuries, although the is likely millions died. The 3.7 million deaths estimated by chronicler Hippolyte Taine may be one exaggeration, but it need to be in the appropriate area.

Over 500,000 guys were shed from Napoleon’s military during the 1812 intrusion of Russia, and also while this to be a specifically terrible disaster, the was no unique.

Why did so many civilization die in one man’s wars?

Wars that Engulfed a Continent

The scale of the casualties is partially a reflection of the degree of the wars.

Napoleon managed the continuation of one extended duration of warfare started by the revolutionary French governments. The destabilizing result of the French revolution had turn many an excellent powers versus France. While these disputes could be pertained to as a collection of separate battles, they were effectively one lengthy war in which France was constantly engaged in fighting.

As in the seven Years War before it, these were a precursor that the 20th century human being Wars, illustration in all the an excellent powers. They were referred to as the an excellent War a century before that hatchet was supplied in the 1914-18 conflict. Battles fought practically entirely in Europe deserve to hardly it is in called world wars, yet they did include the biggest industrial strength of the day and involved nearly every country in Europe.

With so many armies fighting, there to be a the majority of lives in ~ stake.

The 28th Regiment at Quatre Bras. Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, 1875The 28th Regiment in ~ Quatre Bras. Elizabeth Thompson, Lady Butler, 1875


Revolutionary France introduced a brand-new element to european warfare. It was something i beg your pardon would increase the number of soldiers in the field numerous times over; conscription.

Faced with strikes from countries across Europe, rebellions indigenous within, and also the difficulty of dispersing its ideals by force, revolutionary France started conscripting guys to fight.

The conscription legislation in location for most of Napoleon’s reign was the Jourdan-Delbrel legislation of 1798. Its main point provisions lasted until the codification and also overhaul of all armed forces regulations in 1811. Also then, the significance of the regulation was included into regulations, no abandoned.

Conscription intended that France threw huge numbers the men into the grinder that war. No just human being from her very own country, yet conscripts from overcame provinces together well. Opposing countries recruited to match France’s numbers. Not just were a huge number of nations fighting, yet each one to be fighting with higher numbers the men, in order to inflicting and also suffering much more casualties.

Epic Disasters

Napoleon to be a bold and also audacious general. He took huge risks come achieve significant goals. Together a result, as soon as disaster fell it might be equally epic.

The retreat native Moscow in 1812 and also defeat in ~ Leipzig in 1813 were specifically devastating, with huge numbers of French troops lost. The men who changed them to be fielded in a rush, an interpretation many to be inexperienced and also ill-prepared, most likely to experience when challenged with the fact of battle.

Even prior to this, Napoleon’s cool schemes were periodically his undoing. The Egyptian expedition of 1798 experienced thousands of males dying not just in battle but native plague and deprivation, as they were cut off and also supplies ran out.

Napoleon aimed high. When he fell to earth, rather suffered.

Cavalry clashing in ~ the fight of Borodino, painted by Franz Roubaud in 1912Cavalry clashing at the fight of Borodino, painted by Franz Roubaud in 1912

Improved Artillery

Excessive pride may have played a component in the devastation, yet so did modern technology and the in march of progress.

Napoleon’s career started in the pho at a time as soon as it to be making significant advances. Guns were being designed to be extra an effective and much more mobile. Due to a mix of technical developments and also the tactical changes Napoleon led, artillery pertained to play a more destructive duty than ever before before. The French military at Leipzig fired five times as numerous cannon balls together they had actually at Valmy twenty-one year before. The results of those cannons were much more bodies in a brutal count.

The fee of the scot Greys in ~ Waterloo. By Lady Butler, 1881The fee of the scots Greys in ~ Waterloo. Through Lady Butler, 1881

Limits the Medicine

Although that was no a brand-new problem, limited medical knowledge exacerbated the toll taken through the Napoleonic Wars.

The 19th century to be a period of far-ranging medical advances. The nature of an illness would pertained to be understood. The prominence of cleanliness in staying clear of infection would transform both treatment and public health. Chemists would certainly develop an effective detergents to kill bacteria before they reached wounds and surgery would take bold leaps forward.

All the lay ahead, however. Throughout the two years in which Napoleon conquered war, also the slightest of battlefield wounds could lead come a fatal infection. A damaged arm or leg would certainly most likely be removed, boosting the threat of infection, blood loss, or death from shock.

It to be a war on an practically industrial scale, without the benefits contemporary medicine would certainly bring.

Foraging and Scorched Earth

Most do the efforts to count the cost of Napoleon’s battles have concentrated on the soldiers, but the violence also had one enormous influence on civilians.

As large armies trampled across the continent, lock left a follow of devastation in their wake. Several of this was as result of a absence of food. Carrying all the sustenance forced for such grand militaries would have actually been a tremendous effort, for this reason the militaries lived off the land. Farms and also entire neighborhoods were left there is no food.

It was worse in areas where burned earth strategies were used, especially Russia. To protect against the French obtaining supplies, Russian armies devastated their country. The city the Moscow was collection ablaze fairly than let the French uncover what they necessary there.

Such tactics caused starvation and death for simple people. Conflicts with foraging soldiers resulted in acts of violence. Inevitably, such enduring went greatly unreported.

Millions of soldiers and civilians passed away during the Napoleonic Wars. The political and technical changes produced a particularly devastating conflict. It to be a harbinger that what was to come in the age of full war.


Geoffrey Ellis (1991), The Napoleonic Empire.

Alan Forrest (2011), Napoleon.

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Robert Harvey (2006), The battle of Wars: The epos Struggle in between Britain and also France: 1789-1815.