A New Look at a Global Conflict


The French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars was the world’s first truly global conflict. Although the Seven Years’ War and Wars of American Independence were fought globally, the round of fighting triggered by the French Revolution saw major campaigns on a wider geographic scale than seen previously or since. No war, including World War II saw major fighting in as many different continents.

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze examines the conflict from a global perspective.

Mikaberidze links all of the different wars fought between 1792 and 1815 into a greater global whole. It reveals answers to puzzles that seem inexplicable when focusing just on the wars directly involving France.

It seems incredible that Prussia and Austria failed to crush the French Revolution in 1792. The conventional explanation is France effectively mobilized its population to repel the smaller professional armies of Prussia and Austria. Mikaberidze’s book offers a more satisfactory explanation. Prussia and Austria were participating in the Second Partition of Poland in 1792. Their attention was focused on that, not France. The distraction gave France a year to reorganize its military. France could have been overrun in 1792; by 1793 it was too late.

The book is filled with similar examples of military billiards. Russian campaigns against the Ottomans and Persia were triggered by Russian truces with Napoleon or curtailed when Russia needed to fight France. England’s dominance of India resulted from the French Revolution giving it an opportunity to crush French interests in that subcontinent. Conquest was forced on an East India Company reluctant to spend funds campaign from a necessity to secure its position in India. Wars of Independence in North and South America began as a result of French occupation of Portugal and Spain.

Mikaberidze’s analysis is not flawless. He overestimates the naval threat France posed Britain after Trafalgar. He highlights French ability to produce ships-of-the-line while ignoring the difficulty of producing crews to effectively man them.  These flaws are minor set against the larger picture he paints.

Just as Victor Davis Hanson’s “The Second World Wars” revealed a larger view of World War II, “The Napoleonic Wars” shows conflicts fought between 1792 and 1815 fit together, almost like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.  Mikaberidze reveals a bigger picture exists behind the traditional and Euro-centric historical view of the wars of that period. Readers interested in this period should read this book.

“The Napoleonic Wars: A Global History,” by Alexander Mikaberidze, Oxford University Press, 2020, 960 pages, $39.95 (Hardcover)

This review was written by Mark Lardas who writes at Ricochet as Seawriter. Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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  1. MichaelKennedy Inactive

    I am reading Andrew Roberts’ biography of Napoleon, which is more sympathetic to him than most English biographies.  A major factor in his defeat of the Russians and Austrians was their incompetent leadership. He was also one to move his armies faster than they did. The Russians had a good general who nearly defeated Napoleon at Eylau.

    In late January Bennigsen’s Russian army went on the offensive in East Prussia, pushing far to the west. Napoleon reacted by mounting a counteroffensive to the north, hoping to prevent their retreat to the east. After his Cossacks captured a copy of Napoleon’s orders, Bennigsen rapidly withdrew to the northeast to avoid being cut off. The French pursued for several days and found the Russians drawn up for battle at Eylau.

    In a vicious evening clash the French captured the village, with heavy losses on both sides. The following day brought even more serious fighting. Early in the battle a frontal attack by Napoleon failed, with catastrophic losses. To reverse the situation, the emperor launched a massed cavalry charge against the Russians. This bought enough time for the French right wing to throw its weight into the contest. Soon the Russian left wing was bent back at an acute angle and Bennigsen’s army was in danger of collapse. A Prussian corps belatedly arrived and saved the day by pushing back the French right. As darkness fell, a French corps tardily appeared on the French left. That night Bennigsen decided to retreat, leaving Napoleon in possession of a snowy battlefield covered with thousands of dead and wounded. Eylau was the first serious check to the Grande Armée, and the myth of Napoleon’s invincibility was badly shaken.[16] However, the French would go on to win the war by decisively defeating the Russians on 14 June at the Battle of Friedland.



    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher

    I’ve just been going over Napoleon’s career from Leipzig to the occupation of Paris by the Sixth Coalition.

    This book sounds pretty good.

    • #2
  3. tigerlily Member

    Thanks Seawriter. I’ve been looking for a good book on the Napoleonic Wars for quite awhile. This sounds like it just might be it.

    • #3
  4. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo

    Percival (View Comment):

    I’ve just been going over Napoleon’s career from Leipzig to the occupation of Paris by the Sixth Coalition.


    • #4
  5. Percival Thatcher

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    I’ve just been going over Napoleon’s career from Leipzig to the occupation of Paris by the Sixth Coalition.


    Well … yeah.

    • #5
  6. Percival Thatcher

    I was looking up the Battle of Leipzig because I wanted to remember which French general swam the Elster after the French corporal blew the last bridge too early. (It was MacDonald.) Then I just kept reading.

    • #6
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