Long-Terma and Short-Term of Napoleon's Loss in Waterloo

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This investigation will explore the question “Analyze the long and short term factors that resulted in Napoleon’s loss in the Battle of Waterloo, 1815”. The two key sources I will look at come from a historian, R. Wallace and from a French professor, B. Mahuzier, which will give me two important different perspectives for my investigation: the first investigation will look more in depth at the military aspects of the Battle, while the second questions why French people should try to forget it.

The first source, “Journal of education” was written in 1915 by R. W. Wallace and it gives detailed account of the Battle of Waterloo of 1815. The origin of the source is valuable because of the publisher: being published on a journal, with the specific aim to educate people, the author must give detailed reasons that led to Napoleon’s loss at Waterloo. This aspect makes the source highly useful for my investigation to analyze the reasons of Napoleon’s defeat in the Battle of Waterloo. However, the origin of the source also limits its value because, being written in 1915, the author might have been influenced by the first world war: it gives too much detail on the military aspects of the war and not enough on anything not related with military plans.

The purpose of the source is to explain the reasons for Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo. According to the source, one of the reasons that led to the defeat of the French general was the poor conduction of operations by his men and Blucher’s ability to fight. This content, unfortunately, is not valuable because the article just mentions this reason as a hypothesis and does not give clear facts that prove it to be truthful. On the other hand, the source provides a very important reasons for Napoleon’s defeat: as the journal states, “He had lost his nerve before he faced the “Iron Duke” at Waterloo”. This is valuable because the “Journal of education” gives clear facts that prove this statement. First of all, the article mentions statements made by Napoleon’s best friends: he hesitated to start the battle until near noon, although everything on the French side was in readiness hours before. Given this information, it can be argued that the source provides clear evidence for which Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo.

The second source is “Forget Waterloo” by B. Mahuzier. This source is highly useful for my investigation since it gives a view of the moral aspect of the war: how it affected the French and how it changed the course of modern history. The origin of the source is valuable since it is a book from a French and history professor. It is also valuable because, being published in 2012, the author had all the technology to fully explain the reasons to Napoleon’s defeat in Waterloo. On the other hand, the source is not valuable because the French professor is not objective. It promotes Napoleon as a great general and his defeat at Waterloo as an enormous loss for the whole French population.

The purpose of the source is to explain the reasons for which the French had to forget Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The source questions that if it is reasonable that Napoleon’s enemies want to remember Waterloo, why would the French want to commit to memory their most infamous battle. This explains why the source is not fully valuable: even if it explains some reasons that led to Napoleon’s defeat, it is too one sided towards French.


“Impossible is a word to be found only in the dictionary of fools.” This statement summarizes Napoleon’s ideology: he thought nothing was impossible, he always tried to achieve more, even when everyone was against him. This is one of the main reasons that historians consider him one of the greatest military leaders of all time. This idea of “impossible is nothing” has been both the reason for his success and his downfall: after his exile in Elba in 1814, Napoleon thought he could defeat and conquer the whole of Europe, even if his army was weaker than his enemy’s and he was too old to correctly plan such a delicate war. The Battle of Waterloo, 1815, was the fall of Napoleon, of his regime and ideology. During that battle, the French general was defeated because of different short and long term factors. The short term effects were the weather and the planning and organization of his troops. The long term was his exile to the island of Elba.

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One of the long term factors that determined Napoleon’s loss was his exile in Elba in 1814 after he was defeated by the Allied Powers. As soon as the French general was exiled, he started to plan his escape from the island back to his kingdom. Although his main intention was to escape, Napoleon started to forget it and begun to gain power even in the Italian ground: he coaxed the original governor, Dalesme, out of retirement to replace general Lapi. Napoleon, now, was absent-minded: after almost a year spent on the island, the general seemed to want to retire. It seemed as if he was not motivated enough to return to France and gain power again. As M. Braude states, “Elba became a kind of colony of the empire, with the three-bee flag replaced by the tricolor.” During Napoleon’s stay in Elba, dirt roads were paved, properties had been refurbished and the fortifications were better armed. “The legacy of his brief stay may be minimal, but I have found no other place in Italy where they seem so genuinely fond of Napoleon…” The statement by M. Braude analyzes how Napoleon was the stay of Napoleon on Elba influenced massively Napoleon and vice versa. Elba was completely rebuilt with Napoleon and the economy flourished again. On the other hand, it can be argued that Napoleon was concentrating too much on the organization, on the economy of the island and not even merely on his return to France with his trusted men. This said, Napoleon’s exile in Elba influenced massively his motivation to conquer Europe again and did not encourage the French general to develop his studies on new and more advanced war plans.

A short term factor that influenced Napoleon was his planning. Once Napoleon was back in France and had gained power again, he was not thinking straight anymore: even if he was not physically nor mentally ready for the most important war of his career, he held strong to his ideology and marched towards Belgium, ready to face the British and the Prussians.

Napoleon, initially, had planned an almost perfect plan: he would have attacked separately the British and the Prussians since the French army was stronger and more organized than Napoleon’s enemies’. “A blow at Blucher would send him eastwards; a blow at Wellington would send him north. And with 125,000 Frenchmen, nearly all of them veterans, Napoleon stood a good chance to succeed.” This statement made by “The Military Engineer” explains that, with his plan, Napoleon stood a good chance of winning and gaining power over Europe once again. Things started to worsen for Napoleon after the first battle against the Prussians. “But the French were too much for Blucher. A desperate charge at dusk was led by gallant old Prussian himself. His horse was killed, and the old men fell, shaken but not killed.” This statement from “The Military Engineer” analyzes how so many Prussians escaped after the war: the most crucial mistake of his attack was spearing the Prussians after he defeated them. In fact, every Prussian that survived, played a vital role in defeating Napoleon in Waterloo just two days later. Given this information it can be argued that Napoleon was betrayed by his magnanimity: had the French army succeeded in keeping the Prussian army from joining the Anglo-allied Army under Wellington at Waterloo, Napoleon might have won the Waterloo Campaign.

The Waterloo area experienced heavy rains on June 16th and the afternoon of the 17th. This caused many complications for the battle, one of which was communication: under strong rains, messengers travelled slower and less effectively. It can be claimed that, if Napoleon had found out in time that the speared Prussians had joined the British army, the battle might have ended differently. “Memoirs and letters of participants of the Waterloo Campaign record that there was a major thunderstorm in the general area of Waterloo on the 16th in the late afternoon/early evening, and that the thunderstorm that burst on the 17th early in the afternoon was especially violent.”

As “Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society” states, the weather had a major impact on the battle of Waterloo. The position of the army of the Duke Wellington gave him a big advantage on Napoleon: being positioned on the slope of an elevated hill, even if the ground was muddy and could not move the artillery, it could still use it given the high ground he had. On the other hand, the wet ground slowing the progress of Napoleon’s heavy artillery: one must consider that cannon shot was meant to fall short of the target and skip along the ground to do the most damage. Under muddy conditions, the effectiveness of the weapon was compromised. The cavalry could not easily move forward. And its charge was slowed from a gallop to a canter. The French infantry at last heading for the Anglo-Dutch lines crossed through fields of wet rye. Muskets and rifles which had been loaded before the march misfired because of damp powder. Napoleon’s assault suffered more than Wellington’s defensive lines under such conditions. Lastly, it can be argued that Wellington was advantaged by the weather since it slowed down the war and gave the Prussian army more time to join the British.

Given this information it is clear to say that Napoleon was influenced in the battle of Waterloo by a combination of long and short term factors. It can be argued that the exile to Elba was the most influential factors but, in fact, all the factors combined were more influential than anything else. The causalities of the weather, combined with Napoleon’s mistakes and magnanimity were the main reasons for which the French general was not able to win the battle against the fearless Duke Wellington and the Prussians. This Battle was the end of Napoleon’s incredible regime and his ideologies of controlling the whole of Europe.


During this research on the Battle of Waterloo, I have understood how difficult and challenging it is for historians when carrying out historical investigations. I feel I have developed a skill on analyzing correctly and in depth texts and briefly summarize them. Another aspect I have improved on is the justification of my statements: I have learnt how to properly give explanations to my quotations.

In this investigation I have noticed how difficult is to find reliable information: during my investigation on the Battle of Waterloo there was too much information and sources that were not useful for my analysis. The difficulty was understanding how to correctly decide if a source was useful or not for me rapidly. A limitation in my investigation was the acquisition of information: for example, when searching about the Battle of Waterloo, at first I could not find any valuable source. As soon as I discovered a well-known historian, such as M. Braude, that wrote a book on the life of Napoleon it all went downhill: from here on I found more historians that worked with him and that wrote, as well, about Napoleon. Another difficulty I found was researching a second source to compare with “The journal of education” in section one: most sources I found gave fairly similar views of the war as R. Wallace and I was not able to compare them correctly.

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