Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Napoleon's greatest victory

Saturday the 14th was the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Jena, some would say Napoleon's High Water Mark - it sure was a low mark for Prussia.
Napolean's army had just completed a decisive rout of the Prussian army near the cities of Jena and Auerstadt, now located in eastern Germany. The blood of some 55,000 dead and wounded colored the fields red.
The battles of Jena and Auerstadt spelled the end to any significant Prussian resistance to the French until Napolean's withdrawal from Russia in 1813. It's debatable, though, whether Napolean's military brilliance or Prussian incompetence was more decisive. Jena historian Werner Greiling said the difference was in the decisiveness of the leaders and the soldiers' willingness to follow orders. "All of Napolean's soldiers were convinced of their commander's leadership qualities," he said.
That would be something a German would say. It is true though. An interesting note for those who think the French worship Napoleon and the Germans have thrown away their martial heritage and pride.
History buffs from clubs and associations throughout Europe gathered together to create the spectacle. This time the French were outnumbered -- some 485 Germans outfitted themselves in 19th century war duds, alongside 180 French and 160 British -- but they still won.
One note though - out of defeat can come great things. Who was present at the battle on the loosing side? Clausewitz and Gneisenau served in the battle before going on to become major figures in Prussia's military revival. Oh, one last snark at the Fwench. You know who played Napoleon? An American of German extraction, Marc Schneider.

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