February 28: Napoleon Returns To France

NapoleonIn April 1814, Europe breathed a sigh of relief. After nearly eleven years of war, Napoleon Bonaparte’s reign as the self-appointed Emperor of France had finally come to an end. He had lost several major military engagements, Paris had surrendered to the Coalition forces and France’s Sénat conservateur had passed the Acte de déchéance de l’Empereur (“Emperor’s Demise Act”) officially deposing Napoleon. Peace finally arrived in the form of the Treaty of Fontainebleau, which amongst other things exiled Napoleon to the Mediterranean island of Elba, 12 miles off the coast of Tuscany. All was well until February 26, 1815 when Napoleon escaped from Elba with the help of a small group of followers. Then, on February 28, 1815, Napoleon set foot once again on French soil and prepared to take back his throne.

As Napoleon began his march to Paris, he was confronted on March 7 by the 5th Regiment of the French Army, ready to intercept him. Napoleon did not panic; instead, he approached the 5th on his own, stepped off his horse and stepped within gunrange before yelling “Here I am. Kill your Emperor, if you wish.” There was a pause before the regiment began cheering “Vive L’Empereur!” and promptly rallied to the former emperor’s side. Upon hearing that the 5th and other regiments had joined Napoleon, King Louis XVIII fled Paris. Soon, the Congress of Vienna named Napoleon an outlaw and the Coalition powers (now led by Great Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) vowed to bring a permanent end to Napoleon’s rule.

Napoleon took Paris on March 20, and by June he had 200,000 loyal soldiers at his disposal. It was at this point that Napoleon decided to go on the offensive and sent the French Army of the North to invade part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands (now modern-day Belgium). There were three reason for invading the Netherlands: First, it might trigger a pro-Napoleon revolution in French-speaking Brussels, giving him more loyal troops. Second, by launching a pre-emptive strike, he was able to catch the Coalition off guard, cutting off communication between the British and Prussians.  Most importantly, if a major victory was achieved by France’s large army against a single army of a Coalition nation, he might force peace talks which would either end in him getting to maintain power or a continued war which would lead to the defeat of the remaining Coalition forces.

For a time Napoleon’s plans actually worked. The French engaged in battle with the Coalition forces and forced both the English and Prussians to retreat in opposite directions. Eventually, the Prussians made their way to the town of Wavre, while the British forces, under the command of the Duke of Wellington, deployed themselves behind an escarpment in the tiny village of Waterloo. However, unknown to Napoleon and his generals, three Prussian corps had broken off and were making their way towards Waterloo.

So, on June 18, 1815 the British and French engaged in battle at Waterloo. Napoleon made the key mistake of waiting to start battle until the ground had dried from the previous evening’s rain. This gave the English plenty of time to prepare a defense and for the Prussian corps to make their way towards Waterloo. When the battle finally happened, the English held the line and the Prussians arrived to take care of France’s right flank. The unthinkable had happened to Napoleon: The Coalition armies had not only managed to come together, but were now actively sending the French into retreat. Napoleon returned to Paris and discovered that the legislature and Parisian citizens wanted him gone. He abdicated the throne on June 22, and after an ill fated attempt to escape to the United States, he surrendered to the British on July 15. His second reign only lasted 111 days.

The Coalition forces learned from their earlier mistake and rather than exile him in the Mediterranean, Napoleon was sent to the island of Saint Helena, 1,162 miles off Africa’s west coast. There Napoleon lived with a small group of followers and wrote his memoirs. Still, some wanted to free Napoleon from his island prison like the British Lord Cochrane who wanted to free Napoleon and then help him establish a new empire in South America. There was even a group of French soldiers who had exiled themselves in Texas in the hope that they could free Napoleon and set up a new empire there. However, none of these plans came to pass, as Napoleon died on St. Helena in 1821.

So, toast Napoleon’s second reign with a cocktail made with an ingredient named after the emperor. The Imperial Sour is a cocktail made with Mandarine Napoleon liqueur. This liqueur was actually developed by Napoleon’s physicist, Antoine-Francois de Fourcroy, who created a mix of cognac and distilled mandarins to create a liqueur that quickly became Napoleon’s favorite drink. The Imperial Sour comes to us from Mandarine Napoleon’s website and is a twist on a classic sour using Mandarine Napoleon and the ginger liqueur Domaine de Canton.

Imperial Sour

  • 2 ounces Mandarine Napoleon
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 ounce Domaine de Canton
  • 1 dash Green Chartreuse

Shake with ice and strain into an ice filled tumbler glass. Garnish with a cherry.

Tomorrow: A witch hunt.

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