Waterloo, the downfall of the first Napoleon



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Dec 31, 1862
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George Hooper
In July, 1870, fifty-five years after the Allied Armies, who had marched from the decisive field of Waterloo, entered Paris, a young diplomatist, Baron Wimpfen, started from the French capital, for Berlin. He was the bearer of a Declaration of War, from the Emperor Napoleon III., to William I., King of Prussia; and the fatal message was delivered to the French Chargé d’Affaires, M. le Sourd, and by him to the Prussian Government on the 19th of July. Thus, once again, a Napoleon, at the head of a French Empire, was destined to try his strength against the principal German Power beyond the Rhine.

Yet, under what different conditions! The Emperor was not now the Napoleon who surrounded the Austrians at Ulm, broke down the combined forces of Austria and Russia at Austerlitz, and extorted a peace which set him free to overthrow, at Jena and Auerstadt, the fine army left by Frederick the Great, and allowed to crystallize by his weak successors. Nor did the late Emperor find in his front a divided Germany, and the mere survival of a great military organization. He found a united people, and an army surpassing in completeness, as it did in armaments—the victors of Prague, Rosbach, and Leuthen. The Germany known to the Congress of Vienna had disappeared—the deformed had been transformed. The little seed of unity, sown early in the century, had grown into a forest tree. The spirit of Arndt had run through the whole Teutonic nation, which, after the turmoil of 1848 had subsided, and the heavy hand of Russia had been taken off by the Crimean War, found a leader in the strongly-organized kingdom of Prussia. When the weak and hesitating will of Frederick William IV. ceased, first, by the operation of a painful disease, and then by extinction, to disturb the course of his country’s fortune, Prussia, in a few years, became practically a new Power. King William I., who crowned himself with his own hands at Königsberg, began his task, as a ruler, in a grave and earnest spirit, holding that kingship was not only a business, but a trust, and taking as his watchwords, Work and Duty. No monarch in any age, no private man, ever laboured more assiduously and conscientiously at his métier, to use the word of Joseph II., than the King of Prussia. He became Regent in 1858, when Napoleon III. was engaged in preparing for his Italian campaign against the House of Austria. French policy, with varying watchwords, had run that road for centuries; and, during the summer of 1859, it was the good fortune of the Emperor to win a series of victories which brought his army to the Mincio, and before the once famous Quadrilateral. The German Bund had taken no part in the fray, but the rapid successes of the French aroused some apprehensions in Berlin, and there went forth an order to mobilize a part of the army, which means to put each corps on a war-footing, and to assemble a force in Rhenish Prussia. Whatever share that demonstration may have had in producing the sudden arrangement between the rival Emperors, who made peace over their cigarettes and coffee at Villafranca, the experiment tried by the Berlin War Office had one important result—it brought to light serious defects in the system then practised, and revealed the relative weakness of the Prussian army. From that moment, the Regent, who soon became King by the death of his brother, began the work of reforming the military system.

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