The War of Napoleonic Succession, also referred to as the War of 1845, the War of French Succession or the Bonaparte War, was a conflict that lasted throughout the brief reign of Napoleon II Bonaparte (coronated February 8th, 1844, deposed September 30th, 1845). At its very core, the war was fought by Louis Jean-Charles Bonaparte, the younger brother of Napoleon II, to remove his brother from the throne of the French Empire, and he employed the assistance of his brother Marcel, the Grand Army and, allegedly, a young Abraham Lincoln to do so.
Buildup to War
Transfer of Power to Napoleon II
Napoleon II of France was not officially coronated Emperor until 1844, but his clearly-ailing father, Napoleon I, transferred authority to his young son in the 1832 Decree of the French Empire. He made Napoleon II Minister of the State, a position previously held by former Marshal Michel Ney. Ney and much of the "old guard" had lost an enormous amount of influence during the 1820's, and their attempts to circumvent the younger generals and politicians coming into power had created a sometimes violent power struggle by the early 1830's, best evidenced by the assassination of Auguste de Marmont in the summer of 1831.
Napoleon II was wary of the "old guard" his father had so closely trusted, and distanced himself from the original Marshals of France. He instead allied himself closely with Robert Legrange, a war hero who had become known as the "Builder of Germany" due to his efforts following the Imperial War to train and assimilate German conscripts into the Grand Army. Napoleon II's gradual reliance on Legrange brought him a deep dislike with Ricard Murburrien and Pascal Giles, two other war heroes who were rivals politically of Legrange in the 1830's.
In the late 1820's, the secret, ultra-nationalistic Churat Society had begun to grow in influence in French cities. They were secretive, violent and counted among their ranks businessmen, lawyers, generals and politicians. Their stated goal was the unity and protection of the French Empire. Due to their surprising growth in power, Napoleon II formed a Ministry of the Churat as a wing of the State Ministry, which would publicly represent the organization. Since membership was secret and many compared the Churat to Freemasons, this move was widely questioned in the public sphere and amongst Napoleon II's inner circle.
Out of the new "daylight Churat" emerged a powerful political player, Laurence de Villieon, who styled his name D'Villieon on most occasions. He was one of Napoleon II's closest advisors throughout the early 1830's, and many said he was the power behind the throne. As he began to assert himself as effective ruler of France, Napoleon II took the Churat's advice on building a massive railroad system, which while nearly bankrupting the French Empire seriously expanded the country's economy. He personally visited England, the first time a French Emperor had crossed the English Channel since the Forty Days Campaign, to meet with the new Queen Victoria in 1837. And after the Parisian Fire of 1836, he started an ambitious campaign to redesign the city as a whole as a testament and monument to his father.
D'Villieon, meanwhile, was instrumenting a campaign of ethnic cleansing in many parts of the country, expanding the ranks of both the secret and public branches of the Churat and starting "small purges" that, when accumulated between 1834-1842, were almost as destructive as the one in Russia twenty years prior. In fact, with the execution of the new Churat purges, almost two million Russians fled east to Siberia, and most wound up in Alaska's famous "Second Wave" of expatriate immigration.
The gradual passing of Napoleon's most trusted commanders - Ney, Massena, Soult - in the late 1830's opened the door for men such as Legrange, Murburrine, Savalier and Giles to seize much of the power in Paris they had been vying for for years. Legrange allied himself with D'Villieon, suggesting an expansion of the military by 1840 to over a million and a half men in order to promote loyalty and unity in the Empire.
Militarization in the East and the First Franco-Turkish War
Napoleon I was not expected to live much longer by the time the 1840's began - and the new decade was declared to be "the Age of Napoleon II." Still, Napoleon II had numerous problems to deal with, least of which were his younger brothers, Louis and Marcel. Louis was Grand Duke of Germany, and was closely tied to Murburrien and Savalier, who had over time distanced themselves from the politically-minded Legrange. Pascal Giles, another aging hero of the Imperial Wars, was busy running the Academy of Officers in Lyons, where the Empire's next generations of officers were being trained, and his protege, Paul Seychard, was already gaining clout as one of the primary new leaders of the French Grand Army.
Legrange convinced Napoleon II, through D'Villieon, to begin militarizing the Grand Duchy of the East, to the chagrin of his brother Marcel. Russian conscripts were recruited by the thousands and trained, but for what they were not completely sure.
In the autumn of 1842, Napoleon II presented his two brothers with an ambitious plan - the seizure of the Black Sea coastline controlled by the Ottomans and an invasion of the Balkan Peninsula from French Dalmatia. The war would also make as its goal the seizure of Crete, Cyprus and potentially Egypt. When the Turks acquisied, Napoleon II proposed the formation of the Grand Duchy of Greece - a successor state to the Byzantine Empire, within the new French Empire.
Louis was the most reluctant, feeling that the pending mobilization of four divisions in Germany to assault the Balkans was a waste of manpower. Similarly, Marcel questioned the necessity of an attack against Sebastopol and Odessa, wondering if French resources could not be better spent continuing the integration of Russians into Imperial society, a project he had fully committed himself to for the past several years.
Napoleon II went ahead and declared war upon the Ottomans regardless, claiming that their subjugation of Christians in the Crimea was an affront to the Russian Orthodox Church. This was not a completely false assertion - the Turks had been engaged in regular murders of Christians in Crimea, all of the Balkans and Armenia since the 1820's, fearing a revolution in favor of the French.
Napoleon I was stunned to hear of his son's plan, but trusted it with Legrange largely in charge. In the spring of 1843, the Grand Army of the East, almost 500,000 strong and mixed Russian and French, launched an assault into the Crimea. The Odessan Campaign was a terrific success, led by the brilliant Seychard. Odessa was captured in early September.
The Belgrade Campaign, on the other hand, was not so successful. In charge was General Alexandre Dumas, who bungled the assault into Bosnia and was caught in a violent battle throughout the summer and fall in the Carpathian Mountains. The Greeks also did not rise in revolution as D'Villieon had guaranteed they would, due to the relaxing of Turkish restriction of the Greek Orthodox religion in Greece throughout the late 1830's.
The assault on Crete in September was an even greater disaster. Under the aging Savalier, 15,000 French soldiers attempted a landing at the island's southern shore and were roundly repulsed. The Battle of Crete was a black stain on the mark of Legrange's career as a military tactician - Legrange, in allied Sicily at the time, was stunned when he heard that 8,000 lives, including that of Savalier, had been lost at Crete, and the survivors were scattered about the Mediterranean. One French ship, the Liberande, with almost five hundred soldiers aboard, was skillfully navigated without a compass and on bare supplies for two months while avoiding Turkish vessels through the Aegean Sea, before finally arriving safely in a friendly harbor at Palermo.
The loss of Savalier, one of the heroes of the Forty Days Campaign, was a huge blow for France. Napoleon II debated removing Legrange from power and recalled the trusted old general to Paris in the winter to discuss strategy.
While the winter fell, the Turks launched an ambitious counterattack, utilizing guerrilla warfare against Dumas' troops and even sending an army north to engage Seychard at Odessa, which came under siege. Napoleon II wanted to save his resources until springtime and thus often sent prisoners, peasants and other 'undesirables' - including Jews, Poles and gypsies - to the front lines with minimal training. Over a hundred thousand such "temporary soldiers" died during the winter of 1843-44 as much from starvation as from Turkish soldiers.
Death of Napoleon I and Internal Strife
On February 4th, 1844, the long-ill Napoleon I Bonaparte passed away around noon. His death was mourned across the Empire, although reportedly many Russians received the news in a celebratory air. On February 6th, he was laid in state at the Imperial Palace in Paris, and on the 10th moved to Notre Dame where Pope Innocent XIV himself performed Napoleon's funeral mass. Two days prior, Napoleon II had been officially coronated Emperor in a small ceremony, and instead of appointing his brother Louis Minister of State, like most expected, he instead deferred that title to Raphael de Aubergine, a convenient political ally effectively handpicked by D'Villieon.
On February 11th, the day after his last rites were performed, Napoleon was moved to the brand new Bonaparte Mausoleum on the far side of Montmartre from the city itself. He had designed the mausoleum as a pyramid - it was, in fact, a sizable structure about half the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza that had been under construction for about eight years and had only been completed the previous summer. There, Napoleon I Bonaparte was interred, much like the Egyptian Pharaohs he had styled his resting place after.
The quick succession with which Napoleon II was coronated and Aubergine, an inexperienced former political officer who had spent the past fifteen years in Warsaw, being appointed Minister of State, earned the distrust of many in government. Louis furiously returned to his personal palace in Berlin, where he was surrounded by his most trusted German advisors - many in Berlin referred to Louis as the "King of Germany" and there was very real discussion that now, with the lynchpin of the French Empire dead, it would be wiser to separate the dominions of France into three, possibly four separate states - not only was this a more efficient way of rule, but it would diffuse the ethnic tensions that still plagued the Empire thirty years after the Treaty of London.
Marcel returned to Moscow in April after growing considerably more disillusioned with his brother's machinations in government. Suspected members of the Churat were gaining important offices in several key ministries, and Aubergine was using D'Villieon as his advisor even more than Napoleon II was.
Legrange's control over military matters was expanding as well. As the last of the original Napoleonic Marshals died off one by one, Legrange's only remaining enemies in the army were Ricard Murburrien and Pascal Giles. With the death of Napoleon's trusted aide, Grouchy, in June of 1844, Legrange no longer had the shadows of the original Marshals hanging over him. He announced an immediate reform of the French military - he would form a General Staff in Paris in August, with himself as Grand Marshal of France, and appoint six hand-picked generals and two naval admirals to serve underneath him as the chief limbs of the government.
The move was an effective political coup by Legrange to assume frightening power - Aubergine signed off on his proposal despite protests by all three Bonaparte brothers, and even mild murmurs of discontent from D'Villieon's inner circle. There were whispers in Paris that the aging Legrange planned to stage a military coup against the unpopular Napoleon II and install himself as a military dictator. The feeling that the Empire was on the verge of collapse reverberated through the country - the disastrous and taxing campaign in the Balkans was still drawing thousands of lives and hundreds of thousands of francs. The Empire was, for the first time since 1820, in debt. The industrial economy that had been burgeoning in Alsace and Germany was declining, and a famine had struck Russia.
To go along with this problem, the Empire's trading partners were suffering as well. Spain and Portugal were feeling the effects of the French recession and Ireland, a staunch French ally, was suffering from a horrific potato famine that was causing a mass exodus to the United States and England. Overseas territories were unable to support the sagging European portion of the Empire.
Louis Breaks Ranks and the War Begins
With the Germans in uproar, Louis surrounded himself in September of 1844 with a cabal of close advisors from around Germany and northern Italy. He even brought the Duke Antonio Gravetta, the secular leader of the Papal States, to his Hamburg Conference on September 22nd. The German elite, which included remnants of the old Prussian and Bavarian governments, agreed that the recent events in Paris were detrimental to the health of the Empire as a whole.
There were two separate camps at Hamburg as to what was to be done. The Secessionist Camp, as it was called, was led by Friedrich Mann. They called for an independent Kingdom of Germany with Louis as its leader, as a competitor to France. Mann argued that the German-born Grand Army divisions already stationed in the region had been trained in the tactics of the Grand Army by Legrange, and would be more than able to fight for independence against a French force.
The Interventionist Camp believed that Europe was stronger as a united whole - Simon von Gobberschaft led this side of the conference. They argued that should Germany break from France, soon the old Russian Empire would too - and soon the European continent would factionalize and get into a land-grab. He also pointed out the weakness of the East Prussian survivor state, which was only nominally independent and reliant on the Empire. Most of the soldiers in the Grand Army had been born in the 1820's, half a generation after Napoleon's conquests of Germany. They had never known anything but the Empire itself.
Louis eventually sided with Gobberschaft, agreeing that a united French and German Empire would be a permanent world power, especially against Turkey and the United States, or the still-relevant Siberian survivor state and always-dangerous England. However, the conference was in agreement that Napoleon II's government would need to be changed, perhaps violently, in order for the Empire to survive.
In October of 1844, Napoleon II met with Turkish ambassadors (Sultan Abdulmecid refused to personally meet with the aggressor) and signed the Treaty of Budapest, which ended hostilities and formally drew new borders. Odessa would remain in French hands, but the French, who had captured Sarajevo and northern Serbia, would withdraw from the Balkans and formally deny recognition to the Kingdom of Serbia.
Shortly thereafter, he called both his brothers to Paris to discuss Imperial strategy going forward. Marcel, who had a nearly full-scale revolution on his hands in the East, sent a representative instead. Napoleon II was insulted by his brother's refusal to attend and publicly chastised him, referring to his younger brother as a "whoring, harlot-loving merchant of depravity" in front of France's House of Peers. Louis stepped up in front of the House of Peers, which had very little German or Russian representation, and read the infamous Grievances of the German Kingdom Against the Emperor of France, a letter signed by the most powerful men in Germany - Mann and Gobberschaft among two dozen others - that detailed their grievances and demands for reform from the Emperor. The gravity of the letter is often compared in France to the United States's Declaration of Independence.
On October 20th, Napoleon II held a private meeting with Louis to discuss the letter. While neither man ever revealed what was said, it can be assumed to have been negative, as Louis left Paris that night and on October 21st, sent five identical letters to the sympathetic leaders of five Grand Army divisions stationed east of the Elbe:
"Mobilize at once, we overthrow the French Emperor on November 1st."
The 1844 Campaign
The November 1st Accords
One of the letters, intended for General Joachim Jean-Patric St. Claude, was intercepted by an aide sympathetic to Napoleon II, Alfred Hossenbader. Hossenbader immediately assumed command of the Grand Army's 10th Division, which was St. Claude's division, and had his superior arrested and confined in a Dresden jailhouse. He then immediately ordered his 45,000 man division to march north towards Berlin, in order to intercept Louis I before he could arrive.
The first true battle of the War of Napoleonic Succession occurred at Falsburg, north of Dresden. The 12th Division, having heard of Hossenbader's movements, mobilized immediately under General Ludwig von Krouen. Krouen and Hossenbader engaged one another at Falsburg in what was a muddled affair, but two Grand Army divisions, each referring to the other as "traitorous," marked the beginning tide of the war.
Hossenbader moved south to hold Dresden, and Krouen managed to capture the city shortly thereafter, and capture Hossenbader, with minimal casualties. The brief campaign, waged between October 24th and 28th, had only claimed 2,000 total lives and 5,000 additional casualties total. The 10th, once again under St. Claude, move towards the Elbe in conjunction with the other Grand Army divisions.
Louis arrived in Berlin on the 27th after staying two days in Aachen to recruit political leaders in western Germany. There, he gathered his closest advisors and announced an imminent push across the Elbe - the goal, of course to seize the Rhine. The secondary goals were to win over western German divisions which were led by generals more closely aligned with Legrange, and to push south to capture Munich.
On November 1st, Louis called a conference of the major generals and German leaders and had them all sign the November 1st Accords, an agreement to overthrow Napoleon II and install Louis in his stead. The accords also contained language that would increase the German people's stake in the Imperial government and allowed for a sharp decrease in the Churat's power.
On November 2nd, the five divisions recruited by Louis bravely crossed the Elbe and began their march across Germany. The war had officially begun.