To the troops he commanded in battle Napoleon was known fondly as the "Little Corporal." To the monarchs and kings whose thrones he overthrew he was "that Corsican ogre." Some believed him a great reformer. Others thought him a monster. Friend and foe alike, however, could agree on one fact: Napoleon I, emperor of the French and for 16 years master of most of Europe, was one of the greatest military geniuses of all time.
A French Citizen by Chance
Napoleon Bonaparte was born in Ajaccio, on the island of Corsica, on Aug. 15, 1769. It was by chance that the future ruler of France was born a French citizen. His family had migrated to Corsica from the Italian mainland in the 16th century. The island had been transferred from the Republic of Genoa to France one year before Napoleon's birth. His christening name was Italian. It was spelled Napoleone Buonaparte. As a boy he hated the French, whom he considered oppressors of his native land.
Revolutionary Atmosphere at Home
Napoleon was the second son in a large family (see Bonaparte Family). His mother was intelligent and beautiful. His father, Charles, was a lawyer who actively plotted against the French occupation of Corsica. Thus from childhood Napoleon was familiar with the ways in which revolutionists operated. This knowledge was to serve him in his rise to power.
When he was nine years old, he was sent by his father to Brienne, a French government military school. A sensitive, lonely boy, Napoleon was constantly bullied by his French fellow students, who resented his gloomy, melancholy ways. Their cruelties, however, only made him withdraw into dreams of personal glory and military triumphs.
Appointment in the French Army
In 1784-85 he attended the ÃÂcole Militaire in Paris. There he received...