Army University Public Affairs

Dr. Jonathan Abel, an assistant professor in the Department of Military History, Command and General Staff School, presented a talk Jan. 9 on Napoleon’s turning point at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kan. This was the first in a series of “Turning Point” lectures instructors from the History Department will present at the university this year.

Convention says that Napoleon’s downfall came as a result of his misadventures in Spain, starting in 1808, and his disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812. While both contributed to his ultimate defeat, the War of the Fifth Coalition in 1809 was Napoleon’s turning point, according to Abel. It saw his first undisputed battlefield defeat at Aspern-Essling and marked the demonstrable degeneration of both his armies and his own abilities. It ended with the humiliation of his most inveterate enemy, Austria, and the extension of French power into Eastern Europe, which angered Russia.

It also was a personal turning point for Napoleon, as he set aside his first wife in favor of a dynastic marriage to a Habsburg princess, Marie-Louise. However, because of his victory in the war and the drama of events in Spain and Russia, these changes are often left out or outright forgotten in the thread of Napoleon’s story. Abel’s talk argued that 1809, more than any other Napoleonic campaign or conflict, was the turning point in his reign.

Abel received his Ph.D. from the Military History Center at the University of North Texas in 2014, studying late 18th century and Napoleonic France. He is the author of “Guibert: Father of Napoleon’s Grande Armée,” along with other publications.

The next lectures at the Dole Institute are Dr. Gates Brown, “The Tet Offensive, 1968: The Turning Point of the Vietnam War,” Feb. 5; and Dr. Shawn Faulkner “The Aisne-Marne Counteroffensive, 1918: The Turning Point of World War 1,” March 5. All lectures begin at 3 p.m. and are available live and recorded on the Dole Institute’s YouTube page.

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