Napoleon's Last Victory and the Emergence of Modern War

Robert M. Epstein

Presenting a significant new interpretation of Napoleonic warfare, Robert M. Epstein argues persuasively that the true origins of modern war can be found in the Franco-Austrian War of 1809.

Epstein contends that the 1809 war—with its massive and evenly matched armies, multiple theaters of operation, new command-and-control schemes, increased firepower, frequent stalemates, and large-scale slaughter—had more in common with the American Civil War and subsequent conflicts than with the decisive Napoleonic campaigns that preceded it.

“A refreshingly new interpretation. A fine and thought-provoking book that provides valuable insights into the changing nature of warfare during the Napoleonic era.”


“A clear and convincing argument that modern war began with the Franco-Austrian War. This book is a delight to read and puts forth an interesting perspective of warfare.”

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Epstein examines 1809 in terms of the evolving new systems of recruitment, organization, and command used by both sides. As he shows, this was the first time that two states confronted each other on the battlefield with armies created by large-scale conscription, organized in corps, and coordinated along two major theaters of operation (Danubian and Italian). As a result, the opponents were forced into "distributed maneuvers" that produced broad operational fronts in which battles became both sequential and simultaneous, but ultimately indecisive.

Ironically, as Epstein points out, neither Napoleon nor the opposing commander Archduke Charles ever fully understood that a paradigm shift had occurred in the conduct of war. Regardless, after 1809, warfare would never be the same.

About the Author

Robert M. Epstein is professor of history at the School of Advanced Military Studies, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, and the author of Prince Eugene at War: 1809.

Additional Titles in the Modern War Studies Series