Napoleon was attacked (and defeated) by a horde of rabbits.

  • Emperor Napoleon I
Emperor Napoleon I
INTERFOTO/ Alamy Stock Photo

Napoleon Bonaparte is revered as one of the greatest military commanders of all time, but even he was helpless against the most fearsome foe of all: fluffy little bunnies. In one of history’s most shocking upsets, the emperor of the French was attacked — and defeated — by a horde of rabbits. The coup took place in July of 1807 as Napoleon and his coterie celebrated the Treaties of Tilsit, which brought a victorious end to the war between France and Russia, with a traditional rabbit hunt. Louis-Alexandre Berthier, Napoleon’s chief of staff, arranged the festivities with anywhere from a few hundred to 3,000 rabbits and expected them to behave as normal when they were uncaged on a field. Rather than run away, however, the bunnies began swarming Napoleon and his men. Though amusing at first, the situation quickly overwhelmed some of Europe’s foremost military strategists.

Reader, it was chaos. According to General Paul Charles François Adrien Henri Dieudonné Thiébault, “the intrepid rabbits turned the Emperor’s flank, attacked him frantically in the rear, refused to quit their hold, piled themselves up between his legs till they made him stagger, and forced the conqueror of conquerors, fairly exhausted, to retreat and leave them in possession of the field.” Having ceded this crucial territory, Napoleon retreated to his coach and thought the bunnies would show mercy. They did not. With what historian David Chandler has described as “a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals,” they continued their siege until the coach fled the scene. The reason for the creatures’ aggression? Berthier bought tame rabbits from a farmer rather than trap wild ones and, because they hadn’t been fed that day, the hungry bunnies swarmed the men they assumed were there to feed them.

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