What do you know about Napoleon Bonaparte? That he was an ambitious and skilled military man? That he had some height issues? There is one story about Napoleon that history sometimes forgets and should be brought to light - the story of his greatest defeat. No, not Waterloo. We’re talking about the Battle of Bunnies.
In July 1807, Napoleon and his men wanted to celebrate the signing of the Treaties of Tilsit with Alexander I of Russia. And apparently, the best way to do that was by going on a rabbit hunt. Chief of Staff Alexandre Berthier was all over the task. He arranged an outdoor luncheon, invited some of the military’s biggest names, and most importantly, collected a colony of rabbits.
Some accounts of the event say he managed to obtain several hundred bunnies for the occasion, while others claim there were as many as 3000. In any case, there were a lot of rabbits. It was going to be a great day.
On the day of the hunt, the cages were placed along the edges of a massive field, awaiting Napoleon and his men. As soon as they arrived, the action was on. The bunnies were released, the brave hunters galloped into the field. But then, a strange thing happened. Instead of scattering in fear, the bunnies huddled and ran straight towards Napoleon and his men. Long ears and fuzzy tails were swarming the hunting party in their hundreds. A few historians compared them to revolutionaries storming the Bastille.
As he realized the enemy had no intention to retreat, Napoleon fled to his carriage. According to historian David Chandler, “with a finer understanding of Napoleonic strategy than most of his generals, the rabbit horde divided into two wings and poured around the flanks of the party and headed for the imperial coach.” Even then, the attack didn’t stop. Reportedly, a few brave bunnies followed him and leaped into the carriage itself.
Only when the coach rolled away did the man dominating Europe get some relief. Some stories say that a few bunnies were seen flying out of the windows as the carriage took off.
How could this happen? Blame it on Berthier. In an attempt to be over the top and get as many rabbits as possible, he took the easy way and brought tame rabbits from local farmers, rather than trapping wild hares. These domesticated bunnies didn’t have the natural instinct to fear humans. On the contrary, they saw Napoleon and his hunting party as a bunch of waiters, about to bring in today’s food.