History will always remind us that Napoleon’s greatest loss came at Waterloo, resulting in the death of over 25,000 soldiers and the capture of 9,000 more. But perhaps the most upsetting loss came eight years prior, when the French emperor and his men were attacked by a ruthless horde of long-eared, furry bunnies.
Celebrating the Treaties of Tilsit
There are several historical accounts of what took place on that fateful day. Most historians agree that in July 1807, after signing the Treaties of Tilsit to end the war between Imperial Russia and the French Empire, Napoleon proposed a rabbit hunt to celebrate. He assigned his Chief of Staff and rabbit-fetcher, Alexandre Berthier, to set it up.
Estimates of how many bunnies were gathered vary, with some saying as many as 3,000 rabbits were present for the occasion. After an outdoor luncheon consisting of military higher-ups, Berthier unleashed the horde of bunnies, initiating the hunt.
More Curious than Frightened
Immediately, Napoleon and his men noticed something odd about the four-legged creatures. They didn’t scurry away in fright, but instead, bounded toward the emperor and his group of men. Hundreds, if not thousands, of bunnies made a beeline towards the world’s most feared army.
Initially, Napoleon had a jolly laugh at the rabbits’ cluelessness and continued with the slaughter. However, for every rabbit they killed, there were plenty more swarming from behind the bodies of their fallen brethren. It was long before the rabbits swarmed from every direction and began climbing up Napoleon’s trousers. He attempted to get them off by pushing them away with a riding crop to no avail. Eventually, Napoleon and his men retreated to his carriage and rode off.
Rabbits Trumps Europe’s Most Feared Army
With the carriage driving off, the relentless onslaught of fearless bunnies finally came to an end. Napoleon demanded answers from his Chief of Staff as to why the bunnies, which were supposed to be easy game, had forced them to retreat. As it turned out, it was completely Berthier’s fault.
Instead of capturing wild rabbits for the slaughter, he purchased tamed bunnies from local farmers. They viewed Napoleon not as a foe but rather as a means for obtaining food. Farmed rabbits didn’t run from humans; they expected the French emperor and his generals to feed them.
The Rabbit’s Wartime Strategy
Although calling this brief skirmish a war is a stretch, it did force Napoleon and his army to retreat to their carriages and ride away. Napoleon managed to escape the horde of fluffy bunnies but not after they “attacked” from two prongs. The bunnies reportedly divided into two wings and rushed the military leaders—some of them even making it onto his coach and hitching a ride back to the French army.