Seven Blunders That Changed The Course Of History

1812 portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte . Britannica

The smallest things can change the course of history.  A gate left open, an unusually warm winter, a turn down the wrong street. Believe it or not, these and other gaffes have played a part in the ruin of nations. Here are just a few of them:

Napoleon Bonaparte Was Almost Italian

In the sixteenth century, the Bonaparte family left the Tuscan hills for the Italian controlled island of Corsica. It was here that their famous descendant was born. But just months before Napoleon’s birth, the island changed hands, passing to France. This change of nationality changed the course of history. But it was in itself the result of a variety of interlinked causes and effects.

Bonaparte at the Siege of Toulon

The roots of the alteration of Napoleon’s nationality lie in the seventeenth century when Corsica was in the hands of the Republic of Genoa. Genoa was a force to be reckoned with. It had the world’s biggest bank which financed much of the exploration and expansion ongoing during sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Merchant ships from Spain sailed to the Americas and returned to Europe maiden with silver. This silver found its way to Genoa and was used by the city’s bankers to finance other adventures in commerce. Genea’s reach became vast and its own trade links stretched as far as Sicily and North Africans.

So essential to European finance was Genoa, that no one wished to see the republic fall. But between 1656 and 1657, fate and nature intervened. The Black Death swept through Genoa. In one year, half its residents were dead. The great republic was weakened. It was the beginning of the end.

The Republic was attacked by the French in 1684. This was just the beginning of the decline. Genoa became so weakened that in 1768, just one year before Napoleon’s birth, Italy was forced to sign over the Island of Corsica to the French.

But Napoleon’s family’s standing also had its part to play in his meteoric rise. Napoleon’s father was a member of the Corsican nobility. This ensured him a position in the new French administration, which opened other doors for his sons. Napoleon and his eldest brother were sent to France to be educated.

Napoleon quickly realized the advantages of being fully French. He changed the spelling of his name to the more French-seeming Bonaparte. In 1779 he entered the military academy at Brienne-le-Château. By the time he was sixteen, Napoleon was a second lieutenant in an artillery regiment. He continued to advance and the rest, as they say, is history.

Battle of Karánsebes, Austrian soldiers opened fire on each other killing and wounding over 1000,000
Battle of Karánsebes.

Drunk Austrian soldiers mistake one another for the enemy, and all hell breaks loose.

If the Austrian Battle Of Karansebes in 1788 has not gone down in history as one of the most bizarre battles in the world, it should. For the Austrians inflicted defeat on themselves.

Between 1787 and 1791, Austria and its Russian allies were at war with Turkey. By September 1788, the Austrians had split their forces into two sections. One of the sections set up camp on the outskirts of Karansebes, known today as Caransebeş, in modern Romania. The second section, a contingent of hussars, crossed the Timis River to look for enemy Turks.

But they did not find any. What they did find were some Gypsies selling schnapps. The Temptation was too strong and the hussars succumbed to the spirits. They proceeded to become very drunk.The elite unit of soldiers bought the schnapps. They proceeded to consume what must have been copious amounts.

Later, the same evening, some of the encamped infantrymen crossed the river. They found the hussars having a grand time and demanded to join in. But the hussars were not sharing. They went so far as to set up fortifications around the barrels! The argument began and escalated, and someone fired a shot. And so, the Battle Of Karansebes began.

Things soon became worse. Some of the soldiers shouted ”Turks! Turks!” and the hussars fled the scene, thinking a Turkish attack was imminent. Most of the infantry also fled.  But because the  Austrian army spoke different dialects, they could not fully understand each other. In an attempt to restore order, officers began shouting ”Halt! Halt!”. This was misheard by the soldiers who did not speak German as, ”Allah! Allah!” The cavalry began fleeing through the camp. A corps commander thought it was a cavalry charge by the Ottoman Empire, and he ordered the artillery to fire.

Soon the entire camp woke to a battle. The Austrian troops, believing the Turks to be everywhere, fired indiscriminately, shooting their own men. The result of the Battle of Karansebes was the entire army retreating from an imaginary enemy. They even managed to knock their  Emperor off his horse and into a river! When the Ottoman army arrived two days later, they discovered 10,000 dead and wounded soldiers.


  • Alex Adams

    No English majors were harmed in the production of this listicle… only the language itself.

    • Jay Cunnington

      It could definitely have used a proofreading.

      • Dev Narayan

        I just read a list where the author thought the way to make something plural was by adding an ” ‘s”, so we’re ahead of the game here.

  • disqus_C67ZJ9pNj6

    obviously this author has no idea as to the events in the Texas war for independence from Mexico and made up what is written.

  • Robert McIntire

    Who, pray tell, is Santa Anne?

  • Kurt Taube

    “Genoa became so weakened that in 1768, just one year before Napoleon’s birth, Italy was forced to sign over the Island of Corsica to the French.”

    “Italy” was not a united country until 1860 or so. Who signed Genoa over to the French?

  • TWP ✓ᵈᵉᵖˡᵒʳᵃᵇˡᵉ

    The Fourth Crusade in 1203 … tried and failed to take Constantinople

    Yeah, maybe they failed in 1203, but they sacked it in 1204, so while the sentence as written might be “true” in a picayune sort of way, it’s actually a glittering jewel of balderdash.