Napoleon Series Archive 2009

the surname "le petit caporal" - only a tale

“Le petit caporal. Fr. — "The little corporal." A familiar name given to NAPOLEON by the French soldiers after the battle of Lodi.” From:

A new dictionary of quotations from the Greek, Latin, and modern languages: translated into English, and occasionally accompanied with illustrations, historical poetical, and anecdotal, with an extensive index, referring to every important word. 8th edition. Published by J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1869. 527 pages:

This dictionary doesn't proof that this nickname was ever pronounced - At Lodi Napoleon was their general - referring to him as 'the little caporal" would be in fact referring to his first years in France in the military school in Brienne, where he found a lot of opposition by the other boys, most of them from the higher nobility, and where he adapted in his mind a strong resistance against most of the nobility in his latter reign.

“On ne passe pas, quand bien meme qu'encore tu serais le petit caporal. (You cannot pass not even if you were the "little corporal" himself.) Attributed to Jean Coluche, the sentry of Ebersberg, to Napoleon, but he really only said On ne passe pas! (You cannot pass!) Cf. L'Illusttation of 1846 and the Journal du Loiret, August 29, 1862. According to the Memotial de Sainte-HeIene (vol i., p. 232), the sobriquet "le petit coporal" originated from the singular custom of the oldest soldiers giving after each battle (during the Italian campaign) a new title to their young general. He was made corporal at Lody and sergeant at Castiglione. The soldiers continued to call him " le petit caporal."
See p. 159, Famous sayings and their authors, 2nd edition (1906), by Edward Latham:

Is Latham trustworthy enough for this writings, or are it again legends heard from non-primary sources ?

On the other hand, in his letter from 22 floréal an IV to the Directoire (see "Correspondance de Napoléon" )he mentions the deeds of the generals under his command to pass the Lodi bridge. There is no mention that he passed it at the head of his troops or encouraged the men himself (maybe understandably as the Directoire could always reprive him from his command - let's not forget that he was a former Jacobin)- so all those tales "that he road up and down the ranks, working his troops' courage up to a fever pitch, etc. ", are in my opinion, rather tales, as he, in his function of commander-in-chief, had to coordinate his troops rather than to play the hero.
Was this battle necessary - one could argue about that - were the Austrian rear-guard so eager to fight ??
I refer to David Chandler, who I had the luck to encounter at Waterloo some 20 years ago, and which book "The Campaigns of Napoleon" was one of the first books in my library, and who admitted, "In sober fact, of course, the result was another disappointment...for once again Beaulieu had evaded his clutches and made good his escape."

Given the fact that General Beaulieu was not present at Lodi, but only a 10,000 man Austrian rear guard, which would have abandoned the bridge without a fight if only given the chance, and given the fact that Bonaparte was not personally involved in the crossing
one can always argue that the Battle of the Bridge at Lodi was totally unnecessary - except for its role in the creation of the Napoleonic legend, as is also the legend of thzat nickname.

Best regards

Marc

r

best regards

Marc

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Re: William Vincent Barré
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Used by Emile Marco de Saint-Hilaire.
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the surname "le petit caporal" - only a tale
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Vol. 1, 1st (French) edition, pp 192-193.