The Campaign in Italy, 1796-97: Lodi
Virtual Battlefield Tour
By Bill Peterson
Following the armistice with Piedmont, Bonaparte relentlessly pursued Beaulieu's
retreating Austrian army. On 10 May 1796, at Lodi on the River Adda,
the advance guard of the Armée d'Italie encountered Sebottendorf's Austrian
rearguard of 10,000 men and 14 guns strongly emplaced holding the east
end of the bridge. After personally supervising the siting of his 24
guns, Bonaparte launched an infantry assault across the bridge while
Beaumont's cavalry searched for a ford upstream. The first column was
beaten back, but a second charge led by several senior officers including
Masséna and Berthier forced the bridge and broke the Austrian center.
The Austrians lost some 2,000 men and most of their artillery.
Chandler writes in The Campaigns of Napoleon:
"In sober fact, of course, the result was another disappointment
for Bonaparte, for once again Beaulieu had evaded his clutches and
made good his escape, but the spirit and courage shown by the officers
and men of the Army of Italy during this bitter struggle have earned
"The Bridge of Lodi" a special place in the mystique of the French
army. It was at Lodi that Bonaparte finally earned the confidence
and loyalty of his men, who nicknamed him thereafter "Le Petit Caporal"
in recognition of his personal courage, determination and example.
The event was also significant in crystallizing Napoleon's ambition.
"It was only on the evening of Lodi," he recorded a long time later,
"that I believed myself a superior man, and that the ambition came
to me of executing the great things which so far had been occupying
my thoughts only as a fantastic deam." On another occasion, at St.
Helena, he wrote: "Then was struck the first spark of high ambition,"
and a few days after the Battle of Lodi he confided to Marmont, "They
[the Directory] have seen nothing yet....In our days no one has conceived
anything great; it is for me to set the example." (Weidenfeld & Nicolson,
London, 1966. p. 84.)
Click on any thumbnail image for a larger view.
- View from the present bridge looking upstream (north) to the
site of the historic crossing..
- Church of San Giovanni Nepumeno. One of the closest structures
to the bridge, its campanile (bell-tower) was shot down by Austrian
artillery fire during the battle.
- The modern bridge at Lodi. The historic bridge was located
about 50 meters upstream, to the left.
- View from the right (French) bank across the River Adda at
the site of the historic bridge.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2001
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