BOOK TWO CHAPTER I.
The Commander in Chief of Italy; this vast theatre where Napoleon’s military and administrative genius was to begin to shine was given to him by his bride Madame de Beauharnais; she personally gave her husband the message of the Directorate, dated 4 vendémaire year IV (12 February 1796), in which he was entrusted to this important post. After his marriage, Napoleon remained only a week with Josephine; he was forced to leave Paris on the following March 21 to go and place himself at the head of his army, whose headquarters was in Nice. He left after arranging for his wife to stay at the pleasant Malmaison, which was owned by Mr. Lecoutelleux-Canteleau.
At that time, Italy, England, Austria, the Germanic Empire, Russia, the King of Sardinia, the King of Naples and the Pope were allied against the French Republic, but Spain and Prussia, by the Treaty of Basel, had been separated from the coalition, and their relationship, although equivocal, was characterized by strict neutrality. Sweden and Denmark alone had resisted the firm insistence of London, and vigorously maintained the principles of maritime law. However Portugal, although dependent on England, aspired, since the Treaty of Basel, to follow the example of Spain, by opting out of a league in which it had no interest, and Austria pleased with the increase in territory it had obtained in the partition of Poland, might have been prepared to accept peace; as for Prussia, through the recent lack of success obtained with the Army Pichegru, it had been given hopes of regaining Belgium, because of a recent decree of the Convention for the reunification of France.
he goal that the government of the Directorate proposed by bringing the war to Italy, in accordance with the project designed by Napoleon, was to force the King of Sardinia to separate from the coalition, and bring Austria, by directly attacking its State of Lombardy, to make peace with the French Republic. To achieve this, Napoleon, maneuvering with his right, had entered Italy before the point where the lower Apennine chain joined those of the Alps; descending into Lombardy by Mont Ferrat, and focusing all his efforts against the Austrians, in order to detach the Piedmont from their alliance. Meanwhile, our armies of Germany reorganized under the command of Jourdan and Moreau, resumed the offensive, with the intent of marching on Swabia and Franconia, then meeting in the heart of Bavaria. Napoleon, having dethroned or forced the King of Sardinia into peace, should move on Adige, and compel the Austrian army to leave the Italian Peninsula.
His campaign plan, handed to the commanding officer by the Director Carnot, was the very plan that a year earlier Napoleon had laid out to Scherer, who had failed to execute it.
In the meantime, Napoleon arrived in Nice on March 27, but instead of an army of sixty thousand men that he was told of, he found that there were only thirty thousand combatants available, devoid of all, without money, without food, without shoes, without clothes; elsewhere undisciplined and looting prolifically. This army, in fact, was young, enthusiastic and intrepid; not long ago victorious with Napoleon, it had continued so under Massena: it did need a head. The Austro-Sardinian military coalition, commanded by the old General Beaulieu, militarily skilled, active and enterprising, had eighty thousand combatants and two hundred pieces of cannon. Napoleon had under his command four divisions commanded by Generals Masséna, Laharpe, Augereau and Serrurier, forming a total of twenty-seven thousand infantrymen, three thousand cavalrymen, and thirty pieces of artillery; but his genius supplemented the number of soldiers and guns. The new general was known to the other generals by his scholarly strategic combinations of the 1795 campaign; he knew how to promptly impose upon them, whatever their misgivings of being commanded by a young chief. To obtain the trust of his soldiers, he needed to win: Napoleon promised them and he kept his promise.
Upon arriving1, his first task was to bring his headquarters from Nice to Albenga, to get close to the enemy; but before leaving he addressed the brave ones he was responsible for conducting into combat, and told them:
These words, which proved to the soldiers that the General understood their needs and wishes, produced an electrical effect. The hostilities began: Beaulieu, who directed the Austrian army, marched on Genoa; the center of his army, under the command of Argenteau, was stopped by the beautiful defense of General Rampon, and was beaten at Montenotte. The gorges were breeched at Millesimo; an elite corps commanded by Provera, which linked the Austrian army to the army of Piedmont, was forced to seek refuge in the Castle of Cosseria and lay down its arms, after a vain attempt by General Colli to rescue them. Napoleon wanted to pursue the Piedmontese, which numbering twenty-five thousand, occupied the camp of Ceva, but he was forced to stop his movement to attack the Austrians who focused on Dégo. This was where Argenteau was beaten a second time. The Austrian corps, on the orders of General Illyrian Wukassowick, then appeared on the same battlefield, and likewise felt defeat. To disengage from the Austrians, Napoleon left the division Laharpe on his right to contain Beaulieu, and marched again against the Piedmontese with the divisions of Augereau, Massena and Serrurier. It was on this march that on arriving at the heights of Monte-Zemolo, the French army contemplated with surprise the huge chain of the Alps, it was seen rising behind and around them without a crossing.
It was, in effect, the plan and the outcome of the first maneuvers of this wonderful campaign. In the mean time, Colli, pressed in front by superior forces, threatened on the left by the movement of Augereau, who had crossed the Tanaro, was forced to evacuate the Camp Ceva without a fight. Napoleon pursued, caught him in Vico near Mondovi, and threw him behind the Stura. On April 26, the three French divisions were united at Alba, ten miles from Turin. From the 25th, the headquarters of the French army was established at Cherasco. In fifteen days, Napoleon had done much more than the former Army of Italy had in four campaigns. He expressed his gratitude to his troops:
His appeal to the population of Italy was heard. A quiet fermentation manifested itself in Turin; the King of Sardinia, frightened, asked for peace. Napoleon engaged an ambassador to go to Paris, to finalize a treaty, at the conclusion of an armistice that was signed in Cherasco April 28, and which could be regarded as a preliminary treaty. It delivered the Piedmont to the French army, by opening the ports of Cuneo, of Ceva and of Tortona.
On leaving Paris to go to his headquarters, Napoleon brought with him, besides his brother Louis and Eugene de Beauharnais, six aides-de-camp: Junot, Marmont, Lemarrois, Murat, Muiron and Duroc. The last was somewhat less brilliant than his comrades, but he may have been better educated and had a strong spirit. An artillery officer before the revolution, Duroc had emigrated, but he returned to France almost immediately. Napoleon was able to appreciate his many qualities at the siege of Toulon, and from that time he had become sincerely attached to him. Duroc always showed his gratitude: there is no doubt that if he had survived the events, his loyalty would have been nobly shown in the sensitive tests of 1814 and 1815.
Barely into campaign, the General-in-Chief took two more aides-de-camp: Elliot, nephew of General Clarke, and Sulkowski. The latter was a chivalrous brave man, full of knowledge and admirably spoke all the languages of Europe. Barely a teenager, he had fought for the freedom of his country, hurt at the siege of Warsaw and forced to flee, he had taken refuge in France. Journeying to Constantinople with the French Ambassador Desroches, where as an interpreter, he was then instructed by the Committee of Public Safety in a secret mission to India. He had already crossed the Aleppo, when the English, having detected him, and ordered his attack and plunder by the Arabs, seized the instructions he was carrying. Escaping their hands as if by a miracle, he returned to Paris, where he easily obtained letters of service to the army of Italy. One of the reports fell by accident before the eyes of the General-in-Chief: the day after Sulkowski was his eighth aide-de-camp.
As for Muiron, perhaps of all the aides-de-camp he was the one held in highest affection by Napoleon, not even excluding Junot. There has been much talk in the Empire, of the brusqueness to Rapp and the severe counseling of Duroc, but at no time Napoleon had permitted a reason for disobedience. He was often familiar with them, sometimes he also sent words of encouragement, rarely including a reward; he often asked opinions, but in any case, once his willingness was expressed, he tolerated the slightest objection. He believed people because of their merit, their values, their actions, especially their dedication.
A singularity of the character of Muiron is that alone, at night, in the darkness, it was as fearful and superstitious as he was reckless and carefree, in the day on the battlefield. On the eve of Battle of Dégo, April 13, 1796 (this date of note), after performing in the morning more than twenty miles on horseback carrying orders of the General-in-Chief, overwhelmed by fatigue, Muiron laid down without undressing to be ready to get up quickly at the slightest signal. For several days he had been much occupied preparing for the future. He wanted at the end of the campaign, to request permission from his General to buy a small property in Antibes, where he had married a very rich young widow he loved passionately, and that would make him a father. Barely asleep, Muiron dreamed he was on a battlefield covered with dead. In front of him was a giant knight, armed head to toe, against which he fought. This paladin, instead of a sword had a scythe which he swung outrageously. Already one the strokes had reached deep into the left temple, when they came to grips. In the struggle, the knight's armor began to drop piece by piece Muiron saw nothing more but a hideous skeleton, which still armed with his flail, took action in front of him saying with a grave voice:
Muiron awoke, his front covered in a cold sweat. The day was beginning to emerge; everything was calm in the camp. He wanted to go back, but this grim warning that seemed to threaten his best friends, Junot and Marmont, doubled his agitation. Soon the battle preparations took place out around him. He joined his colleagues, whom he told of this dream and his fears, they laughed at him, Junot more than the others.
The battle took place, and Junot received two injuries on the head, one of which produced the beautiful scar he had along the left temple. As for Marmont, he disappeared at the height of the melee.
Convinced that his friend had been killed, Muiron fell in a kind of delirium that especially frightened the surgeons, for several days since a fever was not present. This continued as the commanding officer, came to visit his aide-de-camp to reassure him about the fate of Marmont, but Muiron, unable to hear anything, cried with despair:
Suddenly Marmont entered his tent, clothes covered in blood. He arrived at the headquarters Massena, where Napoleon had sent him. On seeing him, Muiron pushed letting loose a scream and ran into the arms of his friend. Despite its impropriety, the General-in-Chief shared the emotion of all.
Now assured of his communications with France, the conquest of upper Italy was in front of him. Mantua, impenetrable Mantua, was the key. Napoleon then conceived the plan to quickly carry this place, convinced that the city had a small garrison, and he would easily surround it. Salicetti, commissioner of the Directorate, and Berthier, Chief of Staff of the army, opposed this venture that they had judged too perilous.
Napoleon gave in; but he lived to see that he had not been wrong. Also he said haughtily that in the future he would do more than follow his own inspiration; he knows by success whether his visions were justified. That fact was one of those imprinted on his character that stubborn perseverance and his belief in the superiority of his mind, that cast him in so many ventures, and which he always came out victorious.
The armistice of Cherasco had been carried out. The troops of the King of Sardinia scattered, and the strongholds of Piedmont surrendered to soldiers of the Republic, the General-in-Chief thought he could take advantage of his victories and establish a strong line.
General Beaulieu, appalled, withdrew behind the Po, convinced that he could dispute the crossing of the river by our troops. Massena was sent to this point. Beaulieu hastened to collect his best troops, but all of a sudden Napoleon came out of Tortona at the head of three thousand five hundred grenadiers and twenty pieces of cannon; he ran along the right bank of the Po, and arrived at Plaisance in thirty - six hours. Taking a ferry, Lannes is across the river first, tumbling on two squadrons of Austrian hussars, and stood on the left bank. Once the crossing is unmasked, the other divisions come quickly. The Austrian general is surrounded and crushed; in less than an hour he loses his guns, and about two thousand five hundred prisoners. The 70th demi-brigade and Generals Brune and Menard mainly contributed to the success of this affair.
Debris from the Austrian division hastened to recross the Adda. During the night some of the enemy corps of Beaulieu were expected to arrive; in the dark these met the same fate of the Lipaty Division. Indeed, a cavalry regiment, which preceded the column commanded by Beaulieu, presented themselves to the advanced pickets of General Laharpe: the camp took up arms, but after a few volleys nothing more was heard. General Laharpe, grenadier by size and heart, wanted to go forward to verify the presence of the enemy. He departed at the head of the pickets, and soon retraced his steps, after interviewing the residents, but unfortunately he did not come back by the road where his troops had seen him off, he had taken a path of his choice; and the French posts, believing he was the approaching enemy, welcomed their general by a very brisk fire. Laharpe fell dead, struck by his own soldiers. This loss brought desolation to the army.
On the same day, May 9, Napoleon had signed an armistice with the Duke of Parma, the famous pupil of Condillac, who lived in a monk like atmosphere. He left the administration of his states to him, but he demanded from him two million in cash and seventeen hundred horses, and he also obliged him to pay for all military roads and hospitals to be prepared in the States; finally he had to deliver twenty paintings of choice to the French. Among them was the Communion of Saint Jerome, a masterpiece of Domenichino. The people and the sovereign equally shared in the possession of the painting and, in the light of its leaving, they felt the same regrets that the friends of the arts did in Paris when, in 1815, they saw this stripped from the Museum Napoleon which had been its pride for the last twenty years. This noble sorrow experienced by Parmesans were so deep, that the Duke of Parma, interpreting the will of the public, offered to pay Napoleon in particularly two million if he would leave the Communion of Saint Jerome, but the latter, whose only fortune was his title of general-in-chief, refused to agree to that proposal, saying:
He had written to Carnot, May 9, 1796:
The Austrians had succeeded, despite the rapid movements of the French, to recover behind the Adda, there was no other party to take part in a head on attack. The headquarters for our army came to Cassel on May 10, at three o'clock in the morning; at nine o’clock, the vanguard encountered enemy troops who were defending the approaches of Lodi with four pieces of light artillery. The divisions Augereau and Massena were put on the march, but meanwhile the advance guard crushed the Austrian posts that had already crossed the Adda. Beaulieu had his army in battle formation; thirty pieces of cannon defended the bridge. Napoleon crossed over the artillery and put it into battery; the cannonade became terrible, the French army formed and moved in tight column; the grenadier battalions took off at a run towards the enemy to the cries of: Vive la République! ... They arrived on the bridge, which was three hundred toises long; the Austrians let off with a continuous keen fire; the head of the column seemed to hesitate ... This moment of uncertainty may lose everything ... Napoleon, better than anyone, felt the importance, also cries out there, brandishing his sword above his head:
Massena, Lannes, Berthier and Dallemagne rush forward troops ... The bridge is crossed, our grenadiers overthrew all that opposed to their passage. The enemy artillery is removed in a blink of an eye, and the battle order of Beaulieu broken; the cavalry arrives, and completes, by dispersing the Austrians the decision of victory, but with night, and the extreme fatigue of the troops, which had been travelled over ten miles that day, did not allow further pursuit of the enemy, which, however, lost 20 pieces of cannon and about 3000 men killed, wounded or captured. Our loss was only 400 men.
After this victory, Napoleon wanted, without being known, to interrogate the prisoners himself, in order to ascertain the effect on morale of the enemy produced by the quick and successive setbacks, addressed a large German captain who replied:
Napoleon, however, was not very amazed at the success of his siege of Toulon and 13 vendémiaire, similarly he didn’t feel Montenotte made him a superior man; it was only after he came to Lodi that he came to the understanding that he could well become a decisive player on the political scene. Then the first spark of this noble ambition sprang forth that did not cease being a powerful vehicle for his whole life. After Lodi, we would say, Napoleon stopped doubting the power of his genius, which until then he had not been consciousness of.
Twenty years later, at St. Helena, when Madame Bertrand was reading to him from a Relations of the Campaigns of Italy, arrived at this passage: "The first battle that Bonaparte gained was that the bridge of Lodi; he showed great courage, and was fully supported by the General Lannes, who crossed the bridge after him ..."
Having said that, he took a pen and wrote a marginal note on the subject in the book.
It was also at Lodi that the army conferred on him the rank of corporal, and, from that moment, the soldiers continued to give him the nickname of Little Corporal, has become so popular, even when he was emperor.
On 15 May, Napoleon made his triumphal entry in Milan, to the cries of enthusiasm from a friendly population. In less than a month he had won six battles, scattered two armies, subdued a king, chased a prince, and established his dominance on the most beautiful part of Italy, while preparing for new conquests. On the same day, one hundred and fifty miles away, a peace treaty was signed in Paris with Sardinia. Eight days of rest had been issued to the army; those eight days were not spent in Milan after a holiday, but enough for Napoleon to reconnoiter the country. From Milan, he sent his aide-de-camp Murat to bring the Directorate twenty-one flags that had been taken from the Austrians in this short and brilliant campaign. Nobody was appropriate than Joachim for this theatrical solemnity full of suitable sparkle. Murat was greeted enthusiastically by the Directorate, which appointed him a brigadier general. The aide-de-camp was not only in charge of this pompous mission, the General-in-Chief had given him a pressing letter for his wife urging her to come join him in Italy, but Josephine, then severely indisposed did not want to be exposed to the dangers of a long journey, and Murat had to return alone to Milan. It was Junot, a little later, who accompanied Madame Bonaparte in this journey; Napoleon sent him, too, to carry to the Directorate the second flags taken at the Battle of the Favorite, where the Austrian General Provera was captured. Junot, first aide-de-camp of the General-in-Chief of the Army of Italy, was received in Paris with more pomp than Murat. It was usually on the Champ-de-Mars that these kinds of ceremonies were held. Out of a vast amphitheatre elevated in the center, came five directors, ministers and top authorities, and scholars, speakers, writers and the most distinguished artists. Members of the diplomatic corps and the military, who were in the capital, were invited to meet the Directorate. These public ceremonies had greatness, but they also sometimes where held in the budding salons of Luxembourg, and those who were able to witness will never forget the ridicule of these small domestic comedies.
But this time, because of the uncertainty of the time (we were at the end of January 1797), the receipt of Junot took place in Luxembourg. The President, Sieyès, not only gave speeches; the assistants took the opportunity to show their appreciation. Madame Bonaparte was assisted at the ceremony. She went to Luxembourg, accompanied by Madame Tallien, who was in the prime of her beauty. It can be expected that the former aide-de-camp of Napoleon did not fulfill his trust poorly, finished his message, gave his arm, and left the palace of directors, with the two of the most beautiful women in Paris, Josephine and Madame Tallien.
The solemnity ended at the gates of the palace, in a general melee of punches and blows with clubs exchanged between members of different clubs, that the same event had attracted their curiosity to Luxembourg, but who had thought they would hear political talks about the event of the day.
Junot, as we said, accompanied Madame Bonaparte, who left almost immediately for Italy. They arrived in Bologna, where Napoleon was then working on regulating the zeal of the islands inhabitants that the presence of the French troops had electrified. The feasts continued as Josephine stayed with her husband ... But turning back.
On May 24, 1796, Napoleon had left Milan to press on to new victories. It was in the Tyrol, however, that he had resolved to bring the war. The enterprise was bold, reckless, perhaps, but it did have the advantage of an diligent genius. He knew that in Italy two kinds of enemies were to be feared by him: the nobles and priests, but he was far from thinking that the joy of a people he had to promised freedom for, was insincere, and that a terrible conspiracy was about to burst. A few hours after the departure of General-in-Chief, the alarm sounded throughout Lombardy. The French expatriates, agents of England, roamed the cities, publishing that Nice was taken, that the Army of Condé just come, as had Beaulieu, reinforcing it with sixty thousand men, having come by forced marches. The monks, dagger in one hand, the crucifix in the other, incited revolt and assassination. On all sides there were calls on the people to arm themselves against the French, and trust in their companions of Austria, the henchmen and tax officials who were noted for their fury.
Napoleon had just arrived in Lodi when this disturbing news reached him. The garrison of Milan was only too willing to support the revolts of Pavia; the people, for their part, had trampled the tricolor cockades, and pulled up the tree of liberty, it had welcomed that same morning with cries of enthusiasm. There was a need to hurry to suppress the insurgency at its birth. At the head of three hundred horses and a grenadier battalion, Napoleon returned to Milan, restored order, arrested a number of hostages, ordered the shoot the revolutionaries that had taken up arms, and to the Archbishop and the elders that the tranquility of the public was on their heads. From Milan, Napoleon did the same in Pavia with the same speed. Here, the insurgents were in force; at the sound of alarm bells, eight or ten thousand had gathered, they had already slaughtered everything they had met that was French: General Haquin, arrived unannounced in the middle of the tumult, was struck from behind, with the stroke of a bayonet, when our troops arrived to thwart their project. At the head of three hundred horses, Lannes, charged as soon as he saw the rebels, destroying them. Soon the village of Binasco was engulfed in flames: Napoleon thought that the spectacle of this military execution, whose inhabitants from Pavia witnessed from the top of the wall would impress the rebel city, but no demonstration confirmed in that hope.
The night was passed in anticipation, the city's population, with its thirty thousand men, had joined with ten thousand farmers who had first raised the banner of rebellion. Napoleon did not hesitate to attack that mass, however, only after he placarded on the doors of Pavia this proclamation:
However, the insurgents had responded to the summons that had been made that as long as the city walls stood they would resist the French. It was therefore necessary to rush the attack: six artillery pieces battered the gates, but without success, all the while the walls are swept by canister. General Dommartin, in the wake of the sustained fire, marched a grenadier battalion armed with axes forward and soon the gates were breached, the French entering at the charge, leading to the square, and staying in houses that were at the head of the streets. So we quickly had the magistrates, the nobles, the clergy, having in mind the archbishop of Milan, and the Bishop of Pavia, to ask for clemency. Disorder was at its height in the city, the fires were lit by incendiaries: what resolution would come from the winner? "Three times in the same night he wrote the Directorate, the order to burn the city expired on my lips. Finally I came to see the garrison, who having their irons broken and went to embrace its liberators. I accounted for my soldiers, not one was missing. If the blood of one Frenchman had been spilled, I wanted, the destruction of Pavia, raising a column on which I would have engraved: Here was the city of Pavia!” Thus ended the famous revolt: the city had been delivered to a few hours of pillage and this began the exaggeration that the enemies of the French tell in the story of this disaster, that was not without value to the winners, because it inspired a healthy fear in all of Italy.
On the crossing of the Mincio, which took place a few days later (May 30), Napoleon ran into one of the personal dangers that could have finished him before his glorious career, and perhaps this would have been considered by the vulgar, as delightful skirmish, but reprehensible, as his acts of genius had only begun. The affair was decided; the enemy dispersing, pursued in all directions. The General in Chief, after giving his orders, being plagued by fatigue, stopped in a small chateau to take a bath and relax a little. Suddenly a detachment of Austrians, seeking a way out in flight, accidentally strayed back across the Mincio. Napoleon was nearly alone in this house. The sentinel on watch at the outer gate didn’t have time to close it while shouting: To arms! and the victorious general, even in the midst of his triumph, was reduced to saving himself, half-naked behind by the gardens. That danger, which could be repeated frequently, was the cause of the formation of guides, more specifically responsible for the guard of the person of Napoleon. This famous corps composed of elite horsemen all with five years of service, received, since its inception the uniform since adopted for the chasseurs of the Imperial Guard; the glorious uniform, which was also the last clothes worn on Saint Helena by the dying Emperor.
The Austrians were driven from Brescia, and the French army was raised to
the level of its young General in Chief. At the beginning of this second
campaign, one saw a division of General Guyeux going forty-eight hours without
food, and yet no less continuing to march, to fight and defeat (the enemy). At
Lonato, efforts had been fruitless in dislodging the enemy from a plateau
overlooking the battlefield; the success of the day was in doubt: Napoleon
pushed his horse up to advance guard, commanded by Massena, and rapidly gave
At this time the division Guyeux arrived, less hungry for bread than glory, marching with bayonet, because it had fired all its cartridges. Passing near the group of the Chief of Staff, a chasseur left his ranks, and approaching the General in Chief:
That was the response of Napoleon. He had ordered precisely the same two movements so boldly advised by the young soldier, he followed with his eyes until a whirlwind of smoke had obscured the view.
An hour later, the French occupied the plateau, and the Austrians forced to retreat, holing up in Gavardo. The sun was setting, our troops were going to get some rest in camp, but Napoleon, concerned by fixed idea, put the Gayeux Division under arms. He went slowly through the ranks, questioning by his look all the figures, without any kind words from his mouth. At the end of the last rank, an expression of impatience is painted on his face: he was unable to recognize what he is looking for, and returned to the battle front, it called for a loud voice:
Napoleon, visibly moved, took off his hat and cried:
It was in these strange terms that the General in Chief, when returning to Lonato, told Massena before other general officers, the short dialogue he had with the young soldier who died so gloriously. Staying in Lonato with his headquarters, Napoleon had kept with him a battalion and squadron guides, who served as escort. Suddenly, a division of Austrians, whose presence was not suspected, surrounded the city, the French barely had time to take up arms, by which time a spokesman had already requested a meeting with the general-in-chief who commanded. Napoleon ordered that the officer be led, blindfolded, to the midst of his staff.
Before the Austrian officer had left the room, Napoleon had ordered all of the infantry and cavalry, to prepare for combat. Ten minutes later, the battalion and guides squadron debouched from Lonato to fall on the enemy, tumble with them and make a break, to go join Massena. The commander of the Austrian corps amazed at the speed of this movement sent back his spokesman and calls this time to capitulate.
Napoleon cut his speech off, adding:
At these words, the Austrian officer made a sign of the hand, and at the same time lowering the tip of his sword, hastened to say:
And when their arms were turned in, five thousand three hundred infantry and horsemen acknowledged that they had become voluntarily prisoners in the presence of five hundred men.
On the eve of the Battle of Castiglione (August 4, 1796), Napoleon, visiting outposts, complained of the frequent shootings he had heard in the morning.
He had barely uttered those words, when a dozen bullets whistle by his ears. A grenadier sped off and makes to the rampart of his corps. A moment later, the commanding officer abruptly asked this soldier:
The grenadier departed whistling the chorus of the Marseillaise. After a quarter of an hour, as we believed him dead because we had heard a lot of gunfire on the side where he had headed, he returned: he had not lost his hat.
he next day the Austrians attacked in Castiglione with the French impetuosity, were beaten completely by Napoleon; and in the evening, a few old soldiers, sitting around the camp fire, discoursed in their own way on the operations of the day. If Wurmser and his lieutenants were not spared by the speakers of this improvised club, all of them were amazed by the ways and the ability of Napoleon.
And extending his free arm:
At this point he was interrupted by a small man with a pale figure set with sparkling eyes, wearing a grey frock, and there was no distinguishing a mark of rank. This little man knocked lightly on the shoulder, asking him sympathetically:
At that well known voice, all respectfully had the back of their hands to their foreheads.
—We will see, Citizen General in Chief, said the old sergeant twisting up proudly his moustache.
After the affair of Roveredo, the fatigue of the General in Chief following the forced marches of the solders and the struggle that won the day, led him to sleep with his troops on the battlefield. Napoleon himself, dying of thirst and hunger, was only too happy to find a soldier who gave him perhaps the only ration of bread to be found in the army.
After a review in 1805 at the Camp de Boulogne, a sergeant of the 2nd Regiment of the Foot Chasseurs of the Old Guard used the opportunity to remind the Emperor of this circumstance.
And, as a sign of acknowledgement, which went to Berthier, Napoleon said a few words in a low voice, and then approaching the sergeant, he said taking off the cross he always wore on the turn back of his coat.
And he could say no more, as he became moved, transported, electrified.
A few hours later, taking a seat with the Chief of Staff of the Army, who sent his aide-de-camp to search for him in his regiment, the new decoration found on the pleat of his service dress, the brevet appointed him a Knight of the Legion of Honor.
At Arcole, Napoleon in the midst of four Austrian corps, pressuring on all sides, were close to uniting, decided to maneuver below the Adige. This parting was dangerous, but it was successful, and decisive.
Some battalions of the Vaubois Division, under the command of General Guyeax, arrived and joined those which were already in Verona; the guard having been entrusted to Kilmaine, with three thousand men. The divisions Augereau and Massena crossed the town during the night of 14 to 15 November 1796, in the greatest silence. It was believed that the army was in retreat, but instead of following the road to Peschiera, it suddenly took a left, filed along the Adige up to Ronco, where a bridge was thrown. Napoleon hoped to arrive at Villa-Nova in the morning, and take the enemy artillery parks, their baggage and to attack them on their flank or rear. From that moment, the French Army guessed the intention of its General in Chief.
Augereau crossed the Adige first, taking the center road, left the 12th Light to guard the bridge, and marched on Arcole. Massena following closely on the road to the left threw the 75th demi-brigade, as a reserve into a wood on the right of the bridge and moved on Porcil. The reserve cavalry, sixteen or seventeen hundred horses commanded by General Beauvoir, remained on the right bank of the Adige in battle formation, ready to move depending on the circumstances.
The sharpshooters of Augereau reached the bridge of Arcole without being noticed; they found it barricaded and defended by two regiments of Croats, with cannon. The French advanced guard, experiencing the strongest resistance, couldn’t move forward, and fell back in haste to a point where the road stopped on the side. The generals rushed to the heads of their columns: Lannes, Verdier, Bon and Verne are combat casualties. Indignant at this retrograde movement, Augereau took a flag, rushed ahead of two battalions of grenadiers, and carried it beyond the bridge, but greeted with heavy fire he was forced to return to his division. The enemy fire was so violent that the first platoons, had barely arrived before they were crushed. Napoleon, in person, wanted to try one last effort; he also took up a flag at the head of the bridge, and encouraging his followers shouted:
At that voice, following the example of their General in Chief they returned to combat.
The bridge was crossed half way, but the enemy fire, strengthened by new troops, again stops this attack. Lannes, already wounded twice, was shot a third time: Vignolle, seriously injured; Muiron and Elliot, aides-de-camp to Napoleon, fell dead at his side, the General in Chief himself, carried away by the chaos of his retreating troops, was thrown in a swamp, and sank in up to his waist; ... more than fifty Austrians passed by without recognize him. However the grenadiers, seeing the danger of their general, were turned around; the Adjutant-General Belliard, at their head pushed the enemy beyond the bridge, and Napoleon was saved. "This day, he said in the Memories of St. Helena, was that of military devotion."
But as soon Alvinzi, who had been sent with reinforcements for Arcole, had learned he was dealing with our whole army, executed a change in the front to his troops, which filed in the direction of Montebello. Meanwhile, Napoleon, fearing an attack the next day, concentrated all his forces on the right bank of the Adige, leaving on the left two demi-brigades to guard the bridge.
Two Austrian divisions had been totally destroyed, eight pieces of cannon remained in our possession, and several flags; we had a large number of prisoners who, the day after marching through the camp, filled the soldiers and officers of the French army with enthusiasm. So each took confidence and thought of more new victories.
Napoleon deeply regretted his two aides-de-camp. The following letter, which he wrote to General Clarke to deliver this news, is remarkable in more than one way:
As for Muiron, still pursued by presentiments of his death, he had ceased to maintain his friendship with Junot and Marmont. The latter had never responded to his terrors that rested on his shoulders.
This conversation of the two aides-de-camp had taken place on the morning of the battle. In the evening, as a few officers in the headquarters were talking of the successes and losses of the day, Marmont pointed out that he had not yet seen Muiron.
A moment later, Junot arrive. The extreme sadness of his physiognomy struck Marmont, so that the memory of his friend seemed more concerning:
In response, Junot lowered his eyes and threw Helde, his chamber valet, a look recommending him to be silent, but Marmont understood.
As for Napoleon, he consecrated the memory of his favorite aide-de-camp the first moment of rest that followed the victory.
Shortly after, he asked the Executive Committee, in recognition of services rendered to the Republic by Muiron, the removal of Berault of Courville, his stepmother, and Charles Berault de Courville, his brother-in-law, who had been placed on the list of émigrés; and the following year, in Venice, invited to baptize a frigate that we had armed, Napoleon named the Muiron and, even more surprising, it was on this boat that he came back from Egypt in 1799. Finally, fifteen years later, at St. Helena, as he dictated to Mr. Las-Cases the story of the Battle of Arcole as the name of Muiron was pronounced, the Emperor lowered his head sadly saying with a voice full of emotion:
It was during the night that followed the battle that the various accounts that we reported here took place and that information was corroborated.
Up to three o’clock in the morning, Napoleon, still indefatigable, drove his camp in a costume that indicated nothing to indicate it was that of the General in Chief, he wanted to judge for himself whether the fatigues of three harsh days had done nothing to diminish the soldiers respect for discipline and vigilance on the movement of the enemy. He came to pass in front of a sleeping sentry; without arousing and he cautiously lifted away his fusil. Some moments later, the young soldier opened his eyes, was disarmed, and recognized his general who walked quietly and return it to its place.
It was this young soldier, belonging to the 75th demi-brigade, still not being able to believe this act of clemency of his general that was killed the next day, 19, in the fighting of Campaza, where the two Austrian regiments of Ehrbach and of Laslezmann were partly destroyed by the same 75th demi-brigade, under the command of General Vaubois.
The news of the victory and Arcole of last events that followed was brought to Paris by the Battalion Head Lemarrois, aide-de-camp to Napoleon. He was instructed to submit to the Directorate the eight flags taken from the Austrian column that was completely crushed on the Arcole road. The government and Parisians enthusiastically welcomed these new trophies of the French valor, and, on the proposal of the Directory, the Legislature decreed: “Let the Republican flags brought to the Battle of Arcole against enemy battalions, by the Generals Bonaparte and Augereau, be given as a reward.”
Throughout history the ability of Austrian diplomacy has been recognized. It regained by treaties what it had lost in battle. After the defeat of Arcole, it proposed an armistice to Napoleon that he refused, in spite of the instructions sent to him by the Directorate and, shorn of all his opponents, the General in Chief returned to Mantua, surrounded it and forced it to surrender. Then, the 10 March 1797, he defeated Prince Charles who had wanted to oppose the crossing of the Tagliamento, and made his entry into Venice. From there, the French, in quick order, triumphed in Treviso, entered Trieste, and embarked on the pursuit of the Archduke, pushing within thirty miles in front of Vienna. So Napoleon made a stop; Austrian spokes persons arrived, and Léoben was set for the siege of the negotiations that were to follow. Napoleon knew he would have to contend with the full powers of the Directorate: it was he who made the war; it is he who would make peace. But the negotiations are dragging on; these talks were tiresome, and one day, in the middle of a discussion, he gets up, takes a beautiful porcelain tea services and breaking it he crushes it with his feet, saying to plenipotentiaries:
The frightened diplomats granted the requested concessions. The treaty is read. In the first article, the Emperor of Austria declares that he recognizes the French Republic. At these words, Napoleon exclaims:
—Delete this paragraph, which is unnecessary. The French Republic is like the sun: those whose brilliance it does not hit are blind.
A treaty was signed on April 18, 1797, but until it was ratified, Napoleon, who served in the dual capacity of General in Chief and special plenipotentiary, successively established his headquarters at Montebello, then Passeriano, near Udine, and finally Milan. It was in the latter city he got, from the Directorate, the order to go to Rastadt, where the famous Treaty of Campo Formio was to be signed by all the representatives of the sovereigns of Germany, in an assembled congress, but before leaving from the Lombardy capital, Napoleon wrote a farewell to his troops by this short proclamation:
He left Milan on November 17, 1797. His trip was marked by the willingness of people to see him and to offer him the galas. At Mantua there was, upon his arrival, a general illumination; he stayed at the Court, the palace of the former Dukes. The King of Sardinia was waiting in Turin; where the most beautiful reception was prepared for him, but we must report he refused the honors. He crossed Mount Cenis, and his visit to Switzerland was a great event for the country. On his entry in the canton of Vaud, young girls, dressed in white, complimented and offered him a crown on which was inscribed the arbitration sentence that had proclaimed the freedom of Valtellina, and this maxim so dear to the Vaudois: “People cannot be subject to another people.” His carriage having broken down near to d’Avenches, he arrived on foot at the ossuary Morat. An officer, who had previously served in France, showed him the scope of the bloody battle of the same name, and he explained how the Swiss, descending from the surrounding mountains, came, through a wood, turning the position Army of Burgundy and had put them to flight.
After a few insignificant words about this heap of bones collected in this place, Napoleon ascended into his carriage that had been repaired in the meantime. Salvos of artillery, repeated by the cannon of the fortress Huningue and surrounding redoubts, announced his arrival in Bâle. There, he was complimented by a deputation of the Privy Council, chaired by the Mayor of Buxtorf. The independent companies of foot and of horse paraded in front of the hostel of the Peaceful Bear, where he had been prepared a wonderful meal. Napoleon tenderly kissed Mr. Fesch, his maternal great-uncle, as well as several of his relatives who were given lodgings at this hostel to see to his passage, but to avoid the brilliant receptions he knew would follow, especially in the department of Rhine, he changed the itinerary of his route, followed the right bank of the river and crossed in Offenburg without even seeing Augereau, who had his headquarters and wrote to him on this occasion:
Napoleon knew to leave Rastadt as soon as the secret treaty agreement was signed. The Directorate itself went to meet his intentions, in writing, on the very day of his arrival in this city, (they were) “anxious to see him and to confer with him on the major and multiple interests of the homeland, he is urgently invited to the fullest possible exchange of ratifications, and it wanted to publicly demonstrate its own appreciation toward him and be the first conduct a national recognition.” The agreement was signed on 1 December 1797, and Napoleon left the next day for Rastadt. Then, without stopping, he crossed France maintaining the strictest anonymity, arriving in Paris on the 5th of the same month, and down to his small house on the street Chantereine, which the municipal authority named the Street of Victory, as soon as the conqueror of Italy return was officially known in the capital.
1 Napoleon wrote to the Board of Directors:
This ordonnateur was very committed to Napoleon; his death inspired sad thoughts in him that he wrote of in an intimate letter to Josephine.
2 It has been argued that it was, in modern history, the first example of a painting being part of a tribute (looting).
© 1995 - 2010, The Napoleon Series, All Rights Reserved.