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Thumbing through the Napoleonic Wars: The Words of Napoleon and Others Who May Have Influenced His Methods

By Kevin Kiley

‘They will talk of his gloryUnder the thatch, for a long time.

For fifty years, the humble cottage

Will know no other story.’

-Jean de Beranger


‘There was an eye to see in this man,and a soul to dare and do.

He rose naturally to be King.

All men saw that he was such.

-Thomas Carlyle


‘He either fears his fate too much,or his deserts are small,

that puts it not unto the touch,

to win or lose it all.

-James Graham, Marquise of Montrose


‘Cowards may fear to die; but courage stout,Rather than live in snuff, will be put out.’

-Sir Walter Raleigh


The backbone of the Army is the noncommissioned man.’-Rudyard Kipling


‘A mysterious fraternity born out of smoke and danger of death.’-Stephen Crane


‘Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,But he’ll remember with advantages

What feats he did that day…’

-William Shakespeare


Emperor Napoleon I
Emperor Napoleon I

There has probably never been another person in history who has either more misquoted or have had more words put in his mouth than Napoleon I, Emperor of the French. Because of the highly suspect memoirs, ghostwritten or not, of such people as Talleyrand, Bourrienne, Madame de Stael, Clare de Remusat, the Duchesse d’Abrantes, and Marshal Auguste Marmont, the French Emperor has had more and sundry inaccurate and unfair labels laid at this door. He was vilified by his enemies before and after his death, and has been accused of everything from murder to incest; accused of being a monster and psychopath, up to and including the recent, horribly inaccurate biography of him by Alan Schom.

The best place to look for the actual spoken words of Napoleon is in his multivolume Correspondence, which is overflowing with letters, reports, and various and sundry written records and what the Emperor actually thought on a variety of subject. These are not the Bulletins issued by Napoleon, which were intentional propaganda and never intended as history. The term ‘lie like a bulletin’ was actually coined by the Grande Armée-you generally can’t fool the veterans who do the marching and the killing.

On the Art of War

Napoleon was a well-educated man and soldier. He undoubtedly had read the newer, pertinent works, such as those by Bourcet and Guibert, on warfare and it was added to his repertoire of knowledge. He was an expert artilleryman. He could serve dutifully and skillfully on a gun crew; he could build carriages, vehicles, and wheels; he had to knowledge to cast guns. Artillery was indeed the ‘final argument of kings,’ Napoleon, in the words of John Elting, ‘was an artilleryman who made and unmade kings.’ Here, then, are some of his thoughts on the art of war.

‘The most essential quality of a general is firmness of character and the resolution to conquer at any price.”Activite, Activite, Vitesse!’

‘The art of war is an immense study, which encompasses all others.’

‘The art of war consists in bringing to bear with an inferior army a superiority of force at the point at which one attacks or is attacked.’

‘The bayonet has always been the weapon of the brave and the chief tool of victory.’

‘Perhaps I should not insist on this bold maneuver, but it is my style, my way of doing things.’

‘War is composed of nothing but accidents…there is but one favorable moment, the great art is to seize it.’

‘War is waged only with vigor, decision, and unshaken will; one must not grope or hesitate.’

‘I have destroyed the enemy merely by marches.’

‘Many good generals exist in Europe, but they see too many things at once; I see but one thing, and that is the masses; I seek to destroy them, sure that the minor matters will fall of themselves.’

‘When once the offensive has been assumed, it must be sustained to the last extremity.’

‘In short, I think like Frederick, one should always be the first to attack.’

Make war offensively; it is the sole means to become a great captain and to fathom the secrets of the art.’

‘Be audacious and cunning in your plans, firm and persevering in their execution, determined to find a glorious end.’

‘Never allow any rest either to the conqueror or the conquered.’

‘I may be accused of rashness but never of sluggishness.’

‘One always has enough troops when he knows how to use them.’

‘In order to smash, it is necessary to act suddenly.’

‘It is very advantageous to rush unexpectedly on an enemy who has erred, to attack him suddenly and come down on him with thunder before he sees the lightning.’

‘An army can march anywhere and at any time of he year, wherever two men can place their feet.’

‘An army of lions commanded by a deer will never be an army of lions.’

‘It is not sufficient that the soldier must shoot, but he must shoot well.’

‘Move upon the enemy in one mass on one line so that when brought to battle you shall outnumber him, and from such a direction that you compromise him.’

‘There’s a man for you! He is forced to flee from an army that he dares not fight, but he puts eighty leagues of devastation between himself and his pursuers. He slows down the march of the pursuing army, he weakens it by all kinds of privation-he knows how to ruin it without fighting it. In all of Europe, only Wellington and I are capable of carrying out such measures. But there is a difference between him and myself: In France…I would be criticized, whereas England will praise him.’

‘In war, everything depends on morale; and morale and public opinion comprise the better part of reality.’

‘One fights well when the heart is light.’

‘It is not enough to give orders, they must be obeyed.’

‘You must avoid countermanding orders: unless the soldier can see a good reason for benefit, he becomes discouraged and loses confidence.’

‘Give your orders so that they cannot be disobeyed.’

‘As a rule it is easy to find officers, but it is sometimes very hard to find non-commissioned officers.’

‘I do not believe the proverb that in order to be able to command one must know how to obey…Insubordination may only be the evidence of a strong mind.’

‘The greatest general is he who makes the fewest mistakes.’

‘A soldier must learn to love his profession, must look to it to satisfy all his tastes and his sense of humor. That is why handsome uniforms are useful.’

‘The success of a coup de main depends absolutely upon luck rather than judgment.’

‘Nothing in war is more important than unity of command. Thus when war is waged against a single power there must be but one army, acting on one line and led by one chief…Better one bad general than two good ones.’

‘Hesitation and half measures lose all in war.’

‘What my enemies call a general peace is my destruction. What I call peace is merely the rearmament of my enemies. Am I not more moderate than they?’

Napoleon’s comment on the allied (Metternich’s) peace proposals in 1813.

‘If courage is the first characteristic of the soldier, perseverance is the second.’

‘To get information, it is necessary to seize the letters in the postal system, to question travelers. In one word, you have to look for it. Intelligence never comes by itself.’

On Leadership and Men

Napoleon, contrary to many expressed opinions of him, was a humane man. He felt grief for heavy losses (see his correspondence after Eylau). He took good care of his troops, and was genuinely concerned for their welfare. He had a good, common sense soldier’s approach to medical care. He generously rewarded his best surgeons, Larrey and Percy among them. The Grande Armee was his home, and he loved his soldiers, but he used them as he saw fit. He also put himself in the line of fire, which is one of the reasons his soldiers followed him unhesitatingly into the fire.

Napoleon also had a sense of humor. Supposedly Savary asked him once if he wanted to be God. Napoleon thought it over and replied, ‘No, it’s a dead-end job.’ Traveling with his escort, one of the trooper’s horses stumbled and the trooper was thrown. Napoleon reined in, leaned over and asked why the trooper was so clumsy. Later, as luck would have it, Napoleon’s horse stumbled, and he was thrown from his saddle. The justified trooper reined in, leaned over, and asked why Napoleon was so clumsy. Napoleon remounted, and they continued on, the escort undoubtedly feeling much satisfied by the justice of the situation.

‘War is a serious game, in which one can endanger his reputation and his country; a rational man must feel and know whether or not he is cut out for this profession.”Peruse again and again the campaigns of Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar, gustavus Adolphus, Turenne, Eugene, and Frederick. Model yourself upon them. This is the only means of becoming a great captain, and of acquiring the secret of the art of war. Your own genius will be enlightened and improved by this study, and you will learn to reject all maxims foreign to the principles of the great commanders.’

‘The knowledge of higher leadership can only be acquired by the study of military history and actual experience. There are no hard and fast rules; everything depends on the plans of the general, the condition of the troops, the season of the year, and a thousand other circumstances, which have the effect that no one case will ever resemble another’

‘But all that…he will learn will be of little use to him if he does not have the sacred fire in the depths of his heart, thus driving ambition which alone can enable one to perform great deeds.’

‘You must be a soldier, and then a soldier, and again a soldier; bivouac with your advance guard, be in the saddle night and day, march with your advance guard to have the latest information, or else stay in your harem. You make war like a satrap. Good God, is it from me that you have learned that? From me who, with an army of 200,000 men, am at the head of my skirmishers?

-Napoleon to Jerome

‘The ideal army would be the one in which every officer would know what he ought to do in every contingency; the best possible army is the one that comes closest to this. I give myself only half the credit for the battles I have won, and a general gets enough credit when he is named at all, for the fact is that a battle is won by the army.’

‘It was a beautiful, calm, moonlight night. Suddenly a dog, which had been hiding under the clothes of a dead man, came up to us with a mournful howl, and then disappeared again immediately into his hiding place. He would lick his master’s face, then run up to us again, only to return once more to his master. Whether it was the mood of the moment, whether it was the place, the time, the weather, or the action itself, or whatever it was, it is certainly true that nothing on any battlefield ever made such an impression on me. I involuntarily remained still, to observe the spectacle. This dead man, I said to myself, has perhaps friends, and he is lying there abandoned by all but his dog! What a lesson nature teaches us by means of an animal.’

‘A military leader must possess as much character as intellect. Men who have a great deal of intellect and little character are the least suited; they are like a ship whose masts are out of proportion to the ballast; it is preferable to have much character and little intellect. Those men whose intellect is mediocre and whose character is in proportion are likely to succeed in their profession. The base must equal the height.’

‘In my campaigns Berthier was always to be found in my carriage. During the journey I used to study the plans of the situation and the reports sent in, sketch out my plans for battle from them, and arrange the necessary moves. Berthier would watch me at work, and at the first stopping-place or rest, whether it was day or night, he made out the orders and arrangements with a method and an exactness that was truly admirable. For this work he was always ready and untiring. That was Berthier’s special merit. It was very great and valuable, and no one else could have replaced Berthier.’

‘The conduct of a general in a conquered country is full of difficulties. If severe, he irritates and increases the number of his enemies. If lenient, he gives birth to expectations which only render the abuses and vexations inseparable from the war the more intolerable. A victorious general must know how to employ severity, justice, and mildness by turns, if he would allay sedition, or prevent it.’

‘Friends, I promise you this conquest; but there is one condition you must swear to fulfill-to respect the people whom you liberate, to repress the horrible pillaging committed by scoundrels incited by our enemies. Otherwise you would not be the liberators of the people; you would be their scourge…Plunderers will be shot without mercy; already, several have been…’

To the Armee d’Italie in 1796

‘If you wage war, do it energetically and with severity. This is the only way to make it shorter, and consequently less inhuman.’

‘You must not needlessly fatigue the troops.’

‘A general’s principal talent consists in knowing the mentality of the soldier and in gaining his confidence.’

‘When asked one day how, after so many years, he could recollect the names and numbers of the units engaged in one of his early combats, Napoleon responded, ‘Madam, this is a lover’s recollection of his former mistresses.”

‘Man, not men, is the most important consideration.’

‘Sentiment rules the world, and he who fails to take that into account can never hope to lead.’

‘A general’s principle talent consists in knowing the mentality of the soldier and in winning his confidence. And, in these two respects, the French soldier is more difficult to lead than any other. He is not a machine to be put in motion but a reasonable being that must be directed.’

‘A leader is a dealer in hope.’

‘You medical people will have more lives to answer for in the other world than even we do.’

‘The Greeks in the service of the Great King were not enthusiastic in his cause. The Swiss in French, Spanish, and Italian service were not enthusiastic in their causes. The troops of Frederick the Great, mostly foreigners, were not enthusiastic in his cause. A good general, good training, and good discipline make good troops independently of the cause in which they fight. It is true, however, that fanaticism, love of fatherland, and national glory can inspire fresh troops to good advantage.’

‘Instead of the lash, I would lead them by the stimulus of honor. I would instill a degree of emulation into their minds. I would promote every deserving soldier, as I did in France…What might not be expected of the English army if every soldier hoped to be made a general provided he showed ability? Bingham says, however, that most of your soldiers are brutes and must be driven by the stick. But surely the English soldiers must be possessed of sentiments sufficient to put them at least upon a level with the soldiers of other countries, where the degrading system of the lash is not used. Whatever debases man cannot be serviceable.’

‘A man does not have himself killed for a halfpence a day of for a petty distinction. You must speak to the soul inorder to electrify him.’

‘Great men are never cruel without necessity.’

‘Praise from enemies is suspicious; it cannot flatter an honorable man unless it is given after the cessation of hostilities.’

‘We are here to guide public opinion, not to discuss it.’

‘Barere still believes that the masses must be stirred. On the contrary, they must be guided without noticing it.’

‘Instead of all the stupidness with which the daily press is filled, why do you not send commissioners to visit the districts from which we hve expelled the enemy and make them collect the details of the crimes that have been committed there? Nothing more powerful could be found to stir the minds than a recital of the details. What we need at this moment is real and serious things, not wit in prose and verse. My hair stands on end when I hear of the crimes committed by the enemy, and the police have not even thought of obtaining a single account of these happenings…A picture drawn in larger strokes will not convince the people. With ink and paper you can draw any pictures you like. Only by telling the facts simply and with detail can we convince them.”

‘There are no greater patriots than those good men who have been maimed in the service of their country.’

‘The man who cannot look upon the battlefield dry-eyed will allow many men to be killed uselessly.’

‘I received your letter in a tumble-down farm house where I have the mud, the wind, and some straw for my bed.’

‘A general in the power of the enemy has no orders to give. Whoever obeys him is a criminal.’

‘When ignorance has gotten ten men killed where it should have cost two, is it not responsible for the blood of the other eight?’

‘A man has his day in war as in other things; I myself shall be good for it another six years, after which even I shall have to stop.’ Napoleon said this in 1805; in 1812 he invaded Russia, seven years after the quote.

‘A people who have been brought up on victories often do not know how to accept defeat.’

‘Pay attention to the sick and wounded. Sacrifice your baggage, everything for them. Let the wagons be devoted to their use, and if necessary your own saddles…’

‘Force is only justifiable in extremes; when we have the upper hand, justice is preferable.’

‘Nothing will disorganize an army more or ruin it more completely than pillage.’

‘Get your principles straight; the rest is a matter of detail.’


Words of wisdom from Napoleon on a variety of subjects. Napoleon wrote and dictated literally volumes of correspondence, sometimes dictating to multiple clerks at the same time. It was said that only Berthier could decipher his handwriting.

On Time:

‘In military operations, hours determine success and campaigns.”Go sir, gallop, and don’t forget that the world was made in six days. You can ask me for anything you like, except time.’

‘The loss of time is irretrievable in war; the excuses that are advanced are always bad ones, for operations go wrong only through delays.’

‘The good condition of my armies comes from the fact that I devote an hour or two every day to them, and when I am sent the returns of my troops and my ships each month, which fills twenty large volumes, I set every other occupation aside to read them in detail in order to discern yhe difference yhay exists from one month to another. I take greater pleasure in this than a young lady would get from reading a novel.’

On Glory, Defeat, Honor, & Discipline:

”Victory and disaster establish indestructible bonds between armies and their commanders.”Pay not attention to those who would keep you far from fire: you want to prove yourself a man of courage. If there are opportunities, expose yourself conspicuously. As for real danger, it is everywhere in war.’

‘Remember, gentlemen, what a Roman emperor said: ‘The corpse of an enemy always smells sweet.’

‘Death is nothing; but to live defeated and without glory is to die everyday.’

‘To imagine that it is possible to perform great military deeds without fighting is just empty dreams.’

‘Unhappy the general who comes on the field of battle with a system.’

‘What I want you to preserve is honor, not a few planks of wood.’

‘Whoever prefers death to ignominity will save his life and live in honor, but he who prefers life will die and cover himself with disgrace.’

‘The honor of a general consists in obeying, in keeping subalterns under his orders on the honest path, in maintaining good discipline, devoting oneself solely to the interest of the State and the sovereign, and in scorning completely private interests.’

‘When defending itself against another country, a nation never lacks men, but too often, soldiers.’

‘Hardship, blood, and death create enthusiasts and martyrs and give birth to bold and desperate resolutions.’

‘Great extremities require extraordinary resolution. The more obstinate the resistance of an army, the greater the chances of success. How many seemingly impossibilities have been accomplished by men whose only resolve was death!’

‘In time of revolution, with perseverance and courage, a soldier should think nothing impossible.’

‘In decisive cases there are moments when victory demands sacrifices and when it becomes necessary to burn your own warships. If military art consisted of always taking a safe position, then glory would become the property of mediocre people.’

‘The art of war is like everything else that is beautiful and simple. The simplest moves are the best.’

‘The first qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only the second; hardship, poverty, and want are the best school of the soldier.’

‘At the head of an army, nothing is more becoming than simplicity.’

‘To be defeated is pardonable; to be surprised-never!’

‘There is no security for any sovereign, for any nation, or for any general, if officers are permitted to capitulate in the open field, and to lay down their arms in virtue of conditions, favorable to the contracting party, but contrary to the interests of the army at large. To withdraw from danger, and thereby to involve their comrades in greater perils, is the height of cowardice. Such conduct should be proscribed, declared infamous, and made punishable with death. All generals, officers, and soldiers, who capitulate in battle to save their own lives, should be decimated. He who gives the order, and those who obey are alike traitors, and deserve capital punishment.’

‘Treaties are observed as long as they are in harmony with interests.’

‘War justifies everything.’

‘It is not against me, exactly, that the powers make war. It is against the revolution. They have never seen in me anything but the representative, the man of the Revolution.’

Words by other Soldiers:

Here are some of the appropriate renderings by his subordinates, contemporaries, and predecessors: Some, like Clausewitz fought him and the terrible Grande Armee for years; others, such as Haydon were mere observers and were awestruck by Napoleon and his grumblers. Still others, had military talents of their own and put them down on paper.

‘You have to have seen the steadfastness of one of the forces trained and led by Bonaparte…seen them under fierce and unrelenting fire-to get some sense of what can be accomplished by troops steeled by long experience in danger, in whom a proud record of victories has instilled the noble principle of placing the highest demands on themselves. As an idea alone it is unbelievable.’-Clausewitz

‘In the career of glory one gains many things; the gout and medals, a pension and rheumatism…And also frozen feet, an arm or leg the less, a bullet lodged between two bones which the surgeon cannot extract…All of those bivouacs in the rain and snow, all the privations, all those fatigues experienced in your youth, you pay for when you grow old. Because one has suffered in years gone by, it is necessary to suffer more, which does not seem exactly fair.’

-Elzéar Blaze

‘With all [Amiel’s] faults, the Emperor appreciated in him one quality which he possessed in the highest degree; he was undoubtedly the best light cavalry officer in any European army. A finer instinct or equal judgment in exploring a country with a glance was never seen. Before riding through a district, he divined the obstacles which the maps did not show, foresaw the points where streams, roads, or the smallest paths must emerge, and could draw from the enemy’s movements inferences which nearly always proved correct. Both in irregular warfare and in major operations he was a most remarkable officer.’


‘[Conscription] is an ineluctable consequence of political equality. If you demand equality, then accept the consequences.’


‘The crash of the Imperial drums, beating with the harsh unity that stamped them as the voices of veterans in war, woke me from my reverie and made my heart throb with their stony rattle. Never did I hear such drums and never shall again: there were years of battle and blood in every sound.’

-Benjamin Haydon

‘Faithful to our oath, we have not abandoned your eagles, and we are now without a country!…Sire, I beg of you, give us back our weapons.’

-Jose Fernando

‘If the Cossacks attack during the night, it is to keep you awake, to wear you out…you seldom have to do anything more than look alert. If the Prussian cavalry attacks during the night, that is more serious; you must not only be ready, but maneuver to meet them. If the Austrian cavalry attack at night they probably have their infantry with them. If the English cavalry understood war, they might be…the most terrible in Europe… If you have ridden over them, the Austrian infantry throws down its weapons, each soldier claims to be a Pole, they obey you honestly. The Prussian infantry throws down its arms, but will grab them up promptly if they see help coming. The Russian infantry falls flat, lets you pass, gets up, and starts shooting again.’

-Antoine de Brack

‘Providence and courage never abandon the good soldier…Never punished, always present at roll call, indefatigable in all the marches and countermarches; I took whatever came without complaint.’


‘Order, counterorder, disorder.’

-French Military Proverb

‘More dreadful looking fellows than Napoleon’s guard I had never seen. They had the look of thoroughbred, veteran, disciplined banditti. Depravity, recklessness, and bloodthirstiness were burned into their faces…Black mustachios, gigantic bearskins, and a ferocious expression were their characteristics.’

-Benjamin Haydon

At Tilsit, in a review for the the sovereigns, Tsar Alexander, while viewing the Old Guard pass in review, asked Marshal Ney where were the men who had given the Guardsmen such terrible scars. Neys reply was blunt and succinct: ‘Sire, they are all dead.’

At the same review, Drum Major Senot of the Grenadiers a pied remarked to his drummers when passing by Frederick William of Prussia, ‘Don’t beat so loud, he’s only a king.’

‘These reports, as you know, Monsieur le Marechal, are not for my personal benefit; for I am nothing in the army. I receive in the Emperor’s name the reports of the marshals and I sign on his behalf, so personally I have no axe to grind. But His Majesty stipulates that detailed reports on everything which occurs are to be sent to me; for better or worse, nothing should be concealed from the Emperor. I require you therefore to be so kind as to keep me advised of all that occurs in your corps, in the same way as the other marshals.’

Berthier to Soult

‘The Emperor, for the general direction of the operations, is in no need of advice, nor does he wish to have outlined to him any operation plans. No one knows his intentions, and it is our duty to obey him. His Majesty was all the less prepared for your movements, sonce you have been warned repeatedly not to take any action without orders. You can judge for yourself that partial measures will merely injure the operations as a whole and that they may even prove disastrous for the entire army.’

-Berthier to Ney

Marshal Ney
Marshal Ney

‘Nothing should be concealed from the Emperor, either good or bad; to deceive him, even about things that are likely to be disagreeable to him is a crime.’

Berthier to Lannes

‘Besides the confidence of the general officers, of which the aides-de-camp render themselves worthy by indefatigable zeal, it is necessary that they should be acquainted with the different corps of the brigade or division to which they belong, the names of the several officers in command, and those of the commissaries, that they may be able to transmit orders with precision, and superintend their execution.’


‘It is admitted by all military men that infantry is the great lever of war, and that the artillery and cavalry are only indispensable accessories…Two essential conditions constitute the strength of infantry: that the men be good walkers and inured to fatigue. That the firing be well executed. The physical constitution, and the national composition of the French armies, fulfill the former most advantageously; the vivacity and intelligence of the soldiers ensure the success of the latter.’


‘People who think of retreating before a battle has been fought ought to have stayed home.’


‘If we are defeated, we can think about retreating then, and in any case, I shall be dead, so why should I worry?


‘Make your preparation for attack or defense instantly on the enemy’s approach; should you even be obliged to execute them with disadvantage, do not hesitate.’


‘We come to give you liberty and equality, but don’t lose your heads about it-the first person who stirs without permission will be shot.’


‘To look over a battlefield, to take in at the first instance the advantages and disadvantages is the great quality of a general.”


‘War is a trade for the ignorant and a science for the expert.’


‘Just as lightning has already struck when the flash is seen, so where the enemy discovers the head of the army, the whole should be there, and leave them no time to counteract dispositions.’


‘The object of artillery should not consist of killing men on the whole of the enemy’s front, but to overthrow it, to destroy parts of this front…then they obtain decisive effects; they make a gap.’


‘A man may cease to be lucky, for that is beyond his control; but he should never cease to be honest.’

-Charles XII

‘Pay well, command well, hang well.’

-Sir Ralph Hopton

‘When a man has committed no faults in war, he can only have been engaged in it but a short time.’


‘I speak harshly to no one, but I will have your head off the instant you refuse to obey me.’


‘I shall treat neutrality as equivalent to a declaration of war against me.’

-Gustavus Adolphus

‘As long as there are a few veterans, you can do what you want with the rest.’

-de Saxe

‘A well-dressed soldier has more respect for himself. He also appears more redoubtable to the enemy and dominates him; for a good appearance is itself a force.’


‘Remember, soldiers, that first and foremost you are citizens. Let us not become a greater scourge to our country than the enemy themselves.’


‘As for the cavalry, it should never be touched; old troopers and old horses are good, and recruits of either are absolutely useless. It is a burden, it is an expense, but it is indispensable. In regard to the infantry, as long as there are a few old heads you can do what you want with the tails; they are the greatest number, and the return of these men in peace is a noticeable benefit to the nation, without a serious diminution of the military forces.

-de Saxe

‘Here I am sitting at al comfortable table loaded heavily with books, with one eye on my typewriter and the other on Licorice the cat, who has a great fondness for carbon paper, and I am telling you that the Emperor Napoleon was a most contemptible person. But should I happen to look out of the window, down on Seventh Avenue, and should the endless procession of trucks and carts come to a sudden halt, and should I hear the sound of the heavy drums and see the little man on his white horse, in his old and much worn green uniform, then I don’t know, but I am afraid that I would leave my books and the kitten and my home and everything else to follow him wherever he cared to lead. My own grandfather did this and Heaven knows he was not born to be a soldier.’

-Hendrik Willem van Loon

‘But when the Tsar of all the Russias, the commander-in-chief of three million horse-guards, foot-guards, life-guards, and Cossacks, begins to talk sweetly of brotherly love, it is time for decent people to look to their guns.’

-Hendrik Willem van Loon

‘A man is not a soldier until he is no longer homesick, until he considers his regiment’s colors as he would his village steeple; until he loves his colors, and is ready to put hand to sword every time the honor of the regiment is attacked.’


‘Never forget that no military leader has ever become great without audacity.’


‘For great aims we must dare great things.’


‘The Grande Armée fought hard, seldom cheered, and always bitched.’

-Elzear Blaze

On Bureaucrats;

I end with the quote from m’lord the Dike of Wellington because it is a fitting statement summing up what professional soldiers have to deal with in the bureaucrat.

‘Gentlemen:Whilst marching to Portugal to a position which commands the approach to Madrid and the French forces, my officers have been diligently complying with you request which has been sent to HM ship from London to Lisbon and then by dispatch rider to our headquarters.

We have enumerated our saddles, bridles, tents, and tent poles, and all manner of sundry items for which His Majesty’s government holds me accountable. I have dispatched reports on the character, wit, spleen of every officer. Each item and every farthing has been accounted for, with two regrettable exceptions for which I beg you indulgence.

Unfortunately, the sum of one shilling and ninepence remains unaccounted for in one infantry battalion’s petty cash and there has been a hideous confusion as to the number of jars of raspberry jam issued to one cavalry regiment during a sandstorm in western Spain. This reprehensive carelessness may be related to the pressure of circumstances since we are at war with France, a fact which may have come as a bit of a surprise to you gentlemen in Whitehall.

This brings me to my present purpose, which is to request elucidation of my instructions from His Majesty’s Government, so that I may better understand why I am dragging an army over these barren plains. I construe that perforce it must be one of two alternative duties, as given below. I shall pursue one with the best of my ability but I cannot do both.

1. To train an army of uniformed British clerks in Spain for the benefit of the accountants and copy-boys in London, or perchance

2. To see to it that the forces of Napoleon are driven out of Spain.

Your most obedient servant,



Chandler, David G. The Military Maxims of Napoleon New York : Macmillan; 1997.

Elting, John R. Swords Around A Throne: Napoleon’s Grande Armee New York : The Free Press;1988.

Esposito, Vincent J., and John R. Elting. A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars London : Greenhill Books;1999.

Tsouras, Peter G. Warrior’s Words: A Quotation Book London : Arms and Armour Press; 1992.

Note: While all quotes used in this article were generally found in the above-mentioned books, they are to be originally found in either Napoleon’s Correspondence or his Maxims.