The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Get Involved:

Facebook Twitter Email
The Napoleon Series > Biographies > Biographies

The Weight of Honour: Bartolomeo Bortolini’s Military Career

By Roberto A. Scattolin, Italy


Wars are fought by nations and their warriors, usually for territory, monetary gain or political power.

The famous ones were those who were most successful: Gaius Julius Caesar (July 100 BC or 102 BC- March 15, 44 BC), a Roman military and political leader who gained distinguished fama as one of the most influential leading-heads in classical world history, Friedrich der Große (Frederick II the Great, January 24, 1712-August 17, 1786), King of Prussia (1740-1786, Hohenzollern dynasty), and of course, that most amazing of military giants, Napoleon Bonaparte.   Modern printed editions are full of these men’s exploits and daring.  Textbooks on the history of warfare have been written and are still used today to teach the tactics and strategy used by these prominent personalities.

However, rarely do we get a glimpse of the common soldier, the brave who carries out his orders facing many hardships with courage and loyalty.  These nameless souls are legion.

And in this essay, we meet one: Bartolomeo Bortolini, an Italian volunteer.  At almost every famous battle, in every foreign land, Bortolini followed in arms Bonaparte’s track of glory and blundering failures.  From the early expedition to Egypt to the frozen wastes of Russia, he was present to serve in the French Army contingents.  His entire career was colourful and eventful. After almost 15 years of hard fighting experience, this Italian returned to play a significant role, because of his renewed choice of martial devotion, in 1815, when he discovered that Napoleon had returned to France from Elba.  He was not forced to do so.  But the bugles called him; and the Empereur needed his strong sword.

This history subject has been carefully researched and footnoted with the important facts and dates of Bortolini’s military career.   What is amazing is that much information is still available about a seemingly little-known participant of the Napoleonic Wars.

In modern warfare operations like World War II (1939-1945), journalists such as Ernest Taylor “Ernie” Pyle followed the troops in battle and personalized their stories, showing just how horrendous wars really were.  Today, while history is being made in places such as Iraq, television crews and journalists are present to document every significant detail and action; that will be of great assistance to the historians of the future.  As Napoleon once said, “History is written by the winners”.

Bartolomeo Bortolini’s Military Career

It certainly is not an easy matter to recall the past military life and quite stunning exploits de guerre (i.e. war exploits) of the Italian veteran Bartolomeo Bortolini – a native of the town of Trento. Modern and post-modern generations are aware that the passing of time has veiled and erased most part of the memories of this man, thus letting historical data disappear in the waters of oblivion. Another significant point opened a contradictory debate.  In the beginning of the XIXthCentury, a dialectic problem was raised in establishing his family origin and his birth identity.

A little bit of incomprehension, nearing the tonalities of a querelle,[1] followed about the true personal indentity of the veteran, certainly a multifaceted misunderstanding between the true Bartolomeo Bortolini and a fairly homonymous Bartolomeo Bortolini – who had major service of distinction in the cavalry regimental force of the Dragoni Regina (army of the Kingdom of Italy).

However, even after being recognized for this minor side of an enthralling and speculative controversy, the information can be an additional cultural specific, and appreciated in the general context of a stout veteran’s life experience.

Extrapolation from his military roll and état de services are henceforth provided for a better documentary understanding in relation to the above mentioned subject.

It is known that at early an age Bortolini had entered French service as a volunteer; that he served the Republican cause with the armée du Rhein, and strenuously fought in Vandea.

After General Bonaparte’s prominent raise to the laurels of glory (first Italian campaign of 1796-1797), and inspired by his talents, Bortolini followed the French general to Egypt in 1799  and took part in the 1802 expedition to Saint-Domingo under the leadership   commandant en chef Charles-Victor-Emmanuel Leclerc, a native of Pontoise.After the tremendous battle with the Austro-Russian army at Austerlitz, in Moravia, Bortolini is cited as a prode soldato (i.e. proud soldier) who accomplished his duty con zelo ed onore (i.e. with zeal and honour). Returning to Italy, he enlisted in the 2nd Reggimento Cacciatori a cavallo Principe Reale – and took part in the 1809 campaign.  He distinguished himself at Raab (14 June), and at Wagram (6 July). 

In the early stages of 1812, Bortolini was garrisoned in the town of Pavia, and had to leave for the Russian expedition with an artillery unit of the IVth Army Corps. In July of that year, the promotion to the rank of capitano (i.e. captain) ensued; and he was further appointed aide de camp to General Saint Germain by Eugène De Beauharnais, the Viceroy of Italy. 

While carrying out headquarters duties, he was to serve as officer attached to the stato maggiore of Count Marmaire,[2] the cavalry commander of the Italian army (IVth Corps) Guard cavalry.On October 1, 1812, Joachim Murat, from the General Headquarters located at Wladimir, signified to Bertolini that he was to receive the cavalry order of the Due Sicilie[3] – due to his personal bravery in action.Worth mentioning, among his many experiences of valour, is that after the battle at the Berezina River, on November 29, 1812, Bertolini prompt actions saved General Count Domenico Pino and Marshall Nicolas-Charles Oudinot from the assaulting forces of the Cossack cavalry squadrons. Brilliantly supported by his companions in arms, the intrepid capitano even outflanked the Russian artillery pieces, and gained a tactical surprise.After the strategic débâcle and disastrous Russian campaign, the battle-hardened veteran safely reached the Po valley.

From June 1813, Bortolini stayed in Pavia; and was then sent to Lodi, a mild country town (at that time the general depot of the Italian Army cavalry) on the Adda River, where he served in the position of istruttore nella regia scuola di equitazione (i.e. instructor in the royal cavalry school). Time passed, and there followed the nadir of Bonaparte’s military career and the burning defeat at Leipzig, the fall of Paris, and the collapse of the Empire – the abdication of Napoleon at Fontainebleau (April 11, 1814) and the exile to the island of Elba.After the surrender of the mighty fortified stronghold of Mantua (1814), the divisional forces of the Army of Italy were ordered dissolved by Prince Eugène (April 23).

Hearing that Napoleon had escaped from the Elba island, and had landed in southern France, Captain Bortolini left Milano on May 4, 1815 – with a small number of veteran comrades.

Via the town of Como, and through the broad conditioning Alpine steps, the seasoned Italian veteran crossed the frontier of Switzerland and finally reached Paris. Victory ensued to the French arms over the Prussians, but the stirring defeat at Waterloo marked the end of an age of expansionism and years-long violation of European political self-determination.

Released from his military oath, and deprived of his military living, Bortolini retired to private life. Because of his new circumstances, he made a living as a fencing master in many locations, notably Lodi, Paris, and Milan.In 1821, he could not restrain his talents, and became an active supporter of the revolution.

On February 10, 1831, after a woman informed on him, Bortolini was arrested in Milano; on April 24, the gendarmi escorted him to Graz (Austrian domains) where he was confined.

After some years of compulsory residence, the fiery Napoleonic supporter was transferred to Trieste (1838), and once established in town started writing his mémoires d’ epopée.  

He died on January 23, 1871; the mortal remains were buried in Sant’Anna cemetery with the military honours granted by F. M. L. Wezlar, commander of the Hapsburg  garrison at Trieste.


Primary Sources

1. Italian works:

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. Il Veterano D’Oriente, ossia carriera militare anedottica del cav. Bartolomeo Bertolini di Trento scritta da lui medesimo. Trieste, M. Weis tipografo governiale, 1839.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. La Caduta Di San Giovanni D’ Acri, Racconto storico di Bartolomeo Bertolini di Trento, Cavaliere della legion d’onore, fu Capitano di Cavalleria. Trieste, Dalla Tipografia Weis, 1843.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. I Giorni D’Orrore, avventure particolari accadute al Cav. Bartolammeo Bartolini di Trento, antico ufficiale di cavalleria, e ad alcuni suoi compagni d’armi dal giorno 13 al 28 Novembre 1812 nella Campagna di Russia scritta da lui medesimo. Verona, Dalla tipografia Antonelli, 1846.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. La Mia Prigionia, racconto storico di Bartolommeo Bertolini da Trento, antico ufficiale di cavalleria, cavaliere della Legion d’onore, attualmente in Trieste. Trieste, Tipografia del Lloyd Austriaco, 1859.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. Il Valore Vinto Dagli Elementi, Storica narrazione della campagna di Russia degli anni 1812-1813 e successivi fatti d’armi fino alla battaglia di Waterloo, Opera di Bartolomeo Bertolini da Trento, Cav. Della Legion d’Onore, ex Capitano di Cavalleria. Milano, Tipografia di G. Alberti e C., 1869.

Secondary Souces

2.  Italian works:

Archivio Veneto. Deputazione di storia patria per le Venezie, 1927, A spese della R. Deputazione.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. Trattato Di Sciabola, di Bartolomeo Bertolini di Trento, Cavaliere della Legion d’onore Dedicato a Sua Eccellenza il Conte Ettore Lucchesi Palli Poniatelli d’Aragona dei principi di Campofranco e Duchi della Grazia. Trieste, Dalla Tipografia Weis, 1842.

Bertolini, Bartolomeo, di Trento. Trattato Di Contropunta. Trieste, 1844.  

Bertolini, Bartolomeo. Teorie Sulla Sciabola. Ferrara, 1856.

Fabietti, Ettore. Un Atesino Alla Campagna Di Russia (Dalle Memorie Di Un Veterano Dell’ Armata D’Italia: 1812-1813. In: Atesia Augusta, Bolzano, aprile 1940.

Zieger, A., Emmert, B. Bartolomeo Bertolini, Il Sedicente Veterano D’Oriente. Estratto dagli Studi Trentini a. VII, Trento, Scotoni, 1927.


[1] Vibrant incidences were sustained by the authors Antonio Zieger and Bruno Emmert.  Their accomplished specifications were presented in an essay published in the year 1927 – and published in Trento, by the types of Scotoni.  Vide: Studi Trentini, a. VII.

[2]The ambivalence of the quotation is quite apparent.  There is every convenience – through historical documentary pieces – that the correct name was that of Triaire; this name transposition, most certainly a glissazione conoscitiva (i.e. a cognitive glided), was occasioned by the senility of the author.

Joseph Triaire was born at Le Mazel, Notre-Dame-de-la-Rouvière (Gard), on March 19, 1774 – and died in Paris in 1850 (11 April).  Military synopsis, en abrégé: 1783, 28 October: soldat in the chasseurs of Bretagne; 1792, 26 March: brigadier; 1793-1795: in the armée du Nord; 1796, 30 May: wounded at the bridge of Borghetto; 5 August: wounded by a sabre thrust at Castiglione; 1797, 13 March: wounded at the combat of Belluno; 24 March: wounded by a bayonet thrust at Tarvis; 1799: in the armée d’ Helvétie; 1800, 8 April: capitaine; 26 October: capitaine in the chasseurs à cheval de la garde des consuls; 1802, 20 October: he received a sabre d’ honneur; 1803, 22 November: major in the 22e régiment de chasseurs à cheval; 1805, 21 March: aide de camp of prince Eugène de Beauharnais; 1807, 20 December: Colonel;  1809, 8 May: wounded by a sabre thrust at the battle of the Piave; 1 July: baron de l’ Empire; 27 July: commander of the Légion d’ honneur; 1812: 2 May: général de brigade; followed the Grande Armée and prince De Beauharnais in the Russian campaign; 7 September: was wounded at la Moskowa; 15 November: employed in the division Pino at Krasnoé.  Triaire is buried in Paris, in the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, 56e division

[3]The Reale Ordine delle Due Sicilie was instituted by Joseph Bonaparte, King of Naples, on February 24, 1808 – its primary aim was to  reward those subjects who had provided help to conquer the country, or had given important services to the State.

The order of the Due Sicilie was originally divided in three major classes: the Dignitari (i.e. Dignitaries), the Commendatori (i.e. the Commendators), and the  Cavalieri (i.e. the Knights).  By decree of November 5, 1808, it was confirmed and partly modified by the new monarch Joachim Murat.  Basically, the decoration was a five pointed golden star, red-enamelled, having on the recto the coat of arms of Naples.  On the verso was instead the emblem of Sicily, beautifully adorned with the script Joseph Neapoles Siciliarum rex instituit.  The original moulded piece was surmounted by one eagle.  The restored monarch Ferdinand IV modified the decoration and substituted the eagle by the royal crown.  On the recto, with the coats of arms of Naples and Sicily, there appeared a new motto – Ferdinandus Borbonius utriusque Siciliae Rex P.F.A..   On the verso, one lily, and the words: Felicitati restituta X Kal., Jun. MDCCCXV.


Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2007