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The Man and the MythNapoleon and JoesphinePolitics in Napoleon's TimesNapoleon at War

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Campaigns and Battles

First Italian Campaign | The Egyptian Campaign | Second Italian Campaign | The Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign | The Prussian Campaign | The Peninsular War | The Austrian War | The Russian Campaign | From Lützen to Elba | The Waterloo Campaign


First Italian Campaign, 1796-97, continued

The Austrians fortified a narrow wooden bridge in Lodi with fourteen cannons and three battalions, and dared Bonaparte to cross it. Bonaparte ordered a simple frontal assault on the bridge. Everything depended on the courage of his men. He had earned their admiration with his rapid string of victories. Now he would find out if he also had their faith.

ELTING: Victory always goes a long way. The more they win the harder they are to stop. His troops were pretty well hepped up. They'd been chasing Austrians now for weeks. And they went forward.

GARNIER: There are no tactics at all. The troops come in so enthusiastically and so quickly, it surprises the enemy. It’s just a question of enthusiasm, everyone throws themselves into it, everyone risked death.

With his men facing withering enemy fire, Bonaparte was in the thick of it.

CONNELLY: He was actually laying in the cannon, which is a corporal's job. But he was always up there with ’em.

ELTING: This is a man with absolute courage. He is wherever he is needed. If he's needed up at the very front to encourage people, he's there.

JOURQUIN: He takes physical risks and even if cannon balls fall close to him, and this happened on several occasions, he is not afraid.

The French made it halfway across the bridge but fell back under a vicious hail of fire. Bonaparte urged them forward and, in a final charge, they stormed across. The Austrian guns fell silent.

Bridge at Lodi

ELTING: Here, they thought they were safe behind the river holding the bridge and all at once the French come across the bridge and beat the living bejesus out of them. It's a real spectacular job. It wasn't a big battle. The casualties were not particularly heavy, but he had imposed his will on his own men and the enemy both.

It was not a great victory. The Austrian army had in fact escaped. But Bonaparte had won the respect and devotion of his men.

CONNOLLY: He came out all sweaty and grimy and covered with gunsmoke. The troops liked that. They began calling him the Little Corporal right there. It was, "You identify with us." You’re our corporal.

JOURQUIN: This is the moment when he becomes convinced that he has a lucky star and that he’s been chosen to accomplish great things.

"They haven’t seen anything yet," Napoleon told one of his generals. "In our time, no one has the slightest conception of what is great. It is up to me to give them an example."

The battle at Lodi convinced Napoleon Bonaparte that he was a man of destiny. "From that moment," he said, "I foresaw what I might be. Already I felt the earth flee from beneath me, as if I were being carried into the sky."

While he ruled in Italy, Bonaparte never stopped chasing the Austrians. Throughout the autumn of 1796, he whittled away the Austrian army with victories at Castiglione, Bassano and Arcole. In March 1797, just two months after routing the enemy at Rivoli and driving them from northern Italy, he crossed the Alps into Austria itself, and by April 7, 1797, was within seventy-five miles of Vienna.

Stunned by the advancing French armies, the Austrian Emperor sued for peace. Bonaparte himself negotiated with the Austrian diplomats.

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