First Italian Campaigns


Napoleon at RivoliOn April 2, 1796, Bonaparte led his army forward into Italy. He was badly outnumbered. His 38,000 French soldiers faced 38,000 Austrians and their allies — 25,000 Piedmontese. Bonaparte’s plan was to isolate the Austrians from the Piedmontese, then conquer each separately. He would strike first at Piedmont.

In just two weeks, he broke the back of Piedmont’s army, crushing their troops with lightning attacks at the battles of Montenotte and Mondovi. One Piedmontese officer would later complain: “They sent a young madman who attacks right, left, and from the rear. It’s an intolerable way of making war.”

On April 26, Piedmont surrendered. Bonaparte demanded gold and silver, and paid his troops the first real money they had seen in years. “Soldiers,” he said, “we thank you.”

With Piedmont defeated, Bonaparte now pursued the Austrians, who retreated to the east, bewildered by the 26-year-old general and his new way of making war. As the Austrians fled, their rear guard hoped to slow Bonaparte down by making a stand at the little Italian village of Lodi.

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