War had catapulted Bonaparte into power — his victories in Italy and Egypt paved the way for him to become First Consul. Now war would help him secure his position as the uncontested leader of his nation. France was still fighting Great Britain and Austria, and Bonaparte conceived a daring plan to catch the Austrians by surprise.
In the Spring of 1800, he took his soldiers over the Alps — 40,000 men, field artillery, trekking across treacherous layers of snow and ice through the Great St. Bernard Pass. Not since the Carthaginian general Hannibal had an army attempted such an outlandish offensive.
On the morning of June 14, he faced the Austrians at Marengo, just forty-five miles from Milan. By the end of the day, there were 6,000 French casualties, but nearly twice as many Austrians had been killed or wounded. The French had won.
Few would know just how close Bonaparte had come to being defeated at Marengo. Nearly routed by the Austrians, Bonaparte was saved from catastrophe only by the dedication and skill of his corp commanders. Bonaparte rewrote the official report of the battle, presenting it as having gone precisely as planned. “My power depends on my glory,” Bonaparte said, “and my glory on my victories.”
Early the next year, the Emperor of Austria ordered a halt to the fighting and signed a treaty with France. Great Britain followed the year after. For the first time in ten years, all of Europe was at peace.
(To be completed)