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THE BRIDGE OF LODI
 AFTER Napoleon was made a lieutenant in 1785, the years passed without any great
event until the siege of Toulon and the Day of the Sections, of which you have
Soon after, being appointed commander of the French army in Italy in 1795, Napoleon
left France to begin his new duties.
The army was encamped at Nice, and here the young commander soon joined it. He found
the French Soldiers ragged and hungry, cold and hopeless.
It was scarcely strange that the troops should look with surprise, touched with
scorn, at the young officer who had been sent to command them. He was so small, so
thin, was all they thought as their first glance fell upon Napoleon. But as they
looked again and caught the keen and searching glance of their new general, they
knew that he was one to lead and to command.
His first words won their hearts. "Soldiers," he cried, looking straight into the
starving, hopeless faces of his men, "Soldiers, you are hungry, you are naked. The
Government owes you much, but can do nothing for you. I will lead you into the most
fruitful plains in the world. Rich provinces, great cities will be in your power.
There you will find honour and glory and riches. Soldiers of the army of Italy, will
you lack courage?"
As they listened to Napoleon's glowing words the soldiers forgot their cold and
hunger. And when they found that on the march Napoleon shared their hardships, that
 was at the point of danger, risking his life as though he were a
common soldier, they began to love and worship their young commander. Soon there was
nowhere that they would not follow if he led the way.
At Nice, after his arrival, he had almost at once disbanded a regiment for
disobeying orders, and stem discipline and just punishments won the respect of the
men as well as their devotion.
So that the army might travel quickly and take the enemy unawares. Napoleon trained
his soldiers to march without provisions and to leave even their tents behind.
Shelter and food they would find in plenty in the cities they conquered.
I cannot tell you of all Napoleon's battles, for before a year had passed he had
fought more than twelve times and had beaten several Austrian armies.
But on May 1, 1796, the terrible passage of the Bridge of Lodi took place, and of
that I must tell you.
Napoleon, who was marching on Milan, had forced the Austrians to retreat before him
to the river Adda.
To cross the river it was necessary to pass over a wooden bridge called the Bridge
of Lodi. The rearguard of the Austrian army was ordered to hold the bridge against
Napoleon and his men.
So it was that when the French general reached the river, he saw on the opposite
side the Austrian guns, which were trained upon the bridge.
It was plain it would be no easy matter to cross the narrow but swift-flowing river.
Yet Napoleon never hesitated. He ordered his cannon to be placed opposite that of
the enemy. They, seeing that Napoleon meant to attempt to cross the bridge, tried to
But they tried in vain, the French fire being so persistent that the Austrians were
forced to retreat.
Napoleon then, choosing a column of his most seasoned troops, ordered them to press
forward to take the bridge.
 It was "impossible," he was told. But with his superb confidence Napoleon
declared that there was no such word as "impossible" in the French language.
Thus encouraged, the chosen troop hurled itself upon the bridge, only to be met by a
storm of fire from the Austrian cannon.
The foremost soldiers fell, while those behind pressed forward only to be mown down
Yet, dauntless as before, others pressing forward took the place of those who fell
until the middle of the bridge was reached. Here they too perished before the fierce
hail of shot and shell by which they were assailed.
Those who were left hesitated. For one short moment it seemed that the attempt to
take the Bridge of Lodi was going to prove a failure.
But Napoleon seized a flag and himself urged his men forward. One of his officers,
called Lannes, dashed on, followed closely by his men, and in a few moments more the
bridge was in the hands of the French, and the Austrians were fleeing in all
So terrible had been the slaughter that Napoleon in after-days would often speak of
the "terrible passage of Lodi."
It was after this great victory that the French soldiers, proud of their brave young
general, gave him the title by which he was henceforth often called. The "Little
Corporal" indeed became, after the taking of the Bridge of Lodi, more than ever the
idol of the army.
Even when it seemed that Napoleon was caught in a trap by his enemies and would have
to yield, his amazing confidence and daring found a simple way of escape.
So it happened when the Austrians had been defeated by Napoleon on the battlefield
of Lonato. A corps of about four thousand of the enemy managed to escape to the
hills, and as they wandered about they met a much smaller force of French soldiers,
with the Little Corporal in their midst.
 The Austrian officer at once sent an envoy bearing a flag of truce to
Napoleon, to bid him and his men surrender.
As was usual, the envoy was led blindfold into the presence of the general. When the
bandage was removed he was startled to find himself in the presence of the French
commander, who was surrounded by all his officers.
With flashing eyes and haughty voice Napoleon declared that a summons to surrender
when he was in the midst of his army was an insult. He then bade the envoy hasten
back to the Austrian camp to warn his superior officer, that if he did not at once
lay down his arms he and his men would be shot.
So bewildered were the Austrians by this bold demand that they believed Napoleon had
his entire force at his back, and they hastily did as they were bid and laid down
You can picture to yourself the indignation and dismay of the Austrian officer when
he found out that he had been tricked, that while he had had four thousand men
Napoleon had had only twelve hundred, and might easily have been captured.
As the conqueror made his way through the north of Italy many of the princes paid
heavy sums of money to purchase peace.
But Napoleon demanded more than money. To please the Parisians he took from the
Italian cities many of their most beautiful pictures and statues, and sent them
home to glorify the Louvre.
In November 1796 another great battle was fought at Arcola, a village which was
approached on the west by a great stretch of marshland. Here, as at Lodi, it was
necessary for the French to take a bridge that crossed the river Adige.
So fierce was the Austrian fire as the French approached the bridge that the bravest
of Napoleon's men fell back before it.
 Then the Little Corporal did even more than he had done at Lodi. Seizing a
flag, he himself led his men across the bridge, and he had reached the middle when
an officer fell dead at his side.
"SEIZING A FLAG, HE HIMSELF LED HIS MEN ACROSS THE BRIDGE."
A small company of French soldiers, seeing the danger in which their beloved leader
stood, dragged him backward, hoping to take him to some less perilous spot.
In their effort they were hampered by the enemy, who succeeded in pushing them into
the marsh on the west of Arcola.
But at the sight of their general's danger, the French made a desperate stand and
repulsed the Austrians, while Louis Bonaparte, one of Napoleon's brothers, rescued
the Little Corporal from the swamp.
For two days the battle raged, and then on the third Napoleon once again wrested the
victory from his foe.
It is told that after this long battle Napoleon found one of his sentinels asleep at
The Little Corporal lifted the soldier's musket and stood at attention until the
weary man awoke and saw to his dismay who was keeping watch in his place.
Nothing could save him from the most severe punishment, thought the soldier. But he
was mistaken. Napoleon knowing that he had been worn out, forgave him, and won the
unfailing devotion of his sentry.
Many more were the victories won by Napoleon over the Austrians, until at length, in
the autumn of 1797, a treaty was made at Campo-Formio. By this treaty France
received Belgium and the provinces bordering on the Rhine.