Marengo & Hohenlinden: Napoleon’s Rise to Power
By James R. Arnold
Excerpt: Afternoon on the Field at MarengoThe afternoon sun seemed to linger. Its position told Napoleon Bonaparte that there was no chance that darkness would come to save his army. Seventeen thousand Frenchmen were retreating before an ascendant Austrian army. Unless something dramatic occurred, this battle was lost.
The young leader’s position as First Consul rested precariously upon a coalition of diverse interests. Win this battle and his support would solidify. Lose, and his many enemies in Paris might surface to rally around some other popular general whom they would anoint as titular leader of state. Protected by that general’s sword — perhaps Bernadotte’s, more likely Moreau's — they would methodically purge his supporters and eventually annihilate the Bonaparte clan.
That matters had reduced to such a state was his own fault. His overconfidence had blinded him to the possibility that the Austrians might attack. When they had stormed out of their bridgehead this morning, his army had been badly dispersed, its front line units surprised. Yet his lieutenants — old comrade Victor, gallant Lannes — had conducted a brilliant tactical battle until overwhelmed by numbers. Thirty minutes earlier Bonaparte had committed his own elite Consular Guard to help cover their retreat. The Guard performed prodigies, until it too fell back before superior numbers.
Everything depended upon Desaix, who commanded the army’s only available reinforcements. Six hours earlier, Bonaparte had sent a message recalling him. It read, “Come, in the name of god, if you still can.” At that time the Army of Reserve was still holding its position. Now the situation was far worse. Along the main road from Marengo came the battered remnants of Lannes’ and Victor’s corps. The knots of men who still marched beneath their smoke-blackened standards were those stalwarts whom the officers had managed to hold to their duty. A glance to either side of the road revealed that many others had thrown away their weapons to flee as fast as possible.
Desaix pulled out his timepiece. “This battle is completely lost, but...there is time to win another.”
Heartened by his comrade's response, Bonaparte rode among his troops to rally them for one more desperate effort. He called out, “Soldiers, you have retreated far enough; you know that it is my habit to bivouac on the field of battle."”
“Chins up!” replied a sergeant of the Consular Guard.
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301 pages including 21 maps, 39 illustrations, 3 appendices
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