On This Day in Napoleonic History – 10 May 1796

10Battle of Lodi

The Battle of Lodi was fought during the War of the First Coalition between French forces and an Austrian rear guard led by Karl Philipp Sebottendorf. Lodi can be described as a watershed moment of Napoleon’s career, the point when the first spark of high ambition was born. ‘I no longer regarded myself as a simple general,’ Napoleon later said of his victory. ‘But as a man called upon to decide the fate of peoples. It came to me then that I really could become a decisive actor on the national stage.

Even though Napoleon only faced the Austrian rear-guard and both sides suffered similar losses, the storming of the bridge at Lodi quickly became an integral part of the Napoleonic legend. It is true that it took tremendous courage to charge down the long, narrow bridge faced with cont
inuous grapeshot cannonade.

Several of the officers who led the attacks at the Battle of Lodi, including Louis-Alexandre Berthier, AndrΓ© MassΓ©na and Jean Lannes, became Napoleon’s greatest commanders. Berthier was acting as a chief-of-staff, an artillery captain and a column commander on the day. He would never lead troops in a tactical capacity again as he was rightly considered to be too valuable to be risked in battle.

At the Battle of Lodi, Napoleon was dubbed Little Corporal by his men, the nickname he liked and encouraged as it emphasised his Republican origin and closeness to his troops.

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