“I regret that I have but ONE life to give to my country.”…Last words of John Hancock, American patriot
After the most disgraceful death of Maximilian Robespierre and the inglorious end to his Reign of Terror, Corporal Napoleon’s stature in Paris itself fell significantly. He was reduced to living in a squalid studio and was at best a lowly and unappreciated military officer. I was not much better than him. That I would have to admit, and yet it seems that the gods have things changed.
For at that time, there was serious conflict between the various factions given the constant bickering of the weak Moderates government that was known as the Directory. Lawlessness prevailed in Paris, for it marked the end of the Reign of Terror, and any form of control was considered as a return to Robespierre’s days.
One day, the monarchists and other dissident groups rose up against the government of the Moderates led by Director Barras, who preferred to refer to himself as Citizen Barras. Some of the monarchists were armed, and some of the farmers even joined them with mere pitchforks. They declaimed the Directory for being godless and wanted to return France to the rule of the Bourbons.
Napoleon, a firm believer in the Republic, wouldst not let this be. He saved a young priest called Fouche from being stampeded over by the unruly mob. Then, despite his junior status, ordered high-ranking men to follow his command by sheer weight of his personality. Men such as Joachim Murat and even Barras himself acceded to Napoleon’s command in this dire hour, for Barras himself was at a loss as to what to do.
It was Napoleon who ordered the firing on the mobsters. Brave was he, and more resolute still that he would lead from the front. By the end of the day, 1,000 Parisian monarchist mobsters hath been slain near the Tullieres Gate. The young corporal Napoleon hath saved the Republic of France! I looked at him in a different light. Even as the lanterns shown upon the face of “the Little Corporal”, Bonaparte hath become a changed man. When my eyes met his, I could see clearly that there was greatness in him! And from that moment, I knew this was the man that I would serve to the ends of my days, and so did Captain Joachim Murat, even though he was more senior than Napoleon himself by many ranks.
In an amazing turn of fate, the Parisians paraded Napoleon as their “General”. He was the “Great Man” even though yesterday, he was nothing but a mere Corporal. To avoid the humiliation of admitting their mistake and the fact that the hero, far braver and more glorious than any of them, was a mere corporal, the Directorate rushed through Napoleon’s rank to brigadier and then full general in a few days. With his new salary, Napoleon could now afford a posh mansion known as the Ma Maisson.
And it was not only the hearts of men that Napoleon would win. One man implicated for his monarchist sympathies was the Count de Beauharnais. At that time, his son Eugene requested the return of his father’s sword, and was granted it by Napoleon. The beautiful Countess Josephine de Beauharnais decided to meet Napoleon and thank him. There, an affair began, and against the better counsels of his conservative Corsican mother, Napoleon married Josephine in that autumn, adopting young Eugen and comely Hortense as his own children.
At this time, the allied nations led by Britain came together against France. Their motivation was to crush the lone republic and restore the Bourbons to the throne of Versailles, so that their own thrones would be safe. The six nations included Britain, Naples, Portugal, Holland, Austria, and Prussia. Shortly after fighting internal problems, France hath to battle enemies on all sides.
In later history, the conflict became known as the War of First Coalition. Historians…huh! They put everything in nice little books, but nothing was neat and tidy in those days. General Kellermann, a peer who Napoleon respected very much, held off the Prussians with the help of Captains Joachim Murat and brave Ney. The war against Prussia was bloody indeed. Kellermann was badly injured, but yes he held out against the Prussians.
During this time, Napoleon ran from one front to another. I was still a lieutenant in his army them. The great men we had with us included Captain Lannes. Our first battle was against the Austrians at Toulon. Because the once great French army was split up between so many fronts, only small portions led by Napoleon hath come to Toulon. The Austrian army that met us there was twice larger than our own. Their general hath already planted the flag of Austria on French soil and he loudly shouted, “Vengeance for Queen Marie Antonette! Death to the godless republic.”
For Marie Antonette was like him an Austrian, but these men fought to conquer all lands, our republic, our freedom! And Napoleon knew it, so he inspired the men to fight like lions. And whilst the Austrian general commanded the attack from behind, cautious for his own person, Napoleon, as always, commanded from the front. He didst not care for his own life. For “the Little Corporal”, nothing was more important than the glory of France. After seven days of bitter fighting, the Austrians withdraw from Toulon.
In that day, we ragged men of France became heroes. I could not forget how Lannes dashed through the Austrian lines, how Napoleon was almost shot dead by the Austrians, and I myself almost blinded by the light of gunpowder…but we won, we prevailed, and for that and that alone, France and the world is better place today…and yet, there was so little time to celebrate the victory.
Although a general was not authorized to do such a thing, Napoleon took the initiative to establish the Helvetic Republic over Switzerland, which he conquered from Austria. The Alpine country was beautiful and mountainous, and the soldiers rejoiced that a new republic was found. France was no longer the only free country of Europe.
However, to the north, the arrogant British and Dutch forces were encroaching our borders and entering Provence! Lord Darnley, the British general, boasted that he wouldst conquer France as Henry V did before him in the Hundred Year’s War. The inept appointee of Barras, General Croagan, was defeated and was fleeing from the battlefield, and dishonoring the name of France. Desperate for victory, Barras ordered Napoleon north to deal with the crisis.
The French army was not entirely the best or an even a well-equipped army, but under Napoleon, we marched to Provence tirelessly and with discipline. Constantly, he reminded us the values of the Republic we fought for and the evils of Bourbon rule. Now, Darnley hath great disdain for the French, especially one led by a young general such as Napoleon.
“Huh!” Darnley said, “One day, he defeats some prancing Austrian at Toulon and now he thinks he can challenge the King’s men!”
So Napoleon pretended to flee in a disorderly manner, and Darnley pursued him, but we knew the fields of Provence better than the enemy. In the same time, the fearless Captain Lannes, now promoted to Major, rode behind the English lines and attacked the Dutch supply unit. With no supplies, the British was forced to retreat back to their allies in Holland.
Now, the fortress of Amsterdam was strong, and Lord Darnley and the Dutch Staetholder William had much benefit by staying it in and refusing combat. Then, Napoleon pondered upon the question of why both Belgium (Flanders) and Holland were called the Netherlands, and he realized that many years ago, the entire nation was under water. So he ordered Lannes to break the dams of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Soon, the entire nation was under water.
“They don’t call it the Low Countries for nothing!” jested Napoleon to Lannes. The smile was brimming on their faces, for Staetdholder William and his British guest was forced to flee. Soon, the French rebuilt the dams, and it t’was conquered by Napoleon now. Once again, Napoleon established new democracies in these lands. At Amsterdam, he declared the House of Orange overthrown and renamed Holland as the Batavian Republic. Staetdholder William lived in London with his allies, who promised to protect his colonies. Napoleon vowed to free those colonies one day. Of course, he was never empowered by the Directory to do so.
While Napoleon proved victorious in the north and Kellermann strained to hold the Prussians at bay, the situation on the Italian peninsula was less favorable, the Austrian forces were all over the country, and they were reinforced by the Portuguese navy. The French interests were being threatened. Napoli, also known as the wealthy kingdom of Naples, was under Bourbon rule, and France claimed it, but the Bourbons were also related to the Hapsburg dynasty of Austria. What was more important was that much of Naples was now under Austrian occupation, including the cities of Trieste, Modena, Capua, and Pavia. Because the Pope Pius believed Republican France to be godless, he lent his assistance in arms and money to the Austrians, much to the benefit of their leader the Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. It was time for Napoleon to deal with the situation.
Now, the invasion of Italy was not an easy thing. Napoleon did take some of his key staff, like the mathematician Berthier, the fearless Lannes, and even Joachim Murat was transferred to help him, but the Army of Italy was a brand new one. I too was in Italy with him, though I was a man of little note at that.
We marched upon Trieste before the Austrians could even properly response. So fast did Napoleon move, but it was not that simple. It took much motivation and gathering of resources before the moribund Army of Italy was whipped into shape. Next, we faced the Austrians in Modena. In truth, they were better armed than us, but the Army of Italy was full of warrior Frenchmen, all of whom were eager to prove that they had a new future within the Republic and a duty in protecting French interests in Italy. The Austrians were complacent. We fought harder and won. Napoleon allowed the French to loot Modena, and much dissatisfaction followed from this mistake. The French were no longer viewed by the Italians as liberators. The people of Modena, supported by Pope Pius, rebelled, for they considered us no better than the invading Austrians, but we managed to suppress down the rebellion nevertheless.
In the Battle of Pavia, a large force of Portuguese led by Crown Prince Pedro reinforced the Austrians, and they were confident of victory. They felt that they knew the soil better than us and were equally matched in numbers. Between our two forces hung the great Bridge of Agricola.
In a daring charge, the diminutive Napoleon led the Frenchmen across and ordered them to open fire without abandon. The fiery spirit with which the French fought at Agricola was amazing. Although the Austrians and Portuguese were well-provisioned and well-armed, their commanders, Pedro and Mack, were rather cautious. Amazingly, victory fell to our hands again. Pedro fled back to Portugal, but a French navy hath arrived and occupied that country. Pedro then fled to Brazil, the largest Portuguese colony, where he proclaimed himself Emperor and became more of a hassle to his own Braganza dynasty than France.
Napoleon’s victory was quickly making him very popular, to the extent that the French politicians including Baras himself became jealous.
“We have but one more city to attack, and Rome will fall, General Bonaparte,” said Major Berthier. We all came around him hoping to see the plans for the final invasion.
“The Portuguese have left the Austrians to our device, but now the Papal army, all strong Swiss guards, will defend Rome with their lives. Such is the power of dogma and gold,” Napoleon replied.
It was then that Lannes walked up and slapped Napoleon on his back, “And have you ever failed us, General Bonaparte?”
“Of course not,” said Napoleon. “And neither shall I fail you now.”
At this, Napoleon and Berthier went back to the drawing room and drew up plans to attack Capua. The Austrian army hath been shattered at Agricola, and the Papal Swiss Guards used outdated weapons compared to France, but they were some of the most disciplined warriors of Europe. They had sold their lives for gold and had sworn allegiance to the Pope over their own lands in the Alps, now occupied by French soldiers.
The Battle of Capua may not have been heroic like Agricola, but it was the crowning success for Napoleon. For in the battle, the brave Swiss guards stood before him like titans from the Greek legends, daring him to attack, but Napoleon was wiser and he gunned them down as one would gun down animals. The great victory allowed the French to enter the Vatican Palace of Rome and forced the Pope to recognize French interests in the Italian Peninsula. The Austrians bitter after their defeat hath now been forced to return to their homelands.
The great victory by France under Napoleon’s leadership was truly a landmark success for the Revolution. For the first time, the allies realize that they could not simply re-impose the Bourbons upon France…at least not without severe casualties and costs to both sides.