On This Day in Napoleonic History – 15 November 1796

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15Battle of Arcole

The battle was fought between the French under General Bonaparte and the Austrians under József Alvinczi, 25 kilometres southeast of Verona during the War of the First Coalition. The first two attacks on strongly held and barricaded Arcole by Pierre Augereau were repulsed. When Napoleon ordered another attack, Augereau seized the flag and, advancing in front of his soldiers, cried, ‘Grenadiers, come and seek your colour.’

Napoleon followed his example with another flag, determined to lead the charge himself and inspire his men by his bravery. His plan didn’t work. According to Napoleon’s aide-de-camp Joseph Sulkowski, the men displayed extraordinary cowardice. A number of officers were killed by Napoleon’s side. The general himself had to be pulled into the marshy ground behind the bridge, which in all probability saved his life.

The bridge at Arcole was captured two days later by Augereau and Massena. Although Napoleon wasn’t there when Arcole fell, the image of the brave Republican general storming the bridge under the enemy bombardment was used widely as propaganda by the Directory, the Consulate and the Empire. ‘It took good luck to defeat Alvinczi,’ Napoleon later admitted.

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