On This Day in Napoleonic History – 26 April 1976

26Napoleon curtails pillaging in Italy

The young General Bonaparte made a stirring proclamation to his army in Carasco: ‘Today you equal by your services the armies of Holland and the Rhine. Devoid of everything, you supplied everything. You won battles without guns, passed rivers without bridges, accomplished forced marches without shoes, bivouacked without brandy and often without bread. Today you are amply provided for. I promise you the conquest of Italy but on one condition. You must swear to respect the people you deliver and repress the horrible pillage in which scoundrels excited by the enemy have indulged.’

Pillaging was something a victorious but hungry army would invariably engage in but Napoleon was having none of it. He attempted to put a stop to any activity that brought dishonour to the army and tarnished the French reputation. Although he authorised generals to shoot the officers who allowed looting, there was no evidence of this actually happening. A few days later Napoleon wrote to the Directory: ‘I will restore order or will cease to command these brigands.’

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