On This Day in Napoleonic History – 6 May 1800

6Napoleon leaves Paris on his Second Italian Campaign

Napoleon’s crossing of the Alps and his surprise attack on unsuspecting Austrians are among the most audacious endeavours in history. In proclamation to his soldiers, Napoleon said: ‘Frenchmen! You have been anxious for peace. Your Government has desired it with still greater ardour. Its first efforts, its constant wishes, have been for its attainment. The English Ministry has exposed the secret of its iniquitous policy. It wishes to dismember France, to destroy its commerce, and either to erase it from the map of Europe or to degrade it to a secondary power. England is willing to embroil all the nations of the Continent in hostility with each other, that she may enrich herself with the spoils and gain possession of the trade of the world. For the attainment of this object she scatters her gold, becomes prodigal of her promises and multiplies her intrigues.’

In a strategy meeting prior to the commencement of the campaign Napoleon allegedly asked Bourienne where he thought the decisive battle would take place. ‘How the devil should I know?’ answered his Brienne-educated private secretary. To which Napoleon replied, pointing at the plains of the river Scrivia, ‘Why, look, here, you fool.’ It was precisely there that the Battle of Marengo would be fought in June.

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