Proclamations to Troops
In the spring of 1796 Napoleon invaded Italy. On March
27, poised to attack from Nice, he issued the following proclamation:
Soldiers, you are naked, ill fed! The Government owes you much; it can give you nothing. Your patience, the courage you display in the midst of these rocks, are admirable; but they have won you no glory; no fame is reflected upon you. I seek to lead you into the most fertile plains in the world. Rich provinces, great cities will be in your power There you will find honor, glory, and riches. Soldiers of Italy, do you lack courage or constancy?
Within a month he had defeated the Austrians in three battles and driven the Piedmontese from the field. On April 26 he delivered yet another proclamation to his armies:
In a fortnight you have won six victories, taken twenty-one standards, fifty-five pieces of artillery, several strong positions, and conquered the richest part of Piedmont; you have captured 15,000 prisoners and killed or wounded more than 10,000 men.
Heretofore you fought for sterile rocks, made famous by your courage, but useless to the fatherland; today, by your accomplishments you equal the [French] armies of Holland and the Rhine. Destitute of everything you have supplied everything. You have won battles without cannon crossed rivers without bridges, made forced marches without shoes, camped without brandy and often without bread. Only republican phalanxes, soldiers of liberty, could have endured what you have endured Soldiers, you have our thanks! The grateful nation will owe its prosperity to you....
But, soldiers, as yet you have done nothing compared with what remains to be done. Neither Turin nor Milan belongs to you....
Soldiers, your fatherland has the right to expect great things of
you. Will you justify its faith? The greatest obstacles have been
overcome; but you still have battles to fight, cities to take, rivers to
cross. Which of you lacks courage? Which of you prefers to return across
the summits of the Apennines and the Alps to bear patiently the insults
of that slavish soldiery? No, there is no one among the conquerors of
Montenotte, of Dego, of Mondovi. Everyone is burning to extend the glory
of the French people; everyone wishes to humiliate those haughty kings
who dare contemplate binding us in fetters. Everyone wishes to dictate
a glorious peace...
Friends, I promise you this conquest; but there is one condition you must swear to fulfill. That is to respect the people whom you liberate, to repress the horrible pillage which certain scoundrels incited by our enemies commit. Without this you will not be the liberators of the people but their scourge; you will not do honor to the French people, but will disgrace them. . . . Pillagers will be shot without mercy; already, several have been....
Peoples of Italy, the French army comes to break your chains; the French people is the friend of all peoples. Come to them with confidence. Your property, your religion, and your customs will be respected. We are waging war as generous enemies, and we wish only to crush the tyrants who enslave you.
Adapted from Raymond Phineas Stearns, Pageant of Europe (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1947), pp. 404-406.