My favorite Napoleonic battle is the Battle of Lodi, which took place on May 10, 1796 in the town of Lodi, unsurprisingly. The main players in this ordeal make the setting fairly intriguing from the very beginning: Napoleon Bonaparte with 20,000 men against Karl Philipp Sebottendorf, the leader of this Austrian-Neopolitan division with 10,000 men.
This ratio of numbers implied to me that the battle would be interesting as there was a clear underdog. The battle began when the French chased the Austrians to the poorly defended town of Lodi and had to fight their way across a wooden bridge.
To increase the suspense, Sebottendorf led a series of extremely successful defensive moves, pushing the French all the way back to the river. As a response and highly effective solution, the French cavalry swam swiftly below the bridge of Lodi and attacked the Austrians from the left. This fierce choice of action allowed the French to win the battle in a thrilling display of quick-thinking. I find it amazing that the officers were able to create such a strategic plan of action under such pressure, as it alludes to a sort of calculated yet creative mentality possessed by those in charge.
This level of skill never fails to impress me despite it being a thorough trend in military successes by any party. Even more impressive than the moves made by either side was the spectacular public response: victory at Lodi made quite the sensation in Paris. This boosted the morale of everyone involved in the French victory, even causing Napoleon to remark “it was Lodi that made me certain I could be a man of high destiny.” My favorite aspect of the battle is that Napoleon took advantage of a moment and sighted a cannon, a job usually done by the corporal. This earned him the nickname “Le Petit Corporal” by his men, which shows their genuine affection and admiration. This social victory to me is just as important as the battle victory because it shows a facet of his personality that may be lost in the grand scheme of Napoleon’s conquests.
In Napoleon’s own reports of the battle, he acted as though the Battle of Lodi were a grand tale of epic adventure, which despite the bias demonstrates his personal pride for his role in the events that unfolded. The French losses were not even reported, which adds to the mystique and allure for historians and Napoleon fans alike. The battle is outstanding to me not because it was decisive in any way; the Austrian army escaped despite 2,000 casualties which was not a colossal blow and more of a hindrance. What most impresses me is this battle’s place in the lore of Napoleon’s history and his legacy as a general, as well as the fact that Napoleon considered this battle proof that he was destined to be greater than other generals.
Why this specific battle meant so much to him is unclear to me when compared with the triumphs of his other battles, but it greatly interests me.