Napoleon Reviews the Troops

One of Napoleon’s strengths was his connection to the soldiers who fought for him.  Philippe-Paul de Ségur, aide-de-camp to Napoleon, recorded his experiences in the Russian campaign.  His book opens with an account of Napoleon reviewing the men.  It is an interesting account of Napoleon’s knowledge of his army and the level to which he interacted with the men.

“According to his custom, Napoleon walked along in front of the ranks.  He knew what wars each regiment had fought with him.  He halted before the oldest soldiers, mentioning to one the battle of the Pyramids; to another, Marengo; to another, Austerlitz, Iena, or Friedland, accompanying his words with a familiar tap on the shoulder; and the veteran who believed he had been recognized by his Emperor felt himself grow in stature and glory before his envious, less experienced companions.”

“As Napoleon went down the line he did not overlook the younger soldiers.  It seemed that everything about them interested him, and that their slightest wants were known to him.  He questioned them: did their captains take proper care of them?  Were they getting their pay?  Did they need any equipment?  He even asked to see their knapsacks.”

“He halted at the center of the regiment.  There he inquired what officers’ billets were vacant, and in a voice which could be clearly heard asked who most deserved promotion.  He called those whose names were mentioned and questioned them: How many years of service? What campaigns? Any wounds? Any meritorious actions? Then he appointed them officers and had them installed immediately, all of which delighted the soldiers.  They told themselves that this great emperor who judged the nations in the mass still troubled himself about their well-being – down to the meanest detail.  They felt that they were his eldest, his true family.  In this manner Napoleon instilled in them the love of war, of glory, and of himself.”

Source: Napoleon’s Russian Campaign by Philippe-Paul de Ségur

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