Today on November 17, 1796, Napoleon finally overwhelms the Austrian army at the Battle of Arcole Bridge.
The three-day long Battle of Arcole Bridge was a bloody engagement fought between France and Austria near Verona, Italy. Arcole was one of Napoleon’s first major victories, helping to elevate his prestige and status among French military ranks. Both countries were desperately trying to conquer and hold territory along the Italian peninsula. A massive relief army under the Austrian-commander Jozsef Alvinczi was gathering to help relieve the Siege of Mantua. The besieged city had a sizeable Austrian garrison trapped within its walls. Alvinczi decided to split his forces into two groups. The smaller corps advanced south directly towards the city while Alvinczi moved with the main brigade towards the east.
In retaliation, Napoleon gathered every single available soldier and marched towards Alvinczi’s position. The Austrians entrenched themselves on the opposite side of the Arcole River with several artillery batteries. On the first day of the battle, Napoleon bravely grabbed a French flag and personally led the charge across the main bridge. Although the attack was quickly repulsed, he earned great admiration from his comrades. The next day, the French launched another attack but again were driven back. On the third day, a detachment of French soldiers crossed the river further south of the enemy’s position. After three days of persistent attacks, the main Austrian army finally withdrew at the possibility of being surrounded.
Napoleon could now concentrate the full power of his forces against the smaller enemy corps. He risked everything to prevent all three Austrian armies from uniting, which would have certainly overwhelmed the French. Austria ultimately lost control of Italy by the narrowest of margins. Antoine-Jean Cros painted this famous portrait of Napoleon leading the charge over the bridge in 1797. Less than three years later, the accomplished commander seized total power over the French Government during the Coup of 18 Brumaire. In 1804, he crowned himself as Emperor Napoleon of I of France during a lavish coronation in Paris.