The Battle Of Lodi 10th May 1796 - (the creation of The Little Corporal)

The storming of the bridge at Lodi

We have chosen this battle as our FIRST battle for wargamers for extra special reasons; it is said that after this battle Napoleon's leadership inspired his men so much that they then adopted for him the term of endearment "The Little Corporal"; admiring he had risen through the ranks to greatness and then during the battle he personally positioned and aimed cannon, a role usually done by artillery corporals.

The Battle of Lodi was a fighting rearguard action by the Austrians against the French Revolutionary forces led by General Napoleon Bonaparte.

Despite numerical superiority, the French found it a hard fight as the Austrians commanded a strong defensive position. From a wargame perspective the outcome is far from certain and it results in a tense game.

We deliberately do not list battles for particular rules but rather give a general advice for you, the wargamer, to "adopt, adapt and improve" to your own personal choice of rules.

Working on a scale of 1:50 men with advice on morale etc


C in C - Napoleon Bonaparte (inspired/tactical genius)

Infantry Regular Division (12,000 men) - 240 figures fielded as regiments/brigades (regulars/trained)

Elite Infantry Light Infantry - Carabiniers (3000 men) - 60 figures fielded as regiments/battalions (elite/disciplined/light infantry)

Cavalry - Hussars and Dragoons (2000 men) - 50 figures fielded as two units (elite/disciplined)

Artillery - (30 guns) - represented by five artillery models


C in C - Sebbottendorf (good)

Infantry (6000 men) - 120 figures fielded as regiments/battalions (regulars/trained)

Cavalry (1000 men) - 4 figures as lancers - 6 figures as hussars - 10 figures as dragoons (Kingdom of Naples cavalry)

Artillery - (14 guns) - represented by two artillery models

The battle layout as it was

The battlefield table should consist of a river running from edge to opposite edge with a narrow bridge spanning the banks. On the French side there should be a small walled town/village.

The French (excluding cavalry) should initially deploy within the town/village. Austrians should deploy on the opposite river bank. French cavalry should arrive on the Austrian side from the Northedge of the table after 2 game turns plus the result of 1 D6 roll.


Napoleon's army was aiming to capture Milan from the Austrians, therefore it was necessary to cross the river Adda on a 170-yard-long wooden bridge at Lodi, in defense of which Beaulieu had left a rear guard of some 12,000 men and 14 cannon.

Bonaparte decided to storm the bridge, even though the Austrian guns completely dominated it. He sent a cavalry contingent up the river to cross and then sweep down on the Austrian right flank. He formed his grenadiers into columns in the shelter of the city walls and gave them an inspirational speech. Then, to the cries of “Vive la République,” they stormed the bridge. This attack faltered, but generals André Masséna and Louis- Alexandre Berthier soon led another attack across the bridge. In light of the heavy Austrian fusillade on the bridge, many French troops jumped off and opened fire from the shallow part of the river. A counterattack by the Austrians was foiled as French cavalry arrived just as more French infantry attacked the bridge.

The cavalry sabered the enemy gun crews and routed the Austrian forces, which left behind their artillery, several hundred dead, and almost 2,000 prisoners.

Bonaparte was a whirlwind of action. Observing from close range and from a church tower, he took personal charge of every detail. He even positioned the cannon along the river, earning for himself the sobriquet “the little corporal” for doing work normally assigned to a soldier of that rank. Bonaparte’s strength lay not just in his military skills but in emotional leadership, something that had not been particularly necessary in his previous engagements. He had inspired his men to undertake the rather daunting task of running across a bridge into concentrated Austrian fire.

The Austrian retreat from Lodi opened the road to Milan and gave the French troops new confidence. Lodi was far more important than simply a battle that opened the way to Milan. Beyond its somewhat limited military significance, the battle created a change in Bonaparte’s attitude toward his future: He now knew he was a leader. In exile at St. Helena he wrote that it was at Lodi that he first saw himself as able to achieve great things.

Lodi also had an important effect on Bonaparte’s troops. It was there that they first observed him in action and finally gained complete confidence in him. It was the beginning of the special relationship between Bonaparte and his men; indeed, Lodi marked the beginning of their personal devotion to him that would last some twenty years.

The Battle of Lodi was not just a milestone in the meteoric career of Napoleon Bonaparte but all in the French rank were Massena, Berthier and Lannes - all future Marshalls of Imperial France.

INSPIRED? QUOTE "lodi" in our online store and until the 10th September get 25% off French and Austrian Napoleonic figures - minimum spend £50 (may not be used in addition to other offers)

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