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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Bonaparte pushed on his troops to Cherasco


Bonaparte

had now completely succeeded. Using to the full the advantage of his central position between the widely scattered detachments of his foes, he had struck vigorously at their natural point of junction, Montenotte, and by three subsequent successes--for the evacuation of Ceva can scarcely be called a French victory--had forced them further and further apart until Turin was almost within his power.

It now remained to push these military triumphs to their natural conclusion, and impose terms of peace on the House of Savoy, which was secretly desirous of peace. The Directors had ordered Bonaparte that he should seek to detach Sardinia from the Austrian alliance by holding out the prospect of a valuable compensation for the loss of Savoy and Nice in the fertile Milanese.[42] The prospect of this rich prize would, the Directors surmised, dissolve the Austro-Sardinian alliance, as soon as the allies had felt the full vigour of the French arms. Not that Bonaparte himself was to conduct these negotiations. He was to forward to the Directory all offers of submission. Nay, he was not empowered to grant on his own responsibility even an armistice. He was merely to push the foe hard, and feed his needy soldiers on the conquered territory. He was to be solely a general, never a negotiator.

The Directors herein showed keen jealousy or striking ignorance of military affairs. How could he keep the Austrians quiet while envoys

passed between Turin and Paris? All the dictates of common sense required him to grant an armistice to the Court of Turin before the Austrians could recover from their recent disasters. But the King of Sardinia drew him from a perplexing situation by instructing Colli to make overtures for an armistice as preliminary to a peace. At once the French commander replied that such powers belonged to the Directory; but as for an armistice, it would only be possible if the Court of Turin placed in his hands three fortresses, Coni, Tortona, and Alessandria, besides guaranteeing the transit of French armies through Piedmont and the passage of the Po at Valenza. Then, with his unfailing belief in accomplished facts, Bonaparte pushed on his troops to Cherasco.

Near that town he received the Piedmontese envoys; and from the pen of one of them we have an account of the general's behaviour in his first essay in diplomacy. His demeanour was marked by that grave and frigid courtesy which was akin to Piedmontese customs. In reply to the suggestions of the envoys that some of the conditions were of little value to the French, he answered: "The Republic, in intrusting to me the command of an army, has credited me with possessing enough discernment to judge of what that army requires, without having recourse to the advice of my enemy." Apart, however, from this sarcasm, which was uttered in a hard and biting voice, his tone was coldly polite. He reserved his home thrust for the close of the conference. When it had dragged on till considerably after noon with no definite result, he looked at his watch and exclaimed: "Gentlemen, I warn you that a general attack is ordered for two o'clock, and that if I am not assured that Coni will be put in my hands before nightfall, the attack will not be postponed for one moment. It may happen to me to lose battles, but no one shall ever see me lose minutes either by over-confidence or by sloth." The terms of the armistice of Cherasco were forthwith signed (April 28th); they were substantially the same as those first offered by the victor. During the luncheon which followed, the envoys were still further impressed by his imperturbable confidence and trenchant phrases; as when he told them that the campaign was the exact counterpart of what he had planned in 1794; or described a council of war as a convenient device for covering cowardice or irresolution in the commander; or asserted that nothing could now stop him before the walls of Mantua.[43]


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