Photo Credit: Napoleon Bonaparte changes to a fresh horse as his Army of Italy engages the Austrians at the town of Rivoli Veronese above the Adige River.
By Robert L. Durham Twenty-six year-old Napoleon Bonaparte took command of France’s 23,000-strong Army of Italy in Nice, France, in late March 1796. It was almost a full year before the Battle of Rivoli, but even then, some of the officers in the French army found Napoleon’s appearance and demeanor sorely wanting. “Owing to his thinness his features were almost ugly in their sharpness,” wrote Count Yorck von Wurtenburg. “In spite of his apparent bodily weakness, he was tough and sinewy under his sallow face.” Despite all of this, Wurtenburg concluded by observing that Bonaparte’s grayish-blue eyes were those of a genius. His eyes alone commanded respect. Before his piercing eyes “all bowed low,” wrote Wurtenburg. In a conference with his generals on March 27, Bonaparte skipped over the pleasantries that another commanding general might have deemed appropriate and asked pointed questions about the condition of the army. He questioned each of his generals on the positions of their respective divisions, the spirit of the men, and the effective force of each division. He then disclosed his plans for the upcoming campaign. He was disappointed when he found out that they had not been paid or outfitted in a long time. Next, the new commander-in-chief reviewed his troops. He was shocked to see their condition. The uniforms of both officers and men were torn in places and threadbare. Some wore shoes, some wore boots, and some went barefoot. Some wore helmets, an