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Old 03-24-2005, 09:44 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Why was Napoleon called "the little corporal"?

From the Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Napoleon:

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Due to [his father] Carlo's influence, Napoléon was admitted into the elite École Militaire in Paris, from which he graduated in September, 1785, receiving his commission as a 2nd lieutenant of artillery in January 1785, at the age of 16. He then attended the royal artillery school at Auxonne near Dole.

When the French Revolution began in 1789, Napoléon returned to Corsica, where a nationalist struggle sought separation from France. Civil war broke out, and after coming into conflict with Pasquale Paoli, Napoléon's family fled to France. Napoléon supported the Revolution and quickly rose through the ranks. In 1793, he helped free Toulon from the royalists and from the British troops supporting them. In 1795, when royalists marched against the National Convention in Paris, he had them shot.

He was nicknamed The Little Corporal (le petit caporal) after his victories at the Italian border. The name, roughly translated to "low ranking" or "unknown" corporal, was given to him by his soldiers in 1796 when Napoleon, then a very young and unknown corporal was in charge of the lacklustre and demoralized French army at the Italian border. A heroic episode of crossing a bridge at the Battle of Lodi that year endeared him to the French and brought him recognition as a leader. Contrary to popular myth, the name 'little' was not in reference to his height (he was 5 foot 7 inches (170 cm) tall, taller than average for a Frenchman of his time).
If Napoleon started out as a second lieutenant in 1785, and "rose through the ranks" after the revolution started, how could he have been only a corporal in 1796? A corporal is a noncom ranking higher than a private and lower than a sergeant, right? Or did the word mean something else on France in 1796?

(And BTW, why is Moammar Qaddafi still only colonel? Dude got no ambition! )
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  #2  
Old 03-24-2005, 09:56 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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At the battle of Lodi, he took over the sighting of one of the cannons himself, which was a job usually done by a corporal.
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Old 03-24-2005, 10:17 AM
Polycarp Polycarp is offline
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He received a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the ancien regime army in 1785, three years prior to the initial events of the French Revolution. No doubt he resigned the commission when he returned to Corsica. His rank in the Republican army in 1796 was apparently only that of corporal.

Interestingly, there is a parallel of sorts in 1930s-40s Great Britain. A Brigadier Percy Hobart had the audacity to suggest in the pre-WWII British Army that massed armor attacks would change the future of warfare, and was dismissed from his command for doing so against the conventional wisdom of the top brass. He enlisted as a corporal in the Home Guard, from which Churchill recovered him and got him a general's commission.
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Old 03-24-2005, 10:25 AM
Captain Amazing Captain Amazing is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Polycarp
No doubt he resigned the commission when he returned to Corsica. His rank in the Republican army in 1796 was apparently only that of corporal.
No. At the time of the Battle of Lodi, Napoleon's rank was "General in Chief of the Army of Italy, and serving under him during the battle were Gens. Dallemange, Kilmaine, la Bonniniere, and Massena. He was the French commander on the field.
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Old 03-24-2005, 10:34 AM
MEBuckner MEBuckner is offline
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Hijacking the thread to Libya!
Quote:
Originally Posted by BrainGlutton
(And BTW, why is Moammar Qaddafi still only colonel? Dude got no ambition! )
Why Is Qaddafi Still a Colonel? (from Slate magazine's "Explainer" column.)
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Old 03-24-2005, 10:48 AM
Nametag Nametag is offline
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According to this BBC.co "Hitchhikers' Guide" article, Bonaparte preferred to be closer to the action than most generals, and may indeed have loaded field guns himself, and so was given the nickname by his troops -- he was never actually a corporal. The "little" part is indeed a figure of speech -- proper conversion of French measure indicates that he was a perfectly average 5'6".
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Old 03-24-2005, 10:52 AM
BrainGlutton BrainGlutton is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Captain Amazing
At the battle of Lodi, he took over the sighting of one of the cannons himself, which was a job usually done by a corporal.
Thanx, Sergeant Amazing!
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Old 03-24-2005, 11:35 AM
Fear Itself Fear Itself is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nametag
The "little" part is indeed a figure of speech -- proper conversion of French measure indicates that he was a perfectly average 5'6".
Perhaps the "little" appellation didn't refer to his stature:
Quote:
A few years later Rosenbach displayed the putative penis, tastefully couched in blue morocco and velvet, at the Museum of French Art in New York. According to a contemporary news report, "In a glass case [spectators] saw something looking like a maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace or shriveled eel." The organ has also been described as a shriveled sea horse, a small shriveled finger, and "one inch long and resembling a grape."
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Old 03-24-2005, 12:52 PM
Quercus Quercus is offline
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IANA Napleonic historian, but I have read 'War and Peace' and suspect part of the reason for calling him a corporal was as a deliberate contrast to the Kings, Dukes, and hereditary pooh-bahs that made up the ancien regime and the leadership of Napoleonic France's enemies.

And I can imagine both sides using it -- for the revolutionary French soldier, calling him corporal was stressing the egalite of la revolution, while for the aristocracy of England, Austria, etc., calling him 'corporal' was stressing his low-class white-trash origins and behavior.
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Old 03-24-2005, 03:38 PM
Roches Roches is offline
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Fear Itself: If the preserved specimen is authentic, its size wouldn't represent Napoleon's endowment during life any more than a scrap of his preserved skin would indicate that his skin was dark-colored and leathery when he was alive. I think it gives people some satisfaction to think that Napoleon conquered Europe because he was short -- that is, somehow less-than-manly -- and 'one inch long and resembling a grape' adds a new dimension to that. Remember, though, there's an anecdote about him breaking a bed, and lots of examples of Napoleon getting very angry. Whatever his stature and endowment, he certainly had sufficent testosterone.

Quercus: History has another character who the English called 'corporal' to stress his low-class origins and behavior; in Austria, though, they called him 'Führer'. Napoleon's title seems to have been mostly endearing, and I don't think he considered it an insult. IIRC, another reason for it is that he took a hands-on approach to leadership -- taking command of small groups, riding to the front, and so on. The sort of thing you'd call micromanagement if you didn't like him.
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Old 03-24-2005, 03:57 PM
racinchikki racinchikki is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Nametag
The "little" part is indeed a figure of speech -- proper conversion of French measure indicates that he was a perfectly average 5'6".
I've heard that often and it puzzles me. Did no one at all in England know how to convert from French measure? Did no one at all in England ever chance to see the man in person? He's always depicted as short in all of the literature and political cartoons I've read from the period.
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Old 03-24-2005, 08:59 PM
Little Nemo Little Nemo is offline
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Quote:
I have read 'War and Peace' and suspect part of the reason for calling him a corporal was as a deliberate contrast to the Kings, Dukes, and hereditary pooh-bahs that made up the ancien regime and the leadership of Napoleonic France's enemies.
Quote:
Napoleon's title seems to have been mostly endearing, and I don't think he considered it an insult. IIRC, another reason for it is that he took a hands-on approach to leadership -- taking command of small groups, riding to the front, and so on.
I think you're assuming way too much humility on Napoleon's part. This was a man who at imperial coronation, took the crown out of the Pope's hands and crowned himself because he didn't want anyone to think his title of Emperor was lesser in precedence than the Pope's.
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Old 03-24-2005, 11:45 PM
Nametag Nametag is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by racinchikki
I've heard that often and it puzzles me. Did no one at all in England know how to convert from French measure? Did no one at all in England ever chance to see the man in person? He's always depicted as short in all of the literature and political cartoons I've read from the period.
Well, if someone says he's five-two, one assumes that his foot and yours are the same. AFAIK (which isn't all that far), it didn't occur to the image-makers of the day -- even those British who knew there was a difference probably found it more condign to perpetuate the inaccuracy.
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