PASSAGE OF THE GREAT ST. BERNARD
ANDRIEU, Bertrand: France, 1800, Lead-filled Bronze, 68
Obv: Napoleon on horse with lightning bolts and mountainous backdrop
Exergue: PASSAGE DU G.D S.T BERNARD LE XXV FLOREAL AN VIII.
Signed: ANDRIEU. F.
Lead-filled bronze cliché, part of
Floreal is the 8th month of the calendar of the first French republic (April
20 to May 19).
Ref: Bramsen 35; Julius 788; TN 76.7; Jones, "Art of the
Medal", 101/259; Weiss
The St. Bernard passes [the Great St. Bernard (8,094 ft.)
and the Little St. Bernard (7,178 ft.)] are two passes across the main chain
of the Alps, separating southern France from northern Italy. Hannibal was
thought to pass this way over the Alps in his attempted conquest of the
Romans. These passes also played a decisive role in the campaign of
Napoleon's armies over those of Austria led by Baron Michael Melas.
When the French campaign was opened on the Rhine, the army of reserve began
its march from Dijon. The government announced it to be at that time 50,000
strong, and receiving reinforcements every day. Napoleon, the chief Consul,
arrived at Dijon and reviewed the army. He promised his troops at Dijon,
that in two decades he would lead them to Milan. He performed his journey
from Paris to Dijon in twenty-five hours, and immediately sent an account of
his arrival to the second and third Consuls at Paris. Before the allies even
knew of his departure he was in the Valais, at the house of convalescence,
belonging to the Monks of St. Bernard. There he made himself acquainted with
all the local obstacles that he had to surmount.
From mount St. Bernard the army began to meet with difficulties, which might
have been thought insurmountable, but enthusiasm conquered them all. They
had to draw their artillery through mountains of snow, along narrow paths,
in many places almost perpendicular. A very small force would have arrested
their progress, but they met no opposition.
They reached St. Peter near the great mountain St. Bernard, on May 15, 1800,
General Berthier acting as Bonaparte's lieutenant. The whole park of
artillery was collected there. The mountain they had to pass was wild and
barren, a vast extent of snow and ice, mingled with a terrific silence. Over
this frightful mountain the mind of Bonaparte conceived the possibility of
passing his army with all its artillery and supplies. Almost invincible
obstacles presented themselves, but all was foreseen by the genius who
conceived the enterprise, and who contrived everything to carry it into
The cannon, caissons, forges, etc. were immediately dismounted piecemeal. A
number of trees were hollowed out, like troughs, in which the pieces of
cannons might safely slide, and five or six hundred men drew them up these
tremendous heights. The wheels were carried on poles, sledges conveyed the
axle-trees, and empty caissons and mules were loaded with the ammunition
boxes made of fir.
It took five hours to climb as high as the Monastery of the Bernardines.
There were still six leagues to go, and the rapidity of the descent made
that distance truly terrible, men and horses constantly falling, and often
recovering with the greatest difficulty. Bonaparte himself was forced to
slide down more than 200 feet and was nearly swallowed up by coming into
contact with a collection of thawed snow. The holes into which the soldiers
constantly fell made this part of the journey worse than the ascending. The
march commenced at midnight and did not finish till about nine o'clock the
next evening. For near fourteen leagues the army had scarcely had a meal or
Before their Consul ascended the mountain, he addressed a letter to his
brother Lucien, then minister of the interior, which reached Paris on the
23rd of May. He then stated, that he was at the foot of the great Alps, in
the midst of the Valais. The great St. Bernard offered many obstacles, but
they are surmounted; the army is descending by forced marches, and in three
days all will be over. (Modified from Laskey's Narrative on Battle of St.
The passage of Napoleon's troops across the St. Bernard pass into Italy led
shortly thereafter to the extraordinary
Battle of Marengo on June 14, 1800.
at St. Bernard by Jacques-Louis David (from WebMuseum)