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Grenadier of the Old Guard The Emperor leading his Grumblers on Campaign, by Raffet (click to enlarge) Grenadier of the Guard (click to enlarge)

'The medals I give are merely trinkets, but it is by such trinkets that one may rule hearts' - Napoleon

Napoleon's armies were the most the feared military machines of their time.  For more than twenty years, first under the Directory, then under the Consulate and finally under the Empire they marched down many roads of glory through Europe.

From the Depots in Paris and the Departments and the Camp at Chalons, nearly three million of France's sons heeded the clarion call to glory. To the shores of Portugal and on to the Kremlin in Moscow, they followed closely behind that legendary bicorn hat with the tricolor cockade, trusting absolutely in the 'Star of Destiny' of the genius who wore it.  They were his `Terrible 57th', and his `Big Heels' and his Grumblers, and he was the 'Le Tondu', the Shaveling idolized by soldiers from many nations.

Wellington once said of Napoleon, `his presence on the field makes the difference of 40,000 soldiers.' And anyone who had ever locked horns with Napoleon and his armies knew exactly how right Wellington was.  Few great commanders ever learned how to motivate soldiers to herculean feats like Napoleon could. He organized the Grand Army based on his genius, he spoke to them in a language they understood, he scolded them like a father when they screwed up and rewarded them lavishly when they pleased him, as they did at Austerlitz, Jena, Friedland, Borodino and many other great battlefields.

Marshal Murat, Commander of the Cavalry Reserve Emperor Napoleon I as seen by Charlet Marshal Bessieres, Commander of the Cavalry of the Guard

Under their faithful master's guiding hand, the Grand Armies of France became Europe's ultimate war machine, hammering away mercilessly at every professional army the crown heads of Europe were foolish enough to send against them.  And when they fell in battle, they died thinking of him. They would march to the gates of Hell itself and back again for him if he asked them to.  They were simple salt of the earth who cared nothing for effete Royalist emigres pining for the return of the Bourbons, pampered socialites who had no concept of either their own honor or that of France.

Vive Napoleon le Grand!