“Here I Am”

Napoleon landed in France on 1 March 1815 after escaping from his exile on Elba. He and his 1000 strong staff and honor guard took a circuitous route north through the French Alps to avoid the royalist sympathizers in the Riviera.

On 5 March 1815, the small army approached the pass at Laffra, just outside of the city of Grenoble. Directly to its front was the veteran 5th Infantry Regiment, six ranks deep, led by royalist officers, completely blocking the pass.

For five tense minutes, the regiment silently faced off against Napoleon’s troops. Then the ranks of the lancers and guards parted as Napoleon himself approached the 5th. One royalist officer gave the order to fire but none did. Napoleon moved closer. At 50 meters he stopped and said,

“Soldiers, I am your emperor. Know me! If there is one of you who would kill his Emperor, here I am”.

He then threw open his great greycoat and invited them to shoot.

The solders of the 5th abandoned their weapons and rushed Napoleon shouting ‘”Vive l’Empereur!”. They deserted the recently restored Bourbon monarchy en masse.

The event was stage managed to a degree. Staff officers and soldiers went forward the night before to let the 5th Infantry Regiment know what would happen if Napoleon was shot. It was an offer they neither could nor would refuse.

Two days later the 7th Regiment went over and soon Marshal Ney, Napoleon’s “Bravest of the Brave”, joined with an army of 6000. Thousands more flocked to the march every day. Though many were new recruits, many tens of thousands were former prisoners of war captured by Napoleon’s enemies over the past 20 years and recently repatriated back to France. King Louis XVIII and his court fled the country and Napoleon entered Paris on 20 March at the head of an army 100,000 strong.

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