[PW] " An Army Marches on Its Stomach "

T.F. Mills phasco at earthlink.net
Fri Dec 30 12:35:10 PST 2016


On 30 Dec 2016 at 12:58, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:

> The saying was ascribed to Napoleon by October 1862. This version used
> the word "marched":
> 
> [ref] 1862 October 18, The Springfield Daily Republican, Gastronomy,
> Quote Page 6, Column 1, Springfield, Massachusetts.
> (GenealogyBank)[/ref]
> 
> [Begin excerpt]
> Napoleon said an army marched on its belly. Dismiss all incompetent
> and hang all rascally commissaries, and decrease the number of deaths
> in the army twenty-five per cent.
> [End excerpt]

It is interesting that the Napoleon attribution seems to emerge during the American Civil War, 
and in several American newspapers.  (Newspapers at the time copied each other 
extensively.)   Note that in the above quote, it is not Napoleon advocating hanging 
incompetent commissaries, but the newspaper in 1862.  At such a time, it is convenient to 
invoke an expert like Napoleon, even if a total invention.  Both sides in the ACW had virtually 
no experience with supply and transport, especially on the massive scale suddenly required.  
Ditto for mass transport and deployment of troops.   It took half the war for competent 
generals to emerge.  Likewise, the Crimean war was a similar comedy of errors after 40 
years of European peace.  (On at least one occasion, Russian and British supply trains 
bumped into each other and proceeded to ignore each other out of embarrassment.)  
Without wartime practice, military logistics is surprisingly difficult.

> Passages like the one below sometimes lead to misattributions when a
> reader inattentively attaches the wrong name to a nearby quotation: 

Indeed!  And see more below.
 
> [ref] 1861 August 26, Janesville Daily Gazette, A Few Words On
> Rations, Quote Page 1, Column 4, Janesville, Wisconsin.
> (Newspapers_com)[/ref]
> 
> [Begin excerpt]
> Marshal McMahon says that vast events depend upon an army's not going
> into action "till it has had its coffee." We quote these words from
> Mrs. Parton, who adds that Napoleon says that what soldier needs most
> is two things, "a full belly and a pair of shoes"-and tells us that
> Frederic used to say, "An army, like a serpent, goes upon its belly."
> [End excerpt]

Patrice de MacMahon, future Pres of France, had just been promoted Marshal in 1859 during 
the Italian war, but who is Mrs. Parton, and what does she know of the Friedrich/Napoleon 
dictum?  These words are strikingly similar to the Duke of Marlborough a century earlier than 
Boney:

"An army cannot preserve good order unless its soldiers have meat in their bellies, coats on 
their backs and shoes on their feet."  

Trevor Royle (Military Quotations) sources this as a letter to Col. William Cadogan in 1703.
(Cadogan was Marlborough's trusted QMG at the time, and as such hardly needed lecturing 
on the subject, but inexperience and civilian contractors created difficulties.)

All the same, "Mrs. Parton" seems like a very interesting source, perhaps the "original" of the 
attributions to Friedrich and Napoleon.  (Garson, does the full text of "A Few Words on 
Rations" say more about Mrs. Parton?)


T.F. Mills 
(Colorado, USA)




More information about the Project-Wombat-Open mailing list