Little Drummer of Arcole

It’s been awhile since I posted one of my historical pieces…

A courageous young man, André Estienne volunteered for service in the Bouches-du-Rhône battalion in 1792. There he served as a drummer boy in the 51ème demi-brigade de ligne under General Napoleon Bonaparte’s command. On November 16, 1796, French troops failed to seize the crucial bridge over the river Alphone near the town of Arcole. Estienne led his battalion across a river while holding his drum over his head, and on reaching the far bank, beat the “charge”. This caused the enemy ranks to panic and retreat. French troops streamed across the river and the Austrian soldiers were routed.

Bonaparte, who noted the brave conduct of the 19 year-old who would become known as the “Little Drummer of Arcole” presented him as a hero. Estienne was amongst the first to be admitted to the Légion d’honneur and in 1803, he received his cross from the hands of Bonaparte himself. Further glory was to come. He was selected to beat an honorary ruff at the French emperor’s coronation ceremony on December 4, 1804, at Notre Dame in Paris.

Estienne is remembered and depicted in the Panthéon in Paris and on the Arc de Triomphe, also in paintings by Charles Thévenin and Horace Vernet. His drumsticks (below) bear the inscription “Le 1er Consul au Citoyen Etne André tambr à la garde à pieds des Consuls” (“The 1st Consul to Citoyen [Estienne] [André] [drummer] in the garde à pieds des Consuls”[guard]).

(Above photo: In 1862 Estienne’s hometown of Cadenet suggested erecting a monument to the venerated drummer boy. After raising the necessary funds the statue was dedicated at the Place du Tambour d’Arcole on August 11, 1894. During WW2 it was dismantled in 1940 as German forces threatened to seize the area. In 1943 the thought of melting it down was proposed by fortunately it was returned to its original home in 1945.)

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