Volume II - Chapiter 11 (... cont'd ... Part 2)

 

THE BUILD-UP TO AUSTERLITZ (1) 

ULM, OR THE INCREDIBLE ROUT OF THE AUSTRIANS

 

 

The size of the armies ranged against him would have daunted anyone but the Emperor.

 

Napoleon arrived in Strasburg on September 26 at 5:00 p.m., having left Saint-Cloud two days earlier at 4:00 in the morning.

Just before crossing the Rhine Napoleon made his famous proclamation to French troops in which he blamed the Austrians’ aggression and English gold.  “Whatever the obstacles we have to face, we will be victorious and we will not rest until we have planted our “Eagles” upon the territory of our enemies”.

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On September 30, before crossing the Rhine, he issued the well-known proclamation to the army in which, after condemning the Austrian aggression against Bavaria and pronouncing anathema upon "English gold and hatred," he concluded:

 

“Whatever the obstacles we have to face, we will be victorious and we will not rest until we have planted our “Eagles” upon the territory of our enemies”.

 

 

General Mack’s hopes are dashed

 

Led by General Mack, 80,000 Austrians invaded Bavaria, whose Elector, an ally of the Emperor, had to flee Munich and seek refuge with his court and army at Wurzberg. The Austrians then advanced toward Ulm.

General Mack, Baron of Leiberich (1752-1828) Commander-in-chief of the main Austrian army. After the Austrian defeat, he was unjustly blamed for the capitulation of Ulm by his fellow countrymen and treated with great cruelty. Judged by court-martial, he was sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, and a few years later, he was liberated thanks to the intervention of Archduke Charles.

 

Napoleon’s plan consisted of attacking and, of course, defeating the Austrians before they could join up with the Russians, and then making for Vienna along the left bank of the Danube. In order to achieve this, he had to outflank Mack’s army, surround it and cut it off from Vienna. But speed was absolutely vital, so that the Austrians would have no time either to withdraw to the capital or meet up with the Russian army.

 

Knowing that the enemy general would be waiting for him at the end of the Black Forest, Napoleon encouraged this assumption by having Marshals Lannes and Murat stage a diversion.

 

On October 6, six army corps had already formed a threatening semi circle to the north and northwest of Ulm. As soon as the Danube was crossed, a movement to the south would close the loop.

 

On October 8, Lannes and Murat attacked an Austrian corps at Wertingen. The enemy immediately scattered, leaving the two marshals with several cannon and 2,000 prisoners.

 

On the same day, Soult entered Augsburg without resistance. Davout had crossed the Danube at Neuburg, while Bernadotte and Marmont were set to do likewise and advance on Munich.

 

Napoleon himself, at the head of the Grande Armée crossed the Rhine between Mayence and Strasburg and arrived at the Danube between Ulm and Ingolstadt.

 

The enemy was already cut off from the capital. To tighten the noose, Ney was ordered to move closer to Ulm via Gunzberg, which Mack was vainly trying to contest.

 

To complete the encirclement, the Emperor set up headquarters at Augsburg. The Austrian general had only one route of escape – to the south into the Tyrol – that Napoleon, who intended to pursue him with his Imperial Guard and four corps, immediately closed off by sending Soult on to Landsberg and then Memmingen.

 

Knowing he was caught in a trap from which he could not escape, Mack tried every means to withdraw with minimal losses. He decided to stay in place, hoping that the arrival of the Russians from Moravia and Archduke John from the Tyrol would put the French between their guns and his. He only had to hold fast.

 

At that point, Mack gave up attempting to break through the knot that was about to strangle him, and tried instead to keep open the routes along which help could reach him. He dispatched a division south to Memmingen, and another north to Elchingen.

 

While Soult captured Memmingen and made 5,000 Austrians surrender arms, Marshal Ney clashed with the enemy at Elchingen and carried the day. Austrian losses amounted to 3,000 prisoners and many pieces of field artillery. It was a day when Marshal Ney, leading the 6th Corps, gave proof not only of the daring that made him an incomparable leader of men, but also of the military prowess that enabled him to beat the Austrians in six successive engagements, of which the most important was the Battle of Elchingen. When Napoleon created the imperial nobility in 1808, he recognized Ney’s outstanding service by making him Duke of Elchingen.

Michel Ney (1769-1815) was one of Napoleon’s most famous marshals, celebrated for his courage and impetuosity in action. Of humble origins, he joined the army at an early age as a simple hussar in 1787 and nine years later in 1796, he was promoted to general.  In 1805, at the head of the VI Corps, he displayed his military talents to the full by defeating Austrian troops in several engagements at the start of the campaign. His most significant victory during the Austerlitz campaign was the siege of the well-fortified town of Elchingen, fiercely defended by Austrian troops.

Ney at the Battle of Elchingen. When he took possession of the town on 14 October and made 5,000 prisoners little did he guess that he had just earned himself a title and that Napoleon would later create him Duke of Elchingen

 

Ulm was now besieged both from the north and south.

 

Following the Battle of Elchingen, Archduke Ferdinand and a force of some 30,000 tried to open a route to Bohemia, but was caught by Murat’s cavalry and crushed at Nordlingen. Only 2,000 cavalrymen managed to reach Bohemia, while 15,000 men (including 200 officers), 120 field guns, and 11 regimental colours were captured by the French.

 

Mack was contained in Ulm.

 

Two days later, the heights of Michelsberg overlooking the city fell to the French.

 

Mack had no recourse other than to defend Ulm street by street and house by house.

 

If he wished, the Emperor could launch an attack without notice. The imminent onslaught would be horrific. But…

 

return to Part 1

 

Cont'd ... Part 3