VOLUME II – CHAPTER 14
There are no more enemies
after a victory, only men.
Now that the cannon had ceased to roar after the first great battle that Napoleon had been forced to fight by two of Europe ’s most powerful monarchies, he slowly walked over the battlefield.
Instead of riding off to celebrate his victory, the Emperor chose to stay on the field and he was to remain there until late that night.
He did this, not to measure the extent of his victory, which had been resounding, but to take care of the wounded, as he would always do in the battles that followed, and he tended not just to his own men but also to those of the enemy, as his comment used in epigraph to this chapter so well expresses.
Accompanied by his personal escort, he instructed those who followed him to keep totally silent. With only the groans of the wounded to guide him in the dark, he had his Mameluke, Roustan, who followed him everywhere like his shadow, see to it that brandy was distributed while he himself did his best to kindle hope in the hearts of some of the victims. He saw to it that the injured were picked up and gathered around the huge fires which he had lit as they waited to be transported to hospitals in the region.
General Savary recounts that the escort squadron spent the night taking greatcoats off the dead to cover and protect the wounded from the cold and generally trying to relieve their suffering. He added that the Emperor only consented to finally leave the field after the commissaire des guerres he had summoned especially for the task arrived and he had personally given him strict orders not to leave the wounded given into his care until they had all been transported to hospitals in the area.
It was, therefore, around midnight when Napoleon finally stopped at a post-house situated to the left of the battlefield.
He had been up since four o’clock in the morning and had eaten nothing all day.
The day after the battle, Napoleon wrote a note to the Empress Josephine to tell her of the outcome of the day’s events.
“To the Empress, at Strasbourg ,
“ Austerlitz , 12 th Frimaire, Year XIV (December 3, 1805)
“I have sent Lebrun to you from the battlefield. I defeated the Russian and Austrian army commanded by the two emperors. I am slightly [!] tired, as I spent eight days in a bivouac out in the open and the nights were rather cold. Tonight, I am staying at the palace of Prince Kaunitz , where I shall sleep two or three hours. The Russian army is not only defeated, it is destroyed.
“I kiss you,
English vultures on the battlefield
We have just described how, on the evening of his victory, the Emperor remained on the battlefield to ensure, as far as possible, that the wounded were rescued and treated.
The English, of course, were absent, as they had commissioned others to come to fight and die in their place. Their absence, however, did not mean that they were not interested in the events that had just taken place. For the following reason.
We know, and this site already more than once referred to the fact, that London had paid the Russians and Austrians to open a new front in the rear of the French to create a diversion and remove the threat of invasion by Napoleon’s army of 160,000 men, known as l’Armée des Côtes de l’Océan (Army of the Ocean Coast), assembled along the French coastline waiting to invade Britain.
Under the terms of the Coalition – instigated by the English – London was to pay the coalition powers an – annual – subsidy of fifteen thousand pounds sterling for every ten thousand men under arms. Thus, by paying the continental monarchies to take on the fight that was actually directed against England because of the British government’s anti-French policy, England became ipso facto the “dictator” of the Coalition and was in a position to impose its terms to the other members.
Thus, during the Coalition wars, which lasted from 1805 to 1815, agents of the British treasury came over from the other side of the Channel like vultures to visit all the battlefields of Europe, charged with the sinister and sordid mission of counting the number of dead and wounded on the field after the battles and of reporting back to London before England paid its debts.
Like any self-respecting usurer, the Government of His British Majesty, George III, only consented to hand over its pounds and guineas after first making sure that they had been well spent, and as a contemporary account recorded, “making sure that the monarchs had legitimately earned their subsidies.”
The sordid “fib” of the Satschan Ponds
In a previous chapter, we referred to an infamous lie that was made up by historians in the 1850’s – almost half a century later - about Napoleon’s coronation at Notre-Dame in 1804. A malicious story was suddenly invented alleging that he had grabbed his crown from the hands of a stunned pope during the ceremony to place it on his head himself.
Let us briefly recall that the crown in question was on the altar, and that it had previously been agreed with the Pope, Pius VII, that Napoleon would crown himself to avoid giving hard-line republicans, who were still numerous at the time, the impression that he was receiving his crown from the Church.
In the eyes of royalist Europe , the Emperor was considered a barbarian (which at the time conveniently allowed England to dissimulate the disgraceful conduct of its own government), and a similar lie was made up after his victory at Austerlitz .
Towards the end of the battle, when the Russians and Austrians were in headlong flight to avoid capture, an entire division, with cannon and ammunition wagons, rushed onto the frozen Satschan Ponds to escape from the pursuing French. Inevitably, under their weight the ice broke – a few cannonballs fired by a Guards battery at the end of the battle had hardly helped matters – and men, horses and artillery were plunged into the frozen lakes.
The odious anti-Napoleonic propaganda of the time immediately turned the shallow ponds into a bottomless chasm that was supposed to have swallowed up the fleeing troops.
In fact, the ponds were nothing more than shallow fishponds artificially created for breeding purposes. But who was responsible for the lie this time?
The Emperor himself!
Had he but known how it would be used later on, he would no doubt have refrained from “embellishing” his 30th Bulletin of the Grande Armée, dated 12 th Frimaire, Year XIV (December 3, 1805), in order to boost the impact of his victory over the Austro-Russian armies, and thus reassure French public opinion.
Here is the incriminating passage that was the delight of his most shameless detractors, both past and present:
“By one o’clock in the afternoon, victory was certain. There had not been a moment of doubt. Not a single man from the reserves was needed, and they did not take part in the battle.
“Only the cannon to our right were still active. The enemy corps had been surrounded and driven from all the high positions, and they found themselves in a shallow riverbed, pinned up against a lake.
“The Emperor moved forward with 20 cannon. The corps was driven from position to position, and a dreadful spectacle ensued, such as we saw at Aboukir Bay : 20,000 men throwing themselves in the water and drowning in the lake…” (End of quotation from the Bulletin.)
Yet, everyone at the time knew that the Bulletins – dictated by Napoleon himself – were used as instruments of propaganda, hence one of the colourful and well known expressions used by the soldiers in the Grande Armée: “to lie like the Bulletin.”
However no one ever wrote that the cannon had fired while the troops were upon the frail wooden bridges or the ice.
The Emperor’s enemies – almost all of Europe at the time – did the rest and since then, historians who fail to take the trouble of reading the incriminating passage have persistently repeated this lie, some seriously asserting that no less than 20,000 Russians, deliberately bombarded by French artillery, perished in the icy water!
What is the truth exactly?
Later, when General Suchet (who was to be made Marshal in 1811) was appointed governor of Brünn by order of the Emperor, he had the famous ponds drained and recorded in an official report that the remains of some 160 horses, around 30 cannon and… two corpses of Russian soldiers were found. If the casualties were so low it was not only because the ponds were shallow, but also because General Vandamme’s troops (part of Marshal Soult’s corps d’armée) were close at hand and when they saw the misfortunate Russians drowning, they promptly came to their rescue, then just as promptly made them prisoners of war!
It is, however, interesting to note that the degree of guilt always varies, depending on whether an action is imputed to Napoleon’s soldiers or to Coalition troops. Strangely enough, no one has ever condemned the Russian army who pounded heavy artillery fire on the column of exhausted fugitives as they retreated from Moscow with the Grande Armée and attempted to cross the River Berezina in 1812. Yet there were a great many civilians in the rout, including innocent women and children.
The Emperor’s violent proclamation against English treachery
On that same December 3, the Emperor published a heartfelt proclamation in which, not without reason, he violently blamed England .
Let us read the following extract.
The Emperor, alas, would continue to misjudge Alexander I and to be taken in by his lies and feigned friendship. Two years later, after his crushing defeat at the battle of Friedland, the tsar was to flatter Napoleon and pretended to become his friend only to betray him the more later.
The force of Napoleon’s declaration was justified for what did England have to complain about exactly?
Far from declining, British power was greater than ever. With the French army massed along the French coastline threatening to invade Britain, it had represented a threat and had given English ministers legitimate cause for alarm, but the British Cabinet knew that it only had to adhere faithfully to the conditions of the Treaty of Amiens for the threat to disappear immediately.
The real source of the conflict was purely mercantile for England had, and would continue, to put Europe to fire and sword and to have tens of thousands of human lives sacrificed for the sole benefit of its prosperity based on its trade.
Napoleon’s leniency to defeated Austrian Emperor
On the same day, December 3, Prince John of Lichtenstein, who had already served as go-between for Napoleon and General Mack in the surrender of Ulm , presented himself as an emissary to request an interview on behalf of his anxious master, the Emperor of Austria. For the Austrians the request was a pressing necessity, for Napoleon had ordered his lieutenants to relentlessly pursue the routed enemy armies now in headlong flight.
Rather than risk the worst, and see the remnants of his army destroyed by the French, Francis II of Austria preferred to come and throw himself on the mercy of the victorious French Emperor.
The request was granted and a meeting was arranged on the following day, December 4. Napoleon rode to a mill located about a dozen kilometers from Austerlitz with an escort of his guard, and as he was the first to arrive, he had fires lit, and then awaited his visitor.
Francis soon drew up in his carriage, accompanied by four princes, three generals and an escort of Hungarian hussars.
The Austrian monarch, who was a determined foe of the French Revolution, no doubt spent his time on the road worrying as to the future of his empire. Was Napoleon, whom he had foolishly provoked again, really the ruthless brute described in all the courts of Europe as a barbarian?
Although Francis II had played an active part in the First and Second Coalitions, the Austrian monarchy had been spared despite its defeats, for General Bonaparte had twice saved Austria after twice defeating it. Once, after the First Coalition had broken up, when Vienna was threatened by General Hoche, and again later when the battles of Marengo and Hohenlinden had left the Austrian capital within reach of the victorious French. The Treaties of Campoformio, in 1797, and Luneville, in 1800, had preserved the Habsburg’s power. Yet, once again Austria had rallied to England ’s call to war and had joined forces with Russia , an error that it had just paid dearly.
Today, Francis II had every reason to worry.
Walking up to meet his defeated foe, Napoleon greeted him with these words:
Anxious not to offend the victor who held him in his power, Francis II replied tactfully,
According to the witnesses present, both French and Austrian, the meeting was, in the arcane language of diplomacy that still prevails today, “frank and cordial.”
Francis II took advantage of the meeting to request that the truce should also apply to the retreating Russian army, to which Napoleon naturally replied that the Russians were already entirely surrounded.
Then, perhaps too impulsively, he relented and induced by generosity - which he himself would never receive from his enemies - he replied:
The Austrian, of course, hastened to answer that such, indeed, was the intention of the Tsar. Napoleon and Francis II parted at the end of the day after concluding an armistice and agreeing on the main conditions of the peace treaty that was to be signed soon.
After the Austrian monarch had withdrawn, the Emperor seemed, for a moment, to regret the leniency he had just shown. He remarked to his officers (let us remember the last part of the sentence):
The Tsar’s dishonourable stratagem to escape capture
Francis II had just saved himself and his army by pleading for and obtaining an armistice from a man – who could well have refused – who he contemptuously referred to as “Robespierre-in-boots.” However, the truce still only applied to the Austrians for nothing had yet been agreed with the Russians.
Napoleon had been more than generous with Alexander. Without any compensation and out of sheer courtesy, he had sent home all the officers and soldiers of the Russian Guard with their leader, Prince Repnin, who had been taken prisoner during the hard-fought cavalry battle with the Imperial Guard.
Yet, this did not prevent the Tsar from behaving himself in a manner that was certainly not in accordance with the code of honour of the time very shortly after the battle. His conduct in this episode sheds a different light on his traditional “knight in shining armour” image.
So, when Napoleon’s emissary, General Savary, reached the Russians to convey the Emperor’s offer, they had already managed to escape by using an extremely dishonourable stratagem.
On December 4, the position of the Russian army, fleeing in total disarray, was desperate. As Napoleon had told Francis II, the army, remorselessly pursued by Marshal Davout, was on the point of being captured with all its generals and the Tsar himself.
Davout’s report reads as follows:
Davout’s mistrust threw Russian high command into a panic and desperately they played for time as they waited for the dispatch signed by the Tsar to arrive. Without a moment’s hesitation, General Kutuzov, decided to forge the following document – when the time arrives, we shall see him do the same in 1812 – and dictated the following lines:
Shortly after, a dispatch arrived bearing Alexander’s signature, which read as follows:
What conclusion may we draw from this?
The declaration was a deliberate fake, since it was simply impossible that on the morning of the 4 th (or even the 5 th) Alexander could have learned of an armistice decided by Napoleon and Francis II on the evening of the 4 th to take effect the following morning.
One could scarcely imagine the chorus of indignant protestations that would have resounded in all the courts of Europe if Napoleon, and not Alexander, Tsar of all the Russias, had been responsible for such a disgraceful act.
As for Alexander, he was free to return to Russia unhindered with his defeated army, leaving the French the task of taking care of his wounded.