VOLUME II – CHAPTER 14

There are no more enemies

after a victory, only men.

Napoleon

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.

The Emperor often said, “There are no more enemies after a victory, only men”. Instead of riding off after the battle of Austerltiz, Napoleon remained on the battlefield refusing to abandon the wounded to their fate. With his personal escort and his mameluk, Roustan, he spent hours in the dark locating the wounded, making sure they were picked up and taken care of. Fires were lit, alcohol was distributed and the wounded were covered with greatcoats taken from the dead. Several witnesses reported that Napoleon only consented to leave the battlefield well after midnight , when the commissaire des guerres committed to the task had arrived and he had given him strict orders for the wounded to be taken care of and transported to hospitals in the region. Shortly after, in a letter addressed to the Empress Josephine, the Emperor described the battlefield as “a horrifying sight!”

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,

    “Napoleon.”

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.”

Hotly pursued by the French, the retreating Russian army was rapidly transformed into a mass of disorderly fleeing columns. In a desperate attempt to escape, several divisions raced across the frozen lakes of Satchan, but the weight of the men, horses, cannon and artillery wagons was too much for the ice which soon broke and men and horses were plunged into icy cold water. Over the past two centuries, historians and writers have written many different accounts of this episode of the battle, basing their facts on the forged lies of anti-Napoleonic propaganda of the period and their estimations of the number of victims drowned sometimes range from 2,000 to 20,000 Russians! In fact, the lakes were merely artificial fish-ponds used for fish-farming and much too shallow for the men to drown in. A few years later the ponds were dredged and an official report records that the bodies of 2 Russian soldiers were found in the lakes together with some 160 horses and 30-odd cannon. (All Rights Reserved)

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 Austrian Empire, known as the Holy Roman Empire because it was linked with the Church, stretched from Bohemia and Moravia in the north to Italy in the south, and its dominions included Austria, the confederation of German states, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Galicia, Transylvania, Silesia, Croatia, the Netherlands, the north of Italy… The Hapsburgs ruled over the Empire since 1438 and in 1805 they were still one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe ruling over some 24,000,000 subjects although French victories in Italy had already considerably reduced Austrian possessions and power.

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.

“This day will cost tears of blood in St Petersburg . May they now indignantly reject England ’s gold! [What an illusion!] And may this young prince, bestowed with so many virtues [!!] and predestined to become the father of his subjects, tear himself away from the influence of the upstarts whom England cunningly bribes and who falsely disguise their intentions by arrogance. Gifted with so many qualities, he was destined to become the peacemaker of Europe . However, perfidious advice has made him an accomplice of England and he will now be counted among those who, by perpetuating war on the continent, have consolidated English tyranny on the seas and brought misery upon our generation. May every drop of blood spilt, may so much misery finally afflict the perfidious island that is the cause of it all! May the cowardly oligarchs in London suffer the consequences of so many evils!”

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.

Francis II (1768-1835), Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (1792-1806). After the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire , he reigned as Francis I, Emperor of Austria (1806-1835). Born in Florence , he succeeded his father, Leopold II, aged only 24 just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary Wars. He inherited none of his father’s intelligence and he was a conservative opposed to any form of reform or social change. As a sovereign and statesman, he was reactionary with fixed ideas and as a man, he was hesitant and suspicious. He hated new ideas and was determined to preserve the social and international order of his day and to stop the ideas of the French Revolution from spreading in Europe . He participated in all the coalitions against France despite crushing defeats inflicted upon his army by the French (Montenotte, 1797, Marengo, 1800, Caldiero, Ulm, Austerlitz,1805 and later Wagram, 1809…) and Vienna was occupied twice by French troops. He also saw the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire after Austerlitz and lost possessions in Italy , Belgium and the Austrian Tyrol among others. Napoleon regarded him as a “skeleton of a man who only owed his position to the merit of his ancestors”.

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:

“Forgive me for entertaining you in the only palace I have lived in for the past two months.”

Anxious not to offend the victor who held him in his power, Francis II replied tactfully,

“You have made such good use of your quarters that you must find them pleasing.”

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:

“To oblige the Emperor Alexander, I consent to halt the march of my columns and to let his troops pass. But will Your Majesty promise me that this army will return to Russia and evacuate Germany and Austrian and Prussian possessions in Poland ?”

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):

“That man has just made me commit a fault for I could have pursued my victory and captured the entire Russian and Austrian army. Still, a few less tears will be shed now.”

After his army was annihilated at Austerlitz , Francis II lost no time in asking Napoleon for an armistice. A meeting was arranged and two days later on 4 December the two emperors met at the outposts of the army, twelve kilometres from Austerlitz . The sovereigns spent several hours together around a log fire discussing the terms of the peace treaty which was to be signed at Presburg on 26 December. The Austrian emperor pleaded the Tsar’s cause as well as his own, persuading Napoleon to stop the pursuit of the Russian army which was now completely encircled by French troops. As they parted, Napoleon confided to one of his officers, “That man has just made me commit a fault for I should have pursued my victory. I should have captured the Russian army together with the Austrian army. Then he added, “Still, I suppose that a few less tears will be shed now”. (All Rights Reserved)

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:

“I was heading for Goeding, when Colonel Count of Valmoden came up to deliver a dispatch from General Merfeld that announced a twenty-four hour truce and a meeting between His Majesty, the Emperor of Austria and our illustrious sovereign. General Merfeld wished to confer with me, and I went to see him. I told him that his dispatch was not sufficient, naturally being on guard against the various tricks of war. I informed him that I desired a written confirmation from Tsar Alexander. Monsieur de Merfeld withdrew, assuring me that I would very soon be satisfied in this respect and that my doubts would be dissipated.”

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:

“To Marshal Davout, Commander of the Third Corps of the French Army,

“Goeding, November 22, 1805 [December 4 in the French calendar]

“I hereby give you my word of honour [emphasized by us] that the agreed twenty-four hour armistice is to commence at six o’clock in the morning, and that the Austrian Emperor, after conferring with our illustrious master, is on the road to Austerlitz to meet with your master. I therefore hasten to inform Your Excellency and beg you to suspend hostilities until the end of the agreed period.

“Commander-in-Chief of the combined armies of their Imperial Majesties of Russia and Germany,

“Signed: Kutuzov.

“P.S. I take it upon myself to send Your Excellency, within two and a half hours at latest, the above-mentioned assurance from my illustrious master.”

Shortly after, a dispatch arrived bearing Alexander’s signature, which read as follows:

“For Marshal Davout, Commander of the Third Corps of the French Army,

“General Merfeld is authorized to tell General [!] Davout on my behalf that the twenty-four hour armistice was concluded during the meeting held today between the two supreme heads of their nations.

“Signed: Alexander.”

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.

What does the episode reveal? First, Alexander’s dishonourable stratagem, then the inexplicable behavior of Davout who, after showing justified mistrust, ended by obeying an order emanating from …the Tsar, and, above all, Napoleon’s noble attitude who, true to his word, did not go back on his offer.

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.

Napoleon raising his hat as he crossed a convoy of prisoners after the battle of Austerlitz .
Turning to his staff he said, “Honour and respect defeated courage”.