DECEMBER 2, 1805
“The Battle of Austerlitz was the finest I ever fought.” Napoleon
The legendary battle of Austerlitz, an unquestionable masterpiece in the art of warfare, was the crowning achievement in a dazzling military campaign and ended the conflict declared by the third coalition, which consisted of Europe’s leading monarchies.
The Empire’s first war was a valuable lesson on many counts. In a nutshell, it was the quintessence of the history of the Empire, forced to defend the new France forged in the cauldron of the Revolution against Europe’s old monarchies fearing for their survival and manipulated by England, France’s eternal rival. This first confrontation’s genesis sowed the seeds for the kind of warfare that was to rage in the same implacable pattern five times until the final showdown at Waterloo in 1815:
- violation of a peace treaty under a fallacious pretext,
- Napoleon’s victorious military campaign,
- conclusion of another peace treaty, usually on generous terms for the losing side,
- resumption of the war for another false motive.
I – The overall situation in 1805
Napoleon became emperor on December 2, 1804. In 1805, he wanted tranquility to finish the colossal peace-building work he had pursued in four years of amazing creative intensity as First Consul.
Abroad, Bonaparte had achieved the seemingly impossible task of making peace with all of France’s enemies. The victories of Marengo, on June 14, 1800, and Hohenlinden, on December 3, led to the signing of the Treaty of Lunéville with Austria on February 9, 1801. France and Russia signed a peace treaty in Paris on October 8 of the same year. An isolated England agreed to cease hostilities by the Treaty of Amiens on March 25, 1802. For the first time in 13 years, France was at peace with every major European monarchy.
The work of international peace was also evident in the settling of all the other major conflicts. An impressive 16 treaties and conventions concluded between 1800 and 1802 reconciled France with Turkey, the regencies of Algiers and Tunis, Spain, Portugal and the young United States of America. To improve ties with the rising new republic, on April 30, 1803 the First Consul sold Louisiana under very generous terms. Lastly, the unsuccessful Saint-Domingue campaign ended in November 1803.
But sometimes treaties are not worth the paper they are written on. To guarantee peace, the French leader based his defense policy on conflict prevention. He took a major step in that direction with the international recognition of France’s natural borders, a security aim that both the Ancien Régime and the Revolution had pursued. However, Napoleon was a realist and did not settle for this rampart, which was of course precious but precarious. He extended it with a continuously consolidated protective glacis made up of friendly, allied or family kingdoms and states, including:
- to the north, Holland, a bitter bone of contention with England,
- south of the Alps, Piedmont and the kingdoms of Italy and Naples,
- south of the Pyrenees, Spain,
- and, above all, as a buffer zone between France on the one side and Prussia and Austria on the other, the Rhine Confederation, which was just taking shape.
The First Consul pursued his peace offensive at the same time as the monumental work of national reconciliation between Frenchmen whom the Revolution had so tragically divided. He welcomed émigrés back into the bosom of the nation (“the peace of the heart”), settled the Chouan rebellion on generous terms (“the peace of the brave”) and ended religious strife with the Concordat (“the peace of the soul”).
And the First Consul still found the time to build a modern state based on the ashes of the Ancien Régime. He was truly the architect of a new France, leaving his indelible stamp on every area of public life: administrative structures, law and justice, education and culture, economy and finance, architecture and so on. The magisterial Civil Code emerged as a masterpiece of this towering, unprecedented task of laying the foundations of a new society.
First Consul Bonaparte was a workaholic who devoted his days and nights to the titanic action of peace, which still had a long way to go in 1805. The thought of war must have always been in the back of his mind. After becoming emperor, he continued aspiring to peace to complete his immense task, sincerely believing that the Treaty of Amiens had brought lasting harmony to France and Europe. But Napoleon underestimated the hegemonic ambitions of England, which fueled fears of democratic contagion among Europe’s monarchies and sacrificed peace to its imperialist interests.
II – England rekindles the flames of war
“I never waged war in the spirit of conquest. I accepted the wars that the English government waged against the French Revolution.” Napoleon
England signed the 1802 Treaty of Amiens only reluctantly, and soon regretted it, realizing that the peace worked in France’s favor. London decided to resume hostilities and tried to make Napoleon the scapegoat. Prime Minister William Pitt led the pro-war faction.
The view that both countries bore responsibility for breaking the peace of Amiens fails to hold up under serious scrutiny. The resumption of war resulted from the deliberate will of the English cabinet alone.
A fresh outbreak of conflict would not have benefited Napoleon in any way. Would he have been foolish enough to put the fate of a convalescing, finally peaceful France with stable institutions and safe borders in the balance on the battlefield? The country’s refounding was well under way but a long road still lay ahead. Napoleon had to stay in Paris instead of being away on the battlefield for extended periods of time. He had already let his potential enemies know that his only goal was France’s development and prosperity, that his entire defense policy was exclusively defensive, and that he had no taste for conquest “It is with horror that I make war! ” he said in a conversation with Russia’s ambassador, Markov.
The English, on the other hand, had two major reasons to resume hostilities. The new France that emerged from the Revolution was a contagious example of democracy threatening all the reigning absolute monarchies. It was also the main obstacle to England’s goal of achieving world hegemony. In 1803, Russia’s ambassador to London Woronzov, unambiguously wrote, “The English cabinet’s goal will always be to eliminate France as its only rival and afterwards despotically rule the whole world.” .
London’s propaganda drive to foist blame for the return of war on France was based on groundless arguments. Peace depended mainly on compliance with the terms of the 1802 Treaty of Amiens. The British government found all kinds of pretexts to break its commitments, in particular the evacuation of Malta, which it should have done in September 1802. In early 1803, England still showed no signs of leaving. Meanwhile, France had evacuated Naples’ harbor, holding up its end of the bargain in return for England’s withdrawal from the Mediterranean island.
When Napoleon pointed that out to England’s cabinet ministers, they retorted that France had annexed Piedmont and still had troops in Holland. But Piedmont had become French at its representatives’ request, and neither issue had anything to do with the Treaty of Amiens. How could French Piedmont have posed a military threat to England? The presence of French troops in Holland was legitimate because it was mentioned in the international Treaty of Lunéville, which was separate from that of Amiens.
England was accustomed to dominating and simply wanted to dictate how France should run its foreign policy.
A vile press campaign dragged Napoleon’s name through the mud and the new France was openly humiliated in London. For example, the Count of Artois received the honor of reviewing an English regiment. The Prince of Wales offered France’s ambassador, General Andreossy, a dinner and invited the Duke of Orléans, the future Louis-Philippe, sporting the royal cordon bleu. Was that how a government aspiring to peace should have behaved?
Enough was enough! On February 18, 1803, Napoleon summoned Lord Whitworth, the British ambassador who made no effort to conceal his scorn for France, to clear the air. He had long wanted to give the arrogant diplomat a piece of his mind. He firmly ordered England to keep its promises and stop its abject attacks on him.
The British cabinet responded on March 8 by asking Parliament for additional war credits. England was therefore intent on resuming hostilities.
On March 13, Napoleon sent Lord Whitworth a final personal entreaty: “So, the English want war, do they!… Woe to those who fail to honor treaties! All Europe will hold them accountable.”
On April 26, the English ambassador offered Talleyrand an incredible deal that was obviously designed to be rejected, all the more so since it was an ultimatum due to expire one week later. England offered to keep Malta for ten years and the nearby island of Lampedusa forever, while France would evacuate Holland and Belgium. It was the height of arrogance.
Napoleon, wanting to give peace one last chance, quelled his temptation to make an immediate break and asked Talleyrand to pursue the talks. They were an utter failure. The English cabinet refused to budge from its outrageous demands. Talleyrand told Napoleon of his conviction that England was already in a state of war against France.
In spite of that, and without any illusions, the emperor asked him to make a last-ditch peace effort by agreeing to neutralize Malta, put under the authority of a power that the Treaty of Amiens named as a guarantor. Lord Whitworth disdainfully objected. The time for talk was over!
The dark clouds of war began to gather. On May 12, 1803, the English ambassador went home. The next day, England reasserted its intention to keep Malta for 10 years. To show how determined he was, Napoleon had Gouvion-Saint-Cyr occupy Otranto, Brindisi and Taranto.
On May 17, without declaring war, the bellicose Pitt’s English government had all the French and Dutch ships in British waters seized. This was blatant aggression. England was showing its true colors!
On May 22, Napoleon responding by ordering the arrest of all British subjects in France and its possessions.
The next day, Pitt officially declared war on France. It was a total war that lasted until the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815.
England brought its maritime superiority to bear in the French colonies, occupying Saint Lucia, Tobago, Saint-Pierre-et-Miquelon and trading posts in India.
France retaliated by capturing Hanover, King George III’s personal property, and by taking control of the Weser and Elbe estuaries, through which English goods entered Germany. This was the start of a continuously intensifying economic war.
There was also a clandestine terrorist war. The English government would stop at nothing, including murder, to topple Napoleon. Whitehall had no qualms about hiring paid killers or fanatics. It had already been caught red-handed in the 1802 Cadoudal plot.
What was Napoleon’s defense policy during this war that was imposed on him?
First, he needed to anticipate a new coalition in Europe.
In Russia, France was not looked upon kindly. The czar’s ambassador, Markov, was openly hostile. But for the time being, Russia was isolated and had to sit tight — even though British agents and French traitors were already busy scheming at the court of Saint Petersburg.
Relations with Prussia were momentarily good. Duroc, France’s ambassador in Berlin, was doing excellent work. To strengthen Frederick-William’s his good disposition, he offered him Hanover, which had been captured from the English. The king turned down the gift, fearing a rift with London. But he remained favorable to France.
The Franco-Prussian rapprochement neutralized Austria, which was biding its time to avenge its humiliating losses in Italy and Germany.
For now, France’s eastern border was safe behind its protective glacis. Napoleon’s hands were free to deal with England, but he was aware that time was running out.
The emperor had to defeat England’s army before its cabinet managed to cobble together a third coalition. He dismissed the possibility of an English landing in France, which his military superiority and reputation of invincibility made highly unlikely. The only solution was a cross-channel invasion before England’s diplomatic offensive in the east had a chance to succeed.
Time was not on his side. He put aside all other business to focus exclusively on this bold project, which required intense planning.
To offset England’s overwhelming maritime superiority, Napoleon obtained help from the Dutch navy and, in January 1805, the Spanish fleet. Portugal declared itself neutral.All of France’s harbors and ports, including on rivers, were mobilized to build a fleet of 2,000 armed, flat-bottomed boats capable of ferrying 150,000 men, 450 cannons and 11,000 horses across the channel.
All those resources gradually converged around Boulogne (hence the term Boulogne Camp), where the emperor made frequent visits to ensure that everything was going according to plan. In the autumn of 1804, the French army was ready at last. It was soon called the Grande Armée. There was no time to lose.
III – The lost opportunities of Boulogne and Trafalgar
The French navy had to control the English Channel for two or three days to let the Grande Armée cross. But Napoleon’s relations with his admirals had seemed doomed since Egypt. The valiant Latouche-Tréville, commander-in-chief of naval operations, died suddenly in Toulon on August 19, 1804. The only alternative was to replace him with Villeneuve, who had cut a sorry figure during the Aboukir fiasco. It was a bad sign.
To make matters worse, in March 1805 Admiral Bruix, commander of the invasion fleet at Boulogne, also unexpectedly died. Everything seemed to be conspiring against the operation.
Napoleon’s plan was to lure Nelson’s fleet to the West Indies by threatening the English colonies with a concentration of the French navy there. Then they would sail for the channel full speed ahead in order to achieve overwhelming naval superiority during the time necessary for the crossing.
The first attempt took place in January 1805. Squadrons from Toulon (Villeneuve) and Rochefort (Missiessy) received the order to sail for the Caribbean while a squadron from Brest (Ganteaume) was to land an expeditionary corps in Ireland as a diversionary tactic.
The plan immediately foundered. Villeneuve lifted anchor on January 17, returning to Toulon four days later because a powerful storm had battered his fleet. Missiessy did manage to reach Martinique on February 20 but Villeneuve never showed up and he turned around on March 28, arriving in Rochefort on May 20. Meanwhile, the English had Ganteaume pinned down in Brest.
Napoleon made another attempt in early March, postponing the last deadline for a landing compatible with the international outlook to the summer. As part of the new plan, Villeneuve was to leave the Mediterranean with the Toulon squadron, join Admiral Gravina’s Spanish fleet in Cadiz, and head with him to Martinique, where they were to meet up with Admiral Missiessy’s squadron from Rochefort and Admiral Ganteaume’s ships from Brest. The united forces would then sail full speed ahead to the channel under Ganteaume’s command to be ready to fight between June 10 and July 10, 1805.
Napoleon sent the following directive to Ganteaume: “ In entrusting you with the command of such a sizeable army, whose operations will have so much influence on the fate of the world, we are counting on your devotion, talent and attachment to my person .”
Throughout the planning stages he continuously stimulated his admirals, urging them to ensure that the English Channel was under their control for only 48 hours. “ Hold out just two days, Ganteaume,” he said. “Do not lose sight of the great destiny you have in your hands. If you are bold, victory is inevitable.”
But boldness is precisely what Napoleon’s admirals lacked most. It was as though they were cowed by the British navy’s reputation.
Admirals and ships cannot be handled the same way as generals and armies. The invasion plan, which naval warfare specialists say was feasible, did not have admirals up to the task of carrying it out.
Villeneuve left Toulon on March 30, two weeks late. Meanwhile, Nelson, obsessed with Egypt, waited for him between Sardinia and Tunisia, and sailed through the Straits of Gibraltar on April 9 without a hitch. Villeneuve met up with the Spanish admiral Gravina at Cadiz and headed straight for Martinique, which he reached on May 14. Instructions dated April 29 ordered him to wait for Ganteaume and Missiessy, who was coming from Rochefort, until the end of June. But Ganteaume, after making a half-hearted attempt, again failed to break out of Brest harbor and Missiessy was on his way back when the order to wait at Martinique reached Fort-de-France. The entire operation’s burden fell on Villeneuve’s frail shoulders.
On June 7, Villeneuve found out that Nelson had reached Barbados several days earlier. He panicked and, disobeying orders, left for Europe on June 11, with Nelson pursuing him from a distance. He set his course for Le Ferrol. Admiral Calder intercepted him on July 22. After an indecisive cannonade in the fog, on August 2 Villeneuve dropped anchor at La Coruña, where he assembled all the French and Spanish ships in the area.
Napoleon had his discontent with Villeneuve expressed by a harshly-worded message from the Minister of the Navy, Admiral Decrès. “ His Majesty wants to do away with his Navy’s circumspection,” he wrote, ‘the defensiveness that kills initiative and doubles that of the enemy .” Decrès softened the wrath of the emperor, who actually said, “ Villeneuve is a scoundrel who must be ignominiously drummed out of the Navy. He would do anything to save his skin!” He was thinking of Aboukir.
In a new directive, Napoleon ordered Villeneuve to meet up with the Rochefort squadron, now commanded by Allemand, to try and help Ganteaume break out of Brest harbor, if he had not already. Then, all three squadrons were to enter the channel together.
Ganteaume made several half-hearted, unsuccessful attempts to leave Brest. Allemand reached Rochefort but missed the rendezvous with Villeneuve on August 14. Incredibly, the squadrons caught sight of each other but kept their distance, mistaking each other for the enemy.
Villeneuve, who was increasingly jittery about meeting the English fleet, took refuge in Cadiz on August 18. Nelson, who in the meantime had become admiral-in-chief, rushed to blockade the harbor.
All these delays made the plan to invade England obsolete. The Grande Armée was already on the way to Germany on September 2 when Napoleon found out that Villeneuve was still in Cadiz. The news confirmed his admiral’s incompetence and cowardice, and he flew into a rage. So that his squadron would be of at least some use, on September 15 he ordered Villeneuve to make a naval diversion off the coast of the kingdom of Naples, which was tempted to join the new coalition. But, judging that Villeneuve would be incapable of bringing the operation to a successful conclusion, on September 17 he replaced him with Admiral Rosily, who did not have time to take his command before Trafalgar.
Villeneuve had still not budged by the time he found out about his sacking on October 18. True, the order to leave Cadiz included the phrase “ except in the event of insurmountable obstacles .” Admiral Gravina also advised him to be careful.
Feeling slighted by his dismissal, Villeneuve lost his composure and decided to lift anchor on October 20. At dawn the next day, he met Nelson’s fleet off the coast of Cape Trafalgar. The fighting started near noon. Tightening up his line without a well-defined tactic, Villeneuve said “ any captain not in the line of fire is not at his post .” That was a proud but insufficient incantation! The battle raged until six o’clock. Villeneuve had 33 warships (18 French and 15 Spanish) and six frigates carrying a total of 2,856 cannons. Nelson commanded 27 warships and six frigates armed with 2,314 cannons. The Franco-Spanish squadron’s slight numerical superiority and its sailors’ unquestionable bravery were no match for the English crews’ greater professionalism and especially for the brilliant Nelson, who was killed in the fighting and found eternal glory by saving England.
Isolated and in very bad shape, Villeneuve surrendered in mid-afternoon. His successor, Gravina, was killed in action a short time afterwards. So was Rear Admiral Magon. The disaster was over by around six o’clock.
The disproportionate casualty figures speak for themselves. The French and Spanish lost 4,408 killed, 2,549 wounded and over 7,000 prisoners. All but one vessel was destroyed or captured. English casualties were 449 killed and 1,241 wounded. Captured ships made up for minimal naval losses.
The English released Villeneuve from captivity in April 1806. A short time later, the despondent admiral committed suicide at an inn in Rennes.
Trafalgar had catastrophic consequences. Napoleon forever lost the possibility of militarily defeating England, a center of hostility to France.
In fact, Trafalgar already sealed his fate.
For the time being, France’s naval setbacks gave its enemies time to regroup their forces.
IV - The third coalition and the lightening-fast strategic setback
In 1793, Austria, Russia, Prussia, England, Holland, Sardinia, Naples and Spain formed the first coalition against revolutionary France.
The second coalition, which fought Directory France in 1798, included England, Austria, Russia and Naples.
During the planning of the invasion of England, French diplomacy was busy trying to stall for time and keep Europe’s courts out of the Franco-English conflict as long as possible.
On January 2, 1805, Napoleon made George III a final offer to open peace talks. The emperor still wanted to prove that he was no warmonger. Once again, it was no use. Peace was not in the interests of the English cabinet, which had hegemonic designs, especially since the diplomatic tide was turning in its favor.
British agents and hateful, traitorous French émigrés schemed at the court of Saint Petersburg, which imperceptibly drifted closer to England.
On April 11, 1805, England and Russia signed an alliance calling for the evacuation of Italy, the restoration of the king of Sardinia in Piedmont, the independence of Holland and Switzerland and the evacuation of Hanover. That would have dealt a lethal blow to the protective glacis around France.
England was very generous with the coalition members, pledging to pay 1,250,000 pounds sterling for every 100,000 Russian soldiers. Its war by proxy had begun.
At first, Austria, which had officially recognized the French Empire, turned a deaf ear to England’s advances. But then Vienna began complacently listening to England’s and Russia’s false insinuations about the threat posed to its security by France’s strong presence in Italy, and embraced on that groundless pretext to join the coalition on August 9. Before long, the Austrians regretted falling for this crude manipulation, for they were to be its main victim. Sweden joined the coalition on October 30.
At the Prussian court, the influential Queen Louisa, heading a powerful pro-Russian faction biding its time, fanned the flames of hatred for France. The skillful Ambassador Duroc had a difficult time maintaining the neutrality of Prussia’s indecisive king, Frederick-William, who was planning an alarming armed mediation.
Shortly after Austria joined the coalition, Napoleon found out in Boulogne that Villeneuve was still stuck in Cadiz and Ganteaume in Brest. It was obvious that he no longer had time to invade England before the Austrians and Russians pounced on France. His admirals’ ineptitude had already allowed the British cabinet to win the diplomatic race that saved England.
Departure from the camp of Boulogne
Napoleon had to suspend the plan to invade England and immediately confront the pressing danger in the east.
In just a few days, he developed a new campaign plan moving the Boulogne camp to Germany. As usual, speed was the main feature. Overwhelmingly outnumbered by the coalition forces, he had to take the enemy by surprise and defeat the Austrians and Russians before they had a chance to link up. What’s more, this plan would keep the fighting off French soil, which was one of Napoleon’s constant concerns.
The coalition lined up an impressive array of forces against France:
- In the German theater: 40,000 Russian, Swedish and English troops in Hanover and 180,000 Austro-Russian troops on the Danube (Mack’s and Archduke Ferdinand’s armies along with Kutuzov’s Russian army). Other Russians were on the way to strengthen this force.
- In the Italian theater: Archduke Karl’s 142,000 Austrians in northern Italy and 30,000 Anglo-Russian troops in Naples.
- Archduke Johan’s 53,000 men on the border between German and Italy.
The French forces were broken down as follows:
- 25,000 men in Boulogne.
- Bernadotte’s 1 st Corps, which was marching from Hanover to Bavaria.
- - Marmont’s 2 nd Corps, which was doing the same from Holland.
- - Davout, Soult, Lannes, Ney and Augereau, who were leading the 3 rd, 4 th, 5 th, 6 th and 7 th Corps and the Imperial Guard in forced marches from Boulogne to the Danube.
- In all, 160,000 men faced some 250,000 still-scattered Austro-Russian troops. A total of 30,000 foreigners served in the French army, including Italians, Belgians, Dutch, Swiss, Irish and even Syrians.
In Italy, Masséna and the 50,000 men under his command were trying to keep Archduke Karl’s army at bay.
A torrential flood of French units poured into Germany following a painstakingly developed plan. Napoleon decided on every detail with Daru, his armies’ incomparable general administrator. He knew each unit’s itinerary by heart and even put regiments that had gone astray back on the right track. The pace was so quick that the supply trains struggled to keep up. The Grande Armée endured superhuman physical hardships but its morale was as hard as steel. “ I had my soldiers go through so many ordeals in order to spare their blood ,” the emperor said.
Army administrator Daru
V – The dazzling 1805 campaign
True to form, the emperor’s plan was simple:
- create a diversion in Bade, in the south, to confirm the enemy’s belief that the French army would attack through the Black Forest, the logical front line;
- swoop down on the Danube in force, far to the east;
- fall back to the south to trap the enemy in the noose thus created.
Although the Austrians were battle-hardened troops, they docilely did what Napoleon expected them to.
To increase the surprise effect, the emperor returned to Paris instead of staying with the army.
Mack invaded Bavaria, France’s ally, on September 13, 1805, earlier than expected, which actually worked in the French plan’s favor. He captured Munich a short time later and pressed on to Ulm. That was exactly what the French expected him to do.
In late September, Napoleon reached his armies on the Rhine in record time. On September 30, before leaving French soil, he made the following proclamation to them: “ Soldiers, the war of the third coalition has begun. You have had to make forced marches to defend our borders. We will no longer make peace without guarantees. Our generosity will no longer deceive our policy. Soldiers, your emperor is with you… ”
Between September 30 and October 2, the Grande Armée crossed the Rhine at Mannheim, Durbach and Kehl and dashed towards the planned objectives in forced marches. On October 7, the bulk of the army turned south and crossed the Danube at Donauworth, approximately 100 kilometers east of Ulm.
On October 10, it occupied Augsburg further south. All the Danube bridges between Donauworth and Ulm were in French hands, except the one at Elchingen seven kilometers from Ulm. The roads to Vienna and Munich were cut off. Mack’s army was surrounded. It timidly tried to break out before retreating to Ulm. Kutuzov’s Russian army could no longer reach it.
Napoleon harangues the troops before attacking Augsburg on October 10
On October 14, Ney crossed back over the Danube to cut off Mack’s retreat on the north bank, winning a brilliant victory at Elchingen, which earned him the title Duke of Elchingen.
Ney crossing the bridge at Elchingen on October 15 …
And capturing the town
Before the noose closed tight, Archduke Ferdinand managed to flee towards Bohemia with 20,000 men. Murat caught up with them and took 12,000 prisoners, including seven generals, and the army’s treasury.
Trapped in Ulm, onOctober 16 Mack made one last, costly and futile attempt to break out. On October 20, without any hope of being rescued by the Russian army, which was retreating northward, Mack unconditionally surrendered.
The capitulation looked like a scene out of ancient times: 27,000 Austrian prisoners, including 18 generals, filed past the emperor for five hours, tossing their weapons and 40 flags at his feet. The spoils also included 60 hitched cannons. The 3,000 wounded did not take part in this surrealistic parade.
Mack surrenders at Ulm on October 20
Incredibly, many prisoners shouted, “ Long live the emperor ! ” when they reached him as they filed past. Even soldiers in the Austrian army saw Napoleon as a liberator!
An Austrian colonel was surprised to see him “ as tired-looking and mud-caked as the last drummer boy .” He replied, “ Your master wanted to remind me that I was a soldier. I hope he will agree that the throne and imperial purple have not made me forget my first profession .”
Napoleon met with the captured Austrian generals. “ Your master has waged an unjust war against me,”
he said. “I know not why I fight.”
Mack replied, “ The emperor of Austria did not want war. Russia forced him into it.”
Entering Munich on October 24
Masséna, “the dear child of victory”, was busy in Italy. Emboldened by the success at Ulm, he crossed the Adige and attacked Archduke Karl’s army, which was retreating with the intention of defending Vienna. Masséna continued to follow and harass him.
Kutuzov’s 27,000-man army and 16,000 Austrian reinforcements were blocking Napoleon’s way to Vienna. They had entrenched themselves on the banks of the River Inn and did not know what to do after the disaster at Ulm. Kutuzov rejected the Austrian emperor’s urgent request to defend Vienna. A cautious man, he decided to make an orderly retreat to Moravia to meet up with the army of his countryman Buxhöwden. After crossing the Danube at Maritern, on November 11 he encountered stiff resistance from Mortier’s 8 th Corps, which Bernadotte had to support. An increasingly circumspect Kutuzov then sped up his retreat to join Buxhöwden at Olmutz, reforming a mass of 85,000 combatants.
However, Kutuzov’s retreat left Vienna undefended. On November 12, Murat and Lannes used a crafty ploy to capture the Danube bridges: they tricked the dumbfounded defenders into believing an armistice had just been signed. That same day, the French army occupied Vienna without firing a shot.
They found thousands of rifles, hundreds of cannons and large stocks of food and munitions there.
On November 13, Napoleon slept in Schönbrunn Palace, the Versailles of Austria, deserted by its sovereign. In the north he had the citadel of Brünn (today Brno) occupied on November 21.
The capture of Vienna was much easier than expected, but the war was not over yet.
Napoleon receives the keys of Vienna
In Moravia, an impressive Austro-Russian army commanded by Emperor Alexander managed to regroup. In Vienna, Kutuzov’s corps commander, Bagration, paid Murat back for the Danube bridges incident. The formidable position of Hollabrünn, which Murat and Lannes, already held, was on the road he was to use to flee towards the bulk of the Russian forces. The crafty Bagration introduced himself to Murat and tricked him into thinking that Napoleon and Alexander had just signed an armistice. Despite Lannes’ skepticism, Murat, the man who had been standing in Bagration’s shoes just a few days earlier, fell for the ploy. By the time the French realized they had been duped, it was too late. The fighting that ensued at Hollabrünn to make up for the blunder was particularly fierce and costly.
To the south, near Vienna, the large forces led by Archdukes Karl and Johan were nearly intact. The Grande Armée was caught in a crossfire and needed to win a swift, decisive victory against the Russians — all the more indispensable since word about the disaster at Trafalgar arrived on November 17.
VI – Magnificent Austerlitz
This was the first time that Napoleon was going to face off against the Russian army in a major battle. He knew that its soldier-serfs were brave. Fearless when on the attack, they were even better at defense. Conscripted for life from father to son, they were indoctrinated at a tender age. Orthodox Christianity was their main source of moral strength and they were subjected to iron-fisted discipline. In short, the Russian combatant was more like a mercenary than the French citizen-soldier. The Russian Imperial Guard had a reputation for invincibility and the Cossack cavalry struck dread in the hearts of armies everywhere.
The skills of the officers’ corps, which was entirely made up of aristocrats, left much to be desired. They were averse to general staff and administrative tasks. That is why the Russian army hired so many foreign officers, such as the French traitor, General Langeron, and the Austrian general, Weyrother, Kutuzov’s presumptuous chief of staff, who had a reputation as a good leader and tactician.
On November 20, 1805, the plight of the Grande Armée, which had ventured into Moravia, looked bleak. In Brünn (100 kilometers from Vienna), Lannes and Murat were blocking the road to Olmutz, (50 kilometers to the northeast), where the two emperors’ 70,000 Russian and approximately 15,000 Austrian troops were poised to attack. Napoleon had the troops in Soult’s corps occupy the town of Austerlitz.
He had to leave a significant number of troops in Vienna in case of an assault by the forces of Archdukes Karl and Johann, who also had 85,000 men at their command. There was a chance that the Grande Armée might find itself trapped in a pincer movement.
Napoleon was still regrouping all the units intended for the huge battle that was brewing. Bernadotte’s and Davout’s corps were still several days away. He only had 70,000 men until they joined him.
Czar Alexander I
The emperor of Austria, Franz II
Another sword of Damocles was hanging over his head. On November 3, the king of Prussia and the emperor of Russia signed a treaty according to which the 150,000-man Prussian army was to abandon its role as armed mediator and become an active coalition member if France rejected the coalition’s terms. Fortunately, the king’s envoy and foreign minister, the cautious Count of Augwitz, was stalling Talleyrand in Vienna.
In northern Italy, where no French troops were left, the threat came from the saber-rattling Kingdom of Naples.
Alone against all, Napoleon had to crush the coalition or disappear.
The emperor had approximately 10 days to prepare for the battle. First, he decided to wait for the clash with Kutuzov’s armies on a field he will have chosen between Brünn and Austerlitz. For several days, he surveyed the lay of the land, becoming familiar with the details.
Two roads left Brünn. One, the main axis of the enemy’s approach, went due east towards Olmutz. Approximately 15 kilometers from Brünn, it forked towards Austerlitz, five 5 kilometers away. The second road led due south to Vienna, 100 kilometers away. It was the Grande Armée’s vital communication line.
The Goldbach River flowed approximately 10 kilometers east of Brünn on a north-south axis perpendicular to the Brünn-Olmutz road. The five-kilometer-long, two-kilometer-wide Pratzen plateau lay immediately to the south along the river’s east bank. It was crowned by two hillocks: the 298-meter-high Stary-Vinobrady on the north and the 324-meter-high Pratzberg on the south. The river flowed past 90 meters below. Satchen Pond prolonged Pratzen plateau on the south. A spur road oriented northeast/southwest connecting Austerlitz to the Brünn-Vienna road through the key village of Telnitz ran between the plateau and pond. Lastly, a 197-meter-high mound, Zuran, approximately 10 kilometers from Brünn on the right-hand side of the road to Olmutz, was an excellent observation post.
That was the battlefield Napoleon chose to win one of the greatest victories in military history. All the above-mentioned place names became legendary, in particular the Pratzen plateau, after which the battle logically should have been named. It was called Austerlitz because that is where the emperor wrote his famous proclamation. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The choice of terrain is interesting because of the tactics that were used there. Those that Napoleon chose were going to take the maneuver he was going to entice the enemy to make as its model.
His obvious goal was to cut off the road from Vienna south of Brünn. The Austerlitz-Telnitz axis was the natural direction of the enemy force’s push. They were going to try and outflank the French there by taking control of the Pratzen plateau first.
Napoleon dangled the plateau as bait to lure them into performing that tactic. The enemy would not fail to move towards Telnitz to break the sturdy lock the emperor will have placed there. At that moment, Napoleon would pierce their forces on the plateau, where they will be weakened, before enveloping them on the south, where he would crush the lock used as an anvil.
As the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. Napoleon added psychological trickery to his tactical plan. To entice the presumptuous Alexander to throw caution to the wind, he made a conspicuous show of fear.
He begged for peace, a ploy that also had the effect of warding off accusations of warmongering. For Napoleon sincerely desired peace as the only sensible solution. On November 28, he had Savary bring the czar a friendly letter expressing “ all his esteem and his desire to find opportunities proving how much he wants his friendship…” and that “he should consider him to be one of the most desirous of being agreeable to him .”
In his bellicose reply, the haughty, overconfident Alexander left out the word “Sire”, simply addressing the letter to “the head of the French government”. The czar obviously thought that Napoleon was afraid of him.
To further convince him that such was the case, Napoleon ordered his troops to pull back below Pratzen. And to finish persuading Alexander that he was a defeatist, on the 29 th he dispatched Savary to request a meeting the next day. The czar had his first aide-de-camp, the arrogant, scatterbrained Prince Dolgoruki, accompany him back to his headquarters. Napoleon met him half-way so that he would not have the opportunity to spy on his positions. The pretentious prince disdainfully rattled off his master’s terms: a return to France’s 1789 borders and an immediate withdrawal from Vienna and the hereditary states — in other words, a surrender so humiliating it was sure to be rejected. Extremely annoyed by the obnoxious prince’s scornful attitude, the emperor curtly ordered him to leave immediately. The czar would surely interpret this sudden mood swing as another sign of Napoleon’s jitteriness.
On December 1, the flexible French army was in position. Its forces were arrayed in the following manner:
- In the north, obstructing the Olmutz-Brünn road, Lannes’ 17,000-man corps and Murat’s 7,000-man cavalry. The defense relied on a fortified hillock called “Santon” because of its similarity to a topographical feature in Egypt.
- In the centre, opposite Pratzen and behind the Goldbach, Soult’s 22,000-man corps and Vandamme’s and Saint-Hilaire’s two divisions. Bernadotte’s 9,000-man corps was behind them and slightly to the left. The 5,000-man Imperial Guard, commanded by Bessières, was near the emperor’s bivouac, not far from the Zuran observation post.
- On the southern flank, which had been deliberately left empty until then, Davout’s 10,000-man corps rushed in to set up a roadblock at Telnitz and Sokolnitz (two kilometers to the north). He and his troops marched 130 kilometers in 48 hours, losing several stragglers along the way.
In all, French troops numbered some 70,000.
Meanwhile, Napoleon’s informers and reconnaissance men told him that the Austrians and Russians were deploying their forces exactly as he had expected:
- In the north, opposite Lannes and Murat, Bagration’s 15,000-man corps backed up by Liechtenstein’s 5,000-man cavalry.
- Kollowrath’s 15,000-man corps was in the centre. The 10,000-man Russian Imperial Guard commanded by Grand Duke Constantine stood in reserve behind him, near Austerlitz, where both emperors had their general staffs.
- As expected, the main force of 40,000 men commanded by Buxhöwden and made up of Doktorov’s, Kienmayer’s, Langeron’s and Przidyszewski’s corps was to the south.
Fortunately for the French, Kutuzov was only the theoretical commander: the czar made all the important decisions himself, based on advice from his presumptuous chief of staff, Weyrother, whose careless amateurism cost Alexander dearly.
On December 1, 1805, Napoleon made the final preparations.
First, he had to mentally prepare the troops for the event. As usual, he issued a proclamation before the clash to encourage them and sketch out the main lines of the battle. “ Soldiers,” he declared, “the Russian army stands before us to avenge the Austrian army at Ulm: these are the same battalions you fought at Hollabrün and that you have constantly pursued until reaching this place…Soldiers, I will personally lead your battalions. As they march around my right, their flank will be facing me. I will stay far from the fire if, with your customary bravery, you sow chaos and confusion in the enemy’s ranks. But if victory looks uncertain for a moment, you will see your Emperor expose himself to fire. For victory will not take long on this day, when the honor of the French infantry, which is just as important as the honor of the Nation, is at stake. This victory will end our campaign and we will be able to return to our winter quarters, where new armies forming in France will join us. And the peace that I make then will be worthy of my people, of you and of me .”
A soldier fights better if he knows what is expected of him. Any individual following orders always feels flattered and motivated knowing that he is considered more than just an automaton. It is a matter of dignity.
Then the emperor inspected the lines, showing up everywhere and making sure everything was where it belonged. He tweaked many Italian and Egyptian campaign veterans’ ears, speaking with many of them and using the familiar “tu” form
Napoleon loved contact with even the humblest soldiers, which was as reinvigorating for him as for them. He observed that morale could not have been better. His proclamation reached everyone. A soldier in the 28 th Line Regiment exclaimed, “ We promise you that tomorrow you will have only your eyes to fight!”
In another unit, when Napoleon asked if the cartridge belts were full, an infantryman replied, “ No, all we need for the Russians is our bayonets and we’ll show you that tomorrow .”
The French soldier is brave, a bit cocky and fond of grumbling, but the best in the world when he is motivated and has confidence in his leaders, which was the case at Austerlitz.
At around four o’clock in the afternoon, Napoleon climbed to the top of the Zuran mound to observe the enemy’s movements through his spyglass. The Russians were faithfully carrying out the maneuver he was expecting them to. The Pratzen plateau was filling up. He even caught a glimpse of the first movements towards Telnitz. “ By tomorrow night, that army will be mine!”, the emperor could not help exclaiming to his generals.
A self-assured Napoleon was in a light-hearted mood at his bivouac that night. Dinner was frugal but mirthful. The topic of conversation was not tactics or logistics, but literature! His companions—Murat, Junot, Rapp, Caulaincourt and the aides-de-camp— were utterly astonished.
Wrapped in a coat, he went to sleep on a bed of straw. But his slumber was short-lived. At around ten o’clock, Savary woke him up. Shooting was heard on the right. That was a good sign: it meant the Russians were carrying out the expected movement. Davout arrived and rounded up all his units, which reassured the emperor. His seasoned tactician was to perfectly accomplish his mission.
Escorted by a few light cavalrymen from the Guard, Napoleon inspected his troops one last time. As the detachment moved along the Goldbach, it came face to face with a Cossack patrol, which charged, momentarily putting it in a tricky position. The emperor returned to his bivouac, letting his escort deal with the skirmish. When he dismounted, he tripped over a tree trunk, waking up a grenadier who improvised a straw torch to see who it was. Much to his amazement, the mud-caked emperor was standing right in front of him! It took him a few seconds to realize what was happening before he shouted “long live the emperor” at the top of his lungs, waking up the whole camp. The cry rang out on every side. Napoleon heard “it’s the anniversary of the coronation!” He had not thought of it. All the troops made straw torches and the units’ bivouacs lit up one after the other all along the front. Napoleon’s soldiers treated him to an impromptu “sound and light show” and danced the farandole. Musicians started playing their instruments to accompany the cheers, and the drummers beat their drums. The deafening racket and nearly moved Napoleon to tears. “This is the most beautiful day of my life! You are my children!”, he said. But his voice broke when he thought that in a few hours many of them would be dead.
The illuminated bivouac on December 1
This unexpected interlude had an immediate tactical effect. The Russians, thinking that the French were burning their tents and fleeing, sped up their movements in order to head them off. But they were only running to their downfall!
Consequently, Davout clashed with the enemy earlier than expected, long before he had rounded up all his units. The emperor immediately sent the Legrand division as reinforcements. The battle depended on his resistance.
Napoleon took advantage of the few remaining hours to have a little rest.
At dawn on that memorable December 2, 1805, his marshals and generals gathered around him on the mound of Zuran to receive his final instructions before heading out to their units.
Last orders before the battle
It was cold. A thick fog blanketed the landscape, concealing the French positions from the enemy.
Soon the battlefield was ablaze. To the north, Lannes and Murat easily contained Bagration and Liechtenstein. Their static mission corresponded to that of Davout, who sustained a terrible blow but unflinchingly held out. In the centre, Soult was champing at the bit; the emperor had him wait a little while before storming Pratzen. The ideal was to reach the plateau when the Russians’ movement to the south left it empty.
At nine o’clock, the legendary sun of Austerlitz was burning blood-red over Pratzen, where the silhouettes of Russian soldiers stood out against the background. The fog was lifting as if by magic. The serious fighting was about to begin.
Storming the Pratzen plateau
Napoleon finally let Soult’s troops loose like a pack of dogs. Meanwhile, the Vandamme and Saint-Hilaire divisions scaled the Pratzen’s two hillocks. It was a magnificent sight. The men calmly pressed forward singing, “ We’ll pierce their flank, rat-ta-tat-tat, to break their ranks” . They understood what Napoleon expected of them. They marched playing music and singing patriotic songs. Then the drummers beat the charge. Later, a witness said, “It would have made a paralytic get up and walk.”
The French easily conquered the plateau by eleven o’clock. The flank attack took the Russians by surprise, forcing them to return to Telnitz, which relieved Davout. At this point, his men bore the brunt of the fighting. Telnitz and Sokolnitz changed hands several times during fierce hand-to-hand combat. The intrepid Davout accomplished his mission outnumbered three to one. Napoleon reinforced him with Oudinot’s four battalions and, as soon as the plateau was conquered, moved his command post to Stary-Vinobrady, where Kutuzov had been just a short while earlier. He took stock of the situation and gave new orders, which the aides-de-camp instantly brought to their addressees.
To the north, Lannes and Murat attacked Bagration and Liechtenstein in force. Nansouty’s cavalry did wonders. Kellermann, the son of the Duke of Valmy, covered himself with glory, just as he had done at Marengo. The Russians retreated in disarray behind the Holubitz ravine.
In the centre, Soult received the order to send the Saint-Hilaire and Vandamme divisions south to head off Buxhöwden. Bernadotte relayed him on the plateau.
The Russians unleashed their inevitable counter-attack at around noon. The Imperial Guard’s 10 battalions and six squadrons commanded by Grand Duke Constantine suddenly stormed the plateau and brutally pounced upon Vandamme’s division. Bernadotte let an opportunity to harpoon the Russians in the side slip past. Identifiable by their white and green uniforms, the tall, famous horse guards of the legendary Préobrajenski and Séménovski regiments destroyed everything in their path and cut the French infantry squares to pieces.
A wave of panic rippled through the ranks. The charge scattered the 4 th Line Infantry. Some of the men ran all the way to the command post. The regiment’s eagle was captured. Then the emperor sent the Guard, which was waiting in reserve nearby, into the fray. He sent Rapp to Bessières to organize the counter-attack. The confrontation between the two Imperial Guards, the elite of the French and Russian armies, promised to be a clash of the titans. Morland’s light cavalrymen and Ordener’s horse grenadiers charged side by side, but the assault failed to push back the horse-guards. Morland was killed. Dahlmann, who replaced him, regrouped three squadrons. Meanwhile, Rapp brought together two squadrons: the Mameluke cavalry and the horse grenadiers. They stormed the Russians again as the cavalrymen shouted “Let’s make the ladies of Saint Petersburg cry!”
This time, the charge was successful. The Mamelukes were amazing. “ With their curved sabers ,” one witness wrote, “ they cut out a soldier’s kidneys. One of them brought the emperor a Russian standard on three separate occasions. The third time, Napoleon wanted to keep him, but he rushed back into the thick of the fighting never to be seen again. He remained on the battlefield.”
The charge of the imperial cavalry
Rapp went past Pratzen before regrouping his cavalrymen and making another charge to complete the ravages of the first one. His men cut the Russian Guard to pieces and set them to flight. There was now a hole in the middle of the coalition’s line: the Grande Armée had succeeding in “piercing their flank”.
A wounded but triumphant Rapp showed up at the command post with his prisoner, the Guard colonel Prince Repnine. Napoleon warmly congratulated him for his exploit, which he watched through his spyglass. When he expressed concerned about Rapp’s bleeding wound, Rapp replied “it’s just a scratch”.
Rapp presents a high-ranking prisoner, Prince Repnine of the Russian Guard
Now it was one o’clock. The emperor took his command post to Saint Anthony’s chapel south of the plateau. He was presented with a first-rate prisoner, Baron de Wimpffen, a French officer in the service of Russia. His face looked pitiful. He was offered a glass of wine “from France”, he was pointedly told.
Soult, who no longer had anything to worry about in the rear, pushed his troops towards Telnitz, where Davout still had Buxhöwden held down. The French jaws closed in on him. He tried to escape over the frozen Satchen pond, but the artillery’s cannonballs broke the ice. The Russians either drowned, froze to death or surrendered en masse. Water swallowed up their artillery and caissons.
Last orders at Saint Anthony’s chapel
The battle was over by the time the sun started setting at four o’clock. The Austro-Russian army’s tattered remnants fled eastward. Darkness soon interrupted the pursuit.
The Grande Armée’s casualties included 1,500 killed and 6,000 wounded. The enemy’s losses were twice as high and the French took many prisoners, cannons and flags.
When Napoleon visited the battlefield, he said, “ May so much woe befall the perfidious island-dwellers who are to blame for all this.”
What mattered most was that the third coalition had been scattered.
On the battlefield after victory
On December 3, Napoleon moved into Austerlitz castle and penned his famous proclamation:
“ Soldiers! I am happy with you. On the day of Austerlitz, you fulfilled all my expectations of your intrepidness. You have showered your eagles with immortal glory. An army of one hundred thousand men commanded by the emperors of Russia and Austria was either cut up or scattered in less than four hours. Forty flags, the standards of the Russian Imperial Guard, one hundred and twenty cannons, twenty generals, and more than thirty thousand prisoners were taken on this day, which will be famous forever. Soldiers, when all that is necessary to ensure our Homeland’s happiness and prosperity is accomplished, I will bring you back to France. There, I will lavish my tender care on you. My people will see you again with joy. All you need to say is ‘I was at the Battle of Austerlitz ‘ and they will say, ‘There goes a brave man! ’”
The battle of Austerlitz’s extraordinary repercussions are still reverberating today. It is considered a model of warfare in every military academy in the world. The cadets at the Ecole de Saint-Cyr, which Napoleon founded in 1802, named their school year after Austerlitz: A for October, U for November, S for December all the way to Z for July. The anniversary of Austerlitz, December 2, esoterically known as 2S, is the military academy’s holiday.
The victorious generals
Chief of Staff Berthier
Now France was set to cash in the diplomatic dividends of victory.
Alexander, roundly beaten and humiliated by the defeat of his personal guard, retreated, head bowed, with what was left of his army. Looking ahead to the future, Napoleon let him escape, giving him an opportunity to mull over the lessons of his poor judgment. The emperor of Austria, whose country and capital city Napoleon occupied, had no choice but to conclude a peace treaty.
VII – The short-lived peace of Pressburg
A meeting with Emperor Franz was arranged for December 4 at an improvised bivouac 15 kilometers from Austerlitz on the road to Hungary in a place called “Burnt Mill”. Napoleon received him with great pomp and all the honors due his rank, even going so far as to kiss him and call him “my brother”. After all, they were both emperors, weren’t they?
The gravity of the event did not rule out humor. Gesturing to his tents, Napoleon apologized, saying, “ These are the palaces where Your Majesty has forced me to live for three months.” Franz retorted, “ This holiday turned out pretty well for you, you should not hold it against me.”
The emperor of the French met a man who was angry with England and realized a short while later that he had been fooled right across the board. “ The English are merchants of human flesh,” he said. “There can be no doubt, in the quarrel with England, France is right.”
Franz II suggested that he was also speaking on behalf of Alexander. At his request, Napoleon agreed not to pursue the Russian troops.
In a two-hour private meeting, the sovereigns focused on the main lines of the coming peace treaty between France and Austria. Napoleon remained courteous and respectful but did not treat his opposite number with kid gloves. Franz, aware of his wrongs, expected that attitude. After all, he had broken the Treaty of Lunéville and Austria had been a sworn enemy of France with England for 12 years. He agreed to all of Napoleon’s demands.
“The matter is settled. I have only been free since this morning!”, he exclaimed.
“ Your Majesty, promise me you will never start a war again,” Napoleon replied.
“ I swear it and I will keep my word,” said Franz. If only he did!
When the preliminaries were over with, Napoleon sent Talleyrand his directives to actively pursue peace talks.
On December 15, an intimidated Prussia signed the Treaty of Schönbrunn. The kingdom annexed English Hanover but ceded Ansbach to Bavaria and the principality of Neuchâtel in Switzerland, Bayreuth and the Duchy of Cleves to France. In addition, Prussia promised to close its ports to England.
Napoleon did not wait for the signature of the peace treaty with Austria to strengthen the protective glacis around France, which had just shown how weak it was. In accords signed at Brünn, he expanded the three electors of Bavaria, Bade and Wurttemberg and bound them more tightly to France with a perpetual peace treaty between them and the kingdoms of Bavaria, Bade, Wurttemberg and Italy. He also fortified the Rhine border by setting up a French garrison in the fortress of Kehl, across the river from Strasbourg.
Signed on December 26, 1805, the Treaty of Pressburge stablished peace between France and a harshly but justly punished Austria.
It was considerably weakened in Germany. Austria ceded Ortenau and the Brisgau to Bade, Konstanz and its scattered possessions in Swabia to Wurttemberg, and the Vorarlberg, Tyrol, Trento and Brixen to Bavaria. In addition, the Germanic emperor recognized the full sovereignty of the Kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurttemberg and the Grand Duchy of Bade. In return, Austria received the trivial compensations of the archbishopric of Salzburg and the former bishopric of Würzburg.
Austria gave up all its possessions in Italy with the exception of Trieste. The Veneto was attached to the Kingdom of Italy, which also received the protectorate of Dalmatia and Cattaro. Lastly, the Austrian empire had to pay a 40 million indemnity for war damages. Pitt never got over Austerlitz and died a short time later.
His peace mission accomplished, Napoleon was in a hurry to be back in Paris and resume his exhausting duties as head of state. He stopped off in Munich to attend the wedding of Eugène de Beauharnais and Princess Augusta, the daughter of Bavaria’s next king, the wily Max Joseph, who had wanted Napoleon to marry her himself.
Arches of triumph, delirious receptions and magnificent illuminations awaited the emperor on the way from Stuttgart to Paris. There was talk of organizing a triumphal entry into the French capital that would have echoed those of ancient Rome. The flags captured from the enemy were paraded through the city’s streets in an indescribable outpouring of joy. All France was intoxicated with the glory of Austerlitz.
On December 30, the Tribunate unanimously voted to give the emperor the title “Napoleon the Great”.
It would take greatness to deal with what was in store for him. He could not have suspected that less than 10 months after Austerlitz, war was to again tear him away from his desk to win another peace that was even a longer time away.
The 1805 campaign, which the triumph of Austerlitz illuminated with immortal glory, is an unequalled achievement in the art of warfare. In four short months, it combined:
- the logistical feat of moving 160,000 men a distance of over 900 kilometers in a very short time;
- the dazzling strategic combination ofUlm, crowned by the collapse of the Austrian army;
- the tactical masterpiece of the battle of Austerlitz, which forced the enemy to make peace, Napoleon’s unwavering war aim.
The Austerlitz sun will shine for eternity at the firmament of the art of the war...
Casaperta, November 2005