Napoleon's "Sun of Austerlitz"
The Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of Napoleon's greatest victories, where the French Empire effectively crushed the Third Coalition.
Europe had been embroiled in the French revolutionary wars since 1792. After five years of war, the French republic subdued the First coalition in 1797. A second Coalition was formed in 1798, but this too was defeated by 1801, leaving Britain the only opponent to France. In March 1802, France and Britain agreed to end hostilities under the Treaty of Amiens . For the first time in ten years, all of Europe was at peace. However, many problems persisted between the two sides, making implementation of the treaty increasingly difficult. The tense situation only worsened and prolonged intransigence on these issues led Britain to declare war on France on 18 May 1803. On his part, Bonaparte had already revived plans for an invasion of England in March, 1803. The result was the creation of the Third Coalition, in a flurry of diplomatic activity geared towards forming a new coalition against France, including Austria, Great Britain, Russia and Sweden. In April 1805, the time looked perfect for the members of the Third Coalition to strike back at France. The French fleet could not gain control of the English Channel and the mass of the Grande Armee was camped near Boulogne awaiting orders to invade Britain. It was decided that a concerted invasion would put the upstart Napoleon Bonaparte in his place and so plans were made to attack Napoleon's gains in Italy and Bavaria. But their gigantic plan, as we shall see, failed miserably, because the Corsican upstart turned out a different kind of warrior.
Napoleon Bonaparte did not rise to greatness overnight. Born in 1796 to an aristocratic family in Corsica, as a young lieutenant visiting Toulon, besieged by the Royalists and taking command of the bewildered gunners, he managed to chase the bandits, forcing the British navy out of the harbor. The news created quite a flurry in Paris and Bonaparte became a name among leading elements, who immediately promoted him to command the demoralized army in Italy, where he arrived like whirlwind, and after reorganizing , led them against the Austrians in Piedmont. He then rose from victory to victory until rewarded as a national hero, became first consul of France, and in December 1804 Emperor of the French.
Napoleon's career largely resulted from the military innovations he inherited from the French Revolution, such as mass conscription which made possible the use of block tactics in order to attack in column and eliminated the need for supply lines, thus making French armies much more mobile. The Revolution also provided him with young officers who had largely developed these new tactics and were willing and able to successfully implement them on the battlefield. Therefore, the two characteristics of Napoleonic warfare, massed firepower and mobility were already present when he started his outstanding career.
After having made himself emperor of France in December 1804, the rest of royalist Europe saw Napoleon's imperial crown as part of a plan to rule all of Europe. This triggered the war of the Third Coalition of Austria, Britain, and Russia against France, culmination on 2ns December 1805 with Napoleon's most brilliant victory on the icy hills near Austerlitz.
On August 26, 1805, a yellow colored horse-drawn Postal carriage, rolled eastward along the German roads towards the Rhine. In its sat a tall man, whose passport identified him as Colonel de Beaumont. Moving rapidly, the carriage traveled to Frankfurt, then turned southeast toward Offenbach and Wurzburg. It proceeded to the town of Bamberg on the Regnitz River. Carefully skirting the border of the Austrian empire, it followed the course of the Regnitz southward to Nuremberg. Turning east again, it rolled to the Danube, tracing that river's course to Regensburg. There, it clattered across the Danube on the great stone bridge and continued to Passau. From there, the carriage turned west toward Munich, drove on to Ulm and through the Schwarzwald. Crossing the Rhine over the bridge at Strasbourg into France, the carriage stopped and the colonel reverted to his true identity: Joachim Murat, marshal of France, grand admiral of the empire, senator of France, governor of Paris, grand master of the cavalry and brother-in-law of Emperor Napoleon I. At the nearby military post, Murat send a succession of coded messages to Napoleon in Paris, which caused an immediate flurry of reaction. The content of Murat's messages were astounding: The "colonel" well trained eye had gathered important near real time intelligence over the concentration of the enemy gathering all over the area he had just travelled.
It read: " There exists at Wels a corps of about 60,000 men; at Braunau on the Inn, one of from 10 to 12,000, and a camp has been set up there for 30,000;…already some Austrian soldiers have arrived at Salzburg; it is generally believed that they are going to occupy Bavaris. Prince Charles is to be the commander in Italy, and the Emperor on the Rhine. Their principal objective is to act in Italy, which appears probable given the extraordinary preparations taking place in the Tyrol. On Lake Constance there are about 15,000 men. A great number of Russians are on the frontiers of Galacia, the number is said to be 80,000 men. General Weyrother is, it is said, to be going to guide them. Finally, everything in Austria has a warlike attitude….". In Paris, at the Palace of Saint Cloud, Murat's observations were added to those from other sources. As Napoleon studied his situation map, the red and black pins that marked the positions of French forces and their rivals revealed that an overwhelming force was gathering against France. Immediate action was called for and the Emperor reacted fast. A flurry of marching orders followed and his staff was called to readiness for immediate travelling.
The Allied Plan: Marching to Austerlitz
The Allied Third Coalition's objective was to force France back inside its territorial boundaries of 1789, before the French Revolution. To achieve that, the coalition planned to put more than 400,000 men into the field, far more than Napoleon could muster. A magnificent master plan was created, much too complicated to implicate, with the still primitive communications available, controlling such large scale coalition forces.
Austria's best general, Field Marshal Archduke Charles of Hapsburg-Lorraine, would attack in northern Italy with 94,000 men, recapture Austria's former possessions there, then advance into southern France. Meanwhile, Austrian Archduke Ferdinand D'Este, with Quartermaster-General Karl Freiherr Mack von Leiberich as his chief of staff and mentor, would advance with 72,000 men along the Danube to discourage the elector of Bavaria from joining Napoleon and to cover the approach of Austria's Russian allies. By October 20, the first Russian army, 50,000 men under Field Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov, would arrive, followed by another 50,000 men under Field Marshal Count Friedrich Wilhelm Büxhowden. The Russian armies would join Archduke Ferdinand and Mack for a combined invasion of northern France. To cover the two main offensives, an additional Bennigsen would protect the northern flank of the Danube offensive, while an additional Austrian force of 22,000 men under Archduke John would operate in the Tyrol. To distract French attention from the coalition's main offensives, a force of 40,000 Russians, Swedes and British would advance through northern Germany into Holland, while 30,000 Russians and British would land in Naples, coming from Malta to join with 36,000 Neapolitan monarchists and advance together up the Italian Peninsula into northern Italy. This immense plan, moving such masses of troops, mostly marching on foot over the planned distances was never before attempted and based on contemporary experience would have little chance to succeed. Still, the members of the Third Coalition having placed all their national effort on its success, ignored Napoleon's military genius and headed straight for an inevitable disaster.
Napoleon makes his plan
In the face of this multinational threat, Napoleon realized that his long awaited and delayed project — a cross-Channel invasion of England — was now becoming impossible. the military intelligence gathered by Murat and others, however, he had complete knowledge of the coalition's plan. Based on In the face of these multinational threats, Napoleon realized that his immediate project — a cross-Channel invasion of England — was now impossible. However, based on the incredible intelligence gathered by Marshal Murat, Napoleon had complete knowledge of the coalition's plan. His response would be a preemptive strike into central Europe. He would try to destroy the army under Ferdinand and Mack before the Russians could arrive, then crush the Russians in turn. Meanwhile, Marshal André Masséna, with 50,000 men, would tie down Archduke Charles' army in Italy. Marshal Guillaume Marie-Anne Brune, with 30,000 men, would forestall the coalition advance into Holland, and Général de Division Laurent Gouvion St. Cyr, with 18,000, would march on Naples to prevent any coalition advance there.
The instrument for Napoleon's offensive against Ferdinand and Mack stood at Boulogne on the English Channel. His Grande Armée, 180,000-strong, a highly trained, well armed and mobile force that was more than ready for action. Let us take a closer look at this magnificent military formation, as it starts on its forced march to the Rhine.
Napoleon's Grande Armee
One of the most important factors in the Grande Armée's success was its superior and highly flexible organization. It was divided into seven corps, each commanded by a marshal of France. Jean Baptiste Bernadotte commanded the I Corps; Auguste-Fredéric-Louis Marmont, the II Corps; Louis-Nicholas Davout, the III Corps; Jean-Baptiste de Dieu Soult, the IV Corps; Jean Lannes, the V Corps; Michel Ney, the VI Corps; and Pierre Franois Charles Augereau, the VII Corps. Joachim Murat commanded the Cavalry Reserve. The seven corps, Cavalry Reserve and Imperial Guard under Napoleon's own hand totaled 145,000 infantry and 38,000 cavalry; These Corps d'Armée were self-contained, smaller armies of combined arms consisting of elements from all the forces and support services. While capable of fully independent operations and of defending themselves until reinforced, the Corps usually worked in close concert together and kept within a day's marching distance of one another. Napoleon placed great trust in his Corps commanders and usually allowed them a wide freedom of action, provided they acted within the outlines of his strategic objectives and worked together to accomplish them. The main tactical units of the Corps were the divisions, usually consisting of 4,000 to 10,000 infantry or 2,000 to 4,000 cavalrymen. These in turn were made up of two or three brigades of two regiments, supported by an artillery brigade of three or four batteries, each with six field cannon and two howitzers, in all some 24 to 32 in all. The Imperial Guard was a small, elite army, directly under Napoleon’s control. Like the corps, it had infantry, cavalry and artillery. It was comprised of the best veteran soldiers from every theater of war – specially selected highly trained and fiercely loyal Egyptian Mamluks, Italians, Poles, Germans, Swiss, and others, as well as French. In battle they were the most feared soldiers in Napoleon's army. Much more than personal bodyguards, they served as Napoleon's weapon of last resort, when committed in battle.
Weapons and Tactics used at the battle of Austerlitz
With few exceptions, most armies in history have been built around a core of infantry. During the Napoleonic Wars, the infantry was armed with muskets, rifles, bayonets and short sabers. The primary weapon of Napoleonic infantryman was smoothbore musket.
The muskets fired a spherical lead ball and could inflict a fearful wounds at close range when the ball flattened slightly on impact, smashing bones, ripping huge holes in muscles, causing massive bleeding and shock. Cartridges, already made up with powder and ball wrapped in greased paper, were carried in a flapped leather pouch with a slotted wooden interior, each slot containing a cartridge. The most popular musket of Napoleonic Wars was the French 'Charleville' smoothbore musket model 1777 (AN IX), with overall length 151.5 cm, (barrel length 114 cm), triangular bayonet 45.6 cm and a short saber. The ratio of musket fire was 1-6 shots per minute, depending on quality of weapon, training and time taken for aiming. by modern standard By today's standards, muskets were not very accurate. Depending on the type and calibre, it could hit a man's torso at up to 200-300 paces, though it was only reliably accurate to about 50-100 paces. Effectiveness of muskets was low due to several factors:
- on windless day, the gun smoke caused by burning black powder used was so dense that the infantrymen could hardly distinguish friend from foe.
- on windless day, the gun smoke caused by burning black powder used was so dense that the infantrymen could hardly distinguish friend from foe.
- line infantry was not taught to aim, but simply to point their muskets in the general direction of the target. Concentrated firepower was essential because of the poor accuracy of the smoothbore muskets used during Napoleonic Wars. During firing in three ranks, "elbow-to-elbow", the infantrymen were struggling for space to load, aim and fire their muskets. Napoleonic infantry was formed on 3 ranks. A 600-men strong battalion had 200 men in the first, 200 in second and 200 men in the third rank. The first two ranks loaded and fired, while - theoretically - the 3rd rank had to load their muskets and then give them to those in 2nd rank. In reality it was very difficult to keep them doing this under fire. They would become excited once the battle commenced and would blaze away through the first two ranks.
Napoleon's Race for the Danube
On August 27, the Grande Armée broke camp and marched east. Bernadotte's I Corps, stationed at Hanover, headed for Wurzburg to collect the Bavarians, while the other six corps converged on the Rhine. Napoleon believed that 'The force of an army…is the sum of its mass multiplied by its speed.' The distance from Boulogne to the Rhine is 450 miles, and each soldier covered it on foot, carrying his knapsack and musket, a total of 65 to 75 pounds. The price was high. Jean Roch Coignet, a private in the Foot Grenadiers of the Imperial Guard, recalled: 'Never was there such a terrible march. We had not a moment for sleep, marching by platoon all day and all night, and at last holding onto each other to prevent falling. Those who fell could not be awakened. Some fell into the ditches. Blows with the flat of the sabre had no effect upon them. The music played, the drums beat a charge; nothing got the better of sleep….'
On September 26, the 'torrents' of the Grande Armée crossed the Rhine. The march continued into Germany until after wheeling to the south on October 6, the army found itself in line along the Danube from Ulm to Ingolstadt.
The enciclement of Ulm
Here according to the Allied plan, Austrian General Karl Mack von Leiberich, who had distiguished himself during campaigns in the French revolutionary wars commanded an Austrian army of some 72,000 men had reached Ulm. General Mack decided to make the city of Ulm the centerpiece of his defensive strategy, which called for a containment of the French until the 50,000 Russians under Field Marshal Michail Kutuzov could arrive and alter the odds against Napoleon. Ulm was protected by the heavily fortified Michelsberg heights, giving Mack the impression that the city was virtually impregnable from outside attack. But where were the Russians? Unbelievable, in a staggering display of administrative ineptitude, the Allied staffs had failed to recognize that while the Austrians followed the Gregorian calendar, the Russians still employed the older Julian calendar. In 1805 the difference was 12 days. So while the Austrians expected the Russian army to arrive on October 20, the Russians did not expect to join the Austrians until November 1. So Mack waited in vain and was soon facing disaster, as Napoleon's Grande Armee approached. On October 5, Napoleon ordered three of his corps, commanded by Ney, Lannes and Murat to make a concentrated crossing of the Danube at Donauwörth. Convinced through his agents probing along the river, Napoeleon decided to concentrate his main effort to encircle Ulm and eliminate the Austrians there. His three infantry and cavalry corps were headed to Donauwörth to seal off Mack's escape route. Following several minor battles, the French managed to capture some vantage points, including the Michelsberg and General Mack found himself in great trouble, with no help in sight and encircled decided to surrender. The Ulm Campaign had been Napoleon's first spectacular victory in the forthcoming battle culminating later at Austerlitz and had witnessed the elimination of an entire Austrian army at very little cost for the French. Napoleon's astounding victory at Ulm, was of strategic importance. In the Ulm Campaign, Murat's cavalry served as the pinning force that fooled the Austrians into thinking the main French attack would come from the Black Forest. As Murat lulled the Austrians towards Ulm, the main French forces crashed through Central Germany and separated Mack's army from the other theaters of the war. It is also considered to be one of the greatest historical examples of a strategic turning maneuver. Some Historians try to place the turning of Ulm as an example for the famous 1914 Schliefen Plan and later Manstein's version of the Ardennes campaign starting WW2. The decisive victory at Ulm is also believed to be a product of the long training and preparation the Grande Armée received at the camps of Boulogne and Napoleon's logistical decision to send his army across Germany, carrying light baggage to travel much faster than the Austrian had anticipated. Napoleon's forces needed about one eighth the transport used by contemporary armies at the time, giving them a level of mobility and flexibility unseen at that time and the the Grande Armée invaded in 1805 on a front that was 100 miles (161 km) wide, an action that took the Austrians by complete surprise.
The Allied Strategic Plan starts to falter
The shocking news of Mack's dramatic surrender at Ulm reached Marshal Kutuzov as he arrived with his army ar Braunau on the Austrian-German border and forced him to consider his options quickly. The long and exhausting march from his homeland had already lost him a seizable part of his army. Seeing little point to continue and advance as planned further into Germany, he would be risking his depleted force, numbering now nearly half the men out of the original fifty thousand soldiers, against a victorious French army. His viable choice was to stop and withdraw, while trying to join larger forces led by Marshal Büxhowden now assembling at Olmütz in the east and there reorganize his demoralized units, reshaping them into fighting condition. Napoleon had now to consider his next move very carefully. by pushing further along the Danube towards Vienna, he extended his lines of communications at a time when it appeared that the Prussians, sofar not being part of the Coalition, was responding to Marshal Bernadotte's violation of their territory by passing into Ansbach. Therefore Napoleon decided to take bold action and push on rapidly to crush Kutusov, before the latter could link up with his reinforcements, Kutusov, realizing that Napoleon was on his heels already, handled a brilliant rearguard action as he retreated in good order along the Danube. Worried over the fate of his capital, the Austrian Emperor, requested Kutusov to make a stand at St Pölten and defend Vienna. However, the latter had no intention to risk his army in a lost case and instead crossed to the north bank of the river at Krems and burned the bridge, the last over the Danube before Vienna behind him. Now safe from immediate pursuit, Kutusov attacked a French force advancing along the northern bank, isolated from Napoleon's main force.
Meanwhile Marshal Murat's cavalry had reached the outskirts of Vienna and by an extraordinary display of bluff and maneuver, managed to capture the main bridge over the Danube, which forced Kutusov to break his action and restart his retreat.
Napoleon's Pursuit and a Mile too Far?
With Vienna under his control, Napoleon now ordered a a rapid pursuit, hoping to cut off Kutusov's retreat before he could link up with Büxhowden. But with this move, the Grande Armee was drawing deeper and deeper, extending its logistical support line, which was now getting dangerous. Not only was his dependence on local provisions problematic, but in order to maintain his long communications safe, massive troops were required, reducing his frontline contingent considerably, until reinforcements, awaited from Italy could arrive over the alpine passes, before winter weather set in.
On November 20, he arrived at Brünn, a small town 80 miles north of Vienna. To the west of the town, he found the vanguard of Kutuzov, who was about to be joined by Büxhowden. An Austrian force under Field Marshal Jean-Joseph, Prince of Liechtenstein was also coming in. Napoleon, with only some 60,000 men at hand now faced Kutuzov with 73,000 troops. Moreover, Kutuzov expected another Russian force under Lt. Gen. Magnus Gustav Essen to arrive from Poland shortly, and Archduke Ferdinand, having gathered up 10,000 Austrian troops in Bohemia, was ready to push eastward to support Kutuzov. What was worse for the French, on October 30, Archduke Charles had attacked French Marshal Andre Masséna at Caldiero, then skillfully extricated his powerful army from Italy and disappeared into the Alps. There, he had combined his army with Archduke John's, and the two brothers and all were now moving north, target Olmützm where all Allied forces were now, concentrating for the grand battle with Napoleon.
Napoleon himself was in trouble, and he knew it. The Grande Armée was deep in enemy territory, his immediate force was heavily outnumbered and huge coalition reinforcements were on the way. Moreover, Prussia, impressed by the Third Coalition power concentration, was finally showing great interest in joining it. To win the war, all Kutuzov had to do was avoid battle.
Napoleon Prepares for the final Battle of Austerlitz
Napoleon calculated, however, that even if Prussia decided to join the coalition against him, it would not be able to put an army into the field for at least a month. The same was true for Archduke Charles' army, whose progress from Italy would be slowed by the inset of winter weather and his troops sent to block the alpine passes. All Napoleon had to do was to crush Kutuzov's army before those coalition reinforcements arrived. And if Kutuzov was unwilling to engage him, he would have to trick Kutuzov into attacking him. Napoleon's plan would be aided considerably by the arrival at Kutuzov's headquarters of Austrian Emperor Francis II and the young Russian Tsar Alexander I. The inexperienced tsar was accompanied by a retinue of young officers eager to show their contempt for the French army. While Kutuzov counseled waiting until overwhelming reinforcements arrived, the tsar and his Austrian compatriots decided against him and Napoleon's trap was starting to enfold. The battle of Austerlitz, his greatest triumph was setting its stage at the Allied Olmütz headquarters.
Napoleon was confident that the Allies, with their numerical superiority, would be tempted to attack him. To encourage their belief in the weakness of the Grande Armée, on November 21, he ordered Marshals Soult and Lannes to occupy the Pratzen heights, the centerpiece of the entire, a gently sloping, but dominating hill, facing the village of Austerlitz, which was temptingly close to the Allied positions. This action was to be followed by a movements in feigned confusion, to simulate the beginning of a general retreat. He followed this up with diplomatic action. On November 28 and again on the 29th, he sent a message to the tsar to ask for an armistice and a personal interview. Alexander ignored napoleon's request, sending only his chief aide-de-camp, General-Adjutant Prince Piotr Dolgorukov. The meeting failed to produce any solution, but Napoleon used the visit to his headquarters to let the prince see what he intended to, convice him of the seeming turmoil, as if troops were involved in preparations for retreat. This was precisely what prince Dolgorukov reported on his return to Olmütz. Napoleon's strategic trap was now set-the Allies were about to move into it by mounting their attack exactly where the French Emperor intended- the rather insignificant Pratzen heights, which were soon to become the famous centerpiece during the battle of Austerlitz and remain so even to this day, as an example of brilliant generalship.
The Austro-Russian battle plan
In essence the Allied plan was designed to turn the French left flank at Brünn, threaten their communications with Vienna and drive them back through difficult country towards Krems on the Danube. However, administrative delays caused meant that nearly a month passed until their troops could move. This gave Napoleon sufficient time to learn about the Allied plan and observe their preparations and make his own. On 29 November, according to Napoleon's orders, two of his corps, abandoned their positions east of Austerlitz, in full view of the Allied scouts and withdrew westwards to the positions he had selected behind the low ground behind the Goldbach stream, thus abandoning the dominating area of the Pratzen heights. Further forces, which had arrived, including his elite Imperial guard also took up positions behind the Goldbach valley.
Napoleon's Pratzen Hill battle Plan shapes up on a ground reconnaissance
While the French were moving to their new positions, withdrawing from the strategic Pratzen heights, the Allied, surprised and convinced now that Prince Dolgorukov's report was genuine, were redeploying their forces, currently concentrated against former French positions and strike over the abandoned Pratzen heights to attack the French positions towards the south. It was precisely what Napoleon wanted them to do. On that same day, the Emperor led his Corps commanders across his intended battlefield. Starting with the northern extreme, the left of the French line, they examined the Stanton hill by the Brünn Olmütz road, then rode up to the Pratzen plateau, from which the generals could clearly watch the Austro-Hungarian maneuvering into their jump-off positions. On the Pratzen, Napoleon explained in his battle plan in detail: By intentionally ceding the dominant Pratzen heights to the enemy, it would draw the enemy to attack, what they apparently imagined, weak French right flank and expose the allied center to a massive counter attack by Napoleon's grande Armee, most of their forces were deployed out of sight below the Goldbach valley, ready to move on command and smash into the enemy, fully engaged further south. At the same time strong cavalry forces would assemble west of the Stanton hill to block any enemy advance along the road to Brünn. It was a masterpiece battle plan, designed by a genius master of warfare and although costly, could and did not fail.
There was of course a very risky part of napoleon's battle plan involved. The French right flank, which would bear the heaviest part of the Allied attack, was relatively weak, although protected by a complicated system of streams and frozen lakes. Therefore, Napoleon ordered his most loyal Marshal Davout to march his strong corps from Vienna, which he achieved in a remarkable forced march covering the hundred kilometer distance in less than 48 hours. His arrival in time on the battlefield became crucial as we shall see.
Napoleon's "Sun of Austerlitz" wins the campaign and more
The battle began on the morning pf December 2nd with the first allied column attacking the village of Telnitz, which was defended by the 3rd Line Regiment. This sector of the battlefield witnessed heavy action in the following moments as several ferocious Allied charges evicted the French from the town and forced them onto the other side of the Goldbach. Just then the vanguard of Davout's corps arrived and threw the Allies out of Telnitz, which counter attacked with the hussars and recovered the village. Additional Allied attacks out of Telnitz were checked by French artillery. While the allied troops attacked the French's right flank, Kutuzov's IV Corps stopped at Pratzen height and stayed still. Just like Napoleon, Kutuzov realized the importance of Pratzen and decided to protect this important position. But the young Tsar did not agree and as commander in chief, expelled the IV Corp from Pratzen height and ordered it to join the attack in the south. This irresponsible act quickly pushed the Allied army into her grave.
Meanwhile, in the fog-filled valley below the Pratzen plateau, Napoleon stood quietly, gazing intently toward the plateau. Concealed by the low heights behind him stood the mass of his cavalry, Oudinot's Grenadier Division and the Imperial Guard. With them, too, stood the soldiers of Bernadotte's I Corps, 11,000-strong, who had force-marched from Iglau during the night. Napoleon now had 75,000 men and 157 guns to face the Allies' 73,000 men and 318 guns. Napoleon asked Marshal Soult, 'How much time do you require to crown that summit?' 'Ten minutes,' answered the marshal. At 9 a.m. two divisions of Soult's IV Corps marched forward. The decisive attacks on the Allied center were to split the Allied army in two and left the French in a golden strategic position to win the battle. Supported on their left by Bernadotte's I Corps, the French columns climbed the slopes of the plateau and emerged from the fog. The astonished Russians fought to hold back the French attack. Kutuzov tried to call back the rear of Miloradovich's column, but few units could be turned around in time. The French pushed over the Pratzen, and the coalition troops fell back in confusion toward Austerlitz. At 10:30 Kutuzov counterattacked the Pratzen. Soult stopped his line from collapsing by skillful deployment of his corps artillery. At 1 p.m. a new Russian attack swept in as its Imperial Guard Cavalry under Grand Duke Constantin Pavlovich stormed up from Austerlitz. Soult was in the middle of the fire. One of his officers was wounded; a ball struck the horse of his aide-de-camp. Napoleon ordered Général de Brigade Jean Rapp to lead the French Imperial Guard cavalry against the Russian attack. '[I]t was not until I came within gun-shot of the scene of action,' recorded Rapp, 'that I discovered the disaster. The enemy's cavalry was in the midst of our square, and was sabering our troops. A little further back we discerned masses of infantry and cavalry forming the reserve. The enemy relinquished the attack, and turned to meet me….We rushed on the artillery, which was taken. The cavalry, who awaited us, was repulsed by the same shock; they fled in disorder, and we, as well as the enemy, trampled over the bodies of our troops, whose squares had been penetrated…all was confusion; we fought man to man.
Meanwhile, on the French left, Marshal Lannes' V Corps attacked Russian prince Bagration to prevent the Russian from joining the struggle in the center. Lannes' advance was stubbornly contested by Bagration and Liechtenstein, but Murat led his heavy cavalry in a charge that overwhelmed the Russian force. Bagration began a measured withdrawal from the battlefield.
The terrible Finale end with carnage over frozen lakes
Calling the remainder of the Imperial Guard to the Pratzen plateau, Napoleon ordered it and Soult's survivors to swing south along the heights to envelop the Austro-Russian left. 'We charged like lightning,' wrote Thomas-Robert Bugeaud, a Velite Grenadier in the French Imperial Guard, 'and the carnage was horrible. The balls whistled. The air groaned with the noise of cannon and power threatening voices, closely followed by death. Very soon the enemy's phalanx was shaken and thrown into disorder; at last we overthrew them entirely.'
By 3:30 p.m., French guns and infantry were firing from the Pratzen into the massed enemy below. The only possible Austro-Russian escape route lay over the frozen ponds at their backs. The coalition soldiers tried to flee over the ice, but it broke under the French bombardment, and the retreat became a rout. Sometime after 4 p.m. the guns fell silent; the Battle of Austerlitz was over. Napoleon had won an astounding victory over a superior enemy force, by mastering fire and maneuver over carefully chosen ground.
The coalition forces had lost a staggering 29,000 men dead, wounded or captured, along with most of their guns and equipment. The Grande Armée had suffered fewer than 8,300 dead or wounded and some 600 prisoners.
The Political aftermath: Napoleon sets the stage for postwar Europe
Austerlitz and the preceding campaign profoundly altered the nature of European politics. In three months, the French had occupied Vienna, destroyed two armies, and humbled the Austrian Empire. Three days after the battle, Emperor Francis II, disgusted with Tsar Alexander and his Russians, signed an armistice with France. Alexander, disgusted with Francis II and his Austrians, limped away to the east. The Third Coalition collapsed. On December 26, 1805, France signed the Peace of Pressburg with Austria.