The Battle of Austerlitz

The Battle Of Austerlitz (1805)

The Battle of Austerlitz

Napoleon at Austerlitz. (Public Domain photo. Info can be found here)

Napoleon tried to capitalize on the success at the Battle of Ulm, wanting to force the allies to fight a decisive battle to end the war quickly. The Austrians, on the other hand, were trying to retreat so that they could pick their battles carefully. To lure the Austrians into a battle the French would play mind games with them by acting weak at times to try to get them to attack. This made the Russian Tsar Alexander I believe he was hesitant to go to war. At one point the Austrians tried to negotiate peace and Napoleon attacked while they were preparing for negotiations.

Both sides would settle in for a battle in the Czech Republic near the town of Austerlitz. The city was nestled between the mountains and had a strategic hill called Pratzen Heights that both would try to take. The allies (Austria and Russia) would take the heights and start planning a coordinated attack. They would devise a plan to attack the right side of the French while defending other positions. This was decided because they thought the right side was the weakest part of the French defense, but Napoleon made it look this way on purpose to lure an attack there. Napoleon was hoping that he could get the right side to hold up just long enough for the reinforcements to show up, but this would be difficult since they were 68 miles away. The French army would make it seem like they had given up on taking Pratzen heights because he was afraid. In reality he had simply hidden troops out of sight and in the fog so that no one would notice them.

The battle would start on the first anniversary of Napoleon’s coronation when the Austrians attacked the right side of the French line. It took them much longer to coordinate this attack than they had planned so the right side held up well against the attack. Alexander I (the young Russian Tsar) saw the issues on the right and chose to help them in the attack. He would ignore his advisers and move troops away from the Heights to help the attack on the right, which showed his extreme lack of experience in battle.

The French plan was to fake a retreat on the right before staging a hard counter attack on the center, with Napoleon quoted saying “1 sharp blow & the war is over” as he order this attack. The allies were caught completely off guard when he attacked the Pratzen Heights, the Austrians tried to swing troops over to help but it was too late. The allied commander on the left would retreat early because he was drunk and the French attack scared him badly. He would leave the O’Reilly Cavalry to cover his escape, sacrificing them so that he could leave the battlefield. This cavalry defeated 5 or 6 French regiments before being forced to retreat themselves.

Before long the allies were fleeing the battlefield in all directions. Some of the troops would run across an iced-over pond for a quick escape, though no one has an exact number of how many. Napoleon would order his men to shoot the ice with artillery shells to stop their escape. Between 200 and 2,000 of the allied men and horses would drown when the ice broke, on of the cruelest acts Napoleon ever did in battle. The numbers of dead are highly debated because of Napoleon’s tendency to exaggerate all numbers.

The allies would lose 37% of their army in this gigantic win by the French. Alexander I would actually be quoted saying “We are babies in the hands of a giant” in regard to what Napoleon did to them in this battle. Napoleon himself claimed that “The battle of Austerlitz is the finest of all I have fought,” and the Arc de Triomphe would be created to commemorate this victory (modeled after the Roman Arch of Titus). Each French officer was paid 2 million francs after the battle, with the regular soldiers receiving 200. Widows were also paid and any orphans from the battle were adopted by Napoleon personally, allowing them to add Napoleon to their family names.

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