Reinforced by the Russians, the Austrians gave battle near Austerlitz in early December. The resulting battle is often considered Napoleon's finest victory and saw the combined Austro-Russian army driven from the field.
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In the wake of the battle, the Austrian Empire signed the Treaty of Pressburg and left the conflict. Though fighting in Europe had ended with the Treaty of Amiens in March , many of the signatories remained unhappy with its terms. Increasing tensions saw Britain declare war on France on May 18, This saw Napoleon revive plans for a cross-channel invasion and he began concentrating forces around Boulogne. Later that year, Sweden signed an agreement with Britain opening the door to what would become the Third Coalition.
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Mounting a relentless diplomatic campaign, Prime Minister William Pitt concluded an alliance with Russia in early This came about despite British concern over Russia's growing influence in the Baltic. A few months later, Britain and Russia were joined by Austria, which having been twice defeated by the French in recent years, sought to exact revenge.
Moving with speed and efficiency, , French troops departed their camps near Boulogne and began crossing the Rhine along a mile front on September Conducting a brilliant campaign of maneuver, Napoleon swung north and descended on the Austrian rear. After winning a series of battles, Napoleon captured Mack and 23, men at Ulm on October To the northeast, a Russian field army under General Mikhail Illarionovich Golenischev-Kutusov had gathered and absorbed many of the remaining Austrian units. Moving towards the enemy, Napoleon sought to bring them to battle before his lines of communication were severed or Prussia entered the conflict.
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On December 1, the Russian and Austrian leadership met to decide their next move. Under pressure from their senior commanders, it was finally decided that an attack would be made against the French right southern flank which would open a path to Vienna. Moving forward, they adopted a plan devised by Austrian Chief of Staff Franz von Weyrother which called for four columns to assault the French right.
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The Allied plan played directly into Napoleon's hands. Anticipating that they would strike at his right, he thinned it to make it more alluring.
Believing that this assault would weaken the Allied center, he planned on a massive counterattack in this area to shatter their lines, while Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout's III Corps came up from Vienna to support the right. Taking the village, they threw the French back across Goldbach Stream. Regrouping, the French effort was reinvigorated by the arrival of Davout's corps. Moving to the attack, they recaptured Telnitz but were driven out by Allied cavalry. Further Allied attacks from the village were halted by French artillery. Slightly to the north, the next Allied column hit Sokolnitz and was repulsed by its defenders.
Storming forward, the French managed to retake to the village but soon lost it again.
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Fighting around Sokolnitz continued to rage throughout the day. Around AM, believing that the Allied center had been sufficiently weakened, Napoleon summoned Soult to discuss an attack on the enemy lines atop Pratzen Heights. Stating that "One sharp blow and the war is over," he ordered the assault to move forward at AM.
Advancing through the morning fog, General Louis de Saint-Hilaire's division attacked up the heights. Having been defeated twice in recent memory by France, and being keen on revenge, Austria joined the coalition a few months later.
After eliminating an Austrian army during the Ulm Campaign, French forces managed to capture Vienna in November 13, The Austrians avoided further conflict until the arrival of the Russians bolstered Allied numbers. Napoleon sent his army north in pursuit of the Allies, but then ordered his forces to retreat so he could feign a grave weakness. Desperate to lure the Allies into battle, Napoleon gave every indication in the days preceding the engagement that the French army was in a pitiful state, even abandoning the dominant Pratzen Heights near Austerlitz.
Napoleon's Ulm-Austerlitz Campaign
The battle began with the French army outnumbered. Napoleon had some 72, men and guns for the impending battle, with about 7, troops under Davout still far to the south in the direction of Vienna. The Allies had about 85, soldiers, seventy percent of them Russian, and guns. Napoleon deployed the French army below the Pratzen Heights and deliberately weakened his right flank, enticing the Allies to launch a major assault there in the hopes of rolling up the whole French line.
Meanwhile, the heavy Allied deployment against the French right weakened their center on the Pratzen Heights, which was viciously attacked by the IV Corps of Marshal Soult. With the Allied center demolished, the French swept through both enemy flanks and sent the Allies fleeing chaotically, capturing thousands of prisoners in the process.
The remnants of the allied army were scattered. Two days later Francis I of Austria agreed to a suspension of hostilities and arranged for Alexander I to take his army back to Russia. France and Austria agreed to an armistice immediately and the Treaty of Pressburg followed shortly after, on December It also imposed an indemnity of 40 million francs on the defeated Habsburgs and allowed the fleeing Russian troops free passage through hostile territories and back to their home soil.
Critically, victory at Austerlitz permitted the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of German states intended as a buffer zone between France and Central Europe. The Confederation rendered the Holy Roman Empire virtually useless, so the latter collapsed in after Francis abdicated the imperial throne, keeping Francis I of Austria as his only official title. These achievements, however, did not establish a lasting peace on the continent.
The Allies also lost some guns and about 50 standards. The great victory was met by sheer amazement and delirium in Paris, where just days earlier the nation had been teetering on the brink of financial collapse.
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