Battle of Austerlitz Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

A major turning point in the Napoleonic Wars, France’s rout of the Russian army at Austerlitz closely followed its rout of the Austrian army at Ulm. These allied setbacks destroyed the Third Coalition and moved the wavering Prussians to seek peace terms with France.

Summary of Event

In 1805, Great Britain, Austria, Russia, Russia;and Third Coalition[Third Coalition] Sweden, Sweden;and Third Coalition[Third Coalition] and Naples Naples;and Third Coalition[Third Coalition] joined to form the Third Coalition Austria;and Third Coalition[Third Coalition] against France. Two earlier international coalitions had joined to combat revolutionary France. The Third Coalition was the first to oppose France after Napoleon Bonaparte had himself crowned Emperor Napoleon I in December, 1804. In May, 1803, Britain had broken the unfavorable Peace of Amiens. Amiens, Treaty of (1802) While Napoleon was seriously contemplating an invasion of Britain, Austria and Russia declared war on his new empire. Russia’s Czar Alexander I Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Battle of Austerlitz[Battle of Austerlitz] joined the coalition mainly for philosophical reasons, picturing himself in the role of the savior of Europe. His fear of French influence in the eastern Mediterranean was a secondary reason. Austria, on the other hand, had more forceful reasons for fighting France. The treaties of Campo Formio Campo Formio, Treaty of (1797) (1797) and Lunéville (1801) Lunéville, Treaty of (1801) had humiliated Austria by reducing the size of its empire and by eliminating its influence in Germany and Italy. Austerlitz, Battle of (1805) Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815);Battle of Austerlitz Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];Battle of Austerlitz Third Coalition [kw]Battle of Austerlitz (Dec. 2, 1805) [kw]Austerlitz, Battle of (Dec. 2, 1805) Austerlitz, Battle of (1805) Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815);Battle of Austerlitz Napoleon I [p]Napoleon I[Napoleon 01];Battle of Austerlitz Third Coalition [g]France;Dec. 2, 1805: Battle of Austerlitz[0310] [g]Russia;Dec. 2, 1805: Battle of Austerlitz[0310] [g]Austria;Dec. 2, 1805: Battle of Austerlitz[0310] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec. 2, 1805: Battle of Austerlitz[0310] Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Battle of Austerlitz[Battle of Austerlitz] Bernadotte, Jean-Baptiste-Jules Davout, Louis Francis II (Holy Roman Emperor) Leiberich, Karl Mack von Soult, Nicholas-Jean de Dieu

Battle of Austerlitz, 1805

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Throughout the summer of 1805, the French army was poised along the English Channel English Channel , waiting for Napoleon’s navy Navy, Frency to gain at least temporary control of the short expanse of ocean between Calais and Dover. In late August, however, Napoleon turned his back on the English Channel in order to meet a new and more dangerous threat developing on the Upper Danube. Danube River Without waiting for their Russian allies to arrive, the Austrians decided to open their campaign without delay and catch the French off guard. However, they made two fatal errors. They concentrated their strength in Italy, believing that the major fighting would take place there, as it had in two previous campaigns, and they underestimated the speed at which the French army could move. Napoleon moved six army corps to the upper Danube so fast that he was able to shatter the Austrian army in southern Germany and force Baron Karl Mack von Leiberich Leiberich, Karl Mack von to surrender his army with twenty thousand men at Ulm on October 20, 1805. This victory opened the road to Vienna, Vienna;French capture of which the French captured in mid-November.

By late November, the Russian army had gathered in substantial force at Moravia, Moravia to the north of Vienna. There they were joined by fragments of the Austrian army. However, the principal Austrian forces, commanded by their talented general, Archduke Charles, were still far south of the Danube River, retiring eastward. At that moment, Alexander I Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Battle of Austerlitz[Battle of Austerlitz] , who had joined his army, decided to give battle despite a warning from his chief military adviser that such a move would be disastrous. The Russian forces outnumbered the French, and the czar believed that he would win, especially as he had chosen a favorable battlefield. Furthermore, at that time, the Prussian government was in the process of joining the coalition, and if Alexander could defeat Napoleon at Austerlitz, the Prussian army Army, Prussian;Napoleonic Wars would march south and cut off the French retreat. The war would be brought to a victorious conclusion for the allies, and Alexander would be the hero of all Europe. Such was not to be the case, however, at least not for another six years.

Moving rapidly, Napoleon’s army occupied the Pratzen Heights, which was the best strategic position on the field. Feigning weakness, Napoleon ordered his forces to withdraw. The Russian army then seized the initiative by moving in to occupy the Pratzen Heights and surrounding area. Believing that the Russians would concentrate their attack against his right, Napoleon placed Marshal Louis Davout’s Davout, Louis Third Corps there and ordered Marshal Nicholas-Jean de Dieu Soult’s Soult, Nicholas-Jean de Dieu Fourth Corps to hold his extended center. By the time Napoleon had finished his dispositions, his army, consisting of 73,200 men, was defending a position stretching more than five miles, south from the Brünn-Austerlitz road to Menitz Pond behind Goldbach Brook. After checking all of his preparations, Napoleon visited with his soldiers and was greeted with cheers and an impromptu torchlight parade.

Meanwhile, the predominantly Russian army of 85,700 men attacked the French position on the morning of December 2, 1805. Napoleon had concentrated his strength in the center and on his left flank. The Russians massed against his right. After having marched seventy miles from Vienna, the Third Corps under the command of Marshal Davout defended a three-mile front on Napoleon’s right. Although overextended and outnumbered four to one, Davout’s Davout, Louis infantry held against repeated Russian assaults.

Napoleon I (on white horse) at the Battle of Austerlitz.

(The S. S. McClure Company)

By 10:00 a.m., the half-frozen marshes along the Goldbach were covered with Russian dead and wounded. Despite the heavy losses, the czar ordered his army to continue the assault on the French front right. When Napoleon saw that the enemy was committed to the turning of his right flank, he ordered Soult Soult, Nicholas-Jean de Dieu to retake the Pratzen Heights occupied by the Russian center. Soult’s Fourth Corps immediately attacked but was driven back by a fierce counterattack by the Russian Imperial Guards. Napoleon then ordered the cavalry of the Imperial Guard to reinforce Soult, and the Pratzen Heights was secured.

At 11:00 a.m., after further strengthening Soult’s forces, Napoleon ordered an attack southward against the Russians. By 1:00 p.m., Davout’s Third Corps as well as Marshal Jean-Baptise Bernadotte’s Bernadotte, Jean-Baptiste-Jules First Corps on the left flank were moving forward. By 2:00 p.m., the Russian army had been split into two parts and both were in full retreat. The divisions commanded by Soult had moved to the high ground in the center and then pivoted upon Davout’s soldiers so that the Russian forces were driven onto the half-frozen lakes of Menitz and Satschan, which had bounded the French right flank. The Russian army lost 27,000 men, killed and wounded, while the French suffered only 1,300 killed, 6,490 wounded, and 500 missing. The French also captured 180 cannons and 45 enemy colors.

Significance

After the battle, Alexander Alexander I [p]Alexander I[Alexander 01];and Battle of Austerlitz[Battle of Austerlitz] was led from the battlefield in tears, as his brave but poorly led troops fled eastward in disorder. The French victory was complete, and the enemy was no longer capable of giving battle. Francis Francis II (Holy Roman Emperor) II, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire Holy Roman Empire , immediately asked for an armistice, and later signed the Peace of Pressburg, which put an end to the Third Coalition. Alexander did not sign a peace treaty but led the remnants of his army back to Russia to reorganize. When news of the battle reached Berlin, the Prussians (who had been preparing to enter the struggle by attacking the French lines of communication) at once sent an envoy to Napoleon to discuss terms. Napoleon’s hold on Italy and Germany was reconfirmed and strengthened, while Austria’s western boundary was pushed still farther to the east.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bowden, Scotty. Napoleon and Austerlitz: An Unprecedentedly Detailed Combat Study of Napoleon’s Epic Ulm-Austerlitz Campaigns of 1805. Chicago: Emperor’s Press, 1997. One of the best detailed expositions of the combat in the Battles of Ulm and Austerlitz.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chandler, David G. The Campaigns of Napoleon. New York: Macmillan, 1966. Standard work on Napoleon’s military career, containing clear descriptions of all Napoleon’s battles.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Connelly, Owen. Blundering to Glory: Napoleon’s Military Campaigns. Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1987. Although lacking detailed descriptions of Napoleon’s battles, this study provides perhaps the best critical analysis of Napoleon’s career as a military commander.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Esposito, Vincent J., and John Robert Elting. A Military History and Atlas of the Napoleonic Wars. New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1964. While the narrative descriptions of Napoleon’s campaigns and battles are rather brief, the maps are among the best available in any published work.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Goetz, Robert. 1805, Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2005. About one-half of this book provides a detailed analytical reconstruction of the Battle of Austerlitz that does a good job in explaining how Napoleon was able to defeat the larger Russian force. The rest of the book discusses the events before and after the battle.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hourtoulle, François Guy. Austerlitz: The Eagle’s Sun. Paris: Histoire & Collections, 2003. Lavishly illustrated book designed for amateur military historians interested in such matters as detailed pictures of uniforms and equipment.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Paul. Napoleon. New York: Viking Press, 2002. Concise biography, providing an overview of Napoleon’s life and career. Johnson portrays Napoleon as an opportunist, whose militarism and style of governance planted the seeds for warfare and totalitarianism in the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Marceron, Claude. Austerlitz: The Story of a Battle. Translated by George Unwin. New York: W. W. Norton, 1966. Although uncritical of Napoleon, this study provides a complete narrative of the Battle of Austerlitz.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Schom, Alan. Napoleon Bonaparte. New York: HarperCollins, 1997. Scholarly, detailed biography covering all facets of Napoleon’s life and career. Schom is unusually candid about his subject’s character flaws and failures.

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