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December 2, 1805|
THE BATTLE OF THE THREE EMPERORS
This hamlet forms a triangle with Lapanz (or Schlappanitz) and Jirschikowitz (Girschkowitz), enclosing between them an area of rising ground known today as the Breiterfeld, climbing to a height of 850 Feet at its peak, the Zurlan. Nestling behind this height to the westward lies the village of Bellowitz. From Puntowitz the Goldbach wends its solitary way south toward Kobelnitz, Zokolnitz and Tellnitz through a gradually broadening valley containing marshy fields, and, at the time of the battle, a series of small lakes or meres which have since disappeared.
To the west of the Goldbach lies a long, low ridge and to the east the ground climbs steadilily toward the village of Pratzen and the plateau beyond, which levels out at a height of between 900 and 1000 feet above sea level. Two re-entrants lead from the stream toward the Heights. To the north and east of this dominating feature lie the villages of Blasowitz and Krzenowitz respectively and to the south, the township of Aujest Markt (Augezd). The town of Austerlitz lies three miles away to the east of the Pratzen Heights on the banks of the Littawa River.
After making a detailed inspection of this ground, the Emperor formulated his plan of battle. He decided to allow the enemy the unopposed occupation of the Pratzen Heights, making the Goldbach and its nearby villages the dividing boundary.
In order to lure the enemy's main attack in that direction, the right wing of the French line would be kept deliberately weak, although Davout's corps should be at hand to reinforce it. The bulk of the French army was to be concealed in the dead ground behind the Zurlan; at the right moment, this force would be unleashed against the Pratzen Heights to break through the enemy's weakened center and fall on his rear. Meantime, the nortehrn flank would be held by the garrison of the Santon supported by a strong force of Murat's cavalry. Pivoting on the Pratzen, the enemy would, it was hoped, uncover their own line of retreat.
On November 29, the French forces that were already to hand took up their initial positions. The defense of the Santon was entrusted to Lannes' corps, consisting of the divisions of Suchet and the younger Cafarelli. Field fortifications were erected around the mound, and a battery of eight guns installed. To the right of the Vth Corps, Murat's reserve cavalry was bivouaced together with a park of twenty-four light field guns. In the dead ground to the south of the main road, the ten battalions of the Imperial Guard and the grenadiers of General Oudinot were stationed alongside forty more guns, and to their rear and left, a space was reserved for Bernadotte's Ist Corps, still on the road to the battlefield. The French right flank was deliberately extended and held by Soult's IVth Corps, the divisions of Vandamme and St. Hilaire being massed in the vicinity of Puntowitz, and Legrand's command being split up into garrisons for the villages of Kobelnitz, Zokolnitz and Tellnitz. In due course, the weakly held southern extremity of the French line would be successively reinforced from the direction of Vienna by the arrival of Davout's cavalry and the following divisions of Friant and Gudin.
So affairs rested until December I when the enemy at length made their appearance from the northeast. The first Russian columns occupied the Goldbach Height to the north of the road, but by the afternoon the formations of their center and left wing were seen to be deploying onto the Pratzen Heights. By evening, 85400 Allied troops had reached the field together with 278 guns, and the Tsar and Austrian Emperor established their joint headquarters in the village of Krzenowitz. A further force of 5000 Russians was also coming up from Olmutz. On the further side of the Goldbach rivulet, Napoleon now disposed of 66800 men and 139 cannon; Bernadotte's corps' had duly arrived, but there was still no sign of Davout.
Throughout the afternoon of December I, a hot discussion continued at the village of Krzenowitz. Each faction in the Allied headquarters had its own proposals to make, and this made the formulation of a final plan a tedious affair. The Emperor Francis, prematurely old, depressed and discredited by the disasters already suffered by his armies, continued to advise caution. So did the wily veteran Kutusov, but his views were not put forward with the greatest vigor. The young and talented Tsar at length favored the advice of his aides-de-camp, who included Dolgorouki, Lieven, Volkonski and Stroganov, and approved the plan put forward by the Austrian chief of staff Weyrother, "a veteran of the Viennese offices," who did not share his master's predilection for continued temporization and therefore supported the hot-heads who were advocating immediate action.
Although the first moves of major units began in the late afternoon, it was not until 1.00 A.M. the next morning that the Allied commanders were summoned to receive their detailed orders. General Langeron recorded the scene for posterity: "When we had all assembled General Weyrother arrived, unfolded upon a large table an immense and most accurate map of the environs of Briinn and Austerlitz, and read the dispositions to us in a loud tone and with a self-satisfied air which indicated a thorough persuasion of his own merit and of our incapacity. He was really like a college teacher reading a lesson to young scholars. Kutusov, seated and half asleep when we arrived, at length fell into a sound nap before our departure." Langeron noticed that of all the generals only Doctorov examined the map attentively.2I The general intention of Weyrother's plan was to turn the French right flank by making a crossing in force over the Goldbach between the villages of Tellnitz and Zokolnitz, followed by a swing to the north which would envelop the French as they fled for the security of Minn. Kienmayer's cavalry would accompany this attack in its initial stages, but once a footing over the Goldbach had been achieved, the Austrian was to strike westward to sever the Briinn-Vienna road near the town of Gross Raigern and thus preclude the possibility of any further reinforcements reaching the French from that quarter. A secondary attack would meanwhile be launched against Napoleon's left flank down the axis of the Olmutz-Briinn highway with the intention of tying down the French forces stationed there during the crucial moves to the south. The implementation of this plan involved the subdivision of the Allied army of 85,400 men into seven parts. No less than 59,300 troops were allocated to mount the main attack against the French right under the overall command of Buxhowden. Led by Kienmayer's advance guard, General Doctorov's 13,600 troops of the first column would open the battle by capturing the village of Tellnitz before swinging north to join Langeron for a joint-crossing over the Goldbach. By that time Langeron's column (11,700) should already have stormed Zokolnitz with the assistance of Przbysewski's third column (1o,ooo) on his right. Once over the stream, these three forces would unite north of the lake near Kobelnitz, and launch a determined attack against the french center, who would, by that time, presumably be holding a new front tching from Puntowitz to Turas. At this stage of the battle, the fourth Allied column, consisting of Kollowrath's Austrians and Miloradovitch's Russians and totaling 23,900 men, would make a frontal attack against the "hinge" of the inverted French battleline at Puntowitz after a direct advance from the Pratzen Heights. Throughout this main attack, Bagration's 13,000
infantry would be pressing the French left and endeavoring to capture the Santon while Lichtenstein's 4,600 cavalry linked right and center. In reserve behind the center, the Grand Duke Constantine would command the 8,500 elite troops of the'Russian Imperial Guard to the north of Krzenowitz. These measures, it was confidently anticipated, would encompass Napoleon's destruction.
However, a combination of dozing generals and early morning overconfidence had already led to one major error in the planning which was destined to determine the fortunes of December 2. The size of the Allied main attack would inevitably denude the center of troops and lay this open to attack by the French; only part of Miloradovitch's and Kollowrath's columns would be available to defend the area during the crisis of the battle, and this fact might well invite a French counterattack. This objection to Weyrother's plan was actually put forward at the conference by General Langeron but the sleepy consensus of opinion was that the danger was more imaginary than real. The Allied high command considered that Napoleon was already more than half beaten. If this was not the case, why had the French not forced action on the Ist, while the Allies were inconvenienced by their approach march? Why had Napoleon relinquished control of the dominating Pratzen without so much as a skirmish? These arguments convinced Weyrother at least that the risk to the weakened center would be negligible; in any case, the Grand Duke Constantine's reserve would be available to deal with any French attack toward the Pratzen. This amounted to a fatal miscalculation, proving the complete efficacy of Napoleon's deliberate deception plan. The bait was swallowed, and the hook firmly embedded; bar mischances, the outcome of Austerlitz was practically decided.
Throughout December I, the French Emperor was kept minutely informed of the enemy's moves. Most of the day was spent inspecting units and ensuring that their weapons were in good order, but in the late afternoon a large enemy movement toward the village of Augezd was reported as Kienmayer; Langeron and Doctorov moved into their appointed places facing the French right. From that moment a jubilant Napoleon was sure that the enemy was', conforming to the required plan. "Before tomorrow evening this army will be mine," he stated with conviction. One anxiety remained to nag at his mind and that was the continued absence of Davout, but he was certain that his subordinate would arrive in time to play his part on the right. This faith was justified, for in the late evening he received news that Davout's leading formation, Friant's division (6,000 strong) had made contact with Legrand's patrols and would bivouac for the night at Gross Raigern within a few miles of the Goldbach.
Serving with this formation was, of course, our informant Corporal Blaise, and he has left an interesting account of his division's 8o-mile forced march from Vienna carried out in the space of fifty hours, which illustrates the type of performance the French infantry could achieve:
"We left the village where we were lodging at nine in the evening. We marched until two in the morning when we halted in a wood. There we lit some fires and slept until five when we returned to the road. All day we marched and again camped in the woods; at six o'clock that evening we had not even had time to prepare our eagerly-awaited soup when we were informed that we should be leaving again at nine. We consequently preferred to fill the time until then with sleep; we had been issued with three days' bread ration at Vienna before setting out so we didn't go short, but it was all we had to eat. Then, leaving our position, we marched on until five A.M. when the regiment halted . . . . The colonel, whose interest in our welfare had never flagged from the opening of the campaign, now gave us an abundance of wine. This rallied our strength and put us in a fit state for continuing the march. When the officers considered that the greater part of the men had rejoined their companies we set off again, the colonel leaving behind an officer to rally the stragglers. At length we reached a village at seven in the evening where we camped alongside a division of dragoons . . . . I leave it to you to guess whether or not we employed the night for sleep after so long a march!"
Back on the main battlefield, at 8:3o P.M. the Emperor issued his preliminary orders for the following day. Sixty-five thousand troops were to mass behind the Santon and in the angle formed by the two streams. On the extreme right, Legrand's division of Soult's corps was at all costs to hold back the main anticipated Austrian attack until the IIIrd Corps could come up to its aid. On the opposite flank, Lannes was charged with the defense of the Santon and its environs, with Murat's cavalry reserve on his right hand. Bernadotte I'st Corps was to move up from behind the Santon and re-form between the villages of Girschkowitz and Puntowitz, ready to launch an attack against Blasowitz. Between them, these three major formations should be sufficient to keep the Allied right in play. The main French attack would then be made by two divisions of Soult's corps; by 7:3o in the morning, Vandamme's and St. Hilaire's troops were to be formed up on the further bank of the Goldbach as if for a move to the flank, but at the given signal their task was to storm the Pratzen Heights and break the Allied center. The Imperial Guard and Oudinot's grenadiers were to be held in reserve, available to strengthen the southern flank in case of emergency or, more importantly, to exploit the capture of the Pratzen by a movement designed to envelop the enemy.
To put the men on their mettle, an Order of the Day was issued, part of which ran as follows:
The positions which we occupy are formidable, and while the Russians march upon our batteries I shall attack their flanks. Soldiers, I shall in person direct all your battalions; I shall keep out of range if, with your accustomed bravery, you carry disorder and confusion into the ranks of the enemy; but if the victory is for a moment uncertain, you shall see your Emperor expose himself in the front rank .... Note that no man shall leave the ranks under the pretext of carrying off the wounded. Let every man be filled with the thought that it is vitally necessary to conquer these paid lackeys of England who so strongly hate our nation. . .
This flamboyant order undoubtedly put a keen edge on the men's courage; they felt at one with their commander in chief, and the fact that he took them into his confidence raised morale to a new height.
His orders issued, the Emperor dined with his officers, partaking of his favorite campaign dish of potatoes fried with onions. He was in his best form, talking cheerfully of Egypt and the lure of the East, gossiping about the reported appearance of a comet over Paris, surely an omen of victory for the morrow. Following a brief rest, he left the ruined but that constituted his quarters and set out on a further tour of inspection, frequently pausing to stare into the night in an attempt to discern the lie of the enemy's campfires; a reassuring quantity could be spotted around Augezd to the south. A welcome arrival was the weary Marshal Davout, come to report that his cavalry and advance guard would be in position by eight the next morning, closely followed by the rest of his infantry. A relieved Emperor then returned to his bivouac escorted by cheering soldiers in the famous torchlight procession.
The night passed reasonably quietly; there was one skirmish when a patrol of Austrian hussars reached the outskirts of Zokolnitz, but they were rapidly repulsed. In the early hours of the morning Savary, the chief of the operational staff, returned from a forward reconnaissance with tidings that the enemy in the vicinity of Augezd were at least a corps in strength. The Emperor was roused to hear these tidings, and Marshal Soult was summoned to an , impromptu conference. After a keen study of the maps, at 3:oo A.M. the Emperor dictated some slight changes to his original orders, involving a change of emphasis rather than a radical alteration. On account, we may
surmise, of the enemy's strength to the south, the attack on the Pratzen was shifted slightly to the north to make the most of the anticipated weakening of the Allied right center. Vandamme and St. Hilaire would now attack from Puntowitz. Further orders also allocated an additional 4,000 men to strengthen the right during the critical period preceding the arrival ofDavout's corps in force. The Emperor then returned to his pile of straw while his staff busied themselves issuing the new order.
The first troops were roused at 4:00 A.m., and as they moved to their allotted positions it was soon noticed that a thick morning mist had developed. This phenomenon caused considerable confusion on the further bank of the Goldbach, where the Allied columns were forming up for their initial attack, and the confusion proved greatly to the French advantage in the first hour of the battle. Nevertheless, at 7:00 A.M., a heavy attack developed around y Tellnitz, when Kienmayer's advance guard clashed with Legrand's garrison. At first all went well for the French, but a little later the bulk of Doctorov's strong column loomed out of the fog and by 8:00 A.M. the 1,2oo survivors of the 3rd Regiment of the Line were forced to relinquish their hold on the village, their retreat being covered by Davout's chasseurs and hussars. Further north, meanwhile, Langeron and Przbysewski were in the act of storming Zokolnitz. General Mangeron's handful of Tirailleurs du Po repulsed the first attack and were then reinforced by General Merle's 26th Light Brigade, bringing the garrison to a strength of I,8oo and six guns. But by 8:30 A.M. no less than 3o enemy cannon had been brought to bear, and a renewed attack by 8,000 Allies proved too much for the defense, and so Zokolnitz, in its turn, fell into enemy hands. However, away behind Tellnitz, Marshal Davout was organizing a counterattack with Heudelet's brigade, which included the footsore Corporal Blaise:
Before ordering the attack, Marshal Davout -who did not leave even though the bullets were beginning to bother us- recalled to our minds the action at Marianzelle. Then General Heudelet put himself at our head and we marched boldly forward in battle order until we were halted by a ditch which was too large for us to cross. General Heudelet thereupon ordered our colonel to move us over a bridge away to our left. This necessary movement was the cause of our undoing, for the soldiers were so eager to come to grips with the vaunted enemy infantry that they disordered the ranks in spite of les sages avis of our officers; and when we tried to re-form our battle order under heavy fire, some Austrian hussars, mistaking us for Bavarians in the thick smoke and fog which was a feature of the day, wounded a great many of us and captured 6o men, including 4 officers.
By 8:45 A.M., the village was once again in French hands, but the reoccupation was only short-lived. In the confusion of the battle the 108th Regiment had the misfortune to fire upon the 26th Light as it retreated from Zokolnitz, and this event did little to rally the defense. Thus by 9:00 o'clock the enemy was in almost full control of both villages.
Although it might appear that the Allies had secured the first honors of the day in overall terms, the battle was in fact going well for the French. About 8:00 o'clock the rising mists revealed the contours of the Pratzen together with the Russian columns moving south "like a torrent"; as Napoleon had hoped, the Allied center was becoming steadily weaker already 40,000 Allies were massed against the French right, and more were on their way. Much now depended on timing the French counterattack for the correct moment. The divisions of St. Hilaire and Vandamme were on the appointed start line over the Goldbach, and their presence was still conveniently disguised from the enemy by the lingering fog in the valley. To ensure the necessary elan, the men were fortified with an issue of a triple spirit ration. "How long will it take you to move your divisions to the top of the Pratzen Heights?" the Emperor enquired of Soult. "Less than twenty minutes, Sire, for my troops are hidden at the foot of the valley, hidden by fog and campfire smoke," was the reply. "In that case, we will wait a further quarter of an hour. Through his spyglass Napoleon was watching the steady movements of two more enemy columns (Kollowrath and Miloradovitch) toward the south. When he judged that they had moved sufficiently far on their jourey, the Emperor gave the word. Hoarse orders were shouted, the drums beat the pas de charge and the two divisions Were on their way, the sunlight glinting along the lines of bayonets as the troops emerged from the protective mists; it was 9:00 o'clock. On the right, General St. Hilaire made rapidly for his objective, the village of Pratzen itself; little opposition was encountered, very soon the French had pushed beyond the village onto the very summit of the plateau. On the left, advancing toward the peak of Stahre Vinobrady, General Vandamme was not quite so fortunate, running into a determined enemy force at the village of Girzikowitz which held him up for some little time.
The Allies were at first astounded by this sudden threat to their center. Marshal Kutusov and his headquarters, accompanying Miloradovitch's south-bound column, suddenly realized the danger as they reached the crest of the Pratzen en route for Zokolnitz. Halting the troops in his vicinity, Kutusov hurriedly reversed the direction of their march, but only two battalions
reached the village of Pratzen before the storm broke. This intervention came too late to stem the tide of the French advance, and by 9:3o A.M. the Allies were reeling back, and the French were well on the way toward becoming masters of the Pratzen Heights. Away to the north, the French left was also in the, process of going into action. Hitherto they had hardly exchanged a shot with Bagration's forces, but now Napoleon ordered Bernadotte to move on Blasowitz in support of Soult's attack. At first, this advance went well, but at 9: 3o A.M. two battalions of the Russian Imperial Guard succeeded in recapturing the village. Half an hour later, the entire French left was locked in furious combat with the foe. Murat's cavalry and a column under Lannes moved forward to pin down Bagration's infantry and Lichtenstein's squadrons of cavalry. A swarm of horsemen descended upon Cafarelli's division, but it was beaten off with heavy casualties by Kellermann's Light Cavalry. Blithely accepting odds of ten to one, the French troopers dismounted and poured a withering carbine fire into the enemy ranks. This was followed by a charge, and Lichtenstein's attack lost its impetus. Nevertheless, Lannes was still in trouble, for Bagration's 30 cannon continued to take a terrible toll, 40o men of Cafarelli's command being laid low in the space of three minutes, but a brief lull eventually descended on this sector of the field following the charge of the Allied cavalry. However, it was not very long-lived; Bagration was soon launching a new assault against the Santon, but the 17th Regiment of the Line held firm. A little later Lannes restormed Blasowitz at bayonet point, taking Soo prisoners and five guns. Then it was Murat's turn; the opportunity of driving a wedge between Bagration and Kutusov was too good to miss. Three thousand French horsemen started forward, but they were soon opposed by twice their number as Bagration, aware of the French design, flung every available squadron into the fray. Forty squadrons attacked the flank of Cafarelli's division as it pressed forward from Blasowitz, but the stalwart infantry changed front and beat off three enemy charges until such time as Murat could move up Hautpol's and Nansouty's cuirassiers from reserve. These imposing warriors, horsehair plumes tossing and cuirasses gleaming, pounded forward at a full trot on a 400-yard front, sustaining heavy casualties from the enemy fire, to plunge into the left flank of the Allied cavalry. The sound of the impact was heard throughout the field over the din of battle. For five minutes the struggle swayed to and fro, but then the Allied horse broke under the pressure. Lichtenstein succeeded in rallying part of his flagging cavalry and counterattacked the French who had scattered in pursuit, but this move was thrown into hopeless disarray by the arrival on the scene of the second regiment of French cuirassiers. On the extreme left, meanwhile, Lannes' infantry had been plodding doggedly forward against Bagration's divisions. The rate of advance was slow, for the Vth Corps contained a high proportion of relatively inexperienced conscripts who had to be kept closely in hand. Nevertheless, these units acquitted themselves nobly. In his report General Suchet wrote: "During the battle the infantry underwent artillery fire with the greatest coolness. The Emperor's orders were faithfully executed, and, perhaps for the first time since the beginning of the war, the greater part of the wounded dragged themselves to the ambulances." As a result of these combined efforts on the left, Bagration was virtually sundered from the remainder of the Allied army by noon, and Lannes had carried out his instructions to isolate the enemy right. The initial capture of the Pratzen plateau proved only the beginning of the battle in the center, and many crises had to be overcome before the French possession of the area was secure. Shortly after 10:00 A.M. St. Hilaire's division underwent a heavy ordeal when it was suddenly attacked on the right flank by the rear brigade of Langeron's returning column at a moment when the French were already hotly engaged with Kollowrath's troops to the fore and Kamenskoi's reserves on the left. Attacked simultaneously from three sides, the weary French troops began to waver, but St. Hilaire's determination and courage rallied the men to meet the crisis. Instead of awaiting the full impact of the combined enemy assault, he led his men forward in a desperate bayonet charge, and thereby earned a short respite. This gave Soult time to rush up the six 12-pounder guns of his corps artillery reserve; the marshal came forward in person to supervise their fire. A furious struggle ensued; cannon roared and musketry crackled-but great gaps were torn in Langeron's lines, and by 11:00 o'clock the worst crisis was past. On St. Hilaire's left, General Vandamme was, by this time, hotly engaged with 2,500 troops of Kollowrath's command and a further nine battalions under Miloradovitch, but by midday the enemy was pulling back on this sector as well. Except for their eastern edge, therefore, the Pratzen Heights were securely in Soult's possession.
Away on the French right flank, a bitter struggle of varying fortune had been proceeding all morning. After the fall of Tellnitz and Zokolnitz, the Emperor became somewhat anxious about the sector, and shortly after 9:30 A.m. he detached General Oudinot's grenadiers from the reserve with orders to strengthen the southern flank. In the event, however, the situation in this area rapidly improved once Soult's attack on the Pratzen became operative. A lull descended as the Allied columns on the left awaited orders
in the light of the new situation, and when Kutusov attempted to withdraw part of the second and third columns to strengthen his center, the cavalry of the IVth Corps played an important role by launching several charges against the countermarching Allies, with the result that the move was considerably hampered and delayed. During this period, the three routed French regiments were afforded time to form a new line to the west of the villages they had lost, and by 10:00 o'clock they were reinforced by the arrival of General Friant's weary division (part of Davout's corps) from Gross Raigern. These valuable additions to the fighting line enabled the struggle for Zokolnitz to be renewed; Brigadier Lochet stormed the village with two regiments, capturing two standards and six Russian guns. Leaving the 48th Regiment to garrison the regained objective, Lochet led forward the IIIth Regiment in a bold attempt to storm the castle of Zokolnitz on the eastern bank of the Goldbach. Before he reached his target, however, Langeron launched a vicious counterattack against Zokolnitz, virtually wiping out the 48th, and Friant had no alternative but to recall the IIIth to meet the new threat. For the rest of the morning, 8,000 French infantry and 2,800 cavalry fought off 35,000 Allies in an agonizing battle of attrition; although the greater part of Zokolnitz passed back yet again into Russian hands, the tenacious Lochet never relinquished his hold on the southern edge of the town, and the French line held.
By midday, therefore, the battle was going decidedly in Napoleon's favor. On the left, Lannes and Murat, with some assistance from Bernadotte, had successfully contained and isolated Bagration on the Allied right; in the center, Soult was in control of the Pratzen in the very midst of the enemy array; on the right, Davout had largely stemmed the tide of the Allied advance, supported in the rear by Oudinot's grenadiers linking the sector with the center. A French victory was practically assured, but the extent of the triumph was still in doubt.
The time was approaching for the final breaking of the Allied line, and the envelopment and destruction of at least the exposed left flank. As a preliminary move, Napoleon extricated Bernadotte's corps from the battle against Bagration, and moved the imperial Guard onto the left bank of the Goldbach to form a powerful mane de de'ciriorv. Imperial Headquarters was also moved. onto the Pratzen. Deciding that the decisive effort should have as its aim the envelopment of Buxhowden's command, Napoleon ordered the entire French center to incline to its right. By this time, only one serious obstacle stood between the French and success-the serried ranks of the redoubtable Russian Imperial Guard, horse and foot, which now moved magnificently
forward from its reserve position to fill the void developing in the Allied center. Shortly after 1:00 o'clock, the Grand Duke Ferdinand led up four fresh battalions of this elite corps to attack the weary and powder-stained troops of General Vandamme. Unfortunately for the success of this assault, the 3,000 Russians were too eager to come to grips with the French after a morning of infuriating inaction, and consequently charged full tilt with the bayonet from a distance of 300 yards. By the time they reached their objective, therefore, most of the men were seriously out of breath; nevertheless, the Russian Guard broke through the forward French line with little difficulty and were brought to a halt only by the concentrated fire of the second formations. Its impetus temporarily exhausted, the Russian Guard fell back in good order on Krzenowitz to reform.
At this moment, Vandamme received Napoleon's order to incline to his right, but in executing this movement he inevitably exposed his left flank and rear. Such an opportunity was not overlooked by the Grand Duke Constantine; 15 squadrons of the Guard cavalry at once fell on Vandamme's flank, supported by a renewed frontal assault by the Russian grenadiers.
Under very heavy pressure General Vandamme kept his head in admirable fashion, and immediately moved two battalions of the 4th Line and the 24th Light to cover his exposed flank. The Russian attack was so impetuous, records de Segur, "that Vandamme's two battalions on the left were overwhelmed! One of them, indeed, after losing its eagle and the greater part of its weapons, only got up to flee at full speed. This battalion, belonging to the 4th Regiment, almost passed over ourselves and Napoleon himself-our attempts to arrest it being all in vain. The unfortunate fellows were quite distracted with fear and would listen to no one; in reply to our reproaches for thus deserting the field of battle and their Emperor they shouted mechanically, "Vive l'Empereur!" while fleeing faster than ever.
It was fortunate for the French that no Allied reserves were at hand to exploit this success. Napoleon's first reaction was to send forward Bessieres with the cavalry of the imperial Guard. The first two squadrons were repulsed by the Russian guardsmen, but the second wave of the counterattack, three squadrons of horse grenadiers supported by batteries of horse artillery, fared considerably better. This struggle was now joined by the division of General Drouet, detached by Marshal Bernadotte on his own initiative when he saw how critical affairs were in the center. The advent of this reinforcement stabilized the situation, and Napoleon thereupon sent forward his senior aide-de-camp, General Rapp, with two squadrons of chasseurs of the Guard
and one of Mamelukes to give the coup de grace. The tired Russians were unable to withstand the impact of this new attack, and within ten minutes 5oo grenadiers were dead and 200 members of the nobly-born Chevalier Guard-the Tsar's personal escort-together with their commander, Prince Repnine, were taken prisoner. These captives were led back in triumph to the Emperor who remarked that: "Many fine ladies of St. Petersburg will lament this day." Meanwhile the survivors of the Russian Imperial Guard reeled back toward Krzenowitz, hotly pursued by Bernadotte's command. With this repulse, the Allied center ceased to exist; it was shortly after 2 :00 o'clock in the afternoon and the moment of exploitation had come, although events had not followed exactly the course Napoleon originally anticipated. Napoleon rapidly issued new orders. The occupation of the Pratzen Heights was entrusted to Bernadotte; the Guard, Oudinot's grenadiers and Soult's battle-weary divisions were to swing south to envelop Buxhowden from the north and east, while Davout attacked from the west. By 2:30 P.M., Buxhowden found himself in a decidedly critical situation. His wing of the army was now isolated from its fellows, and no orders were forthcoming from either Kutusov or the Tsar; Vandamme was soon in occupation of Augezd, and Davout's divisions were passing from the defensive to the attack and driving remorselessly forward once more toward the villages of Zokolnitz and Tellnitz. Too late, the Russian marshal ordered half his force to retreat to the east before the French blocked the route, and the remainder to fight their way north up the west bank of the Goldbach. Vandamme caught the eastbound columns and pinned them down; the forces pressing north were soon halted by the combined action of St. Hilaire and Marshal Davout. After a long day of attrition and heavy casualties-Corporal Blaise's unit alone lost four captains, two lieutenants and 7o men killed, a further dozen officers wounded, while the colonel had three horses killed under him -the mood of the French troops was predictably grim. General Thiebault of St. Hilaire's division records: "Up to the last hour of the battle, we took no prisoners, it would not do to run any risk; one could stick at nothing, and thus not a single living enemy remained to our rear." Davout's order to his men was simply, "Let not one escape." By 3 :00 o'clock the Russians were being driven back into the frozen lakes and marshes to the south. Przbysewski's division laid down its arms, and half Langeron's division also passed into captivity. Buxhowden's column, retreating east, was cut in two by Vandamme from Augezd, and only the marshal with the head of his column succeeded in escaping toward Austerlitz. General Doctorov, completely isolated with his back to the lakes, ordered sauve qui peut and his
5,000 men scattered to seek their individual safety. Many tried to escape over the frozen lakes, but Napoleon ordered up 25 cannon to bombard the ice, and the effect of the cannonballs added to the weight of the heedlessly galloping enemy gun teams caused the surface to crack and break, depositing several thousand unfortunates into the freezing waters. The French bulletins later claimed that as many as 20,000 perished in this way, but this figure is undoubtedly a gross exaggeration; only 5,000 Allied troops were in the vicinity of the lakes at this time, and it is probable that 2,000 were drowned (some authorities put the figure as low as 200. However, it is certain that 38 guns and 130 corpses of horses were recovered from the waters of Lake Satschen after the battle. As defeat developed inexorably into disaster on the Allied center and left, Marshal Bagration decided that the time had come to extricate his relatively intact wing of the army. The battle to the north had been fierce during the early afternoon, and at one point the Russians had almost overwhelmed Suchet's recruits on the extreme left before Lannes was able to retrieve the situation by attacking Bagration's center and left with the remainder of his corps, but by 3:00 o'clock, Bagration's retreat was under way, and by 4:30 P.m., all firing had died away on the northern flank. The French were too weary to harry Bagration sufficiently, and within the next 4o hours he succeeded in putting 6o kilometers of ground between himself and the battlefield.
At five in the evening, a general cease fire was sounded over the entire battlefield. The gruesome task of assessing casualties now began. It appears probable that Il,ooo Russians and 4,000 Austrians lay dead on the field, and that a further 12,ooo Allied troops were made prisoner, together with 180 guns and 50 colors and standards. Thus the Austro-Russian army lost some 27,000 casualties-or one third of its original effective strength. The French however, escaped relatively lightly: perhaps 1,305 were killed, a further 6,940 wounded, and 573 more captured. Napoleon had gained his decisive victory, and it duly brought his campaign to a triumphant conclusion. The Third Coalition was now on the verge of collapse. The day after the battle the Austrian Emperor was to seek an armistice while the Tsar and his Russians retreated toward Hungary and Poland. News of the great victory in Moravia was to hasten the death of a heartbroken William Pitt, France's most inveterate foe. But all this lay in the . future as a jubilant but exhausted Napoleon wrote a brief note to his wife, the Empress Josephine: "I have beaten the Austro-Russian army commanded by the two Emperors. I am a little weary. I have camped in the open for eight days and as many freezing nights. Tomorrow I shall be able to rest in the castle of Prince Kaunitz, and I should be able to snatch two or three hours sleep there. The Russian army is not only beaten but destroyed. I embrace you. Napoleon."
fravia+, 2 december 2001 (+196 years)