The next morning, December 2, 1805, the rising sun gradually dispelled the fog that covered the country, and showed the two armies ready for the conﬂict.
Continuing The Battle of Austerlitz,
our selection from History of Napoleon by Pierre Lanfrey published in 1875. The selection is presented in four easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Battle of Austerlitz.
Time: December 2, 1805
Place: Austerlitz (now in the Czech Republic)
Napoleon quickly understood, by this commencement, that his efforts to draw the attack upon his right were going to be crowned with success. His conviction in this respect was so ﬁrm that the same evening in the proclamation that he addressed to his soldiers he did not hesitate to announce to them the manoeuver that the enemy would make on the morrow at his proper risk and peril. “The positions which we occupy,” he said, “are formidable; and while they are marching to turn my right they will present their ﬂank to me. Soldiers, I shall myself direct your battalions. I shall keep out of the ﬁre if with your usual bravery you throw disorder and confusion into the enemy’s ranks; but if the victory should be for a moment uncertain, you will see your Emperor the foremost to expose himself to danger!”
This prediction, made with so much assurance, greatly contributed to gain credit for a report, that is still very generally believed in Russia, that Weyrother’s plan had been treacherously made known to Napoleon. There is nothing impossible in this fact; for although Weyrother’s plan was only communicated to the allied generals very late in the night of December 1st, it was certainly known earlier to a part of the staff. But Napoleon had no need of such a communication to discover a fault, of which he had himself suggested the idea by his own dispositions, and of which he had seen all the preliminary developments with his own eyes. This story is then but of slight importance, and could only be admitted upon formal proofs, which have not hitherto been given.
After having inspected the advanced posts, Napoleon resolved to visit the bivouacs. Being recognized by the soldiers, he was immediately surrounded and cheered. They wished to féte the anniversary of his coronation; bundles of straw were hoisted blazing on poles for an impromptu illumination, and an immense train of light along the French line made the allies believe that Napoleon was trying to steal away, by means of a stratagem borrowed from a Hannibal or a Frederick. An old grenadier approached and addressed him in the name of his fellow-soldiers. “I promise thee,” he said, “that to-morrow we will bring thee the colors and cannon of the Russian army, to féte the anniversary of thy coronation!” — a characteristic harangue which showed that in spite of everything the republican spirit still subsisted in the lower ranks of the army, and that the soldiers regarded Napoleon less as a master than as a former equal, in whom, even in crowning him, they thought they were personifying their own grandeur.
The next morning, December 2, 1805, the rising sun gradually dispelled the fog that covered the country, and showed the two armies ready for the conﬂict. The Russians had almost entirely evacuated the plateau of Pratzen, and in the valley beneath their columns were distinctly seen advancing in the direction of Telnitz and Sokolnitz. It was there that they hoped to turn the enemy’s right, after having forced the Legrand division, which alone held this deﬁle. The execution of this principal maneuver of Weyrother’s plan had been conﬁded to clumsy Buxhoewden, a brave general, but of no ability, who had under his orders a corps of thirty thousand men; and Generals Langeron, Doctoroﬁ’, and Przibyszewski. They were to be supported by Kollowrath, who still occupied a part of the plateau. The Russian right, commanded by Bagration, faced Lannes in front of the Santon; in the center, near Austerlitz, were the two emperors with their guard and the corps d’armée of Prince Lichtenstein. Kutuzoﬁ, discouraged and disheartened by the kind of fetichism that the sacred person of the Czar (Alexander I) inspired in the Russians, followed his master, lamenting beforehand the misfortunes which he foresaw, but without doing anything to ward them off. Bagration himself, on reading in the morning Weyrother’s plan, had exclaimed, “The battle is lost!”
The allied army thus formed an immense semicircle, which extended from Holubitz to Telnitz, and closed the angle of which the French occupied the center. Lying in wait at the bottom of this sort of funnel, concentrated in a narrow space, attentive, motionless, and crouching like a lion preparing to spring upon its prey, the French army was waiting in formidable silence the signal for rushing on the enemy. When the whole of the left of the allies had reached the ponds, and were beginning to attack, at Telnitz, Legrand’s division — which was soon to be supported by Davout’s corps, recalled from Raygern — Napoleon, who had hitherto kept back his troops, gave the signal, and Soult’s divisions rushed to the assault of the heights of Pratzen. There they found Kollowrath’s column, marching to rejoin Buxhoewden. In an instant they attacked it in ﬂank and overturned it; immediately after they found the infantry of Miloradovitch, which was drawn up in a second line to support it. Vandamme’s and St. Hilaire’s divisions, seconded by Thiébault’s and Morand’s Brigades, threw themselves with the bayonet upon the Russian battalions. These, stopped short in the middle of their movement, ﬁnding no reserve to support them, attacked in the rear when they were marching to assail the enemy in front, were driven down the slopes of the plateau under the eyes of the Emperor Alexander, surprised and dismayed at the unforeseen catastrophe which had just routed his center.
While Napoleon was striking with his accustomed rapidity this decisive blow, which at the beginning of the battle cut the Russian army in two at its very center, his own corps d’armée, boldly deploying by a simultaneous forward march, were performing with almost equal success the task that had been assigned to them. At the extreme right of the French army, it is true, Legrand’s division, overwhelmed by quadruple forces, had at ﬁrst been driven beyond Telnitz and Sokolnitz, but Davout had soon come to his assistance with Friant’s and Bourcier’s divisions, so that Legrand’s retrograde movement had proved an advantage rather than otherwise, since it had drawn the Russian left deeper and deeper into the snare in which it was taken. From the center, Bernadotte had marched upon Blaziowitz; he had attacked the Russian guard and Prince Lichtenstein’s corps, while Lannes, who formed the right, took Holubitz, in spite of Bagration’s efforts to dispute him this position. This double irruption prevented the Russians from reinforcing their troops at Pratzen. Lichtenstein’s magniﬁcent cavalry, composed of eighty-two squadrons, called on one side to succor their center and charged on the other to support Bagration, could not act with the harmony that was necessary to the impulse of such an irresistible mass. One part of his squadrons engaged with Constantine’s ulans in the pursuit of Kellermann’s light horse, in the middle of the French infantry, which crushed it with their ﬁre; the other charged more successfully Murat’s cavalry, but being unsupported it soon fell back.
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