This position, almost unassailable in front, was calculated to suggest to the allies the idea of cutting off Napoleon from the route to Vienna, by turning his right, and thus separating him from the rest of his army.
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 1, 1805
Place: Austerlitz (now in the Czech Republic)
After the usual compliments, Dolgoruki went to the object of his mission without any more oratorical precautions. Napoleon has reported the interview with his habitual untruthfulness, seasoning his account with the usual insults toward all men in whom he met with any ﬁrmness. He has related in his bulletins that this “puppy” (Freluquet) went so far as to propose to him the cession of Belgium. It had never been contemplated to demand Belgium from France, and the time would have been badly chosen to put forward such a proposition. Dolgoruki made no proposal of this kind. Alexander had agreed upon a program when he allied himself to Austria and Prussia, and it was this program, already discussed a hundred times, that his aide-de-camp submitted to Napoleon. Dolgoruki’s report of this interview bears the stamp of truth, and strikingly reminds us of the famous account of Whitworth’s interview with Napoleon. As usual, Napoleon speaks as a tempter when he cannot speak as a master. “What do they want of me? Why does the Emperor Alexander make war on me? What does he require? Is he jealous of the aggrandizement of France? Well! let him extend his frontiers at the expense of his neighbors — by way of Turkey; and all quarrels will be terminated!” And as Dolgoruki replied that Russia did not care to increase her territory, but wanted to maintain the independence of Europe, to secure the evacuation of Holland and Switzerland, the indemnity that she had never ceased to claim for the King of Sardinia, Napoleon ﬂew into a violent passion, and exclaimed that he would cede nothing in Italy, “not even if the Russians were encamped upon the heights of Montmartre!” an exclamation that is so much the more probable that we ﬁnd it textually a few days later in one of his bulletins. These words put an end to a negotiation that had been, on the part of Napoleon, only a ruse of war in tended to embolden his enemies, and both sides now thought of nothing but battle.
The positions that Napoleon had occupied to await the collision with the allies were admirably chosen, both for attack and for defense. Backed by the citadel of Bruenn, which would, if it were necessary, insure their retreat into Bohemia; covered on their left by hills thickly wooded, on their front by a deep stream which at certain distances formed large ponds, his troops were entrenched in the right angle made by the two highroads which run from Bruenn, one to Vienna and the other to Olmuetz. They occupied all the villages situated along the stream, from Girszkowitz to Telnitz, where the ponds begin. Opposite to their center, on the other side of the stream, rose the plateau of Pratzen, a commanding and advanced position, beyond which appeared at some distance the village and chateau of Austerlitz, which the army of the two emperors already occupied. Napoleon had posted at his left, round a knoll to which the soldiers had given the name of the “Santon,” Lannes’s corps d’armée, on both sides of the Olmuetz road; at his right, from Telnitz to Kobelnitz, he had placed Soult’s corps; at his center, toward Girszkowitz, that of Bernadotte, which had arrived the day before from the Bohemian frontier, and with him Murat’s cavalry. He himself formed the reserve with his guard and ten battalions, commanded by Oudinot. Behind his extreme right, at Raygern, in a position far removed from his center, he detached Davout, with Friant’s division and a division of cavalry, in order to bring them down at the decisive moment upon the left of the Russians. The whole of these troops amounted, notwithstanding all that has been said, to a total at least equal to that of the allies; for the three corps d’armée of Soult, Bernadotte, and Lannes, however reduced we may suppose them to have been by their losses and detachments, could not have numbered less than from ﬁfteen to twenty thousand men each; the guard and Murat’s cavalry formed at least twenty thousand men, and Davout’s detachment counted eight thousand.
This position, almost unassailable in front, was calculated to suggest to the allies the idea of cutting off Napoleon from the route to Vienna, by turning his right, and thus separating him from the rest of his army, which had remained quartered in the neighborhood of the capital. But this operation, hazardous enough if it were undertaken even at a distance by a series of strategical movements with forces only equal to his own, became an act of the most foolish temerity the moment it was attempted under the eyes of so formidable an enemy, within reach of his cannon, and upon the ﬁeld of battle that he had chosen. Such was, however, the plan which Weyrother ventured to adopt, encouraged no doubt by the apparent and calculated weakness of the detachments of the right near Telnitz, and the approaches of the road to Vienna.
In order to entice him more and more into this perilous path, Napoleon had not only withdrawn the troops from his right, but had not even occupied the plateau of Pratzen, a kind of elevated promontory which advanced toward the center of the two armies, and from the top of which he would have been able to render the turning movement of the Austro-Russian army very difﬁcult. The allies established themselves upon this plateau, but with insufficient forces, without suspecting the importance of the position and the part that it was to play in the coming battle. On the evening of December 1st, the Russians commenced their ﬂank march, keeping along the Frenchmen’s line at two gun shots’ distance for about four leagues, in order to turn their right. Napoleon, from his bivouac, saw them rushing to their ruin, with a transport of joy. He allowed them to effect their movement without putting any obstacle in their way, as if he recognized the impossibility of opposing it. Only one small corps of French cavalry showed itself on the plain, and immediately retired as if intimidated by the forces of the enemy.
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