Today’s installment concludes The Battle of Austerlitz,
our selection from History of Napoleon by Pierre Lanfrey published in 1875. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
If you have journeyed through all of the installments of this series, just one more to go and you will have completed a selection from the great works of four thousand words. Congratulations!
Previously in The Battle of Austerlitz.
Time: December 2, 1805
Place: Austerlitz (now in the Czech Republic)
At Pratzen, Kamenski’s brigade, brought from the Russian left to the relief of the center by Prince Wolkonski, had rallied the remnants of Kollowrath’s and Miloradovitch’s divisions, and for a moment renewed the combat. Alexander at length under stood the importance of the possession of the plateau, but it was impossible for his corps d’armée, engaged so far from this position, which was the ﬁrst of the whole battle, to send reinforcements in time. Old Kutuzoﬁ, wounded in the head, saw with despair the realization of his fears, and on being asked if his wound was dangerous exclaimed, extending his hand toward Pratzen, “There, there is the mortal wound!” Assailed in front and in ﬂank by all Soult’s divisions, Kamenski’s brigade heroically resisted their attacks; but soon overwhelmed by numbers, and reduced to half, it was forced down into the bottoms by the side of Birnbaum. It was one o’clock; the center of the allies was annihilated; their two wings fought still, but without communication and without means of rejoining. In this critical moment the Russian guard, of which the greater part had hitherto remained in reserve, advanced toward the French center to drive it back, and attempted to retake the heights of Pratzen. One of the French battalions was surprised and overturned by its cuirassiers, but Napoleon’s guard rushed up in its turn. The two cavalries charged with fury in a desperate conﬂict. A hand to-hand ﬁght began between these choice troops, but terminated in favor of the French. The Russian horse-guards, cut to pieces by the enemy’s horsemen, fell back in disorder, and Rapp took Prince Repnine prisoner. At the same time a general movement of the guard and Bernadotte’s corps broke the Russian line, which was driven back in the direction of Austerlitz after a frightful slaughter. Napoleon hastened to join a part of these troops to those of Soult in order to make a general attack, under Buxhoewden’s corps d’armée.
This general, blindly pursuing his movement round the French right, had not only passed by Telnitz and the deﬁles that formed the ponds, but had advanced as far as Turas, situ ated in the enemy’s rear, always ﬁghting more or less success fully against Davout’s and Legrand’s divisions, and without paying any attention to what was taking place in the center. Recalled by the most peremptory orders, he was now obliged to regain this dangerous route under the ﬁre of all Soult’s divisions. Przibyszewski’s division, which he had left at Sokolnitz, was surrounded and forced to surrender. He succeeded in bringing back Doctoroﬂ’s column as far as Augezd; but at the moment that he was debouching from it Vandamme fell upon him from the heights of Pratzen and cut his column in two, a portion of which only was able to continue the route to rejoin Kutuzoﬁ. The rest of Doctoroﬂ”s colunm and the whole of Langeron’s, with Kienmayer’s cavalry, were driven over the ponds. Their artillery passed onto a bridge, which broke under it. These troops rushed on to the pond of Telnitz, which had been frozen for two or three days; but Napoleon immediately directed the ﬁre of his batteries upon these unfortunates. The ice was broken by the cannon-balls and by the weight of so great a mass of men: it suddenly gave way, and several thousand soldiers were engulfed in the water. On the morr’ow their cries and groans were still heard. There remained no other means of escape for Doctorotf and Kienmayer than a narrow road between the two ponds of Melnitz and Telnitz, and it was by this route, under the cross ﬁre of the French artillery, that these generals executed their retreat with admirable ﬁrmness, but sustaining immense losses.
Such were the mournful scenes upon which “the sun of Austerlitz” shone. These scenes had doubtless their grandeur, as have all those in which courage and genius have been displayed, but nothing could henceforth efface the horror of them, for one thing alone has the privilege of purifying and ennobling a ﬁeld of battle, and that is the triumph of a great idea. Here it was not a principle that was involved, but a man.
The Austro-Russian army had retreated, not to Olmuetz, as Napoleon supposed on the evening of the Battle of Austerlitz, but into Hungary, which in all probability saved it from a still greater disaster. The Russians had lost twenty-one thousand men, dead and wounded; the Austrians nearly six thousand; a hundred thirty-three guns and an immense number of ﬂags had remained in the victor’s hands. The French had lost on their side, according to the most probable estimates, about eight thousand ﬁve hundred men; for the calculation contained in the Emperor’s bulletin, of eight hundred killed and ﬁfteen hundred wounded, can only be regarded as a most puerile falsehood.
Never had Napoleon before carried off such an overwhelming victory: never either had he been so much aided by the faults of his adversaries; but to lead the enemy to commit faults is half the genius of war, and it was in this that he excelled. The victory of Rivoli had been as brilliant by the sureness and precision of the maneuvers, but the results were far from equaling those of Austerlitz. Its immediate consequences were equivalent to the almost complete destruction of the European coalition, which was for a long time reduced to powerlessness. With regard to its future results, they might have been still more satisfactory if a detestable policy had not incessantly called in question the successes obtained by prodigious military genius. But to the end of his career Napoleon proved by his own example that there is an art still rarer and more difficult than the art of using victory — it is the secret of not abusing it.
This ends our series of passages on Battle of Austerlitz by Pierre Lanfrey from his book History of Napoleon published in 1875. This blog features short and lengthy pieces on all aspects of our shared past. Here are selections from the great historians who may be forgotten (and whose work have fallen into public domain) as well as links to the most up-to-date developments in the field of history and of course, original material from yours truly, Jack Le Moine. – A little bit of everything historical is here.
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