Battle of Austerlitz (1805)

The Battle of Austerlitz was fought between the French Army, commanded by Napoleon, and the Russian and Austrian forces, led by Tsar Alexander I, on December 2, 1805, in Austerlitz (now Slavkov), Moravia (now Czech Republic), Austrian Empire, during the Napoleonic Wars. This fiercely fought battle resulted in an outstanding French victory, putting an end to the Third Coalition against France, as on December 26, 1805, Austria and France signed the Treaty of Pressburg, which took Austria out of the war. After the defeat at the Battle of Austerlitz, Austria was forced to pay an indemnity of 40 million francs. In 1806, as a result of the French victoy, the Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist when Holy Roman Emperor Francis II kept Francis I of Austria as his only official title.

Background

Since 1792, Austria, Prussia, and Britain had been at war against France first to quell the French Revolution and restore the monarchy, during the French Revolutionary Wars, then to defeat Napoleon Bonaparte, who had become the new ruler of France with the title of First Consul. In 1797, after five years of war, the French Republic had defeated the First Coalition. A Second Coalition had been formed in 1798, but by 1801, this too had been beaten by the French Army commanded by Napoleon, leaving Britain the only opponent of the new French Consulate. In March 1802, France and Britain had agreed to end hostilities under the Treaty of Amiens. Nevertheless, British Prime Minister William Pitt had spent 1804 and 1805 in a flurry of diplomatic activity geared towards forming a new coalition against France, and by April 1805, Britain and Russia had signed an alliance, which was joined by Austria a few months later, forming the Third Coalition.

As a new threat arose from the east, with Austrian and Prussian armies getting ready for war, Napoleon abandoned his plans for an invasion of England during the summer of 1805, and turned to deal with these new adversaries. Moving with speed and efficiency, 80,000 French soldiers left their camps near Boulogne and began crossing the Rhine along a 160-mile front on September 25, 1805. To confront the French, Austrian General Karl Mack concentrated his army at the fortress of Ulm in Bavaria. Conducting a brilliant campaign of maneuver, Napoleon swung north and descended on the Austrian rear.

Summary of the Battle of Austerlitz

To fight Napoleon’s forces, the Allies deployed their armies west of Austerlitz, occupying the Pratzen Plateau, which Napoleon had deliberately evacuated to create a trap. The Battle of Austerlitz was initiated at about 08:00 hours, when the Allies launched their main attack, with 40,000 men, against the French right (south) to cut them off from Vienna. French Marshal Louis Davout’s corps of 10,500 men stubbornly resisted this fierce attack as the allied secondary attack on Napoleon’s northern flank was repulsed.

Napoleon launched Marshal Nicolas Soult, with 20,000 infantry soldiers, up the slopes to beat the weak allied center on the Pratzen Plateau. After vicious bayonet fighting, Soult captured the plateau and, with 25,000 reinforcements from Napoleon’s reserve, held it against the allied attempts to retake it. Then, the allies were cut up in two by a French cavalry counter attack, being pursued north and south of the plateau. The Prussian and Austrian lost 16,000 men killed and wounded and 10,000 captured, while Napoleon lost 9,000 men. The remnants of the allied army were scattered. Two days later, the Austrian Emperor, Francis I of Austria suspended the hostilities and arranged for Alexander I to take his army back to Russia.

Battle of Austerlitz (Video)

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