Battle of Austerlitz

Battle of Austerlitz
Part of the War of the Third Coalition
Colored painting showing Napoleon on a white horse and General Rapp galloping towards Napoleon to present the captured Austrian standards.
Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz, by François Gérard (Galerie des Batailles, Versailles)
Date2 December 1805
LocationAusterlitz, Moravia, Austrian Empire
(now Slavkov u Brna, Czech Republic)

49°8′N 16°46′E / 49°8′N 16°46′E / 49.133; 16.767
ResultDecisive French victory
Territorial
changes
Dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire and creation of the Confederation of the Rhine
Belligerents
 FranceRussian Empire Russian Empire
 Holy Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Napoleon I Alexander I
Mikhail Kutuzov
Francis II
Strength
65,000-68,000 (not including III Corps)[1]84,000-95,000[2]
Casualties and losses
1,305 dead,
6,940 wounded,
(8,245 total),
573 captured,
1 standard lost[3]
Total: 9,000
16,000 dead or wounded,
20,000 captured,
186 guns lost,
45 standards lost[4]
Total: 36,000

The Battle of Austerlitz (2 December 1805/11 Frimaire An XIV FRC), also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, was one of the most important and decisive engagements of the Napoleonic Wars. In what is widely regarded as the greatest victory achieved by Napoleon, the Grande Armée of France defeated a larger Russian and Austrian army led by Tsar Alexander I and Holy Roman Emperor Francis II. The battle occurred near the town of Austerlitz in the Austrian Empire (modern-day Slavkov u Brna in the Czech Republic). Austerlitz brought the War of the Third Coalition to a rapid end, with the Treaty of Pressburg signed by the Austrians later in the month. The battle is often cited as a tactical masterpiece, in the same league as other historic engagements like Cannae or Gaugamela.[5][6]

After eliminating an Austrian army during the Ulm Campaign, French forces seized Vienna in November 1805. The Austrians avoided further conflict until the arrival of the Russians bolstered Allied numbers. Napoleon sent his army north in pursuit of the Allies, but then ordered his forces to retreat so he could feign a grave weakness. Desperate to lure the Allies into battle, Napoleon gave every indication in the days preceding the engagement that the French army was in a pitiful state, even abandoning the dominant Pratzen Heights near Austerlitz. He deployed the French army below the Pratzen Heights and deliberately weakened his right flank, enticing the Allies to launch a major assault there in the hopes of rolling up the whole French line. A forced march from Vienna by Marshal Davout and his III Corps plugged the gap left by Napoleon just in time. Meanwhile, the heavy Allied deployment against the French right weakened the allied center on the Pratzen Heights, which was viciously attacked by the IV Corps of Marshal Soult. With the Allied center demolished, the French swept through both enemy flanks and sent the Allies fleeing chaotically, capturing thousands of prisoners in the process.

The Allied disaster significantly shook the faith of Emperor Francis in the British-led war effort. France and Austria agreed to an armistice immediately and the Treaty of Pressburg followed shortly after, on 26 December. Pressburg took Austria out of both the war and the Coalition while reinforcing the earlier treaties of Campo Formio and of Lunéville between the two powers. The treaty confirmed the Austrian loss of lands in Italy and Bavaria to France, and in Germany to Napoleon's German allies. It also imposed an indemnity of 40 million francs on the defeated Habsburgs and allowed the fleeing Russian troops free passage through hostile territories and back to their home soil. Critically, victory at Austerlitz permitted the creation of the Confederation of the Rhine, a collection of German states intended as a buffer zone between France and Central Europe. The Confederation rendered the Holy Roman Empire virtually useless, so the latter collapsed in 1806 after Francis abdicated the imperial throne, keeping Francis I of Austria as his only official title. These achievements, however, did not establish a lasting peace on the continent. Prussian worries about growing French influence in Central Europe sparked the War of the Fourth Coalition in 1806.

Prologue

Europe had been in turmoil since the start of the French Revolutionary Wars in 1792. In 1797, after five years of war, the French Republic subdued the First Coalition, an alliance of Austria, Prussia, Great Britain, Spain, and various Italian states. A Second Coalition, led by Britain, Austria and Russia, and including the Ottoman Empire, Portugal and Naples, was formed in 1798, but by 1801, this too had been defeated, leaving Britain the only opponent of the new French Consulate. In March 1802, France and Britain agreed to end hostilities under the Treaty of Amiens. For the first time in ten years, all of Europe was at peace.

But many problems persisted between the two sides, making implementation of the treaty increasingly difficult. The British government resented having to return the Cape Colony and most of the Dutch West Indian islands to the Batavian Republic. Napoleon was angry that British troops had not evacuated the island of Malta.[7] The tense situation only worsened when Napoleon sent an expeditionary force to crush the Haitian Revolution.[8] In May 1803, Britain declared war on France.

Third Coalition

In December 1804, an Anglo-Swedish agreement led to the creation of the Third Coalition. British Prime Minister William Pitt 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.[9] Having been defeated twice in recent memory by France, and being keen on revenge, Austria joined the coalition a few months later.[10]