Memoirs

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125.

The Battle of Austerlitz

1

Meanwhile the great drama was approaching its final scene, and both sides were preparing to fight their stoutest. . . . You will see on the map that the Goldbach brook, which rises on the other side of the Olmütz road, falls into the small lake of Mönitz. This stream, flowing at the bottom of a little valley with pretty steep sides, separated the two armies. The Austro-Russian right rested on a hanging wood in rear of the Posoritz post-house beyond the Olmütz road; their center occupied Pratzen and the wide plateau of that name; their left was near the pools of Satschan and the swampy ground in their neighborhood. Napoleon rested his left on a hillock difficult of access, to which the Egyptian soldiers gave the name of the "Santon," because it had on the top a little chapel with a spire like a minaret. The French center was near the marsh of Kobelnitz, the right was at Telnitz. But at this point the emperor had placed very few soldiers, in order to draw the Russians on to the marshy ground, where he had arranged to defeat them by concealing Davout’s corps at Gross Raigern, on the Vienna road.

On the 1st of December, the day before the battle, Napoleon left Brünn early in the morning, spent the whole day in inspecting the positions, and in the evening fixed his headquarters in the rear of the French center, at a point whence the view took in the bivouacs of both sides, as well as the ground which was to be their field of battle the next day. There was no other building in the place than a poor barn. The emperor’s tables and maps were placed there, and he established himself in person by an immense fire, surrounded by his numerous staff and his guard. Fortunately there was no snow, and, though it was very cold, I lay on the ground and went soundly to sleep. But we were soon obliged to remount and go the rounds with the emperor. There was no moon, and the darkness of the night was increased by a thick fog, which made progress very difficult. The chasseurs of the escort had the idea of lighting torches made of pine branches and straw, which proved very useful. The troops, seeing a group of horsemen thus lighted come toward them, had no difficulty in recognizing the imperial staff, and in an instant, as if by enchantment, we could see along the whole line all our bivouac fires lighted up by thousands of torches in the hands of the soldiers. The cheers with which, in their enthusiasm, they saluted Napoleon, were all the more animated for the fact that the morrow was the anniversary of his coronation, and the coincidence seemed of good omen. The enemy must have been a good deal surprised when, from the top of a neighboring hill, they saw in the middle of the night 60,000 torches lighted, and heard a thousand times repeated the cry of "Long live the emperor"! accompanied by the sound of the many bands of the French regiments. In our camp all was joy, light, and movement, while, on the side of the Austrians and Russians, all was gloom and silence.

Next day, December 2d, the sound of cannon was heard at daybreak. As we have seen, the emperor had shown but few troops on his right; this was a trap for the enemy, with the view of allowing them to capture Telnitz easily, to cross the Goldbach there, then to go on to Gross Raigern and take possession of the road from Brünn to Vienna, and so to cut off our retreat. The Austrians and Russians fell into the snare perfectly, for, weakening the rest of their line, they clumsily crowded considerable forces into the bottom of Telnitz, and into the swampy valleys bordering on the pools of Staschan and Mönitz. But as they imagined, for some not very apparent reason, that Napoleon had the intention of retreating without delivering battle, they resolved, by way of completing their success, to attack us on our left toward the "Santon," and also on our center before Puntowitz. By this means our defeat would be complete when we had been forced back on these two points, and found the road to Vienna occupied in our rear by the Russians. As it befell, however, on our left Marshal Lannes not only repulsed all the attacks of the enemy upon the "Santon," but drove him back on the other side of the Olmütz road as far as Blasiowitz. There the ground became more level, and allowed Murat’s cavalry to execute some brilliant charges, the results of which were of great importance, for the Russians were driven out of hand as far as the village of Austerlitz.

While this splendid success was being won by our left wing, the center, consisting of the troops under Soult and Bernadotte, which the emperor had posted at the bottom of the Goldbach ravine, where it was concealed by a thick fog, dashed forward toward the hill on which stands the village of Pratzen. This was the moment when that brilliant sun of Austerlitz, the recollection of which Napoleon so delighted to recall, burst forth in all its splendor. Marshal Soult carried not only the village of Pratzen, but also the vast tableland of that name, which was the culminating point of the whole country, and consequently the key of the battlefield. There, under the emperor’s eyes, the sharpest of the fighting took place, and the Russians were beaten back. But one battalion, the 4th of the line, of which Prince Joseph, Napoleon’s brother, was colonel, allowing itself to be carried too far in pursuit of the enemy, was charged and broken up by the Noble Guard and Grand Duke Constantine’s cuirassiers, losing its eagle. Several lines of Russian cavalry quickly advanced to support this momentary success of the guards, but Napoleon hurled against them the Mamelukes, the mounted chasseurs, and the mounted grenadiers of his guard, under Marshal Bessières and General Rapp. The mêlée was of the most sanguinary kind; the Russian squadrons were crushed and driven back beyond the village of Austerlitz with immense loss. Our troopers captured many colors and prisoners, among the latter Prince Repnin, commander of the Noble Guard. This regiment, composed of the most brilliant of the young Russian nobility, lost heavily, because the swagger in which they had indulged against the French having come to the ears of our soldiers, these, and above all the mounted grenadiers, attacked them with fury, shouting as they passed their great sabers through their bodies: "We will give the ladies of St. Petersburg something to cry for"!. . .

But to finish the account of the battle. While marshals Lannes, Soult, and Murat, with the Imperial Guard, were beating the right and center of the allied army, and driving them back beyond the village of Austerlitz, the enemy’s left, falling into the trap laid by Napoleon when he made a show of keeping close to the pools, threw itself on the village of Telnitz, captured it, and, crossing the Goldbach, prepared to occupy the road to Vienna. But the enemy had taken a false prognostic of Napoleon’s genius when they supposed him capable of committing such a blunder as to leave undefended a road by which, in the event of disaster, his retreat was secured; for our right was guarded by the divisions under Davout, concealed in the rear in the little town of Gross Reigen. From this point Davout fell upon the allies at the moment when he saw their masses entangled in the defiles between the lakes of Telnitz and Mönitz, and the stream.

The emperor, whom we left on the plateau of Pratzen, having freed himself from the enemy’s right and center, which were in flight on the other side of Austerlitz, descended from the heights of Pratzen with a force of all arms, including Soult’s corps and his guard, and went with speed toward Telnitz, and took the enemy’s columns in rear at the moment when Davout was attacking in front. At once the heavy masses of Austrians and Russians, packed on the narrow roadways which lead beside the Goldbach brook, finding themselves between two fires, fell into an indescribable confusion. All ranks were mixed up together, and each sought to save himself by flight. Some hurled themselves headlong into the marshes which border the pools, but our infantry followed them there. Others hoped to escape by the road that lies between the two pools; our cavalry charged them, and the butchery was frightful. Lastly, the greater part of the enemy, chiefly Russians, sought to pass over the ice. It was very thick, and five or six thousand men, keeping some kind of order, had reached the middle of the Satschan lake, when Napoleon, calling up the artillery of his guard, gave the order to fire on the ice. It broke at countless points, and a mighty cracking was heard. The water, oozing through the fissures, soon covered the floes, and we saw thousands of Russians, with their horses, guns, and wagons, slowly settle down into the depths. It was a horribly majestic spectacle which I shall never forget. In an instant the surface of the lake was covered with everything that could swim. Men and horses struggled in the water amongst the floes. Some — a very small number — succeeded in saving themselves by the help of poles and ropes, which our soldiers reached to them from the shore, but the greater part were drowned.

The number of combatants at the emperor’s disposal in this battle was 68,000 men; that of the allied army amounted to 82,000 men. Our loss in killed and wounded was about 8,000 men; our enemies admitted that theirs, in killed, wounded, and drowned, reached 14,000. We had made 18,000 prisoners, captured 150 guns, and a great quantity of standards and colors.

1 Marbot, , vol. i, pp. 195–201.

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Chicago: "The Battle of Austerlitz," Memoirs in Readings in Modern European History, ed. Webster, Hutton (Boston: D.C. Heath, 1926), 269–272. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2021, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZSMR1NDIBPNVEQK.

MLA: . "The Battle of Austerlitz." Memoirs, Vol. i, in Readings in Modern European History, edited by Webster, Hutton, Boston, D.C. Heath, 1926, pp. 269–272. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2021. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZSMR1NDIBPNVEQK.

Harvard: , 'The Battle of Austerlitz' in Memoirs. cited in 1926, Readings in Modern European History, ed. , D.C. Heath, Boston, pp.269–272. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2021, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=ZSMR1NDIBPNVEQK.