Austerlitz, Battle of

Austerlitz, Battle of
   The decisive battle of the War of the Third Coalition, and widely regarded as Napoleon’s greatest tactical success. Austerlitz was fought on December 2, 1805 in Moravia, in the Austrian Empire, between approximately 70,000 French with 139 guns and 85,000 Allies (60,000 Russians and 25,000 Austrians) with 278 guns. Having surrounded and captured an Austrian army near Ulm six weeks earlier and taken Vienna, Napoleon proceeded northward to a position near Brunn. There he sought to draw the Allied army into a trap by feigning weakness; he first occupied, and then conceded, the high ground on the Pratzen plateau. With Tsar Alexander I of Russia and Emperor Francis II of Austria attached to his headquarters, the Russian general Mikhail Kutusov commanded a numerically superior Allied army, with which he occupied the heights unchallenged.
   Ignorant that Napoleon had deliberately overextended his right flank and concealed some of his troops, Kutusov opened the battle with a flanking movement in an effort to cut French communications with Vienna. When a French corps under Marshal Davout arrived, Napoleon’s position stabilized, prompting Kutusov to throw yet more troops into the fray. On the French left, Marshals Lannes and Murat enjoyed considerable success, driving back the Allied assaults before moving to the offensive themselves and pushing their opponents eastward. Seeing this development, and aware that the shift of Allied troops south across the Heights of Pratzen left that weakened, Napoleon threw in Marshal Soult’s corps to seize the heights. The Russians counter-attacked with their Imperial Guard, against which the French sent their own elite formation, with the former unable to retake the lost ground. The French made still further gains, in the process dividing the Allied army in half and piercing their lines. Soult thereupon struck the Allied rear, already committed to the fighting against Davout. Finding themselves surrounded, the Allies fled across the nearby frozen lakes, where many drowned when the ice broke under French artillery fire.
   Austerlitz constituted a crushing French victory. A third of the Allied army was rendered out of action, with 16,000 killed and wounded and perhaps 11,000 taken prisoner, plus a loss of 180 cannon. The French lost 1,300 killed and 7,000 wounded, plus 500 taken into captivity. Unable to prosecute the war further, the Austrians concluded a treaty of peace at Pressburg on December 23, thus confirming their withdrawal from the Third Coalition. The Russians, incapable of bearing the sole burden of the fighting, withdrew east into Poland.
   See also <>; <>.
    Bowden, Scott. Napoleon and Austerlitz. Chicago: The Emperor’s Press, 1997;
    Castle, Ian . Austerlitz 1805: The Fate of Empires. Oxford: Osprey, 2002;
    Castle, Ian. Austerlitz and the Eagles of Europe. London: Leo Cooper, 2005;
    Duffy, Christopher. Austerlitz 1805. London: Seeley Service, 1977;
    Goetz, Robert. 1805 - Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition. London: Greenhill Books, 2005.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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