Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History Department

Sunday 28th May 2017 | Manchester, UK

Battle of the Month: The Battle of Austerlitz

Napoleon’s military career is somewhat proliferated by the Battle of Austerlitz, also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, in December 1805, in which Napoleon’s cunning and masterful allure saw the crushing defeat of Austria’s army and ultimately led to the end of the Third Coalition and the signing of the Treaty of Pressburg. Napoleon has often been considered a masterful military commander, due to his ability to command on the front line and make decisive decisions strategically. For Robert Goetz, in particular this title of him being one of history’s “foremost great captains” is rightfully attributed to him when studying the Battle of Austerlitz.

Napoleon at the Battle of Austerlitz

As alluded to in the title of the battle, it took place in modern day Czech territory and saw Napoleon strong-arm the leaders of the Holy Roman Empire: Francis II and the leader of Russian and Austrian Army: Tsar Alexander I. The burgeoning tensions in the lead up to the battle during the Napoleonic wars made the Battle of the Three Emperors all the more emphatic. The Battle sprang on the back of Britain’s declaration of war against France after the breakdown of the Peace accord made at Amiens in 1803. Britain began to fear Napoleon was increasingly striving to take personal control over much of Western Europe, which ironically is a criticism born out of the battle and so was obligated to declare war. James Arnold highlights a criticism of Napoleon, that following French victory at Austerlitz, French foreign policy seemingly morphed into Napoleonic policy.

 

After initially propelling his forces further forward in pursuit of the Allies having sieged Vienna a month earlier, Napoleon ordered the retreat of his forces as he seemingly feigned a military frailty. On the surface Napoleon successfully presented his French Army as an infirm body and to further aid this act he left the previously guarded post at Pratzen Heights abandoned. This, for the Austrians then appeared as a way in and means of attacking the French body in a vulnerable area. Having anticipated this, Napoleon overwhelmed the Austrians, heavily outflanking the Allies in numbers but also in fatalities and causalities suffering 75% less trauma to his army.

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