Friday, December 2, 2005

The Sun of Austerlitz

Soldiers !

The Russian army is presenting itself before you in order to avenge the Austrian army...

...I shall direct your battalions myself. I will hold myself far from the firing if, with your accustomed bravery, you carry disorder and confusion into the ranks of the enemy. But, if victory should for a moment be uncertain, you will see your Emperor expose himself to the first blows; for victory shall know no hesitation during this day, when the honour of the French infantry is at stake, which means so much to the honour of the whole nation...


Proclamation of Emperor Napoleon I to his army, morning, 2 December 1805 (From Claude Manceron, Austerlitz, [W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 1966, pp. 174-75]).
Exactly one year after his coronation in Paris as Emperor, 200 years ago today, Napoleon I won his greatest victory, at Austerlitz, in what is now the eastern Czech Republic, over the combined armies of Austria and Russia. Sometimes known as the "Battle of Three Emperors" because the Emperors of France, Russia and Austria were all present, or at least nearby; Austerlitz, along with the Battles of Jena (1806), and Friedland (1807), gave Napoleon effective control of Europe.
36 years old on the day of his greatest victory, Waterloo was not even a shadow on Napoleon's horizon. French hegemony in Europe seemed assured for at least a century. Despite having the smaller army, the Emperor knew its quality -- having such confidence in his troops that he actually promised to stay back from the fighting; and the troops having such belief in him both as leader and talisman that they begged him to do so.
The Russians and Austrians adopted the precise plan Napoleon predicted: and, as the day wore on, and a brilliant sun chased away the early morning fog, the Allies paid heavily. The French suffered 8-9,000 casualties, but the Austro-Russians lost some 30,000 killed, wounded or captured. Napoleon's column on the Place Vendome in Paris is cast from the 180 or so Russian and Austrian cannon captured at Austerlitz. On hearing of the battle, William Pitt, Prime-Minister of Great Britain, organizer of the alliance against the French, said "roll up that map of Europe, it will not be wanted again in our time." Pitt died just over a month after Austerlitz.

I am well pleased...!
You have, on this day of Austerlitz, justified everything that I expected of your intrepidity; you have covered your Eagles with an everlasting glory. A 100,000 man army, under command of the Emperors of Russia and Austria, was, within less than four hours, cut to pieces or dispersed. What escaped your blades drowned in the lakes. Forty flags, the banners of the Russian imperial guard, 120 pieces of artillery, twenty generals,more than 30,000 prisoners, are the result of this day now famous forever. . .
It will be enough for you to say "I was at the Battle of Austerlitz" for one to reply: "There is a brave man."
Proclamation of Napoleon I to his army, following Austerlitz. (from Manceron [see above] and Wikipedia, with corrections and modifications to Wikipedia translation by El Jefe.

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