Boys' Book of Battles - Chelsea Fraser
With cunning rare he left the cake
For the ants to gorge their taste,
And as the foe rushed toward the prize,
His legions laid them waste!
A wise man knows that eminence and glory in any profession come from thoroughly knowing the laws which belong to the profession, and acting in complete obedience to them. And so when one hears that some famous person has attained that prestige just because he was favored by being born with a rare genius, or has always been smiled upon by the Goddess of Good Fortune, he knows that science has been trampled under by the foot of ignorance.
Like all other great characters—when one knows the inside story of their lives—the greatness of Napoleon Bonaparte can easily be reduced to elements of reality and reason. Spirit, brilliance and glamor, did invest his movements, 'tis true, making his career one of intense, romantic action. Yet when the causes for these movements are known it is seen that they sprang, not from accident or witchery, but from good hard study and sound analysis.
At the opening of the French Revolution, when twenty-two and a lieutenant-colonel, Napoleon presents the picture of a young man of good family and distinguished position, thoroughly educated in general instruction, and particularly well trained, through years of tutelage, in militarism—the profession of his early choice. He had enjoyed unusual opportunities of military and political experience, but not through "pull," having forced them upon himself through his own strong personality. As a boy of ten, a King's scholar at the royal military school at Brienne, he had shown a strong aptitude for mathematics. It is said that one time, when given an exceptionally difficult problem to work out, he shut himself up for two days and nights, neither eating nor sleeping, till he was able to appear before his instructor with the correct solution. This is but one example of many that might be furnished which demonstrate not only the great perseverance of the boy over a task, but which goes to bear out my claim that his early lessons in analysis, for one thing, were gained solely at the expense of severe application.
He was also, as a boy, a very heavy reader. Of his reading he liked history best, but he left behind him numerous essays which show that he was a deep thinker as well as a vivid writer. At the age of fifteen, while at the royal school at Paris, he voluntarily prepared a memoir upon the luxury and expense of education at that place. In this he urged his fellow students to adopt hardy habits and a simple fare, enuring themselves to such toils and exposure as they might expect to encounter in war!
No man ever had greater advantages for forming his mind and character by the aid of old and regular institutions; and it was from them that he derived that discipline of the powers of thought and action, and that illumination of judgment whose operation under the stimulus of passion, and in the blaze of imperial glory, dazzled the whole world as the miracle of history.
With this little introduction of the man himself it will be well now to proceed to show him under action in the campaign of Austerlitz, in 1805, the outcome of which did much in adding to the brilliancy of his already scintillating name.
The assumption of the imperial crown by Napoleon was the signal for the first formation of the mighty coalition of the North. This, though baffled for ten years by his extraordinary genius and activity, succeeded at last in overwhelming him.
The diplomacy of Mr. Pitt had managed to establish a military alliance with Russia, Austria and Sweden, by which these powers would appear against France with three hundred and fifty thousand troops during the autumn of 1805. Of this immense host, fifty-five thousand were to operate, under Archduke Charles, on Italy against Massena; thirty thousand had assembled in the Tyrol, under Archduke John; eighty thousand, under Mack and Archduke Ferdinand, had crossed the Inn on the 9th of September, entered Bavaria and occupied the Black Forest and its debouches into the valley of the Rhine; and one hundred and sixteen thousand Russians were advancing in two armies through Poland, but could not arrive before months. Beside these an Austrian reserve of thirty thousand was forming at Vienna, and there was an equal force of Russians and Swedes in Pomerania.
In September Napoleon, satisfied that the disasters of his fleet under Villeneuve, on the 22nd of July, and the subsequent mistakes of that admiral, had rendered his armament at Boulogne unavailing against England, issued orders for all the troops between Cherbourg and Hamburg to concentrate in Bavaria. The forces at his disposal then consisted of thirty-five thousand men in Italy under Massena, beside fifteen thousand near Naples; twenty-four thousand Bavarian and Wurtemberg troops, in alliance with France; and his grand army of one hundred and eighty thousand men on the shores of the channel in Holland, and in Hanover.
Occupying a central position, he determined again to put into operation the form of strategy which had so often led to the most brilliant results, and by taking advantage of Mack's advanced situation, fall suddenly upon his communications, and surround him before any relief could reach him.
Early in September this army of Napoleon's had moved forward, from the various mobilization points of its units, with the utmost celerity, and had arrived on the Rhine by the 23rd of that month. His marshals, Ney, Lannes and Soult, with the Guards and Murat's corps of cavalry, were directed upon Donaworth and Dettingen on the Danube beyond Ulm; Davoust and Marmont, upon Neuberg; Bernadotte and the Bavarian corps, upon Ingolstadt; while Augereau advanced from the defiles of the Black Forest into the rugged Tyrolese Alps.
At the first intelligence of the movement of this army, Mack concentrated his forces at Ulm, Memmingen and Stockach, expecting an attack in front. But, to his dismay, in the beginning of October he found the whole army of Napoleon in his rear, between Vienna and his headquarters. He immediately threw up intrenchments at Memmingen, assembling his forces in that place and in Ulm.
By the middle of October, the corps of Marmont and Soult, and the Imperial Guards, were in Augsburg; Bernadotte was in possession of Munich, in observation of the expected Russian army; Murat on the right bank of the Danube, and Ney on the left, were in possession of all the bridges crossing that river; and the other corps were arranged in such manner as to complete the circle as closely as possible around the devoted Mack.
A body of four thousand Austrians, under General Oauffemberg, who were dispatched by Mack to give assistance to Reinmayer, near Donaworth, were surrounded and cut to pieces by Murat.
To deliver himself from the fate which now seemed to threaten him, Mack, about the 8th of October, turned his army toward the northeast, in hopes of regaining the Bohemian frontier. Finally he established his headquarters in Burgau, between Ulm and Augsburg, where there was a bridge over the Danube.
On the 9th the Austrians in this town were attacked by Ney with superior numbers, and driven out at the point of the bayonet. Quite discouraged, Mack retired to Ulm with his headquarters. At once he was followed by Ney, whose advance guard, under Dupont, had a sharp and sanguinary engagement with twenty thousand Austrians at Hasslach on the 11th.
The same day Soult was sent against Memmingen, and having completed the investment of it on the 13th, began the onslaught with great fury. Being without supplies, the garrison of four thousand immediately surrendered.
Directly after this, Soult marched with three of his divisions to Biberach, while his fourth division was sent to the southeast of Ulm to join Marmont and Lannes. At the same time Napoleon, with his Imperial Guard, advanced from Augsburg to Burgau. Ney, on the north, completed the fatal circle which surrounded the Austrian.
On the 14th occurred the battle of Elchingen. Ney, with his Sixth Corps of the Grand Army, arrived about daylight on the right bank of the Danube, where General Reisch had taken up a strong position in opposition. The skeleton of a bridge remained, which the Austrians the day before had dismantled and damaged, but not wholly destroyed.
This passage was guarded by six pieces of cannon, also numerous troops. But the ardor of the French troops was irrepressible; they rushed upon the remnants of the bridge, and sprang from timber to timber, sweeping all before them, soon debouching on the left bank. Forming in a narrow meadow, they marched forward, driving the enemy from house to house and from garden to garden.
An obstinate resistance was made by Reisch's men in the Abbey of Elchingen, but at last the Austrians were entirely driven from the building. They then drew up their shattered force on an elevated terrace, and the contest was renewed with the greatest fury.
Ney, in his full marshal's uniform, exposed his person in the most daring mariner, seeming to invite the aim of his enemies rather than to avoid it. After a long, bitter struggle there in the open, his gallantry was rewarded with a complete victory, five thousand prisoners and numerous cannon and colors being taken. The glory of this day was perpetuated in the family of Ney by the ducal title conferred upon him a few years later.
Archduke Ferdinand, on the same day, made a sortie for the purpose of reaching Bohemia, and though he effected his own escape, the greater part of his troops under Werneck were captured by Murat.
THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ.
On the 18th, the heights of Michelsberg, which look down into Ulm at half-cannon-shot distance, were carried; and Napoleon, having now a hundred thousand men surrounding forty thousand Austrians, summoned Mack to surrender, and sent General De Segur to negotiate with him. Segur was authorized to offer the enemy no more than five days, and as Mack, who had some hopes of being relieved by the Russians, demanded eight days, this conference ended without success.
On the following day Segur was sent again by Napoleon, this time offering Mack the eight days he wished, but counting from the first day on which the blockade began, which, in effect, reduced the time really to six days. But Mack, whose imbecile obstinacy thought it a greater triumph to carry a trifling point of the kind than to secure an important one, replied, "Eight days or death!"
Soon after this, Prince Lichtenstein visited the French quarters, and the picture which the Emperor drew of the hopelessness of the Austrian leader's position, induced him to make such a report to Mack that the latter, on the next day, signed a capitulation, agreeing that the fort should be relinquished and the soldiers turned over as prisoners of war on the 25th, if not sooner relieved by the Russians.
However, this did not suit the energetic Napoleon. He sent for Mack, who came, and impressed him with such terror that he consented to surrender immediately if Ney's corps should remain at Ulm until the 25th.
The garrison of men at Ulm, amounting to some twenty thousand men and sixty cannon, marched out on the morning of the 10th. Defiling for five hours past Napoleon and his staff, who stood before the fire of a bivouac on an elevation to the north of the city, this force laid down their arms in sullen stillness. Napoleon behaved with magnanimity, addressing the officers with dignity but great kindness and respect.
"Gentlemen," said he, "war has its chances. Victorious yourselves many times, you must expect the occasion to come when you, too, must endure reverses."
As a result of the fall of Ulm, the Emperor was able to send to the Senate, at Paris, forty standards. Soon afterward he issued to the army one of the finest proclamations that he ever sent forth.
"Soldiers of the Grand Army," he said. "In a fortnight we have finished one campaign. What we proposed to do has been done. . . . The army which with equal presumption and rashness marched upon our frontiers is annihilated. Of one hundred thousand men who formed that army, sixty thousand are prisoners. Two hundred pieces of cannon, ninety flags, and all their generals, are in our power. Soldiers, I announce to you the result of a great battle; but thanks to the ill-advised conduct of the enemy, I secured this result without encountering danger, and, what is without example in history, it has been gained at the sacrifice of scarce fifteen hundred men . . . But we will not stop here. The Russian army which English gold has brought from the extremity of the world, shall share the fate of that which we have just defeated . . . All that I am anxious for is to obtain my victories with the least possible bloodshed. My soldiers are my children."
Not a moment was lost in putting these ulterior designs into execution. Ney was detached to clear the Tyrol of the troops which threatened the right flank of the advancing army; and Napoleon himself arrived at Munich on the 24th. Augsburg was made the grand depot; and the entire army, in successive corps, rolled in a resistless torrent down the valley of the Danube. During this march Mortier, who was on the left bank, diverged too far from the advance-guard. He encountered the Russian army under Kutusoff at Diernstein, who attacked his rear-guard fiercely. While this fight was in progress, Doctoroff marched back through the mountains, and by occupying Diernstein, cut off Mortier from a retreat. With the utmost discretion the French marshal adopted the only avenue of escape left open to him, which was to cut his way through the Russians to the other divisions of his own party which were coming as fast as they could. He succeeded in this desperate undertaking, but only, after two-thirds of his division had been killed and three eagles taken.
Meanwhile, Archduke Charles, who had gained some advantage over Massena in Italy, alarmed for the safety of the capital, retreated hastily to Laybach, with the intention of throwing himself into Vienna. But Napoleon, with his usual rapidity, had sent forward Lannes and Murat, who, on the 13th of November, seized the bridge of Vienna, and thus cut off the communication of that prince with the Russian army on the north, and forced him back into Hungary.
On the same day Napoleon entered Vienna, and established his headquarters at Schoenbrunn.
Kutusoff, thus separated from the Archduke, and deprived of the barrier of the river, was obliged to retire upon the second Russian army, which was now approaching. Mortier and Bernadotte pressed eagerly upon their rear, and Murat was sent forward with orders to reach Znaim if possible before the retreating enemy could do so, thus cutting in twain their communication with their allies.
However, Kutusoff was too clever to be caught napping in this fashion. He eluded the designs of Murat, sent Bagrathion to Grund to encounter and delay the French troops, and on the 19th effected a junction with the residue of the Russian forces at Wischau, in Moravia.
The next day Napoleon moved his headquarters to Brunn, and on the 25th, while reconnoitering with his staff, he came to the village of Austerlitz, where the road from Brunn toward Hungary crosses the thoroughfare from Nikolsburg. Struck with the military advantages of the position, he turned to his officers and said:
"Examine these localities well. In a few days this will be your field of battle!"
Search as one may throughout the annals of war, he will find no more splendid illustration of faultless military science than is shown in the dispositions of the various corps of Napoleon's army at this time.
Advanced an immense distance into the very midst of enemy nations in arms against him, surrounded by armies far more numerous in men than his own, only the superiority of his fine generalship could ever have saved him from utter ruin, and presented him with the glorious victory which was close at hand.
Napoleon's arrangements at this time were nothing more than an exhibition on a magnificent scale of the simple principle which he had so often acted on before—of occupying a central position, with all his forces in perfect communication, in such a way that, spread out, they divided the enemy's corps from one another. Drawing together, Napoleon's men could, in a very brief space of time, bolster any wing he chose, and precipitate a sudden and terrific onslaught upon any part of the circumference which the enemy covered.
On the 25th of November, the positions of the contending powers were as follows:
The Allied Army, eighty thousand strong, led by the Emperors of Austria and Russia, and Grand-duke Constantine, was in a strong position under the cannon of Olmutz. Archduke Charles, with a force quite as large, was approaching on the southeast of Vienna, his purpose being to effect a junction with the others.
Napoleon's entire French forces numbered sixty thousand. With the divisions of Lannes and Soult, the Imperial Guard, and the cavalry under Murat, the Emperor himself was stationed at Brunn. Mortier, with his shattered corps, was in garrison at Vienna. Bernadotte, with his own troops and the Bavarians, was near Iglau, watching Archduke Ferdinand, who, with the force with which he escaped from Ulm, was approaching along the Danube. Davoust was advanced toward Presburg, while Marmont was on the road to Styria, observing Archduke Charles, and in communication with Massena on the extreme right.
On the 27th and 28th the movements of the Imperial troops proclaimed the bringing on of a general engagement: The French advanced guards were driven in, and the Allied headquarters were shoved forward to Wischau, bringing their outposts within two leagues of Austerlitz.
Instantly Napoleon dispatched orders to Bernadotte to leave the Bavarians at Iglau, and make a forced march to Brunn. Similar orders were sent to Mortier, at Vienna. Marmont was directed to occupy Vienna, while Davoust was recalled from Presburg to Nikolsburg to form the French right.
By reason of this concentration, the army under Napoleon was raised at once to ninety thousand men.
On the 29th the enemy maneuvered in a contradictory manner, as if their plans were undecided. But on the following day, their light troops were observed marching by their left, apparently with the view of turning the French right, so as to cut them off from Vienna.
This plan looked feasible, but it involved one fatal military error: that of executing a lateral movement directly in front of a formidable enemy.
Napoleon for two days had been constantly on horseback at his advanced posts. Now observing the enemy's operations, he immediately saw the design. He felt that if he could draw their whole army into such a movement, its fate was sealed beyond the peradventure of a doubt.
To lure the enemy more certainly into the error which they seemed disposed to commit, he abandoned the heights of Pratzen, the highest ground in the neighborhood, evacuated Austerlitz, and concentrated his army about Brunn.
If this unexplained movement astounded and puzzled the enemy, it did scarcely less to Napoleon's own staff. Seeing their horror at his course clearly expressed, the great French leader thought it fit to explain to his marshals the profound conception back of his orders.
"If," said he, "I wished to gain an ordinary victory, I should receive battle on these heights which I have evacuated; but as my object is to betray the enemy into irretrievable ruin, I seduce him by the bribe of that position."
On the morning of the 1st of December the whole force of the Allies was seen moving upon their left in an evident effort to turn the right flank of the French army. As he watched the operation, Napoleon exclaimed with the prophetic confidence of science, "Before to-morrow night that army is my own!"
During that whole day the Allies were executing this flank movement, divided into five columns. When night came their positions were thus:
The first column, constituting their left wing, under Buxhowden, was advanced as far as Augezd, beyond the French right. The second column, under Langeron, and the third, under Prybyszeweki, were on the heights of Pratzen and the eminence directly behind. The fourth and fifth columns, under Miloradowitch and Lichtenstein, respectively, came next in order. Finally the reserves, under Grand-duke Constantine, were on the elevated ground before Austerlitz. Altogether the entire Allied force numbered about sixty-five thousand infantry and fifteen thousand cavalry.
Opposing this great force, the French army, consisting now of ninety thousand men, occupied a position behind a small stream, and some marshes between Brunn and Austerlitz. On both sides were they of the great road which runs from Brunn to Olmutz, Their right, under Davoust, rested on Lake Moenitz, with its reserve behind the Abbey of Raygern. The center, under Soult, was pushed forward into and beyond the village directly in front of Pratzen, so that as soon as the lateral movement of the enemy should be resumed with the coming of another day, and should be sufficiently developed, Soult might fall upon their flank and sever the army in half. The left wing rested on the hill of Bosenitzberg, which was occupied by artillery, with an advance-guard of cavalry in front of it. This wing consisted of Lannes' corp, which was at the base of the hill; Bernadotte, on the right; the grenadiers of Oudinot, on the left, on the other side of the Olmutz road; while Murat's cavalry, and the Imperial Guard under Bessieres, formed a second line.
At two o'clock in the morning, while it was still dark, the enemy columns were detected to be in full march, undoubtedly their idea being to carry out their movement began the day before. By three o'clock their advanced cavalry had reached the village of Tilnitz.
It was a cold, snappy winter morning. A low fog, damp and exceedingly penetrating, hung over the ground. Napoleon stood in front of his tent, which was pitched on an elevated spot to the right of the high road. He could see little, yet enough to interest him greatly. His marshals, on horseback, ready to dash away at an instant's notice, were grouped around him.
At length the mists rolled away. The broad yellow sun arose in cloudless effulgence above the horizon. It was that "sun of Austerlitz" which later in history became famous and which Napoleon subsequently designated as the prophetic omen of his success.
By this time the enemy, clearly seen in the bright light of the new-born day, had descended from the heights of Pratzen, and the whole army was in motion toward the French right wing. At sight of this, Napoleon's marshals comprehended the splendid advantage which the genius of their leader had foreseen and prepared. Eagerly they asked for the order to advance.
"Not yet, gentlemen," said Napoleon coolly; "not yet. When your enemy is executing a false movement never think of interrupting him until it is as bad as possible."
At length a violent firing was heard on the right. Soon after intelligence arrived that the left wing of the Allies was entering Tilnitz.
"Now is the moment!" observed the Emperor, his dark eyes flashing like a mettlesome charger's.
At this signal the marshals galloped off, each at the head of his corps. Napoleon mounted his horse, and rode fast along the line, exclaiming as he went:
"Soldiers, the enemy has imprudently exposed himself to our blows. We shall finish the campaign by a clap of thunder!"
At first it looked as if he might be mistaken; for on the French right the Russian left wing assaulted and carried the village of Tilnitz, employing the utmost fury. They then pressed on to Sokelnitz, which they also carried, and finally appeared in triumph beyond the flank of Davoust. That cool and courageous commander, however, marched in his reserves from behind Raygern, and drew them in front of Sokelnitz just as the Russians, disordered and careless by the amount of their success, were issuing out of the town. Davoust attacked them tigerishly, speedily driving them back and retaking the village. Directly afterward he renewed the fight, and a protracted and sanguinary contest ensued.
On the left Lannes and Bernadotte advanced with great rapidity for the purpose of detaining the Allied right or rear. Then Soult fell upon the enemy center, just as Lannes and Bernadotte came up with their infantry and, acting in con-junction with Kellermann's horse, charged the Russian Imperial Guard.
But the enemy, though in a trap, was not now sleeping. Lichtenstein suddenly issued forth with his powerful corps of Austrian cuirassiers. Driving Kellermann back, he disordered the remainder of the French line, and penetrated into the interval between Lannes and Bernadotte. Here they suffered a setback by being met by Murat, who repelled them. In this the French marshal was ably assisted by the artillery, which attacked on both flanks of the enemy, although half their number were killed in the action.
Meanwhile Soult's decisive movement, on the enemy center, was proceeding with full measure of success. The second and third columns had just descended the heights of Pratzen, and the fourth was preparing to cross them when Soult's front, in attacking formation, appeared upon the flank of their open marching column. Kutusoff immediately ordered the third column to regain the heights, and disposed of his fourth column in battle array, two lines deep, awaiting the charge of the French.
But before this was forthcoming, Soult had ascended the heights and broken and driven back the Russian front line with the loss of several pieces of cannon.
Then followed a most desperate conflict. But the final outcome was inevitable. After two hours of bloody fighting the six Russian battalions which occupied the highest position, were cut to pieces, and the heights were carried.
About one o'clock, while the victory was still undecided, a very formidable body of enemy infantry and cavalry was seen debouching upon the plain between the French center and left. It consisted of the Russian Imperial Guard, led by the Grand-duke Constantine in person; a number of squadrons of horse made up of Ouvaroff's cavalry and what was left of Lichtenstein's cuirassiers, together with a battery of four pieces of cannon.
The advancing infantry engaged with Vandamme's division, while the cavalry attacked the French column in flank and threw them into disorder. Napoleon immediately dispatched Rapp with two squadrons of chasseurs, and the grenadiers of the guard, to check the enemy horse, also requesting Bessieres to support him with all the cavalry of the guard.
Rapp cried out to his men, "Forward! See how your brothers and friends are getting cut to pieces! Avenge them! Avenge our flags!" And rushing forward impetuously they drove back the enemy's cavalry and captured the guns.
The Russians rallied, and advanced in great force. But by this time Bessieres had arrived, and then ensued as fierce a struggle at close quarters as one could imagine. Horse to horse, hand to hand, the combatants fought, first one side and then the other staggering as though on the point of falling back, only to rush madly into the heat of the fray again. So intermingled were the men that the artillery of both parties was forced to lie inactive for fear of doing more damage to its own men that to those of the enemy.
Finally the enthusiasm of the French bore everything before them; in plain view of the two emperors of Austria and Russia, who, from the neighboring height beheld the ruin of their fond hopes, the enemy fled in a panic, leaving many guns and prisoners behind them, to say nothing of heaps of dead and wounded.
This action decided the day. Rapp, to whom unstinted praise should be given for thus rescuing Vandamme's division and putting his attackers to rout, had been severely wounded in the head during the engagement. Despite his sufferings, at the first opportunity he rode up, covered with blood from his wound, to inform Napoleon that the battle was gained.
Soult, who was now advanced nearly a mile from the first line of battle, inclined to the right, and cooperated with Davoust in surrounding the Austrian left wing; while Napoleon sent the Imperial Guard to aid in the same design.
Doctoroff's, Langeron's and Buxhowden's corps, forming the entire enemy left, were successfully flanked, separated and surrounded. Ten thousand were made prisoners or slain. In addition, a large body were driven over a frozen lake. When about half-way over, the ice suddenly gave way under the excessive weight, and over two thousand were drowned.
On the left, after a protracted contest, the ad-vantage had been decided in favor of the French. The heights of Blasowitz and Kruh, and the village of Hollubitz, were carried. The enemy were routed with the exception of one close column which retreated under Bagrathion, and which, though repeatedly assailed by Suchet's and Murat's cavalry, made good its escape to Austerlitz, although leaving behind all of its baggage.
On this memorable day the Allies lost ten thou-sand killed and wounded, twenty thousand prisoners, one hundred and eighty pieces of cannon, and forty-five standards, while so utter was the disorganization of their army and the panic of their leaders, that, at a council held at the Imperial Headquarters that night, it was decided that a further continuation of hostilities was hopeless. At four o'clock the next morning Prince Lichtenstein arrived at Napoleon's head-quarters with proposals for an armistice.
When Napoleon met Soult, in the evening, upon the field of battle, still dank with the odor of burned gunpowder, he said to him, as he watched the stretcher-bearers taking away the last of the dead and wounded:
"Marshal, you are the first tactician in Europe."
"Sire," replied Soult, with a felicity of compliment that would have done honor to the court of Louis XIV., "I believe it, since it is your majesty that has the goodness to tell me so!"
On the 4th of December Napoleon and Emperor Francis had a personal interview at a mill about three leagues from Austerlitz; on the 6th an armistice was signed at Austerlitz; on the 27th the peace of Presburg was concluded between France and Austria; and, on the 25th of January, 1806, Napoleon, having passed through Vienna and Munich, reached Paris, which he entered at night, quite unattended.
Just four months had elapsed since he left that big city to take command of the army. And in that time the magnificent forces of Austria and Russia had been utterly torn in shreds, and the former empire trampled under the feet of the conqueror.