The Battle of Austerlitz: Prelude

On the afternoon of 29 November 1805, a visibly distraught Emperor Napoleon I met the personal aide of Tsar Alexander I of Russia to hammer out the conditions of an armistice between the French, and the Allied Russian and Austrian armies. The day before Napoleon enthusiastically accepted the Russian offer for an armistice and pulled his armies off of the commanding Pratzen Heights. The aide reported Napoleon’s demeanor, and the Allied scouts reported the chaotic French withdrawal from the heights. These were seen as signs of French disorganization and weakness, so Tsar Alexander and Emperor Francis II of Austria decided to finish Napoleon off once and for all, especially since he had just 43,000 troops in the area and they had 86,000.

But Napoleon didn’t desperately need peace – he desperately needed a battle.

Napoleon’s actions were a ruse. He needed the Allies to attack. The biggest problem with his corps system was that they had to live off of the land. Foraging left a barren wasteland in the wake of the march and the only option was to move forward or starve. Unfortunately for Napoleon, the retreating Austrians stripped Vienna bare and Marshal Kutuzov was doing the same with his Russian armies to the north. If Kutuzov retreated further, which he planned to do, then Napoleon would have to abandon Vienna and return to friendly Bavaria. But Tsar Alexander smelled weakness, and overruled his commander. The combined Austrian and Russian armies would occupy the Pratzen Heights the next day and attack Napoleon the day after.

But Napoleon didn’t have 43,000 troops outside of the village of Austerlitz, he had 67,000.

It was enough.

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