The Battle of Austerlitz: The March of III Corps

On the night of 29 November 1805, Louis Davout, Marshal of France, commander of the La Grade Armee III Corps, and current occupier of Vienna, received a dispatch from Napoleon that he was abandoning the Pratzen Heights and Davout should prepare to hand over the city to the Austrians. But Davout knew it was bullshit, the letter was only in the event the courier was captured. It was just a week before when Napoleon chose the Pratzen Heights as the place where he was going to destroy the Austrian and Russian armies.

The Prince of Burgundy once said, “When a d’Avout is born, a sabre is unsheathed.” This was never so true as for Louis Nicholas Davout, who was the son of a minor aristocrat but survived the French Revolution despite his upbringing. He was almost universally disliked by everyone whom he worked with: his officers for his cold and aloof demeanor, his soldiers because of his uncompromising stance on readiness, training and discipline, and his peers because he was the youngest and most active of Napoleon’s marshals. Nevertheless, the “Iron Marshal” was respected by all for his reasoned tenacity, undisputed competence, and most importantly, Davout earned the absolute unquestioned trust of Napoleon.

That trust was not misplaced. It was not a question of whether III Corps would show up to the battle but when. Austerlitz was 80 miles away (eighty, eight – zero) and Napoleon planned to attack in two days. The planning factor for a march was 20 miles a day, and a forced march was 25 miles a day. Davout planned to do 40 miles a day for the next two days.

On the night of the 29th, he bade his officers to mingle with the crème of Viennese society so as to not rouse Austrian suspicions but stipulated that they needed to return by 0300 the next morning. At 0330 on 30 NOV 1805, the III Corps struck camp and, at dawn, began their march. With 68lb packs they marched for 32 hours over the next 48.

And then they immediately fought a battle in which they bore the brunt of the Allied attack.

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