The battle of Austerlitz is rightfully called the first, and some would say the greatest victory of Napoleon and his Grande Armée. Through the two centuries this battle was always attracting historians and buffs alike, and all those who studied the military art of the great Corsican. The bibliography amasses hundreds of volumes and continues to grow in the course of the upcoming bicentennial. The following presentation, however, will not deal with the analysis of the entire battle; it will cover the episodes where the Russian Imperial Guard took actions.
In the course of the battle, the Russian Guard was under command of the younger brother to Tsar Alexander, the 26-year old Grand Duke Constantine and composed an actual reserve of the Allies. The Guard troops were divided in two columns: the First Column, under Grand Duke’s original command consisted of the Preobrazensky, Semenovsky, Izmailovsky Guard regiments and Jäger Guard battalion, the Guard Hussars, the Horse Guards Regiment (7 infantry battalions, 10 cavalry squadrons and 28 pieces of ordnance); on 1st December this First Column was positioned before Austerlitz. The Second Column was under command of Lieutenant General Malutin and consisted of the Grenadier Regiment, Chevalier Guards and Guard Cossack Regiments (3 Line infantry battalions, 7 cavalry squadrons and 12 pieces of ordnance). They took camp just a few miles off Austerlitz, near the village of Buchovitz.
The exact number of troops at the day of the battle of Austerlitz is not known, but according to the muster roll of 1 November 1805, the entire Guard numbered 326 officers, 10,032 soldiers and NCOs (833 NCOs, 314 musicians and 8,885 rank-and-file), totaling 10,358 men; there were also 876 non-combatants, which did not take a part in the battle. Therefore, it is possible to assume, that the First Column had nearly 6,500 men, while the Second Column – 3,500 men (with regard to a few hundred sick, disappeared, or being left "off ranks”).
By Weyrother’s disposition a left-flanking movement was proposed, by which the Russo-Austrian army (First, Second and Third Columns) would first, moving on Telnitz and Sokolnitz, pass the Goldbach stream on a wide frontage (disposition assumed that the French will remain motionless). The Center group (Fourth Column) should, while leaving the Pratzen Heights, advance towards Kobelnitz. Having gained the French right, the Allies were to pivot on the area of Kobelnitz-Puntovitz against the main French forces. On the extreme right the troops under Bagration would hold the highway and support the general movement. The Fifth Column and the Russian Imperial Guard, positioned between the center and right flank, were to remain in reserve. It was eloquently written disposition (nearly 1,000 words), a great plan. But Napoleon’s won’t allow this to happen.
At night the Grand Dike sent a message to Malutun’s column to speed to Austerlitz; at approximately 07:40 a.m. Constantine himself, according to the disposition, led his First Guard Column in the direction of the high ground South-East of Blasowitz. The Guard formed one column; it was a cold and cloudy morning, the thick fog covered the terrain. After a mile, the guardsmen crossed the Rausnitz stream near Walkmühle village. During the passage, the light wind from the left brought up the sound of the first shots – there, on the extreme left, the troops of Kienmayer and Dokhturov’s First Column began their attack on Telnitz. Around 09:00 a.m. the troops of the First Guard Column approached the slopping height near Blasowitz.
The French troops under marshals Lannes and Murat already began their advance against Bagration, who positioned his troops on perpendicular to the Olmütz road. Infantry divisions of généraux de divisions Suchet (3 div., 5th Corps) and Caffarelli du Falga (1 div., 3rd Corps), covered by the Light Cavalry divisions under généraux de divisions Kellerman (attached from the 1st Corps) and Fauconnet (attached from the 5th Corps) moved down the road. Grand Duke Constantine took all these advancing troops to be, according to the disposition, cavalry of the Liechtenstein’s Fifth Column. But he was disabused when the guns opened fire – on the Pratzen hills, two divisions of marshal Soult’s 4th Corps (général de division Saint-Hilaire on the left, Vandamme on the right) took action with the Fourth Column.
The First Guard Column finally took the following formation. The Preobrazensky and Semenovsky regiments formed the first line, the Izmailovsky Regiment and Jäger bataillon – the second. Cavalry was placed behind the infantry: the Horse Guards on the right, Hussars on the left; artillery was positioned in front (10 pieces of ordnance) and 2 pieces of ordnance on each flank; the rest was placed in the second line and dispersed to cover Guard cavalry. While doing so, the French guns opened fire; one cannonball tore away the file of the Preobrazensky Regiment. Seeing the danger, the Grand Duke decided to occupy Blasowitz, being on his right.
Constantine sent the Guard Jäger Battalion supported by two guns and the Austrian battalion under overall command of Colonel Sent-Priest to occupy Blasowitz. But soon he was attacked by the French infantry (13th Légère Regiment, under Colonel Castex, 2 battalions, 1,240 men). The French and Russians were supported by their main troops; after the persistent struggle the Russians retreated, loosing nearly 300 prisoners. The Grand Duke decided to return Blasowitz and ordered the general advance.
At that moment, the bulk of the Liechtenstein’s cavalry finally approached, along with His Imperial Highness Grand Duke Uhlan Regiment, under command of Major General Baron Müller-Zakomelsky I (1,380 horsemen), being part of the cavalry division of Lieutenant General Essen II, who was leading the column. The commander of Uhlans, without delay (and also without waiting for the following Austrian Cuirassiers) turned his ten squadrons straight for the général de division Kellermann’s Light Cavalry division (12 squadrons, 1,267 men) right flank and approaching infantrymen of général de division Caffarelli.
Deployed in line, the Uhlans clashed with the enemy – the attack was very swift, performed on a full gallop and this took Kellermann by surprise. He did not have enough time to reform his cavalry and it was thrust back upon approaching 17th and 30th Line Infantry regiments of 1st Brigade under général de brigade Debilly (part of Caffarelli division). The French cavalry tried to escape through the infantry intervals; the Uhlans rushed behind them, cutting down part of the 17th Line and seizing 3 cannon. Unfortunately, this attack of the Allied horse was badly coordinated. Under cover of the 61st Line Infantry Regiment (Colonel Nicolas), which quickly formed a square, Kellermann regrouped his cavalry and turned into a counter-attack. The Russian Uhlans were pushed back: met by a rolling fire at point-blank range, attacked by the light cavalry of Van Marisy (2nd and 5th Hussars) and Picard (4th Hussars, 5th Chasseurs à cheval) in the flank. As the Uhlans finally drew off to the east to reform behind Bagration’s lines, they left behind a staggering number of casualties. They mostly were killed, wounded and taken prisoner (many of those who lost their horses); only 200 of them joined the cavalry on the left flank. Senior commanding officer, Lieutenant General Essen II was mortally wounded, the Uhlans’ commander, Müller-Zakomelsky, wounded, was taken prisoner by the trumpeter named Pincemaille, of the 5th Hussars Regiment (later on Müller-Zakomelsky presented to the French his golden watch, as a sign of respect while he was good taken care of).
During the struggle of the Grand Duke Uhlan Regiment with Caffarelli’s infantry, the group of the French cavalry (perhaps, a squadron of the 3rd Dragoon Division) approached from Blasowitz to the line of battle of the Russian Guard. The Guard Hussars clashed with this cavalry and repulsed it to the position of the French infantry. Here, they were met with the aimed musket fire and were compelled to return to the main group, that is, Constantine’s left flank. At that time two fresh divisions of the Bernadotte’s 1st Corps (under généraux Rivaud and Drouet) along with the following Imperial Guard of marshal Bessières approached the battlefield. These troops crossed the Bosenitz stream near Girzikowitz and moved south off Blasowitz aiming for the Pratzen heights.
While occupying Pratzen, divisions of Saint-Hillaire and Vandamme repulsed counter-attacks of the Russians and Austrians regiments of the Fourth Column under Miloradovitch and pursued the retreating enemy. To cover their left flank, the 1st battalion of the 4th Line Infantry and 2nd battalion of the 24th Légère regiments (under command of général de brigade Schiner, total nearly 1,400 men) were left on the hill.
At that time the Grand Duke decided to move on Pratzen. Earlier, when he received the note from the Tsar of unsuccessful attack of the Forth Column, he sent, at the Tsar’s request, 1st battalion of the Guard Izmailovsky Regiment with two howitzers. Constantine continued towards South-West of Pratzen and here the guardsmen discovered the Shiner’s battalions; the Bernadotte infantry was just behind them, approaching Staré Vinohrady near village of Pratze. The Grand Duke was forced to respond by launching a full-scale attack in this area.
The Preobrazensky and Semenovsky regiments advanced steadily up the slope in line formation, then executed a charge into the vineyards at the double-speed, covered the last 300 paces at the run. Supported by His Highness’ Artillery company (10 pieces of ordnance) under Colonel Ralle, they managed to break the French skirmish line at the bayonet point. The 1st battalion of the 4th Line was recalling; however, based on request of Major General Kaspersky (commander of the all Guard artillery) this battery was dispatched towards Walkmühle; they retreated from this very advantageous position, crossing Rausnitz, covered by Guard Jäger Battalion. To cover this retreat, Constantine decided to bring his cavalry for attack.
It was midday when the finest cavalry of the Russian army arrived to take up the quarrel, led by Horse Guards and Guard Hussar regiments. Both regiments advanced from their respective flanks: the Horse Guards, under command of Major General Yankovich (5 squadrons, 784 men and officers) from the left, while Hussars under command of Colonel Duka (5 squadrons, 690 officers and men) – from the right flank. Commander of the all Russian Guard Cavalry, Lieutenant General Kologrivow also joined the attacking squadrons. The Horse Guards were placed par echelon formation: three squadrons in the first line, two squadrons in the second. Six Guard pieces of ordnance supported the left flank and four – the right one.
The first victim of this furious attack fell the 1st bataillon of the 4th Line Regiment (chef de bataillon Guye); this unit earlier sustained loses after attack of the Russian Guard Infantry. The bataillon was still in the protective order of the vineyard when the first three squadrons of the Horse Guards reined in approximately 200 yards from the French infantry. The bataillon (mainly, men from Gascony) quickly formed a square and repulsed the first wave. The Russians cunningly deployed at long musket range and pulled their Guard Horse Artillery (captain Kozen), which lashed the compact formations of the 4th with canister form the distance of 200 yards away. Moreover, the two remaining squadrons of the second line carried out a fresh charge sweeping over the square and back again. The major Bigarre (who was in charge of the entire 4th Line, because its commander, Joseph Bonaparte was in Paris) confirmed this fact: the square just did not have enough time to reload their muskets and was overrun. The Russian Guard cavalry began cutting down the French infantrymen.
It was in this mêlée, when the third peloton of Colonel Olenin’s squadron surrounded the group of the French soldiers carrying and protecting the "Eagle”. After the savage fight that followed, the color was seized from the hands of Sergeant-major Saint-Cyr (nephew of the future marshal), who relinquished the carried "Eagle” only after he had received twenty sword wounds. A Horse Guardsman Gavrilov, seeing the "Eagle” lying down unattended, dismounted and grabbed the trophy; he only had a chance to pass it over to his approaching comrade, Horse Guardsman Omelchenko, but was bayoneted down. The French jumped to win over the "Eagle”, but the Russian Guard troopers Yshakov, Glazunov and Omelchenko defended this priceless trophy. They withdrew from the combat and delivered it to the Grand Duke (the "Eagle” still could be seen today at the State Hermitage museum, St.-Petersburg, Russia).
The 1st battalion of the 4th Line was dispersed: nearly 200 men cut down (but only 18 killed) and the rest run away; major Biggare, chef de bataillon Guye and 11 other officers were wounded. At that moment, the two battalions of the 24th Légère Regiment (Colonel Pourailly) arrived with assistance from the right. Unfortunately, the commanding officer ordered to deploy this battalion en bataille (in front line), rather then to form a square. As the Russian horse came hell-for-leather, the French infantry issued an effective volley, but it failed to stop the Russian charge. The Horse Guards and now Hussars smashed this formation which sustained heavy loses: chef de bataillon Kuhn was wounded, Eagle-bearer killed and the color was lying on the ground unnoticed by either the French or Russians (it was picked up later on by NCO’s of the 4th Line who mistook it for his own; when realized, the Eagle was returned to the 24th Légère).
It was about this time (approximately 01:00 p.m.) that Napoleon and his Imperial Headquarter finished their ascent up the Stare Vinohrady only to see groups of the French infantry streaming towards them. Marshal Berthier first did not realize what happened: he thought that screams "Vive l’Empereur!” was cried by the soldiers who supposedly were bringing up the prisoners and not those runners from the Russian Guard cavalry. "Let them go” – responded Napoleon. Then he sent his aide-de-camp général de brigade Rapp with order to marshal Bessières, commander the Cavalry of the Imperial Guard to rectify the situation. "We are going to have cavalry engagement, " – noted marshal to his aide-de-camp, chief de squadron Laville. Upon receiving the order, he moved on his squadrons.
Bessières had at his disposal two finest Guard cavalry regiments – Grenadiers à Cheval (Commanding officer général de brigade Ordener, 5 squadrons, 706 men) and Chasseurs à Cheval (Second Colonel Morland, 4 squadrons, 376 men) with attached company of 48 Mameluks under orders of captain Delaitre. Therefore, in 9,5 squadrons (Chasseurs à Cheval velite squadron remained in Napoleon’s personal escort) of the total number of cavalrymen were 1,130 men and officers. After Rapp delivered order, he took under his command the Mameluks company which was placed on the right flank next to the 1st and 2nd squadrons of Chasseurs.
These two squadrons along with Rapp’s Mameluks under direct command of Morland began the attack. Supported by the Guard Horse Artillery battery under Colonel Doguereau ((2 companies, 18 pieces of ordnance) they rushed for the rescue of panicking soldiers of the 4th Line and 24th Légère regiments. Noticing this attack, the Lieutenant General Kologrivov (Senior commanding officer of the Russian Guard cavalry) began reforming lines of his Horse Guard and Hussars, which were busy cutting down the French infantry. The Russian cavalry partly managed to re-deploy, but instead of counter-attacking approaching French they met them … standing still. As a result, their line was quickly enveloped and overturned by 2,5 squadrons of the French Guard Chasseurs and Mameluks. This success was also due to the support of Guard artillery of Doguereau firing from the left and 8 cannon detached form the Bernadotte corps, firing from the right flank.
Following up this victory, the French continued their charge deeper, attacking the Preobrazensky Regiment, which was placed on the right flank of the Guard front line. At that dramatic moment, the overall communication between various units of the Russian Guard was broken. The Preobrazensky deployed its battalions in the vineyards, while the Semenovsky, being wide open, quickly formed squares.
The French cavalry hacked into the Russian ranks, but with little effect: the Guard grenadiers repulsed the first wave with volley and bayonets. Moreover, 6 pieces of ordnance under Major General Kaspersky, placed in the intervals and on flanks of the Russian battalions met Mameluks and Guard Chasseurs with the grapeshot; Colonel Morland leading the charge was killed instantly in the first ranks.
The Russian Guard infantry began their retreat crossing the Rausnitz towards the Walkmühle pass (distance of over a mile; for they spent nearly an hour, because of the muddy road). The French tirailleurs of Drouet’s 2nd Infantry Division, moving from the left and right of the attacking French squadrons, inflicted heavy casualties on the Russian retreating battalions. The left side of the Bessières’ cavalry was protected by the advance-guard consisting of the 27th Légère under command général de brigade Charnote (3 battalions, 2,069 men); behind him and on the left marched 94th and 95th Line infantry regiments, under command of colonels Razout and Pecheux, respectively (Werle brigade, 6 bataillons, 3,717 men).
During retreat, the Russian infantry left behind one of the cannon of the 3rd Artillery Company under command of porutchik (sous-lieutenant) Demidov. Surrounded from all over, Demidov and his two assistants (gunner and soldier of the Semenovsky Regiment) bravely fought off the French cavalrymen. However, wounded, he, along with his cannon and two soldiers, was disarmed and taken prisoner. He was presented to Napoleon; a legendary dialog took place between them, later depicted in mémoires of Ségur, Emperor’s aide-de-camp.
The Russian Guard retreated… At the center, near Walkmühle, the Izmailovsky bataillon (placed in the second line) retreated in order, but the Preobrazensky and Semenovsky regiments now composing the rear-guard, being fired upon from all over by Drouet’s infantry, attacked by French cavalry, were losing ground. On the left flank Mameluks managed to overturn Guard Hussars; the overall control was lost… Six cannon of the Russian Guard artillery were almost taken by the Mameluks, but its commander, Colonel Kostenetski ("The Russian Hercules”) along with another Russian giant, gunner Maslow, dispersed them left and right and after furious fight saved four out of six canon. All four pieces of ordnance successfully crossed the Rausnitz stream.
On the right flank the Horse Guards along with 4 pieces of ordnance of the Horse Artillery (Kozen) slowly retreated towards the Walkmühle pass; note that Horse Guardsmen several times saved these cannon being attacked by the French. Moving on the muddy field, they repulsed the French Guard Chasseurs with a few grapeshots, and they also crossed the stream.
Soon most troops consisting the First Guard Column managed crossing the Rausnitz, but on the left bank, 400 pieces off the pass, still remained two Guard Infantry Regiments – Preobrazensky (still under attack of Drouet) and Semenovsky (being cut down by the Rapp Guard Cavalry). The Semenovsky was with no artillery support: one cannon was captured along with Demidov, another retreated towards Rausnitz. Finally, the Mameluks managed to break the square of the Life-bataillon of the Semenovsky Regiment and seize the flagpole with tassels (but no flag, which in the Russian army was actually a color itself). Many soldiers were cut down, several dozen taken prisoners. The situation became critical.
Exactly at that moment (nearly 02:00 p.m.) the leading units of Second Guard Column under Lieutenant General Malutin arrived on the battlefield. Note, that already at night this Column received an order from the Grand Duke to follow the First Guard Column from Austerlitz to Walkmühle. During the struggle at Blasowitz, Malutin sent upfront the Guard Cossacks (Colonel Chernozubov V; 2 squadrons, 295 men) and Chevalier Garde under command of Major General Depreradovich II (5 squadrons, 766 men). While approaching the Rausnitz, Chevalier Garde met Constantine’s aide-de-camp captain Shulgin who confirmed the Grand Duke’s order: to rush quickly for the assistance of the Russian Guard infantry.
Soon, when squadrons were just 300 pieces before the Rausnitz, Constantine himself greeted them: "Go help the infantry!” and Depreradovich II moved his cavalry on the right bank. Chevalier Garde crossed using the dumb, while Chernozubov’s Cossacks crossed upstream on the left using the ford. Reaching the opposite bank first, one squadron of the Guard Cossacks attacked the French Guard cavalry, which was busy cutting down the Semenovsky soldiers while another Cossack squadron rode upon the infantry pursuing the Preobrazensky battalions. General Rapp managed to resist the first attacking wave; however the first part of the Chevalier Garde were now approaching.
Chevalier Garde crossed the Rausnitz and rode straight into attack. Deploying on the right, His Majesty’s squadron (Colonel Avdulin I) along with colonels Titov and Ushakov’s II squadrons under command of Major-General Depreradovich rushed into assistance of Preobrazensky’s Regiment retreating under fire of the French skirmishers. Coming through the big and small groups of defending Preobrazensky’s men, Chevalier Guards fought the French infantry and Guard Chasseurs. Under cover of these three squadrons the remnants of the Preobrazensky Regiment along with four assigned pieces of ordnance and four others pieces of the Guard Horse Artillery (still under captain Kozen) managed to cross on the left bank.
Meanwhile, the last line of Chevalier Garde crossed the stream, consisting of the Colonel Count Repnin’s (Repnin-Volkonsky) and "Regimental commander” (Colonel Davidov) squadrons, along with 2nd peloton form the His Majesty’s squadron under command of 17-years old Cornett Albrecht. Note that his platoon was entrusted the regimental standards to be delivered to Austerlitz on the eve of the battle and therefore, did not join his squadron in time. When these two squadrons and Albrecht’s peloton got up the hill on the right bank of Rausnitz, the situation for the last Russian Guard Infantry Regiment, the Semenovsky, was critical; from all over they seen the dark masses of the French infantry, advancing and pushing off the Russians.
Count Repnin took the situation under control and rushed for the rescue of the Semenovsky Regiment. He charged with his forces on Rapp’s squadrons (already tired and disordered in the course of a battle); and his Chasseurs began to pull back. At that moment, the 3rd and 4th squadrons of the Guard Chasseurs under command of major Dahlmanne joined the mêlée. They immediately attacked the left flank of Repnin’s squadron and nearby Albrecht’s 2nd platoon, with assistance of approached Grenadiers à Cheval (so far it was only the 5th squadron of velites). The Russian Chevalier Guards were surrounded from all over. Colonel Davidov with his squadron tried to break through, but in vain. Two squadrons of the Horse Guard under Colonel Olenin, which were sent to cover infantry retreat got delayed and returned back; they also tried to assist Repnin’s troopers, but still with no result: his squadron and Albrecht’s platoon were completely surrounded.
Over 15 minutes continued this savage and tenacious combat when, finally, four mighty squadrons of the Grenadiers à Cheval under général de brigade Ordener, led by marshal Bessières, approached the place of struggle. The fresh squadrons shouting, "Here’s something for the Petersburg ladies to cry about!” decided the result of this cavalry fight: the Russian cavalry completely retreated on the left bank of the Rausnitz under cover but one canon left in care of Colonel Kostenetski.
But Repnin’s Chevalier Gardes could not retreat along with their comrades; they were cut off and continued to fight while being completely surrounded. Part of them was killed, the other part taken prisoners (almost all wounded). Two officers were killed, seven wounded and later presented to Napoleon with a big pomp; from rank-and-file only 18 men saved their lives. From Albrecht’s platoon nobody survived but only him, heavenly wounded and taken prisoner.
Crossing the Rausnitz, the Russian Guard squadrons re-formed their lines using the opportunity that the French did not cross the stream, waiting for its artillery and infantry. By the signal "rappel” all Chevalier Gardes quickly assembled near Walkmühle; soon Guard Cossacks joined on their left flank. The rest of the Grand Duke’s Guard retreated for Austerlitz. Around 03:00 p.m. the Chevalier Gardes received an order to stay where they are until the nightfall and, placing cavalry pickets along the stream, cover the retreat of the allies. Those pickets, under command of rottmister Levenvolde, were the last troops leaving the battlefield of Austerlitz.
Overall, the Guard lost nearly 1,500 officers, soldiers and NCOs killed, wounded and taken prisoners, including 60 officers. The Chevalier Gardes alone lost 13 officers and 252 men.
To sum up note, that despite its bravery and enthusiasm, the obvious lack of military experience undermined the Russian Guard’s combat performance. It was nearly 85 years since the Guard participated in the military actions; last time it happened during the Great Northern War (1700-1721). After that, the Guard displayed her activities mainly at the parades, local regimental maneuvers and coronation ceremonies; they took very active part in various coup d’etas, which shook the Russian monarchy. Being elite troops, the Guard lost its "military shape and spirit” and hence the dramatic result of 1805. However, this bloody and painful lesson was even necessary: the Guard, reformed and better trained, rightfully deserved the hall of fame in later struggle of the Napoleonic wars, and especially in 1812-14 campaigns.
Bowden, Scott. Napoleon and Austerlitz. Chicago, Illinois: The Emperor’s Press, 1997.
Shtakelberg, Carl. Poltora veka Konnoi Gvardii. [A Century and a half of the Horse Guard history]. St.-Petersburg, Izdatel’stvo Sitina, 1881.
Vasiliev, Alexey. Rysskaya Gvardia pri Austerlitze 20-go Noyabrya (2-go Decabrya) 1805-go goda. [The Russian Guard at Austerlitz, 20 November (2 December) 1805]. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo "Voin,” 2002.
Zvegintzov, Vladimir. Russkaya Armiya, 1801-1825 [The Russian Army, 1801-1825], part 4, The Russian Army in Napoleonic Wars; unpublished manuscript. Paris, 1973.
2005© Eman M. Vovsi