On This Day in Napoleonic History – 23 August 1805

220px-Karl_Mack_von_LeiberichNapoleon executes his famous ‘pirouette’ during the War of the Third Coalition

The newly renamed Grande Armée was positioned at Boulogne, ready to invade England, when Napoleon decided to move his troops south to attack the Allied forces. Napoleon called it his pirouette. He achieved his goal of surprising the Austrians by imposing the total news blackout about troop movements and telling Joseph Fouché to forbid all newspapers from mentioning the army ‘as if it no longer exists.’

The 7 corps of the Grande Armée under Marshals Murat, Davout, Ney, Lannes, Soult and Bernadotte totalling over 170,000 men raced eastwards at record speed, crossing the Rhine on September 25. ‘Finally everything is taking on colour,’ Napoleon said that day. It was the largest single campaign ever conducted by French troops.

Thanks to this swiftness of movement and the element of surprise, on October 16 Napoleon succeeded in encircling Austrian General Karl Mack, who had captured the city of Ulm and was waiting for Russian reinforcements under General Mikhail Kutuzov. This placing of his troops around Mack’s line of retreat without suffering a single casualty and before the Austrian commander even knew what was happening is one of Napoleon’s greatest military achievements.

‘There is no further premise to negotiate with the Austrians except with cannon fire,’ he told Bernadotte. Mack surrendered Ulm on October 20, together with 20,000 infantry, 3,300 cavalry, 59 field gun, 300 ammunition wagons, 17 generals and 40 standards. When asked by a French officer who he was, the Austrian commander replied, ‘You see before you the unfortunate Mack.’ He was indeed unfortunate. He was convicted of cowardice by a court-martial, deprived of his rank and imprisoned for two years.

Napoleon wrote to Josephine, ‘I carried out all my plans, I have destroyed the Austrian army simply by marches.’

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