It is always a special thrill to participate in Napoleonic European Re-enactments. Unlike their North American counterparts – they are huge affairs – with even the smallest ones being done on fields that to our standards stretch on forever. And all of the ones I’ve been fortunate enough to attend have been staged on the actual battle fields.
Which is why I found myself at dawn on Dec 5, 2015 – standing along with another 100 souls at the top of Zuran Hill, hoping to see the Sun of Austerlitz rise in the East. All the important people were there – Mark Schneider doing his usual enthusiastic version of Napoleon – encouraging us to victory, Marshall Soult (Portrayed by Oleg Sokolov) – also elicting cheer after cheer for the new Emperor.
The Czech Renenactor Grenadier Imperial Guard unit was there in force, along with a smattering of the Marins de la Garde, 10 Cavalry members (Chaseurs de la Garde) – with their horses, and the Elite Gendarmes.
Of the folks gathered – I found the Gendarmes the most interesting. They wear a unique uniform – and they are the Napoleonic Military Police. They stand guard at the 4 corners of the space – making sure that only the folks who should be there approach. Later on they will be enforcing the rules of the battle field– No women in women’s clothing being apparently their primary target – well that and crowd control – no kids deciding to join in the battle please, and they even direct traffic if necessary!
We wait to see the sun rise – and of course it does – but it is hidden behind the famous haze of Austerlitz. You can make out tree lines and the general topgraphy, but if there were over 150,000 soliders (Russian, Austrian, and French) camped out in the surrounding hills and valleys – you’d never know.
In 1805 – Napoleon himself stood on this hill – gazed out at exactly this country side – and we can envision him imagining how the chess pieces would fall within hours. Today we can only cheer – and agree to meet at the base of Stanton Hill for drill at 10:00.
For us as re-enactors – the morning is spent either in drill – or in walking around the camp site. The outdoor camp is small – even by North American standards – but then we’re talking early December in the Czech Republic. In 1805 – there was snow. Today there is only a light frost – which quickly melts off – making for splendid re-enacting weather – our wool uniforms were designed for just these temperatures – but as the Doctor – I’m thinking that even so – we’ll be running out of water for the troops by mid-way thru the battle.
The camp is sectioned off – the Russians have claimed about half the space – they have a large contingent – and there are Russian Cantinieres who are selling home made Russian cakes and pies. I enjoy a delicious Apple Pastry – and it looks like business is good – they have different things on offer each time I stroll past.
There are some Bashkir Archers who have set-up a practice area – and are allowing the visitng children to try their hand at using the bows. Using a Bow and Arrow may seem silly today – but in 1805 these guys were deadly! They could fire multiple arrows in the time it would take us to organize just one volley. I join the line to try my hand, but while I have good form – I miss the target all 3 times. Oh well – Doctors don’t really need archery skills.
On the other 50% of the area are meeting grounds for Austrian and French troops. Most of the Re-enactors (there are over 2000) are staying in temporary lodging – police stations, gyms, barracks of one kind and another, or at local hotels – so there are many small areas to visit, no one big encampment like there was at either Leipzig or Waterloo.
Drill, Visits, and Lunch over – it’s time for the battle.
This is the 210th anniversery of the battle of Austerlitz – so it’s being held on a fairly large part of the still existing battle field. Since it is early December, there are no crops to deal with – we’re not forcing our way through grain fields – instead the field has already been tilled for winter, leaving a medium dry mud that clings alarming to our boots – inches deep at some points – making keeping boot soles clean an impossible task. I’m going to bet that there will be few wounded today – no one is going to want to fall into this mud!
The French, of which I am of course included, take the far Western portion of the battle field – we’re on the Stanton hill – and Napoleon (Mark Schneider) and his entourage are mounted or standing behind us. Below us are row after row of French soldiers, Some Cavalry – a narrow road – and then up hill from that are the vast array of the enemy on the Pratzen Heights. There are massed Austrian and Russian Troops – their cannon firing on our positions. We can see that some of the French troops have already been engaged in the battle – but we, the Imperial Guard are being held in reserve.
Napoleon’s tactic at Austerlitz was to pretend a weakness on the right flank that baited the Allies into weakening their center in order to try and crush that side of the Grande Armee. We are doing the same – the troops fighing now are just the teaser – the real numbers will not take the field until 3:00 PM.
Conditions are not wonderful for the Cavalry – Even Napoleon is thrown from his horse when the horse loses his footing in the mud. One of the aide-de-camps is unhorsed twice – and that’s only what we can see from our position. Reports are that many riders had to dismount or were thrown. When we are attacked by the Russian Household Cavalry later in the afternoon – we can’t see the impact – they are still a formidable opponent – and we must form square to protect ourselves at least twice.
Smoke and Fire – March up hill in ranks to face the enemy – exchange of fire, and then hand to hand combat. Some folks get caught up in the moment – and there is one guy who must be restrained by his own troops when he draws sword and tried to single handedly take down the Garde. Three Russians run around our flank and make a grab for our flag – but we stand strong and push them off.
The battle ends with the Russians and Austrians abandoning their cannons, and pushed into the crowds of spectators gathered on the far eastern side of the battle field , – much to their delight. As predicted – there are few fallen – but the need for water is great – and I spend much of the battle either giving out water or helping soldiers with fouled muskets to clean and repair their weapons.
At the end – there is a huge award giving cermony – Soldiers selected for getting Medals of Honour are handed their hard won awards at the hands of Napoleon.
Among them is Victor Eiser – who Napoleon singles out to not only receive the Legion of Honor – but to be given it with special thanks and a personal greeting.
Later that night – over dinner at the Stara Posta – Napoleon comes to our table to personally emphasize that of all the medals awarded today – Victor’s Legion of Honour is the one that he personally felt was most deserving.
Nice end to a nice day.
M. Le Docteur Jean Vivant de Clairemont
reporting from the fileds of Austerlitz, Czech Republic.