08/08/2022 at 22:29 #176714
Allies-1805 And the Bizarre Myth about Dates!
A bizarre historical myth about Napoleon’s victory at Ulm, 1805, based upon the use of dates between the Allies (Austria/ Russia) and the latters use of the ‘old’ Julian Calendar.
No, let’s not call it the ‘Battle of Ulm’ either! There WAS a series of combats when surrounding it, bit no one ‘battle’. Those combats were close enough to the confined Austrian force that a capitulation was eventually forthcoming.
This isolated page of factoids and sources explains all: http://dcjack.org/kagan%20on%20ulm.html
You can’t believe everything you read, nor everything you find on the Internet, even when found in responsible sources. Here’s a remarkable example of a historical myth that will likely be impossible ever to stamp out.
In 1805, Austria, Russia, Sweden, and a number of minor states launched the war of the “Third Coalition” against Napoleon’s France. In September, an Austrian army invaded Bavaria, an ally of France, and marched without significant resistance to the German city of Ulm, on the Danube. There they stopped,…
Well, perhaps. I hadn’t seen any specific discussion on this matter so took it ‘as read’ as we say.
Why did I pick this up? Doing some research on the commanders under Mack, so Battle of Schöngrabern :-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Sch%C3%B6ngrabern
To quote from the article above-
The myth is this: that they were simply confused by dates, due to the conflict between different calendars in use at the time, and the Russians were supposed to be at Ulm alongside the Austrians. Here, from Napoleonic Wars: Battle of Austerlitz:
“But where were the Russians? In a staggering display of administrative ineptitude, the Allied staffs had failed to recognize that while the Austrians followed the Gregorian calendar, the Russians still employed the older Julian calendar. In 1805 the difference was 12 days. So while the Austrians expected the Russian army to arrive on October 20, the Russians did not expect to join the Austrians until November 1.”
That explanation for the Russians arriving too late to help the Austrians is certainly pleasing, in its elementary simplicity. And yet, to believe it, one has to imagine that the Austrian and Russian military leaders were astoundingly foolish. How could they not be acutely aware of the difference in calendars, given their regular meetings and discussions, in Vienna and St. Petersburg? The problem of differing calendars must have come up myriad times during their war planning. It’s not credible that they would suddenly fail to remember the difference at the crucial moment.
Frederick W. Kagan covers this in exhaustive detail in his definitive work on the campaign of 1805, The End of the Old Order: Napoleon and Europe, 1801-1805.
The book referenced to Kagan gets a going over and generally was read as a well detailled dissertation- without the copious Fren/ N. bias usually offered. ‘Best book for 1805’… from 2012.
-If you want a lot of detail, then the additional book is Kagan ‘end of the old empire’ – unfairly overlooked by pretty much everyone on this site, its an great narrative of the campaign.
-And the overall history of the campaign itself more than makes up for any criticisms of Kagan’s conclusions about the options on the day itself.
I don’t think I have seen a book which better covers the build up to 1805, nor one which covers so much valuable information about Ulm and the manoevering before Austerlitz itself.
-The daily orders, which Kagan recounts to give his narrative of the Ulm campaign clearly demonstrate that the French had no idea of where Mack was.
Equally, Kagan recounts reports which give a good indication of the decisions Mack was making which lead him to stay put.
Its a far cry for the traditional ‘Austrian clumsy command structure meets omnipotent Napoleon’, rabbit in the headlights analysis which we had to accept thirty years ago.
-It starts out with simple, clear exposition of the dilemmas facing the major Allied players, but as it goes on and on, it becomes increasingly obvious that the “simple, clear” is a distillation of Kagan’s take, and that the same standards are not being applied to Napoleon. When he started moving from the diplomacy to the war plans, I find myself increasingly encountering “That’s not true!” moments.
In a moment of ‘check the data’, Mr. McKay emailed the author of said book:-
Date: Mon, 10 Mar 2008
From: “Fred Kagan”
Subject: RE: Battle of Ulm
To: “Jack McKay”
Dear Mr. McKay,
I’m happy to have an opportunity to think about 1805, thank you! I thought I had addressed that issue in a footnote, but perhaps not.
It is a myth. I have seen with my own eyes the march-plans the Austrian general staff developed showing where the Russian forces would be on each day–and using the right calendar. And I have seen no evidence whatever in the voluminous correspondence between the Russians and the Austrians and within the Austrian army and court that anyone was confused about this. It is a bizarre myth, particularly considering that Russian and Austrian armies had been fighting in close proximity for many years both against France and against Turkey, and all Russian correspondence directed to non-Russian recipients carried both dates as a matter of course.
I think that there is a contemporaneous French source that mentions this, and, of course, David Chandler picked it up in his Campaigns of Napoleon. But it is entirely without foundation.
So, it’s “a bizarre myth”, “entirely without foundation”. But will this truth ever catch up to, and overcome, that appealingly simple tale of calendar confusion?
[Added emphasis mine_dw].
So there you have it. Whether ‘English’ translations, interpretations, or subtle inspired ‘deviation from the truth’ who knows where ‘the myth’ came from?
Certainly it hasn’t received widespread coverage, but this appears another book [can I say I’m not often a fan of US authorship] that I may have to get.
Blinking paint by numbers... bahhumbug!09/08/2022 at 08:51 #176722Not Connard SageParticipant
Granted that, where were the Russians? Or did Mack think he could defeat an army twice the size of his own without them?
Obvious contrarian and passive aggressive old prat, who is taken far too seriously by some and not seriously enough by others.09/08/2022 at 10:33 #176739General SladeParticipant
I ought to be able to answer that question because I have read Kagan’s book and it is very good. Unfortunately, I read it fifteen years ago and the memory is not what it might be. From what I recall Mack was inept but he received precious little support from leading elements in the Austrian high command because they thought he was a bit common and so wanted to see him fail. Plus, Archduke Charles was going round telling everyone ‘we’re all doomed’, which can’t have done much for morale. Then, that Napoleon chap moved much faster than anyone expected – so it wasn’t so much that the Russians turned up late as the French turned up early.
At least, that’s how I remember it – which might not be how it happened.09/08/2022 at 10:57 #176740
Hi guys, given that unexpected events always happen- we are left wondering where such an ‘excuse’ has arisen in ‘English only’ it seems. I would think Dave Hollins also could have crossed over archival material as he was deeply involved in Austrian K-K research.
Blinking paint by numbers... bahhumbug!09/08/2022 at 15:34 #176742Guy FarrishParticipant
I wonder how widespread this myth is?
It’s certainly in Chandler (1966), as a short footnote on p.383.
The first book I read of the Austerlitz campaign was Duffy (1977) and he makes a passing reference to the different calendars not improving relations (p.29) but doesn’t blame the mismatch in arrival times of the Russians and Austrians.
Ian Castle’s ‘Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Eagles of Europe’ (2005) specifically mentions and refutes it, note 2 Ch4.
Robert Goetz similarly rejects it in ‘1805: Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Destruction of the Third Coalition’ (2005).
I know I’ve read other books and articles on the Austerlitz campaign over the years but I can’t say this idea has made much of an impression on me. Alexander’s overenthusiastic amateur ideas of moving Russian armies about, messing Kutuzov around and Austrian class ridden bickering and inability to work out what was actually happening (with friend and foe alike) as opposed to what they wanted to happen have left more of an impression on me than calendars.
Maybe that’s just me?
(Mack thought he was facing about 80,000 at most, according to Duffy – more fingers for generals required?)09/08/2022 at 19:15 #176750
I wonder how widespread this myth is? It’s certainly in Chandler (1966)… Ian Castle’s ‘Austerlitz: Napoleon and the Eagles of Europe’ (2005) specifically mentions and refutes it,…
Alexander’s overenthusiastic amateur ideas of moving Russian armies about, messing Kutuzov around and Austrian class ridden bickering and inability to work out what was actually happening (with friend and foe alike) as opposed to what they wanted to happen have left more of an impression on me than calendars. Maybe that’s just me? (Mack thought he was facing about 80,000 at most, according to Duffy – more fingers for generals required?)
Thanks Guy for your thoughts and due diligence.
Well the fact that so many address it means it is in the ‘historical conscience’ and still gets air time I read elsewhere. And those troll-like Russian sites that sift information from all over repeat it so it affects the ground base of readers.
I don’t have Castle at all so hadn’t seen that analysis.
I 100% agree with your synopsis of the ‘Allied’ effort- the pure double-dealing of all [self interested] parties added to the longevity of N. accomplishments. His own of course sped his downfall.
I’ve had to educate my own cadre on the ‘better’ quality of ‘allied soldiers’ than we’ve believed from summary judgements ‘a la orspreyz’ etc. and the greater impact of political nepotism and interference of commanders, which of course isn’t that translatable to satisfactory gaming tables.
Blinking paint by numbers... bahhumbug!
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