The Third Coalition: Overview, Battles & Treaties

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  • 0:01 France vs. Britain
  • 1:40 Battle of Ulm
  • 2:36 Battle of Austerlitz
  • 3:36 Peace at Last?
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the War of the Third Coalition that pitted France against Britain, Russia, Austria, and several other allies. We will take a close look at the battles of Trafalgar, Ulm, and Austerlitz.

France vs. Britain Again!

Only 14 months had passed since France and Great Britain made peace in the Treaty of Amiens in March of 1802, when, in May of 1803, Britain once again declared war on France. Neither country had been very successful at honoring the provisions of the treaty. They could not work out a trade system. France, led by first consul Napoleon Bonaparte, kept sneaking into new territories and Britain refused to give up some of its holdings. In the midst of all the bickering, peace simply could not last.

For a while, both sides did a lot of posturing and nothing much happened in the way of violence. Napoleon crowned himself emperor of France in 1804, and by early 1805, he was ready to take some major action against Britain. He decided to invade his enemy. This would not be easy, however, because Britain's strong navy guarded the English Channel, which French soldiers would have to cross.

Napoleon figured that his best bet would be to lure Britain's navy away by diversionary tactics. France's Admiral Pierre-Charles Villeneuve proceeded to lead Britain's Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson across the sea on what amounted to a wild goose chase. France lost out in the end when 27 British ships decimated the larger French fleet at the Battle of Trafalgar off the cost of Spain on October 21, 1805. Britain's naval supremacy was secure and Napoleon had to scrap his invasion plans.

Action on the Continent: The Battle of Ulm

Meanwhile, things were heating up in Europe. Britain had formed the Third Coalition with Russia, Austria, Naples, Sweden, Portugal, and a few German states, and they were all determined to stop Napoleon from expanding his French Empire across the continent. They didn't count on the size and strength of Napoleon's army.

On October 16-19, 1805, the Austrians and the French met at the Battle of Ulm. Austrian general Karl Mack von Leiberich believed that he had plenty of soldiers to claim victory over Napoleon, but in reality, his over 40,000 men were no match for the nearly 200,000 Frenchmen bearing down on them. The French army quietly surrounded and cut off the Austrians, who didn't even realize what was happening. Mack was forced to surrender without even firing very many shots.

The Battle of Austerlitz

Austria had suffered a major blow, but its leaders weren't ready to give up yet. Joined by the Russian army, the Austrians met Napoleon again on December 2, 1805 in the Battle of Austerlitz. Napoleon was his usual tricky self. He feigned weakness and evacuated his troops from a plateau in the center of the battlefield. When the Austrians and Russians saw this, their confidence soared and they attacked the French on the right and the left. The French held off their enemies on both sides.

Events unfolded just as Napoleon had hoped. The Austrian-Russian army was now split in two, and the French charged up the middle onto the plateau, stunning their enemies. The Austrians and Russians were soundly defeated, losing about 25,000 men in the battle. Their armies broke ranks and fled. The Austrians surrendered on December 4. The Russians headed for home. It was time to talk peace.

Peace at Last?

French and Austrian representatives signed the Treaty of Pressburg on December 26, 1805. Austria officially left the Third Coalition, which was defunct by this time anyway, and handed over quite a few of its territories to France. It also agreed to pay a large indemnity of 40 million gold francs. France was quite clearly victorious.

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