- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 29, 2005

PRAGUE — More than 4,000 volunteers are gathering on the Pratzen plateau in the eastern Czech Republic to re-create the battle of Austerlitz, where Napoleon Bonaparte won one of his greatest strategic victories two centuries ago.

Unpaid, passionate about weapons, the art of war and Napoleonic history, the hussars, grenadiers, dragoons and ordinary foot soldiers have come from across Europe, Russia and even as far away as the United States, Canada and Australia to mark the bicentennial of the so-called “Battle of the Three Emperors.”

“It is an enormous logistical endeavor,” said the dashing Czech “chief of general staff,” Jakub Samek, 27, charged with supervising troop coordination at the event.

Napoleon will be played by an American from Colonial Williamsburg. Mark Schneider is 36, the same age as the emperor at Austerlitz on Dec. 2, 1805, and is probably a better horseman than his historical counterpart.

Mr. Schneider started his spare-time career as France’s greatest general in 1998 after friends remarked on his resemblance. Since then, he has played Napoleon about 30 times, mostly at events in the United States, such as the bicentennial of Napoleon’s sale of Louisiana in 1803, and for History Channel shows.

On Dec 2, 1805, 71,000 soldiers of Napoleon’s “Grande Armee” put to flight the 91,000 men of the combined Russian and Austrian armies in less than six hours of combat. The clash left 19,000 dead and injured on the side of the defeated and 9,000 for the victors.

The battle, which allowed Napoleon to destroy the third coalition of powers formed against him and redraw the map of Europe according to his wishes, is considered by experts to be a strategic military masterpiece.

Although the Austro-Russian army was familiar with the lay of the land, occupied the best strategic positions and had a numerical superiority, the French emperor launched a surprise attack that created confusion among his enemies.

“You just have to say ‘I was at the battle of Austerlitz’ for people to reply ‘Here is a hero,’” Napoleon commented after the victory.

The re-enactment will be staged on Dec. 3 to attract more crowds since Dec. 2 falls on a Friday.

With a budget of $610,000 and 30,000 paying spectators, the event promises to be impressive. It would need around 16,000 meals and thousands of gallons of drinks, as well as 1.5 tons of gunpowder for rifles, more than 350 pounds of explosive for special effects and almost 5 miles of barriers.

The battlefield is about 6 miles from Brno, the Czech Republic’s second-largest city.

Organizers want to make the bicentennial “one of the biggest commemorative events in Napoleonic history.” The British already marked in style the bicentenary of Adm. Horatio Nelson’s Trafalgar victory over the joint French and Spanish fleets.

Napoleon probably would have approved of all the fuss. The emperor, according to one of his most lyrical admirers, French writer Victor Hugo, “knew he was too historical not to have any regard for history.”

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