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Was there something that made being besieged at these times inconceivable? I can imagine that a lack of provisions and/or logistics of keeping ~70 000 men in a city wouldn't make the situation ideal for Mack, but with the Russian army being not that far away they could have probably expected to have been relieved in a few days.

I tried to google this, but I couldn't find anything that would give more context on the decision to surrender. For example, some sources describe how Mack failed to realize that he was getting encircled before it was already too late, but they don't clarify why it was too late. They also don't say anything about Mack making a mistake by surrendering, as if it was completely understandable and/or the only choice.

(Apologies for not providing the sources I researched; I was looking into this a couple of months ago, but resigned because I couldn't find anything, and I didn't make a note of the websites I checked.)

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  • What is wrong with the answer in Wikipedia, ""In less than 15 days the Grande Armée neutralized 60,000 Austrians and 30 generals., , , The Ulm Campaign is considered an example of a strategic victory, though Napoleon indeed had an overwhelming superior force. )
    – MCW
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 20:04
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    Sorry, I'm not sure how the wiki entry answers my question. It talks about the consequences of the Mack's surrender, and the Napoleon's stategic acumen, but it doesn't explain why Mack surrendered instead of retreating to the city (or e.g. trying to break free (as some of his commanders did)).
    – psz
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 21:09
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    I'd like to add an interesting thing that might add value to the question. In that time Russia still used the old julian calendar, instead of the gregorian calendar. Hence, in Ulm campaign, austrian and russian informed different dates each other, breaking the coordination. Because of this, Mack thought that russians were closer, even though they were still far away. But, I don't know when the coalition realized about this mistake.
    – Santiago
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 12:22
  • @Santiago I've also read about this in the past, but it seems to be a myth: dcjack.org/kagan%20on%20ulm.html. Quote: "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"
    – psz
    Commented Nov 21, 2023 at 16:28

1 Answer 1

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I can imagine that a lack of provisions and/or logistics of keeping ~70 000 men in a city wouldn't make the situation ideal for Mack, but with the Russian army being not that far away they could have probably expected to have been relieved in a few days.

Without food and ammunition one can hold for some time, so the question is whether Mack and his army had enough to hold till the arrival of the Russians. As the relevant article in World History Encyclopedia describes, in negotiations with the French Mack set a date, by which he hoped to be relieved by the Russian army - apparently he couldn't last longer than that (Google translation follows):

Le 17 octobre à 3 heures du matin, alors que Ney était occupé à installer ses batteries d'artillerie, Napoléon envoya son émissaire, le comte de Ségur, à la rencontre de Mack. L'armée autrichienne était désormais démoralisée et à court de munitions, mais Mack était convaincu que les Russes devaient être tout proches. C'est pourquoi Mack accepta de se rendre le 25 octobre, mais seulement si aucun renfort n'était arrivé avant cette date. Ségur accepta car, contrairement à Mack, il savait que les Russes de Kutuzov étaient encore à 290 kilomètres et qu'ils ne pouvaient pas arriver avant le 25 octobre. En fin de compte, les Français n'eurent même pas à attendre aussi longtemps. Le 18 octobre, Murat rattrapa enfin le corps du général Werneck à Trochtelfingen et l'obligea à se rendre; l'archiduc Ferdinand changea de cap et conduisit sa cavalerie en Bohême. La défaite de Werneck démoralisa encore plus l'armée et, le 19, Mack accepta de se rendre le lendemain.

On October 17 at 3 a.m., while Ney was busy installing his artillery batteries, Napoleon sent his emissary, the Count of Ségur, to meet Mack. The Austrian army was now demoralized and short of ammunition, but Mack was convinced that the Russians must be close. This is why Mack agreed to surrender on October 25, but only if no reinforcements had arrived before then. Ségur accepted because, unlike Mack, he knew that Kutuzov's Russians were still 290 kilometers away and could not arrive before October 25. In the end, the French didn't even have to wait that long. On October 18, Murat finally caught up with General Werneck's corps at Trochtelfingen and forced it to surrender; Archduke Ferdinand changed course and led his cavalry into Bohemia. Werneck's defeat further demoralized the army, and on the 19th Mack agreed to surrender the next day.

The French Wikipedia article on the Battle of Ulm also points out that Napoleon had means to reduce the city by force (Google translate follows):

Le lendemain, Napoléon décide de ne pas attaquer la ville, malgré les conseils de son état-major. Il sait qu'un assaut sera coûteux en hommes et qu’Ulm tombera rapidement. Mack, lui, espère toujours l'arrivée prochaine des Russes. À court de nourriture, il décide de livrer la place forte le 25 octobre, si les Français ne lèvent pas le siège. Après un court bombardement, il cède et négocie avec Napoléon les conditions d'une reddition.

The next day, Napoleon decided not to attack the city, despite the advice of his staff. He knows that an assault will be costly in men and that Ulm will fall quickly. Mack, for his part, still hopes for the imminent arrival of the Russians. Short of food, he decided to surrender the stronghold on October 25, if the French did not lift the siege. After a short bombardment, he gave in and negotiated the conditions of surrender with Napoleon.

(emphasis is mine)

Finally, the German Wikipedia article provides a bit more details on how the matters stood at the moment of surrender (Google translate follows):

Am nächsten Tag, am 15. Oktober, gelang es der französischen Armee im direkten Gegenzug die beherrschenden Höhen nördlich der Stadt, den Michelsberg und den Frauensberg[40], mit den darauf angelegten großen Verschanzungen zu besetzen, aus denen sie dann sofort die Stadt beschoss. Die französischen Truppen drangen teilweise sogar bis zu den Stadttoren von Ulm vor, anschließend gingen nördlich der Donau die meisten Vororte der Stadt verloren.[41] Auf dem rechten Donauufer standen die vordersten französischen Truppen an der Donau bei Dellmensingen (ca. 12 km vor Ulm), an der Iller bei Kirchberg (5 bis 6 km südl. von Ulm) und östlich der Iller schon bei Pfuhl, nur wenig stromabwärts von Ulm. Allen am Kampf Beteiligten war spätestens jetzt klar, dass die österreichische Armee sich in der Stadt nicht mehr lange halten könne. Am späten Nachmittag sandte Marschall Ney einen Parlamentär zu FML Mack und forderte ihn zur Kapitulation auf, was dieser aber zurückwies. Am späten Abend bot Mack dem dienstältesten General in der Stadt, FML Graf Riesch, an, das Kommando über die Armee zu übernehmen,[42] was dieser jedoch ablehnte.[43] Wie sehr die Autorität von Mack erschüttert war, zeigt eine schriftliche Erklärung, die alle anwesenden österreichischen Generale unterzeichneten. Darin stellten sie fest, die Stadt Ulm sei keine Festung,[44] sie könne nicht langfristig verteidigt werden. Ein Entsatz durch die russische und die Armee von FML Kienmaier sei selbst unter günstigen Bedingungen nicht vor drei Wochen zu erwarten.[45]

Am Morgen des 16. Oktobers drängten sich in der Stadt zusätzlich noch viele Bewohner aus den umliegenden Ortschaften zusammen. In den Straßen lagen tote Pferde und in den Häusern und Spitälern tote Menschen, die nicht mehr bestattet werden konnten. An diesem Tag kam es dann zu weiteren Verhandlungen mit der französischen Armee, bei denen die Beteiligten sich jedoch noch nicht über die Bedingungen der Kapitulation einigen konnten. Nach einer weiteren Beschießung der Stadt am späten Nachmittag durch die französische Artillerie akzeptierte FML Mack schließlich am Vormittag des 17. Oktobers die Kapitulation der österreichischen Armee[46] in Ulm, unter der Bedingung, dass die Waffenübergabe erst am 25. Oktober stattfinde, wenn bis dahin die Armee nicht von außen entsetzt werden würde.[47] Danach besetzte eine französische Brigade das Neu-Tor und die umliegenden Häuser in Ulm; die Brücke über die Donau wurde wieder hergestellt. Mit dem nun eintretenden Waffenstillstand war nach nur einer Woche der Kampf für die österreichische Armee in Deutschland zu Ende.

The next day, on October 15th, the French army succeeded in direct counterattack in occupying the dominant heights north of the city, the Michelsberg and the Frauensberg[40], with the large entrenchments built on them, from which they then immediately shelled the city . The French troops sometimes even advanced as far as the city gates of Ulm, and then most of the city's suburbs north of the Danube were lost.[41] On the right bank of the Danube, the frontline French troops were on the Danube near Dellmensingen (approx. 12 km from Ulm), on the Iller near Kirchberg (5 to 6 km south of Ulm) and east of the Iller at Pfuhl, just a little downstream Ulm. It was now clear to everyone involved in the fight that the Austrian army could not hold out in the city much longer. Late in the afternoon, Marshal Ney sent a parliamentarian to FML Mack and asked him to surrender, which he rejected. Late in the evening, Mack offered the senior general in the city, FML Graf Riesch, to take command of the army,[42] but he declined.[43] The extent to which Mack's authority was shaken is shown by a written declaration signed by all Austrian generals present. In it they stated that the city of Ulm was not a fortress and that it could not be defended in the long term. Relief from the Russian and FML Kienmaier's armies could not be expected for three weeks, even under favorable conditions.[45]

On the morning of October 16th, many residents from surrounding towns crowded into the city. There were dead horses in the streets and dead people in the houses and hospitals that could no longer be buried. On that day there were further negotiations with the French army, but those involved could not yet agree on the terms of surrender. After another bombardment of the city by the French artillery in the late afternoon, FML Mack finally accepted the surrender of the Austrian army[46] in Ulm on the morning of October 17th, on the condition that the handover of weapons would not take place until October 25th, if by so that the army would not be shocked from outside.[47] A French brigade then occupied the Neu-Tor and the surrounding houses in Ulm; the bridge over the Danube was rebuilt. With the armistice now in place, the fight for the Austrian army in Germany was over after just a week.

In other words, Mack simply couldn't hold the city against the French until the arrival of the Russian army.

Update
Following the suggestions made in the comments, I add here the parts of the articles cited above regarding the treatment of prisoners of war:

Le 20 octobre, Napoléon se tint sur les hauteurs de Michelsberg, dos à un grand feu de joie, tandis que 25 000 Autrichiens défaits défilaient devant lui. Les soldats autrichiens empilèrent leurs armes et leurs couleurs au pied des hauteurs tandis que Mack s'approcha de Napoléon et se présenta en ces termes : " Sire, voici le malheureux général Mack " (Chandler, 400). En plus des soldats autrichiens qui se rendirent, les Français capturèrent également 60 canons. Mack et les autres officiers furent autorisés à partir après avoir signé une promesse de ne pas prendre les armes contre la France tant qu'ils n'auraient pas été échangés. De retour à Vienne, Mack fut reconnu coupable de lâcheté par une cour martiale; il fut déchu de son grade et passa deux ans en prison.

On October 20, Napoleon stood on the heights of Michelsberg, his back to a large bonfire, while 25,000 defeated Austrians marched before him. The Austrian soldiers piled up their weapons and their colors at the foot of the heights while Mack approached Napoleon and introduced himself in these terms: "Sire, here is the unfortunate General Mack" (Chandler, 400). In addition to the surrendered Austrian soldiers, the French also captured 60 cannons. Mack and the other officers were allowed to leave after signing a promise not to take up arms against France until they were exchanged. Back in Vienna, Mack was found guilty of cowardice by court martial; he was stripped of his rank and spent two years in prison.

and

Le 20 octobre, les soldats autrichiens défilent pendant cinq heures devant l'Empereur. Les fantassins capturés jettent leurs fusils, tandis que les cavaliers abandonnent leurs chevaux. Tous sont destinés à être emmenés captifs en France. Par contre, les officiers autrichiens reçoivent de Napoléon Ier l'autorisation de garder leurs armes et de rentrer chez eux, à condition de ne plus se battre contre la France.

On October 20, Austrian soldiers paraded for five hours in front of the Emperor. The captured infantrymen throw away their rifles, while the horsemen abandon their horses. All are destined to be taken captive to France. On the other hand, Austrian officers received authorization from Napoleon I to keep their weapons and return home, on condition of no longer fighting against France.

(emphasis is mine)

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  • 1
    Great answer. I think it's worth expanding it with Napoleon's treatment of prisoners: this was not a modern war where the surrendered army would be held in a POW camp, but after laying down their arms would be free to go home and rearm (though I recall reading somewhere that offers were required to swear on their honor to not fight France for some period of time as part of the terms). So surrender saved a lot of soldiers who could fight another day, while a futile last stand would have been more harmful in the long term.
    – SPavel
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:38
  • @SPavel thanks, I will do so. Although, my impression was that soldiers were held prisoners, but the officers were allowed to go home (under the conditions that you described.) I will recheck it.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 16:59
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    Yep, best make sure - "some guy's comment on history SE" is definitely no source!
    – SPavel
    Commented Nov 15, 2023 at 17:02
  • @SPavel: There are even rumours that (part of) the reason for Mack's disgrace in the years before 1804 were the consequence of violating his parole given to the French after capture in the early 1790's. He was finally restored to favour due to being one of the few senior Austrian officers willing to oppose Archduke Charles' arguments for peace. Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 1:48

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