The standard-bearer of the 40th line regiment fell in the Battle of Austerlitz – it was only thanks to the dog Mustache that the enemy did not capture the regiment’s flag and eagle.

Since 1799 a dog fought for France and the Emperor. Napoleon Bonaparte’s greatest triumph in the Battle of the Three Emperors at Austerlitz was also the moment when the whole army recognized the bravery of the poodle Mustache. Mustache was the mascot of the 40th Regiment of the Line.

A regimental dog was not uncommon for the time. Before the battle, the superstitious soldiers sought the proximity of such a dog and the drummers, who were still children. Her touch should bring good luck to the soldiers.

The 40th Regiment was positioned at the Battle of Austerlitz on the left wing, in front of Bagration’s troops, under the command of Marshal Jean Lannes. In the battle, the poodle as a mascot advanced alongside the standard-bearer, but the 40th met fierce resistance and the grenadiers fell and began to fall back. The enemy encircled their formation, volleys came down on the regiment from several sides. Only the young officer who carried the standard did not budge. Had he run away, the whole regiment would have fled. The mascot, the poodle, stayed by his side. According to legend, the dog encouraged the ensign by barking vigorously.

Different versions of the feat

The standard-bearer is said to have killed three Austrians before he himself was killed. According to legend, he wrapped the flag around the young man’s body beforehand so that it could not be snatched from him. Mustache is said to have thrown himself on the dead man, probably to “protect his master”. The dog turned furiously against five or six enemy soldiers who wanted to capture the standard. When she tried to stab him with the bayonet, a cartridge case died between them. The Austrians fell and Mustache was also injured. But the flag remained in French possession. After the battle, the dog was recovered, with a broken barrel but the flag in its mouth.

All this could be observed by thousands. As both armies retreated to rearrange formation, the dying standard-bearer and dog were left in the 1,000-foot-wide no man’s land. According to another tradition, it was not Austrians who attacked the dog. Russians are said to have fired on the injured porter and the dog from a great distance in no man’s land. The officer, who was already seriously injured, died, only they could not hit the dog. So they set a heavy mastiff on him. But Mustache defeated the mighty dog.

Mustache met the emperor

Shortly after the battle, Marshal Lannes paced the regiment. In the midst of the grognards, the tried and tested veterans of the regiment, the dog was waiting for him. In front of the whole regiment he was presented with a medal for bravery. On the back of his medal was engraved the phrase: “At the Battle of Austerlitz he broke his leg to save his regiment’s flag.” An anecdote tells of his encounter with the emperor. Napoleon had wandered through the encampment at night and stopped by soldiers playing cards by a fire. The Emperor asked his veterans, “How’s the game going for brave Mustache?” And they answered him: “Moustache has a good hand, but his tail gives him away.”

Since 1799 the dog followed the grenadiers, attracted by the sound of the drums. In the spring of 1800 he marched with his regiment and his later emperor in the second Italian campaign. On the eve of the Battle of Marengo, the dog is said to have distinguished itself for the first time. On June 13, the Austrians wanted to attack the French camp. But the watchful dog noticed the Austrian scouts. In the ensuing skirmish, Mustache was wounded for the first time, at the head of the French column.

For more than ten years, Mustache followed the emperor’s banners and drums. He took part in the double battles of Jena-Auerstedt (1806), Zaragoza (1809) and Friedland (1807). Always in the center of the action, because the mascot accompanied the flag. The four-legged friend’s luck ran out in 1811, and he was hit by a cannonball during the siege of Badajoz.

Mustache’s experiences were first recorded in printed form about 20 years later. The descriptions vary, sometimes he was not with the 40th Infantry but with the cuirassiers and later with the dragoons. But even if his exploits have been embellished, there is little doubt that the brave dog really existed.

What: The Parisian

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