Murat’s Seizure of a Danube Bridge
After Napoleon captured an Austrian army at Ulm in 1805, the Austrians’ Russian allies retreated across the Danube, hoping to buy time to regroup by interposing the river between themselves and the French. To keep Napoleon from crossing, all bridges over the Danube were destroyed, or rigged with explosives for destruction to keep them out of French hands.
Meanwhile, as the French approached Vienna on the Danube, peace negotiations were underway. Because it might prove unnecessary if the negotiations bore fruit, the Austrians refrained from blowing up Vienna’s bridges, but prepared them with explosives for destruction if the French tried to capture them. One of them was the Tabor Bridge, guarded by an officer named Auesberg.
On November 13th, advance French units, commanded by Joachim Murat and Jean Lannes, reached the bridge and stacked arms. Murat and Lannes then casually strolled across the bridge, conversing, laughing, and talking about the “just signed” armistice and peace treaty, while confused Austrian soldiers covered them with their muskets. Upon reaching the other side, they asked to see Auesberg, wondering if he had gone to witness the treaty signing.
While a message was sent to summon Auesberg, Murat and Lannes kept talking with the Austrian soldiers to distract them from French grenadiers now casually crossing the bridge. When Auesberg arrived, he believed the French officers, and when one of his sergeants voiced his suspicions, Murat berated Auesberg for allowing an enlisted man to mouth off, offend officers, and jeopardize the armistice.
The hapless Auesberg was shamed into arresting the sergeant, then turned control of the bridge over to the French. They promptly crossed the Danube, and within a month, destroyed the Austro-Russian armies at Austerlitz, the most brilliant of Napoleon’s victories. The unfortunate Auesberg was tried for dereliction of duty, convicted, and executed.