12. Trusting Too Much in the Code of Honor
Against a backdrop of uncertain hostilities that might end at any moment with an armistice and peace treaty, the French vanguard neared the Tabor Bridge on November 13th, 1805, and halted. Two of Napoleon’s more enterprising commanders, Joachim Murat and Jean Lannes, then casually ambled to the bridge, seemingly without a care in the world. While confused Austrian guards aimed their muskets at their breasts, Murat and Lannes acted nonchalant, laughing and expressing their pleasure with the “just concluded” armistice and peace treaty. Once they reached the other side, still maintaining a carefree air, they asked to see Count Auesberg and wondered if he had already gone to attend the peace signing ceremony.
As a messenger was sent to fetch Auesberg, the French Marshals chatted with the guards to distract their attention from French soldiers who were now casually crossing the bridge. An Austrian sergeant suspected a ruse and lit the fuse to the explosives, but Lannes extinguished it, berated the sergeant for trying to destroy public property, then sat on a cannon as he smoked a pipe. When Count Auesberg arrived, he bought the story. When the suspicious sergeant protested, Murat berated Auesberg for his soldiers’ indiscipline and for allowing an underling to mouth off and jeopardize the armistice. Auesberg was browbeaten into arresting the sergeant, then turned control of the bridge over to the French. They used it to cross the Danube, and less than a month later crushed the combined Austro-Russian armies at Austerlitz, the masterpiece battle of Napoleon’s career. The hapless Count Auesberg was tried for incompetence and shot.