Moustache, The French Army Poodle

Moustache, or as he was sometimes called Mous, was a black French poodle who some people claim took part in the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. His feats became legendary and many people wrote about his exploits, sometimes exaggerating or fictionalizing them. Between the exaggeration and fiction, it has become nearly impossible to know the precise truth, and so this post probably incorporates elements of both.

Moustache a French army poodle

Poodles. Author’s collection.

Moustache’s story begins with his birth in September 1799 at Falaise, in Normandy, France. Six months later he was the pet of a grocer living in Caen who treated him kindly. One day when out for a stroll, Moustache happened upon a parade of grenadiers who had just returned from Italy.

“They were brilliantly equipped — their spirits were high — and their drums loud.”[1] Enthralled by the noise, the excitement, and their marching, Moustache supposedly “joined the grenadiers … [before] they had marched an hour [away from town].”[2]

Despite being dirty and “tolerably ugly” Moustache was said to be intelligent and have a sparkle in his eye. Because he could forage for himself and because the grenadiers had no dog in their company, they allowed him to attach himself to the regiment. He quickly became known for fetching and carrying things, and, as part of the regiment, the French army poodle was said to favor no person in particular. In fact, he “had an almost equal attachment for everyone who wore the French uniform.”[3]

Moustache - Example of War Dog Carrying Ammunition, Public Domain

Example of war dog carrying ammunition. Public domain.

There is evidence that Moustache marched through the Alps with Napoleon Bonaparte‘s army in the spring of 1800. Along the way he survived by living “from paw to mouth”[4] and reputedly “endured the fatigue of [Great St Bernard’s Pass], with as good grace as any veteran in the army.”[5]

When the French engaged with the enemy, Moustache was said to be as brave as any soldier. Supposedly, the first time Moustache distinguished himself happened on a snowy night after the French troops had camped. Unknown to the French soldiers, the Austrians were nearby, and they had been ordered to attempt a surprise attack upon the French. That night as the French army slept, Moustache made his normal rounds, and it was during those rounds that he detected the Austrians and barked out an alarm, which allowed the French to repulse their attack.

Moustache was hailed as a hero. For his heroism, his name was added to the roll and “published in a regimental order, that he should, henceforth, receive the ration of a grenadier, per diem — and Moustache was “le plus heureux des chiens” (the happiest of dogs).”[6] With his new status he was “cropped, à la militaire — a collar, with the name of the regiment was hung round his neck, and the barber had orders to come and shave him once a week. From this time [forward], Moustache was, certainly, a different animal. In fact, he became so proud, that he could scarcely pass any of his canine brethren, without lifting his leg.”[7]

The next opportunity for heroism occurred as Moustache was in route to Spinetta Marengo in Piedmont, Italy. The plucky Moustache took part in a small engagement with his regiment where he “received the thrust of a bayonet in his left shoulder.”[8] Fortunately, he had the wherewithal to crawl to the rear and get help: The regimental surgeon dressed his wounds and got him back on his feet.

Moustache had not completely recovered from the bayonet wound when the Battle of Marengo took place. This battle was between French commanded by First Consul Napoleon and Austrian forces. Moustache’s earlier injury, however, did not stop him from participating.

“He marched always keeping close to the banner, which he learned to recognise among a hundred; and … [he] never ceased barking, until evening closed upon the combatants of Marengo.”[9]

It was also around this same time that Moustache lost an ear. It happened when he got into a scrap with a Pointer owned by a German Corporal. It is claimed the smaller Moustache attacked the Pointer. While they were involved in fierce combat, a gunshot ended the fight by knocking the Pointer dead. As for Moustache, “after a moment of bewilderment, [he] put up his paw, and discovered that he had lost an ear.”[10]

Another story about Moustache’s bravery involves an Ensign carrying the regiment’s colors at Austerlitz. When the Ensign was surrounded by the enemy, Moustache reportedly “flew to [his] rescue — barked like ten furies — did every thing he could to encourage the young officer, but all in vain.”[11] The Ensign died, and Moustache immediately threw himself over him and would have been pierced by a dozen bayonets, if “a discharge of grape-shot [had not] swept the Austrians into oblivion.”[12]

 

Napoleon at Austerlitz, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Napoleon at Austerlitz. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

It was at this same battle that Moustache somehow managed to injure his leg, but it did not stop him from making valiant attempts to get the French banner from the dead Ensign. Unfortunately, “the poor Ensign had griped it so fast in the moment of death … it was impossible for [Moustache] to get it out of his hands. The end of it was, that Moustache tore the silk from the cane and returned to the camp, limping, bleeding, and laden with his glorious trophy.”[13]

Later, it was determined Moustache had to have his shattered limb amputated, but it was claimed he “bore the operation without a murmur, and limped with the air of a hero.”[14] When Marshal Jean Lannes learned of Moustache’s heroic deeds, he removed his old collar and “ordered a red riband to replace it, with a little copper medal, on which were inscribed these words:—’Il perdit one jambe à la battaille d’Austerlitz, et suava le drapeau de son regiment.‘”[15] (He lost his leg in the battle of Austerlitz but saved the colors of his regiment).

By this time, Moustache’s reputation was well-known and he could be identified by his collar and medal. Orders had also been given that wherever he should appear, “he should be welcomed, en camarade; and thus he continued to follow the army. Having but three paws and one ear.”[16]

It is said that Moustache’s life changed at the Battle of Aspern-Essling. To his surprise he discovered another poodle, a female. He thus “found his martial ardour subside into transports of another description. In a word, he seduced the fair enemy, who deserted with him to the French camp, where she was received with every consideration.”[17]

The Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 1809, Courtesy of Wikipedia

The Battle of Aspern-Essling, May 1809. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

For a year or so, the pair lived  happily and Moustache even became a father. Unfortunately, one day, a Chasseur reputedly gave “him a blow with the flat side of his sabre.”[18] The Chasseur’s cruelty was too much for Moustache, and he abandoned his regiment and his family. Moustache then attached himself to some dragoons and followed them to Spain. There he was said to be “infinitely useful.” Reports claim:

“[He was] always first up, and first dressed. He gave notice, the moment any thing struck him as suspicious … At the affair of the Sierra Morena … [he] gave a single proof of his zeal and skill, by bringing home in safety, to the camp, the horse of a dragoon who had the misfortune to be killed. How he managed it, no one could tell.”[19]

Shortly after that event, Moustache was stolen by a Colonel who wanted to own him. He held Moustache in captivity until the feisty dog leapt through an open window. After his escape Moustache participated in some of the battles fought at Badajoz, which were fought during the Peninsular Wars. It was during conflict on 11 March 1811 that this brave dog was killed by a cannonball. Legend has it soldiers buried him at the site of his last heroic triumph — collar, medal, and all — and the inscription upon his grave read simply: “Here lies the brave Moustache.”

French army poodle headstone

Honorary monument to Moustache in the Cimetière des Chiens et Autres Animaux Domestiques (Cemetery of Dogs and Other Domestic Animals). Author’s collection.

References:

  • [1] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” in Northern Whig, 09 March 1837, p. 4.
  • [2] Ibid.
  • [3]  Jack’s Victory, and Other Stories About Dogs, 1882, p. 68.
  • [4] Timbs, John, ed., The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volume 7, 1828, p. 41.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” in Northern Whig, 09 March 1837, p. 4.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Timbs, John, ed.,  p. 41.
  • [9] Ibid., p. 42.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.
  • [14] Ibid.
  • [15] “Moustache, a Biographical Sketch,” p. 4.
  • [16] Ibid.
  • [17] The Story-Teller, 1830 Volume 1, p. 73.
  • [18] Timbs, John, ed., p. 42.
  • [19] Ibid.

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