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Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9


Paris after the Revolution of September 4 - Circular of Jules Favre - Reply of Count Bismark - Interview at Ferrieres. - Description of the Forts round Paris - The German Investment - Sortie of the 30th September - Siege of Strasburg. - Mission of M. Thiers. - Gambetta escapes from Paris. - Blockade of Metz - Sortie in Force on the 7th October - The Regnier Incident - Exhaustion of the Supplies - Capitulation of Metz and of the Army of the Rhine- Proclamation of Gambetta - Excitement in Paris - Plébiscite in Paris - Evacuation of Mount Avron. - Other Sieges: Fall of Laon, Toul, Phalsburg, &c. - Formation of the Army of the Loire - General d'Aurelle de Paladines - Defeats Yon der Tann at Coulmiers - The French re-occupy Orleans - Plans of d'Aurelle - Combat of Beaune-la-Rolande - Battles round Orleans - Orleans re-occupied by the Germans - Chanzy appointed to the Command of the Second Army of' the Loire - Battles of Villorceau and Vendome - Chanzy falls back on Le Mans. - Affairs in the East of France - Garibaldi arrives at Tours - Surprise at Chatillon - Belfort invested. - Russia declares that she will not be bound by the Black Sea Conference - Correspondence between Earl Granville and Prince Gortschakoff - Prussia proposes a Conference.
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In the last chapter but one we brought down the narrative of the Franco-German War to the capitulation of Sedan, and the Revolution of the 4th September. Some fulness of detail up to this point might be not inconsistent with the design of this History, when the closeness and cordiality of the relations which the Emperor Napoleon did so much to establish between France and this country, and the deep interest which Englishmen consequently took in his fortunes, are taken into consideration. Of the gallant struggle made by the French nation after the fall of the Empire, when the gentlemen who had installed themselves in the seats of power vainly tried to bring back to the standards of the raw Mobiles that victory which had deserted the eagles of the veterans of the Crimea, it does not fall within the scppe of this work to speak at length. That task has already been ably and graphically accomplished, as the readers of "Cassell's History of the War between France and Germany " are well aware.

M. Jules Favre, Gambetta, Cremieux, and the rest, (always excepting Trochu), believing in democracy with an implicit and absolute faith, seem to have been honestly convinced that what the French, or rather the Parisian, populace were determined should be or should not be, would in some way or other be arranged to suit their wishes. How else could the foolish and presumptuous language - falsified so miserably by the event - of M. Favre's circular of the 6th September have escaped from the pen of any man of common sense or common prudence? The Empire, he said, sought to divide the nation from the army, but misfortune and duty have brought them together again; " this alliance renders us invincible." He then proceeded to misrepresent what the King of Prussia had said in his proclamation upon entering French territory, as if he had declared that he made war, " not against France, but against the Imperial dynasty; " whereas the King merely announced that he was making war against the armies of France, not against the civil population - a very different thing. But if Prussia was so ill advised as to continue the war, the new Government would accept the challenge. "We will not cede either an inch of our territory or a stone of our fortresses"

Bismark, upon receiving a copy of Jules Favre's circular, dispatched a counter manifesto to the Prussian diplomatic agents, characterised in an eminent degree by the strength, the lucidity, the manly good sense, which belong to this extraordinary man. He calmly exposed the extravagance of the expectation that Germany should march her armies home again, serenely confident in the future, because the "Messieurs du Pavé " who had undertaken to govern France were men of peace, and apostles of fraternity and the solidarity of nations. " The demand that we should conclude an armistice without any guarantees for our conditions of peace, could be founded only on the erroneous supposition that we lack military and political judgment, or are indifferent to the interests of Germany." Germany cared nothing about the dynasty; but whatever permanent Government might be established in France must be prepared to give to Germany solid guarantees for the maintenance of peace. " We are far from any inclination to mix in the internal affairs of France. It is immaterial to us what kind of government the French people shall formally establish for themselves. The Government of the Emperor Napoleon has hitherto been the only one recognised by us; but our conditions of peace with whatever Government, legitimate for the purpose, we may have to negotiate are wholly independent of the question how or by whom France is governed. They are prescribed to us by the nature of things, and by the law of self-defence, against a violent and hostile neighbour. The unanimous voice of the German Governments and German people demands that Germany shall be protected by better boundaries than we have had hitherto against the dangers and violence that we have experienced from all French Governments for centuries. As long as France remains in possession of Strasburg and Metz, so long is its offensive strategically stronger than our defensive power, so far as all South Germany, and North Germany on the left bank of the Rhine, are concerned, Strasburg, in the possession of France, is a gate always wide open for attack on South Germany. In the hands of Germany, Strasburg and Metz obtain a defensive character."

With views so divergent, the inutility of a conference between the French Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prussian Chancellor would seem to be obvious. Nevertheless, the pressure of circumstances brought about such a conference, and for this reason - the Government of September 4, though it probably continued to regard itself as a " heaven-born Ministry," had become alive to the fact that its earthly title to legitimacy was but slender; it therefore desired to bring about the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly, which might, as it saw fit, either confirm them in their offices or choose another Government. On the other hand, it was to the Germans also a matter of prime importance that a regular Government should be established in France, in order that negotiations might be opened with it for peace. But in order that the elections from which such an assembly Was to result might be held, there must be a temporary cessation of hostilities; and this was a matter which could only be arranged by means of an interview. Through the exertions of Lord Lyons, the consent of the King of Prussia to a meeting between Bismark and Jules Favre, to settle the terms of an armistice, was obtained. Several interviews between the two took place, at Ferrieres, near Meaux (September 19 and 20), but no accommodation could be arrived at. As a military equivalent for the consent to a cessation of hostilities, Bismark demanded the surrender of Toul, Phalsburg, and Strasburg; but to this Jules Favre would not listen, and became violently agitated at the suggestion that the garrison of Strasburg should give themselves up as prisoners of war. Again, the subject of an armistice was taken up in connection with the re-provisioning of Paris. During the three weeks which would be required for the election and first meeting of a National Assembly, if an armistice were to prevail, Paris would naturally seek to augment the stock of provisions within the walls; but, in that case, Bismark said, Germany must have a military equivalent to compensate her for the long delay, which, after all, should the National Assembly turn out impracticable, might prove to have been a mere loss and disadvantage to her; and, as such an equivalent, he demanded the surrender of the fortress of Mont Valérien. Favre was again much excited; he said, and certainly with reason, that Bismark might as well ask for Paris at once. The conferences were broken off without result, and Jules Favre returned to Paris.

The remainder of the events of the war to the end of 1870 we propose to sketch briefly in the following order (1) The siege of Paris (noticing in connection therewith the sieges of Strasburg and Metz); (2) Other sieges and storms of fortresses; (3) The operations on the Loire; (4) The operations in the east of France. The operations in Normandy and Picardy we shall reserve to the following year.

The main defence of Paris consists, as is well known, in the outer ring of forts, heavily armed, by which the lines of investment of a besieging army are kept at such a distance that the bombardment and destruction of the city are rendered impossible until the forts themselves have been reduced. The names of these forts are - beginning at the north, and proceeding from left to right - La Double Couronne du Nord and the Fort de l'Est, situated near St. Denis; Aubervilliers, Romainville, Noisy, Rosny, and Nogent, on the east side of the city; Charenton, Ivry, Bicêtre, Montrouge, Vanves, and Issy, on the south side; and Mont Yalérien, crowning its lofty and commanding hill, on the west side. To the south of the forts of Bicêtre and Ivry is the plateau of Villejuif.

On reference to the map, the reader will see that the weak points of this system of forts are three. On the south side the forts are not sufficiently distant from the city to make it unattainable by shells, with the present range of artillery, to an enemy who has seized the heights of Meudon and Clamart, and the plateau of Villejuif; secondly, the interval left between the fort of Issy and Mont Valérien is far too great; and, again, the interval between Mont Valérien and the forts of St. Denis is dangerously large. To remedy these defects a system of earthworks was planned, and partly executed, after Trochu had charge of the defence. At Meudon, Chatillon, Arcueil, and Villejuif, redoubts in advance of the southern forts were constructed; between Issy and Valérien similar works were thrown up at Brimborion, near Sèvres, and Montretout; and an immense redoubt was commenced at Gennevilliers, to the north-east of Mont Valérien. The disastrous issue of the sortie of the 19th September, made by General Ducrot in the direction of Chatillon, when the redoubt at that place fell into the hands of the Prussians, and the 14th Corps, yielding to a disgraceful panic, fled in disorder to the city gates, not only, in General Vinoy's opinion, exercised a baneful influence over the whole subsequent defence, but led to the evacuation by the French of the whole of the redoubts above described. Two of them, however, called Les Hautes Bruyères, and Le Moulin Saquet, one to the west, the other to the east of Villejuif, were re-taken by General Vinoy, with little loss, on the 23rd September; and being immediately repaired and put in the best possible condition of defence, were held by the French during the remainder of the siege, throwing back the Prussian line of investment at this point considerably, and making the bombardment of the city, on all the eastern half of the southern face, impossible. Had equal energy been shown in holding, or recovering, the redoubts of Meudon and Chatillon, Paris could not have been bombarded to any purpose on this side.

After the repulse of Ducrot on the 19th September, the investment of Paris, which could not be considered final till the quality of the troops composing the active army had been ascertained, was regularly completed. Its salient points were Stains on the north, Chelles on the east, Sceaux on the south, and Garches on the west.

On the 30th September, General Vinoy headed a grand sortie against the 6th Corps (Tümpling), which guarded that portion of the Prussian lines which lay south of Villejuif, with the intention of driving the Germans out of Choisy le Roi, and destroying the bridge over the Seine at that point, so as to make a break in the German communications. It was hoped that the enemy would have been surprised; but a delay of twenty-four hours required by Trochu, in order that a larger force might be got ready to share in the operation, and the vigilance of the German Intelligence department, caused that expectation to fail; and the German troops at Choisy, being reinforced and prepared for the attack, could not be dislodged. General Guilhem fell at the head of his brigade while leading it to the attack of Chevilly. The French loss was considerable, amounting to nearly 2,000 men; but the troops fought well, and the retreat was effected in good order.

Two days before, General Uhrich, Governor of Strasburg, had signed a capitulation for the surrender of that city. We have seen that, after the battle of Wörth, the Crown Prince detached General Beyer with the Baden division to form the investment of Strasburg, as a preliminary to a regular siege. The besieging force was gradually increased, until it consisted, besides the Badeners, of two divisions of Prussian Landwehr, and thirty-seven companies of siege artillery, the whole under the command of General Werder. The garrison numbered some 17,000 men, but only 3,000 of these were regular troops of the line. The population of Strasburg, according to the Census of 1866, was 85,000. The town, the defence of which had been scandalously neglected by the German Empfre, was seized in time of peace by Louis XIV., in 1681. Since the French Revolution, Strasburg, and Alsace in general, have attached themselves heart and soul to France; and when the Austrians were beaten at Solferino, in 1859, no population in France exceeded that of Strasburg in demonstrations of frantic delight at the overthrow of their German compatriots. France seems to possess the secret of attaching to her the populations with which she comes in contact, in a degree which no other nation, whether in ancient or modern times, has ever equalled. Colonel Rüstow asks - What had the princely and aristocratic system of the German tribes to offer to the Alsatians "in comparison to the fact of belonging to a great nation, which has always understood how to preserve and cherish, if not political freedom, at all events the more humane feeling of equality - a feeling priceless to those who have once become acquainted with it? "

The fortifications of Strasburg were strong, relatively to the power of the old artillery; but it had no detached forts, and therefore it could not be protected from a bombardment. But is the bombardment of a large and crowded city justifiable; and if it is, was it in this particular case expedient? The Germans professed to regard the Strasburgers as brothers - erring brothers, indeed, and sadly infatuated, since they preferred the French to the German citizenship, but brothers still in blood and the qualities of a common nature, whom a little intercourse with the virtuous people from whom they were descended would reclaim. If this were so, nothing could be more inexpedient than to bombard their city. For a bombardment is in any case a cruel measure, and is only justified, even in the judgment of military men, if its effect, through the sufferings which it inflicts on the civil population, be to cause them to exert a strong moral pressure on the governor in order that he may surrender the place. If the Strasburgers had been burning to throw themselves into the arms of Germany, a few shells thrown in would have sufficed to cause them to exert pressure on General Uhrich. But so far was this from being the case, that in spite of the terrors of a bombardment continued during many weeks, which killed numerous non-combatants, including women and children, and laid a great part of the city in ruins, the citizens were so loyal to France that they forebore to represent their sufferings to the commandant with the urgency which might have been expected, and could not have been condemned. Therefore, in Colonel Rüstow's opinion, the bombardment was cruel and inexpedient, " because such an act can never be a convincing proof of brotherly love," because it could only exasperate and alienate still more the people of Strasburg, and because the place could have been reduced without it.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9

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