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Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3


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Boyer arrived at Versailles on the 13th October. The course of the negotiation which ensued was curiously similar to that which the Regnier incident had occasioned. "You ask," said Bismark, "that the army in Metz may be allowed to retire to the south of France, pledged not to bear arms against Germany during the continuance of the war. But who is to guarantee the convention under which such an arrangement would be executed? Whom does Bazaine obey? What is the Government that he serves P If the Government of the National Defence, - that is an authority which we Germans do not recognise, at any rate until a Constituent Assembly shall have met and validated their powers. If the Emperor, - he is a helpless prisoner in Germany. If the Empress and the Regency, - that may perhaps be satisfactory; but her sanction must be obtained; she must sign a treaty which will give us what we want; and the Army of the Rhine, besides the pledge not to bear arms against Germany, must proclaim the Regency as the legitimate Government of France, and Bazaine must undertake to play the part of Monk in an Imperial restoration." Boyer returned to Metz with this answer on the 18th October, and thence was sent to Chislehurst. The result was the same as before: the Empress, after much wavering, refused to sign any treaty of peace by which French territory would be ceded to the invader. General Boyer communicated to the King on the 23rd the ill-success of his mission, and Prince Frederick Charles was immediately instructed to inform Bazaine that all hope of arriving at any result by political negotiation was abandoned at the royal headquarters.

One more council of war was called by Marshal Bazaine on the 25th October. At this it was resolved that General Changarnier, a veteran distinguished for brilliant service in Africa under Louis Philippe, should be sent to the Prince, bearing a proposal that either the army of Bazaine should be allowed to depart for Algeria, or that an armistice should be concluded, during which the Corps Legislatif, suppressed by violence on the 4th September, should be invited to resume its functions and negotiate a peace. No sane man among the French officers could have seriously expected that such proposals would be listened to. Prince Frederick Charles refused them at once, and demanded simply the surrender of the army and fortress.

The French army was now weakened by a long continuance of scanty rations, and the important arms of cavalry and artillery were rendered impotent by the consumption of so large a number of horses for food. Nothing remained but to submit to the inevitable. The chiefs of the staff on either side, Generals Stiehle and Jarras, met and arranged the terms of the capitulation. As at Sedan, the officers were to be released on parole; the men became prisoners. The very eagles, or a large proportion of them, were given up to the enemy: they were deposited in the armoury on the evening of the 28th, and the understanding in the army seems to have been that they would be burnt; some were certainly destroyed, but fifty-three passed into 'the hands of the Prussians. The capitulation included the fortress of Metz also, the governor of which was General Coffinières. The detached forts, with their powerful armament, the guns mounted on the walls, the arms of the capitulating force, and military stores and munitions of all kinds, to the value, it is said, of 80,000,000 of francs, became the spoil of the victors. So complete a discomfiture is without a parallel in modern history. Yet, great as it was, the German bulletins exaggerated it enormously. In a proclamation to his troops, Prince Frederick Charles declared that 173,000 French soldiers had become prisoners of war, and this misstatement was for a time universally believed. In reality, there being nearly 20,000 sick and wounded in the hospitals, and the cavalry and artillery being unserviceable for want of horses, there were but 65,000 men, according to the positive statement of Marshal Bazaine, who at the time of the surrender were fit for service in the field.

The fall of Metz, following so soon after a long series of misfortunes, though in a certain sense expected, spread consternation and distress to the remotest districts of France. Gambetta, the Indomitable, fulminated a fierce manifesto from Tours, which he fancied would electrify all his countrymen and reanimate their drooping spirits. Unfortunately its effect - so little did he understand the army which he presumed to rule - was widely different. " The army of France," he declared, " had been engulfed, by the treason of its chiefs, in the disasters of là patrie The officers of the Army of the Loire, then striving with all their power amidst the greatest difficulties to organise fresh forces for the defence of their country, were indignant at this offensive language; and a mutinous spirit towards their officers was aroused by it among many of the private soldiers. But, it may be urged, did not the subsequent trial of Bazaine prove that Gambotta was in the right? Certainly not. Marshal Bazaine was found guilty of not having done " all that honour and duty required " to save Metz and his army; but he was not found guilty of treason. And even if he, individually, were ever so much a traitor, did the " chiefs " of the army deserve to be branded with treason - men like the brave Ladmirault, or Canrobert, or Changarnier?

The confirmation of the news of the capitulation of Bazaine, and the rumour that an armistice was under consideration, caused a great ferment in the anarchical or communist element of the Parisian population. Bands of armed men marched (October 31) from Belleville to the Hotel de Ville, placed Trochu and other members of the Government under arrest, declared the independence of the Commune of Paris, and generously undertook its government. The leaders were Flourens, Felix Pyat, Blanqui, &c. Fortunately, Ernest Picard, the Minister of Finance, contrived to escape, and before the day closed he brought a Breton battalion of the Gardes Mobiles to the Hotel de Ville, who soon rescued their countryman Trochu, and dispersed the revolutionists. The utmost forbearance was shown to the rioters by the partisans of order, to be repaid in the manner that we shall see, when the Communists got the upper hand. Trochu and his colleagues, after this émeute, thought it desirable to submit the question of their remaining in power to the suffrages of the people of Paris. The votes were taken accordingly; nearly 558,000 were favourable to the Government, while 62,638 were dissentient.

M. Thiers, on his return from his unsuccessful journey to the foreign Courts, was requested by the Government to re-open negotiations with Count Bismark, with a view to a cessation of hostilities and the election of a Constituent Assembly. But the project again foundered on the question of revictualling Paris, to which the military authorities at the Prussian head-quarters would not allow Bismark to consent, unless on condition of the surrender of one, if not two, of the forts round Paris - a concession which Thiers could not make.

Sad and dull was life in Paris during the month of November, cheered only by one gleam of better fortune, when news came that the Army of the Loire had gained a victory at Coulmiers. At the end of the month a grand sortie was resolved upon, in order to facilitate the flanking operations of General d'Aurelle de Paladines' army, which Gambetta hoped to impel upon Paris at the same time. Great preparations were made, and several demonstrations against various points of the German lines concerted, in order to deceive the enemy as to the object of the main attack, which was the peninsula of Champigny, beyond Charenton. Breaking through the Prussian lines at this point, Trochu hoped to push forward into the district of Brie, and march onwards till he fell in with the advancing army of De Paladines. Ducrot was appointed to the command of the troops destined for the operation, which numbered about 60,000 men. Bridges were thrown across the Marne, and on the morning of the 30th the Saxons and Wurtembergers who guarded this part of the line were vigorously attacked, and the villages of Brie and Champigny wrested from them. Still no great progress was made, and on the night of the 30th it became suddenly cold, and the French soldiers, unused to the hardships of campaigning, suffered terribly from exposure. The 1st December was employed by Trochu and Ducrot in strengthening the line, Brie-Champigny, which they had seized. On the 2nd, the Germans brought up fresh forces, and severe fighting took place, at the end of which the French retained all their positions, except the eastern end of the village of Champigny. On the 3rd, Trochu resolved to retreat, moved to do so by the absence of any news of De Paladines and the increasing severity of the weather. The retreat was covered by the guns of the forts, and was effected with little loss. But the four days' fighting was attended with a total loss of 6,000 men to the French, and 5,000 men to the Germans.

Another great sortie was made on the 21st December, with some vague hope of co-operating with a northern army, supposed to be at that time advancing towards Paris. The attack was directed against the Prussian Guard at Stains, and the Saxons more to the east. It was repelled with little difficulty, the French losing considerably, and showing in this sortie a lack of spirit and endurance naturally to be accounted for by want of food, severe cold, and the depressing circumstances of the siege.

Nothing of much importance occurred during the remainder of December, except the evacuation on the 28th of Mont Avron, a hill in advance of Fort Rosny, which Admiral Saisset with his marines had occupied on the 28th November, and on which batteries had been erected, which had caused great annoyance and loss to the Germans. A converging fire from heavy guns rendered the plateau untenable; the guns were withdrawn, and the position abandoned.

2. Besides Metz and Strasburg, eight other fortified places were compelled to surrender before the close of the year. To the reader of the history of former wars, accustomed to regard a siege as an arduous and tedious operation, the celerity with which these French fortresses were reduced by the Germans may appear extraordinary. But it is in fact easily explained. It was not the ruin of their defences by the enemy's fire, but the destruction of the lives and property of the defenceless inhabitants by a distant bombardment, that brought about the surrender of most of these towns. In the case of Laon, the surrender of a citadel and a position remarkably strong by nature was rendered necessary by the weakness of the garrison. Laon stands on a lofty isolated hill, rising out of a vast plain; its noble cathedral, visible for many a mile to the traveller approaching from Rheims or from Amiens, rises near the east end of the town; beyond the cathedral is the citadel, occupying the eastern termination. of the hill. General Vinoy felt much inclined, as he passed through Laon on his retreat after Sedan, to leave a portion of the 13th Corps to occupy so admirable a defensive position; but the deficiency of supplies, both of food and ammunition, and the paramount importance of strengthening the defence of Paris to the utmost, caused him to abandon the idea. The only force which the Governor of the citadel, General Theremin d'Hame, had at his disposal was a battalion of untrained Mobiles, half of whom had deserted. When, therefore, the Duke of Mecklenburg, at the head of a Prussian division, appeared before the place and summoned it, on the 9th September, the Governor had no alternative but to surrender. But as the Prussians were entering the citadel, and the Mobiles taking their departure, the Duke of Mecklenburg being engaged in friendly conversation with the Governor, a fearful explosion occurred. The magazine had been fired, and the ground was immediately covered with the dead and dying. Three hundred of the Mobiles and fifty German soldiers perished; General Theremin d'Hame received severe injuries which occasioned his death a month afterwards, and the Duke and his brigadier were slightly wounded. Five large stones were hurled by the force of the explosion through the east windows of the cathedral, and did great damage in the interior. Suspicion fell at first on the Governor, but it was proved to be wholly unmerited; and there is little doubt that the culprit was the garde d'artillerie, who was never seen alive after the catastrophe.

Toul, after a savage bombardment for several days, by which the town was set on fire in several places, surrendered to another Duke of Mecklenburg on the 23rd September. Soissons, Verdun, La Fere, and Thionville were reduced in the course of October and November. Phalsburg, the fortress at which is laid the scene of Erckmann-Chatrian's famous novel, "Le Blocus," after its brave commandant, General Talhouet, and its no less brave inhabitants, had endured a bombardment and blockade - the first intermittent, the second continuous - during seven months, was compelled to surrender, by failure of provisions, on the 12th December.

3. The narrative of the formation of the Army of the Loire, of its successes and its reverses, is one of the most striking and instructive chapters in the history of the war. All that will be here attempted is to give an outline of the course of events, as it may be clearly traced in the works of the two French generals who had most share in them, General d'Aurelle de Paladines, and General Chanzy.

Soon after the revolution of the 4th September, it being apparent that France must either raise fresh armies or submit to whatever terms the victors of Sedan might impose, the formation of a new army corps, the 15th, was commenced at Bourges, under the command of General Motterouge. By the beginning of October its organisation was nearly complete. Then came the advance of Yon der Tann towards Orleans, the defeat of Motterouge at Artenay, and the first German occupation of Orleans; the 15th Corps being driven over the Loire, and falling back as far as Ferté St. Aubin. On the 11th October, General d'Aurelle de Paladines, an officer on the retired list, who had offered his services and his experience to the new Government, was appointed to supersede General Motterouge. Soon afterwards the 16th Corps, which was organised in the second half of October, at Blois and Bourges, under General Pourcet, was placed under the supreme command of d'Aurelle. D'Aurelle desired to have some time and sufficient security to allow of the organisation of the force under his command, according to his idea of what the service and the times required; he therefore removed the head-quarters of the 15th Corps to Salbris, a strong position in the Sologne, covering Vierzon and Bourges. Here he formed a camp, and proceeded with great energy to revive a strict discipline among both officers and men. The military hierarchy throughout the corps was carefully settled in all its grades; obedience to orders was sternly enforced by fitting penalties, death being the doom of the incorrigible; plundering was severely punished; drill and exercise indefatigably proceeded with; and in all ways d'Aurelle laboured to prepare a race of soldiers who, to the quick intelligence of the Gaul, should add those solid military virtues in which the Prussians had hitherto so far surpassed their opponents. Frequently visiting the bivouacs, the General would call the officers of each battalion together, and addressing them, along with their men, in that blunt and unadorned eloquence which a full mind and an earnest heart supply, he would speak to them of the sufferings of the country which they all loved so well, point out the causes and the circumstances of the deterioration which had given the Prussians so terrible an advantage, and implore them, by resolutely returning to the ways of order, temperance, courage, and obedience, to merit that a happier day should dawn for France. These speeches usually made a deep impression on the soldiers, and called forth loud cries of " Vive la France."

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Pictures for Chapter XXXIX, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 3

The Assassination of Marshal Prim
The Assassination of Marshal Prim >>>>
Strasburg cathedral
Strasburg cathedral >>>>
The Prince Imperial
The Prince Imperial >>>>
Evacuation of Metz
Evacuation of Metz >>>>

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