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


Return of French Soldiers from Germany - New Formation of the Army of Versailles under Marshal MacMahon - The Batteries fire against Paris - Rapid progress made - Forts Issy and Vanves regained - Breach made at the Point du Jour - Endeavours to obtain an entrance without employing force ineffectual - Rampart deserted on the 21st May - The Troops obtain admission: They gradually push back the Federals - Occupation of the Palais du Corps Legislatif - Resistance at the Tuileries and the Place de la Concorde - Capture of the Heights of Montmartre - Important Military Results thus obtained - Commencement of the Incendiary Fires - Burning of the Tuileries - The Troops reach the Hôtel de Ville, which they find on Fire - Occupation of the Pantheon and the Luxemburg - Half of Paris recovered- Forte evacuated by the Federals - Progress on the Left Bank- Desperate Resistance at the Pont d'Austerlitz and the Place de la Bastille - Fighting on the 26th and 27th May - Capture of Belleville and the Buttes de Chaumont - The Troops reach La Roquette too late to save the Hostages - Final Suppression of the Insurrection on the 28th - Death of Delescluze - Proclamation of Marshal MacMahon - Losses on both sides - The Hostages - Letter of Intercession from the Protestant Ministers of Paris - The name of Hostage misapplied to the Prisoners of the Commune - Last Moments and Execution of Archbishop Darboy - Deaths of Jesuits and Dominicans - Fate of the principal men of the Commune - The Treaty of Frankfort - A French Writer on the Commune.
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Meantime the vanquished and imprisoned soldiers of France - sad victims of the immorality and folly of the Empire - began to return in great numbers from Germany. A new organisation of the army became necessary. Three provisional corps d'armée, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, were formed, commanded respectively by Generals Ladmirault, De Cissey, and Bu Barail. The 3rd Corps was exclusively composed of cavalry. These troops were designated the First Army, and placed under the supreme command of Marshal MacMahon. Two other corps, the 4th and 5th, under the command of Generals Douay and Clinchant, were added soon afterwards. The divisions Faron, Bruat, and Verge formed an Army of Reserve under General Vinoy. But the distinction between the two armies seems to have been little more than nominal. The division Faron continued to fight in the front line nearly to the last, while both the other divisions bore a prominent part in the severe fighting which followed the entry of the troops into the city. The division Verge supplied the battalion which was the first to scale the rampart, on the memorable 21st May, 1871. The new organisation was completed by the 12th April, on which day Vinoy handed over the command to Marshal MacMachon.

From the 4th to the 24th April, while heavy guns were being brought up from distant arsenals, and the places for batteries marked out and got ready, the troops about St. Cloud, Sèvres, Meudon, and Clamart, though holding their ground, were exposed to a continual fire both from forts and batteries, from which they suffered much loss without the power of making an effectual reply. At last everything was ready, and, on the 25th April, De Cissey, who commanded on the right, opened fire on the forts of Vanves and Issy. It was not long before a considerable effect was produced, for the Commune could not command sufficient engineering skill to utilise against the Government to any serious extent the works which, during the first siege, had so efficaciously served to neutralise for the defenders the effects of the terrible Prussian artillery. The attack was therefore pushed on vigorously, and on the night of the 29th April two brigades of the division Faron, aided by the brigade Paturel, carried the cemetery, park, and trenches of Issy. On the following day the fort of Issy was summoned, but refused to surrender. On the night of the 1st May, the division Faron took the Chateau of Issy, but failed to drive the Federals out of the railway station of Clamart, of which the troops only obtained possession on the 5th May. On the 8th, the first of the forts which the Commune had occupied, that of Issy, was regained. It had been terribly dismantled by the fire of the batteries; and a regiment of the brigade Paturel, forcing their way in, found the fort evacuated. De Cissey then turned his attention to the fort of Vanves, which, after some sharp and murderous fighting in the village of the same name, surrendered to him on the 14th May.

Ladmirault, who commanded on the left, had made less, though still considerable progress. A night attack which he ordered to be made on the Chateau de Bécon, near Asnières, was repulsed by the Federals. This, according to General Vinoy, was the one real success which they gained in the course of the struggle; but so defective was their military knowledge that they seemed scarcely aware of it, and their official bulletins, so " grotesquely mendacious " on other occasions, made no mention of this real advantage. On the 10th April, Ladmirault drove the Federals out of Asnières, and the result of this success was to place the whole line of the Seine from St. Dénis to Meudon in the hands of the Versailles troops. The Château de Bécon was taken a few days after the unsuccessful attack upon it. Continual fighting took place between the troops holding the bridge of Neuilly, and the Federals occupying the eastern portion of the village; but it resulted in nothing, because there was no intention of making a serious attack at this point. But the unfortunate people of Neuilly were placed in a position of continual danger and hardship; and to give them time to quit their houses and remove into the city, a short suspension of arms was granted by Marshal MacMahon on the 23rd.

The real point of attack was the Point du Jour, that salient south-west angle of the enceinte facing St. Cloud and Sèvres, where the Seine issues from the fortifications of Paris. The besieging lines were here under the command of General Douay, who, besides his own corps, could dispose of the division Verge of the Army of Reserve. A formidable battery had been prepared at Montretout, but could not open on the rampart without risk of being enfiladed until the fire of Fort Issy had been subdued. This was accomplished by the 8th May, and on that day the Montretout battery commenced firing on the Point du Jour. After nightfall Douay'? troops crossed the Seine, and began to open trenches. The distance from Montretout to the Point du Jour is not more than a mile and a half, and as the guns were of large calibre, and the practice good, the ramparts thereabouts soon became untenable for the defenders. The first parallel was established at 1,200 metres from the wall, and breaching batteries were then constructed, which in a few days turned the wall about the gates of Sèvres and St. Cloud into a shapeless mass of ruins. The sap was carried forward with great energy, and by the 18th May the troops were arrived at the foot of the glacis.

The National Guards of Passy and Auteuil had all along been favourable to the Versailles Government, and had held possession of several gates in the interest of order as late as the 31st March. Emissaries of the Commune had since then made a house-to-house visitation, and had deprived them of their arms; but their ill-will to the Commune was as keen as ever, and it was hoped that means might be found, through their cooperation, to bribe the guards of one of the gates, and obtain an entrance for the troops. In this way it was expected that the Communal authorities would be surprised, and a desperate final struggle averted. But the endeavours of the Versailles Government were foiled, information having been in some way conveyed to the Commune of the treason that was in contemplation. In an address issued on the 12th May, the Committee of Public Safety informed the citizens that the Republic had just escaped a mortal danger. Treason, they said, had found its way into the Communal ranks; gold had been lavished with unsparing hand, and had found some who were capable of being bought. " The abandonment of Issy," continued the proclamation, " was only the first act in the drama of a domestic monarchical insurrection; the surrender of one of the gates of the city was to follow. All the threads of this dark conspiracy are in our hands; most of the guilty men have been arrested, and their punishment will be exemplary." In this instance the statement of the Commune was founded on fact, as we know from the admission of General Vinoy.

But though the attempt on the fidelity of the defenders failed, the effect, whether of their negligence or their despair, resulted for the Versailles troops in a speedy attainment of their object. General Vinoy says that he finds himself at a loss fully to understand or explain the causes of the remissness of the Federal troops; but certain it is that about three o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, the 21st May, M. Ducatel, an inhabitant of Passy, and a simple overseer of roads, seeing that the ramparts about the Point du Jour were left without sentinels or defenders, advanced unchallenged to the gate St. Cloud, and from the ramparts waved a white handkerchief to the foreposts of the besieging army. The signal was perceived in the trenches; a naval officer, M. Trêves, ran up; explanations were rapidly exchanged between him and M. Ducatel; M. Trêves went back and brought up the battalion then on guard in the trenches: it belonged to the division Verge. A sous-officier of this battalion was the first to plant the tricolour on the walls of Paris.

General Vinoy, summoned by telegraph, came upon the ground at 5.30 p.m.; he found that his men had effected a secure lodgment within the enceinte, but their farther advance was checked by a Federal fire from behind the Auteuil viaduct. After giving the necessary instructions to the division Verge, the General went to Versailles, and as quickly as possible brought up the divisions Faron and Bruat. It was now dark, and in spite of every precaution, it was impossible to prevent the various columns moving upon the Point du Jour from becoming more or less entangled; but the block was of no long duration, and at two o'clock on Monday morning General Vinoy found himself in Paris. Finding itself thus supported, the division Verge moved cautiously forward, passed the Auteuil viaduct, which the Federals had abandoned, captured a barricade, and advancing to the eminence of the Trocadéro, occupied it in force. Soon after sunrise on Monday, May 23rd, the division Bruat, which had marched along the left bank of the Seine, together with the troops of General de Cissey, entered the enceinte without opposition in rear of Fort Issy, and advancing through the suburb of Grenelle, gained possession of the Champ de Mars and the Ecole Militaire with little loss. On the right bank, the division Verge was simultaneously pressing forward, and about noon made a dash at the Palace of the International Exhibition in the Champs Elysées, which was then used by the Commune both as a depot and as a hospital, and carried it without loss. Okolowicz, one of the best military chiefs of the insurgents, was here captured. Assi had fallen into the hands of the troops on the previous day.

From the Champ de Mars the division Bruat advanced to, and occupied, the Hôtel des Invalides and the Palace of the Legislative Body. Here they found themselves in presence of a formidable defensive position, which the Federals had fortified with great care. The walls of the Tuileries gardens facing towards the river and the Place de la Concorde were lined with riflemen; on the terrace inside the gardens a powerful battery had been planted; massive barricades with deep trenches in front of them, carried across the quays from each end of the garden to the river, made a flank attack on the position exceedingly hazardous; while similar barricades had been raised in the Rue Royale and other outlets of the Place de la Concorde. Long before this Marshal Mac- Mahon had come to the front, and had established his head-quarters on the Trocadéro. The leaders of the army resolved, after a consultation, not to attack the Federal position in front, as it was certain that it could not be carried without a serious loss of life. It was resolved to turn the barricades in the Place de la Concorde, and for this purpose engineers were sent into the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, and carried on a sap through the houses towards the Rue Royale. Perceiving this, the Federal batteries in the Tuileries gardens and on the Place opened a tremendous fire; but the troops, being now sheltered by the houses, sustained but little loss. On the evening of the 22nd the proper arrangements were made for deploying the army in Paris. General Clinchant had entered the city on the left of Douay, and Ladmirault's corps, penetrating the enceinte somewhere about the Porte Maillot, had gained possession of the Avenue de la Grande Armée and the Arc de Triomphe. The entire army was now ranged on a line extending across Paris, from the railway station of Batignolles on the north to that of Mont Parnasse on the south. De Cissey held the right; next to him was General Douay; the centre, pushed considerably in advance, was formed of the three divisions of the Army of Reserve; the centre- left was held by the 4th and 5th Corps; on the extreme left was the 1st Corps, under Ladmirault. On the Monday evening one-third of Paris was already in possession of the army.

The morning of the 23rd June saw the deadly struggle renewed. On the right General de Cissey advanced his position in the course of the day from the Mont Parnasse station to the Observatory. In the centre the sap was continued along the Rue du Faubourg de St. Honoré, in order to flank the barricades in the Place de la Concorde. The garden of the English Embassy was taken advantage of for this purpose. Colonel Piquemal, chief of the staff of the division Verge, was killed by a shot fired from a house at the corner of the Rue Boissy d'Anglas. To keep down the fire of the Tuileries battery, Marshal MacMahon ordered a battery to be constructed on the quay at the corner of the Boulevard Latour Maubourg. From a desire to be sparing of the lives of the troops, little progress was made in this quarter during the early portion of the day; but on the left a great and decisive success was obtained. The attack on the heights of Montmartre, which with Belleville were the two great strongholds of the insurrection, had been committed to Generals Ladmrault and Clinchant, and the arrangements for the enterprise had been carefully and skilfully planned. The great strength of the Montmartre position was on the side towards Paris; the insurgents had not contemplated the possibility of the line of the enceinte being in hostile hands, so that the heights could be attacked from the north. Accordingly, the troops of Ladmirault, immediately after daybreak, moved from Batignolles along the enceinte, taking bastion after bastion with ease, and almost without firing a shot. By this masterly movement the Federal troops occupying Clichy, Levallois, and the last houses of Neuilly were isolated; behind them were the ramparts, lined by the soldiers of Ladmirault, while before them there was the Seine on the one hand, guarded by the Versailles troops, and St. Dénis with its forts on the other, where the Prussians barred the way. This large force, being thus completely cut off, was compelled to surrender, together with a numerous artillery. Then the 1st and 5th Corps marched to the attack of the heights. " At that moment," says Marshal MacMahon in his report- "the heights of Montmartre were surrounded on the north and west by the troops of the 1st and 5th Corps, and a general attack was made through all the streets running parallel with the slope. The Clinchant corps, advancing through the Rue Lepic, took the Mairie of the 18th Arrondissement. The Pradié brigade of the 1st Corps, at the head of which were the volunteers of the Seine, arrived first at Moulin de la Galette; and soon afterwards a company of the 10th battalion of Chasseurs, supported by a vigorous attack from General Wolff, hoisted the tricolour on the Tour de Solferino. It was one o'clock. We were masters of the great fortress of the Commune, the heart of the insurrection - a formidable position, from which the insurgents could cover all Paris with their fire. More than a hundred cannon, with considerable stores of arms and ammunition, fell into our hands."

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

Colonel Rossel
Colonel Rossel >>>>
Jardin des Plantes
Jardin des Plantes >>>>
The cemetery of Pere la Chaise
The cemetery of Pere la Chaise >>>>
Insurgents ravaging the streets of Paris
Insurgents ravaging the streets of Paris >>>>

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