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Chapter XLVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2


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By the capture of Montmartre the insurgent positions at the Place Vendôme, the Place de la Concorde, and the Tuileries were in effect turned, for they could be easily shelled by guns planted on that commanding height. The subsequent movements of the Federals showed them to be conscious of this fact. In the afternoon the 4th Corps, meeting with little resistance, pressed forward beyond the church of the Madeleine, and made themselves masters of the Place Vendôme. About five o'clock a wild and rapid fire was kept up by the Federals from the Tuileries battery for about half an hour. After that all was still; but soon a lurid glare in the sky gave testimony that the threats of the Communal leaders had been no mere idle vaunts. " If we cannot rule in Paris " - such seems to have been their thought - "you shall have but a desolated Paris to rule over; we may be weak, but we will prove that we are not innocuous." About seven o'clock an immense fire burst out on several points at once - from the Ministry of Finance, near the Rue Oastiglione, from the houses of the Rue Royale, from the Palais Royal, the Tuileries, and the Louvre. Along the whole façade of the Tuileries a line of fires, starting out almost simultaneously, showed to the troops - the indignant spectators of this frightful spectacle - the designed and systematic character of the conflagration. The central cupola of the palace succumbed to the flames, and fell in about half an hour after midnight. Happily the night was singularly calm; the buildings that were fired were consumed, but the fire did not spread. Nature, says General Vinoy, seemed unwilling that the monstrous designs of these enemies of their own country and of mankind should take full effect.

At the first dawn on the following day (Wednesday, May 24th) the brave Admiral Pothuau, darting forward at the head of a party of sailors, seized the Ministry of Marine (the French Admiralty), and was in time to prevent the arson there contemplated. The rescuers surprised a number of miscreants placing rows of bottles containing petroleum in the different apartments of the building, preparatory to setting it on fire. The Bibliothèque Nationale in the Rue Richelieu is said to have had an equally narrow escape. Soon afterwards the division Verge, pressing on to the Louvre, was in time to save the greater part of the building from destruction; but the Pavillon du Louvre, though the outer walls were little injured, was completely gutted, and the valuable library of 80,000 volumes which it contained was reduced to ashes. The day was warm and still, the bright Paris sun shone down on the streets, gardens, and fountains of the fair city with its wonted lustre, but its rays were intercepted by a cloud of lurid smoke, ashes, and dust, rising partly from the throats of hundreds of pieces of artillery, and partly from the ruins of burning and crashing houses; while beneath this dismal shroud the work of vengeance and despair went uninterruptedly on. Like a demoniac, Paris had turned her raging hands against her own entrails, and was tearing herself to pieces. All day the division Verge pressed on step by step, amidst flames and death. In the evening it reached the Hôtel de Ville, only to find it blazing through its whole extent, so that no human power could extinguish the flames. That incomparable hall, that palatial centre of the fullest and most varied municipal life that the world ever saw, within whose walls the troops of the Convention seized Robespierre and St. Just, and beneath which the innocent " son of St. Louis " and the innumerable victims of the Terror shed their blood, was now given to destruction by the Revolution itself, arrived at its last and logical development of atheism, anarchy, and insane pride. Passing by it, the division arrived at the barracks on the Place Lobau, and halted there for the night. Following at some distance in the rear, the division Faron bivouacked on the Place de la Concorde. On the other side of the river the operations of the army were not less successful. The division Bruat cleared the long Rue de l'Université, and occupied the Palace of the Institute, and the Mint. The division Lacretelle, of De Cissey's corps, carried the Panthéon, for the destruction of which every preparation had been made. The palace and gardens of the Luxembourg were the object of a well-combined movement, a body of sailors advancing by the Rue Tournon, and De Cissey closing in from the south, on the side of the Observatory. At the close of the day considerably more than half of Paris was occupied by the army, its left being at the station of the Northern Railway, and its right close to the enceinte beyond the park of Montsouris.

In the course of Thursday, the 25th May, the insurrection may be said to have been almost entirely suppressed in all that part of Paris which lies on the left bank of the Seine. The three forts which still remained in the hands of the Federals after the reduction of Issy and Vanves - namely, Montrouge, Bicêtre, and Ivry - were evacuated in the course of the day, their garrisons all falling back upon the Place d'Italie. Up to the previous day, the fort of Montrouge had galled by its fire the Versailles troops, while advancing along the line of the enceinte; its evacuation was therefore a valuable advantage gained. The division Bruat, which had won its way the day before as far as the Mint, continued its advance this day in a direction parallel with the Seine, occupying before night-fall the Jardin des Plantes, and the passenger station of the Orleans Railway, close to the bridge of Austerlitz. Here it could open communication with the troops of General de Cissey, which had advanced as far as the goods station of the same railway at Ivry.

On the north bank affairs did not run so smoothly. Forced to quit the Hôtel de Ville, the Commune had now installed itself at the Mairie of the 11th Arrondissement, in the Boulevard du Prince Eugene. This Mairie is but a short distance from the prison of La Roquette, to which the hostages had been removed from the Mazas prison on the 23rd inst.; and this proximity had probably much to do with the selection of the new head-quarters, for the Commune was resolved not to lose its hold on its prisoners under any circumstances. But there were also other and military reasons for the choice. Two strongholds and centres of resistance were still left to the insurgents - the Place de la Bastille and the heights of Belleville; and nearly in a line between these is the Mairie of the 11th Arrondissement. The Place de la Bastille is the common centre and outlet, on which the streets and boulevards leading from several suburbs of Paris (the population of which was generally friendly to the Commune) - Bercy, Picpus, Charonne, and Menilmontant - débouché and converge. It had accordingly been fortified by strong barricades, armed with artillery. A strong position in front of it, the bridge of Austerlitz, was also firmly held, barricades having been erected at both ends of the bridge, and across the mouths of the Rue Lacuée and the Boulevard Mazas. Other barricades had been constructed in other streets leading to the Place; in particular, there was a very formidable one in the Rue St. Antoine. This group of positions formed, says General Vinoy, a sort of place d'armesy roughly triangular, protected by the fortifications and the Seine on two sides, and by the Canal St. Martin on the third.

The first point of attack was the bridge of Ansterlitz. The Canal St. Martin, which could only be crossed by one narrow bridge, close to the river, swept by the fire from the barricades at the Pont d'Austerlitz, detained the troops a considerable time. To facilitate a forward movement, batteries were established at the Jardin des Plantes, and on the quay, so as to play on the barricades of the bridge of Austerlitz, and also on the houses forming the salient made by the Seine and the canal. The gun-boats on the river actively co-operated in shelling the barricades, though sustaining themselves considerable loss. The large barricade in the Place Walhubert, on the south side of the bridge, was first evacuated by the Federals; a battery was then placed there by the troops, and after a time an attempt was made by the 109th Regiment to cross the bridge, but it was repulsed. The fight raged all day, and the troops made no farther progress till towards evening, when the brigade La Mariouze - the narrow crossing over the sluice-gate of the canal under the parapet, where it joins the Seine, having been repaired - threw forward a detachment, which, getting over the canal one by one, crept forward under the shelter of the parapet till it reached the bridge of Austerlitz. There, waiting till a considerable force was mustered, the soldiers suddenly swarmed upon the quays on either side of the bridgehead, and took the barricades with a rush. The defenders fled, and were pursued by the troops up the boulevard as far as the prison Mazas. But the hostages of the Commune, as has been already mentioned, were no longer there; about this time, on the previous evening, the Archbishop and five priests had been shot down at La Roquette.

The division Verge was slowly winning its way throughout the day towards the Place de la Bastille, carrying the sap through the houses of the Rue de Cerisaie. In the evening it succeeded in gaining possession of the barricade in the Rue St. Antoine, which defended the approach to the Place. The attack on the Place itself was deferred to the following morning. A fierce struggle was going on all day in the neighbourhood of the Chateau d'Eau. A band of miscreants entered the houses between the Ambigu and Porte St. Martin theatres, and having plundered what they pleased, commenced a massacre of the inhabitants, one of whom had given a blow to one of the band. The Porte St. Martin theatre was set on fire and destroyed; the Ambigu was also set on fire, but saved by the rapid approach of the troops of the 5th Corps. The little Théâtre des Délassements was well known to the chiefs of the Commune; one of the actresses had been Raoul Rigault's mistress. It was burnt to the ground, the insurgents, by a refinement of cruelty, having forced the unfortunate proprietor and manager to kindle the fire himself. Formidable entrenchments had been made by the Commune round the Château d'Eau, which the troops of Clinchant had to batter with cannon, and carried with great difficulty.

On Friday the advance was continued, and the Place de la Bastille was captured with little loss. The brigade Derroja, penetrating to the Place Daumesnil from the bridge of Bercy, there seized the line of the Vincennes railway, and advancing along it, while the division Verge attacked at the same time from the Rue St. Antoine, easily gained possession of the Vincennes station, and of the Place de la Bastille on which it fronts. The operation took up the best part of the day. On the same day the troops of Clinchant and Douay extended to their right along the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, and joined the Army of Reserve in the captured Place. The 1st Corps was engaged in the quarters farther north, and occupied at the close of the day the Abattoir of Villette.

On Saturday, May 27th, measures were concerted for surrounding the Federals who still resisted, and trampling out the insurrection; but, on account of the great fatigue of the troops, it was arranged that the operation should extend over two days. The 5th Corps was to remain stationary on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir; on the left Ladmirault was to advance along the fortifications from the Abattoir of Villette, while on the right the Army of Reserve, pushing forward along the enceinte, was to join the 1st Corps somewhere about the reservoir of Menilmontant. Uniting their forces, the 1st Corps and the Army of Reserve were then to capture the heights of Belleville, and the cemetery of Père la Chaise, and press the insurgents westward towards the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, where they would be stopped by Clinchant's troops. In pursuance of this programme, the division Faron, advancing from the Place Daumesnil by the Rue Picpus, carried the Place du Trône after an obstinate resistance. To this point, which was favourably placed for superintending the attack on Belleville, MacMahon immediately removed his head-quarters. The Commune was believed still to be installed at the Mairie of the 11th Arrondissement; barricades armed with cannon were upon the Boulevard du Prince Eugène, and swept with their fire even a portion of the Place du Trône. But the position was rapidly becoming unsafe for these model regenerators of society. The 1st Corps in the course of this day attacked and carried the park and Buttes of Chaumont. The division Bruat occupied the Boulevard and quarter of Charonne. An incident then occurred, which, being promptly taken advantage of, accelerated the accomplishment of the plan of operations. Some marines attached to the Army of Reserve, pursuing the Federals from Charonne, came upon the cemetery of Père la Chaise, which they found strongly occupied by the insurgents, who opened upon them a murderous fire. But the marines, attacking boldly, forced their way into the cemetery; and Marshal MacMahon, on hearing of it, sent up strong reinforcements to the aid of the marines, with orders to push on as far as possible. The cemetery was then cleared by the troops, foot by foot, and its occupants driven out of it and pursued to the gate of Bagnolet. In the park of Chaumont the 1st Corps took a large number of guns.

Here the general movement paused for a few hours; but the Marshal, filled with anxiety concerning the fate of the Archbishop and the other hostages, ordered the division Bruat to press on from Père la Chaise, very early on the morning of the 28th, to the prison of La Roquette. In obedience to this order, the division Bruat advanced on the prison down the street of the same name, arriving there about three o'clock in the morning of Sunday, May 28th. There they first received certain intelligence of the death of the Archbishop, the President Bonjean, and other leading hostages. But there still remained a large number of prisoners in one wing of the building, who, following the suggestion of a turnkey more humane than his employers, had risen in revolt against the' authorities, barricaded with mattresses and chairs the door giving admission to the wing in which they were confined, and after baffling an attempt to burn their barricade, were still holding out when the long- expected succour arrived. It is not surprising that after the dreadful trials through which they had passed, and after experience of the cruelty, mendacity, and treachery of the Commune, the nerves of the unhappy prisoners were so unstrung that they refused at first to trust to the assurances of their deliverers. " They feared," says General Vinoy, " under the uniform of our soldiers a new snare invented by their executioners, in order the better to repossess themselves of their victims. It was only after the day had dawned that they recognised their error, and then they testified to the troops in the most expressive manner the liveliness of their joy and gratitude." The persons thus saved were 169 in number.

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Pictures for Chapter XLVIII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 9 page 2

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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