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


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At La Roquette, the troops learned that most of the members of the insurgent Government had come there from the Mairie of the 11th Arrondissement on the morning of the 27th instant. There, it was said, they had shared among them the funds which the Commune still had at its disposal, and had afterwards left for Belleville, where they finally separated.

Very early on this same Sunday morning, the division Faron advanced in a northerly direction from the Place du Trône and the Cours de Vincennes, and fell in with the advance of Ladmirault's corps at eight o'clock, near the reservoir of Menilmontant. Combining their forces, they now turned westward, and attacked the heights of Belleville. Scenes of terrible carnage, it is to be feared, took place here; for the troops were rendered savage by the long resistance, and by the massacres and burnings of which the insurgents had been guilty, and the slightest resistance doubtless brought down summary execution. The accounts of what took place, given by the generals in command, seem not altogether consistent with each other. In his evidence before the Parliamentary Commission, Marshal MacMahon said that whereas, in the first days of the struggle, the insurgents seemed to be possessed by a strange feverish excitement, so that they fought with extraordinary energy, and appeared sincerely to believe that they were defending a sacred cause, towards the close of it they were evidently seized with despondency, declaring, when made prisoners, that they had taken up arms because they could not help it, that they were forced to march, and fired on from behind if they quitted the ranks; or else that it was merely in order to gain a living. On the other hand, General Vinoy, speaking of the fighting at Belleville on this last day, says that although the insurgents had despaired of success since the capture of the Place de la Bastille, yet they were buoyed up in their useless resistance by an unreasoning sentiment of furious rage, which desires to injure at the very time that it is forced to acknowledge its own impotence. " Under these conditions," he adds, " the struggle became far more terrible and murderous for the insurgents than for our troops. Driven into their last entrenchments, and with their retreat completely cut off, they resisted with a constancy worthy of a better cause." The capture of one barricade in the Rue Haxo caused two thousand insurgents to lay down their arms. Unhappily this did not always save their lives. Marshal MacMahon, in his evidence, said with soldierly brevity, " When men lay down their arms, they ought not to be shot. That was generally agreed. Unfortunately, at certain points, the instructions which I had given were forgotten." The Marquis Gallifet in particular, who commanded a brigade of cavalry forming part of the 3rd Corps, was said to have shown a lamentable propensity for ordering summary executions. From the heights of Belleville, where many guns were taken, the 1st Corps and the division Faron marched down the Rue Menilmontant and parallel streets, taking in rear and capturing many barricades, collecting arms and ammunition, and taking prisoners. The Commune had an immense stock of arms and military stores at its disposal; never before, probably, was an insurrection so highly favoured in this respect. To recover these for the State, as well as to disarm the population of a turbulent quarter, a rigorous house-to-house search was ordered; and in the course of a few days 97,000 muskets were brought in.

About midday the division Faron, with the 1st. Corps, reached the Boulevard Richard Lenoir, and joined hands with the troops of Clinchant and Douay. For some time longer a smouldering combat went on in remote streets and isolated localities, but after four o'clock all was over. Long lines of prisoners, guarded by bodies of cavalry, were seen proceeding along the Rue La Fayette to the Champ de Mars, from whence they were taken to Versailles.

The Mairie of the 11th Arrondissement was taken by the division Bruat about the same time that the junction was effected on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Delescluze, an old man, and labouring under a mortal disease, seems to have resolved not to survive the extinction of the Commune, the advent of which he had sincerely hailed as the commencement of a brighter and happier era. He was killed on the barricade which defended the last official residence and refuge of the Commune.

The fort of Vincennes was now the only point remaining in the hands of the insurgents. But it was occupied only by a feeble garrison of some 400 men, under the command of a Colonel Faltot; these men had borne no part in the assassinations and burnings of the last few days, and it was not likely, therefore, that they would imperil their lives by a useless resistance when they had no cause to fear that they would be hardly dealt with. Nevertheless, they attempted to make terms, chiefly with a view to the escape of certain adherents of the Commune who had taken refuge in the fort. They were, of course, compelled to surrender unconditionally; and when the fort was occupied, ten individuals, more or less compromised by the events of the last week, fell into the hands of the troops. One of them named Merlet, formerly a sergeant of engineers, whom the Commune had sent into the fort with instructions to blow it up if it was likely to fall into the hands of the army, " anticipated the severe sentence which military justice would not have failed to pronounce against him, by blowing out his brains."

The city of Paris, with its fortifications, being thus entirely recovered for the legitimate Government of France, Marshal MacMahon addressed the following proclamation to the citizens: -

" Inhabitants of Paris, - The army of France has come to save you. Paris is delivered. Our soldiers carried at four o'clock the last positions occupied by the insurgents. To-day the strife is over; order, labour, and security are about to revive."

The total loss of the Army of Versailles in this murderous struggle of eight days for the possession of Paris was less than might have been expected. It was stated by Marshal MacMahon in his evidence to have amounted to about 600 killed and 7,000 wounded. That of the insurgents was far heavier, but its exact amount will probably never be accurately known. During the examination of the Marshal, it was stated by one of the members of the Commission that he had it on the authority of a general that 17,000 soldiers of the Commune had fallen from first to last. ~ MacMahon replied that he did not know upon what materials the general had based his calculation, but he was sure the number was exaggerated.

The deaths of those whom the Commune called its hostages must now be considered. An excellent letter of intercession was addressed to the Commune on their behalf (May 20th) by the Protestant ministers of Paris, in which the writers entreated the insurgent Government "not to add, to so much blood spilt on battle-fields, blood which will not be shed in fight." " To punish," they added, " a hostage by death, because another man is accused of having committed a murder - to strike, for the crime committed by another, even if the crime be proved, a man who has committed no fault condemned by ordinary laws - would this be an act of justice? We ask of the conscience of every member of the Commune, would it not be rather a return to barbarism? " The intention and spirit of this language are admirable, but the reasoning does not appear conclusive. If the persons detained had been really hostages, their individual innocence would have been no reason why the Commune should not proceed to extremities against them; in fact the very notion of a hostage is that of a person who has done his possessor no harm himself, but who is liable to suffer for the acts of the friends who delivered him up. If the Government of Versailles had given over to the Commune a certain number of bishops and other notabilities, as a guarantee of its peaceable behaviour towards Paris, those persons would have been-hostages; and if after that the forces of the said Government had attacked Paris, the lives of those hostages would have been forfeited by the law of nations; nor could the Commune, shocking as the execution would have been, have been justly charged with iniquitous or wanton cruelty. But in the case of the Archbishop of Paris and the others who suffered as hostages, since no understanding of this kind had ever been come to between the Versailles Government and the Commune, it is evident that they were not hostages at all, but merely political prisoners, whom the insurgent Government put to death, not as guilty either of overt act or treasonable intention against themselves, but as persons whose death would be peculiarly painful and afflicting to the hated power which was putting them down.

The two immediate predecessors of Mgr. Darboy in the archi-episcopal see of Paris had both met with violent deaths. Mgr. Affre was shot on one of the barricades during the three days of June, 1848, while endeavouring to persuade its defenders to submit to the lawful Government. Mgr. Sibour, his successor, was assassinated in 1857, in the church of St. Etienne du Mont, by a suspended priest named Verger. These two may be said to have died martyrs, the one to charity, the other to ecclesiastical discipline; Mgr. Darboy died a martyr to faith. It was as the chief representative in France of those who worship and pray, and believe in the supernatural guidance of human life, that the Archbishop of Paris was peculiarly obnoxious to the atheistic chiefs of the Commune. He was arrested, as we have seen, under the decree of the 6th April, and imprisoned in Mazas, where he was allowed to live in tolerable comfort. On the 22nd May he was removed to La Roquette for greater security; and here, on the ground that some of the National Guards who had been made prisoners had been shot, and that they were but fulfilling the intention announced in the decree of the 17th May, the Commune ordered his execution on the 24th inst. It is said that Raoul Rigault, Ranvier, and Ferré were present as spectators. We subjoin the narrative given by an eye-witness of the scene that ensued: -

" Mgr. Darboy occupied the cell No. 21 of the fourth division, and I was at some distance from him, in the cell No. 26.... His companions in captivity had succeeded in procuring a table and chair for him. The cell was itself larger than the others. On Wednesday, May 24th, at half-past seven in the evening, the director of the prison, a person named Lefrançais - of the same name as the member of the Commune - and a man who had been six years in the hulks, mounted the prison stairs at the head of fifty Federals, among whom was a fireman, and occupied the gallery in which the principal prisoners were confined. These Federals were ranged in the gallery, and a few moments afterwards a superintendent of turnkeys opened the door of the Archbishop's cell, and called him in a low voice. The prelate answered, ' Present.'

" Then he passed on to the cell of President Bonjean; then it was the turn of the Abbé Allard, member of the International Society for giving Aid to the Wounded; then of Father Ducondray, Superior of the school of Sainte Geneviève; and Father Clerc, of the Company of Jesus. The last name called was that of the Abbé Deguerry, Curé of the Madeleine. Each of the prisoners, as his name was given out, was brought into the gallery, and descended the staircase leading to the circular road; on each side, so far as my observation extended, were posted Federal Guards, insulting the prisoners and loading them with epithets which I cannot repeat. My unfortunate companions were thus accompanied by the yells of the» wretches as far as the court in front of the infirmary. There a firing party was in waiting. Mgr. Darboy stepped forward, and addressing his assassins, spoke to them a few words of forgiveness. Two of these men approached the prelate and, before their comrades, knelt down and besought his pardon. The other Federals rushed upon them, and drove them back with insults; then turning towards the prisoners they began reviling them afresh. The commandant of the detachment was annoyed at this - a proof that the conduct of the men must have been singularly outrageous. He ordered silence, and exclaimed with a frightful oath, ' You are here to shoot these people, not to abuse them.' The Federals were silent, and at the command of their officer, loaded their muskets. Father Allard was placed against the wall, and was the first to be shot; then Mgr. Darboy fell. Six prisoners were in this way shot down, and all showed the greatest courage.

" The bodies were taken to Père la Chaise, where they were thrown all into a trench, and not even covered with earth."

On the 26th instant, hostages to the number of twenty- four, besides thirty-eight unfortunate gendarmes, were put to death by a kind of indiscriminate massacre in the Rue Haxo. Among the hostages were Father Olivaint, the Jesuit, and M. Jecker, the famous banker. Father Olivaint had a reputation for sanctity; many interesting memorials of him and his fellow-sufferers are reverently preserved in the Jesuits' Church of the Rue de Sèvres. But there was no assassination which surpassed in horror that of the Dominicans from the convent in the Rue de Vaugirard. "In the course of the afternoon of the 25th May, they were visited in their prison by a company of National Guards, who deliberately proceeded to load in their presence. The outer door of the prison was then thrown open, and the commanding officer said, 'You are free. Go out one by one.' They did as directed, and were shot down as they issued forth. Only one or two escaped."

A passage which reads almost like a prophecy may be found in a letter from the Abbé Lacordaire, written in 1849, just after the acquisition by the Dominicans of the old Carmelite convent (known as " Les Carmes ") in the Rue de Vaugirard. " Pray to God, my dear friend," he writes, " that this favour may not turn to our confusion, and that if the Carmes, in consequence of the public misfortunes, should become a second time the prey of revolution, we may be able to mingle our blood worthily with that of the martyrs who preceded us."

The Government of Versailles deemed it its duty to be stern in meting out punishment to those who had had a principal share in the excesses and crimes of the Commune. Many of them had fallen in the course of the eight days' fighting. Of the fate of Delescluze we have already spoken. The Pole, Dombrowski, the Commune's best general, was killed at the barricade in the Boulevard d'Ornano on the 23rd May. Millière, a deputy for Paris, taken with arms in his hands on the 28th instant, was summarily tried by court-martial and sentenced to be shot. He displayed the greatest intrepidity, and bared his breast to the firing party. The officer who presided did so with marked inhumanity; because Millière would not kneel and ask pardon of society for the evil he had done, the officer ordered two soldiers to force him on his knees, and he was shot in that position; his last words were, " Long live Humanity." Raoul Rigault, the brutal public prosecutor of the Commune, was taken and shot at the Luxembourg on the 24th instant. Vaillant fell in battle. Vallès was taken at a barricade and shot; his body was then pierced by bayonets almost beyond recognition. In the course of August and September most of the remaining leaders were put on their trial. Assi and Billioray were sentenced to transportation to a fortress. Courbet, the painter, who had been active in bringing about the destruction of the column in the Place Vendome, was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and to pay a fine of 500 francs. Ferré, the most blood-thirsty of all the Communal chiefs, was condemned to death, and the sentence was executed on the plateau of Satory. Paschal Grousset, formerly Rochefort's assistant editor in the Marseillaise, was sentenced to transportation to New Caledonia. Rochefort - who had edited the Mot d'Ordre up to the 20th May, but on that day, seeing that the fall of the Commune was imminent, had made his escape from Paris, and fallen at once into the hands of the Versailles troops - was brought up for trial on the 20th September. That he should have used his scathing wit and bright intelligence to uphold so bad a cause was lamentable and inexcusable; but, fortunately for him, although he advocated the destruction of the column, the last article in the Mot d'Ordre that appeared with his name was a protest - lightly and gaily expressed, but still a protest - against the decree of the 17th May for putting the hostages to death, and against the system of reprisals generally. His life accordingly was spared, and he was sentenced to transportation to New Caledonia. Colonel Rossel had committed an offence which the laws of men do not pardon; as a deserter, he was condemned to death, and was shot on the 28th November.

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

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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