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

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The fortress of Strasburg was in the shape of a rude oblong, much longer from east to west than from north to south; its eastern end was filled up by the citadel. General Werder, as soon as his siege guns arrived, commenced (August 24) to bombard the place. Terrible devastation was the consequence; the glorious cathedral was injured, though, happily, not irreparably; the ancient library, containing a large number of rare books and valuable MSS., which no money could replace, was utterly destroyed; the town was set on fire in several places; grey-headed men, helpless women and children, lost their lives; and the majority of the unarmed inhabitants sought refuge in the cellars. The venerable bishop endeavoured to mediate, but without success. Still there was no talk of surrender; no one pressed the Governor to capitulate. On the French side, the guns of the citadel opened fire on the town of Kehl, across the Rhine, and set it on fire. Finding that the bombardment did not produce the desired effect, General Werder commenced regular approaches against the fortress at its most vulnerable point, the north-west corner. No fewer than 241 battering guns were planted in the different batteries. The defences were ruined, and a continual plunging fire from small mortars prevented the garrison from repairing them. By the 27th September, two wide breaches had been made in the wall, and preparations were set on foot for the assault. On that day General Uhrich hoisted a white flag on the cathedral, and the German artillery at once ceased their fire. A capitulation was soon concluded, the terms of which were similar to those which had been granted at Sedan. Thus was Strasburg lost to France.

About this time, M. Thiers, at the request of the Government of the National Defence, visited all the principal Courts of Europe, everywhere eloquently pleading the cause of his country. Nowhere, not even in Russia, did his words fail to awaken interest and sympathy; but when M. Thiers hinted at active intervention, he was met by a general indisposition, proceeding from causes many of which we have already specified, to interfere at the present stage of the struggle.

A decree of the King of Prussia, dated August 17th, organised the conquered provinces of Alsace and Lorraine under German civil governors - General von Bonin and Count Bismark Bohlen; the former being stationed at Nancy, the latter at Hagenau, whence he removed to Strasburg after the fall of the city.

At the beginning of October, about a sixth part of France was in the hands of the German armies, which, by continual reinforcements, had now reached the enormous number of 650,000 men. The King of Prussia moved his head-quartérs, on the 5th instant, from Ferneres to Versailles, and installed himself and the warriors who formed his suite in the gilded apartments of the Grand Monarque. Louis XIV. was brought very low before the Peace of Utrecht, but the wildest freak of his imagination could never have presented to his divining spirit a tithe of the humiliations which the distant future reserved for the country where he reigned and the palace which he built.

On the 7th October, Gambetta effected his escape from Paris in a balloon, and landed safely in the neighbourhood of Rouen. He at once repaired to Tours, where a delegation from the Government of Paris had been for some time established. He lost no time in issuing a proclamation, to be circulated through France, describing in highly-coloured language the patriotic exertions which the Parisians were making, and urging the inhabitants of the unoccupied provinces to rise and hasten to her succour. He then superseded Cremieux in the Ministry of War, and appointed himself to the office, in addition to that of Minister of the Interior. Gambetta evidently thought himself another Carnot, about to " organise victory." The real nature and scope of his abilities, which were undoubtedly great, appear to have been seized by a keen-eyed newspaper correspondent, who said that Gambetta reminded him of an " energetic traffic-manager" on an English railway. But his activity and hopefulness were inexhaustible, and he certainly did contrive to conjure up, as it were out of the earth, armies of some sort or other, and to find arms and accoutrements for them; though the first were not uniform, and the second miserably insufficient. Of his military arrangements we shall speak presently.

Meantime the days crept on, and the time came when famine forced the defenders of Metz to drop their arms. When last we spoke of Bazaine, it was to mention that after the battle of Gravelotte he withdrew the Army of the Rhine under cover of the fortifications of Metz. Nothing of moment occurred for some days; Prince Frederick Charles was engaged in hutting the German army round Metz, and entrenching his positions; while Bazaine was busily preparing for another attempt. A messenger from MacMahon, passing safely through the German lines, brought word to Bazaine that the Army of Chalons had commenced its march to his relief on the 21st August. In order to co-operate with it, Bazaine planned a great sortie for the 31st, about which day he calculated that MacMahon would have arrived in the neighbourhood of the fortress. The army, issuing from its lines to the east of Metz, was to take a northerly direction and march on Thionville. Thus was brought on the battle of Noisseville, on the 31st August and 1st September. The success of the sortie was ruined by bad arrangements. Had the French attacked at once on the morning of the 31st, when they commenced their movement, they could easily have overpowered the small German force then opposed to them, and have continued their march on Thionville. But Bazaine delayed the attack till the afternoon, for reasons which, even upon his own showing, appear insufficient; and through the indecision of subordinate commanders, another delay supervened, so that the advance was not made till four o'clock. The proverb says, "Fore-warned is fore-armed;" and so it was in the present case. The Germans had time to concentrate a sufficient mass of troops in the rear of Noisseville and Servigny to repel the French attack, which was made with no great vigour. Bivouacking on the ground, the French resumed the action on the next day; but their efforts were ill-planned and ill-united; the Germans brought up an overpowering artillery to crush the French right; and between two and three o'clock, Bazaine, who had heard nothing of the approach of MacMahon's army, gave the order for retreat. The losses on the French side on the two days were 3,550; those of the Germans fell a little short of 3,000.

The revolution of the 4th September occurred, and the news was received by Bazaine with unmitigated disgust. The master whom lie had served long, and who had rewarded him well, was the Emperor; if the Emperor was a prisoner, and could give him no orders, then his obedience was due to the Empress as Regent. He determined not to recognise, and to hold no communications with, a set of men who had supplanted a regular Government under favour of a street riot and the Republican cry. So far, if Bazaine's antecedents are considered, it is impossible to blame him; he did not become culpable till he made the interest of France - which had a more sacred claim on his allegiance than any form of government - subordinate to political aims and personal ambition.

After the 1st September, there was a long cessation of active operations. A careful inquiry was instituted into the state of the food supplies, and it was ascertained that there were sufficient supplies, both for the town and the army, for about four weeks; and by the use of horseflesh, limiting the rations, and foraging by means of small sorties, it was thought the supply might be made to last for eight weeks. Within that time Bazaine probably calculated that either peace would be made, or some combination of new French armies would raise the siege.

From the 23rd September, Bazaine commenced a series of foraging sorties with small bodies of men, the object of which was to collect supplies. In one of these the French penetrated as far as Peltre, the first station on the railway by which the investing army drew its supplies from Germany, and obtained abundant spoil in the shape of railway wagons loaded with comestibles. On the 7th October what looked like a serious attempt to break out was made. The Imperial Guard was marched to the attack of General Kummer's two divisions of Landwehr, quartered in front of Mezières, to the north of Metz, and on the left bank of the Moselle. The action that ensued was bloody; the Landwehr, after a brave resistance, were driven out of a line of villages situated between Mezières and Ladonchamps, and had the Guards been well supported by other troops, there seems no reason to doubt that the German lines might have been broken through. But the number of troops employed by Bazaine on this vitally important operation did not exceed 40,000; it is evident, therefore, that he had no serious intention of fighting his way out, and marching away from Metz. The loss on both sides in this action of the 7th was considerable; that of the Germans was 1,800 men killed and wounded, and the sensation caused in Germany by the tidings was out of all proportion to the number of the fallen, because the Prussian Landwehr men are for the most part fathers of families, and when they fall they leave wives and fatherless children behind them. General Kummer, perceiving that the French were not reinforced, obtained the assistance of portions of the 10th and the 3rd Corps, and with their help dislodged the French from all the positions which they had won, except the chateau of Ladonchamps.

In the course of September a strange incident occurred. There was an individual of the name of Regnier, much attached to the Empire, and who was said to have held some appointment in the household of the Empress. M. Regnier seems to have been a fanciful and vain personage; and the notion came into his head that he might become the humble but serviceable instrument of liberating the Emperor, re-establishing the Imperial system, and terminating the misfortunes of France. For this, it seemed to him, three things were necessary: the consent of the Imperial family; the negotiation of a treaty of peace between them and the Germans; and the liberation of Bazaine and his army in consequence of that treaty, who should act as an " Army of Order," put down the Republic and the men of September 4, and replace the Emperor on the throne. Regnier first went to Chislehurst, and propounded his views to the Empress, begging her that she would furnish him with some kind of credentials, as he intended to visit Napoleon at Wilhelmshöhe, and also to seek to obtain access to the German head-quarters. The Empress, it is plain, put little faith either in the man or in his project; however, after much importunity, she allowed him to take away a photograph of Hastings, on the back of which were a few commonplace words in the Prince Imperial's handwriting, addressed to his father. Having obtained this, Regnier, instead of attempting to go to Wilhelmshöhe, repaired to Ferrieres, where the King and Bismark were then quartered. He obtained an interview with the Chancellor, and unfolded his plan. Bismark was at first inclined to treat him as a dreamer and a meddler; but when the visitor produced the card with the Prince Imperial's handwriting upon it, Bismark - who had had an interview that very day with Jules Favre, and found him impracticable in the matter of a cession of territory - was to some extent interested, and thought the scheme of Regnier might be worth a trial. He accordingly gave him a general pass, which would allow of his passing through the lines of any German army that he might meet with, in order that he might go to Metz and sound Bazaine with reference to the project. Passing in this way through the lines of Prince Frederick Charles, Regnier entered Metz, and sought an interview with Bazaine (September 23). The Marshal, though he expressed himself cautiously, did not disguise the feelings of aversion and contempt with which he regarded the Government of the National Defence; and in consequence of Regnier's visit he sent Bourbaki, the commander of the Imperial Guard, that same evening out of Metz on a mission to Chislehurst. The emissary - Prince Frederick Charles being doubtless cognisant of the whole intrigue - found no difficulty in passing through the investing lines. Up to this point Regnier's little plan had apparently prospered, but now the bubble burst. The Empress was not a woman of that strength and sternness of character which, in the pursuit of an object of ambition, would lead her to brave obloquy and play high for a mighty stake. If she signed a treaty of peace as Regent, providing for the cession of Strasburg and Metz to Germany, the name of the Napoleonic dynasty, she thought, would be eternally execrated in France; and, after all, it was not certain that Bazaine could restore the Empire, or that his army, as a body, would support him in the attempt. She therefore absolutely declined to be a party to the scheme, and it fell through. Bourbaki returned to France; but, instead of attempting to re-enter Metz, placed his sword at the disposal of the Government of Tours.

In October, the only description of food that remained abundant in Metz was horse-flesh, and that was obtained at the cost of the efficiency of the cavalry and artillery. On the day after the sortie of the 7th, Bazaine caused a meeting of divisional generals to be held, to consider the situation. However distasteful the thought of a capitulation might be, yet the fast diminishing supplies of food compelled these officers to face it; they were of opinion that a capitulation should be arranged on terms that would allow of the army retiring, without laying down its arms, to the south of France, under a pledge not to serve against Germany during the continuance of the war. If, however, these conditions were not acceded to by the German leaders, it was the understanding of most of the divisional generals, and of the mass of the officers under them, that a desperate effort must and would be made to cut a way, sword in hand, through the investing forces.

At a meeting of the corps commanders, called by Bazaine on the 10th October, it was resolved that no new sorties should be attempted, but that efforts should be made to obtain a military convention, by negotiation with the enemy. The use of the term " military convention " shows that something different from an ordinary capitulation - something political - was in view. Prince Frederick Charles, at Bazaine's request, gave permission for General Boyer to go to Versailles to ascertain what terms could be obtained from the German leaders, - a permission which he would hardly have given had not some great political object, such as the acquisition of an advantageous peace, been understood to be involved.

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