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Recollections of Thirty-nine Years in the Army
Chapter XXVI


Franco-Prussian War—Appointed to the French —German successes—Arrive in Paris —Rumours—Aspect-----Ministry of War—Champ de Mars—Captured as a Prussian spy—Rumours and facts—A disturbed night—Revolution of September 4— Escape of the Empress—Vinoy arrives from Mezières—After the Revolution— The outlook—Arming the masses—Approach of the enemy—Levee en masse— Aspect of the city - Versailles "honourably" capitulated - Provisioning - Present and prospective evils—City gates closed— Preparations for the defence— Police in abeyance - Paris encircled - Some ambassadors quit - Conditions within—Arrangements for wounded.

IN the middle of July (1870) the morning papers recorded the incident at Ems, soon to become famous, between Benedetti and the King of Prussia, its effect in Paris a demand for war, and by the populace shouts of "A Berlin!" Events rapidly developed; the Powers concerned prepared for war; proffered mediation by England rejected by France. On the 21st of that month war was declared by the King of Prussia; on the 23rd by the Emperor of the French; on August 2 the young Prince Imperial received his bapteme de feu; war had begun.

A few days thereafter I was warned for service with the French in the capacity of Medical Commissioner, to report to the War Office on certain specified points relating to military organization in the field. Aware of the importance of duties before me, preparations were quickly made for entering upon them, including the payment of heavy extra premium to an insurance office.

From that time onwards my attention was directed to the remarkable development of military events by which those declarations were followed. In the first instance there was the small success of the French at Saarbruck on August 2, followed on the 4th by their severe defeat at Weissenburg, after which one defeat after another followed in quick succession; namely, Woerth and Spicheren on the 6th; Forbachen on the 7th; St. Avoid on the 9th, when the partial investment of Metz began; Strasburg invested on the 10th; the battle of Courcelles or Longville, near Penge, on the 14th, the battles of Mars la Tour, Gravelotte, and St. Privat, 16th to 18th, both inclusive, leading to complete investment of Metz. The aspect of affairs had been so affected by those events that preparations for the defence began on the 23rd. The Germans following up their victories by that of Beaumont, far the Belgian frontier, on the 30th, forced MacMahon to fall back upon Sedan, after sustaining very severe losses in men, guns, and stores. In other directions, during the same period, one success after another continued to attend the advance of the invaders.

The 1st of September was with me a busy day; among its incidents, receiving instructions from the War Office, special passport from the Foreign Office, letter of credit and necessary cash from agents, and lastly, taking leave of my beloved wife. Leaving Charing Cross by the 8.45 p.m. train, I arrived in Paris early the following morning. Later in the day, in obedience to orders, I reported my arrival to the British Embassy, presenting at the same time my official credentials. I was informed that an application would be made to the Ministry of War for a sauf conduit, to enable me to proceed and join the "Army of the Rhine" under Marshal MacMahon, at that time "somewhere between Verdun and Mezières, on the left side of the Meuse."

An impression was "in the air" that all was not well with that army, but beyond rumours more or less vague nothing seemed to indicate knowledge of actual events of the previous day, still in progress at, and in the vicinity of Sedan. Afternoon and evening brought more definite particulars; telegrams from Mezières announced that MacMahon was wounded, fugitives inundating that town, all communication with Sedan "interrupted"; but to inquiries made in official quarters there was silence.

We had observed that near the Gare du Nord large numbers of workmen were engaged on the fortifications in that direction. Within the walls bodies of armed men, some in uniform, many not, marched along the thoroughfares or were undergoing drill. As day advanced crowds assembled at corners; pedestrians increased in number; kiosks and windows presented caricatures, in execrable taste, of Prussians from king to peasant. The Champs Elysées was comparatively deserted; already it had an unkept appearance. Here and there a small group gazed at the performances of Punchinello; a few equipages drove along its centre way. Agencies of various Socités des Secours aux Blesses had taken up positions in large buildings or open spaces; from many windows and over entrances floated Red Cross flags.

At an early hour on the 3rd, Colonel Claremont, Military Secretary to the British Embassy, conducted me to the several offices, from one or other of which he expected that the necessary orders would be issued to enable me to carry out the mission assigned to me. Failing to obtain those orders at one and all so visited, he made direct application to the Minister for War, but with no other result than an intimation that "the correspondence on the subject must pass through the ordinary routine, and in the meantime I must wait." It was evident that something very unusual had taken place or was in progress; the demeanour of the officials with whom we came in contact indicated the fact with sufficient clearness. Colonel Claremont was in all probability made acquainted with the nature of the events in question, for as we separated, each to proceed his own way, his parting remark was, "I don't expect now that you will go much beyond Paris."

The Champ de Mars forms a huge camp ground; tentes abri, guns, waggons, tumbrils, horses, and men crowd the space so named. Infantry of the line there are in battalions, many of them undergoing the earlier stages of military drill, their style and general aspect far from realizing the British idea of what is soldier-like. The arrangement of the camp itself, including tents, matériet, conveniences and necessities, slovenly and untidy.

In its immediate vicinity the Seine was a washtub for the troops, many of whom were occupied in beating, scrubbing, and otherwise cleansing articles of their clothing in the edge of the stream. I lean over the parapet and observe the process. I am grasped by a soldier; others hurry to his aid; I am captured, a prisoner. The spy mania is rampant. I am marched off as such, first to one "post," then to another; passport and other official documents taken from me; my escort increasing as we proceeded. It comprises cavalry, infantry, and gamns, the latter becoming more and more "demonstrative" in their behaviour as we went, now shouting,' 'A bas le Prussien!" "A bas Bismarck!" now laying hands roughly upon me, until it looks as if in their excitement things might fare badly with me. Arrived at a police station in the Rue Grenelle, I found myself deposited in the company of a very miscellaneous assortment of prisonniers, and there spent some two or three hours as best I could. At the end of that time my credentials were flung at rather than given back to me; the official of the place pointed to the door, and without deigning a look at me said, "Voila Allez," and so we parted. Naturally enough I was indignant, and on reaching my hotel declared my intention to report to our Representative the episode through which I had passed; but was quietly informed by others better acquainted than I then was with the state of affairs, that I need not trouble myself; he would do nothing in the matter.

As evening wore on, rumours of the morning assumed the aspect of facts, terrible in their nature as they were unlooked for and unexpected: the French had been hopelessly defeated at Sedan; MacMahon wounded and a prisoner; the Emperor a prisoner; 40,000 men of his army prisoners; no obstacle todelay. far less prevent the advance of the Prussians upon Paris. All was excitement along the streets and boulevards; shouts were heard of "Déchence!,' and "Vive la République/" Doubts and fears were expressed as to what on the morrow the fate of the Empress, who was still in the Tuileries, might possibly be.

All through the following night there were sounds of movement in the streets: the tread of troops on the march, the heavy roll of guns, tumbrils, and waggons. In the Chamber of Deputies transactions were in progress the nature of which did not transpire till long afterwards, though the results were to be seen within the space of a few hours. Men, who till then had been ministers and other officials of the Emperor, declared shortly after midnight the Imperial regime had ceased; they elected from among themselves what was intended to be a "Governing Commission," and so discounted the events of the morrow. No wonder that such a self-chosen body failed to receive general acceptance, as indeed was scarcely to be looked for considering the many discordant political elements existing within the capital.

From early morning of Sunday, the 4th, a dense and tumultuous crowd filled the Place de la Concorde, in the Rue Royale and Faubourg St. Honor workmen were hauling down Imperial eagles and "N's," by which various public buildings were distinguished and ornamental, the mob cheering them as they proceeded with their self-imposed work. The gates of the Tuileries gardens were open, the gardens of the palace filled with people; down the Rue de Rivoli, and upwards towards the Arc de Triomphe, the Champs Elysées, streams of people were in motion. Across the entrance to the bridge leading to the palace of the Corps Lgislatif, a body of regular troops was drawn up with bayonets fixed. Down along the Champs Elysées marched in cadence to beat of drum and note of bugle an imposing force of National Guards. Nearer and nearer they came; greater and greater was the excitement in the crowd, including the small body of foreigners who, like myself, were irresistibly drawn to, and by curiosity held in the scene. A moment more and the two sets of forces must have been in actual collision with each other—with what consequences who could predict? Then were raised upon bayonet points the képis of the regulars, as from their ranks the shout burst forth, 'Vive la Garde Nationale. The latter instantly followed suit; the shout of "Vive la ligne!" told us that fraternization was complete. The hall of the Legislature was immediately occupied by the bourgeois; half an hour later the Government of the Defence was proclaimed in the Hotel de Ville. Armed men in blouses took the place of sentries of the Guard at the Tuileries; the tricolour still waved above the central dome of the palace. The sympathy of us foreigners who mingled in the crowd was with the Empress, as we expressed to each other in subdued tones, our wonder as to the means by which her escape would be effected, or whether she was to fall into the hands of the masses, now wild with excitement as they yelled out "DéchéanceI" "Vive la MiIionI" "Vive la RepubliqueI" interspersed with still more threatening ejaculations. That a Revolution had taken place, the Empire given place to the Republic, was evident; the apparent ease with which that great change had been effected was matter of surprise to onlookers, and to the people by whom it was effected. In the Place de la Concorde the sergeants de ville were roughly handled, old scores paid off, in some few instances their lives taken; the statues of Strasbourg and other cities were draped in crimson cloth; then came along the quays bodies of infantry, cavalry, and artillery, not to open fire upon the revolutionary crowds, but in progress to the outskirts of the city.

Long after the occurrence of the events just related, the circumstance transpired that arrangements had in anticipation been made to ensure the safety of the Empress. The passages of the palace and inner gates were occupied and otherwise protected by a considerable force of the Imperial Guard, so that as in their haste the crowd rushed in from the direction of the Place de la Concorde, they were moved on and on until they emerged from the palace into the Cour de Carrousel, where, finding themselves so far outmanoeuvred, they stood irresolute. It was then that, taking advantage of their confusion, the escape of the Empress was effected by the aid of Prince Metternich and Madame La Breton Bourbaki; whether with that of M. F. de Lesseps or not seems to be questioned.

Vinoy at the head of the 13th Army Corps arrives from Mezires, his retreat therefrom in the face of the Germans flushed by victory at Sedan looked upon as the most masterly performance yet achieved. His forces occupy camp in the Avenue de la Grande - Armée, and thither crowds resort to see the men who had performed so successful a feat; the order and regularity in all that concerns them indicating their training and discipline in strong contrast to what was so recently experienced in the Champ de Mars. But chiefly was attention directed to certain mysterious objects carefully concealed by canvas coverings, but with an outline like that of artillery guns. These were mitrailleuses, from which great results were anticipated.

To walls of houses and enclosures were affixed announcements that the Republic had been declared, and giving the names of those who now constituted the Provisional Government. Other notices similarly displayed contained appeals to patriotism on the part of the National Guards, and manhood of the capital, that they should rally to the rescue of La Paine en Danger. Troops of the line marched in various directions, the object of the movements not apparent. Groups of men stood at intervals along the streets, the képi as yet the only item of uniform worn by them.

The tone of the press moderated from what had lately been; it was evident that grave events threatened, the possible nature of which caused thinking people some anxiety. Cafes usually brilliantly lighted and crowded with customers became less so; uniforms took the place of civilian costume at the small tables within and without. Outside the ramparts, houses and other buildings were in course of demolition. On the defences the work of repair and strengthening was in progress. Railway stations were crowded by people,—some endeavouring to get away, together with their removable belongings; others to get all such property inside for comparative safety.

Preparations for defence went on apace. Private carriages disappeared, except such as were retained by special permission; public conveyances decreased in number, the horses belonging to them being requisitioned for public purposes. Women pedestrians were few; scarcely a man to be seen on the streets, in shops, offices, and other establishments, but those who wore more or less complete uniform;
those on the streets carrying rifles, side arms, or both. At night, and throughout the day, the sound of drum and bugle was incessant; here and there varied by the Marseillaise sung in stentorian voice. In the Place de la Concorde successive bodies of armed men paid homage before the statue of Strasbourg, gesticulating and vociferating as they did so, that emblem becoming concealed under the wreaths deposited upon it Meanwhile, to prevent the Prussians from obtaining the game hitherto preserved for Imperial purposes, a public battoe to take place at Compidgne was proclaimed.

Men, to whom in the emergency arms were issued, increased numerically faster than did the means of providing them with uniform. Already did the circumstance suggest itself to many that by placing in the hands of the masses such means of offence, a source of possible danger to public safety was thereby created. That idea was speedily fostered by the occurrence of scenes of disorder in some localities by the men so armed; by others no less suggestive, in which men "fraternized" with troops of the line over absinthe in cabarets.

By the 10th of the month the Prussian forces, 300,000 strong, were at Ligny, not more than twenty-five miles from the capital. The terms by which certain journals appeals were made to the invaders were questionable in respect to dignity: on the one hand, if as "friends," offering friendship; on the other, if as enemies, barricades and sewers transformed into mines to be exploded under them. M. Balbi proposed that portable fortresses, each of a strength equal to one hundred thousand men, should be sent against them; other proposals for annihilation of the advancing armies were submitted to the authorities, and declared impracticable.

During next few days information as to transactions was received with increasing vagueness, such items as seemed reliable only through English papers, and that not for long. Some of the classes, who in more peaceful times had willingly served in the ranks when "drawn," now expressed a desire to serve by substitute, if they could. Mobiles in great number arrived in Paris from the provinces. Public announcements declared that so great was the devotion of the people to the Defence that the Levee en Masse would leave the proportion of men at their homes as one to twenty-eight women. According to some published statements, the men already enrolled were more formidable in numbers than in quality; the withdrawals from the city of those liable to service so numerous that special measures against them were proposed in respect to their civil rights and property. A report circulated to the effect that cartridges and other ammunition contained in ordnance stores had been seriously tampered with.

It is Sunday. Fashionable resorts, including the Champs Elys's  and Gardens of the Tuileries, are crowded with men and women. Cafes partially deserted a few days ago are now crowded. Booths of Punchinello are surrounded by knot of amused spectators, the style and demeanour of the people generally by no means such as might be looked for under the circumstances present and prospective. Mobiles recently collected from the provinces rush about irregularity wherever the crowds are thickest ; their rifles at the "trail"; their  bayonets fixed, — sources of danger to everybody. Streets and roadways
show signs of neglect News circulates that the Canal de I'Ourque and some other conduits have been ''cut" by the Gennans, the fact being the first to indicate the near approach of the enemy.

"Versailles has honourably capitulated." Such was the next intelligence to reach us. Confusion thereupon became general. A grand review of forces of the Defence of Paris forthwith ordered; information circulated by authority that the several forts beyond the line of ramparts were fully armed and manned by sailors under command of their own proper officers. As extemporised battalions marched towards the general rendezvous they presented in their ranks two types of manhood — the Parisian and the provincial: the former poor in physique, and undisciplined; the latter, strong and active, but unacquainted with anything beyond elementary stages of military drill. A captive balloon established on Montmartre from which to observe the movements of the enemy. A furore of destruction suddenly set in, resulting in that of bridges, houses, and everything destructible on the immediate outskirts of the city, including a considerable strip of the Bois de Boulogne.

Stores and provisions were collected to enable Paris to withstand a siege of two months' duration that being thought the limit to which such an emergency could extend, should it happen at all. Cattle and stock of all kinds were brought within the walls ; fodder and grain for them collected, and food of all kinds, available for human consumption, stored; a census of "mouths" taken at the same time.

Already had evils shown themselves as a result of billeting armed men on the people; huts were therefore prepared in the boulevards and other open spaces for the former. Disinclination was soon apparent in a suggestively large number of the men to occupy their proper places on parade. From the city there was reported exodus of men whose names were enrolled for military service. On the walls were posted codes of instructions as to the correct manner of loading rifles. Authority was given to the system now introduced whereby improvised battalions of National Guards elected their own officers — a system from which deplorable results were soon to arise.

Gates along the line of fortifications were now closed against traffic, except to persons bearing special permits. Musters taken of so-called "effective" combatants, prepared, according to declarations by themselves, to defend the capital to the death, gave their number, including all classes of troops, approximately at 400,000. Among us foreigners hints circulated that neither by Trochu nor other superior officer were hopes of ultimate success entertained, taking into account the kind of material so extemporised M. Thiers had proceeded on his mission to the Governments of Europe; hopes accordingly entertained that intervention by England, Russia, and Austria, singly or united, might be brought about It was an open secret that sympathy of the principal leaders, civil and military, within the capital were more in favour of the past regime than of that now entered upon, their hopes that by some means or other restoration might be effected, a siege and probable bombardment averted. Those hopes were soon destroyed; information circulated that the terms on which further proceedings on the part of the Germans could be arrested, included such items as a heavy money indemnity, the retrocession of Alsace and Lorraine, as also of half the French fleet.

In the streets and everywhere else within the city filth and otherwise objectionable matters had accumulated to a very unpleasant degree; means of conservancy and cleansing were deficient; the atmosphere polluted by odours of decomposition. A separate police force to take the place of the Gens d'Armes extinguished on the day of Revolution had not yet been established; crimes of violence were the more remarkable in their infrequency when that circumstance is taken into account, together with the heterogeneous elements of which the defensive forces were now composed.

The plot thickens; information reaches us which leaves no doubt but that Paris is encircled by the enemy. Within the city there is general commotion; in battalions and smaller bodies newly raised levies march towards Vincennes ; trains of ambulance carriages wend their way in the same direction. Official notices affixed to walls direct that all men liable to military service should report themselves within twenty-four hours at the rendezvous of their respective corps, under penalty of being proceeded against as deserters. In striking contrast to all this turmoil was the sight of several elderly men and others calmly and peacefully fishing in the Seine ; their prize an occasional gudgeon two inches long or thereabout !

At this point some representatives of Great Powers quitted the beleaguered city with the intention of proceeding to Tours, where it was stated another Government than that of the capital was in process of. A soldier of the line engages in the first instance for the term of seven years; he may at its expiration re-engage for other seven or fourteen years. At the end of twenty-five years in the service he becomes entitled to a pension equal in amount to ninepence per day. Five milliards of Francs; equal to two hundred millions of pounds sterling. Among those who did so was the British Ambassador. The Consul of Paris had already proceeded on leave of absence, the outcome of the state of affairs so created being that upwards of two thousand persons claiming the rights and privileges of British subjects were left without official representative. Colonel Claremont, Military Secretary, to his great credit, speedily returned within the ramparts, and remained with the besieged until the defeat at Champigny left the question of capitulation a matter of only a few weeks to be decided. By no means did all the Foreign Representatives quit the capital. Among those who remained were the Minister and Consul-General of the United States ; the Ministers of Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway. Neither did the Persian Ambassador withdraw from his official position in Paris.

The corps of Sergeants de Ville is re-introduced; itinerant musicians parade the streets, their favourite instruments the barrel-organ, harp,and violin; beggars become numerous and demonstrative. Parties of Mobiles march excitedly, and in an irregular manner, in various directions, no one knowing the why or wherefore of their movements; some to the sound of drum and bugle, others without such instruments. A report circulates that outside the ramparts the members of that force fired upon each other instead of at the enemy; they were said to have arrested their commander on the plea that he held communication with the Prussians. A tax was put upon meat and bread sold in shops; supplies from without had all but ceased; Rentes were down to 54.15. The general demeanour of the masses in ill accord with the conditions in which their capital now was.

From the day on which intelligence of the great defeat at Sedan reached Paris, a degree of enthusiasm became manifest among official classes and private individuals, in regard to arrangements for possible sick and wounded, which contrasted very favourably with the confusion and indecision in military affairs already recorded. The ordinary military hospitals under administration of the Intendance were equipped to their utmost extent; various large buildings fitted up as annexes thereto; societies of various kinds, and pertaining to different nationalities, established hospitals, or ambulances scdeniaircs as such places came to be called, at different points throughout the city ; several clubs were similarly transformed, and numerous private families made what arrangements they could for the reception of sick or wounded men in case of emergency. The medical faculty of the capital volunteered their services in a body; ladies devoted themselves to "ambulance" work in a manner and on a scale never before witnessed, while volunteers as brancardiers gave their names in numbers beyond requirements even according to the most liberal estimates of probable casualties, thus it came about that provision was complete for 37,000 patients.

At a later period so numerous became the "nurses" that to carry a brassard turned into a fashion; young women "played the nurse with wounded soldiers as little girls play the mother with their dolls." Many earnest women devoted themselves to the work, but that the remark just made was not without grounds was no less true. In some instances the declared object with which they undertook such work was to release men therefrom, so that they might join the active ranks in combat, or become ambulancurs. In other instances it was said of the ladies so employed that they restricted their performances to mere show, leaving all real work in the wards to men, but ready to accept credit really due to the latter. Instances occurred of wounded Frenchmen submitting a formal request to be moved to wards in which their attendants should be men only. Up to a certain time a halo of romance attached itself to the movement as a whole; latterly the brightness of that "glory" became less dazzling.

Unfortunately some of the larger ambulance establishments drew upon themselves suspicion; a report circulated that while above them, as also some huts or barraques erected for similar purpose waved the Red Cross flag, side by side with or in close proximity to them were stores for combatant purposes, — ^in at least one instance artillery ready equipped for battle. There were cynics who said that the profusion of Geneva flags on private houses was indicative of a desire on the part of the inmates to claim protection under that emblem^ as much as the wish to share their rapidly diminishing quantity of food and "comforts" with sick and wounded men. The fact that brancardiers were "neutral" by virtue of the brassard worn by them was considered by pessimists to account for the great popularity attached to the Corps of Ambulanciers as compared to the fighting battalions. Nor were there wanting persons who expressed views that the entire system of Societes des Secqurs" had in it the objection that by their means responsibility in respect to the care of sick and wounded soldiers was withdrawn from Governments concerned, and so war protracted beyond what would otherwise be possible. 


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