previous next

Chapter XIX

The Crown Prince having got to the bottom of his medal basket-that is to say, having finished his liberal distribution of decorations to his officers-Forsyth and I rode off by way of Wadelincourt to Bazeilles to see what had taken place on that part of the field, and the sight that met our eyes as we entered the village was truly dreadful to look upon. Most of the houses had been knocked down or l urned the day before, but such as had been left standing were now in fl mes, the torch having been applied because, as it was claimed, Frenchnen concealed in them had fired on the wounded. The streets were still encumbered with both German and French dead, and it was evident that of those killed in the houses the bodies had not been removed, for tle air was loaded with odors of burning flesh. From Bazeilles we rod on toward the north about two miles, along where the fight had been argely an artillery duel, to learn what we could of the effectiveness of the Krupp gun. Counting all the French dead we came across killed by a tillery, they figured up about three hundred--a ridiculously small number; in fact, not much more than one dead man for each Krupp gun cn that part of the line. Although the number of dead was in utter disproportion to the terrific six-hour cannonade, yet small as it was the totn and mangled bodies made such a horrible sight that we turned back toward Bazeilles without having gone further than Givonne.

At Bazeilles we met the King, accompanied by Bismarck and several of the staff. They too had been riding over the field, the King making this a practice, to see that the wounded were not neglected. As I drew up by the party, Bismarck accosted me with, “Well, General, aren't you [516] hungry? This is just the place to whet one's appetite-these burning Frenchmen-Ugh!” and shrugging his shoulders in evident disgust, he turned away to join his Majesty in further explorations, Forsyth and I continuing on to Chevenges. Here we got the first inkling of what had become of our carriage since leaving it two days before: it had been pressed into service to carry wounded officers from the field during the battle, but afterward released, and was now safe at the house in Vendresse where we had been quartered the night of the 31st, so, on hearing this, we settled to go there again to lodge, but our good friend, the cure, insisting that we should stay with him, we remained in Chevenges till next morning.

On September 3 the King removed from Vendresse to Rethel, where he remained two days; in the mean while the Germans, 240,000 strong, beginning their direct march to Paris. The French had little with which to oppose this enormous force, not more, perhaps, than 50,000 regular troops; the rest of their splendid army had been lost or captured in battle, or was cooped up in the fortifications of Metz, Strasburg, and other places, in consequence of blunders without parallel in history, for which Napoleon and the Regency in Paris must be held accountable. The first of these gross faults was the fight at Worth, where MacMahon, before his army was mobilized, accepted battle with the Crown Prince, pitting 50,000 men against 175,000; the next was Bazaine's fixing upon Metz as his base, and stupidly putting himself in position to be driven back to it, when there was no possible obstacle to his joining forces with MacMahon at Chalons; while the third and greatest blunder of all was MacMahon's move to relieve Metz, trying to slip 140,000 men along the Belgian frontier. Indeed, it is exasperating and sickening to think of all this; to think that Bazaine carried into Metz — a place that should have been held, if at all, with not over 25,000 men — an army of 180,000, because it contained, the excuse was, “an accumulation of stores.” With all the resources of rich France to draw upon, I cannot conceive that this excuse was sincere; on the contrary, I think that the movement of Bazaine must have been inspired by Napoleon with a view to the maintenance of his dynasty rather than for the good of France.

As previously stated, Bismarck did not approve of the German army's moving on Paris after the battle of Sedan. Indeed, I think he foresaw and dreaded the establishment of a Republic, his idea being that if peace was made then, the Empire could be continued in the person of the Prince Imperial, who, coming to the throne under German influences, would be pliable in his hands. These views found frequent expression in private, and in public too; I myself particularly remember [517] the Chancellor's speaking thus most unguardedly at a dinner in Rheims. But he could not prevent the march to Paris; it was impossible to stop the Germans, flushed with success. “On to Paris” was written by the soldiers on every door, and every fence-board along the route to the capital, and the thought of a triumphant march down the Champs Elysees was uppermost with every German, from the highest to the lowest grade.

The 5th of September we set out for Rheims. There it was said the Germans would meet with strong resistance, for the French intended to die to the last man before giving up that city. But this proved all fudge, as is usual with these “last ditch” promises, the garrison decamping immediately at the approach of a few Uhlans. So far as I could learn, but a single casualty happened; this occurred to an Uhlan, wounded by a shot which it was reported was fired from a house after the town was taken; so, to punish this breach of faith, a levy of several hundred bottles of champagne was made, and the wine divided about headquarters, being the only seizure made in the city, I believe, for though Rheims, the centre of the champagne district, had its cellars well stocked, yet most of them being owned by German firms, they received every protection.

The land about Rheims is of a white, chalky character, and very poor, but having been terraced and enriched with fertilizers, it produces the champagne grape in such abundance that the region, once considered valueless, and named by the peasantry the “land of the louse,” now supports a dense population. We remained in Rheims eight days, and through the politeness of the American Consul-Mr. Adolph Gill-had the pleasure of seeing all the famous wine cellars, and inspecting the processes followed in champagne making, from the step of pressing the juice from the grape to that which shows the wine ready for the market. Mr. Gill also took us to see everything else of special interest about the city, and there being much to look at-fine old churches, ancient fortifications, a Roman gateway, etc.-the days slipped by very quickly, though the incessant rains somewhat interfered with our enjoyment.

For three or four days all sorts of rumors were rife as to what was doing in Paris, but nothing definite was learned till about the 9th; then Count Bismarck informed me that the Regency had been overthrown on the 4th, and that the Empress Eugenie had escaped to Belgium. The King of Prussia offered her an asylum with the Emperor at Wilhelmshohe, “where she ought to go,” said the Chancellor, “for her proper place is with her husband,” but he feared she would not. On the same occasion he also told me that Jules Favre — the head of the Provisional Government-had sent him the suggestion that, the Empire [518] being gone, peace should be made and the Germans withdrawn, but that he (Bismarck) was now compelled to recognize the impossibility of doing this till Paris was taken, for although immediately after the surrender of Sedan he desired peace, the past few days had made it plain that the troops would not be satisfied with anything short of Paris, no matter what form of Government the French should ultimately adopt.

The German army having met with no resistance whatever in its march on Paris, its advance approached the capital rapidly, and by the 14th of September the royal headquarters moved by a fine macadamized road to the Chateau Thierry, and on the 15th reached Meaux, about twenty-eight miles from Paris, where we remained four days awaiting the reconstruction of some railroad and canal bridges. The town of Meaux has a busy population of about 10,000 souls, in peaceable times principally occupied in manufacturing flour for the Paris market, having a fine water-power for the many mills. These were kept going day and night to supply the German army; and it was strange to see with what zeal Frenchmen toiled to fill the stomachs of their inveterate enemies, and with what alacrity the mayor and other officials filled requisitions for wine, cheese, suits of livery, riding-whips, and even squab pigeons.

During our stay at Meaux the British Minister, Lord Lyons, endeavored to bring about a cessation of hostilities, to this end his sending his secretary out from Paris with a letter to Count Bismarck, offering to serve as mediator. The Chancellor would not agree to this, however, for he conjectured that the action of the British Minister had been inspired by Jules Favre, who, he thought, was trying to draw the Germans into negotiations through the medium of a third party only for purposes of delay. So the next morning Lord Lyons's secretary, Mr. Edward Malet, returned to Paris empty-handed, except that he bore a communication positively declining mediation; which message, however, led no doubt to an interview between Bismarck and Favre a couple of days later.

The forenoon of September 19 the King removed to the Chateau Ferrieres — a castle belonging to the Rothschild family, where Napoleon had spent many happy days in the time of his prosperity. His Majesty took up his quarters here at the suggestion of the owner, we were told, so that by the presence of the King the magnificent chateau and its treasures of art would be unquestionably protected from all acts of vandalism.

All of the people at headquarters except the King's immediate suite were assigned quarters at Lagny; and while Forsyth and I, accompanied by Sir Henry Havelock, of the British army, were driving thither, we passed on the road the representative of the National Defense Government, Jules Favre, in a carriage heading toward Meaux. Preceded by a [519]

General Sheridan and staff, Dinwiddie Court-House.

[520] flag of truce and accompanied by a single companion, he was searching for Count Bismarck, in conformity, doubtless, with the message the Chancellor had sent to Paris on the 17th by the British secretary. A half-mile further on we met Bismarck. He too was traveling toward Meaux, not in the best of humor either, it appeared, for having missed finding the French envoy at the rendezvous where they had agreed to meet, he stopped long enough to say that the “air was full of lies, and that there were many persons with the army bent on business that did not concern them.”

The armies of the two Crown Princes were now at the outskirts of Paris. They had come from Sedan mainly by two routes — the Crown Prince of Saxony marching by the northern line, through Laon and Soissons, and the Crown Prince of Prussia by the southern line, keeping his right wing on the north bank of the Marne, while his left and centre approached the French capital by roads between that river and the Seine.

The march of these armies had been unobstructed by any resistance worth mentioning, and as the routes of both columns lay through a region teeming with everything necessary for their support, and rich even in luxuries, it struck me that such campaigning was more a vast picnic than like actual war. The country supplied at all points bread, meat, and wine in abundance, and the neat villages, never more than a mile or two apart, always furnished shelter; hence the enormous trains required to feed and provide camp equipage for an army operating in a sparsely settled country were dispensed with; in truth, about the only impedimenta of the Germans was their wagons carrying ammunition, pontoon-boats, and the field telegraph.

On the morning of the 20th I started out accompanied by Forsyth and Sir Henry Havelock, and took the road through Boissy St. George, Boissy St. Martins and Noisy Le Grand to Brie. Almost every foot of the way was strewn with fragments of glass from wine bottles, emptied and then broken by the troops. There was, indeed, so much of this that I refrain from making any estimate of the number of bottles, lest I be thought to exaggerate, but the road was literally paved with glass, and the amount of wine consumed (none was wasted) must have been enormous, far more, even, than I had seen evidence of at any time before. There were two almost continuous lines of broken bottles along the roadsides all the way down from Sedan; but that exhibit was small compared with what we saw about Brie.

At Brie we were taken charge of by the German commandant of the place. He entertained us most hospitably for an hour or so, and then, accompanied by a lieutenant, who was to be our guide, I set out [521] ahead of my companions to gain a point on the picket-line where I expected to get a good look at the French, for their rifle-pits were but a few hundred yards off across the Marne, their main line being just behind the rifle-pits. As the lieutenant and I rode through the village, some soldiers warned us that the adventure would be dangerous, but that we could probably get to the desired place unhurt if we avoided the French fire by forcing our horses to a run in crossing some open streets where we would be exposed. On getting to the first street my guide galloped ahead to show the way, and as the French were not on the lookout for anything of the kind at these dangerous points, only a few stray shots were drawn by the lieutenant, but when I followed, they were fully up to what was going on, and let fly a volley every time they saw me in the open. Fortunately, however, in their excitement they overshot, but when I drew rein alongside of my guide under protection of the bluff where the German picket was posted, my hair was all on end, and I was about as badly scared as ever I had been in my life. As soon as I could recover myself I thought of Havelock and Forsyth, with the hope that they would not follow; nor did they, for having witnessed my experience, they wisely concluded that, after all, they did not care so much to see the French rifle-pits.

When I had climbed to the top of the bluff I was much disappointed, for I could see but little-only the advanced rifle-pits across the river, and Fort Nogent beyond them, not enough, certainly, to repay a non-combatant for taking the risk of being killed. The next question was to return, and deciding to take no more such chances as those we had run in coming out, I said we would wait till dark, but this proved unnecessary, for to my utter astonishment my guide informed me that there was a perfectly safe route by which we might go back. I asked why we had not taken it in coming, and he replied that he had thought it “too long and circuitous.” To this I could say nothing, but I concluded that that was not quite the correct reason; the truth is that early that morning the young fellow had been helping to empty some of the many wine bottles I saw around Brie, and consequently had a little more “Dutch courage” --was a little more rash-than would have been the case under other conditions.

I rode back to Brie by the “long and circuitous” route, and inquiring there for my companions, found Havelock waiting to conduct me to the village of Villiers, whither, he said, Forsyth had been called to make some explanation about his passport, which did not appear to be in satisfactory shape. Accordingly we started for Villiers, and Havelock, being well mounted on an English “hunter,” and wishing to give me an exhibition of the animal's training and power, led the way across ditches [522] and fences, but my horse, never having followed “the hounds,” was unsafe to experiment with, so, after trying a low fence or two, I decided to leave my friend alone in his diversion, and a few moments later, seeing both horse and rider go down before a ditch and high stone wall, I was convinced that any resolution was a discreet one. After this mishap, which luckily resulted in no harm, I hoped Sir Henry would give up the amusement, but by failure becoming only the more determined, in a second effort he cleared the wall handsomely and rode across-country to the villages. Following the road till it passed under a railway bridge, I there thought I saw a chance to gain Villiers by a short cut, and changing my course accordingly, I struck into a large vineyard to the left, and proceeding a few hundred yards through the vines, came suddenly upon a German picket-post. The guard immediately leveled their rifles at me, when, remembering my R6zonville experience of being taken for a French officer because of my uniform, I hastily flung myself from the saddle in token of surrender. The action being rightly interpreted, the men held their fire, and as my next thought was the King's pass I reached under my coat-skirt for the document, but this motion being taken as a grab for my pistol, the whole lot of them — some ten in number-again aimed at me, and with such loud demands for surrender that I threw up my hands and ran into their ranks. The officer of the guard then coming up, examined my credentials, and seeing that they were signed by the King of Prussia, released me and directed the recovery of my horse, which was soon caught, and I was then conducted to the quarters of the commandant, where I found Forsyth with his pass properly vis6d, entirely ignorant of my troubles, and contentedly regaling himself on cheese and beer. Havelock having got to the village ahead of me, thanks to his cross-country ride, was there too, sipping beer with Forsyth; nor was I slow to follow their example, for the ride of the day, though rather barren in other results, at any rate had given me a ravenous appetite.

Late that evening, the 20th, we resumed our old quarters at Lagny, and early next day I made a visit to the royal headquarters at Ferrieres, where I observed great rejoicing going on, the occasion for it being an important victory gained near Mendon, a French corps of about 30,000 men under General Ducrot having been beaten by the Fifth Prussian and Second Bavarian corps. Ducrot had been stubbornly holding ground near Mendon for two or three days, much to the embarrassment of the Germans too, since he kept them from closing a gap in their line to the southwest of Paris; but in the recent fight he had been driven from the field with such heavy loss as to render impossible his maintaining the gap longer. The Crown Prince of Prussia was thus enabled to extend [523] his left, without danger, as far as Bougival, north of Versailles, and eventually met the right of the Crown Prince of Saxony, already at Denil, north of St. Denis. The unbroken circle of investment around Paris being wellnigh assured, news of its complete accomplishment was momentarily expected; therefore everybody was jubilant on account of the breaking up of Ducrot, but more particularly because word had been received the same morning that a correspondence had begun between Bazaine and Prince Frederick Charles, looking to the capitulation of Metz, for the surrender of that place would permit the Second Army to join in the siege of Paris.

Learning all this, and seeing that the investment was about completed, I decided to take up my quarters at Versailles, and started for that place on the 22d, halting at Noisy le Grand to take luncheon with some artillery officers, whose acquaintance we had made the day of the surrender at Sedan. During the meal I noticed two American flags flying on a couple of houses near by. Inquiring the significance of this, I was told that the flags had been put up to protect the buildings — the owners, two American citizens, having in a bad fright abandoned their property, and, instead of remaining outside, gone into Paris--“very foolishly,” said our hospitable friends, “for here they could have obtained food in plenty, and been perfectly secure from molestation.”

We arrived at Versailles about 7 o'clock that evening and settled ourselves in the Hotel Reservoir, happy to find there two or three American families, with whom, of course, we quickly made acquaintance. This American circle was enlarged a few days later by the arrival of General Wm. B. Hazen, of our army, General Ambrose E. Burnside, and Mr, Paul Forbes. Burnside and Forbes were hot to see, from the French side, something of the war, and being almost beside themselves to get into Paris, a permit was granted them by Count Bismarck, and they set out by way of Sevres, Forsyth and I accompanying them as far as the Palace of St. Cloud, which we proposed to see, though there were strict orders against its being visited generally. After much trouble we managed,through the “open sesame” of the King's pass, to gain access to the palace; but to our great disappointment we found that all the pictures had been cut from the frames and carried off to Paris, except one portrait, that of Queen Victoria, against whom the French were much incensed. All other works of art had been removed, too — a most fortunate circumstance, for the palace being directly on the German line, was raked by the guns from the fortress of Mont Valerien, and in a few days burned to the ground.

In less than a week Burnside and Forbes returned from Paris. They told us their experience had been interesting, but were very reticent as [524] to particulars, and though we tried hard to find out what they had seen or done, we would get nothing from them beyond the general statement that they had had a good time, and that General Trochu had been considerate enough to postpone a sortie, in order to let them return; but this we did not quite swallow. After a day or two they went into Paris again, and I then began to suspect that they were essaying the role of mediators, and that Count Bismarck was feeding their vanity with permits, and receiving his equivalent by learning the state of affairs within the beleaguered city.

From about the 1st of October on, the Germans were engaged in making their enveloping lines impenetrable, bringing up their reserves, siege guns, and the like, the French meanwhile continuing to drill and discipline the National Guard, and relieving the monotony occasionally by a more or less spirited, but invariably abortive, sortie. The most notable of these was that made by General Vinoy against the heights of Clamart, the result being a disastrous repulse by the besiegers. After this, matters settled down to an almost uninterrupted quietude, only a skirmish here and there; and it being plain that the Germans did not intend to assault the capital, but would accomplish its capture by starvation, I concluded to find out from Count Bismarck about when the end was expected, with the purpose of spending the interim in a little tour through some portions of Europe undisturbed by war, returning in season for the capitulation. Count Bismarck having kindly advised me as to the possible date, Forsyth and I, on the 14th of October, left Versailles, going first direct to the Chateau Ferrieres to pay our respects to the King, which we did, and again took luncheon with him. From the chateau we drove to Meaux, and there spent the night; resuming our journey next morning, we passed through Epernay, Rheims, and Rethel to Sedan, where we tarried a day, and finally, on October 18, reached Brussels.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
October 18th (1)
October 14th (1)
October 1st (1)
September 19th (1)
September 14th (1)
September 5th (1)
September 3rd (1)
31st (1)
22nd (1)
20th (1)
4th (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: