Skip to main content

Full text of "Forty years after : the story of the Franco-German war, 1870"

See other formats



Presented to the 


by the 





Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2007 with funding from 

IVIicrosoft Corporation 



c^W^ AFTER Iga," 


WAR, 1870 Wy 













In the midst of a Franco-German conflict, 
in which the whole mihtary resources of 
Berlin, combined with those of Vienna, 
are pitted against the members of the Triple 
Entente, it is natural that many readers 
should turn back to the records of the 
similar conflict which was waged in 1870. 
Only middle-aged men are able to recall 
the incidents in the earlier campaign. To 
the majority of us it remains as the mere 
memory of some great and devastating 
tornado, which laid waste the fields of 
France, and tore away from her the pro- 
vinces of Alsace and Lorraine. 

It is curious, however, to note, despite 
certain points of resemblance, how different 
the two campaigns are, both in general and 
in special features. In 1870 France and 
Germany were the scie combatants. It is 
true that Napoleon III. expected the as- 
sistance, both of Austria and of Italy. 
But that was one of the fatal mis-calcula- 
tions of his policy, which in other respects 

6 Forty Years After 

also betrayed an absence of prevision and 
thought. While the Prussians were fight- 
ing Austria in 1866 Napoleon had a great 
opportunity of intervening on the side 
of the country which was ultimately 
defeated. That he did not take this 
opportunity proves that he had not clearly 
foreseen the ultimate and inevitable conflict 
between himself and the War Lords of 
Berlin. Subsequently he made some^ten- 
Tative efforts to retrieve this mistake, and 
he seems to have thought that he had 
secured for himself a definite chance of 
assistance from lands imperilled by the 
growing might of Prussia. Undoubtedly, 
he thought that he had been betrayed in 
this matter, but the details of the negotia- 
tions are very obscure and the main fact 
is that, at the outbreak of hostilities in the 
beginning of August 1870, France stood 
alone and the sympathies of Europe at 
large were doubtful. It must be remem- 
bered that France during the Third Em- 
pire was constantly menacing the peace of 
Europe, just as she had done during the 
First Empire, and among the smaller 
nationalities at all events there was little 
or no affection towards Napoleon him- 

In the present war of 1914 the roles are 

Introductory 7 

reversed. France is not the aggressor, 
but Germany, and the Emperor WiUiam 
stands as the despot whom Europe fears. 
Hence in the present gigantic campaign 
we have Germany, with its ally Austria, 
confronted by France on the west, Russia 
on the east, with Great Britain co-operating 
in aid of the Triple Entente both by land 
and sea ; while Italy hesitates whether or 
no to join the forces in which she is most 
interested and help the French fleet to 
clear the Adriatic of her Austrian rival. 
Tlius the sympathies of the world are 
clearly on the side of the Triple Entente, 
for it is generally recognized that a Europe 
dominated by the Kaiser w^ould be almost 
uninhabitable. The chief feature, in fact, 
of the present situation is the uprising of 
free peoples against a dominion of brute 
force and arrogant materialism. 

Rapidity and Dilatoriness 

The war has already lasted a little more 
than six weeks, and at once a fresh point 
of difference between it and the war of 
1870 is apparent. Nothing was more 
striking than the rapidity with which events 
moved in the earlier campaign. A forward 
movement took place about the 28th July 
in 1870. On August ist occurred the 

8 Forty Years After 

somewhat theatrical affair at Saarbriicken, 
when the young Prince Imperial received 
his '* baptism of fire/* As a matter of fact 
Napoleon III. was forced to make some 
sort of move owing to the slow concentra- 
tion of the French troops, and his desire to 
attract the sympathy, and probably the 
help, of the Austrians and Italians. Then 
followed a series of engagements. On 
August 4th a German victory at Weissen- 
burg was closely followed on the 6th by 
similar triumphs at Spicheren and Worth. 
After an interval of a week there occurred, 
on August 13th, the struggle at Colombey- 
Bomy. Three days afterwards the news 
arrived of a German victory at Vionville- 
Mars-la-Tour, and two days after that of a 
sanguinary engagement at Gravelotte-St. 
Privat. On August 19th the investment 
of Bazaine in Metz was begun. Less than 
a fortnight afterwards, on September ist, 
came the crowning disaster at Sedan, when 
Napoleon III. surrendered to his German 
conqueror. Thus the most significant in- 
cidents were all crowded into a space of 
.some five weeks. The forces engaged were 
not so large as those which have met in the 
shock of battle during the course of the 
present war, but the German superiority 
was everywhere visible, and the issue of 

Introductory 9 

the campaign, after the first few days, 
was never really in doubt. 

The Barrier of Liege 

Compare this drama of five weeks with 
the opening of the war of 1914, and the 
contrast is vivid and striking. On August 
2nd the Germans violated the neutrality 
of Luxemburg and probably made a raid 
over the frontier at Longwy or Cirey. On 
August 3rd and 4th Belgium was invaded in 
defiance of all the treaties. On the 5th and 
6th commenced the struggle before Liege, 
in which the Belgians obstinately, and 
successfully, resisted the attacks of the 
invading army. On the 7th, so greatly had 
the Germans suffered in these engagements, 
an armistice was asked for and refused. 
On the same day, in another part of the 
theatre of war, in Alsace, the French had 
commenced offensive operations and cap- 
tured Altkirch. On August 12th and 13th 
took place the fights at Haelen and Eghezee, 
followed on the 15th by a serious battle at 
Dinant, in which the French prevented an 
attempted crossing of the River Meuse 
and recaptured Dinant itself which had 
been taken by the enemy. The British 
Expeditionary Force was safely landed on 
the French coast and sent to join the 

10 Forty Years After 

French and Belgian army somewhere in 
the neighbourhood of Brussels. An impor- 
tant combat near Brussels, extending over 
several miles, began on the 17th, and 
the Belgian capital was evacuated. 

Progress of the War 

It is clear then that the military opera- 
tions in the present war did not bring about, 
during the early weeks, the big battles that 
were expected. The reason is tolerably 
plain. Evidently the Germans thought 
that they could sweep with ease through 
Belgium. The fact that for some days 
they knocked their heads in vain against 
the forts of Liege opened their eyes to the 
magnitude of the task they had undertaken. 
Perhaps the War Staff in BerUn trusted too 
much to the effects of a sudden attack, 
without completing their commissariat 
arrangements ; and, indeed, without bring- 
ing up those monstrous siege guns which 
are the latest invention of Krupp's factory. 
They learnt their lesson later. The pick 
of the German army was poured through 
Belgium during the last half of August, and 
the whole panorama of war was changed. 
It would seem that General J off re, for 
some reason or other, did not anticipate 
the main German attack so far towards 

Introductory 11 

the north. Probably, for purely patriotic 
reasons he was anxious to show to France 
that they were on their way to recover, 
the lost provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. 
At all events the Allies found themselves 
in Belgium in no position to resist the 
German advance. The battle of Charleroi 
began on August 21st, and ended the next 
day in a French defeat. Simultaneously, or 
rather a day later, the British army was 
engaged at Mons with greatly superior 
forces and had to retire. The fall of Namur 
was announced on August 24th. Lou vain 
was destroyed by the Germans on August 
25th, and the Allies from that date up to 
the beginning of September were forced 
to fall back, fighting rearguard actions 
all the way, until they took up a position 
on August 31st on the line—the Seine, the 
Oise and the Upper Meuse. It looked for 
the moment as if Paris was to undergo 
another siege, and the Government with- 
drew from the capital to Bordeaux. But 
September 5th saw a dramatic change. 
The German attack, under General von 
Kluck, was diverted from Paris in an 
easterly direction, probably owing to strong 
reinforcements which had joined the French 
army from the south, and the English army 
from Havre and Dieppe. The tide of 

12 Forty Years After 

invasion began to turn, and the Allies 
gradually forced the Germans back from 
positions which were just east of Paris 
to St. Quentin and the north of Rheims. 
On September i6th, although here and 
there the German retreat had become 
disorderly, many guns and prisoners being 
captured by the Allies, it was announced 
that the Germans were making a stand, 
and a further great battle, succeeding 
the battle of the Mame on September 
7th and onwards, seemed imminent. What 
was clear throughout, however, was that 
the English army was as vigorous for 
attack as it had been in defence, that the 
French artillery was on the whole superior to 
the German, and that the French soldier was 
a finer and more stalwart combatant than 
he had proved himself forty years before. 


French Troops in 1870 
The supposed inferiority, however, of the 
French troops as compared with the Ger- 
mans in the war of 1870, is hardly borne out 
by the facts. The real difference between 
the two armies lay in leadership and organi- 
zation. The German staff had long before 
the outbreak of the war prepared a scheme 
of operations in which two main objects 

Introductory 13 

were kept in view — the defeat of the French 
armies in the field and the occupation of 
Paris. Year by year these plans were 
overhauled and brought up to date in 
accordance with any fresh circumstances 
that might arise, such as the co-operation 
of minor German armies and the like. So 
far as we know, no similar French plan was 
in existence, though it is quite possible that 
an outline scheme had been prepared in 
view of Austrian and Italian assistance. 
We must remember that in June, 1870, 
General Le Brun had been sent by Napoleon 
as a confidential agent to Vienna and that 
rightly or wrongly the French Emperor had 
made up his mind that if he concentrated 
his troops in northern Bavaria he would be 
joined by Austrians and Italians and that 
the united army would then march by 
Jena to Berlin. How or why the scheme 
broke down we cannot say. Perhaps it was 
betrayed to Moltke and the Prussians. 

Opening Scenes 

At any rate, when war was declared, the 
French troops, despite the celebrated remark 
that they were ready to the last button 
of their gaiters, were as a matter of fact 
without transport and supplies. If only 
the five army corps had been in readiness 

14 Forty Years After 

and had been led by generals of vigour and 
resource, they could have fallen on the 
Germans' 2nd Army which had been pushed 
forward by Moltke almost before it was 
ready and was struggling in the defiles of 
the Hardt, with a crushing superiority. 
The French intelligence service was notori- 
ously inefficient at this juncture, for it 
failed to report the further fact that the 
3rd German Army, owing to want of pre- 
paration, was entirely unable to move so as 
to keep the enemy's attention from Armies 
I and 2. It is piteous to read how the 
French soldiers were marched and counter- 
marched along the frontiers during the 
early days of the war, apparently with no 
other object than to find some defensive 
position wherein to use their new weapons, 
the Chassepots and the mitrailleuse. And 
as we know, the demonstration at Saar- 
briicken on August ist was more of the 
nature of a theatrical display than a real 
military movement. 

Weapons of War 

It is curious to observe that as in the 
present war the French had the better 
weapons, for the Prussian needle-gun was 
as manifestly inferior to the Chassepot as 
it had proved itself superior to the Austrian 

Introductory 16 

arm in the campaign of 1866. Perhaps 
the mitrailleuse did not do all that was 
expected of it and of course the French 
artillery was not half as good as the Creusot 
guns of to-day. The remark, however, 
may be hazarded that throughout the war 
of 1870 the French were more often than 
was necessary asked to fight in defensive 
positions and behind fortifications — a mode 
of fighting which does not suit the *' furia 
Francese " as much as resolute charges 
in the open. They were on the defensive 
at Weissenburg, at Spicheren, above all at 
Gravelotte — possibly because of the sup- 
posed superiority of their weapons. In the 
present war they have been allowed to charge 
in the open field and the Germans have 
already had cause to fear their bayonets. 
In many of the engagements of 1870 the 
French came within an ace of victory. 
That was the case notably at the battle of 
Spicheren, where Frossard — one of the few 
generals who acted up to his reputation — 
had practically won, and would have gained 
a brilliant success if he had only had the 
support he naturally expected from the 
generals near him. The same thing can be 
said of the engagement at Colombey-Borny, 
which was clearly a drawn battle : while, 
with a little more luck, the disasters at 

16 Forty Years After 

Weissenburg and Worth might have been 
changed into successes. 

Incompetent Generals 

No, it was not the French soldier 
who was wanting either in courage or 
pertinacity. It was the incompetence of his 
generals which ruined his cause. We have 
already seen how feebly the directing chiefs 
grasped the essential conditions at the very 
beginning of the campaign and how use- 
lessly the troops were marched forward 
and backward along the frontier. After 
Saarbriicken, where success was gained 
thanks to an overwhelming force, the 
victors did not even break down the bridges 
in order to retard the advancing foe. The 
French had no tactician in any sense equal to 
Prince Ferdinand Charles, nor yet any cavalry 
leader — except possibly Galliff et — equal 
to von Alvensleben. Marshal MacMahon 
allowed himself, over and over again, to be 
controlled by political rather than by purely 
military considerations. Bazaine was full 
of indecision — even if the charge of treach- 
ery against him ought to be withdrawn — 
and never seemed to be able to make up his 
mind when he ought to fight or when it 
was wise to retreat. And as for Napoleon 
himself, he was in the grasp of cruel anxiety 

Introductory 17 

about his capital and his own imperial 
power ; and quite apart from the illness 
which incapacitated him, was constantly 
changing his purposes and interfering with 
the strategy of his generals, according to 
the pressure of events behind him. The 
mad scheme of MacMahon's march to 
relieve Metz and the consequent debacle 
of Sedan were the direct results of subor- 
dinating military interests to the necessities 
of the Napoleonic regime. 


Changes in German Character 

Only at certain intervals and under the 
pressure of great events do we discover the 
extent of radical change in national charac- 
teristics. The change may be amehoration, 
reform, such as many observers have found 
in the French nation since Sedan or among 
the Swedes since they made their resolute 
effgrt to suppress drunkenness. Or else it 
may be a downward process, like that which 
has converted the Germans before 1870 to 
the Germans we see to-day. The fact of 
the change can hardly be doubted. What 
sort of barbarians are the men who ravage 
and slay peaceful inhabitants in Belgium, 
destroy their churches, kill the wounded, 
and carry on a war even against defenceless 

18 Forty Years After 

women and children ? We should like to 
disbelieve the stories which come from the 
neighbourhood of Brussels and Liege ; but 
they rest on the authority of responsible 
officials, such as the Commission appointed 
by the Belgian Government, and are testified 
to by eye-witnesses like newspaper correspon- 
dents of position and honesty. Who are the 
men who describe a solemn treaty between 
nations as ** a scrap of paper" to be torn asun- 
der at the first favourable opportunity, and 
declare their resolution " to hack their way 
through '' all the constraining bonds of 
legality and justice ? None other than 
the German Chancellor, von Bethmann- 
HoUweg himself. What else has General 
von Bernhardi written on the Next War 
except advice to his countrymen how best 
to smash the enemy by all means, whether 
fair or foul ? No wonder that they call 
German troops les barbares in Belgium 
for they have discovered only too well the 
brutality of their handiwork. Let the old 
men and priests and doctors and women 
and children bear witness to the base 
record of the German soldiers. When a 
nation can insult foreign Ambassadors, 
as was done in the case of M. Cambon and 
others, when it can bully and injure harm- 
less tourists only seeking to find at the 

Introductory 19 

outbreak of the war some means of returning 
to their own country, when it can break 
treaties and violate neutral territory and 
offer " infamous proposals *' to self-respect- 
ing and honourable governments, it may 
call itself civilized, but it possesses a form of 
civiHzation more appropriate to the denizens 
of a Zoological Society than to the decent 
and well-ordered communities of Europe. 

From Idealism to Realism 

Brutality — that is the just epithet to 
appy to the German character as revealed 
to us in all its enormity during recent days. 
Or rather, for we have no desire to confound 
the innocent with the guilty, brutality seems 
to be the main characteristic of that military 
party which, headed by the Kaiser himself, 
rides rough-shod over all the graces and 
amenities of life in Berlin. How has it all 
come about, we ask in wonder — all this vain- 
glorious parade, this offensive swagger, this 
Potsdam megalomania — when we look back 
to the Germany of Goethe and Schiller and 
Lessing in the early years of the nineteenth 
century? Germany was the home of 
culture then, the home of scholarship and 
philosophy, the home also of a wistful 
idealism, sentimental, pathetic and pure. 
Was not Kant the author of that tremendous 

20 Forty Years After 

ethical system which taught the inviolable 
sanctity of the Categorical Imperative ? Did 
not Hegel construct a body of metaphysical 
thought embracing all the fields of Being 
and Not-Being ? A change came with 
Schopenhauer, a change from Optimism to 
Pessimism, from the Will to live and do 
great things, to the Will which negates 
itself and seeks a Nirvana of passivity. 
Then came von Hartmann, by no means so 
good a philosopher as his predecessor and 
exhibiting some of those instincts to solve 
problems not by logic but by sheer master- 
fulness which — ^in another field — we describe 
as the jack-boot of a dragoon. And then 
was evolved that marvellous portent, 
Nietzsche, the prophet of the Over-man and 
of the ''blond brute'' who rules by might 
and not right, and terrorises the world by 
sheer strength. The sensitive delicacy of a 
cultured literature was by this time hope- 
lessly left behind and we have entered the 
domain of crass realism and brutality in the 
hands of men like Sudermann and Wede- 
kind. The " Hannele " and '' Sunken Bell " 
of Hauptmann form a singular exception 
which only serves to accentuate the prevail- 
ing tendency towards far different ideals. 

The Root of all Evil 
It is not good for a nation to become 





A Berlin ! 

" Louis has just received his baptism of 
fire. He was admirably cool and not at 
all affected/' In the Paris papers of 
August 3rd, 1870, you may read that tele- 
gram from Napoleon HI. to his Empress 
Eugenie. That '' baptism of fire '' for the 
ill-starred Prince Imperial was also the 
first cannonade of the Franco-German War. 
A very small cannonade, to be sure, but 
quite big enough for an emperor's bulletin. 
*' We were in the first line, but the bullets 
and cannon shot fell at our feet," that 
proud father continues. " Louis intends 
to keep a bullet which fell close to him. 
Some of the soldiers wept at seeing him so 

You expect a touch of bombast in the 
bulletins of any Napoleon. Even for the 
Napoleonic style this seems a trifle forced. 


24 Forty Years After 

The theatricality of it throws one ray of 
light on the causes which brought about 
the Franco-German War and the French 
debacle. What were they fighting about 
in 1870 ? We have only vague ideas 
nowadays. You remember dimly some 
quarrel between France and Prussia about 
putting a prince of the house of Hohen- 
zoUem on the Spanish throne. You have 
read of the unscrupulous diplomacy by 
which Bismarck bamboozled the French 
ambassador and tricked France into putting 
herself in the wrong. But in a book which 
deals with war and not politics we need 
not much concern ourselves about that 
maze of manoeuvring. Great wars, said 
the Greek, spring from small incidents, 
but not from small quarrels. 

The official German theory is that the 
corrupt French Government was to blame. 
Or at least that was the theory before the 
noble doctrines that might is right and war 
the chief end of man were openly preached 
at Berlin. '' A weak Government at the 
head of our neighbouring state,'' said 
Moltke, " must be regarded in the light 
of a standing menace to peace. A Napoleon 
on the throne of France was bound to 
establish his rights by political and military 
successes. Only for a time did the victories 

A Berlin ! 25 

won by French arms in distant countries 
give general satisfaction ; the triumphs of 
the Prussian armies excited jealousy, they 
were regarded as arrogant, as a challenge ; 
and the French demanded revenge for 
Sadowa. The liberal spirit of the epoch 
was opposed to the autocratic Govern- 
ment of the Emperor; he was forced to 
make concessions, his civil authority was 
weakened, and one fine day the nation 
was informed by its representatives that 
it desired war with Germany." In fine. 
Napoleon le Petit rushed France into war 
to save himself from revolution and pre- 
serve the throne for his dynasty. 

That Moltke's explanation contains some- 
thing of the truth we shall not even now 
deny. It was certainly the settled policy 
of Napoleon III. to commend his empire 
to the French people by continual doses 
of military glory. His Government was 
weak, and it was corrupt, though we stern 
English moralists are apt to exaggerate 
the corruption. We have been taught to ^ 
believe that no good thing could come out 
of the France of the Second Empire, that 
the great humiliation of 1871 was the just 
and inevitable punishment of iniquity. 
" The evil that men do Hves after them. 
The good is oft interred with their bones/' 

26 Forty Years After 

So certainly it has been with Napoleon III. 
We remember the treachery and bloodshed 
of the coup d'etat by which he came to 
the throne. We read book after book 
about the iniquity of Paris under his 
Empire. We forget his part in the deliver- 
ance of Italy. His Paris, his Government 
were doubtless corrupt. He had an un- 
happy knack of surrounding himself with 
riff-raff. If the art of being a great ruler 
is in the power to choose ministers, there 
never was a worse monarch than Napoleon 
III. But if we are to go further and say 
that Sedan and the surrender of Paris 
were divine vengeance on national wicked- 
ness, we seem to be usurping the functions 
of divinity. Was the Paris of 1870 so 
much worse than the Paris of 1854, 
which triumphed over Russia ? If the 
French were an effete race by 1870, 
they had surely grown old very quickly 
since 1859, when at Solferino they shattered 
the power of Austria and made Italy 

The Government was bad. The national 
spirit was enfeebled. But the theory of 
Moltke that a wicked Government and a 
neurotic nation made war on Germany is 
at most only half the truth. There was 
another cause more potent. We may call 

A Berlin ! 27 

it, if we choose, the national aspirations 
of Germany. It seems more true to fact 
to speak of the policy of the three men 
who controlled King William of Prussia — 
Roon, Moltke and Bismarck. To make 
Prussia and the King of Prussia powerful 
and still more powerful was to them a duty 
and a passion. There seems no reason to 
believe that they considered any other 
motive to action of much importance. 
Prussia above all, Prussia dominant in 
the universe, was for them an object to 
attain which everything might and ought 
to be sacrificed. 

They had at their command a force 
which might have been turned to the 
noblest ends. The spirit of nationality 
which ever since the French Revolution 
had been potent in Europe, which has given 
us some of the noblest names and some of 
the most inspiring deeds of modern history, 
was vivifying Germany. From the Rhine to 
the Vistula, through all the congeries of 
petty states into which the Teutonic race 
was divided, the desire for unity had 
become quick and eager. We have no ^ 
reason to believe that for the spirit of 
nationality Bismarck or Roon cared a 
straw. Faith in that would be a contra- 
diction of the principles of absolutism 

28 Forty Years After 

which in and sometimes out of season they 
professed and for which they were always 
ready to risk everything. But the only 
way to make Prussia dominant was to 
1/ make her the leader of a united Germany. 
j. ' So Prussia, which from its origin, by its 
\ very existence, defied the rights of nation- 
ality, stood out the champion of German 
national spirit. . 

It was in an evil hour for the rights of 
nationalities and the world. How evil we 
are only now beginning to understand. 
But the dangers of the unholy alliance 
could be seen by those who had eyes to 
see even in 1870. Garibaldi was not de- 
ceived, for Bismarck, even while he used 
the national impulse, degraded it, because 
he did not beHeve in its nobility or 
understand its power. Material force, 
material strength were to him the only 
laws of the world. So he said, in one of 
his outbursts of cynical candour, that for 
the union of Germany '* a grave struggle 
was necessary, a struggle that could 
only be carried through by blood and 
iron." All Germany must be dragged 
into war or Germany would never be 
united. Never, that is, on Prussian prin- 
ciples, never under a Prussian suprem- 
acy. So war followed war, first with 

A Berlin ! 29 

Denmark, then with Austria, at last with 

We may allow that the Government of 
Napoleon III. conducted its foreign policy, 
with a mixture of levity and stupidity 
which played into Bismarck's hands. But 
when Napoleon III. quoted, in his own 
justification, Montesquieu's dictum that 
" the real author of war is not he by whom 
it is declared, but he who renders it neces- 
sary,'' he made an appeal which the court 
of history will not dismiss. His antagonist, 
King William of Prussia, declared in answer 
that " the North German Confederation 
has laboured to improve the national forces 
not to imperil, but to afford a greater 
protection to universal peace." Yet Moltke 
has confided to us that year by year the 
plans of the Prussian General Staff for a 
war with France had been reviewed. " The 
orders for marching and travelling by rail 
or boat were worked out for each division 
of the army, together with the most 
minute directions as to their different 
starting-points, the day and hour of 
departure, the duration of the journey, the 
refreshment stations and place of destina- 
tion." In fine, '' when war was declared, 
it needed only the Royal signature to 
set the entire apparatus in motion with 

30 Forty Years After 

undisturbed precision." So the faith in 
" universal peace " and hope and desire 
for it worked together in Prussia for 

Till the very eve of the war there had 
been signs in Germany of a stubborn 
distrust of Prussia. Wiirtemberg was not 
alone among the southern states in posses- 
sing a strong party whose motto was 
" rather French than Prussian." The un- 
scrupulous ingenuity of Bismarck and the 
sheer folly of the French Foreign Office 
stamped out all such sentiments. France 
was made to appear the aggressor. France 
was made to declare war. The fight appeared 
to be for the deliverance of Germany 
from the intolerable pretensions of restless 
French militarism. In such a cause all 
Germany rose as one man. The Prussian 
Government had long been sure that the 
rulers of the southern states could be 
\ relied upon. It was not only Govern- 
ments, but the whole great nation between 
Vistula and Rhine which the strategy of 
Moltke marshalled for the assault. 

In numbers the superiority of Germany 
was marked. Her forces were marshalled 
in three armies. The first, under Steinmetz, 
concentrating behind Treves in the neigh- 
bourhood of Wittlich, numbered some 85,000 

A Berlin ! 31 

men. This formed the right wing. The 
second army with Prince Frederick Charles 
in command was about 210,000 strong. It 
was mustered around Homburg. The left 
wing, the third army, under the Crown 
Prince of Prussia, was formed on the 
eastern bank of the Rhine, near Rastatt, 
and its numbers were some 180,000. The 
grand total of the three armies is therefore 
475,000. It will be observed that the 
points of concentration are for the two first 
armies a considerable distance in the rear 
of the German frontier. Inadequacy of 
railway communication was one reason for 
this caution. Moltke also appears to have 
feit a superfluous apprehension of French 
enterprise. During the night of July i6th, 
orders for mobilization were given. A 
fortnight later 300,000 German troops were 
on the Rhine. Moltke, who was not much 
given to boasting of his own achievements, 
has left it on record that this fortnight of 
mobilization gave him the most tranquil 
days of his life. 

What of the French ? Everyone re- 
members how Marshal Leboeuf, Napoleon's 
Minister of War, assured him that the army 
was ready '' to the last gaiter button." 
Modern military critics of eminence have 
held that one of the cardinal faults of 

32 Forty Years After 

French generalship in the war was a 
tendency to wait till everything was ready 
and more than ready. After the declara- 
tion of war, we are told, the French armies 
should have struck without waiting for a 
perfect provision of cooking pots. Moltke, 
however, seems to have thought that the 
French error lay rather in sending their 
troops to the frontier before all prepara- 
tions were complete than in failing to take 
the offensive. " The condition of the men," 
he says dogmatically, " prohibited any 
action." There was, according to French 
authorities, a deficiency in money, in food, 
in camp-kettles, cooking utensils, tents, 
harness, medicine and stretchers. So much 
for Marshal Lebceuf and his '' last gaiter 

In mere weight of numbers the French 
were far inferior to the Germans. They 
could only muster something less than 
300,000 men. Of these about 128,000 were 
posted under Bazaine, Failly and other 
commanders between Metz and Saarbriick. 
MacMahon, with 47,000, was in the eastern 
Vosges. At Chalons, Canrobert com- 
manded a corps of 35,000. Nominally, 
the Emperor was himself commander-in- 
chief. Whether he ever had any other 
claim to military capacity than his bearing 

A Berlin ! 33 

the name of Napoleon, we need not discuss. 
In 1870 he was physically and mentally a 
broken man. Tortured by disease, he had 
neither the ability to form plans nor the 
strength of will to put them into execution. 
This paralysis in the supreme command 
was not compensated by any high ability 
in the subordinate positions. The Chief of 
Staff was to be Marshal Leboeuf, the War 
Minister who '' had come in by a back stair 
behind a petticoat.*' Of the generals of 
the different armies, the best was probably 
MacMahon, who could at least be called a 
fair tactician. There were good divisional 
officers, none who showed any aptitude 
for independent command. It has been 
held that the general officers of the Second 
Empire had been spoilt by training in 
colonial campaigns, which made them un- 
able to grasp the conditions of European 
warfare. We shall be on surer ground if 
we suggest that the imstable Government 
of the Second Empire, which inquired 
rather whether an officer was a good 
Bonapartist than whether he was fit for 
command, is to blame for the pervading 
inefficiency. The man whom Napoleon 
trusted most and to whom he soon sur- 
rendered the chief command was Bazaine. 
Bazaine had come up from the ranks by 


34 Forty Years After 

honest merit. He possessed the quahty 
of taking pains. He had always done what 
had been thrust upon him, without gross 
failure. Unfortunately he lacked enter- 
prise and the resolute will without which 
all other military qualities are useless to 
a commander. 

Thus the numerical weakness of the 
French was doomed to be exaggerated by 
their generalship. There is some truth in 
the familiar sneer that France was defeated 
not by Moltke, but by her own commanders. 
On the German side there was above all 
unity of purpose. Moltke reigned supreme. 
In discreet language he tells us that the 
King of Prussia was content to do what 
he was told. Throughout the campaign 
there was not one council of war. Day by 
day Moltke laid his plans before the King, 
and after a brief discussion pro forma his 
Majesty was invariably pleased to approve. 
What place is to be given Moltke among 
great generals it is difficult to decide. He 
always achieved with entire success what 
he set out to do. The Franco-German 
War is beyond question one of the most 
completely successful campaigns in history. 
But it must be remembered that Moltke 
never had to deal with a general of high 
ability or a stubbornly contested war. He 

A Berlin ! 35 

had at least in a high degree the quahties 
which, according to his own estimate, are 
all that can be expected of the leader of 
an army, the capacity *' to get a clear 
view of the circumstances and to decide 
for the best for an unknown period '' and 
the will to '' carry out his purpose un- 
flinchingly/' Of his subordinates few gave 
sign of any higher ability than that which 
belongs to the " first-class fighting man." 
They were at their best energetic and good 
tacticians. The worst of them could 
hammer away at the enemy till they had 
not a man left. Under Moltke's direction 
they were quite adequate to deal with the 
French commanders, though more than 
once during the campaign there were ^ 
signs that a strong man on the other I 
side would have made queer work with 1 
them. i 

In armament the French had something 
of the advantage. The Chassepot rifle, 
which was the French weapon, had a range 
of 1,200 paces. The German needle-gun - 
at anything more than 400 was '* as useless 
as a stick." The Chassepot, too, had a 
better breach and was by far more handy. 
To its efficiency was due the terrific losses 
which the Germans had to sustain in some 
of the critical battles of the war. In 


36 Forty Years After 

artillery, on the other hand, the Germans 
had the better of it. Their shells burst 
on striking. The French missiles had a 
time-fuse, which in practice frequently 
caused an explosion long before it could 
be effective. Much had been expected 
by the French of their mitrailleuse, a 
primitive machine-gun. But *' hope told 
a flattering tale." The German artillery 
destroyed the mitrailleuses by long-range 
firing. The German infantry by rapid 
movements captured them at no great 

In the military quality of the common 
soldier the superiority was with the 
Germans. The French again and again 
proved themselves capable of one gallant 
effort in a battle, but too often that one 
was their last. The Germans would come 
on after repulse as stubbornly as at first. 
We must, however, remember that the 
indecision of the French commanders and 
their fondness for seeking strong positions 
and fighting purely defensive actions was 
not likely to inspire their troops. In 
marching power, which, as always, was to 
be one of the decisive factors of the war, 
the Germans were far superior. What 
the first Napoleon and his men would have 
thought of a French corps which could 

A Berlin ! 37 

only cover some five miles a day we can 
hardly imagine. Yet five miles a day was 
all that MacMahon's men did in the crisis 
of the campaign. 

When war broke out nobody dreamed 
that the heart of the French was not in 
the war. The ebullitions of Paris deceived 
even experienced and impartial observers. 
Yet it seems probable that until French 
patriotism was roused by the disaster of 
Sedan and the presence of the invader on 
French soil, there was no general national 
impulse behind the armies of France. The 
suspicion that the war was merely a 
device of the adventurer who called him- 
self Emperor to consolidate his waning 
power had corroded the energy of the 
nation. We must not forget that on the 
very eve of the war a large part of 
the French people was weary of the Second 
Empire. Not for the first time in the 
history of France, Parisian demonstrations 
were no true guide to the feelings of the 

But there is much excuse for those critical 
observers in Paris who made sure that 
the war was to be a national crusade. 
On the eve of the German mobilization we 
are told that the Parisian papers were 
" positively snarling with rage at the 

38 Forty Years After 

prospect of a peaceful issue to the Franco- 
Prussian difficulty." English people were 
informed that the acquisition of the Rhenish 
provinces of Germany would make Napo- 
leon III. the most popular French monarch 
since St. Louis. It had occurred to no one 
in Paris that the end of the war would be 
not the acquisition, but the loss of pro- 
vinces. Crowds surged through the Paris 
streets roaring, " A Berlin ! A Berlin ! ** 
Restaurants posted up menus in this style : 
*' Potage Solferino, Jambon de Mayence, 
Poulet a la Marengo, Vin du Rhin, Kirschen- 
wasser de la Foret Noire.'' The soldiers 
were entrained for the front with such 
demonstrations that critics as much Prus- 
sian in sympathy as French were moved 
to prophesy; ''Men who go off singing like 
that seldom lose battles." Paris, in fine, 
went mad with bombast. You remember 
how the expedition to Sicily which was 
to ruin the Athenian empire set out 
amid just such another ecstasy of arro- 

Away on the eastern frontier General 
Frossard, who had been the governor of 
the Prince Imperial, announced his inten- 
tion of ** making the debut of the cam- 
paign." The very phrase illustrates the^ 
spirit in which the French commanders 

/ 1 

A Berlin ! 39 

approached their work. It was to be a 
spectacle, an affair of the theatre. Fros- 
sard on the heights of the Spicherenberg 
had some 60,000 men. Down at Saar- 
briicken Colonel von Pestel had 800 infantry 
and two squadrons of Uhlans. He had 
been ordered of course to retire ; but 
he was in no hurry. As he rode out on 
August 1st he shouted to some English 
war correspondents, " Hurrah, I go to 
draw de shoots of de enemy ! Come 
along I '' The position of the war cor- 
respondent in military esteem has changed. 
Pestel did '' draw de shoots of de enemy " 
and shot back. It was on that ist August, 
a fortnight after the German mobilization, 
that the first shots were exchanged and the 
Prince Imperial received his *' baptism of 
fire.'' Pestel retreated calmly with a loss 
of eight men and the advancing French 
found his outposts held by stuffed dummies. 
Down into German territory came the 
advancing French. They took Saar- 
briicken, they '' drank a brewery dry and 
kissed all the girls in the Rheinische Hof." 
It is recorded that a bold corporal even 
kissed the landlady. But that was the 
total of their achievements. From the 
heights above the town the Emperor watched 
their advance. The next time he saw 


40 Forty Years After 

German scenery he was a prisoner being 
carried into safe custody. This trivial 
raid into Saarbriicken was the only advance 
of the French armies across the German 
frontier. The rest of the war was fought 
out in the fields of France. 


The First Round 

There is something strangely impressive 
in the silent efficiency of the German 
mobilization. The mere numbers, alto- 
gether less than 500,000, would not alarm 
a generation which has learnt to think of 
armies in terms of millions. Even earlier 
wars had seen the employment of masses 
as great. But seldom before had railways 
been at the disposal of a commander. 
Never before it is certain had such an army 
been brought into the field within the space 
of a fortnight. Moltke himself seems to 
have felt a quaint awe for the machine 
which he had built. He speaks of it in 
terms usually reserved for the acts of the 
Almighty. The advance was " pre-or- 
dained in every detail." " Pre-ordained '' 
— you can watch the Chief of the Prussian 
General Staff lookirq into the mirror of his 
own imagination to see himself as the vicar 
of God on earth. 
Just what Moltke's scheme for the 


42 Forty Years After 

campaign was he has told us with his usual 
terse lucidity. " In his plan of war, sub- 
mitted by the Chief of the General Staff 
and accepted by the King, that officer had 
his eye fixed from the first upon the cap- 
ture of the enemy's capital, the possession 
of which is of more importance in France 
than in other countries. On the way 
thither the hostile forces were to be driven 
as persistently as possible back from the 
fertile southern states into the narrower 
tract on the north. But above all the 
plan of war was based on the resolve to 
attack the enemy at once wherever found, 
and keep the German forces so compact 
that a superior force could always be 
brought into the field.'' 

'* Nach Paris ! " then, was the watch- 
word of the campaign. Moltke's studies 
in history — and probably he was a better 
historian than any man of his profession in 
Europe — had not misled him. With a 
government so highly centralized as that 
of France the capture or even the peril of 
Paris must always be a terrible blow to the 
national vitality. He was right, we can- 
not doubt, to aim at Paris " from the 
first." If the siege did not paralyse France 
as completely as he had counted upon, 
that was because his principles and his 

The First Round 43 

temperament prevented him from under- 
standing that even in material things 
national spirit is a great force. There 
is a comical irritation in his solemn style 
when he has to tell of the refusal of 
the provinces to know when France was 

If he had a plan, and a tolerably precise 
plan of campaign, he did not delude him- 
self with the fiction that that also was 
'' pre-ordained.'' He knew well enough 
that "it is a delusion to believe a plan oi 
war may be laid for a prolonged period and 
carried out in every point. The first col- 
lision with the enemy changes the situation 
entirely according to the result. Some 
things decided upon will be impracticable ; 
others, which originally seemed impossible, 
become feasible.'' We shall see in the 
sequel how far he was capable of acting on 
these excellent principles, how nearly he 
approached the supreme practical ability of 
the great Greek who, whatever his blunders, 
was always " the most capable of men to 
meet the need of the hour." 

In the French army we may fairly say 
there was no plan at all. It was not iron- 
bound adherence to out-of-date arrange- 
ments which was the danger of the French 
generals, but sheer inconsequence, lack 

44 Forty Years After 

of co-ordination, and incoherence. It is 
supposed that there was some vague in- 
tention to deHver a number of unforeseen 
attacks. The fleet was to convoy an 
expeditionary force to the coast of Prussia. 
That army never started. The main French 
advance was to be made across the Rhine 
at and below Strassburg. That advance 
was never begun. Yet such was the touch- 
ing confidence of the French Ministry of 
War in their plans for invasion that troops 
were left ill-supplied because they were to 
live upon the resources of Germany, and 
the officers had maps of Germany but none 
of their own provinces because there could 
be no fighting within the French frontier. 
And after all, the only invasion was the 
futile raid upon Saarbriicken which, if it 
was meant for a reconnaissance, discovered 
nothing, and if it was meant for the first 
steps in a general advance was never fol- 
lowed up. 

After the capture of Saarbriicken, the 
French generals seem to have had no idea 
what to do next. They halted long be- 
tween many contradictory opinions. On 
the rumours of one day troops were moved 
to be recalled by the rumours of the next. 
The Guards actually received simultaneous 
orders contradicting each other. The net 

The First Round 45 

result of all this was much futile marching 
and counter marching which served to 
weaken the not excessive confidence of the 
men in their generals and leave the French 
troops widely scattered while the Germans 
were advancing in compact masses on the 

The blow was to be struck through Lor- 
raine. We must revise our modem notions 
of the French frontier in order to under- 
stand the situation. Alsace and Lorraine 
were still French. The Rhine between 
Lauterburg and Basle was the boundary 
between France and Germany. Strass- 
burg was a French fortress. Therefore, 
an invading army, if it tried to enter 
France south of Lauterburg, would have to 
fight for a bridge over the Rhine, and after 
that for the passes of the Vosges. To at- 
tempt the other extremity of the French 
frontiers over against Belgium was an 
expedient which did not in 1870 enter into 
the Prussian imagination. They were cer- 
tainly not Quixotes, Moltke and Bismarck, 
but they had some capacity for seeing things 
as they are. They knew that a violation 
of Belgian neutrality would have lit a fire 
in Europe in which Prussia might have 
been consumed. But Prussian statecraft 
has long since left Bismarck far behind* 

46 Forty Years After 

There remained therefore as the one ob- 
vious path for the invader, Lorraine, the 
northern frontier of Lorraine between 
Lauterburg and Thionville. That line was 
essentially an artificial boundary. It was 
defended by no natural barrier whether of 
mountain or river. It had not been strength- 
ened by art. The only fortresses of im- 
portance in the east of France were Strass- 
burg and Belfort. It invited the German 
armies. The country on the French side 
of the border, though not such an ideal 
fighting ground as the Belgian *' cockpit," 
allows of the operations of great armies. 
Lorraine is a pleasant land of field and 
vineyard and wooded hill, but neither 
its hills nor its valleys are of great size. 
So it was to clear the road into Lorraine 
that the first round of the war was 

Close to the old Franco-German frontier 
on the north bank of the Lauter, a stream 
which runs down to the Rhine, stands the 
little town of Weissenburg. On August 
4th the army of the Crown Prince, some 
130,000 strong, marched into France. 
Before the walls of Weissenburg the 
Bavarian troops, who were on the right 
wing, found themselves in a hot fight. 
They were, in fact, only opposed by one 

The First Round 47 

weak division and a cavalry brigade under 
General Douay. The troops which should 
have supported him were not upon the 
scene. Nevertheless, Douay made a gallant 
resistance, and it was not until Prussian 
troops came to the aid of the Bavarians 
and he was beset by overwhelming numbers 
and in danger of being outflanked that he 
gave orders to retire. After heavy loss 
the Germans captured the town of Weis- 
senburg. Their advance was delayed by 
the Geisberg, a hill of some size crowned 
by a fortress which in those days ranked 
as formidable. It drove back infantry 
again and again, and only after artillery 
had been hauled up the hill would the 
little garrison surrender. 

The French escaped destruction, though 
they lost their gallant commander Douay. 
To him and his troops the battle of Weis- 
senburg was altogether honourable. Vastly 
outnumbered, they made the Germans pay 
1,500 men for a victory which was of no 
great importance. For after the battle the 
Germans lost touch with them altogether, 
and were left wondering from which direc- 
tion a French attack was to be expected. 
The German cavalry, owing to bad staff 
work, never reached the field till all was 

48 Forty Years After 

Meanwhile MacMahon was doing bis 
best to collect all the troops under Ms 
command, hoping to check the German 
advance by a counter-attack. But he 
could only muster 45,000 against the 
130,000 Germans, and he took his stand in 
a strong position behind the little river 
Sauer close to Worth. The town he left 
unoccupied and he broke down the bridge. 
The scene of the battle of Worth is a land- 
scape of broad meadows within range of 
commanding hills. On either side the 
stream vineyards and hop gardens offered 
cover. The hills were held by MacMahon 
and the Chassepot rifles of his troops swept 
the meadows in the valley. Neither Mac- 
Mahon nor the Crown Prince meant to 
fight on August 6th. Both wanted more 
time to concentrate their forces. But 
affairs of outposts drifted swiftly into a 
general engagement. Even after his divi'^i- 
onal commanders had committed them- 
selves, after 100 German guns had opened 
fire, the Crown Prince sent orders that 
nothing was to be done which would bring 
on a battle that day. The only result 
was to cause some confusion. General 
von Kirchbach determined to continue 
the frontal attack on his own responsi- 
bility. The Bavarians on MacMahon's flank 

The First Round 49 

obeyed orders and retired. There fol- 
lowed a succession of attacks on either 
side which were invariably repulsed. The 
Germans suffered heavily, but the issue 
could only be a question of time. Their 
overwhelming numbers bore more and 
more heavily upon the French as the fight 
went on. Twice the French cavalry made 
gallant attempts to shatter the masses en- 
veloping them. The nature of the ground 
was against them. Through the vine- 
yards and the hops they could hardly 
charge home, and the fire of the German 
infantry was deadly. It was growing to- 
wards five o'clock before the French army 
broke, but then retreat soon became a 
rout. The Prussians were like soldiers, the 
French like a mob, said one hasty critic, 
forgetting that those same French, out- 
numbered three to one, had sustained the 
fight all day. Nevertheless, it is true that 
MacMahon's army was utterly broken, 
and it never rallied till it reached Chalons 
many a mile away. Once again the de- 
feated French had cause to be grateful to 
the cavalry of the Crown Prince. Once 
again that unfortunate cavalry did not 
come upon the scene till some time after 
everything was over. *' As the general 
in command," says Moltke drily, *' had 

50 Forty Years After 

not foreseen a battle on August 6th the 
4th Division of cavalry had not left its 
quarters in the rear and was therefore 
unable to follow in pursuit." But for 
that lack of foresight MacMahon would 
probably have been captured. Neverthe- 
less, the victory was crushing. The French 
troops were demoralized ; 7,000 of them 
were left prisoners. But the Germans paid 
dearly enough for the victory. More than 
10,000 fell among the meadows and the 
vineyards of Worth. More important than 
the material were the moral results of the 
battle. " Wonderful luck, this new great 
victory won by Fritz," the King of Prussia 
telegraphed to his queen, and the exulta- 
tion of Germany was balanced by dismay 
at Paris. A week before ''A Berlin" was 
the cry of the boulevards. After Worth 
Paris began to talk of its own defence. A 
week before the Emperor was going to 
be a new St. Louis. After Worth his 
throne was tottering. So ended the first 


The Retreat on Metz 

By its victory at Worth the 3rd Army had 
won for Germany the command of lower 
Alsace. The Crown Prince pressed on his 
advance through the hills. The chain of 
the Vosges in this northern district is an 
insignificant obstacle compared with the 
Grandes Vosges to the south. Neverthe- 
less, a determined defence might have made 
the advance expensive, and so the Germans 
moved with great caution. They did not 
know that MacMahon's men, having 
" fought like lions, had run like hares.'' 
They could not guess what we now see 
clearly enough that the course of events 
at Worth offered prophetic information of 
the character of the war. MacMahon had 
called to his assistance generals who either 
disobeyed or obeyed at a sluggish speed. 
This lack of hearty co-operation was to be 
the mark of French generalship throughout 
the campaign. The French troops, though 
they had been gallant in action, became 


52 Forty Years After 

demoralized when the day was lost. That 
too was again and again to be the issue 
of battles. 

We may now leave the Crown Prince 
struggling with a superfluous caution 
through the hills while the sauve qui pent 
of MacMahon's men brings them as a 
disheartened, discredited rabble into 
Chalons. Simultaneously with the fight at 
Worth another battle was being decided 
to the north-west on the other flank of 
the German advance. When the Germans 
began to move, the arrangements had 
ceased to work with the smoothness of 
*' pre-ordination.'* The general of the ist 
Army, Steinmetz, fell to quarreling with 
the general of the 2nd Army, Prince 
Frederick Charles, and as a consequence 
had a skirmish with Moltke himself, which 
does not seem to have increased either 
party's respect for the other. Steinmetz, 
moving southward on a more extended front 
than Moltke designed, used somje of the 
eastern roads which had been reserved 
for the troops of Prince Frederick Charles. 
The Red Prince curtly ordered him off. 
Steinmetz chose to telegraph an appeal 
direct to the King over Moltke's head. 
His reward was a reply from Moltke in 
terms which displeased him. The practical 

The Retreat on Metz 53 

consequences were a tangle, which in face 
of the feeble French opposition was of no 
particular importance, and in the more 
remote future a pronounced disinclination 
on the part of Steinmetz to agree with 
headquarters or any one else. He was a 
difficult man to manage. So was Prince 
Frederick Charles, and we may sympathize 
with Moltke's difficulties in driving such 
a team. 

The line of march of the ist and 2nd 
German armies, then, crossed at Saar- 
briicken, scene of the baptism of fire, and 
the French doubtless believed that the 
masses which reached that town on August 
6th were brought by design instead of a 
muddle. At all events. General Frossard, 
hero of " the debut of the campaign,*' 
considered his position dangerous, and 
abandoned the place without waiting for 
permission to retreat. It is fair to say 
that the French Emperor left him to him- 
self not only in the matter of orders, but 
also as to reinforcements. Three divisions 
were, indeed, sent to support him. Only 
two reached him, and those not till the 
battle was lost and won. 

Frossard took up his position on the 
heights of the Spicherenberg, from which 
Napoleon III. and the Prince Imperial had 

54 Forty Years After 

watched the first cannonade of the war. 
The centre was protected by a lofty, 
almost precipitous cliff, called the Rothe- 
berg, the Red Mountain. The slopes on 
either side were steep and densely wooded. 
On the left a cluster of houses, the iron- 
works of Stiering-Wendel, offered further 
advantages to the defence. As at Worth, 
a battle was never intended by the German 
higher command. It has been held that 
the whole affair was from the German 
point of view a mistake. But Moltke, 
though he admitted that the fight formed 
no part of his plans, maintained that as 
the result was a victory it suited him well 

The battle was brought on by the impetu- 
osity of the German divisional commanders 
who thought that the French fire came 
from nothing stronger than a rear guard and 
pressed on to overwhelm it. As the first 
firing was heard, other German troops 
marched upon the sound and engaged with- 
out orders. So in the early stages of the 
affair the French were in superior strength 
and dehvered violent counter attacks. The 
Germans plunging pell mell into the fight 
were involved in a confusion ''which increased 
with every repulse and made the control of 
the battle a matter of the greatest difficulty.'* 

The Retreat on Metz 55 

That " control '' unfortunately for the 
Germans passed from hand to hand. Dur- 
ing the morning three generals one after 
another hustled on to the battlefield and 
one after another took over the command. 
But as the day wore on, increasing numbers 
and hard fighting began to smooth out the 
muddle. A battalion of fusiliers under 
cover of the fire of the Prussian artillery 
contrived to establish themselves at the 
foot of the scarp of the Rotheberg. They 
tried to storm it but could only hold a 
narrow spur of the hill. Reinforcements 
came at length and the French were swept 
out of their trenches. While the Germans 
thus made good their attack in the centre, 
their right wing had fought its way to Alt- 
Stiering, near the French line of retreat. 
Frossard saw the danger, strengthened his 
left and beat off the German threat. It was 
already after 5 o'clock and the French 
position was not shaken. Owing to the 
hurry scurry in which the battle had begun 
and the lack of any connection between the 
fighting and the German higher command, 
reinforcements which might have come up 
never knew that anything of importance 
was happening and placidly went into camp 
in the neighbourhood. Fresh cavalry did 
come upon the scene, until the Germans 

56 Forty Years After 

had twenty-nine squadrons, but owing to 
the nature of the ground they were of Uttle 
use. The Hussars who attempted to ride 
up the Rotheberg deserve all the honours of 
courage, but it was not, however magnifi- 
cent, a valuable enterprise. At last strenu- 
ous efforts brought some German guns to 
the summit, but the French tirailleurs 
promptly shot down the gunners. The 
decisive stroke fell elsewhere. General-^on 
Goeben — he was to prove himself among 
the best of the German commanders — saw 
that the fortune of the day could be turned 
by the old attack on the French left at 
Stiering. He led thither every battalion 
he could muster. The French wing was 
beaten and crippled. By nightfall the 
whole army was in full retreat. It was 
not pursued. The Germans had lost even 
more heavily than the French, 4,800 men 
to 4,078. It was not for either side a very 
glorious battle, though the Germans as they 
drove back the superior numbers of the 
enemy could claim some substantial success. 
The hurried retirement of Frossard on Metz 
left eastern Lorraine in German hands. 
There remained confronting the massed 
German advance the fortifications of Metz 
and the troops of Marshal Bazaine. 
At Metz was the Emperor. When first 

The Retreat on Metz 57 

the news of the two defeats of August 6th 
reached him, he thought, or his mihtary 
advisers thought for him, of retreating on 
Chalons. One corps of Bazaine's army 
was indeed aheady marching westward 
before that plan was given up. Not mili- 
tary but political reasons were the cause of 
the change. If he abandoned his eastern 
provinces in the first few days of the war 
Napoleon le Petit could not count upon the 
safety of his throne. Already there were 
ominous rumblings and mutterings in Paris, 
and when the news of Worth and Spicheren 
reached the capital the ministry was over- 
thrown by a vote which declared it incap- 
able of organizing the defence of the country. 
From that to the dismissal of the Emperor 
himself on the same charge was the shortest 
of steps. For the moment the Republicans 
though hourly growing in strength could not 
press their policy further. They had to 
see a new ministry formed under the old 
regime. But the Emperor in Metz was left 
uncertain what revolution a day or an hour 
might bring forth. 

What could he do but try his fortune at 
Metz ? In fact there was sufficient military 
justification for him to hold his ground. 
He could still command 200,000 troops 
with a fortress to support them which in all 

58 Forty Years After 

the history of war had never been taken. 
The Germans must outnumber him, but not 
so vastly that he could not hope for a happy 
issue out of his afflictions. He stood fast 
therefore in Metz. 

The Germans advancing were puzzled 
by the absence of opposition. Both Mac- 
Mahon's army and Frossard's had vanished 
into the unknown. The Crown Prince, as 
we know, expected to find MacMahon some- 
where near the Vosges and took his time. 
When he emerged from the hills, having 
seen no French troops but a few scattered 
parties on the sky line, Moltke determined 
that the time had come to bring the three 
sections of the German forces into closer 
connection and upon the same front. But 
the Crown Prince's army was so leisurely 
that the ist and 2nd Armies had to wait 
for it. A general advance began on August 

The valley of the Saar, from which the 
movements started, is not a haunt of travel- 
lers. It now abounds in collieries, blast 
furnaces and odorous chemical factories. 
At Saarlouis, some 15 miles inside the old 
frontier, the ist Army began its march 
moving by Les Etangs directly upon Metz. 
The 2nd Army starting from St. Avoid, a 
small town about 30 miles east of Metz, was 

The Retreat on Metz 59 

to proceed by Nomeny, which is almost 
due south of Metz on the Seille. The 3rd 
Army starting from the valley of the Saar 
at Saarunion was to march east to Dieuze 
and thence turn southward also. The 
cavalry reported the French as in full retreat 
all along the line. It was inferred that '' a 
large army was encamped beyond Metz.'' 
Whether he was to expect a further retreat or 
a sudden attack with the whole weight of 
the French on his right wing Moltke could 
not be sure. For the first time, as he says, 
he " deemed it necessary to regulate the 
movements of each separate corps by direct 
orders.*' So the headquarters of King 
William were brought to the front between 
the 1st and 2nd Armies. 

The French remained inactive. Moltke, 
though even after the event he did not pro- 
fess to understand the mental processes of 
Bazaine, had began to guess what in any 
given circumstances might be expected of 
the man — videlicet, nothing decisive. It 
seemed to Moltke rather more than possible 
that Bazaine would if he could avoid a fight. 
Still arrangements were made to meet the 
chance of the French army showing some 
generalship, the chance of an assault in force 
upon one of the German flanks. 

What actually happened was neither of 

60 Forty Years After 

these two things. Bazame did put up a 
fight, but it was nolens volens. He would, 
if he could, have retreated. When he was 
forced to fight he fought with a bewildering 
caution. There is even now, with all the 
tale of his queer blunders before us in detail, 
no reason to doubt either his courage or his 
general fidelity to France. He was a sturdy 
soldier, and if he had never been more than 
brigadier would have left an honourable 
name. Under fire he knew no fear. Of 
moral courage he had little. He was quite 
incapable of the resolution to stake all his 
army on one desperate attack. He was 
forced to fight and he fought. But he would 
never dare more than he must. 


The Three Acts of Metz 

The operations round Metz fall naturally 
into three acts. The first was the battle 
of August 14th, best known in England as 
the Battle of Borny from the village in which 
Bazaine had his headquarters. August i6th 
saw the second, the Battle of Vionville — 
Mars-la-Tour. The third and last, the 
Battle of Gravelotte — St. Privat, which 
decided the fate of the French Army and the 
fortress of Metz, was fought on August i8th. 
All these battlefields lie within a few miles 
of the town. Borny was fought on the 
east, Mars-la-Tour to the south-west, Grave- 
lotte on a widely-extended front to the west 
and north-west of the town. The general 
character of the country is easily under- 
stood. Metz stands at the confluence 
of the Moselle and Seille, at the bottom as 
it were of a saucer, the rising sides of which 
are wooded hills. The woods are denser and 
the hills are steeper to the west of the town. 
The corps of the ist Army commanded 

62 Forty Years After 

by General von der Goltz had almost reached 
Metz on the night of August 13th. At 
four o'clock in the afternoon of the 14th 
he discovered that the French were in 
retreat. Bazaine and the Emperor had 
come at last to a half-hearted decision that 
strategy was more important than politics, 
and that the right strategy was to retreat 
upon Verdun. That, at least, is supposed 
to have been the intention, but exactly 
what Bazaine had in his mind at any given 
moment no one, perhaps not Bazaine 
himself, has ever been sure. The Em- 
peror resigned to him the command-in- 
chief — an act of no great importance — and 
it is believed by many that even as early 
as this Bazaine had some vague plan of 
keeping his army intact at all costs that it 
might serve to defend the Emperor not 
against Germany, but against the growing 
strength of the Republican party. It is 
possible. Moltke, who on such a question is 
an impartial and beyond dispute a com- 
petent judge, thought this the most prob- 
able explanation of Bazaine's odd tactics. 
Perhaps history will incline to the opinion 
that Bazaine, though he certainly had a 
turn for the mysterious playing of his 
own hand, was essentially quite honest, 
and that what $eems like political cunning 

The Three Acts of Metz 63 

was mere weakness of resolution, consti- 
tutional inability to will anything ve- 
hemently. But the facts must speak for 

When Von der Goltz heard of the retreat 
he iiung his front columns across the 
French line of march and seized Colombey 
on the flank. This " cleared up the situa- 
tion.'* The French at once attacked 
vigorously. Other troops of the German 
1st Army hurried to the field, and the fight 
raged fiercely through the woods and on 
the slopes of the higher ground. One 
famous copse of firs was taken by storm, 
lost again and again captured. A division 
of the 2nd German Army came up and 
fell upon the left flank of the French. It 
was a confused battle, fought as a series 
of separate combats, and the German 
divisional generals, though they stood by 
each other loyally, did not bring into 
action all the available troops. Drolly 
enough, the higher commands on each 
side were alike angry at the battle being 
fought at all. Both Steinmetz and Bazaine 
when they heard the firing sent peremptory 
orders that it should cease. Steinmetz, 
finding his orders disregarded, galloped to 
the field and stormed at Mauteuffel. In 
the midst of which edifying scene bands 

64 Forty Years After 

struck up '' Heil dir im Siegeskranz/' 
Next morning Steinmetz reported Von der 
Goltz and Mauteuffel for disobedience to 
the King. The King pubhcly thanked 

For Moltke had been *' very well satisfied 
with the results obtained. '* The French 
had been driven back and retired under 
cover of heavy fire from the Metz forts. 
The retreat, that is, had been checked and 
time gained for the 2nd and 3rd German 
Armies to march round to the west of 
Metz. The end of the first act saw Bazaine 
already in danger of envelopment. 

Early on the morning of the i6th the 
Emperor fled from the town, taking with 
him two brigades of cavalry as escort. He 
was only just in time. By nine o'clock 
German cavalry and artillery sent a regi- 
ment of French dragoons helter-skelter 
through a camp of their own infantry. 
So began the battle of Vionville — Mars-la- 
Tour, At first the French had the advan- 
tage. In the woods about Flavigny a 
German battalion *' lost every one of its 
officers, the colours passing from hand to 
hand as their bearers were successively 
shot down.'' A German division, which 
had been sent forward to block if possible 
the road to Verdun by which the Emperor 

The Three Acts of Metz 65 

had fled, as soon as its commander saw 
how the fight was going wheeled round 
upon Flavigny and Vionville. *' The 
different divisions were now/' naturally, 
** much mixed, but by taking advantage 
of every rise in the ground for cover the 
officers got their men steadily forward in 
spite of heavy fire from the French infantry 
and guns,'' and Flavigny, now in flames, 
was captured. 

On a front of a mile the German forces 
faced east upon Metz. Bazaine had to 
*' hack his way through " if he was to save 
his army or preserve his communications. 
It seems that the imperative duty for him 
was to fling every man he had into the 
fight. Why did he not ? He must have 
known that only a part of the German 
armies could yet be in that battle line 
to the east of him. As a matter of fact, 
he had for the time the superiority in 
numbers. But he acted as if his one desire 
was to cling stolidly to Metz and to keep his 
forces together under his own independent 
command remote from whatever might be 
happening in France. He massed his troops 
so that his strength was concentrated on 
the left to secure his communications with 
Metz, on which no attack was to be feared 
and none was made. 

66 Forty Years After 

Some gallant cavalry attacks were 
made on both sides. The French cuiras- 
siers, trying to beat back the German 
advance to northward, charged through 
one desperate volley and rushed on into 
more infantry fire, to leave 250 horses on 
the field. A French battery which Bazaine 
himself had placed in position was sur- 
rounded by German hussars before it had 
discharged half a dozen shots, and in the 
melee Bazaine was all but captured. 

Nevertheless, the German position grew 
dangerous. The long line was very thin 
and each moment weaker. General von 
Alvensleben had for some hours deceived 
the French as to his deficiency in numbers 
by continual attacks. But his battalions 
were much battered, tired by four hours' 
hard fighting and in want of ammunition. 
The Germans had not one battalion or 
one battery in reserve. Canrobert, who 
commanded the French centre, saw that 
the time had come to launch all his forces 
in an attack on Vionville. There were only 
two regiments of cavalry to check him, 
the Madgeburg Cuirassiers and the Altmar- 
kische Lancers, and they mustered but 800 
sabres. Their charge has been celebrated 
in Freiligrath's well-known '' Todesritt,'' 
and it deserves that grim name. 

The Three Acts of Metz 67 

General von Bredow led them. He was 
received with heavy fire from infantry and 
artillery. He broke through the first line 
and even the second, rode down two 
regiments of infantry and captured four 
batteries. But the charge was pressed 
too far. The French cavalry came down 
from all sides, and the broken brigade 
had to cut its way back through the French 
infantry, whose volleys tore them asunder. 
Of the 800 only half came back alive, but 
the French advance was checked. 

At last Von Alvensleben's men, who 
had been fighting for seven hours, received 
efficient assistance. General von Voights- 
Rhetz brought the loth Corps into action 
on the German left, and a new and murder- 
ous battle began in the afternoon about 
Trouville and Mars-la-Tour. 

Two Westphalian infantry regiments 
were advancing steadily through the fire 
of the French mitrailleuses when they 
found themselves unexpectedly on the edge 
of a deep combe. They struggled up th« 
opposite bank to be received by point- 
blank volleys from superior forces of in- 
fantry. Almost every one of the officers 
was killed, and more than half the men 
fell on the slopes of that combe to the 
depths of which the shattered ranks fled 

68 Forty Years After 

for refuge. When they rallied again at 
Trouville it was found that 72 officers 
out of 95 and 2,542 men out of 4,546 were 
missing. The colours were saved by 
Colonel von Cranach, '' the only officer 
who still had a horse under him.'* 

It was now nearly seven o'clock. In 
a last attempt to change the fortune of 
the day, six regiments of French cavalry 
were brought into action on the right. 
They met twenty-one German squadrons 
in *' the greatest cavalry combat of the 
war.'' About 5,000 horsemen were en- 
gaged in this hand-to-hand encounter. It 
was fought in a series of regimental charges, 
and under the great cloud of dust which 
hid the combatants the advantage was 
now to one side, now to the other. At 
last the Germans had the better of it, and 
the French drew off. 

The battle was won. The Germans 
occupied the positions which the French 
had held in the morning ; 67,000 men had 
beaten off the attack of 138,000. The 
French had found no way of retreat, and 
were flung back upon Metz. The honours 
of the day went to Von Alvensleben and 
his corps, and the gallant fashion in which 
they held up the French masses all the 
morning through is pronounced by Moltke 

The Three Acts of Metz 69 

" one of the most brilliant achievements 
of the war." 

By dusk, though the French had fallen 
back, all the German troops were worn 
out and short of ammunition. The horses 
had been saddled fifteen hours and without 
fodder. Most of the batteries could not 
move at more than a snail's pace. The 
nearest reinforcements were a day's march 
away. Yet Moltke ordered a fresh attack. 
It is hard to guess why. He can hardly 
have hoped that his exhausted army would 
gain any further success. It was at least 
possible that what had been already won 
might be lost. The actual issue was heavy 
loss to the German troops, who " hardly 
able to see what they were doing," gained 
not an inch of ground. 

Yet the fruits of the victory remained to 
Moltke. Bazaine's retreat had been again 
cut off and again he had been hurled back 
on Metz. So ended the second act. 

Bazaine thought no more of breaking 
out. He chose to take up a position which 
was to be impregnable, if the fortune of 
the battle behaved reasonably. He had 
180,000 men drawn up along a line of hills 
running north and south above the valley 
of the Mance. The westward front facing 
the French " sloped away like a glacis. 

70 Forty Years After 

while the short and steep decline behind 
offered protection for the reserves.*' This 
glacis-like front offered great advantages to 
the French with their long-range Chassepots. 
They could and did inflict heavy losses on 
the Germans before the needle-guns were 
near enough to do any damage. The first 
effects of this were seen on the French right. 

There were a good many tactical blunders 
at Gravelotte. The battle is more honour- 
able to the German soldier than the German 
general. Moltke himself was not proud of 
it, and his subordinates had even less reason 
to congratulate themselves. If the French 
had been under the command of a general 
with more enterprise than the comatose 
Bazaine it is probable that the day would 
have ended in a German disaster. In fact, 
only the remarkable marching and fighting 
power of the Saxon and Pomeranian in- 
fantry and sheer weight of numbers saved 
Moltke from a repulse ; 230,000 Germans 
just contrived to defeat 180,000 French. 

The blunders began on the German left. 
General von Manstein failing to see the 
strong position and the masses of troops at 
St. Privat, acted as if it did not exist. He 
assumed that the French line ended to the 
south of St. Privat, and, advancing to the 
attack, found his troops exposed in flank 

The Three Acts of Metz 71 

and rear to artillery and infantry fire. 
Then it became clear to him that the heights 
of St. Privat were held, but his infantry 
were shattered and his artillery almost out 
of action. Away on the other flank the 
German attack fared little better. From 
the highway running through Gravelotte 
German batteries opened fire on the French 
left. The French guns seemed to be 
silenced, the French advanced troops were 
driven in. " Viewing the situation from 
Gravelotte," says Moltke, " there remained 
nothing but pursuit.'' The truth is that 
the situation had not been sufficiently 
explored, the attack had not been suffi- 
ciently prepared, and when Steinmetz sent 
Generals von Goeben and von Zastrow to 
press this " pursuit," it was found that the 
French did the pursuing. The French 
batteries were by no means silenced, the 
French infantry was by no means in retreat. 
The advancing German columns were shat- 
tered. The French tirailleurs rushed out 
and swept them back and the fire of the 
Chassepots did damage even on the hill 
from which Steinmetz was watching the 

About the same time, five o'clock in the 
afternoon, another attack on the French 
right had ended in disaster. Von Manstein 

72 Forty Years After 

had discovered that St. Privat was in 
existence, and he sent a division of Guards 
which had been placed at his orders to the 
assault. The position was strong and had 
not been under the fire of artillery. Behind 
the hedges and fences of a steep slope 
French riflemen were posted. On the sum- 
mit of the hill the lofty and massive chateau 
of St. Privat was crowded with soldiers. 

No wonder that the slaughter among 
the Guards was tremendous. Within half 
an hour five battalions lost all or nearly all 
their ofiicers. Thousands of bodies covered 
the slope. Still the ranks closed up and 
pressed on till they came within some 800 
paces of St. Privat. They could do no 
more. They had shot their bolt. The 
remnant sought protection under the steeper 
part of the slope and in the shallow trenches 
hurriedly made by the French riflemen. 
As a division they had been annihilated. 

So on either wing the Germans had 
suffered disastrous loss. In the centre 
they had gained no success of importance. 
If Bazaine had taken the initiative with 
energy the result of the battle, perhaps of 
the campaign, might have been different. 
He did nothing but sit still. Even so the 
German advance was checked along the 
whole line. It is said that Moltke, as 

The Three Acts of Metz 73 

he watched his baffled troops, muttered 
gloomily, ** Once more I have learnt that one 
cannot be too strong on the field of battle/' 

Fresh strength indeed was at hand. In 
this moment when we all watch anxiously 
the desperate efforts of Germany fighting 
on both frontiers we may well remember 
that in the darkest hour of Gravelotte 
it was a corps brought from East Prussia 
which gave the Germans fresh strength. 
Bismarck had been wise enough to make 
sure of the neutrality of Russia before he 
ventured against France. The eastern 
frontiers could be safely stripped of troops. 
Fransecky's corps which marched on to 
the field in the twilight was made up of 
Pomeranians, and its station in peace was 
Konigsberg. There are no reinforcements 
to come from Konigsberg in 1914. 

The Pomeranians had never been in 
action. Naturally the last corps to reach 
the rail head, they had been toiling after 
the other armies by forced marches, eager 
to get into the fighting line. When they 
reached Gravelotte they had been tramping 
steadily for eighteen hours. On the orders, 
it is said, of the King himself they were at 
once put under the command of Steinmetz 
and hurled at the French left. This was 
the la3t of the many blunders at Gravelotte. 

74 Forty Years After 

Moltke himself acknowledges its gravity. 
" It would have been better," he writes, 
" if the Chief of the Staff who was person- 
ally on the field at the time had not allowed 
this movement at so late an hour. A body 
of troops still completely intact might 
have been of great value the next day : it 
was not likely this evening to affect the 
issue/' He might have added that no 
force which he could command was likely 
to effect anything by attacking the French 
left which held a position " made almost 
impregnable by nature and art/' not to be 
shaken " even by the most devoted bravery 
and the greatest sacrifices." The discovery 
might have been made before the battle was 
over. The Pomeranians were launched into 
the fight, confused in the medley of the 
troops already under fire, could gain no 
ground and so were left till darkness came 
to their relief. 

But meanwhile the issue had been decided 
ten miles away. After the Guards division 
had been annihilated on the slope of St. 
Privat, two brigades of Saxon infantry, 
whidh had marched along the entire extent 
of the battle line, arrived on the French 
right. Bazaine was aware of the^^move- 
ment and sent a division to support Can- 
robert, But by somebody's blunder the 

The Three Acts of Metz 75 

reinforcement did not arrive in time and 
before the Saxon advance Canrobert had to 
retire. He well understood that the issue 
of the day was to be decided by this attempt 
to crush him and he offered a stubborn 
resistance. The Saxons though they suf- 
fered heavy losses were not to be denied. 
By sundown they were close upon St. 
Privat at last. The French maintained 
themselves desperately among the burning 
houses and not till they found themselves 
completely surrounded would they sur- 
render. Two thousand prisoners were taken. 
It was only right to record what does honour 
to victors and vanquished that the wounded 
were rescued from the burning village. 

After the loss of St. Privat, it was in- 
evitable that the French should fall back. 
All night the retreat went on amid per- 
petual skirmishing. The casualties on both 
sides were very heavy. The French ad- 
mitted a loss of 13,000. The Germans lost 
20,584 of whom as many as 900 were 
officers. Marvellously successful though 
the fortnight's campaign had been, it had 
cost the Germans 50,000 men. To replace 
that loss was indeed only a question of time, 
but the heavy slaughter among the officers 
was irreparable. It is probable that 
throughout the remainder of the war the 

76 Forty Years After 

efficiency of the army suffered from the lack 
of capable and trusted officers. Neverthe- 
less Moltke had cause enough for satisfac- 
tion. Precisely a fortnight had gone by 
since the German armies crossed the frontier. 
The best of the French troops had been 
defeated again and again. More than 
150,000 of them shattered and disheartened 
were completely enveloped. For that was 
the issue of the third act at Metz. Bazaine 
was caught in a trap with the main military 
strength of France. 

But that night Moltke did not allow 
himself rest. In the little village of Rezon- 
ville you may still see houses marked by 
tablets to commemorate the fact that in 
them King William, Bismarck and Moltke 
spent the night after Gravelotte. The 
village was full of wounded, and it was hard 
to find any quarters even for the victorious 
king. At last he got himself into a little 
garret, and the staff crowded into another 
cottage. All through the darkness they 
were at work upon the demands of the 
new situation. On the morning of the 19th 
a w^hole complex scheme was ready in every 
detail for the king's approval. If the 
German soldier knew how to fight, the 
German staff officer knew how to work. 

Vast changes had to be made in the 

The Three Acts of Metz 77 

original plan of campaign, and conse- 
quently in the organization of the army. 
Moltke had never thought of investing 
Metz. His intention was " to station a 
corps of observation in the vicinity of the 
fortress '' and march immediately on Paris. 
It had not occurred to him that an army 
of more than 150,000 men would let them- 
selves be enveloped and shut up inside 
Metz. The division of reserves which he 
had provided for masking the place was 
at hand, but was of course quite inadequate 
for the new task. The army, therefore, 
was reorganized, and advantage was taken 
of the occasion to get rid of Steinmetz. 
He had quarrelled with everybody, from 
the king to his own divisional officers, 
and he had not distinguished himself by 
his tactics at Gravelotte, though as to 
that matter none of his superiors could 
with much decency be severe. However, 
he was an intractable man and restive 
under Moltke's orders, so he went into 
honourable obscurity as Governor-General 
of Posen and Silesia, while his army was 
given to Prince Frederick Charles, who, 
retaining with it more than half his own 
command — 150,000 in all — was to invest 
Bazaine and Metz. A new command, th« 
Army of the Meuse, was formed and given 

t8 Forty Years After 

to the Crown Prince of Saxony. He was 
to join the 3rd Army under the Prussian 
Crown Prince, and their united strength 
of 223,000 men would then be directed 
against the camp at Chalons, where the 
French were rallying. It will be seen that 
the army designed to invest Bazaine was 
rather smaller than Bazaine's own force. 
Moltke expected that fresh attempts would 
be made to break out on the west, and 
therefore ordered the investing force to 
remain on the left bank of the Moselle. 
With quiet pride he recoKis that *' all 
these orders were signed by the king 
and dispatched to the officers in command 
by eleven o'clock.'' And that on the 
morning after such a day as Gravelotte ! 

The Doom of MacMahon 

** A SECOND French army has arisen Hke 
a Phcenix in the camp at Chalons/' So 
a contemporary correspondent in Paris re- 
ported to London. Most people in Paris 
and a good many in London were able 
to believe that the forces which MacMahon 
was mustering at Chalons about the relics 
of his first army would yet retrieve the 
war for France. Ardent Republicans in 
Paris were not sure that they liked the 
prospect. After the disasters of the first 
fortnight of the war " I'Empereur est 
mort/' they said with satisfaction, to correct 
themselves when they remembered Mac- 
Mahon with the chastening afterthought, 
" Mais il n'est pas deja enterre.'* One 
candid member of the party confessed 
that " the principal cloud which now 
darkens our political horizon is fear lest 
a great victory gained by MacMahon and 


80 Forty Years After 

Bazaine may again make it possible for 
Napoleon III. to enter the Tuileries/' 

At Chalons MacMahon had collected 
about 120,000 men. To the remnants 
of the army of Worth was added the divi- 
sion which had been on the Spanish frontier 
and four regiments of marine infantry. In 
numbers the army was considerable, but 
the quality of the troops was not high. 
The best of them were shaken by defeat. 
Even after General Trochu, the Governor 
of Paris, had relieved MacMahon of the 
worst of them, some battalions of Gardes 
Mobiles, whose fighting spirit was expended 
on the wrong side, the morale was bad. 

The Emperor reached Chalons with the 
news that Bazaine was retreating from 
Metz. Geography offered no great obstacle 
to the union of the two armies. Bazaine 
might easily retreat on Verdun, and Verdun 
was only a few marches from Chalons. 
Once united, the armies might reasonably 
hope to check the advance of the Germans. 
But MacMahon did not know in what 
direction Bazaine was retreating or even 
whether he had been able to continue his 
retreat. A junction with Bazaine was not 
the only duty he had before him. If 
Bazaine were out of action, MacMahon's 
was the only army in being, that is, the 

The Doom of MacMahon 81 

only field army on which Paris could rely 
for her defence. Already Paris was threat- 
ened by the advance of the Crown Prince 
Frederick's army to the Meuse. Before 
MacMahon could decide whether to advance 
towards Bazaine or retreat upon Paris, it 
was necessary that he should know what 
Bazaine was really doing. 

On the day of Gravelotte, Bazaine sent 
a mysterious message to Chalons. He had 
maintained his position, he said, but the 
troops, before marching further, must have 
food and ammunition. Whether he really 
believed this to represent the results of 
Gravelotte or whether it was a move in 
some incomprehensible scheme for his own 
hand we wonder in vain. MacMahon seems 
to have thought it suspicious, and he re- 
solved to fall back to the north on Rheims. 
That should be safe, and yet did not 
commit him to the abandonment of Bazaine. 
The approach of Prince Frederick's cavalry 
then inclined him to fall back on Paris. 
It is commonly said that he was only in- 
duced to make an attempt to join hands 
with Bazaine by direct orders from the 
Ministry. We may well believe that he 
considered an advance towards wherever 
Bazaine might be a mistake, or a choice 
of the worse of two evils. Nobody 

82 Forty Years After / 

supposes that he was anxious to make the 
attempt. But the truth seems to be that 
he was not ruled by Emperor or Empress 
or Ministry. What sent him forward to 
meet or reheve Bazaine was a soldierly 
resolution not to leave his comrades in 
the lurch if he could help them. 

Bazaine did not encourage such loyalty. 
Bazaine was as mysterious as ever. You 
can hardly recognize the events of Grave- 
lotte in the reports which reached Mac- 
Mahon. Bazaine had " held his ground/' 
though, to be sure, '' the right wing had 
changed front.'' It had indeed. " The 
troops required two or three days' rest." 
Rest was the one thing which Bazaine's 
troops could be sure of winning. He " was 
still determined to press forward in a 
northerly direction " and make for Chalons 
by Montmedy — ^unless the Germans got 
in the way. If they did he would march 
on Sedan. Ominous name. 

MacMahon would keep tryst if he could. 
On August 23rd he began his march, 
making for Montmedy by way of Stenay. 
Lest he should miss by delay a chance of 
joining Bazaine he went off in such a hurry 
that no adequate provision was made for 
the march. On the evening of the first 
day, which ended in heavy rain, the army 

The Doom of MacMahon 83 

found itself without everything which it 
needed. Even food was hard to come by. 
Such experiences were not hkely to increase 
either the fighting or the marching power 
of a disheartened army. To victual his 
troops MacMahon had to move on Rethel, 
that is, to make a considerable detour to 
the northward. At the end of three days' 
marching he was not much nearer to 
Bazaine than when he started. 

Moltke had thought it probable that 
MacMahon would choose to retreat on 
Paris. The German dispositions were there- 
fore designed to drive him off that line to 
the northward. The armies of the two 
Crown Princes, some twelve miles apart, 
marched nearly due westward on con- 
verging lines. We may note that a rather 
happy-go-lucky attempt to take Verdun 
and Toul by the way was ineffective. The 
two fortresses however were of no par- 
ticular use to the French. It is to be re- 
membered that in 1870 their defences 
w^ere of a much feebler character than 

The day after MacMahon had marched 
northward, advanced parties of the Ger- 
man cavalry tumbled into his deserted 
camp at Chalons. They had a pleasant 
time of it, these Rhenish dragoons, for. 

84 Forty Years After 

though the abandoned stores had been 
burnt, they '' found plenty of loot/' What 
was more to the purpose they found some 
suggestive information. A letter from a 
French officer which fell into their hands 
implied that MacMahon meant to relieve 
Metz. Another communication stated that 
he had entrenched himself with 150,000 
men at Rheims. This last piece of news, 
fallacious as we have seen, was confirmed 
by the Paris newspapers. Though it was 
not actually true, it did not confuse the 
situation when interpreted in the light of 
the first letter about the intention to relieve 
Metz. For a position at Rheims, though 
not necessarily, might quite naturally be 
the first move of a plan to join Bazaine. 
There is no doubt that Moltke was in some x^ 
perplexity. He had not expected such a 
move. He had laid his plans for some- 
thing quite different, and though in theory 
he admitted the necessity of constant 
change of decisions in war, he much pre- 
ferred that everything should go on with 
the smoothness of '' pre-ordination." He 
complains rather naively that " it is always 
a serious matter to abandon without the 
most pressing necessity a once-settled and 
well-devised plan for a new and unprepared 

The Doom of MacMahon 85 

Just at this moment too were heard the 
first rumbUngs and mutterings of a storm 
which the General Staff had not expected, 
which therefore annoyed them excessively 
— another attempt to interfere with the 
decrees of Prussian providence and pre- 
ordination — and which, if it embittered the 
war and postponed without affecting the 
ultimate result was to give Moltke many 
an anxious moment. This new factor may 
be simply stated. It was the sudden out- 
break of a national resistance. 

The^ Prussian theory of the war was 
that they were fighting the Emperor and 
not the people. The distinction was not 
in practice closely observed. The peasants 
in the districts traversed by German troops 
and particularly in the departments of the 
Meuse and the forest of the Argonnes began 
to discover that the invading forces were 
ruthless in their exactions and of a ferocious 
arrogance. It is not every general who will 
or can keep victorious troops under the 
iron restraint which Wellington enforced. 
Even in 1870 the Prussian doctrine of the 
rights of a conqueror was brutal enough. 
A victorious army, said Bismarck, should 
leave the inhabitants of the districts which 
it conquers with " nothing but their eyes 
to weep from.'' 

86 Forty Years After 

Cet animal est tres mechant 
Quand on Tattaque il se defend. 

The French peasant was not superior to 
this natural impulse. He was very wicked, 
and when he was plundered he tried to 
defend himself. '' The inhabitants/' as 
Moltke pathetically complains, " became 
troublesome.*' There is no reason to be- 
lieve that at this stage in the war the 
French Government had, to quote his 
charge, " organized a general rising." The 
Government had organized nothing. But 
it is certain that as soon as the German 
armies began to extend their operations 
in French territory they were subject to 
perpetual harassing attacks from skirmish- 
ing parties of armed civilians. These were 
the Francs-tireurs, the '' free-shooters.'' At 
first they had no sort of military organ- 
ization and the Germans declined to allow 
them the rights of war. If they were cap- 
tured they were shot. Later on, they 
were formed into regular corps and duly 
recognized as combatants, but with that 
development we are not now concerned. 
In these first months of the campaign they 
carried on guerilla fighting much like that 
which harassed Napoleon's armies in Spain. 
They beset isolated detachments and cut 

The Doom of MacMahon 87 

off foraging parties. Allowing for its par- 
tizan spirit Moltke's judgment on their 
operations is not unfair. " Though not 
affecting the operations on a large scale," 
he says, " they were a source of much an- 
noyance to small expeditions ; and as it 
naturally harassed the soldiers to feel that 
they were not safe by day or night, the 
character of the war became more em- 
bittered and increased the sufferings of 
the people.'' There is no doubt that in the 
fighting of the Francs-tireurs, the brutali- 
ties were not all on one side. Outrage was 
repaid by outrage and led to fresh outrage. 
Therefore impartial critics have argued 
that this undisciplined, irregular, non-mili- 
tary fighting did France more harm than 
good. This may be true. But the maxim, 
d la guerre comme d la guerre, always in 
favour with militarism, has its application 
to the guerilla warfare of the Francs- 
tireurs. When once the brutal forces of 
war have been let loose, it is impossible to 
be sure that the most long-suffering of 
civilian populations will remain quiet. The 
operations of the Francs-tireurs may have 
been unreasonable, and in the balance 
disastrous to the people they sought to serve. 
But unhappily reason is unheard in the 
clash of arms. Moreover if we take a view 

88 Forty Years After 

of warfare which admits the existence of 
other than material force we may doubt 
whether the operations of the Francs- 
tireurs were as useless as purely military 
critics suppose. It is not to be denied 
that their exploits and sufferings had a 
share in rousing the spirit of France 
to the marvellous efforts of la Difense 

But that was still hidden in the mystery 
of the future. Neither Moltke nor Mac- 
Mahon could see through the urgent diffi- 
culties of the hour any sign of the awaken- 
ing of France. Moltke found it almost 
impossible to believe that MacMahon meant 
to do what the intercepted letters seemed 
to suggest, and what in fact he was trying 
to do. *' In war/' it was Moltke's maxim, 
" probabilities alone have often to be 
reckoned with ; and the probability as a 
rule is that the enemy will do the right 
thing. It could not be thought probable 
that the French army would leave Paris 
unprotected and march by the Belgian 
frontier to Metz. Such a move seemed 
strange and somewhat foolhardy : still it 
was possible.'' 

So on August 25th Moltke changed his 
plans. A scheme of marches was worked 
out which would concentrate 150,000 men 

The Doom of MacMahon 89 

on the right bank of the Meuse to the 
north of Verdun. He did it with much 
anxiety. *' Endless difficulties might result 
from such a course : the arrangements for 
bringing up baggage and reserves would 
have to be cancelled and the confidence 
of the troops in their commanders was 
liable to be shaken if they were called 
upon to perform fruitless marches." 

On the afternoon of the same day fresh 
news came to hand which proved that the 
marches were not to be fruitless. In 1870 
the lesson that newspapers must be gagged 
in time of war had not been learnt or even 
dreamed of. The Prussian General Staff 
well knew the value of the Paris press and 
studied its emotions carefully. News- 
papers reached Moltke in which were re- 
ported speeches proclaiming '' that the 
French general leaving his comrade in the 
lurch was bringing the curses of the 
country upon his head." To leave the 
heroic Bazaine without relief, as Paris 
thought, would be a disgrace to the French 

" Considering the effect of such phrases 
upon the French," is Moltke's sardonic 
comment, '' it was to be expected that 
military considerations would give way to 
political." He had just reached that 

90 Forty Years After 

conclusion when again the French newspapers 
came to his assistance. The Temps had 
pnbhshed a statement to the effect that 
'* MacMahon had suddenly resolved to has- 
ten to the assistance of Bazaine though the 
abandonment of the road to Paris placed 
the country in danger/' This momentous 
news was of course immediately telegraphed 
to London. The German embassy in 
London lost no time in telegraphing it 
to the Prussian headquarters. So much 
for the uses of newspapers in time of 

There was no more need for hesitation. 
The new orders were immediately dispatched 
to the various commanders. The north- 
ward march was begun. Cavalry were 
sent out in every direction and soon re- 
ports came in which confirmed the round- 
about telegrams. MacMahon was certainly 
marching northward. It was no less cer- 
tain that his march was marvellously 
slow. Everything in fact was going just 
as Moltke could have wished if he had 
himself dictated the movements of the 

That the Germans were after him Mac- 
Mahon soon discovered. But his information 
must have been rather highly coloured. At 
Vouziers one corps was kept under arms all 


The Doom of MacMahon 91 

night in a rain-storm to repel an immediate 
attack which the Germans had neither the 
power nor the intention of making. They 
were still miles out of striking distance . Mac- 
Mahon, however, was thoroughly alarmed, 
and not without reason. He did not know 
and could not find out — so good was the 
German cavalry screen — how many men 
Moltke was bringing against him. He 
had excellent reasons for doubting the 
ability of his own men to deal with equal 

It has been suggested that the right 
thing for MacMahon to do would have 
been to turn upon the pursuing Germans. 
If he had won, he would have been out 
of his difficulties. If he had lost, he should 
have been able to withdraw his army with- 
out utter disaster from an enterprise which 
proved impracticable. A defeat would have 
been better than a march into a trap. We 
may doubt whether, in the situation and 
with the troops engaged, there was any 
practicable way of escape from catastrophe. 

MacMahon's cavalry reached the Meuse 
at Beaumont, just below Stenay, on August 
27th. Their mission, of course, was to 
look for Bazaine, who had had time enough 
to get there if he was coming. They dis- 
covered that nothing^had been seen of him 

92 Forty Years After 

and his army, and that in all probability 
he had never moved an inch from Metz. 
After that MacMahon concluded that he 
had done enough or more than enough 
for honour. He decided to retreat, and 
informed Paris of his decision and his 

The Government could not be expected 
to judge the situation by purely military 
considerations. Even in time of war it 
is the business of governments to give 
political and moral arguments due weight. 
In all large military operations some regard 
has to be paid to other principles than 
those of pure strategy. Every great war, 
indeed, sees many a compromise between 
strategy and policy, sometimes good and 
sometimes bad in their consequences. But 
the French ministry which interfered with 
MacMahon could hardly plead sound 
poUtical reasons. All through the night 
of August 27th the wires were buzzing 
protests from Paris. Finally the Ministerial 
Council telegraphed a direct order that 
Metz must be relieved. For that, futile 
as it was, some sort of defence may be 
made. There was reason to think that 
if Bazaine was lost France was lost. It 
conld be argued that MacMahon and his 
men had better strike a gallant blow than 

The Doom of MacMahon 93 

fall back ingloriously on Paris. But the 
truth is that the powers in Paris had no 
such honourable reasons for their inter- 
ference. It was not France or her honour 
that they were trying to preserve, but 
the regime of the Second Empire. The 
Minister of War let the cat out of the bag. 
" If you leave Bazaine in the lurch, revolu- 
tion will break out,'' he telegraphed, and 
he was right. Everything that was sound 
and wholesome in France was passionately 
eager for an end of the system which had 
brought upon her the humiliation of this 
disastrous war. It was already doubtful 
whether revolution could long be deferred. 
Even the placemen of the Tuileries knew 
that. Any further disgrace to the French 
arms would certainly cause an explosion. 
So the unhappy MacMahon had to be 
spurred on to his fate. With egregious 
insolence the ministry proceeded to in- 
struct him upon the military situation. 
Things were not, he was assured, so bad 
as he believed. The Germans near him were 
really only part of the investing army. What 
could be easier than to cut through them ? 
As for forces upon his rear, they were 
quite a long way off, and somewhere 
or other there were more French forces in 

94 Forty Years After 

What MacMahon thought of this wonder- 
ful version of the situation we may guess. 
But he was the most loyal of generals. He 
would obey orders, though he lost his 
army. He would serve the interests of 
his emperor to the last breath. Once 
more he changed his plans and turned his 
army towards the east. There was natur- 
ally confusion. The men who had, as an 
inevitable consequence of such a maze of 
marching, quite lost confidence in their 
leaders were in the worst spirits. They 
had to march till long after dark to reach 
their quarters, and they encamped tired 
out and wet through. Never did an army 
begin a desperate enterprise with lower 

Moltke, who had not yet perfected the 
arrangements of his trap, left the French 
to go where they would. His cavalry 
were told not to check or harass or divert 
the march. The French were to be politely 
escorted, not attacked. For two days this 
was the mot d'ordre. Still the unhappy 
MacMahon found difficulties grow upon 
him. He wanted to cross to the eastern 
bank of the Meuse. The bridges were broken, 
and of course he had no pontoons. So again 
he turned northward. Then came more 
confusion. General de Failly was to have 

The Doom of MacMahon 95 

marched his corps on Beaumont. The staff 
officer carrying the orders — they were not 
sent in dupHcate — was captured. So Failly, 
following an earlier plan, marched on Stenay. 
As usual, when the supreme command 
vacillates, it seemed as if the very stars in 
their courses were fighting against the 

This ill-luck with the orders to Failly 
was to be one of the decisive factors in 
the fortunes of the army. MacMahon 
determined that on August 30th his whole 
army, having crossed where they could, 
should concentrate on the east bank of the 
Meuse. The Germans were close upon 
them. Moltke laid his plans for the armies 
of the two Crown Princes to unite and attack 
the French before they could cross the 

Now Failly 's corps, having gone wander- 
ing off to Stenay, only reached its proper 
destination, Beaumont, at four in the 
morning, after a long night march. The 
men were worn out. Failly decided that 
they must have a meal before they went on. 
They took their time over cooking it, which 
was a mistake. They set no outposts, 
which was perhaps the most stupendous 
blunder of the war. For they must have 
known that the Germans were treading 

96 Forty Years After 

on their heels. But who was ever more 
surprised than Failly's troops when, as 
they sat at dinner, the German shells 
began to burst among the cooking 
pots ? 

They tried to recover themselves by 
hard fighting. It was impossible. The 
German divisions stormed into their camp 
and scattered them. Among the woods and 
swamps of the Meuse valley other French 
divisions fared not much better. The Ger- 
man advance was expensive, and in killed 
and wounded theysuiferedmoreseverelythan 
the French. But the French retreat became 
more and more like a rout. Many guns 
and a lai*ge number of prisoners were 

MacMahon determined to concentrate 
on the little fortress of Sedan. He did 
not hope or intend to make a stand there, 
but his troops, worn out by day and 
night marching in continuous rain and on 
short rations, could do no more without 
rest. Unless they had a short breathing 
space he could not even provide them with 
food and ammunition. As the wagons 
of the supply columns passed into Sedan 
they were beset by " thousands of fugitives 
crying for bread." Even the divisions 
which were comparatively unshaken 

The Doom of MacMahon 97 

marched in in a sorry plight. So ex- 
hausted in body and spirit was the army 
that even such elementary precautions as 
the breaking down of bridges were neglected. 
When the Emperor arrived late in the even- 
ing of the 30th, he must have guessed that 
nothing but disaster awaited him. 

" The Story of Sedan " has been told 
in another volume of this series. It is 
therefore not necessary to describe the 
battle in detail. But the briefest history 
of the war would have been incomplete 
without some study of MacMahon's dis- 
astrous march from Chalons. For in the 
events of that week we can find most 
vividly illustrated all the causes which led 
to the humiliation of France. The attempt 
of a rotten government to use the war as 
a means of prolonging its own existence — 
the lack of unity in the nation — the lack 
of enthusiasm in the army — ^the inefficiency 
of general officers — ^the inadequacy of com- 
missariat — all these are written large in 
the doom of the unfortunate MacMahon. 
The lesson is there for all nations to read. 


Exit the Emperor 

Certainly MacMahon was not a great 
commander. To achieve the task which 
was set him with the army which was given 
him he must have been a Napoleon or a 
Marlborough. In his conduct of the march 
from Chalons we can indeed find no military 
qualities more distinguished than loyalty 
and obedience, but his difficulties are hardly 
to be exaggerated. It may well be argued 
that under such conditions ultimate disaster 
could only have been avoided by a miracle, 
and the dispositions of Moltke did not 
encourage miracles to happen. Consider 
the elements of the situation. Given seven 
army corps in the high spirits of victory 
and capable of marching 15 miles a day for 
a week, opposed to four corps shaken by 
defeat, who could only make 5 miles a day, 
what must be the result ? MacMahon, as the 
man doomed to command those helpless four 
corps, deservesall the sympathy due to a brave 
man struggling against irresistible force. 


Exit the Emperor 90 

At last he had a whiff of good fortune. 
The movements to envelop Sedan more 
closely began early in the morning of 
September ist. A tremendous artillery fire 
was concentrated on the neighbouring village 
of Bazeilles. MacMahon was struck by a 
splinter of shell. At last he could with honour 
give up his command. It devolved on 
General von Wimpffen, who had just returned 
from Algiers in time to share in the great 
disaster which he had done nothing to cause. 

MacMahon had intended to retreat down 
the valley of the Meuse to Mezieres, and 
dispositions had already been made for this 
purpose when Von Wimpffen took over the 
command. He thought that further retreat 
would be impossible or disastrous. For the 
army of the Prussian Crown Prince was 
already between Mezieres and him. He 
resolved to make his effort in exactly the 
opposite direction . He hoped to break through 
the lines of the Crown Prince of Saxony to 
the south-east, force his way to Carignan 
and so at last join hands with Bazaine. 

The first event in the French advance 
was that they came upon heavy artillery 
fire and were driven back. Then they 
found that in infantry as well as artillery 
the Saxons were superior. In a few hours 
the attempt to escape eastwards had failed. 

100 Forty Years After 

Meanwhile the Crown Prince Frederick 
advanced to cut off the French Hne of 
retreat to the west. That was done almost 
without opposition. On three sides, south, 
east and west, the French army was beset. 
The next step was to send fresh troops to 
complete the envelopment, to plunge in 
between Sedan and the Belgian frontier, 
to close the avenue of escape to northward. 
Some days before, the possibility of a 
French retreat into Belgium had been con- 
sidered by Bismarck and Moltke. In those 
days some respect for neutrality and treaties 
and the opinion of the civilized world was 
still considered necessary by Prussia. The 
statesmanship of Bismarck was not scrupu- 
lous but at least he understood that a crime 
may be a blunder too. He did not tell the 
world that German troops were to march 
across the Belgian frontier because the 
General Staff was afraid that the French 
might some day. He made representations 
in Brussels, to which no exception can be 
taken by the most austere international 
morality. There was reason to believe, 
said the Prussian Ambassador, that Mac- 
Mahon's army might retreat across the 
Belgian frontier. In that event, the King 
of Prussia relied upon the Belgian Govern- 
ment to maintain its neutrality and disarm 

Exit the Emperor 101 

the invaders. But if the Belgians failed to 
perform their obligations, the German troops 
would be compelled to cross the frontier 
and complete the French defeat. It does 
not appear that Bismarck had any great 
confidence in the Belgian power to remain 
neutral. Belgian troops were on the frontier, 
but, as he complained with a characteristic 
scorn of everything small, they seemed to 
be of no account ; the soldiers he had 
seen were " all overcoat.'' 

So the German commanders strained 
every nerve to save the Belgians trouble. 
General von Kirchbach forced his way 
round to the north of the French army, 
flinging back a desperate attack delivered 
by the cavalry under the Marquis de 
Galliffet. A corresponding advance was 
made by the army of the Crown Prince of 
Saxony, and by ten o'clock in the morning 
of that September ist, the internment of 
the French was almost complete. All round 
the investing lines the French made desperate 
if spasmodic efforts to break through. But 
at every point they found the Germans 
too strong for them. Early in the day the 
French artillery was everywhere mastered. 
Batteries were not merely put out of action 
but destroyed. 

In the afternoon the French cavalry 

102 Forty Years After 

made one more gallant effort to change the 
fortune of the day. General Margueritte 
brought five regiments of light horse and 
two of lancers into action. He was severely 
wounded in the first shock. Shot through 
the mouth, he could give no orders but 
mutely pointed with his sword at the Ger- 
man ranks. The command fell to the 
Marquis de Galliffet. The French cavalry 
charged out of the Bois de Garennes, found 
themselves on treacherous ground and were 
shattered by the flanking fire of the German 
artillery. Still the heroic cavalry struggled 
on. They crashed upon the infantry but 
were received with volley fire at short range 
which mowed them down by squadrons. 
" Many fell into the quarries or over the 
steep precipices. A few may have escaped 
by swimming the Meuse. Scarcely more 
than half of these brave troops were left 
to return to the protection of the fortress." 
No more magnificent feat of arms, no 
more heroic sacrifice was consummated 
in all the war. But the courage and the 
devotion were all in vain. The Prussian 
infantry were unshaken. They closed in 
with new ardour upon the retreating French. 
Meanwhile, on the original line of the French 
attack to eastw^ard, the Germans were no 
less successful. There the spirit of the French 

Exit the Emperor 103 

troops was soon broken. Prisoners were taken 
by hundreds. Twenty- one German batteries 
were > brought into line and concentrated 
their fire upon Sedan. Soon flames were 
seen rising from the town. The Bavarians 
advanced to the assault and were about to 
force the gates when the white flag was seen. 
It was half-past four in the afternoon. 

The order to raise a flag of truce came 
from the Emperor himself. In a little 
while there was brought to the presence of 
the King of Prussia General Reille. He pre- 
sented an autograph letter from the Em- 
peror. Having been unable to die in the 
midst of his troops, as he would have 
chosen, so Napoleon wrote, nothing remained 
for him but to place his sword in the hands 
of King William. Afterwards in Paris and 
even in towns less concerned, cruel sarcasms 
were passed on that letter. Its form no 
doubt does invite mockery. But a calm 
judgment, while not palliating the blunders 
and crimes of Napoleon III., will see little 
matter for sneers in his humiliation at 
Sedan. He would no doubt have left a 
fairer memory if he had died among his 
soldiers. But to jeer because an invalid 
does not keep his place in the firing line is 
not a valuable form of criticism. 

Neither sympathy nor mockery he found 

104 Forty Years After 

from the powers that ruled the Prussian 
policy — Bismarck and Moltke. Where the 
Emperor '' placed his sword *' was in- 
significant. The only answer he had to 
his fine phrases was a demand that an 
officer should be sent with full powers to 
treat for the surrender of the French army. 

Even Moltke, who seldom had emotions 
to spare for the plight of his enemies, pauses 
a moment in his austere narrative of events 
to sympathize with the man who having 
been with the French army only a few hours, 
having succeeded to the command only that 
morning, had to negotiate an unconditional 
surrender in the evening. '' This sorrowful 
duty,'* he notes, '' was imposed on General 
von Wimpffen, who was in no way respon- 
sible for the desperate straits into which 
the army had been brought.'' And a 
French soldier must indeed be blameless for 
Moltke to find excuses for him. 

All through the night between September 
1st and 2nd, negotiations went on at 
Donch6ry. It is remarkable that Moltke 
afterwards thought it necessary to explain 
if not to apologise for the severity of the 
terms of surrender. He would accept no- 
thing less than the disarmament and deten- 
tion of the whole army, though he was 
ready to let the officers go free on parole. 

Exit the Emperor 105 

Such a course, he says, was inevitable 
because '* any act of untimely generosity 
might lead the French to forget their defeat." 
It was in fact desirable for Prussian prestige, 
if not necessary to Prussian safety that 
France should drink the cup of humiliation 
to the dregs. Perhaps his foresight was 
not as clear and did not reach as far as he 
supposed. But '* untimely generosity " has 
never been a vice of Prussian policy. 

The luckless Von Wimpffen protested 
vehemently against the ignominy of such a 
surrender. He was told that unless the terms 
were agreed to by nine o'clock in the morning 
the bombardment would be renewed. And 
the Germans had five hundred guns in 
position. It is said that during this grim 
parley by night the price which Prussia 
meant to make France pay for the war 
was first threatened. When Von Wimpffen 
was urging his claim to a more honour- 
able capitulation, and pleading that if his 
army yielded themselves up, Germany ought 
to consider that she had gained enough 
and push the war no further, Bismarck broke 
roughly in. Far more than the surrender 
of armies Prussia would ask before she 
stayed her hand. The spoils were to the 
victors. When France sued for peace, 
Prussia would exact not only four billions 

106 Forty Years After 

of francs but Alsace and German Lor- 

In after years Bismarck sometimes wished 
the world to understand that in this matter 
of the provinces he was overruled by Moltke 
and the General Staff. For himself, he 
would have been content with a vast war 
indemnity. It was the soldiers who insisted 
that France must be mutilated. They 
wanted a frontier which would be difficult 
for France to attack, and give them the 
advantage in an attack on France. 

We should no doubt be foolish to believe 
all that Bismarck wished us to believe. 
But it is possible that he saw dangers 
which the soldiers did not see or did not 
wish to see. When Von Wimpffen heard 
this cruel sentence on his country pro- 
nounced he broke out passionately : ** De- 
mand only money and you will be sure of 
peace wdth us for an indefinite period. 
If you take from us Alsace and Lorraine 
you will only have a truce for a time. In 
France from old men down to children all 
will learn the use of arms, and millions of 
soldiers one day will demand of you what 
you take from us.'' For forty-four years 
Europe has waited the fulfilment of that 
prophecy. For forty-four years Ger- 
many has always had to count upon the 

Exit the Emperor 107 

implacable resentment of France, and make 
that the first consideration of her policy. 
No wonder if Bismarck sometimes asked 
himself whether it was worth while. When 
he suggested that it was the strategist and 
not the statesman who tore Alsace and 
Lorraine from France he confessed that 
the statesman blundered. For if the 
strategy which is governed by questions of 
policy is dubious, the policy which is ruled 
by strategy is a snare. Forty-four years 
have gone by, and now on each frontier 
Germany faces millions of men in arms. 
Whatever the issue of the war, would it 
not have been cheaper to make a friend 
of France when France could have been 
won by a trifle of " untimely generosity ? " 
But there was no generosity in the little 
ill-lit room in Donchery. Surrender or 
be pounded to atoms was the choice forced 
upon Von Wimpffen, and surrender he did. 
Never in the history of civilized warfare 
has there been such a victory or such a 
humiliation. When the great Napoleon 
surrounded the Austrians at Ulm some 
30,000 men were taken and that was 
thought a stupendous feat. The army 
which Napoleon le Petit brought to Sedan 
yielded 21,000 prisoners in the fighting, 
and 83,000 laid down their arms. Every 

108 Forty Years After 

year since, Germany has celebrated the 
day of the surrender, September 2nd, as a 
great national festival. Will she be still 
rejoicing on September 2nd, 1915 ? After 
the surrender Bismarck was talking to 
the American general Sheridan and an 
Englishman upon the field. An aide-de- 
camp eager to celebrate the great event 
produced from somewhere two bottles of 
Belgian beer. In that modest fluid, Prus- 
sian, American and Englishman drank 
Bismarck's toast " to the nearer union of 
the three great Teuton peoples." There is 
a grim irony about that in 1914. And that 
the beer should have been Belgian ! 

But words for Germany of more tragic 
irony still came from Bismarck's lips on 
that day. He was congratulated on the 
victory. " Oh, my dear sir,'' he protested, 
" I am no strategist. It is not my business 
to win battles. But here are Bavarians, 
Wurttemburgers, Saxons, all fighting to- 
gether with Prussians in one army. That 
is what I am proud of. That is my work." 
The victory of Sedan was indeed made 
possible only by the victory of Prussian 
diplomacy. What does the world think 
of the Prussian diplomacy of 1914 ? 

" With the surrender of this army," 
says Moltke curtly, " Imperialism in France 

Exit the Emperor 109 

became extinct." The unhappy Emperor 
doubtless had no delusions about the fate 
of his throne. But at least he was more 
manly in disaster than the greater 
Napoleon. *' He was cast down/' the King 
of Prussia wrote, *' but dignified in bearing 
and resigned." 

Resignation was not a virtue to be 
expected of the nation which his rule had 
brought to such shame. On the evening 
of September 2nd the Empress Eugenie 
learnt of the surrender. For a whole day 
she and her advisers hesitated and faltered. 
But the news, of course, could not be kept 
secret. It came upon Paris like a storm 
from a clear sky, for Paris had been con- 
fident that MacMahon would fight his way 
to Bazaine and the two great armies still 
defy the Prussians. The government which 
had fed France with assurances of certain 
victory had only itself to thank for the 
cry " Nous sommes trahisJ' When the 
National Assembly met on the 4th, Palikao 
the Prime Minister announced pathetically 
that he was now going to tell the truth. 
Then Jules Favre, the leader of the 
Republicans, rose to ask : " Does the 
Emperor still give orders ? " " No," said 
Palikao. *' If it be so," Favre answered, 
*' actual government has ceased to exist 

llO Forty Years After 

and the people has retaken its rights." 
That was the real proclamation of the 
Third Republic. 

Excited crowds invaded the chamber 
and the sitting was perforce dissolved. 
That afternoon from the Hotel de Ville 
formal proclamation of the Republic was 
made and in its name the deputies of 
Paris met as a provisional government. 
Next day they formed a ministry in which 
Jules Favre held the foreign office, and a 
greater man, Leon Gambetta, was minister 
of the interior. From that day began the 
building of the new France, with its one 
aim through all vicissitudes— the restoration 
of the French spirit and French influence 
to their rightful place in civilization. 


The Mystery of Bazaine 

So the army which was to deliver Bazaine 
fell upon ruin. What of Bazaine the while ? 
While MacMahon's wretched men toiled 
through the miry lanes of Champagne, eyes 
aflame with hunger, belts drawn tighter 
over emptiness at each bivouac, while the 
mad march to relieve the invested army 
was dragging on to disaster, what was that 
invested army doing for itself ? MacMahon 
was borne away a wounded prisoner. What 
of Bazaine ? Among those who shared the 
misery and the shame of Sedan many asked 
that question with oaths and tears. All 
France thundered it out with a vehemence 
which drove Bazaine into disgrace and 
exile. Criticism, military and historical, 
has asked it often enough since. What of 
Bazaine ? A judicial historian would pro- 
batly confess that even now there is no 
certain answer. 

la one sense of course the answer is 
obvious. The furious prisoners of Sedan 

112 Forty Years After 

wanted to know what Bazaine had done 
for himself or for them in all that fortnight 
through which they were spending them- 
selves in a wild effort to rescue him. What 
did Bazaine do ? Nothing. But when we 
ask the much more interesting question, 
why did he do no more, we find ourselves 
in a maze of enigmas and for any solution 
we have to turn from mihtary historians 
to psychology. 

First let us have the facts. There is 
indeed not much interest in the story of 
the leaguer of Metz. What interest could 
there be in reading how a general with 
170,000 men was content to do nothing 
at the great crisis of a war and his 
country's safety ? Whether to write or 
read the story of a man's progress in 
making himself negligible is a dull page. 
But if the facts are in themselves tediDus 
and uninspiring, the problems of human 
nature which they suggest are fascinating 
by their very obscurity. 

Two days after Gravelotte, Bazaine wrote 
to Chalons. '' I will give due notice of my 
march if I am able to attempt it.*' Three 
days later he announced to the Emperor, 
** If the news of the extensive reductiDns 
in the besieging army is corroborated, 
I shall begin to march by way of the 

The Mystery of Bazaine 113 

fortresses on the north to risk nothing/' 
Perhaps not even his Emperor expected 
Bazaine to risk much. But was a marshal 
of France ever before so blandly content 
to write himself down no hero ? Bazaine 
was invested, to be sure, and his troops 
disheartened by defeat, but he had still 
170,000 of them and the fate of France was 
in the balance. Conceive a marshal of the 
greater Napoleon professing in such cir- 
cumstances that his guiding principle would 
be ''to risk nothing ! " 

It was more than a week after the defeat 
at Gravelotte before Bazaine made his 
first move. On August 26th his main 
forces were collected on the right bank of 
the Moselle. The advanced guard drove 
in the German outposts. Then the in- 
credible happened. Instead of ordering 
an attack Bazaine called a council of war. 
It was announced to the officers that there 
was ammunition for one battle only. It 
was pointed out to them that when that 
was exhausted the army would be enve- 
loped without the means of defence. Vic- 
tory, you observe, is assumed to be im- 
possible. It was added that the fortress 
could not stand a siege if the army did 
break its way out. Finally and with great 
emphasis the unhappy generals were told 

114 Forty Years After 

" that the best service they could render 
to their country was to preserve the army, 
which would be of the greatest importance 
if negotiations for peace should be entered 

Each succeeding sentence in this oration 
is more amazing. You can hardly believe 
in the face of overwhelming evidence that 
a word of it was ever spoken. What can 
Bazaine have intended ? Let us leave 
that large question till the whole tale of 
Metz is told. But one question, minor 
indeed, yet even more baffling, must be 
put at once. Whatever he intended, why 
did he behave with such stupendous folly ? 
He must have known how much ammuni- 
tion he had before he put his army into 
motion. If the supply was not enough 
to justify him in fighting why did he move 
at all ? Was it to make a parade of 
activity ? Who would be impressed ? Not 
the common soldier, to whom nothing but 
utter defeat is more depressing than futile 
marching to and fro. Not the generals, 
who must have been appalled by the folly 
of the affair. Above all, not France, which 
was feverishly crying for action. It seems 
idle to suppose that Bazaine himself can 
have seen nothing odd in such conduct. 
After all he had risen by ability as much 

The Mystery of Bazaine 115 

as court favour. He was not altogether 
stupid. The truth seems to be that he 
was one of the men who always prefer to 
gain their ends by trickery. He did not 
mean to fight. He wanted to have the 
decision of a council of war to justify 
himself. So he chose this preposterous 
way of compelUng his generals to vote for 

Vote for inaction they did, and it is 
impossible to blame them. Whatever they 
may have thought of the situation and 
Bazaine's performances, it is not to be 
expected that any man would wish to fight 
a desperate battle under the command 
of Bazaine. So the Marshal '* who had 
refrained,'' we are drily told, " from ex- 
pressing any opinion on the matter," won 
the support of his council of war for the 
order to retire which he gave. In his 
report to the Minister of War he stated 
that lack of artillery ammunition made it 
** impossible " to break out unless he were 
assisted by another French army. And 
he demanded information as to what " the 
voice of the people " was saying. 

Five days later he came to fighting after 
all. He knew by that time of MacMahon's 
march to relieve him. It was " impossible " 
•—that favourite word of Bazaine ! — ^not 

116 Forty Years After 

to make some answering effort. Even 
Bazaine must have seen that if he did not 
make some pretence of helping himself he 
was for ever dishonoured. It is not easy 
to be quite fair in judging the man. He 
put so many obstacles in the way of giving 
him credit for what soldierly qualities he 
had. But we ought not to doubt his 
personal courage, and though we may with 
reason suspect his loyalty to his fellow 
commanders, it is probable that he had 
sufficient soldierly instinct to feel that 
he really wished to do something to support 

He made his attempt to northward, 
which in Moltke's opinion was a mistake. 
The country in that region was indeed 
very difficult. But considering that Mac- 
Mahon had marched northward it is hard 
to blame Bazaine for his choice. At first 
the French had the advantage, bringing 
into action a force much greater than 
Manteuffel's command, which was the part 
of the investing army opposed to them. 
The first day saw the battle undecided. 

The morning of September ist saw the 
plain covered in thick mist. Before fresh 
fighting began Bazaine's resolution failed 
him. He called his generals together and 
announced that failing the capture of what 

The Mystery of Bazaine 117 

he took to be the key of the German posi- 
tion he proposed to retreat immediately 
under the guns of the fortress. He showed, 
as Moltke sneers, " great lack of confidence 
in his own success." The French never- 
theless fought better than their commander 
deserved, but they gained no ground against 
far inferior forces, and about noon Bazaine 
sounded the retreat. " On the same day 
and the same hour as the destruction of 
one French army was completed at Sedan, 
the other returned to almost hopeless 
internment at Metz." It was a vast 
triumph for the Prussian arms and the 
Prussian system. No wonder that Moltke 
allows his cold narrative one phrase 
of pride. *' Thus the issue of the war had 
already been decided after only two months' 
duration," he writes, " though the war 
itself was far from ended." How far indeed 
he little guessed when he forced the sur- 
render of Sedan. 

But with Bazaine's wretched army all 
was over. The city of Metz had food for 
more than three months, the fortress 
garrison for five, but Bazaine 's troops 
were only provisioned for forty days. The 
investment became a blockade and not a 
siege, for the Germans had no artillery 
capable of mastering the fortress guns. 

118 Forty Years After 

At the end of a month provisions were 
scarce, and by the beginning of October 
Bazaine tried to negotiate a capitulation ; 
but the Germans would only hear of un- 
conditional surrender, and Bazaine de- 
manded that his army should march out 
free. By the twentieth of October bread 
and salt failed and the troops were eating 
horseflesh. The condition of the camp on 
sodden clay was intolerable. Riots broke 
out in the army. Men let themselves be 
captured for the sake of a meal. On the 
24th Bazaine again began to parley. He 
suggested that he might be permitted to 
take his army off to Algiers or failing that 
an armistice and the entry of stores should 
be granted. The Germans demanded pos- 
session of the fortress and the whole 
garrison as prisoners. The capitulation 
was signed on October 27th. On the 
29th " the French troops marched out by 
six roads in perfect silence and good march- 
ing order. At each gate a Prussian Army 
Corps stood to take the prisoners who were 
immediately placed in bivouacs that had 
been prepared for them and supplied with 
food. The ofiicers were allowed to keep 
their swords and to return to Metz for the 
time. Provisions were immediately sent 
in," 173,000 ofi&cers and men were taken 

The Mystery of Bazaine 119 

and to these must be added 20,000 sick 
in hospital. Altogether nearly 200,000 
fighting men fell into the hands of Prince 
Frederick Charies. The history of war 
records few disasters so great, perhaps 
none more ignominious. 

After the war was over Bazaine was 
brought before a court-martial. By an 
ironic turn of fate MacMahon was made 
to sit in judgment on the man whom he 
had failed to relieve. Yet we may allow 
some tragic justice in the choice of a judge. 
Whatever we may think of MacMahon and 
the army which he led to Sedan, it is obvious 
that they dared the folly which ruined them 
for Bazaine's sake and that but for the 
stupendous inertia of Bazaine they might 
have escaped with something less than 
utter disaster. 

All France demanded vengeance on the 
'* traitor.'' We can hardly wonder that 
such a charge was made. We may well 
refuse to give any importance to the sneers 
which suggest that Bazaine's only real 
offence was the shock he gave to the 
national vanity of France and that but 
for the ignoble French habit of '' demand- 
ing a * traitor ' to account for defeat " no 
one would ever have dreamed of assailing 
Bazaine. No nation has ever been free 

120 Forty Years After 

from the tendency to seek a scapegoat on 
whom to place the blame of disaster. Not 
only in French has the cry Nous sommes 
traties been heard. 

Of treason in any precise sense Bazaine 
must indeed be acquitted. There is no 
evidence at all that he did not act for 
what he believed to be the interests of 
France. But it is impossible to read the 
shameful story of the blockade of Metz 
without admitting that if punishment ought 
to be inflicted on generals for incompetence, 
for lack of energy, for over caution, France 
was in the right to punish Bazaine. A 
nation which allowed Byng to be shot. 
Lord George Sackville to be cashiered, 
never forgave Cumberland the Convention 
of Klosterseven, or Burrard and Dalrymple 
the Convention of Cintra, has no right to 
blame the French for bringing Bazaine 
before a court-martial. He was found 
guilty of *' having failed to do his duty/' 
and sentenced to degradation and death. 
This was commuted to twenty years' im- 
prisonment and, as he contrived or was 
permitted to escape after one year in a 
fortress and lived on till 1888, we need not 
be extravagant in our pity. 

But impartial history, if it has no right 
to extenuate Bazaine's conduct must faith 

The Mystery of Bazaine 121 

fully explain all the difficulties of his 
position. '* There is no doubt/' says 
Moltke, who was not inclined to judge him 
harshly, '' that Bazaine was influenced not 
only by miUtary, but by political consider- 
ations/' In the ordinary circumstances 
of war there could be no more damning 
criticism upon a commander. His business 
is to leave poUtics to his government and 
consider nothing but strategy. The govern- 
ment indeed may be right to limit his opera- 
tions by '* poHtical considerations." Then 
the responsibility for any disasters so 
caused falls to the government. But 
Bazaine of his own choice acted from 
political motives. Every party in France 
wanted him to throw all his forces on the 
Germans in an attempt to break out from 
Metz. Before Sedan and after he made it 
plain that his one purpose was to keep his 
great army intact under his own command. 
What might happen to MacMahon or to 
France was comparatively of no importance. 
In the ordinary circumstances of war, 
it must be repeated, such conduct would 
have been without excuse. But the cir- 
cumstances were not ordinary. Before 
Sedan the Imperial government was totter- 
ing. After Sedan it fell. Bazaine had 
sworn his oaths of fideUty to the Emperor. 

122 Forty Years After 

There is little doubt that he considered 
his duty to the Emperor paramount, that 
he considered himself free from any allegi- 
ance to the RepubHc which established itself 
on the ruins of the Empire. Probably he 
hoped that he might keep his army in being 
till the conclusion of peace. Then, as the 
head of an overwhelming army in a France 
broken and spiritless, he might again 
estabhsh the Empire. 

But this theory, true though it may be, 
does not solve all the mystery of Bazaine. 
He was loyal, we assume, to the Emperor. 
That may account for his inaction after 
Sedan. But what can explain his inaction 
before ? Loyalty to the Emperor and 
every other emotion which a soldier of 
France could feel must surely have wrought 
upon him to stake every man on an effort 
to save MacMahon, save the Emperor 
while yet there was time, and so save 
France. How we interpret his unheroic 
caution must depend rather on our view 
of human nature than an estimate of the 
military conditions. It has been held that 
Bazaine's hidden purpose was really not 
to re-establish the? Empire but to establish 
himself. If peace left him, in Moltke's 
suggestive phrase, '' the strongest man in 
power " he might have ventured one more 


The Mystery ot Bazaine 123 

coup d'etat. For such suspicions Bazaine 
indeed had only himself to thank. But we 
should hesitate to assume treachery for 
which there is no substantial evidence. If 
we say that Bazaine was a commander 
incapable of bold resolution, prone to 
prefer his own importance to vigorous co- 
operation and guided above all by a puzzle- 
headed faith in cunning and futile subtlety, 
we shall probably have come near to under- 
standing him. One of the worst blunders 
of the Second Empire was that its system 
brought such men to the front. 


The Road to Paris 

Though Moltke could claim that the issue 
of the war was decided when MacMahon 
was captured and Bazaine driven back 
upon Metz, he was not at the end of his 
difficulties. The German losses had been 
very heavy and the deficiency of officers 
was found " irremediable." Half the army 
was still occupied in the investment of 
Strassburg and Metz. Each mile of ad- 
vance into hostile country increased the 
difficulties of supply and diminished the 
numbers which could be used for active 
operations. On the morrow of Sedan it 
was found that only 150,000 men could be 
mustered to march on Paris. That Paris 
should be their objective, there was of 
course no doubt. It was a fundamental 
principle of Moltke's plan of campaign. 
While the German army is advancing on a 
front of fifty miles we may watch the fate 
of the French frontier fortresses. 
Toul and Strassburg were of paramount 


The Road to Paris 125 

importance. Then as now they commanded 
the great railway which runs from Paris 
by way of Carlsruhe and Stuttgart into the 
heart of Germany. So long as Strassburg 
and Toul were in French hands it was 
therefore a matter of great difficulty to 
keep the invading army supplied. The 
reduction of Toul was entrusted to a 
division which had been detached to deal 
with any French raid on the German coast. 
When the inactivity of the French fleet 
and the crushing disasters of the French 
army satisfied Moltke that nothing was to 
be feared from the sea, this 17th Division 
was promptly brought up. 

In 1870 Toul, though a place of con- 
siderable strength, was commanded by 
high groimd outside its defences. It was 
already closely invested on September 12th 
when the fresh German troops arrived. 
On the i8th the siege artillery was brought 
up. On the 24th sixty-two guns opened 
fire, and by half past three in the afternoon 
the white flag was hoisted. The garrison 
numbered less than 3,000 men. When the 
Germans entered the city they found that 
it had suffered little and contained large 
stores of provisions and forage. 

Strassburg gave more trouble. Reasons 
strategic, political and sentimental aU 

126 Forty Years After 

combined to make its possession of the first 
importance to both nations. Not only 
the railway but the Rhine is commanded 
by Strassburg. While it was in the hands 
of France, Moltke considered that it was 
" a standing threat to Germany." Of 
course the French with precisely equal 
force could maintain the converse of that 
proposition. The Rhine is in fact the 
natural frontier between the nations, and 
whichever power holds the great fortified 
bridge heads has an enormous advantage 
in war. The political and sentimental 
importance of the place was hardly less. 
Germany, or at least Prussia, meant to 
annex Alsace. It was therefore desirable j 
to have Alsace subdued as soon as possible, 
so that France and the neutral powers 
might be met with a fait accompli. To 
Alsace, Strassburg was and is the key, l 
Sentiment also was potent. Strassburg in 
name and partially in population and 
culture was German. During the French 
Revolution its university was suppressed 
as a stronghold of German influence. The 
theory that the war was being fought for 
German unity had expanded into the doc- 
trine that it was a crusade for the liberation 
of provinces once German and a population | 
still German from French supremacy. We 

The Road to Paris 127 

may smile at the notion of Alsace and 
Lorraine welcoming Prussian rule as liber- 
ation or considering themselves by racial 
ties part of Germany. But the docile 
German people had adopted the doctrine 
ardently. Strassburg was certainly the 
most plausible example that could be found 
to support it. For all these reasons there- 
fore, every effort was made to force a sur- 

As early as August nth a German 
force appeared before the town. It was 
not in sufficient strength to effect anything 
of importance. General Uhrich, the French 
commandant, had a garrison of 23,000 men. 
It is characteristic of the French War 
Office under the Second Empire that there 
was not among them a single company of 
engineers. The town was however well 
supplied with artillery. Just before the 
end of August the siege began in earnest. 
General von Werder brought to the walls 
of the town 40,000 men of the ist Reserve, 
with a siege train of 200 field pieces and 
88 mortars. '' To attain the desired end 
with the least possible delay,'' says Moltke 
bluntly, " an attempt was made contrary 
to the advice of General Schultz of the 
Engineers, though with consent from head- 
quarters, to force the town to surrender 

128 Forty Years After 

by means of a bombardment. The request 
to remove the women and children had to 
be refused." Why it "had to be" he 
does not choose to inform us. But we 
can read between the lines. The intention 
was to force the hand of the French com- 
mander by inflicting intolerable suffering 
on the civilian population. 

The Prussian doctrine of necessity, of 
the right of armies to '' hack their way " 
through justice and morality if they can 
thereby secure a military advantage, had 
not in 1870 grown to its full stature. There 
was still a certain delicacy in confessing 
and even in acting upon the full brutality 
of the faith that might is right. Moltke 
himself we may well believe, ruthless as 
he was, would never have tolerated acts 
forbidden by the laws of war. His troops 
did not advance with women and children 
to shield them from French fire. It is 
probable that the brutal fool who yesterday 
destroyed Louvain would have had short 
shrift from him. But the seeds of the 
infamy which disgraces the German arms 
in 1 914 are to be found in the principles 
of 1870. The laws of war justify the bom- 
bardment of Strassburg. The laws of war 
did not require the German commander 
to spare women and children its horrors. 

The Road to Paris 129 

*' War is hell," said Sherman, and war 
waged without chivalry engulfs us in 
abysses of unspeakable horror. Moltke and 
his commanders might claim, and on the 
whole with justice, that they never trans- 
gressed the letter of the law. But to their 
harsh insistence upon their right to inflict 
every horror within the law is to be traced 
the barbarism which now has made German 
soldiery the abomination of the world. 
For they were successful, and the little 
men who have inherited their system have 
fancied, as weakness will, that their cruelty 
was the secret of their success. 

So the bombardment began. It had 
been difficult to construct batteries for the 
siege guns. All over the east of France 
that autumn was dreary and wet, and the 
besieging army lived and worked in miser- 
able discomfort. Nevertheless, it was 
found possible to get a number of the 
heavy guns into position by August 25th, 
and that night they opened fire. In a few 
hours the town broke into flames. On 
the next morning the Bishop of Strass- 
burg came to the German outposts to ask 
that the citizens might be spared. But 
the agony of the citizens was part of the 
Prussian plan. '' Much as the injury of 
a German town was to be regretted/' say^ 

130 Forty Years After 

Moltke with a naivete which ahnost sounds 
like the cynical frankness of Bismarck, 
** the firing had to be continued through 
the night of the 25th, when it was hottest/' 
And then he admits so suddenly that the 
reader rubs his eyes that, after all, this 
cruel bombardment of the town was futile. 
*' At the same time,'' he says, *' it was 
fully acknowledged in headquarters that 
the end would not be attained by these 
means and that the more deliberate method 
of a regular siege must be tried." 

In fact the German engineers were right 
after all. The way to capture a fortress 
is to attack the fortifications. No amount 
of '' moral effect " produced by bombard- 
ing private houses while fortress works 
remain intact will frighten a resolute 
garrison. So much for the '* necessity " 
of keeping the women and children inside 
as targets and the '' necessity " of firing 
upon their houses. It remained to conduct 
the siege according to the art of war. 
Parallels were opened. Fresh batteries 
were built. The duel with the guns of the 
fortress began. The garrison attempted 
a sortie which was repulsed. The fortress 
guns were silenced. On the 3rd of Sep- 
tember, General Uhrich asked for a truce 
to bury the dead. That day his garrison 

The Road to Paris 131 

learnt by the German feu de joie of the fall 
of Sedan. 

The rain had been so heavy that the 
trenches were ankle deep in water. Yet 
the besieging force maintained their energy. 
Their batteries were now firing from a short 
range and the garrison could not man 
their guns, but relied only on their mortars, 
which of course the German grape and 
shrapnel could not reach. The German 
sappers worked very close to the walls. 

In history on such a scale as this there 
is no scope to celebrate mere incidents 
however romantic. But the most austere 
history may well find room for the name 
of Captain Ledebour, and such a deed as 
his. When the French found out that an 
attempt was being made to drive mines 
in front of the lunettes. Captain Ledebour 
let himself down by ropes from the walls 
into the trenches and took out the powder. 
In the whole course of the war you will 
hardly find another piece of daring so 
splendid and so successful. 

But there was no respite for Strassburg. 
On September 15th a German fusilier 
regiment defying heavy fire contrived^r'^ 
destroy the dam which kept ^^^Water"^^ 
in the moat. The batteries w^e ^jn^'VM 
still closer to the walls and the^4i4!^.^pits^ 

132 Forty Years After 

were so well used that the French could 
hardly show themselves by daylight. Shell 
fire made a breach, and by the 19th the 
Germans were planning an assault. But 
the preparations took time. Though the 
dam of the moat had been broken, the 
water was still breast high. It was decided 
to make a cask bridge of beer barrels, of 
which there was, you hear with a smile, 
abundance at hand. Still there was more 
work for the siege guns. The walls of 
two bastions were shattered and the storm- 
ing of the inner defences was only a matter 
of hours. 

On the 27th September a white flag was 
seen on the cathedral tower and firing 
ceased. The town had stood thirty days 
of siege. It was still well supplied with 
stores of all kinds, and the garrison, though 
diminished, was still strong. But the plight 
of the townsfolk was miserable. 10,000 
people were homeless, 62,000 killed and 
wounded. Countless public buildings were 
destroyed. We cannot blame General 
Uhrich for his surrender. The fate of the 
city was certain. He did well to spare 
the tortured people the outrages of a storm. 
17,000 troops were taken prisoners, but that 
was the least important part of General 
von Werder's success. Every German 

The Road to Paris 133 

heart exulted in the triumph which saw 
" the old German town restored by German 
daring to German rule/' With Strassburg 
fell Alsace. One of the coveted provinces 
was in the German grasp. The great 
bridge head was mastered. The main rail- 
way from Germany through the east of 
France was free for the passage of German 
troops and stores. It was in fact imme- 
diately used to carry some of the army 
which had besieged the town to a like 
task before Paris. 

For before the day of Strassburg's fall 
Paris itself was invested. There was no 
considerable force to oppose the march of 
Moltke's 150,000. With MacMahon's army 
gone in captivity to Germany, and Bazaine's 
little more use under the guns of Metz, 
France was left almost naked of troops. 
In 1870 there was no force left to make 
the invader pay as he has paid now for 
every mile of advance by heavy losses. 
No fortifications of any importance existed 
within the frontier save at Paris. Laon 
capitulated to the first summons of a 
cavalry division. After the surrender of 
the town an odd thing happened. The 
courtyard of the citadel was crowded with 
French and Germans, prisoners and con- 
querors, when the magazine exploded upon 

134 Forty Years After 

them. How or why it was fired still 
remains unknown. At the time there were 
stories of treachery. The Germans had 
been admitted, it was whispered, in order 
that they might be blown up. For that 
there is no evidence at all ; and as the 
explosion occurred while many French 
were still in the citadel, and in fact the 
French losses were at least thrice as heavy 
as the Germans and included the com- 
mandant himself, the theory of treachery, 
though not absolutely incredible, may well 
be dismissed. It is quite possible that 
the cause of the explosion may have been 
mere accident. But intention is on the 
whole probable, and we may suggest that 
some zealous officer ordered or eager to 
prevent the ammunition from falling into 
German hands blew it up at an awkward 
moment. The incident is not of much 
historical importance, but as it caused a 
good deal of bitterness at the time, it seems 
to deserve a place in this narrative. 

The German advance then was unim- 
peded by any organized force. The hos- 
tility of the people on the line of march, 
though unable to impose any decided 
obstacles, gave continual trouble. Roads 
were torn up and bridges broken down. 
The Francs-tireurs skirmished everywhere. 

The Road to Paris 135 

The German advance began on Septem- 
ber 4th. In a week the Prussian head- 
quarters were estabHshed in Rheims. King 
WiUiam was master of the town in which 
so many of the kings of France had been 
crowned. On September 17th a forag- 
ing party sent out from Paris was driven 
back under the guns of the fort at Charenton. 
The king's headquarters were brought up 
to Meaux. The investment of Paris was 
begun. Less than seven weeks had passed 
since the campaign had opened. In forty-five 
days almost the whole of the French army 
had been captured or besieged. With 
150,000 men Moltke surrounded Paris. In 
all the rest of France there was no trained 
mobile force. Napoleon himself might have 
been satisfied with success so vast and so 


1870 — 1914 

It is probable that the historian in the 
future considering the causes of the tremen- 
dous world warfare of 1914 will decide 
that it was the natural if not the inevitable 
consequence of the spirit in which the 
war of 1870 was fought and ended. Many 
causes, no doubt, which could not be 
suspected by Moltke or Bismarck, Thiers 
or Gambetta, have their part in embittering 
the present struggle and marshalling new 
forces on either side. But the faith that 
the German Empire could only be estab- 
lished by war, could only be maintained 
by vast armaments and must look to war 
for fresh strength, is to be traced to the 
policy of Bismarck and Moltke and their 
achievements. The Prussian principle that 
in peace the victor must seek not the 
conciliation but the maiming of the van- 
quished has borne fruit in the steady 
enmity between France and Germany. The 
growing ferocity of the German armies 


I870-I9I4 1^*^ 

as the resistance of France grew more and 
more stubborn has persuaded Germany 
that brutality and victory are inseparable 

But if we have to trace a close con- 
nection between the wars of 1870 and 
1914, we note differences of incalculable 
importance. These lines are written while 
even the first phase of the conflict of 19 14 
is undecided. But already on September 
1st, the anniversary of Sedan, we know 
that the German arms are not to fall upon 
the feeble opposition, enjoy the easy vic- 
tories and the swift decisions of 1870. 
Already it is clear that the France of 1914 
is fighting the war with a united front, 
with an amplitude of preparation, with a 
fervour and resolution which recall not 
the disasters of 1870 but the tremendous 
defiance of the days when she flung back 
the arms of all Europe with Camot as the 
organizer of victory. But it is not the 
stubborn resistance to the German advance, 
not even the spirit of the new France 
which is the chief difierence between the 
campaigns of 1870 and 1914. 

In 1870 France stood alone. In 1870 
the political conditions of the struggle had 
been determined by the consummate ability 
of Bismarck, The war of 1914, as we 

138 Forty Years After 

know, was preluded and conditioned if it 
was not caused by a stupendous defeat for 
German diplomacy. The statesmanship of 
Berlin has contrived to array against itself 
not merely a France prepared to fight to 
the end a battle for national existence. 
It has brought down upon Germany the 
whole power of Russia inspired by a fervent 
national faith in the righteousness of the 
cause. It has forced the dominant sea 
power and the almost unbounded resources 
of the British Empire to alliance with its 
enemies and convinced every dominion, 
every race, every party under the British 
flag that the world will have in it no place 
for honour or justice till Germany has been 
taught that might is not right. 

Germany indeed has one ally on whose 
friendship she could not count in 1870. 
Then Austria, though she did not dare to 
break through her proclaimed neutrality, 
was hostile in spirit. Now in all the world 
Austria alone stands with Germany. But 
we may have suspicions that as the veiled 
hostility of the Austria of 1870 was of small 
account to Prussia, her aid in 1914 will be 
of little help. An empire in hourly dread 
of disruption, an empire of peoples bitterly 
inimical to each other held together by 
no bond but a tottering dynasty, an 

1 8 70-19 14 139 

empire seeking in a desperate war some 
relief from the distracting dangers of peace, 
is not the ally which statesmanship would 
choose for a conflict against the mass of 
three of the strongest powers in the world. 

What Bismarck would have said of the 
diplomacy which involved his Prussia 
in such a plight we may amuse ourselves 
with imagining. It is certain that he 
would have thought the Wilhelmstrasse 
manned by imbeciles if it had proposed 
to him to involve Germany in the war of 
1914. Disciple of the faith in *' blood and 
iron," ardent believer in the might of the 
Prussian arms as he was, he was always 
supremely careful that Prussia should never 
have to fight more than one enemy at a 
time. When he wanted to tear Schleswig- 
Holstein from Denmark he made sure first 
that Austria would join him and the rest 
of Europe stand aside. When Austria was 
to be crushed, the neutrality of France and 
Russia was secured. When it was the 
turn of France, he chose a time which 
found Austria hors de combat; he played 
for English sympathy and bribed Russia 
into neutrality. 

The '* Government of National Defence 
and War " which rose in Paris on the ruins 
of the Empire, sought through Europe for 

140 Forty Years After 

help in vain. Austria, whose pohcy was 
directed by Count Beust, an old and stub- 
born enemy of Bismarck, would have liked 
to intervene if she had dared and liked 
still better to make some other power inter- 
vene. Before Sedan several Foreign Offices 
were hinting at plans of kindly mediation. 
Gortschakoff, the Russian chancellor, who, 
though his work has left no such mark on 
the world as Bismarck's, was gifted with 
foresight at least not inferior to the Prus- 
sian's, let it become known that Russia 
would disapprove of a demand for the 
cession of French territory. If French 
provinces passed to Prussian hands, he said, 
they would be a perpetual source of enmity 
between Germany and France, a standing 
menace to the peace of Europe. The his- 
tory of fifty years has even too completely 
fulfilled that prophecy. 

Bismarck, whether or no he had originally 
intended to grasp at Alsace and Lorraine, 
whether or no he was over-ruled by the 
General Staff, soon made it understood that 
the frontier provinces were to be the 
reward of the conqueror. London was told 
that he had said privately, " Wir konnen 
nur mit Metz und Strassburg ufrieden 
sein,'* and eagerly argued about what he 
meant. Would the Prussians "be content 

1 8 70-1 9 14 141 

with " Metz and Strassburg alone and 
not demand the provinces as well ? By 
the middle of September all speculation was 
silenced. In two circulars to the am- 
bassadors of the North German Confed- 
eration, Bismarck explained that Germany 
could not after a peace trust to the good- 
will of France for her security, and that 
the German frontier must therefore be 
extended to include the two fortresses of 
Strassburg and Metz, the whole of Alsace 
and the German portion of Lorraine. 

A little earlier the French Government 
of National Defence had declared through 
Jules Favre that if the King of Prussia 
continued the war after the Emperor and 
his ministers had been swept away, France 
would take up the challenge and yield to 
the invader " ni un pouce de notre territoire 
ni une pierre de nos forteresses " — *' not 
an inch of our territory, not a stone of our 

Brave words — ^but unfortunately it was 
already obvious that their courage would be 
hard to translate into action. France might 
prolong the struggle. Could she hope to 
change its fortune ? Not of her own strength 
perhaps, but there might be aid from with- 
out. To tear two provinces from France 
would make such a change in the European 

14^2 Forty Years After 

system that neutral powers might intervene. 
Thiers volunteered to see what his diplo- 
macy could do. From capital to capital he 
went, making the grand tour of Europe. 
In London, in Vienna, in St. Petersburg, in 
Florence, he received courtesy and sym- 
pathy, but not a straw of support. England 
was under a Gladstonian government which 
had no taste for any enterprise in foreign 
policy. The sympathies of the people were 
rather on the side of Germany than France, 
and the victory of the Prussian arms was 
commonly regarded as the triumph of the 
Puritan virtues. Austria would have inter- 
vened if she had dared, but she was still 
dazed by the blow of Sadowa and could not 
again challenge Moltke's corps. Beust in 
much agitation declared '' Je ne vois plus 
d'Europe " — '' I see no Europe left.'' 
That was an extravagance in 1870, but we 
who have to resist a fierce effort to make 
all Europe subject to Prussian domination 
must admit that Beust had more insight 
into the reahties of the situation than some 
of his more famous contemporaries. 

What of Gortschakoff ? He knew well 
enough, as we have seen, what would come 
of the annexation of Alsace and Lorraine. 
But Gortschakoff was playing his own 
hand. He owed nothing to France. Hardly 

I870-I9I4 1*^ 

fifteen years had gone by since France and 
England had fought Russia to keep her 
away from the Balkans and Constantinople. 
Russian eyes were still turned to the south. 
By the treaty which ended the Crimean 
War, Russia was bound to consider the 
Black Sea neutral, and construct on its 
shores no naval harbour. Bismarck let 
Gortschakoff understand that if Russia 
declined to intervene between France and 
Germany, Germany would support Russia 
in denouncing this treaty and in claiming 
the right to put a navy on the Black Sea. 
Gortschakoff accepted the bribe. When 
Thiers came to St. Petersburg he was coldly 
advised to make peace quickly whatever 
the sacrifice, for the longer France delayed 
the more she would have to pay. 

Not much was to be hoped from the 
young and still weak kingdom of Italy. No 
power which she could wield would have 
stayed the hand of Prussia. She, like 
Russia, chose, and is not to be blamed for 
choosing, to use the difficulties of France for 
her own ends. It had been part of the 
tortuous poHcy of Napoleon III. to keep 
Rome and the Papal States independent 
of the new kingdom of Italy which he had 
done much to create. In 1867 a French 
army had driven back Garibaldi from his 

144 Forty Years After 

assault on the Temporal Power. When 
the necessities of the war with Germany 
withdrew the French army, Italy seized 
the moment to consummate her own unity 
by the capture of Rome. On September 
20th, just as the Germans were closing 
their Unes about Paris, Rome was entered 
by the Italian troops. The ministers of 
Victor Emmanuel knew that Bismarck 
would make no trouble for them. Why 
should they invite his hostility by futile 
intervention on behalf of the country which 
had stood between them and their prize ? 
So France in 1870 found at the hour 
of her utmost need no friend in all Europe. 
The wheel has gone full circle. It is not 
France but her enemy which 1914 sets in 
that perilous isolation. 


La Defense Nationalb 

On September 19th the German army 
closed its lines around Paris. " By the end 
of October," said Moltke, ''I shall be 
shooting hares at Creisau/' His calcula- 
tions had not revealed to him that some of 
his most difficult hours were to come. 
By all the principles of the art of war the 
campaign had been decided when MacMahon 
was captured and Bazaine driven back on 
Metz. But Moltke now had to deal with an 
adversary who knew very little of the art 
of war, but understood thoroughly the right 
policy for a nation in arms to defend its 
life, '* De I'audace, encore de Taudace et 
toujours de I'audace " — '' Daring, and again 
daring and daring always/' When the 
greatest of English war ministers, the elder 
Pitt, began to show his energy, ''England 
has been long in labour,'' said Frederick 
the Great, '' but at last she has brought 
forth a man." Amid the downfall of the 
shams and dummies of the Second Empire, 


146 Forty Years After 

France at last gave birth to a man. Leon 
Gambetta must rank in history not far 
below the great statesmen of the Revolu- 
tion, Danton and Carnot. It was not his 
destiny to be an organizer of victory, but 
he had not at his command the passionate 
force of a renascent nation. His miracles 
had to be wrought with a France which 
had lost faith in everything, even herself. 
And miracles they were. The more closely 
we examine the course of *' La Defense 
Nationale,'' the wonderful campaign of the 
nation in its own defence, the more we 
must honour the demoniac energy and the 
terrible will of Gambetta. 

There is here no place for a study of his 
character. He came from the Midi. When 
the war broke out he was a young lawyer 
who had made himself known by fierce 
denunciations of the Emperor and the 
Empire, in particular of the Foreign Office 
and the War Office, the two departments 
chiefly responsible for the disasters which 
followed. As soon as the news of Worth 
reached Paris he had demanded the appoint- 
ment of a committee of Public Safety to 
take over the government and the conduct of 
the war. When the Empire was overthrown 
after Sedan he became, as we have seen. 
Minister of the Interior in the Government 

La Defense Nationale 147 

of National Defence. In that capacity he 
did all that was possible to prepare Paris 
for a long siege. After the city was invested 
he escaped in a balloon in order to reach the 
new seat of Government at Tours. There 
he assumed the general direction of the war, 
and till it ended he was in fact, though not 
in name, Dictator of France. To his enemies 
he was always what Thiers called him '' un 
fou furieux," a wild madman. He had of 
course the defects of his qualities, the usual 
defects of fierce energy and despotic will. 
He was apt to interfere in things for which 
he had no capacity. He tried to be com- 
mander in chief as well as minister of war, 
to direct in the field the operations of the 
armies which he called into being, and no 
doubt some of his generals — for he dis- 
covered some of ability — would have done 
better if he had left them alone. But w^e 
have to remember that without Gambetta 
the generals would have done nothing at all. 
For the worst that can be said of him 
and his campaign we may turn to Moltke. 
" Gambetta's rare energy and unrelenting 
perseverance," he writes, *' availed indeed 
to induce the entire population to take up 
arms, but not to direct these masses on a 
uniform plan. Without giving them time 
to be drilled into fitness for the field, he 

148 Forty Years After 

sent them out with ruthless cruelty, in- 
sufficiently prepared to carry out ill-digested 
plans against an enemy on whose firm 
solidity all their courage and devotion must 
be wrecked. He prolonged the struggle 
with great sacrifice on both sides without 
turning the balance in favour of France/' 
Such is the judgment of the enemy. The 
impartial military critic is more concerned 
to point out that *' nothing but Gambetta's 
energy enabled France in a few weeks to 
create and equip twelve army corps/' a force 
of 600,000 men and 1,400 guns, and to 
emphasize the greatness of that achieve- 
ment. He is not so certain as Moltke that 
disaster was its inevitable reward. 

You may read between the lines of 
Moltke's bitter attack resentment not at 
the "ruthless cruelty'' which caused France 
suffering in vain, but at the impudence 
of a civilian's daring to prolong the war 
when professional soldiers knew it was over 
and at the anxious days which that civilian's 
improvised troops brought upon the *' firm 
solidity " of Prussian strategy and Prussian 
battalions. France and Gambetta ought 
to have known when they were beaten. 
France and Gambetta ought never to have 
made it doubtful whether the German 
armies would be able to keep their grip upon 

La Defense Nationale 149 

Paris. When we are asked to blame Gam- 
betta for prolonging the wax with useless 
suffering, we begin to remember that after 
all, it takes two parties to make a fight. If 
Gambetta persisted in fighting, so did 
Moltke, and history before it consents to 
scold either will enquire what each was 
fighting for. 

There are no mysteries about that. The 
watchword of the Defense Nationale was 
" not an inch of our territory, not a stone 
of our fortresses." In the great days of 
old when revolutionary France was beating 
back all the armies of Europe she talked 
ofiicially of " the French Republic, One 
and Indivisible." You find that headline, 
for example, above the letters in which 
Napoleon wrote of his triumphs in Italy. 
In the darkest hours of 1870 Gambetta 
made his appeals in the name of " The 
unity and integrity of the country, the 
indivisibility of the Republic." It was for 
that and for that alone, that he " prolonged 
the war." Wild and mad as he seemed to 
his enemies he can never have dreamed that 
France would be able to take the offensive 
or prevent the union of Germany. What he 
fought for was the national life of France. 

Why did Prussia choose to " prolong the 
war ? " After her victories, materially 

150 Forty Years After 

decisive and morally crushing, it was im- 
possible that France could for many a year 
be a danger to Germany. After Sedan, at 
the end of a war of some five weeks, she 
could have made a peace — Favre offered her 
the opportunity — which would have given 
her an enormous indemnity and military 
prestige greater than any in Europe. She 
/chose to demand French provinces in order 
that she might have strategic advances in 
any future war and that France should be 
left to struggle maimed with intolerable 
humiliation. The campaign against the 
National Defence of Gambetta was in fact 
a campaign for the power to inflict a rank- 
ling incurable wound in France. If we 
believe in the inalienable rights of nationality 
we shall not lightly blame Gambetta for the 
** ruthless cruelty " and *' the great sacri- 
fices " of which Moltke complains. 

Even in 1870 when the blatant faults 
of the government of the Second Empire 
and the plausible craft of Bismarck's 
diplomacy deprived France of any effective 
help or even any warm sympathy from 
England, there were powerful voices raised 
in protest against the Prussian poUcy. The 
general opinion of England on the Govern- 
ment of National Defence, may be summed 
up in a sentence from a newspaper leader 

La Defense Nationalc 151 

of the time : "A capital convulsed and 
a levee en masse can make horrors more 
horrible, but not alter the award of destiny/' 
It was indeed true, but not all the truth. 
One of those who saw more clearly the real 
issues was John Ruskin. His close associa- 
tion with the thought and work of Carlyle 
will sufhciently absolve him from any 
imputation of prejudice against Prussia. 
On October 8th, immediately after Gam- 
betta had escaped from Paris to organize 
his campaign, The Daily Telegraph published 
a letter from Ruskin; which was in substance 
a solemn warning to Prussia, to England 
and to Europe. It was impressive then, 
for all its apocalyptic style. It is still 
more impressive now. After some com- 
phments to the old virtues of Prussia, 
'' let her look to it now," he wrote, '' that 
her fame be not sullied. She is pressing 
her victory too far — dangerously far, as 
uselessly. The Nemesis of battle may 
indeed be near her : greater glory she 
cannot win by the taking of Paris nor the 
over-running of provinces. She only pro- 
longs suffering, redoubles death, extends 
loss, incalculable and irremediable. But 
let her now give unconditional armistice, 
and offer terms that France can accept 
with honour, and she will bear such rank 

152 Forty Years After 

among the nations as never yet shone on 
Christian history. For, as we ought to 
help France now, if we did anything — ^but, 
of course, there remaii.s for us only neu- 
traUty, selling of coke and silence, if we have 
grace enough left to keep it — I have only 
broken mine to say that I am ashamed to 
speak as being one of a nation regardless 
of its honour, aUke in trade and policy : 
poor yet not careful to keep even the 
treasure of probity ; and rich without being 
able to afford the luxury of courage/' 
Few of us can have much respect for 
Ruskin as a practical statesman. Who in 
1914 will deny to that letter something 
of the inspiration of a prophet ? 

Almost at the same moment the cause 
of France received the support of another 
man, who was never found in arms for any 
cause but liberty and nationaHty. We 
may rule Garibaldi out of the spheres of 
high poUtics and strategy as a mere knight 
errant. No one has ever accused his 
knight errantry of blindness to the real 
issues of its warfare. He had his own 
causes of quarrel with France. In the early 
days of the war his sympathies were on 
the side of Germany. After the blockade 
of Paris he landed at Marseilles to offer 
himself for the National Defence. 

La Dtfense Nationale 153 

The plan of Gambetta may be stated 
in a sentence. Behind a screen of armed 
peasantry, francs -tireurs and national 
guards regular armies were to be organized. 
Such warfare has always been attended 
with horrible cruelty. But when armies 
not content with defeating the ambitions 
of their enemy, press on to assail the 
national unity and life, such desperate 
warfare as this must be the consequence. 
For the misery which followed we cannot 
hold the francs-tireurs responsible. 

Under the inspiration of Gambetta, 
France rose en masse. Considerable armies 
mustered at Rouen, at Evreux, at Besan9on 
and in the departments beyond the Loire. 
Their composition was heterogeneous, and 
there was naturally a deficiency of capable 
officers. In drill and discipUne they were 
no match for the German troops. It was 
hoped that war itself would give them 
training. They were not to venture upon 
pitched battles, but to worry the enemy 
by continual skirmishing and affairs of 
outposts. By the end of September the 
army of Evreux was annoying the German 
forces round Paris. An army of 30,000 
men had been formed at Orleans and they 
held all the forest on the north of the Loire. 
The Prussian headquarters became uneasy. 

154 Forty Years After 

This renaissance of French mihtary strength 
was not counted upon in Moltke's plans. 
Orleans was a place of the highest strategical 
importance. *' If Paris is the head of 
France/' said Clausewitz, *' Orleans is the 
heart.'' In the circumstances of the 
moment a French mobile force at Orleans 
was a dangerous menace. The army block- 
ading Paris might find its communications 
broken. The Bavarian Corps of General 
von der Tann was sent off to Orleans in 
a hurry. He met no opposition till he 
reached Artenay, a little place twelve miles 
due north of Orleans. It is modestly 
famous in English history as the scene of 
the Battle of Herrings. In 1429, Sir John 
Fastolf, the original perhaps of Shake- 
speare's hero, was taking a convoy of salt 
fish, the Lenten food, to the English force 
besieging Orleans, when he was attacked 
by an army of French and Scotch. He 
beat them off, but a few months later on 
the same field ran away from Joan of Arc. 

The French of 1870 had no Joan of Arc 
to lead them, and in their first battle they 
did not cover themselves with glory. They 
were resolutely attacked in front while 
cavalry threatened their flanks and they 
broke and fled. What else could have 
been expected of raw levies facing troops 

La Defense Nationalc 155 

which had conquered at Worth ? General 
la Motterouge their commander resolved 
to withdraw beyond the Loire and to 
cover his retreat he posted 15,000 in a strong 
defensive position on the north bank of 
the river. They taught the German troops 
that the new armies of France were not to 
be despised. ''In an open field/' says 
Moltke with grudging praise, the French 
force " would soon have been defeated ; 
but in street-fighting under shelter of the 
houses unflinching personal courage is all 
that is needed, and even the recruits of the 
newly-created French army did not lack 
that." With a day of hard street fighting 
the recruits welcomed the Bavarian veterans 
and at the end of it General von der Tann 
was not in a hurry for more. 

The French entrenched themselves on 
ground where a number of buildings and 
enclosures offered obstacles to attack. 
When they were driven from that position 
they retreated upon Orleans through a 
mile of villages, orchards and vineyards. 
Again and again the German advance was 
checked. It was not till nightfall that the 
town was won. The French rearguard 
made good their retreat across the river. 
The Germans had lost 900 men and taken 
1,800 prisoners. They made no attempt 

156 Forty Years After 

at pursuit. Moltke was not satisfied. The 
armies before Paris were indeed delivered 
from any risk of interrupted communica- 
tions. But Moltke hoped for more sub- 
stantial results. He had expected Von der 
Tann to push on fifty miles to the south, and 
destroy the arms which had been accumu- 
lated at Vierzon among the iron works of 
Berry. He hoped that there would be 
some attempt to beat up the quarters of 
the Government of National Defence 
seventy miles away at Tours. But Von 
der Tann preferred to stay in the neigh- 
bourhood of Orleans repairing bridges and 
railways. Though La Motterouge's 30,000 
had been defeated, they were not much 
the worse for it and still in being. Another 
French army corps had suddenly been bom 
in the neighbourhood of Blois and the 
Germans were afraid of others. Von der 
Tann is hardly to be blamed for venturing 
no further, but his inaction is the first 
symptom of the awkwardness of the German 
commanders in this new warfare. They 
would as ever obey orders and successfully 
accomplish a prescribed task. They showed 
no power of initiative, no enterprise in 
dealing with the strange conditions of this 
unorthodox war. 

" If I stamp my foot on the ground. 

La Defense Nationale 157 

legions will start up." Gambetta might have 
allowed himself that boast. *' The warlike 
energy of this remarkable man " — so Moltke 
stiffly salutes him — *' had achieved the feat 
of placing 600,000 soldiers and 1,400 guns in 
the field in the course of a few weeks." 

During October new army corps came 
into existence at Blois and at Gien on the 
Loire and at Nogent-le-Rotrou, near 
Chartres. All these forces and the first 
formed corps were under the command of 
General d'Aurelle de Paladines. In Picardy, 
Bourbaki mustered a large army. There was 
another at Rouen under Briand. Yet another 
on the south bank of the Seine. It wUl be seen 
that though the quality of officers and men 
might be poor and the plan of compaign, 
such as it was, incoherent, this ring of armies 
seriously threatened the German success. 

The troops investing Paris were beset 
on every side by strong French forces. 
The Germans had the better of many small 
engagements, but they could gain no 
decisive success, and if they had left their 
positions to pursue the siege would have been 
abandoned. The Prussian headquarters be- 
gan to look anxiously over their shoulders to- 
wards Metz. The sooner Bazaine surrendered 
the better. For the army of Prince Frederick 
Charles which was blockading him was 

158 Forty Years After 

urgently needed to deal with these new wasp- 
ish French forces. But Prince Frederick 
Charles could not be expected to come into 
action in the centre of France before the 
middle of November. There was reason to fear 
that all the French armies would make a com- 
bined advance on Paris some time in October. 
Here we may well pause to note how 
the German conception of the laws of war 
has changed since 1870. It is acknow- 
ledged by all, and not least frankly by 
German writers, that the later phases of 
the campaign of 1870 were fought out 
with a brutality from which the earUer 
battles, murderous as they were, were alto- 
gether free. But even when the conflict 
had been embittered and cruelty, ruthless 
and wanton, was part of the daily work of 
armies there was still some restraint. 
Compare the case of Chateaudun in 1870, 
with that of Louvain yesterday. Chateau- 
dun is a little town half-way between Paris 
and Tours. It was the scene of an insigni- 
ficant action between a French rearguard 
and the Germans under General von 
Wittich. The townsfolk joined in the fight. 
Barricades were thrown up. House after 
house had to be stormed. The Germans 
had to fight hard and were roughly handled. 
They won in the end. Wh^ijtbe German 

La Defense Nationale 159 

officer_o^f_i9i4 would have done- to the 
hapless citizens we shudder to imagine. 
General von Wittich thought their offence 
would be sufficiently expiated by their 
defeat and a fine. But Germany has gone 
far on the path of culture since 1870. 

Wittich then was operating on the south- 
west of Paris, in the neighbourhood of 
Chartres. On the other fronts the invest- 
ing army was much harassed. So strong 
were the French forces around Amiens that 
the Germans could hardly keep them back 
along the line of the Oise, and from week 
to week the French became more formidable 
in numbers and discipline. To the south-east 
of Paris there was more fighting. Irregular 
troops held the forest of Fontainebleau, cut 
off the foraging parties of German cavalry and 
interfered with the transport of siege guns. 

But Gambetta was not content. It was 
plain that such operations, however haras- 
sing, could not of themselves deliver Paris 
or restore the fortunes of France. A 
council of war at Tours resolved to seize 
Orleans. The next step in the campaign 
was not decided. If Orleans was captured 
it was to be the site of an entrenched camp 
for 200,000 men. General von der Tann 
divined that something was impending, 
but could not discover what it was. The 

180 Forty Years After 

irregulars were active, the peasantry every 
day more hostile and his reconnaissances 
only informed that strong forces were 
closing round him. He did not dare hold 
on to Orleans, for in the forests about it 
his force would lose the advantage of its 
superior manoeuvring power and its strong 
cavalry and artillery, while the half-trained 
hard fighting French masses would be at 
their best. He moved out of the town 
towards Chartres and took up a position 
in open country at Coulmiers. He had only 
20,000 men to meet French forces estimated 
at 70,000 but the advantages of superior 
discipUne, equipment, guns and cavalry 
gave some reason to hope that he could 
hold his ground. The Germans fought 
stubbornly and more than once the battle 
wavered. Admiral Jaur^guiberry decided 
the issue of the day. The Germans had 
already yielded to the pressure of numbers 
and were retiring by brigades. But under 
the fire of their artillery the French advance 
was checked and flung back in great 
disorder. Then Jaur6guiberry came upon 
the scene, rallied the shattered advance 
and drove back the counter attack. The 
Germans retreated swiftly covered by their 
cavalry and General von der Tann thought 
it wise to continue his march all through the 

La Defense Nationalc 161 

night. He saved his stores, but Orleans 
itself, an ammunition column and his 
hospitals fell into the hands of the French. 

So the first important stroke in the cam- 
paign of National Defence was rewarded 
with a great success. The first thought of 
the generals of the Army of the Loire was 
to make good what they had won. Large 
earthworks were constructed round Orleans, 
and artillery was brought up from the naval 
arsenals at Cherbourg. The difficulties of 
the Prussian headquarters were now much 
diminished by the arrival of the army of 
Prince Frederick Charles which enabled them 
to put a large force in the field while still main- 
taining the siege of Paris. As soon as the sur- 
render of Bazaine set him free the Red Prince 
marched westward with all speed. He found 
the roads broken up, National Guards and 
Francs-tireurs always ready to harass his line 
of march and the peasantry fiercely hostile. 
It was nearly the end of November before he 
could bring any force to bear upon Orleans. 

Gambetta could not long be patient of 
inaction. At this point in the campaign 
begins that interference with generals in 
the field which has brought down upon 
him the wrath of military critics. No 
doubt it is in general undesirable for a 
civilian, even if he is a Gambetta, to 

162 Forty Years After 

over-rule the decisions of generals and direct 
their movements. But Gambetta's generals 
for the most part could not be trusted to 
move at all without an impulse from him. 
It is probable that he made disastrous 
blunders. But after all whatever vigour 
there was in the National Defence, what- 
ever it did effect for France is to be traced 
to him and his plans. General d^Aurelle 
de Paladines did not want to move from 
Orleans. Gambetta telegraphed orders for 
an advance of the 15th Corps on Pithiviers 
and of the 20th on Beaune-la-Rolande. Then 
both were to march on Fontainebleau and 
Paris. In vain the generals protested that 
this would mean fighting superior forces of 
Germans in an open country. Gambetta 
wanted to relieve Paris, and it was plain that 
an army sitting down in its entrenchments 
at Orleans would never do that. 

Around Beaune-la-Rolande there followed 
much confused fighting. Both sides 
suffered serious losses, and both could 
boast of successes. It was obvious to a 
cool judgment that while the quality of 
the German troops had deteriorated since 
the first battles of the war, the new French 
levies were not likely without generalship 
of supreme capacity to win any victories 
of sufficient importance to loosen the 

La Defense Nationalc 163 

German grip on Paris. Yet Gambetta did 
not relax his efforts. Some time before 
the fight at Beaune-la-Rolande a balloon 
had been sent up from Paris to announce 
that on November 29th General Ducrot 
would lead 100,000 men with 400 guns 
against the German hnes of investment 
and try to join hands with the Army of 
the Loire. The winds were unkind and 
in 1870 balloons were not dirigible. This 
one the winds chose to carry to Norway 
before they gave it a chance to descend on 
neutral ground. Thence the dispatch was 
forwarded to Tours. The delay had been so 
great that Gambetta resolved to push his 
armies on at all costs. If Ducrot's sortie had 
been made according to programme it was 
certain that he must be vigorously engaged 
before any help could reach him from the 
Loire. For the army there had no chance 
of beginning its march before December ist. 
The process of getting it to move throws 
hght upon Gambetta's difficulties with his 
generals. His deputy, Freycinet, had orders 
to submit to the council of war a plan for 
the advance of the whole army. If this 
was rejected he was to produce a decree 
which superseded the Commander-in-Chief. 
The council of war consented to advance. 
On December ist the French gained some 

164 Forty Years After 

substantial success. News reached Tours 
that the sortie from Paris had also been 
fortunate. It was beheved that the Ger- 
mans were about to suffer a crushing blow. 

But the Army of the Loire was still 
many a mile from Paris and Prince Frederick 
Charles had strong forces still unshaken. 
On the next day there was fresh fighting 
further west about Loigny and Pourpry. 
At first General Chanzy gained a good deal 
of ground from Von der Tann's Bavarians. 
The French right was checked and repulsed by 
Prussian troops. When night fell, both armies 
had lost heavily, but the general advance of 
the French was arrested. Moltke decided 
t hat ''th e^ moment had come to putan end 
toJhc_ijicessarit dagger to the investing lines 
from the south. '' He ordered Prince Frederick 
Charles*to march all his forces upon Orleans. 

Without much fighting the French were 
driven back. The superior manoeuvring 
power and the vastly stronger artillery of 
the Germans were used with resolution, 
and upon a coherent plan. Neither one 
nor the other was evident in the disposi- 
tions of General d'Aurelle de Paladines. 
His chief anxiety seemed to be to retreat 
— to retreat anyhow and anywhere. Rather 
than run the risk of blocking the bridge 
over the Loire at Orleans he resolved to 

La Defense Nationale 165 

divide his force. Only one corps was to 
retreat on Orleans itself. General Crouzat 
was ordered to retire on Gien, General 
Chanzy on Beaugency. If the Germans 
had gained a crushing victory they could 
hardly have scattered the JFrench more 
completely. Who can wonder that Gam- 
betta interfered with the discretion of 
his generals ? As soon as he heard of this 
ruinous scheme, he issued peremptory orders 
to hold Orleans at all costs. It was then 
too late. The army of the Loire was 
scattered. With the one corps which he 
had reserved for the retreat through Orleans 
d'Aurelle did indeed make an attempt 
at checking the German march, and these 
troops fought gallantly to repair the 
blunders of their commander. They '* de- 
fended every tenable spot,'' made barricades 
and rifle pits around the railway station 
and the deep cutting through which the 
main road runs, and held them persistently 
against overwhelming forces. It was not 
till December 4th that the Germans 
took possession of the town. In the course 
of their operations they nearly took Gam- 
betta too. He was in a military train steam- 
ing from Tours to Orleans which had reached 
the neighbourhood of Meung. His mission, 
of course, was to put some of his own energy (Q) 

166 Forty Years After 

and determination into his generals. Fortu- 
nately for himself and France he never 
reached Orleans. The artillery of a German 
cavalry division opened fire upon his train. 
The engine was promptly reversed and hurried 
the train back to Tours at its best speed. 
Thanks to the errors of its commander the 
scattered French Army of the Loire had 
lost 20,000 men and inflicted small damage 
on the Germans. General d'Aurelle was 
dismissed, and what remained of his troops 
given to General Bourbaki. 

Winter was now adding to the horrors of 
the war. At the beginning of December a 
bitter frost came down upon northern and 
central France. *' It was almost impossible 
to move, excepting along the high roads 
and they were frozen so hard that it was 
often necessary to dismount and lead the 
horses.'' After the disaster at Orleans the 
war took on yet more of the character of a 
guerilla campaign. The French regular 
troops often made a feeble resistance, readily 
abandoned their supplies and allowed them- 
selves to be taken prisoners. On the 
other hand the country people resented 
more and more fiercely the German exactions 
and the German cruelty — '' they pillage 
terribly "^ an English war correspondent 
reported, with the significant addition '^ I am 

La D6fensc Nationale 167 

pbliged to keep silence on many points, ot I 
should be sent away from the army/' 

Gambetta still would not give up hope. 
His lieutenant Freycinet urged Bourbaki 
to advance with what was left of the Army 
of the Loire. Bourbaki declared that if he did, 
*' not a gun, not a man of his three corps would 
ever be seen again." Gambetta hurried to the 
camp at Bourges, but when he saw the con- 
dition of the troops even he had to confess 
that they were incapable of action. " C'est 
encore ce que j'ai vu de plus triste," '* the 
saddest sight I have seen yet," said he, as he 
walked among the wretched regiments. 

General Chanzy, whom Moltke pro- 
nounced the most capable of all the French 
leaders in this phase of the war, infused some 
spirit and discipline into the corps which he 
commanded. They were operating in the 
valley of the Loire between Tours and Orleans 
and they offered an obstinate resistance to the 
German advance. Only when he heard that 
Bourbaki could do nothing to help him did 
Chanzy fall back westward. The immediate 
result of that retreat was the removal of the 
seat of government from Tours to Bordeaux 

A third of France was now in the posses- 
sion of the Germans. Between the Somme 
and the Loire they had no organized opposi- 
tion to fear. A halt was made to rest, 

168 Forty Years After 

reinforce and re-equip their troops. Then 
three armies took the field. The ist was 
based on Beauvais, the 2nd on Orleans, 
the 3rd on Chartres. Away in the south-east, 
Belf ort the one remaining frontier fortress of 
France was invested. The sporadic efforts 
of the force raised by Garibaldi and other 
weak corps were fiercely checked. 

France still had forces in the field 
numerically formidable. But what they 
suffered in the bitter winter weather from 
lack of supplies and disease is not to be 
told. General Chanzy's force was under 
canvas in a snow-covered country about Le 
Mans. Its hospitals were full of wounded 
when small-pox broke out. Yet the army 
of Le Mans remained more efficient than 
Bourbaki's beyond the Loire, or Faidherbe's 
in the north. Chanzy hoped for a concerted 
campaign by these three forces. Paris was 
at its last gasp. Trochu reported that with- 
out help he could not hope to hold out. 
Gambetta was at Lyons. Chanzy sent a 
staff officer to him to urge that only a swift 
combined advance of the three armies on 
Paris could help France. Gambetta's reply 
might have been admirable as part of a public 
speech. It was not a useful contribution to 
the strategy of the campaign. '' You have 
decimated the Mecklenburgers,'* he wrote, 

La Defense Nationale 169 

" the Bavarians are wiped out, the rest of the 
army is already demoralized and worn out. 
Let us persevere and we shall drive these 
hordes backfrom French soil empty-handed." 
What was an unhappy general to make 
of that ? Chanzy determined to march 
on Paris alone. The Germans anticipated 
him. On New Year's Day, 1871, Prince 
Frederick Charles received orders to advance 
immediately on Le Mans and his army 
was strengthened by reinforcements from 
the 3rd Army at Chartres. The country 
was difficult, smooth ice and snow drifts 
hampered every movement, and the 
French offered a stubborn opposition. The 
sufferings of both armies were severe. In 
the battle of Le Mans which lasted over 
three days, Germans and French alike 
won the honour which is due to desperate 
courage and stern resolution. At first the 
French had some advantage, for their posi- 
tion was strong and General von Alvensleben 
had only a part of the German forces upon 
the field. When Prince Frederick Charles 
heard that Alvensleben was being attacked 
in flank and rear, he hurried Voights-Rhetz 
up to the field with the loth Corps. There 
was fierce fighting hand to hand. A couple 
of French guns were taken by a charge of 
infantry. By January 12th the French 

170 Forty Years After 

officers began to find it impossible to make 
their men advance. Body and mind could 
do no more. The battle had been fought 
among deep snow drifts, sometimes in fog so 
thick that, says Moltke, the German artillery 
could only direct their fire by the map. Tlji 
French ^vere poorly clad and poorly fed. They 
were defeated by physical exhaustion rather 
than the tactics of the Germans. On the morn- 
ing of the I2th, Chanzy ordered a general 
retreat on Alengon. He had lost 6,200 men 
killed and wounded, and 20,000 prisoners. His 
army remained in existence but as an offensive 
force it had ceased to be of importance. With 
the defeat of Le Mans it may be said that the 
cause of the National Defence was lost. 

In the north, General Faidherbe, who 
like Chanzy might in happier circum- 
stances have won a considerable reputation, 
had given the Germans some trouble. In 
an enterprising fight at Bapaume he forced 
the Germans to abandon the siege of 
Peroune. Reinforcements came up, the 
siege was renewed, and the place was 
taken. Then Faidherbe received orders 
from Gambetta to attract to himself as 
much of the German forces as possible, so 
that a sortie from Paris might be attempted 
with better hope of success. This, of course, 
was the same sortie which Chanzy had 

La Defense Nationale 171 

hoped to assist before the battle of Le Mans. 
Faidherbe's advance and his defeat are to 
be considered as the parallel operations in 
the northern theatre of war to the affair of 
Le Mans. Faidherbe advanced with some 
40,000 men, and General von Goeben met 
him at St. Quentin with 32,000. The French 
fought hard from morning till dusk of the 
short January day and Goeben had to bring 
his last reserves into action before the French, 
in grave danger on their left flank and 
utterly exhausted, slowly fell back from the 
stubbornly held positions. The Germans 
had suffered heavy loss but they had put 
the French Army of the North out of 

Meanwhile, what of Bourbaki ? We left him 
at Bourges with his troops in such a miserable 
condition that he could not advance a mile. 
He was destined for a new campaign in the 
south-east. The plan was devised by Frey- 
cinet, but it must have had Gambetta's 
approval. The greater part of Bourbaki's 
army was to go by railway to Beaune, join 
Garibaldi's force, and so making up a body 
of 70,000 men, occupy Dijon. Meanwhile 
another 50,000 were to be gathered at 
Besangon, and it was believed that the mere 
existence of these armies would raise the 
sieg« of Belfort without a blow, cut the 

172 Forty Years After 

German communications in all directions and 
give Faidherbe a chance of new activity. 

*' Hope told a flattering tale/' From 
a military point of view the most striking 
quality of the plan was its sanguine com- 
plexion. To some extent however fate 
was kind. The movement of troops escaped 
the notice of the German intelligence 
department, and the first Moltke heard of it 
was a telegram from Belfort, which informed 
him that it had been accomplished. He 
took steps at once to form a new army in 
the south, but General von Werder who 
commanded the troops besieging Belfort 
could not at once be reinforced. Bourbaki's 
army vastly outnumbered the forces which 
Werder could command, but he was not the 
man to use them effectively. A fair general 
of division, he was tried too high by such a 
task as this. He tried to drive Werder away 
from the weakened forces which had been 
left to maintain the investment of Belfort. 
After some manoeuvring and a little fighting 
*' the French in three corps were as near 
to Belfort as the Germans were with three 
divisions." But Bourbaki did not press his 
advantage. It seems that he intended to 
surround Werder's inferior force and win a 
new, if a minor Sedan. But neither the general 
nor the troops were capable of such a victory. 

La Defense Nationale 173 

The plans were bad and the marching was 

Von Werder may be excused for a fit of 
nervousness. He expected every hour an 
attack from vastly superior forces. He 
could not move without abandoning the 
siege of Belfort. To stay where he was 
seemed likely to involve the destruction of 
his army. He telegraphed to headquarters 
" earnestly praying '' that they would decide 
for him whether the siege of Belfort must 
be continued. Moltke, of course, bade him 
hold on and accept battle, but exonerated 
him from " the moral responsibility for the 
consequences of a possibly disastrous issue." 
Before he received this reply, Werder had 
pulled himself together and resolved to fight. 

He need not have been alarmed. There 
was a three days' battle before him from 
January 15th to 17th, but no desperate 
fighting . The French attacked and drove his 
right wing back upon Belfort. The besieged 
fortress celebrated this success with a feu 
de joie but made no attempt at a sortie. 
Further French advances were not pressed. 
The physical strength of the troops was fail- 
ing, their morale, not very high at the first, 
had been shattered by heavy losses, and the 
generals ©f division had no confidence in 
Bourbaki's scheme of further enveloping 

174 Forty Years After 

movements. Then came the news that Man- 
teuff el was coming down upon them from the 
north. There was nothing for it but retreat. 

Detaching a brigade to deal with Gari- 
baldi's force at Dijon — ^some hard fighting 
there saw the Germans lose the only stand- 
ard taken from them in all the war — Man- 
teuffel struck for Besan9on and cut French 
communications with their bases of supply 
in the west. On January 24th, Bourbaki's 
generals told him that scarcely half their 
men remained and these readier to run 
away than fight. The Commissary General 
reported only four days' supplies. There 
was nothing to do but retreat on the Swiss 
frontier. Gambetta, or at least Freycinet, 
still believed that Bourbaki could break 
his way through and from Bordeaux pro- 
vided him with plans. What confidence in 
himself the unhappy general still had was 
destroyed. Under the strain of reports of 
disaster from all sides, and of the growing 
misery of his army, he attempted his own life. 
General Clinchant succeeded to the command. 
Some confusion over the terms of a limited 
armistice which had been arranged in Paris 
increased his difficulties. On February ist he 
marched his columns across the Swiss frontier. 

For five months after the crushing dis- 
aster of Sedan France had prolonged the 

La Defense Nationale 175 

war at a frightful cost in life and suffering. 
She won for herself no better terms of 
peace. After Pontarlier, Bismarck asked 
neither less nor more than he had asked 
of Wimpffen on the night of Sedan. It is 
literally true that all the energy of 
Gambetta, all the sacrifices which France 
made at his call had not in Moltke's phrase 
** affected the result of the war." But 1 
those who understand in what the strength 
of national life consists will not admit that 
the campaign of National Defence was not 
worth fighting. If France had surren- 
dered on the morrow of Sedan she would 
have saved for herself thousands of men. 
She would have lost her honour. She 
would have admitted that the old military 
prowess of France was dead and that she 
had become a nation ready to cower at 
the first shock of disaster. By the cam- 
paign of National Defence she won for i 
herself out of the midst of disaster the J 
respect of the worl(ljShe preserved for the 
generations to come tEeTaith in her great- 
nesTand her power to rise superior to any 
defeat. The swift restoration of national 
strength after 1871 amazed the world and 
alarmed Germany. It would never have 
been achieved but for the desperate struggle 
of La Defense National*. The vitality 

176 Forty Years After 

of the Third RepubUc springs from that 
stupendous effort. And not yet, not till 
the mad onslaught of the new German 
militarism has learnt what waits it in the 
campaign of 1914 from the resolution of the 
new France shall we be able to estimate the 
achievement of the National Defence of 1871. 


The Siege of Paris 

Not long before 1870, a committee of the 
House of Commons investigating some 
question of high finance asked Lord Over- 
stone ''what would happen if London were 
occupied by a hostile army ? " To which 
Lord Overstone blandly replied : " London 
must not be occupied by a hostile army." 
The answer was recognized as adequate. 
In the same spirit the Government of 
National Defence and the people of Paris 
received the menace of the German siege. 
We have seen how the Germans in their 
advance on the city were not checked by 
any opposition and how Moltke was able 
to begin the investment without fear of 
the operations of any French force. On 
September 17th when the German lines 
closed around the city the only French 
armies were Bazaine's helpless force at 
Metz, and the corps which by a helter- 
skelter retreat Vinoy had contrived to 
save from the German advance and fling 

178 Forty Years After 

into Paris. At first then and for some 
time to come the German headquarters 
were able to devote the whole of their 
available force to the reduction of the city. 
It is inevitable that we should make 
some comparison between the conditions 
of 1870 and. 1914. As these lines are 
written comes the news that a German 
army has again forced its way to the 
ramparts of Paris. What is to be the next 
step in German strategy will be known 
before this sentence is read. But what- 
ever the course of events in the war now 
being waged, it must be obvious that the 
Germans in 1914 have attempted a cam- 
paign which is wholly unlike Moltke's. 
He was able to force decisive battles in the 
first few days of the war. The German 
armies of 1914 penetrated to the fortifi- 
cations of Paris without inflicting any 
grave injury upon the opposing forces. 
Siege, investment, blockade, assault could 
not be undertaken at once without grave 
peril from strong, well-equipped and un- 
defeated armies so situated as to be capable 
of developing a dangerous offensive. We 
need not again emphasize the even more 
important if more obvious part that in 
1914 the fate of Germany depends at least 
as much upon battles in the North Sea 

The Siege of Paris 179 

and in Eastern Europe as upon the war in 

Before these lines are published it may 
well be that their headlong daring will 
have forced the first phase of the campaign 
to a decisive issue. Whether that be to 
the German advantage or not, history will 
nevertheless record that while the arrival 
before Paris in 1870 meant the reaping 
of the harvest of victory, in 1914 it meant 
only the first struggle to clear the 

If we Umit our view still further and 
examine only the case of Paris we find 
differences still more striking. In 1914 
Paris has defences which, however they 
stand the test of war, are reputed to estab- 
Ush it the strongest fortress in the world. 
Every preparation has been made by a 
strong government for a stubborn re- 
sistance. The garrison is sufficient and 
composed of well-trained troops who come 
fresh and undefeated to their work. In 
1870 the fortifications, though in Moltke's 
opinion they '' effectively protected the 
city from being taken by storm," had not 
been designed to cope with the artillery 
of the period. They were constructed 
under Louis PhiUppe, whose reign had ended 
more than twenty years before, and no 

180 Forty Years After 

attempt had been made to improve them. 
In the interim the range of guns had been 
doubled or trebled. So the outworks of 
Paris were *' at so short a distance from 
the main work that the latter could easily 
be reached by the fire of heavy batteries." 
The garrison of 1870 though nominally 
very numerous was for the most part of 
small military value. There were 100,000 
National Guards raised in the city itself 
who were almost worse than useless from 
their deficiencies in equipment and disci- 
pline. There were 115,000 Gardes-Mobiles 
from the provinces who were not much 
better. The effective force of regulars 
numbered less than 80,000 and these w^ere 
disheartened and in some degree disorgan- 
ized by the early events of the campaign 
and hurried retreats. Provisions had to 
be furnished for 2,000,000 people. Just 
before the investment 3,000 oxen, 6,000 
pigs and 180,000 sheep had been brought 
within the lines besides large quantities of 
other stores. But it was calculated that 
the supplies of food were only sufficient 
for six weeks. 

It has been calculated that for the invest- 
ment of Paris to-day some half-a-million 
men would be required. In 1870 the cir- 
cumference of the fortifications was far 

The Siege of Paris 181 

smaller. Places far outside Paris, such as 
Versailles, which was the German head- 
quarters, are now within the defences. But 
even in 1870 the Germans had to blockade 
a line of fifty miles. An attempt to carry 
the fortifications by storm was, as we have 
seen, pronounced by Moltke impracticable. 
An overwhelming bombardment was for 
the time impossible. " It may safely be 
asserted," says Moltke, and the dictum is at 
least interesting in 1914, " that an attack 
on a large fortified place in the heart of the 
enemy's country must always be impossible 
so long as the invader is not master of the 
railways or waterways to bring in endless 
supplies of the necessary material. Its 
mere conveyance by ordinary highways, 
even for a short distance, is a gigantic under- 
taking." The development of mechanical 
transport has no doubt made some change 
in the conditions which Moltke knew. But 
siege guns are still difficult things to move. 
In 1870 the Germans for all their crushing 
victories had the control of only one rail- 
way and even that had been seriously in- 
terrupted by the destruction of a tunnel. 
*' Thus a bombardment was in the first 
instance not to be thought of, and in any 
case the object of it would not be to 
destroy Paris." What would the German 

182 Forty Years After 

commaiiders of 1914 think of that weak 
humanity? — "but to exert a final pressure 
on the inhabitants." 

On September 19th Versailles was cap- 
tured, and the blockade was complete on all 
sides. Six army corps were drawn up on 
a line of eleven miles ready to meet any 
attempt at a sortie. Then F avre made an 
attempt at negotiations. ^^'Bismarck, of 
course, would hear of no discussion on the 
basis of '' not an inch of territory.'* He 
declined even to grant an armistice except 
on intolerable conditions. The blockade 
went on. The Germans were comfortably 
lodged in the deserted villages, but had for 
some time difficulty in obtaining supplies. 
" The fugitive inhabitants had driven off 
their cattle and destroyed their stores : 
only the wine-cellars seemed inexhaustible. 
For the first few days all the food needed 
had to be drawn from the commissariat 
stores, but ere long the cavalry succeeded 
in obtaining fresh provisions. High prices 
and good discipline made traffic safe.'* 
Such is the official German version. Im- 
partial observers tell another tale. 
r-^tt Their system of warfare " — wrote Mr. 
Ajibson Bowles — " is based throughout upon 
/terrorism exercised upon those who cannot 
/defend themselves, in order to awe those 

The Siege of Paris J£2^ 

who can, precisely the same system in fact 
that is pursued by brigands of all countries. 
They fight, indeed, when they cannot help 
it, but when they can they prefer to take 
hostages and levy requisitions upon civil- 
ians, and now that they have met in Paris 
a force capable of resistance they do not 
scruple to take their revenge upon women 
and children.'^ 

How General Trochu the governor of 
Paris " had a plan " which was to deliver 
the city has become a proverb. Many a 
plan was tried. What fortune attended 
the efforts from without we have seen. 
They were supported by gallant efforts from 
within. But for the first half of October the 
garrison attempted no more than a daily 
cannonade which effected nothing of 
importance. " If one of the gigantic Mini6 
shells happened to fall on a picquet the 
destruction was of course terrific ; but on 
the whole they did little execution." The 
French fire, however, wrecked the beautiful 
palace of St. Cloud, the chateau of Meudon, 
and the porcelain factory of Sevres. 

On October i8th, roused by some German 
movements made with the object of 
strengthening the blockade, General Vinoy 
led 25,000 men to the first sortie. He 
forced his way to Chatillon but there found 

184 Forty Years After 

considerable forces in front of him, and as 
he had not hoped to do more than test 
the German lines he withdrew at dusk 
behind the forts. Nothing more of im- 
portance was attempted till the news of 
the French victory at Coulmiers reached 
Paris. Then spirits rose high in the city. 
It was beUeved that the investing armies 
would be compelled to detach large forces 
to deal with the danger in the south, and 
elaborate arrangements were made to 
break through the weakened lines. The 
garrison was reorganized. The untrust- 
worthy National Guard, perhaps 130,000 
men, were to hold the inner defences and 
keep order in the city. 70,000 of the 
Gardes-Mobiles with a stiffening of better 
troops were to carry on minor operations 
against the besieging Unes, while the main 
attacks were delivered by the field army 
of General Ducrot, some 100,000 men 
with 300 guns. On November 30th was 
fought the most important engagement 
of the siege. The sortie was directed 
towards the south, because relief was to 
be expected from that region. It happened 
that on the south the lines of the invest- 
ment were at their weakest. The main 
sortie was cleverly prefaced by minor 
attacks in all directions so that the Germans 

The Siege of Paris 185 

were at a loss to know where serious work 
was intended. In the morning twihght 
a strong force of Ducrot's army moved 
out of Paris, and crossing the Marne by 
temporary bridges, occupied the peninsula 
between the Marne and the Seine as far 
as Champigny and Bry. Other troops 
moved along the north bank of the Marne 
to Neuilly and, bringing artillery into 
action, under protection of its fire con- 
structed bridges and crossed to join their 
comrades on the southern bank. But once 
over they could make no further progress. 
Hard fighting won not an inch of ground. 
The French began to entrench themselves 
and a truce was arranged. On December 
2nd the fighting was renewed, but neither 
side gained much ground. It had how- 
ever became obvious that the French 
would not be able to break through, and 
on the 4th as the German patrols rode out 
towards Bry and Champigny they found 
that the French had withdrawn. This 
sortie of Champigny, the hardest fought 
attempt to break through the blockade, 
cost the Germans more than 6,000 men, 
the French nearly 12,000. 

The first news which Paris had of the 
defeat of the army of d'Aurelle de Pala- 
dines and the German capture of Orleans 

186 Forty Years After 

came it is said in a letter from Moltke. 
After that disaster nothing was to be gained 
by sorties to southward. It was resolved 
to make the next attempt to the north 
through Le Bourget. In the mist of a 
December morning — it was December 21st 
— the German advanced post at Le Bourget, 
one battalion and four companies, found 
itself under fire from the forts, several 
batteries and an armoured train. Large 
numbers of French infantry rushed to the 
attack, and a stubborn fight followed. 
German reinforcements came up, and after 
some murderous hand-to-hand work the 
French were repulsed. That was the end 
of the sortie, for the cannonade which 
followed was a mere display of fireworks. 

By this time Paris had been invested 
three months, but owing to the lack of 
heavy artillery no siege works had been 
constructed. The difficulties of bringing 
it up did not diminish with the growing 
severity of the winter. Both wagons and 
horses were lacking, and the roads were 
not fit for a trafiic in siege guns. By the 
end of the year, however, German energy 
had gained a partial victor}^ over these 
troubles, and 100 guns of the heaviest 
calibre known to 1870 were in position 
to open fire on the southern fortifications. 

The Siege of Paris 187 

The siege of Paris is to be dated from 
September 19th, 1870, but we have to 
reckon the bombardment from January 
5th, 1871. The French forts attacked 
were Issy, Vanves, Montrouge and Mont 
Valerien, and in number of guns the 
French had the advantage. The Germans 
were superior in rapidity of fire. Some 
of the forts were much shattered after 
ten days' bombardment, and the guns at 
Issy and Vanves ahnost silenced. Though 
the German shells were chiefly directed 
against the forts and ramparts, an attempt 
was made to terrorize the city. The main 
points of attack were '* the Luxembourg, 
the InvaHdes, and the ambulance of the 
Val de Grace. A number of women, 
children, and inoffensive citizens were 
killed, but the Parisians soon got used to 
the shells, and the cry of ' Gare Tobus 1 ' 
It is computed that 6,000 shells were thrown 
into Paris in the twelve days, and that the 
deaths due to them were 296." 

One more sortie was attempted. There 
was now only one front on which large 
bodies of troops could be brought into 
action, the region to the south of the city 
in the neighbourhood of Mont Valerien and 
the peninsula of Gennevilliers. On Janu- 
ary 19th a large force marched out under 

188 Forty Years After 

Vinoy, Bellemare and Ducrot. At first 
they made easy progress, for the morning 
was foggy and the German patrols had 
not observed the advance. Then the 4th 
corps of the Germans was roused, the 
Crown Prince sent a strong force of Bav- 
arians and the Landwehr Guard into the 
fight. German artillery came into action, 
and about midday the French were checked. 
A fresh attack brought no further success. 
Late in the afternoon orders were given 
for a retreat. 

After this final repulse, the bombardment 
of the city continued upon three sides, 
north, south and west. At the end of a 
week the damage to the fortifications was 
great. It became probable that the shat- 
tered works would no longer be defensible 
if the Germans chose to attempt an assault. 
Even more perilous than the condition of 
the fortifications was the condition of 
citizens and soldiers. When the blockade 
was begun there had been provisions for 
six weeks. The siege had lasted four 
months. The people were on the brink 
of starvation. A pound of ham sold for 
i6s., a pound of butter for 20s. Horses, 
dogs, and even cats and rats had long been 
used as food. The sufferings of hunger 
were multiplied by the bitter cold and 


The Siege of Paris 189 

the scarcity of fuel. Disease came down 
upon the crowded city. In four months 
64,200 people died of small-pox. There is 
here no room for pictures of the misery 
of that winter. From a brief, cold narrative 
of the facts it must be sufficiently apparent 
that Paris only thought of surrender when 
she had borne all that life can bear, when 
prolonged resistance could only mean a 
fruitless sacrifice of two million human 
bodies on the altar of war. 

On January 23rd, Jules Favre came to 
Versailles to negotiate an armistice. The 
triumph of Germany was complete. Five 
days before, in the Hall of Mirrors of that 
grandiose pile which Louis XIV. reared as 
a temple of his own glory at Versailles, the 
King of Prussia had been proclaimed 
German Emperor. '* Blood and iron '' had 
done its work. With some searchings of 
heart but with outward enthusiasm the 
great states of southern Germany admitted 
the supremacy of the King of Prussia, 
their leader in this triumphant war. The 
new Emperor announced, in words provided 
for him by Bismarck, his resolution " to 
aid at all times the growth of the Empire, 
not by the conquests of the sword, but 
by the goods and gifts of peace in the 
sphere of national prosperity, freedom and 

190 Forty Years After 

culture/' How that resolution has been 
translated by the ruling classes of Prussia, 
how faithfully it has been kept by his 
grandson the world knows well enough. 

For Paris and France there was of course 
no mercy. Favre could only obtain an 
armistice on condition that all the forts 
were given up and the ramparts disarmed. 
During the armistice, which was prolonged 
till March 12th, a National Assembly was 
elected and met at Bordeaux. Though 
Gambetta remained intractable, it was soon 
clear that the voice of the majority w^as 
for peace. Thiers was elected " Chief of the 
Executive " and sent to Versailles to con- 
clude the negotiations. 

Bismarck exacted his price. The whole 
of Alsace save Belfort, a fifth of Lorraine 
including Metz, £200,000,000 and the 
triumphal entry of the German troops 
into Paris were the terms forced from 
Thiers' helpless hands. France was to 
be mutilated, enfeebled, and above all the 
shame of her humiliation was to be branded 
upon her. There is some reason to be- 
lieve that in after years Bismarck allowed 
himself doubts whether it had been true 
statesmanship to tear the frontier provinces 
from France. Not from any kindness for 
the feeling of the people thus ruthlessly 

The Siege of Paris 191 

compelled to change their allegiance. It 
was nothing to him that the great mass of 
them were strongly opposed to German 
rule, and that more than 50,000 preferred 
to abandon home and property and go into 
exile rather than be subjects of the German 
empire. A Prussian statesman, heir to the 
traditions of Frederic the Great, could have 
no qualms at violating the principle of 
nationality. But if all things were lawful 
to Bismarck, all things were certainly not 
expedient. There are odd hints to be found 
in his queer, frank conversations — ^with 
Crispi for example — that he sometimes 
doubted whether the acquisition of Alsace- 
Lorraine was worth to Germany what it 
cost her — the steady hostility of France. 
FoHf the most obvious result of the Franco- 
Glerman war has been the growth of German 
power and arrogance, there is another not 
less important to the world, the resolute 
recuperation of the French people. From 
the downfall of the first Napoleon to the 
downfall of the second France never had 
a policy, or rather, she had by fits and starts 
a score. From the disasters of 1870 to our 
own time she has had but one — to make 
herself so strong that never again should 
she be the victim unallied and unprepared 
of German arms. If we choose to seek 

192 Forty Years After 

more deeply into the history of the war 
and its causes and its effects, we may find 
one more result more important than all 
this. The war was born of faith in the 
gospel of blood and iron, in the doctrine that 
might is right, that military power and 
material strength are the only forces which 
can make or mar national destiny. The 
crushing victories of Germany confirmed 
her in that faith. She has proclaimed in 
and out of season, with a brutal arrogance 
and^with a comical naivete her resolution to 
stand by it. For the sake of it she has cast 
down the gauntlet to civilization. Now 
we have upon us a war which must decide 
whether Germany can escape the doom which 
ever since nationality became a principle 
of civilization, has stricken down all powers 
of her faith, or whether the old and proven 
laws of national Hfe and national honour 
are still endowed with the old inexorable 

Wyman & Sons Ltd., Primers, London and Reading, 



^ Bailey, Henry Christopher 

290 Forty years after, the story 

B25 of the Franco-German war, I87O