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My Days of Adventure by Ernest Alfred Vizetelly

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Reed to run his review _Naval Science_. At the time of the Franco-German
war, however, my brother, then in his twenty-sixth year, was writing on
naval subjects for the _Daily News_ and the _Pall Mall Gazette,_ edited
respectively by John Robinson and Frederick Greenwood. A few articles
written by me during my siege days were sent direct to the latter by
balloon-post, but I knew not what their fate might be. The _Pall Mall_
might be unable to use them, and there was no possibility of their being
returned to me in Paris. My father, whom I assisted in preparing a variety
of articles, suggested that everything of this kind--that is, work not
intended for the _Illustrated London News_--should be sent to my brother
for him to deal with as opportunity offered. He placed a few articles with
_The Times_--notably some rather long ones on the fortifications and
armament of Paris, whilst others went to the _Daily News_ and the _Pall
Mall_.

When, after coming out of Paris, I arrived in Brittany, I heard that
virtually everything sent from the capital by my father or myself had been
used in one or another paper, and was not a little pleased to receive a
draft on a Saint Malo banking-house for my share of the proceeds. This
money enabled me to proceed, in the first instance, in the direction of Le
Mans, which the Germans were already threatening. Before referring,
however, to my own experiences I must say something further respecting the
general position. The battle of Coulmiers (November 9) was followed by a
period of inaction on the part of the Loire Army. Had D'Aurelle pursued
Von der Tann he might have turned his barren victory to good account. But
he had not much confidence in his troops, and the weather was bad--sleet
and snow falling continually. Moreover, the French commander believed that
the Bavarian retreat concealed a trap. At a conference held between him,
Gambetta, Freyoinet, and the generals at the head of the various army
corps, only one of the latter---Chanzy--favoured an immediate march on
Paris. Borel, who was chief of D'Aurelle's staff, proposed to confine
operations to an advance on Chartres, which would certainly have been a
good position to occupy, for it would have brought the army nearer to the
capital, giving it two railway lines, those of Le Mans and Granville, for
revictualling purposes, and enabling it to retreat on Brittany in the
event of any serious reverse. But no advance at all was made. The Germans
were allowed all necessary time to increase their forces, the French
remaining inactive within D'Aurelle's lines, and their _morale_ steadily
declining by reason of the hardships to which they were subjected. The
general-in-chief refused to billet them in the villages--for fear, said
he, of indiscipline--and compelled them to bivouack, under canvas, in the
mud; seldom, moreover, allowing any fires to be kindled. For a score of
days did this state of affairs continue, and the effect of it was seen at
the battle of Beaune-la-Rolande.

The responsibility for the treatment of the troops rests on D'Aurelle's
memory and that of some of his fellow-generals. Meantime, Gambetta and
Freycinet were exerting themselves to improve the situation generally.
They realized that the release of Prince Frederick Charles's forces from
the investment of Metz necessitated the reinforcement of the Army of the
Loire, and they took steps accordingly. Cambriels had now been replaced in
eastern France by a certain General Michel, who lost his head and was
superseded by his comrade Crouzat. The last-named had with him 30,000 men
and 40 guns to contend against the 21,000 men and the 70 guns of Werder's
army. In order to strengthen the Loire forces, however, half of Crouzat's
men and he himself received orders to approach Orleans by way of Nevers
and Gien, the remainder of his army being instructed to retire on Lyons,
in order to quiet the agitation prevailing in that city, which regarded
itself as defenceless and complained bitterly thereof, although there was
no likelihood at all of a German attack for at least some time to come.

The new arrangements left Garibaldi chief commander in eastern France,
though the forces directly under his orders did not at this time exceed
5000 men, and included, moreover, no fewer than sixty petty free-corps,
who cared little for discipline. [There were women in several of these
companies, one of the latter including no fewer than eighteen amazons.]
A month or two previously the advent of from twenty to thirty thousand
Italian volunteers had been confidently prophesied, but very few of these
came forward. Nevertheless, Ricciotti Garibaldi (with whom was my brother
Edward) defeated a German force in a sharp engagement at Chatillon-sur-
Seine (November 19), and a week later the Garibaldians made a gallant
attempt to recapture the city of Dijon. Five thousand men, however, were
of no avail against an army corps; and thus, even if the Garibaldian
attack had momentarily succeeded, it would have been impossible to hold
Dijon against Werder's troops. The attempt having failed, the German
commander resolved to crush the Army of the Vosges, which fled and
scattered, swiftly pursued by a brigade under General von Keller. Great
jealousy prevailed at this moment among the French generals in command of
various corps which might have helped the Garibaldians. Bressolles,
Crevisier, and Cremer were at loggerheads. On November 30 the last-named
fought an indecisive action at Nuits, followed nearly three weeks later by
another in which he claimed the victory.

Meantime, Crouzat's force, now known as the 20th Army Corps, had been
moving on Nevers. To assist the Loire Army yet further, General Bourbaki
had been summoned from the north-west of France. At the fall of the Empire
the defence in that part of the country had been entrusted to Fririon,
whom Espinet de la Villeboisnet succeeded. The resources at the disposal
of both those generals were very limited, confined, indeed, to men of the
regimental dépôts and some Mobile Guards. There was a deficiency both of
officers and of weapons, and in the early skirmishes which took place with
the enemy, the principal combatants were armed peasants, rural firemen,
and the National Guards of various towns. It is true that for a while the
German force consisted only of a battalion of infantry and some Saxon
cavalry. Under Anatole de la Forge, Prefect of the Aisne, the open town of
Saint Quentin offered a gallant resistance to the invader, but although
this had some moral effect, its importance was not great. Bourbaki, who
succeeded La Villeboisnet in command of the region, was as diffident
respecting the value of his troops as was D'Aurelle on the Loire. He had
previously commanded the very pick of the French army, that is the
Imperial Guard, and the men now placed under his orders were by no means
of the same class. Bourbaki was at this time only fifty-four years of age,
and when, after being sent out of Metz on a mission to the Empress Eugénie
at Hastings, he had offered his services to the National Defence, the
latter had given him the best possible welcome. But he became one of the
great military failures of the period.

After the fall of Metz the Germans despatched larger forces under
Manteuffel into north-west France. Altogether there were 35,000 infantry
and 4000 cavalry, with 174 guns, against a French force of 22,000 men who
were distributed with 60 guns over a front of some thirty miles, their
object being to protect both Amiens and Rouen. When Bourbaki was summoned
to the Loire, he left Farre as chief commander in the north, with
Faidherbe and Lecointe as his principal lieutenants. There was bad
strategy on both sides, but La Fère capitulated to the Germans on November
26, and Amiens on the 29th.

Meantime, the position in beleaguered Paris was becoming very bad. Some
ten thousand men, either of the regular or the auxiliary forces, were laid
up in hospital, less on account of wounds than of disease. Charcoal--for
cooking purposes according to the orthodox French system--was being
strictly rationed, On November 20 only a certain number of milch cows and
a few hundred oxen, reserved for hospital and ambulance patients, remained
of all the bovine live stock collected together before the siege. At the
end of November, 500 horses were being slaughtered every day. On the other
hand, the bread allowance had been raised from 750 grammes to a kilogramme
per diem, and a great deal of bread was given to the horses as food.
Somewhat uncertain communications had been opened with the provinces by
means of pigeon-post, the first pigeon to bring despatches into the city
arriving there on November 15. The despatches, photographed on the
smallest possible scale, were usually enclosed in quills fastened under
one or another of the birds' wings. Each balloon that left the city now
took with it a certain number of carrier-pigeons for this service. Owing,
however, to the bitter cold which prevailed that winter, many of the birds
perished on the return journey, and thus the despatches they carried did
not reach Paris. Whenever any such communications arrived there, they had
to be enlarged by means of a magic-lantern contrivance, in order that they
might be deciphered. Meantime, the aeronauts leaving the city conveyed
Government despatches as well as private correspondence, and in this wise
Trochu was able to inform Gambetta that the army of Paris intended to make
a great effort on November 29.

X

WITH THE "ARMY OF BRITTANY"

The German Advance Westward--Gambetta at Le Mans--The "Army of Brittany"
and Count de Kératry--The Camp of Conlie--The Breton Marching Division--
Kératry resigns--The Champigny Sortie from Paris--The dilatory D'Aurelle--
The pitiable 20th Army Corps--Battles of Beaune-la-Rolande and Loigny--
Loss of Orleans--D'Aurelle superseded by Chanzy--Chanzy's Slow Retreat--
The 21st Corps summoned to the Front--I march with the Breton Division--
Marchenoir and Fréteval--Our Retreat--Our Rearguard Action at Droué--
Behaviour of the Inhabitants--We fight our Way from Fontenelle to Saint
Agil--Guns and Quagmires--Our Return to Le Mans--I proceed to Bennes and
Saint Malo.

After the Châteaudun affair the Germans secured possession of Chartres,
whence they proceeded to raid the department of the Eure. Going by way of
Nogent-le-Roi and Châteauneuf-en-Thimerais, they seized the old
ecclesiastical town of Evreux on November 19, whereupon the French hastily
retreated into the Orne. Some minor engagements followed, all to the
advantage of the Germans, who on the 22nd attacked and occupied the
ancient and strategically important town of Nogent-le-Rotrou--the lordship
of which, just prior to the great Revolution, belonged to the family of
the famous Count D'Orsay, the lover of Lady Blessington and the friend of
Napoleon III. The occupation of Nogent brought the Germans to a favourable
point on the direct railway-line between Paris and Le Mans, the capital of
Maine. The region had been occupied by a somewhat skeleton French army
corps--the 21st--commanded by a certain General Fiereck. On the loss of
Nogent, Gambetta immediately replaced him by one of the many naval
officers who were now with the French armies, that is Post-Captain (later
Admiral) Constant Jaurès, uncle of the famous Socialist leader of more
recent times. Jaurès at once decided to retreat on Le Mans, a distance of
rather more than a hundred miles, and this was effected within two days,
but under lamentable circumstances. Thousands of starving men deserted,
and others were only kept with the columns by the employment of cavalry
and the threat of turning the artillery upon them.

Directly Gambetta heard of the state of affairs, he hastened to Le Mans to
provide for the defence of that extremely important point, where no fewer
than five great railway lines converged, those of Paris, Alençon, Rennes,
Angers, and Tours. The troops commanded by Jaurès were in a very
deplorable condition, and it was absolutely necessary to strengthen them.
It so happened that a large body of men was assembled at Conlie, sixteen
or seventeen miles away. They formed what was called the "Army of
Brittany," and were commanded by Count Emile de Kératry, the son of a
distinguished politician and literary man who escaped the guillotine
during the Reign of Terror. The Count himself had sat in the Legislative
Body of the Second Empire, but had begun life as a soldier, serving both
in the Crimea and in Mexico, in which latter country he had acted as one
of Bazaine's orderly officers. At the Revolution Kératry was appointed
Prefect of Police, but on October 14 he left Paris by balloon, being
entrusted by Trochu and Jules Favre with a mission to Prim, in the hope
that he might secure Spanish support for France. Prim and his colleagues
refused to intervene, however, and Kératry then hastened to Tours, where
he placed himself at the disposal of Gambetta, with whom he was on terms
of close friendship. It was arranged between them that Kératry should
gather together all the available men who were left in Brittany, and train
and organize them, for which purposes a camp was established at Conlie,
north-west of Le Mans.

Conlie was the first place which I decided to visit on quitting Saint
Servan. The most appalling rumours were current throughout Brittany
respecting the new camp. It was said to be grossly mismanaged and to be a
hotbed of disease. I visited it, collected a quantity of information, and
prepared an article which was printed by the _Daily News_ and attracted
considerable attention, being quoted by several other London papers and
taken in two instances as the text for leading articles. So far as the
camp's defences and the arming of the men assembled within it were
concerned, my strictures were fully justified, but certain official
documents, subsequently published, indicate that I was in error on some
points. The whole question having given rise to a good deal of controversy
among writers on the Franco-German War--some of them regarding Conlie as a
flagrant proof of Gambetta's mismanagement of military affairs--I will
here set down what I believe to be strictly the truth respecting it.

The camp was established near the site of an old Roman one, located
between Conlie and Domfront, the principal part occupying some rising
ground in the centre of an extensive valley. It was intended to be a
training camp rather than an entrenched and fortified one, though a
redoubt was erected on the south, and some works were begun on the
northern and the north-eastern sides. When the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg
reached Conlie after the battle of Le Mans, he expressed his surprise that
the French had not fortified so good a position more seriously, and
defended it with vigour. Both the railway line and the high-road between
Laval and Le Mans were near at hand, and only a few miles away there was
the old town of Sillé-le-Guillaume, one of the chief grain and cattle
markets of the region. There was considerable forest-land in the vicinity,
and wood was abundant. But there was no watercourse, and the wells of the
various adjacent little farms yielded but a very inadequate supply of
water for a camp in which at one moment some 40,000 men were assembled.
Thus, at the outset, the camp lacked one great essential, and such was the
case when I visited it in November. But I am bound to add that a source
was soon afterwards found in the very centre of the camp, and tapped so
successfully by means of a steam-pumping arrangement that it ended by
yielding over 300,000 litres of water per diem. The critics of the camp
have said that the spot was very damp and muddy, and therefore necessarily
unhealthy, and there is truth in that assertion; but the same might be
remarked of all the camps of the period, notably that of D'Aurelle de
Paladines in front of Orleans. Moreover, when a week's snow was followed
by a fortnight's thaw, matters could scarcely be different. [From first to
last (November 12 to January 7) 1942 cases of illness were treated in the
five ambulances of the camp. Among them were 264 cases of small-pox. There
were a great many instances of bronchitis and kindred affections, but not
many of dysentery. Among the small-pox cases 88 proved fatal.]

I find on referring to documents of the period that on November 23, the
day before Gambetta visited the camp, as I shall presently relate, the
total effective was 665 officers with 23,881 men. By December 5 (although
a marching division of about 12,000 men had then left for the front) the
effective had risen to 1241 officers with about 40,000 men. [The rationing
of the men cost on an average about 7_d._ per diem.] There were 40 guns
for the defence of the camp, and some 50 field-pieces of various types,
often, however, without carriages and almost invariably without teams.
At no time, I find, were there more than 360 horses and fifty mules in the
camp. There was also a great scarcity of ammunition for the guns.
On November 23, the 24,000 men assembled in the camp had between them the
following firearms and ammunition:--

_Weapons_ _Cartridges_

Spencers (without bayonets) .. 5,000 912,080
Chassepots .. .. .. .. 2,080 100,000
Remingtons .. .. .. .. 2,000 218,000
Snyders .. .. .. .. 1,866 170,000
Muskets of various types .. .. 9,684 _Insufficient_
Revolvers .. .. .. .. 500 _Sufficient_
______
21,130

Such things as guns, gun-carriages, firearms, cartridges, bayonets, and so
forth formed the subject of innumerable telegrams and letters exchanged
between Kératry and the National Defence Delegation at Tours. The former
was constantly receiving promises from Gambetta, which were seldom kept,
supplies at first intended for him being at the last moment sent in other
directions, according to the more pressing requirements of the hour.
Moreover, a good many of the weapons which Kératry actually received were
defective. In the early days of the camp, many of the men were given
staves--broom-sticks in some instances--for use at drill.

When Gambetta arrived at Le Mans after Jaurès had retreated thither, he
learnt that action had become the more urgent as the Germans were steadily
prosecuting their advance. By orders of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg,
to whose army these forces belonged, the French were followed to La
Ferté-Bernard; and whilst one German column then went west towards Saint
Cosme, another advanced southward to Vibraye, thus seriously threatening
Le Mans. Such was the position on November 23. Fortunately, Freycinet was
able to send Jaurès reinforcements which brought his effective to about
35,000 men, and at the same time Gambetta urged Kératry to prepare a
marching division of the men at Conlie. Early on the 24th, Gambetta (who,
by the way, had travelled from Tours to Le Mans at full speed on a railway
engine) visited the camp, and expressed his approval of all he saw there.
I caught a glimpse of him, muffled in his fur coat, and looking, as well
he might, intensely cold. His orders to Kératry were to proceed to Saint
Calais, and thence to the forest of Vibraye, so as to cover Le Mans on the
east. It took fourteen hours and twenty-one trains to convey the marching
division to Yvré l'Evêque on the Huisne, just beyond Le Mans. The
effective of the division was roughly 12,000 men, nearly all of them being
Breton Mobilisés. The artillery consisted of one battery of 12's, and one
of 4's, with the necessary horses, two batteries of 4's dragged by naval
volunteers, and several Gatling guns, which had only just been delivered.
These Gatlings, which at that time were absolutely unknown in France, were
not mounted, but packed in sections in sealed zinc cases, which were
opened in the railway vans on the journey, the guns being there put
together by a young naval officer and a couple of civilian engineers. A
little later the artillery of the force was augmented.

After these troops had taken up position at Yvré, in order to prevent the
enemy from crossing the Huisne, various conferences were held between
Gambetta, Jaurès, and Kératry. General Le Bouëdec had been left in command
at Conlie, and General Trinité had been selected to command the marching
division of the Bretons. From the very outset, however, Kératry objected
to the plans of Gambetta and Jaurès, and, for the moment, the duties of
the Bretons were limited to participating in a reconnaissance on a
somewhat large scale--two columns of Jaurès' forces, under Generals Colin
and Rousseau, joining in this movement, which was directed chiefly on
Bouloire, midway between Le Mans and Saint Calais on the east. When
Bouloire was reached, however, the Germans who had momentarily occupied it
had retired, and the French thereupon withdrew to their former positions
near Le Mans.

Then came trouble. Gambetta placed Kératry under the orders of Jaurès, and
Kératry would not accept the position. Great jealousy prevailed between
these two men; Kératry, who had served ten years in the French Army,
claiming that he knew a good deal more about military matters than Jaurès,
who, as I previously mentioned, had hitherto been a naval officer. In the
end Kératry threw up his command. Le Bouëdec succeeded him at Conlie, and
Frigate-Captain Gougeard (afterwards Minister of Marine in Gambetta's
Great Ministry) took charge of the Bretons at Yvré, where he exerted
himself to bring them to a higher state of efficiency.

I must now refer to some other matters. Trochu had informed Gambetta of
his intention to make a sortie on the south-eastern side of Paris. The
plans adopted were mainly those of Ducrot, who took chief command. A
diversion made by Vinoy to the south of the city on November 29 gave the
Germans an inkling of what was intended, and proved a fruitless venture
which cost the French 1000 men. Another diversion attempted by General
Susbielle on November 30 led to a similar result, with a loss of 1200 men.
Ducrot, however, crossed the Marne, and very desperate fighting ensued at
Champigny and neighbouring localities. But Ducrot's force (less than
100,000 men) was insufficient for his purpose. The weather, moreover, was
extremely cold, the men had brought with them neither tents nor blankets,
and had to bivouac without fires. According to Trochu's memoirs there was
also an insufficiency of ammunition. Thus the Champigny sortie failed,
and the French retired to their former lines. [From November 30 to
December 3 the French lost 9482 men; and the Germans 5288 men.]

At the very moment when the Army of Paris was in full retreat, the second
battle of Orleans was beginning. Gambetta and Freyoinet wished D'Aurelle
to advance with the Loire Army in order to meet the Parisians, who, if
victorious, were expected to march on Fontainebleau by way of Melun. In
the latter days of November D'Aurelle was still covering Orleans on the
north with the 15th and 16th army corps (Generals Martin des Pallieres and
Chanzy). On his left was the 17th under Durrieu, who, a few days later,
was succeeded by a dashing cavalry officer, General de Sonis. Near at
hand, also, there was the 18th army corps, to command which Bourbaki had
been summoned from northern France, his place being taken temporarily by
young General Billot, who was appointed to be his chief of staff. The
former Army of the East under Crouzat [This had now become the 20th Army
Corps.] was on the southern side of the Loire, somewhere between Gien and
Nevers, and it was in a very deplorable condition. Boots were wanted for
10,000 men, tents for a like number, and knapsacks for 20,000. In some
battalions there were only sufficient knapsacks for a quarter of the men,
the others carrying their clothes, provisions, and cartridges all
higgledy-piggledy in canvas bags. I once heard an eyewitness relate that
many of Crouzat's soldiers marched with their biscuits (four days' supply)
strung together like chaplets, which hung from their necks or shoulders.

The Germans had heard of the removal of Crouzat's force to the Loire
country, and by way of creating a diversion the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg
was ordered to march on Beaugenoy, southwest of Orleans. Meantime,
Gambetta and Freyoinet were vainly imploring D'Aurelle to advance. He made
all sorts of excuses. At one moment he offered to consider their plans--
not to comply with them; at another he wished to wait for decisive news
from Trochu and Ducrot. Finally, instead of the five army corps resolutely
advancing in the direction of Paris, it was resolved just to open the way
with the 18th (Billot), the 20th (Crouzat), and some detachments of the
15th (Martin des Pallieres). The result was the sharp battle and serious
defeat of Beaune-la-Rolande (November 28), when the 18th corps behaved
extremely well, whilst the 20th, to whose deplorable condition I have just
referred, retreated after a little fighting; the men of the 15th on their
side doing little or nothing at all. In this engagement the French, whose
forces ought to have been more concentrated, lost 4000 men in killed and
wounded, and 1800 who were taken prisoners; the German loss not exceeding
1000 men. Four days later (December 2) came the very serious repulse of
Loigny-Poupry, in which the 15th, 16th, and 17th army corps were engaged.
The French then lost from 6000 to 7000 men (2500 of them being taken
prisoners), and though the German losses exceeded 4000, the engagement
ended by quite demoralising D'Aurelle's army.

Under those conditions came the battle of Orleans on December 3 and 4--the
Germans now being under the chief command of that able soldier, Prince
Frederick Charles of Prussia, father of the Duchess of Connaught. On this
occasion D'Aurelle ordered the corps engaged at Loigny to retreat on his
entrenched camp. The 18th and 20th could not cooperate in this movement,
however; and on the three others being driven back, D'Aurelle instructed
Chanzy to retire on Beaugency and Marchenoir, but sent no orders to
Bourbaki, who was now on the scene of action. Finally, the commander-in-
chief decided to abandon his entrenched camp, the troops disbanded and
scattered, and Orleans was evacuated, the flight being so precipitate that
two of the five bridges across the Loire were left intact, at the enemy's
disposal. Moreover, the French Army was now dislocated, Bourbaki, with the
18th, and Des Pallières, with the 15th corps, being on the south of the
river, whilst the other three corps were on the northern side. The former
retired in the direction of Bourges and Nevers, whilst Chanzy, who was now
placed in chief command of the others, D'Aurelle being removed from his
post, withdrew gradually towards the forest of Marchenoir. In that second
battle of Orleans the French lost 20,000 men, but 18,000 of them were
taken prisoners. On their side, the Germans (who captured 74 guns) lost
fewer than 1800 men.

For three days (December 8 to 10) Chanzy contested the German advance at
Villorceau, but on December 12 Blois had to be evacuated, and the army
withdrew to the line of the Loir in the neighbourhood of Vendôme.
Meantime, at the very moment when the fate of Orleans was being sealed,
orders reached Jaurès at Le Mans to advance to the support of the Loire
Army. I was lodging at an inn in the town, my means being too slender to
enable me to patronize any of the big hotels on the Place des Halles,
which, moreover, were crowded with officers, functionaries, and so forth.
I had become acquainted with some of the officers of the Breton division
under Gougeard, and on hearing that they were going to the front, I
managed to obtain from Colonel Bernard, Gougeard's chief of staff,
permission to accompany the column with one of the ambulance parties. Now
and again during the advance I rode in one of the vans, but for the most
part I marched with the men, this, moreover, being the preferable course,
as the weather was extremely cold. Even had I possessed the means (and at
most I had about £10 in my pocket), I could not have bought a horse at Le
Mans. I was stoutly clad, having a very warm overcoat of grey Irish
frieze, with good boots, and a pair of gaiters made for me by Nicholas,
the Saint Malo bootmaker, younger brother (so he himself asserted) of
Niccolini the tenor, sometime husband of Mme. Patti.

There were from 10,000 to 12,000 men in our force, which now ranked as the
fourth division of the 21st army corps. Nearly all the men of both
brigades were Breton Mobilisés, adjoined to whom, however, perhaps for the
purpose of steadying them, were three or four very small detachments of
former regiments of the line. There was also a small contingent of the
French Foreign Legion, which had been brought from Algeria. Starting from
Yvré l'Evêque towards, noon on December 4, we marched to Ardenay, where
we spent the night. The weather was fine and dry, but intensely cold.
On the 5th we camped on some hills near the town of Saint Calais, moved
only a mile or two farther on the 6th--there being a delay in the receipt
of certain orders--then, at seven o'clock on the 7th, started in the
direction of Vendôme, marching for about twelve hours with only the
briefest halts. We passed from the department of the Sarthe into that
of Loir-et-Cher, going on until we reached a little place called
Ville-aux-Cleros, where we spent the night under uncomfortable conditions,
for it snowed. Early the following day we set out again, and, leaving
Vendôme a couple of miles or so away on our right, we passed Fréteval and
camped on the outskirts of the forest of Marchenoir.

The night proved bitterly cold, the temperature being some fourteen
degrees (centigrade) below freezing-point. I slept huddled up in a van,
but the men generally were under canvas, and there was very little straw
for them to lie upon, in such wise that in the morning some of them
actually found their garments frost-bound to the ground! Throughout the
night of the 10th we heard guns booming in the distance. On the 11th, the
12th, and the 13th December we were continually marching, always going in
the direction of the guns. We went from Ecoman to Morée, to Saint
Hilaire-la-Gravelle, and thence to the Chateau de Rougemont near
Fréteval, a spot famous as the scene of a victory gained by our Richard
Coeur-de-Lion over Philip Augustus. The more or less distant artillery
fire was incessant both by day and by night; but we were only supporting
other divisions of the corps, and did not find ourselves actually engaged.
On the 15th, however, there was very sharp fighting both at Fréteval and
Morée, and on the morning of the 16th our Gatlings went forward to support
the second division of our army corps, which was being hard pressed by the
Germans.

All at once, however, orders for a general retreat arrived, Chanzy having
at last decided to fall back on Le Mans. There was considerable confusion,
but at last our men set out, taking a north-westerly direction. Fairly
good order prevailed on the road, and the wiry little Bretons at least
proved that their marching powers were unimpaired. We went on incessantly
though slowly during the night, and did not make a real halt until about
seven o'clock on the following morning, when, almost dead-beat, we reached
a little town called Droué.

Jaurès, I should mention, had received the order to retreat at about four
o'clock on the afternoon of December 16, and had speedily selected three
different routes for the withdrawal of the 21st army corps. Our division,
however, was the last to quit its positions, it being about eight o'clock
at night when we set out. Thus our march lasted nine hours. The country
was a succession of sinuous valleys and stiff slopes, and banks often
overlooked the roads, which were edged with oaks and bushes. There were
several streams, a few woods, and a good many little copses. Farms often
lay close together, and now and again attempts were made to buy food and
drink of the peasantry, who, upon hearing our approach, came at times with
lights to their thresholds. But they were a close-fisted breed, and
demanded exorbitant prices. Half a franc was the lowest charge for a piece
of bread. Considering how bad the men's boots were, the marching was very
good, but a number of men deserted under cover of the night. Generally
speaking, though there was a slight skirmish at Cloyes and an engagement
at Droué, as I shall presently relate, the retreat was not greatly
hampered by the enemy. In point of fact, as the revelations of more recent
years have shown, Moltke was more anxious about the forces of Bourbaki
than about those of Chanzy, and both Prince Frederick Charles and the
Grand Duke of Mecklenburg had instructions to keep a strict watch on the
movements of Bourbaki's corps. Nevertheless, some of the Grand Duke's
troops--notably a body of cavalry--attempted to cut off our retreat. When,
however, late on the 16th, some of our men came in contact with a
detachment of the enemy near Cloyes, they momentarily checked its
progress, and, as I have indicated, we succeeded in reaching Droué without
loss.

That morning, the 17th, the weather was again very cold, a fog following
the rain and sleet of the previous days. Somewhat later, however, snow
began to fall. At Droué--a little place of about a thousand inhabitants,
with a ruined castle and an ancient church--we breakfasted as best we
could. About nine o'clock came marching orders, and an hour later, when a
large number of our men were already on their way towards Saint Agil, our
next halting-place, General Gougeard mounted and prepared to go off with
his staff, immediately in advance of our rear-guard. At that precise
moment, however, we were attacked by the Germans, whose presence near us
we had not suspected.

It was, however, certainly known to some of the inhabitants of Droué, who,
terrified by all that they had heard of the harshness shown by the Germans
towards the localities where they encountered any resistance, shrank from
informing either Gougeard or any of his officers that the enemy was at
hand. The artillery with which our rear was to be protected was at this
moment on the little square of Droué. It consisted of a mountain battery
under Sub-Lieutenant Gouesse of the artillery, and three Gatlings under
Sub-Lieutenant De la Forte of the navy, with naval lieutenant Rodellec du
Porzic in chief command. Whilst it was being brought into position,
Colonel Bernard, Gougeard's chief of staff, galloped off to stop the
retreat of the other part of our column. The enemy's force consisted of
detachments of cavalry, artillery, and Landwehr infantry. Before our
little guns could be trained on them, the Landwehr men had already seized
several outlying houses, barns, and sheds, whence they strove to pick off
our gutiners. For a moment our Mobilisés hesitated to go forward, but
Gougeard dashed amongst them, appealed to their courage, and then led them
against the enemy.

Not more than three hundred yards separated the bulk of the contending
forces, indeed there were some Germans in the houses less than two hundred
yards away. Our men at last forced these fellows to decamp, killing and
wounding several of them; whilst, thanks to Colonel Bernard's prompt
intervention, a battalion of the 19th line regiment and two companies of
the Foreign Legion, whose retreat was hastily stopped, threatened the
enemy's right flank. A squadron of the Second Lancers under a young
lieutenant also came to our help, dismounting and supporting Gougeard's
Mobilises with the carbines they carried. Realizing that we were in force,
the enemy ended by retreating, but not until there had been a good deal of
fighting in and around the outlying houses of Droué.

Such, briefly, was the first action I ever witnessed. Like others, I was
under fire for some time, being near the guns and helping to carry away
the gunners whom the Germans shot from the windows of the houses in which
they had installed themselves. We lost four or five artillerymen in that
manner, including the chief officer, M. de Rodelleo du Porzic, whom a
bullet struck in the chest. He passed away in a little café whither we
carried him. He was, I believe, the last of his family, two of his
brothers having previously been killed in action.

We lost four or five other officers in this same engagement, as well as a
Breton chaplain of the Mobilisés. Our total losses were certainly larger
than Gougeard subsequently stated in his official report, amounting in
killed and wounded, I think, to from 120 to 150 men. Though the officers
as a rule behaved extremely well--some of them, indeed, splendidly--there
were a few lamentable instances of cowardice. By Gougeard's orders, four
were placed under arrest and court-martialled at the end of the retreat.
Of these, two were acquitted, whilst a third was shot, and a fourth
sentenced to two years' imprisonment in a fortress. [From the formation of
the "Army of Brittany" until the armistice the total number of executions
was eleven. They included one officer (mentioned above) for cowardice in
presence of the enemy; five men of the Foreign Legion for murdering
peasants; one Franc-titeur for armed robbery, and four men (Line and
Mobile Guards) for desertion in presence of the enemy. The number would
have been larger had it been possible to identify and punish those who
were most guilty in the stampede of La Tuilerie during the battle of
Le Mans.]

The enemy's pursuit having been checked, we eventually quitted Droué, but
when we had gone another three miles or so and reached a village called
Fontenelle, the Germans came on again. It was then about two o'clock in
the afternoon, and for a couple of hours or so, whilst we continued our
retreat, the enemy kept up a running cannonade, repeatedly endeavouring
to harass our rear. We constantly replied to their fire, however, and
steadily kept them off, losing only a few men before the dusk fell, when
the pursuit ceased. We afterwards plodded on slowly--the roads being in a
terrible condition--until at about half-past six o'clock we reached the
village of Saint Agil, where the staff installed itself at Count de
Saint-Maixent's stately renaissance château.

The weather was better on December 18, for, though it was extremely cold,
the snow ceased falling. But we still had a formidable task before us.
The roads, as I have said, were wretched, and at Saint Agil we had to
contend with some terrible quagmires, across which we found it at first
impossible to get our guns, ammunition-vans, and baggage train. It became
necessary to lop and fell trees, and form with them a kind of bed over
which our impedimenta might travel. Hour after hour went by amidst
incessant labour. An ammunition waggon containing only half its proper
load required the efforts of a dozen horses to pull it over that morass,
whilst, as for the guns, each of the 12's required even more horses.
It was three o'clock on the afternoon of the 18th when the last gun was
got across. Three gun-carriages were broken during those efforts, but our
men managed to save the pieces. Late in the operations the Germans again
put in an appearance, but were held in respect by our Gatlings and
mountain-guns. Half an hour, however, after our departure from Saint Agil,
they entered the village.

In a very wretched condition, half-famished and footsore, we went on,
through the sudden thaw which had set in, towards Vibraye, whose forest,
full in those days of wild boars and deer, stretched away on our left.
We were now in the department of the Sarthe, and, cutting across country
in the direction of the Huisne, we at last reached the ancient little
_bourg_ of Connerré, on the high-road running (left of the river) towards
Le Mans. There I took leave of our column, and, after buying a shirt and
some socks, hastened to the railway station--a mile and a half distant--
hoping, from what was told me, that there might be some means of getting
to Le Mans by train, instead of accompanying our men along the highway.
At Connerré station I found a very good inn, where I at once partook of
the best meal that I had eaten since leaving Le Mans, sixteen days
previously. I then washed, put on my new shirt and socks, and went to
interview the station-master. After a great deal of trouble, as I had a
permit signed by Colonel Bernard, and wore an ambulance armlet, I was
allowed to travel to Le Mans in a railway van. There was no regular
service of trains, the only ones now running so far north being used for
military purposes. I got to Le Mans a few hours before our column reached
Yvré l'Evêque on the night of December 20, and at once sought a train
which would convey me to Rennes, if not as far as Saint Malo. Then came
another long, slow, dreary journey in a villainous wooden-seated
third-class carriage. It was between ten and eleven o'clock in the morning
when we reached Rennes. I still had about five-and-twenty francs in my
pocket, and knowing that it would not cost me more than a quarter of that
amount to get to Saint Malo, I resolved to indulge in a good _dejeuner_ at
the Hôtel de France.

There was nobody excepting a few waiters in the long dining-room, but the
tables were already laid there. When, however, I seated myself at one of
them, the head-waiter came up declaring that I could not be accommodated,
as the tables were reserved for _ces messieurs_. I was inquiring who
_ces messieurs_ might be, when some of them entered the room in a very
swaggering manner. All were arrayed in stylish and brand-new uniforms,
with beautiful boots, and looked in the pink of condition. They belonged,
I found, to a free corps called the "Eclaireurs d'Ille-et-Vilaine," and
their principal occupations were to mess together copiously and then
stroll about the town, ogling all the good-looking girls they met. The
corps never went to the front. Three or four weeks afterwards, when I
again passed through Rennes--this second time with my father--Messieurs
les Eclaireurs were still displaying their immaculate uniforms and highly
polished boots amidst all the misery exhibited by the remnants of one of
Chanzy's _corps d'armée_.

Though I was little more than a boy, my blood fairly boiled when I was
requested to give up my seat at table for these arrogant young fops.
I went to complain at the hotel _bureau_, but, being confronted there by
the landlady instead of by the landlord, I did not express my feelings so
strongly as I might have done. "Madame" sweetly informed me that the first
_déjeuner_ was entirely reserved for Messieurs les Eclaireurs, but that,
if I would wait till the second _déjeuner_ at noon, I should find ample
accommodation. However, I was not inclined to do any such thing. I thought
of all the poor, famished, shivering men whom I had left less than
twenty-four hours previously, and some of whom I had more than once helped
to buy bread and cheese and wine during our long and painful marches.
They, at all events, had done their duty as best they could, and I felt
highly indignant with the swaggering young bloods of Rennes, who were
content to remain in their native town displaying their uniforms and
enjoying themselves. Fortunately, such instances were very rare.

Returning to the railway station, I obtained something to eat at the
refreshment-room, where I presently heard somebody trying to make
a waiter understand an order given in broken French. Recognizing a
fellow-countryman, I intervened and procured what he desired. I found that
he was going to Saint Malo like myself, so we made the journey together.
He told me that, although he spoke very little French, he had come to
France on behalf of an English boot-making firm in order to get a contract
from some of the military authorities. Many such people were to be found
in Brittany, at Le Mans, at Tours, and elsewhere, during the latter period
of the war. An uncle of mine, Frederick Vizetelly, came over, I remember,
and interviewed Freyeinet and others on behalf of an English small-arm
firm. I forget whether he secured a contract or not; but it is a
lamentable and uncontrovertible fact that many of the weapons and many of
the boots sold by English makers to the National Defence were extremely
defective. Some of the American weapons were even worse than ours. As for
the boots, they often had mere "composition soles," which were soon worn
out. I saw, notably after the battle of Le Mans, hundreds--I believe I
might say, without, exaggeration, thousands--of men whose boots were mere
remnants. Some hobbled through the snow with only rags wrapped round their
bleeding feet. On the other hand, a few of our firms undoubtedly supplied
satisfactory boots, and it may have been so in the case of the traveller
whom I met at Rennes.

A few days after my return to Saint Malo, my cousin, Montague Vizetelly,
arrived there with a commission from the _Daily News_ to join Chanzy's
forces at Le Mans. Mr. Robinson, I was afterwards told, had put some
questions about me to my brother Adrian, and, on hearing how young I was,
had thought that I might not be equal to the occasion if a decisive battle
between Prince Frederick Charles and Chanzy should be fought. My cousin--
then four-and-twenty years of age--was accordingly sent over. From that
time nearly all my war letters were forwarded to the _Pall Mall Gazette_,
and, as it happened, one of them was the first account of the great battle
of Le Mans, from the French side, to appear in an English paper.

XI

BEFORE LE MANS

The War in various Regions of France--General Faidherbe--Battle of
Pont-Noyelles--Unreliability of French Official News--Engagement of
Nuits--Le Bourget Sortie--Battles of Bapaume and Villersexel--Chanzy's
Plan of Operations--The Affair of Saint Calais--Wretched State of some
of Chanzy's Soldiers--Le Mans and its Historical Associations--The
Surrounding Country--Chanzy's Career--Positions of his Forces--Advance
of Prince Frederick Charles--The first Fighting before Le Mans and its
Result.

Whilst Chanzy was retreating on Le Mans, and there reorganizing and
reinforcing his army, a variety of operations went on in other parts
of France. After the German occupation of Amiens, Moltke instructed
Manteuffel to advance on Rouen, which he did, afterwards despatching a
column to Dieppe; the result being that on December 9 the Germans, for
the first time, reached the sea-coast. Since December 3 Faidherbe had
taken the chief command of the Army of the North at Lille. He was
distinctly a clever general, and was at that time only fifty-two years of
age. But he had spent eleven years in Senegal, organizing and developing
that colony, and his health had been impaired by the tropical West African
climate. Nevertheless, he evinced no little energy, and never despaired,
however slender might be the forces under him, and however cramped his
position. As soon as he had reorganized the army entrusted to his charge,
he moved towards Amiens, and on December 23 and 24 a battle was fought at
Pont-Noyelles, in the vicinity of that town. In some respects Faidherbe
gained the advantage, but his success was a barren one, and his losses
were far greater than those of the Germans, amounting, indeed, to 2300 men
(apart from many deserters), whereas the enemy's were not more than a
thousand. Gambetta, however, telegraphed to the Prefects that a great
victory had been gained; and I remember that when a notice to that effect
was posted at the town-hall of Saint Servan, everybody there became
jubilant.

Most of our war-news, or, at least, the earliest intelligence of any
important engagement, came to us in the fashion I have indicated,
townsfolk constantly assembling outside the prefectures, subprefectures,
and municipal buildings in order to read the day's news. At times it was
entirely false, at others some slight success of the French arms was
magnified into a victory, and a petty engagement became a pitched battle.
The news in the French newspapers was usually very belated and often quite
unreliable, though now and again telegrams from London were published,
giving information which was as near to the truth as the many English war
correspondents on both sides could ascertain. After the war, both
Frenchmen and Germans admitted to me that of all the newspaper
intelligence of the period there was nothing approaching in accuracy
that which was imparted by our British correspondents. I am convinced,
from all I heard in Paris, in Berlin, in Vienna, and elsewhere, during
the two or three years which followed the war, that the reputation of the
British Press was greatly enhanced on the Continent by the news it gave
during the Franco-German campaign. Many a time in the course of the next
few years did I hear foreigners inquire: "What do the London papers say?"
or remark: "If an English paper says it, it must be true." I do not wish
to blow the trumpet too loudly on behalf of the profession to which I
belonged for many years, but what I have here mentioned is strictly true;
and now that my days of travel are over, I should be glad to know that
foreigners still hold the British Press in the same high esteem.

But, to return to my narrative, whilst the events I have mentioned were
taking place in Normandy and Northern France, Gambetta was vainly trying
to persuade Bourbaki to advance in the direction of Montargis. He also
wished to reinforce Garibaldi; but the enmity of many French officers
towards the Italian Liberator was so great that they would not serve with
him. General von Werder was at this time covering the siege of Belfort and
watching Langres. On December 18 there was an engagement at Nuits between
some of his forces and those led by the French commander Cremer, who
claimed the victory, but afterwards retreated towards Beaune. The French,
however, were now able to re-occupy Dijon. On the 21st another sortie was
made from Paris, this time on the north, in the direction of Le Bourget
and Ville-Evrard. Ducrot was again in command, and 200,000 men were got
together, but only 5000 were brought into action. There were a great many
desertions, and no fewer than six officers of one brigade alone were
court-martialled and punished for lack of courage. The affair appears to
have been arranged in order to quiet the more reckless elements in Paris,
who were for ever demanding "a great, a torrential sortie." In this
instance, however, there was merely "much ado about nothing." The truth
is, that ever since the Champigny affair both Trochu and Ducrot had lost
all confidence.

On January 2 and 3, the French under Faidherbe, and the Germans under
Goeben, fought a battle at Bapaume, south of Arras. The former were by far
the more numerous force, being, indeed, as three to one, and Faidherbe is
credited with having gained a victory. But, again, it was only a barren
one, for although the Germans fell back, the French found it quite as
necessary to do the same. About a week previously the 16th French Army
Corps, with which Bourbaki had done little or nothing on the Loire, had
been removed from Vierzon and Bourges to join the Army of the East, of
which Bourbaki now assumed the chief command. The transport of the troops
proved a very difficult affair, and there was great disorder and, again,
many desertions. Nevertheless, on January 9, Bourbaki fought Werder at
Villersexel, in the vicinity of Vesoul, Montbéliard, and Belfort. In this
engagement there appear to have been serious mistakes on both sides, and
though Bourbaki claimed a success, his losses were numerically double
those of the Germans.

Meantime Chanzy, at Le Mans, was urging all sorts of plans on Gambetta and
Freyeinet. In the first place he desired to recruit and strengthen his
forces, so sorely tried by their difficult retreat; and in order that he
might have time to do so, he wished Bourbaki to execute a powerful
diversion by marching in the direction of Troyes. But Gambetta and
Freyeinet had decided otherwise. Bourbaki's advance was to be towards the
Vosges, after which he was to turn westward and march on Paris with
150,000 men. Chanzy was informed of this decision on and about January 5
(1871), and on the 6th he made a last attempt to modify the Government
plan in order that Bourbaki's march might be directed on a point nearer to
Paris. In reply, he was informed that it was too late to modify the
arrangements.

With regard to his own operations, Chanzy's idea was to march towards the
capital when his forces were reorganized. His bases were to be the river
Sarthe, the town of Le Mans, and the railway-line running northward to
Alençon. Thence he proposed to advance to some point on the river Eure
between Dreux and Chartres, going afterwards towards Paris by such a route
as circumstances might allow. He had 130,000 men near Le Mans, and
proposed to take 120,000 with 350 field-pieces or machine-guns, and
calculated that he might require a week, or to be precise eight days, to
carry this force from Le Mans to Chartres, allowing for fighting on the
way. Further, to assist his movements he wished Faidherbe, as well as
Bourbaki, to assume the offensive vigorously as soon as he was ready. The
carrying out of the scheme was frustrated, however, in part by the
movements which the Government ordered Bourbaki to execute, and in part by
what may be called the sudden awakening of Prince Frederick Charles, who,
feeling more apprehensive respecting Bourbaki's movements, had hitherto,
in a measure, neglected Chanzy's doings.

On December 22 Captain, afterwards General, de Boisdeffre [He was Chief of
the French Staff during the famous Dreyfus Case, in which his name was
frequently mentioned.] reached Le Mans, after quitting Paris in one of the
balloons, and gave Chanzy certain messages with which Trochu had entrusted
him. He brought nothing in writing, as what he had to communicate was
considered too serious to be committed to paper. Yet both my father and
myself could have imparted virtually the same information, which was but a
_secret de Polichinelle_. It concerned the date when the fall of Paris
would become inevitable. We--my father and myself--had said repeatedly at
Versailles and elsewhere that the capital's supply of food would last
until the latter days of January, and that the city (unless in the
meanwhile it were relieved) must then surrender. Authentic information to
that effect was available in Paris before we quitted it in November.
Of course Trochu's message to Chanzy was official, and carried greater
weight than the assertions of journalists. It was to the effect that it
would be necessary to negotiate a capitulation on January 20, in order to
give time for the revictualling of the city's two million inhabitants.
As it happened, the resistance was prolonged for another week or so.
However, Boisdeffre's information was sufficiently explicit to show Chanzy
that no time must be lost if Paris was to be saved.

Some German cavalry--probably the same men who had pursued Gougeard's
column--showed themselves at Saint Calais, which is only some thirty
miles north-east of Le Mans, as early as December 18, but soon retired,
and no further advance of the enemy in that direction took place for
several days. Chanzy formed two flying columns, one a division under
General Jouffroy, and one a body of 4000 men under General Rousseau, for
the purpose of worrying the enemy and keeping him at a distance. These
troops, particularly those of Jouffroy, who moved towards Montoire and
Vendôme, had several small but none the less important engagements with
the Germans. Prince Frederick Charles, indeed, realised that Jouffroy's
operations were designed to ensure the security of Chanzy's main army
whilst it was being recruited and reorganized, and thereupon decided to
march on Le Mans and attack Chanzy before the latter had attained his
object.

On Christmas Day a force of German cavalry, artillery, and infantry
descended upon Saint Calais (then a town of about 3500 inhabitants),
levied a sum of 17,000 francs, pillaged several of the houses, and
ill-treated a number of the townsfolk. When some of the latter ventured to
protest, pointing out, among other things, that after various little
engagements in the vicinity several wounded Germans had been brought into
the town and well cared for there, the enemy's commanding officer called
them a pack of cowards, and flung them 2000 francs of his recent levy, to
pay them, he said, for their so-called services. The affair was reported
to Chanzy, who thereupon wrote an indignant letter to the German general
commanding at Vendôme. It was carried thither by a certain M. de Vézian, a
civil engineer attached to Chanzy's staff, who brought back the following
reply:

"Reçu une lettre du Général Chanzy. Un général prussien ne sachant pas
écrire une lettre de tel genre, ne saurait y faire une réponse par écrit.

"Au quartier-général à Vendôme, 28 Décembre 1870."

Signature (_illegible_).

It was, perhaps, a pity that Chanzy ever wrote his letter of protest.
French generals were too much given to expressing their feelings in
writing daring that war. Deeds and not words were wanted.

Meantime, the army was being slowly recruited. On December 13, Gambetta
had issued--none too soon--a decree authorising the billeting of the men
"during the winter campaign." Nevertheless, when Gougeard's troops
returned to Yvreé l'Evêque, they were ordered to sleep under canvas, like
many other divisions of the army. It was a great mistake. In that severe
weather--the winter was one of the coldest of the nineteenth century--the
men's sufferings were very great. They were in need, too, of many things,
new shoes, linen, great-coats, and other garments, and there was much
delay in providing for their more urgent requirements. Thus the number of
desertions was not to be wondered at. The commander-in-chief did his best
to ensure discipline among his dispirited troops. Several men were shot by
way of example. When, shortly before the battle of Le Mans, the 21st Army
Corps crossed the Huisne to take up positions near Montfort, several
officers were severely punished for riding in ambulance and baggage
waggons instead of marching with their men.

Le Mans is not easily defended from an enemy advancing upon it from
eastern, north-eastern, and south-eastern directions. A close defence is
impossible by reason of the character of the country. At the time of which
I write, the town was one of about 37,000 inhabitants. Very ancient,
already in existence at the time of the Romans, it became the capital of
Maine. William the Conqueror seized it, but it was snatched from his son,
Robert, by Hélie de La Flêche. Later, Geoffrey, the First of the
Plantagenets, was buried there, it being, moreover, the birthplace of his
son, our Henry II. In after years it was taken from Richard Coeur-de-Lion
by Philip-Augustus, who assigned it, however, to Richard's widow, Queen
Berengaria. A house in the town is wrongly said to have been her
residence, but she undoubtedly founded the Abbaye de l'Epau, near Yvré
l'Evêque, and was buried there. It was at Le Mans that King John of
France, who surrendered to the Black Prince at Poitiers, was born; and in
the neighbouring forest, John's grandson, Charles VI, first gave signs of
insanity. Five times during the Anglo-French wars of the days of Henry V
and Henry VI, Le Mans was besieged by one or another of the contending
parties. The town again suffered during the Huguenot wars, and yet again
during the Revolution, when the Vendéens seized it, but were expelled by
Marceau, some 5000 of them being bayoneted on the Place de l'Epéron.

Rich in associations with the history of England as well as that of
France, Le Mans, in spite of its accessibility--for railway lines coming
from five different directions meet there--is seldom visited by our
tourists. Its glory is its cathedral, strangely neglected by the numerous
English writers on the cathedrals of France. Here are exemplified the
architectural styles of five successive centuries, and, as Mérimée once
wrote, in passing from one part of the edifice to another, it is as if you
passed from one to another religion. But the supreme features of the
cathedral are its stained-glass windows, which include some of the very
oldest in the world. Many years ago, when they were in a more perfect
condition than they are now, Hucher gave reproductions of them in a rare
folio volume. Here, too, is the tomb of Queen Berengaria of England,
removed from the Abbaye de l'Epau; here, also, was formerly that of her
husband's grandfather, Geoffrey Plantagenet. But this was destroyed by
the Huguenots, and you must go to the museum to see all that remains of
it--that is, the priceless enamel _plaque_ by which it was formerly
surmounted, and which represents Geoffrey grasping his sword and his azure
shield, the latter bearing a cross and lions rampant--not the leoparded
lions passant of his English descendants. Much ink has flowed respecting
that shield during squabbles among heraldists.

Judging by recent plans of Le Mans, a good many changes have taken place
there since the time of the Franco-German War. Various new, broad,
straight streets have been substituted for some of the quaint old winding
ones. The Pont Napoléon now appears to have become the Pont Gambetta, and
the Place, des Minimes is called the Place de la République. I notice also
a Rue Thiers which did not exist in the days when Le Mans was familiar to
me as an old-world town. In this narrative I must, of course, take it as
it was then, not as it is now.

The Sarthe, flowing from north to south, where it is joined by its
tributary the Huisne, coming from the north-east, still divides the town
into two unequal sections; the larger one, on the most elevated part of
which stands the cathedral, being that on the river's left bank. At the
time I write of, the Sarthe was spanned by three stone bridges, a
suspension bridge, and a granite and marble railway viaduct, some 560 feet
in length. The German advance was bound to come from the east and the
south. On the east is a series of heights, below which flow the waters of
the Huisne. The views range over an expanse of varying elevation, steep
hills and deep valleys being frequent. There are numerous watercourses.
The Huisne, which helps to feed the Sarthe, is itself fed by a number of
little tributaries. The lowest ground, at the time I have in mind, was
generally meadow-land, intersected here and there with rows of poplars,
whilst the higher ground was employed for the cultivation of crops. Every
little field was circumscribed by ditches, banks, and thick hedges.

The loftiest point of the eastern heights is at Yvré l'Evêque, which was
once crowned by a renaissance chateau, where Henry of Navarre resided when
he reduced Le Mans to submission. Northward from Yvré, in the direction of
Savigné, stretches the high plateau of Sargé, which on the west slopes
down towards the river Sarthe, and forms one of the most important of the
natural defences of Le Mans. Eastward, from Yvré, you overlook first the
Huisne, spanned at various neighbouring points by four bridges, but having
much of the meadow-land in its valley cut up by little water-channels for
purposes of irrigation--these making the ground additionally difficult for
an attacking force to traverse. Secondly, you see a long plateau called
Auvours, the possession of which must necessarily facilitate an enemy's
operations. Following the course of the railway-line coming from the
direction of Paris, you notice several pine woods, planted on former
heaths. Still looking eastward, is the village of Champagné, where the
slopes are studded with vines, whilst the plain is arable land, dotted
over with clumps of chestnut trees. North-east of Champagné is Montfort,
where Chanzy at first stationed the bulk of the 21st Army Corps under
Jaurès, this (leaving his flying columns on one side) being the most
eastern position of his forces at the time when the German advance began.
The right of the 21st Corps here rested on the Huisne. Its extreme left
extended northward towards the Sarthe, but a division of the 17th Corps
under General de Colomb guarded the Alençon (N.) and Conlie (N.W.) railway
lines.

Confronted by the Huisne, the heights of Yvré and the plateaux of Sargé
and Auvours, having, for the most part, to keep to the high-roads--for,
bad as their state might be at that season, it was nothing compared with
the condition of the many narrow and often deep lanes, whose high banks
and hedges, moreover, offered opportunities for ambush--the Germans, it
was obvious, would have a difficult task before them on the eastern side
of Le Mans, even should they drive the 21st Corps from Montfort. The
approach to the town is easier, however, on the south-east and the south,
Here are numerous pine woods, but on going towards Le Mans, after passing
Parigné-l'Evêque (S.E.) and Mulsanne (S.), the ground is generally much
less hilly than on the east. There are, however, certain positions
favourable for defence. There is high ground at Changé, midway between the
road from Saint Calais to Le Mans, _viâ_ Yvré, and the road from Grand
Lucé to Le Mans _viâ_ Parigné. Over a distance of eight miles, moreover,
there extends--or extended at the time I refer to--a track called the
Chemin des Boeufs, suitable for defensive purposes, with high ground at at
least two points--Le Tertre Rouge, south-east of Le Mans, and La Tuilerie,
south of the town. The line of the Chemin des Boeufs and the position of
Changé was at first entrusted by Chanzy to the 16th Corps, whose
commander, Jauréguiberry, had his headquarters at the southern suburb of
Pontlieue, an important point affording direct access to Le Mans by a
stone bridge over the Huisne.

When I returned to Le Mans from Saint Servan in the very first days of
January, Chanzy's forces numbered altogether about 130,000 men, but a very
large proportion of them were dispersed in different directions, forming
detached columns under Generals Barry, Curten, Rousseau, and Jouffroy. The
troops of the two first-named officers had been taken from the 16th Corps
(Jauréguiberry), those of Rousseau were really the first division of the
21st Corps (Jaurès), and those of Jouffroy belonged to the 17th, commanded
by General de Colomb. [The 16th and 17th comprised three divisions each,
the 21st including four. The German Corps were generally of only two
divisions, with, however, far stronger forces of cavalry than Chanzy
disposed of.] It is a curious circumstance that, among the German
troops which opposed the latter's forces at this stage of the war, there
was a division commanded by a General von Colomb. Both these officers had
sprung from the same ancient French family, but Von Colomb came from a
Huguenot branch which had quitted France when the Edict of Nantes was
revoked.

Chanzy's other chief coadjutors at Le Mans were Jaurès, of whom I have
already spoken, and Rear-Admiral Jauréguiberry, who, after the general-in-
chief, was perhaps the most able of all the commanders. Of Basque origin
and born in 1815, he had distinguished himself as a naval officer in the
Crimean, Chinese, and Cochin China expeditions; and on taking service in
the army under the National Defence, he had contributed powerfully to
D'Aurelle's victory at Coulmiers. He became known among the Loire forces
as the man who was always the first to attack and the last to retreat.
[He looked somewhat older than his years warranted, being very bald, with
just a fringe of white hair round the cranium. His upper lip and chin were
shaven, but he wore white whiskers of the "mutton-chop" variety. Slim and
fairly tall, he was possessed of no little nervous strength and energy. In
later years he became Minister of Marine in the Waddington, the second
Freycinet, and the Duclerc cabinets.]

Having referred to Chanzy's principal subordinates, it is fitting that I
should give a brief account of Chanzy himself. The son of an officer of
the First Empire, he was born at Nouart in the Argonne, and from his
personal knowledge of that region it is certain that his services would
have proved valuable during the disastrous march on Sedan, when, as Zola
has rightly pointed out in "La Débâcle," so many French commanding
officers were altogether ignorant of the nature and possibilities of the
country through which they advanced. Chanzy, however, like many others who
figured among the Loire forces, had begun life in the navy, enlisting in
that service when sixteen years of age. But, after very brief experience
afloat, he went to the military school of St. Cyr, passed out of it as a
sub-lieutenant in 1843, when he was in his twenty-first year, was
appointed to a regiment of Zouaves, and sent to Algeria. He served,
however, in the Italian campaign of 1859, became lieutenant-colonel of a
line regiment, and as such took part in the Syrian expedition of 1860-61.
Later, he was with the French forces garrisoning Rome, acquired a
colonelcy in 1864, returned to Algeria, and in 1868 was promoted to the
rank of general of brigade.

At the outset of the Franco-German War, he applied for active service, but
the imperial authorities would not employ him in France. In spite of the
associations of his family with the first Empire, he was, like Trochu,
accounted an Orleanist, and it was not desired that any Orleanist general
should have an opportunity to distinguish himself in the contemplated
"march on Berlin." Marshal MacMahon, however, as Governor of Algeria, had
formed a high opinion of Chanzy's merits, and after Sedan, anxious as he
was for his country in her predicament, the Marshal, then a prisoner of
war, found a means of advising the National Defence to make use of
Chanzy's services. That patriotic intervention, which did infinite credit
to MacMahon, procured for Chanzy an appointment at the head of the 16th
Army Corps, and later the chief command of the Second Loire Army.

When I first saw him in the latter days of 1870, he was in his
fifty-eighth year, well built, and taller than the majority of French
officers. His fair hair and fair moustache had become grey; but his blue
eyes had remained bright, and there was an expression of quiet resolution
on his handsome, well-cut face, with its aquiline nose and energetic jaw.
Such, physically, was the general whom Moltke subsequently declared to
have been the best that France opposed to the Germans throughout the war.
I never once saw Chanzy excited, in which respect he greatly contrasted
with many of the subordinate commanders. Jauréguiberry was sometimes
carried away by his Basque, and Gougeard by his Celtic, blood. So it was
with Jaurès, who, though born in Paris, had, like his nephew the Socialist
leader, the blood of the Midi in his veins. Chanzy, however, belonged to a
calmer, a more quietly resolute northern race.

He was inclined to religion, and I remember that, in addition to the
chaplains accompanying the Breton battalions, there was a chief chaplain
attached to the general staff. This was Abbé de Beuvron, a member of
an old noble family of central France. The Chief of the Staff was
Major-General Vuillemot; the Provost-General was Colonel Mora, and the
principal aides-de-camp were Captains Marois and de Boisdeffre. Specially
attached to the headquarters service there was a rather numerous picked
force under General Bourdillon. It comprised a regiment of horse gendarmes
and one of foot gendarmes, four squadrons of Chasseurs d'Afrique, some
artillery provided chiefly with mountain-guns, an aeronautical company
under the brothers Tissandier, and three squadrons of Algerian light
cavalry, of the Spahi type, who, with their flowing burnouses and their
swift little Arab horses, often figured conspicuously in Chanzy's escort.
A year or two after the war, I engaged one of these very men--he was
called Saad--as a servant, and he proved most devoted and attentive;
but he had contracted the germs of pulmonary disease during that cruel
winter of 1870-71, and at the end of a few months I had to take him to the
Val-de-Grâce military hospital in Paris, where he died of galloping
consumption.

The German forces opposed to Chanzy consisted of a part of the so-called
"Armée-Abtheilung" under the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, and the "Second
Army" under Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia, the latter including the
3rd, 9th, 10th, and 13th Army Corps, and disposing of numerous cavalry
and nearly four hundred guns. The Prince ascertained that the French
forces were, in part, extremely dispersed, and therefore resolved to act
before they could be concentrated. At the outset the Germans came down on
Nogent-le-Rotrou, where Rousseau's column was stationed, inflicted a
reverse on him, and compelled him (January 7) to fall back on Connerré--a
distance of thirty miles from Nogent, and of less than sixteen from Le
Mans. On the same day, sections of Jouffroy's forces were defeated at
Epuisay and Poirier (mid-way between Le Mans and Vendôme), and also
forced to retreat. The French detachments (under Jouffroy, Curten, and
Barry) which were stationed along the line from Saint Calais to Montoire,
and thence to Saint Amand and Château-Renault--a stretch of some
five-and-twenty miles--were not strong enough to oppose the German
advance, and some of them ran the risk of having their retreat cut off.
Chanzy realized the danger, and on the morning of January 8 he despatched
Jauréguiberry to take command of all the troops distributed from the south
to the south-east, between Château-du-Loir and Château-Renault, and bring
them to Le Mans.

But the 10th German Corps was advancing in these directions, and, after
an engagement with Barry's troops at Ruillé, secured positions round La
Chartre. This seriously threatened the retreat of the column under General
Curten, which was still at Saint Amand, and, moreover, it was a further
menace to Barry himself, as his division was distributed over a front of
fourteen miles near Château-du-Loir. Jauréguiberry, however, entreated
Barry to continue guarding the river Loir, in the hope of Curten being
able to retreat to that point.

Whilst, however, these defensive attempts were being made to the south of
Le Mans, the Germans were pressing forward on the north-east and the
east, Prince Frederick Charles being eager to come in touch with Chanzy's
main forces, regardless of what might happen on the Loir and at Saint
Amand. On the north-east the enemy advanced to La Ferté Bernard; on the
east, at Vancé, a brigade of German cavalry drove back the French
cuirassiers and Algerians, and Prince Frederick Charles then proceeded as
far as Saint Calais, where he prepared for decisive action. One army corps
was sent down the line of the Huisne, another had orders to advance on
Ardenay, a third on Bouloire, whilst the fourth, leaving Barry on its left
flank, was to march on Parigné-l'Evêque. Thus, excepting a brigade of
infantry and one of cavalry, detached to observe the isolated Curten, and
hold him in check, virtually the whole of the German Second Army marched
against Chanzy's main forces.

Chanzy, on his side, now ordered Jaurès (21st Corps) to occupy the
positions of Yvré, Auvours, and Sargé strongly; whilst Colomb (17th Corps)
was instructed to send General Pâris's division forward to Ardenay, thus
reducing Colomb's actual command to one division, as Jouffroy's column had
previously been detached from it. On both sides every operation was
attended by great difficulties on account of the very severe weather.
A momentary thaw had been followed by another sudden frost, in such wise
that the roads had a coating of ice, which rendered them extremely
slippery. On January 9 violent snowstorms set in, almost blinding one, and
yet the rival hosts did not for an hour desist from their respective
efforts. At times, when I recall those days, I wonder whether many who
have read of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow have fully realized what that
meant. Amidst the snowstorms of the 9th a force of German cavalry attacked
our extreme left and compelled it to retreat towards the Alençon line.
Rousseau's column being in a dangerous position at Connerré, Colin's
division of the 21st Corps was sent forward to support it in the direction
of Montfort, Gougeard with his Bretons also advancing to support Colin.
But the 13th German Corps attacked Rousseau, who after two engagements
was driven from Connerré and forced to retreat on Montfort and
Pont-de-Gennes across the Huisne, after losing in killed, wounded, and
missing, some 800 of his men, whereas the enemy lost barely a hundred.
At the same time Gougeard was attacked, and compelled to fall back on
Saint-Mars-la-Bruyére.

But the principal event of the day was the defeat of General Paris's force
at Ardenay by a part of the 3rd German Corps. The latter had a superiority
in numbers, but the French in their demoralised condition scarcely put up
a fight at all, in such wise that the Germans took about 1000 prisoners.
The worst, however, was that, by seizing Ardenay, the enemy drove as it
were a wedge between the French forces, hampering their concentration.
Meantime, the 9th German Corps marched to Bouloire, which became Prince
Frederick Charles's headquarters. The 10th Corps, however, had not yet
been able to advance to Parigné l'Evêque in accordance with the Prince's
orders, though it had driven Barry back on Jupilles and Grand Lucé. The
sole advantage secured by the French that day was that Curten managed to
retreat from Château-Renault; but it was only on the night of the 10th,
when he could be of little or no use to Chanzy, that he was able to reach
Château-du-Loir, where, in response to Chanzy's urgent appeals,
Jauréguiberry had succeeded in collecting a few thousand men to reinforce
the troops defending Le Mans.

For four days there had been fighting on one and another point, from the
north-east to the south of the town, the result being unfavourable to the
French. Chanzy, it is true, was at this critical moment in bad health.
According to one account which I heard at the time, he had had an attack
of dysentery; according to another, he was suffering from some throat
complaint, combined with violent neuralgic pains in the head. I do not
think, however, that his ill-health particularly affected the issue, which
depended so largely on the manner in which his plans and instructions were
carried out. The strategy adopted by the Germans at Sedan and in the
battles around Metz had greatly impressed the generals who commanded the
French armies during the second period of the war. One might really say
that they lived in perpetual dread of being surrounded by the enemy. If
there was a lack of concentration on Chanzy's part, if he sent out one and
another flying column, and distributed a considerable portion of his army
over a wide area, it was precisely because he feared some turning movement
on the part of the Germans, which might result in bottling him up at
Le Mans.

The earlier instructions which Prince Frederick Charles forwarded to his
subordinates certainly seem to indicate that a turning movement was
projected. But after the fighting on January 9, when, as I have indicated,
the 3rd German Army Corps penetrated wedge-like into the French lines, the
Prince renounced any idea of surrounding Chanzy's forces, and resolved to
make a vigorous frontal attack before they could be reinforced by any of
the still outlying columns. In coming to this decision, the Prince may
well have been influenced by the result of the recent fighting, which had
sufficiently demonstrated the superiority of the German troops to show
that, under the circumstances, a frontal attack would be attended with far
less risk than if he had found himself faced by a really vigorous
antagonist. Captain Hozier, whom I had previously seen at Versailles, was
at this time acting as _Times_ correspondent with the Prince's army, and,
in subsequently reviewing the fighting, he expressed the opinion that the
issue of the Prince's operations was never for a moment doubtful. Still,
on all points but one, the French put up a fairly good defence, as I will
now show.

XII

LE MANS AND AFTER

The real Battle of Le Mans begins (January 10)--Jouffroy and Pâris
are driven back--Gougeard's Fight at Champagné--The Breton Mobilisés
from Conlie--Chanzy's Determination--His Orders for January 11--He
inspects the Lines--Pâris driven from the Plateau of Auvours--Gougeard's
gallant re-capture of the Plateau--My Return to Le Mans--The Panic at La
Tuilerie--Retreat inevitable--Withdrawal of the French--Entry of the
Germans--Street Fighting--German Exactions--My Escape from Le Mans--The
French Retreat--Rear-Guard Engagements--Laval--My Arrest as a Spy--A
Dramatic Adventure.

Some more snow fell on the morning of January 10, when the decisive
fighting in front of Le Mans really began. On the evening of the 9th the
French headquarters was still without news of Generals Curten, Barry,
and Jouffroy, and even the communications with Jauréguiberry were of an
intermittent character. Nevertheless, Chanzy had made up his mind to give
battle, and had sent orders to Jauréguiberry to send Jouffroy towards
Parigné-l'Evêque (S.E.) and Barry towards Ecommoy (S. of Le Mans). But
the roads were in so bad a condition, and the French troops had been so
severely tried, and were so ill-provided for, that several of the
commander-in-chief's instructions could not be carried out.

Jouffroy at least did his best, and after a hard and tiring march from
Grand Lucé, a part of his division reached Parigné in time to join in the
action fought there. But it ended disastrously for the French, one of
their brigades losing as many as 1400 men, and the Germans taking
altogether some 2000 prisoners. Jouffroy's troops then fell back to
Pontlieue, the southern suburb of Le Mans, in a lamentable condition, and
took care to place the Huisne between themselves and the Germans. In the
same direction Paris's demoralised, division, already worsted at Ardenay
on the previous day, was driven from Changé by the 3rd German Corps, which
took no fewer than 5000 prisoners. It had now almost cut the French
eastern and southern lines apart, threatening all direct communication
between the 21st and the 16th French Corps. Nevertheless, it was in a
dangerous position, having both of its flanks exposed to attack, one from
Yvré and Auvours, and the other from Pontlieue and the Chemin des Boeufs,
which last line was held by the 16th French Corps.

Meantime, Gougeard's Bretons had been engaged at Champagné, quite a close
encounter taking place in the fields and on the vineyard slopes, followed
by a house-to-house fight in the village streets. The French were at last
driven back; but somewhat later, on the Germans retiring from Champagné,
they reoccupied the place. The result of the day was that, apart from the
somewhat hazardous success achieved by the 3rd German Corps, the enemy had
gained no great advantage. His 13th Corps had made but little progress,
his 9th had not been brought into action, and his 10th was as yet no
nearer than Grand Lucé. On the French side, Barry had at last reached
Mulsanne, thus covering the direct southern road to Le Mans, Jauréguiberry
being lower down at Ecommoy with some 9000 men of various arms and
regiments, whom he had managed to get together. As for Curten's division,
as it could not possibly reach the immediate neighbourhood of Le Mans in
time for the fighting on the 11th, it received orders to march on La Suze,
south-west of the imperilled town. During the 10th, moreover, Chanzy was
strengthened by the welcome arrival of several additional field-pieces and
a large number of horses. He had given orders to raise the Camp of Conlie,
but instead of the forty or fifty thousand men, which at an earlier period
it was thought that camp would be able to provide, he now only derived
from it some 9000 ill-equipped, badly armed, and almost undrilled
Breton Mobilisés. [On the other hand, as I previously related, the camp
had already provided the bulk of the men belonging to Gougeard's
division.] They were divided into six battalions--one of which came
from Saint Malo, the others from Rennes and Redon--and were commanded by
a general named Lalande. They proved to be no accession of strength; they
became, on the contrary, a source of weakness, and disaster, for it was
their behaviour which eventually sealed the fate of the Second Loire Army.

But Chanzy, whatever his ailments might be, was personally full of energy
and determination. He knew, moreover, that two new army corps (the 19th
and the 25th) were being got ready to reinforce him, and he was still
resolved to give battle and hold on for another four or five days, when he
relied on compelling Prince Frederick Charles to retreat. Then, with his
reinforced army, he hoped to march once more in the direction of Paris.
Curiously enough, it was precisely on that critical day, January 10, that
Gambetta sent Trochu a despatch by pigeon-post, telling him that on the
20th, at the latest, both Chanzy and Bourbaki would be moving on the
capital, having between them over 400,000 men.

But if Chanzy's spirits did not fail him, those of his men were at a very
low ebb indeed. He was repeatedly told so by subordinate commanders;
nevertheless (there was something Napoleonic in his character), he would
not desist from his design, but issued instructions that there was to be a
resolute defence of the lines on the 11th, together with a determined
effort to regain all lost positions. At the same time, the statements of
the divisional generals respecting the low _morale_ of some of the troops
were not left unheeded, for a very significant order went forth, namely,
that cavalry should be drawn up in the rear of the infantry wherever this
might appear advisable. The inference was obvious.

Three divisions and Lalande's Breton Mobilisés were to hold the
south-eastern lines from Arnage along the track known as the Chemin des
Boeufs, and to link up, as well as possible, with Pâris's and Gougeard's
divisions, to which fell the duty of guarding the plateau of Auvours and
the banks of the Huisne. The rest of the 21st Corps (to which Gougeard's
division belonged) was to defend the space between the Huisne and the
Sarthe. Colomb's fragmentary force, apart from Pâris's division, was still
to cover Le Mans towards the north-east. Barry's men, on their expected
arrival, were to serve as reserves around Pontlieue.

The morning of January 11 was bright. The snow had ceased falling, but lay
some inches thick upon the ground. In order to facilitate the passage of
troops, and particularly of military waggons, through the town, the Mayor
of Le Mans ordered the inhabitants to clear away as much of this snow as
possible; but it naturally remained undisturbed all over the countryside.
Little had been seen of Chanzy on the two previous days, but that morning
he mounted horse and rode along the lines from the elevated position known
as Le Tertre Rouge to the equally elevated position of Yvré. I saw him
there, wrapped in a long loose cloak, the hood of which was drawn over his
képi. Near him was his picturesque escort of Algerian Spahis, and while he
was conversing with some officers I pulled out a little sketch-book which
I carried, and tried to outline the group. An aide-de-camp who noticed me
at once came up to inquire what I was doing, and I therefore had to
produce the permit which, on returning to the front, I had obtained from
the Chief of the Staff. It was found to be quite in order, and I went on
with my work. But a few minutes later the general, having given his
orders, gathered up his reins to ride away. As he slowly passed me, he
gave me just one little sharp glance, and with a faint suspicion of a
smile remarked, "I will look at that another time." The aide-de-camp had
previously told him what my purpose was.

That day the 3rd German Corps again resumed the offensive, and once more
drove Gougeard out of Champagné. Then the enemy's 9th Corps, which on
January 10 had done little or nothing, and was therefore quite fresh, was
brought into action, and made a resolute attack on the plateau of Auvours.
There was a fairly long fight, which could be seen from Yvré. But the
Germans were too strong for Pâris's men, who at last disbanded, and came,
helter-skelter, towards the bridge of Yvré in terrible confusion. Flight
is often contagious, and Gougeard, who had fallen back from Champagné in
fairly good order, feared lest his men should imitate their comrades.
He therefore pointed two field-pieces on the runaways, and by that means
checked their stampede.

Having established themselves at the farther end of the plateau, the
Germans advanced very cautiously, constantly seeking cover behind the
various hedges. General de Colomb, to whose command Pâris's runaway
division belonged, insisted, however, that the position must be retaken.
Gougeard thereupon collected a very miscellaneous force, which included
regular infantry, mobiles, mobilisés, and some of Charette's Volontaires
de l'Ouest--previously known in Borne as the Pontifical Zouaves. Placing
himself at the head of these men, he made a vigorous effort to carry out
Colomb's orders. The French went forward almost at the charge, the Germans
waiting for them from behind the hedges, whence poured a hail of lead.
Gougeard's horse was shot under him, a couple of bullets went through his
coat, and another--or, as some said, a splinter of a shell--knocked off
his képi. Still, he continued leading his men, and in the fast failing
light the Germans, after repeated encounters, were driven back to the
verge of the plateau.

That was told me afterwards, for at the moment I was already on my way
back to Le Mans, which I wished to reach before it was absolutely night.
On coming from the town early in the morning, I had brought a few eatables
in my pockets, but they had soon been consumed, and I had found it
impossible to obtain any food whatever at Yvré, though some of the very
indifferent local wine was procurable. Thus I was feeling very hungry as I
retraced my steps through the snow towards the little hostelry in the Rue
du Gué de Maulny, where I had secured accommodation. It was a walk of some
four or five miles, but the cold urged me on, and, in spite of the snow,
I made the journey fairly rapidly, in such wise that little more than an
hour later I was seated in a warm room in front of some steaming soup,
answering all sorts of questions as to what I had seen during the day,
and particularly whether _les nôtres_ had gained a victory. I could only
answer that the "Prussians" had taken Auvours, but that fighting was still
going on, as Gougeard had gone to recapture the position. At the moment,
indeed, that was the extent of my information. The landlord looked rather
glum and his daughter somewhat anxious, and the former, shaking his head,
exclaimed: "Voyez-vous, Monsieur l'Anglais, nous n'avons pas de chance--
pas de chance du tout! Je ne sais pas à quoi ca tient, mais c'est comme
ca. Et, tenez, cela ne me surprendrait pas de voir ces sales Prussiens
dans la ville d'ici à demain!" ["We have no luck, no luck at all.
I don't know why, but there it is. And, do you know, it would not surprise
me to see those dirty Prussians in the town between now and to-morrow."]
Unfortunately for Le Mans and for France also, his forebodings were
accurate. At that very moment, indeed, a great disaster was occurring.

Jauréguiberry had reached the southern suburb of Pontlieue at about nine
o'clock that morning after a night march from Ecommoy. He had divided his
miscellaneous force of 9000 men into three brigades. As they did not seem
fit for immediate action, they were drafted into the reserves, so that
their arrival was of no particular help that day. About eleven o'clock the
3rd German Corps, coming from the direction of Changé, attacked Jouffroy's
lines along the more northern part of the so-called Chemin des Boeufs,
and, though Jouffroy's men fought fairly well, they could not prevent
their foes from capturing the position of the Tertre Rouge. Still, the
enemy gained no decisive success in this direction; nor was any marked
result attained by the 13th German Corps which formed the extreme right of
the attacking forces. But Prince Frederick Charles had sent orders to
Voigts Rhetz, who was at Grand Lucé, [A brigade of cavalry kept up
communications between him and the 3rd Army Corps.] advance with the
10th Corps on Mulsanne, which the French had evacuated; and on reaching
Mulsanne, the same general received instructions to come to the support of
the 3rd Corps, which was engaged with Jouffroy's force. Voigts Rhetz's men
were extremely fatigued; nevertheless, the 20th Division of Infantry,
commanded by General Kraatz-Koschlau, went on towards the Chemin des
Boeufs, following the direct road from Tours to Le Mans.

Here there was an elevated position known as La Tuilerie--otherwise the
tile-works--which had been fortified expressly to prevent the Germans from
bursting upon Le Mans from the direct south. Earth-works for guns had been
thrown up, trenches had been dug, the pine trees, so abundant on the
southern side of Le Mans, had been utilised for other shielding works, as
well as for shelter-places for the defending force. Unfortunately, at the
moment of the German advance, that defending force consisted of the
ill-equipped, badly armed, and almost untrained Breton Mobilisés,
[There were just a few old soldiers among them.] who, as I have already
related, had arrived the previous day from the camp of Conlie under the
command of General Lalande. It is true that near these men was stationed
an infantry brigade of the 6th Corps d'Armée, whose duty it was to support
and steady them. They undoubtedly needed to be helped, for the great
majority had never been in action before. Moreover, in addition to the
infantry brigade, there were two batteries of artillery; but I fear that
for the most part the gunners were little better than recruits.
Exaggerated statements have been made respecting the quality of the
firearms with which the Mobilisés were provided. Many of the weapons were
afterwards found to be very dirty, even rusty, but that was the result of
neglect, which their officers should have remedied. It is true, however,
that these weapons were for the most part merely percussion guns. Again,
it has been said that the men had no ammunition, but that statement was
certainly inaccurate. On the other hand, these Mobilisés were undoubtedly
very cold and very hungry--even as I myself was that day--no rations
having been served to them until late in the afternoon, that is, shortly
before they were attacked, at which moment, indeed, they were actually
preparing the meal for which they had so long been waiting.

The wintry night was gathering round when Kraatz-Kosohlau found himself
with his division before the position of La Tuilerie. He could see that it
was fortified, and before attempting any further advance he fired a few
shells. The Mobilisés were immediately panic-stricken. They made no
attempt at defence; hungry though they were, they abandoned even their
pots and pans, and fled in the direction of Pontlieue, which formed, as it
were, a long avenue, fringed with factories, textile mills, bleaching
works, and so forth. In vain did their officers try to stop the fugitives,
even striking them with the flats of their swords, in vain did Lalande and
his staff seek to intercept them at the Rond Point de Pontlieue. Nothing
could induce them to stop. They threw away their weapons in order to run
the faster. At La Tuilerie not a gun was fired at the Germans. Even the
infantry brigade fell back, without attempting to fight.

All this occurred at a moment when everybody thought that the day's
fighting was over. But Jauréguiberry appeared upon the scene, and ordered
one of his subordinates, General Lebouëdeo, to retake the lost position.
Lebouëdeo tried to do so with 1000 tired men, who had been in action
during the day, and failed. A second attempt proved equally futile. No
effort apparently was made to secure help from Barry, who was at Arnage
with 5000 infantry and two brigades of cavalry, and who might have fallen
on the left flank of the German Corps. La Tuilerie was lost, and with it
Le Mans was lost also.

I was quietly sipping some coffee and reading the local newspapers--three
or four were published at Le Mans in those days--when I heard of that
disastrous stampede. Some of the men had reached the town, spreading the
contagion of fear as they came. Tired though I was, I at once went towards
the Avenue de Fontlieue, where the excitement was general. Gendarmes were
hurrying hither and thither, often arresting the runaways, and at other
times picking up weapons and cartridge-cases which had been flung away. So
numerous were the abandoned weapons and equipments that cartloads of them
were collected. Every now and then an estafette galloped to or from the
town. The civilians whom one met wore looks of consternation. It was
evident, indeed, to everybody who knew how important was the position of
La Tuilerie, that its capture by the Germans placed Le Mans in jeopardy.
When the two attempts to retake it had failed, Jauréguiberry urged
immediate retreat. This was rendered the more imperative by other events
of the night and the early morning, for, inspirited by their capture of La
Tuilerie, the Germans made fresh efforts in other directions, so that
Barry had to quit Arnage, whilst Jouffroy lost most of his positions near
the Chemin des Boeufs, and the plateau d'Auvours had again to be
evacuated.

At 8 a.m. on January 12, Chanzy, after suggesting a fresh attempt to
recover La Tuilerie, which was prevented by the demoralisation of the
troops, was compelled to give a reluctant assent to Jauréguiberry's
proposals of retreat. At the same time, he wished the retreat to be
carried out slowly and methodically, and informed Gambetta that he
intended to withdraw in the direction of Aleneon (Orne) and Pré-en-Pail
(Mayenne). This meant moving into Normandy, and Gambetta pointed out that
such a course would leave all Brittany open to the enemy, and enable him
to descend without opposition even to the mouth of the Loire. Chanzy was
therefore instructed to retreat on Laval, and did so; but as he had
already issued orders for the other route, great confusion ensued, the new
orders only reaching the subordinate commanders on the evening of the
12th.

From January 6 to 12 the French had lost 6000 men in killed and wounded.
The Germans had taken 20,000 prisoners, and captured seventeen guns and a
large quantity of army materiel. Further, there was an incalculable number
of disbanded Mobiles and Mobilisés. If Prince Frederick Charles had known
at the time to what a deplorable condition Chanzy's army had been reduced,
he would probably have acted more vigorously than he did. It is true that
his own men (as Von Hoenig has admitted) were, generally speaking, in a
state of great fatigue after the six days' fighting, and also often badly
circumstanced in regard to clothing, boots, and equipments. [Even when the
armistice arrived I saw many German soldiers wearing French sabots.] Such
things cannot last for ever, and there had been little or no opportunity
to renew anything since the second battle of Orleans early in December.
In the fighting before Le Mans, however, the German loss in killed and
wounded was only 3400--200 of the number being officers, whom the French
picked off as often as possible.

On the morning of the 12th all was confusion at Pontlieue. Guns, waggons,
horsemen, infantrymen, were congregated there, half blocking up the bridge
which connects this suburb with Le Mans. A small force under General de
Roquebrune was gallantly striving to check the Germans at one part of the
Chemin des Boeufs, in order to cover the retreat. A cordon of gendarmes
had been drawn up at the railway-station to prevent it from being invaded
by all the runaways. Some hundreds of wounded men were allowed access,
however, in order that they might, if possible, get away in one of the
many trains which were being sent off as rapidly as possible. This service
was in charge of an official named Piquet, who acted with the greatest
energy and acumen. Of the five railway-lines meeting at Le Mans only two
were available, that running to Rennes _viâ_ Laval, and that running to
Angers. I find from a report drawn up by M. Piquet a little later, that he
managed to send off twenty-five trains, some of them drawn by two and
three engines. They included about 1000 vans, trucks, and coaches; that is
558 vans laden with provisions (in part for the relief of Paris); 134 vans
and trucks laden with artillery _matériel_ and stores, 70 vans of
ammunition, 150 empty vans and trucks, and 176 passenger carriages. On
securing possession of the station, however, the Germans still found there
about 200 vans and carriages, and at least a dozen locomotive engines. The
last train left at 2.45 p.m. I myself got away (as I shall presently
relate) shortly after two o'clock, when the station was already being
bombarded.

General de Roquebrune having, at last, been compelled to withdraw from the
vicinity of the Chemin des Boeufs, the Germans came on to the long avenue
of Pontlieue. Here they were met by most of the corps of gendarmes, which,
as I previously related, was attached to the headquarters-staff under
General Bourdillon. These men, who had two Gatlings with them, behaved
with desperate bravery in order to delay the German entry into the town.
About a hundred of them, including a couple of officers, were killed
during that courageous defence. It was found impossible, however, to blow
up the bridge. The operation had been delayed as long as possible in order
to facilitate the French retreat, and when the gendarmes themselves
withdrew, there no longer remained sufficient time to put it into
execution.

The first Germans to enter the town belonged to the 38th Brigade of
Infantry, and to part of a cavalry force under General von Schmidt. After
crossing the bridge of Pontlieue, they divided into three columns. One of
them proceeded up the Rue du Quartier de Cavalerie in the direction of the
Place des Jacobins and the cathedral. The second also went towards the
upper town, marching, however, by way of the Rue Basse, which conducted to
the Place des Halles, where the chief hotels and cafés were situated.
Meantime, the third column turned to the left, and hastened towards the
railway station. But, to their great amazement, their advance was
repeatedly checked. There were still a number of French soldiers in the
town, among them being Mobile Guards, Gendarmes, Franc-tireurs, and a
party of Marine Fusiliers. The German column which began to ascend the Rue
Basse was repeatedly fired at, whereupon its commanding officer halted his
men, and by way of punishment had seven houses set on fire, before
attempting to proceed farther. Nevertheless, the resistance was prolonged
at various points, on the Place des Jacobins, for instance, and again on
the Place des Halles. Near the latter square is--or was--a little street
called the Rue Dumas, from which the French picked off a dozen or twenty
Germans, so infuriating their commander that he sent for a couple of
field-pieces, and threatened to sweep the whole town with projectiles.

Meantime, a number of the French who had lingered at Le Mans were
gradually effecting their escape. Many artillery and commissariat waggons
managed to get away, and a local notability, M. Eugène Caillaux--father
of M. Joseph Caillaux who was French Prime Minister during the latter half
of 1911, and who is now (Dec., 1913) Minister of Finances--succeeded in
sending out of the town several carts full of rifles, which some of the
French troops had flung away. However, the street-fighting could not be
indefinitely prolonged. It ceased when about a hundred Germans and a
larger number of French, both soldiers and civilians, had been killed.
The Germans avenged themselves by pillaging the houses in the Rue Dumas,
and several on the Place des Halles, though they spared the Hôtel de
France there, as their commander, Voigts Rhetz, reserved it for his own
accommodation. Whilst the bombardment of a part of the lower town
continued--the railway station and the barracks called the Caserne de
la Mission being particularly affected--raids were made on the French
ambulances, in one of which, on the Boulevard Négrier, a patient was
barbarously bayoneted in his bed, on the pretext that he was a
Franc-tireur, whereas he really belonged to the Mobile Guard. At the
ambulance of the École Normale, the sisters and clergy were, according to
their sworn statements, grossly ill-treated. Patients, some of whom were
suffering from smallpox, were turned out of their beds--which were
required, it was said, for the German wounded. All the wine that could be
found was drunk, money was stolen, and there was vindictive destruction on
all sides.

The Mayor [The Prefect, M. Le Chevalier, had followed the army in its
retreat, considering it his duty to watch over the uninvaded part of the
department of the Sartha.] of Le Mans, M. Richard, and his two _adjoints_,
or deputies, went down through the town carrying a towel as a flag of
truce, and on the Place de la Mission they at last found Voigts Rhetz
surrounded by his staff. The General at once informed the Mayor that, in
consequence of the resistance of the town, it would have to pay a
war-levy of four millions of francs (£160,000) within twenty-four hours,
and that the inhabitants would have to lodge and feed the German forces as
long as they remained there. All the appeals made against these hard
conditions were disregarded during nearly a fortnight. When both the Mayor
and the Bishop of Le Mans solicited audiences of Prince Frederick Charles,
they were told by the famous Count Harry von Arnim--who, curiously enough,
subsequently became German Ambassador to France, but embroiled himself
with Bismarck and died in exile--that if they only wished to tender their
humble duty to the Prince he would graciously receive them, but that he
refused to listen to any representations on behalf of the town.

A first sum of £20,000 and some smaller ones were at last got together in
this town of 37,000 inhabitants, and finally, on January 23, the total
levy was reduced, as a special favour, to £80,000. Certain German
requisitions were also to be set off against £20,000 of that amount; but
they really represented about double the figure. A public loan had to be
raised in the midst of continual exactions, which lasted even after the
preliminaries of peace had been signed, the Germans regarding Le Mans as a
milch cow from which too much could not be extracted.

The anxieties of the time might well have sufficed to make the Mayor ill,
but, as a matter of fact, he caught small-pox, and his place had to be
taken by a deputy, who with the municipal council, to which several local
notabilities were adjoined, did all that was possible to satisfy the greed
of the Germans. Small-pox, I may mention, was very prevalent at Le Mans,
and some of the ambulances were specially reserved for soldiers who had
contracted that disease. Altogether, about 21,000 men (both French and
Germans), suffering from wounds or diseases of various kinds, were treated
in the town's ambulances from November 1 to April 15.

Some thousands of Germans were billeted on the inhabitants, whom they
frequently robbed with impunity, all complaints addressed to the German
Governor, an officer named Von Heiduck, being disregarded. This individual
ordered all the inhabitants to give up any weapons which they possessed,
under penalty of death. Another proclamation ordained the same punishment
for anybody who might give the slightest help to the French army, or
attempt to hamper the German forces. Moreover, the editors, printers, and
managers of three local newspapers were summarily arrested and kept in
durance on account of articles against the Germans which they had written,
printed, or published _before_ Chanzy's defeat.

On January 13, which chanced to be a Friday, Prince Frederick Charles made
his triumphal entry into Le Mans, the bands of the German regiments
playing all their more popular patriotic airs along the route which
his Royal Highness took in order to reach the Prefecture--a former
eighteenth-century convent--where he intended to install himself. On the
following day the Mayor received the following letter:

"Mr. Mayor,

"I request you to send to the Prefecture by half-past five o'clock this
afternoon 24 spoons, 24 forks, and 36 knives, as only just sufficient for
the number of people at table have been sent, and there is no means of
changing the covers. For dinner you will provide 20 bottles of Bordeaux,
30 bottles of Champagne, two bottles of Madeira, and 2 bottles of
liqueurs, which must be at the Prefecture at six o'clock precisely.
The wine previously sent not being good, neither the Bordeaux nor the
Champagne, you must send better kinds, otherwise I shall have to inflict
a fine upon the town.

(Signed) "Von Kanitz."

This communication was followed almost immediately afterwards by another,
emanating from the same officer, who was one of the Prince's
aides-de-camp. He therein stated (invariably employing, be it said,
execrable French) that the _café-au-lait_ was to be served at the
Prefecture at 8 a.m.; the _déjeuner_ at noon; and the dinner at 7.30 p.m.
At ten o'clock every morning, the Mayor was to send 40 bottles of
Bordeaux, 40 bottles of Champagne, 6 bottles of Madeira, and 3 bottles of
liqueurs. He was also to provide waiters to serve at table, and kitchen-
and scullery-maids. And Kanitz concluded by saying: "If the least thing
fails, a remarkable (_sic_) fine will be inflicted on the town."

On January 15 an order was sent to the Mayor to supply at once, for the
Prince's requirements, 25 kilogrammes of ham; 13 kilos. of sausages;
13 kilos. of tongues; 5 dozen eggs; vegetables of all sorts, particularly
onions; 15 kilos. of Gruyère cheese; 5 kilos. of Parmesan; 15 kilos.
of best veal; 20 fowls; 6 turkeys; 12 ducks; 5 kilos. of powdered sugar.
[All the German orders and requisitions are preserved in the municipal
archives of Le Mans.] No wine was ever good enough for Prince Frederick
Charles and his staff. The complaints sent to the town-hall were
incessant. Moreover, the supply of Champagne, by no means large in such a
place as Le Mans, gave out, and then came all sorts of threats. The
municipal councillors had to trot about trying to discover a few bottles
here and there in private houses, in order to supply the requirements of
the Princely Staff. There was also a scarcity of vegetables, and yet there
were incessant demands for spinach, cauliflowers, and artichokes, and even
fruit for the Prince's tarts. One day Kanitz went to the house where the
unfortunate Mayor was lying in bed, and told him that he must get up and
provide vegetables, as none had been sent for the Prince's table. The
Mayor protested that the whole countryside was covered with snow, and that
it was virtually impossible to satisfy such incessant demands; but, as he
afterwards related, ill and worried though he was, he could not refrain
from laughing when he was required to supply several pounds of truffles.
Truffles at Le Mans, indeed! In those days, too! The idea was quite
ridiculous.

Not only had the demands of Prince Frederick Charles's staff to be
satisfied, but there were those of Voigts Rhetz, and of all the officers
lodging at the Hôtel de France, the Hôtel du Dauphin, the Hôtel de la
Boule d'Or and other hostelries. These gentlemen were very fond of giving
dinners, and "mine host" was constantly being called upon to provide all
sorts of delicacies at short notice. The cellars of the Hôtel de France
were drunk dry. The common soldiers also demanded the best of everything
at the houses where they were billeted; and sometimes they played
extraordinary pranks there. Half a dozen of them, who were lodged at a
wine-shop in, I think, the Rue Dumas, broached a cask of brandy, poured
the contents into a tub, and washed their feet in the spirituous liquor.
It may be that a "brandy bath" is a good thing for sore feet; and that
might explain the incident. However, when I think of it, I am always
reminded of how, in the days of the Second Empire, the spendthrift Due de
Gramont-Caderousse entered the. Café Anglais in Paris, one afternoon,
called for a silver soup-tureen, had two or three bottles of champagne
poured into it, and then made an unrepentant Magdalen of the Boulevards,
whom he had brought with him, wash his feet in the sparkling wine. From
that afternoon until the Café Anglais passed out of existence no silver
soup-tureens were ever used there.

I have given the foregoing particulars respecting the German occupation
of Le Mans--they are principally derived from official documents--just to
show the reader what one might expect if, for instance, a German force
should land at Hull or Grimsby and fight its way successfully to--let us
say--York or Leeds or Nottingham. The incidents which occurred at Le Mans
were by no means peculiar to that town. Many similar instances occurred
throughout the invaded regions of France. I certainly do not wish to
impute gluttony to Prince Frederick Charles personally. But during the
years which followed the Franco-German War I made three fairly long
stays at Berlin, putting up at good hotels, where officers--sometimes
generals--often lunched and dined. And their appetites frequently amazed
me, whilst their manners at table were repulsive. In those days most
German officers were bearded, and I noticed that between the courses at
luncheon and at dinner it was a common practice of theirs to produce
pocket-glasses and pocket-combs, and comb their beards--as well as the
hair on their heads--over the table. As for their manner of eating and the
noise they made in doing so, the less said the better. In regard to
manners, I have always felt that the French of 1870-71 were in some
respects quite entitled to call their enemies "barbarians"; but that was
forty-three years ago, and as time works wonders, the manners of the
German military element may have improved.

In saying something about the general appearance of Le Mans, I pointed out
that the town now has a Place de la République, a Gambetta Bridge, a Rue
Thiers, and a statue of Chanzy; but at the period of the war and for a
long time afterwards it detested the Republic (invariably returning
Bonapartist or Orleanist deputies), sneered at Gambetta, and hotly
denounced the commander of the Loire Army. Its grievance against Chanzy
was that he had made it his headquarters and given battle in its immediate
vicinity. The conflict having ended disastrously for the French arms, the
townsfolk lamented that it had ever taken place. Why had Chanzy brought
his army there? they indignantly inquired. He might very well have gone
elsewhere. So strong was this Manceau feeling against the general--a
feeling inspired by the sufferings which the inhabitants experienced at
the time, notably in consequence of the German exactions--that fifteen
years later, when the general's statue (for which there had been a
national subscription) was set up in the town, the displeasure there was
very great, and the monument was subjected to the most shameful
indignities. [At Nouart, his native place, there is another statue of
Chanzy, which shows him pointing towards the east. On the pedestal is the
inscription; "The generals who wish to obtain the bâton of Marshal of
France must seek it across the Rhine"--words spoken by him in one of his
speeches subsequent to the war.] But all that has passed. Nowadays, both
at Auvours and at Pontlieue, there are monuments to those who fell
fighting for France around Le Mans, and doubtless the town, in becoming
more Republican, has become more patriotic also.

Before relating how I escaped from Le Mans on the day when the retreat was
ordered, there are a few other points with which I should like to deal
briefly. It is tolerably well known that I made the English translation of
Emile Zola's great novel, "La Débâcle," and a good many of my present
readers may have read that work either in the original French or in the
version prepared by me. Now, I have always thought that some of the
characters introduced by Zola into his narrative were somewhat
exceptional. I doubt if there were many such absolutely neurotic
degenerates as "Maurice" in the French Army at any period of the war. I
certainly never came across such a character. Again, the psychology of
Stephen Crane's "Red Badge of Courage," published a few years after "La
Débâcle," and received with acclamations by critics most of whom had never
in their lives been under fire, also seems to me to be of an exceptional
character. I much prefer the psychology of the Waterloo episode in
Stendhal's "Chartreuse de Parme," because it is of more general
application. "The Red Badge of Courage," so the critics told us, showed
what a soldier exactly felt and thought in the midst of warfare. Unlike
Stendhal, however, its author had never "served." No more had Zola; and I
feel that many of the pictures which novelists have given us of a
soldier's emotions when in action apply only to exceptional cases, and are
even then somewhat exaggerated.

In action there is no time for thought. The most trying hours for a man
who is in any degree of a sensitive nature are those spent in night-duty
as a sentry or as one of a small party at some lonely outpost. Then
thoughts of home and happiness, and of those one loves, may well arise.
There is one little point in connexion with this subject which I must
mention. Whenever letters were found on the bodies of men who fell during
the Franco-German War, they were, if this man was a Frenchman, more
usually letters from his mother, and, if he was a German, more usually
letters from his sweetheart. Many such letters found their way into print
during the course of the war. It is a well-known fact that a Frenchman's
cult for his mother is a trait of the national character, and that a
Frenchwoman almost always places her child before her husband.

But what struck me particularly during the Franco-German War was that
the anxieties and mental sufferings of the French officers were much
keener than those of the men. Many of those officers were married, some
had young children, and in the silent hours of a lonely night-watch their
thoughts often travelled to their dear ones. I well remember how an
officer virtually unbosomed himself to me on this subject one night near
Yvré-l'Evêque. The reason of it all is obvious. The higher a man's
intelligence, the greater is his sense of responsibility and the force of
his attachments. But in action the latter are set aside; they only obtrude
at such times as I have said or else at the moment of death.

Of actual cowardice there were undoubtedly numerous instances during the
war, but a great deal might be said in defence of many of the men who here
and there abandoned their positions. During the last months their
sufferings were frequently terrible. At best they were often only
partially trained. There was little cohesion in many battalions. There was
a great lack of efficient non-commissioned officers. Instead of drafting
regular soldiers from the _dépôts_ into special regiments, as was often
done, it might have been better to have distributed them among the Mobiles
and Mobilisés, whom they would have steadied. Judging by all that I
witnessed at that period, I consider it essential that any territorial
force should always contain a certain number of trained soldiers who have
previously been in action. And any such force should always have the
support of regulars and of efficient artillery. I have related how certain
Breton Mobilisés abandoned La Tuilerie. They fled before the regulars or
the artillery could support them; but they were, perhaps, the very rawest
levies in all Chanzy's forces. Other Breton Mobilisés, on other points,
fought very well for men of their class. For instance, no reproach could
be addressed to the battalions of St. Brieuo, Brest, Quimper, Lorient, and
Nantes. They were better trained than were the men stationed at La
Tuilerie, and it requires some time to train a Breton properly. That
effected, he makes a good soldier.

Respecting my own feelings during that war, I may say that the paramount
one was curiosity. To be a journalist, a man must be inquisitive. It is
a _sine quâ non_ of his profession. Moreover, I was very young; I had no
responsibilities; I may have been in love, or have thought I was, but I
was on my own, and my chief desire was to see as much as I could. I
willingly admit that, when Gougeard's column was abruptly attacked at
Droué, I experienced some trepidation at finding myself under fire; but
firmness may prove as contagious as fear, and when Gougeard rallied his
men and went forward to repel the Germans, interest and a kind of
excitement took possession of me. Moreover, as I was, at least nominally,
attached to the ambulance service, there was duty to be done, and that
left no opportunity for thought. The pictures of the ambulances in or near
Sedan are among the most striking ones contained in "La Débâcle," and,
judging by what I saw elsewhere, Zola exaggerated nothing. The ambulance
is the truly horrible side of warfare. To see men lying dead on the ground
is, so to say, nothing. One gets used to it. But to see them amputated,
and to see them lying in bed suffering, often acutely, from dreadful
wounds, or horrible diseases--dysentery, typhus, small-pox--that is the
thing which tries the nerves of all but the doctors and the trained
nurses. On several occasions I helped to carry wounded men, and felt no
emotion in doing so; but more than once I was almost overcome by the sight
of all the suffering in some ambulance.

When, on the morning of January 12, I heard that a general retreat had
been ordered, I hesitated as to what course I should pursue. I did not
then anticipate the street-fighting, and the consequent violence of the
Germans. But journalistic instinct told me that if I remained in the town
until after the German entry I might then find it very difficult to get
away and communicate with my people. At the same time, I did not think the
German entry so imminent as proved to be the case; and I spent a
considerable time in the streets watching all the tumult which prevailed
there. Now and again a sadly diminished battalion went by in fairly good
order. But numbers of disbanded men hurried hither and thither in
confusion. Here and there a street was blocked with army vans and waggons,
whose drivers were awaiting orders, not knowing which direction to take.
Officers and estafettes galloped about on all sides. Then a number of
wounded men were carried in carts, on stretchers, and on trucks towards
the railway-station. Others, with their heads bandaged or their arms in
slings, walked painfully in the same direction. Outside the station there
was a strong cordon of Gendarmes striving to resist all the pressure of a
great mob of disbanded men who wished to enter and get away in the trains.
At one moment, when, after quite a struggle, some of the wounded were
conveyed through the mob and the cordon, the disbanded soldiers followed,
and many of them fought their way into the station in spite of all the
efforts of the Gendarmes. The _mêlée_ was so desperate that I did not
attempt to follow, but, after watching it for some time, retraced my steps
towards my lodging. All was hubbub and confusion at the little inn, and
only with difficulty could I get anything to eat there. A little later,
however, I managed to tell the landlord--his name was Dubuisson--that I
meant to follow the army, and, if possible, secure a place in one of the
trains which were frequently departing. After stowing a few necessaries
away in my pockets, I begged him to take charge of my bag until some
future day, and the worthy old man then gave me some tips as to how I
might make my way into the station, by going a little beyond it, and
climbing a palisade.

We condoled with one another and shook hands. I then went out. The
cannonade, which had been going on for several hours, had now become more
violent. Several shells had fallen on or near the Caserne de la Mission
during the morning. Now others were falling near the railway-station.
I went my way, however, turned to the right on quitting the Rue du
Gué-de-Maulny, reached some palings, and got on to the railway-line.
Skirting it, I turned to the left, going back towards the station.
I passed one or two trains, which were waiting. But they were composed of
trucks and closed vans. I might perhaps have climbed on to one of the
former, but it was a bitterly cold day; and as for the latter, of course
I could not hope to enter one of them. So I kept on towards the station,
and presently, without let or hindrance, I reached one of the platforms.

Le Mans being an important junction, its station was very large, in some
respects quite monumental. The principal part was roofed with glass and
suggested Charing Cross. I do not remember exactly the number of lines of
metals running through it, but I think there must have been four or five.
There were two trains waiting there, one of them, which was largely
composed of passenger carriages, being crammed with soldiers. I tried to
get into one carriage, but was fiercely repulsed. So, going to the rear of
this train, I crossed to another platform, where the second train was.
This was made up of passenger coaches and vans. I scrambled into one of
the latter, which was open. There were a number of packing-cases inside
it, but there was at least standing room for several persons. Two railway
men and two or three soldiers were already there. One of the former helped
me to get in. I had, be it said, a semi-military appearance, for my grey
frieze coat was frogged, and besides, what was more important, I wore the
red-cross armlet given me at the time when I followed Gougeard's column.

Almost immediately afterwards the train full of soldiers got away. The
cannonade was now very loud, and the glass roof above us constantly
vibrated. Some minutes elapsed whilst we exchanged impressions. Then, all
at once, a railway official--it may have been M. Piquet himself--rushed
along the platform in the direction of the engine, shouting as he went:
"Dépêchez! Dépêchez! Sauvez-vous!" At the same moment a stray artilleryman
was seen hastening towards us; but suddenly there came a terrific crash of
glass, a shell burst through the roof and exploded, and the unlucky
artilleryman fell on the platform, evidently severely wounded. We were
already in motion, however, and the line being dear, we got fairly swiftly
across the viaduct spanning the Sarthe. This placed us beyond the reach of
the enemy, and we then slowed down.

One or two more trains were got away after ours, the last one, I believe,
being vainly assailed by some Uhlans before it had crossed the viaduct.
The latter ought then to have been blown up, but an attempt to do so
proved ineffectual. We went on very slowly on account of the many trains
in front of us. Every now and again, too, there came a wearisome stop. It
was bitterly cold, and it was in vain that we beat the tattoo with our
feet in the hope of thereby warming them. The men with me were also
desperately hungry, and complained of it so bitterly and so frequently,
that, at last, I could not refrain from producing a little bread and meat
which I had secured at Le Mans and sharing it with them. But it merely
meant a bite for each of us. However, on stopping at last at Conlie
station--some sixteen or seventeen miles from Le Mans--we all hastily
scrambled out of the train, rushed into a little inn, and almost fought
like wild beasts for scraps of food. Then on we went once more, still very
slowly, still stopping again and again, sometimes for an hour at a
stretch, until, half numbed by the cold, weary of stamping our feet, and
still ravenous, we reached the little town of Sillé-le-Guillaume, which is
not more than eight or nine miles from Conlie.

At Sillé I secured a tiny garret-like room at the crowded Hôtel de la
Croix d'Or, a third-rate hostelry, which was already invaded by officers,
soldiers, railway officials, and others who had quitted Le Mans before I
had managed to do so. My comparatively youthful appearance won for me,
however, the good favour of the buxom landlady, who, after repeatedly
declaring to other applicants that she had not a corner left in the whole
house, took me aside and said in an undertone: "listen, I will put you in
a little _cabinet_ upstairs. I will show you the way by and by. But don't
tell anybody." And she added compassionately: "_Mon pauvre garçon_, you
look frozen. Go into the kitchen. There is a good fire there, and you will
get something to eat."

Truth to tell, the larder was nearly empty, but I secured a little cheese
and some bread and some very indifferent wine, which, however, in my then
condition, seemed to me to be nectar. I helped myself to a bowl, I
remember, and poured about a pint of wine into it, so as to soak my bread,
which was stale and hard. Toasting my feet at the fire whilst I regaled

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