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- History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 180/202 -

establish a civil Government in Alsace, the western frontier of the new Province having been already so accurately studied that, when peace was made in 1871, the frontier-line was drawn not upon one of the earlier French maps but on the map now published by the German staff. It was Gambetta's first task to divide France into districts, each with its own military centre, its own army, and its own commander. Four such districts were made: the centres were Lille, Le Mans, Bourges, and Besançon. At Bourges and in the neighbourhood considerable progress had already been made in organisation. Early in October German cavalry-detachments, exploring southwards, found that French troops were gathering on the Loire. The Bavarian General Von der Tann was detached by Moltke from the besieging army at Paris, and ordered to make himself master of Orleans. Von der Tann hastened southwards, defeated the French outside Orleans on the 11th of October, and occupied this city, the French retiring towards Bourges. Gambetta removed the defeated commander, and set in his place General Aurelle de Paladines. Von der Tann was directed to cross the Loire and destroy the arsenals at Bourges; he reported, however, that this task was beyond his power, in consequence of which Moltke ordered General Werder with the army of Strasburg to move westwards against Bourges, after dispersing the weak forces that were gathering about Besançon. Werder set out on his dangerous march, but he had not proceeded far when an army of very different power was thrown into the scale against the French levies on the Loire.

[Bazaine at Metz.]

[Capitulation of Metz, Oct. 27.]

In the battle of Gravelotte, fought on the 18th of August, the French troops had been so handled by Bazaine as to render it doubtful whether he really intended to break through the enemy's line and escape from Metz. At what period political designs inconsistent with his military duty first took possession of Bazaine's thoughts is uncertain. He had played a political part in Mexico; it is probable that as soon as he found himself at the head of the one effective army of France, and saw Napoleon hopelessly discredited, he began to aim at personal power. Before the downfall of the Empire he had evidently adopted a scheme of inaction with the object of preserving his army entire: even the sortie by which it had been arranged that he should assist McMahon on the day before Sedan was feebly and irresolutely conducted. After the proclamation of the Republic Bazaine's inaction became still more marked. The intrigues of an adventurer named Regnier, who endeavoured to open a negotiation between the Prussians and the exiled Empress Eugénie, encouraged him in his determination to keep his soldiers from fulfilling their duty to France. Week after week passed by; a fifth of the besieging army was struck down with sickness; yet Bazaine made no effort to break through, or even to diminish the number of men who were consuming the supplies of Metz by giving to separate detachments the opportunity of escape. On the 12th of October, after the pretence of a sortie on the north, he entered into communication with the German headquarters at Versailles. Bismarck offered to grant a free departure to the army of Metz on condition that the fortress should be placed in his hands, that the army should undertake to act on behalf of the Empress, and that the Empress should pledge herself to accept the Prussian conditions of peace, whatever these might be. General Boyer was sent to England to acquaint the Empress with these propositions. They were declined by her, and after a fortnight had been spent in manoeuvres for a Bonapartist restoration. Bazaine found himself at the end of his resources. On the 27th the capitulation of Metz was signed. The fortress itself, with incalculable cannon and material of war, and an army of a hundred and seventy thousand men, including twenty-six thousand sick and wounded in the hospitals, passed into the hands of the Germans. [544]


Bazaine was at a later time tried by a court-martial, found guilty of the neglect of duty, and sentenced to death. That sentence was not executed; but if there is an infamy that is worse than death, such infamy will to all time cling to his name. In the circumstances in which France was placed no effort, no sacrifice of life could have been too great for the commander of the army at Metz. To retain the besiegers in full strength before the fortress would not have required the half of Bazaine's actual force. If half his army had fallen on the field of battle in successive attempts to cut their way through the enemy, brave men would no doubt have perished; but even had their efforts failed their deaths would have purchased for Metz the power to hold out for weeks or for months longer. The civil population of Metz was but sixty thousand, its army was three times as numerous; unlike Paris, it saw its stores consumed not by helpless millions of women and children, but by soldiers whose duty it was to aid the defence of their country at whatever cost. Their duty, if they could not cut their way through, was to die fighting; and had they shown hesitation, which was not the case, Bazaine should have died at their head. That Bazaine would have fulfilled his duty even if Napoleon III. had remained on the throne is more than doubtful, for his inaction had begun before the catastrophe of Sedan. His pretext after that time was that the government of France had fallen into the hands of men of disorder, and that it was more important for his army to save France from the Government than from the invader. He was the only man in France who thought so. The Government of September 4th, whatever its faults, was good enough for tens of thousands of brave men, Legitimists, Orleanists, Bonapartists, who flocked without distinction of party to its banners: it might have been good enough for Marshal Bazaine. But France had to pay the penalty for the political, the moral indifference which could acquiesce in the Coup d'État of 1851, in the servility of the Empire, in many a vile and boasted deed in Mexico, in China, in Algiers. Such indifference found its Nemesis in a Bazaine.

[Tann driven from Orleans, Nov. 9.]

[Battles of Orleans, Nov. 28-Dec. 2.]

[Sortie of Champigny, Nov. 29-Dec. 4.]

[Battle of Amiens, Nov. 27.]

The surrender of Metz and the release of the great army of Prince Frederick Charles by which it was besieged fatally changed the conditions of the French war of national defence. Two hundred thousand of the victorious troops of Germany under some of their ablest generals were set free to attack the still untrained levies on the Loire and in the north of France, which, with more time for organisation, might well have forced the Germans to raise the siege of Paris. The army once commanded by Steinmetz was now reconstituted, and despatched under General Manteuffel towards Amiens; Prince Frederick Charles moved with the remainder of his troops towards the Loire. Aware that his approach could not long be delayed, Gambetta insisted that Aurelle de Paladines should begin the march on Paris. The general attacked Tann at Coulmiers on the 9th of November, defeated him, and re-occupied Orleans, the first real success that the French had gained in the war. There was great alarm at the German headquarters at Versailles; the possibility of a failure of the siege was discussed; and forty thousand troops were sent southwards in haste to the support of the Bavarian general. Aurelle, however, did not move upon the capital: his troops were still unfit for the enterprise; and he remained stationary on the north of Orleans, in order to improve his organisation, to await reinforcements, and to meet the attack of Frederick Charles in a strong position. In the third week of November the leading divisions of the army of Metz approached, and took post between Orleans and Paris. Gambetta now insisted that the effort should be made to relieve the capital. Aurelle resisted, but was forced to obey. The garrison of Paris had already made several unsuccessful attacks upon the lines of their besiegers, the most vigorous being that of Le Bourget on the 30th of October, in which bayonets were crossed. It was arranged that in the last days of November General Trochu should endeavour to break out on the southern side, and that simultaneously the army of the Loire should fall upon the enemy in front of it and endeavour to force its way to the capital. On the 28th the attack upon the Germans on the north of Orleans began. For several days the struggle was renewed by one division after another of the armies of Aurelle and Prince Frederick Charles. Victory remained at last with the Germans; the centre of the French position was carried; the right and left wings of the army were severed from one another and forced to retreat, the one up the Loire, the other towards the west. Orleans on the 5th of December passed back into the hands of the Germans. The sortie from Paris, which began with a successful attack by General Ducrot upon Champigny beyond the Marne, ended after some days of combat in the recovery by the Germans of the positions which they had lost, and in the retreat of Ducrot into Paris. In the same week Manteuffel, moving against the relieving army of the north, encountered it near Amiens, defeated it after a hard struggle, and gained possession of Amiens itself.

[Rouen occupied, Dec. 6.]

[Bapaume, Jan. 3.]

[St. Quentin, Jan 19.]

After the fall of Amiens, Manteuffel moved upon Rouen. This city fell into his hands without resistance; the conquerors pressed on westwards, and at Dieppe troops which had come from the confines of Russia gazed for the first time upon the sea. But the Republican armies, unlike those which the Germans had first encountered, were not to be crushed at a single blow. Under the energetic command of Faidherbe the army of the North advanced again upon Amiens. Goeben, who was left to defend the line of the Somme, went out to meet him, defeated him on the 23rd of December, and drove him back to Arras. But again, after a week's interval, Faidherbe pushed forward. On the 3rd of January he fell upon Goeben's weak division at Bapaume, and handled it so severely that the Germans would on the following day have abandoned their position, if the French had not themselves been the first to retire. Faidherbe, however, had only fallen back to receive reinforcements. After some days' rest he once more sought to gain the road to Paris, advancing this time by the eastward line through St. Quentin. In front of this town Goeben attacked him. The last battle of the army of the North was fought on the 19th of January. The French general endeavoured to disguise his defeat, but the German commander had won all that he desired. Faidherbe's army was compelled to retreat northwards in disorder; its part in the war was at an end.

[The Armies of the Loire and of the East.]

[Le Mans, Jan. 12.]


[Montbéliard, Jan. 15-17.]

[The Eastern army crosses the Swiss Frontier, Feb. 1.]

During the last three weeks of December there was a pause in the operations of the Germans on the Loire. It was expected that Bourbaki and the east wing of The Armies of the French army would soon re-appear at Orleans and endeavour to combine with Chanzy's troops. Gambetta, however, had formed another plan. He considered that Chanzy, with the assistance of divisions formed in Brittany, would be strong enough to encounter Prince Frederick Charles, and he determined to throw the army of Bourbaki, strengthened by reinforcements from the south, upon Germany itself. The design was a daring one, and had the two French armies been capable of performing the work which Gambetta required of them, an inroad into Baden, or even the re-conquest of Alsace, would most seriously have affected the position of the Germans before Paris. But Gambetta miscalculated the power of young, untrained troops, imperfectly armed, badly fed, against a veteran enemy. In a series of hard-fought struggles the army of the Loire under General Chanzy was driven back at the beginning of January from Vendome to Le Mans. On the 12th, Chanzy took post before this city and fought his last battle. While he was making a vigorous resistance in the centre of the line, the

History of Modern Europe 1792-1878 - 180/202

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