« PreviousContinue »
likely to tempt Bazaine in all honesty, and with no disregard of his patriotism, to do what in him lay to bring them about? Englishmen are not in the habit of vituperating Monk as a traitor; and what had Bazaine the thought of doing which Monk did not do? This, at least, is a parallel case, since both were soldiers. Ney
Ney was shot for doing what Bazaine was condemned to be shot for not doing. Ney went over prematurely to the returning Napoleon ; Bazaine did not see his way prematurely to desert the retiring Napoleon.
The political aspect of the question I profess to speak of with no special weight; arguing simply from the facts that are open to every one who has made himself conversant with its history. But of its military aspect I may perhaps claim to have some special knowledge, seeing that it happened to me to study it on the spot, while the tragedy was being played, and immediately after the curtain fell. Of the four questions into which the court-martial framed the voluminous charges advanced in General Rivière's indictment, two answer themselves. There remain these two : Did Bazaine capitulate before the enemy in the open field ? Did Bazaine negotiate for surrender before having done everything prescribed by duty and honour?
The very phrase "in the open field” presupposes a line of retreat. There have been battle-fields and positions en rase campagne the line of retreat from which has been blocked or dominated with such effect that surrender has become inevitable. Pure examples of such surrenders en rase campagne are those of Langensalza, where in 1866 the Hanoverians capitulated to the Prussians; the capitulation which closed the campaign of Jena in 1806, when Blücher, driven from Lubeck, and with his back to the Danish frontier, had to lay down his arms to Murat; the capitulations of Cornwallis in the American War of Independence, and of General Lee in the struggle between the North and South. The circumstances under which these several capitulations occurred redeemed from blame those responsible for them. But none of the armies so capitulated were hemmed in by a cordon of entrenchments so skilfully devised and so carefully executed that the circle of environment was constituted almost a fortresscircumvallation. For Bazaine's army there was no open field until it had first carried, and then deployed beyond, some chosen section of the entrenchment ring that girdled it; a ring studded with scientifically fortified villages full of men, lined with staunch troops, behind which stood reserves as staunch, and every point whereof at which egress was feasible, dominated by multitudinous guns in protected emplacements. If the army of Metz was surrendered en rase campagne, so in a much higher degree was the army of Paris. With still greater technical truth may it be urged that the army of Châlons capitulated at Sedan in the open field, for the fortress was a mere speck in the centre of the fighting arena, which was girdled solely by men, and by men who had clasped hands around it only the previous afternoon. Of the capitulation of Sedan the responsibility rests on MacMahon, for nobody will assert that he unwounded could have averted the condition which De Wimpfen formally terminated in the dining-room of the Château Bellevue. But there has been no proposition that either MacMahon or De Wimpfen should be brought to a court-martial. Neither on general nor on technical reasoning does there seem any justification for the "oui" given by the court-martial to this question. We may find a clue why it came to be one of the questions which the court-martial set itself to answer when it is mentioned that the French Code Militaire prescribes death, without allowing the court-martial any alternative, as the punishment of the commander who surrenders an army en rase campagne.
There remains then but this one question : Whether or not Bazaine did everything which duty and honour prescribed before opening negotiations for surrender. It must be admitted, setting aside all save purely military conditions, that he did not. If it be urged, and I believe it could be urged successfully, that had he done all that man could do in his circumstances the result would nevertheless have been the same-not, therefore, one whit the less is he guilty. But his culpability, great though it unquestionably is, does not amount to more than incapacity. All through I believe that he meant to do the best he could, and thought that he was doing for the best. Some have held that on the 17th of August, the quiet day between the battles of Vionville and Gravelotte, he should have continued his progress westward. It was not in the nature of things that he could have marched till late on that day, and by that time the northern road by St. Privat and Briey was studded with German patrols, which in a twinkling would have brought thundering on his flank and rear German army corps that had not suffered as he had the day before. Had he gained a day by taking the Thionville road leading into the valley of the Meuse at Longuion, leaving a corps in position to blind Prince Frederick Charles, that chief would still by the Briey road have been equidistant on the 19th from Longuion, with Bazaine on his more circuitous route, even with the day's start to the latter. The alternative which Colonel Hamley suggests, that on the 17th Bazaine should have passed his army back through Metz, and on the 18th should have started for Strasburg, ascending the right bank of the Moselle and traversing the German communications, is ingenious, but was impracticable with a host so constituted, officered, and equipped. Bazaine, on the information he had, was amply justified in fighting the battle of Gravelotte; and that he did not win it was simply owing to the fact that the Germans were so much stronger than he had reason to believe. After two such battles, and with an army so defective in so many essentials, it cannot well be urged that he did wrong in falling back on Metz. In point of fact he was driven back on Metz, and had no alternative. But with energy he might have been in a state fit to attempt egress again in four or five days, while as yet the Germans had not belted him in so firmly and tightly. From the 25th to the day of Sedan extended the period of his chance of getting out. But whither was he to head, suppose him once out? Obviously his cue was to cut through in a north-westerly direction, and march on the Lower Meuse to meet MacMahon. But the Germans could see that this should be his object as well as he could; and to frustrate it there stood outside that section of the arc of the environment which extended from the wood of Plenois to the Thionville road, four army corps, or 120,000 men.
The section south of Metz was thinly manned, and I do think Bazaine could have at this time got away along the Strasburg road, but then he would have been leaving to his fate MacMahon marching to effect a junction with him. Alternatives might have been open, but even now it seems sound strategy enough to have quietly awaited Macliahon's approach. That Bazaine made skilful dispositions, in view of his brother marshal being nigh at hand on the ist of September, seems incontrovertible. On the 31st of August he sent the corps of Canrobert and Lebæuf to make a sortie on the cast and north-east so as to draw the enemy's masses away out of MacMahon's anticipated path:. kept through the night the positions which they had won, that the German distraction might be perpetuated, while the Guards, Ladmirault's and Frossard's corps took no part in the sortie, but waited ready to give the hand to MacMahon, as soon as the thunder of bis cannon should be heard.
That sound, indeed, faintly borne on the breeze from a battle-field sixty-five miles away, Prince Frederick Charles heard as he stood on the Hill of Horimont watching and feeding the combat over against him on the slopes of Servigny and Noisseville, but the dull roar never reached the beleaguered, and would have brought small comfort if it had. After the capitulation of Sedan, Bazaine's chance of successfully breaking out diminished gradually. And granting that he had succeeded, what would have been his objective point, what his speedy fate? Why, but for the fortress which they were subduing
VOL. XII. N.S., 1874.
by starving him, nothing would have pleased the Germans better than to have opened a track for him to go out on whatsoever face he chose, and then to have closed the long drama by mobbing him in the open. For they were 'stronger than he by two to one, better found, better marchers, and in better heart. But it is open to one who watched with the Germans through the long beleaguerment to express his opinion that Bazaine could not have fought his way out. A coup de main was impossible. From the Hill of Horimont, the observatory on the top of Mont St. Blaise, the bluff before Servigny, and the fringe of the plateau of St. Germain, I have looked down on Bazaine's entrenched camp with such dominance that a company could not form rank but that I saw it. At these points and many others were watchers continually. At the alarm the second line of the environment closed up into the first, into positions wherein the forces available were capable of " holding” anything that could come against them till from the right and the left supports closed in to them and behind them. Bazaine was impotent to get out; he might have tried indeed, but he must have had the consciousness that with a beaten and ill-found army the end must have been but precipitated had he succeeded, whereas by holding his position he was detaining around him a vast army of Germans. The worst of it was that he could not do this for ever, and that the endurance of his provisions constituted the limit up to which he could do it. And he had shown no practical purposefulness and forethought in arranging that his provisions should hold out as long as possible. It was in this shortcoming that, to my thinking, Bazaine as a commander was most seriously to blame. When at length his provisions were nearly exhausted, he did make an effort at once to save his army from the stigma of a surrender and 10 leave the fortress still a thorn in the side of the Germans. The enterprise of the 7th of October, which was defeated by the battle of Maizières les Metz, I at the time asserted to have been a last attempt at escape. The only journalist who was inside Metz during the siege scouted this assertion with somewhat needless contempt; but Bazaine confirms my judgment when he says, -"My project was at nightfall to leave with the whole army without its baggage. We might possibly have effected an escape in this way; but it was necessary to occupy the two dominant banks of the Moselle.” The only destination of an army without its baggage could have been Luxemburg, and on the dominant banks of the Moselle stood the 3rd and ioth German army corps. This sortie defeated, there remained nothing but passive resistance, and with energetic requisitioning and management of the outstanding provisions, that might have
been maintained for probably a fortnight longer than it was. Between Bazaine and starvation there was still a multitude of horses, to say nothing of his boots.
The oft-repeated assertion that Bazaine capitulated with an army of 173,000 men is a gross and palpable error in the face of the data we now possess.
Bushels of figures might be brought to show its falsity were there room. Suffice it to cite the authority of Colonel Hamley that Bazaine's army on the day before the battle of Borny (14th August) consisted of 135,000 men. Authentic statistics show that its loss (killed, wounded, missing, and diseased) from the date named to the capitulation was over 45,000 men. This leaves a balance to be surrendered of 90,000 habile men. But the cavalry and artillery were for the most part dismounted before the end came, and every soldier knows how useless as soldiers are cavalrymen and artillerymen diverted from their own special service and armed only with its arms. Bazaine asserts that he surrendered only 65,000 serviceable men, and Rüstow admits the approximate accuracy of this statement.
In fine, Bazaine was, to use a homely phrase, “a duffer," but if all the French officers who proved themselves “ duffers” in the late war were to be shot, it may be said at least that no campaign had ever yielded such a flow of promotion.