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of their success. A hurried and circuitous retreat carried the beaten corps towards Metz, where, as it was announced on the 9th, just a week after the first shots had been exchanged at Saarbrück, the French army was to concentrate, with Mar
shal Bazaine in command. The first stage of the war of 1870 was already over. All may yet be re-established,' were the almost despairing words in which the Emperor summed up its events.
For Napoleon saw the reality plainer than those around him. There were not wanting flattering tongues to assert at Metz, what was asserted elsewhere, that isolated defeats of single
corps overpowered by surprise and outnumbered, could not affect the result of the campaign. The Emperor never hugged himself with this delusion. The constant revelations which he had had since reaching Metz of the scandalous conduct of his men and the want of professional zeal in his officers, were sufficient, when combined with his historic knowledge of what the French army has been before under reverses, to prepare his mind for the worst. He sought no longer to keep up the pretence of commanding in person the troops he was physically incapable of leading. He allowed the staff which had misled him to fall into deserved disgrace; and abdicating at once his position as General and his authority as Emperor, he remained thenceforward a mere encumbrance on the forces which defended France rather than the dynasty now tottering to its fall.
A week of expectation passed by, while Europe breathlessly awaited the next scene in this great drama. On the French side it was clear already that partial as the defeats of Frossard and MacMahon had been, their influence had so wounded the prestige of the Imperial army as to threaten seriously the stability of the throne that had relied on it. The Prussian army, which the pupils of Metz and St. Cyr had been trained to consider as a sort of school for the Landwehr, ' a magnificent organisation on paper, but a doubtful weapon • for the defensive, and very imperfect for the first period of an offensive war,
,'* had shown itself as formidable in moral tone and tactical dexterity as in numerical strength. Should the latter really prove to be in the proportion which had been claimed for it, the boldest Frenchmen might well already doubt whether Bazaine would find himself able to bar the way into France. He stood alone before Metz with the four corps
* Quoted from the Official Textbook on Military Art used in the Ecole d'Application at Metz.
which had fallen back from the Saarbrück frontier, strengthened only by part of Canrobert's, which that Marshal had brought up from Chalons with generous speed on hearing of his sovereign's disasters, placing himself ungrudgingly at the disposal of his junior, when on arriving he found Bazaine holding the reins the failing hands of the Emperor had resigned. The army thus collected amounted to about 130,000 men : but MacMahon was retiring continuously on Chalons, where he arrived ten days after his defeat, bringing with him but 15,000 disheartened men, the relics of the 55,000 soldiers whom he had ranged in battle-order at Woerth, three-fourths of whom, instead of one-fourth, might have been preserved to his standards but for the shameful loosening of the bonds of discipline which defeat and retreat had induced. De Failly, terrified at the disasters of the 6th on either side of him, had abandoned the frontier in haste, and marched towards Paris without check, until he rallied on the depôt at Chalons, and joined MacMahon, as did Douay coming in from Belfort. When thus assembled MacMahon had 80,000 men, besides reinforcements promised him from Paris, wherewith to protect the direct road to the capital.
All this was tolerably well known, for the new and more avowedly Imperialist Ministry which had been formed under the pressure of national disaster to support the Government, found it necessary to soothe the excited citizens by publishing some particulars of the forces still left to cover Paris. But the same week that witnessed this double concentration of the eight corps lately scattered over the cast of France, sufficed the Prussians to carry forward their great strategic design to the next important stage. The seventh day after the battle of Woerth saw the heads of the Crown Prince's columns descending the western slopes of the Vosges into Lorraine; and, despite of bad weather, and of the impediments offered by the hill forts in his rear, two of which, Bitsche and Phalsburg, blocked the chief roads, his head-quarters on the 13th had gained the more open country near Luneville, on the line where railroad and chaussée run together from Strasburg through Nancy and Chalons to Paris. Strasburg itself was blockaded by his Badish division, and orders given for an active siege, which the vicinity of the frontiers to main lines of German railroads wonderfully facilitated. The Third Army was, therefore, already so placed as to be ready soon to carry out the original design which was to have brought it on the southern flank of the French forces defending the Saar or Moselle against the First and Second.
As it happened, however, the combinations against the
enemy's main body were so hurried forward by the force of events as to leave no room for the Crown Prince's action. On the 3rd the King had reached Mayence with his advisers, and taken command officially of the whole of the German armies ; but before he reached the front the battle of Forbach was brought on and won, and the French line on the Saar irretrievably broken. Entering France on the 10th, King William followed the enemy to the Moselle, and on the 13th was before Bazaine with the whole of the First and Second Armies. Had the ten and a half corps represented on the ground actually been present in bulk, he should have commanded not less than 300,000 men, even allowing for the usual casualties; but there were still many detachments with General Von Falckenstein in Northern Germany, reducing the actual numbers to about a quarter of a million.
Still this was just double the army rallied under Bazaine; and it could hardly be that such superiority of forces, with the prestige of a hitherto successful invasion, was to be reduced to inaction by the fact of the new French Commander-in-Chief's resting the centre of his line on a large fortress. Action was necessary, were it only for the purpose of maintaining that moral advantage which the Germans could already fairly claim.
Considerable as the stream of the Moselle is, the German army possessed bridge-trains abundantly sufficient for several passages of it; and the temptation was great to surprise Bazaine by advancing both wings of the
army at once, so as to unite them on his communications with Paris through Verdun, and shut him off, with the field household of the Emperor, from the rest of France. Yet this plan, though offering brilliant prospects, would also offer great chances to a resolute adversary
who divined it in time; while, if successful, it would leave the enemy the cover of the fortress to which he evidently clung, and from which no direct attack short of a siege could possibly force him. It seemed easier to manœuvre him from under its shelter, and deal with him in the open field ; and for this purpose the bridge and road through Pont-à-Mousson, twenty miles higher up, lay conveniently placed. The cavalry of the King's army, traversing the whole country down to the belt southward near Nancy, which that of the Crown Prince was exploring, had already reconnoitred this point of passage, and found it but slightly guarded. So on the 14th the army made a general movement by its left in a south-westerly direction on Pont-àMousson. To cover this the more effectually, General Von Steinmetz, whose army was to the left of that of Prince Frederic Charles, was directed to make a demonstration against Bazaine's troops, then lying partly between him and Metz, as well as all round the face of the eastern side of the fortress. A severe action was the result, in which half of the 7th Corps, first engaging the French right wing, and supported by successive divisions of the Prussians, forced the enemy from a slightly intrenched position back to the cover of the outworks of Metz. Meanwhile the passage of other corps went on steadily by Pont-à-Mousson; and they were distributed on the further side of the Moselle so as to prepare for an advance westward. But before the action of this afternoon began, Bazaine had discerned signs of the movement, and growing anxious for the Emperor's safety, or desirous to be free from the encumbrance which the care for it necessarily laid on his own action, had persuaded his master to quit the army, and take the road to Châlons by Verdun along the northernmost of two high roads leading to the latter fortress from Metz.
Next day, the greater part of the German army had crossed at or near Pont-à-Mousson, the 1st Corps chiefly excepted, which remained to guard the communications of the army towards Forbach. The 4th had been ordered to march towards the south on Toul, a second-rate fortress on the Châlons and Nancy railroad, which it was very desirable to seize, in order to clear the Crown Prince's way. The other eight were at points to the west or north-west of Pont-à-Mousson, and getting almost between Paris and Bazaine, who, as Moltke had expected, became seriously alarmed at this flank movement; and not trusting his troops so far as to make the obvious use of it recommended in sound theory, by striking boldly at his enemy whilst thus extended, drew through Metz to the west bank of the Moselle, and began a general retreat along both roads to Verdun. As the German army had kept moving round the works within a moderate circuit, it followed that there were skirmishes between its advanced troops and those that flanked Bazaine's left; and should they choose to interrupt his march by decisively attacking the head of his column, it became evident that he would need extraordinary resolution to force his way onward.
This was exactly what occurred next day, the 16th, when the battle of Mars-la-Tour was brought on by the 3rd Prussian Corps intercepting the head of the French column on the southern road. Once engaged, the nearest German divisions (parts of the 8th, 9th, and 10th Corps) hurried up in support ; and taking ground successively to the left, the open flank, according to the ordinary Prussian tactics, finally fronted with their line facing eastward, and the extreme left reaching to the VOL. CXXXII. NO. CCLXX.
northern of the two roads which Bazaine had intended to use. His retreat westward was completely stopped ; and although he had inflicted heavy loss (16,000 are admitted) on his assailants, and claimed partial advantages on parts of his line, he found it expedient next day to fall back to a stronger position at Gravelotte, where the two roads from Verdun to Metz unite five miles westward of the latter fortress.
To retire from the advantage won would have been a moral error on the German side, whatever may have been Von Moltke's earlier design. To allow Bazaine to remain so far westward of the works, where he was already busy intrenching, would have involved an enormous circuit of investment in order to hem him in. It was resolved therefore to attack him without allowing him further time to strengthen his position ; and so the tremendous battle of the 18th was fought and won without even waiting to call in the 4th Corps from the south. The French lines were stormed by direct assault, at an expenditure of lives not reached before in these days of improved weapons; and Bazaine was fairly shut within the works round Metz, where the relics of the force that was to overrun Germany are still attempting, as we write, to force their way out from the net thrown around them.
The campaign having taken this unexpected turn, the Crown Prince's army was freed from the obligation of co-operating with the First and Second. It became the chief force wherewith to advance against Paris; and to ensure its being able to appear with the more effect, and to deal effectually with MacMahon, should he bar the way, the resolution was forthwith taken to support it in its advance by such a detachment from Prince Frederic Charles's troops as could be spared from the watch over Bazaine. Accordingly, the 4th Corps (which had been halted after proceeding a few miles towards Toul), the 12th (Saxons), and the Guards, were constituted a separate Fourth Army under the Prince of Saxony; and on the 22nd, four days after the battle in which the last two had taken the decisive share, they were on their way due westward, keeping parallel to the Crown Prince's movement along the great Nancy-Chalons road.
It was thought probable that MacMahon would attempt to cover Paris by taking up a defensive position on the flank of the latter, and if so, the double lines on which the Princes moved would be specially convenient for turning it. That he would leave the Third Army knowingly between his own and Paris, in the effort to get round it to Bazaine, seemed at first but little likely. Indeed, should he attempt this by the south, the wide circuit he must make by