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Chapter 2


On the 31st of August, 1870, an army was reassembled, and was, as it
were, massed together under the walls of Sedan, in a place called the
Givonne Valley. This army was a French army--twenty-nine brigades,
fifteen divisions, four army corps--90,000 men. This army was in this
place without any one being able to divine the reason; without order,
without an object, scattered about--a species of heap of men thrown down
there as though with the view of being seized by some huge hand.

This army either did not entertain, or appeared not to entertain, for
the moment any immediate uneasiness. They knew, or at least they thought
they knew, that the enemy was a long way off. On calculating the stages
at four leagues daily, it was three days' march distant. Nevertheless,
towards evening the leaders took some wise strategic precautions; they
protected the army, which rested in the rear on Sedan and the Meuse, by
two battle fronts, one composed of the 7th Corps, and extending from
Floing to Givonne, the other composed of the 12th Corps, extending from
Givonne to Bazeilles; a triangle of which the Meuse formed the
hypothenuse. The 12th Corps, formed of the three divisions of
Lacretelle, Lartigue, and Wolf, ranged on the right, with the artillery,
between the brigades formed a veritable barrier, having Bazeilles and
Givonne at each end, and Daigny in its centre; the two divisions of
Petit and Lhéritier massed in the rear upon two lines supported this
barrier. General Lebrun commanded the 12th Corps. The 7th Corps,
commanded by General Douay, only possessed two divisions--Dumont's
division and Gilbert's division--and formed the other battle front,
covering the army of Givonne to Floing on the side of Illy; this battle
front was comparatively weak, too open on the side of Givonne, and only
protected on the side of the Meuse by the two cavalry divisions of
Margueritte and Bonnemains, and by Guyomar's brigade, resting in squares
upon Floing. Within this triangle were encamped the 5th Corps, commanded
by General Wimpfen, and the 1st Corps, commanded by General Ducrot.
Michel's cavalry division covered the 1st Corps on the side of Daigny;
the 5th supported itself upon Sedan. Four divisions, each disposed upon
two lines--the divisions of Lhéritier, Grandchamp, Goze, and
Conseil-Duménil--formed a sort of horseshoe, turned towards Sedan, and
uniting the first battle front with the second. The cavalry division of
Ameil and the brigade of Fontanges served as a reserve for these four
divisions. The whole of the artillery was upon the two battle fronts.
Two portions of the army were in confusion, one to the right of Sedan
beyond Balan, the other to the left of Sedan, on this side of Iges.
Beyond Balan were the divisions of Vassoigne and the brigade of Reboul,
on this side of Iges were the two cavalry divisions of Margueritte and
Bonnemains.

These arrangements indicated a profound feeling of security. In the
first place the Emperor Napoleon III. would not have come there if he
had not been perfectly tranquil. This Givonne Valley is what Napoleon I.
called a "washhand basin." There could not be a more complete enclosure.
An army is so much at home there that it is too much so; it runs the
risk of no longer being able to get out. This disquieted some brave and
prudent leaders such as Wimpfen, but they were not listened to. If
absolutely necessary, said the people of the Imperial circle, they could
always be sure of being able to reach Mézières, and at the worst the
Belgian frontier. Was it, however, needful to provide for such extreme
eventualities? In certain cases foresight is almost an offence. They
were all of one mind, therefore, to be at their ease.

If they had been uneasy they would have cut the bridges of the Meuse;
but they did not even think of it. To what purpose? The enemy was a long
way off. The Emperor, who evidently was well informed, affirmed it.

The army bivouacked somewhat in confusion, as we have said, and slept
peaceably throughout this night of August 31, having, whatever might
happen, or believing that they had, the retreat upon Mézières open
behind it. They disdained to take the most ordinary precautions, they
made no cavalry reconnaissances, they did not even place outposts. A
German military writer has stated this.[37] Fourteen leagues at least
separated them from the German army, three days' march; they did not
exactly know where it was; they believed it scattered, possessing little
unity, badly informed, led somewhat at random upon several points at
once, incapable of a movement converging upon one single point, like
Sedan; they believed that the Crown Prince of Saxony was marching on
Chalons, and that the Crown Prince of Prussia was marching on Metz; they
were ignorant of everything appertaining to this army, its leaders, its
plan, its armament, its effective force. Was it still following the
strategy of Gustavus Adolphus? Was it still following the tactics of
Frederick II.? No one knew. They felt sure of being at Berlin in a few
weeks. What nonsense! The Prussian army! They talked of this war as of a
dream, and of this army as of a phantom.

During this very night, while the French army was sleeping, this is what
was taking place.


[37] M. Harwik.

Victor Hugo