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Chapter 5


Bazeilles takes fire, Givonne takes fire, Floing takes fire; the battle
begins with a furnace. The whole horizon is aflame. The French camp is
in this crater, stupefied, affrighted, starting up from sleeping,--a
funereal swarming. A circle of thunder surrounds the army. They are
encircled by annihilation. This mighty slaughter is carried on on all
sides simultaneously. The French resist, and they are terrible, having
nothing left but despair. Our cannon, almost all old-fashioned and of
short range, are at once dismounted by the fearful and exact aim of the
Prussians. The density of the rain of shells upon the valley is so
great, that "the earth is completely furrowed," says an eye-witness, "as
though by a rake." How many cannon? Eleven hundred at least. Twelve
German batteries upon La Moncelle alone; the 3d and 4th _Abtheilung_, an
awe-striking artillery, upon the crests of Givonne, with the 2d horse
battery in reserve; opposite Doigny ten Saxon and two Wurtemburg
batteries; the curtain of trees of the wood to the north of
Villers-Cernay masks the mounted _Abtheilung_, which is there with the
3d Heavy Artillery in reserve, and from this gloomy copse issues a
formidable fire; the twenty-four pieces of the 1st Heavy Artillery are
ranged in the glade skirting the road from La Moncelle to La Chapelle;
the battery of the Royal Guard sets fire to the Garenne Wood; the shells
and the balls riddle Suchy, Francheval, Fouru-Saint-Remy, and the valley
between Heibes and Givonne; and the third and fourth rank of cannon
extend without break of continuity as far as the Calvary of Illy, the
extreme point of the horizon. The German soldiers, seated or lying
before the batteries, watch the artillery at work. The French soldiers
fall and die. Amongst the bodies which cover the plain there is one, the
body of an officers on which they will find, after the battle, a sealed
note, containing this order, signed NAPOLEON: "To-day, September 1st,
rest for the whole army."

The gallant 35th of the Line almost completely disappears under the
overwhelming shower of shells; the brave Marine Infantry holds at bay
for a moment the Saxons, joined by the Bavarians, but outflanked on
every side, draws back; all the admirable cavalry of the Targueritte
Division hurled against the German infantry, halts and sinks down
midway, "annihilated," says the Prussian Report, "by well-aimed and cool
firing."[38] This field of carnage has three outlets; all three barred:
the Bouillon road by the Prussian Guard, the Carignan road by the
Bavarians, the Mézières road by the Wurtemburgers. The French have not
thought of barricading the railway viaduct; three German battalions have
occupied it during the night. Two isolated houses on the Balan road
could be made the pivot of a long resistance; but the Germans are there.
The wood from Monvilliers to Bazeilles, bushy and dense, might prevent
the junction of the Saxons, masters of La Moncelle, and the Bavarians,
masters of Bazeilles; but the French have been forestalled: they find
the Bavarians cutting the underwood with their bill-hooks. The German
army moves in one piece, in one absolute unity; the Crown Prince of
Saxony is on the height of Mairy, whence he surveys the whole action;
the command oscillates in the French army; at the beginning of the
battle, at a quarter to six, MacMahon is wounded by the bursting of a
shell; at seven o'clock Ducrot replaces him; at ten o'clock Wimpfen
replaces Ducrot. Every instant the wall of fire is drawing closer in,
the roll of the thunder is continuous, a dismal pulverization of 90,000
men! Never before has anything equal to this been seen; never before has
an army been overwhelmed beneath such a downpour of lead and iron! At
one o'clock all is lost. The regiments fly helter-skelter into Sedan.
But Sedan begins to burn; Dijonval burns, the ambulances burn, there is
nothing now possible but to cut their way out. Wimpfen, brave and
resolute, proposes this to the Emperor. The 3d Zouaves, desperate, have
set the example. Cut off from the rest of the army, they have forced a
passage, and have reached Belgium. A flight of lions!

Suddenly, above the disaster, above the huge pile of dead and dying,
above all this unfortunate heroism, appears disgrace. The white flag is
hoisted.

Turenne and Vauban were both present, one in his statue, the other in
his citadel.

The statue and the citadel witnessed the awe-striking capitulation.
These two virgins, one of bronze, the other of granite, felt themselves
prostituted. O noble face of our country! Oh, eternal blushes!


[38] The Franco-German War of 1870-71. Report of the Prussian Staff,
page 1087.

Victor Hugo