<--Previous Up Next-->
High Resolution Image
of war generally, including guns; and there was no lack of men as brave as might be, as the result showed. On the other hand, the Versailles army was in those early days of the siege a poorish collection of beaten men, some 40,000 in all: the best of them a corps gendarmes, or armed police, to whom may be attributed the beginning of the atrocities, which would have disgraced the Party of Order so terrible, if history were usually written by honest men.
One fatal military mistake was made by the rebels, which, of itself, was almost enough to make their position untenable from a military point of view. The dominating fort of Mont Valerien, which looks down on the whole valley of Seine, and even to the most unprofessional eye proclaims its paramount importance, had been left unoccupied by the Versaillese when the evacuated Paris after the 18th March. The army of the Commune, committed temporarily to Lullier — and incompetent officer, perhaps insane — paid no attention to this key of Paris. It may be considered as an excuse for the Commune that Thiers refused at first to occupy it, alleging that it was not a strategical point; but, unluckily, his officers knew better, and at last forced almost an order for its occupation out of him, and it was lost to the Commune.
To this mishap was added the fact that the National Guards were ill disciplined, had no cavalry, and few skilled artillerymen; that they lacked officers, both regimental and staff; that most of the generals were deficient in professional knowledge.
With all these disadvantages a sortie was determined on; and on the 2nd April 40,000 men were directed against Versailles in two divisions. They were completely defeated, as might have been expected. One incident shows the folly of people in such straits as the Commune was in shutting their eyes to their real situation. The leaders had concealed the fact of the occupation of Mont Valerien by the Versaillese; so that when that fortress opened fire on the column which was marching on Rueil a complete panic, brought on by a fear of treason, took place, and only a handful of men held together for the forward march.
Flourens surprised at Rueil, was slain on the spot. Duval, ill supported, after a brave resistance, had to surrender with a few men. He and his chief of staff were at once shot by the Versailles General Vinoy. The soldiers of the regular army taken with him were also shot. The other prisoners were marched to Versailles to be insulted, spat upon, and struck by the "ladies and gentlemen," to whose position their existence was a menace. The infamous Gallifet began in these days his special course of brutal murder. This monster is still alive, and a general of the present Bourgeois Republic at the time in which we are writing.
At Marseilles and Narbonne, in the meantime, as afterwards at Lyons, Cahors, Toulouse, Bordeaux, and Etienne, the revolt, at first successful, fell through, owing to want of organization and lack of aim in most of the Revolutionists: and Paris was left to sustain the struggle by herself.
The Parisians were by no means daunted by their first defeat, but set to work to carry on the conflict defensively. To the Versaillese murders they replied by a decree, by which anyone suspected of complicity with the Versaillese Government should be tried within forty-eight hours, and, if found guilty, detained as a hostage, such hostages to be shot in proportion to the prisoners of war killed in cold blood by the Versaillese- a decree, however, which was not carried out- nor were any reprisals made by the Commune on prisoners taken by them, till in its last agony the hostages were shot in a tumultuary manner. Had they been held by ordinary belligerents, they would have been shot long before- and justifiably so, according to the laws of war, since it is a maxim that each side is bound to defend the lives of the prisoners which it loses. The hostages for the rest were not of much importance, since the important people had already fled from Paris; no did M. Thiers trouble himself much about the lives of the few unimportant ones who were in the hands of the Commune. But the Commune had one hostage which was of importance- to wit, the Bank of France, including the registry of Domains, representing property in all amounting to two milliards 180 millions of francs. The council, under the influence