|FALL OF METZ ANNOUNCED.---THE BAVARIANS EVACUATE ORLEANS---OUR DIFFICULT POSITION.---WE ARE TOLD OFF TO THE BATTLEFIELD.---THE ENGAGEMENT AND VICTORY OF THE FRENCH.|
ON 28th Oct. the inhabitants of Orleans had read with dismay and amazement the official report, printed and posted up as a placard on their walls, of the surrender of Bazaine with his army, and the capitulation of Metz. The majority were of opinion that the Marshal was nothing but a traitor. Many, nevertheless, whom I met, scorned to entertain such an opinion; whilst others went so far as to declare that the whole thing was a German lie.
But to return to the subject of our Hospital. The wounded, as I have already stated, came straggling in by twos and threes, bringing with them reports of numerous skirmishes, which, according to their accounts, invariably terminated in victory for the Germans. On the 6th and 7th November, large caravans of wounded came into Orleans; and we now became aware, through information gained from them, that the great Army of the Loire, so much vaunted by the French, and which up to this moment we thought had existed only in the imagination of the townsfolk, was no myth, but a reality; while these convoys of wounded were the result of something far more serious than skirmishes between the outposts.
With all this there was very little excitement in the town; and the evening of the 8th arrived without anything happening to disturb the ordinary routine of our Hospital work. About eight o'clock our Chief was summoned to the headquarters of the Bavarian Commandant. Here he was privately informed that the troops were going to evacuate Orleans that very night; that there would most likely be a general engagement on the morrow outside the town; and that, as they would be obliged to withdraw their Field Hospital corps and their surgeons, they laid upon our Ambulance the task of looking after all the wounded in their absence, and thus formally delivered them over to our charge.
When we heard of this most unexpected move, we were, as may be supposed, not a little excited. We could hardly believe that such a thing had happened to the ever-victorious armies of the Fatherland as a set-back, compelling them to give up this important position; and to describe our state of mind during that night would be difficult. 1 had gone to the Hospital about seven o'clock to see some patients, and all seemed quiet and peaceable. Now, I could not help thinking that it would be a sterling proof of the admirable organisation and discipline of an army amounting to 15,000 men, if, at a couple of hours' notice, it could evacuate, during the dead of the night, a large town like Orleans, carrying away arms, ammunition, and a heavy train of guns, without the knowledge of any but a few among the citizens. Some must have had their suspicions aroused by the preparations which were already being made in the Parks. But, until the appointed moment, when the bugle sounded, and the whole garrison turned out to join their regiments, by far the greater proportion of the inhabitants suspected nothing. Eleven o'clock P.M. was the hour appointed to commence the evacuation.
At half-past ten I took my stand at the door of 64 Quai du Châtelet; and as the clock tolled eleven, I saw the sentries on the bridges leaving their posts and filing off in the direction of the Place Martroi. Presently, battalion after battalion marched past, on their way from the quarters in the side streets which adjoined the Quai. To our great grief we found that our infirmarians were also ordered out, leaving not a soul in charge of the Hospital, except the two surgeons on duty and their assistants. These had to minister, as best they could, to the wants of the poor deserted patients. The truth was that the Germans could not spare a single man, and were compelled to take them along with the Army.
Some days before this, the bridge next us had been mined, and the powder laid; we expected that it would be blown up during the night. As this bridge was no more than a hundred yards from my bedroom window, I retired to rest with such pleasant anticipations as may be supposed. But, in spite of the excitement, I was quite overcome by fatigue, having been at work all that day, and on duty the previous night; so that, in my drowsy mood, I seemed to care little whether the bridge or myself took an aerial flight. Next morning I repaired to the Hospital at six to look after my wounded. On my way through the town I was astonished to meet several pickets marching along the streets; but not another soldier, save a few sentries, was now in the place; the latter being left, as I afterwards heard, merely to keep up appearances. Everything that they did not want to carry away with them the Germans put into a luggage train, which started from the platform of our Hospital during the night.
Great excitement now prevailed among the townspeople, and they moved about the streets in crowds. All this time a heavy cannonade was going on at the North-West side, in the direction of Orme; and the din and roll of battle apprised us of the fact that a hot engagement was being carried on not far off. Multitudes surged up on the bridge, and kept their gaze fixed in the direction of the fighting, which was indicated, not only by the booming of cannon, but by the wreaths of smoke which we could see many miles away, ascending in the still air. All these spectators chattered and gesticulated vehemently; nor could anything exceed their emotion. They ran about shaking each other by the hands in a fever of excitement, as the hour of their deliverance drew on apace. Once again I saw wreaths of immortelles placed upon the statue of the Heroic Maid, which stands with drawn sword by the river.
When we had got through our Hospital work, we received orders to prepare for an expedition to the field of battle. It had been determined, however, that, in any circumstances, we should return to the Hospital that night, and take up our medical duties again.
It was only now that we realised the awkwardness of our situation. Bound to stand our ground, no matter who might be victorious (though none of us anticipated the defeat of the Germans), the possibility of a French victory and a fresh occupation of Orleans by the latter, filled us with disquietude. We were under the direction of the foreigners, identified with their cause, receiving our orders from them. Our sympathies were supposed to be Prussian, while our Hospital and ourselves had been maintained by requisitions on the town. Hence the question arose, what kind of treatment should we receive at the hands of our new masters, when the last of the Germans had quitted Orleans? Would they, in the flush and the tumult of victory, overlook the fact that we were neutrals, engaged simply in alleviating the horrors of war? It seemed not to be impossible, so far as the population was concerned. But again, would the French military admit of our claims to be an International Ambulance? or take us prisoners and send us beyond the frontier? for they could not detain us under the Convention of Geneva. Such were our speculations when we left the town about 9 A.M. in our Ambulance waggons, and with our flags flying. Drs. Parker and Warren were left behind in charge of the Hospital. We took the road to Coulmiers, where the firing was heaviest, and from which place it appeared to be rapidly extending northwards.
As we passed along, the crowd on the bridge gave us a friendly cheer, and I cannot recall a salutation that caused us more pleasure. The town was still in the possession of the Germans, although their only representatives were an under officer and a handful of men on sentry duty, who could at any moment have been easily overpowered by the mob. As our conveyances rolled through the gate of the Faubourg St. Jean, leading out into the open country, we were surprised to find a solitary German on guard, who saluted us as we passed. Probably he was even then convinced of his approaching fate; but he knew his duty too well to abandon his post. There, as Dr. Warren afterwards told us, he remained until the French came and relieved him of his guard for ever.
In half an hour from our exit, we came up with a Bavarian battalion, consisting of a regiment of 2000 men, about 300 cavalry, and a battery of guns. Many of the officers were old friends of ours, and received us very kindly. They were short of surgeons, and prevailed on us to stay with them; saying that every minute they expected to be called into action, and to receive their orders to advance. Our position, at this time, was close in the rear of the fighting Bavarian army, and within sight of the field of battle.
Thus it was that we were placed on the high road, upon a little rising ground which commanded a view of the country between Baccon and Coulmiers. Thence we saw that a fierce battle was raging, a host of above 60,000 Frenchmen giving fight to perhaps some 15,000 Bavarians. The result of so uneven a match became evident very early in the day. A short time after noon, the South Germans had retreated from their position in the woods and village in front of us, and the French were appearing in force on the ground that their opponents had occupied an hour previously.
The firing was now vigorous and incessant: the din and roar of battle were something tremendous ; and the French bombshells fell short of us only by a few hundred yards. Our party, which was halting in ambush, and as yet unperceived by the enemy, every moment expected the order to advance. For ourselves the suspense was most painful, and yet we had to remain there stationary for as much as an hour. During all this time the men were in their ranks, ready for action. In that vast concourse not a word was spoken: all appeared sullen and out of spirits ; but that sullenness was usual with them. Some, overcome by fatigue and hunger---for they had not tasted anything but the bread which they carried since the previous night---slept soundly just as they were, leaning back on their knapsacks. While these slept, the others watched their comrades being picked off on the plain below, apparently without the smallest concern or excitement. Thus did they placidly view the course of the battle, awaiting their turn to join in the fray, and add to the number of the dead or dying.
About three o'clock the artillery fire slackened, and we joined in the general backward movement which took place along the whole line. The rattle of musketry resounded on every side of us, and was kept up without intermission. The Bavarians, though fighting hard, were now rapidly losing ground; and the French were not only advancing as fast as they gave way, but threatening to close in upon them all round. They were likewise striving to outflank them on the right ; so that, by half-past three, the German soldiers found themselves compelled to retreat, though fighting still, lest the enemy should effect this object. Thus, with the Loire at our back, we had only a narrow strip of country between us and Orleans, by which to make good our escape. The French, who swarmed along in every direction, fought desperately ; and, in particular, one regiment of Chasseurs à Pieds and Gardes Mobiles made a most brilliant charge against the trained Bavarian veterans, who were occupying in force the heights of Renardier. From this place they dislodged the Teutons, who had then to join our force in the general retreat.
By four o'clock on this autumnal day it was quite dark. The firing gradually ceased, and the French remained in possession of all they had captured. Now on the Bavarian side there was a general order given to retreat; it was obeyed with alacrity. We followed the defeated army for some distance; but when we learned that Étampes was their destination, and that the German troops were utterly to abandon Orleans, we parted company with them; for under any circumstances, and at all risks, we were bound to return to our Hospital. From the first sound of the retreat, which was carried out in quite an orderly but still in a precipitate manner, we expected every moment to hear the French Cavalry coming down upon us. It had been rumoured that they were present in great force. This pleasant expectation compelled us to hasten our steps, but neither we nor (as it turned out afterwards) any of the German troops experienced the least molestation in our rapid retreat. What was the explanation of so remarkable a pause in pursuit, considering that General d'Aureilles de Paladine had a host of mounted men at his command? We were told by the French that it was the result of interference on the part of M. Léon Gambetta, who forbade Paladine to follow up his victory. M. Gambetta suspected that the flight of the Bavarians was a ruse to entice the French into a trap. He dreamed that they had an auxiliary force somewhere in the neighbourhood, which might surround the Army of the Loire, and bring about its irreparable ruin. Whatever may have been the reason, certain it is that the Bavarians were saved from annihilation. They retreated that night in perfect safety, and were joined next day by the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg. They had allowed the French to gain a victory, which proved to be their first and last in this sanguinary contest.
|AFTER THE BATTLE.---ORLEANS FROM WITHOUT AND WITHIN.---THE MOB AND THE AMBULANCE.---THE BAVARIAN GIANT.|
OUR duty was now to return to the battlefield, and render all the assistance we could to the wounded, so forthwith we retraced our steps; and, though our day's experience, owing to circumstances over which we had no control, had not been very fruitful of work, it was fraught with much strain and anxiety. The night was dark, but we had no difficulty in making out our way, the numerous camp fires in front serving us as beacons. We pushed on to the scene of the day's conflict, Tilghman and Sherwell riding ahead, to see that the route was clear.
One part of the road had a shrubbery at the left hand side ; and, just as we came to the corner of it, we perceived a figure standing amongst the bushes. As we approached, the man stepped forward, and the light of our waggon lamps revealed the uniform of a French soldier. He challenged, and brought us to a halt. The difficulty of our situation was now apparent.
We were about to enter the French lines, having served the Germans all day in a medico-military capacity, and having come from their headquarters at Orleans.
A patrol on outpost duty quickly appeared on the scene, and we were detained some time until an officer was brought up. Having questioned us about all these particulars, and heard our replies, he informed us that it would be necessary to conduct us to headquarters, and take us into the presence of the General, before he could permit us to go on our way. At the same time he showed us the utmost courtesy. We were now surrounded by a strong escort, and had no choice but to follow. We soon came in sight of the French camp, and as we passed by the rows of cheerful blazing fires, around which were clustered, in merry groups, the victors of the day, the ring of their mirth and revelry contrasted with the deep gloom which had hung both upon ourselves and our German colleagues since morning.
This great army was reckoned at 100,000 men, who now lay in the open plain under canvas. We passed along through several regiments of the Line, of Turcos, Zouaves, and Gardes Mobiles, all in excellent trim, and as jolly and pleasant as possible. They did not at all appear to be the undisciplined rabble which the Germans had represented to us. A rare opportunity was now given of contrasting the relative strength of these opposing armies; but on this subject no inquiries were made. On the contrary, we received orders not to exchange a word on the matter.
Singing, eating, and drinking, appeared to be everywhere the business of the night. Presently we came to a halt before M. de Paladine's tent; and our chief, Dr. Tilghman, was conducted alone into his presence. The doctor told him exactly what our position was; and how we had left our quarters at Orleans to come and assist the wounded on the battlefield. Our duty had been to pick up any that had escaped the notice of the military surgeons, and to get them into the neighbouring houses. But, said Dr. Tilghman, we were bound to return to Orleans next day, and resume charge of our wounded. This was a difficult matter to settle; for, as the French had not followed up their victory, they were still under the impression that Orleans was in German hands, nor could we undeceive them. The question was, would it be safe to let us go back when we had been through the camp of the French, and had made observations on their position? Upon this head Dr. Tilghman speedily received a satisfactory answer. General de Paladine observed courteously that, in dealing with us, he had to deal with English and American gentlemen, who had already given abundant proof of their honour and the integrity of their word. In short, when Dr. Tilghman had shown all his papers, and the testimonials of past services rendered to the French, the old General was profuse in his acknowledgments, being evidently in high good humour over his day's success.
When the interview came to an end, the members of the 5th Ambulance received us most cordially, and invited us to mess with them. But, after some deliberation, Dr. Tilghman, thanking them for their kindness, and deeming our position an awkward one, determined immediately to retrace his steps to Orleans, from whence he could, on the following day, send waggons to take as many of the wounded as possible into the town. He had good reasons for thus acting, and without waiting for a morsel of bread or a glass of wine, we moved out of the camp on our way homewards.
In a large space, near the General's quarters, lay the bodies of several Bavarians---perhaps a dozen, some of whom had their faces turned up as they were lying, and looked very ghastly. Outside the camp, the ground was strewn, in some places quite thickly, with the Bavarian soldiers who had fallen on that day, which had proved so disastrous to their arms. The sight, though no longer strange, was all the same a sad one to us, for we had begun to look upon the wearers of the light blue uniform with friendly fellow-feeling, and we seemed (so fast does the time run in a campaign) to have been long associated with them. I shall not here describe the battlefield, since my view of it, by the light of our lamps and of the moon (for a beautiful moon arose just in time to show us the way home), was, of necessity, rather limited. But, in any case, I doubt the possibility of depicting, as they really present themselves, the details of a battlefield. Who can do justice to the heartrending scenes of warfare as carried on with modern weapons, the chief excellence of which seems to consist in the degree of mutilation which they can inflict on the bodies of those against whom they are directed?
Before relating our entrance into Orleans, I will give Warren and Parker's account of what had happened in the town after our departure.
As the day advanced, and rumours were spread of a French victory, the excitement of the townsfolk knew no bounds. They rushed frantically about in all directions, but did not dare to interfere with the few soldiers on guard at the gates of the Mairie and at the Hospital.
In the afternoon, however, when it became generally known that the Germans were retreating, not towards the town but in the direction of Etampes, the populace became most riotous, and from the manner in which they menaced the unfortunate guards, it was plain that their lives were in great danger. At our Hospital, indeed, where there were ten men on guard over some Ambulance waggons at the door, the mob met with a stern opposition. The German soldiers stood together, with their swords drawn, and, bidding defiance to the crowd, were determined not to budge an inch, but rather to die than relinquish the charge assigned to them.
These brave fellows, who stood so resolutely by their post, would most assuredly have met with a violent death at the hands of the Orleaners, had not the Mayor sent out a Parlementaire, accompanied by a body of the Gendarmerie of the town, and requested them, in the name of the Government of National Defence, to lay down their arms. This they did willingly, as they saw the danger of their position, and so they were taken off as prisoners to the Mairie. A great crowd followed, howling and yelling in the most disgraceful manner during the whole journey.
Just about the time when the sentries were removed, the blue blouses rushed into our Hospital and seized all the rifles which they could lay hands on. The wards and other offices of the railway terminus now presented a scene of unutterable confusion. Drs. Warren and Parker, like true Britons, in spite of all this, remained at their posts ; they refused to allow any of the mob to enter our store-rooms, or private Bureaux, and, although repeatedly threatened, would not submit to the intrusion. But their demeanour was so calm and steady that they experienced no rough usage. Their situation during that tumultuous day was certainly far from enviable. In the forenoon, several officers who had been wounded, and were in consequence left behind, came to our men entreating them to keep their swords for them, or else to let them hide them in our storerooms. This request we were bound to refuse; but they succeeded in putting their weapons away among some bedding, which was lying in the waggon sheds at the terminus.
A very amusing incident occurred at this time. There was a young Bavarian officer, the tallest man I have ever seen except one (who was, of course, an Irishman), who had been slightly wounded in the hand. For this reason he had been left on duty in the town, and not seeing any way of escape, slipped into our Hospital in the afternoon; but, finding that the mob was becoming riotous and might at any moment discover him, he divested himself of his helmet, cuirass, and uniform---he belonged to the household cavalry---which Drs. Warren and Parker consented to stow away in a corner. But in vain did they search for a bed long enough to cover the prostrate form of their giant; and it was only by stratagem that they succeeded at last in concealing him. The young man spoke English well, and was evidently by birth a gentleman. I cannot recall his name. Hardly was he settled in his hiding-place when, as Dr. Warren told us, some of the mob rushed wildly through the Hospital; whereupon the doctor sat down leisurely on the bed beneath which our hero lay half smothered. When the tumult had somewhat subsided, and darkness set in, our brave cuirassier, bruised and sore from the hard boards, at length was allowed to creep out.
He now donned a suit of peasant's clothes, or rather two suits, for it took all that to cover him, and even then, as the Irish proverb has it, he looked "like a crane in a crate". All this notwithstanding, he appeared in his disguise every inch a soldier, and a German to boot. For a heavy bribe he procured a donkey cart, in which he seated himself, with legs crossed on some bundles of fuel, and a carter's bullock whip in his hand, and thus set out on his perilous journey. Having arrived safely outside the town, he took to his heels, and by-and-by chartering an old worthless animal from a peasant, reached the German headquarters in Étampes. It will be of interest to state that, subsequently, at the retaking of Orleans, this officer was one of the first to greet us on entering the town; and his satisfaction at recovering his helmet, cuirass, and accoutrements was unbounded.
|OUR AMBULANCE RETURNS.---ENTRY OF THE FRENCH. ---THEIR DISHEVELLED APPEARANCE AND DISARRAY.---WE ARE SENT OUT OF THE RAILWAY STATION.|
Now that I have given a rough sketch of some of the experiences of Drs. Parker and Warren, to whom I am indebted for the foregoing particulars, I must return to our Ambulance cortège, which I left in the moonlight making its way back to Orleans at the dead of the night.
About an hour after our interview with the General we found ourselves in the open country, whence we could see the glare in the sky thrown up by the numerous fires in the French camp which we had just quitted. The early part of the night had been bright and fine, but ere long we had to encounter a storm of wind, hail, and rain. For some time we had much difficulty in picking our way, as the roads were narrow and winding, as well as rugged. Calling at the few peasants' houses which we passed, in order to get directions, we found the inhabitants in a frenzy of fear, and either unwilling or incapable of assisting us. We learned, subsequently, from the owner of Chateau Renardier, that they took us for Prussians, and our French infirmiers for spies. When we had gone past these scattered dwellings, we came at length on the broad route Impériale, which we needed only to pursue in order to arrive at our journey's end. Frequent were our surmises as to whether the French or the Germans, or either, were in occupation of Orleans. After what had happened that day, and especially as the Army of the Loire seemed to be making no effort to advance, we could none of us tell what the case within the city might be. We drew near anxiously, but observed that no pickets had been set, nor were we challenged by outposts or sentries. This led us to imagine that the place was no longer in the occupation of the Germans; for otherwise we never should have come thus far without being halted by their numerous sentinels. Outposts, we knew, would have been planted along the roads for miles outside the town by them; whereas experience told us that the present state of things was not in the least incompatible with a French occupation, and with French military tactics.
We passed on unmolested until we got to the same gates by which we had come out that morning. Then, at last, as we entered, the challenge came, and we were brought to a standstill. We all now tried to catch a glimpse of the sentry in the darkness; we advanced slowly, and our lamps revealed a slight, well-built man, in a grey tweed uniform and tan leather leggings, with a Tyrolese, or kind of wide-awake hat, surmounted by a feather, set on the side of his head. Clearly this was no German. With his rifle slung across his shoulder in the most nonchalant manner, he put his questions to us. Who were we, whence had we come, and whither were we going? Having satisfied himself upon these points, he leisurely blew his whistle, and quickly brought to his side about half a dozen men similarly clad, accoutred and armed. One of these turned out to be an Englishman, who conversed freely with us, and was most polite, giving our chief the password. He informed us that they were a body of Francs-Tireurs, who had come from the country across the Loire, and had occupied the town a few hours before nightfall. They numbered only a hundred, and with the exception of a company of Gardes Mobiles, there were no regulars in the town. On the way to our quarters we were several times challenged by pickets patrolling the streets, but giving the password we were allowed to go forward, and so reached our quarters, thoroughly worn out, at three in the morning.
Dr. Sherwell and Mr. Adams were immediately sent to the Hospital to relieve Parker and Warren, who came back to the Quai du Châtelet and reported the thrilling incidents which had happened while we were away, some of which I have endeavoured to set down above. We were given only a brief interval for sleep. At an early hour we had to be up and about the Hospital, dressing and attending to the wounded, who had suffered considerably in our absence, not so much from lack of surgical aid, as from want of food and drink. For all the military nurses had been drawn away; and the onerous task of giving them food and looking after them had devolved on Parker and Warren, a duty which, in spite of all difficulties, they did their utmost to fulfil. Much credit is due to these gentlemen for their brave and noble conduct upon that memorable' day. By their coolness and determination they made all safe for their helpless patients, and protected them from the violence, which might easily have gone to great excess, of the rabble of Orleans.
About ten o'clock on the morning of the 10th, Mackellar, Wallace, and our acting chief, Dr. Tilghman, went out with their waggons to the battlefield about Coulmiers and Baccon, and picking up some thirty-three badly-wounded men brought them into the city. We were much distressed to hear from them, how, on going over the battlefield, one of the first bodies which met their gaze was that of a young Bavarian surgeon, who used to work with us at the railway terminus when we first came. The poor fellow lay on his back, his face turned up, stripped of his boots and trousers, which no doubt had been appropriated by some plundering Frenchman, who was in need of both. It is incidents like this which bring home to one the horror and the waste of war.
That same morning, when business required me to go through the town, I was astonished to see the motley collection of French soldiery which had flocked in from all quarters. It was not their numbers which surprised me,---I had set eyes on the Grande Armée of Sedan,---but the variety of uniforms, and the quaint unmilitary get-up of the individuals who composed this array of M. Gambetta's. Many in the first regiment that passed along seemed to be half in German and half in French costume. One fellow had put on a pair of Bavarian trousers and boots, another had a complete French costume all but his helmet, another German sidearms and belt, or a French uniform and a Bavarian plume. The trousers and boots of the enemy appeared, however, to be in greatest demand. Fully one third of the new-corners were raw recruits, and little more than boys. To complete the incongruity of the scene a large American flag was borne upon a staff as the standard of this regiment, having the words "Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité" stamped on pennants which hung from each corner.
One could not help smiling as one watched this miscellaneous rag-tag collection marching past. We asked one fellow where they were going; he answered gravely, "To Paris, in order to crush (écraser) the Germans ". After these came a regiment of poorly clad boys, looking cold and weary, as well as homesick. Some of the latter had wooden shoes, in which they clogged lamely along the pavements, in a slouching style that was by no means soldierlike. Then followed, by way of a redeeming feature, one of the regiments of the Line, in which every man bore himself splendidly. After these, we remarked companies of Francs-Tireurs, and detachments of the Garde Mobile, who marched along in the hap-hazard manner of civilians during a public procession. One youth, possibly a half-witted fellow, or a volunteer who had joined en route, made me laugh heartily. He was dressed in full Bavarian costume, plume and all, and marched along bearing a most impassive countenance, quite unaware of the ridiculous figure he was cutting, in a uniform that was much too big for him, and in a helmet and plume which no doubt became their original broad-faced owner, but certainly never were meant to adorn the head of a thin and sharp-featured Frenchman. How it came about that these fellows were permitted by their officers, for very shame, to make such a spectacle of themselves, I did not understand, until an intelligent townsman let me into the secret of the soldiers' wardrobe, by assuring me that the men's boots and clothes were made for sale rather than use, and were all thoroughly rotten.
The excitement and enthusiasm of the townspeople were, as I need hardly say, beyond description. They rushed about shaking each other by the hands, and swearing to do terrible things on the Prussians, when their troops had once got into Germany.
Early in the afternoon, during the entry of the French divisions, no less amusement than bustle was created at our quarters on the Quai du Châtelet, by our Turco Jean rushing wildly up the town, in his white apron and cap, with a rifle in his hand, to meet the regiment of his fellow-Turcos, which, as some one had told him, was among the arrivals. He went as on wings to the Place Martroi, and finding that such was indeed the case, threw himself into the embraces of his companions. These were also in a fever of excitement. They crowded round the statue of Joan of Arc, and waving turbans on the points of their bayonets, yelled as loudly as their throats would suffer them: "Vive l'Empereur! A bas la République!" Had they been natives they might have been shot for sedition. In this little episode Jean cut the most ludicrous figure, entering into the demonstration heart and soul ; for like every Turco, he dearly loved his Imperial master. Even now, when all was over, the Turco was still his devotedly attached friend, and scorned to conceal his loyalty towards the man for whom he had fought with such valour and desperation. It may perhaps be asked whether to introduce these Algerian barbarians into civilised warfare was not as great a crime as the employment, during the last century, of Red Indians by the English and French in North America. Their appearance at the statue of the Maid was certainly in a high degree picturesque.
I am, of course, incapable of describing the varied scenes of excitement which greeted the soldiers on every side. How long would such an army keep its hold on Orleans, I asked myself as I moved about, bewildered by the seething crowds. Not long, it seemed to me. When later in the day, every café was crowded with soldiers, they appeared to be feasting freely in order to make up for past short commons. All seemed thoughtless, gay, and oblivious of danger. Nor did they care one jot, apparently, what had become of the Germans. Truly, these French are an astonishing people!
In my short walk from the Quai du Châtelet I could not have seen less than ten thousand men, and again I was struck by the contrast between the soldiers of the two nations. In the stunted and undeveloped make of these youthful French levies, any observant spectator, though not a physician, might have beheld the offspring of parents who had overtaxed their vital energies by dissipation and luxury. Physical degeneration had set in among the inhabitants, not of the large towns only,---such as Marseilles, Lyons, and Paris, or Roubaix and St. Etienne---but in the rural parts of the country likewise, ever since the days of the Revolution. Napoleon's wars had consumed the men of France during his twenty campaigns. But that was not all. I have spoken of the decay of religion; it was a patent fact; and, with religion, morality had seen its own influence decline. Legal restrictions on the disposal of property had given strength to the system, whereby married persons limited their families according to their means and social position. That is the undoubted cause of the estrangement between the average layman and the Catholic clergy that has so long prevailed; for against this system the clergy have set their faces, as they were bound to do. With such parents, and especially when their fathers set them the example, it was not to be wondered at if the growing lads had put away religion at an early age, and so lost the moral restraint which would have enabled them to turn out valiant men, sound in mind as in body, and a match for any Germans. Their sunken eyes and pinched faces, their whole bearing, indeed, told a very different tale. We were looking on, in those unhappy days, at the wreck of a population which, in shame and defeat, was paying the penalty of laws not to be broken with impunity.
So much for the rank and file. As regards the singular want of courage no less than competency among their officers, it may with truth be affirmed that one of the main factors, in addition to those already mentioned, was the total neglect of early training, and the absence of that physical education which tends to a manly development. This system, which characterises public school life in England and Germany, and which results for the most part in a straightforward character, and an undaunted temper, had not then been introduced into France. It is now not unknown there, and will perhaps change the disposition of the coming generations. Many tokens there are to prove that such a change is greatly needed.
Towards evening equal confusion and consternation was caused by our receiving an order from the French Commandant to evacuate the railway station in two days. We were told that we must by that time have all our wounded taken away. Dr. Tilghman protested that we could not complete the evacuation of the buildings in less than four days, and we were allowed the time required, but informed that as traffic would recommence immediately, our business was at once to clear out of the stationmaster's and. superintendent's offices, which we did forthwith.
On the next morning, the 11th, a long train full of people arrived on the platform. They were the first passengers we had seen since our coming to the place. The change now suddenly wrought was wonderful. Where up to this we had been masters, and where the profound silence had for a long time been broken only by the chat of the medical staff, or by the groans and cries of the wounded, we were now jostled about on a densely crowded platform, and could hardly hear our own voices, so great were the din and clamour of passengers endeavouring to secure seats in an outgoing train, or to get their luggage from the one which had just arrived. I enjoyed the novelty of the thing much, although the shrieking of railway whistles, and the hissing of the steam-engines were no pleasant sounds to have continuously in one's ears.
While we remained, I saw numbers of French soldiers going round to the beds of our wounded Germans and shaking hands with them. These friendly enemies tried to convey their meaning by signs and gesticulations; they gave away their tobacco; arranged the beds; and did many other little acts of kindness, which were received with no less good will by the Germans. It was a pretty sight. On one matter French and Bavarians seemed of one opinion, which the latter expressed in their quaint phrase of "Bismarck Caput". "Caput," that strong man armed undoubtedly had proved himself to be.
It was whilst standing on the platform awaiting the arrival of a train when I had finished my Hospital work, that I saw the new Dictator, M. Léon Gambetta. I knew him at once from the description that had been given me. He was speaking in low, earnest tones to an elderly gentleman, a member of the Provisional Government, and when I had surveyed his by no means elegant form, and caught from beneath a pair of prominent and bushy eyebrows several glances of his dark piercing eyes, I came to the conclusion that his appearance was not at all prepossessing. His military discernment on the day of Coulmier, which had saved the Bavarian army from total ruin, I have mentioned in its place. I never saw him again.
Our chief was now busily engaged looking out for a building, public or private, in which we could establish our Hospital. After much difficulty, a large and spacious mansion, belonging to a gentleman named D'Allaine, was placed by him at our disposal, and thither we determined to transport our wounded as soon as practicable. The house was situated off the Place du Grand Marché, behind the Quai du Châtelet;---that being the old market-place, and one of the most ancient parts of the town. It had one great advantage; it was only a few minutes' walk from our quarters. The authorities also put at our disposal the Caserne St. Charles, a large building across the river. We despatched the greater part of our invalids into that caserne at once.
The first man to be sent out of the railway station in order to make room for the traffic was Martin Dilger, the surviving tenant of the goods-shed, to whose successful battle for life I have already alluded. His almost miraculous recovery made him better known to my colleagues than all the rest; and though I had upwards of twenty at that time under my charge, he commonly went by the name of "Ryan's man". I had taken particular care of his food, getting him meat, wine, and fruit as I could, and even that great rarity, a chicken, which latter was not easy to come at, especially if there happened to be Turcos about, for at stealing poultry these Africans are worse than foxes. Dilger was quite strong and merry when I removed him to D'Allaine's house. He showed his delight and gratitude in every possible way, often alluding to his condition when in the shed at the railway station; and he had a somewhat German habit of making me laugh by hiccoughing in order to recall to me that painful symptom from which he had suffered. He has since written to me several times, and I will give a specimen of his letters in due course. The poor fellow had left at home a wife and children, which was no slight addition to his other troubles.
As great numbers of wounded were being brought into the town, and it was difficult to find accommodation for them, we hastened to get the Caserne St. Charles ready, and received into it a large batch of them. These were principally Germans, sent to us by reason of our previous association with their armies. When we had got everything here into working order, conceive our amazement and wrath on hearing that Dr. Tilghman had been told immediately to evacuate the Barracks! Room was to be made for the Foreign Legion. There was no alternative; remonstrance would have been waste of time; and we put our hand to this fresh and most provoking move. While it was being carried out, as the wounded must be taken to our Hospital at D'Allaine's, Dr. Parker and I were busily employed in transporting them across the town, using for this purpose every available conveyance. Thus we were compelled by the French authorities to take out of their beds, as best we could, men in dire agony, some even at the door of death, and all severely wounded.
I could not recall without pain the details of the scenes which accompanied their transportation. As I have said, their wounds were all of the gravest character; some were mortal, the majority were amputations, and the remainder compound fractures, or severe lacerated shell wounds. To shake the bed of many of these patients, or even to move them gently, was to cause them acute suffering. One may imagine the agony of these brave fellows when they were hauled out on their mattresses and put, two or three together, into a cart or waggon, which, no matter how carefully driven, had to jostle them along the weary streets to their place of destination.
I went successively into several of the waggons where some of the worst cases were, and did all in my power to mitigate their dreadful pains; but, in spite of everything I could do, they moaned most piteously as the wheels bumped over any roughness in the pavement. I thought a bullet through the heart was preferable to such agony as they endured. Even to look on at it was too much.
About 18th November, we had completely evacuated the Station. The last batch consisted of those who had been lying in the refreshment rooms, and, as these apartments were not required by the railway officials, they did not oblige us to remove our wounded in such precipitous haste. Every day fresh supplies of wounded were being brought in; and not only every available nook and corner in our Hospital was occupied, but also many of the neighbouring houses. It was, however, expressly forbidden by the public authorities that any house should harbour the military, whether wounded or not, unless a declaration of their presence had been made, and leave obtained.
Our work was now very heavy and our energies tasked to the utmost. Besides the evil of overcrowding, we had to contend against the innumerable difficulties consequent on our having been ordered about from one place to another without notice, or sufficient time to make preparations for departure. Then upon getting into our new quarters we had to re-establish our culinary and commissariat departments, on which everything depended, as well as to re-organise the system of Hospital management, and put the whole into working order. Until this was effected (which would take about a week) our whole day's work was nothing but a scramble from morning till night. Our chief was completely distracted from constantly receiving orders to have certain things done, and then (as in the case of the Caserne St. Charles) just when he had accomplished them, and was settled down, getting fresh orders countermanding the first. All this was thoroughly French,---at least, it was quite in accordance with our experience of their system.
For the first few days after the return of the French, the revelry and rejoicings of the townspeople were excessive. From the appearance of the streets, the bustle, and the dense crowds, one would have thought that some great festival was being celebrated. It was astonishing to hear these people talk and boast of their glorious victory of Coulmiers---the first they had gained, and, as it was to prove, also the last. But it would sadden the heart of any lover of France to witness these frivolities, these humiliating follies of her vain-glorious and light-hearted citizens, who never seemed to think seriously of anything, no matter how grave the issue.
Soon, however, the bustle in the streets subsided, and the military became comparatively few in number; many had gone to the front. But there was an evident intention of making a stand at Orleans, should the main body of the army be compelled to fall back again. I saw hundreds of men hard at work erecting barricades and earthworks across the faubourgs; while trenches and rifle pits were cut in all directions through the vineyards which lay about the suburbs of the town. An order was issued by the Commandant to leave the tall vine stakes standing, so that they might hinder the progress of the enemy, should they re-invest the place. If I may be allowed to anticipate, these very stakes were a most serious impediment to their own retreat before the Germans during the following month. Wherever they are abundant in vine-growing districts they make the country impervious both to cavalry and artillery, and form a splendid ambuscade for infantry troops in action. But the disadvantages of them from another point of view seem to have been overlooked.
It was a source of deep regret to me, during this campaign, that I was not better posted on military matters ; for, had I been acquainted even with the rudiments of war tactics, the numerous and important military operations which were carried on immediately under my observation would have been intelligible to me without the aid of an expert, and that blank which now must be left in this slight record might have been filled up with many most interesting details.
The few convalescents who had acted as our infirmiers and attendants, and with whom we had been working the Hospital since the evening of the 8th,---at which time, as the reader will not have forgotten, all our regular nurses and infirmiers were drawn away for active service---were now sent off to Pau as prisoners of war. This we thought unwise and intolerable; but it was done in spite of remonstrances on our part that such dealing was nothing less than a violation of the Geneva Convention. What did we get in their place? Simply a scratch company of French infirmiers, whom we had much difficulty in knocking into shape, and whom we found by no means so ready to submit to discipline as had been their German predecessors. One of the new arrivals was a little fellow named Jack, by birth a native of Flanders, but who had been all his life on board a ship in the British Merchant Service, and who had had the top of a finger shot off. He had joined the Foreign Legion, not, as he told us, from any liking for war or for France, but in order to be with an old companion who had joined that corps. He was quite a little dwarf, and unsuited to hospital work; but his superiors, deeming him, I daresay, no great ornament to his regiment, had handed him over to us as an infirmier. Besides his native language, he spoke English, French, and German fluently, and professed to be able to converse in Spanish and Italian. This might have been of service to us in an emergency; but the following anecdote will show what a treasure we had got in our Fleming.
One night Dr. Mackellar and I were on duty with jack when a case of extensive contusion (with compound fracture of the leg) began to bleed; and Mackellar came to the conclusion that immediate amputation was the only course possible. We therefore set about removing the limb. Dr. Mackellar operated, and I assisted and gave chloroform, while Jack was to hand the sponges, carbolised water and other requisites. In the middle of the operation, our good dwarf, getting nervous at a sight to which he was so little accustomed, lost his self-control and while endeavouring to effect a retreat, fell on his head to the ground in a swoon. I am afraid we both laughed at the prostrate brave, who was a regular lion in his own opinion. Left to ourselves to do the work, we had some difficulty in finishing the operation satisfactorily. But that was the last occasion on which Jack figured as an assistant in the operation room.
|AMERICAN FRANCS-TIREURS.---PONTOON BRIDGE OVER THE LOIRE.---FRENCH CARELESSNESS.---SOLITARY DEATHS OF THE WOUNDED.|
ABOUT this time a small regiment of American volunteers, in Franc-Tireur uniform, passed through Orleans on their way to the front. Their Colonel called on us, and offered a place as assistant surgeon to any who might be willing to join. Had I been at liberty, the spirit of adventure would assuredly have prompted me to accept his offer, and he pressed me hard to do so; but the required permission was wanting. These men, I afterwards heard, joined General Bourbaki, and having been driven over the Swiss frontier, were detained as prisoners of war.
About the 20th November Dr. Pratt returned, bringing with him two gentlemen, Mr. Olive and Mr. Wombwell, who were to take charge of the commissariat and store department. They had been in London, and brought a large supply of stores. They, like Hayden and myself, had been taken by Francs-Tireurs, not once, however, but twice, and only the French passport which Dr. Pratt held ever since his departure from Paris, prevented them from being shot out of hand as Prussian spies.
A work of great interest was being carried on by the garrison within sight of our windows on the Quai. It was the construction of a pontoon bridge across the Loire, for the more speedy passage of troops. The Germans, some weeks previously, at the time we arrived in Orleans, had attempted a similar bridge; but before they had half finished it, a flood came one night and swept the whole thing away, to the intense amusement and delight of the Orleaners. The pontoon bridge which the French now constructed, showed not only the perfection to which military engineering had been brought, but also the acquaintance which the natives possessed with the sudden and violent floods which were wont unexpectedly to swell the current of that great river, causing its waters to rise in a few hours so as to overflow its banks and flood the adjoining country. The bridge was composed, not of pontoon boats, but of large barges, which had been used on the river for the freight of merchandise. These were connected with one another by pine trees, which themselves had been lashed together by spars. A rough idea of the size of the bridge will be given if I state that it took thirty-three such barges to make its length, and that they were about ten feet apart.
Active preparations were now being made on all sides for a determined stand. Every one said that ere many days were over, the enemy would be once more upon them, but they reckoned that an engagement, though sure to be bloody and desperate, would end in a decisive victory for the French army. Such was the gossip of the town, and of officers in the cafés whom I fell in with.
Another event, of even greater interest than the construction of the bridge, was the entrance, one frosty morning, of a body of marine infantry, bearing with them four gunboats placed on long timber waggons, each drawn by eight horses. It is not easy to describe how very novel and curious an appearance this flotilla on dry land presented as it passed slowly down the Rue Royale, each gunboat fully rigged, and carrying on board its bright brass cannons which glistened in the sun.
As I happened to have half an hour to spare, I followed the marines, curious to see what would become of this extraordinary naval procession.
The limber waggons with their cross beams, on which the keels of the boats rested, took up nearly the entire breadth of the street. When they arrived on the Quai du Châtelet, I found myself one of a large crowd that had been drawn there by the same motive, and we wondered much how these unwieldy things could be launched. It was surprising with what facility this was done by comparatively few hands; but, presently, when our interest in the performance had yielded to admiration, we saw the last of the gunboats turn upside down as soon as it was in the water, flinging cannon, men, and everything on board into the Loire. The danger seemed not so great as it might have been, and we were much amused. There followed a universal scramble of excited Frenchmen to haul their comrades out of the stream; but their whole idea of assisting the struggling men was to gesticulate frantically at them, and at their neighbours on shore, and to maul one another in a fashion as ludicrous as it was unseasonable. Some of the marines, however, let down a boat and brought their comrades on shore. But it was not until next day that they were able to right the gunboat, and they never fished up the cannon and other materials which had sunk with it.
I often watched these diminutive men-of-war as they cruised about at a great speed, for they were driven by steam, with their guns as bright as gold, and the tricolour flying from their sterns.
On the banks of the river opposite our quarters, there were several cannon placed on the footpath with a sentry on each. And speaking of sentries, I am reminded how great was the difference between the French and the German method of occupying a town in time of war. When the Germans were at Orleans, they set a sentry at every street corner, several at either end of the bridges, one in every public square, and one at the door of every person at all distinguished. A stranger would be challenged at every couple of hundred yards, nor could he pass along anywhere unobserved. Not so was it with the French. During their stay we seldom came across a sentry, and, when we did, he took no more notice of those who passed by, or of what went on in his neighbourhood, than if he had been at a review.
Again, during the French occupation, we missed the noise and rattle of the many hours of morning drill in which our Germans troops were daily practised, no matter how long had been their previous marches, or how severe the hardships they had undergone. During the weeks which the French spent in Orleans I never once saw their soldiers at drill. When they came into the town they simply threw their arms into a corner in their quarters, and left them there until they were again on the move. That such was the case I have personal reason to know; for in a house where I was attending a wounded man, I saw such a collection of arms, and they remained untouched till the regiment to which their owners belonged took its departure.
But this was only in keeping with all that I had seen of the discipline and internal régime of their armies. A significant token of their ignorance with regard to the country in which they were fighting was that, immediately on entering Orleans, they requisitioned, by public placards, all maps of the surrounding districts which might be in the hands of the inhabitants, ordering them to be delivered up forthwith to the military commandant. Thus did their organisation prove itself in every detail either deficient or slovenly. And on all sides there was accumulating evidence of something radically unsound in the army as in the people.
About November 22, the Inspector-General of French Ambulances called to see us formally at the railway station with Messieurs Crémieux and Bezoin, two active members of the Provisional Government. With all three we shook hands solemnly, and received their thanks for the assistance we had rendered to the French wounded. They signified to our chief that France would be in a position, by-and-by, to make some public recognition of our services; and after the exchange of other compliments bade us a cordial farewell.
In the midst of the excitement and bustle, consequent on the fact that Orleans was now the headquarters of the Army of the Loire, we continued our daily labour at the bedsides of the wounded, caring little about what was happening outside our own sphere of work. Many of our wounded were scattered through the town; and these, comfortably established in private houses, we visited every day. As already stated, after leaving the terminus we took up our quarters at M. d'Allaine's in the old market-place. Here we set up our Hospital exclusively for German wounded, as, in the circumstances under which we found ourselves in the town during the French occupation, and taking into consideration the nature of our mission there, we considered the care of the wounded whom the Germans had left to us as our primary duty. For this reason we kept them together as much as possible, that they might not fall into other and less attentive hands; and when we had done our duty by them, we bestowed such time as we could spare upon any French wounded that came under our charge.
At this time our position in Orleans was extremely critical. All knew that we had been in the service of the Germans, and that they had looked upon us as part and parcel of their medical army corps; and we could hear many a subdued expletive when we passed along the streets. It was, however, most likely for this reason that no one dared to molest us. They had learned by a bitter experience how inevitable was the Prussians' day of retribution, and they knew with what severity the invaders punished any outrage on their friends.
Now it was that Colonel Reilly, Captain Frazer and Colonel Hozier arrived in Orleans with the headquarters of General d'Aureilles de Paladine, as attachés to the Foreign Embassy. They came several times to mess, and spent their evenings with us,---pleasant jovial men, and as brave as they, were agreeable. Nothing could be more welcome, when one was fagged and worn out after a long day's work among the wounded, than to turn in to a comfortable dinner with nearly a score of good-natured fellows, who vied with one another in making the evening pass pleasantly for all. Never a wrangle, never a hasty or bickering word was exchanged; never did an unkind remark or an ungenerous act mar that friendly harmony which existed among the Ambulance corps then working unitedly under the banners of England and America.
I often look back with feelings of satisfaction to the cheery circle we used to form when mess was over, seated round a large wood fire; and I can still see the grinning face of "Nigger Charlie" as he entered the room, bearing in his hand a large wash-hand basin of steaming punch with a dash of brandy and port in it, flavoured with spices and lemon, which we could pronounce with a good conscience to be all it seemed.
Our work was taxing and incessant, but nothing is too hard if one goes at it with a will. Yet my advice to anybody who has a soft drop in him, and who contemplates entering upon a campaign, would be that he had better stay at home.
One of our party was a good musician, and every evening entertained us by playing on a piano which we borrowed from a merchant, as the Scotch would call him, in the town. This was a grand resource after supper when we all came together. And so much for our leisure hours.
In the daily routine of professional work at this time I have nothing out of the way to chronicle. There was one case, however, the particulars of which might be interesting. The patient's name was Karl Melchers, a young artilleryman, who had been shot in the leg at the end of October, and whose thigh was subsequently amputated at the railway station. He had been transferred then to M. d'Allaine's, where, to my grief, he showed symptoms of approaching pyæmia. Reluctantly, but forthwith, I determined that he must be put out of the Hospital; and I took peremptory orders from my chief to that effect.
Now the difficulty was to find a place where I could lodge poor Melchers. I tried at the neighbouring houses, but all that were not occupied by invalids were full of the rank and file of the army now billeted through the town. Not a nook could I discover anywhere. In the yard, however, there was an empty stable, and into this I had no choice but to have Melchers conveyed. In order to give the place a less dreary appearance---it was dismal enough---I procured some straw, and had it laid on the pavement. He was then brought down on his mattress, and I never shall forget the poor fellow's face when he caught the first glimpse of those new quarters which he felt that he should not long occupy.
When he found himself laid on the straw, alone, and separated from his companions perhaps for ever, the utter desolation of his fate dawned upon him, and he sobbed audibly. Yet he was a fine brave young fellow, with piercing black eyes, dark hair and whiskers, and a very high forehead. We were the best of friends; and I did all in my power, little enough as it was, to comfort him. I persuaded one of our nursing sisters, a native of Luxemburg, who belonged to the convent of Notre Dame de Recouvrance, to sit beside him on the straw, and talk to him for a while. However, both Soeur Berthe and I had soon to go about our own business, and leave him to himself. Day after day he complained bitterly of being where he was, in the damp and cold, but there was no help for it; his presence in the neighbourhood of any other wounded must have meant the death of many, if not of all. Once he called the sister and me to his bedside, and said: "My end is now not far off; I should die happy had I but one half-hour with my comrades, behind my gun, with a thousand Frenchmen in front of me".
Another day and this poor fellow, after having bidden us a touching farewell,---for he knew that we could not help his unhappy position,---died in a manner and in a place that I should not have liked his poor old mother away across the Rhine to have seen. Yet melancholy as were the circumstances attending the death of this dauntless soldier, still more pitiable was the fate of many others as brave as he, who were condemned to drag out the last few hours of their existence on some bleak and lonely hillside, or in the thick brushwood skirting some silent forest, or in the swampy sedge beside some rivulet. Such tragedies were not uncommon during that stern winter which was now setting in, as I can but too surely bear witness.
Always we were expecting to hear of an engagement taking place in our neighbourhood; but none happened until Thursday, the 24th November, when we learned from the military in command that hostilities had begun in the direction of Neuville. During the evening of this day, some of us were told off for field service, and made preparations to depart. I was among the number.
It gave me, I must confess, no small pleasure to be chosen to go to the front. There is a fascination in the excitement of the battlefield; and, even in its horrors and imminent deadly perils, a seduction, which one cannot easily resist.
A life of campaigning seems to bring out what moralists would perhaps term a diseased hankering after its uncertainties and adventures. But in the case of the Ambulance officer this not altogether human quality is liable to be merged in one more useful. He is in the field not to give wounds, but to heal them, and to assuage the suffering that makes war so detestable in one aspect, so heroic in another.