* As Colonel de Courcy cleverly remarked, some of these regiments "brought back eighteen hundred leagues of country on the soles of their boots."
At this time there were some fifteen thousand French residents in the country, and these naturally suffered most both in life and property, especially toward the last.*
* The wholesale hanging which took place at Hermosillo in the autumn of 1866 was sufficient evidence of what those compromised by the empire might have to face, and only those who were forced to do so by imperative business interests remained.
Whether the small guerrillas fought under one flag or the other, the result was much the same to the people, who had to submit to the alternate exactions of both parties.
No wonder if the intervention grew in unpopularity. In certain parts of the country, as in Mazatlan, the French had to resort to force to constitute an imperial administration. It was made a penal offense to decline an office, and the reluctant Mexicans were compelled to serve against their will.
The war then waged was a cruel war, a war without mercy. Woe to the small detachment that allowed itself to be surprised and overpowered! It was sure death, death often embittered by refinements of cruelty and generally dispensed in the most summary manner, with little of the formality that obtains among civilized nations. To give but one instance: One of the most popular among the Austrian officers was Count Kurtzroch, a man of ancient lineage and of unexceptionable breeding. He and his friend Count von Funfkirchen were favorites in the small foreign coterie, the center of which was at San Cosme, and they did not seem to be involved in the national feuds. During the campaign of 1865 he, with a small corps of Austrians, was defending a town in the interior against the Plateados, a far superior force. Hard pressed, the Austrians retreated, fighting at every step until they reached the church, in which they intrenched themselves and prepared for a siege. They hoped that relief might reach them, but the Mexicans set fire to the church, and the trapped men were forced to surrender. During the struggle Count Kurtzroch had been wounded in the legs. Unable to walk, he was carried out by his comrades on an improvised stretcher. As the defeated band filed before the victors, the leader, Antonio Perez, approaching the wounded man, asked his name, and, drawing his revolver, deliberately shot him dead as he lay helpless before him. This is but one of many such acts, and I mention it only because I knew and liked the man, and the details of the story naturally impressed me when, upon my inquiring about our friend, Count Nikolitz, a brother officer, after his return from the campaign, gave me the above details of his death.
At the beginning of the year 1865 martial law was proclaimed. By this measure Marshal Bazaine sought to check not only brigandage, but the military disorganization which the then prevailing state of things must inevitably create. In this effort he found but little support on the part of the imperial government. Indeed, Maximilian insisted upon all actions of the courts martial being submitted to him before being carried out. Much acrimony arose on both sides in consequence of this interference.
I remember once hearing the marshal refer to a controversy that was then going on between himself and the Emperor with regard to prisoners taken by him at Oajaca, and who, he felt, should be exiled. Maximilian, unmindful of the prolonged effort which it had cost to subdue these men, insisted upon releasing them, and eventually did so. The marshal bitterly complained of his weakness, gave other instances of his untimely interference with the course of justice as administered by the military courts, and excitedly declared that he was tired of sacrificing French lives for the sole apparent use of giving an Austrian archduke the opportunity "to play at clemency" (de faire de la clemence). Such difficulties steadily widened the breach between the court and the French military headquarters.
In the autumn of 1865, the news having reached him that President Juarez had passed the border and left the country, Maximilian, elated by the event, and exaggerating its bearing upon the political and military situation, issued the famous decree of October 3, now known in Mexican history as the Bando Negro ("black decree"). In this fatal enactment he assumed that the war was at an end, and, while doing homage to President Juarez himself, attempted to brand all armed republicans as outlaws who, if taken in arms, must henceforth be summarily dealt with by the courts martial, or—when made prisoners in battle—by the military leader, and shot within twenty-four hours.*
* See Appendix A.
This extraordinary decree was greeted with dismay in the United States. It outraged the Mexicans, and excited the vindictiveness of the Liberal party. At the time such men as General Riva-Palacio and General Diaz were still in the field, and some of Mexico's most illustrious patriots were thus placed under a ban by the foreign monarch.*
* General Diaz's record is well-known and requires no comment here. General Riva-Palacio was a patriot and a gentleman. He was a man of parts, and had achieved some reputation as a poet and dramatic author. At the outbreak of the war he organized and equipped at his own expense a regiment, and was with General Zaragoza at Puebla. His division was one of the finest in the Mexican service, and, throughout the war, he loyally conducted his military operations in strict accordance with recognized usage. He cared for the wounded, exchanged prisoners, and, at the last, even went so far as to extend his protection to small detachments of French troops making their way to the Atlantic coast from the shores of the Pacific. See note from Marshal Bazaine, quoted in a letter from Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward, February 12, 1866 ("Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 281).
It has been claimed that Marshal Bazaine entered an earnest protest against the measure, the harshness of which he regarded as impolitic; that he urged its inexpediency, and personally objected to it as likely to weaken the authority of the military courts; that he, moreover, observed that it opened an avenue to private revenge, and delivered up the prisoners of one faction into the hands of another, a course which could not fail to add renewed bitterness to the civil war now so nearly at an end.* But although the famous decree certainly was the spontaneous act of the Emperor, and of his ministers who signed it, there can be no doubt that it embodied the policy of repression urged by the marshal, and that, if he cannot be held responsible for its form, in substance it "was approved by him.** "Whatever may have been its origin, when, shortly afterward (October 13, 1865), Generals Arteaga and Salazar, with others*** who, at the head of small detachments, were holding the country in the north against General Mendez, were taken by the latter, and shot, under the decree of October 3, such a clamor of indignation was raised at home and abroad as must have demonstrated his mistake to the young Emperor. This mistake he was soon to expiate with his own blood.
* See M. de Keratry, loc. cit., p. 84 et seq. See also debate in Chamber of Deputies, "Moniteur Universel" (Paris), Jan. 28,1866.
** See Louet, "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique," etc., Part ii, "L'Empire de Maximilien," by P. Gaulot; also Prince Salm-Salm's "My Diary in Mexico," etc., in which the author states that he was told by Maximilian that the decree was drafted and amended by Marshal Bazaine, who urged its enactment. In the memorandum drawn up for his lawyers, and published by Dr. Basch in "Erinnerungen aus Mexico," Maximilian, says: "Bazaine dictated himself the details before witnesses."
*** Colonels Villagomez, Diaz Paracho, and Pedro Mina were among those who were shot. General Mendez was one of the best and most brilliant officers in the imperial army, and it may be said in extenuation of his personal share in the tragedy that the cruelty of the mode of warfare carried on by Arteaga and his lieutenants seemed to warrant stern treatment. It is stated that only a short time before Arteaga had caused the father of Mendez to be shot, and that but six weeks prior to his own capture, the commander of the garrison of Uruapan, Colonel Lemus, an old man of sixty-eight, and the prefect, D. Paz Gutierrez, had been put to death by his orders without judgment, or even time to write to their families (Domenech, loc. cit., vol. iii, p. 335).
I. "A CLOUD NO BIGGER THAN A MAN'S HAND"
On March 10,1865, the Duc de Morny died. He had been the moving spirit in the Mexican imbroglio, and it would be difficult to believe that the withdrawal of the prompter did not have a weakening effect upon the performance. His death, by removing one of the strongest influences in favor of the intervention, not only in the Corps Legislatif and at court, but in the financial world, was certainly one of the many untoward circumstances which helped to hasten the end.
In France, the elections of 1863 and 1864 had added strength to the opposition. It now insisted upon being heard. Not only had the discussions of the budget in the Chamber of Deputies brought out with painful clearness the weight of the burden assumed by France, but private letters written by intelligent officers were gradually enlightening public opinion upon the true condition of affairs in Mexico. Some of these letters had even found their way to the Tuileries.
Public feeling was beginning to express in uncompromising tones the conviction that the government must relinquish an onerous task, the impossibility of accomplishing which was becoming patent. It was even openly suggested that the Tuileries must combine with "Washington for the purpose of establishing in Mexico a form of government acceptable to the latter".*
* See "Revue des Deux Mondes," 1865, vol. lviii, p. 776; also vol. lvii, pp. 768, 1018.
The writer of M. de Moray's obituary notice in the "Revue des Deux Mondes"* boldly asked whether the duke, who was always fortunate, and to whom success had become a habit, had not died opportunely. He left the question for the future to decide. The answer was not long delayed.**
* Ibid., 1865, vol. lvi, p. 501.
** And yet M. Rouher, in April, 1865, speaking for the French government in the Corps Legislatif, still affirmed that "France would continue to protect Mexico until the full consolidation of its undertaking" (ibid, vol. lvi, p. 1065).
The inauguration of the Mexican empire had been officially announced to the chambers by the government in the following terms: "The results obtained in 1862 and 1863 by our Corps Expeditionnaire in Mexico have, in 1864, received a solemn consecration under the protection of the flag of France. A regular government has been founded in that country, heretofore for more than fifty years delivered up to anarchy and intestine dissensions. In the beginning of the month of June the Emperor Maximilian took possession of the throne, and, sustained by our army, he inaugurated in all security an era of peace and prosperity for his new country."
Jules Favre pertinently asked: "Since Maximilian is established; since Maximilian is the Messiah announced in all time past; since he is really the man both for the Indians and the Spaniards, who receive him with acclamation; since he meets on his passage only with bouquets from the senoritas—let our soldiers return. What have they to do in Mexico! They are not needed, and can only be an obstacle in the way of that entire unanimity of feeling that exists between the prince and the nation." He stated that rumors were reaching France of fierce battles, of martial law, of prisoners of war shot, of villages burned, holding up as an example San Sebastian, in Sinaloa, a town of four thousand souls, which had been entirely burned and destroyed by General Castagny during his campaign against Romero and in the name of Emperor Maximilian,* and then he proceeded to show the ghastly farce that had been enacted behind these words, in the light cast upon it by the blaze of the ill-fated town; "Why this discrepancy between the official statements as to the pacification of Mexico, the unanimous consent to Maximilian's elevation to the throne, and the facts, i.e., the country under martial law, and the French army, marching, torch in hand, protecting one party and punishing the other by the wholesale destruction of life and property? Why did such contradiction exist between the official statements as to universal suffrage, the freedom of the press, the unanimity of sentiment in Mexico, and the fact that journalists were being brought, in the name of the Emperor, before a council of war and condemned to various penalties for having expressed their criticism of such wholesale executions?"
* "Mexicans! I have come in the name of the Emperor Maximilian into the state of Sinaloa, to establish peace therein, to protect property, and to deliver you from the malefactors who oppress you under the mask of liberty," said General Castagny in his proclamation.
He resumed by calling attention to the renewed postponement of the ministry's promises with regard to the withdrawal of the army, and to its broken pledge that it would retire when Maximilian's throne was established and a proper impetus had been given to the work of regeneration. For the accomplishment of these ends, said the orator, a sacrifice of forty thousand men and a yearly expenditure of four or five millions would be needed for ten years to come.
In words which now sound prophetic he eloquently referred to Napoleon I and to his Spanish campaign, likewise undertaken under the pretense of regenerating a nation. "The mighty man who had conceived such projects," he cried, "all know where they led him. On April 14, 1814, the sentence of deposition thus expressed the motives of the Senate for deposing him: 'WHEREAS, Napoleon Bonaparte has undertaken a series of wars in violation of Article L of the Constitution of the 22d Frimaire, year 8, which provides that declarations of war must be proposed, discussed, and promulgated like laws; WHEREAS, The liberty of the press, established and consecrated as one of the rights of nations, has been constantly subject to the arbitrary 164 censorship of the police,'" etc., and as he closed his argument he said:
"After a thorough study of all the facts in the case, political, military, and financial, it is impossible for any one seriously to believe that the government of Maximilian can exist without our army. With our army, I acknowledge it, his throne would rest upon an agreement, it would last as long as our assistance should be extended to it, but if you withdraw this assistance it is evident that it will be overthrown. If, therefore, you wish to establish it firmly, our army must remain in Mexico: the Chamber should understand this thoroughly."
Only thirteen members of the Chamber voted against the appropriation for the maintenance of the Corps Expeditionnaire; but it has been pointed out, and it is only fair to believe, that many voted for it who, as Frenchmen, felt that the government, blameworthy as it might be, should not be compelled suddenly to abandon an adventure in which the honor of France was involved. French patience, however, was fast nearing its limit, and when, in 1864, Maximilian accepted the crown, he must have realized that French support could not be indefinitely counted upon.
The millions raised through the Mexican loans had been carelessly administered and lavishly spent. What with the expenses of the court, extensive alterations in the imperial residences, especially in Chapultepec, and the outlay incidental to the pageants and ovations of the Emperor's journeys in the provinces, the relief brought by the loans had been brief.
Confidence was waning. The incapacity of Maximilian was becoming generally recognized, and the difficulties inherent in the situation were everywhere growing clearer.
Maximilian had alienated Borne, whose censure he had drawn upon himself by his effort to conciliate the moderate party. He had aroused the resentment of the priests and brought upon himself the remonstrances of the bishops, and had set aside, or sent to foreign posts, the leaders of the party to whom he owed his crown. Yet he had not succeeded in winning over from the Liberal party any very important adhesions to his government.
Cardinal Antonelli, in a letter dated December 27, 1864, after setting forth the grievances of the holy see, stated that the Holy Father hoped that Maximilian in abandoning the course marked out in his letter to the minister, Senor Escudero, would "spare the holy see the necessity of taking proper measures to set right in the eyes of the world the responsibility of the august chief of the church—measures of which the least, certainly, would not be the recall of the pontifical representative in Mexico, in order that he may not remain there a powerless spectator of the spoliation of the church and of the violation of its most sacred rights."*
* "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1865, Part III, p. 623.
It is difficult to understand why Maximilian had not negotiated the terms of a concordat with the holy see when he went to Rome to receive the Pope's blessing before leaving Europe for his new dominions. The adjustment of existing differences between church and state formed the most urgent as well as the most vital issue to be met by the young Emperor, as upon the settlement of the vexed question of ownership in clergy property must depend the restoration of business confidence and of prosperity in the empire. The pretensions advanced by the papal nuncio sent by the Vatican to arrange for a concordat now proved so exorbitant that Maximilian had been compelled to decline to consider them, and he and the holy see had failed to come to terms. The final and official rupture with Monsignor Meglia took place in December, 1864. It was made public in a decree issued by Maximilian which proclaimed that papal bulls should not receive exequatur until approved by the chief executive.
The fact was that the party through which the French and Maximilian had been called to Mexico was the unpopular retroactive party; that, in order to exist, Maximilian had been obliged to recognize the measures enacted against his own partizans by the national party; that in so doing he had disappointed the priests; that in setting aside the leaders of the clerical party he had estranged his strongest adherents; and all this without making any serious headway with his antagonists, who would have no emperor, no monarchy, no foreigner.
The success of the intervention was now clearly seen to depend upon a war systematically conducted against an enemy that represented a national sentiment.
On January 23, 1865, the governments of Chili, Bolivia, Salvador, Colombia, Peru, and Venezuela formed a defensive alliance against exterior aggression and for the guaranty of their respective autonomy. The treaty was signed in Lima by the representatives of the nations interested.
But a far more serious danger was threatening the empire in the North. On April 9, 1865, General Lee surrendered to the Federal army. The Civil War in the United States was at an end, and the French were beginning to understand that the Northern republic, whose unbroken unity stood strengthened, could no longer remain a passive spectator of the struggle taking place at its frontier.
The scene of military interest suddenly shifted to the Rio Grande, and the incidents happening on the border deserved more attention than Maximilian seemed at first inclined to bestow.
The interests of the national party were represented in Washington by Senor Romero, who, with consummate tact and ability, made the most of every opportunity. The service rendered by him to the cause of republicanism and of Mexican independence was second to none in importance. No detail seemed too trifling to be turned to account in his effort to strengthen the Mexican cause with our government.
A rumor reached us that President Juarez had succeeded in raising a loan in the United States. The ranks of the Liberal army were receiving important reinforcements from the officers and men of General Banks's command, who passed the border in large numbers to take part in the attack of General Cortinas at Matamoros. Already, in January, 1865, the impulse given to the Republican party in the North vibrated throughout the land. Soon resistance everywhere appeared in arms once more. Both General Mejia and Admiral Cloue, then in command of the French Gulf Squadron, complained that the United States army afforded protection to the Juarists.
Recruiting-offices had been opened in New York, which, although not countenanced by the government, must have furnished valuable auxiliaries to the Liberals. Alarming rumors reached France and Mexico with regard to the extent of the movement.
On the other hand, the negotiations then being carried on between Napoleon and Maximilian, with a view to securing the Mexican debt to France by a lien upon the mines of Sonora, were causing uneasiness in the United States, and gave rise to considerable diplomatic correspondence.*
* See, in this connection, "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1865, Part III, pp. 357-363, 417, and letter of Secretary Seward addressed to Mr. Bigelow, February 17, 1865.
It required no wizard to foretell the issue. After the surrender of General Lee, a Confederate army-corps, twenty-five thousand strong, acting through General Slaughter, had opened negotiations with Marshal Bazaine, with a view to passing the border and settling in northern Mexico, provided suitable terms were granted by the Mexican government to the new colonists. It was then becoming clear to many that the halfway policy hitherto followed had led to nothing, and must result in a useless sacrifice of life and millions unless a larger force were maintained by the French in Mexico, or some barrier set up against the naturally dominant position taken by the United States with regard to Mexican affairs.
In June, 1865, Generals Kirby Smith, Magruder, Shelby, Slaughter, Walker, A. W. Terrell of Texas, Governor Price of Missouri, General Wilcox of Tennessee, Commodore Maury of Virginia, General Hindman of Arkansas, Governor Reynolds of Georgia, Judge Perkins, Colonel Denis, and Mr. Pierre Soule of Louisiana, Major Mordecai of North Carolina, and others, had come to Mexico. With them had passed over the frontier horses, artillery, everything that could be transported, including large and small bands of Confederate soldiers, and some two thousand citizens who left the United States with the intention of colonizing Sonora.
Confederate officers now flocked to Mexico with a view to making new homes for themselves. Many of them were interested in special schemes by which the agricultural wealth of the land might be made to yield its treasure to the ruined but experienced Southern planters.
My mother being a Southern woman, and knowing some of their leaders, our house soon became a center where they gathered in the evening and freely discussed their hopes. Thus was added a new element to the already motley assemblage which collected about us at that time. Truly a most heterogeneous set! Confederate officers, members of the diplomatic corps, newly fledged chamberlains and officials of the palace, the marshal's officers,—Frenchmen, Austrians, Belgians, and a few Mexicans,—would drop in, each group bringing its own interests, and, alas! its animosities.
Laws against foreigners having been passed, no property could henceforth be held by them unless they became naturalized. Some of the Confederate refugees therefore became Mexican citizens, and took service under the Mexican government. Governor Price, for instance, received authorization to recruit the imperial army in the Confederacy. He and Governor Harris of Tennessee and Judge Perkins of Louisiana were appointed agents of colonization, and immediately set to work upon the survey of the region lying between Mexico and Vera Cruz, with a view to furthering this purpose. General Magruder, the ex-commander-in-chief of the Confederate forces in Texas, having also become naturalized, was placed in charge of the survey of the lands set aside for colonization as chief of the Colonization Land Office. The government sold such land to colonists for the nominal consideration of one dollar an acre, and allowed every head of a family to purchase six hundred and forty acres upon a credit of five years. A single man was allowed three hundred and twenty acres.
Not only the government, but large landowners, proposed such free grants, and offered every inducement to settlers, if they would come and develop the agricultural resources of the country. The first Confederate settlement was established near Cordoba in the autumn of 1865.
Commodore Maury, now a naturalized Mexican citizen, had in September been appointed imperial commissioner of immigration and councilor of state. He opened an office in the Calle San Juan de Lateran, and was authorized to establish agencies in the Southern States.* But the indecision and weakness of Maximilian prevented his taking full advantage of the opportunity then offered to strengthen the empire. The delay caused by a vacillating policy discouraged the would-be colonists, and before long the flood of immigration was checked.
* See decrees signed by Maximilian and the minister of the interior, D. Luis Robles Pezuela, on September 24 and 27.
General Charles P. Stone had come to Mexico with a colonization scheme of his own. He had, in 1859, made a survey of Sonora under the Jecker contract. He now was on his way to look after some of the Jecker claims when accident threw him on board of the steamer with Dr. William M. Gwin, ex-senator for California. The two men at once came to an understanding and joined forces.
In 1856 (December 19), two years after the filibustering expedition of Count Raousset de Boulbon, the house of Jecker had obtained from the Mexican government the right to survey the territories of Sonora and southern California. The conditions were that one third of the unclaimed land should become the property of the house of Jecker.
In 1859 the Liberal government had rescinded the grant, and this had added one more grievance to those which the Swiss banker had brought up against the administration of Juarez. No sooner had Sonora sent in its adhesion to the empire than Jecker proposed to the French government to make over his rights against a payment of two million dollars.
The plan was then to colonize Sonora and Lower California, establishing, on behalf of France, a right to exploit the mines. The climate was healthful, the land rich, the adventure tempting; but it had the great drawback of running foul of the most acute Mexican susceptibilities. Not only did such pretensions at that time excite the suspicions of the Mexicans with regard to the disinterestedness of the French alliance, but they were calculated to give umbrage to the United States government.
As early as 1863, Napoleon III had discussed the possibility of establishing in Sonora* a colony which should develop the mining and agricultural wealth of the state. In exchange for a grant of unclaimed national lands, these colonists were to pay a percentage of their proceeds to France, as well as a tax to the Mexican government.
* Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa eventually were also included in the scheme.
A colony of armed Confederates, inimical to the Federal government of the United States, established between its dominions and the heart of the Mexican empire, and backed by France, Austria, and Belgium, must form a formidable bulwark in case of trouble between Mexico and its Northern neighbor. There is small doubt that some such plan had formed a part of the original "deal" proposed by Jecker to the French leaders.
In the spring of 1864 unauthorized attempts had been made by Californian immigrants to land at Guaymas and settle upon certain lands granted them by President Juarez. The marshal had sent French troops to protect the province from such inroads, treating these intruders as squatters. This had furnished a reason for the military occupation of Sonora; thus was the first step taken in the realization of the project.
Such was, in rough outline, the position of the Sonora colonization question when Dr. Gwin entered upon the scene. Upon his arrival in Mexico, he applied at headquarters for an audience. The marshal, although in full sympathy with the project, realized the danger of its open discussion at that time. Maximilian and his advisers were opposed to it. Much tact and secrecy seemed, therefore, necessary in the conduct of negotiations having for their object the furtherance of so unpopular a scheme. Dr. Gwin was too conspicuous a figure to pass unnoticed the portals of the French headquarters. An informal interview was therefore arranged.
We then lived at Tacubaya, a suburb of Mexico reached by the Paseo, where the marshal rode every day for exercise. Our house was built at the foot of a long hill, at the top of which stood a large old mansion, the yellow coloring of which had won for it the name of the Casa Amarilla. It had been rented by Colonel Talcott of Virginia, who lived there with his family. Dr. Gwin was their guest; and it was arranged that the marshal, when taking his usual afternoon ride with his aide-de-camp, should call upon us one day, and leaving the horses in our patio with his orderlies, should join us in a walk up the hill, casually dropping in en passant at the Casa Amarilla.
The plan had the double advantage of being a simple one and of providing the marshal, who did not speak English, with suitable interpreters. The interview was a long one. The marshal listened to what the American had to say. Indeed, there was little to be said on his own side, as the Mexican ministry was absolutely opposed to the project, and any change of policy must depend upon a change in the imperial cabinet.
His Excellency, however, seemed in high good humor. As we came out, he merrily challenged us to run downhill, much to the astonishment of the few leperos whom we happened to meet. The Mexican Indian is a sober, rather somber creature, not given to levity; his amusements are of a dignified, almost sad nature. He may be sentimental, bigoted, vicious, cruel, but he is never vulgar, and is seldom foolish. Indeed, well might they stare at us then, for it was no common sight in the lanes of Tacubaya to see a commander-in-chief tearing downhill, amid peals of laughter, with a party of young people, in utter disregard of age, corpulence, and cumbersome military accoutrements!
The personality of Dr. Gwin was a strong one. A tall, broad, squarely built man, with rough features which seemed hewn out of a block with an ax, ruddy skin, and a wealth of white hair brushed back from his brow, all combined to make him by far the most striking figure among the group of Southern leaders then assembled in Mexico.
His own faith in the almightiness of his will influenced others, and in this case brought him very near to success. He talked willingly and fluently of his plans. Notwithstanding the decided opposition met with on the part of the Mexican government, he then confidently expected to be installed in the new colony by the opening of the year, and invited his friends to eat their Christmas dinner with him there. He was generous in sharing his prospects with them. We all were to be taken in and made wealthy: every dollar invested was to return thousands, every thousand, millions!
It was entertaining to hear him narrate his interviews at the Tuileries with Napoleon III and the other great men of the day. His tone was that of a potentate treating with his peers. He spoke of "my policy," "my colony," "my army," etc.
In 1865 Dr. Gwin again went to Prance to confer with its ruler. Upon his return to Mexico, he was regarded as the unofficial agent of the French government. The Emperor had promised him every facility and assistance. All that was now needed to make his dreams a brilliant reality was the signature of Maximilian. He was full of glowing anticipations. But Maximilian, who at the time was none too friendly to his allies, stood firm.* However much the French might urge it, the national feeling was already strongly arrayed against any plan involving the possible alienation of any part of the Mexican territory. Moreover, it was becoming obvious, from the various complications occurring upon the Rio Grande, that the befriending of the Confederate refugees must henceforth seriously add to the difficulty of obtaining the recognition of the Mexican empire by the United States—an end which Maximilian had greatly at heart, and one which, strangely enough, he never lost the hope of accomplishing, so little did he, even after two years' residence in Mexico, understand American conditions.
* Later he laid stress upon his attitude with regard to this. In the memorandum written by him for the use of his lawyers at his trial in vindication of his conduct, he urged as a claim to Mexican leniency his firm resistance to French pretensions concerning the disposal of Sonora, and his loyal effort to maintain the integrity of the Mexican territory, and declared that this drew upon him the hostility of the French. See S. Basch, "Erinnerungen aus Mexico." (This interesting document is not given in the French edition.)
On June 26, 1865, Marshal Bazaine was married to Mlle. de la Pena. The Emperor and Empress expressed a wish that the ceremony and wedding breakfast should take place at the imperial palace. No effort was spared by them to make the occasion a memorable one: Empress Charlotte bestowed upon the bride a set of diamonds; the Emperor gave her as a dowry the palace of San Cosme, a noble residence, valued at one hundred thousand dollars, where the French had established their headquarters since the beginning of the intervention. Every one was in good humor, many polite assurances of appreciation and good will were exchanged on both sides, and for a while it seemed as though harmony might be restored among the leaders. But this pleasant state of affairs was of short duration. The difficulties inherent in the situation were too conspicuous, and the causes of ill feeling were too deeply laid, to be overcome by other than superior men. Notwithstanding a superficial improvement in Mexican conditions, it was becoming patent in the summer of 1865 that nothing short of a miracle could save all concerned from disaster and humiliation.
In those days, our social circle varied from year to year according to the political and military conditions of the hour. Occasionally the arrival of some distinguished newcomer on a special mission from abroad would create a stir among us.
The advent, toward the close of the year 1865, of M. Langlais, the fifth financier sent by Napoleon III to organize the finances of the empire, caused considerable excitement and aroused the hopes of the court. His appointment to succeed M. de Bonnefons had been heralded by the French official papers with much pomposity.
He came ostensibly to act as minister of finance (without a portfolio), at an enormous salary, and was supposed, by those who sent him, to take the full direction of Mexican financial affairs.
He was a councilor of state, and was possessed large experience of French politics. A ministerial official, methodical, precise, fresh from the well-appointed offices of the French government, he arrived at Vera Cruz just as a guerrilla band, after taking up the rails of the only railway then laid upon Mexican soil, had attacked a train and massacred its escort of French soldiers.
The poor man's stereotyped ideas of existence were considerably shaken up by the occurrence; but he was a firm believer in his own capacity, and was disposed to attribute the failures of his predecessors to their inferiority to himself. He won the confidence and personal regard of the young sovereigns, and unhesitatingly undertook to raise the public revenue, then of eighty-four millions of dollars, to one hundred and twenty millions. How far he might have gone toward fulfilling his promise it is impossible to tell, for he died suddenly on February 23, 1866.*
* M. Langlais is stated to have said that he was working to give Maximilian the chance to abdicate honorably; but the favor in which he was held at court makes such a statement doubtful.
His death was a blow to the court, where he stood in high favor. The Empress Charlotte especially is said to have detected in it the finger of a fate adverse to the empire. This calamity was soon followed by another, well calculated to cast the gloom of a dark shadow across the path of the young princess.
Her father, King Leopold I, had died December 10, 1865. Upon his accession to the throne, her brother, King Leopold II, sent a special embassy to the court of Mexico to make an official announcement of his reign. The ambassador, General Foury, arrived with his suite on February 14, 1866, and, having fulfilled his mission, departed on March 4. During their brief visit to the capital, the Belgian envoys had been freely entertained by society. It was, therefore, with a thrill of horror that, on the day following their departure, the news came that their party had been attacked and fired upon by highwaymen at Rio Frio, a few leagues from the capital, and that Baron d'Huart, officier d'ordonnance of the Count of Flanders, had been shot in the head and killed. Four other members of the embassy were wounded. Consternation reigned at court. The Emperor went to Rio Frio to see personally to the comfort of the wounded and to bring back the body of Baron d'Huart, whose solemn obsequies were conducted in the most impressive manner.
The news of this tragedy, when it reached Europe, must have cast a flash of lurid light upon the true condition of the Mexican empire.
During the winter of 1866 Napoleon III sent Baron Saillard upon a special mission to prepare Maximilian for the gradual withdrawal of the French army, and to intimate to him that he must not depend upon a continuance of present conditions. The envoy, however, failed to make upon the prince the impression which it was intended that he should make. Maximilian received him only twice, and rather resented his warnings. His visit only added to the coldness of the young Emperor's relations with the French.
Shortly afterward General Almonte was sent to France on a mission, the object of which, was to influence Napoleon to continue his support. The only result of his errand was a communication addressed to Maximilian, dated May 31, 1866. In this Napoleon stated the situation with a frankness the brutality of which aroused the indignation of the court of Mexico. An onerous agreement was nevertheless arrived at, to which necessity compelled Maximilian to subscribe (July 30). By this agreement, half of the revenue derived from the customs of Tampico and Vera Cruz was to be assigned to the French in payment of the debt until the entire outlay made on behalf of the Mexican empire had been repaid. The French, in return, promised to continue their support until November 1, 1867, and to withdraw their army in three detachments, the last of which would embark on that date. The imperial government was thereby deprived of half of its reliable revenue at a time when, in order to maintain its existence under the present stress, large additional resources should have been at its command.*
* See Appendix B.
The years 1865 and 1866 had been spent in administrative experiments. At first French officers detached from the service were placed in the various departments of the government as undersecretaries, in the hope of bringing about an honest and efficient organization without giving undue umbrage to the Mexicans. Members of the marshal's own household served thus in the War Department and in the Emperor's military office.
But the efforts of the French to introduce regularity into the various offices of the administration were so hampered that, even had the task been an easy one, it is not likely that much could have been accomplished. They had everything against them, even their allies and the monarch whom they wished to serve.
When, however, in 1866, the situation was found to be desperate, the Emperor, seriously alarmed, became more earnest and called the French to the rescue. Colonel Loysel was made chief of the military office of the Emperor, and the full control of the departments of War and of Finance was given respectively to Colonel Osmont, the chief of staff of the Corps Expeditionnaire, and to M. Friant, the chief of its commissariat.
But at this time there was not a dollar in the treasury; the sources of imperial revenue were daily diminishing; and the expenses of the government were now paid by the marshal out of the French treasury, under his own responsibility. The hour had been allowed to go by when organization was possible.
The marshal felt—and this feeling was shared by others—that neither Colonel Osmont nor M. Friant should have accepted a position of trust impossible to fill with credit at a time when France had resolved to withdraw its support from Maximilian. Their action was attributed to personal motives. The marshal declined to cooperate with or to help them, and they became an additional source of trouble. Later on, when, the Liberal cabinet having withdrawn, Maximilian once more turned to the reactionary party and called to power the clericals, he retained the above-mentioned Frenchmen in their departments. This affectation of confidence only added to the general ill feeling.
Under the conditions of open hostility then existing between the French and Mexican governments the interests of each were too wide apart for such a connection to continue without danger. A request from the commander-in-chief to MM. Osmont and Friant that they choose between their present ministerial functions and their respective positions in the Corps Expeditionnaire gave rise to a correspondence between the marshal and the Emperor, in the course of which the aggressive insistence of the latter compelled the former to refer the matter to the home government.
M. Drouyn de Lhuys upheld the marshal. And well it was that he did, for just then Mr. Seward, in a diplomatic note to M. de Montholon, under date of August 16, 1866,* peremptorily called his attention to the fact that the presence of the two French officers in the imperial cabinet was calculated to interfere with the good relations existing between France and the United States.
* "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 381 et seq.
As a result of this communication, the marshal was censured by his government for not having at once prevented the above-mentioned officers from accepting their respective portfolios. The irritation on all sides was painfully visible.
II. LA DEBACLE
Matamoros had fallen in July, 1866. Now, while preparing for the difficult task of withdrawing his troops in the presence of an advancing army, the marshal sought not only to obey the instructions of the home government, but to serve the empire by concentrating its defense within possible limits and by placing between it and the northern frontier a natural barrier of wilderness in which "neither friend nor toe could easily subsist."*
* Letter of Bazaine to Maximilian, Peotillos, August 12, 1866.
The movement was not only planned in order to facilitate the country's defense against the Liberal forces, but also to guard against any possible aggression on the part of its formidable Northern neighbor after the withdrawal of the French army. This eminently prudent strategy was, however, irritating to Maximilian, who complained of it in the bitterest terms.
Article I of the preamble of the treaty of Miramar, signed in April, 1864, provided that "the French troops actually in Mexico shall, as soon as possible, be reduced to a corps of twenty-five thousand men, including the foreign legion." This corps was temporarily to remain in order to protect the interests in which the French intervention had been undertaken, but under the following conditions:
ARTICLE II. The French troops shall gradually evacuate Mexico as H. M. the Emperor of Mexico shall be able to organize the troops necessary to take their place.
ARTICLE III. The foreign legion in the service of France, composed of eight thousand men, shall, however, remain for six years in Mexico after all other French forces shall have been recalled under Article II. From that date said legion shall pass into the service and pay of the Mexican government, the Mexican government reserving unto itself the right to shorten the duration of the employment in Mexico of the foreign legion.
Permission had been granted to French officers to take service in this legion. Recruits were also expected from Europe, and twelve hundred Austrians, on the eve of embarking at St. Nazaire, were stopped only by the peremptory interference of the United States.* Various army-corps had been formed, officered by foreigners, among whom were some good French and Austrian officers. Much interest had at first been shown in the scheme; and the new army, its recruits, its uniforms and equipment, furnished society with a fruitful theme for conversation. For a time it had seemed as though it might be possible to so strengthen the empire as to enable it to stand without French official assistance. In 1866, however, Napoleon formally instructed the marshal to advance no more funds and to pay only the auxiliary troops. The Mexican army might dissolve. The French, on withdrawing, would leave the Austro-Belgian corps and the foreign legion,—i.e., some fifteen thousand men,—upon which the empire must depend. Under the new arrangement the Austro-Belgian soldiers were to receive the same pay as the French,—that is, about one half the amount formerly paid them,—and were once more placed under French control.**
* See "Diplomatic Correspondence," May, 1866, Part I, p. 305 et seq.
** Maximilian's proclamation to the auxiliary troops that they should henceforth form one and the same division "with their companions in arms" was dated May 19, 1866.
Dissatisfaction prevailed, and the very worst spirit was manifested on all sides. After continued ill feeling, in August, 1866, Comte de Thun sent in his resignation and returned to Europe, leaving Colonel Kodolitch in command.
The Belgian corps mutinied, and the ringleaders having been discharged, the disbanded men were incorporated into new mixed regiments.*
* Order given through General Neigre, July 8, 1866. The adjustment with the Austrians was no easier. An effort was made to induce the French to advance the pay for the auxiliary corps without proper accounts being submitted. To this, of course, they could not consent; and it was whispered that the affair resulted in the exposure of peculations on the part of certain individuals, whose resignation from the service General de Thun forthwith required. The better element of the Austrian army felt deeply humiliated by the incident, and it led to undisguised bitterness on all sides.
Meantime the Liberals were everywhere assuming an aggressive attitude. Guadalajara had fallen into the hands of General Uraga.
About this time an important convoy from Matamoros, under the escort of Colonel Olvera's Mexican force, sixteen hundred strong, and of an Austrian regiment, was attacked by Liberal forces. The officer in charge of the Austrian forces was then in the capital. The escort was overwhelmed, routed, and almost annihilated, and the convoy fell into the hands of the enemy. The Austrian officer had to bear the most severe and unsparing criticism from the French. The night after the news of the disaster had reached the capital he appeared at an evening gathering at the house of Countess de N—, the wife of an officer on the marshal's staff. As he entered, a perceptible shock was felt; electricity was in the air; many turned away from him, and an officer remarked in audible tones, as I asked the reason of the flutter: "O, ce n'est rien; c'est seulement le colonel, . . . qui aime mieux s'amuser a Mexico que de se battre a Matamoros."
It is more than likely that the officer, a man of proved courage, was fully justified by circumstances known to himself and to his chiefs in having left his post, but the spirit of antagonism then prevailing would admit of no excuse. The ill feeling existing between the Emperor and the marshal was fast spreading in every direction, and interfered even with the pleasure of social intercourse; and yet all this time the Emperor was writing to the marshal notes the tone of which was generally more than courteous, and signed himself "votre tres affectionne."
The fall of Matamoros marked the beginning of the end.
While reviewing the peripetia of an episode in which ignoble intrigue and treachery have so large a share, it is restful for a moment to pause before the modest figure of General Mejia, whose loyalty was unflinching to the bitter end. The brave Indian had for many months faithfully defended this important post. As true to his flag as President Juarez was to his, he himself had supplied the needs of his army, holding his own and never murmuring until, almost forgotten by his government, he was allowed to fall.
In July, 1866, Tampico and Monterey were, like Matamoros, lost to the Imperialists. The revenue derived from the port of Tampico thereby ceased altogether, and went to strengthen the national party. This event caused a painful shock.
To us in Mexico there was no concealing the fact that the knell of the Mexican empire had struck. Maximilian must fall. How? was the only question.
When, in the course of the winter, the treasury being empty, he had appealed to the French for relief, he had threatened to resign the throne unless they would advance to his administration the funds necessary for its support. The marshal had then, against the formal orders of his own government, supplied the millions necessary to tide over successive crises as they presented themselves; for it was clear that unless funds were immediately forthcoming the empire must collapse.
The French government, however, had censured the marshal's conduct. His situation was fast becoming an impossible one, and in order to obtain security for the French outlay he ordered the seizure of the custom-house of Vera Cruz. Maximilian was furious, and a rumor spread that he was seriously considering his abdication. The Empress, who strongly opposed his taking this step, suggested going abroad herself to see what could be done to save the crown. All confidence was at an end between the young monarchs and the marshal, whom they held responsible for Napoleon's altered attitude. It seemed to them idle to trust to written appeals the force of which must be counteracted by his representations. A personal interview might, however, accomplish much. The situation was reaching an acute crisis. Much bitter recrimination had followed upon the disasters to the imperial forces in the North. Nothing could be worse than the animus on both sides. Altogether, imperial Mexico had become a seething caldron, in which the scum stood a fair chance of rising to the top.
The imperial government, which during the first years of its existence had shown so much jealousy of its own authority, now suddenly changed its policy and sought to throw the whole weight of its responsibilities upon the French. In August, 1866, Maximilian proposed to face the uprising of the republicans throughout the empire, as well as to guard against possible aggression on the part of the United States troops then watching events across the Rio Grande, by declaring a state of siege throughout the empire and by placing the whole executive power of each state in the hands of a French officer. This he urged upon the marshal, who courteously but firmly declined. It was impossible to tell where such a course, if adopted, would lead the French. It must necessarily carry with it serious consequences, the most obvious of which was a probable war with Mexico's Northern neighbor, and there is little doubt that this possibility prompted the suggestion.
Each side accused the other of duplicity with regard to the United States. The Imperialists openly charged the French with delivering up the empire to the republicans, while the French suspected the existence of snares and intrigues set afoot for the purpose of bringing about such complications as might force the French to retain an interest in Mexican affairs. Moreover, attempts, not wholly unsuccessful, were made to sow discord among the French themselves by taking advantage of individual ambitions and of petty jealousies to increase existing difficulties.
The relations between General Douay, then in command of the second division, and the quartier-general had never been cordial. On his way to France, on leave of absence, he passed through the city, and had an interview with Maximilian. This gave rise to much gossip. It was said that General Douay favored a policy totally different from that lately pursued by France, and that he approved of calling upon the French government for reinforcements for the purpose of firmly maintaining the empire; that he and Maximilian had arranged to bring pressure to bear upon the Emperor Napoleon not only to continue but to increase his support, and that Maximilian wished to see General Douay assume command of the French army in the marshal's place.
All this came to nothing, but the relations of the Emperor with the French headquarters were becoming more and more strained, and having begun with political differences, the feud was assuming almost a personal character.
Had Maximilian's grasp of the situation been stronger, he must have seen that by firmly taking his stand upon his original agreement with France, by refusing to consider the onerous terms substituted for those of the treaty of Miramar by Napoleon in his communication of May 31,1866, and by making then and there a public renunciation of his throne, based upon the non-fulfilment of the terms of the convention, he must throw the full responsibility of the denouement upon the Emperor of the French.*
* M. Rouher (July 10, 1866) announced to the Chamber of Deputies that the government had reluctantly determined upon the evacuation of Mexico by the army, owing to the inability of the Mexican government to observe the conditions of the treaty of Miramar. See Domenech, "Histoire," etc., vol. iii., p. 349.
He had then his one chance to retire with dignity and honor from the lamentable situation into which his youthful ambition and inexperience had led him, at the same time revenging himself upon his disloyal ally by exposing to the full light of day, and before the whole world, the wretched conditions under which the empire had been erected.
By compromising and signing away half the revenues of his ports,* by retaining the scepter upon terms that made the empire impossible, that forced him down to the level of a mere leader of faction, and placed him in contradiction to his own declared principles, he descended from his imperial state, and forfeited, if not his crown, at least his right to it, if judged by his own standard. He, moreover, lost his one chance of seriously embarrassing his allies. At that time the army was scattered in small detachments over the Mexican territory; terms had not yet been made with the Liberal leaders; the sudden collapse of the empire must have created dangers to the French, the existence of which would give him a certain hold over them.
* Convention of Mexico, signed July 30, 1866, by M. Dano and Don Luis de Arroyo.
But he was a weak man; the Empress clung to her crown; the great state officials were interested in retaining their offices; he was surrounded by evil or interested councilors; and instead of standing up firmly in his false ally's path, he allowed him to brush past and to disregard him.
In ancient Mexico, when, fortune having deserted a warrior, he fell into the hands of his enemies, a victim doomed to sacrifice, a chance was, under certain conditions, given him for his life. He was tied by one foot, naked, to the gladiatorial stone, armed with a wooden sword, and six warriors were, one after another, entered against him. If extraordinarily skilful, strong, and brave, he might hold his own and save his life; at least he might destroy some of his foes, and, falling like a warrior, avoid being laid alive upon the sacrificial stone, where his heart, torn out of his breast, must be held up, a bleeding sacrifice to the fierce god of battles.
Maximilian was not strong enough for the unequal struggle at this supreme moment, and he was laid upon the sacrificial stone.
Meanwhile the cloud "no bigger than a man's hand," which wise men had from the first anxiously watched as it loomed upon the northern horizon, had grown with alarming rapidity, and was now spreading black and threatening over the whole sky.
Secretary Seward was prepared to enter upon the scene. Nothing could be finer than the conduct of the American statesman throughout these difficult transactions. Alone among the foreign leaders who had a share in them, he followed a consistent policy from beginning to end, and his diplomatic notes form a logical sequence. Quietly, steadily, he played his part, to the greater credit and higher dignity of the nation whose interests and honor were in his keeping.
The burden of the Civil War had for several years weighed him down; but despite every effort of European diplomacy, the ship of state, steered by a firm hand, was kept upon its course, avoiding every shoal, while saving its strength for home defense. He never yielded a serious point, never wavered in his adherence to the traditional American policy, and stood by the legal republican government of Mexico even when, reduced to the persons of the President and his minister, Lerdo de Tejada, it was compelled to seek refuge at Paso del Norte. But when the surrender of Lee's army left the Federal government free to act, sixty thousand men were massed upon the frontier, and the American statesman at once grew threatening.*
* See peremptory note of Secretary Seward to Mr. Bigelow, November 23, 1866 ("Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 366). See also letter to the Marquis de Montholon, April 25, 1866.
In vain did Napoleon III plead for delay; in vain did he assure Mr. Bigelow that a date had been fixed for the final recall of the army. From Washington came the uncompromising words: No delay can be tolerated; the intervention and the empire must come to an end at once.*
* On December 10, 1860, Mr. Seward officially expressed his opinion that the traditional friendship with France would be brought into "imminent jeopardy, unless France could deem it consistent with her interest and honor to desist from the prosecution of armed intervention in Mexico" (letter of Seward to Bigelow, "Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part III, p. 429); and he declined the condition made by the Emperor that the United States recognize the empire of Mexico as a de facto power. See proclamation of President Johnson, August 18, 1866, declaring the blockade of Matamoros issued by Maximilian null and void ("Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 339).
Since accepting Napoleon's ultimatum, by the terms of which all French assistance was to be withdrawn by November 1, 1867, Maximilian had made no attempt to disguise his hostility to his allies.
The French government having formally declined to do more than pay the auxiliary troops and the foreign legion, the distress was great, and the Imperialists, on the verge of starvation, were frequently supplied in the field by the French commissariat. Demoralization set in throughout the imperial army. Whole garrisons, receiving no pay, left their posts and turned highwaymen, even in the neighborhood of the capital.
Indeed, the desertions were now so frequent that the Liberals were able to form a "foreign legion" with the deserters of various nationalities who sought service under their flag.* Rats were leaving the sinking ship.
* See "L'Ere Nouvelle" (Mexico), September 25, 1866.
In January, 1866, the imperial army, including the Austro-Belgian legion, numbered 43,500 men. In October of the same year only 28,000 remained under arms. Many, of course, had fallen in the field, but desertion was principally accountable for this shriveling of the Mexican forces.
Permission had originally been granted French officers to take service under the imperial flag. Various army-corps had been formed, which were officered by Frenchmen as well as by Austrians and Belgians. Theoretically, a year and a half was time enough to organize the new foreign legion then well under way; but recruiting for the Mexican army was now found to be, like all other experiments successively brought to bear upon the problem, virtually impossible. Under the circumstances it seemed folly for foreign officers to enlist in the newly organized imperial regiments.
The marshal took it upon himself to withdraw the permission given some time before to French officers to pass into the Mexican service. He has been blamed for this, and accused of having deliberately hindered the organizing of Mexican forces, thus hastening the ruin of the empire. But no one not on the spot toward the close of the year 1866 can well realize the atmosphere of general sauve qui peut that prevailed in Mexico and affected all classes of society. The tide had turned. To all who had anything to lose, the only course that seemed perfectly clear was to get out of the country, leaving behind as little of their belongings as possible. Indeed, M. de Hoorickx, who remained as charge d'affaires after the departure of the Belgian minister, M. de Blondel, told me that he also was doing all in his power to prevent his countrymen from embarking upon such stormy seas.
Sober-minded Austrians, on their side, used their influence over their more adventurous comrades to prevent their remaining under the altered conditions.
And now the only hope of the empire rested upon the power of Empress Charlotte to induce the courts of Austria, Belgium, Rome, and especially the court of France, to grant a reprieve to the tottering empire by lending it further support.
To defray the expenses of her journey, thirty thousand dollars were taken from an emergency fund held as sacred for the repairs of the dikes which defend Mexico against the ever-threatening floods from the lakes, the level of which is higher than that of the city.
It soon was whispered among us that upon her arrival in Paris the Empress had not spared the marshal, and that in her interview with Napoleon III she not only had denounced him, but had asked his recall.
On September 16, 1866, the anniversary of the national independence was celebrated with unusual state by the Emperor. The Te Deum was sung in the cathedral, and a formal reception was held at the palace, where, for the last time, a large crowd assembled. After this a meeting of the council of state was held to discuss the situation.
The Liberals and Moderates had failed to strengthen the empire. As a last resort, the Emperor turned once more to the reactionary party for help. The Liberal ministers withdrew, and a new cabinet, composed of the ultra-clerical party, was formed.
Thus, at the last hour, when, without funds and abandoned by his allies, all were falling away from him, Maximilian cast his lot with the men whom, when rich in money, armies, and allies, and the future promised success, he had discarded as impossible to carry. In accepting their help he was pledging himself to factional warfare, and was virtually going back upon every declared principle which had formed the basis of his acceptance of the crown.
But in fairness it may be said that the unfortunate prince was at this time scarcely responsible for his actions. The situation was desperate. He had neither the strength nor the coolness of judgment to face the issue. His vacillating nature had been still further weakened by intermittent fever, as well as by the events of this year, so fatal to his house. The climate of Mexico did not suit him. What with malarial fever and dysentery, as well as with distracting responsibilities and cares, he was a physical wreck. Not only had he month after month felt his hopes grow faint and his throne crumble under him; not only had he every cause to lose faith in his star as well as in his own judgment: but the cannon of Lissa must have vibrated with painful distinctness through the innermost fibers of the Austrian admiral's heart, and his personal interest in Austrian affairs must have caused him to dwell with poignant regret upon his renunciation of his birthright, and his absence from the larger stage upon which, but for his wild errand, he might then have been playing a leading role.*
* See M. de Keratry, "L'Empereur Maximilien," p. 220.
The new clerical cabinet, as usual, promised to pacify the country, and to find the funds indispensable for the purpose. This was the last card of the reactionary party. Of all those involved in the issue, the clerical leaders alone had everything to lose by the downfall of the empire. Their personal interest in its prolongation was clear. With them it was a matter, if not of life and death, at least of comparative dignity and prosperity at home, or of exile and beggary abroad.
To place his fate in such hands was the last mistake of the Emperor. Such interested advisers must endeavor to cut off his retreat, when to remain must cost him his life.
The mission of the Empress abroad had, if anything, aggravated the situation. It is said that, no doubt, under the influence of the cerebral disturbance that soon afterward manifested itself, her recriminations were so violent as to arouse a feeling of personal resentment which destroyed all sympathy in Napoleon's heart. Already weary of an undertaking which from beginning to end must reflect upon his statesmanship, and which was fast becoming a reproach to the French nation, he was even then negotiating with the United States for the removal of his troops, and for the restoration of the republic.
Regardless of the onerous agreement which Maximilian only four months before had been compelled to sign, the new minister of foreign affairs, the Marquis de Moustier, on the occasion of his first reception to the diplomatic corps, on October 11, told Mr. Bigelow that the Emperor would recall the army shortly.* The minister of war had already signed a contract with Pereire, the head of the Compagnie Transatlantique, for the home passage of the last instalment of the army during the month of March.
* See letter of Mr. Bigelow to Mr. Seward, October 12 ("Diplomatic Correspondence," 1866, Part I, p. 360).
Of these fateful negotiations we, in Mexico, were then ignorant. We were under the impression that strict compliance with the terms of the recent agreement was the worst that could befall the empire. That these terms would be strictly adhered to even seemed incredible to many. There were optimists among us who thought that Napoleon's action was intended to call forth docility on the part of Maximilian and of his Mexican cabinet, and to bring them to terms. Thus it was that, although the debacle was in reality hard upon us, it yet seemed sufficiently far off not materially to affect our daily life. We therefore lightly skipped over the thin ice of our present security, unmindful of what the immediate future had in store for us.
III. COMEDY AND TRAGEDY
In the spring of 1866 our small circle was pleasantly enlarged by the arrival of the Marquis de Massa. He was the younger son of the celebrated Regnier, Duc de Massa, the able lawyer whose work upon the Code Napoleon had led him to a dukedom under Napoleon the Great.
M. de Massa was endowed with more brilliancy than perseverance. He had not passed through St. Cyr to enter the army, and had devoted much of his youth to the systematic enjoyment of life. After some of his illusions and most of his money had gone, he did as many Frenchmen of good family had done before him—he enlisted in a crack cavalry regiment of the Imperial Guard, where, after a while, thanks to mighty protectors, he exchanged his worsted stripes for gold braid and the single epaulet. He had come to Mexico in search of an excuse for rapid promotion.
Similar cases were by no means infrequent then. Michel Ney, Duc d'Elchingen, the grandson of the great marshal, when I met him in Mexico, was sergeant or corporal in a regiment of chasseurs d'Afrique, recognizable from his fellow-troopers only by his spotless linen. Shortly after this he was promoted to a sublieutenancy. His promotion was then rapid, and he did good service in the north; for although he was no reader of books and was somewhat heavy of understanding, he was as brave as his famous ancestor.*
* An officer wrote me during the Franco-Prussian war that at Rezonville, in 1870, when brilliantly charging at the head of his men, Michel Ney, then a colonel of dragoons, received three sabre-cuts over his head and face, and after killing five Prussians rolled under his wounded horse. He eventually recovered.
Count Clary, a cousin of Napoleon III, when I met him, had only recently emerged from his worsted chrysalis;** and Albert Bazaine, the marshal's own nephew, was impatiently waiting to be raised from the depressing position of a piou-piou, that he might enjoy the full social benefits of his relationship to the commander-in-chief.
* He was promoted to the rank of captain before the return of the French army, and commanded a contre-guerilla known as the "Free Company of Mexican partizans" (see D'Hericault, loc. cit., p. 79), which did brave work in the state of Michoacan against the bands of General Regules and others, and later in the neighborhood of Mexico, without ever exciting the bitter hatred which the contreguerilla of Colonel Dupin, holding the state of Vera Cruz, drew upon itself. (See "Queretaro," by Haus, p. 56.)
The position of these gentlemen in a capital where the army was, so to speak, under arms, and where no civilian's dress, therefore, was allowed to a soldier, was ambiguous and gave rise to amusing anomalies. For instance, they, of course, could not be admitted to official balls or entertainments where uniforms were de rigueur, as only officers were invited. They paid calls, however, and thus mixed on neutral ground with their officers; and so these nondescript military larvae managed to enjoy life until the day came when they might become official butterflies.
As for the Marquis de Massa, the day had long gone by when, driving in his own trap to the gate of the Paris barracks after a night spent out on leave through the leniency of General Floury, he set to work to curry his own horse. His keen wit and happy repartee, his good-humored sarcasm, and, above all, the magnetism of a personality that scorned deceit and gave itself for no better or worse than it was, combined to make him a favorite among the devotees of pleasure whom Napoleon III and Empress Eugenie had gathered about them; and notwithstanding his empty pockets, his roofless chateau in Auvergne, and his sparsely braided sleeve, he was an habitue of the Austrian embassy and of the best salons in Paris, and made for himself a conspicuous place in the innermost circle of the court of Compiegne and the Tuileries. He had written a number of light plays for the amateur stage of Parisian society, and his dramatic efforts had been interpreted by players whose high-sounding names might be found on pages of history.
His first attempt was the "Cascades de Mouchy," on December 9, 1863. The representation was given at the Chateau de Mouchy, to which "all Paris" traveled for the purpose. In the words of the "Figaro": "It was a complete mobilization of Parisian society." The Duc de Mouchy, a man of the old nobility, had recently married Princess Anna Murat; and the actors as well as the audience represented the wit, talent, wealth, and power of the Second Empire.
In collaboration with Prince de Metternich, then Austrian ambassador at the court of the Tuileries, and an amateur musician of no mean order, he had written the libretto of a ballet called "Le Roi d'Yvetot." This was given on the professional stage, but met with little success, if exception is made of the "first night," when again "all Paris" turned out to see the prince lead the orchestra, and to applaud the brilliant young author after the curtain fell.
In 1865 he wrote a revue, which was performed with great eclat before the court at Compiegne. In this really clever piece the principal occurrences of the year were touched upon and reviewed. The literary event of 1865 in France had been the publication of Napoleon's work "Les Commentaires de Cesar," and this the young courtier took as a title for his play. Once again all the wit and beauty of the court of Eugenie united to make the occasion a brilliant tribute to the imperial historian. The Comte and Comtesse de Pourtales, the Marquis and Marquise de Gallifet, the Duc and Duchesse de Mouchy, the Princesse de Sagan, the Marquis de Caux (who afterward married Adelina Patti), the Princesse de Metternich,—indeed, the elite of cosmopolis,—appeared upon the stage, and in clever verse and epigrammatic song amusingly dealt with the gossip of the day.
M. de Massa's success was mainly due to the good-natured independence of his work. He told the truth to his audience, even though it might be composed of the great of the land. He chaffed the women upon their manners, and sometimes their morals, and the men upon their idleness and their evil ways. He showed up the speculative fever which, like an epidemic, had swept over the higher ranks of Parisian society under the Second Empire.* No weakness could be sure of escaping his satire. But in dealing with all this the scalpel of the cynic was concealed under the graceful touch of the man of the world. He did not assume the tone of a moralist or of a misanthrope. He was not even an observing spectator, but a good-natured enfant du siecle, a sinner among sinners, for whom life was one long comedy.
* For instance, one stanza sung by M. de St. Maurice:
"Tout les terrains, les canaux, les carrieres, Depuis le fer jusqu'au moindre metal, Les champs, les eaux, les forets, les bruyeres— Tout represente un certain capital. Vous le voyez la fievre est generale; Tout est matiere a speculations . . . Tout, en effet, excepte la morale Qu'on n'a pas mise en actions."
After the return of the Corps Expeditionnaire in 1867, when the great International Exposition was attracting to Paris the princes and celebrities of the world, "Les Commentaires de Cesar" was, at the Emperor's request, repeated at the Tuileries before the crowned heads there assembled as his guests.
Notwithstanding the seething forces underlying the brilliant surface and threatening the empire's very existence, the summer of 1867, as superficially seen in Paris, must be regarded as the very apex of Napoleon's career.
The exposition was the last and most gorgeous set piece of the many Napoleonic fireworks, the splendor of which flashed through history, and ended in the dark smoke of Sedan.
The performance at the Tuileries was one of the most select entertainments arranged at this time. The troupe of aristocratic comedians was greeted with enthusiastic applause, and the popular author received an ovation from his audience of monarchs and princes such as fate never bestowed upon Beaumarchais, Marivaux, or even Moliere!
All aglow with the excitement of his social achievements, the Marquis de Massa came to Mexico in 1866 and immediately took his place in the military household of the commander-in-chief.
As soon as he felt sufficiently posted as to the local conditions of Mexico, he went to work, and the result was a vaudeville entitled "Messieurs les Voyageurs pour Mexico, en Voiture!"
The marshal's household supplied the principal stars of the improvised dramatic company, the leader of the orchestra, a young Belgian officer, and the prima donna, an "American girl from Paris," as the Mexican papers had it, being brought in only as necessary adjuncts. Another important female part was taken by Albert Bazaine, who was turned into a superb soubrette.
The play was little more than a skit, and the plot—if the thin, sketchy incident that stood in its place may be called one—served only as an excuse for a continuous fusillade of local hits, often of a personal character. These not only kept the audience in a fever of merriment, but long afterward furnished Mexican official and social circles with topics for more or less friendly discussion. Some ill feeling and not a few unpleasant comments were, of course, the result of the little venture; and most of those concerned paid for their fun in some way or other.
The performance took place at San Cosme, at the house of the Vicomtesse de Noue. Maximilian, whose curiosity had been aroused, expressed a desire to have it repeated at the imperial palace; but having heard of certain unmerciful sallies made upon his financial decrees and other measures of his government, he did not attempt to disguise his displeasure. Of course the performance was not repeated.
No harm whatever was intended; but, looking back upon the incident, one can see that the hits, if innocently meant, coming as they did from the marshal's household, were certainly lacking in discretion. Indeed, when one considers the serious dissensions then existing between the quartier-general and the palace, it becomes clear that such jests must have had upon the court the effect of the banderillas which, in a bull-fight, by a refinement of cruelty, are stuck in the quivering flesh of the baited bull, doomed from the start, and teased to the bitter end.
Among the verses of an interminable topical song, one contained a reference to the newly organized regiment, the "Cazadores de Mejico," the recruiting of which was then taxing to the utmost Maximilian's energies:
Parmi les corps que l'on vient d'etablir Les Cazadors sont de tous les plus braves; Mais, c'est egal, au moment de choisir J'aimerais miens m'engager dans les Zouaves!
These lines afterward assumed a strangely prophetic importance. Six months later, during the siege of Queretaro, this same regiment of Cazadores, composed of Frenchmen, Germans, and Hungarians, with about one fourth of native Mexican soldiers, was placed, with four twelve-pounders, under the command of Prince Salm-Salm. They were, according to their colonel, a wild, brawling set, constantly fighting among themselves, but ready enough to do their duty under fire.
It would seem that, after a sortie during which they had specially distinguished themselves, the Emperor visited the lines, and paused to praise their bravery. Whether or not the sting contained in M. de Massa's words had impressed them upon his mind, it is, of course, impossible to tell; but in a stirring proclamation Maximilian called them the "Zouaves of Mexico," a compliment which was received by the men with deafening shouts of enthusiasm. This account, as I read it after the final catastrophe, awoke a memory; and I found myself unconsciously humming the bit of satire upon these brave fellows, most of whom were now lying cold and stiff under the sky of Queretaro:
"Mais, c'est egal, au moment de choisir J'aimerais mieux m'engager dans les Zouaves!"
Ah me, how closely the ridiculous here approached the sublime! How rapidly tragedy had followed upon comedy!
The first colonel of the Cazadores, Paolino Lamadrid, was in the audience that evening. He was a pleasant-looking man, noted for his great skill in the national sports, especially with the lazo. He was brave, kindly, obliging, and one of the few Mexican officers who were honestly friendly to the French. He entered into the spirit of the thing, understood the joke, and took no offense. He had lent for the occasion his Mexican dress, sombrero, chapareras, etc., for the character of a Mexicanized French colonist who, after a series of Mexican adventures, had returned to France and to his family laden with Mexican millions.
Colonel Paolino Lamadrid did not live to stand by his sovereign in the last heroic hour of the empire. He was killed early in January, in an unimportant engagement at Cuernavaca, one of Maximilian's favorite residences, situated some fifty miles from Mexico, and which had already fallen into the hands of the Juarists.
Colonel Lamadrid was ordered to recapture the town. He fell into an ambush, and after a brave struggle was shot down. His troops held their ground, and before retreating next day they recovered his body, which had been badly mutilated and was only identified by his fine and silky black beard, which formed one of his most striking features.* It is said that one of the early hallucinations of the unfortunate Empress, on her way to Rome, was that she saw Colonel Lamadrid lurking about, disguised as an organ-grinder.
* D'Hericault, pp. 82, 83.
But to return to this now historic entertainment. The general situation was summed up finally in a serio-comic manner in a song which, if it then brought down the house, afterward drew severe criticism upon the thoughtless heads of author and performers:
Oui, cette terre Hospitaliere Un jour sera, c'est moi qui vous le dis, Pour tout le monde L'arche feconde Des gens de coeur et des colons hardis. Que faut-il donc pour cesser nos alarmes? De bons soldats et de bons generaux, De bons prefets et surtout des gendarmes, Des financiers et des gardes ruraux.
Refrain: Allons courage, Vite a l'ouvrage; La France est la pour nous preter secours. Vieux incredules, Sots ridicules, De nos travaux n'entravez pas le cours.
This song, pledging France to back up Mexican enterprise in every venture, may serve to show how ignorant all were at this time of the sudden determination taken by the Tuileries to set aside the agreement of July 30, 1866, and to put an immediate end to the intervention.
It was written by a member of the marshal's military household, and the refrain was sung by a chorus of the marshal's officers, in the presence of the marshal himself, and of a large audience composed of French, Austrian, and Belgian officers, as well as of members of the imperial government, on September 26, 1866, i.e., just at the time when General Castelnau, who landed at Vera Cruz on October 10, was starting on his mission, the object of which was to force the abdication of Maximilian, and to bring about the winding up of the empire and the immediate return of the army.
At this very time, it will be remembered, a contract was being entered upon by the French government with the house of Pereire, which was to furnish immediate home transportation for the French army.*
* Bigelow, letter to Seward, October 12, 1866.
The song was not meant to be the cruel jest which it must have seemed to those about the Mexican Emperor who were better informed with regard to Napoleon's negotiations with the government of the United States. By those whose all was at stake it must have been taken for a wanton insult.
Indeed, society in Mexico was not just then in the right frame of mind to appreciate M. de Massa's witticisms. Even among his own friends they proved singularly infelicitous.
The displeasure of Madame la Marechale, whose youth and beauty were then superior to her sense of humor, was aroused by a verse the timeworn wit of which she seemed unable to appreciate, and in which she saw an insult to her people:
Le roi Henri, qui detestait l'impot, Des Mexicains aurait bien fait l'affaire, Au lieu de poule, un zopilote an pot: Voila l'moyen de devenir populaire!
The zoplote, although protected by law as a scavenger, is held as unclean by the Mexicans, who would almost starve rather than eat it; and the suggestion, taken seriously and indignantly resented by Mme. Bazaine, created quite a ripple of disturbance in the marshal's family.
The following incident also swelled the ranks of M. de Massa's French critics:
Before the performance gossip had been busy with it, and its source had partly been traced to Colonel Petit, a good enough friend, but who at the time happened to be chafing under the sting of a practical joke, recently played upon him by some of his comrades, in which M. de Massa had had a share.
During the recent campaign made by the marshal in the interior, with a view to the concentration of the army preparatory to its retreat, Colonel Petit, with his regiment, arrived at a small town, the authorities of which prepared to receive the French with due honor. Eager for fun, his comrades confidentially disclosed to the alcalde the fact that Colonel Petit was a great personage—indeed, no less than the son of the celebrated General Petit whom Napoleon, about to depart for Elba, and taking leave of his veterans, had singled out and embraced as the representative of the Grande Armee.
I do not remember whether the mischievous wags suggested to the alcalde, a pure Indian wearing sombrero, shirt, and white calzoneras, a repetition of the solemn scene of Fontainebleau, or whether the worthy Indian evolved the notion unaided; but the result was that poor Colonel Petit, much against his will, found himself forced into playing a parody of his father's part to the alcalde's Napoleon. In the presence of his men, amid the jeers and cheers of his amused comrades, he had to submit to the speech and public accolade of the worthy magistrate.
The perpetrators of this pleasantry did not soon allow him to forget it. It long remained a sore thing with him; and as he allowed his resentment to appear, an extra verse was on the day of the performance added, for his benefit, to the principal topical song:
A Mexico les cancans vont leur train, On vous condamne avant de vous entendre, C'est bien "petit" d'ereinter son prochain, Bon entendeur saura bien nous comprendre.