The headquarters now became the scene of much bustle, despatches announcing the victory being sent in all directions. The first one transmitted was to the Queen, the King directing Count Bismarck to prepare it for his signature; then followed others of a more official character, and while these matters were being attended to I thought I would ride into the village to find, if possible, some water for my horse. Just as I entered the chief street, however, I was suddenly halted by a squad of soldiers, who, taking me for a French officer (my coat and forage cap resembling those of the French), leveled their pieces at me. They were greatly excited, so much so, indeed, that I thought my hour had come, for they could not understand English, and I could not speak German, and dare not utter explanations in French. Fortunately a few disconnected German words came to me in the emergency. With these I managed to delay my execution, and one of the party ventured to come up to examine the "suspect" more closely. The first thing he did was to take off my cap, and looking it over carefully, his eyes rested on the three stars above the visor, and, pointing to them, he emphatically pronounced me French. Then of course they all became excited again, more so than before, even, for they thought I was trying to practice a ruse, and I question whether I should have lived to recount the adventure had not an officer belonging to the King's headquarters been passing by just then, when, hearing the threatenings and imprecations, he rode up to learn the cause of the hubbub, and immediately recognized and released me. When he told my wrathy captors who I was, they were much mortified of course, and made the most profuse apologies, promising that no such mistake should occur again, and so on; but not feeling wholly reassured, for my uniform was still liable to mislead, I was careful to return to headquarters in company with my deliverer. There I related what had occurred, and after a good laugh all round, the King provided me with a pass which he said would preclude any such mishap in the future, and would also permit me to go wherever I pleased—a favor rarely bestowed.
SEARCHING FOR QUARTERS—HUNTING UP PROVISIONS—A SLENDER BREAKFAST —GOING OVER THE BATTLEFIELD—THE GERMAN ARTILLERY—A GROUP OF WOUNDED —DINING WITH THE KING—ON THE MARCH—THE BAVARIANS—KIRSCHWASSER —URGING ON THE TROOPS.
While I was absent, as related in the preceding chapter, it had been decided that the King's quarters should be established for the night in the village of Rezonville; and as it would be very difficult, at such a late hour, to billet the whole party regularly, Count Bismarck and I went off to look for shelter for ourselves. Remembering that I had seen, when seeking to water my horse, a partly burned barn with some fresh-looking hay in it, I suggested that we lodge there. He too thought it would answer our purpose, but on reaching it we found the unburned part of the barn filled with wounded, and this necessitating a further search we continued on through the village in quest of some house not yet converted into a hospital. Such, however, seemed impossible to come upon, so at last the Count fixed on one whose upper floor, we learned, was unoccupied, though the lower one was covered with wounded.
Mounting a creaky ladder—there was no stairway—to the upper story, we found a good-sized room with three large beds, one of which the Chancellor assigned to the Duke of Mecklenburg and aide, and another to Count Bismarck-Bohlen and me, reserving the remaining one for himself. Each bed, as is common in Germany and northern France, was provided with a feather tick, but the night being warm, these spreads were thrown off, and discovering that they would make a comfortable shakedown on the floor, I slept there leaving Bismarck-Bohlen unembarrassed by companionship—at least of a human kind.
At daylight I awoke, and seeing that Count Bismarck was already dressed and about to go down the ladder, I felt obliged to follow his example, so I too turned out, and shortly descended to the ground-floor, the only delays of the toilet being those incident to dressing, for there were no conveniences for morning ablutions. Just outside the door I met the Count, who, proudly exhibiting a couple of eggs he had bought from the woman of the house, invited me to breakfast with him, provided we could beg some coffee from the king's escort. Putting the eggs under my charge, with many injunctions as to their safe-keeping, he went off to forage for the coffee, and presently returned, having been moderately successful. One egg apiece was hardly enough, however, to appease the craving of two strong men ravenous from long fasting. Indeed, it seemed only to whet the appetite, and we both set out on an eager expedition for more food. Before going far I had the good luck to meet a sutler's wagon, and though its stock was about all sold, there were still left four large bologna sausages, which I promptly purchased—paying a round sum for them too—and hastening back found the Count already returned, though without bringing anything at all to eat; but he had secured a couple of bottles of brandy, and with a little of this—it was excellent, too—and the sausages, the slim ration of eggs and coffee was amply reinforced.
Breakfast over, the Chancellor invited me to accompany him in a ride to the battle-field, and I gladly accepted, as I very much desired to pass over the ground in front of Gravelotte, particularly so to see whether the Krupp guns had really done the execution that was claimed for them by the German artillery officers. Going directly through the village of Gravelotte, following the causeway over which the German cavalry had passed to make its courageous but futile charge, we soon reached the ground where the fighting had been the most severe. Here the field was literally covered with evidences of the terrible strife, the dead and wounded strewn thick on every side.
In the sunken road the carnage had been awful; men and horses having been slaughtered there by hundreds, helpless before the murderous fire delivered from behind a high stone wall impracticable to mounted troops. The sight was sickening to an extreme, and we were not slow to direct our course elsewhere, going up the glacis toward the French line, the open ground over which we crossed being covered with thousands of helmets, that had been thrown off by the Germans during the fight and were still dotting the field, though details of soldiers from the organizations which had been engaged here were about to begin to gather up their abandoned headgear.
When we got inside the French works, I was astonished to observe how little harm had been done the defenses by the German artillery, for although I had not that serene faith in the effectiveness of their guns held by German artillerists generally, yet I thought their terrific cannonade must have left marked results. All I could perceive, however, was a disabled gun, a broken mitrailleuse, and two badly damaged caissons.
Everything else, except a little ammunition in the trenches, had been carried away, and it was plain to see, from the good shape in which the French left wing had retired to Metz, that its retreat had been predetermined by the disasters to the right wing.
By this hour the German cavalry having been thrown out to the front well over toward Metz, we, following it to get a look at the city, rode to a neighboring summit, supposing it would be a safe point of observation; but we shortly realized the contrary, for scarcely had we reached the crest when some of the French pickets, lying concealed about six hundred yards off, opened fire, making it so very hot for us that, hugging the necks of our horses, we incontinently fled. Observing what had taken place, a troop of German cavalry charged the French outpost and drove it far enough away to make safe our return, and we resumed possession of the point, but only to discover that the country to the east was so broken and hilly that no satisfactory view of Metz could be had.
Returning to Gravelotte, we next visited that part of the battlefield to the northeast of the village, and before long Count Bismarck discovered in a remote place about twenty men dreadfully wounded. These poor fellows had had no attention whatever, having been overlooked by the hospital corps, and their condition was most pitiful. Yet there was one very handsome man in the group—a captain of artillery—who, though shot through the right breast, was talkative and cheerful, and felt sure of getting well. Pointing, however, to a comrade lying near, also shot in the breast, he significantly shook his head; it was easy to see on this man's face the signs—of fast approaching death.
An orderly was at once despatched for a surgeon, Bismarck and I doing what we could meanwhile to alleviate the intense sufferings of the maimed men, bringing them water and administering a little brandy, for the Count still had with him some of the morning's supply. When the surgeons came, we transferred the wounded to their care, and making our way to Rezonville, there took the Count's carriage to rejoin the King's headquarters, which in the mean time had been moved to Pont-a-Mousson. Our route led through the village of Gorze, and here we found the streets so obstructed with wagons that I feared it would take us the rest of the day to get through, for the teamsters would not pay the slightest heed to the cries of our postilions. The Count was equal to the emergency, however, for, taking a pistol from behind his cushion, and bidding me keep my seat, he jumped out and quickly began to clear the street effectively, ordering wagons to the right and left. Marching in front of the carriage and making way for us till we were well through the blockade, he then resumed his seat, remarking, "This is not a very dignified business for the Chancellor of the German Confederation, but it's the only way to get through."
At Pont-a-Mousson I was rejoined by my aide, General Forsyth, and for the next two days our attention was almost wholly devoted to securing means of transportation. This was most difficult to obtain, but as I did not wish to impose on the kindness of the Chancellor longer, we persevered till, finally, with the help of Count Bismarck-Bohlen, we managed to get tolerably well equipped with a saddle-horse apiece, and a two-horse carriage. Here also, on the afternoon of August 21, I had the pleasure of dining with the King. The dinner was a simple one, consisting of soup, a joint, and two or three vegetables; the wines vin ordinaire and Burgundy. There were a good many persons of high rank present, none of whom spoke English, however, except Bismarck, who sat next the King and acted as interpreter when his Majesty conversed with me. Little was said of the events taking place around us, but the King made many inquiries concerning the war of the rebellion, particularly with reference to Grant's campaign at Vicksburg; suggested, perhaps, by the fact that there, and in the recent movements of the German army, had been applied many similar principles of military science.
The French army under Marshal Bazaine having retired into the fortifications of Metz, that stronghold was speedily invested by Prince Frederick Charles. Meantime the Third Army, under the Crown Prince of Prussia—which, after having fought and won the battle of Worth, had been observing the army of Marshal MacMahon during and after the battle of Gravelotte—was moving toward Paris by way of Nancy, in conjunction with an army called the Fourth, which had been organized from the troops previously engaged around Metz, and on the 22d was directed toward Bar-le-Duc under the command of the Crown Prince of Saxony. In consequence of these operations the King decided to move to Commercy, which place we reached by carriage, traveling on a broad macadamized road lined on both sides with poplar-trees, and our course leading through a most beautiful country thickly dotted with prosperous-looking villages.
On reaching Commercy, Forsyth and I found that quarters had been already selected for us, and our names written on the door with chalk the quartermaster charged with the billeting of the officers at headquarters having started out in advance to perform this duty and make all needful preparations for the King before he arrived, which course was usually pursued thereafter, whenever the royal headquarters took up a new location.
Forsyth and I were lodged with the notary of the village, who over and over again referred to his good fortune in not having to entertain any of the Germans. He treated us most hospitably, and next morning, on departing, we offered compensation by tendering a sum—about what our bill would have been at a good hotel—to be used for the "benefit of the wounded or the Church." Under this stipulation the notary accepted, and we followed that plan of paying for food and lodging afterward, whenever quartered in private houses.
The next day I set out in advance of the headquarters, and reached Bar-le-Duc about noon, passing on the way the Bavarian contingent of the Crown Prince's army. These Bavarians were trim-looking soldiers, dressed in neat uniforms of light blue; they looked healthy and strong, but seemed of shorter stature than the North Germans I had seen in the armies of Prince Frederick Charles and General von Steinmetz. When, later in the day the King arrived, a guard for him was detailed from this Bavarian contingent; a stroke of policy no doubt, for the South Germans were so prejudiced against their brothers of the North that no opportunity to smooth them down was permitted to go unimproved.
Bar-le-Duc, which had then a population of about 15,000, is one of the prettiest towns I saw in France, its quaint and ancient buildings and beautiful boulevards charming the eye as well as exciting deep interest. The King and his immediate suite were quartered on one of the best boulevards in a large building—the Bank of France—the balcony of which offered a fine opportunity to observe a part of the army of the Crown Prince the next day on its march toward Vitry. This was the first time his Majesty had had a chance to see any of these troops—as hitherto he had accompanied either the army of Prince Frederick Charles, or that of General Steinmetz—and the cheers with which he was greeted by the Bavarians left no room for doubting their loyalty to the Confederation, notwithstanding ancient jealousies.
While the troops were passing, Count Bismarck had the kindness to point out to me the different organizations, giving scraps of their history, and also speaking concerning the qualifications of the different generals commanding them. When the review was over we went to the Count's house, and there, for the first time in my life, I tasted kirschwasser, a very strong liquor distilled from cherries. Not knowing anything about the stuff, I had to depend on Bismarck's recommendation, and he proclaiming it fine, I took quite a generous drink, which nearly strangled me and brought on a violent fit of coughing. The Chancellor said, however, that this was in no way due to the liquor, but to my own inexperience, and I was bound to believe the distinguished statesman, for he proved his words by swallowing a goodly dose with an undisturbed and even beaming countenance, demonstrating his assertion so forcibly that I forthwith set out with Bismarck-Bohlen to lay in a supply for myself.
I spent the night in a handsome house, the property of an exceptionally kind and polite gentleman bearing the indisputably German name of Lager, but who was nevertheless French from head to foot, if intense hatred of the Prussians be a sign of Gallic nationality. At daybreak on the 26th word came for us to be ready to move by the Chalons road at 7 o'clock, but before we got off, the order was suspended till 2 in the afternoon. In the interval General von Moltke arrived and held a long conference with the King, and when we did pull out we traveled the remainder of the afternoon in company with a part of the Crown Prince's army, which after this conference inaugurated the series of movements from Bar-le-Duc northward, that finally compelled the surrender at Sedan. This sudden change of direction I did not at first understand, but soon learned that it was because of the movements of Marshal MacMahon, who, having united the French army beaten at Worth with three fresh corps at Chalons, was marching to relieve Metz in obedience to orders from the Minister of War at Paris.
As we passed along the column, we noticed that the Crown Prince's troops were doing their best, the officers urging the men to their utmost exertions, persuading weary laggards and driving up stragglers. As a general thing, however, they marched in good shape, notwithstanding the rapid gait and the trying heat, for at the outset of the campaign the Prince had divested them of all impedimenta except essentials, and they were therefore in excellent trim for a forced march.
The King traveled further than usual that day—to Clermont—so we did not get shelter till late, and even then not without some confusion, for the quartermaster having set out toward Chalons before the change of programme was ordered, was not at hand to provide for us. I had extreme good luck, though, in being quartered with a certain apothecary, who, having lived for a time in the United States, claimed it as a privilege even to lodge me, and certainly made me his debtor for the most generous hospitality. It was not so with some of the others, however; and Count Bismarck was particularly unfortunate, being billeted in a very small and uncomfortable house, where, visiting him to learn more fully what was going on, I found him, wrapped in a shabby old dressing-gown, hard at work. He was established in a very small room, whose only furnishings consisted of a table—at which he was writing—a couple of rough chairs, and the universal feather-bed, this time made on the floor in one corner of the room. On my remarking upon the limited character of his quarters, the Count replied, with great good-humor, that they were all right, and that he should get along well enough. Even the tramp of his clerks in the attic, and the clanking of his orderlies' sabres below, did not disturb him much; he said, in fact, that he would have no grievance at all were it not for a guard of Bavarian soldiers stationed about the house for his safety, he presumed the sentinels from which insisted on protecting and saluting the Chancellor of the North German Confederation in and out of season, a proceeding that led to embarrassment sometimes, as he was much troubled with a severe dysentery. Notwithstanding his trials, however, and in the midst of the correspondence on which he was so intently engaged, he graciously took time to explain that the sudden movement northward from Bar-le-Duc was, as I have previously recounted, the result of information that Marshal MacMahon was endeavoring to relieve Metz by marching along the Belgian frontier; "a blundering manoeuvre," remarked the Chancellor, "which cannot be accounted for, unless it has been brought about by the political situation of the French."
AFTER MacMAHON—THE BATTLE AT BEAUMONT—THE FRENCH SURPRISED—THE MARCHING OF THE GERMAN SOLDIERS—THE BATTLE OF SEDAN—GALLANT CAVALRY CHARGES—DEFEAT OF THE FRENCH—THE SURRENDER OF NAPOLEON—BISMARCK AND THE KING—DECORATING THE SOLDIERS.
All night long the forced march of the army went on through Clermont, and when I turned out, just after daylight, the columns were still pressing forward, the men looking tired and much bedraggled, as indeed they had reason to be, for from recent rains the roads were very sloppy. Notwithstanding this, however, the troops were pushed ahead with all possible vigor to intercept MacMahon and force a battle before he could withdraw from his faulty movement, for which it has since been ascertained he was not at all responsible. Indeed, those at the royal headquarters seemed to think of nothing else than to strike MacMahon, for, feeling pretty confident that Metz could not be relieved, they manifested not the slightest anxiety on that score.
By 8 o'clock, the skies having cleared, the headquarters set out for Grand Pre', which place we reached early in the afternoon, and that evening I again had the pleasure of dining with the King. The conversation at table was almost wholly devoted to the situation, of course, everybody expressing surprise at the manoeuvre of the French at this time, their march along the Belgian frontier being credited entirely to Napoleon. Up to bed-time there was still much uncertainty as to the exact positions of the French, but next morning intelligence being received which denoted the probability of a battle, we drove about ten miles, to Buzancy, and there mounting our horses, rode to the front.
The French were posted not far from Buzancy in a strong position, their right resting near Stonne and the left extending over into the woods beyond Beaumont. About 10 o'clock the Crown Prince of Saxony advanced against this line, and while a part of his army turned the French right, compelling it to fall back rapidly, the German centre and right attacked with great vigor and much skill, surprising one of the divisions of General De Failly's corps while the men were in the act of cooking their breakfast.
The French fled precipitately, leaving behind their tents and other camp equipage, and on inspecting the ground which they had abandoned so hastily, I noticed on all sides ample evidence that not even the most ordinary precautions had been taken to secure the division from surprise, The artillery horses had not been harnessed, and many of them had been shot down at the picket-rope where they had been haltered the night before, while numbers of men were lying dead with loaves of bread or other food instead of their muskets in their hands.
Some three thousand prisoners and nearly all the artillery and mitrailleuses of the division—were captured, while the fugitives were pursued till they found shelter behind—Douay's corps and the rest of De Failly's beyond Beaumont. The same afternoon there were several other severe combats along the Meuse, but I had no chance of witnessing any of them, and just before night-fall I started back to Buzancy, to which place the King's headquarters had been brought during the day.
The morning of the 31st the King moved to Vendresse. First sending our carriage back to Grand Pre' for our trunks, Forsyth and I mounted our horses and rode to the battle-field accompanied by an English nobleman, the Duke of Manchester. The part of the field we traversed was still thickly strewn with the dead of both armies, though all the wounded had been collected in the hospitals. In the village of Beaumont, we stopped to take a look at several thousand French prisoners, whose worn clothing and evident dejection told that they had been doing a deal of severe marching under great discouragements.
The King reached the village shortly after, and we all continued on to Chemery, just beyond where his Majesty alighted from his carriage to observe his son's troops file past as they came in from the direction of Stonne. This delay caused us to be as late as 9 o'clock before we got shelter that night, but as it afforded me the best opportunity I had yet had for seeing the German soldiers on the march, I did not begrudge the time. They moved in a somewhat open and irregular column of fours, the intervals between files being especially intended to give room for a peculiar swinging gait, with which the men seemed to urge themselves over the ground with ease and rapidity. There was little or no straggling, and being strong, lusty young fellows, and lightly equipped—they carried only needle-guns, ammunition, a very small knapsack, a water-bottle, and a haversack —they strode by with an elastic step, covering at least three miles an hour.
It having been definitely ascertained that the demoralized French were retiring to Sedan, on the evening of August 31 the German army began the work of hemming them in there, so disposing the different corps as to cover the ground from Donchery around by Raucourt to Carignan. The next morning this line was to be drawn in closer on Sedan; and the Crown Prince of Saxony was therefore ordered to take up a position to the north of Bazeilles, beyond the right bank of the Meuse, while the Crown Prince of Prussia was to cross his right wing over the Meuse at Remilly, to move on Bazeilles, his centre meantime marching against a number of little hamlets still held by the French between there and Donchery. At this last-mentioned place strong reserves were to be held, and from it the Eleventh Corps, followed by the Fifth and a division of cavalry, was to march on St. Menges.
Forsyth and I started early next morning, September 1, and in a thick fog-which, however, subsequently gave place to bright sunshine—we drove to the village of Chevenges, where, mounting our horses, we rode in a northeasterly direction to the heights of Frenois and Wadelincourt, bordering the river Meuse on the left bank, where from the crest we had a good view of the town of Sedan with its circling fortifications, which, though extensive, were not so formidable as those around Metz. The King and his staff were already established on these heights, and at a point so well chosen that his Majesty could observe the movements of both armies immediately east and south of Sedan, and also to the northwest toward Floing and the Belgian frontier.
The battle was begun to the east and northeast of Sedan as early as half-past 4 o'clock by the German right wing—the fighting being desultory—and near the same hour the Bavarians attacked Bazeilles. This village, some two miles southeast of Sedan, being of importance, was defended with great obstinacy, the French contesting from street to street and house to house the attack of the Bavarians till near 10 o'clock, when, almost every building being knocked to pieces, they were compelled to relinquish the place. The possession of this village gave the Germans to the east of Sedan a continuous line, extending from the Meuse northward through La Moncelle and Daigny to Givonne, and almost to the Belgian frontier.
While the German centre and right were thus engaged, the left had moved in accordance with the prescribed plan. Indeed, some of these troops had crossed the Meuse the night before, and now, at a little after 6 o'clock, their advance could be seen just north of the village of Floing. Thus far these columns, under the immediate eye of the Crown Prince of Prussia, had met with no opposition to their march, and as soon as they got to the high ground above the village they began extending to the east, to connect with the Army of the Meuse. This juncture was effected at Illy without difficulty, and the French army was now completely encompassed.
After a severe fight, the Crown Prince drove the French through Floing, and as the ground between this village and Sedan is an undulating open plain, everywhere visible, there was then offered a rare opportunity for seeing the final conflict preceding the surrender. Presently up out of the little valley where Floing is located came the Germans, deploying just on the rim of the plateau a very heavy skirmish-line, supported by a line of battle at close distance. When these skirmishers appeared, the French infantry had withdrawn within its intrenched lines, but a strong body of their cavalry, already formed in a depression to the right of the Floing road, now rode at the Germans in gallant style, going clear through the dispersed skirmishers to the main line of battle. Here the slaughter of the French was awful, for in addition to the deadly volleys from the solid battalions of their enemies, the skirmishers, who had rallied in knots at advantageous places, were now delivering a severe and effective fire. The gallant horsemen, therefore, had to retire precipitately, but re-forming in the depression, they again undertook the hopeless task of breaking the German infantry, making in all four successive charges. Their ardor and pluck were of no avail, however, for the Germans, growing stronger every minute by the accession of troops from Floing, met the fourth attack in such large force that, even before coming in contact with their adversaries, the French broke and retreated to the protection of the intrenchments, where, from the beginning of the combat, had been lying plenty of idle infantry, some of which at least, it seemed plain to me, ought to have been thrown into the fight. This action was the last one of consequence around Sedan, for, though with the contraction of the German lines their batteries kept cannonading more or less, and the rattle of musketry continued to be heard here and there, yet the hard fighting of the day practically ended on the plateau of Floing.
By 3 o'clock, the French being in a desperate and hopeless situation, the King ordered the firing to be stopped, and at once despatched one of his staff—Colonel von Bronsart—with a demand for a surrender. Just as this officer was starting off, I remarked to Bismarck that Napoleon himself would likely be one of the prizes, but the Count, incredulous, replied, "Oh no; the old fox is too cunning to be caught in such a trap; he has doubtless slipped off to Paris"—a belief which I found to prevail pretty generally about headquarters.
In the lull that succeeded, the King invited many of those about him to luncheon, a caterer having provided from some source or other a substantial meal of good bread, chops and peas, with a bountiful supply of red and sherry wines. Among those present were Prince Carl, Bismarck, Von Moltke, Von Roon, the Duke of Weimar, the Duke of Coburg, the Grand-Duke of Mecklenburg, Count Hatzfeldt, Colonel Walker, of the English army, General Forsyth, and I. The King was agreeable and gracious at all times, but on this occasion he was particularly so, being naturally in a happy frame of mind because this day the war had reached a crisis which presaged for the near future the complete vanquishment of the French.
Between 4 and 5 o'clock Colonel von Bronsart returned from his mission to Sedan, bringing word to the King that the commanding officer there General Wimpffen, wished to know, in order that the further effusion of blood might be spared, upon what terms he might surrender. The Colonel brought the intelligence also that the French Emperor was in the town. Soon after Von Bronsart's arrival a French officer approached from Sedan, preceded by a white flag and two German officers. Coming up the road till within a few hundred yards of us, they halted; then one of the Germans rode forward to say that the French officer was Napoleon's adjutant, bearing an autograph letter from the Emperor to the King of Prussia. At this the King, followed by Bismarck, Von Moltke, and Von Roon, walked out to the front a little distance and halted, his Majesty still in advance, the rest of us meanwhile forming in a line some twenty paces to the rear of the group. The envoy then approached, at first on horseback, but when within about a hundred yards he dismounted, and uncovering, came the remaining distance on foot, bearing high up in his right hand the despatch from Napoleon. The bearer proved to be General Reille, and as he handed the Emperor's letter to the King, his Majesty saluted him with the utmost formality and precision. Napoleon's letter was the since famous one, running so characteristically, thus: "Not having been able to die in the midst of my troops, there is nothing left me but to place my sword in your Majesty's hands." The reading finished, the King returned to his former post, and after a conference with Bismarck, Von Moltke, and Von Roon, dictated an answer accepting Napoleon's surrender, and requesting him to designate an officer with power to treat for the capitulation of the army, himself naming Von Moltke to represent the Germans. The King then started for Vendresse, to pass the night. It was after 7 o'clock now, and hence too late to arrange anything more where we were, so further negotiations were deferred till later in the evening; and I, wishing to be conveniently near Bismarck, resolved to take up quarters in Donchery. On our way thither we were met by the Count's nephew, who assuring us that it would be impossible to find shelter there in the village, as all the houses were filled with wounded, Forsyth and I decided to continue on to Chevenge. On the other hand, Bismarck-Bohlen bore with him one great comfort—some excellent brandy. Offering the flask to his uncle, he said: "You've had a hard day of it; won't you refresh yourself?" The Chancellor, without wasting time to answer, raised the bottle to his lips, exclaiming: "Here's to the unification of Germany!" which sentiment the gurgling of an astonishingly long drink seemed to emphasize. The Count then handed the bottle back to his nephew, who, shaking it, ejaculated, "Why, we can't pledge you in return—there is nothing left!" to which came the waggish response, "I beg pardon; it was so dark I couldn't see"; nevertheless there was a little remaining, as I myself can aver.
Having left our carriage at Chevenge, Forsyth and I stopped there to get it, but a long search proving fruitless, we took lodging in the village at the house of the cure, resolved to continue the hunt in the morning. But then we had no better success, so concluding that our vehicle had been pressed into the hospital service, we at an early hour on the 2d of September resumed the search, continuing on down the road in the direction of Sedan. Near the gate of the city we came on the German picket-line, and one of the Officers, recognizing our uniforms—he having served in the war of the rebellion—stepped forward and addressed me in good English. We naturally fell into conversation, and in the midst of it there came out through the gate an open carriage, or landau, containing two men, one of whom, in the uniform of a general and smoking a cigarette, we recognized, when the conveyance drew near, as the Emperor Louis Napoleon. The landau went on toward Donchery at a leisurely pace, and we, inferring that there was something more important at hand just then than the recovery of our trap, followed at a respectful distance. Not quite a mile from Donchery is a cluster of three or four cottages, and at the first of these the landau stopped to await, as we afterward ascertained, Count Bismarck, with whom the diplomatic negotiations were to be settled. Some minutes elapsed before he came, Napoleon remaining seated in his carriage meantime, still smoking, and accepting with nonchalance the staring of a group of German soldiers near by, who were gazing on their fallen foe with curious and eager interest.
Presently a clattering of hoofs was heard, and looking toward the sound, I perceived the Chancellor cantering down the road. When abreast of the carriage he dismounted, and walking up to it, saluted the Emperor in a quick, brusque way that seemed to startle him. After a word or two, the party moved perhaps a hundred yards further on, where they stopped opposite the weaver's cottage so famous from that day. This little house is on the east side of the Donchery road, near its junction with that to Frenois, and stands about twenty paces back from the highway. In front is a stone wall covered with creeping vines, and from a gate in this wall runs to the front door a path, at this time bordered on both sides with potato vines.
The Emperor having alighted at the gate, he and Bismarck walked together along the narrow path and entered the cottage. Reappearing in about a quarter of an hour, they came out and seated themselves in the open air, the weaver having brought a couple of chairs. Here they engaged in an animated conversation, if much gesticulation is any indication. The talk lasted fully an hour, Bismarck seeming to do most of it, but at last he arose, saluted the Emperor, and strode down the path toward his horse. Seeing me standing near the gate, he joined me for a moment, and asked if I had noticed how the Emperor started when they first met, and I telling him that I had, he added, "Well, it must have been due to my manners, not my words, for these we're, 'I salute your Majesty just as I would my King.'" Then the Chancellor continued to chat a few minutes longer, assuring me that nothing further was to be done there, and that we had better go to the Chateau Bellevue, where, he said, the formal surrender was to take place. With this he rode off toward Vendresse to communicate with his sovereign, and Forsyth and I made ready to go to the Chateau Bellevue.
Before we set out, however, a number of officers of the King's suite arrived at the weaver's cottage, and from them I gathered that there were differences at the royal headquarters as to whether peace should be made then at Sedan, or the war continued till the French capital was taken. I further heard that the military advisers of the King strongly advocated an immediate move on Paris, while the Chancellor thought it best to make peace now, holding Alsace and Lorraine, and compelling the payment of an enormous levy of money; and these rumors were most likely correct, for I had often heard Bismarck say that France being the richest country in Europe, nothing could keep her quiet but effectually to empty her pockets; and besides this, he impressed me as holding that it would be better policy to preserve the Empire.
On our way to the chateau we fell in with a number of artillery officers bringing up their guns hurriedly to post them closer in to the beleaguered town on a specially advantageous ridge. Inquiring the cause of this move, we learned that General Wimpffen had not yet agreed to the terms of surrender; that it was thought he would not, and that they wanted to be prepared for any such contingency. And they were preparing with a vengeance too, for I counted seventy-two Krupp guns in one continuous line trained on the Chateau Bellevue and Sedan.
Napoleon went directly from the weaver's to the Chateau Bellevue, and about 10 o'clock the King of Prussia arrived from Frenois, accompanied by a few of his own suite and the Crown Prince with several members of his staff; and Von Moltke and Wimpffen having settled their points of difference before the two monarchs met, within the next half-hour the articles of capitulation were formally signed.
On the completion of the surrender—the occasion being justly considered a great one—the Crown Prince proceeded to distribute among the officers congregated in the chateau grounds 'the order of the Iron Cross'—a generous supply of these decorations being carried in a basket by one of his orderlies, following him about as he walked along. Meantime the King, leaving Napoleon in the chateau to ruminate on the fickleness of fortune, drove off to see his own victorious soldiers, who greeted him with huzzas that rent the air, and must have added to the pangs of the captive Emperor.
RIDING OVER THE BATTLEFIELD—DESTRUCTION OF BAZEILLES—MISTAKES OF THE FRENCH—MARSHAL BAZAINE ON TO PARIS—A WEEK IN MEAUX—RHEIMS—ON THE PICKETLINE-UNDER FIRE—A SURRENDER—AT VERSAILLES—GENERAL BURNSIDE AND Mr. FORBES IN PARIS.
The Crown Prince having got to the bottom of his medal basket-that is to say, having finished his liberal distribution of decorations to his officers—Forsyth and I rode off by way of Wadelincourt to Bazeilles to see what had taken place on that part of the field, and the sight that met our eyes as we entered the village was truly dreadful to look upon. Most of the houses had been knocked down or burned the day before, but such as had been left standing were now in flames, the torch having been applied because, as it was claimed, Frenchmen concealed in them had fired on the wounded. The streets were still encumbered with both German and French dead, and it was evident that of those killed in the houses the bodies had not been removed, for the air was loaded with odors of burning flesh. From Bazeille we rode on toward the north about two miles, along where the fight had been largely an artillery duel, to learn what we could of the effectiveness of the Krupp gun. Counting all the French dead we came across killed by artillery, they figured up about three hundred —a ridiculously small number; in fact, not much more than one dead man for each Krupp gun on that part of the line. Although the number of dead was in utter disproportion to the terrific six-hour cannonade, yet small as it was the torn and mangled bodies made such a horrible sight that we turned back toward Bazeilles without having gone further than Givonne.
At Bazeilles we met the King, accompanied by Bismarck and several of the staff. They too had been riding over the field, the King making this a practice, to see that the wounded were not neglected. As I drew up by the party, Bismarck accosted me with, "Well, General, aren't you hungry? This is just the place to whet one's appetite —these burning Frenchmen—Ugh!" and shrugging his shoulders in evident disgust, he turned away to join his Majesty in further explorations, Forsyth and I continuing on to Chevenges. Here we got the first inkling of what had become of our carriage since leaving it two days before: it had been pressed into service to carry wounded officers from the field during the battle, but afterward released, and was now safe at the house in Vendresse where we had been quartered the night of the 31st, so, on hearing this, we settled to go there again to lodge, but our good friend, the cure', insisting that we should stay with him, we remained in Chevenges till next morning.
On September 3 the King removed from Vendresse to Rethel, where he remained two days; in the mean while the Germans, 240,000 strong, beginning their direct march to Paris. The French had little with which to oppose this enormous force, not more, perhaps, than 50,000 regular troops; the rest of their splendid army had been lost or captured in battle, or was cooped up in the fortifications of Metz, Strasburg, and other places, in consequence of blunders without parallel in history, for which Napoleon and the Regency in Paris must be held accountable. The first of these gross faults was the fight at Worth, where MacMahon, before his army was mobilized, accepted battle with the Crown Prince, pitting 50,000 men against 175,000; the next was Bazaine's fixing upon Metz as his base, and stupidly putting himself in position to be driven back to it, when there was no possible obstacle to his joining forces with MacMahon at Chalons; while the third and greatest blunder of all was MacMahon's move to relieve Metz, trying to slip 140,000 men along the Belgian frontier. Indeed, it is exasperating and sickening to think of all this; to think that Bazaine carried into Metz—a place that should have been held, if at all, with not over 25,000 men—an army of 180,000, because it contained, the excuse was, "an accumulation of stores." With all the resources of rich France to draw upon, I cannot conceive that this excuse was sincere; on the contrary, I think that the movement of Bazaine must have been inspired by Napoleon with a view to the maintenance of his dynasty rather than for the good of France.
As previously stated, Bismarck did not approve of the German army's moving on Paris after the battle of Sedan. Indeed, I think he foresaw and dreaded the establishment of a Republic, his idea being that if peace was made then, the Empire could be continued in the person of the Prince Imperial who—, coming to the throne under German influences, would be pliable in his hands. These views found frequent expression in private, and in public too; I myself particularly remember the Chancellor's speaking thus most unguardedly at a dinner in Rheims. But he could not prevent the march to Paris; it was impossible to stop the Germans, flushed with success. "On to Paris" was written by the soldiers on every door, and every fence-board along the route to the capital, and the thought of a triumphant march down the Champs Elysees was uppermost with every German, from the highest to the lowest grade.
The 5th of September we set out for Rheims. There it was said the Germans would meet with strong resistance, for the French intended to die to the last man before giving up that city. But this proved all fudge, as is usual with these "last ditch" promises, the garrison decamping immediately at the approach of a few Uhlans. So far as I could learn, but a single casualty happened; this occurred to an Uhlan, wounded by a shot which it was reported was fired from a house after the town was taken; so, to punish this breach of faith, a levy of several hundred bottles of champagne was made, and the wine divided about headquarters, being the only seizure made in the city, I believe, for though Rheims, the centre of the champagne district, had its cellars well stocked, yet most of them being owned by German firms, they received every protection.
The land about Rheims is of a white, chalky character, and very poor, but having been terraced and enriched with fertilizers, it produces the champagne grape in such abundance that the region, once considered valueless, and named by the peasantry the "land of the louse," now supports a dense population. We remained in Rheims eight days, and through the politeness of the American Consul—Mr. Adolph Gill—had the pleasure of seeing all the famous wine cellars, and inspecting the processes followed in champagne making, from the step of pressing the juice from the grape to that which shows the wine ready for the market. Mr. Gill also took us to see everything else of special interest about the city, and there being much to look at —fine old churches, ancient fortifications, a Roman gateway, etc. —the days slipped by very quickly, though the incessant rains somewhat interfered with our enjoyment.
For three or four days all sorts of rumors were rife as to what was doing in Paris, but nothing definite was learned till about the 9th; then Count Bismarck informed me that the Regency had been overthrown on the 4th, and that the Empress Eugenie had escaped to Belgium. The King of Prussia offered her an asylum with the Emperor at Wilhelmshohe, "where she ought to go," said the Chancellor, "for her proper place is with her husband," but he feared she would not. On the same occasion he also told me that Jules Favre—the head of the Provisional Government—had sent him the suggestion that, the Empire being gone, peace should be made and the Germans withdrawn, but that he (Bismarck) was now compelled to recognize the impossibility of doing this till Paris was taken, for although immediately after the surrender of Sedan he desired peace, the past few days had made it plain that the troops would not be satisfied with anything short of Paris, no matter what form of Government the French should ultimately adopt.
The German army having met with no resistance whatever in its march on Paris, its advance approached the capital rapidly, and by the 14th of September the royal headquarters moved by a fine macadamized road to the Chateau Thierry, and on the 5th reached Meaux, about twenty-eight miles from Paris, where we remained four days awaiting the reconstruction of some railroad and canal bridges. The town of Meaux has a busy population of about 10,000 souls, in peaceable times principally occupied in manufacturing flour for the Paris market, having a fine waterpower for the many mills. These were kept going day and night to supply the German army; and it was strange to see with what zeal Frenchmen toiled to fill the stomachs of their inveterate enemies, and with what alacrity the mayor and other officials filled requisitions for wine, cheese, suits of livery, riding-whips, and even squab pigeons.
During our stay at Meaux the British Minister Lord Lyons, endeavored to bring about a cessation of hostilities, to this end sending his secretary out from Paris with a letter to Count Bismarck, offering to serve as mediator. The Chancellor would not agree to this, however, for he conjectured that the action of the British Minister had been inspired by Jules Favre, who, he thought, was trying to draw the Germans into negotiations through the medium of a third party only for purposes of delay. So the next morning Lord Lyons's secretary, Mr. Edward Malet, returned to Paris empty-handed, except that he bore a communication positively declining mediation; which message, however, led no doubt to an interview between Bismarck and Favre a couple of days later.
The forenoon of September 19 the King removed to the Chateau Ferrieres—a castle belonging to the Rothschild family, where Napoleon had spent many happy days in the time of his prosperity. His Majesty took up his quarters here at the suggestion of the owner, we were told, so that by the presence of the King the magnificent chateau and its treasures of art would be unquestionably protected from all acts of vandalism.
All of the people at headquarters except the King's immediate suite were assigned quarters at Lagny; and while Forsyth and I, accompanied by Sir Henry Havelock, of the British army, were driving thither, we passed on the road the representative of the National Defense Government, Jules Favre, in a carriage heading toward Meaux. Preceded by a flag of truce and accompanied by a single, companion, he was searching for Count Bismarck, in conformity, doubtless, with the message the Chancellor had sent to Paris on the 17th by the British secretary. A half-mile further on we met Bismarck. He too was traveling toward Meaux, not in the best of humor either, it appeared, for having missed finding the French envoy at the rendezvous where they had agreed to meet, he stopped long enough to say that the "air was full of lies, and that there were many persons with the army bent on business that did not concern them."
The armies of the two Crown Princes were now at the outskirts of Paris. They had come from Sedan mainly by two routes—the Crown Prince of Saxony marching by the northern line, through Laon and Soissons, and the Crown Prince of Prussia by the southern line, keeping his right wing on the north bank of the Marne, while his left and centre approached the French capital by roads between that river and the Seine.
The march of these armies had been unobstructed by any resistance worth mentioning, and as the routes of both columns lay through a region teeming with everything necessary for their support, and rich even in luxuries, it struck me that such campaigning was more a vast picnic than like actual war. The country supplied at all points bread, meat, and wine in abundance, and the neat villages, never more than a mile or two apart, always furnished shelter; hence the enormous trains required to feed and provide camp equipage for an army operating in a sparsely settled country were dispensed with; in truth, about the only impedimenta of the Germans was their wagons carrying ammunition, pontoon-boats, and the field-telegraph.
On the morning of the 20th I started out accompanied by Forsyth and Sir Henry Havelock, and took the road through Boissy St. George, Boissy St. Martins and Noisy Le Grand to Brie. Almost every foot of the way was strewn with fragments of glass from wine bottles, emptied and then broken by the troops. There was, indeed, so much of this that I refrain from making any estimate of the number of bottles, lest I be thought to exaggerate, but the road was literally paved with glass, and the amount of wine consumed (none was wasted) must have been enormous, far more, even, than I had seen evidence of at any time before. There were two almost continuous lines of broken bottles along the roadsides all the way down from Sedan; but that exhibit was small compared with what we saw about Brie.
At Brie we were taken charge of by the German commandant of the place. He entertained us most hospitably for an hour or so, and then, accompanied by a lieutenant, who was to be our guide, I set out ahead of my companions to gain a point on the picket-line where I expected to get a good look at the French, for their rifle-pits were but a few hundred yards off across the Marne, their main line being just behind the rifle-pits. As the lieutenant and I rode through the village, some soldiers warned us that the adventure would be dangerous, but that we could probably get to the desired place unhurt if we avoided the French fire by forcing our horses to a run in crossing some open streets where we would be exposed. On getting to the first street my guide galloped ahead to show the way, and as the French were not on the lookout for anything of the kind at these dangerous points, only a few stray shots were drawn by the lieutenant, but when I followed, they were fully up to what was going on, and let fly a volley every time they saw me in the open. Fortunately, however, in their excitement they overshot, but when I drew rein alongside of my guide under protection of the bluff where the German picket was posted, my hair was all on end, and I was about as badly scared as ever I had been in my life. As soon as I could recover myself I thought of Havelock and Forsyth, with the hope that they would not follow; nor did they, for having witnessed my experience, they wisely concluded that, after all, they did not care so much to see the French rifle-pits.
When I had climbed to the top of the bluff I was much disappointed, for I could see but little—only the advanced rifle-pits across the river, and Fort Nogent beyond them, not enough, certainly, to repay a non-combatant for taking the risk of being killed. The next question was to return, and deciding to take no more such chances as those we had run in coming out, I said we would wait till dark, but this proved unnecessary, for to my utter astonishment my guide informed me that there was a perfectly safe route by which we might go back. I asked why we had not taken it in coming, and he replied that he had thought it "too long and circuitous." To this I could say nothing, but I concluded that that was not quite the correct reason; the truth is that early that morning the young fellow had been helping to empty some of the many wine bottles I saw around Brie, and consequently had a little more "Dutch courage"—was a little more rash—than would have been the case under other conditions.
I rode back to Brie by the "long and circuitous" route, and inquiring there for my companions, found Havelock waiting to conduct me to the village of Villiers, whither, he said, Forsyth had been called to make some explanation about his passport, which did not appear to be in satisfactory shape. Accordingly we started for Villiers, and Havelock, being well mounted on an English "hunter," and wishing to give me an exhibition of the animal's training and power, led the way across ditches and fences, but my horse, never having followed "the hounds," was unsafe to experiment with, so, after trying a low fence or two, I decided to leave my friend alone in his diversion, and a few moments later, seeing both horse and rider go down before a ditch and high stone wall, I was convinced that my resolution was a discreet one. After this mishap, which luckily resulted in no harm, I hoped Sir Henry would give up the amusement, but by failure becoming only the more determined, in a second effort he cleared the wall handsomely and rode across-country to the villages. Following the road till it passed under a railway bridge, I there thought I saw a chance to gain Villiers by a short-cut, and changing my course accordingly, I struck into a large vineyard to the left, and proceeding a few hundred yards through the vines, came suddenly upon a German picket-post. The guard immediately leveled their rifles at me, when, remembering my Rezonville experience of being taken for a French officer because of my uniform, I hastily flung myself from the saddle in token of surrender. The action being rightly interpreted, the men held their fire, and as my next thought was the King's pass I reached under my coat-skirt for the document, but this motion being taken as a grab for my pistol, the whole lot of them—some ten in number—again aimed at me, and with such loud demands for surrender that I threw up my hands and ran into their ranks. The officer of the guard then coming up, examined my credentials, and seeing that they were signed by the King of Prussia, released me and directed the recovery of my horse, which was soon caught, and I was then conducted to the quarters of the commandant, where I found Forsyth with his pass properly vised, entirely ignorant of my troubles, and contentedly regaling himself on cheese and beer. Havelock having got to the village ahead of me, thanks to his cross-country ride, was there too, sipping beer with Forsyth; nor was I slow to follow their example, for the ride of the day, though rather barren in other results, at any rate had given me a ravenous appetite.
Late that evening, the 20th, we resumed our old quarters at Lagny, and early next day I made a visit to the royal headquarters at Ferrires, where I observed great rejoicing going on, the occasion for it being an important victory gained near Mendon, a French corps of about 30,000 men under General Ducrot having been beaten by the Fifth Prussian and Second Bavarian corps. Ducrot had been stubbornly holding ground near Mendon for two or three days, much to the embarrassment of the Germans too, since he kept them from closing a gap in their line to the southwest of Paris; but in the recent fight he had been driven from the field with such heavy loss as to render impossible his maintaining the gap longer. The Crown Prince of Prussia was thus enabled to extend his left, without danger, as far as Bougival, north of Versailles, and eventually met the right of the Crown Prince of Saxony, already at Denil, north of St. Denis. The unbroken circle of investment around Paris being well-nigh assured, news of its complete accomplishment was momentarily expected; therefore everybody was jubilant on account of the breaking up of Ducrot, but more particularly because word had been received the same morning that a correspondence had begun between Bazaine and Prince Frederick Charles, looking to the capitulation of Metz, for the surrender of that place would permit the Second Army to join in the siege of Paris.
Learning all this, and seeing that the investment was about completed, I decided to take up my quarters at Versailles, and started for that place on the 22d, halting at Noisy le Grand to take luncheon with some artillery officers, whose acquaintance we had made the day of the surrender at Sedan. During the meal I noticed two American flags flying on a couple of houses near by. Inquiring the significance of this, I was told that the flags had been put up to protect the buildings—the owners, two American citizens, having in a bad fright abandoned their property, and, instead of remaining outside, gone into Paris,—"very foolishly," said our hospitable friends, "for here they could have obtained food in plenty, and been perfectly secure from molestation."
We arrived at Versailles about 7 o'clock that evening and settled ourselves in the Hotel Reservoir, happy to find there two or three American families, with whom, of course, we quickly made acquaintance. This American circle was enlarged a few days later by the arrival of General Wm. B. Hazen, of our army, General Ambrose E. Burnside, and Mr. Paul Forbes. Burnside and Forbes were hot to see, from the French side, something of the war, and being almost beside themselves to get into Paris, a permit was granted them by Count Bismarck, and they set out by way of Sevres, Forsyth and I accompanying them as far as the Palace of St. Cloud, which we, proposed to see, though there were strict orders against its being visited generally. After much trouble we managed, through the "open sesame" of the King's pass, to gain access to the palace; but to our great disappointment we found that all the pictures had been cut from the frames and carried off to Paris, except one portrait, that of Queen Victoria, against whom the French were much incensed. All other works of art had been removed, too—a most fortunate circumstance, for the palace being directly on the German line, was raked by the guns from the fortress of Mont Valerien, and in a few days burned to the ground.
In less than a week Burnside and Forbes returned from Paris. They told us their experience had been interesting, but were very reticent as to particulars, and though we tried hard to find out what they had seen or done, we could get nothing from them beyond the general statement that they had had a good time, and that General Trochu had been considerate enough to postpone a sortie, in order to let them return; but this we did not quite swallow. After a day or two they went into Paris again, and I then began to suspect that they were essaying the role of mediators, and that Count Bismarck was feeding their vanity with permits, and receiving his equivalent by learning the state of affairs within the beleaguered city.
From about the 1st of October on, the Germans were engaged in making their enveloping lines impenetrable, bringing up their reserves, siege guns, and the like, the French meanwhile continuing to drill and discipline the National Guard and relieving the monotony occasionally by a more or less spirited, but invariably abortive, sortie. The most notable of these was that made by General Vinoy against the heights of Clamart, the result being a disastrous repulse by the besiegers. After this, matters settled down to an almost uninterrupted quietude, only a skirmish here and there; and it being plain that the Germans did not intend to assault the capital, but would accomplish its capture by starvation, I concluded to find out from Count Bismarck about when the end was expected, with the purpose of spending the interim in a little tour through some portions of Europe undisturbed by war, returning in season for the capitulation. Count Bismarck having kindly advised me as to the possible date.
Forsyth and I, on the 14th of October, left Versailles, going first direct to the Chateau Ferrieres to pay our respects to the King, which we did, and again took luncheon with him. From the chateau we drove to Meaux, and there spent the night; resuming our journey next morning, we passed through Epernay, Rheims, and Rethel to Sedan, where we tarried a day, and finally, on October 18, reached Brussels.
BRUSSELS—DECIDING TO VISIT EASTERN EUROPE—AUSTRIA—DOWN THE DANUBE —IN CONSTANTINOPLE—THE LADIES OF THE HAREM—THE SULTAN—TURKISH SOLDIERS—A BANQUET—A VISIT IN ATHENS—KING GEORGE OF GREECE—VICTOR EMMANUEL—"BEDEVILED WITH CARES OF STATE"—DEER SHOOTING—A MILITARY DINNER—RETURN TO VERSAILLES—GERMANS ENTERING PARIS—CRITICISM ON THE FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR—CONCLUSION.
On reaching Brussels, one of the first things to do was to pay my respects to the King of Belgium, which I did, accompanied by our Minister, Mr. Russell Jones. Later I dined with the King and Queen, meeting at the dinner many notable people, among them the Count and Countess of Flanders. A day or two in Brussels sufficed to mature our plans for spending the time up to the approximate date of our return to Paris; and deciding to visit eastern Europe, we made Vienna our first objective, going there by way of Dresden.
At Vienna our Minister, Mr. John Jay, took charge of us—Forsyth was still with me—and the few days' sojourn was full of interest. The Emperor being absent from the capital, we missed seeing him; but the Prime Minister, Count von Beust, was very polite to us, and at his house we had the pleasure of meeting at dinner Count Andrassy, the Prime Minister of Hungary.
From Vienna we went to Buda-Pesth, the Hungarian capital; and thence, in a I small, crowded, and uncomfortable steamboat, down the Danube to Rustchuck, whence we visited Bucharest—all who travel in eastern Europe do so—and then directing our course southward, we went first to Varna, and from that city by steamer through the Black Sea to Constantinople.
We reached the Turkish capital at the time of Ramadan, the period of the year (about a month) during which the Mohammedans are commanded by the Koran to keep a rigorous fast every day from sunrise till sunset. All the followers of the Prophet were therefore busy with their devotions—holding a revival, as it were; hence there was no chance whatever to be presented to the Sultan, Abdul Aziz, it being forbidden during the penitential season for him to receive unbelievers, or in fact any one except the officials of his household. However, the Grand Vizier brought me many messages of welcome, and arranged that I should be permitted to see and salute his Serene Highness on the Esplanade as he rode by on horseback to the mosque.
So, the second day after arrival, the Grand Vizier drove me in a barouche to the Esplanade, where we took station about midway of its length an hour or so before the Sultan was to appear. Shortly after we reached the Esplanade, carriages occupied by the women of the Sultan's harem began to appear, coming out from the palace grounds and driving up and down the roadway. Only a few of the women were closely veiled, a majority of them wearing an apology for veiling, merely a strip of white lace covering the forehead down to the eyebrows. Some were yellow, and some white-types of the Mongolian and Caucasian races. Now and then a pretty face was seen, rarely a beautiful one. Many were plump, even to corpulence, and these were the closest veiled, being considered the greatest beauties I presume, since with the Turk obesity is the chief element of comeliness. As the carriages passed along in review, every now and then an occupant, unable or unwilling to repress her natural promptings, would indulge in a mild flirtation, making overtures by casting demure side-glances, throwing us coquettish kisses, or waving strings of amber beads with significant gestures, seeming to say: "Why don't you follow?" But this we could not do if we would, for the Esplanade throughout its entire length was lined with soldiers, put there especially to guard the harem first, and later, the Sultan on his pilgrimage to the mosque.
But as it was now time for His Serene Highness to make his appearance the carriages containing his wives drove off into the palace grounds, which were inclosed by a high wall, leaving the Esplanade wholly unencumbered except by the soldiers. Down between the two ranks, which were formed facing each other, came the Sultan on a white steed—a beautiful Arabian—and having at his side his son, a boy about ten or twelve years old, who was riding a pony, a diminutive copy of his father's mount, the two attended by a numerous body-guard, dressed in gorgeous Oriental uniforms. As the procession passed our carriage, I, as pre-arranged, stood up and took off my hat, His Serene Highness promptly acknowledging the salute by raising his hand to the forehead. This was all I saw of him, yet I received every kindness at his hands, being permitted to see many of his troops, to inspect all the ordnance, equipment, and other military establishments about Constantinople, and to meet numbers of the high functionaries of the Empire.
Among other compliments tendered through his direction, and which I gladly accepted, was a review of all the troops then in Stamboul —about 6,000—comprising infantry, cavalry, and artillery.
They were as fine looking a body of soldiers as I ever saw—well armed and well clothed, the men all large and of sturdy appearance.
After the review we attended a grand military dinner given by the Grand Vizier. At the hour set for this banquet we presented ourselves at the palace of the Grand Vizier, and being ushered into a large drawing-room, found already assembled there the guests invited to meet us. Some few spoke French, and with these we managed to exchange an occasional remark; but as the greater number stood about in silence, the affair, thus far, was undeniably a little stiff. Just before the dinner was announced, all the Turkish officers went into an adjoining room, and turning their faces to the east, prostrated themselves to the floor in prayer. Then we were all conducted to a large salon, where each being provided with a silver ewer and basin, a little ball of highly perfumed soap and a napkin, set out on small tables, each guest washed his hands. Adjacent to this salon was the dining-room, or, rather, the banqueting room, a very large and artistically frescoed hall, in the centre of which stood a crescent-shaped table, lighted with beautiful silver candelabra, and tastefully decorated with flowers and fruits. The viands were all excellent; cooked, evidently, by a French chef, and full justice was done the dishes, especially by the Turks, who, of course, had been fasting all day.
At the close of the banquet, which consisted of not less than fifteen courses, we withdrew to a smoking-room, where the coffee was served and cigarettes and chibouks offered us—the latter a pipe having a long flexible stem with an amber mouthpiece. I chose the chibouk, and as the stem of mine was studded with precious stones of enormous value, I thought I should enjoy it the more; but the tobacco being highly flavored with some sort of herbs, my smoke fell far short of my anticipations. The coffee was delicious, however, and I found this to be the case wherever I went in Constantinople, whether in making calls or at dinner, the custom of offering coffee and tobacco on these occasions being universal.
The temptations to linger at Constantinople were many indeed, not the least being the delightful climate; and as time pressed, we set out with much regret on the return journey, stopping a few days at Athens, whence we made several short excursions into the interior. King George and Queen Olga made our stay in Athens one of extreme interest and exceeding pleasure. Throwing aside all ceremony, they breakfasted and dined us informally, gave us a fine ball, and in addition to these hospitalities showed us much personal attention, his Majesty even calling upon me, and the Queen sending her children to see us at our hotel.
Of course we visited all that remained of the city's ancient civilization—the Acropolis, temples, baths, towers, and the like; nor did we omit to view the spot where St. Paul once instructed the Athenians in lessons of Christianity. We traveled some little through the country districts outside of Athens, and I noticed that the peasantry, in point of picturesqueness of dress and color of complexion, were not unlike the gypsies we see at times in America. They had also much of the same shrewdness, and, as far as I could learn, were generally wholly uneducated, ignorant, indeed, except as to one subject—politics—which I was told came to them intuitively, they taking to it, and a scramble for office, as naturally as a duck to water. In fact, this common faculty for politics seems a connecting link between the ancient and modern Greek.
Leaving Athens with the pleasantest recollections, we sailed for Messina, Sicily, and from there went to Naples, where we found many old friends; among them Mr. Buchanan Reed, the artist and poet, and Miss Brewster, as well as a score or more of others of our countrymen, then or since distinguished, in art and letters at home and abroad. We remained some days in Naples, and during the time went to Pompeii to witness a special excavation among the ruins of the buried city, which search was instituted on account of our visit. A number of ancient household articles were dug up, and one, a terra cotta lamp bearing upon its crown in bas-relief the legend of "Leda and the Swan," was presented to me as a souvenir of the occasion, though it is usual for the Government to place in its museums everything of such value that is unearthed.
From Naples to Rome by rail was our next journey. In the Eternal City we saw picture-galleries, churches, and ruins in plenty, but all these have been so well described by hundreds of other travelers that I shall not linger even to name them. While at Rome we also witnessed an overflow of the Tiber, that caused great suffering and destroyed much property. The next stage of our tour took us to Venice, then to Florence—the capital of Italy—for although the troops of the King of Italy had taken possession of Rome the preceding September, the Government itself had not yet removed thither.
At Florence, our Minister, Mr. Marsh, though suffering with a lame foot, took me in charge, and in due course of time I was presented to King Victor-Emmanuel. His Majesty received me informally at his palace in a small, stuffy room—his office, no doubt—and an untidy one it was too. He wore a loose blouse and very baggy trousers; a comfortable suit, certainly, but not at all conducing to an ideal kingliness of appearance.
His Majesty's hobby was hunting, and no sooner had I made my bow than he began a conversation on that subject, thrusting his hands nearly up to the elbows into the pockets of his trousers. He desired to learn about the large game of America, particularly the buffalo, and when I spoke of the herds of thousands and thousands I had seen on the plains of western Kansas, he interrupted me to bemoan the fate which kept him from visiting America to hunt, even going so far as to say that "he didn't wish to be King of Italy, anyhow, but would much prefer to pass his days hunting than be bedeviled with the cares of state." On one of his estates, near Pisa, he had several large herds of deer, many wild boars, and a great deal of other game. Of this preserve he was very proud, and before we separated invited me to go down there to shoot deer, adding that he would be there himself if he could, but feared that a trip which he had to take to Milan would interfere, though he wished me to go in any event.
I gladly accepted the invitation, and in two or three days was notified when I would be expected at the estate. At the designated time I was escorted to Pisa by an aide-de-camp, and from there we drove the few miles to the King's chateau, where we fortified ourselves for the work in hand by an elaborate and toothsome breakfast of about ten courses. Then in a carriage we set out for the King's stand in the hunting-grounds, accompanied by a crowd of mounted game-keepers, who with great difficulty controlled the pack of sixty or seventy hounds, the dogs and keepers together almost driving me to distraction with their yelping and yelling. On reaching the stand, I was posted within about twenty' yards of a long, high picket-fence, facing the fence and covered by two trees very close together. It was from behind these that the King usually shot, and as I was provided with a double-barreled shot-gun, I thought I could do well, especially since close in rear of me stood two game-keepers to load and hand me a second gun when the first was emptied.
Meantime the huntsmen and the hounds had made a circuit of the park to drive up the game. The yelps of the hounds drawing near, I cautiously looked in the direction of the sound, and the next moment saw a herd of deer close in to the fence, and coming down at full speed. Without a miss, I shot the four leading ones as they tried to run the gauntlet, for in passing between the stand and the fence, the innocent creatures were not more than ten to fifteen paces from me. At the fourth I stopped, but the gamekeepers insisted on more butchery, saying, "No one but the King ever did the like" (I guess no one else had ever had the chance), so, thus urged, I continued firing till I had slaughtered eleven with eleven shots—an easy task with a shot-gun and buckshot cartridges.
The "hunt" being ended—for with this I had had enough, and no one else was permitted to do any shooting—the aide-decamp directed the game to be sent to me in Florence, and we started for the chateau. On the way back I saw a wild boar the first and only one I ever saw —my attention being drawn to him by cries from some of the game-keepers. There was much commotion, the men pointing out the game and shouting excitedly, "See the wild boar!" otherwise I should not have known what was up, but now, looking in the indicated direction, I saw scudding over the plain what appeared to me to be nothing but a halfgrown black pig, or shoat. He was not in much of a hurry either, and gave no evidence of ferocity, yet it is said that this insignificant looking animal is dangerous when hunted with the spear —the customary way. After an early dinner at the chateau we returned to Florence, and my venison next day arriving, it was distributed among my American friends in the city.
Shortly after the hunt the King returned from Milan, and then honored me with a military dinner, his Majesty and all the guests, numbering eighty, appearing in full uniform. The banqueting hall was lighted with hundreds of wax candles, there was a profusion of beautiful flowers, and to me the scene altogether was one of unusual magnificence. The table service was entirely of gold—the celebrated set of the house of Savoy—and behind the chair of each guest stood a servant in powdered wig and gorgeous livery of red plush. I sat at the right of the King, who—his hands resting on his sword, the hilt of which glittered with jewels—sat through the hour and a half at table without once tasting food or drink, for it was his rule to eat but two meals in twenty-four hours—breakfast at noon, and dinner at midnight. The King remained silent most of the time, but when he did speak, no matter on what subject, he inevitably drifted back to hunting. He never once referred to the Franco-Prussian war, nor to the political situation in his own country, then passing through a crisis. In taking leave of his Majesty I thanked him with deep gratitude for honoring me so highly, and his response was that if ever he came to America to hunt buffalo, he should demand my assistance.
From Florence I went to Milan and Geneva, then to Nice, Marseilles, and Bordeaux. Assembled at Bordeaux was a convention which had been called together by the government of the National Defense for the purpose of confirming or rejecting the terms of an armistice of twenty-one days, arranged between Jules Favre and Count Bismarck in negotiations begun at Versailles the latter part of January. The convention was a large body, chosen from all parts of France, and was unquestionably the most noisy, unruly and unreasonable set of beings that I ever saw in a legislative assembly. The frequent efforts of Thiers, Jules Favre, and other leading men to restrain the more impetuous were of little avail. When at the sittings a delegate arose to speak on some question, he was often violently pulled to his seat and then surrounded by a mob of his colleagues, who would throw off their coats and gesticulate wildly, as though about to fight.
But the bitter pill of defeat had to be swallowed in some way, so the convention delegated M. Thiers to represent the executive power of the country, with authority to construct a ministry three commissioners were appointed by the Executive, to enter into further negotiations with Count Bismarck at Versailles and arrange a peace, the terms of which, however, were to be submitted to the convention for final action. Though there had been so much discussion, it took but a few days to draw up and sign a treaty at Versailles, the principal negotiators being Thiers and Jules Favre for France, and Bismarck on the part of the Germans. The terms agreed upon provided for the occupation of Paris till ratification should be had by the convention at Bordeaux; learning of which stipulation from our Minister, Mr. Washburn, I hurried off to Paris to see the conquerors make their triumphal entry.
In the city the excitement was at fever heat, of course; the entire population protesting with one voice that they would never, never look upon the hated Germans marching through their beloved city. No! when the day arrived they would hide themselves in their houses, or shut their eyes to such a hateful sight. But by the 1st of March a change had come over the fickle Parisians, for at an early hour the sidewalks were jammed with people, and the windows and doors of the houses filled with men, women, and children eager to get a look at the conquerors. Only a few came in the morning, however—an advance-guard of perhaps a thousand cavalry and infantry. The main column marched from the Arc-de-Triomphe toward the middle of the afternoon. In its composition it represented United Germany—Saxons, Bavarians, and the Royal Guard of Prussia—and, to the strains of martial music, moving down the Champ Elysees to the Place de la Concorde, was distributed thence over certain sections of the city agreed upon beforehand. Nothing that could be called a disturbance took place during the march; and though there was a hiss now and then and murmurings of discontent, yet the most noteworthy mutterings were directed against the defunct Empire. Indeed, I found everywhere that the national misfortunes were laid at Napoleon's door—he, by this time, having become a scapegoat for every blunder of the war.
The Emperor William (he had been proclaimed German Emperor at Versailles the 18th of January) did not accompany his troops into Paris, though he reviewed them at Long Champs before they started. After the occupation of the city he still remained at Versailles, and as soon as circumstances would permit, I repaired to the Imperial headquarters to pay my respects to his Majesty under his new title and dignities, and to say good-bye.
Besides the Emperor, the only persons I me at Versailles were General von Moltke and Bismarck. His Majesty was in a very agreeable frame of mind, and as bluff and hearty as usual. His increased rank and power had effected no noticeable change of any kind in him, and by his genial and cordial ways he made me think that my presence with the German army had contributed to his pleasure. Whether this was really so or not, I shall always believe it true, for his kind words and sincere manner could leave no other conclusion.
General von Moltke was, as usual, quiet and reserved, betraying not the slightest consciousness of his great ability, nor the least indication of pride on account of his mighty work. I say this advisedly, for it is an undoubted fact that it was his marvelous mind that perfected the military system by which 800,000 men were mobilized with unparalleled celerity and moved with such certainty of combination that, in a campaign of seven months, the military power of France was destroyed and her vast resources sorely crippled.
I said good-bye to Count Bismarck, also, for at that busy time the chances of seeing him again were very remote. The great Chancellor manifested more joy over the success of the Germans than did anyone else at the Imperial headquarters. Along with his towering strength of mind and body, his character partook of much of the enthusiasm and impulsiveness commonly restricted to younger men, and now in his frank, free way be plainly showed his light-heartedness and gratification at success. That which for years his genius had been planning and striving for—permanent unification of the German States, had been accomplished by the war. It had welded them together in a compact Empire which no power in Europe could disrupt, and as such a union was the aim of Bismarck's life, he surely had a right to feel jubilant.
Thanks to the courtesies extended me, I had been able to observe the principal battles, and study many of the minor details of a war between two of the greatest military nations of the world, and to examine critically the methods followed abroad for subsisting, equipping, and manoeuvring vast bodies of men during a stupendous, campaign. Of course I found a great deal to interest and instruct me, yet nowadays war is pretty much the same everywhere, and this one offered no marked exception to my previous experiences. The methods pursued on the march were the same as we would employ, with one most important exception. Owing to the density of population throughout France it was always practicable for the Germans to quarter their troops in villages, requiring the inhabitants to subsist both officers and men. Hence there was no necessity for camp and garrison equipage, nor enormous provision trains, and the armies were unencumbered by these impedimenta, indispensable when operating in a poor and sparsely settled country. As I have said before, the only trains were those for ammunition, pontoon-boats, and the field telegraph, and all these were managed by special corps. If transportation was needed for other purposes, it was obtained by requisition from the invaded country, just as food and forage were secured. Great celerity of combination was therefore possible, the columns moving in compact order, and as all the roads were broad and macadamized, there was little or nothing to delay or obstruct the march of the Germans, except when their enemy offered resistance, but even this was generally slight and not very frequent, for the French were discouraged by disaster from the very outset of the campaign.