Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71

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Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71.


Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, November 16, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.

Those who believed, with M. Gambetta, that the skilful and well-combined movements by which the Army of the Loire manoeuvred von der Tann’s Bavarians out of Orléans would be followed up at once by an advance on Paris have been doomed to disappointment. The engagement of Coulmiers, or whatever else it may hereafter be called, took place on the 9th, and up to the evening of the 13th the Bavarian outposts appear to have remained unmolested in front of Toury, only twenty-five miles from Orléans.

It redounds greatly to the credit of General d'Aurelle de Paladines that after his first success he not only had the sense, but also the moral strength, to stop in time. With M. Gambetta behind him, proclaiming to his men that they are on the road to Paris, that Paris awaits them and must be freed from the barbarians, it cannot have been an easy matter to keep back these young and half-disciplined troops, who are but too ready to cry “trahison” unless they are at once led against the enemy, and to run away when they are made seriously to feel that enemy’s presence. That d'Aurelle has made them stop on the road to Paris shows that his efforts to discipline them have not been unsuccessful, and that his first success has gained him their confidence. His dispositions for this first French victory were everything they should have been. Von der Tann cannot have had more than 25,000 men in the neighbourhood of Orléans, which exposed position he was allowed to continue to hold, in the consciousness that his seasoned troops would, under any circumstances, be able to fray themselves a road through no matter what number of the new levies opposed to them. D'Aurelle could operate against the Bavarians with at least fourfold their numbers, and he did what is usual in such a case: he turned their flanks and displayed, especially on their right rear, such a strength that von der Tann was at once compelled to fall back towards his supports. These Joined him at Toury on the 11th, or at latest the 12th; and they consisted of Wittich’s 21st division of North German infantry, Prince Albrecht’s division of cavalry, and the 13th Corps (17th North German division and Württemberg division). Thus a force of from 65,000 to 70,000 men at least is concentrated under the command of the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg at Toury, and General d'Aurelle may well look at them twice before he ventures upon an attack on them, though they are commanded by a very common-place chief indeed.

But there are other motives besides this which must compel General d'Aurelle to pause before making any fresh movement. If his intention really be to come to the relief of Paris, he must know perfectly well that his own forces are not sufficient to effect this object unless at the same time a vigorous effort is made, from within, to second him. We know that General Trochu has picked out the most disciplined and best organized portion of his troops and formed of them what may be called the active army of Paris. Under the command of General Ducrot, they appeal — to be intended for those grand sorties without which the defence of a place like Paris is like a soldier fighting with his right arm tied up.

It is not perhaps a matter of accident that this reorganization of the Army of Paris coincides, in point of time, with the advance of the Army of the Loire. General Trochu and General d'Aurelle doubtless have attempted, by means of balloons and carrier pigeons, to arrange a combined movement, to be made at a time agreed upon beforehand; and, unless the Germans previously attack the Army of the Loire, we may expect a sortie on a large scale from Paris on or about the same time that d'Aurelle makes his next forward movement. That sortie would probably be made with at least the whole of Ducrot’s three corps, on the south side of the town, where communication with the Army of the Loire might, in case of success, be established, while on the north-east and north-west sides Trochu’s “Third Army” would make simulated attacks and diversions, supported by the fire of the forts, to prevent the investing army from sending reinforcements to the south. We may be sure, on the other hand, that all this is taken into account by General Moltke, and that he will not be caught napping. In spite of the great numerical superiority which the French will be able to bring into the field, we are decidedly of opinion that the difference in the quality of the troops and in the generalship will more than make up for this.

This attempt to free Paris from the grasp of the “barbarians” will have to be made very soon if it is to have any chance at all. Besides the five divisions of infantry which are opposed to the Army of the Loire, there are now before Paris sixteen divisions of infantry (the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 12th corps, the Guards, the 1st Bavarian Corps, the 21st division, and the division of landwehr of the Guards). This force must be, in Moltke’s eyes, quite sufficient to keep Paris effectively blockaded; otherwise he would have drawn towards Paris more troops than the 2nd Corps, out of those that became free by the surrender of Metz. And considering that its positions, facing Paris, are everywhere strongly entrenched, and will shortly be under the protection of tremendous siege batteries, such will no doubt be the case. But we are now beginning to receive news from Prince Frederick Charles, who after the capitulation of Metz had become invisible with three army corps (the 3rd, 9th, and 10th). The first glimpse we since then have had of his troops was the short piece of news that the “9th regiment” had had a brush with the Mobiles just outside Chaumont, in the Haute-Marne, on the 7th of November. The 9th belongs to the seventh brigade (of the Second) Corps which had already arrived before Paris, and the whole story became thereby unintelligible. Since then, it has been established that the telegram, by mistake, gave the ninth regiment instead of the ninth brigade, and this clears up the matter. The ninth brigade is the first of the Third Army Corps, and belongs therefore to the army of Prince Frederick Charles. The locality of the engagement, combined with the report generally accredited in military circles in Berlin that the Prince had been marching upon Troyes, which city he was said to have reached on the 7th or 8th, left but little doubt that he had taken the route we supposed the main body of his troops would take, viz. “to march from Metz by Chaumont and Auxerre, and to push forward in the direction of Bordeaux after having cleared the line of the Loire from Tours to Nevers.” We now learn that this army has occupied the line of the Yonne at Sens, about fifty miles from Gien on the Loire, and but thirty from Montargis, whence any French position to the north of Orléans could be taken in flank by one good day’s march. The detachments reported at Malesherbes and Nemours may have been sent by Prince Frederick Charles to feel for von der Tann’s left, or they may be flanking parties on the extreme left of the line of march of the 13th Corps. At any rate, we may now expect that the Prince will very soon establish his communications by flying columns with von der Tann at Toury, on the one hand, and Werder at Dijon on the other. If the Army of the Loire delays its attack until Prince Frederick Charles arrives within reach, it will have, besides the 70,000 men in its front, another 75,000 men on its right flank and rear, and all idea of relieving Paris will have to be abandoned. It will have enough to do to look after its own safety, and will have to recede, hopelessly, before that broad flood-wave of invasion which will then cover central France on a front extending from Chartres to Dijon.