[Tappan Introduction] According to the terms of the 1871 Treaty of Versailles, which
ended the Franco-Prussian War, France ceded to Germany some 4700 square miles of
territory, and agreed to pay within three years five billion francs for indemnification.
The Red Republicans, or Communists, rebelled against these humiliating terms, and the
capital now fell into the hands of the Commune of Paris. By order of the National
Government the regular army was brought up, and a second siege of Paris took place,
infinitely more full of horrors than the previous one by the Germans. The Government at
length got control, and the Third Republic was fully organized, under the presidency of
Thiers. The author of the following extract was in Paris at the time of the Commune.
THE roaring of cannon close at hand, the whizzing of shells, volleys of musketry. I
hear this in my sleep, and awake with a start. I dress and go out. I am told the troops
have come in. "How? Where? When?" I ask of the National Guards who come rushing
down the; street, crying out, "We are betrayed!" They, however, know but very
little. They have come from the Trocadero, and have seen the red trousers of the soldiers
in the distance. Fighting is going on near the viaduct of Auteuil, at the Champ de Mars.
Did the assault take place last night or this morning? It is quite impossible to obtain
any reliable information. Some talk of a civil engineer having made signals to the
Versaillais; others say a captain in the navy was the first to enter Paris. Suddenly about
thirty men rush into the streets, crying, "We must make a barricade." I turn
back, fearing to be pressed into the service. The cannonading appears dreadfully near. A
shell whistles over my head. I hear some one say, "The batteries of Montmartre are
bombarding the Arc de Triomphe"; and strangely enough, in this moment of horror and
uncertainty, the thought crosses my mind that now the side of the arch on which is the
bas-relief of Rudé will be exposed to the shells. On the Boulevard there is only here and
there a passenger hurrying along. The shops are closed; even the cafes are shut up; the
harsh screech of the mitrailleuse grows louder and nearer. The battle seems to be close at
hand, all round me. A thousand contradictory suppositions rush through my brain and hurry
me along, and here on the Boulevard there is no one that can tell ne anything. I walk in
the direction of the Madeleine, drawn there by a violent desire to know what is going on,
which silences the voice of prudence. As I approach the Chaussee d'Antin, I perceive a
multitude of men, women, and children running backwards and forwards, carrying
paving-stones. A barricade is being thrown up; it is already more than three feet high.
Suddenly I hear the offing of heavy wheels; I turn, and a strange sight is before me---a
mass of women in rags, livid, horrible, and yet grand, with the Phrygian cap on their
heads, and the skirts of their robes tied around their waists, were harnessed to a
mitrailleuse, which they dragged along at full speed; other women pushing vigorously
behind. The whole procession, in its somber colors, with dashes of red here and there,
thunders past me; I follow it as fast as I can. The mitrailleuse draws up a little in
front of the barricade, and is hailed with wild clamors by the insurgents. The Amazons are
being unharnessed as I come up. " Now," said a young gamin, such as one used to
see in the gallery of the Theatre Porte St.-Martin, "don't you be acting the spy
here, or I will break your head open as if you were a Versaillais."---"Don't
waste ammunition," cried an old man with a long white beard---a patriarch of civil
war---"don't waste ammunition; and as for the spy, let him help to carry
paving-stones. Monsieur," said he, turning to me with much politeness, "will you
be so kind as to go and fetch those stones from the corner there?"
I did as I was bid, although I thought, with anything but pleasure, that if at that
moment the barricade were attacked and taken, I might be shot before I had the time to
say, "Allow me to explain." But the scene which surrounds me interests me in
spite of myself. Those grim hags, with their red head-dresses, passing the stones I give
them rapidly from hand to hand, the men who are building them up only leaving off for a
moment now and then to swallow a cup of coffee, which a young girl prepares over a small
tin stove; the rifles symmetrically piled; the barricade, which rises higher and higher;
the solitude in which we are working---only here and there a head appears at a window, and
is quickly withdrawn; the ever-increasing noise of the battle; and, over all, the
brightness of a dazzling morning sun---all this has something sinister, and yet horribly
fascinating about it. While we are at work they talk; I listen. The Versaillais have been
coming in all night. The Porte de la Muette and the Porte Dauphine have been surrendered
by the 13th and the 113th battalions of the first arrondissement. "Those two numbers
13 will bring them ill luck," says a woman. Vinoy is established at the Trocadero,
and Douai at the Point du Jour: they continue to advance. The Champ de Mars has been taken
from the Federals after two hours' fighting. A battery is erected at the Arc de Triomphe,
which sweeps the Champs Elysees and bombards the Tuileries. A shell has fallen in the Rue
du Marche Saint-Honore. In the Cours-la-Reine the 138th battalion stood bravely. The
Tuileries is armed with guns, and shells the Arc de Triomphe. In the Avenue de Marigny the
gendarmes have shot twelve Federals who had surrendered; their bodies are still lying on
the pavement in front of the tobacconist's. Rue de Sevres, the Vengeurs de Flourens have
put to flight a whole regiment of the line: the Vengeurs have sworn to resist to a
man. They are fighting in the Champs Elysees, around the Ministere de la Guerre, and on
the Boulevard Haussmann. Dombrowski has been killed at the Chateau de la Muette. The
Versaillais have attacked the Western Saint-Lazare Station, and are marching towards the
Pepiniere barracks. "We have been sold, betrayed, and surprised; but what does it
matter, we will triumph. We want no more chiefs or generals; behind the barricades every
man is a marshal!"
Close to Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois women are busy pulling down the wooden seats;
children are rolling empty wine-barrels and carrying sacks of earth. As one nears the
Hotel de Ville the barricades are higher, better armed, and better manned. All the
Nationals here look ardent, resolved, and fierce. They say little, and do not shout at
all. Two guards, seated on the pavement, are playing at picquet. I push on, and am allowed
to pass. The barricades are terminated here, and I have nothing to fear from
paving-stones. Looking up, I see that all the windows are closed, with the exception of
one, where two old women are busy putting a mattress between the window and the shutter. A
sentinel, mounting guard in front of the Cafe de la Compagnie du Gaz, cries out to me,
"You can't pass here!"
I therefore seat myself at a table in front of the cafe, which has doubtless been left
open by order, and where several officers are talking in a most animated manner.
One of them rises and advances towards me. He asks me rudely what I am doing there. I
will not allow myself to be abashed by his tone, but draw out my pass from my pocket and
show it to him, without saying a word. "All right," says he; and then seats
himself by my side, and tells me, " I know it already, that a part of the left bank
of the river is occupied by the troops of the Assembly, that fighting is going on
everywhere, and that the army on this side is gradually retreating.---Street fighting is
our affair, you see," he continues. "In such battles as that, the merest gamin
from Belleville knows more about it than MacMahon . . . It will be terrible. The enemy
shoots the prisoners." (For the last two months the Commune had been saying the same
thing.) "We shall give no quarter."---I ask him, "Is it Delescluze who is
determined to resist?"---"Yes," he answers. "Lean forward a little.
Look at those three windows to the left of the trophy. That is the Salle de l'Etat-Major.
Delescluze is there giving orders, signing commissions. He has not slept for three days.
Just now I scarcely knew him, he was so worn out with fatigue. The Committee of Public
Safety sits permanently in a room adjoining, making out proclamations and
decrees."---"Ha, ha!" said I, "decrees!"---"Yes, citizen, he
has just decreed heroism!" The officer gives me several other bits of information:
tells me that "Lullier this very morning has had thirty réfractaires shot,
and that Rigault has gone to Mazas to look after the hostages."
While he is talking, I try to see what is going on in the Place de l'Hôtel de Ville.
Two or three thousand Federals are there, some seated, some lying on the ground. A lively
discussion is going on. Several little barrels are standing about on chairs; the men are
continually getting up and crowding round the barrels, some have no glasses, but drink in
the palms of their hands. Women walk up and down in bands, gesticulating wildly. The men
shout, the women shriek. Mounted expresses gallop out of the Hotel, some in the direction
of the Bastille, some towards the Place de la Concorde. The latter fly past us crying out,
"All's well! " A man comes out on the balcony of the Hotel de Ville and
addresses he crowd. All the Federals start to their feet enthusiastically. ---"That's
Valles," says my neighbor to me. I had already recognized him. I frequently saw him
in the students' quarter in a little crémerie in the Rue Serpente. He was given to
making verses, rather bad ones by the bye; I remember one in particular, a panegyric on a
green coat. They used to say he had a situation as a professional mourner. His face even
then wore a bitter and violent expression. He left poetry for journalism, and then
journalism for politics. Today he is spouting forth at a window of the Hôtel de Ville. I
cannot catch a word of what he says; but as he retires he is wildly applauded. Such
applause pains me sadly. I feel that these men and these women are mad for blood, and will
know how to die. Alas! how many dead and dying already! Neither the cannonading nor the
musketry has ceased an instant.
I now see a number of women walk out of the Hôtel, the crowd makes room for them to
pass. They come our way. They are dressed in black, and have black crape tied round their
arms and a red cockade in their bonnets. My friend the officer tells me that they are the
governesses who have taken the places of the nuns. Then he walks up to them and says,
"Have you succeeded? "---"Yes," answers one of them, "here is our
commission. The school-children are to be employed in making sacks and filling them with
earth, the eldest ones are to load the rifles behind the barricades. They will receive
rations like National Guards, and a pension will be given to the mothers of those who die
for the republic. They are mad to fight, I assure you. We have made them work hard during
the last month; this will be their holiday!" The woman who says this is young and
pretty, and speaks; with a sweet smile on her lips. I shudder. Suddenly two staff officers
appear and ride furiously up to the Hôtel de Ville; they have come from the Place
Vendôme. An instant later and the trumpets sound. The companies form in the Place, and
great agitation reigns in the Hôtel. Men rush in and out. The officers who are in the
cafe where I am get up instantly, and go to take their places at the head of their men. A
rumor spreads that the Versaillais have taken the barricades on the Place de la
Concorde.---"By Jove! I think you had better go home," says my neighbor to me,
as he clasps his sword-belt; "we shall have hot work here, and that shortly." I
think it prudent to follow this advice.
One glance at the Place before I go. The companies of Federals have just started off by
the Rue de Rivoli and the quays at a quick march, crying, "Vive la Commune!" a ferocious joy beaming in their faces. A young man, almost a lad, lags a little behind; a
woman rushes up to him, and lays hold of his collar, screaming, "Well, and you! are
you not going to get yourself killed with the others?"
I reach the Rue Vieille-du-Temple, where another barricade is being built up. I place a
paving-stone upon it and pass on. Soon I see open shops and passengers in the streets.
This tradesmen's quarter seems to have outlived the riot of Paris. Here one might almost
forget the frightful civil war which wages so near, if the conversation of those around
did not betray the anguish of the speakers, and if you did not hear the cannon roaring out
unceasingly, "People of Paris, listen to me! I am ruining your houses. Listen to me!
I am killing your children."
On the Boulevards more barricades; some nearly finished, others scarcely commenced. One
constructed near the Porte Saint-Martin looks formidable. That spot seems destined to be
the theater of bloody scenes, of riot and revolution. In 1852, corpses lay piled up behind
the railing, and all the pavement was tinged with blood. I return home profoundly sad; I
can scarcely think---I feel in a dream, and am tired to death; my eyelids droop of
themselves; I am like one of those houses there with closed shutters.
Near the Gymnase I meet a friend who I thought was at Versailles. We shake hands sadly.
"When did you come back?" I ask.---"Today; I followed the troops."
---Then turning back with me he tells me what he has seen. He had a pass, and walked into
Paris behind the artillery and the line, as far as the Trocadero, where the soldiers
halted to take up their line of battle. Not a single man was visible along the whole
length of the quays. At the Champ de Mars he did not see any insurgents. The musketry
seemed very violent near Vaugirard on the Pont Royal and around the Palais de l'Industrie.
Shells from Montmartre repeatedly fell on the quays. He could not see much, however, only
the smoke in the distance. Not a soul did he meet. Such frightful noise in such solitude
was fearful. He continued his way under the shelter of the parapet. On one place he saw
some gamins cutting huge pieces of flesh off the dead body of a horse that was lying in
the path. There must have been fighting there. Down by the water a man fishing while two
shells fell in the river, a little higher up, a yard or two from the shore. Then he
thought it prudent to get nearer to the Palais de l'Industrie. The fighting was nearly
over then, but not quite. The Champs Elysees was melancholy in the extreme; not a soul was
there. This was only too literally true, for several corpses lay on the ground. He saw a
soldier of the line lying beneath a tree, his forehead covered with blood. The man opened
his mouth as if to speak as he heard the sound of footsteps, the eyelids quivered and then
there was a shiver, and all was over.
My friend walked slowly away. He saw trees thrown down and bronze lamp-posts broken;
glass crackled under his feet as he passed near the ruined kiosques. Every now and then
turning his head he saw shells from Montmartre fall on the Arc de Triomphe and break off
large fragments of stone. Near the Tuileries was a confused mass of soldiery against a
background of smoke. Suddenly he heard the whizzing of a ball and saw the branch of a tree
fall. From one end of the avenue to the other, no one; the road glistened white in the
sun. Many dead were to be seen lying about as he crossed the Champs Élysées. All the
streets to the left were full of soldiery; there had been fighting there, but it was over
now. The insurgents had retreated in the direction of the Madeleine. In many places
tricolor flags were hanging from the windows, and women were smiling and waving their
handkerchiefs to the troops. The presence of the soldiery seemed to reassure everybody.
The concierges were seated before their doors with pipes in their mouths, recounting to
attentive listeners the perils from which they had escaped; how balls pierced the
mattresses put up at the windows, and how the Federals had got into the houses to hide.
One said, "I found three of them in my court; I told a lieutenant they were there,
and he had them shot. But I wish they would take them away; I cannot keep dead bodies in
my house." Another was talking with some soldiers, and pointing out a house to them.
Four men and a corporal went into the place indicated, and an instant afterwards my friend
heard the cracking of rifles. The concierge rubbed his hands and winked at the bystanders,
while another was saying, "They respect nothing, those Federals; during the battle
they came in to steal. They wanted to take away my clothes, my linen, everything I have;
but I told them to leave that, that it was not good enough for them, that they ought to go
up to the first floor, where they would find clocks and plate, and I gave them the key.
Well, messieurs, you would never believe what they have done, the rascals! They took the
key and went and pillaged everything on the first floor! " My friend had heard
enough, and passed on. The agitation everywhere was very great. The soldiers went hither
and thither, rang the bells, went into the houses and brought out with them pale-faced
prisoners. The inhabitants continued to smile politely but grimly. Here and there dead
bodies were lying in the road. A man who was pushing a truck allowed one of the wheels to
pass over a corpse that was lying with its head on the curbstone. "Bah! " said
he, "it won't do him any harm." The dead and wounded were, however, being
carried away as quickly as possible.
The cannon had now ceased roaring, and the fight was still going on close at hand---at
the Tuileries doubtless. The townspeople were tranquil and the soldiery disdainful. A
strange contrast; all these good citizens smiling and chatting, and the soldiers, who had
come to save them at the peril of their lives, looking down upon them with the most
careless indifference. My friend reached the Boulevard Haussmann; there the corpses were
in large numbers. He counted thirty in less than a hundred yards. Some were lying under
the doorways; a dead woman was seated on the bottom stair of one of the houses. Near the
church of "La Trinité" were two guns, the reports from which were deafening;
several of the shells fell in a bathing establishment in the Rue Taitbout opposite the
the Boulevard itself, not a person was to be seen. Here and there dark masses, corpses
doubtless. However, the moment the noise of the report of a gun had died away, and while
the gunners were reloading, heads were thrust out from doors to see what damage had been
done---to count the number of trees broken, benches torn up, and kiosques overturned. From
some of the windows rifles were fired. My friend then reached the street he lived in and
went home. He was told during the morning they had violently bombarded the College
Chaptal, where the Zouaves of the Commune had fortified themselves; but the engagement was
not a long one, they made several prisoners and shot the rest.
My friend shut himself up at home, determined not to go out. But his impatience to see
and hear what was going on forced him into the streets again. The Pepiniere barracks were
occupied by troops of the line; he was able to get to the New Opera without trouble,
leaving the Madeleine, where dreadful fighting was going on, to the right. On the way were
to be seen piled muskets, soldiers sitting and lying about, and corpses everywhere. He
then managed, without incurring too much danger, to reach the Boulevards, where the
insurgents, who were then very numerous, had not yet been attacked. He worked for some
little time at the barricade, and then was allowed to pass on. It was thus that we had
met. Just as we were about to turn up the Faubourg Montmartre a man rushed up saying that
three hundred Federals had taken refuge in the church of the Madeleine, followed by
gensdarmes, and had gone on fighting for more than an hour. "Now," he finished
up by saying, "if the curé were to return, he would find plenty of people to
I am now at home. Evening has come at last; I am jotting down these notes just as they
come into my head. I am too much fatigued both in mind and body to attempt to put my
thoughts into order. The cannonading is incessant, and the fusillade also. I pity those
that died, and those that kill! Oh! poor Paris, when will experience make you wiser?