Notes on the War. Engels 1870-71.
Source: The Pall Mall Gazette, August 27, 1870;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.
Yesterday a piece of news was telegraphed which caused great sensation among our contemporaries. It came from Berlin, and was to this effect, that the King’s head-quarters had been moved to Bar-le-Duc, that corps of the First and Second Armies remained facing Bazaine’s army, and that the remainder of the German forces “had resolutely entered upon their march to Paris.”
Hitherto the movements of the German armies have been kept secret during their execution. It was only when the move had been completed, when the blow had been struck, that we learned whither the troops had been going. It seems strange that this system should be reversed all at once; that taciturn Moltke should, without any visible occasion for it, all of a sudden proclaim to the world that he is marching upon Paris, and “resolutely” too.
At the same time we hear that the advanced troops of the Crown Prince are pushed nearer and nearer to Paris, and that his cavalry spread more and more towards the south. Even in Château-Thierry, almost half way between Châlons and Paris, the dreaded Uhlans are said to have been seen.
Might there not be a special reason, not quite evident at the first glance, why this announcement of the intentions of the King of Prussia should be made just now, and why, at the same time, the German cavalry should redouble their activity?
Let us compare dates. On the evening of Monday, the 22nd, MacMahon commenced his movements through Reims on the road to Rethel, and for more than fourteen hours the columns passed continually through the town. By the evening of Wednesday, if not before, the news of this march might have reached the German head-quarters. There could be but one meaning in it: the intention to set free Bazaine from the trap in which he is shut up. The more MacMahon advanced in the direction he had taken the more would he endanger his communications with Paris and his line of retreat, the more would he place himself between the German army and the Belgian frontier. Let him once get beyond the Meuse, which he is said to intend passing at Laneuville, opposite Stenay, and his retreat may easily be cut off. Now, what could more encourage MacMahon to persist in his dangerous manoeuvre than the news that, while he was hurrying to the relief of Bazaine, the Germans had left only a comparatively small portion of their forces before Metz, and were marching “resolutely” upon Paris with the great body of their troops? Thus on Wednesday night this same piece of news is telegraphed from Pont-à-Mousson to Berlin, from Berlin to London, from London to Paris and Reims, whence no doubt MacMahon has at once been favoured with the information; and while he marches on towards Stenay, Longuyon, and Briey, the army of the Crown Prince, leaving a corps or two in Champagne, where now nothing opposes them, would draw off the rest towards St. Mihiel, pass the Meuse there, and try to gain by Fresnes a position threatening the communications of MacMahon’s army with the Meuse, and yet within supporting distance of the German troops before Metz. If this were to succeed, and if MacMahon were to be defeated under these circumstances, his army would have either to pass into neutral territory or to surrender to the Germans.
There can be no doubt that MacMahon’s movements are perfectly well known at the German head-quarters. From the moment the battle of Rezonville (or Gravelotte, as it is to be officially called) had settled the fact that Bazaine was shut up in Metz, from that moment MacMahon’s army was the next object, not only of the army of the Crown Prince, but also of all other troops which could be spared from before Metz. In 1814, indeed, the Allies, after the junction of Blücher and Schwarzenberg between Arcis-sur-Aube and Châlons, marched upon Paris, entirely disregarding Napoleon’s march towards the Rhine and this march decided the campaign. But at that time Napoleon had been defeated at Arcis and was unable to stand against the allied army; there was no French army shut up by allied troops in a border fortress which he might relieve; and, above all things, Paris was not fortified. Now, on the contrary, whatever may be the military value, numerically and morally, represented by MacMahon’s army, there is no doubt that it is quite sufficient to raise the investment of Metz, if that investment be carried out by no more troops than are necessary to hold Bazaine in check. And, on the other hand, whatever may be thought of the fortifications of Paris, nobody will be foolhardy enough to expect that they will fall like the walls of Jericho, before the first trumpet blast of the invaders. They will at least compel either a lengthy investment to starve out the defence, or a beginning, if not more, of a regular siege. Thus, while the Germans were “resolutely” arriving before Paris, and brought to a dead stop by the forts, MacMahon would defeat the German troops before Metz, unite with Bazaine, and then France would have an army upon the communications and lines of supply of the Germans strong enough to compel them to retreat more “resolutely “ than they had advanced.
If MacMahon’s army, then, be too strong to be neglected by the Germans under the circumstances, we must come to the conclusion that the intelligence of the resolute march of King William to Paris, which most of our contemporaries consider of the highest importance, either is a piece of false news thrown out intentionally to mislead the enemy, or, if it be really an indiscreet publication of correct news, represents a resolution come to before MacMahon’s latest move was known, in which case it will be speedily reversed. In either case, a corps or two may continue to advance towards Paris, but the mass of all available troops will be marched north-east to reap to the full those advantages which MacMahon almost throws at their feet.