Maximilian in Mexico. A Woman's Reminiscences of the French Intervention 1862-1867 by Sara Yorke Stevenson - HTML preview
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.
Measures were immediately taken to execute the articles of the convention by bringing back the French forces beyond the Chiquihuite, and on April 7 General Almonte, official y recognized by the French, endeavored to ral y the scattered remnants of the clerical party by issuing a proclamation signed by ninety-two Mexican notables, in which he declared himself provisionally the supreme chief of the nation. To this President Juarez responded by a decree establishing martial law and declaring all cities occupied by the French in a state of siege. War with Mexico was declared.*
* "Where was the solemn assurance that there existed no intention to threaten the independence, the sovereignty, and the integrity of the territory of the Mexican republic? And yet, even after the repulse of the French at Puebla, Napoleon, in a letter to General Forey, dated July 3, 1862, still kept up the flimsy farce. "The end to be attained," he wrote, "is not to force upon the Mexicans a form of government which would be disagreeable to them, but to aid them in their efforts to establish, according to their own wish, a government which may have some chance of stability and "which can insure to France redress for the wrongs of which she complains" (Memorial Diplomatique, March 12, 1865).
Was this blindness or duplicity?
The rupture between the al ies was final, though peaceable. On April 15
Sir Charles Wyke and General Prim* concluded a separate treaty with the government of Juarez, and, having thus skilful y extricated themselves from a perilous situation, they prepared to leave the French to their own destiny.
* The instructions given to General Prim by the Spanish government were as fol ows: (1) A public and solemnly given satisfaction for the violent expulsion of her Majesty the Queen's ambassador (the terms of which were prescribed minutely), in the absence of which hostilities must be declared. (2) The rigorous execution of the Mon-Almonte treaty, and the payment of the Spanish claims unduly suspended by the Mexican government, and the payment in specie of 10,000,000 reals, this being the amount of unpaid interest. (3) An indemnity to the Spaniards entitled to damages in connection with the crimes committed at San Vicente, Chiconcuagua, and at the mine of San Dimas, and the punishment of the culprits and of the authorities who had failed, to punish said crimes. (4) The payment of the cost of the three-masted schooner Concepcion, captured by a ship of Juarez.
The instructions close with the fol owing: "Such are the conditions to be presented by your Excel ency, but never peace; and without their complete acceptance by the government of the republic, it wil not be possible to suspend hostilities." Compare French text given by Domenech, loc. cit., p. 383.
Meantime the rainy season was approaching, at which time the difficulties, already so great, must become multiplied in a land where roads were only so called by courtesy and were little more than beaten-down tracks. The return of the French army to the coast, where the vomito was now raging, meant death to many, and possible disaster to the army. But the terms of the treaty were formal, and the admiral was not one to break his word. M. de Saligny and General de Lorencez were less punctilious; they reluctantly obeyed the order of the commander-in-chief, but watched for an opportunity to break through the impalpable barrier raised--as they thought, by honor alone--between them and the Mexican capital.
The opportunity soon presented itself, and General Zaragoza, commander-in-chief of the Liberal army, unwarily furnished General de Lorencez with the excuse for which he so anxiously longed, by addressing to him a communication concerning four hundred soldiers disabled by sickness, who had been left behind in the hospital at Orizaba under the protection of the treaty of La Soledad. In the wording of this communication the French general saw, or chose to see, a threat to the life of his soldiers.
It is but fair to say, however, that the sanguinary decrees issued one after the other by the Mexican government, the feeling against foreigners now rapidly growing among the people, the close proximity of numerous guerrillas standing ready to take advantage of the first moment of weakness or distress, the murder of French soldiers whenever they strayed from the camp,--all these symptoms of a fast fermenting spirit in the invaded land seemed to warrant the apprehensions of the general with regard to the safety of his trust.
At al events, he boldly assumed the whole responsibility of the step he was taking. Leaving Cordoba with the army, he immediately pushed on to Orizaba (April 19), where he arrived (April 20) just as General Prim, with the Spanish contingent (and the newspaper staff which, gossip related, had traveled in his suite to herald his exploits--truly a sinecure!), were leaving by the same garita on their way to the coast.
General Zaragoza, with the Liberal army, retreated from the city by one gate as the French entered by the other, with all the bells of the city ringing in token of popular rejoicing--under compulsion. General Zaragoza fell back upon Puebla. Having secured Orizaba as a basis of operation, General de Lorencez, with some five thousand men, started in pursuit of the Mexican army (April 27).
In the meantime a courier from France had brought the recal of Admiral Jurien de la Graviere, whose fal from the favor of his imperial master was kept no secret. The same courier that brought the admiral the disapproval of his government brought General de Lorencez his promotion to the command of the army. Napoleon, deceived by his minister's statements, now corroborated by General de Lorencez, only later did tardy justice to the admiral, to whom he strove to make amends by attaching him to his imperial staff.
Thus the clearing up of a situation already precarious was left to a man of narrow views and smal capacity, who, according to the verdict of his own officers, had little to recommend him save the soldierly qualities of bravery and energy. That General de Lorencez, under instructions from his government and relying upon the statements of its agent at Mexico, should have arrived imbued with erroneous ideas with regard to the popularity of the intervention and the relative strength of the Liberal and clerical parties, seems natural. But enough had taken place since his arrival in Mexico to open the eyes of one less wilful y blind. Any military chief of average capacity must have seen that the whole Mexican population was not rising to "greet the French army as liberators," and that the popular enthusiasm that was to open to them the doors of every town, turning their progress to the capital into a triumphal march marked at every point by ovations, showers of flowers, and the spontaneous vivas of a hitherto oppressed and now grateful multitude, was but a fast disappearing mirage luring them on to destruction.
Instead of the promised enthusiastic welcome a sul en acquiescence in the inevitable everywhere greeted the foreign invaders. This, whenever compatible with personal safety, turned into active enmity on the part of the nation, and often into open and revengeful cruelty. Instead of the great reactionary army, numbering at least ten thousand men, which, rallying under General Marquez, was to hurry to his support on his march upon the capital, a few stray guerril as had joined his forces, il -armed, il -fed, undisciplined bands, upon which smal reliance could be placed, and whose presence under the French flag only helped to irritate the feelings of the people. And far from the Liberal party losing its partizans upon the landing of the French, some of the reactionary leaders,--as, for instance, General Zuloaga,--forgetting their former feuds at the first sound of a foreign invasion of their native land, had rallied around the Mexican government, whose cause now seemed linked with that of the national honor.
When reverses and difficulties of al kinds assailed the army, it was remembered that General de Lorencez's violation of the sacredness of a treaty had taken place on Good Friday at half-past three o'clock, and I was told that this coincidence had been looked upon by many among the soldiers as a bad omen.
The Mexican government, however, had made good use of the time gained by the skilful negotiations of its representatives; it had earnestly prepared for resistance, and now concentrated its whole strength upon the defense of Puebla.
Such was the condition of affairs when unforeseen circumstances brought me to Mexico.
THE FRENCH INTERVENTION
I. THE AUTHOR LEAVES PARIS FOR MEXICO
On March 4, 1862, one of my brothers, then on his way to the United States, and incidental y the bearer of despatches from Mr. Thomas Corwin, our minister to Mexico, was attacked and, after a sharp fight, murdered by a small band of highwaymen near Perote. I was then in Paris, where I had been left to finish my education under the care of old and dear friends. In consequence of this tragedy it was deemed advisable that I should join my family.
M. Achil e Jubinal, my temporary guardian, was a distinguished antiquary and scholar, the founder of a museum in his native town, and the author of works upon ancient arms and tapestries, which are stil authorities.
He was an homme de lettres connected with a leading paper, and a deputy in the Corps Legislatif for the department of the Hautes-Pyrenees. He was a self-made man, and thoroughly wel made was he--witty, kind, just, and learned in certain lines; and his warm Southern blood colored his personality with a shade of materialism which his refined tastes never allowed to sink to the level of coarseness.
He was to me the kindest of guardians and dearest of "chums," and made my Sundays and vacations real holidays. He often took me bric-a-brac-hunting to old shops unknown to all save the Parisian curiosity-seeker, and happy hours were spent on the quays among the old book-stands in that fascinating occupation for which the French bookworm has coined the word bouquiner. And then the charming evenings spent at the theaters and ended at Tortoni's with this truest of "boulevardiers,"
who knew every one and everything, and whose inexhaustible fund of anecdote was enlivened by a spontaneous easy wit and verve that made his companionship a delight.*
* Among my old papers I find the fol owing invitation to go with him to the Odeon to see a piece called "Les Pilules du Diable":
"Je viens rappeler a Sara
Une date encore lointaine,
Et lui dire que ce sera
Le jeudi de l'autre semaine
Que la-bas a l'Odeon,
Derriere les funambules,
Sans etre M. Purgon,
Je lui fais prendre 'Les Pilules.'
His wife was the daughter of the Comte Rousselin de St. Albin, a man of considerable influence during the reign of King Louis-Philippe, whose close personal friend he was.
M. de St. Albin's house in the Rue Vieil e du Temple, where his family lived when we first knew them, had original y formed part of the famous Temple, which in medieval times was the abode of the Templars. It was an interesting place, full of historic memories. Within these legendary wal s he had accumulated countless relics of those among his early associates who were then so fast becoming heroes in the French annals.
Being an intimate friend and a connection of the Comte de Barras, the chief executive under the Directory, it was to him that the latter, by wil dated February 2, 1827, intrusted not only his secret memoirs,* but all his private and official papers. At the death of M. de St. Albin (1847) this important collection passed to the possession of his children.
*See "Memoires de Barras," vol. i, p. 20 (Paris, 1895-96). These memoirs have only recently been published by M. Georges Duruy, who married M.
Jubinal's daughter, the granddaughter of Comte Rousselin de St. Albin.
I wel remember, as a little girl, being shown some of the choicest pieces in the series, among which were interesting original portraits.
One paper especial y made an indelible impression upon my childish mind, and I can now recal the feeling of awe with which I gazed upon the appeal to arms in the name of the Commune, drawn up by Robespierre and his col eagues on the night of the 9th Thermidor, a document which has since been published by M. Duruy in the "Memoires de Barras."
Robespierre had just written the first syllable of his name below those of his col eagues when the Convention was attacked. The blood-stains which spattered the sheet, and told of the final tragedy of the leader's life, appealed to my youthful imagination, and are still vivid in my memory.
Notwithstanding her father's connections with the Orleanists, Hortense de St. Albin and her brother were closely connected with the new order of things. She had entertained personal relations with the Empress before her elevation to the imperial throne, and the brother, Comte Louis-Philippe de St. Albin, was librarian to her Majesty. These close affiliations with the court did not prevent M. Jubinal, in his political capacity, from gradually sliding into the ranks of the opposition. Later he occasionally was one of the few who voted against the measures of the government in the legislative struggles brought about by the intervention of France in Mexican affairs. Whether this attitude was whol y due to his superior common sense, or whether behind his political convictions there lingered a tinge of chagrin at a disappointed hope of senatorial honors once held out to his ambition by the French emperor, it is difficult to tel . It is probable that the latter motive formed, unknown to him, a foundation upon which his wisdom and political principles rested, and which lent them added solidity.
Before I left France I was, at his house, the interested though silent listener to many a violent discussion upon the stirring theme. The critics of the Napoleonic policy loudly denounced the fraudulent transactions connected with the issue of the Jecker bonds. They more than intimated that the great of the land were mixed up in the disgraceful agiotage that had led to these serious difficulties, and that al this bril iant dust of a civilizing expedition to a distant El Dorado was raised about the Emperor by his entourage to conceal from him what was going on nearer home.
One of their strongest arguments was that the invasion of Mexico by the French army must necessarily give umbrage to the United States, with which traditions of friendship had long existed; and they urged that, whatever the crippled condition of the Union, such a course could not fail eventual y to lead to dangerous complications.
One day in March, 1862, before the news of the rupture between the French and their al ies had reached Paris, M. Jubinal invited me to accompany him to the Hotel des Ventes, Rue Drouot, where an important collection of tapestries and other objects of art was on view to be sold. There were comparatively few amateurs in the rooms when we entered. My companion was pointing out to me the beauties of a piece which he particularly coveted when some one came behind us and cal ed him by name. We both turned around and faced a middle-aged man whose dress, manner, and general bearing showed him to be a personage of some importance. M. Jubinal, who evidently knew him wel , addressed him as
"M. le Duc," and his strong likeness to the Emperor, as wel as a few stray words, soon led me to guess, even before my guardian had gone through the form of an introduction, that he was no less a personage than the Duc de Morny.
The Duc de Morny's position during the period that elapsed between the revolution of 1848 and 1865 was one unique in France; and yet it is doubtful whether his fame would have been as worldwide as it has become had it not been for the part he played in the Mexican imbroglio.
Brought up as a child by a charming woman of graceful intel ect and literary pretensions, he had met early in life the Duc d'Orleans, who had led him into the gay Parisian world of which he was the leader.
After a brief military career in Africa, he resigned from the army, and divided his interest between politics and speculation. He employed his leisure moments in writing very indifferent plays, which, although published under a nom de guerre (St. Remy), he depended upon the servility of the Parisian press to carry through. He was not a deep thinker, nor was his intel ectual horizon a broad one; but his views were liberal, his shallow mind was bril iant and versatile, and to the graceful frivolity of a man of the world he united a taste for the serious financial and political problems of his time. He belonged to that set of bright young politicians who, toward the end of the reign of Louis-Philippe, passed, as was cleverly said, "from a jockey club to the Chamber of Deputies," declaring that France was a victim of old-fogyism, and flattering themselves with the thought that they would infuse the vigor of youth into politics. These would-be founders of a new era called themselves "progressive conservatives" (conservateurs progressistes).*
* Under this title he wrote an article published in the "Revue des Deux Mondes," January, 1, 1848.
Just before the revolution of July, which established the republic, he was spoken of for a place in the cabinet as minister of commerce. Gifted with great tact and worldly wisdom, satisfied to wield power without taking too large a place on the political stage, the Duc de Morny's popularity and peculiar position enabled him to be the go-between in the compromise that followed. As early as 1849 he was reported to have said to a friend: "Quand je coup se fera je vous en previens, c'est moi qui le ferai."* Another of his mots has often been quoted** and is most characteristic of the man: "S'il y a un coup de balai, je tacherai d'etre du cote du manche."
* "Revue des Deux Mondes," 1865, vol. lvi, p. 501 et seq.
** Henri Rochefort ("Les Aventures de ma Vie," vol. i, p. 245) casts a doubt upon the originality of his wit.
At the time when I met him he was president of the Corps Legislatif, where, without the slightest pretension to oratorical talent, he wielded an immense influence. He was what we call a "leader" in every sense of the word--at court, on the Bourse, and in the political as wel as in the social world.
On that morning he was with the duchess, bent upon the same errand as ourselves, and seeing us, he had come to ask M. Jubinal to give them his opinion upon the value of a possible purchase. After discussing the subject, which was al -engrossing for the moment, the duchess turned to me and politely drew me into conversation. Her kindly manner set me at ease, and she soon extracted from me the information that I was about to sail for Mexico. At this she became much excited, and exclaiming, "Oh, I must tell M. de Morny!" she immediately moved to where he and M. Jubinal had wandered, saying, "Just think, this young girl is going to Mexico on the Louisiane alone, under the care of strangers." A gleam of interest brightened the great man's dul eye as for a moment it rested upon me.
He asked me a few questions; but as the duchess rather commanded my attention, he soon turned to M. Jubinal, and I overheard my guardian tel ing him of the tragic events which had caused my rather sudden departure, at the same time expressing some anxiety with regard to my own safety. "Oh," said the duke, "by the time she arrives there we will have changed al that. Lorencez is there now; our army wil then be in the city of Mexico; the roads wil be quite safe. Have no fear."
A mild, half-playful argument fol owed in the course of which my guardian, I thought, was not quite as uncompromising in his criticism as he was when surrounded by those who shared his own opinions. But the duke was very affable, and the duchess was in truth charming, with her Northern beauty, her delicate high-bred features, and her wealth of blond hair. No wonder if he could not be stern.
It was the first time that I had met the man whose influence then ruled over the destinies of France and Mexico, and the incident natural y impressed itself upon my memory. Upon my arrival in Mexico, where I found men puzzling over the extraordinary lack of concert between the allied invaders, which baffled their understanding, I remembered those words of the Duc de Morny, uttered even before a suitable pretext had been furnished General de Lorencez for breaking through the preliminary treaty of La Soledad, and, of course, before the news of the final rupture between France, England, and Spain could possibly have reached Europe. M. de Lorencez, it is now known, had gone to Mexico with ORDERS
to march without delay upon the capital.
The Gare d'Orleans presented a scene of more than usual animation when, on the morning of the thirteenth day of April, 1862, our fiacre landed us at its entrance, en route for St. Nazaire. The Compagnie Transatlantique, formed by the house of Pereire, was giving a grand inaugural banquet to celebrate the opening of the new line of steamers that was to carry passengers direct from France to Mexico. The Louisiane was to sail on her first trip on the following day. A special train was on the track awaiting the distinguished guests of the company, and it is safe to say that two thirds of the celebrities of the day in the world of finance, of politics, and of journalism were gathering upon the platform.
M. Jubinal, himself an invited guest, had decided to take me with him, as he was anxious to see me safely on board. The presence of a young girl at the station natural y excited some curiosity among the smal clusters of men who here and there stood by the carriage doors chatting with one another, ready to take their places; and as we passed by, my companion was the object of inquiring looks from those with whom he was on familiar terms. But this curiosity invariably gave way to evidences of more earnest interest when they were told that I was to sail for Vera Cruz on the following day.
Our companions in the railway-carriage were journalists whom M. Jubinal knew, and a deputy whose name now escapes my memory. Each one had much advice to bestow and many wise opinions to express, the remembrance of which afforded me endless amusement after I had reached my destination, so far were they from meeting the requirements of the case. And all, whatever their personal views with regard to the intervention, confidently expressed the conviction that upon reaching the capital I should find the French flag flying over the citadel.
During the ride down to St. Nazaire the conversation ran whol y upon the subject of Mexico, and of the magnificent opportunities to French commerce and speculation opened up by the expedition. Of these our present errand was an earnest. In listening to them, one might have thought that Napoleon had found Aladdin's lamp, and had deposited it for permanent use at the Paris Bourse. Mining companies, colonization companies, railroad companies, telegraph companies, etc.,--all the activities that go to constitute the nineteenth-century civilization,--were in a few short years to develop the mining and agricultural resources of the country. A new outlet would open to French industry, and the glory of French arms would check the greed of the Anglo-Saxon, that arrogant merchant race who would monopolize the trade of the world. The thought was bril iant, grand, generous, noble, worthy of a Napoleonic mind. There were mil ions in it!
Later, upon reaching Vera Cruz, I remembered that nothing had been said of the yellow fever and the rainy season, or of the magnitude of the sparsely populated country which it was necessary to clear of predatory bands who then virtually held it, or of the expense in men and millions which must be incurred to maintain order while al these great schemes were being carried out. My eloquent fellow-travelers unhesitatingly asserted that Mexico yearned for al this prosperity; it was extending its arms to France; the French army would receive one long ovation in its triumphant march to the capital amid vivas and showers of roses. All who KNEW said so. How lucky was mademoiselle to be going there at this auspicious moment, to witness such great and stirring events!
M. Jubinal looked somewhat incredulous, but the atmosphere created just then by the occasion was certainly against him. Here was a large company of French capitalists, backed by one of the most substantial houses in France, opening direct communication between that country and Mexico, when hitherto most of the traffic had been conducted through an English medium. To my youthful mind it DID seem then as though M. Jubinal had the worst of the argument.
Upon leaving my brilliant companions to find my way to the steamer, however, the scene changed as suddenly as though a wizard's wand had wrought its magic. The weather seemed threatening; a dull gray sky hung low over the bay, and the chopping, white-capped waves reflected the leaden color of the clouds.
There were only forty passengers on board, and, comparatively speaking, little of the animation that usual y precedes the outgoing of an ocean steamer. I found without difficulty the French banker and his Mexican wife who had kindly consented to chaperon me during my lonely journey; and I soon discovered that she and I were the only women passengers on board.
Our fel ow-travelers were uninteresting--mostly commercial agents or small tradesmen representing the old-established petty commerce with Mexico. The new order of things was suggested, somewhat ominously, only by the presence of two young surgeons on their way to increase the effective force of the military hospital in Vera Cruz.
Evidently the predicted exodus to El Dorado had not yet begun. Where was the advance-guard of the great army of emigrant capitalists now about to start, and of which I had just heard so much?
This was the first serious disillusion of my life, and it left a deep and permanent impression upon my mind. What was the relation between the great banquet of Pereire & Co., this train ful of statesmen, literati, and other distinguished men, this blast of the press heralding a great and joyful event in the commercial life of the French nation,--and this old patched-up ship, with its scant load of commonplace and evidently old Franco-Mexican tradesmen, lying in lonely dul ness against the gray sky on that gloomy evening?
Those men were rejoicing over us while we lay here at anchor. They were drinking to phantoms evoked by their own imagination, and their glowing speeches would to-morrow stir the fancy of thousands of readers who, seeing through their eyes, would view the dark hulk of our old ship framed in a glittering golden cloud. Where I now stood, almost alone in the gloom, the vivid imagination of those men yonder in the banquet-hal at that very hour perceived the mirage of the speculative fever crowding the decks of the Pereire steamers with imaginary colonists eager to convert their savings into mining stocks and Mexican railroad bonds, and rushing to the land of Montezuma to sow and reap a rich harvest for Prance.
How many wretches were induced to risk their money upon such representations?* Oh, the dreariness, the loneliness, of that first night at anchor in the Bay of Biscay! The misgivings that fil ed my heart! Who was right? What should I find over there? Surely these statesmen, capitalists, journalists, legislators, should know what they were doing.
* "L'Opinion Nationale," August 30, 1866, stated that 300,000
bondholders invested in Mexican securities which in 1866 were worth no more than the paper they were printed on.
And yet, beyond the line of the western horizon, which only a few hours before they had peopled with glittering visions, there slowly rose in the darkness the phantom of an arrested coach, of panic-stricken travelers, of fierce murderers assaulting a young man, of a dead body on the roadside; and this empty ship seemed more real at that moment than all that I had yet heard or read.
After stopping to coal at Fort-de-France, in the beautiful island of Martinique, and a few days later stopping at Santiago de Cuba, we final y, on May 2, caught sight of a dark, broadening line upon the horizon, behind which soon loomed up in solitary dignity the snow-capped peak of Orizaba; and passing the Cangrejos and the island of Sacrificios, we anchored off the fort of San Juan de Ul oa, where we awaited a clean bil of health from the quarantine officers who came on board.
The first impression made upon the mind by Vera Cruz is depressing. In May the heat is intense. The town is situated in a low, swampy district, and was then unprovided with the slightest artificial contrivance for the betterment of its naturally unhygienic conditions. There was no systematic drainage, and the entire refuse matter of an ignorant and indolent population might have been left to fester under the rays of a tropical sun during the dry season, had it not been for the zopilotes, or turkey-buzzards, which, protected by law, had multiplied to such an extent as to form a tolerably efficient body of scavengers. The steeples and flat roofs of the low town were literally black with them. Their dense black swarms, resting like a pall upon it, in striking contrast with its white wal s, gave the city, as one approached it from the sea, an appearance of mourning. On our journey we had anchored at Santiago de Cuba, where smallpox was raging, and now the health-officers hesitated about letting us enter this plague-stricken place.
As time wore on, the excitement of our safe arrival gradual y died out.
We gazed across the water at the inhospitable gates to this promised land, where so many strangers pausing like ourselves had recently found a grave. It seemed as though we were awaiting admittance to a funeral; and when the tol ing of some church or convent bel , frightening the carrion-eating birds, caused a general flutter, the sight was strangely suggestive of the pestilential death ever lurking below, ready to feed upon the foreign visitor. One could scarcely help thinking of the dead and the dying, and wondering, with a shudder, what might not be the ignoble cravings of the gruesome flock.
II. PUEBLA AND MEXICO--GENERAL DE LORENCEZ--GENERAL ZARAGOZA The health-officers who boarded the steamer at Vera Cruz gave us unexpected and startling news. The French army had been repulsed with serious loss before Puebla. The direct route, by which the trip from Vera Cruz to Mexico via Orizaba--one hundred and ten leagues--could be made in four days,* was blocked by the contending armies. If we wished to proceed on our journey, we must do so via Jalapa, a much longer route. The discomforts of this road were, moreover, complicated by the fact that it was now infested by a large number of guerril as,--one might as well say highwaymen,--who made it difficult for travelers to pass unmolested, unless through some special arrangement. This my companions were confident could easily be settled; but some days might be spent in negotiations, and the health-officers said that the yel ow fever was raging as it had not raged for years. The presence of so many foreigners had added to its violence, and the French garrison could be maintained only by constant reinforcements.
* It can now be made by rail in ten hours.
Upon landing, our little party went directly to the house of Mr. Lelong, the hospitable French banker who in Vera Cruz represented the house of Labadie & Co. Here we remained five days, enjoying every comfort, while the necessary preparations were being made for our somewhat perilous journey to the capital. I then heard for the first time the details of the disaster brought upon the French by General de Lorencez's wilful blindness.
Confident in the elan of his picked troops, and, as one of his officers afterward told me, complacently holding up to himself the example of Cortez, who had conquered the land with as many hundreds as he had thousands, the French general, unable with so small a force to undertake a siege, determined to attempt the assault of the Cerro de Guadalupe.
This fort dominated the place, and its possession must, in his opinion, insure the fal of Puebla.
The il -advised attack was made on May 5,1862, with twenty-five hundred men. The place was topographically strong. It was defended by General Zaragoza with the very pick of the Mexican army under General Negrete, and was, moreover, supported by the well-manned battery of the Fort de Loretto. To attempt the assault of such a position without the support of artillery seemed madness; and when the general ordered his troops forward it was found that his field-battery, owing to the lay of the land, could not even be brought to bear upon the fort at sufficiently close range to reach it. One fifth of the corps of attack was thus uselessly sacrificed.
Some months after these events (September, 1862) I witnessed in the city of Mexico the public obsequies of General Zaragoza,* whom this exploit had naturally placed high in the esteem of his countrymen. Upon the elevated catafalque, drawn by a long line of horses draped in black trappings, lay the stately coffin. Tossed at its feet was the French flag; banners, hung everywhere, inscribed with devices recal ing his signal service to his country, proclaimed him "the conqueror of conquerors" (el conquistador de los conquistadores). The French, it was asserted, had measured themselves with and conquered all the nations of the world, and Zaragoza had conquered the French!
* Much of the credit for the achievement was due to General Negrete, whose command bore the weight of the assault upon the Cerro de Guadalupe and prevented its capture.
This day is proudly recorded in the Mexican annals as the Cinco de Mayo.
The historic importance of a battle is not always to be measured by the numbers of the contending forces, and although its far-reaching significance was at the time scarcely understood, this check must ever be remembered by future historians as the first serious blow struck by fortune at Napoleon III and his fated empire. The honor of France was now involved and must be vindicated. There was no receding upon the dangerous path. No French sovereign could dare to withdraw without avenging the first check met with by the French army since Waterloo, and thus was the Emperor rushed on to fulfil his own destiny. To-day the fire from the fort of Guadalupe casts a flash of lurid light upon the beginning of la debacle, and upon the last chapters written at Sedan.
During the whole of that fatal day the doomed men marched, as they were ordered to march, upon the Mexican battery. They hopelessly fought, and died heroical y; and when night came they beat an orderly retreat, carrying away with them most of their wounded.
General de Lorencez slowly fel back upon Orizaba, where he issued a proclamation* to the army, openly laying the responsibility of the disaster upon the false statements made to him by the French representative.
* See proclamation, published in Louet, "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique," etc. "Reve d'Empire," p. 72.
The French army, which fell back upon Orizaba, was in a critical position. Its communications with the coast had been interrupted by the Liberal guerrillas, and it was completely cut off from the seaport and from France. The bridges were destroyed; the convoys of provisions were attacked and burned; anxiety was felt by the commissariat with regard to supplies. The garrisons left by the French on the way had been driven back and hemmed in in the unhealthful region, where the French regiments were fairly melting away, and no courier was permitted to bring news from the seat of war to the French fleet and to the garrison of Vera Cruz.
The rainy season was near at hand when communication was restored by the arrival at Vera Cruz of General Felix Douay, who landed with reinforcements on May 16.
The five days that we spent in Vera Cruz were anxious days for those who had assumed the responsibility of our little party. Never was there a worse time to travel over a road which at best was unsafe, and yet we could not remain where we were without danger.
I was not allowed to move out of the house and all I saw of the town was from the balcony whence, in the cool of the evening, I looked down upon the dull street. Every now and then a passing stretcher supporting a covered human form would remind us that we were in a plague-stricken city, and make us eager to start upon our way.
At last arrangements were completed, terms were made with a small guerril a band whose chief undertook to see us safely through to Mexico, and on May 27 we began our journey.
The men of our escort, whom we met just out of the city, were a ruffianly-looking set. The chief had received an ugly saber-cut across his face, which added to the forbidding expression of a naturally repulsive physiognomy. They were wel mounted, however, and seemed inclined to be civil. We were al owed only an arrota (twenty-five pounds) of luggage, and were supposed to have no money with us; but on the night before we left we sewed a few ounces of gold (sixteen-dol ar pieces) in unlikely places of our underwear. Thus we left Vera Cruz a la grace de Dieu.
Well it was that we had made terms with this little guerril a company, and we had ample opportunity of testing the truth of the saying, "There is honor among thieves." All along the road we met armed bands, varying in strength, until, at a village near Jalapa, we fell in with the wel -known chief Antonio Perez and his famous plateados, two hundred strong, who had won their name and a somewhat doubtful distinction by their successful raids upon convoys of silver. Our escort fraternized with al , and they let us pass unmolested.
I was told that at this period scarcely a stage reached the capital without having been robbed. The passengers were often even despoiled of their clothing, so that newspapers were brought into requisition to serve as garments for the unfortunate victims. When such was the case the doors of the hotel were closed upon the arrival of the coach in the courtyard, and blankets or other coverings were brought down before the travelers could alight with any show of propriety.
To say nothing of our emotions, many and varied were our experiences on that never-to-be-forgotten nine days' journey. Generally we slept in cities or towns, where we were made more or less comfortable; but on one occasion, owing to an accident, we were belated and had to stop overnight at a miserable hamlet, where no accommodation could be procured save such as a native adobe house could afford. This consisted of one large room approached by a shed. In this room the man, his wife, his children, his dogs, pigs, and smal cattle lived. A team of mules outside put in their heads through an opening and breathed over our cots. The English language cannot be made to describe the atmosphere and other horrors of that night. Cots had been improvised for Mrs. D---- and me, but there was no sleep for us, and we envied the men, who took their chances of malaria and preferred sleeping outside to sharing our shelter.
At last we reached the crest of the mountain from which we looked down upon the valley of Mexico, a huge basin encircled by mountains; and there at our feet lay the capital, with its two hundred thousand souls, its picturesque buildings, and the lakes of Chalco and Tezcuco, while to one side the huge snow-capped volcanoes, the Iztaccihuatl and the Popocatepetl, like two gigantic sentries, seemed to watch over the sacredness of this classical spot of Mexican history.
The capital was quiet and peaceful. It seemed utterly shut out from all the excitement created by the invasion, as though, real y trusting in its remoteness, its barriers of mountains, its lakes and natural defenses, it defied the foreigner. Was it that Mexico was then so accustomed to transfer its al egiance from one military ruler to the other that even foreign invasion left it indifferent? Or was it the childlike faith in the unknown, the national Quien sabe? spirit, virtually carried out at this supreme crisis? However this may have been, very little of the outside conflict seemed as yet to have penetrated the minds of the people. The diplomatic corps entertained our little coterie, which included those Mexicans who were willing to mix with the foreign element.
Society danced and flirted, rode in the Paseo, and walked in the Alameda, just as though the Cinco de Mayo had been a decisive battle and General de Lorencez's army had been driven back to its ships.
The bul -fights once in a while gathered in the vast enceinte of the Plaza de Toros the society of the capital. During the winter of 1863 the young men of fashion of Mexico took the Plaza de Toros, and invited Mexican society to a performance. All who took part were amateurs, and it was a bril iant affair. The huge amphitheater, crowded with the wel -dressed audience, was in itself a memorable spectacle, and as the sun went down, casting great shadows and oblique rays of light upon the gay assemblage, intent upon the fierce games of the picturesque performers in the arena, one unconsciously dreamed of the Colosseum and of the bloody sports of semibarbarous Rome.
Besides the ordinary bul -fight, there were many exercises of horsemanship and with the lasso that did credit to the skill of the young gentlemen. Moreover, as these men, who were all wealthy, rode their own spirited horses, the performance presented none of the most revolting features of the usual bull-fight, where the poor, miserable hacks, too jaded to obey the rein, are general y gored, and soon turn the arena into a slaughter-house, the sight of which it is impossible for an Anglo-Saxon to endure.
Our box was sent us by Don Jose Rincon Gal ardo and his brother Don Pedro, who belonged to the elite of Mexican society and were among the prime movers in the affair. When Mexico fel into the power of the enemy, these young men joined the Liberal army in defense of their native land, and later we wil find the first at Queretaro earning honorable distinction amid events the memory of which can never fade from the pages of history.
It was a curious, easy life in the midst of what to us now would seem perilous conditions. No man, in those days, ventured out of an evening to pay a call without being wel armed, and our little anteroom assumed, after eight o'clock, the appearance of an arsenal. Nor were these precautions unwarranted. To give but one instance: The secretary of the Prussian legation, a nephew of the minister, Baron Wagner, having excited certain animosities, was more than once waylaid and attacked in the street after dark. He was a fine specimen of the Teutonic race, a tal , powerful man, and generally carried brass knuckles. After the first attack he made it a point at night to walk in the middle of the street, so as to avoid too close a proximity with corners and dark angles of doorways, regarding them as possible ambushes. As he was ful y prepared, he more than once escaped without harm. But one night, when, for some unknown reason, he carried a revolver, he was assaulted from behind. Before he could cock his weapon and turn to face his would-be assassins, he had received several stabs in the back, and was left as dead upon the street. He lay for weeks between life and death.
This had happened in the spring of 1862. A short time after my arrival, having just recovered, he cal ed to take leave of my family before returning to Germany. His faith in the superiority of brass knuckles over the revolver, in case of sudden attack, was not to be shaken.
Many and strange were the stories told me when I arrived in that land destined by nature to be a paradise, but of which the inhabitants were then making a Tartarus. To the horrors then perpetrated by robbers or highwaymen, justice could be done only by the pen of a Poe.
Kidnapping was not infrequent, and the cruel ingenuity displayed by the bandits to keep safely their victim pending the negotiations for a ransom was often blood-curdling. I might fill a small volume with such anecdotes, but the terrible fate of two hacendados, kidnapped in the interior of the country, may suffice to give an idea of the tax which living in Mexico at that time might levy upon the emotions of a young girl fresh from Paris.
The two unfortunate men had been captured by one of those smal bands which in war-times were cal ed guerril as, but which we should ordinarily call banditti. They were dragged from place to place about the country by their captors, who kept them under strict surveil ance.
One evening, as they were approaching a town, the prospect of a riotous night spent over pulque and monte at some fonda excited the imagination of the men, and, as no one would consent to be deprived of the anticipated pleasure for the sake of mounting guard over the prisoners, it was decided that the miserable victims should be, for safe-keeping, buried up to their necks in the earth. Surely they could not escape, and would be there next morning awaiting the return of their captors. And so they no doubt would have been, but for the coyotes, which, al ured by the easy prey delivered up to them by the devilish ingenuity of those human fiends, came during the night and devoured the heads of the helpless victims. Who can ever realize the mental and physical anguish in the midst of which those two wretched lives came to an end?
Sometimes there was a touch of weird humor in the manner in which such outrages were perpetrated. One night a wealthy family in Mexico drove home in their carriage from a party. They stopped at their porte-cochere, which was opened by their servant, and closed tight behind them as they drove in. Two men, however, had fastened on to the carriage behind. They overpowered the portero as he barred the door, while the noise of the carriage rol ing on the flags of the patio smothered the sound of the scuffle. They opened the door to their accomplices, and easily overcame family and servants, all of whom were bound hand and foot. Then the robbers ransacked the premises, and having packed al the valuables into the carriage, one of them took the coachman's clothes, mounted on the box, and coolly drove off in style--carriage, horses, and al .
In a wild, sparsely populated country like Mexico in 1862, where communication was difficult, where the police of even large cities, when not in direct sympathy with the malefactors, were overawed by them, and where forty years of civil war had hardened men to the sight of blood, it is not to be wondered at if impunity had multiplied such occurrences and destroyed all sensibility with regard to human suffering.
Much excitement was created both in France and in the United States, during the French intervention, by the relentless spirit with which the conflict was conducted between the opposing parties, and by the wanton destruction of life and property which characterized the struggle. But when one realizes that the Mexican armies at that time were on both sides to a great extent made up of such predatory material, and that even their officers were frequently little more than chiefs of guerril as, who ral ied sometimes under one flag, sometimes under the other, but in either case were always ready for rapine, the brutal character of the conflict can scarcely excite surprise.
III. THE SIEGE OF PUEBLA--GENERAL FOREY--GENERAL ORTEGA The news of the check sustained by the French at Puebla--a check to which the precarious condition of the army lent al the proportions of a serious defeat--was made public in France by means of a despatch sent from New York on June 14. The army was at once raised to twenty-five thousand men. The command-in-chief of this increased force was given to General Forey. He entered upon his official duties on October 25,1862.*
* General Forey commanded the Fourth Division at the battle of Alma, in the Crimean war; at Sebastopol he commanded both the Third and the Fourth, to which was intrusted the siege work.
The new commander-in-chief, like those whom he was superseding, was under precise orders from the home government to be guided by M. de Saligny. Notwithstanding the disastrous consequences of his misrepresentations, the French minister, strangely enough, stil retained his hold upon the Emperor and his advisers.
General Forey's instructions, given in a note from Napoleon dated July 3, 1862, were to bring about, through General Almonte, the convocation of an assembly of notables to decide upon the "form of government and the destinies of Mexico." Should the Mexicans prefer a monarchy, "it was in the interest of France to support them, and to indicate the Archduke Maximilian as the candidate of France."*
* "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique, d'apres les Documents Inedits d'Ernest Louet," etc. Edited by Paul Gaulot. Part I, "Reve d'Empire," p.
91, 4th ed.(Paris).
On February 18, 1863, after wasting four precious months, at an enormous cost of money and prestige, General Forey appeared before Puebla.* The procrastination of the French commander had given the Mexican government time to elaborate the defense. General Zaragoza had died, in the full blaze of his glory, in the month of September. His successor, General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega, had now under his command a fairly organized army of twenty-two thousand men. The main trouble was the scarcity of arms.
The guns were mostly old rejected muskets, and I was told that during the siege unarmed bodies of men waited to use the arms of the slain or wounded. But the place had been strongly fortified; this time it was to be war in earnest.
* General Forey explained his extraordinary procrastination by complaining that the minister of war had failed to supply him with a sufficient amount of ammunition. See Colonel Loizil on, "Lettres sur l'Expedition du Mexique," p. 101.
The town was built in blocks. Each block, fortified and defended by the besieged, must be fought for and carried by assault, at terrible cost of life on the part of the French, whose close ranks were fired upon with murderous effect from the roofs and windows on both sides of the streets.
The episodes of the contest recall those of the siege of Saragossa, when the Spaniards so fiercely resisted the French forces; only at Puebla the cruel struggle lasted two whole months.* To quote a French officer, it was "a noble defense, admirably organized."
* From March 18 to May 10, 1863. See Colonel Loizillon, "Lettres sur l'Expedition du Mexique," Paris, 1890.
The pulse of the capital now quickened under the influence of Puebla's sacrifice to the national honor. Every now and then a thril of vindictive patriotism ran through the city and clamored for revenge.
Already, before the celebration of the anniversary of the national independence (September 16, 1862), wild rumors of a contemplated wholesale slaughter of foreigners had run through the town, arousing among us fears of an impending catastrophe. The news had one day been brought us that the 16th was the date fixed for these new Sicilian Vespers, and all were warned to be watchful. The day, however, passed without any further demonstration of ill wil than a few shots, and cries of "Mueran los Franceses!"
Much of this excitement had, of course, been fostered by the stirring proclamations of the government, issued with a proper desire to arouse into something like patriotic enthusiasm the apathy of a people accustomed to submit to the inevitable. There was no telling, however, to what extremes might resort a populace composed of Indians and half-breeds, should it once become ful y alive to the situation. To such a people geographical discrimination seemed a nicety; the issue was between them and the foreigners, and the words "French" and "foreigner"
were at that time general y used as synonymous.
This was not all. When the fort of San Xavier was taken, and when began the frightful hand-to-hand fight in Puebla, the result of which was a foregone conclusion, the government announced its intention to defend the capital. The level of the lakes of Chalco and Tezcuco is above that of the city, and the flooding of the valley was regarded as an effective means of defense. This, of course, meant pestilence. The president resolutely declared that, should arms fail, the people must prolong the defense of the capital with their "teeth and nails"; and although there was no practical response among the people, a general and very genuine uneasiness pervaded the whole community.
It was a Mexican custom on Good Friday to burn Judas in effigy on the Plaza Mayor. Judas was a manikin made in the shape of the person who happened to be most unpopular at the time. It was quite admissible to burn Judas under different shapes, and sometimes these summary autos da fe were multiplied to suit the occasion and the temper of the people. At the same time, rattles were sold on the streets, and universal y bought alike by children and adults, by rich and poor, to grind the bones of Judas, and the objectionable noise--second in hideousness only to that of our own sending off of fire-crackers on the Fourth of July--was religiously kept up all day. In the year of our Lord 1863 Judas was burned in Mexico on the Plaza Mayor under the shapes of General Forey, Napoleon III, and last, but not least, M. Dubois de Saligny, who especially was roasted with a wil amid the wild execrations of the populace.
President Juarez had bent his whole energy upon the raising of an army of relief. He succeeded in getting together some ten thousand men, the command of whom he gave to General Comonfort. This had been no easy task. A general leva had been ordered, and al were mustered into the army who could be provided with arms. Of uniforms there was, of course, no mention. It was a supreme and desperate effort.
A convoy of supplies for the relief of General Ortega was also prepared, which it was hoped General Comonfort might succeed in throwing into the besieged city. He utterly failed, however; and his raw recruits having been routed at San Lorenzo* by General Bazaine (May 8), further resistance became hopeless. Puebla was lost. General Ortega faced the situation with a dignity worthy of his courageous defense of the town.
He spiked his guns, blew up his magazines, disbanded the garrison, and, with his officers, surrendered on May 19.
* San Lorenzo is a village and hacienda through which the main road to Puebla passes about sixty-six miles from Mexico.
The news fell like a knell upon the capital. As far as we were concerned, there seemed to be just then only a choice of evils. Either the government would await in Mexico the impending issue, and we must be exposed to al the unspeakable horrors of which Puebla had just been the scene, or the President and his administration would abandon the city, and an interval must follow during which we must be left exposed to mob law, or, should Marquez first take possession of the city, perhaps to pil age and bloodshed.
Meanwhile Congress had indefinitely adjourned, after conferring ful and extraordinary powers upon Juarez. The president issued a proclamation announcing his firm resolve to continue the war. After this he prepared to leave the city and to retire to San Luis.
That night, while sitting in our drawing-room, we heard the dul , steady tramp of men marching, otherwise noiselessly, down the Cal e de San Francisco toward the plaza; and looking out of the window, we saw the debris of the defeated Liberal army making its way through the city. A strange, weird sight they presented in the moonlight--these men whose sole equipment consisted of a musket and a cartridge-box slung over their white shirts. Most of them wore only loose calzoneras, and many, according to the Mexican custom, were accompanied by their women.
Apparently undrilled, or, at least, tramping on with scarcely an attempt at order, and seen in the half-shadow cast by the houses upon the moonlit street, their loose ranks reminded one more of the immigration of some ancient barbaric horde than of the march of a modern army.
I shal never forget the impressions of that night. The picturesqueness of the scene was not lessened by the element of personal interest that attached to it. What did this portend--this ragged remnant of a defeated army hurrying through the capital in the dead of night? Were the French approaching, driving it before them? Was it intended to garrison the city, and here to make the last stand in defense of the republic and of Mexican liberty? Or, on the contrary, was it beating a retreat into the interior of the country, making way for the advent of the foreigner and monarchy and priest rule?
The next day (May 31, 1863) an unusual stir was noticeable in the city.
The air was all aglow with excitement. Horsemen were galloping in the streets leading pack-mules, and the sleepy town seemed ful of bustle and animation. As we stood at our balcony, we saw many acquaintances, apparently equipped for a journey, speeding past, with a wave of the hand as a last farewel ; and soon the attache of the American legation dropped in with a message from Mr. Corwin to the effect that President Juarez and his government were leaving the city.
The exodus of the previous night was thus explained. The remnants of General Comonfort's and General Ortega's armies had fallen back to serve as an escort for the government in its flight. The city was now without an administration, without a police, without an army. It was left unprotected, at the mercy of the mob or of the invader, and the serious question before us was how best to protect ourselves pending the arrival of the French forces.
The foreign representatives, fearing that the vanguard might be formed of the Mexican contingent under Marquez, and knowing the pitiless ferocity of the "Leopard," as the chieftain was cal ed,* petitioned General Forey to send one of his divisions to take immediate possession of the capital. Meanwhile the foreign residents organized and formed themselves into mounted patrols, and although only seven hundred strong, they managed to maintain fair order.
* His name was Leonardo, from which came the sobriquet Leopardo.
Here and there ominous incidents occurred to show the necessity of such vigilance. A Frenchman was lassoed, and dragged through the streets by a small mob; another was shot in the head in front of our house, and, bleeding, took refuge in our patio. Upon inquiry, I was told that he had cried, "Vive la France!"
No one thought of retiring on that memorable night. From time to time a stray shot, a few shouting drunkards, or some other unwonted noise in the street, would excite our apprehension; then again, occasionally, some friend, passing with a patrol before our door, would step in and report that so far all was quiet.
Late that night, when at the window, listening in the stillness then reigning over the city, a distant but strangely familiar sound fell faintly upon my ear--very faintly; but never did the finest harmony born of Wagner's genius so fil a human soul with ecstasy. There was no mistaking it: it was a French bugle. The French were entering Mexico. We were safe, and now might go to bed.
IV. THE FRENCH IN THE CITY OF MEXICO--THE REGENCY
The next morning the town was swarming with red trousers, the wearers whereof were seeking quarters. From our balcony we saw, standing at the corner of the Calles de la Profesa and Espirito Santo, a little group of officers talking together in that half-earnest, half-distrait manner so characteristic of men newly landed in a town, whose interest in every trifle gets the better of the topic under immediate consideration.
By their uniforms and demeanor we could judge that one was a general and the others were officers of various rank. As we appeared at the balcony there was a perceptible flutter among them, and some of them began to ogle us as only Frenchmen could whose eyes had not rested upon a white woman for several months. This incident, trifling as it seems, was to become the key-note of our future Mexican existence. The group of officers in quest of suitable quarters turned out to be General Bazaine and his staff, some of whom afterward became our warm friends.
We now found another source of apprehension. The apartment we had rented, at the corner of the Cal e de San Francisco, opposite the Iglesia de la Profesa, was larger than necessary for our small family, and a very spacious room looking upon Mexico's fashionable thoroughfare had been left unfurnished and unoccupied by us. It was obvious that we should be required to give it over for the use of some officer of the invading army, and the matter was naturally not without interest.
Early in the morning of June 5, a carriage drove up, and some middle-aged officers of the administration, in green-and-silver uniforms, applied for quarters. One of them was the paymaster-in-chief of the army, M. Ernest Louet. He was a worthy man, who afterward became a frequent visitor, although his general appearance and peculiar, peak-shaped skul , undisguised by any hirsute covering, were not likely favorably to impress frivolous feminine minds.*
* M. Louet, after the Franco-Prussian war, visited Marshal Bazaine in his Spanish retreat, and obtained from him all the documents relating to the intervention and the empire of Maximilian then in his possession. It was his intention to use them as the basis for an authentic history, which, however, he did not live to publish. The task thus begun by M.
Louet was subsequently completed by M. Paul Gaulot, in 1889, under the title, "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique, d'apres les Documents Inedits d'Ernest Louet, Payeur-en-Chef du Corps Expeditionnaire," and divided into three parts: "Un Reve d'Empire," "L'Empire de Maximilien,"
and "Fin d'Empire."
We drew a forlorn picture of the rooms, which, as a fact, were utterly unsuited to his purpose. He left without even looking at them, and we had a reprieve.
The unfinished condition of the apartments, as wel as an abundant expenditure of tact and diplomacy on our part, saved us from other applicants, and we were beginning to flatter ourselves that we should escape this much-dreaded imposition when, late in the afternoon, two young naval officers called, accompanied by orderlies and pack-mules.
They presented bil ets de logement, requesting to be given possession.
We tried to discourage them, assuring them that the rooms contained no conveniences of any kind, not even furniture: but the young men were evidently easily satisfied; they politely but firmly insisted--their only wish, they said, being to camp under cover.
This annoyed us, and we showed them scant courtesy, not even attempting to disguise the fact that they were most unwelcome. Fate was, however, kind to us when it sent us these men. They turned out to be perfect gentlemen, and completely won us over by their unvarying good breeding under shabby treatment. Before long we were, and remained, the best of friends. As for their orderlies, they soon made love to our Indian maidens, and there is every reason to believe that the interlopers obtained al necessary comforts, after all. So al went well enough in the two menages.
Indeed, an entente cordiale between the population of Mexico and the French army was rapidly established. In a few days the place assumed an unwonted aspect of cheerfulness and festivity. The French officers, who for over a year past had led a life of hardship, were now bent upon pleasure. They fell graceful y into the Mexican mode of life, and took kindly to the havanera, the bull-fights, the Paseo, and the style of flirtation preferred by the Mexican women. For this they soon coined a French word, noviotage,* and thus expressed the semi-Platonic love-making of indefinite duration and undefined limits which with the natives usual y culminates in marriage, after a prolonged term of years, but which with foreigners seldom culminated at al , for lack of time.
They "played the bear,"** and ogled their chosen one from the street or at the Alameda, or fol owed her carriage on horseback at the Paseo, according to the most approved Mexican methods; and in exchange for small favors received, they cast a glow of sparkling cheerfulness upon the dull city of Montezuma.
* Derived from novio, "betrothed lover."
** The Mexicans cal hacer l'oso the mode of courtship by which the lover, on horseback, passes under his chosen one's window, up and down, casting longing glances at her--the worse the weather the more ardent the love.
General Forey made his triumphant entrance on June 10. It was a magnificent sight, and one not easily forgotten. As the victorious veteran troops,--many of whom had seen the Crimea, Syria, and Italy,--in their battered though scrupulously neat uniforms, marched through the Cal e de San Francisco, laden with their cumbersome campaign outfit, the whole population turned out to see them, and the balconies and windows on the line of march were lined with eager and interested faces.
This was no ordinary pageant. It was serious work, and ful of the deepest meaning. These survivors of an army of thirty thousand men had arduously fought their way to this triumph for sixteen months. No one wil probably ever know how many of their comrades had dropped on the roadside; and the weather-beaten faces, bronzed by long exposure to the tropical sun, the patched clothes, the long line of ambulances fol owing in the rear, told a story in which little room was left for the imagination. The sight kindled genuine interest and aroused the sympathy of the crowd, and something very like spontaneous enthusiasm thrilled through the air on their passage.
The keys of the city had been solemnly offered to General Forey by General Salas, amid the acclamations of the people. The next day M. de Saligny presented a list of thirty-five citizens destined to form a junta. These were to select three men to act as regents pending the final decision of the people with regard to a permanent form of government. The junta was empowered to add to its numbers two hundred and fifteen citizens, supposed to be taken from al classes, who, with the thirty-five appointed by the French, would compose the assembly of notables upon whom must devolve the carrying out of the farce which it was intended must take the place of a popular expression of the wil of the country.
Don Theodosio Lares was elected its president. This junta, in a secret meeting at which two hundred and thirty-one members were present, deliberated upon the form of government to be chosen for the Mexican nation and on July 10, at a public meeting, presented a report in which the republican system was denounced as the cause of the greatest evils which had of late years been the scourge of the country, and monarchy was advocated as the only remedy.
Four articles were voted upon, with only two dissenting voices: (1) The nation adopts as a form of government a constitutional monarchy, hereditary under a Catholic prince. (2) The sovereign wil take the title of Emperor of Mexico. (3) The imperial crown of Mexico is offered to his Royal Highness Prince Ferdinand Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, for himself and his descendants. (4) In the case where, owing to unforeseen circumstances, the Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian should not take possession of the throne offered him, the Mexican government trusts in the good wil of his Majesty Emperor Napoleon III to designate another Catholic prince to whom the crown shall be offered. A regency, composed of General Almonte, General Salas, and Archbishop Labastida, was forthwith established, under the protection of the French.
It was obvious to all that the performance was enacted for the "benefit of the gallery." Gossip even told how the French had paid for the very clothes worn by some of the so-cal ed "notables" upon that occasion.
Nevertheless, the monarchy, by the wil of the people, was voted in, and a commission was appointed, consisting of the most distinguished among the reactionary leaders, to wait upon Maximilian of Austria, and to offer him the throne on behalf of the Mexican nation.
But although the part played by the French in this comedy was thinly disguised, every one in the capital was now in a good humor. After the severe strain of the past year, the onerous burdens which had been imposed upon the people by the Liberal government in order to carry on the war,--the forced loans raised from the wealthy, the leva by means of which the poor were seized upon and pressed into the army,--a sudden reprieve had come. Al responsibility now seemed lifted off the Mexican people and assumed by the French; and the revival of trade under the impulse given by the influx of pleasure-loving foreigners, who freely spent their money, was regarded as an earnest of the prosperity to come.
No one seemed disposed to be over-critical as to methods, if only peace and plenty could be assured.
It would seem, however, that Napoleon's instructions to General Forey had not been exactly carried out. According to these, and in order to retain ful control of political operations, the general was himself to appoint the provisional government, with General Almonte at its head.
After this, tranquil ity having been established in the country, he was to cal for a popular vote to decide upon the form of government to be adopted and to constitute a national congress.*
*See official letters, November 1, December 17, 1862, February 14, 1863.
The French government had repeatedly declared to England and to the world that "no government would be imposed upon the Mexican people." Had it been honest when signing the provisions of the treaty of London, and later those of the convention of La Soledad, the armed expedition had now reached its end. Indeed, quite enough had already happened to show the French statesmen how il usory had been the promises of the Mexican refugees and the representations of Messrs. de Saligny and Jecker; and now, once more and for the last time, the opportunity was offered Napoleon graceful y to withdraw with the honors of war from the fool's errand on which he had so recklessly embarked.
The French army was now in Mexico. The commander-in-chief and the French minister might dictate their terms to the enemy from his fallen capital, and then retrace their steps homeward.
But this was not to be; unwilling to recognize his own error, Napoleon III preferred attributing to the mismanagement of his agents the difficulties that had sprung up on every side, and he resolved to persevere in his original intention. As for General Forey, whether his dul ness of perception failed to grasp the true drift of his master's mind, or whether he was unable to steer his way through the tortuous policy which he was cal ed upon to further, he seemed to regard his mission as fulfil ed. After he had established the native provisional government, he complacently rested in the enjoyment of his new title of Marshal of France, apparently overlooking the fact that outside of the capital the national party held the country as absolutely as ever. He issued a decree confiscating the property of al Liberals who did not lay down their arms, and al owed the regency, which was composed of three clerical leaders,--General Almonte, of whom Marshal Bazaine was wont to say that he meant well, but il se prend trop au serieux, General Salas, a conservative old fossil unearthed for the occasion, and Archbishop Labastida,--to foreshadow an era of reaction and retrogression.
A decree (1863) intended to stop the exporting of gold, and another confiscating the property of political adversaries, created so much uneasiness that the French government was obliged to interfere and enforce their repeal. An ordinance compelling every one to kneel in the street upon the passage of the eucharist created loud dissatisfaction among the liberal-minded; and ordinances forbidding work on Sunday without the permission of the parish priest, and suspending work in the erection of buildings upon land formerly belonging to the clergy, had eventual y to be repealed.
Religious processions had been forbidden by the Liberal government. One of the first mistakes made by the commander-in-chief was to allow the clergy to celebrate in June the Fete-Dieu, that should have been celebrated in May, but had been omitted, as Juarez was then in possession of the city. Not only did General Forey consent to this, but he and his officers attended the procession, an act which excited the sarcasm of the Liberals and gave substance to the fear that the French protectorate meant reaction.
The priests and clericals ful y believed that their turn to govern had come. They actual y notified the tenants of former clergy property not to pay rent to their landlords, as the sales of such property had been the work of Satan, and were now to be annul ed, and that if they paid their rent they must eventual y be cal ed upon to pay it over again to the church, the rightful owner.
Meanwhile Maximilian's faith had been shaken by the refusal of England to guarantee the empire. When, in the autumn of 1861, the negotiations secretly carried on with regard to the establishment of a Mexican monarchy had at last assumed a tangible form, and serious propositions had been made to the Archduke Maximilian by M. Gutierrez de Estrada (the representative of the reactionary party in Mexico, acting at the instigation of Napoleon III), the archduke, with the approval of his brother Emperor Francis Joseph, had acquiesced under two principal conditions: "(1) The support, not only moral, but material and efficient, of the two great powers (France and England); (2) the clearly expressed wish of the Mexican people."*
* See note drawn up under his supervision by his secretary, the Baron de Pont, bearing date September 27, 1861, published in "La Verite sur l'Expedition du Mexique," loc. cit., pp. 8, 9, and compare M. de Keratry, "L'Empereur Maximilien," etc., pp. 8, 9. It has been said that the project was submitted to Maximilian three years before the treaty of Miramar was signed (see Charles d'Hericault, "Maximilien et le Mexique,"
p. 23), and I heard it asserted, while in Mexico, that the Mexican empire was not whol y unconnected with the peace of Villafranca, after which the archduke had retired to his castle on the Adriatic. However this may be, the above shows that official, though secret, negotiations were opened with regard to Maximilian's future empire even before the treaty of London was signed (October 31, 1861), and that, in entering into the triple al iance, England was being led by her wily ally further than she meant to go.
French diplomacy had failed in its efforts to secure British concurrence. Maximilian now showed himself unwil ing to regard the invitation of the junta assembled in the capital as sufficient to constitute a claim to the imperial crown. He insisted upon a similar expression of feeling from the other large centers of population in the country, and stated his readiness to accept the trust "when the vast territory should have been pacified." This meant the conquest of the country, neither more nor less.
Napoleon apparently did not hesitate. Trusting in the love of warlike achievement so strong in the French people, he pushed ahead along his dangerous path. That even now he clung to the practicability of his original plan is shown by the almost naive manner in which, on September 12,1863, he wrote to General Bazaine that "the PRINCIPAL object at present was to pacify and organize (!)" the country by cal ing upon al men of good will to ral y around the new order of things and by preventing the enactment of reactionary measures. He then stil hoped and believed that the return to France of the outlay caused by the expedition could be guaranteed by means of a great loan raised in Mexico--WHEN, organized and restored to prosperity. He constantly urged upon his agents the organization of the finances of the country and of the Mexican army.
Immediately upon the arrival of the French, Napoleon had sent a financier, M. Budin, to put order into the country's resources. M. Budin was a commonplace, middle-aged little man, of mediocre ability, whose personality was not calculated to impress one with an idea of intel ectual force. I was told, by those who were in a position to judge of his ability as a specialist, that, although a first-class administrative officer, he was lacking in initiative, and was in no way qualified to extricate Mexico from financial difficulties. His attainments were those acquired in the daily routine of an upper clerk's wel -defined duties, and his mind was of narrow scope, il fitted to adapt itself to the entirely new problems set before it. He had been Paymaster of the French army during the Crimean and the Italian wars, and afterward receveur-general de la Savoie. He brought with him a mining engineer and a staff of custom-house and revenue officers.
He did not distinguish himself, one of his earliest acts being to urge the promulgation of the above-mentioned decree sequestrating the property of al who were then opposed to the new order of things. He also reinstated the old method of administering justice, which was a disappointment to the progressive element. To be sure, Maximilian, upon his arrival, treated him coldly, and did not help him to make a success of his mission. His place was successively fil ed by M. de Maintenant and by M. Corta, who were not more successful in bringing the revenues of the empire up to its requirements. M. de Bonnefons, a fourth financier, sent in 1865, fell ill and was compelled to return to France.
The year fol owing his arrival, he, in turn, was replaced by M.
On July 16, 1863, the Emperor had promoted General Forey to the rank of marshal, and had thus softened the recal of his incompetent, though faithful, servant.
The newly made marshal celebrated this promotion by a bal , at which a trifling incident occurred which made an impression upon me, and which, no doubt, General Forey remembered for some time. He was a very heavy man, of ful habit, tal , with a short neck and red complexion, al the more ruddy by contrast with his gray hair and mustache. While waltzing past the general, I saw the light chair upon which he sat suddenly give way with a loud crash under his ponderous weight, and down came the commander-in-chief hard upon the floor. Rumors of his probable downfall were already reaching us, and the appositeness of the situation appealed to us. I jokingly whispered to my partner, a young officer on his staff:
"Mon general, vous avez fait la culbute." We both thoughtlessly laughed, and were caught in the act by his Excellency at the moment when, helped to his feet, unhurt, by the bystanders, he was endeavoring to veil under an assumption of increased dignity his consciousness of the absurdity of the accident. He flushed up angrily, and, I was afterward told, never quite forgave the young man for his share in our disrespectful mirth.
He was most unpopular. His whole conduct, since his arrival in Mexico, had been characterized by weakness, indecision, and lack of judgment, and he had shown himself in every respect unequal to the difficult task before him. Colonel Loizil on says that, on the way to Puebla, when the generals assembled in council of war differed, instead of deciding the question the commander-in-chief would adjourn, beseechingly saying: "Mon Dieu, tachez donc de vous entendre"* ("Gentlemen, DO try to come to an understanding"). He had al owed himself to be deceived by the French minister to Mexico with the glaring facts before his eyes. As a military chief, his procrastination had given the Mexicans the time they needed ful y to organize their defense; and had it not been for General Bazaine's energy and military capacity in urging and successfully carrying out the attack upon the fort of San Xavier, the siege of Puebla, already prolonged far beyond the limits of al likelihood, might have cost the French a stil greater expenditure of time and human life.
Indeed, it was the openly expressed opinion of many French officers that to famine was principal y due the fal of Puebla. "Sans cela nous y serions encore," they would say.
* "Lettres sur l'Expedition du Mexique," p. 101.
General Forey's elevation had been due mainly to the fact that he was one of the men who had served Napoleon in 1851 in the coup d'etat.
Indeed, many of the Emperor's most glaring failures were due to the same cause,--i.e., loyalty to individuals,--which led him to place in responsible positions men of small merit and of less principle who had stood by Caesar and his fortunes.
In France the effect of the general's incapacity had been serious. The delay that had occurred in bringing about a result announced as easy of accomplishment had furnished sharp weapons to the opposition. It had forced the government to ask the Chamber of Deputies for large appropriations to conduct the war upon a serious scale. It was no longer a military parade from Vera Cruz to Mexico to present the French flag to the enthusiastic gratitude of the Mexicans: it was a fighting army of thirty-five thousand men to be maintained across the seas at the expense of France.
The French leaders may be said to have displayed, in their Mexican venture, the same lack of administrative efficiency and of military organization, the same insufficient knowledge of and preparation for the task to be performed, as so conspicuously appeared at the very outset of the Franco-Prussian War. It is impossible to read the accounts of the various campaigns since published without recognizing the presence, in victory over an unorganized enemy, of the elements of the later failure when the same men were arrayed against the strongly organized German forces.*
* It is interesting, in this connection, to find that the same conditions existed in France at the time of the Crimean war. General Bosquet, one of the heroes of that expedition, in his letters constantly denounced the administration for its lack of preparation. Under date of January 14, 1854, he says: "Imagine that they have not yet made any preparation. The cavalry has neither horses nor men; neither has the artillery. No orders have been given about harness, or about any new material." And in another letter, written on the eve of his departure for the seat of war, he repeats the same complaints. Marshal St. Arnaud, the commander-in-chief, wrote from Gallipoli to the Emperor that the army lacked the very necessaries of life: "One cannot make war," he said in a note dated May 27, "without bread, shoes, kettles, and water-cans."
With characteristic patriotism, the Chamber voted the appropriations necessary to vindicate the honor of the French flag; but the government was condemned to hear many unpleasant truths.
As for M. de Saligny, he had turned the French legation into a business office, in which the guaranty of France was traded upon to cover the most doubtful transactions. Napoleon had at last recognized his true character, and now--too late, alas!--recal ed him from his post. "De gre ou de force, quand memo il aurait donne sa demission," he had written to General Bazaine.*
* November 1, 1863. See Louet, loc. cit., "Un Reve d'Empire," p. 208.
But this unforeseen contingency greatly disturbed the French minister in his operations. His accomplices, the clerical leaders and others, worked for him, and moved heaven and earth to have his recal reconsidered.
They failed; but to make up for his disappointment the Mexican National Assembly voted him a national reward of one hundred thousand dol ars.
Although Marshal Forey had not yet left the country, General Bazaine remonstrated with General Almonte, who, however, resented his interference.
Both M. de Saligny and Marshal Forey enjoyed too much playing the leading role to depart willingly. They lingered on, much to the amusement of the onlookers, until General Bazaine grew impatient at the awkwardness of his own position. The ridiculous side of the complication was seized upon by the wags of the army; bets were taken, and a song the refrain of which was, "Partiront-ils, partiront-ils pas," was popularly sung everywhere, the innumerable verses of which showed the inexhaustible interest taken in the subject.*
* Plus rapide que l'eclair
Un bruit circule en vil e;
La joie, la gaiete sont dans l'air;
On s'aborde, on babille;
Soldats et pekins
Se serrent la main
En disant, 'Quel e chance!'
Tout bas on redit,
Sont rappeles en France,"