At Five O’Clock We’ll All Be Dead – 2

It was about 1/2 past six, & all these various preparations were barely finished when we saw a large column of National Guards emerge from the embankment through the Rue St Martin & advance at the double towards us. In an instant everyone was at his post, & when the column was within pistol-shot of our barricade, seeing that they were continuing [their] march with weapons in hand, I cried: “Who goes there?” “France!” answered the captain commanding the column, continuing his march: the order of “Halt!”, strongly emphasized, and the sight of a hundred guns trained on the troop from every direction made them stop suddenly. The captain advanced about ten paces towards us from the head of his column and asked for parley, & Citizen R…….., rushing to meet him, asked him in what capacity he and his men were advancing towards us: “As friends!” he answered. “If you please, captain, could you explain yourself less vaguely; all of us are republicans… Is it as republicans, is it as friends that you come towards us?… Is it as Philippists & therefore as enemies?… Answer!..” “As friends!” cried the captain in a strong voice. Whereupon R…….. throws his arms around him & comes back towards us, giving him his hand… we welcome them with many “Hurrah!”s, but they barely reach the barricade before they launch themselves at us, crying, “Ah! Bandits! We’ve got you at last!!…” “Fire! Fire on my mark!” shouts R…….. in a stentorian voice, and instantly a rolling fire begins. A young man, placed several paces behind me & no doubt unaccustomed to weapons, directs the barrel of his gun close to my head; the shot goes off, & the fire singes my hair; taken by surprise, I turn back towards him & at the same moment a violent blow to the kidneys, which had the same effect on me as the blow of a baton or the butt of a gun dealt by a vigorous hand, laid me flat out on the ground: I thought I had had my spine broken. I stayed there for several seconds, unable to move; & when I stood back up, the National Guards were fleeing in such haste, abandoning their wounded to us, that I only had time to aim at one of them, who fell at my shot. The bullet had gone through his thigh.

All of this happened in less time than it has taken me to write it.

We barely had time to picke up the wounded, who were from the 6th legion, before a new attack column belonging to the same legion advanced from the top of the Rue St Martin.

I had a violent pain in my lower back, & my fellows wanted me to go to the field hospital right away to have my wound treated, but the enemy was there!… Their fire was beginning already… An effort like that was beyond my strength. I kept fighting.

I placed all my men with one knee to the ground behind the Rue Maubuée barricade, with only a few staying at the crenelations, which were still very low (this barricade was no more than 4 feet high), to encourage our assailants by the apparently small number of men defending the fortifications. We let them advance like that until they were within the range of a pistol-shot without responding to the fire they continued to direct at us as they marched; but then, we stood up all at once and gave them such a heated greeting, with cries, repeated a thousandfold, of “Long live the republic!”, that they stopped, undecided: this hesitation on their part was soon settled, though, when fresh firing from the barricade & the windows, no less well-aimed than the previous round, once more lit up their ranks. At that point it was no longer a disciplined corps but a cloud of Cossacks in full flight. We followed them for a moment, against my advice; I would have liked for us to never leave the barricades, but I couldn’t obtain this act of prudence from the brave men who were with me. They freely owned up to their recklessness. They acknowledged with me that this flight might be feigned & hide a trap, but at the first opportunity, their boiling courage would carry them away again, & they would fall into the same mistake.

Since the pressure my cartridge-belt was putting on my wound was causing me such piercing pain that I couldn’t bear it any longer, I took advantage of this moment’s respite to get to the field hospital where several of my companions were trying to take me. I had been hit by a bullet; it should have broken my spine, & by the luckiest of chances, the leather strap of my bandolier, which it had struck diagonally, had softened the blow of the lead & the ill-fated lead, after sliding obliquely along this part of my cartridge-belt, had stopped at the epidermis, but even though it was a light wound my lower back was black and very swollen.

While I was undergoing a very painful treatment, the swelling of the flesh having convinced the surgeons & doctors that the bullet had stayed there, a new round of gunfire began; the St Mery barricade was under attack for the second time: I wanted to leave without even having my wound dressed, but what did that matter! I would have thrown myself forward like a gladiator rather than not be at my post… They held me back…. No, never in my life have I felt pain as atrocious or harrowing as the pain that tore me apart at every musketry salvo whose noise struck my ear…. It was as though I was being scalped!!… At last I’ve been treated, the door isn’t closed on me any longer… I can go out!… I rush forward… oh! Rage! … An officer is standing on the barricade… he’s about to break through… I take aim at him and take a breath… He’s fallen!…

Soon discouraged by their vain efforts, the National Guards beat their retreat in disorder, leaving in our power a fairly large number of dead & wounded. Among them was the officer whom I had dealt a mortal blow just moments earlier. He was, I seem to recall, a lieutenant who belonged to the 7th legion. We realized as we were lifting him that he was still breathing & we hurried to transport him to the field hospital outside the barricade, where the most attentive care was lavished upon him. The bullet had gone through his chest. Brought back to consciousness after significant blood loss, he let us know his name, which I no longer remember, & told us he lived in the Rue d’Orléans or de Berry, in the Marais. He lived until 2:30 or 3 o’clock in the morning of the next day. The inhabitants of the house received for safekeeping, and no doubt returned to his family, his saber, his epaulettes, his purse, and his watch, with chain and seals in gold. This fact, which moreover we considered to be only natural, should be enough of an answer to those who accuse us of only wanting to loot and pillage. At that point it was 8:30 or 9 o’clock in the evening, and after sending several scouts ahead to warn us in case of a fresh attack, I enlisted my brave comrades-in-arms in raising small barricades within pistol-shot in front of our fortifications. We split ourselves into three squads, & an hour later had formed new fortifications about 2 1/2 feet high of approximately equal width.

I considered these outposts useful for breaking the ranks of our assailants if they tried to cross them, apart from also protecting our sentinals from being surprised in the night.

It was about ten o’clock, no new attack had been attempted, & I busied myself with making preparations for the night; I was already distributing posts, when some of our men who had gone out as scouts, up the Rue St-Martin, & who to pass the time had gone to attack a post the defenders of public order had set up in the Rue du Bourg-l’Abbé, came back to warn us that they thought we were about to have a new attack to repel, since the National Guard gathered in the Cour St Martin & the 6th arrondissement town hall seemed to be forming an attack column. “By god! my friends,” I said to my comrades, “these fellows have got to be tormented by a damn cruel insomnia, haven’t they? Onion-seed (military slang for powder) onion-seed is a powerful narcotic, are you feeling generous enough to dispense enough of it to them, without regrets, to put them to sleep? ..” This broad barracks joke had the best possible effect on them and sparked a great deal of laughter. All of them cried out, adding a bullet to the one already loaded in their guns, “Come on! Bring the narcotics… let’s put these good sirs to sleep.” “Just as long as they’ve taken the precaution of bringing along their nightcaps,” others replied.

I hurried to have lights placed in the windows near the advance barricades (the lights stayed there all night) so that we could get a respectable look at Philippe’s comrades; as for us, we stayed in the dark. Thirty determined men placed themselves as infantry in the alleys and carriage-doors between the two barricades, my forty inseparables stayed with me behind the first one, & the rest set themselves up at the windows. Soon we heard them beat the charge & our adversaries advanced with, I think, the conviction that they were going to find few or no opponents; the night, in their view, must have made us go back home. They were most disagreeably surprised, if that was their calculation… their first rank had barely set foot on the advance barricade when a salvo, all the more terrible because the shots were fired at almost point-blank range & with double-loaded guns, suddenly stopped them: they hardly took the time to riposte & fled in disorder, leaving us one dead and six wounded. Their loss must have been considerable though, judging by the large amounts of blood spread all over the place where they had been.

We were lifting up those wounded men when the alarm call was heard at the St Mery barricade; another column was advancing from this side. Received just as warmly as their predecessors, they took the same course of action after vainly burning up a few cartridges. Our brave men wanted to pursue them, & it was only with the greatest trouble that I managed to stop them by pointing out that this precipitous retreat might hide an ambush, and that it was quite possible that they wanted to lure us out of our barricades in order to catch us between two fires, which, in a street cut through by a great many cross-streets, & at night, would be very easy to do. And that we shouldn’t abandon our barricades under any circumstances, but especially not at night.

We stayed there, weapons at our feet, until almost midnight, singing the Marseillaise, the Réveil du Peuple, and the Chant du Départ. With nothing new coming up, I ordered those who felt the most tired to get some rest, almost all of them answered that they didn’t need it & that those who weren’t on watch duty would go melt lead into bullets & make cartridges. It was only after the most lively exhortations on my part and on the part of an officer from the Versailles National Guard, who had joined us about an hour ago in full dress, that they consented to rest for a few moments. But what a rest, dear God! The sleep of the brave, it’s true! All of them lying on their guns in the staircase & on the 1st-floor landing in the house at No. 30, how they inspired respect in me, with their manly faces blackened with powder from combat!… With what religious care did I step over the bodies of those heroes, who perhaps dreamed of liberty on the eve of a still-more-intolerable slavery (seeing all the National Guards turn against us, I had lost all hope of success). Oh! How great it was, how imposing, that tableau which will never fade from my memory!!….

I placed two sentinels at each advance barricade, with the order to hand over to the sentinels at the inner barricade any individual who might present himself for entry. These two inner barricades received the order to allow no weapons out & to call the guard for that post if a stranger was brought to them and hand him over to the guard. He in turn was to detain him in the guardroom, where the stranger would have to identify himself under pain of being taken for a spy & dealt with as such. I had already been called twice to identify two law students who had come to join us under cover of night, one dressed in a pelisse and the other in a Hussard officer’s dolman which the captain had lent them, and whom I had expected much earlier, when I was called over once again to identify a young man who said he was a law student. I had him brought in so the two newcomers could interrogate him; they recognized him.

He warned us that he knew, from a trusted source, that the infamous Vidocq & all of his band were going to leave the prefecture of police during the night, dressed as workers, & slip inside the barricades to use up ammunition by firing into the air, or by throwing out a portion of the cartridges, & perhaps by doing both (which seemed fairly probable to me) with the aim, once they had depleted the ammunition significantly, of luring away those who seemed to have the most influence over the mass of combatants, under the pretext of taking them to a place nearby where there was a large quantity of powder or cartridges, & by these means to make the unfortunate men who followed them fall into ambushes they had prepared in advance.

I shared this situation with those of my brave comrades-in-armes who hadn’t gone to sleep, encouraging them to redouble their vigilance, & all of them promised to scrupulously examine anyone who came to join us or tried to do so.

About half an hour later a man 33 or 34 years old was presented to me, he had no papers on him & this circumstance combined with his snobbish tone inspired a mistrust in me that my comrades shared, but which we knew to conceal from him. When interrogated about his profession and residence, he claimed to be a bookkeeper in the Rue des Deux Boules. Whatever random chance had made this street rather than any other spring to his mind served him very badly, because when I told him that I was passingly acquainted with all the merchants in that street and asked him to tell me which one of them he worked for, he became confused, stammered, and didn’t know how to answer me. I was about to ask him if his employer’s name was by chance Monsieur Vidocq, when, trying to fool us with an air of assurance undercut by the emotion in his voice, he said to me that to prove that he deserved all our trust, he begged me to accompany him along with some of my comrades, & that he would lead me to the house of one of his friends who lived in the Rue aux Fers, & that there we would find several thousand cartridges in exchange for which he asked only permission to fire his share of them in our ranks.

“Monsieur,” I said to him, “your worthy chief has placed his trust very badly in sending you here. You wanted to earn your stripes, no doubt, because you still seem very new to the sorry trade you’re plying today…. Didn’t Vidocq advise you not to make those offers of ammunition until you saw that ours was running low? You were too hasty, ours isn’t lacking yet, & I hope that we’ll still have enough to shoot you when we have the time to prove to you, more thoroughly than right now, that we recognize you as one of the inhabitants of the Rue de Jérusalem. While we’re waiting for that moment, which won’t be long in coming, & in the interest of your precious health, I’ll have you placed somewhere out of the line of fire.” & despite his pleas, I had him taken down to one of the cellars in the uninhabited house, where I had him locked up, observing to him that if as he said we were wrong on his account, he would be given every possible means to prove himself. “Get over it, you idiot,” said the old soldier of the Empire who had him by the collar, “we’ll send you packing tomorrow with a three-franc fifteen-sou meal (military slang, to be shot). And you’re still not happy; aren’t you a difficult one!” This honest police agent was presumably rescued on the evening of the 6th by messieurs the keepers of public order, because, continually busy repelling the attacks that came one after the other almost without interruption, we had forgotten him. My greatest regret to this day is that I didn’t have him shot immediately.

Part 1 | Part 3

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