At Five O’Clock We’ll All Be Dead – 3

In the early morning of the 6th a fairly large number of armed men presented themselves on various occasions, but none of them were able to enter our barricades. “If you’re brave,” my comrades-in-armes told them, “form new barricades, you have weapons, you say you’re supplied with ammunition, well then! Do as we’ve done, the resistance can never have too many points of engagement. If you don’t want to build barricades, take up position near our outside fortifications, you’ll help us… if you are traitors, you’ve come too late, your schemes are already known to us.”

The 6th, at 2:30 in the morning, the cry of “To arms!” informed us that our task was about to begin again. A column of the 6th legion, flanked by troops of the line, advanced to seek the honor they had lost the previous night at the feet of our barricades; they found only death, and were greeted by catcalls and cries of “Long live the republic!”, which covered the noise of the drum.

This attack, which lasted about an hour, was sustained by the National Guards with a tenacity which up until then we hadn’t had occasion to see from them… the line infantry were there! Could they run away as they’d done the previous night, those citizen soldiersAnd so within our ranks several men called out, laughing:

“And, their hearts lighting up with a remnant of heat,
Shame produces in them the effect of courage!”

For the first time, we saw them beat their retreat almost in order: I must, however, do justice to a few of them: about twenty took up positions in the angles of doorways and kept firing for about ten minutes after their comrades’ retreat, while a few others carried away the wounded.

I must also say, to do justice to everybody, that not one of our brave men directed his fire at the latter; they were fulfilling a humane duty, and we respected them… Would they be generous when those same brave men had surrendered their weapons to them? Alas, no!!….

Finally the sharpshooters themselves withdrew, but fighting all the while, losing two of their number whom a carriage-doorway hadn’t managed to protect from our bullets.

We found on the battlefield only a sergeant & a few infantrymen; they were dead. We also found a great number of bearskin caps and shakos from both the infantry and the National Guard. We placed them, along with those we had collected the previous day, on our barricades as trophies.

At about five o’clock, a fresh attack & similar result. Two men wounded on our side, but lightly; they kept fighting after they had been bandaged.

Until 6 o’clock, or 6:30, nothing new. I asked for scouts; a great many offered themselves up for this perilous mission. Among them were the five youths I’ve spoken of & who until that moment had behaved with a rare courage. One of them, Citizen B….’s brother-in-law, had already been out as a scout several times the previous day, & had always come back with a summary of the position & approximate number of the enemy, with a precision, a clarity, that were shocking even for an age greater than his own. I sent him towards the river. Another young man of the same age, my cousin, received the mission to extend our reconnaissance towards Les Halles & the Rue St-Denis, where I knew the patriots were still holding out. Finally a third, 14 years old at most, with long, thin red hair; short, skinny, & shockingly pale, but gifted with extraordinary bravery, received the mission to go observe the movements and positions of the enemy at the 6th arrondissement town hall. (I’ll have the chance to talk more about this young man later.) I preferred to send these children, whose aptitude had already been tried and tested, because their age would divert suspicion from them. But it was futile to try to make them leave their rifles behind, I couldn’t get them to do it. “It would be too cruel for us,” they answered, “to get close to the enemy & come back without the consolation of felling at least one of them.” “But you’re mad: your weapons put you at risk of being arrested and massacred.” “Ah! yes indeed, but when you’ve got a loaded gun, good eyes, good legs, courage, & prudence, you’re never really risking anything.” “Go ahead then, since you absolutely insist on it, & don’t put yourselves in unnecessary danger.”

We put to [two words crossed out] advantage what little time we were given by strengthening the Maubuée barricade; and to extend our means of defense, in case we were attacked by the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher, a fairly large number of paving stones & large rocks or masonry stones were lifted to the top of the house under construction on that street between the two barricades, which was already four stories high. Those projectiles, deposited on the scaffolding of the top floor, would be thrown down on the assailants by 4 determined men who laid claim to this dangerous post.

Shortly after these measures had been taken, my young cousin arrived back; in spite of the greatest dangers & after having been forced to hide his rifle in an alleyway, he had reached the barricade [at the passage du] Saumon. He had the presence of mind to say, once he was back among us, that our brave brothers-in-arms were still holding out, although they had lost a large number of men; but a little while afterwards, he took me aside, & announced to me that the Saumon fortifications had fallen around 4 in the morning into the enemy’s power and that, in that direction, all the defenders of liberty were either dead or prisoners. This sad news didn’t surprise me: ever since morning I had considered our cause hopeless, because by the number of troops surrounding us, I was certain that the point we were defending was the only one the Semi-Citizen King‘s satellites were not yet masters of: it made me resolve to send away my young cousin in order to shield this boy, an only child, from certain death; my pleas were in vain; he declared, his voice firm, that he would stay there as long as I stayed myself.

While, without any hope of turning him away from his fatal resolution, I was still insisting that he give up on it, I saw the young man I had sent towards the river arrive by the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher; he was carrying in triumph the sword, cartridge-box, & epaulettes of a grenadier he had killed (the soldier had been placed as a sentinel on the corner where the Pigmalion store is, in the Rue St Denis). He informed us that the embankments, all along their length, were covered in troups & that we were about to be attacked by a column of national guards from the suburbs, who were joining the municipal guards to form an attack column. “I was right next to them,” he told us, “they’re saying that the barricade is theirs, I had to control myself to keep from laughing in their faces.”

Our 3rd scout arrived almost at the same moment as the second; this one, like the 1st, had had to hide his rifle in an alleyway, before sneaking up on the 6th legion of National Guards; they were furious, he told us, they had a large number of wounded & dead, & were preparing to attack us again. “Ah! They want another lesson!” exclaimed several of our number; “well, let them come! If they won’t listen to reason this time they must have damned thick skulls.”

As for me, I was in a cruel state of indecision. Should I let all the brave men surrounding me know the sad news I had just received; & the equally sad predictions that were besieging me?… Should I conceal it from them and, by keeping them in ignorance, expose them to almost certain death with no benefit to the cause we were defending?… No! I told myself at last, I refuse to have the guilt for their deaths on my conscience; I don’t want to be tortured by remorse at my final hour…. Well then! If the majority of us, the entirety even, abandon the barricades, then liberty will keep a few more brave soldiers on its side! If some of us remain, we’ll perish together!…

I assembled them that very moment and let them know the sad position we were in. A single man, named Simon, a decorated veteran of July [1830], who lived in the Rue Maubuée, went pale and disappeared shortly afterwards (this was the same man who, as a witness for the prosecution in our trial, was brazen enough to insult men he should have blushed at the sight of). All the others called out unanimously that the cast of events could still change, & that the most important part was to hold out until the next day. “What’s more,” they cried, “if we have to die… Well! At least we won’t make our way on high alone!”

Part 2 | Part 4

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