At Five O’Clock We’ll All Be Dead – 4

The charge was already audible, & the national guards were emerging from the embankments through the Rue St Martin, when at the same moment, & to our great surprise, the tocsin [alarm bell] rang out from St Méry (It didn’t [one word missing] ringing, from that moment, until our barricades fell into our enemies’ power; the brave men who had seized control of the church had to surrender at that point & most of them were massacred); once they got as far as the Rue de la Verrerie, the assailants were greeted by an intense round of gunfire that came from the church & cloister of St Méry & that stopped them for more than ten minutes. We were all looking at each other with the greatest surprise when one of us called out: “Comrades, whether it’s God or the Devil who’s helping us, in any case they can only be our friends; let them be welcome here! But while we’re waiting to find out who it is, let’s give them a hand!” At these words, many of us prepared to advance, several had already crossed the barricade, when Messieurs of the suburbs, who had managed to break through the unexpected obstacle they had met, spared us the trouble of going out to meet them. Like Cossacks, they advanced with shouts of “Hourrah! Hourrah!” that shook the windowpanes, but couldn’t frighten us. We received them with our best cries of “Long live the Republic!” But in vain did we look for the municipal guards, we could only see national guards and extra-muros firefighters; but then our little daredevil (Citizen B…..’s brother-in-law), who was dead set on finding his municipal guards in one place or another, & who had snuck out as far as the Rue St Denis to discover them, returned at a run and warned us that they were about to attack us through the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher.

Immediately the 4 brave men who had taken on the perilous task I mentioned above leapt onto the ladders, and with their guns tucked into their suspenders, in the space of a moment they’re on the scaffolding. The municipal guards advance, & soon we’re being attacked at two different points. Twenty men placed at the Aubry-le-Boucher barricade greet the new attackers with a rolling fire, continual and well-aimed. Our comrades at the 2nd- and 3rd-story windows of the house at number 30 Rue Saint-Martin receive them just as warmly; nevertheless, they were still holding out and even gaining ground, when a hail of paving stones coming down on them caused them to flee. At that sight, our men give a spontaneous shout of “Long live the republic!” and throw their hats in the air; the suburban guard, who are still holding their position, are disturbed by that, get confused, no doubt conclude that some unexpected backup has arrived on our side and run away in total disorder. Many of them throw their guns down so they can run faster, & they find themselves greeted anew by lively gunfire from the church. We pursued them up until there, & we recognized among the thirty or so men who had seized the church some of the ones who had presented themselves earlier that morning to fight in our ranks.

It was in this attack that Monsieur Bellier, staff sergeant in the 4th legion, was killed. At the head of a detachment from the 4th legion he had advanced through the Rue St Méry & came upon our barricade unexpected, since we were busy repelling two attacks at two different points and we hadn’t seen him approach. Citizen C…….. & I fired simultaneously on him, & he fell, struck by two bullets; at the sight of which the brave men around him took flight, & went to hide their shame behind the ranks of the rural national guard.

The municipals had left us neither their dead nor their wounded, although they had had both: the pavement was red with their blood, and moreover, we were too sparing with our ammunition to fire without having taken careful aim at our enemy first. Only a few of their shakos, left behind on the field of combat, came to take their place among the ones we had already placed on our barricades on either side of our flags.

Messieurs from the suburbs, no doubt in a greater hurry, had left us some of their heroes. I picked up one of them whom I had particularly noticed because, his fellows having retreated by about twenty paces, he had stayed planted on his bottom in the middle of the street, & at every explosion of musketry, he gave a kind of start with both hands that brought him ever closer to the sidewalk. When we pursued his companions, this brave man, who had already made it close to the houses, dropped onto his back and played dead. I had him picked up when we came back and we couldn’t keep ourselves from laughing at the fright we caused him. “Ah! Messieurs,” he cried, clasping his hands, “don’t finish me off, I beg you…! Have pity on my wife and children…! I’m a good Frenchman, believe me….” “Eh! F———- idiot,” answered one of the ones carrying him, “if we wanted to kill you, which you’d full well deserve anyway, we wouldn’t be picking you up.” The poor man! In his excess of gratitude, he wanted to embrace us all. He swore to us that he and his companions had thought they were only being brought to Paris to stand in review before the King, and then they had been told that the carlists wanted to mount a counter-revolution; and that at that point they had been given cartridges and made to drink a good amount of brandy & then been forced to advance… “Ah!” he cried, “if only I’d known…!”

The wound wasn’t dangerous, a bullet had gone through the fleshy part of his thigh. It must be long since healed, but I don’t think he’ll ever want to come get another in Paris.

It was no more than ten o’clock in the morning & already we had repelled 4 attacks; we didn’t even have time to breathe, and to top it off, we were warned that a fifth was being prepared…. Our brave men were starving in the midst of plenty, since everybody was bringing us rations but until that moment none of us had had time to take advantage of them. We were about to break into them when the 6th legion, advancing once again, came to put up an obstacle to that. “So!” cried some of us, “those b———s still want to overturn our cooking pots.. Let’s try to polish them up a bit to teach them to let us eat in peace.” All the others replied to this joke with jokes in the same vein, & prepared to vigorously repel the assailants.

One thing worthy of note is the constant, sustained cheerfulness of the brave men who defended our barricades; a cheerfulness that didn’t fail even at the moment where any hope of success should have left them entirely; by which I mean the moment when they were informed that we were about to run short of ammunition. “Well!” they answered me, “the dead & the wounded have already given us a good amount of it, we’ll try to create some more, & to do that we’ll have to meet them at closer quarters, where their comrades won’t be able to take them away as easily.”

The national guardsmen were approaching; behind them we saw, near the church of St Nicholas in the Fields, an infantry column that had remained stationary. Public Order was on its own…! They advanced at a run & with their weapons under their arms; up until then, they had always opened fire at more than 300 paces, & this time they were near our external barricade and not a single one of them had readied his arm. I had just enough time to tell my comrades what I guessed their plan to be, before they put it into action.

They had just crossed our outer barricade, and only half of our men had fired, when they launched themselves towards us with an impetuosity we would never have believed of them; already they were at the foot of our main barricade, already we could fight at bayonet-point, already they were giving forth cries of victory…. the disappointment must have been cruel for them: we waited resolutely for them to approach, and their surprise—I believe I could say, without slandering them, their terror—was indescribable when they found themselves met with a round of heavy gunfire they hadn’t counted on, persuaded as they were that they had already borne all our fire. They stopped in front of a wall of steel presented by those who had so disagreeably surprised them; a new salvo from those of us who had fired first put paid to their indecision; they took flight, firing shots at random in our direction. These killed one of our men & wounded three, one of them very dangerously, since the bullet had fractured his jaw. Our brave men pursued them to about two hundred paces from our barricade.

Soon afterwards, we were cheered by the sight of a never-before-seen spectacle: the National Guard and the line at each other’s throats. I’ve already mentioned that a large column of line infantry was staitioned near St Nicholas in the Fields; this troop, seeing Public Order in disorder falling upon them, no doubt thought they were the republicans advancing, and a battalion salvo greeted—noisily & very inconveniently for them—our sugar-merchants and nightcap-sellers… who, surprised by this hot reception, lined up messily by a house under construction at the corner of a winding little street, called the Rue du Grand Hurleur I think. There, they answered the infantry’s fire, & the two corps exchanged fire several times before they could recognize each other. We had no way of knowing what made them stop, or how they managed to communicate, but we had never seen a more agreeable show than the one our adversaries put on for us while mutually dealing death to each other. Our brave men were in an indescribable state of giddiness. They threw their hats in the air, shouting, “Bravo! Bravo! Our enemies are working for us…!!” And the sound of their joyous applause almost covered the explosions of our adversaries’ weapons. They deprived us too early, in our opinion, of such a recreational spectacle; we saw the firing stop, and the national guards advanced and disappeared behind the ranks of the line.

At last, we could enjoy a few moments of rest; about an hour went by without any new attacks being mounted upon us; but from eleven o’clock to noon, we had to prepare to keep fighting. A line column was coming towards us from up the Rue St Martin; it was beaten back again with pretty considerable losses, to judge by the large amount of blood staining the pavement & the number of shakos left on the battlefield. On our side, only one man was wounded. He was a tall young man around 22 to 24 years old who had seized an infantry drum left behind on the battlefield. This brave man who, whenever we were attacked, incessantly beat the charge, received a bullet that went through his right hand; blood was gushing abundantly from the wound & soaking his clothing; nevertheless, he kept fighting with his left hand; & seemed to do so with even more fire. One of us approached him to make him go to the field hospital—“When they’ve run away!” he replied, & all insistence was futile, he persisted in his resolution. Soon afterwards the assailants beat their retreat, and then, setting down his drum and raising his hat, he shouted, “Long live the Republic!” & fell unconscious to the ground.

We had barely repelled them when more municipal guards appeared from further down the Rue St Martin; they were driven back after about ten minutes of combat & left us a few more shakos; but no dead, no wounded. And yet they had had some, the fresh blood spilled on the place they had stood was proof enough of that; but, more concerned for their dead or wounded comrades than the national guardsmen, they never left them behind, even in their hastiest retreats.

Part 3 | Part 5

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