At Five O’Clock We’ll All Be Dead – 6

Meanwhile, the assailants had arrived in the Rue de la Verrerie. They were already grappling with our brave comrades at St Méry when my inseparable friend suggested that we advance to fire on them from the outer barricade. “Our brothers at the Cloister are keeping them in check,” he said to us, “a little help might make Messieurs of the line & Public Order decide to get back to the Seine.” Since the Maubuée barricade seemed sufficiently well-defended, we followed his advice which seemed to me which I found very sensible, given that it could prevent us from finding ourselves caught in crossfire, and passing from boundary-post to boundary-post we reached our outer barricade.

Too low, & intended merely to break up our assailants’ ranks, it could in no way protect us from enemy bullets; we positioned ourselves in the corners of the doorways; there, we were only forced to uncover ourselves when we fired on our adversaries. Our young redhead even managed to slip out as far as the main doorway of St Méry, & soon we had the satisfaction of seeing our adversaries beat their retreat, leaving eleven dead and four wounded on the ground.

As for us, our only casualty was my old lieutenant, whom a bullet grazed lightly from his right forearm to his elbow as he recharged his gun; & for our spoils, five well-stocked cartridge-boxes; & ten packets of cartridges found in their bags. The arrival of these provisions was well-timed indeed, because our ammunition was diminishing at an alarming rate; and no one was bringing us powder any longer, since all communications with us had been more-or-less cut off. We could already see that, like heroic Poland, we were destined to perish…. Why compromise ourselves….!!

The “Hurrah!”s of our comrades who had stayed behind the barricades informed us at the same instant that they had been as fortunate as we were; & we were making to rejoin them, when we saw National Guard grenadiers, one by one, two by two, crossing the Rue St Martin at a run from the Rue de la Verrerie to the Rue des Lombards. “We’ll have to do some target shooting,” our men shouted, “to teach them to stay behind their counters!” & all of them, with the butts of their guns at their shoulders and placed in a line in the middle of the street, looked like hunters lying in wait. Messieurs the national guardsmen, to complete the tableau, could easily have played the parts of hares, if they had been less fat & had been able to run quicker.

To avoid wasting powder, each of us fired in turn; I aimed at a grenadier who, to present less of a target to our marksmen, was doing a concave solicitor as he crossed the street. This position isn’t very convenient for running, so he wasn’t moving very fast, & our quasi-brave adversary performed, in the middle of the street, a halt in the mud; he fell face-first into a pool formed by the runoff from the street, which was unpaved in that spot.

The man following him grabbed him by one foot & dragged him into the Rue des Lombards, and none of us fired on that man.

Can you say, as did Monsieur Delapalme the crown prosecutor, that it was cowardice on our part to shoot at men who were running away? Those same men, a few moments beforehand, had attacked us…. They had only taken refuge in the Rue de la Verrerie to flee from danger; & when they were crossing the Rue St Martin, it was to rejoin their column and perhaps come back together to march against us. Like our brave men said, why didn’t they just stay behind their counters…? Moreover, instead of fleeing, why didn’t they defend themselves…? They were at least five against one…!!

We had taken down a few of them, & nobody was trying to cross any longer; I judged that the company must have passed in its entirety: our little redhead went up to the corner of that street to make sure. He came back with two cartridge-boxes; all of the men were gone and seven had been left dead on the corner of the Rue des Lombards. He brought back their cartridges in his shirt & since nothing was keeping us there now, we went back to our barricades. It was about three or four o’clock. We learned from our fellows that two cannons had arrived at St-Nicholas-in-the-Fields. No doubt, they told us, that soon we would hear them snore at us. Sure enough, we saw them at the ready at around the level of the Rue du Cimetière St Nicolas des Champs, with the national guard & the infantry in battle order about twenty paces behind the cannon.

I advised our brave men to take cover behind the carriage doors, which were all open, some by goodwill, some by force. I considered it useless for us to expose ourselves to death without any benefit to the cause we were defending. A single man placed at the window of the 3rd floor was to take the watch. But soon this measure was unnecessary, because as soon as the cannon roared, our curiosity was stronger than our fear of danger.

The artillerymen were firing with cannonballs and canister-shot; these projectiles ravaged the shop-fronts & façades of houses frightfully, but they did very little damage to our barricades, after twenty shots fired only a few paving stones had been [crossed-out word, illegible] pulverized.

As soon as the artillery had quieted down for a moment, we repaired the damages it had caused us. We were busy at this work when we saw the troops emerge once more from the direction of the embankments & advance against us. It was our friends from the outer city, pushed forward by a batallion of line troops flanked by municipal guards. They made it as far as the Church of St Méry, but given a warm welcome there, they slipped back to the St-Jacques-la-Boucherie market, the head of their column about level with the Rue de la Verrerie, which they left outside their battle formation. While they were firing on us, & doubtless to distract our attention, a fire that our barricades kept from being dangerous, & which we didn’t bother to respond to so that we could be sparing with our last ammunition, part of their column tried, by passing through the St-Jacques-la-Boucherie market & the Rue des Cinq-Diamants, to turn us around by attacking us unexpectedly from the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher; but this Rue des Cinq-Diamants is very narrow, four men at most can walk abreast in it, & well before they had made it through there, twelve to fifteen of our brave men chosen from among the best marksmen were already placed such that they could decimate their ranks as each group emerged into the Rue Aubry-le-Boucher.

The first gunshots were just ringing out there, when the artillery thundered once more; several rounds of canister-shot did us no harm, since the shrapnel coming in at our height was blocked by the Maubuée barricade; the rest passed, with a terrible whistling sound, over our heads. The brave men of the outer city were less fortunate than us; we had already seen several rows of them done away with…. Surprised, they had stopped firing & seemed to confer among themselves, but they were still holding firm, when a cannonball that struck right above their heads, at the corner of the Rue de la Verrerie, and showered them with debris, put an end to their indecision; we saw them stampeding one over another, throwing their weapons away to run faster, & soon they disappeared from our sight and didn’t come back.

While within our ranks we were applauding the order with which they executed their retreat, a burst of canister-shot pulverized a paving-stone close to me, a few pieces flying out forcefully towards us wounded one man in the thigh, a Pole who hadn’t abandoned us for a single instant since the fifth; one of those pieces struck me so violently on my right shoulder, which had already had a bullet go through it in July 1830, that my gun dropped from my hand; I thought I had a broken arm, but luckily for me, I got away with just some heavy bruising. My arm was black for more than three weeks afterwards.

I forgot to mention that a few minutes before the main attack column fled, the one that had been tasked with turning us around had beat a retreat after losing several men & lightly wounding one of ours.

Since the cannon was still rumbling, we took shelter once more and I took advantage of the break in combat to check how many cartridges were still left, we only had one hundred twenty-some, not counting the ones that the combatants might have on them; but several of them were asking for more & didn’t have any left; the others could only have a very small amount, and so the hope I had held onto up until that point of being able to hold out until the night of the 6th to the 7th vanished entirely along with any hope of assistance. What was I to do? Leave my companions in ignorance as to our state of distress…. But, wasn’t that taking on an immense responsibility…? Wouldn’t I be accountable to the eyes of humanity for the blood of these men who had honored me with unlimited trust…? No! I said to myself, I won’t deceive them, they must know our position… Let those who might tremble leave us, for my part I’ll die within our barricades with those who won’t abandon them…! My indecision now at an end, I approached with cartridges. I was trying to time it so that I could explain our situation as briefly as possible, & nothing suitable had sprung to mind by the time I reached them. “Tell me, commander,” said one of my companions, “I’m hungry, while we’re sitting here with our arms crossed, have some bread distributed to us, we’ll kill time by taking a bite.”

“Bread…! Look at those two cannons over there, they’re preparing our last meal…. Soon, no doubt, others will arrive at the Innocents market and the embankments… It’s four o’clock…. In an hour we’ll all be dead…!!”

“Brrrrr, nobody’s got the last word on that yet,” replied that brave man with a calmness, a careless air, that shocked me; “and besides, that doesn’t prevent us from eating…. Give us some bread, even so.”

“You’ll have some.” I continued, “My friends, I’m afraid we won’t be able to hold out until nightfall, we’re on our last cartridges…. Let those who have to think of their families leave us, there’s no dishonor in abandoning the battlefield when resistance is impossible; let them just leave their weapons & ammunition, which would only get them arrested outside, & if there’s anyone who wants to defend the barricade until the end, I’m with them, we’ll conquer or perish together.”

“Ah, damn it, we’re all in it together!” they all cried, “whoever leaves is a coward! It’s not yet set in stone that we won’t make it until tomorrow.” And so saying, they shared a few loaves of bread & some cold meat that had been brought out.

“Well, my friends, I’ll take it as a good omen, because men like you can never be vanquished; but don’t lose sight of the fact that we have to be more sparing than ever with our ammunition; we’re saved, I think, if we can hold out until tonight, because then not only will plenty of ammunition arrive, but also a great many combatants who, as you know, are just waiting for the moment when they can come join us; our long resistance will give them the courage and the cover of night will give them the means; so take the greatest care not to fire as single shot unless you’ve got your man at the tip of your bayonet, so to speak; our business right now isn’t to destroy a great many of our enemies but to be able to hold our barricades until tonight; if we can manage that, I repeat, we’re saved; but without ammunition we’ll never manage it.”

All of them promised me not to burn up a single cartridge unless it was necessary; they renewed that promise to a student of the École Polytechnique, a veteran of July who, dressed up in a bourgeois coat, had only reached us after risking his life several times. They kept their word scrupulously. But France still has to groan for some time under the shameful yoke of the vilest and most cowardly of all tyrants…!!

Part 5 | Part 7

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