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1870 - Correspondant de guerre


Août 1870 : Sir William Howard RUSSELL (1820-1907), journaliste irlandais, accompagne l'armée allemande comme correspondant de presse du Times. On peut estimer qu'il traverse Blâmont le 14 août 1870, accompagnant l'avancée de l'armée prussienne (comme on l'a déjà vu avec l'observateur britannique colonel Charles Pyndar Beauchamp Walker).

Il s'agit d'un observateur direct qui témoigne de ses impressions... même s'il semble qu'il soit accompagné d'un guide « quelque peu » approximatif dans ses explications historiques, puisqu'on relève cette cocasse et anachronique confusion : « That old castle over Blamont belonged to a Sieur de Klobstein, who was hanged over his own pont-levis by the Republicans. Our driver had plenty of stories about the various villages, [...] »


MY DIARY DURING THE LAST GREAT WAR
W.H. RUSSELL
Ed. London and New York, 1874

From Ottwiller there was but a few miles to cross to the frontier, and we passed through villages with such names as Scholbach, Bickenholtz, Fleisheim, and Lixheim, before we came to Sarrebourg. Here there were German and French names over the shops, with their callings in French, and sometimes with German translations of the same - " Schwartz, Schneider, Tailleur," &c. But there is no German feeling in Blamont, and we are beginning to drop many signs and tokens of German connection and knowledge of the language. The Counts of Blamont were pure Lorrainers. The town was ruined in the Thirty Years' War. The little streamlet called the "Vezouze," on which it is situated, "has often," says an old chronicler, "run red with the blood of many knights." Now, at all events, it will be only thickened by the mud of many cart-wheels. The hatred excited by requisitions is on the increase. It drives the people into frenzy. One man, who complained he had fifty horses, and no corn to give them, was put out of pain by a requisition for the fifty horses. The Prussians must be cock-sure of victory, or they would never lay up such stores of enmity in case of defeat. Other signs of war are all around us. Notifications, signed "Guillaume," or "Frederic Guillaume, Prince Royal de Prusse," menace with the penalty of death persons who do things which would be considered very meritorious by their countrymen. Think how angry we should be if we saw notices on the walls of Dover, Canterbury, &c., signed " Bazaine" or "Napoleon III.," warning Englishmen that "if they acted as guides to English troops, or destroyed bridges or telegraphs, or acted as or harboured spies, they would be shot." "Mon Dieu! est-ce que nous sommes Français, et est-ce que nous sommes en France?" asks a fierce little man, sewing a button on my coat, and at every word he drove his needle as if he were sticking a Prussian. That button won't come off in a hurry. Colonel W. spoke again about "L. G." He said that the Crown Prince was inconvenienced by his presence, and suggested he should become a Johanniter. While engaged in negotiations respecting horses, came up an unmistakeable Briton, who introduced himself as Lord Adare. He had just arrived to accompany the Crown Prince's Quarters as correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, but had been refused permission, and was told to return to Strasbourg. This was easier said than done. It was anything but an enviable position for a young nobleman to be left standing in the streets of Blamont in an enemy's country without the smallest idea of the roads or of the means of going to the place to which he was recommended. Anyway, we could not help him, however inclined. It was a hot day and dusty. Perhaps boys would do the same everywhere, but I own it struck me as very strange to see the band of the 58th, which played the head of the Prussian column out of Blamont, headed by some twenty or thirty well-dressed boys marching to the time, and in some sort of military order, apparently in the best possible spirits. Sometimes-I do not wish to particularise-a Prussian band adds new terrors to victory and conquest; but the music of their musketry is undeniably effective and in good tune. The little village churches tinkled out their summons to the congregations to come and say Mass on St. Napoleon's Day, but the villages generally were stiffly closed - shutters and Venetians down, a few blouses and petticoats in the corners and by-ways. Lorraine hereabouts is not fair to look upon. There has been a rainless season, and the country looks burnt up, the great bare brown fields seeming all the worse because of the absence of hedges. Potatoes flourish, however, lately; but there is no hay and little oats or wheat. And on the top of this comes war ! Although Lorraine has been so lately made part of France, it is intensely French, and it will not make them less so to have the Prussians living at free quarters.. The country has been a battle-field for centuries. That old castle over Blamont belonged to a Sieur de Klobstein, who was hanged over his own pont-levis by the Republicans. Our driver had plenty of stories about the various villages, rather poor for the most part. We passed many châteaux and picturesque places. There are ruined castles all about, such as the two towers guarding Ogewiller, which we passed at 10 o'clock; but the people do not seem very much the better for the destruction of their feudal masters. They do not look very friendly, and yet I hear some half-pleased opinions about the defeat of the Army. "There were twenty-three officers, mostly of high grade, stopped at our place to dine after the Battle of Worth," said one, "and there was only one of them who was comme il faut, for he was furious, and only longed for a chance to retrieve his disgrace as a fuyard." Another said, "A good many French prisoners have escaped, and have got through in disguise already. Perhaps some will not be able to find their corps again." What will poor "Madame Cogly, cantinière, 56th Regiment, 3rd battalion," do? I saw her cart in the midst of a long train of Prussian baggage, and I doubt if she will ever see it again. The road from Blamont to Luneville is one of those terrible ordeals from which railroads have saved innocent travellers. It runs through the landscape in frightful rectilinearity, so that as it ascends a hill before you it looks like a tape trained up against the wall of a house, and when it descends a hill below it seems suddenly to have played a trick and cut itself off short in a hole. This, lined of course by poplars which resemble gigantic shaving-brushes with long handles and electrified heads, produces an effect, and to-day we have 30 kilometres of it before Luneville. We passed Herbwiller, Frémenil, Benaménil, Thibeauménil, and Marainviller in due course, all close up, over a road much the worse for recent wear. The day was intensely hot, but the infantry did their 30 kilometres in heavy marching order with only one halt. There are married men and sad hearts among them. Outside our quarter there was one poor fellow who neither ate nor drank, but sat all the evening with his head between his hands, thinking of his children, who, very probably, were quite free from, care on their father's account. When offered bread and wine he said his heart was too sick to let him eat. This is a condition of things the French can scarcely realise. One officer said to the Crown Prince, "It is a terrible cruelty to take married men for soldiers." A ridge over which the road passed gave the twin steeples of Luneville to view, while the town was yet six or seven kilometres away. It lies in a hollow dominated by a flat hill or plateau, and from afar looked fresh and clean in its nest of wood. Luneville, the French cavalry station, where so many of our officers have been to admire the splendid barracks for five regiments of horse, the riding schools, and the exercise ground - Luneville, the city of Napoleon's Treaty with vanquished Austria, all full of spiked helmets, and an armed crowd in the streets talking various Deutschland tongues! At half-past 1 o'clock our trap rolled into the streets of Luneville. These entries of troops
into surrendered cities, in all the pomp of war and conquest, are very full of emotion !


 

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