Ancient history

Empty the abscess

At the time, there was some hesitation in political circles and in the upper echelons of the administration. A trial ? Was the young Republic strong enough to withstand the turmoil that a trial was sure to cause? Thiers, always cautious, considered that the blame inflicted by the Board of Inquiry was sufficient, the Marshal must certainly remain forever unable to recover from the blow that this blame had dealt him.
Gambetta, who had the pulse of the country well in hand, was of the opposite opinion:only a trial would make it possible to empty the abscess constituted by the "Bazaine affair" and, at the same time, to lose in public opinion the last residues of the Empire, to eliminate them definitively. This sweep was essential. And the crowd, the huge crowd of brave people was with Gambetta.
Thiers had bowed and, on May 8, 1872, the Minister of War had issued an order to inform Bazaine , who had immediately made himself a prisoner...

The instruction, entrusted to General Séré de Rivière, commanding the engineering troops at Versailles, had been carried out in the most meticulous manner. It had only ended on March 6, 1873, concluding with the dismissal of the marshal before a court martial on the charge of having signed a capitulation which had resulted in his army laying down his arms and surrendering to the enemy the place of Metz, without having done all that duty and honor prescribed to him before negotiating:crimes provided for and punished by articles 209 and 210 of the Code of Military Justice.

One could therefore think that the affair, which had already lasted too long, was now going to be able to be carried out smoothly. Nothing had happened. The Code of Military Justice provides, in fact, that the court martial before which a general officer appears must be composed only of soldiers of at least equal rank, who have not served under the orders of the accused or who have not not had to know the case in which they are called to sit. As far as Bazaine was concerned, this set of conditions was impossible to fulfill.

By disappearing, the Empire had, in fact, left to France - in addition to Bazaine - four marshals:Canrobert, Leboeuf, Mac-Mahon and Baraguey-d'Hilliers. The first two had exercised a command in the army of Metz, the third had also been under the orders of Bazaine from August 12, 1870 and, moreover, he had just, at the fall of Thiers, been appointed President of the Republic. As for Baraguey-d'Hilliers, he had presided over the board of inquiry which had inflicted a first reprimand on Bazaine.

To put an end to this embarrassing situation, a law was hastily passed, authorizing the Minister of War to replace the marshals by generals who had commanded in chief or at least a division.
The council of war before which Marshal Bazaine was to appear had therefore been composed of Generals de La Motte-Rouge, de Chabaud-Latour, Tripier, Princeteau, de Martimprey and Martineau des Chenez (the latter two, ill, were replaced at the last moment by Generals Resseyre and Malroy) and the presidency had been entrusted to General Duc d'Aumale, the government commissioner being General Pourcet.

Thus the council of war to which the government of the Republic entrusted the formidable responsibility of trying a marshal of the Empire was to be chaired by an Orléans, son of the last of the kings who reigned over France. An Orleans, a handsome soldier too and a great military leader, a hero of the African wars, the swordsman of La Smala! The continuity of eternal France would, once again, be assured in a symbolic and glorious way!
It was these eight men in uniform who sat in Trianon on October 6, 1873.