Stories of the French Revolution - Walter Montgomery

Troubles in the Army

At Metz, which is a strong fortress, an officer named Bouille commanded the troops. He was an exceedingly brave man and a very loyal one. He looked upon the great National Oath with much dislike and suspicion. He did not approve of soldiers and citizens being too familiar with each other. He did not like his soldiers to mix freely with the people and imbibe their liberal ideas. He knew very well that the army was tainted with those notions, and the troops were becoming every day more mutinous. In those days no man could be an officer unless he was able to prove his nobility for at least four generations. The officers, therefore, were of the most select class, every man an aristocrat; and they spared no pains to show their dislike to these new and strange events. The privates were leavened with the popular spirit; they were beginning to think that one man is as good as another; they were beginning to resent the haughtiness of their officers; and they talked often and much over their own grievances.

One great grievance was that they were not paid their wages; and they believed the officers robbed them of their money. General Bouille, therefore, at this time did not rest upon a bed of roses. He felt like a man who lives over a powder-magazine, where people go in and out with lighted matches. But his heart was like a rock; braver man than Bouille never drew a sword. When the Regiment of Picardy boisterously embraced National Guards, and sang, and swore oaths together in disorderly array, the general had the men up in the barrack square, and gave them a bit of his mind very sharply. And when the Regiment of Salm advanced to the colonel's house to lay violent hands on the money-chest, Bouille, hearing of it, ran before them, and stood like an iron statue on the outer stairs, sword in hand, keeping the whole regiment at bay. For two hours he stood there, supported by a few of his brother officers. Several times some wrathful soldier was persuaded by a hater of aristocrats to level his musket at the intrepid general; but in every case the barrel was struck aside before he could fire. Bouille never flinched, nor cared a straw for aught any man among them might choose to do. After two hours the mayor interfered, and got the men back to their quarters by promises of pay, which were fulfilled in a measure the next day, when each soldier received half his arrears in cash.

So bad was the discipline of the army, indeed, that Mirabeau moved that it should be broken up and organized afresh; but his motion was not carried. The place where the army was in the worst possible position for drifting suddenly into open mutiny was Nanci in Lorraine. Nanci was more aristocratic than other places, both in her citizens and governors; but she had also a large population who were kept up to revolution pitch by a Jacobin Club; and there were here three fine regiments much tainted with the spreading evil, and quite ripe for mischief,—one especially so, that of Chateau Vieux. The officers at Nanci had made many objections to the oath-swearing which had gone on. At first they would not go at all to the Nanci meeting, and when they repented and went, they appeared in undress suits, and shirts that needed the washerwoman; and one officer was seen to spit in a marked manner when the national tricolor was carried beside him.

The large regiment of Chateau Vieux was in the month of August, 1790 (only one month after the grand oath-swearing in the Champ de Mars), in a very bad humor, and justly so; for while another regiment had been paid three gold louis per man. Chateau Vieux got the "cat-o-nine-tails." Another regiment, that called "du Roi," got hold of its money-chest, but for some reason did not break it open.

An inspector, named Malseigne, was sent down by the Assembly to inquire into the soldiers' grievances, and, as far as he could, to rectify them. He was a big, strong man, and brave enough, but he had not much tact; and so it happened that his bluff, bullying manner led him into all sorts of troubles at Nanci. The men of the Chateau Vieux shut him up in the barrack court where he was holding his inspection, with cries of "Decide it at once!" He got angry, drew his sword, and tried to break through the crowd. He broke his sword, seized another, wounded a sentry, and got out. He retired to a house, the soldiers following. He shut the door, got out the back way, and reached the Town-hall in safety. Next day he tried again to settle the matters of the Chateau Vieux, but none would listen. Then he ordered them to leave Nanci, but they refused. He then summoned the National Guards to his aid, and by Saturday four thousand had arrived. Still the regiment would not march as ordered. "Pay us," they said, "and we will march to the world's end."



About noon that day, Malseigne escaped from Nanci to Luneville, where there was, he knew, a loyal regiment of Carbineers. He was chased by about a hundred soldiers; but he reached the loyal regiment, and ordered them to fire at his pursuers. The Nanci soldiers, being fired on, rode back again and spread the alarm. "The Carbineers are sold to the Austrians," cried they. Whereupon the three Nanci regiments rose up as one man, and marched to Luneville. A parley followed, and matters were explained. Inspector Malseigne was given up, and marched back to Nanci; but lo! the big man broke away, and was off like a shot, and escaped with only one bullet in his coat. He made a wide, wheeling flight, and returned to the Carbineers, who gave him up a second time; and the next day the mutinous soldiers put him in prison, whither they had also placed Denoue, the commandant of Nanci. When Bouille heard of these daring acts of rebellion,—of a government inspector and a leading officer in prison, and three regiments in open mutiny,—he thought a decisive blow ought to be struck at once. He had a much smaller force than that of the mutineers, but he had law on his side. When he reached the village of Frouarde, he sent this message: "You must submit in twenty-four hours, or I shall make war upon you."

A deputation of soldiers from the mutinous regiments, and one from the civil authorities of Nanci, went out to Bouille in the course of the day. The soldiers, however, were stubborn and even insolent, but they did not move the general. He insisted on total surrender, or he would storm Nanci. Distracted were the citizens, distracted were the soldiers; the regiment of Chateau Vieux being for resistance unto death, the others for giving in to Bouille.

At half-past two the terrible Bouille was about a mile and a half from the city gates, and another deputation went forth to meet him. He granted an hour's respite. Nothing coming of it, the terrified citizens could see the faces of his advanced guard, only thirty paces off. A flag of truce was then carried forth, and an offer of submission made.

Now, while the victorious Bouille was arranging how the mutinous regiments should leave the city, a very dreadful thing happened. In the city were many, both citizens and soldiers, who looked upon Bouille as a traitor, and were therefore opposed to the surrender. These men got hold of some loaded cannon, and leveled them through the gateway at Bouille's army. A young captain, seeing lighted matches were being brought to the cannon, flung himself in front of the mouth of one, and swore that if they did fire it the discharge should blow him to atoms; and when he was pulled away from the cannon-mouth by a number of soldiers, the determined officer sat on the touch-hole. This time the frantic soldiers were not content with dragging him off his perch; they shot him down as he sat there on the touch-hole, and then applied a match to the priming. The cannon roared, and fifty men of Bouille's vanguard were killed. Oh, the rage of the men outside! With leveled bayonet and many a furious oath they dashed through the gate, and then was seen a terrible carnage. Friend killed friend by mistake that day, for all were so mixed up that it was often difficult to know who were fighting for Bouille and who were fighting against him. Another cannon, ready loaded, was rendered harmless by a ready-witted woman, who threw a bucket of water on the priming. When the awful scrimmage was over, half the mutinous Chateau Vieux were found stretched on a gory bed, and many National Guards who fought with them. Bouille's losses, too, were great. By the time he reached the great Square he was minus forty officers and five hundred men, which shows how obstinately the city was defended, and at what a cost he won his victory.

The mutinous regiments, now shattered and subdued, had to march, each on its appointed route, and peace was restored for a time.

Paris was fearfully agitated by the news, and a solemn funeral service was held for the slain. The Assembly voted thanks to Bouille by a great majority; but the lowest ranks of the people, to the number of forty thousand, assembled under the windows of the Riding School, and demanded that the slain mutineers should be avenged.

Whether Bouille was right or whether he was wrong, he at least quelled in military fashion the spirit of mutiny, and made the whole French army feel that it had at least one captain who could maintain discipline, without which an army is only an armed mob. We mourn over the death of so many brave Frenchmen, but we cannot help admiring the iron determination of General Bouille in doing what he believed to be his duty.