Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton

Bazaine's Position in Mexico

The attitude taken by the French in Mexico has already been alluded to. Bazaine in particular seems from the first to have been little affected by the Emperor's good example. He was well aware of France's incalculable services to Mexico, and that it was French bayonets chiefly which still maintained some show of order in the country. As for Maximilian, while thoroughly appreciating Bazaine's ability, he could not but regard him as the man of whose will he was more or less at the mercy, and felt most keenly the arbitrary acts of the Marshal and his underlings, of which the following examples will serve as illustrations.

In 1864 the French general, Briancourt, had a Mexican colonel arrested and forced him to sweep the streets for two hours every day. Indignant at this outrage, some ladies of the town brought wreaths of flowers to the colonel as he swept, whereupon Briancourt had bills posted proclaiming that in the future any one who committed this offence should share the prisoner's sentence. After being humiliated in this way for ten days, the imperial officer was summoned before Briancourt, who dismissed him with the words: "Go where you choose now—over to the republicans—for all I care!" And the colonel actually did join the Emperor's enemies, with several other officers.

A French officer, meeting one of his comrades who had served through a campaign under Lieutenant-colonel Ornano, congratulated him on having been one of those receiving decorations for bravery. "You do me an injustice!" replied the other. "We invariably turned our backs upon the enemy and if Ornano singled me out in his report, it was only through fear lest I might betray how it was falsified. Let me tell you just one incident of this honorable campaign. As we were approaching the village of San Francisco, Ornano sent a party of cavalry in advance to reconnoitre. A fifteen-year-old boy, attracted by the sound of riders, came to the door of his house to see who they were, and, as he galloped by, the leader of the patrol split the poor child's skull with one stroke of his sabre, just as his mother was about to draw him back into the house. Truly a heroic deed!"

These examples will suffice to prove with what contempt the French regarded the Mexicans and how the officers especially lost no opportunity of turning the Emperor's subjects against him, even while they themselves were still supposed to be in Maximilian's service. It would be unjust, however, to accuse the whole army of this treacherous behavior, nor can Napoleon Third be held responsible for it. He was a warm personal friend of Maximilian in the first place, and it seems reasonable to assume that he was ignorant of such conduct on the part of Bazaine or he would have recalled him and sent some one else in his place.

On the third of October, 1865, a report having been generally circulated that Juarez had fled from Mexico and taken refuge in Texas, the Emperor issued a decree for which he has been severely criticised. It ran in substance as follows: All persons belonging to armed bands or companies, political or otherwise, not lawfully authorized, under whatever appellation or for whatever purpose, shall be tried by court-martial, and if found guilty shall be condemned to death and executed within twenty-four hours from the date of sentence.

Bazaine is believed by some to have been the real author of this edict, which was aimed at the destruction of the robber bands that infested the country, but by authority of which Maximilian himself was afterward sentenced to death by Juarez. As, however, it was signed by all Maximilian's liberal ministers it seems more probable that they were responsible for a decree so little in accordance with his kindly nature.

Whether or no Bazaine had any share in the framing of this edict, he certainly did all in his power to further its execution, as appears from a confidential message to his generals sent with a copy of the decree. He concludes, "You are hereby commanded to notify the troops under your orders that no more prisoners arc to be taken. All individuals found under arms, irrespective of person, are to be shot on sight. In future there will be no more exchange of prisoners; on both sides, it is kill or be killed."

By these cruel means he hoped to prejudice the people against their sovereign, thereby furthering his own ambitious schemes for becoming President of Mexico himself, schemes which were destined never to be realized, however.