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Volunteers 1870 (page 6)


Having not been able to obtain mules from Garibaldi, the men were heavily loaded. 28 kms on rain-rutted roads bring them at about 8h in the morning to Épinac, in the north east of Autun (photo: western chart). Some hours of rest on straw until midday and they set out again this time along the railway which moves towards the valley of Ouche: towards Ivry, Bligny-on-Ouche and Pont d'Ouche (photo chart east). Informations taken to natives reveals that there are not only sentinels spaced out at little Intervals along the railroad but also constant patrols. During this time, a wild battle raged in Nuits which is at 30 kms as the crow flight flies in the east fin direction of Dijon. The enemy maintained continually troops in movement eastward and northwest; the number of these brigades went from one thousand to five thousand men.

Follows the stories of the drunk sentinel belonging to the franc-tireurs of Oran, of the fire in one of the barns of Ivry's village where slept, with powder and explosives, the troop of the 'volontaires-du-génie-de-l'Est ' whom we accompany, story of the theft by a garibaldien of a revolver and finally of the battle of Nuits. To go from Ivry to Bligny, Pont d' Ouche then Vandenesse, the troop follows a particular route which is indicated to them by the mayors and the guides of the country but let us listen how they did approach towards Sombernon (photo) on the night of December 21, 1870:

" At 10 o'clock in the evening we left Vandenesses, following the windy road and with frequent fast hillsides which leads to Sombernon (12 km); an avant-garde scouted out us and we walked slowly in two rows, the one to the right, the other one to the left of the road; the men were still enough spaced one out of the other so that a surprise would not cost too many people as soon as the first shots. From the villages of Montoillot and Échenay especially, the road overlooked with steep sides and an ambush could easily find a refuge and send to us undoubtly a hail of balls. We did not meet however any obstacle until Sombernon where we arrived at 3 o'clock in the morning.

The 900 inhabitants of this 'chef lieu de canton' were naturally plunged in a peaceful sleep and we had to wake up them to obtain accommodation. This operation did not happen without several incidents occurring and even some travelers who slept in a small inn, believing on arrival of the Prussians jumped outside their rooms in the street by the windows of the first floor even if they would break their bones.

Due to its natural position, Sombernon was seldom visited by the Prussians: They had ventured there only two or three times and always in a number. In their last visit, a company of 'francs tireurs', lying in ambush in the woods which runs along the road from which they came by, had sent to them a shooting in constant stream at point-blast range throwing to the ground in a few minutes hundred men; we were well decided to imitate our predecessors if, during our stay, coming of the enemy were reported.

Moreover according to the mayor of Sombernon: ( Marquis de Latreille-Fontette so patriotic and so helpful, so intelligent) The enemy never came from of Dijon i.e. from east and in this direction the sight extended extremely far; furthermore it was favored by the condition of the atmosphere which, in spite of cold and of snow, had become rather clear. In the direction of north tablelands are covered with forests only crossed by narrow roads where you could not suppose that the enemy was able to move into. Sombernon located on one of those tablelands of watershed of the Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, is nearly 600 m high. To the east are the gorges in the bottom of which circulates, between high walls straight down, the railway from Paris to Lyon, which there goes past from the Rhone basin in that of the Saône by a tunnel 4.100 m long …

From our arrival to Sombernon we had to make good guard; sentinels were posted on the highest points and in all the exits of the village; as I took it from this time the careful custom, nobody could enter a village which we occupy or to go out of it without being recognized; our situation required rather an excess of overseeing because our small troop was surrounded by the enemy.

We were warned about a column of 5000 germans at Semur in the North-West, not to mention troops which constantly went through the valley of Ouche southeast... We had organized from a city hall to other one, from village to village, a scout service thoroughly. They were for the most part of the national guards in their farmer's suit, a stick in the hand, either pushing in front of them a too miserable carriage to entice the greed of the enemy; they went away in the village or the city where it was necessary to scout. There, they took their particular notes, were made recognized by authorities in their showing a note of their mayor, whom, by caution, was not stamped nor signed. This note was rolled up so as to occupy the smallest possible space and was hidden easily. These tasks, for which I always found people of willingness, were not without danger and an almost injurious dark death, that of spy whom one shoots as a dog against the first-to-come wall often awaited for these devoted men. 

What missed too often to the franc-tireurs was the means of transport; it would have been necessary, when one came to him (what arrived at every moment): " 200 Prussians are within 20 km etc ", it would have been necessary, I say, that, provided with an excellent horse, the franc-tireur gets over in one hour and half the 20 km which separated it from its prey, leaves his mount hidden in some isolated place but to a small distance of the village concerned and which, become again then the passionate and silent foot soldier who is convenient for surprises, he dashes forward to the village which sheltered his enemy. But if it happens that the strengths which he attacks are helped or more important than he thought , first carried the blow, and before the surprised enemy was able to find his way, he would join his horse that takes him far from any dangers. And so the Americans in their big war of Secession used more advantageously the Irregulars. And so I would have wished to act myself The companies of francs tireurs which have at their head a man of a well known energy can hurt enormously the enemy. German is well aware of it for they pronounces the word franc-tireurs with more terror than we could believe".

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