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Volunteers 1870 (page 8)


Telegrams sent by JJGarnier and general Bordonne cross each other on January 19, 1871. The first advises about the concentration and about the strong Prussian troops as a sign of an impending attack on Dijon, the other requesting destruction of Buffon's bridge which, entrusted to another company, had not been successful. "Such are circumstances when, at 9 o'clock in the morning, as each one of us expected it least, the cannon began thundering with violence against the city of Dijon on which the Prussian opened an intense fire by the means of batteries which they had established with no hassle on Hauteville's heights which they just captured, meeting no resistance... Furthermore, our generals still ratified here ancient tactics but bound to disappear which consists in strengthening on the perimeter of the cities which one wants to defend, exposing them to fire and in the destruction by the enemy projectiles whereas, besides, the frightened inhabitants, losing any patriotism, do not encourage any more " garnisaires" to the resistance provided even they do not become hostile. ''

Attacks on enemies rear by volunteers whom elements of scattered brigades not presenting any more real utility had joined in, they go into Dijon at nightfall. After all, the resistance of the besieged overcame enemy forces and the defense of Dijon was a military success because three successive attacks had been pushed away. During the days which followed these attacks we received the order to go at once in the northwest of Côte-d'Or, to Buffon, to destroy there the railroad bridge at Armançon. The destruction of this bridge was very important, because, being placed below the railroad trains junction from the east and of those from Paris to Lyon, everything that germans sent to our occupied southern provinces either from Germany, or from Paris went trough there.

At the same time as we did, another expedition in charge of blowing up Nuit-sous-Ravière's bridge situated some kilometers only from that of Buffon had to leave from Dijon. " … Roads were covered with ice so much that our mules themselves, in spite of ice nails which were put back as often as possible had some difficulty to stand; it is true that the poor animals were extraordinarily loaded. Each one carried two torpedoes of 50 kg each (equivalent to 600 kg of common powder) without counting other miscellaneous instruments; but, more to pity than them were, maybe, our muleteers because, besides the long journeys we made every day, they had to, arriving at the long break of the middle of the day or at the end of the stopover to begin the unloading of mules, find a place for them, to groom them and finally reload them for the departure; these poor people often had no time to sleep and even less to eat; one will still understand better their weariness when we will see farther the extraordinary journeys in which we had to be engaged in during this expedition. It is true that I had chosen them all among the youngest and the best of this race so strong of the carriers of the coalmines who, every day standing at three o'clock in the morning, stops the evening at six o'clock only his painful work … "

The whole operation was led with an extreme caution, the enemy being on one's guard and very watchful because he was well aware of the main stake in this communication route . The night was without stars. An inhabitant very trustworthy, given by the mayor, guided them and two true marksmen, disguised as farmers directed operation by agreed signals:

"The campaign covered with night shadows, was then plunged into a profound silence; the barkings of a dog arrived however at our ears; they indicated to us that this watchful guard had aired our scouts. We should not delay receiving a signal. My men were divided into brigades; them some interrupted telegraphic communications, the others placed torpedoes under rails, finally the rest took charge of the main mission that is the work of destruction of the very bridge. One quarter of an hour after our arrival on the bridge our torpedoes were placed, each withdrew at a certain distance and I stayed with the lieutenant Caulry to fire wicks. A moment later, a formidable explosion burst; the noise echoed it from valley to valley as would have done the most violent thunderclaps that one can hear…prussians understood at first what it was about, but being unaware of our number, they did not dare to attack us before having gathered their forces and especially before having clarified the situation. So while we proceeded to the putting in of new torpedoes on second arch, we perceived lights which moved around in different directions : they were signals which our enemies made from village to village. There was no time to lose...

So my mission was over and we only thought of leaving the départment of Côte d'Or, in which, in spite of the armistice, state of war still existed and where the enemy was billeted in great number… By the paragraph which follows JJGarnier ends the story of a short but terrible war of 8 months. He appears very concerned informing and honoring whom it may :

"I had ended my task ; let us hope it has reached the double purpose that I intended to : Let us hope I have brought some documents to the one that will begin a day the story of this unfortunate period of our history and I wish I can again remind faithfully in these pages, my brave officers and in our faithful volunteers of the days of fatigue and fights which we spent together in the service of the most noble of causes, that of the safety of the invaded homeland ! By reading again the details of some works which we carried out, they will find maybe less bitterness to think of our misfortunes because they will have at least the consciousness to have made all their efforts to resist to the invaders.
"Among the elements without which I would not have extended such a story along all these pages there is that real life experience of honesty, of clear-sightedness and this concern of objectivity of which I give last interesting features :

"I had the occasion to talk since the war with German officers; here is a summary of their opinion upon us which I consider interesting to give : " Your infantry, they said to me, is excellent and especially struck us of the biggest admiration at Wœrth. Officers from this unit, much criticized by their fellow countrymen are brave, solid, dragging and educated enough to perform their functions; here there is, for the future, a fearsome breeding-ground of excellent generals. As for the chiefs of units whom we had to deal with, we grant them to you, they even had no instinct to use the admirable and irresistible run-up of their troops. On the evening of Gravelotte and the evening of Borny our generals were heavily surprised; a strong attack of your part the next day would have found us ready to retreat; far from that, it is you who decided it. As for your cavalry, we found it little exercised, rather badly mounted, having horses accustomed to move on the ground of operation but not in the middle of the obstacles of battlefields. Your artillery is led well but accessories are lacking totally and, while after a day of fight our empty boxes were immediately restocked, we noticed almost always the opposite at you. " I give these appreciations for what they can be worth."

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