CHAPTER XV. THE COMMUNE.
A personage who rose to great importance at this period was General Cluseret. He called himself an American, but he had had many aliases, and it is not known in what country he was born. At one time he had been a captain in the Chasseurs d'Afrique, but was convicted of dishonesty in the purchase of horses, and dismissed from the army. Then he came to the United States, and entered the service of the Union, by which he became a naturalized citizen. He got into trouble, however, over a flock of sheep which mysteriously disappeared while he had charge of them. Next he enlisted in the Papal Zouaves. After the Commune he escaped from Paris, and the Fenians chose him for their general. In their service he came very near capturing Chester Castle. The Fenians, however, soon accused him of being a traitor. Again he escaped, fearing a secret dagger, and was thought to have found refuge in a religious community. Subsequently he served the Turks; and lastly, during the presidency of M. Grevy, at a time of great dissatisfaction in France, he was elected a deputy from one of the Southern cities.
By April 7, Cluseret had, as some one expresses it, "swallowed up the Commune." He became for three weeks absolute dictator; after which time he found himself in prison at Mazas, occupying the very cell to which he had sent Bergeret.
Cluseret was a soldier of experience; but Bergeret had been a bookseller's assistant, and his highest military rank had been that of a sergeant in the National Guard. He could not ride on horseback, and he drove out from Paris to the fight in which Flourens was killed.
The official title of Cluseret and others, who were heads of the War Office during the Commune, was War Delegate, the committee refusing to recognize the usual title of Minister of War.
Probably the best general the Commune had was a Pole named Dombrowski, an adventurer who came into France with Garibaldi. He was not only a good strategist, but a dare-devil for intrepidity. Some said he had fought for Polish liberty, others, that he had fought against it; at any rate, he was an advanced Anarchist, though in military matters he was a strict disciplinarian, and kept his men of all nations in better order than any other commander.
When, after the first attack of the Communist forces on those of the Versailles Government, the guns of Fort Valerien opened on Paris, the second bombardment began. It was far more destructive than that of the Prussians, the guns from the forts being so much nearer to the centre of the city. The shells of the Versaillais fell on friend and foe alike, on women and on children, on homes, on churches, and on public buildings. Three shots struck the Arch of Triumph, which the Prussians had spared.
Such scenes as the following one, related by an American, might be seen daily: -
"Two National Guards passed me, bearing a litter between them. 'Oh, you can look if you like,' cried one; so I drew back the checked curtain. On a mattress was stretched a woman decently dressed, with a child of two or three years lying on her breast. They both looked very pale. One of the woman's arms was hanging down; her hand had been carried away. 'Where are they wounded?' I asked. 'Wounded! they are dead,' was the reply. 'They are the wife and child of the velocipede-maker in the Avenue de Wagram. If you will go and break the news to him, you will do us a kindness.'"
The velocipede-maker may have been - probably was - a good, peaceable citizen, with no sympathy for disorder or anarchy; but doubtless from the moment that news was broken to him, he became a furious Communist.
By order of General Cluseret every man in Paris was to be forced to bear arms for the Commune. His neighbors were expected to see that he did so, and to arrest him at once if he seemed anxious to decline. "Thus, every man walking along the street was liable to have the first Federal who passed him, seize him by the collar and say: 'Come along, and be killed on behalf of my municipal independence.'"
It would be hardly possible to follow the details of the fighting, the arrests, the bombardment, or even the changes that took place among those high in office in the Council of the Commune during the seventy-three days that its power lasted; the state of things in Paris will be best exhibited by detached sketches of what individuals saw and experienced during those dreadful days.
Here is the narrative of an English lady who was compelled to visit Paris on Easter Sunday, April 9, while it was under the administration of Cluseret.
[Footnote 1: A Catholic lady in "Red" Paris. London Spectator, April, 1871 (Living Age, May 13, 1871).]
The streets she found for the most part silent and empty. There were a few omnibuses, filled with National Guards and men en blouse, and heavy ammunition-wagons under the disorderly escort of men in motley uniforms, with guns and bayonets. Here and there were groups of "patriots" seated on the curbstones, playing pitch-farthing, known in France by the name of "bouchon." Their guns were resting quietly against the wall behind them, with, in many instances, a loaf of bread stuck on the bayonet. The sky was gray, the wind piercingly cold. The swarming life of Paris was hushed. There was no movement, and scarcely any sound. The shop-windows were shut, many were boarded up; from a few hung shabby red flags, but the very buildings looked dead. She says, -