Germany - Metz And Its Battlefields
( Originally Published 1913 )
METZ, the Romans' Divodurum, was—before their day—a seat of the Gallic tribe of Mediomatrici and this word, contracted into Mettis, formed the origin of the present name. Since 300 A. D., Metz has been a fortress and, except as such, its interest to the tourist is virtually limited to two buildings—the cathedral and the Deutsches Tor—and to the foundations of a third, the Roman palace. In the division of Charlemangne's empire, Metz fell to Germany; it became a free city of the Holy Roman Empire and remained so until 1552. At this time unlucky Charles V of Germany, whose acquaintance you made at Halle and whom I promised to mention again, was engaged in a terrible war with rebellious princes and electors. Henry II of France (ostensibly as an ally of the rebels) seized the bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun; but when the rebels had been conquered, Henry retained these bishoprics and refused to give them up again as agreed by the peace of Passau. The emperor tried to recover Metz, which was defended by the Duc de Guise. Poor Charles ! he had to beg the favor of some of his princes before he could even commence the siege, which was finally begun under Duke Alva's command. But, what with Guise and the terrible winter which decimated the besieging army, the capture could not be effected; and we are told that Emperor Charles—after the retreat to Diedenhofen (Thionville)—never smiled again. Obliged to give up his ambition—so nearly realized—of becoming a second Charlemagne, he abdicated and retired to the monastery of St. Just where, soon after, he died.
In the dispassionate judgment of our day Charles V has, at last, been accorded his true standing as one of the world's greatest rulers. That his name did not eclipse Charlemagne's, is due to the difficulties under which he labored and to the bitter religious antagonism of his time. Excepting only France and Scandinavia, he was striving to weld the whole Christian Continent into one vast empire—a herculean task even in times of peace; but France was continually warring on him in the west, and in the east the Moslems were threatening Vienna. These things alone were trouble enough; what a pity his "house" was divided against itself by Martin Luther. Charles had a liberal and sagacious mind; had he realized at first—as he did before long—the power and extent of the Reformation, subsequent history of the world might be written differently : a few concessions, a little toleration from a ruler not really intolerant, would have won a more lasting success than did the imperial arms. But it is not always given to the great to read the whole future.
As it is, you and I owe much to this Holy Roman emperor. All the important Spanish discoveries (after Columbus) fell in his reign; Cortez, De Soto, Pizarro, Narvaez, Mendoza, Coronado, and a dozen other explorers, enjoyed his countenance or support, and the fruit of their daring conquests was made secure by orderly, established government; under his special patronage a Portuguese, Magellan, found the southwest passage to the East Indies, and in 1521 discovered the Philippines. In 1513, the Spaniard Balboa had crossed the isthmus of Panama, and discovered the ocean which Magellan afterward named the Pacific. Florida, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, the Amazon, the Mississippi, Colorado and the great West, the passage to the Indies !—what wonderful enterprises, what remarkable additions to actual knowledge Europe owed, at its very renaissance, to the open mind and clear judgment of Kaiser Karl V, that worthy grandson of America's greatest benefactress, Isabella of Castile.
The immediate cause of France's declaration of war in 1870 need hardly be mentioned here. We have all heard of the siege of Metz in 1870—a matter of our own day ; but not so many are familiar with that other siege of Metz, in the distant Middle Ages, when Charles V tried to recover his stolen cities. This is the other item that I wished to add to the score of France versus Germany.
The cathedral (St. Stephen's), begun in 1250, is another example of the beauty and dignity a Gothic church can attain without its originally projected spires, provided it is not left with meaningless stumps as are so many English churches. Metz cathedral originally consisted of two churches, the bishopric being obliged to yield a portion of its edifice to. the worshipers of a church torn down to make way for the cathedral. The great portals under the towers were formerly entrances for that part of the edifice devoted to the cathedral. It is certainly a beautiful church ; "all windows and no wall"—its leaded work, fine stained glass of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
In one tower hangs die Mutte (la matte, probably from ameuter or s'ameuter), the old alarm bell. I have neglected the subject of old bells; a pity, too, for, in lieu of newspapers and bulletins, their brazen throats announced all the stirring events. One time, when Charles IX was sojourning in Metz, the Mutte cracked in announcing the supposed victory of his troops over the Huguenots at Jarnac and the reported capture of Coligny : hence the saying, "The Mutte will crack rather than tell a lie." The bell was cast in 1381, broke in 1427, and has been recast four times since—last in 1605. From the time of the French occupation in 1552 till 1790, the Mutte rang at six o'clock "to say good-night to the king of France and his family." Rather was it saying "good-night" to Metz; for this city of 6o,000 inhabitants soon dwindled down to 20,000, and has but recently regained the original figure—more than half of the population (exclusive of the garrison) being German. The Deutsches Tor (German gate), the most interesting of the town's old city gates, has an inner gate dating from the thirteenth century and an outer one, added in the fifteenth ; walls connect these, turning the whole into a small castle or fort, and here the city's most interesting collections are being installed. The neighborhood is rich in Roman relics; Roman roads radiate from Metz in all directions and, of those to Verdun, Trier, and Saar, sections are still in use.
The big Roman aqueduct from Ars to Jouey, of which eighteen piers are still standing a few miles south of the city, gave rise to a legend about a gay Lothario who, poaching on forbidden preserves, was caught by a rise in the river. He made a compact with the devil for a substantial bridge across the river, but cockcrow stopped the work before completion.
The most interesting tale current in Metz is that Joan of Arc reappeared in 1436, was positively identified by the town council, and remained during the greater part of May. Where she went then, is uncertain, owing to a number of contradictory stories.
Heiligen-Kreuz Platz (place Ste. Croix) was the site of the Roman governor,* residence; it afterward became the palace of the Frankish kings, and the massive foundation-vaults of buildings on the north side of Trinitarier Strasse are undoubtedly part of this.
Think of it! these old vaults echoed to the voices of the Merovingian kings: the terrible Childeric; his son Chlodwig (Clovis)—that strange Christian who cheer-fully murdered most of his relatives and neighbors to acquire their west Frankish possessions; Chlotar, and Childebert (king of "Paris") and Chilpéric, king of Burgundy ; and the terrible, bloody Queen Brunhilde, and Chlotar II, who captured her and had her dragged to death by a wild horse. All this was before 614 A. D.; later, Charlemagne and other German kings of the Franks trod these halls. Do you happen to recall how the Germans came to rule the Franks ?
Well—to go back to beginnings, as story-tellers are prone to do—on the eve of Chlodwig's birth his father, Childeric, had a strange vision: glancing from the palace door he saw lions and leopards and other monarchs of field and forest; looking again, he saw bears and wolves ; and, the third time, dogs and numerous small animals engaged in destroying one another. The queen interpreted the vision. "Our son," she said, "will be strong and courageous like a king of beasts; his children, bold and thievish, like bears or wolves; their children, cowards, like dogs ; and the small animals you saw—those are the Franks who, trying to kill one another, will destroy themselves." And so it proved ; what with excesses, insatiable greed, and foolish feuds, they destroyed their natural allies and so weakened their own royal power that after (some say with) Dagobert, the Merovingian kings were not worth their salt. The government's real power lay with the mayor of the palace (majordomo). Pipin Heristal, of pure German extraction, the majordomo at Metz and Rheims, defeated the majordomo of Soissons, becoming chief of the land. His son was Charles Martel and his grandson, Pipin the Short, was elected king of the Franks; Charlemagne was Pipin the Short's son. Thus, through Charles Martel at Tours, through Charlemagne at Saxony and Frisia, through Henry the Fowler at Brandenburg and Merseburg, did Ger-man kings thrice save Europe from infidel and heathen, and preserve Christianity.
Thus ended the glory of that proud tribe of Franks who claimed to be Trojans—to have migrated to Gaul after the fall of Troy; and thus perished the direct line of the Merovingian kings who boasted the blood of a god in their veins (Neptune or his Austrasian equivalent), as their name Meer Angelinge or Adelinge—sea angels or nobles—is sometimes taken to imply.
They lived in strenuous days. After Chlodomer's death, his sons were cared for by their grandmother Chlotilde. Her other sons demanded them and afterward sent her a sword and a pair of shears, intimating that the boys should either be put to death or lose their long locks, then the sign of nobility. "If they cannot have their rights, better they should die," said Chlotilde, and sent back the sword. Dagobert, himself no very pleasing sort of man, so we are told, found faith and constancy only among his dogs ; he had them brought to his deathbed and said to them : "There is no company so good, but one must leave it."
Much more attractive are the legends, from Charlemagne down, praising the constancy and purity of German women. A tale almost identical with that of Henry the Lion is told about Charlemagne and his queen—except that he anticipated the marriage nobles sought to force upon her for the country's good, by appearing on his throne in St. Peter's church at Metz, have ridden from distant Bohemia, in three days, on three marvelous horses. Of the noble Möringer, who, also, was away to war over seven years, a story even more like Henry the Lion's is told. Indeed, the fate of women cooped up in castles, awaiting their lord's uncertain return—often precluded by death—was a vexing problem in those days. Count Uffo of Môllenbeck, one of these belated absentees, dreamed, on his way home, that his wife had borne nine children. Sure enough, his countess exclaimed she had thought him dead, but had not been lonesome, as she had given him nine daughters to care for. The disgruntled count, a very just man, collected himself sufficiently to say, "So be it; the fault is mine. Your children shall be my children. I'll see they are properly dowered." "Oh, but they are all devoted to the church," said she; and, to his relief, he learned that the "children" were churches the loving woman had founded for the repose of his soul.
The knight Alexander of Metz, is hero of the famous crusader story, "The man before the plough." Though the infidels yoked him to a plough for years, he would not renounce his religion ; the sultan's insinuation that Alexander,* wife would no longer re-main faithful, he laughed to scorn. The sultan actually did find means to send his handsomest prince to Metz with carte blanche to prove the knight a liar; but neither splendid gifts nor fair words could tempt Alexander,* lady, who afterward cut off her hair and, in pilgrim's garb, effected her husband's release by her wonderful minstrelsy.
We must say farewell to German legends. I regret that our route limited my choice, else I might have en-livened the recital by many which are more characteristic because of their humorous insight into human nature. Like the story gravely attested to by a burgomaster—under official seal—that a certain citizen, nearly surprised at a forbidden tavern by his wife, de-parted so hurriedly he left his shadow behind—distinctly visible on the tavern wall. Think it over, if you are "English," as the saying goes.
The northern part of old Lorraine is the acknowledged scene of Lohengrin's exploits, variously described as occurring in the reign of Henry the Fowler or of Otto the Great, his son. The Swan Knight was patron saint of this country whose German name "Lothringen" is said to be derived from Loherangrin or Loherangarin.
Entering the city through the Diedenhofer Tor and crossing the bridge, we could see the dread Ponts des Morts downstream. On the grass-grown ramparts, close at hand, iron crosses mark the pitiful end of some of the countless thousands of 187o, buried where they fell.
For once we could not pursue our usual plan of following the trolley-tracks, as a sign warned off all vehicles, probably because of the street's extreme narrowness. So Bobbie turned left and drove in past the barracks, following the city wall. We now heard French spoken as much as German. Soldiers were seen everywhere, for Metz is still a fortress and the Kaiser keeps it garrisoned with about 28,000 men. Beyond the Deutsches Tor we got pretty well lost, and were just asking our way when a wheelman sent from the hotel to look for us, arrived on the scene. The Hotel Royal had been highly recommended, but it was a pretty mediocre sort of place for all its enterprise in the way of wheelmen.
When the Duc de Guise put the city into a state of defense he razed the entire suburbs, including the famous monastery of St. Arnulf, even destroying much of the old town just inside the line of the walls. Vauban made elaborate plans for fortifications, but died before he had finished the outlying forts—since completed by the Germans, who also built another ring six miles beyond the town. All city walls are now being demolished, as too antiquated for modern warfare.
Metz, in its semi-reconstructed state, is a city of surprises; you are liable to run across a fragment of wall with an old city gate, right in the midst of mod-ern dwellings. In tearing down the ramparts not far from our brand-new, art nouveau hotel, Roman graves of the third century were unearthed. It is probable that in ten years' time you will find little left of this place where Kaiser Karl IV published part of the famous Golden Bull, which confirmed the seven electors of the empire, making their office inalienable and hereditary, and their persons sacred. Perhaps you may then still see the ancient nobles' residence in the Trinitarier Strasse (Hôtel St. Livier, now a girls' school), a type of building for which Metz was once famous ; or the Templars' chapel (uncovered while tearing down a part of the citadel), an octagonal building of the twelfth century; or, near this, part of the seventh century basilica of St. Peter, now used as a dovecote for the army's carrier pigeons.
Our days in Germany were virtually over. Looking back, it seems probable one may count on hiring'motorcars, here, only in large cities. As regards touring centers, our experience suggests the following places and routes. Landing at Hamburg, Kiel and Lübeck could be visited in one day's run, while a two-day trip over part of our route might include Celle and Hanover, with a stop for the night at Brunswick or at Hildesheim. This two-day trip could start from Bremen, should you disembark here, but with less likelihood of obtaining a suitable car.
From Dresden, Meissen and the Moritzburg may be seen in one day; the Saxon Switzerland in an-other. Motoring from Leipsic westward through Halle, Eisleben, Quedlinburg, Halberstadt and Blankenburg to Goslar, returning over the Harz to Nordhausen, then home via our route (or Merseburg), would take fully two days; to do this in comfort—especially if a view of the Selke Valley, Bodethal, or other sections of the Harz is contemplated—three days would be required. A two-day tour southwest from Leipsic might include Altenburg, Gera, Jena, Weimar and Erfurt.
With Frankfort as a center, Eisenach and the Thuringian Forest could be seen in two days, while either Heidelberg or Rothenburg-on-Tauber could be visited in one, providing you are willing to start early and make a long run. A fine tour, covering about four days, would embrace our Rhine-Moselle trip to Metz and a return to Frankfort via Strassburg and Heidelberg.
In Bavaria, Munich looks promising as a center; Nuremberg may present difficulties in securing cars, but could be readily used as a subcenter. Indeed, hiring your car in one city and using another place, not too far distant, as a subcenter will solve many difficulties in Germany and elsewhere. This would seem necessary in eastern Prussia; for old towns like Thorn, Koenigsberg and Danzig are practically beyond reach from Berlin, just as Osnabrück and Dortmund are almost beyond reach from Bremen.
With a feeling of regret we entered the car for the run across the border. It led right through those famous battlefields of 1870, and we started west on the very same road to Verdun along which the French had expected to retire. Crossing the Pont des Morts north of Pulverinsel (Powder Island), Bobbie turned down to Moulins. Round about, rose the great forts where many a bloody fight has raged. Just before climbing the heights toward Gravelotte we encountered a German army. At least, it seemed an army to us as the men went filing by, battalion after battalion, regiment after regiment. They were dressed in khaki, their haversacks and canteens were covered with khaki, their helmets were covered with khaki, and the whole outfit was covered with dust. But they looked neat and trim and soldierly, though just returning from a hard, morning drill; a great contrast to the soldiers we saw later, in the sloppy-looking uniforms of France.
What an inspiring place for drilling soldiers of a martial nation! amid monuments and graves of well-nigh forty thousand of their countrymen who died that the Rhine might stay the German Rhine, that a new German empire might be founded, and that poor, lost Lorraine might come back to the fatherland after its exile of almost four hundred years.
It was exactly thirty-eight years and thirty-nine days since the beginning of that terrible battle around Metz, which ended in a second siege so different from the first. When on the 14th of August, 1870, General Baron von der Golz received orders to attack the enemy east of Metz and hold him in play, he little suspected what a fearful blow his movements would inflict upon France. Von der Golz attacked cautiously but persistently, and, by clever management, was soon able to report to General von Steinmetz, his commander, the gratifying information that the whole French third corps was engaged, and that the second was on the point of being drawn into action. Overjoyed at the news, von Steinmetz notified General von Manteuffel to fall upon the enemy's left flank. No sooner said than done, with the result that not only was the second French corps committed to the fight, but even the fourth became involved.
This probably sounds like Greek to the reader, but is easily explained. Marshal Bazaine, in command of the French army in and around Metz, had fallen back to this city waiting for Marshal MacMahon to join him from the north; but MacMahon was cut off from Metz and headquarters notified Bazaine that he had best retire and make his junction later. Meantime, Prince Friedrich Carl (popularly called the Red Prince), nephew of Emperor (then King) William I, was straining every nerve to rush his army across the Moselle, south of Metz, in order to cut off Bazaine.
The task seemed hopeless, for on the 14th Bazaine had already decided to retreat, and on the 15th the French advance guard and Emperor Napoleon III were on the road to Verdun, while Prince Friedrich Carl, like Sheridan, was many miles away. Yet the "impossible" happened; Bazaine, for all his experience, fell into the trap already described, and that very third corps, which on the 15th should have been heading the retreat well along the Verdun road, was, on the evening of the 14th, bearing the brunt of a fierce battle east of Metz. Of course, this threw everything into confusion and occasioned a delay likely to prove costly; but the French still had hope.
Lackaday! At cockcrow on the 16th, the first body of breathless Germans had arrived in sight of the army bivouacked on the Verdun road. At dawn they attacked, swarming up the heights and on to the plateau as far as Vionville. Though almost exhausted by forced marches, the men were desperate and, mistaking the French troops for the rear guard of an army which had escaped them, resolved to break through at any cost. They did not know they were outnumbered a hundred to one at first, nor would this have deterred them; each new column, dead tired with fatigue, was rushed into action as soon as it arrived. The French fought fiercely, but the Germans were furious; the only beaten German was a dead one, and it seemed as if for every one killed, two others appeared.
When the main army with Prince Frederick Carl reached the spot, the battle spread westward to Marsla-Tour and east to Rezonville, and all the fighting was on and around the road to Verdun over which Bazaine had fondly hoped to be marching. The crazed Germans even tried to force the enemy out of Rezonville, but this was like butting into a stone wall and had to be discontinued ; here they attacked French artillery and infantry with cavalry, but were beaten back and then cut to pieces by squadrons of French horse.
Meantime, at Mars-la-Tour, bloody deeds were doing while the German loth corps and part of the 9th held their ground against a vastly superior force. To-wards evening six regiments of French cavalry swarmed around to turn their flank, but were routed by Prussian horse in the finest cavalry battle of the war.
Night fell. There had been 138,000 French engaged and 76,000 Germans ; the French lost i 6,000 men, the Germans about the same. The Germans were defeated, beaten back, overwhelmed in every way except just one: their line stuck fast at Vionville and the road to Verdun was CLOSED.
East of the village of Gravelotte is a deep ravine, with a little stream running through it almost north and south. Bazaine withdrew his troops until they lined the heights east of this ravine, his right and left wings jutting forward at the strong positions of St. Marie—St. Privat, and of St. Germain—Rozereuilles (opposite Gravelotte). Meantime, the whole available German army, 230,000 strong, together with their commander-in-chief, King William I, had arrived to oppose Bazaine's force of 180,000 men.
On the 18th of August the famous battle of Grave-lotte began. The Prussians had to cross that dread ravine east of the village. They did it, but at what fearful cost! Whole regiments were wiped out Those peaceful farms of the eastern slope—we can call them by name, Point-du-Jour, Moscou, Leipzig, Montigny-la-Grange-what a strange harvest they yielded that day ! And what a horrid rain fell upon them—drenched, as they were, in blood! Meanwhile the Saxons to the north had been doing bravely, driving in the French from St. Marie; and, at evening, they covered themselves with glory in storming the terrible heights of St. Privat, thus turning the enemy's right flank and winning the day. Bazaine was penned in—trapped beyond hope of succor. The right hand of France was useless, and the Germans were free to go about their bloody business and destroy what was left.
Dear, dear! how much grass has grown over those graves since then. How much wheat and oats and rye has grown on those again peaceful farms—and how much sweet-scented clover, in which the bees go humming.
Many of the isolated graves have been moved to cemeteries, in Gravelotte and elsewhere; but you can still see graves and monuments on every side—about three thousand of them. As our car swooped down that bloody ravine, and up again, we could see, to our right, the monument of the Rhein Jager Battalion No. 8—situated in a beautiful spot where, each year, the memorial ceremonies are begun.
In Gravelotte village we see memorial tablets on the houses, and, at a distance, the cemetery with its Hall of Fame. As we approach Rezonville, three monuments stand at the edge of the woods; in the village, more tablets on the houses. On the right-hand side of the road from Rezonville to Vionville are several common graves, in the biggest of which between two and three thousand men—French and German—lie buried. To the left, on the hills of Flavigny, six regimental monuments; at Vionville, more monuments to the right and left ; at Mars-la-Tour, the cemetery with many German graves and several Ger-man monuments and, near the railroad station, the fine French national monument surrounded by the graves of 10,000 men. But why continue the gruesome list?
Grain was growing in many fields; in others, peas-ants were plowing, and dodging scattered graves as they went along. A peaceful, rural scene; but a strange business, this plowing and dodging graves. I have no doubt the ploughshare still turns up weapons or skulls. A strange business, and one to ponder on in these days of the futile peace-congress. Some day, perhaps a real peace-congress will take place; perhaps,
some day, even the French and the Germans will forget their differences and say with Southey's "Little Peterkin,"
" `But what good came of it at last?'
At Vionville we stopped for the German douane and gave up our tag (number 8732) that had carried us through the Kaiser,* realm. Scoffy nearly died laughing at the official sign by the roadside. It displayed the words, "Halt Douane," divided into three syllables in a vertical row, and but for the restraining hand of Pater he might have carried out his intention of putting a circumflex accent over the last "a," which would have turned it into a German-French sentence meaning, "Stop ! you ass!"
The "dread" German official smiled at us very amiably. He chatted pleasantly for a while, and gave us advice about the road. Then he called out his wife and two pretty daughters, who also smiled upon us. He said he liked Americans. We admitted that we had a very soft spot in our hearts for Germany, as, indeed, we have had ever since.
We were sorry to go. A wild idea of taking back our number and spending the few remaining days of our three weeks' license on German soil came to us, but eventually we braced up and said good-by. "Come back again, my friends," said the "crusty" official. "I certainly hope to see you again. In two years perhaps—yes? But then you must come in over my road and not via Hamburg. We'll see that you are well taken care of in our old Deutschland."
Honk, honk ! and we were off. "Good-by, good-by !
Lebt wohl!" he cried after us, standing bareheaded in the road. The girls waved their handkerchiefs. A quarter of a mile away we looked back, to see them still waving their friendly God-speed.
"Yes, yes ! farewell, that's the word," said Scoffy—"farewell; lebt wohl." We were all silent. Suddenly he began softly singing that sweet old German song "Abschied" (Farewell) :
"So leb' denn wohl, du stilles Haus,
It just seemed appropriate and, as we went flashing by a monument that marked the border, we gave a last look at fast receding Deutschland, and all joined to answer him with the second verse :
"So lebt denn wohl, ihr Freunde ihr,
The rhythm of that fine old song seemed to cling to us—seemed to chime into the hum of the motor, and to lurk and resound in the corners of the top. Long after we had entered the vast plains and poplar avenues of France we still seemed to hear its echo, and time and again we took it up and swelled the chorus.