Nothing interfered to oppose the advance of the royalist troops towards Saumur. At Coron, as had been proposed, Larochejaquelin and Denot joined Father Jerome; and Cathelineau also, and M. d’Elbée joined them there. Every house in the town was open to them, and the provisions, which by the care of M. de Larochejaquelin had been sent there, were almost unneeded. If there was any remnant of republican feeling in Coron, at any rate it did not dare to shew itself. The road which the royalists intended to take ran from Cholet, through Coron, Vihiers, and Doué, to Saumur. The republicans, who were now in great force at Saumur, under Generals Coustard and Quetineau, had sent small parties of soldiers into the town of Vihiers and Doué, the inhabitants of which were mostly republican. Before the arrival of M. de Larochejaquelin, the blues, as the republican troops were called by the Vendeans, had been driven out of Vihiers by a party of royalists under the direction of Stofflet, who had raised himself to distinction soon after the commencement of the revolt. This man was a gamekeeper in the employment of an emigrant nobleman, and though he was a rough, harsh, uneducated, quarrelsome man, nevertheless, by his zeal and courage, he had acquired great influence among the people, and was now at the head of a numerous, and, for La Vendée, well-armed body of men.
Our friends accordingly found the road open for them as far as Doué. After their junction with Stofflet, their army amounted to about 7,500 men; and at Done they were to meet M. Bonchamps and M. de Lescure, who, it was supposed, would bring with them as many more. They marched out of Vihiers early on the Tuesday morning, having remained there only about a couple of hours, and before nightfall they saw the spire of Doué church. They then rested, intending to force their way into the town early on the following morning; but they had barely commenced their preparations for the evening, when a party of royalists came out to them from the town, inviting them in. M. de Lescure and M. Bonchamps were already there. The republican soldiers had been attacked and utterly routed; most of them were now prisoners in the town; those who had escaped had retreated to Saumur, and even they had left their arms behind them.
All this good fortune greatly inspirited the Vendeans. The men talked with the utmost certainty of what they would do when they were masters of Saumur. Cathelineau had brought with him the celebrated cannon of St. Florent, ‘Marie Jeanne,’ and she now stood in the market place of Done, covered with ribbons and flowers. Many of the men had never hitherto seen this wonderful piece of artillery, and they hastened to look at it. ‘Marie Jeanne’ that night was patted, kissed, and caressed by thousands. Cathelineau was equally the object of their admiration; every peasant who had not yet seen him, hurried to gaze on him; and after his arrival in Doué, he was two hours employed in a military operation, hitherto undertaken, I believe, by no other general: he was endeavouring to shake hands with every man in the army. Chapeau here was again of great use, for he stood at Cathelineau’s elbow, and hurried the men away as soon as they touched his hand. But for this precaution, the work could never have been done; and as it was, some of the men were discontented, and declared their intention of returning home, for Cathelineau was called away before he had completed his task: he was obliged to go the Town Hall to attend a council that was held there of the different Vendean chiefs.
The arms which they had taken in Vihiers and Doué, were of the greatest use to them; in both places they had found a cannon; they had taken nine or ten from Fontenay, and others from Thouars. Most of the men among them now had muskets, and they were able to take to Saumur with them twenty-four pieces of heavy artillery. What could the infamous blues expect to do against a force so numerous, so well armed, and so well officered!
That evening a council of war was held by the different chiefs of the Vendeans in the Town Hall of Doué. Lescure, Larochejaquelin, Cathelineau, d’Elbée, and Stofflet were there. M. Bonchamps, who had been very severely wounded at Fontenay, but who had insisted on being carried along with his own men, was brought in on a litter. Father Jerome was there, and another priest who had come with M. Bonchamps. There were a couple of old royalist noblemen, not sufficiently active to take a part in the actual fighting, but sufficiently zealous in the cause to leave their homes for the purpose of giving the young commanders the benefit of their experience. Foret also, Cathelineau’s friend, was present, and Adolphe Denot: indeed many others, from time to time, crowded into the room, for the door was not well kept, nor were the councils of the generals in any way a secret. Jacques Chapeau, as a matter of course, managed to make his way into the room, and took upon himself the duties of doorkeeper.
The Mayor’s arm-chair stood at the head of the table, as the leaders dropped into the room one after another, but no one appeared willing to occupy it. Hitherto there had been no chief among the Vendeans; this was the first meeting which had been held with anything approaching to the solemnity of a general assembly, and it occurred to each of them that whoever should then seat himself in the Mayor’s chair, would be assuming that he was the chief leader of the revolt.
“Come, M. de Lescure,” said Stofflet, “we have much to do, and but little time; let us make the most of it: do you take the President’s seat. Gentlemen, I am sure we could have no better President than M. de Lescure?”
They all agreed, with the exception of the chosen leader. “By no means,” said he. “I was the last here who joined the cause, and I certainly will not place myself first among those who have led the way in the work we have taken up. No; here is the man who shall be our President.” And as he spoke he caught hold of Cathelineau, who was immediately behind him, and absolutely forced him into the chair.
“Indeed, indeed, M. de Lescure —” said Cathelineau, endeavouring to extricate himself from the seat; but both his voice and his exertions were stopped, for three or four of them united to hold him where he was, and declared that he should be the President for the evening.
“Indeed, and indeed you will not stir,” said Henri, who stood behind his chair, and placed his hands heavily on the postillion’s shoulders.
“It was you that brought us here,” said de Lescure, “and you must not now avoid the responsibility.”
“Ah! M. de Lescure,” said he, “there are so many more fitting than me.”
“Not one in all La Vendée,” said M. Bonchamps: “sit where you are, Cathelineau.”
“You must do it, Cathelineau;” whispered his friend Foret; “the peasants would not endure to see any man put above you.”
“Cathelineau will not shrink from the burden which the Lord has called upon him to bear,” said Father Jerome.
“Providence,” said d’Elbée, “has summoned the good Cathelineau to this high duty; he will not, I am sure, oppose its decrees.”
And thus Cathelineau found himself seated in the Mayor’s chair at the head of the table, whilst the highest noblemen and gentry of the country took their places around it, and from that moment Cathelineau became the General-inChief of the Vendeans.
Each leader then gave in the numbers of the men who had come with him, and it was found that the army consisted of above fifteen thousand men. Lists were then made out of the arms and accoutrements which they possessed, and the men in a rude way were drafted into regiments under the command of the leaders who had brought them. There was a small body of cavalry equipped in most various manners, and mounted on horses, which resembled anything rather than a regular squadron of troopers: these were under the immediate command of Henri Larochejaquelin.
“Gentlemen,” said Cathelineau, “we have, you know, three different attacks to make, three positions to carry, before we can be masters of Saumur.”
“Yes,” said Bonchamps, “there in the camp at Varin on the right, and the redoubts of Bournan on the left; the fortifications of the town itself lie between them, and a little to the rear of both.”
“Exactly, M. Bonchamps; the town itself, I take, is the easiest task of the three; but as we are situated it must be the last.”
“I think you will find that Varin is their strongest point,” said de Lescure.
“M. de Lescure is right,” said Cathelineau. “We shall find them very strong in their camp. I had with me, yesterday, two men from Saumur; they knew nothing of General Quetineau’s intentions, but they had seen detachments of men constantly going to and fro between Saumur and the camp; they calculate that we shall think that the weaker side.”
“Bournan is right on our way,” said Bonchamps; “but the ground lies so advantageously for them, that they will cut us to pieces if we attempt to push our way up the hill against the heavy artillery they will have there.”
“M. Bonchamps is quite right there,” said Cathelineau. “I think we should not attack Bournan, till we can do so from the side of the town. I think Bournan should not be our first object; but nevertheless, we must be prepared to meet at Varin the great body of the army; we must drive them from thence back into the town.”
“Yes,” said Henri, “and follow them in, as we are driving them. The sight of their comrades in disorder will itself conquer the men in the citadel; it is always so with the blues.”
“We must remember, Henri,” said de Lescure, “these are not conscripts, nor yet merely the Marsellaise, we have to deal with: the men who fought at Jemappes and at Valmy are here; the old cuirassiers of the French army.”
“They are cowards, Charles,” said Henri, “or they would not have deserted their King.”
“They are good soldiers, nevertheless,” said Bonchamps. “I have fought among them, and know it.”
“They are the better worth our fighting then,” said Henri.
“Providence can give us the victory over tried veterans as well as over untried conscripts; it were a sin to doubt it,” said M. d’Elbée.
“That would be a good subject for a sermon to the soldiers, but a bad argument in a council chamber,” said Bonchamps. “We shall find the cuirassiers tough fellows to deal with.”
“We must take our enemies as we find them,” said Cathelineau; “but if you will allow me, gentlemen, and as you have placed me here, I will tell you what I would propose?’
“Do, Cathelineau, do!” said Henri; “let us have one plan, and then make the best we can of it; we can at any rate do our duty like men.”
“I think we should leave this early tomorrow morning, and move across the country as though we were going to Montreuil; we shall so come on the Montreuil road about a league from Saumur, and not very far, that is about half a league, from the camp at Varin.”
“And then, Cathelineau, will you attack the camp tomorrow evening?” said de Lescure.
“I think not, M. de Lescure; but I would make a feint to do so, and I would thus keep the republicans on the alert all night; a small body of our men may, I think, in that way fatigue the masses of the republicans in the camp — we might harass them the whole night, which will be dark from eleven till near three; and then with the earliest sunrise our real attack should be made.”
“Bravo, Cathelineau!” said Henri; “and then fall on them when they are in want of sleep.”
“Yes,” said de Lescure, “and they will have learnt to think that our attacks in that quarter are only feints.”
“Such may be our good luck, M. de Lescure; at any rate, if you think of nothing better, we may try it.”
It was thus decided, and arranged that Larochejquelin should, on the following evening, leave the main body of the army with all the mounted men belonging to it, and advance near enough to the camp at Varin to allow of his being seen and heard by the republicans, and that he should almost immediately retreat: that a body of infantry should then move on, and take up a position near to the camp, which should also return after a while, and that as soon as darkness had come on, a third advance should be made by a larger body of men, who should, if possible, approach within musket shot o the trenches, and endeavour to throw the republicans into disorder. At four o’clock in the morning, the real attack was to be made by the combined Vendean forces, of which Cathelineau was to lead the centre, de Lescure the left, consisting of the men brought by himself and Larochejaquelin from the centre of the Bocage; and d’Elbée the right, which was formed of men chiefly brought by M. Bonchamps from the province of Anjou. M. Bonchamps was himself too ill from the effects of his wounds to accompany the army beyond Doué.
Early on the following morning the whole army, with the exception of the men left with Foret, defiled out of Doué, and crossed over to the Montreuil road, dragging with them their cannons, baggage-waggons, and ammunition; their movements were not made with very great order, nor with much celerity; but, about six o’clock in the evening, on the 10th of June, Cathelineau took up his position about a league from Saumur. They got possession of one or two farm-houses, and were not long in making their arrangements for the night; the men were accustomed to sleep out in the open air since the war commenced, and were well content to remain in clusters round the cannons and the waggons.
At eight o’clock, Larochejaquelin had his little troop of cavalry ready mounted, and started with them for the camp of Varin. As he and his companions dashed along through the waggons and by the cannons the peasants who were preparing to lay down for the night, and who knew nothing of the plans of their Generals, rose up one after another wondering.
“There goes ‘le Mouchoir Rouge,’” said one, alluding to Henri’s costume; for when in action he always wore a red handkerchief round his waist, and another round his neck.
“Yes; that is ‘le Mouchoir Rouge,’” said another, “he is off for Saumur; the horsemen are already starting for Saumur.”
“Come, then; they shall not go alone,” said another. “We will start for Saumur. We will not lie here while others are in the battle.”
These were men from the neighbourhood of Durbellière, who were now placed under the orders of M. de Lescure; but who conceived that, as their lord and master was gone before them, it must be their duty to follow. The word was passed from one to another, and the whole body of them was soon in motion. It must be remembered that they were, in no respect, similar to disciplined troops; they had received no military instruction, and did not therefore, know, that they were doing wrong in following their own master; they were in receipt of no pay; amenable to no authority, and consequently afraid of no penalties; their only idea was to do the best they could for the cause, to fight with courage and perseverance, and to trust to God for the result: it was not, therefore, wondering that, in the present instance, they so completely mistook their duty.
Cathelineau’s men, who were intended to form the centre of the attack on the next morning, were placed just to the right of the road, but their baggage and cannons had not been moved from it; in fact, they were nearly mixed with M. de Lescure’s men; whereas M. d’Elbée’s portion of the army was removed a good deal further to the right, and was placed immediately on the banks of the river Thoué. The camp at Varin, which was to be attacked, was situated between the river and the road to Saumur. In Cathelineau’s division there were some few who understood the plan which had been decided on, and some others who knew that they should not move without orders, and they did what they could to prevent their companions from joining the rush made by M. de Lescure’s party; but their efforts were nearly in vain. Every man learnt in the confusion that the attack was to be made on Saumur that night, and no man wished to be left behind.
“Come friends, let us follow ‘le Mouchoir Rouge;’ he never meant, I am sure, to leave us here,” said the spokesman of one party.
“The Saint of Angers is on before us,” said the others; “he would let no man see the enemy before himself. The good Cathelineau is gone to Saumur, let us follow him!”
In this way they soon learnt to believe that both Cathelineau and Larochejaquelin were on before them, and they were not long in hurrying after them. Within twenty minutes, about six thousand men started off without a leader or any defined object, to besiege the walls of Saumur; they did not even know that a vast entrenched encampment of the enemy’s troops lay directly in their way. The men had, most of them, muskets with three or four rounds of powder and ball each; many of them also had bayonets. They were better armed than they had hitherto ever been, and they consequently conceived themselves invincible. Cathelineau’s men, however, would not stir without ‘Marie Jeanne,’ and that devoted, hard-worked cannon was seized by scores, and hurried off with them towards Saumur.
De Lescure and Cathelineau were together in a farm-house, within five hundred yards of the place where the baggage had been left, and within half a mile of the most distant of the men who had thus taken upon themselves to march, or rather to rush, away without orders; and some of those who still had their senses about them, soon let their Generals know what was going forward.
They were seated together, planning the attack for the next morning. Denot was with Larochejaquelin, and d’Elbée and Stofflet were together with the detachment on the banks of the river: they were, therefore, alone when Father Jerome rushed into the room.
“The men are off, M. de Lescure,” said he: “do you not hear them? For Heaven’s sake go down to them, Cathelineau; some one has told them that you and Larochejaquelin were gone to Saumur; and they are all preparing to follow you.”
“Heaven and earth I” said de Lescure, “they will be destroyed.”
“Unless you stop them they will,” said Father Jerome, “they will all fall upon the camp just as the republicans are under arms, and prepared to receive them. Hurry, Cathelineau; you alone can stop them.”
Cathelineau without uttering a word, seized his sword, and rushed out of the room without his cap; and followed by M. de Lescure, hurried through the farm-yard, leapt a little gate, and got upon the road a few yards from the place where the waggons had been left. The whole place was in the utmost confusion: the men were hurrying to and fro, hardly knowing what they were doing or going to do: the most ardent of them were already a quarter of a mile advanced on the road to Saumur; others were still following them; those who knew that they should have stayed quiet during the night, were in the utmost distress; they did not know whether to support their comrades, or to remain where they were.
“‘What ails them, Peter?” said Cathelineau, catching hold of the arm of a man who had followed him from St. Florent, “if they advance they will be destroyed at Varin;” and as he spoke, he leapt upon the top of one of the waggons laden with provisions, which had come from Durbellière.
It was a beautiful warm evening in June, and the air was heavy with the sweet scent of the flowering hedges; it was now nearly nine o’clock, and the sun had set; but the whole western horizon was gorgeous with the crimson streaks which accompanied its setting. Standing in the waggon, Cathelineau could see the crowds of hurrying royalists rushing along the road, wherever the thick foliage of trees was sufficiently broken to leave any portion of it visible, and he could hear the eager hum of their voices both near him and at a distance.
“No power on earth could bring them back,” said he. “Now, Peter, run to the stable for your life; my horse is there and M. de Lescure’s — bring them both. They are both saddled. Run my friend; a moment lost now will cost a hundred lives.”
It was Peter Berrier to whom he spoke, and in spite of his evil treatment at Durbellière, Peter ran for the horses, as though he was running for the King’s crown.
“It is impossible to stop them,” said Cathelineau, still standing on the waggon, and speaking to de Lescure, whom he had outran. “All La Vendée could not stop them; but we may head them, M. de Lescure, and lead them on; we must attack the camp tonight.”
“Our loss will be terrible if we do,” said de Lescure.
“It will, it will be terrible, and we shall be repulsed; but that will be better than letting them rush into positive destruction. In an hour’s time they will be between the camp, the town, and the heights of Bournan, and nothing then could save them.”
“Let us go, then,” said de Lescure; “but will you not send to d’Elbée?”
“Yes; but do not desire him to follow us. In two hours time he will have enough to do to cover our retreat.”
“We shall, at any rate, have the darkness in our favour,” said de Lescure.
“We shall; but we have two dreadful hours of light before that time comes: here are our horses — let us mount; there is nothing for us now but a hard ride, a good drubbing — and then, the best face we can put upon it tomorrow.”
Orders were then given to Peter Berrier to make the best of his way across to M. d’Elbée, and to explain to him what had occurred, and bid him keep his men in reserve under arms, and as near to the waggons as he could. “And be sure,” said Catheineau, “be sure, Peter, to make him understand, that he is at once to leave the river and come across to the road, to keep his men, you know, immediately close to the waggons.”
“I understand,” said Peter, “I understand,” and he at once started off on his important errand.
“It is a bad messenger, I fear,” said Cathelineau; “but we have no better; indeed we are lucky even to find him.”
“I wonder,” said Peter Berrier to himself, as he ran across the fields, “I wonder whether they’ll make nothing of this job, too, as they did of that day at St. Florent. I suppose they will; some men haven’t the luck ever to be thought much of.”
Notwithstanding his gloomy presentiments, Peter made the best of his way to M. d’Elbée, and having found him, told him how the men had started by themselves for Saumur; how de Lescure and Cathelineau had followed them; how they intended to attack the camp at Varin that night, and he ended by saying, “And you, M. d’Elbe —”
“Of course we must follow them,” said d’Elbée.
“Not a foot,” said Peter; “that is just why they sent me, instead of any common messenger; that I might explain it all to you properly. You are not to stir a foot after them; but are to remain here, just where you are, till they return.”
“That is impossible,” said d’Elbée. “What good on earth can I do, remaining here?”
“Why, Cathelineau will know where to find you, when he wants you.”
“You are mistaken, Peter Berrier,” said d’Elbée. “You must be mistaken. Perhaps he meant that I should go over to the road, to cover their retreat. God knows they will want some one to do so.”
“That is just it,” said Peter. “They mean to retreat down the river, and you are to remain just where you are.”
As might be expected, M. d’Elbée was completely puzzled, and he sent off three or four men, to endeavour to get fresh orders, either from Cathelineau or from de Lescure; and while waiting to receive them, he kept his useless position by the river side.
In the mean time, Cathelineau and de Lescure had hurried off, at the top of their horses’ speed, to endeavour to head the column of madmen who were rushing towards almost certain destruction. They will, at any rate, meet Larochejaquelin on his return, and he will stop them. This thought occurred to both of them, but neither of them spoke; indeed, they were moving too quickly, and with too much trouble to be able to speak. There object now was not to stop the men who thronged the roads; they only wanted to head them before they came to the portion of the road which passed close by the trenches of the camp at Varin.
They were so far successful, that they found themselves nearly at the head of the column by the time they came within sight of the great banks which the royalists had thrown up. It was still light enough for them to see the arms of the republican troops, and they were near enough to the camp to hear the movements of the men within it, in spite of the increasing noise of their own troops.
“They are ready to receive us,” said de Lescure to himself, “and a warm reception they are likely to give us.”
He now separated himself from Cathelineau, and galloped before the trenches to an open space where Larochejaquelin had stationed himself with the cavalry. Henri had completely surprised the sentinels on duty in the camps; he and about twenty others had dismounted, had shot four or five sentries at their post, and had again retreated to their horses before the republicans were able to return his fire. But what was his surprise on preparing to remount his horse, to hear the rush of his own men coming along the road, and to see the cloud of dust which enveloped them. Henri tried to speak to them, and to learn what new plan brought them there; but the foremost men were too much out of breath to speak to him: however, they shouted and hurraed at seeing him, and slackened their pace a little. They were then almost within musket shot of the republicans, and the balls from the trenches began to drop very near them. Henri was still in an agony of suspense, not knowing what to do or to propose, when de Lescure emerged from out of the cloud of dust, and galloped up to him.
“What on earth has brought you here, Charles?” said Henri. “Why have the men come on in this way? Every man within the camp will have a musket in his hand in five minutes time.”
“It is too late now to help it,” said de Lescure; “if we both live over this night, I will explain it to you. Cathelineau is behind there; we must lead the men to the attack; he will be in the trenches immediately.”
“Lead on,” said Henri, jumping off his horse, “or rather I will go first; but stop, the men must have five minutes to get their breath; they are all choked with running. Come, my men,” said he, turning to the crowds who were clustering round them, “we will disturb the dreams of these republicans; the blues are not fond of fighting by night, but if they are asleep I think we will soon wake them,” and accompanied by his friend, he rushed down into the trenches, and the men followed him by hundreds, covered with dust, choked with thirst, breathless with their long run, and utterly ignorant what they were going to do, or how they were to for an entrance into the camp.
At the same moment, Cathelineau leapt into the trench at the point nearest to the road by which he had come, and his men followed him enthusiastically, shouting at the top of their voices “Vive le roi!” “A bas la république.” Hitherto they had been successful in every effort they had made. The republican troops had fled from every point which had been attacked; the Vendeans had, as yet, met no disasters, and they thought themselves, by the special favour of the Almighty, invincible when fighting against the enemies of the King.
The camp at Varin was not a regularly fortified position; but it was surrounded by a deep trench, with steep earth-works thrown up inside it. These were high enough to afford great protection to those within, and steep enough to offer a considerable obstacle to any attacking party: but the earth was still soft, and the foremost among the Vendeans were not long in finding themselves within the entrenchment; but when there they met a terribly hot reception.
The feigned attack made by Larochejaquelin had just served to warn the republicans, and by the time the real attack was made, every man was under arms. As de Lescure had said, the old soldiers of Valmy and of Jemappes were there. Men accustomed to arms, who well knew the smell of powder, and who were prepared to contest every inch of ground before they gave it up. These men, too, wore defensive armour, and the Vendeans, unaccustomed to meet enemies so well prepared, were dismayed, when they perceived that their enemies did not as usual give way before them.
The slaughter in the trenches was tremendous: the first attack had been made with great spirit, and about four hundred of the Vendeans were in the camp before the murderous fire of the republicans commenced, among these were de Lescure, Larochejaquelin, and Cathelineau; and they made their way even to the centre of the camp; but those who had not made a portion of the first assault, fell back by twenties and thirties under the fire of the republicans; twice Larochejaquelin returned and nearly cleared the top of the trenches, in order to make way for the men below to come up; but they were frightened and intimidated; their powder was all gone, and they perceived that their first attempt had failed; their friends and comrades were falling on every side of them; and, after a while, they retreated from the trenches beyond reach of musket shot. Cathelineau had expected that this would be the case, and though he had been one of the first within the camp, he was prepared to leave it again as soon as he could make the men, who were with him, understand that it was necessary they should do so. It was now dusk, and the uncertain light favoured his intention.
“‘Where is your master?” said he to Jacques, whom he chanced to find close to him; “tell him to lead his men down the trenches again, back to the road, at once, at once; beg him to be the first to leap down himself; they will not go unless he leads them.”
Jacques did as he was bid, and Larochejaquelin led the men back to the trenches.
“Come, my friends,” said he, “we have given them enough for tonight — we have broken their sleep; come, we will visit them again tomorrow.” And he dashed through a body of republicans who were now firing from the trenches, and about one hundred of his own men followed him.
The republicans had stuck huge pine-wood torches into the green sods a-top of the trenches, which gave a ghastly glaring light immediately in their own vicinity, though they did not relieve the darkness at a few paces distant. As Henri rushed through them, some of the soldiers observed his peculiar costume and hallaoed out, “fire upon the red scarf,” (tirez sur le mouchoir rouge,) but the confusion was too great to allow of this friendly piece of advice being followed, or else the musketeers were bad marksmen, for Henri went safely through the trench, though many of his men were wounded in following him..
Cathelineau’s men soon followed, as did also Cathelineau himself; the last man who leapt into the trenches was de Lescure; but he also got safely through them — not above twenty-five or thirty of those who had forced their way into the camp, fell; but above three hundred of those who had only attempted it, were left dead or wounded in the trenches. And now the retreat commenced, and Cathelineau found it impossible to accomplish it with anything like order; the three leaders endeavoured to make the men conceive that they had been entirely successful in all which it had been thought desirable to accomplish, but they had seen too much bloodshed to be deceived — they were completely dismayed and disheartened, and returned back towards Montreuil, almost quicker than they had come.
The men had brought ‘Marie Jeanne’ with them; but in the species of attack which they had made, the cannon was not of the slightest use; it had not been once discharged. A great effort was now made to take it back with them, but the attempt was unsuccessful: they had not dragged it above five hundred yards, when they heard that the republicans were following them; and then, as every man was obliged to think of himself, poor ‘Marie Jeanne’ was left to her fate.
It was soon evident to Cathelineau and de Lescure, that they were pursued; but the night was dark, and they calculated that M. d’Elbée’s men would be drawn up at the waggons; it was more than probable that they would then be able, not only to stop the pursuit, but to avenge themselves on their pursuers. What then was their surprise on reaching the waggons, to find them utterly deserted — there was not a single man with them.
This was a great aggravation to the misery of their predicament. They had no resource but to fly on to Montreuil, which was still above two leagues distant from them; and should the republican troops persevere in the pursuit, their loss upon the road would be terrific. The darkness was their only friend, and on they went towards Montreuil.
The republican soldiers were stopped by the waggons and cannons; it was then as dark as a night in June ever is; it was well known also that the Republic had no friends in Montreull; the troops had been driven from the place by M. de Lescure, on his road to Doué, and the royalists would be able to make a very strong stand in the streets of the town; the pursuit was, therefore, given up, and the blues returned to the camp at Varin, with all the artillery and the baggage belonging to the royalists.
M. d’Elbée remained all the while in his position by the river; he heard the firing — he also heard the confused noise of the retreat, but he felt that it was impossible for him, at that hour of night, to take any steps without knowing what had been done, or what he had better do: at about four in the morning, he learnt exactly what had occurred, and then he rejoined Cathelineau at Montreuil.
The Vendeans, during the night, lost every cannon they possessed; all their baggage, consisting of provisions, wearing apparel, and ammunition; they lost also about five hundred men, in killed, wounded and prisoners; but all this was not of so much injury as the loss of the prestige of victory. The peasants had conceived themselves invincible, and they were struck with consternation to find they were liable to repulse and defeat. Early on the following morning, another council of war was held, but the spirits and hopes of the Generals had been greatly damped.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14