The Versailles government begins its attack on Paris, marking the start of weeks of bombardments and constant assaults on the city.
Vésinier – History of the Commune of Paris
On April 2nd, at eight o’clock in the morning, troops from Versailles marched against the outposts of the National Guards. About a hundred metres from the Courbevoie circus, the advanced guard, composed of troops of the line, made a halt. The commanding officer advanced towards the commander of the 118th battalion of the National Guard; but the latter, not wishing to fire on their brethren of the army, turned their butt-ends up. The commander of the line requested the defenders of Paris to lay down their arms. On their refusal, the Versailles soldiers fell back, likewise unwilling to be the first to fire upon their countrymen. Several companies of gendarmes, men capable of anything, then marched upon the National Guards up to the point previously occupied by the line. The officer of gendarmerie then spurred his horse, and advanced towards the Parisian battalions. A sentinel of the latter, crossing his bayonet, called out, “Who goes there? Halt!” The gendarme seized his revolver and aimed at the sentinel; but before this madman had time to discharge his weapon the sentry fired, and the officer of gendarmes fell from his horse mortally wounded. The horse was taken and brought into Paris, and immediately a fight commenced between the gendarmes and National Guards.
At the same moment the Versailles troops unmasked their mitrailleuses, which gave fire and spread confusion in the ranks of the Federals, who, having been joined by five hundred National Guards from Courbevoie, retired fighting to the bridge, pursued by the gendarmes.
While this was going on, the Versaillists placed some pieces of artillery at the circus of Courbevoie, and no sooner had the National Guards reached the Avenue de Neuilly than the aggressors sent their bombs into them, which put the finishing stroke on the disorder of their ranks.
Mont Valérien also hurled some projectiles: about thirty cannon-shots were fired. Two bombs fell in the Avenue de la Grande Armée between eleven and twelve o’clock in the day. The house No. 79, and the fifth on the side of the fortification, were struck.
Towards one o’clock the white flag of the Versaillists was hoisted on the lamp attached to the pedestal from which the statue of Napoleon I. Had been thrown down.
The dead and wounded were picked up, those of the National Guard being laid on litters and carried into Paris by the inhabitants of Courbevoie.
At two o’clock the drawbridge of the Porte Maillot was lowered for the passage of the ambulances and surgeons.
Battalions came successively to the Porte de Neuilly, and were sent off to the different bastions.
The gates on the right and left banks had been closed from Montrouge to Ternes, where, through mismanagement, a line of waggons waited in vain for the lowering of the bridges.
The drums beat to arms in several quarters. The 208th battalion, occupying the Saint-Lazare Terminus, received orders to depart.
Embrasures were made, and the ramparts armed with cannons, and along the whole of the west line work was actively carried on.
Commander Flourens arrived at the head of his battalion, and marched through the Porte des Ternes. Battalions continually succeeded each other, until the Avenue de la Grande Arm6e was completely covered with National Guards and spectators.
Some deserters, Versailles soldiers of the line, entered Paris.
The zouaves of Charette fought under the white flag. Each of them wore a Jesus-heart of white cloth on his breast, with the inscription, “Stand still; the heart of Jesus is truth.” It was also stated that they cried “Vive le roi!”
“The gendarmes,” says the Vengeur, “having made prisoners some of the 93rd battalion of the National Guards, fastened them to the tails of their horses, and dragged them to Mont Valérien to be shot. The mangled bodies of these unfortunate men were subsequently found and brought to the mairie of Neuilly, where crowds of people flocked to see them. One of the bodies had been mutilated in a most outrageous and barbarous manner.”
These were the first acts of ferocious cruelty committed by the troops of Versailles, soon to be followed by many others which excited the defenders of Paris to desperation, and resulted in their making terrible reprisals.
By four o’clock several batteries descended the avenue, and the National Guards assisted in drawing the cannons up the ramparts and fitting them into the embrasures. Ammunition was collected and stored in the magazines.
At half-past four General Bergeret, with some of his staff, arrived in a closed carriage, escorted by several officers.
At that moment the firing of cannons was heard in the distance, which, without doubt, proceeded from the army of Versailles. But be that as it may, there was not the least doubt that during the night or the next day a serious engagement would take place; and the National Guards marched out in great numbers with artillery and mitrailleuses.
At six o’clock battalion after battalion defiled along the boulevards, through the Rue de Rivoli, towards Neuilly. Eight seven-pounders passed through the Rue Richelieu in the same direction.
At eight the drums beat to arms in the quarters of the Palais-National.
It will clearly be seen that on April 2nd, as on January 2nd and March 18th, the troops of the Versailles Government commenced the attack, and were the first to inaugurate those long series of atrocious crimes which were fraught with such terrible consequences.
Let the responsibility of this war, and of the bloodshed, misfortunes, disasters, executions, massacres, and barbarous execution of prisoners, that followed as a necessary consequence of the attack of April 2nd, fall on the heads of the guilty and cruel aggressors, the authors of our first disasters, of our defeat in the foreign invasion, and of the surrender of Paris; who, for the sake of personal interests and a royalist, clerical, and bourgeois reaction, after having provoked a foreign war, did not hesitate to kindle civil war, to shed rivers of French blood, to bombard Paris after the Prussians, to set it on fire again, to cover it with ruin and disaster, and to plunge it into an abyss of evils, misery, and desolation, unnamed and unparalleled in history; and all this in the face of a foreign enemy, brought there by them, and still occupying our territory.
Source: Pierre Vésinier – History of the Commune of Paris (London: Chapman and Hall, 1872)
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