The Second Empire

By Octave Aubry; Arthur Livingston | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVIII
The Effort for an Army

IT IS A STRANGE THING THAT NAPOLEON III SHOULD HAVE WAITED so long before starting a general reorganization of the French military establishment, which was the premise and the external evidence of his power at home as well as abroad. He should have gone about it after the Crimean War when the incompetence of the commissary and the inferiority of French equipment had come strikingly to the fore. He should have gone about it after the war in Italy when, with his own eyes, he had seen just what, in terms of suffering and death, the same incompetence meant to the French soldier.

The fact probably was that he had always been successful, and his successes had often looked like actual glory. He had lived on them, and many of the people about him had lived on them, in a sort of enchantment which the Mexican disaster had scarcely disturbed and which the crashing thunderbolt of Sadowa had alone been able to dispel. Sadowa had really opened Napoleon III's eyes. He saw the danger. He knew what the remedy had to be. When it came to applying the remedy he found unending obstacles in his path; and no longer possessing the physical and mental energy that was required to surmount them, he was to draw back in a mood of despondent fatalism.

To tell the truth, he had interested himself quite consistently in the nation's armament just before Magenta. He had forced the first rifled 4's and 12's on the army -- guns that used the new cylindroconical shells. By 1867, of course, that gun was considerably inferior, in respect of range and accuracy of aim, to the new Prussian breechloaders. He had diverted moneys from the privy purse to experiments designed to work out an artillery as good as the Prussian. Nothing definite had come of them as yet, though a few machineguns had been manufactured. They were still being kept a closely

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