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retreated with precipitation towards the south, rapidly followed by the Crown Prince's army.
Meanwhile Marshal MacMahon had moved up in haste from Strasburg, and had selected the rising ground south and west of Woerth to give battle to the enemy. No position could have been stronger in that part of the country. It was about three and a half miles in length, from Neehwiller through Froeschwiller and Elsasshausen to Eberbach, its front covered by the Sauerbach, a river difficult to cross, and its centre resting on the town of Woerth, capable of being strongly defended. Above the centre on the highest point of the plateau was Froeschwiller, which formed a sort of bastion with its great church and numerous stone buildings. Nothing was left undone by the Marshal to make his position strong and secure. His whole force numbered between 40,000 and 45,000 men.
The Germans, above 130,000 strong, rested on the 5th of August, but early on the morning of the 6th reconnaissances took place at several points. At about 4 A.M. General von Walther approached Woerth, and engaged the enemy behind the town, the skirmishing ending in the occupation of the Woerth cemetery. At about 10 the Bavarians advanced to Langensalzbach, but found it difficult to proceed further. Before this, at 9, a great artillery duel had commenced along the centre of the position, in which the French were worsted, and Elsasshausen was set on fire; and shortly afterwards Woerth and its neighbourhood were attacked in force by infantry. No impression, however, was made here on the French except at Woerth itself.
Early in the day a heavy attack had been made on the French right near Gunstett and Morsbronn, beyond the Niederwald, the great wood to the south-east of Elsasshausen. The French position was here very strong, on high ground, and was besides protected by the Sauerbach, only crossed in this part of the field by one bridge. The fight was carried on with varying fortune until noon. But soon afterwards the Crown Prince came on the ground, and two great movements were decided upon. One was on the right; but the other, and by far the more important, was a great flanking movement on the extreme left in the direction of Morsbronn and Eberbach. For this every available man and gun was brought up, and the attack was completely successful. Morsbronn was taken at the first rush, and the Niederwald was on the point of being occupied, when, at 1 o'clock, Michel's brigade of cuirassiers and lancers, which had been placed behind Eberbach, fell upon the German left. Their leader was apparently unacquainted with the ground, which was unfavourable for cavalry, but with wonderful gallantry they attacked, 1,000 strong, a far superior force of infantry. This famous charge of Morsbronn' was soon found to be fatal to the assailants. Both the 8th and 9th regiments of Michel's cuirassiers and the lancers were received by the German infantry without flinching, although these
had no time to form squares; and in a few minutes the cavalry were virtually destroyed, the few survivors riding off to the south-east. Here they were met by a regiment of German hussars and almost all captured.
The utter rout of this gallant but reckless charge really decided the action. But the charge itself gave breathing time to the French infantry, enabling them to re-form at Eberbach, and then, supported by some regiments on their left, to advance a short distance towards Albrechtshauser outside the Niederwald. Here, however, their progress was stopped, and they soon retreated in disorder through the wood. The Germans then cleared the Niederwald, took Elsasshausen, and after repulsing another cuirassier charge in its neighbourhood, finally attacked and stormed Froeschwiller. The French defence was most gallant, but altogether unavailing, and at 5 o'clock all was Marshal MacMahon was in full retreat towards Reichshofen, and in all directions fugitives from the battle were making for the Falkensteinerbach at different points. At the paper factory near Niederbronn a French battery was captured, and General Nicolai was taken prisoner in the park of the Reichshofen château. The retreat soon became a flight, in the direction of Saverne, and although MacMahon on the evening of the 7th was beyond pursuit, his army had practically ceased to exist.
In the battle of Woerth the Germans lost 489 officers and 10,153 men. The loss on the French side was far greater, including 9,000 prisoners and 33 guns and mitrailleuses. This action, and that fought at Spicheren on the same day, greatly dispirited the French, and foreign military critics began to recognise their inferiority to the invading enemy.
Of course there are many inhabitants of Niederbronn from whom trustworthy information of these events can be obtained. What chiefly interested us related to the care of the sick and wounded. The local doctors and nurses, including the inmates of the great Convent belonging to the Roman Catholic Nursing Sisterhood, of which the headquarters are at Oberbronn (two miles from Niederbronn), must have had a very hard time of it. A schoolmistress, then a girl of about twenty, was, immediately after the fight at Woerth, for several days and nights, without an hour's intermission, in attendance on a large number of wounded; and the one Sister who was told off to be with her was so overwhelmed by the unwonted sight of wounds that she was worse than useless. The other, a woman of spirit, although not a professional nurse, found that her heart was in the work, and devoted herself to it with little or no help for six weeks, after which professional assistance was available. A country doctor, with no experience of gunshot wounds, found himself suddenly and for some weeks in sole charge of two or three hundred wounded soldiers; and I heard that he was specially thanked for his skill and unusual exertions. I
suppose that these are customary incidents of life in the vicinity of a battle-field; but they show how utterly the medical arrangements of even so well-organised a machine as the German army are liable to break down in actual warfare.
At Woerth the church is used by both Protestants and Roman Catholics, an arrangement not uncommon in this part of Alsace. Niederbronn, until a year or two ago, this was also the case; but the two religions have each now a well-built church; and there is also in the town a large synagogue for the use of some 300 or 400 Jews. About half the population are Protestants, the other half comprising Roman Catholics and Jews. Apparently the Christian denominations live in excellent harmony, and I believe that, with very rare exceptions, this is the case in Alsace generally. It is not at first sight easy to account for the difference, as to religion, between one village or small town and another only a mile or two distant, which is here almost as marked as in the Grisons. I presume that it arises from the effect of the rule, practically established at the Peace of Westphalia, cujus regio ejus religio,' the variety in creed being due to the former existence, in Northern Alsace, of a great number of petty principalities, before they were, one by one, swallowed up by France. The Counts of Hanau, owning Niederbronn, were Protestants, while those of Deux-Ponts, who owned neighbouring villages, were Roman Catholics. Buchsweiler belonged to the Protestant Margraves of Hesse-Darmstadt, and Hagenau was an imperial city, and Roman Catholic. What surprises one is that these differences of creed should have lasted so long after the removal of their cause.
The Protestants in this part of Alsace are generally Lutherans, and some of our party, more versed in the controversies about ritual at home than in the well-established customs of Protestant Germany, were not a little exercised to find that, in the communion office, the celebrant wore a black gown, but stood with his back to the congregation before an altar bearing a large crucifix and two lighted candles. We thought of two rival Church associations, and wondered which would be the more scandalised!
There is in the Mayor's office at Niederbronn an excellent free library, of which visitors have the run. It contains valuable standard books and works of reference, as well as popular romances and poems and religious books, French, German, and English.
I made what inquiries I could as to the changes in the school system made by the Germans since 1870, but they appeared to be insignificant, except, of course, the additional prominence given to the teaching of the German language, and the practical exclusion of French. The most striking feature of educational progress in Alsace is the establishment (or restoration), at a fabulous cost, of the magnificent university at Strasburg, which cannot fail to produce in
a few years an immense effect on the higher education of the two annexed provinces and the neighbouring German States.
Other great reforms of a practical character effected by the German Government are to be found in the Forest Administration. These are worthy of careful study, and are admitted by the Alsatians themselves to be most creditable to their new masters.
One of the most interesting places within reach of Niederbronn is the maiden fortress of Bitche, which the Germans utterly failed to capture when it was attacked after Worth; so that the little garrison was able to march out, with the honours of war, at the peace concluded six months later. We happened to be there on a day when almost its whole garrison was away at manœuvres, and it was clear that a few hundred men might hold the fortress against an Army Corps for months. Its main interest to Englishmen is that, like Verdun, it was a fort to which many détenus were sent after the rupture of the Peace of Amiens. The younger members of this unlucky colony appear to have amused themselves, more Britannico, in cutting deeply their names and descriptions on the outer stone walls of the barrack which formed their prison; and I read more than one name belonging to well-known English, Scotch, or Irish families. A good many died here, and possibly some biographies and family histories might be enriched by researches in this remote stronghold.
I think I have now given sufficient evidence in favour of Niederbronn as a place endowed with many amenities and associations of interest, in its immediate neighbourhood and for some miles round, and as a 'Bath' deserving attention by a large proportion of British health-seekers. I will only add two pieces of advice applicable to the present time:
First: Never speak or write in French to an official in 'ElsassLothringen;'
Secondly: Never talk politics to any one!
If you only observe these two rules you may do pretty much what you like.
HUGH C. E. CHILDERS.
NOTE. The best route from London is via Brussels to Metz (seventeen hours), whence Niederbronn is reached in five hours.
TINKERING THE HOUSE OF LORDS.
We have recently had in the article of my friend Mr. Curzon what I presume may reasonably be considered the combined wisdom of the committee of eldest sons who, possessed of seats in the House of Commons, are ready to deal somewhat summarily with those future peers who may not have the opportunity of becoming members of that House.
The main features of Mr. Curzon's scheme (for he has given us a complete and definite scheme) are (1) the diminution of the numbers; (2) the necessity of some personal qualification or service before an hereditary lord could become a lord of Parliament; (3) the option of every qualified hereditary lord to remain in the House of Commons as long as he pleased and to become a lord of Parliament whenever he was pleased to accept such a position for good and all; (4) life peers; (5) selected peers (if we may call them so) by the House of Commons and from any persons who are not already members of that House. Before entering into other questions, I would clear the ground by disposing of these proposals.
The diminution of the numbers. The House of Lords has unquestionably increased and is increasing. At the accession of William the Third there existed 166 peers. During the eighteenth century there was an increase of 34 dukes, 29 marquises and 109 earls, 85 viscounts and 248 barons. During this century the rate of increase has continued, and at present the numbers stand at 560, of whom 44 are representative peers and 26 spiritual peers. Out of this large number it is no doubt true that a very large portion of the peers never attend the House of Lords.
I fail to see, however, what considerable advantage either to themselves or to the House of Lords would result from a larger and more determined attendance. What Lord Salisbury said in the debate on Lord Rosebery's motion for a select committee is absolutely true. It strikes at the root of the question, and not only of this immediate question but at the relations between the various elements in the constitution, the disarrangement of which, whether for good or for evil, would infallibly involve a reconstruction of our entire political system.
At the close of the middle ages monarchy formed the keystone of the political edifice. If we recall our attention to those shadowy