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Robert E. Lee Portrait
THE HUNDRED AND FIRST
WHAT is a regiment ?
Every body looks upon it from his own point of view. The dictionary calls it
"a body of
The country regards it as a faithful dog that hinders the neighbors from
committing petty annoyances ; orderly people pretend that it is tranquillity ;
agitators will have that it is the sword of Damocles struck off in three
thousand copies. Contractors consider it as an income of twelve hundred pounds
per year; mathematicians, as an integral number reducible to vulgar fractions.
For Beranger it was the Sons of France ; for the nursemaids of the Tuileries it
is the Conservatoire of Sentiment. Mothers are sad when they see it pass;
fathers are good-natured enough to fancy that it is gratuitous
board and lodging which the government oilers for
the reception of their sons. To the school of cowards it is an enigma; to the
women it is three thousand men. In all this it is possible that only the women
and the dictionary are right.
The Hundred and First is a fine regiment. Separately, the men are not handsome ;
by no means. But put them together in a corps, and they are magnificent—and are
they brave? Inquire of the whole army. 'Tis not along the Boulevards that you
should see the Hundred and First pass; there you will think it stuck up and
given to attitudinizing—two sad defects in a regiment. Here, on the high road,
is the place to see it, with its cap on one side and its eye alert. It enjoys
existence, laughing and singing, with its three thousand voices, one of its
favorite songs. While it sings on its way let us have a good look at it. Take a
chair. First come the sappers.
To know one sapper from another is a proof of remarkable perspicacity. Sappers
resemble negroes in this respect, that if you know one you know all. This
soldier—not to call him always by his name—with his hairy cap, his face to
match, and his hatchet, reminds you of Robinson Crusoe. He wears a white apron,
the emblem of his functions in the capacity of nursemaid; you will see him soon
taking out the colonel's little girl for a walk. That black and bearded head
beams ineffable smiles on the little pink and white creature, who, far from
being afraid of him, calls him " My
sapper!" If you listened to the stories which the soldier invents to
amuse the child you would be highly delighted. They overflow with
unheard-of-ness. Unfortunately, the denouement never varies. It is, to wit, the
history of a little girl who, after being very well-behaved, very kind, very
charitable, and very virtuous, marries at last—a general of division. Poor
Good gracious! What a handsome soldier!
Parbleu ! I believe so; 'tis the drum-major. I would wager my head, Sir, that
you have heard that the drum-major of the Hundred and First is somewhat stupid ?
It is really the case ; but the whole truth is, that he won't take the trouble
to sharpen his wits. What could he do with them if they
were sharp? " That sort of thing is beneath his position." Accustomed to
behold humanity beneath him, he believes himself above humanity. Envied by some,
disdained by others, he remains alone—with his shoulder-belt. Even love can not
regenerate him, for he is loved solely for his feather and his cane. Of all the
varieties of womankind he knows only the most insipid—the women who admire
fine men. Don't wish to step into his shoes, and stop your ears, for here
are the trumpeters.
Handsome pay (three sous per day) and the certainty of making a noise in the
world, render the drummer insufferably proud. In obedience to tradition, he
slightly cocks his head on one side, to give himself a gracious air. When he
returns to his cottage, his daddy, and his pigs, he
will cleverly insinuate that he renounced military honors to follow his
vocation for agriculture.
The colonel is always serious and wearied out, which is perfectly
comprehensible. To manage three thousand men is no trifle, and to hear the
regimental band play every day the same variations on Guillaume Tell is any
thing but amusing. On his Arab horse, with his back turned to the regiment, the
colonel sees and knows every thing; what he does not know, he guesses. On
returning to quarters he will consign to barracks for a couple of days number
seven of the second rank, of the
third company, of the second battalion, for slinging his cartridge-box
awkwardly ; but his proverbial severity will cease the moment he passes general
The lieutenant-colonel speaks like the colonel, walks like the colonel, scolds
like the colonel, laughs like the colonel, does every thing like the colonel.
But he is an older man. How does this happen ? Nobody knows ; it lieth between
Destiny and the Minister.
The commandant of the third battalion, scarcely thirty years of age, won his
epaulets and the officers' cross of the Legion of Honor in the Crimea, where he
reaped glory by wagon-loads. He bears one of the most honorable names in France;
he has an income of sixty thousand francs a year; and he has a young wife as
fair as his fortune. Esteemed by his chiefs, beloved by the soldiers, a
magnificent career is open to him. Here is more than enough to make him the
happiest man in the world. Well; he is nothing of the kind. This poor commandant
bears a serpent in his bosom—a chronic grief, an incurable pain. The serpent,
the grief, the pain, lie in the fact that he is an inch shorter than M. Thiers,
the shortest of all known great men.
Among the officers of the Hundred and First is found the married officer who
associates with nobody, not even
with his married colleagues, because it "gives rise to gossip ;" and, in
the corps, half a word soon takes gigantic proportions. It is an unlucky day
when Captain Michel calls on Captain Baudoin, and asks, "Captain, is it true
that you said that I said my wife told me that Captain Laudry's wife had told
her that her husband wore stays?" The officer of fortune has no fortune at
all. The serious officer employs his time
theory, administration, and manoeuvres. One
type has all but disappeared from the French army ; namely, the loud,
braggart, coarse officer, finding fault with every thing in season and out of
season. Every day Atticism is gaining ground. The Crimean war gave the last blow
to boastfulness and insolence. Why need a man boast, when he has shown solid
proofs of courage? What is the use of putting on threatening looks and staring
right and left with an ever-knitted brow, when all the world knows how
redoubtable you are if occasion require?
The sergeants constitute three categories : the
sergent who has only seven years' service, the
who has fourteen, and the
chargent who has
sergent is a badly-drawn portrait, with a feeble outline of the features.
He combines simpletonism with presumptuousness. In the novelty of his relative
superiority, he feels an immoderate craving to display his full authority; he
worries the soldiers. If the colonel knew it ! Never does he leave the chamber
without having punished his man. The French soldier never murmurs ; he sings,
which is his revenge. Hardly has the punisher turned his heels, when the light
breeze wafts to his ear the finale of the Vexed Sergent:
Do what you can;
Are higher than you
So, while we can,
His looks are sombre, he boils with rage, but he holds his tongue for fear of
being taken for a vexed sergent.
sargent is quite a different person. A perfect trooper, serving for the
love of the art, conscious of his value, nothing moves, nothing surprises, that
placid and martial countenance. Provost at arms—pronounce provoo–he takes a part
in every duel. In the regiment, they fight more readily than in the world. If
one soldier says to another, " You are an awkward fellow !" it is sufficient.
The proper steps are taken. Arrived on the ground, the adversaries salute each
other. Then one of them, laying his sword-guard on his heart, says, " Begin,
Certainly not," replies the other, with courtesy.
"To oblige you," resumes the first, stretching his legs, almost wide enough to
The blades are on the point of crossing. The
sargent advances, and gravely pronounces the following speech, which
never varies :
An instant! Before you begin you ought to know that, from the remotest
times of antiquity, even as far back as the Romans, the diverse disputes of
honor have always been decided by arms, notably by the foil, which is the
noblest, without wishing here to humiliate the sabre in any way.
But before your fury carries you beyond the bounds of politeness, reflect
that it is more beautiful to repair a fault than to have not committed it. It is
never too late to retrieve one's errors, and to avoid the greatest remorse in
this worldly life. If you
feel yourself to be in fault, throw yourself into the arms of your adversary,
that he may grant you pardon. In the other case, if your cause is good, fight
till your very last breath ; for remember,
both one and the other of you, that he who retracts out of fear and
pusillanimity, or through other motives, no matter what, is considered as a
The combat commences; you
know how it finishes; a scratch on the right hand, the accolade, and all is
chargent is brave to the tip of every hair. For the last twenty years a
hundred thousand men have saluted his lace stripes; and it costs him a very
slight effort to believe that those salutes are addressed to himself: which
belief justifies the very good
opinion he entertains of his own person. He has seen every thing, he
knows every thing; beloved and
respected by the Hundred and First, he expects to be beloved and
where. Louis XIV. was not so strict about ettiquette as he is about his
A carabineer, passing near him neglected to raise his hand to his cap.
"Why don't you salute me?" asked the
chargent, walking straight up to him.
" I beg your pardon, sergeant, I did not notice your stripes."
" Do you intend to insinuate that
you are short-sighted ?"
" No, but—"
" There is no ' but' in the matter. I could take down your matricular number and
have you put into the corner; but I am not susceptible of bringing any body to
grief. Only please to listen to what I say. You belong to the First Carabineers,
which is the finest regiment in France ; well ! by your insolent incongruity you
entirely deprive it of its prestige. That is all I have to say to you."
The carabineer was flabergasted, as well he might.
With this profound knowledge of life he is overwhelmed with questions, "Chargent,
what is that grease in the yellow pots which stand in the windows of the dealers
in eatables ?"
" Grease ! It is fat liver pate ; the most delectable thing in the world. It
costs twenty-seven francs the half-pound, without the truffles." " Oh, ho ! And
with the truffles ?"
" It is worth its weight in gold."
" Have you ever tasted any yourself,
" I don't know what that means."
" It means that I have never tasted it personally myself; but I once had a
comrade who had a fellow-townsman who polished the floors of a captain who often
had it on his table."
Chargent, is it true, what Corporal Siphlet says, that
at Bordeaux you
kept company with a black woman ?"
" Certainly, it is quite
" With a negress?''
"Not exactly." ..
" With a ulatress ?"
"Not exactly; it was with one of my fellow-townswomen whose husband was a
Chargent, why does the commandant of the firstt
battalion wear green spectacles ?"
" When his wife gives him a glass of sugar and
water, it is to make him fancy it is a glass of hock."
As long as the oldest trooper can remember, the Hundred and First has always had
in its ranks a sergeant who saved a general. At Fontenoy, Wagram, and Montereau,
the glorious deed was performed. In Spain, during the campaign of '23, a
sergeant found an opportunity of saving a lieutenant-general, who, in truth, was
in no great danger; but seeing the difficulties at the time of finding a general
more exposed, they could not be over-particular, and the Hundred and First
maintained its traditional heroism. Alma and Inkermann were inscribed in
glorious letters on the regimental flag, without the possibility occurring of
saving a general. They saved superior officers, captains, lieutenants,
subalterns, corporals, and soldiers, but nothing in the shape of a general. A
man is a man, and it is a very fine
thing to save one's fellow-creature,
but humanity once satisfied, vanity holds. up her head. It is of no use
talking : one is better pleased to save a general than a musician, to say
nothing about a sapper and miner. Besides, it was necessary for the honor of the
corps; the colonel several times
alluded to it with some degree of bitterness. But it is probable that the
persevering way in which the subalterns of the Hundred and First watched over
their generals prevented even the
likelihood of their ever falling into danger.
This topic was the general subject of conversation in camp, when, during the
night of the 15th of February, 1855, Sergeant Blandureau with four volunteers
was posted in an ambuscade situated about forty yards front the French
parallels, and about seventy from the Russian batteries. The weather was enough
to kill a dog; there was the silence of death and so thick a darkness, that you
could not tell a foraging-cap from a twenty-four cannon ball. Sergeant
Blandureau had to remain there fourteen hours—from half past four in the
afternoon till half past seven in the morning ; and, to pass the time, he could
not even venture on the resource of smoking. The light of his pipe would
have betrayed him to the enemy ; and he was placed there to give the
alarm to the guard of the trenches in case of a sally. With his eye on the
watch, his neck stretched to its utmost length, and his ear attentive, the brave
subaltern could not prevent his thoughts from wandering to his native village,
when the sound of a trumpet recalled them.
"Listen, sergeant," whispered one of his companions; " they are going to be at
it again tonight—"
The poor wretch had no time to say more; a Russian bayonet pinned the rest of
the sentence in his throat. The other three volunteers were instantly killed.
The sergeant had scarcely time to give the alarm by discharging his musket, when
he was felled to the ground with gun-stock blows. But a sergeant of the Hundred
and First is not so easily settled ; he is tough enough to stand a score of hard
knocks. Blandureau was a little stunned; nothing more.
The Russians were vigorously repulsed. A calm succeeded to the cannonade.
Sergeant Blandureau recovered his
senses, sought for his comrades, called them by name. Dead ! All dead !
He was the sole survivor. He determined to regain the trenches. Still bewildered
by the contusions he had received, he groped his way with difficulty. All was
black around him ; at every step he stumbled over a corpse. Is the Hundred and
First never to set eyes on its sergeant again ? Courage, then ! And on he
plodded again. Once more he tripped against a body stretched on the ground. It
was that of a Frenchman, still alive ; for it rapped out so energetic a " Nom de
Dieu !" that the Russians, who were only twenty paces off, heard it.
A cannon illumined the scene for an instant.
Blandureau heard the grape-shot plow up the earth ; a biscayan shattered
his gun. Misfortune is always good for something; the flash showed him the
direction to follow. He resolutely hoisted on his shoulders the comrade who had
procured him this friendly greeting from the Russians.
" Sacrebleu !" he thought as he toddled along, "here's a fellow who does not
starve himself! The clocks of Sebastopol are striking three in the morning, and
I have yet a good long walk to take, with this well-fed individual on my back."
And so he tottered and stumbled along, sometimes wrong and sometimes right, over
rough ground, among dead bodies and broken weapons, until at last he deposited
his burden in the battery which guarded his regiment, and then fainted.
Next morning, Blandureau woke up as fresh as if he had passed the night in his
bed. "Where's my wounded man?" he cried, rubbing his eyes. "Let me see the
little lamb who could not walk because he had a couple of bullets in his belly."
" Here he is," they said, pointing to a person surrounded with surgeons, who
were dressing his wounds with the most anxious care.
" The general !"
" Yes, my brave fellow. Come, and let me press you in my arms."
"The general ! 'Twas the general !" shouted Blandureau, half crazy with joy.
" Yes, indeed ; 'tis I. Come to me, I say !" "Oh, general !"
"You are a brave fellow ; thank you. I shall never forget that I owe you my
" As for that, general, you are under no great obligation. I took you for one of
my comrades so thoroughly as to call you a little lamb. But since it is you,
general, you may be sure that-that—certainly that—I am very glad of it, and that
if I had known it—naturally—I should have saved you all the same. There !"
The corporal—that subaltern commandant—is the connecting link between the
soldiers and the inferior officers. Charged with the direction of four men, you
are aware with what modesty he acquits
himself of that important mission. Occasionally obliged to send in a report, he
compresses his orthography in a style which is not without its merit.
" Onthetwen tysev enthmarchin theeve ningwe metfourmen."
[On the twenty-seventh March, in the evening, we met four men.]
In eighteen hundred and forty-odd, Monsieur De X., the prefet of a department,
resigned his place to come to Paris. But monsieur, his son, twenty years of age,
was gifted with sundry qualities which unfitted him for the capital.
Consequently, young De X. enlisted in the Hundred and First, in the expectation
of dazzling every body around him by his smartness and his handsome allowance.
The very day of his arrival he heard a corporal call him by name.
" The matter, ying man, is that you are on corree, task-work, to-day, and that
you must sweep out the court, ying man."
" Good ! We'll see about it."
So the young patrician set to work bravely. After slaving at it for a couple of
hours, the court was a little dirtier than when he began. Up came the corporal.
" What have you been doing there ?"
" I have done what I could ; but I don't know—"
" You don't know—and they call you a eddiccated ying man ! I dare say ! But how
did they spend their time in your
family if they never taught you how to sweep a yard ?"
"I meant to learn as soon as I had taken my degree."
" The explanation is quite sufficient ; begin again, and try to do it better. If
you don't, I will nail you for four-and-twenty hours."
" Oh ! corporal, you have too much integrity—" " That will do ; don't add
insolence to insubordination—"
In a regiment there are as many types of the soldier as there are men—from the
model grenadier to the fellow who will be shot. The latter is known by the name
of customer; but the race has rapidly diminished ever since the government has
interfered with the procuring of substitutes. The town workman, when he is
called by lot, turns soldier with indifference, sometimes gladly, when the times
are hard; but the case is quite different with country folk. One day a peasant
lad received a paper summoning him to join his regiment. He ought to have been
prepared six months, because at the conscription he drew No. 7. He weeps ; it is
a sad thing to leave his kindred for so long a time, and to be cut off from
communicating with them, because he can not write. A conscript's departure is
pitiable to see. After grief conies rage; he says he is a peasant, and won't be
a soldier. He seizes his gun, his flail, his scythe, and is transformed, for two
or three minutes, into a sort of revolted angel. But his father comes and says,
" It is your duty." His mother pretends to dry her tears ; he goes away singing.
On reaching his corps he neither weeps nor sings. The revolted angel is become
an angel of resignation. In six months you will see him proudly strutting in the
Champs Elysees, cheerful and happy.
Did you notice a man with a red nose, and a ribbon the color of his nose,
closely buttoned up to the chin, with a stiff gait, a sparkling eye, and a brush
mustache? He follows the regiment. We found him at the door of the officers'
mess-room, we saw him in the barrack-yard, and we find him again at the gate of
the quarters. That man is Captain Morel, the last of the grognards, or
grumblers, literally translated.
The species is becoming rare, which is not to be regretted. This person is a
unique specimen of the grognard and ill-bred officer. Retired on half-pay three
years ago, he can not live without the regiment to which he ceases to belong; he
is now merely an ornamental appendage. He is tolerated, but not liked; he is
wearisome. His only excuse is that he has been a brave fellow in his time. While
he was in the corps the soldiers used to say, " That mad fellow, Captain Morel,
is never happy but when he is in a rage."
During his last year of service the colonel, who had been made an officer of the
Legion of Honor, gave a grand dinner, to which were invited the authorities of
the town and the whole staff of officers. As ladies were to be present, he sent
for Morel to come and speak to him.
"Captain, I give a dinner on Monday."
" I know it, colonel."
"And, as I hold you in esteem, I have sent you an invitation, but I now beg of
you not to come." "May I ask, without indiscretion, colonel, why you offer me
such an affront as this?"
"Mon Dieu, captain, there is no affront in the matter, since the refusal will
come from you; but considerations which you will understand—"
"All I understand is, that I am not considered in the least."
"Well, then, I am afraid that your very military style of conversation should
shock the ladies whom we expect."
"A thousand thunders! May the devil's carcass double strangle me if I understand
"You will go on in that way at table. You know that the City dames are a
" Stiff and starch, precise and prim ; butter won't melt in their mouths. They
screw up their lips like—"
"Very well, colonel, the thing is settled ; I won't come. I am a mangy, itchy,
scurvy fellow. It's a pleasant position—"
"It's a very pleasant position to be in, after thirty years' service, eleven
campaigns, and seven wounds !"
" If you would only promise me not to talk?"
"As for that, colonel, I can easily promise you; even if I had your permission,
I would not open my mouth."
" Positively ?"
" If I utter a word I'll spit out my tongue five and-twenty feet above the level
of the sea." (Next