They had reached the gates of Paris. They had, indeed, not yet destroyed the enemy’s main army in the field, but they had swept up garrison after garrison; they had captured, perhaps, 150,000 wounded and unwounded men; their progress had been that of a whirlwind, and had been marked by a bewildering series of incessant victories. They were now in such a situation that either they could proceed to the reduction of the forts outside Paris (to which their experience of their hitherto immediate reduction of every other permanent work left them contemptuous), or they could proceed to break at will the insufficient line opposed to them.
[Illustration: Sketch 65.]
They stood, on this anniversary of Sedan, in the general situation apparent on the accompanying sketch. The 6th French Army was forced back right upon the outer works of Paris; the British contingent, to its right, lay now beyond the Marne; the 5th French Army, to its right again, close along the Seine; the 4th and 3rd continuing the great bow up to the neighbourhood of Verdun, three-quarters of the way round which fortress the Crown Prince had now encircled; and in front of this bent line, in numbers quite double its effectives, pressed the great German front over 150 miles of French ground. Upon the left or west of the Allies—the German right—stood the main army of von Kluck, the 1st, with its supporters to the north and west, that had already pressed through Amiens. Immediately to the east of this, von Buelow, with the 2nd Army, continued the line. The Saxons and the Wurtembergers, a 3rd Army, pressed at the lowest point of the curve in occupation of Vitry. To the east, again, beyond and in the Argonne, the army of the Crown Prince of Prussia was upon the point of reducing Verdun, the permanent works of which fortress had already suffered the first days of that bombardment from the new German siege train which had hitherto at every experiment completely destroyed the defence in a few hours. If we take for the terminal of this first chapter in the Great War the morning of 4th September, we may perceive how nearly the enemy had achieved his object, to which there now stood as a threat nothing more but the French reserves, unexpected in magnitude, though their presence was already discovered, which had for the most part been gathered in the neighbourhood of and behind the fortified zone of Paris.
With this position, of what it meant in immediate alternatives to the enemy, I will deal a few pages on at the close of this book, when I will also consider in one conspectus on the map the whole of that ten days’ sweep down from the north, and summarize its effect upon the Allied attitude towards the next phase of the war.
But to understand a campaign, one must seize not only the topographical positions of troops, nor only their number: one must also gauge the temper of their commanders and of the political opinion at home behind them, for upon this moral factor everything ultimately depends. The men that fight are living men, and the motive power is the soul.