It was a natural assumption; yet by far the greater part of the professional army on which Napoleon had at the beginning of the war relied for the defence of France was still on French soil lying organised, armed and disciplined, in complete inactivity around the fortress of Metz. It comprised five army corps, the finest of which had hardly been in action at all: 154,481 men strong, fully armed, complete with cavalry and artillery and abundant ammunition.2 Gambetta and Bazaine made little attempt to communicate with one another, and did not take the existence of the other's forces into serious consideration in formulating their own plans.3 An astounded and outraged nation could afterwards find no explanation for the inactivity of the army of the Rhine except in the rank treachery of Bazaine, and once the war was over it relieved its feelings by trying him for his life and setting him in the pillory for all posterity. Yet the evidence which emerged, both in his trial and in the inquiry which the Third Republic conducted into the actions of the Government of National Defence, does not support a charge of treachery, or even of simple self-seeking. The picture it gives is one of incompetence and paralysis in face of a situation with which only a commander of outstanding military and political ability could have dealt. The real accusation lies not against Bazaine himself, but against the military system which bred him and allowed him to rise to the command of the French army. Nations get the generals, as well as the governments, they deserve. But some account must be given of the events in Metz
between 19th August and 27th October, when the fortress and the army eventually capitulated, if we are to estimate where the responsibility really lay. We shall consider first the military events, which are relatively easy to disentangle, and then the political, which are not.