Extracted from The Insurgent Barricade (University of California Press, 2010.)
Few weeks ago, I eventually finished the (long) paper I was referring to in an article about barricades in January (see also a more recent one about the book The Insurgent Barricade). This paper will be published this summer, but until then I can continue to disseminate some references that helped me to write it.
For the last few years, I have been writing many articles (see this one for example) that involved the revolutionary tactics elaborated by Auguste Blanqui during the 19th century in France. His Esquisse de la marche à suivre dans une prise d’armes à Paris is a clandestine manual written in 1866, which explains very precisely how to organize barricades and fortify a whole block of housing building to transform it into a favorable battlefield during an insurrection (see previous article including an excerpt that I translated). What I did not evoke enough, is his ‘anta-ego’ (sorry for the neologism), Marshall Thomas Robert Bugeaud who wrote a similar manual eighteen years earlier, evoking similar tactics, yet this time, in favor of the army in charge of the insurrections’ suppression. Bugeaud made himself famous in the late 1830’s for defeating the last resistant force against Algeria’s colonization: Abd El Kader and his fantastic army: the smala. For 123 years, Algeria will then suffer from the French colonization and Algiers will have to accept the existence of a square named after Thomas Bugeaud (as well as a statue of him). His manual, entitled La Guerre des Rues et des Maisons (War of Streets and Houses) describes the various strategies that a military platoon needed to apply in order to suppress the rebellion. Instead of a grouped frontal attack against a barricade as it was usually practiced by the army (which was not used to fight in an urban context), he advocated for the fragmentation of the army’s body into several little groups attacking from every side, digging their way from the neighboring buildings, wall by wall, to eventually surround and destroy the barricade. Despite its ingenuousness (let’s not forget that the 19th century’s war strategies were still entirely based on a very hierarchical scheme), those tactics were poorly received as it implied too much autonomy for those small groups of soldiers who were maybe fighting against their own family and necessitated to be always supervised by the instances of command.
The following text is excerpted from the book La Guerre des Rues et des Maisons written by Bugeaud. The translation is mine, and as always I am sorry for its poor quality (19th century French is even harder to translate !). The original French version follows the English one:
This way, we would choose houses that control several streets, bridges and large avenues in the suburbs, these houses would be closed on the long term for public use. Openings that would have a view on the streets would be walled and fortified up to the necessary height to cover well the defenders while the other openings would bring some light in. Entry doors would be fortified with iron in such a way that bullets could not pierce them; we would establish another fortified spot for second defense in case the doors would break.
These houses should be considered like small forts. The service in it would be effectuated continuously with the same regularity than during war time.
Are barricades too strong to be taken by skirmishers? If so, we penetrate in the first houses on both side of the beginning of the street, and that is when the bombs are very useful, because we reach quickly our goal; we go up until the last floor and we pierce successively every walls in order to reach the sides of the barricades. As soon as we succeed to do so, they are taken because the grunts who are in those houses see the backside of the barricades and can kill their defenders with their gun, or by throwing furniture, tiles and all kind of other projectiles on their heads.
Ainsi, on ferait choix des maisons qui commandent plusieurs rues, le passage des ponts et les grandes artères des faubourgs, ces maisons seraient affermées à long bail pour cause d’utilité publique. Les ouvertures qui ont vue sur les rues seraient murées et crénelées jusqu’à la hauteur nécessaire pour bien couvrir leurs défenseurs et le reste des ouvertures donneraient du jour. Les portes d’entrées seraient crénelées et doublées en fer de manière à ce que les balles ne puissent pas les percer ; on établirait en arrière un tambour crénelé pour seconde défense si les portes étaient forcées.
Ces maisons devraient être considérées comme de petits fortins. Le service s’y ferait constamment avec la même régularité que dans les plans de guerre. P120
Des barricades sont-elles trop fortes pour qu’on puisse les enlever avec des tirailleurs ? Alors on pénètre dans les premières maisons des deux cotes du commencement de la rue, et c’est ici que le pétard est d’une grande utilite, parce qu’il atteint vite le but ; on monte jusqu’au dernière étage et on perce successivement toutes les cloisons, afin d’arriver à déborder les barricades. Des qu’on a réussi, elles sont prises car les fantassins loges dans les maisons qui voient les barricades a revers, tuent leurs défenseurs a coups de fusil, ou leur jettent sur la tête des meubles, des tuiles et toute espèce de projectile. P138
Bugeaud Thomas, La Guerre des Rues et des Maisons. Paris: Jean-Paul Rocher, 1997.