W. (William) Harding.

Dreyfus: the prisoner of Devil's Island, a full story of the most remarkable military trial and scandal of the age online

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demanded, and all kinds of pressure was brought to bear on the Govern-
ment to clear up the mystery without delay and let the public know the
whole truth. But, the authorities maintained an air of mystery ; the dark-
est hints were dropped, the name of Russia began to be bandied about,
and the War Ministry was said to have in its possession secrets which,
if divulged, would practically cause the upheaval of Europe.


Chapter IV.

When the outburst of public feeling could no longer be withstood, the
Government made up its mind to let the world know something about
what was going on, and, at a Cabinet Council, November 1, 1894, the
Minister of War, General Mercier, formally announced his intention of or-
dering proceedings against Captain Alfred Dreyfus, of the Fourteenth Reg-
iment of Artillery, attached to the General Staff, for disclosing secret War
Office documents to foreigners.

A despatch from Paris to the London Times, announcing this fact,
added :

" Although the arrest of Captain Dreyfus has made a great sensation,
every one feels that the honor of the French army will not be impugned
if one solitary officer should be convicted of treachery."

The developments of the case showed this correspondent to be some-
what in error ; for it is impossible to imagine a darker showing of dishon-
orable transactions among French officers than has since been disclosed.

Dreyfus, a name which must now go down to all future ages as that of
the central figure of the greatest trial of this age, was bom in 1859, at
Miilhausen, Alsace, one of the provinces given up to Germany by France
as a result of the outcome of the war of 1870-71. His parents were Al-
satian Jews of good standing and considerable wealth, and his brothers
conducted a large cotton-spinning factory at Miilhausen. This, inciden-
tally, seems to have been one of the causes which led to suspicions
against Dreyfus. Although he does not appear to have been of a particu-
larly inquisitive turn of mind, it has been shown that while in the army
he made a number of inquiries, since classed as suspicious, but which ap-
pear to have really been founded on nothing more than a desire to obtain
information which would lead to perfecting the spinning machinery of the
family cotton factory. He is shown to have asked, for instance, Robin,


the inventor of the Robin shell, a number of questions on this subject, but
his enemies tried to turn this to an entirely different intention.

After the cession of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany, the inhabitants
of those provinces, by agreement between the two countries, were given the
option, or privilege, of declaring for French or German nationality. In
other words, if they chose to become German subjects they were at lib-
erty to do so, while if they elected to become citizens of France there was
no objection to that. Dreyfus chose to remain a French citizen, and, when
he reached the proper age, he entered the Polytechnic School, where he
was educated. This school, by the way, is the nursery of French officers,
just as West Point is the school for American officers. In 1880 Dreyfus
entered the artillery as a sub-lieutenant. He cannot have been backward
in his study or have shown any objectionable characteristics at that time,
for in 1882 he became a lieutenant, and in 1889 was promoted captain.
Later, he was appointed to a position in the offices of the General Staff at
the French War Office, being the first Jew to be so honored.

During his early years in the French army, Dreyfus, like most other
French officers, seems to haA^-e led a pretty gay life, and, possibly, he ob-
tained more credit for this than he really deserved, if some reports are to
be believed, by boasting of conquests and claiming to have lost large sums
in gambling, whereas it appears that while he had relations with a married
woman, a Mrs. Bodson, while a lieutenant, he never gambled, and his con-
duct was most exemplary after his marriage, which occurred in 1889.

^^^he pay of French officers and men is ridiculously small, and any offi-
cer liaving private means, as Dreyfus had, is naturally envied by those
who are not similarly blessed. This, undoubtedly, had something to do
with the feeling which was aroused against Dreyfus. General de Bois-
deffre, the Chief of the Headquarters Staff, for instance, received a salary
of only $5,000 a year, while Lieutenant-Colonel Henry's pay was but
$1,000 a year. In spite of these meagre stipends, French officers have to
make a great deal of show, or, if they do not have to do it, they fancy it
is incumbent upon them. Under these circumstances a man handicapped
by the fact that he depended entirely on his pay could hardly fail to feel
a little jealousy of those like Dreyfus the Jew, who did not depend on
their pay alone.

Captain Dreyfus still further improved his position financially when


be married, for his wife is the daughter of M. Hadamard, a wealthy dia-
mond merchant. They had two children and occupied expensive apart-
ment in the Avenue du Trocad^ro.

An entirely impartial opinion of Dreyfus is that he was a man of easy
temper, of no particular ability, unlikely to shine in the military world,
and easily depressed and discouraged. A good husband and father, he
adored his family and took life easy. In return he was beloved by his
wife and family, and loved by his brothers. These facts would seem to
show that the man certainly possessed admirable qualities, for no woman
could exhibit the steady, loyal devotion to a husband that Madame Drey-
fus has exhibited unless the object of her affection possessed some sterling
qualities. Indeed, the brightest feature of the whole tragedy is the grand
spirit of loyalty shown by Madame Dreyfus toward her husband, her im-
plicit belief in his innocence, the heroic manner in which she pointed out
to him the path of duty, telling him, for the sake of his children, to go to
his distant, pestilential island prison, there to await the hour when his
innocence would be established. Had it not been for this wifely devotion,
there is no doubt Dreyfus would not have lived to stand his second trial.

The brothers of Dreyfus, in fact all his relatives and friends, have
shown steadfastness in this loyalty, which would seem still further proof
that the man was not made of the material from which spies are moulded.
Besides, the paltry sums, forty and sixty dollars, paid by the agents of
foreign powers for valuable French military secrets, as subsequently
shown, were certainly no attraction to Dreyfus, the well-to-do officer,
happy in his home and family, and wanting for nothing. However, the
above is but a pen-picture of the famous prisoner as he appeared ; subse-
quent events and his trials must complete this light sketch of the prisoner
of Devil's Island.


Chapter V.


After the announcement of the intention of the French Government
to prosecute Dreyfus on the charge of treason, the whole machineiy of the
War Office was set in motion to establish a case against the prisoner. The
day after the official declaration to this effect (November 2d), the French
authorities intercepted a telegram sent by Major Panizzardi, the Ital-
ian military attach^ at Paris, whose name had been mentioned in con-
nection with Dreyfus, to the Italian Government. The exact wording of
this despatch was not made known. It was understood in the first in-
stance to have been a request upon the part of Panizzardi that his Gov-
ernment deny, if it had no relations with Dreyfus, any connection with
the prisoner, and asking that the Italian Ambassador at the French capi-
tal might be instructed to publish a statement to this effect in order to
silence certain statements which were appearing in the press. This de-
spatch seems to have been twisted in translations so as to convey an en-
tirely different meaning to that of the writer, and was later used, surrepti-
tiously, at the court-martial of the prisoner, and without the knowledge of
his counsel or of himself, in obtaining his conviction.

After the prisoner's guilt was suspected he was subjected to a series of
tests. For instance, he was asked to write under dictation a letter which
contained terms similar to those of the bordereau. The dictation was
given by Colonel Du Paty de Clam, with the Chief of Detectives, M.
Cochefert, hiding behind the drapings of the room.

As a result of this dictation test, Dreyfus's arrest was decided upon by
Colonel Du Paty de Clam. It was a cold day and, as the prisoner ex-
plained later, his hand may have shaken somewhat, which was taken as a
semblance of guilt by Colonel Du Paty de Gam, who cried :

" Vous tremblez ! " (" You tremble ! " )

"No," replied Dreyfus, "my fingers are cold."



The following is a portion of the test letter dictated U) Dreyfus by
Ctolonel Du Paty de Clam :


;^A Vl


/^^yr^i^/:^^ ^r/^

/^i(ya^%<y/ -^A^^ ^rzA-e^ ^>»*^^^e-5^




But with a flourish of trumpets, it may be said, Paty de Clam made
the signal agreed upon; the Chief of the Detectives entered, and M.
Cochefert exclaimed, as he touched Dreyfus on the shoulder:

" I arrest you in the name of the Minister of War. "

Captain Dreyfus submitted quietly to his arrest. He seemed, as he
afterward exclaimed, to be completely dazed, and had no clear recollection
of what occurred. When he asked to be informed regarding the charge
against him he was put off with mysterious phrases, and it was not imtil
some time later that he became aware he was charged with treason.

The prisoner was taken to the Cherche Midi, or military prison, of
which institution Major Forzinetti was then the governor. He was
escorted to the prison by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry and the detectives,
and he was handed into the custody of Major Forzinetti with an order
from the Minister of War by which the prisoner, described as being ac-
cused of high treason, was not to have his name entered on the prison
books, but was to be kept in secret confinement, and was not to be allowed
to hold any communication with anybody in the prison, much less outside
of it, with the exception of Major Forzinetti and the chief keeper of the
prison. These officials were strictly prohibited from telling anybody of
the arrest of the prisoner.

A book could be written upon what transpired in the Cherche Midi
while Dreyfus was confined there.

Major Forzinetti, at a later date, gave some idea of what occurred dur-
ing that period. He said, in brief :

"On October 14, 1894, I received a confidential despatch from the
War Office. It informed me that on the following morning a field-officer
would call at the prison in order to acquaint me with a secret commimi-
cation. On the 15th, Lieutenant-Colonel d'Abeville, in full uniform,
handed me a despatch, informing me that Captain Dreyfus, of the Four-
teenth Regiment of Artillery, serving on the General Staff of the army,
would be imprisoned on the charge of high treason, and that I was per-
sonally responsible for his safe custody. Colonel d'Abeville asked me to
give my word of honor that I would strictly carry out the minister's in-
junctions. The prisoner was to have no sort of communication with the
outer world, and was to have neither knife, paper, pen, ink, nor pencil.
He was to be treated in the matter of food as an ordinary criminal, but


this order was cancelled upon my remark that it was illegal. The colo-
nel, without going into particulars, ordered me to take whatever precau-
tions I might deem necessary to prevent the fact of the prisoner's arrest
being known in the prison or outside. He asked to see the cells set apart
for officers, and selected one for Captain Dreyfus. He told me to be on
my guard against the intrigues of the haute Juiverie (high Jewdom) as
soon as the news of arrest should reach their ears. I saw nobody and
nobody attempted to get at me. I never visited the prisoner except in
company of the head keeper, who alone had the key of the cell. Nobody
saw the prisoner during his detention except in my presence. When,
after his arrival, I went to see the prisoner, he was in a state of excite-
ment impossible to describe — like a madman. His eyes were bloodshot,
and he had upset everything in his room. I was able at length to quiet
him. I felt that he was innocent."

A further insight into the methods of the military inquisitors may be
gathered from the following additional statement of Major Forzinetti :

" Du Paty de Clam, who had arrested Dreyfus at the War Office, called
at the prison from October 18th to October 24th, with the special author-
ity of the Minister of War [Mercier] to examine the prisoner. He asked
me whether he could not enter Dreyfus's cell noiselessly with a bull's-eye
sufficiently powerful to throw a flood of light on the face of the prisoner,
whom he wanted to take by surprise in order to upset him. I said it was
not possible. He examined the prisoner twice, and each time dictated to
him sentences taken from the famous document (the bordereau) in order to
compare the two writings.

" During the whole of this period Captain Dreyfus was in a state of ter-
rible excitement. In the hall one could hear him moaning, crying, talking
aloud, protesting his innocence. He knocked against the furniture, against
the walls, and did not seem aware of the injuries he was inflicting upon
himself. He had not a moment's rest, and when overcome with fatigue
and agony he lay, dressed, on his bed. His sleep was haunted by horrible
nightmares. He had such convulsions during his sleep that he sometimes
fell on the floor. During this agony of nine days he took nothing but
beef tea and a little wine with sugar.

" On the 24th, in the morning, his mental state, bordering on insanity,
seemed so serious, that, anxious to screen my responsibility, I reported it


to the Minister of War [Mercier] and to the Governor of Paris. In the
afternoon I was summoned by General de Boisdeffre, and accompanied
him to the War Office. The general asked me my opinion. I replied
without hesitation that Dreyfus was not guilty. General de Boisdeffre
entered the minister's room alone, and, coming out again, looking an-
noyed, he said to me : ' The general is leaving Paris to attend his niece's
wedding, and gives me full powers during his absence. Try and keep
Dreyfus alive until his return, and the minister will do what he pleases.'
General de Boisdeffre told me to send the prison doctor to Dreyfus. He
prescribed some soothing drugs.

"Du Paty de Clam called nearly every day after the 27th, to examine
Dreyfus and to get new specimens of his handwriting. His real object
was to wring an admission of guilt, against which Dreyfus never ceased
to protest.

"After the verdict Dreyfus was taken back to his cell, where I saw
him about midnight. On seeing me he burst into sobs, and said : ' My
only crime is to be bom a Jew.' His despair was such that I was afraid
for his mind, and had him watched day and night.

" I have been for many years at the head of military prisons, and have
some knowledge of prisoners, and I can assert emphatically that a dreadful
mistake has been committed. My superiors have known my opinion from
the first. Several generals and statesmen are just as certain as I am of
Dreyfus's innocence, but cowardice prevents them from speaking."


Chapter VI.


Captain Alfred Dreyfus was tried by secret court-martial, at the
Cherche-Midi Prison, the trial beginning on December 19, 1894. At the
time nothing was allowed to transpire regarding the proceedings, but all
the main facts in the case have since become known.

The first code of military justice, which was in force at that time in
France, was promulgated in 1857, and leaves much to be desired so far as
obtaining justice for an accused person is concerned.

The principle which governs the composition of coimcils of war is
as follows :

No military man can be judged by his subordinates. He has the
right to the jurisdiction of his superiors or his peers. That is to say,
following the rank of the accused, the composition of a court-martial va-
ries. Captain Dreyfus, for instance, was tried by a court-martial presided
over by a colonel, Maurel-Pries, and had among its members a lieutenant-
colonel, three chiefs of battalion (majors), or chiefs of squadrons (majors),
and two captains. The commissary of the Government, or prosecutor,
has to be of a rank at least equal to that of the accused. The defence is
provided for in the presence of a lawyer or through an officer, according
to the choice of the accused. The members of the court-martial sit in full
uniform, while the accused appears in undress uniform and without arms.

As to the procedure before a French court-martial, it is about the same
as before French civil tribunals. The president of the court, before inter-
rogating the accused, warns him that the law gives him every latitude to
explain matters and present his defence. But the president remains sole
master of the interrogatory, the other members of the court-martial being
only authorized to put, through the president, any questions which may
seem to them to be of a nature likely to throw light on the case and which
the president's questioning may have omitted.


The witnesses depose according to the ordinary customs of France.
That is to say, they mount to the witness stand and practically make a
speech for the prisoner or against him, and make almost any allegations they
choose. In fact, the prisoner is practically looked upon as guilty, and it
is considered his duty to prove himself not guilty.

After each deposition, the president of the court is called upon to put
the following question to the witness :

" You afl&rm that you have been speaking of the accused, here present.
Do you formally declare you recognize him ? "

After taking the testimony, the commissary of the Government makes
his plea for the punishment of the accused, and counsel for the defence
replies, after which the members of the court-martial retire and deliberate
in private. The votes of the court are received according to the ranks of
the members, beginning at the lowest grade, the president being the last
to make his opinion known.

After the judgment of the court has been drawn up, the members of
the Coimcil of War re-enter the court, stand upright, and when the president
begins the initial formula of the announcement of the judgment, " In the
name of the French people," the members of the court salute and the mili-
tary guard on duty present arms.

The judgment of the court is then read, the presence of the accused not
being permitted, though the sentence is made known to him later by a
special ceremony, the clerk of the court reading the sentence to him be-
fore the guard, under arms.

The members of the first Dreyfus court-martial were : Colonel Maurel-
Pries, President; Lieutenant-Colonel Echemann, Majors Florentine, Pa-
tron, and Gallet, and Captains Eoche and Freystaetter.

Major Brisset acted as Government commissary, and prosecuted the
prisoner in behalf of the Government.

The greatest interest was taken in the trial, and great efforts were
made on the part of the public to get a glimpse of the prisoner. The ap-
proaches to the prison were crowded, and the greatest military and police
precautions were taken to prevent a disturbance. As previouslj' noted,
the word " treason " has an almost magical effect upon the French public,
and, therefore, when it became known that "Nous sommes trahis" for
once had apparently some foundation in fact, the excitement was very great.


Dreyfus was taken to the prison before the crowd had time to assem-
ble, and all sorts of erroneous rumors were set afloat in order to complicate
matters and divert the attention of the populace from the trial.

Dreyfus entered the court escorted by Eepublican Guards. He was
apparently cool and calm, bowed to the court, and quietly advanced to the
seat set apart for him. It has been claimed, however, that his eyes were
filled with tears, and that it was with difl&culty he preserved his self-con-

In this connection a curious theory was advanced and found a number
of believers. It was to the effect that Dreyfus was more of a German hero
and martyr than a French traitor. It was asserted that he "opted," or
pronounced himself in favor of French citizenship, at the time his native
province, Alsace, was turned over to Germany ; entered the French Mili-
tary School, Army, and Ministry of War, all with one fixed purpose,
namely, to serve the Germany he loved against the France which he hated.
It was added that he was not more than eighteen years of age when he
formed this project, and that he had carefully weighed all his chances —
except the fearful imprisonment on Devil's Island. Since that time, how-
ever, no evidence has been forthcoming to substantiate this theory, while
there has been abundant testimony to prove that Dreyfus was actuated by
feelings of hearty loyalty to France. Indeed, it has been the writer's ex-
perience with Alsatians and Lorrainers to find them ultra-loyal to France.
With but few exceptions (perhaps only a single exception — an Alsatian
soldier who was eventually sentenced to penal servitude for life as a result
of his bitter hatred for France), the Alsatians and Lorrainers of France
appear to detest the Germans more bitterly than the French of the interior,
which is a matter not easilv accounted for.


Chapter VH.


Colonel Maurel-Pries, president of the court, began the proceedings
with interrogating the prisoner in the usual stereotyped manner, the latter
saying his name was Alfred Dreyfus, that he was thirty-five years of age, a
captain of artillery, and bom at Miilhausen, Alsace.

At the opening of the proceedings the court was filled with officers of
all grades and arms, and some fifty reporters were present. But when this
stage had been reached, the president called upon Major Brisset, the Pros-
ecutor, or Government Commissary, to make a formal charge against the
prisoner; whereupon the major arose, and, to the astonishment of probably
all but the members of the court, requested that the proceedings be con-
ducted in camera, or in secret, otherwise behind closed doors. He ad-
vanced in support of his plea the statement that the publicity which would
be given to the testimony, if allowed to be printed in the press, would be
"against the public interests," meaning that matters would be revealed
which it was advisable that the enemies of France should not know. A
plea of this description has great weight with any French court, and there
was no doubt of the outcome from the moment the prosecutor addressed
the president.

Dreyfus, at these proceedings, was represented by Maitre Demange, a
lawyer of considerable ability, who had been retained by the relatives of
Dreyfus. Although not a brilliant lawyer, in the sense the term is gen-
erally accepted, Maitre Demange proved himself to be a steady, hard-
working seeker after the truth and a conservative adviser of great value.
It was not his first experience in such cases, which was probably the
reason which led to his being selected to defend Dreyfus. He had
defended other men charged with treason, and had the confidence of the

At the conclusion of the plea of Major Brisset, Maitre Demange


strongly opposed having the trial of the prisoner conducted iu secret. He
entered into a lengthy argument on the subject, and presented a number
of good reasons why the trial should be in public. Subsequent events
showed that his contention was well based, and France would have been
spared a great deal of trouble and loss of prestige, from a judicial, politi-
cal and military standpoint, if the arguments of the lawyer had been
allowed to prevail. But there seems to be no doubt now that no amount
of argument would have changed the predetermined opinion of that court-
martial on the subject of the secret sitting. Beyond doubt, orders were

Online LibraryW. (William) HardingDreyfus: the prisoner of Devil's Island, a full story of the most remarkable military trial and scandal of the age → online text (page 2 of 35)