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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ent, General Hippolyte Sebert, retired, of the marine artillery, deposed.
He preceded his testimony by saying he did not think he ought to with-
hold the evidence he was able to give, as he felt it would contribute to the
reparation of a judicial error.

The general then criticised the bordereau from a professional stand-
point, pointing out that the writer must have been a low-classed man, ne-
gotiating directly with a correspondent on whose doles he was dependent.
He said he was probably an officer, but certainly not an artillery officer,
adding that this was proved by the employment of expressions an artillery-
man could not have used.

General Sebert entered into long explanations of his statements, perti-
nently pointing out that an artillery officer would have known the inter-


esting parts of the Firing Manual, and would not have written in the bor-
dereau, " Take what interests you. " The witness gave a number of instances
showing the dense ignorance displayed in gunnery technicalities by the
writer of the bordereau, and amid profound silence General Sebert de-
clared that his study of the case had led him to the conviction that the
bordereau could not have been written by an artillery officer or by an offi-
cer belonging to a special arm of the service who had passed through the
Polytechnic School. [Excitement.]

General Sebert referred to the satisfaction he felt at knowing that the
experts of the highest standing in handwriting had confirmed his opinion,
and he dismissed M. Bertillon's assertions, saying that on examination
he, the witness, had easily found proof of the worthlessness of that demon-

"It is painful for me," added General Sebert, "to express so severe
an opinion on the man whose name is connected with the application of
the anthropometric method, which has been of great service to our coun-
try. But French science cannot give its authority to lucubrations so pre-
tentious as those M. Bertillon brought here. I reassert most emphatically
that the bordereau was not written by an artillery officer or by an officer
who passed through the Polytechnic School. I have been sustained in
giving my evidence by my firm belief in the entire innocence of Dreyfus,
and I am glad I have had strength enough to bring here the stone which
I have to lay on the edifice of reparation, and conscientiously, while hold-
ing aloof from outside passions. This edifice is a work of appeasement and
peace, which will restore the coimtry to an era of concord and union."
[Prolonged excitement.]

General Sebert also expressed his opinion of Valerio's evidence in sup-
port of M. Bertillon's system, saying that, in spite of the latter's talent,
he had not succeeded in converting a false theory into a true one.

As soon as General Sebert had finished his testimony, M. Bertillon
bounced up, and asked to be allowed to speak; but Colonel Jouaust
quickly turned to the usher and said, "Bring in the next witness," where-
upon M. Bertillon, extremely annoyed, returned to his seat.

Major Ducros then deposed that he commanded a field battery ; that
he knew Dreyfus and offered him certain information. But, he pointed
out, Dreyfus never asked him a question, although he knew he (the wit-


ness) possessed much interesting information, especially particulars about
the hydro-pneumatic brake.

General Mercier here intervened, and said that, at the time Major
Ducros was speaking of, the Ducros field-piece had been rejected in favor
of the Deport cannon, and, he said, Dreyfus therefore could have no object
in procuring particulars of the Ducros gun.

Major Hartmann of the artillery was the next witness for the defence.
He asked permission to refer to certain of the documents which were pro-
duced during the secret session of the court on August 31st, upon which,
he said, he had reached important conclusions. But General Deloye ob-
jected, as it was contrary to the instructions of the Minister of War.

The major then asked the court to sit briefly in camera, and Colonel
Jouaust promised to render a decision later.

More support for Dreyfus was forthcoming, however, in this deposi-
tion of Major Hartmann, since he expressed the opinion that the author
of the bordereau did not know what he was writing about, as he spoke of
the " 120-short " gun when he meant the " 120-long " gun.

The major led the court through a maze of technical details about
artillery, until Colonel Jouaust asked him to refrain from technicalities as
far as possible, evidently fearing that Hartmann might reveal secrets of
the service. His evidence was directed entirely to show that Dreyfus was
not the author of the bordereau, and that the artillery information men-
tioned in it was accessible to many officers of all arms in the spring of

Proceeding, Major Hartmann testified on highly technical subjects, his
evidence being the same as given before the Court of Cassation. He
spoke in loud, energetic tones, and occupied the whole of the remainder of
the session. The major's testimony was not concluded when the court

So far as the depositions were concerned, Dreyfus certainly had every
reason to be pleased with this day's proceedings.


Chapter XLVL


There was a large attendance of generals at the Lyc^e at the opening
of the session of September 2d.

The interest centred in the testimony of Major Hartmann, of the
artillery, which was interrupted by the adjournment of the court on Sep-
tember 1st, and was resumed at this session. The major, who had done
great service for the defence, resumed his important deposition regarding
artillery matters, and the bringing out of points and phraseology in the
bordereau indicating that the writer could not be Dreyfus.

The witness wished to enter into the question of the Eobin shell. But,
on General Deloye's objecting to a statement on the subject in open court.
Major Hartmann asked to be allowed to give it behind closed doors, say-
ing it would only take him a few minutes to call attention to the point he
had in mind.

The president of the court decided to hear this part of the witness's
testimony in camera at the end of the proceedings, or at the beginning of
the session of September 4th.

In response to questions from Maitre Labori, leading counsel for the
defence, and M. Demange, Major Hartmann said any officer attending the
Chalons camp would have obtained sufficient information to write notes on
the covering of troops and Madagascar matters.

M. Labori then recalled General Mercier's attack on Captain Freystaet-
ter, on the latter's declaration that the secret dossier communicated to the
court of 1894 contained a document concerning a shell, for which General
Mercier called the captain a liar. Major Hartmann affirmed that it was
quite possible that particulars about a certain shell should have leaked out
in 1894.

An interesting confrontation between General Deloye and Major Hart-
mann followed, the general declaring that he did not believe the major was


keeping strictly to the truth. Deloye then proceeded to point to what he
said were inaccuracies in Major Hartmann's testimony. He insisted that
Dreyfus, in the course of conversations with artillery officers, could have
secured information on the subjects mentioned in the bordereau, to which
the major retorted that if any artillery officer had been questioned by Drey-
fus he would already have come forward to say so as a matter of strict

General Deloye, questioned by M. Labori and M. Demange, said the
inventor of the Eobin shell told him Dreyfus never asked him for particu-
lars about his shell, except on a minor point. The general added he came
as a technical witness to show Dreyfus could be guilty, adding that it was
not his business to say whether he believed him innocent or guilty. He
could only say that Dreyfus's contention that it was impossible for him to
know certain matters referred to in the bordereau was untrue.

M. Labori asked General Deloye if he knew whether the documents
which could have been betrayed by the traitor, especially by the writer of
the bordereau, were important, whereupon the general turned to counsel
and excitedly cried :

" Don't ask me. Don't ask me ! "

These exclamations created a sensation in court, which was doubled
when General Deloye added that there was sufficient in the bordereau to
establish that the traitor knew the importance of the documents he was
giving up. The witness added :

"When I read the bordereau I was dismayed."

Major Hartmann, in reply to General Deloye, reiterated that the author
of the bordereau was ignorant of artillery matters.

"For," the major pointed out, "if he meant the ' 120 ' hydraulic brake,
he gave particulars of what was long known, while if he meant the '120
short' he employed a wrong expression."

General Mercier reappeared in the witness box in an attempt to refute
Major Hartmann's argument. He accounted for the use of the expression
" hydraulic brake " in the bordereau by the fact that the Germans used the
expression to designate similar brakes. Therefore, he added, it was natu-
ral that the correspondent of the Germans should employ the term.

General Deloye then said :

" I beg the court to allow me to say that in an army liable to find itself


confronted by the enemy there is need of cohesion. Consequently, all the
officers of France must march hand in hand, as brethren. I do not think
it is good for it to be said that officers who have risen from the ranks
should stop short at a certain point, and that individual merit should not
count, and that there is a bar which cannot be passed. No ! no ! that is not
satisfactory any more than it is true. Captain Valerio is an example. He
has made himself, and a large number of others similarly able have filled
the positions to which they have risen. Coming here as the representa-
tive of the Minister of War, I beg the court to allow me to say to one of
our comrades who has risen from the ranks that these opinions are not
ours. I think it was necessary to say so."

After a brief discussion between General Mercier, General Deloye, and
Major Hartmann on the German expression used to designate hydraulic
brake, the trio returned to their seats.

This ended the deposition of Major Hartmann, who certainly was a
very valuable witness for the defence, although the effect of his testimony
was somewhat weakened by General Deloye's theatrical statement in reply
to M. Labori.

The next witness, M. Louis Havet, a member of the Institute, took up
the bordereau from a grammatical point of view, declaring it to be his
conviction, after studying closely the styles of Dreyfus and Esterhazy, that
the latter wrote it. The witness entered into an interesting analysis of the
phraseology of the bordereau, pointing out that certain phrases in it were
met in Esterhazy's letters, but never in those of Dreyfus. He then traced
the influence exercised on Esterhazy by his linguistic acquirements, nota-
bly traces of German construction.

The Government Commissary, Major Carriere, who was always blun-
dering, asked M. Havet if he had been present at sessions of the court
before he had testified.

M. Havet said "Yes," to which the major, with great severity, said:

"You have been guilty of a grave breach of judiciary discipline."

To this M. Havet quietly remarked :

" But I had not been summoned as a witness at the time I attended the

Major Carriere sat down, checkmated.

The letters exchanged between Colonel Picquart and General Gonse, at


the time the colonel wanted a thorough investigation into the case, were
then read, and M. Labori pointed out to General Gonse that these letters
never alluded to the alleged confession of Dreyfus.

General Gonse replied that it was because he always advised Colonel
Picquart not to mix up the Esterhazy and Dreyfus cases. Dreyfus, he
added, had been condemned, and his case could not be reopened, but they
were bound to see if there was not another traitor.

The general then made a bitter complaint of the fact that his letters
had been communicated to M. Scheurer-Kestner, former Vice-President of
the Senate.

Referring to this published correspondence. General Gonse exclaimed:
" When one procures the handwriting of a man one can get him hanged. "
[Laughter.] General Gonse referred to a well-known saying of a French
judge, Laubardemont : "Give me four lines of a man's handwriting and
I'll have him hanged."

Continuing, General Gonse said:

" When a man intends to publish another's letters he asks what the
writer's meaning was. That is but fair. But, without doing so, Picquart
handed my letters to M. Scheurer-Kestner without my knowledge or con-
sent. These letters have been published in a book which can be found at
every bookseller's, entitled " Gonse-Pilate. ' "

M. Labori — Was not the bordereau, in conjunction with the petit bleu,
the basis of Picquart's belief in Esterhazy 's guilt?

General Gonse — I said to Picquart: "Don't let us trouble about hand-
writings at present."

M. Labori — How could the Dreyfus and Esterhazy cases be separated,
when both were based on a common document?

General Gonse — Because at that time Dreyfus had been convicted, and
the bordereau was ascribed to him.

M. Labori — Was it not possible to reconsider an error?

General Gonse — There was nothing to prove to me that the bordereau
was written by Esterhazy.

M. Labori — Will General Gonse repeat what Colonel Picquart told
him concerning the conclusions of M. Bertillon?

General Gonse — I was not acquainted with M. Bertillon's conclusions,
but Picquart seems to exaggerate them.


At M. Labori's request, Colonel Picquart was recalled, and said :

" In a brief letter which I wrote to General Gonse in regard to M.
Bertillon's conclusions, I only referred to part of his observations, and the
best proof that I did not wish to exaggerate them is the fact that I asked
General Gonse to order a supplemental inquiry."

Colonel Jouaust — In what form did M. Bertillon communicate the
result of his examination?

Colonel Picquart — Verbally, on two occasions. As regards General
Gonse's letters I handed them to a lawyer when I understood that I
was the object of abominable intrigues, and when I received from my
former subordinate, Henry, while in Tunis, a threatening letter, which
had been forwarded with the assent of General Gonse and de Bois-
deffre. If this letter was published I cannot be held responsible for it.

General Gonse maintained that the Henry letter was written without
his assent and in reply to an insolent letter from Picquart. The latter, the
general added, saw machinations everywhere. He alleged that he was sent
to Tunis to be killed. The court could form its own conclusions.

Colonel Picquart remarked that he brought the secret dossier to Gen-
eral Gonse simultaneously with the bordereau, and that the general, conse-
quently, was in a position to judge of the probabilities of the innocence of

M. Labori asked if General Gonse knew of the plot hatched against
Picquart, and if he knew that letters addressed to Picquart at Tunis were
opened at the War Office? and the general admitted that a letter was
opened in the Intelligence Department in November. He added that sus-
picious letters were always handed to him (General Gonse) by Lieutenant-
Colonel Henry, so that he, the general, might report to the Minister of
War on them.

M. Labori — Whom was the letter addressed to ?

General Gonse — I do not know. No doubt to the chief of some de-

Colonel Picquart — It was addressed to me personally.

M. Labori — Does General Gonse know that the words in the letter in
question were used for the purpose of fabricating a telegram intended to
destroy the value of the petit bleu?


General Gonse admitted that the expressions seemed to him suspicious.
If the letters were seized it was because they were addressed to Picquart
as head of the department, and it was thought they might relate to official
matters. He added that Picquart's letters were only opened when they
looked suspicious.

Colonel Picquart retorted that it was curious his opened letters after-
ward reached him without a sign of having been tampered with.

Counsel then questioned General Gonse relative to the opening of the
" Speranza " letter, and the general replied that this letter was not addressed
to Picquart, but bore a curious address.

M. Labori — Why did General Pellieux ascribe the letter to Colonel
Picquart, whom he had never seen?

General Gonse — I do not know.

M. Labori pointed out that the first letter, which was genuine, was for-
warded to Colonel Picquart after having been opened, while the " Speranza "
letter was retained. The latter could therefore be regarded as the work of
a forger.

Colonel Jouaust — You are entering into a discussion.

M. Labori (sharply) — No, Monsieur le President; by virtue of Article
319 of the Code, I merely say what I think in regard to the evidence.

Greneral Gonse, replying further, dwelt upon the fact that it was neces-
sary that the Intelligence Department should know the acts of Colonel
Picquart, who had been removed on account of his conduct.

M. Labori — Does General Gonse think the Henry forgery was the re-
sult of a plot against Colonel Picquart?

General Gonse said he thought the forgery was " an unfortunate pro-
ceeding." [Laughter.] He would have prevented it if he had been con-
sulted. But he did not believe there was a plot against Picquart. Henry
desired to have fresh proof against Dreyfus, " though fresh proof was not
really required, as the diplomatic dossier contained ample proof."

M. Labori protested against such a statement, and asked which docu-
ment of the dossier implicated Dreyfus.

Colonel Jouaust refused to allow the question, and counsel thereupon
remarked that he reserved the right to form what conclusions he thought
proper on this point.

Colonel Jouaust — Form as many conclusions as you like.


M. Labori next referred to the attempt to bribe Commissary Tomps,
and to erasures in the petit bleu.

General Gonse declared the petit bleu already had traces of erasure be-
fore it was first photographed.

This M. Labori vigorously denied, and asked that the evidence of the
experts proving the contrary should be read.

Here General Roget reappeared on the scene, and, amid the keenest
attention of all, described the forgery proceedings against Picquart as re-
sulting from his (the witness's) discovery that erasures had been made in
the petit bleu.

" It was General Zurlinden," Roget added, "who ordered Picquart to be
prosecuted. I assume responsibility for all my own acts, but for my own
acts alone. I am surprised that the defence should arraign me on this
point. "

M Labori declared that he merely wished to show that the erasures
could not be ascribed to Picquart, and that therefore they ought not to
have formed the basis of a prosecution against him. Then counsel again
asked that the expert evidence on the subject be read, and Colonel Jou-
aust promised it should be read during a future session.

Upon three occasions M. Demange asked General Gonse to explain
why Picquart, on seeing the petit bleu, proposed to lay a trap for Ester-
hazy, unless the petit bleu was addressed to Esterhazy. But counsel
elicited no reply, until General Roget came to the rescue and said Pic-
quart knew Esterhazy was coming to Paris in any case, and if he sent a
decoy letter, Esterhazy would have appeared to come in response to it,
whether he had done so in reality or not.

M. Labori declared this was untrue, and Picquart maintained that his
conduct throughout was perfectly straightforward.

M. des Fonds-Lamothe, a former artillery officer, and now an engineer,
was the next witness. He testified that he was a probationer simultane-
ously with Dreyfus. The witness said that in August, 1894, he borrowed
the Firing Manual from Colonel Picquart and kept it as long as he

"In 1894," M. des Fonds-Lamothe said, "Firing Manuals were given
to whoever asked for them."

M. Demange — Can the witness, who was on the Headquarters Staff


with Dreyfus, say whether, in 1894, he thought he would go to the ma-
noeuvres ? [Excitement.]

M. Lamothe — I have only performed a conscientious act. I am con-
vinced that not one probationer in 1894 could have believed he would go
to the manoeuvres.

M. des Fonds-Lamothe also stated that the probationers were informed
by a circular dated May 15, 1894, that they would not attend the ma-
noeuvres. The object of antedating tlie bordereau, the witness added, was
to make it a prior date to that of the circular. It had since been attempted
to attain the same object by post-dating the circular.

As to the post-dating of the circular, witness said he did not doubt that
different Ministers of War who had expressed opinions in the case were
perfectly honest, but he thought they had made a mistake. [Excitement.]

The witness, who was a fellow-probationer of Dreyfus, proved one of
the strongest witnesses for the defence, as he brought out in support of his
contention that Dreyfus could not have written the bordereau the follow-
ing argument:

" If, as at first asserted, the bordereau was dated May, Dreyfus could
not have written, ' I am going to the manoeuvres,' because a circular was
issued in May informing the probationers that they would not go to the
manoeuvres; while if the bordereau was written in April, as now asserted,
Dreyfus could not have spoken of the Firing Manual, which was only
printed at the end of May."

Not one of the generals found a reply to the last argument, which
looked like a clincher. General de Boisdeffre alone declaring that, although
it was true the circular mentioned was sent to the probationers, the latter
knew that they could nevertheless go to the manoeuvres if they made spe-
cial application. Generals Mercier and Eoget then went on the stage and
confronted M. des Fonds-Lamothe, and a heated discussion ensued. Gen-
eral Eoget asked when the witness had altered his conviction in favor of
Dreyfus, and M. des Fonds-Lamothe replied :

" From the time of the publication of the proceedings before the Court
of Cassation. I was expecting proof of my comrade's guilt, and I was
thunderstruck when I saw the date of the bordereau had been altered."

General Eoget asked if Fonds-Lamothe had not on several occasions
expressed his belief in Dreyfus 's guilt?


M. des Fonds-Lamothe admitted that possibly he had done so, before
the publication of the proceedings before the Court of Cassation, but not
at the time of the prisoner's arrest, for that was kept secret.

Asked the usual question, the prisoner reminded the court that in 1894,
when Colonel Du Paty de Clam had endeavored to make the date of the
bordereau August, he had protested that he could not have written the
sentence, " I am going to the manoeuvres," since he would not be going on
regimental duty until October, November, and December, and he dwelt
upon the fact that at the time he handed M. Demange a note on the

M. Demange corroborated the prisoner's testimony, and pointed out
that the note mentioned by the prisoner had been added to the dossier by
the Court of Cassation, while Dreyfus was still on Devil's Island, thus
precluding all doubt as to its genuineness.

General Roget here interpellated that requests to go to the manoeuvres
were usually made verbally, so that it could not be proved whether Drey-
fus had asked or had not asked to go to the manoeuvres. The general,
however, admitted that no inquiry had ever been made on this important

M. Demange created a stir by saying that it was most regrettable that
no inquiry had been made by the War Office on a point of such impor-

General Roget was greatly excited during the foregoing scene, but M.
des Fonds-Lamothe did not flinch. He retorted quickly to all the gen-
eral's observations. The two men glared at one another, and once General
Roget addressed M. des Fonds-Lamothe in such a bullying fashion that
the audience hooted him.

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 22 of 35)