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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to civilians in uniforms, for soldiers are nothing else.

" Gentlemen, render the country the service of stopping a religious war
at its commencement. You have seen what happened in Algiers. Say
in the name of the French people that justice must be done even to the
Jews, Say to the religious war which has just begun : ' Thus far shalt
thou go and no further.' We appear before you, gentlemen; you are ap-
pearing before history."

By a vote of eight to four, the jury rendered a verdict against M.
Zola, and he was sentenced to pay a fine of 3,000 francs and to undergo a
year's imprisonment.

The case was carried to the Court of Appeal, which quashed the judg-
ment of the Assize Court on the ground that the case should have been
brought by the court-martial which M. Zola had libelled, and not by the
Minister of War. Consequently a second trial took place, but M. Zola
declined to be present; he was again sentenced to the fine and imprison-
ment, and left France for England, where he remained until the revision
proceedings before the Court of Cassation enabled him to return to France.


Chapter XX.


The Meliue Cabinet, iu June, 1898, was succeeded by the Brisson
Cabinet. M. Sarrien became Minister of Justice, M. Cavaignac became
Minister of War, with the firm intention of settling into oblivion for all
time the Dreyfus case, whose echoes were then heard all over the world.

Eeplying to an interpellation in the Chamber of Deputies, M. Cavai-
gnac made a memorable speech in which he attempted to put the quietus
upon the Dreyfus case. He outlined the result of his investigations, and
said considerations superior to reasons of law made it necessary to the
Government to bring before the Chamber and the country the facts which
confirmed the conviction of Dreyfus. The minister said there was abso-
lutely no doubt as to the guilt of the prisoner, which was based on his
own confessions and on documents on file in the Intelligence Department
of the War Office.

This so-called confession was a remark attributed to Dreyfus by Cap-
tain Lebrun-Eenault, of the Republican Guard, who had charge of the
prisoner at the Military School just previous to his degradation. He is
alleged to have said, after vigorously protesting his innocence, that if he
had handed over documents to the agents of a foreign power he did so in
order to obtain more important papers in return, and, in any case, the doc-
uments he had surrendered were unimportant papers.

In short, M. Cavaignac reviewed the whole of the Government case,
already outlined, and wound up by saying that absolute proof, if it had
previously been needed, was furnished by the Panizzardi despatch.

The Chamber of Deputies was enthusiastic over the speech of the Min-
ister of War, and passed a resolution to the effect that it should be printed
and placarded in every Commune throughout France, of which there are
about thirty-six hundred.

But this was not all M. Cavaignac did. In his efforts to crush utterly


the friends of Dreyfus, he ordered Esterhazy to be brought before a Court
of Military Inquiry to justify his military career, owing to a serious indis-
cretion upon the part of the major. Among other charges brought against
him, it was said that, in 1882, he wrote to Madame de Boulancy, his cous-
in, a letter which was afterward seized by General Pellieux as a result of
the proceedings previous to the court-martial of Esterhazy. This letter
showed that Esterhazy had very bitter feelings against the French army
and the French nation. He said that the French were an "accursed peo-
ple," and expressed the opinion that they were "not worth even the car-
tridges for killing them ! "

Continuing, this French officer said it would please him greatly to be
slain as a captain of Uhlans (Prussian Lancers) while he was sabreing the
French, and he said his favorite dream was to see Paris "beneath the red
sun of battle, given over to pillage by a hundred thousand drunken

It was also asserted that Esterhazy had written certain letters to the
President of the Eepublic, and he was charged with certain irregular pro-
ceedings before and after his court-martial.

The Military Court of Inquiry was asked to pronounce upon the fol-
lowing questions :

Ought Esterhazy to be cashiered for habitual misconduct?

There was three votes in the affirmative and two in the negative.

Ought Esterhazy to be cashiered for grave offence against discipline?

The court unanimously decided in the negative.

Ought Esterhazy to be cashiered for offence against honor?

One member of the court voted yes, and four members of the court
voted in the negative.

The Military Governor of Paris, General Zurlinden, in forwarding the
finding of this court to the Minister of War, M. Cavaignac, pointed out
that, as the decision w^as not imanimous, in accordance with army cus-
toms it would be sufficient to inflict only a disciplinary punishment
upon the accused, by withdrawing him from the active list of the

The minister, however, decided that Esterhazy should be cashiered;
and some time afterward the name of Du Paty de Clam was also removed
from the active list, of the army.


Having apparently settled the cases of Esterhazy and Du Paty de
Clam, M. Cavaignac turned his attention to Colonel Picquart, who had
informed the Premier that he could prove that one of the three documents
referred to by M. Cavaignac in the Chamber of Deputies, as proof of the
guilt of Dreyfus, was a forgery. The Minister of War ordered Picquart to
be proceeded against, and he was arrested and lodged in prison.

For a while, things ran smoothly for the Headquarters Staff. But, in
August, 1898, the generals had a rude awakening. They were informed
that Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, the head of the Intelligence Department,
the backbone of the prosecution of Dreyfus, who had in court dramatically
pointed to Dreyfus as the traitor, had broken down and confessed to hav-
ing forged at least one of the documents quoted by M. Cavaignac before
the Chamber of Deputies as furnishing absolute proofs of the guilt of the
prisoner of Devil's Island.

This was followed by the news of the arrest of Henry and his impris-
onment in Mont Valdrien, where, it is claimed, he cut his throat with a

We purposely use the words "it is claimed," in referring to the death
of Henry, because the suicide theory has never been accepted in the best-
informed circles at Paris. Men who are versed in military customs are
well aware that a prisoner of such importance, arrested after making such
a startling confession, would never have been allowed to have a razor or
other weapon within his reach, and, as in the case of a detective of the
Government, Lemercier-Picard, who was found strangled to death by
hanging in his apartments, the opinion has prevailed that Henry was mur-
dered by the anti-Dreyfus clique's agents in order to save the honor of the
army. ,

At this point it may be interesting to refer to a legend current in Paris
in 1894, which had it that General de Boisdeffre one day entered the
bureau in which Dreyfus was at work, and, placing a document before
him, asked the captain if he would copy it, to which Dreyfus is said to
have replied, "Certainly." Continuing, the story says Dreyfus had no
sooner cast eyes on the paper than he turned deadly pale and exhibited
signs of the greatest emotion, whereupon General de Boisdeffre is said to
have placed a revolver on Dreyfus's desk, with the words:

"I .will return in five minutes' time."


The general, it is further said, did return at the expiration of the time
mentioned, and, finding Dreyfus still alive, remarked :

"What, not yet?"

The arrest of Dreyfus is said to have been ordered immediately after-

Of course this is only one of the many fairy tales in circulation at
that time, for General de Boisdeffre lias never referred to the matter, and
he certainly would have done so had the story been true. It is true, how-
ever, that a pistol was placed near Dreyfus when he was arrested. He
saw it, but declined to make use of it.

The death of Henry sealed the fate of M. Cavaignac as Minister of
War, and he was sensible enough to recognize it ; for he resigned. It also
sent General de Boisdeffre into the background, for, as chief of the staff
and main adviser of the minister, he was compelled to resign with M.
Cavaignac, and General Zurlinden, then Military Governor of Paris, was
appointed Minister of War.

Zurlinden followed the example of M. Cavaignac in some respects.
He started to study the documents in the Dreyfus case. But it would
seem he did not derive much satisfaction from them, for, after about a
week in office, he resigned and resumed the military governorship of the
city of Paris. General Chanoine succeeded General Zurlinden as Minister
of War, and Esterhazy, possibly on account of his health, left France, and
from that time on he may said to have been a wanderer on the face of the
earth, making confessions, for considerations, to any one willing to pay
for them, that he wrote the bordereau, and offering to prove this and other
matters of an equally important nature.

At this point there is one question that is not quite clear, and that is,
how was it that Henry was compelled to admit that he had committed
forgery. The generally accepted answer to this question is that the gov-
ernments of Germany and Italy, which had previously denounced the
Panizzardi-Schwartzkoppen correspondence as forgery, took steps to im-
press this upon the French Government in unmistakable terms. Previous
to this the French Government and the French War Office had paid no
attention to the repudiations of the German and Italian governments,
though they strongly denied having had any connection with Dreyfus.

Another version of the affair is that Captain Cuignet, of the Intelli-


gence Department, ascertained, with the use of an extra strong lamp, that
the Pauizzardi document had been "doctored," and was not identical with
the paper upon which the rest of the correspondence appears.

The details are not of great importance. The main facts, that Henry
had confessed to forgery, and that his death had resulted from his action,
were fully established, and higher and higher rose the hopes of the friends
of the prisoner of Devil's Island.

The new minister of justice, M. Sarrien, in conjunction with Colonel
Picquart, now began in earnest the work of inquiring as to whether it was
not advisable to revise the Dreyfus court-martial of 1894. The Brisson
Cabinet became committed to a revision, though the Minister of War was
opposed to it.

Picquart, from his prison, wrote a letter to the Minister of Justice
asking permission to tell him all he knew of the Dreyfus affair. The
minister replied that he was willing to hear anything the prisoner had to
say, and thereupon Picquart entered into a long description of the secret
dossier as he knew the document in 1896, and charging that the fact that
papers had been secretly communicated to the members of the Dreyfus
court-martial was well known to General Mercier, General de Boisdeffre,
the late Colonel Sandherr, General Gonse, Lieutenant- Colonel Henry, and
Colonel Du Paty de Clam.

When the Minister of War, Zurlinden, heard of this, he sent the
Minister of Justice a note tending to show that Picquart was not to be
trusted, and that he ought to be tried by court-martial for forging the
'petit lieu. In addition. General Zurlinden applied to the Cabinet for per-
mission to try Picquart by court-martial, but the minister refused to allow
him to do so.

At a ministerial council held in the middle of September, 1898, under
the presidency of the President of the Republic, M. Sarrien referred to
Paragraph IV., Article 443, of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which
provides for reopening a case, if, after a condemnatory verdict, fresher
evidence is discovered tending to show that the innocence of the person
condemned may be established. The minister then pointed to the confes-
sion of Henry as being of a nature to throw a legitimate suspicion upon
the evidence which he furnished before the court-martial which sentenced


The ministers were divided upon the question of reopening the case.
The Minister of War was decidedly against such a step, and so was the
Minister of Public Works, M. Tillaye, while the President was somewhat
undecided. In the end the question was referred to the Permanent Com-
mission of Eevision of the Ministry of Justice, to decide whether the case
should or should not be re-tried by carrying it to the Court of Appeals.
The commission could not agree, and then the Brisson Cabinet applied,
through the Procureur-G^neral, to the Court of Appeals direct. Eventu-
ally M. Bard, one of the members of the court, was instructed to report
upon the case, and thus was taken the first great step toward revision.


Chapter XXI.


About a mouth after the revision question had been taken before
the Court of Appeal, probably better known as the Court of Cassation,
there was a debate in the Chamber of Deputies on October 25, 1898, on
the action of the Government, during which the Minister of War, General
Chanoine, ascended the tribune and announced that, representing as he did
the army, he could not be a party to a revision of the Dreyfus case. The
resignation of the Brisson Cabinet followed. It was succeeded on October
31st by a Cabinet presided over by M. Dupuy, who held office at the time
of the court-martial of Dreyfus, and M. de Freycinet was the Minister of
War. This ministry was not favorable to Dreyfus, and on September 21st
Colonel Picquart was brought before the tribunal on the charge of com-
municating War Office documents to a civilian, M. Leblois, his lawyer.
The Military party, however, demanded that Picquart should be surren-
dered to the military authorities so that he might be prosecuted for forg-
ing the ;petit Ueu. The civil judge yielded, and Picquart was turned over
to the military authorities, whereupon he loudly exclaimed in court :

" I absolutely oppose my being surrendered. I submit my case to your
wisdom, but I have something further to say. It is only here, and a few
minutes ago, that I learned the reality of the abominable plot in which
this morning I still could not believe. It is the charge of forgery in re-
gard to the petit bleu. You would have understood the matter more
plainly if this trial had taken place, for it would have enlightened you
with regard to the good faith of my accusers. I shall perhaps this even-
ing go to the Cherche Midi, and now is probably the last time prior to
secret trial that I can say a word in public. I would have people know,
if there be found in my cell the rope of Lemercier-Picard, or the razor of
Henry, that I have been assassinated. For a man like myself cannot for
an instant think of suicide. I shall face this accusation erect and fearless,


and with the same serenity with which I have ever met my accusers.
That is what I had to say, Monsieur le President."

These utterances were received with cheers for Picquart upon the part
of the Dreyf usards and with cries of " Down with the forgers ! " from the

There was little doubt that the bold statement made by Picquart in
court saved his life.

The Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation met October 27, 1898,
to consider the report of M. Bard.

After referring to the party passions aroused by the case and the preju-
dice, even before the verdict, expressed against the prisoner, M. Bard
said :

" The echoes from outside cannot disturb that fear, for we have but a
single passion, that of justice and truth."

Continuing, the reporter of the court said the bordereau was the essen-
tial document in the case against Dreyfus, and that the word of Lieuten-
ant-Colonel Henry, a self-confessed forger, was the only guarantee of its
origin. The forgery of Henry, under the circumstances, left nothing of the
original trial of 1894 intact, especially as the handwriting experts of 1897
completely contradicted the testimony of the handwriting experts of 1894.

M. Bard then said :

" It is not too much to affirm that the accusation is now entirely nulli-
fied. It might indeed be asked, whether, as an acquittal was incumbent,
the court ought not to certify as it did last January, in quashing a judg-
ment of an Algiers court-martial, that there was no crime, and simply
annul the judgment without ordering a fresh trial.

" Whatever might be the opinion of the court on the judgment of 1894,
it would not forget that the military authorities were opposed to revision.
It was the function of the Court of Appeals to bring the truth to light.
It was a delicate task, but it would be derogatory to the court to suspect
it of shirking its duty. Already there have been too many derelictions
of duty in this long series of incidents. Free from all considerations or
suggestions which had inspired others, and solely anxious for justice, the
court has a great duty before it, and it will follow the dictates of its
conscience. "

When M. Bard had concluded his report the court was addressed by


the Procureur-G^n^ral, M. Manau, and by counsel for Madame Dreyfus,

M. Mornard.

The court, on October 29, 1898, delivered judgment as follows:

"In view of the letter of the Minister of Justice of September 20,


" In view of the arguments submitted by the Public Prosecutor attached
to the Court of Cassation, denouncing to the court the condemnation pro-
nounced by the first court-martial of the Military Court of Paris, on De-
cember 22, 1894, on Alfred Dreyfus, then captain of artillery, attached
to the General Staff of the army;

" In view of all the documents of the case, and also of Article 443 to
446 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, amended by the law of June 10,
1895, on the admissibility, in proper form, of an application for revision —

" Whereas, the court has had the matter brought before it by its Public
Prosecutor, in virtue of an express order of the Minister of Justice, acting
after having taken the opinion of the Commission established by Article
444 of the Code of Criminal Procedure ;

" Whereas, the application comes within the category of cases provided
for by the last paragraph of Article 443, and has been introduced within
the period fixed by Article 444;

"Whereas, finally, the judgment, the revision of which is asked for,
has the force of a cliose jugee.

"As regards the state of the case:

" Whereas, the documents produced do not place the court in a position
to decide on all the merits of the case, and there is ground for making a
supplementary inquiry;

" For these reasons, the court declares the application in proper form
and legally admissible ; states that it will institute a supplementary inquiry ;
and declares that there is no ground for deciding at the present moment
on the Public Prosecutor's application for the suspension of the penalty."


Chapter XXIL

The Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation, October 29, 1898,
began taking testimony in the revision proceedings. All was not smooth
sailing, however. M. Quesnay de Beaurepaire, President of the Civil Sec-
tion of the court, joined in the attacks made upon his colleagues, and mat-
ters became so complicated and feverish that, after a great deal of squab-
bling, the adjudication of the Dreyfus case was transferred to the United
Chambers of the Court of Cassation. This was practically declaring that
the highest criminal court in the country was incapable of dealing with
the case.

Matters had reached this stage, when M. F^lix Faure, President of the
Republic, died suddenly, and the country was thrown into a state of tur-
moil. All parties looked upon the President's death as an opportunity to
create disturbances, and they did so in their own ways. The Royalists
and Bonapartists actively plotted against the Government, and M. D^rou-
\hde, founder of the League of Patriots, attempted to incite a detachment
of troops to march upon the Elysee Palace. These troops were com-
manded by General Eoget, and had taken part in the funeral procession.
The soldiers paid no attention to M. D^roulfede, and he and others were
arrested and acquitted of inciting soldiers and troops to rebellion, although
he pleaded guilty to the charge.

While the question of revision was before the Court of Cassation the
usual number of rumors was circulated. The anti-Dreyfusards and a ma-
jority of the court were against the revision, and this had a depressing
effect upon the Dreyfusards. Here the Figaro stepped into the breach
and managed to publish all the evidence taken in secret before the Court
of Cassation. Thus did the press throw its searchlight upon the mysteries
of the Headquarters Staff, and up went the hopes of the friends of Dreyfus.

When the judges of the United Chambers of the Court of Cassation


met in the Palace of Justice to hear the report of M. Ballot- Beaupr^,
President of the Civil Section of the court and successor of M. Quesnay de
Beaurepaire, who had resigned, there was a period of expectancy through-
out the world. The report, which was an exhaustive one, dealt with the
bordereau as the one question at issue. Was the bordereau in the hand-
writing of Dreyfus ? In reply M. Ballot-Beaupre said :

" Gentlemen, after a profound study of the question, I, for my part,
have come to the conviction that the bordereau was not written by Drey-
fus, but was written by Esterhazy."

It then became known that there existed two letters, written in 1892
and 1894, written by Esterhazy upon the same kind of water-mark and
filigree tracing paper as that upon which the bordereau was written, which
fact does not appear to have been known to the members of the court-
martial of 1894.

In conclusion, M. Ballot-Beaupr^ said:

" I do not ask you to proclaim the innocence of Dreyfus, but I say
that a fact unknown to the judges of 1894 tends to prove it. This suffices
to ordain the sending of the prisoner before a new court-martial to bring in
a definite verdict with a full knowledge of the case."

The Procureur-G^n^ral, M. Manau, took the same ground. He said
the paper upon which the bordereau was written had spoken and estab-
lished the innocence of Dreyfus, so far as the authorship of the borde-
reau was concerned. He added:

"What remains is that, whoever may be guilty, a crime of treason has
been committed, but Esterhazy, having been acquitted of having written the
bordereau, cannot be prosecuted again, were he a hundred times guilty.
As to the innocence of Dreyfus, I do not ask you to proclaim it — that is
for the new court-martial, to which, if the court so decides, the case will
be referred. Your mission, gentlemen, is another — to say whether there
are sufficient elements to prove that the judgment of the court-martial of
1894 is tainted with suspicion. It beiug now established that Dreyfus
had nothing to do with the bordereau, we will dispense ourselves from
entering upon a technical discussion of the facts. That will be for the
new court-martial. It will be for them to reconcile the opinions of the
former Ministers of War on that point, and to discuss with their special
science the things which are unknown to us."


The Procureur-G^neral, during the course of his argument, pointed to
the lack of incentive to commit such a crime in the case of Dreyfus,
showing that he was well-to-do, and had married a wealthy woman, while
Colonel Du Paty de Clam had admitted in his report that Dreyfus led a
regular life, and did not live beyond his means. It was also shown that
the prisoner had a splendid future before him. His position was compared
with that of Esterhazy, the needy adventurer, who was seeking money in
all directions.

M. Manau wound up with the statement that there was nothing in
the secret dossier to incriminate Dreyfus, adding :

" We do not yet understand why there was so much delay in submit-
ting these documents to investigation. They were secret only for Drey-
fus, and they cannot be brought up against him. He knows, as the basis

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 7 of 35)