Strike Boldly! God will give the victory! On to Orleans!
It was not to be expected that the young girl from Domremy could take the command of the armies of the nation from brave and experienced old commanders, nor from dashing and ambitious young ones, without some opposition open or secret.
Nothing but the plainly miraculous nature of her help, and their extreme need, would have induced the French officers to accept her at all. But even then there were limits. Let her do the miracles. They would do the fighting.
Well, that is what Joan wanted too. "Let the sons of France fight; God will give the victory," was the spirit of her war messages from the first. She never counted her men. She knew that victory came from God and waited not on numbers or scientific tactics. "Strike boldly; God will help the right." She arrogated to herself no credit. She did not want to fight.
When they wanted to sharpen her sword for her at Fierbois, she would not have it. She did not carry it to kill anybody, but as a sign of authority, she said. (By the way, she broke that same consecrated sword later, driving away some dissolute women that were inclined to follow the army. She was death set against them and would never let one of them in camp.) To return to the fighters:
The knightly old veterans of the hundred years' war with England were eager enough for battle. But they had their military tactics and councils of war, and pride and prudence, for none of which Joan saw any place in this campaign. This was not a war between two equal combatants in a fair field. The French were in their last ditch, outnumbered and surrounded and cowed.
The French generals were glad to believe Joan came to them with succor from heaven, but the remnant of the old Adam in them prevented their generous acceptance of her terms. "Bold attack," was the keynote of her system. But the grizzled war chiefs always found a way to temper her boldness and so delay the victory.
Still it always turned out that when they followed their own plans, they came to grief, and were glad to return to her way of thinking. As was the case when the army coming from
Blois to Orleans. They cheated her out of the bold road through the enemy's country, and had to let the army retrace and come exactly by that way after all—losing a week's time and not learning properly their lesson from it. For the great captains of France chafed and balked all through those splendid maneuvers, that in a few weeks cleared the country of an invading army, that had come to stay forever, and believed itself at home.
Knowing how the end would be Joan was patient and firm through it all, and kindest to these proud, old soldiers when they thwarted her most; She always grieved, though, at the delays to the deliverance of France thus caused. If she had had her way she would have raised the siege the very first time she appeared before Orleans. But she had to curb her impetuosity, and lose a week through the blunders of the secret conspirators.
Now this happy 4th of May, 1429, a decent French army, freshly accoutered, was safe within the walls of Orleans, to the great joy of the inhabitants who had been facing certain death either by famine inside the walls or the English sword outside.
Joan was tired out with her morning's work of meeting and escorting the army into the city past the English forts.
The army was tired from more than a week's marching forward, and back, and forward again.
Joan and the generals, and every individual soldier, had laid aside their arms now with a feeling of freedom from danger, and not knowing just how or when the beginning of the end of the siege was 'to be. Joan had said that within five days there would not be an English soldier in or around Orleans. But she lay down for a needed rest now.
This was Wednesday, May 4, and the French army and its glorious young commander-in-chief were asleep at noon. All at once Joan jumped up and called out: "My arms! Give me my arms. French blood is being spilled."
All around her was bustle and excitement in a moment. She was herself the first in armor and on a horse; her banner had to be reached to her through a window, so hastily did she get ready. Without waiting to see who followed she raised her banner high and galloped furiously in the direction from which she could now plainly hear the noise of the battle. She followed the sound across the width of the city and as the crowds gathered at the sound of her horse's hoofs, "Forward, French hearts! Follow me," she shouted.
Fast as they could arm and follow they did so. First her staff and close after them the troops nearest hand, all making for the Burgundy gate.
It appears that the garrison so long hopeless, had got excited over Joan's coming, and all it promised, and were anxious to begin.
Without orders from anybody some officers planned a little sortie of their own and made an attack on one of Talbot's thirteen fortresses built around the city—the fortress of St. Loup —and got the worst of it. Were getting the worst would be more accurate, for Joan came to their aid in good time.
As she, at the head of her eager troopers, rushed out the Burgundy gate, they met the wounded being brought in. The sight moved Joan very much.
"Ah! French blood; it makes my hair rise to see it," she said. Waving her banner high over her head she called out: "Follow me! "
And out into the open field she dashed for her first battle with the English. She did not have to fight the Burgundians. It is a curious fact that the Burgundian allies had been sent elsewhere a short time before. Orleans was deemed an easy prey and there was work for them elsewhere.
So Joan was spared the pain of fighting them.
This hastily improvised battle was a real one, no less. The garrison of St. Loup had come out of their bastile to meet the French attack. The garrison from another bastile, nearby, had come to help them and the Frenchmen seemed to have but small chance of ever getting inside the Burgundy gate again.
When Joan came charging through the retreating French crying: "Forward men—follow me," there came a change. The French turned about and followed her and surged forward like a great wave of the sea. They swept down upon the English and through them and doubled back and hemmed them round, the English fighting and backing they way again into St. Loup, leaving wounded and dead outside on the field.
Joan thought for a brief space.
"We will take this fortress," she concluded. We will carry it by storm. Sound 'the charge."
A wave of incredulity and remonstrance swept over the faces of Dunois and the rest. They thought the attempt needlessly hasty as well as desperate.
"Will you always play with these English?" she asked. "Now verily, I will not budge until this place is ours. Let the bugles sound the assault."
And truly while their blood was up was just the time to fight.
The martial notes rang out, the troops answered with a yell and dashed themselves against the walls whose sides were now spouting flame and smoke. They were driven back.
"Forward," was Joan's word again. Again they hurled themselves against those deadly walls and again and again, each time with ever increasing zest. At last La Hire came with a fresh body of men just in time to be in with a fresh and final rush against the smoking walls, and soon St. Loup was full of the victorious French. All of the English who were not killed were taken prisoners and the French standard was planted on the walls to remain there.
"The English died at St. Loup in great numbers," say the Chronicles, and Joan's confessor testified: " Jeanne was much afflicted when she heard they died without confession."
Her confessor testified also: "On this day, the eve of the Ascension, she predicted that within five days the siege would be raised and not a single Englishman left in or around Orleans."
Joan and the victorious army marched back into the city, with their prisoners and a large quantity of ammunition and food from the captured St. Loup.
Straight to the Cathedral first to give thanks to God Joan led the way. Thanks for, this first victory of a whole series of victories to come, and soon.
Joan's care was always to lead the march to the Cathedral; and so it is eminently fitting that the broad, beautiful avenue leading to the Cathedral to this day is named "Rue Jeanne d'Arc."
After the Te Deum the interrupted rest wax resumed. "The army slept," the annals say.
Next day was Ascension Thursday. Joan was early at Mass, at Confession, at Holy Communion, and then she had this letter written to the English in the forts:
"You, men of England, who have no right in this kingdom of France, the King of Heaven orders and commands you by me, Jeanne the Maid, that you quit your strong places and return 'to your own country; if you do not I will cause you such an overthrow as shall be remembered for all time. I write to you for the third and last time, and shall write to you no more."
" JEANNE la PUCELLE."
To which this note was added:
"I would have sent this letter in a more suitable manner, but you keep back my heralds; you have kept my herald, Guinne; I pray you send him back and I will send you some of your people who have been 'taken at St. Loup—for all were not killed there."
Joan fastened this letter to an arrow head and had an archer shoot it towards the English, at the same time calling loudly in her clear, young voice: "Read, here is news."
The English received the arrow, and read the letter and shouted in answer: "Yes, news from the harlot of the Armagnacs "—which made Joan wince and weep and seek comfort and strength in prayer.
After supper that night a council of war was held in the house of one of the big men of the city. She heard the captains of war, in turn, advise to make haste slowly and tire the English out. Her usual gentleness was somewhat modified by her impatience as she gave her word in her turn:
"I am commander here; you have my orders here and now. We move upon the forts on the south bank of the river to-morrow at dawn."
"That means we must first take the fort on the north bank—the bastile St. John?" said an iron-gray warrior.
"We will not need to mind the bastile St. John. The English themselves will know enough to vacate it when they see us coming and strengthen themselves in the forts across the river," was her prophetic answer. It was an answer to be expected from an expert tactician, too.
And so it proved. The English were at last on the defensive, whereas they had been the attacking party always heretofore, as their fathers and grandfathers had been.
Early the next morning, Friday, the 6th of May, Joan led the newly shrived and eager army out the Burgundy gate, and towards the river, which they crossed in boats to the island (St. Aignan) in the middle of the river, and front of the city. Thence over the narrow strip of river in a bridge of boats to the now abandoned fort of St. John—hastily abandoned by the English when they saw the French line of march in the morning. From St. Johh, the white standard of John floated on down the river a little way and then stopped fair and square, right in front of the formidable fortress that guarded the entrance of the bridge that led into the city—the fortress of the Augustine.
Joan came to a stand in the face of the fortress and, without waiting for the rest of the army to come up, ordered the bugles to sound the assault at once. The trumpets sounded.
Joan's voice rang out in " Onward in God's name!" and the French threw themselves against the walls furiously. They were driven back. The bugles again rang out, again Joan's word of command thrilled the heart of every man, again they faced the living walls, and again were forced back.
By this time the fortress (English) of St. Prive, about three-quarters of a mile away, further down the river, sent its garrison on a run to the help of the Augustins.
Seeing them coming, the garrison of the Augustins sallied out of their walls to meet them, and together they rushed on the French.
Hour after hour of fierce fighting followed, the English finally backing into their fortress again, the French pursuing and battering against the walls, receding and advancing with ever increasing impetuosity until they at last planted the Maid's fair banner on the top, full in sight of the English at the other forts, and in sight of the towers of Orleans.
It was a great fight and a great victory. It had lasted from early morning until sundown. The strong fortress of the Augustins guarding the bridge was now in the hands of the French.
But between them and the city of Orleans, was the still stronger fort of the Tourelles, of which the Augustins was the outpost. To free the bridge and raise the siege, the twin Tourelles must be taken and the Boulevard that strengthened them, also. Here was Joan's work for the morrow already mapped out.
Now between them and Orleans were the strong twin Tourelles and the Boulevard. They would have to go the roundabout way they came to get back to the Burgundy gate.
She decided at once that the army must sleep on their arms where they were, ready for the morning.
In the few hours of daylight left she ordered the Augustins emptied of its artillery and ammunition and the stores destroyed, lest the eating and drinking demoralize the troops and unfit them for the morning's work, its hardest task yet on the morrow.
To her confessor she said:
"Rise early and stay by me all day. Tomorrow I will have much more to do than ever I had and blood will flow from my body above my breast."
Her confessor tells also on oath that whereas she always fasted on Friday most rigorously, after this day's hard work she took some supper, feeling great need of it.
She wished to stay with the army all night, but yielded to the pressure of D'Aulon and the others, and returned to the city for a night's rest.
But her anxiety for the army had her up very early next morning. After Mass, and without waiting for breakfast, she was on her horse and eager to be off. She was besought to eat something. A fine fish, the first fruits of the freedom of the river front, was prepared for her.
But she would not wait to eat, saying gaily: "There is going to be fish in plenty. When this day's work is over the whole river front will be yours to do with as you please. I shall come back to Orleans by the bridge."
Now this was looked upon as extravagance ran mad.
"The place, to all men of the sword, seemed impregnable," said Percival de Cagny.
"Doubt not, the place is ours," called out the girlish voice of the commander-in-chief.
The twin Tourelles and 'the Boulevard were all manned and ammunition, and the garrison, strong and saucy, had not the least notion of surrendering; nor had the fighting men of France any hope of dislodging them with a year's fighting much less a day's.
At sunrise on May 7, Joan heard Mass and started at once for the Augustine, with Dunois, La Hire, de Saintrailles, de Villars, and many other captains of war and as many of the garrison as could be spared from the safekeeping
of Orleans. They went by the boats, as the day before, in full view of the English in the Tourelles. The commander of the Tourelles, a brave soldier named Glasdale, sent a very insulting message to the Maid. But undauntedly her joyous voice rang out: "In God's name, we shall enter the town this night by the bridge."
Only by a miracle could this happen, for on this bridge between them and Orleans was this series of fortifications and brave, live bodies of Englishmen fully as many as the French.
And here again the nation's warriors crossed councils with their inspired leader. They boldly held her intention of attacking the Tourelles as madness—a useless sacrifice of life, and calculated 'to bring scorn upon the nation's military records.
But Joan led the assault on the Boulevard at early morn, and they could do but her bidding.
She pounded it with artillery incessantly from morn till noon. Then she ordered the assault, and led it herself.
Her standard was the guiding star for every eye. Her clear voice ringing out now and again thrilled every heart, nerved every arm.
Down into the fosse went Joan and started to climb a scaling ladder, when an iron bolt struck her between the neck and the shoulder, tearing through her armor, and piercing her through and through. Her cry of pain as she sank to the ground was heard by French and English, though with different emotions.
The English sent up a glad shout and surged about the spot where she fell. The French centered there, too—and for a short while it seemed as if the fate of France hung upon the fate of that small figure whose blood broke the glowing whiteness of her silver armor.
"If the English had captured Joan then," says Mark Twain in his poetic account of her life, " Charles VII would have flown the country, the Treaty of Troyes (making the King of England the King of France also) would have held good and France already English property, would have become, without further dispute, an English province, to so remain till the Judgment Day. It was the most momentous ten minutes that the clock has ever ticked in France or ever will. * * * Joan of Arc lay bleeding in the fosse, with two nations struggling over her for possession of her."
Joan was with difficulty carried out of the melee to a safe place, her armor removed, her wound dressed with oil, and she lay down for a necessary rest.
The battle had to go on without her. Of that battle it is hard to write briefly. Historians call it one of the fifteen decisive battles of the world. Pictures and poems and graphic descriptions of it we have in plenty. By all the rules of war the English should have won. They had everything in their favor except—the will of God.
One of the chief actors in this battle is the Count de Dunois, the great "Bastard of Orleans," whose name will always be nobly associated with Joan's in the chronicles of that wonderful campaign, spoke of it simply enough when be was on his oath some few years later. It is like a soldier's statement—confined to facts:
"The attack lasted 'throughout, from the morning until eight o'clock in the evening, without hope of success for us; for which reason I was anxious that the army should retire into the town. The Maid (who had been wounded previously and was suffering keenly) then came to me, praying me to wait yet a little longer. Thereupon she mounted her horse, retired to a vineyard, remained in prayer about half an hour, then, returning and seizing her banner by both hands, she placed herself on the edge of the trench. At sight of her the English trembled, and were seized with sudden fear.
Our people, on the contrary, took courage and began to mount, and assail the Boulevard, not meeting any resistance. Thus was the Boulevard taken, and the English therein put to flight. All were killed, among them Glasdale, and the other principal English captains of the Bastile, who, thinking to gain the bridge Tower, fell into the river and were drowned. Their heavy armor carried them to the bottom at once. "Ah! God pity them,' said Joan, and she wept. Before the sun went down quite, that Saturday evening, Joan's memorable day's work was over, her banner floated free from the enemy's greatest fortress, her promise was fulfilled, she had raised the siege of Orleans."
"What the first generals of France had called impossible," says Mark Twain, "was accomplished. In spite of the king's ministers and war councils, the country maid of seventeen lead carried her immortal task through and bad done it in four days as she had promised to do a year before."
Home by the bridge went the happy army that night, Joan ahead; and all Orleans came to meet them. Such bonfires and bells and shouting can never be described!
When a lull came it was to let the wounded and tired little maiden warrior rest.
"She has given us peace, she shall have peace herself!" they said.
All knew that next day the whole region would be empty of the English, and all said that never should France forget that day. Orleans does to this day, keep holiday all those five days from May 4th, but especially with military honors, and religious thanksgiving, and general rejoicing the 8th of May – Joan of Arc’s day.