Gedanken and Erinnerungen

Author: An English Surgeon  | Date: July 22, 1871

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Harper’s Weekly July 22, 1871

La Petroleuse


[Harper’s Weekly, Supplement, July 22, 1871]

Then commenced, perhaps, the most horrible of all the fights I had yet seen in the streets. Just as the Nationals were retreating, a battalion of women came up the street at a trot, and, with cries of "Vive la Commune," began firing. They were armed with the Snider rifle, and fired admirably. Many pretty-looking young girls were there, destined no doubt, for far better things than killing men. They fought like devils, far better than the men, and I had the pain of seeing fifty-two shot down even when they had been surrounded by the troops and disarmed. I saw about sixty men shot at the same place as the women, at the same time.

A touching little incident met ray view, which completely unmanned me. While Paris was blazing in the night, the cannon roaring, and the musket rolling, a poor woman was crouching inside a cart and crying bitterly. I offered her a glass of wine and a piece of bread. She refused it, saying, "For the short time I have to live I shall not need it."

The troops were then on the other side of the barricades, having taken the Caserne du Prince Eugène, Chateau d’Eau, and at midnight the firing ceased.

Suddenly I heard six shots in rapid succession, and by their sound knew them to be revolver reports. A great uproar on the other side of the barricade followed, and looking, at a great risk, out of the window, I saw the poor woman I have just described about to be seized by four troopers, who were divesting her rapidly of her outer garments. Impelled by I know not what, I left the house, and crept over the barricade, and crouched down by the lamp-post on the other side. I heard the harsh voice of the officer in command of the troops interrogating the woman, saying, "You are brave—you have killed two of my men."

The woman laughed derisively, and responded in a hardened manner, "May the curse of the Almighty always rest upon my soul for not killing, more! I had two sons at Issy, who were both killed, and two at Neuilly who shared the same fate. My husband died at this barricade, and now do with me what you will."

I heard no more, but crept away, but not too soon to hear the word "Fire!" and then I knew that all was over. We deserted the barricade that night.

A woman was arrested in the Rue de la Roquette, accused of arson, and led off to execution; her child, a little girl of three or four, followed, cling-hag to her mother’s petticoats. No sooner had the unfortunate woman been taken into a court, than she was placed against a wall and shot.

The child, which had been dragged away from its mother when the latter was led out to be shot, fled, screaming with fright, at the report of the muskets. An officer thereupon drew his revolver and shot the child through the hack as it ran, killing it instantly.


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Chicago: An English Surgeon, "La Petroleuse," Gedanken and Erinnerungen in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed April 14, 2024,

MLA: An English Surgeon. "La Petroleuse." Gedanken and Erinnerungen, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 14 Apr. 2024.

Harvard: An English Surgeon, 'La Petroleuse' in Gedanken and Erinnerungen. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 14 April 2024, from