F Heritage History | Maximilian in Mexico by George Upton

Maximilian in Mexico - George Upton




The Emperor's Imprisonment

After Maximilian had surrendered his sword to the republican commander on the Cerro de la Campana he was taken back to his old quarters at the convent, his physician and two attendants, Grill and Severo, being allowed to join him later.

"It was with a heavy heart," writes Dr. Basch, "that I approached the Emperor's door, before which a guard was posted. I opened it and paused a moment on the threshold to compose myself, but His Majesty came up at once and embraced me, weeping. Quickly controlling himself, however, he pressed my hand and turned away, sighing deeply. A mournful silence followed. Now for the first time I perceived that Salm, Blasio, Pachta, and Pradillo were also in the room. For a time the Emperor paced up and down, lost in thought, but at last he spoke, this time more calmly.

"'I am glad,' he said, 'that it all happened out more bloodshed. That much at least has been accomplished. I feared for you all.'

"Although he had been so ill the night before, excitement had sustained him during the events that had since occurred. Now, however, the attack returned and he was forced to go to bed suffering greatly. Having, in our present situation, no remedies at hand to relieve his distress, I was greatly surprised when the Emperor produced a small box of pills which I had given him the night before. 'You see,' he declared, 'how important it is not to lose one's presence of mind. This morning when we were surprised I remembered to put this in my pocket.'

Maximilian's room had been completely rifled during his absence. Personal effects, books, clothing, and documents all had disappeared, having been appropriated by Lopez as souvenirs of his former benefactor. During the forenoon the Emperor was visited by several of the republican officers, among whom was Colonel Jose Gallardo, who had permitted him to leave La Cruz the preceding night—a mistaken kindness, as it proved, for Maximilian, in consequence, had been arrested in arms and thereby made himself liable to that fatal decree of October third, which he had tried to revoke on his way to Orizaba.

Most of the imperial generals who had remained loyal were confined in a room adjoining the Emperor's. Mendez remained in hiding, but, his plan of concealment being betrayed a few days later, he was taken out and shot. Miramon had been shot in the face with a revolver by one of his own adjutants while attempting to rally his troops on the Cerro, the morning of the surrender, and was at his own quarters. The prisoners were treated with scant consideration. A rich merchant of the town supplied Maximilian's table, with the remains from which his companions were obliged to content themselves. The Emperor soon grew so much worse that his physician became alarmed and asked that one of the republican army surgeons might be called in. Dr. Riva de Nejra was sent to visit the august prisoner and advised a change of residence, declaring the present one most unfit in his condition of health.

On the morning of the seventeenth, therefore, Maximilian was taken to the former convent, Santa Teresa, in a carriage, guarded by a troop of cavalry, his companions being forced to walk. As they passed through the city, the streets were deserted, the inhabitants considerately retiring into their houses, the windows of which even were closed. Not a soul was to be seen anywhere. The new quarters of the prisoners consisted of two large rooms, absolutely bare and empty. After some trouble a bed and chairs were procured for the Emperor's use, while the others were left to make themselves comfortable on the floor of the adjoining apartment. Fortunately they managed to obtain some saddle blankets to sleep on and the Emperor sent out and bought coverings, combs, brushes, and soap.

"These republicans," says Dr. Basch, "seem convinced they are treating us with the greatest care and magnanimity, their idea of humanity being apparently to permit us to breathe. Unless we can wait on ourselves we must go hungry and dirty."

In spite of these hardships, however, the change made a perceptible improvement in Maximilian's health, and his painful symptoms gradually disappeared. Juarez' delay in taking any action in regard to the fate of the prisoners encouraged the Emperor's friends to expect a favorable outcome of the affair—a hope that was rudely dispelled, however, when the Princess Salm arrived at Queretaro on the twentieth of May and revealed to her husband the danger in which Maximilian really stood. It was apparent even to the republicans that Juarez was determined to have his life. The Princess made the most heroic efforts to save him, shrinking from no dangers and no exertion in his behalf, but all in vain. The Emperor's guard was not always strictly kept, and had not treachery lurked at every turn, his escape might have been effected. Such an attempt was finally made, indeed, but it was then too late.

On the twenty-second of May Maximilian was again transferred, this time to the Capuchin monastery, with Prince Salm and Generals Mejia and Miramon. The other officers, Dr. Basch, and the Emperor's servants were left behind, expecting to follow shortly. As hour after hour passed, however, and no one came, feeling that anything was possible in this barbarous country, they were seized with the fear that Maximilian and his companions might have been already shot without any warning. At last, however, an officer appeared, about eight o'clock in the evening, with the long-looked-for orders.

"The first person I saw in the monastery," relates Dr. Basch, "was Salm. 'Where is the Emperor?' I asked.

"'His Majesty is in the crypt,' he replied, but quickly added, seeing my horror at these words, 'Calm yourself, he is alive, but really in the crypt. I will take you to him.'

"As the door was opened a rush of cold air greeted me, rank with dampness and decay. In the far corner of a huge vault, the burial-place of the monastery, was a bed, and on it lay the Emperor reading Caesar. A small table beside him held a lighted candle. 'They have not had time to prepare a room for me,' he remarked, smiling quietly, 'so I am obliged temporarily to take up my abode with the dead.' I spent that night in the crypt alone with the Emperor, making my bed on a large slab apparently used as a bier, but after the hours of anxiety I had endured that afternoon, I had no trouble in sleeping even amid those surroundings."

Bitter as Juarez was against Maximilian, he was not in Queretaro at this time, but at Potosi, and therefore cannot be held responsible for the atrocious treatment accorded the unfortunate Emperor, whose calm and cheerful acceptance of these indignities cannot but rouse the deepest admiration.

The next day he was taken from the crypt and lodged in a dark narrow cell, similar to those assigned his companions in misfortune, all opening on a small court so that the prisoners could be easily guarded. It soon became evident that there was no hope of any compromise in the Emperor's case. Juarez insisted that it should be decided by a Mexican court-martial—the outcome of which was a foregone conclusion. Maximilian's death had already been determined upon and any trial would be merely a pretext to throw dust in the eyes of the world.

Princess Salm, with the aid of a German merchant, named Stephen, and the vice-consul from Hamburg, made another attempt at rescue, which might have proved successful had not Maximilian refused to go without Miramon and Mejia, who were to be tried with him. Miramon appears to have revealed the plan to his wife, who, in turn, betrayed it to the enemy, so it resulted in only stricter measures. All the prisoners were removed from the Capuchin monastery with the exception of Maximilian and his two generals, over whom a much stronger guard was placed.

On the twelfth of June, 1867, General Escobedo issued an order arraigning Ferdinand Maximilian, Archduke of Austria, and his confederates, the "so called" generals, Don Miguel Miramon and Do Tomas Mejia, before a court-martial to answer for crimes against the nation and against law and order. The charges against Maximilian were thirteen in number, an absurd and incongruous medley, the chief of which were that he had broken his personal guarantees; that he had served as an instrument of the French; and that he had assumed the position of a usurper and authorized atrocities of every description, such as the decree of October 3, 1865.

The trial opened at eight o'clock on the morning of June thirteenth in the Iturbide theatre, the interior of which was brilliantly illuminated, the galleries filled with spectators, all of whom displayed the deepest interest in the proceedings. At the right sat the judges, consisting of a lieutenant-colonel and six captains, all very young and selected with little or no regard for the important questions involved. Opposite them were placed the benches for the accused and their advocates, Generals Mejia and Miramon arriving at the theatre about nine in a carriage under a strong guard.

The president opened the session, and the attorney for the government, Manuel Aspiroz, read the charges, together with the Emperor's protest against this form of trial and the legality of all steps taken against his person under the law of January 25, 1862, which was intended for native rebels and not applicable to him as a foreigner. Lastly, medical evidence in regard to the Emperor's condition of health was produced, with a petition for more healthful accommodations.

General Mejia was first summoned to answer before this tribunal, and his advocate, Vega, made a brilliant speech in his defence, dwelling on his bravery and loyalty as well as the distinguished services he had rendered to his native land. Miramon's attorneys, Jauregui and Moreno, employed the same line of argument.

Maximilian did not appear in person before the court. He was defended by two of the foremost lawyers in Mexico, Vazquez and Ortega, both distinguished for learning and eloquence. They directed their main arguments against the competency of such a court for the case. Maximilian was not a usurper, as charged, declared Vazquez, for he had come by invitation of a representative council, confirmed by popular vote. He had refused, in fact, to accept the crown until such vote had been assured. Whether this had been given fraudulently, he, as a foreigner on the other side of the ocean, had no means of discovering, nor had he any reason to regard himself as other than a legitimate sovereign—the ovation accorded him on his arrival naturally tending to strengthen him in this conviction. He had brought no troops but came peaceably, accompanied only by his household. Neither had he served as a tool for the French, for from the very first he had striven against their interference; the constant friction between him and the French commanders having finally led to the withdrawal of the French troops.

Ortega protested vigorously against the imputation of Maximilian's cruelty. The severe decree of October 3, 1865, was issued on the advice of his ministry and in the belief that Juarez had abandoned Mexican territory. Its object had been chiefly to intimidate, for no man ever sued in vain for mercy from Maximilian, whose clemency and magnanimity were well known. He concluded with an appeal to the honor and sympathy of the republicans, urging them not to abuse their victory and stain their laurels with a bloody and useless execution.

But his defenders' brilliant eloquence was powerless to save Maximilian. His sentence had been fixed long since. The whole trial was the merest farce, a spectacle prepared by Juarez and his friends. It was most fitting that a theatre should have been chosen for its performance!

The public session of the court ended on the fourteenth of June. At eleven o'clock that night the Emperor Maximilian and his two generals were unanimously pronounced guilty and condemned to be shot, Escobedo confirming the sentence on the sixteenth and ordering the execution to take place that afternoon at three o'clock.

Mexico was now completely in the hands of the Juarists, with the exception of Vera Cruz and the capital, where Nilarquez was playing a singular game and needlessly sacrificing the Emperor's brave Austrians. With the downfall of the imperial cause, however, this scoundrel passes out of our history. Once, during his imprisonment, Maximilian said to his physician: "If both Marquez and Lopez were given to me to deal with as I chose, I would free the coward Lopez, but Marquez, the cold-blooded and deliberate traitor, I would hang."