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The Boy Commander Of The Camisards
by [?]

On another occasion, finding himself short of ammunition, Cavalier resolved to take some by force and stratagem from the strongly fortified town of Savnes. His first care was to send a detachment of forty men to a point at some distance, with orders to burn a church which had lately been fortified, “thereby,” he says, “to make the inhabitants of Savnes believe we were busy in another place.” Then he detached an officer and fifty men, and ordered them to disguise themselves as country militia in the king’s service, and to go into Savnes in that character. With some difficulty this officer accomplished his purpose, and then Roland and Cavalier marched upon the place. His officer inside the town, when the alarm was given, said to the governor, “Let them come; you’ll see how I’ll receive them.” Anxious for his own safety, the governor permitted the supposed officer of militia to take charge of the defence, and the armed citizens put themselves under his command. He instructed the citizens to reserve their fire until he should give them orders, and in that way enabled Cavalier to approach unharmed. Suddenly the officer, directing the aim of his men against the citizens, ordered them to throw down their arms upon pain of instant death, and they, seeing themselves caught in a trap, obeyed. Cavalier marched in without opposition, secured all that he could carry away of arms, ammunition, and provisions, and retired to the woods.

Throughout the summer and autumn the boy carried on his part of the war, nearly always getting the better of his enemies by his shrewdness and valor, and when that was impossible, eluding them with equal shrewdness. During that first campaign he destroyed many fortified places, won many fights against superior numbers of regular troops, and killed far more soldiers for the enemy than he had under his own command. Failing to conquer him by force or strategy, his foes fell back upon the confident hope of starving him during the winter, for he must pass the winter in the forests, with no bases of supply to draw upon for either food or ammunition. But in indulging this hope his enemies forgot that the crown and glory of his achievements in the field had been his marvellous fertility of resource. The very qualities which had made him formidable in fight were his safeguard for the winter. He knew quite as well as they did that he must live all winter in the woods surrounded by foes, and, knowing the difficulty of doing so, he gave his whole mind to the question of how to do it.

He began during the harvest to make his preparations. He explored all the caves in the mountains, and selected the most available ones for use as magazines, taking care to have them in all parts of the mountains, so that if cut off from one he could draw upon another. In these caves he stored great quantities of grain and other provisions, and during the winter, whenever he needed meal, some of his men, who were millers, would carry grain to some lonely country mill and grind it. To prevent this, the king’s officers ordered that all the country mills should be disabled and rendered unfit for use; but before the order could be executed, Cavalier directed some of his men, who were skilled machinists, to disable two or three of the mills by carrying away the essential parts of their machinery and storing them in his caves. Then, when he wanted meal, his machinists had only to replace the machinery in some disabled mill, and remove it again after his millers had done the necessary grinding. His bakers made use of farmers’ ovens to bake bread in, and when the king’s soldiers, hearing of this, destroyed the ovens, Cavalier sent his masons–for he had all sorts of craftsmen in his ranks–to rebuild them.

Having two powder-makers with him, he collected saltpetre, burned willow twigs for charcoal, and made all the powder he needed in his caves. Before doing so he had been obliged to resort to many devices in order to get powder, sometimes disguising himself as a merchant and going into a town and buying small quantities at a time, so that suspicion might not be awakened, until he secured enough to fill his portmanteau.

For bullets he melted down the leaden weights of windows, and when that source of supply failed he melted pewter vessels and used pewter bullets–a fact which gave rise to the belief that he used poisoned balls. Finally, in a dyer’s establishment, he had the good luck to find two great leaden kettles, weighing more than seven hundred quintals, which, he says, “I caused immediately to be carried into the magazines with as much diligence and care as if they had been silver.”

Chiefly by Cavalier’s tireless energy and wonderful military skill, the war was kept up against fearful odds for years, and finally the young soldier succeeded in making a treaty of peace in which perfect liberty of conscience and worship–which was all he had been fighting for–was guaranteed to the Protestants of the Cevennes. His friends rejected this treaty, however, and Cavalier soon afterwards went to Holland, where he was given command of a regiment in the English service. His career in arms was a brilliant one, so brilliant that the British made him a general and governor of the island of Jersey; but he nowhere showed greater genius or manifested higher soldierly qualities than during the time when he was the Boy Commander of the Camisards.