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The Story Of A Winter Campaign
by [?]

Nearly all the countries in Europe were making war upon France in 1795. The French people had set up a republic, and all the kingdoms round about were trying to make them submit to a king again. This had been going on for several years, and sometimes it looked as though the French would be beaten, in spite of their brave struggles to keep their enemies back and manage their own affairs in their own way.

At one time everything went against the French. Their armies were worn out with fighting, their supply of guns had run short, they had no powder, and their money matters were in so bad a state that it seemed hardly possible for France to hold out any longer. In the meantime England, Austria, Spain, Holland, Piedmont, and Prussia, besides many of the small German states, had joined together to fight France, and their armies were on every side of her.

A country in such a state as that, with so many powerful enemies on every side, might well have given up; but the French are a brave people, and they were fighting for their liberties. Instead of giving up in despair, they set to work with all their might to carry on the war.

The first thing to be done was to raise new armies, and so they called for men, and the men came forward in great numbers from every part of the country. In a little while they had more men to make soldiers of than had ever before been brought together in France. But this was only a beginning. The men were not yet trained soldiers, and even if they had been, they had no guns and no powder; no clothing was to be had, and there was very little food for them to eat. Still the French did not despair.

Knowing that there would not be time enough to train the new men, they put some of their old soldiers in each regiment of new ones, so that the new men might learn from the veterans how to march and how to fight.

In the meantime they had set up armories, and were making guns as fast as they could. Their greatest trouble was about powder. They had chemists who knew how to make it, but they had no nitre to make it of, and did not know at first how to get any. At last one of their chemists said that there was some nitre–from a few ounces to a pound or two–in the earth of every cellar floor; and that if all the nitre in all the cellar floors of France could be collected, it would be enough to make plenty of powder.

But how to get this nitre was a question. The cellar floors must be dug up, the earth must be washed, and the water must be carefully passed through a course of chemical treatment in order to get the nitre, free from earth and from all other things with which it was mixed. It would take many days for a chemist to extract the nitre from the earth of a singly cellar, and then he would get only a pound or two of it at most.

It did not seem likely that much could be done in this way, but all the people were anxious to help, and so the cry went up from every part of the country, “Send us chemists to teach us how, and we will do the work and get the nitre ourselves.” This was quickly done. All the chemists were set at work teaching the people how to get a little nitre out of a great deal of earth, and then every family went to work. In a little while the nitre began to come in to the powder-factories. Each family sent its little parcel of the precious salt as a free gift to the country. Some of them were so proud and glad of the chance to help that they dressed their little packages of nitre in ribbons of the national colors, and wrote patriotic words upon them. Each little parcel held only a few ounces, or at most a pound or two, of the white salt; but the parcels came in by tens of thousands, and in a few weeks there were hundreds of tons of nitre at the powder-mills.