Semaine sanglante

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The semaine sanglante ("bloody week") ended the Paris Commune with a vast military offensive and mass executions lasting from Sunday, 21 May 1871 until the following Sunday, 28 May. It was part of the Interior Campaign of 1871 led by the Versailles government against the Communard insurrections that rocked several major French cities.


France had been defeated in the Franco-Prussian War. In the ensuing chaos, an insurrection took control of several major cities, including Paris, resulting in the Paris Commune. The newly-created Third Republic, formed in the aftermath of the collapse of Napoleon III's Second French Empire, intended to restore control over the capital. By 21 May, the French army, led by Patrice de MacMahon, had captured several key forts around Paris, and now began its final assault on the city, beginning the Semaine Sanglante.

Sunday, 21 May[edit]

On the early hours of Sunday, 21 May, troops led by General Felix Charles Douay began their assault on Paris, on the Point-du-Jour rampart. By four in the morning, sixty thousand soldiers had broken into the city.[1]

Once troops entered Paris, several factors worked against the Commune. The wide boulevards were not conducive to defensive urban warfare; the factional nature of the Commune led to a lack of unity in the defense of the city; finally, the Versaillais army had superiority in numbers, command, technology, and ferocity.

Monday, 22 May[edit]

The Commune now began to rally the people of Paris to its defense.[2] However, very few citizens actually took up the call, beside the Garde nationale (National Guard).[3] Barricades had actually been erected at square Saint-Jacques, rues Auber, de Châteaudun, Faubourg Montmartre, Notre-Dame de Lorette, at the Trinité, La Chapelle, Bastille, Buttes Chaumont, boulevard Saint-Michel, and at the Panthéon.

Fighting took place in Place Clichy and at the Batignolles and the army thus far had encountered very little resistance. The Prussians opening then the neutral zone in the North thus allowing them to outflank the insurgents. Nonetheless, the first set of massacres by the Versailles troops that would define the Bloody Week had already begun.[4]

Tuesday, 23 May[edit]

The Battle of Montmartre took place around the butte of the same name, where the Commune had originally begun. By midday, the Versaillais army had overwhelmed the National Guard and taken the hill. 42 men, 3 women, and 4 children, taken at random are taken to the n°6 rue des Rosiers and shot where general Lecomte and general Clément-Thomas had been executed on March 18th.

Wednesday, 24 May[edit]

As the battles resumed on the morning of 24 May, a strong resistance remained at the Butte aux Cailles, led by Walery Antoni Wróblewski and around the Panthéon (with Maxime Lisbonne), in the streets de l'Université, Saint-Dominique, Vavin, de Rennes at the gare de l'Est. Jarosław Dąbrowski fells rue Myrha. More fires and massacres by the Versaillais took place throughout the city.

Thursday, 25 May[edit]

On 25 May, the military leader of the commune, Delescluze, died.

Friday, 26 May[edit]

On 26 May, the Versaillais troops take the faubourg Saint-Antoine.

Saturday, 27 May[edit]

One of the last strongpoints of the National Guard, the Père-Lachaise Cemetery, fell after heavy fighting.

Sunday, 28 May[edit]

The battle goes on in Belleville. The last barricade falls, but the exact location is unknown. There is a commemorative plaque rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi, but according to Gaston Da Costa, it was situated not far in the faubourg du Temple.

Aftermath and legacy[edit]

The dead in their coffins

On 29 May, the Fort of Vincennes, surrounded by the Germans, surrenders. The nine officers of the garrison are shot in the ditches. Prosper-Olivier Lissagaray in his History of the Paris Commune of 1871 reports that one of them, colonel Delorme declared to the Versaillais officer commanding the firing squad :"check my pulse, see if I'm scared!"

Debate continues among historians over the total number of casualties that occurred during the Bloody Week.

The massacres initiated a period of political violence and century-long political polarization in France, exemplified by the Dreyfus affair.[5]


  1. ^ Milza, 2009a, pp. 379–380
  2. ^ Proclamation de Delescluze. delegue a la Guerre, au peuple de Paris, Journal officiel, 22 May 1871
  3. ^ Da Costa, Gaston, La Commune vecue, 3 vol. Paris, Librairies-impremeries reunies, 1903–1905, III, p. 81. Serman, William, La Commune de Paris, p. 348
  4. ^ Milza, Pierre, "La Commune", p. 391
  5. ^ Taithe, Bertrand (2003). Citizenship and Wars: France in Turmoil 1870–1871. Routledge. p. 16. ISBN 1-134-55401-X.

Further reading[edit]