Though pursuit immediately after the battle was prevented by the intervening river, the retreat of the French soon assumed the character of a rout. The troops were worn out with their efforts by day and night, in continuous rain, and with but scanty supplies of food. The marching to and fro, to no visible purpose, had undermined their confidence in their leaders, and a series of defeats had shaken their self-reliance.
Marshal MacMahon must have known that the only chance of safety for his army, or even part of it, was to continue immediately the retrograde movement on September 1st. Of course the Crown Prince of Prussia [The Crown Prince Frederick William in the Franco-Prussian War commanded the Third Army.- ED.], who held the key to every passage over the Meuse, would have fallen on the flank of the retiring army, and would have pursued it to the frontier, a distance of little more than a mile. That the attempt was not risked is probably owing to the state of the worn-out troops. They were as yet incapable of a retreat in close order; they could only fight where they stood.
The Germans, on their side, still believed that the enemy would make for Mezieres. The Army of the Meuse was instructed to attack them in their position and detain them there; the Third Army to press ahead on the right side of the river, leaving only one corps on the left bank.
The rear of the French was protected by the fortress of Sedan, The Meuse and the valleys of the Givonne and the Floing offered formidable obstructions, but this line of defence must be obstinately held. The Calvary of Illy [Calvaire d'Illy] was one of their most important points, strengthened as it was by the Bois de Garennes in its rear, whence a ridge extends to Bazeilles and offers protection in its numerous dips and shoulders. The road ran past Illy, should it become necessary to enter neutral territory. Bazeilles, on the other hand, which, as regards situation, formed a strong point d'appui for the line facing the Givonne, stands on a promontory, which, after the loss of the bridges across the Meuse, was open to attack on two sides.
In order to cooperate with the Army of the Meuse and hem in the French in their position, General von der Tann sent his first brigade over the pontoon bridges toward Bazeilles by four o'clock in the morning in a thick mist. The troops attacked the town, but found the streets barricaded, while they were fired on from every house. The company at the head pressed forward to the north gate, suffering great losses, but the others were driven out of the western part of Bazeilles, while engaged in street fighting, on the arrival of the Second Brigade of the French Twelfth Corps. However, they kept possession of the buildings at the southern end of the town and thence issued to repeated assaults. As fresh troops were constantly coming up on both sides, and the French even were reinforced by a brigade of the First and one of the Fifth Corps, the murderous combat lasted for many hours with wavering success; the fight for the Villa Hanemann, near the end of the high street and commanding its whole length, was especially fierce. The citizens took active part in the struggle, and they too had to be shot down.
The strong array of guns drawn up on the left ridge of the Valley of the Meuse could not be brought to bear on the crowded streets of Bazeilles, now blazing in several places; but when, at eight o'clock, the Eighth Prussian Division had arrived at Remilly, General von der Tann ordered his last brigade into action. The walled park of Monvillers was stormed and an entrance was gained to Villa Hanemann, The artillery crossed the bridges about nine o'clock, and the Eighth Division was required to give its aid in a struggle begun by the Bavarians at La Moncelle, to the south of Bazeilles.