History of the Franco Prussian War
French soldiers of Bourbaki's Army meeting with Swiss troops across the border, by Édouard Castres.
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War,1870–71, conflict between France and Prussia that signaled the rise of German military power and imperialism. It was provoked by Otto von Bismarck (the Prussian chancellor) as part of his plan to create a unified German Empire.
The Landau Gate at Wissembourg is Taken by Assault, 4th August 1870 by Carl Röchling.
The emergence of Prussia as the leading German power and the increasing unification of the German states were viewed with apprehension by Napoleon III after the Prussian victory in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Bismarck, at the same time, deliberately encouraged the growing rift between Prussia and France in order to bring the states of S Germany into a national union. He made sure of Russian and Italian neutrality and counted—correctly—on British neutrality. War preparations were pushed on both sides, with remarkable inefficiency in France and with astounding thoroughness in Prussia.
The immediate pretext for war presented itself when the throne of Spain was offered to a prince of the house of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a branch of the ruling house of Prussia. The offer, at first accepted on Bismarck's advice, was rejected (July 12) after a strong French protest. But the aggressive French foreign minister, the duc de Gramont, insisted on further Prussian assurances, which King Wilhelm I of Prussia (later Emperor Wilhelm I) refused. Bismarck, by publishing the famous Ems dispatch, inflamed French feeling, and on July 19, France declared war.
The Death of Major Hadelin by Carl Röchling.
The Ems Dispatch
The Ems dispatch of 1870, was a communication between King William of Prussia (later German Emperor William I) and his premier, Otto von Bismarck. In June, 1870, the throne of Spain was offered to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of King William. Leopold at first accepted the candidacy, but withdrew it in July after the French government had protested. During these transactions William and Bismarck were taking the waters at Ems, Germany. There the French ambassador Comte Benedetti, in an interview with the king, requested William's guarantee that the candidacy of Leopold to the Spanish throne would never be renewed. William rejected the request. Bismarck, intent on provoking war with France, made the king's report of the conversation public (July 13) in his celebrated Ems dispatch, which he edited in a manner certain to provoke the French. France declared war on July 19, and the Franco-Prussian War began.
Battle of Mars le Tour/Vionville August 16, 1870.
The War Itself
Partly because they believed France the aggressor, the states of S Germany enthusiastically joined the North German Confederation—just as Bismarck had hoped. The military conduct of the war was, for the Germans, in the hands of Helmuth Karl Bernhard von Moltke, a military genius. On the French side, Napoleon III took active command, but it soon devolved on Marshal Bazaine.
On Aug. 4, 1870, the Germans crossed the border into Alsace. They defeated the French at Wissembourg, pushed the French under Marshal MacMahon to Châlons-en-Champagne, and forced a wedge between MacMahon's forces and those of Bazaine, centered on Metz. Bazaine, attempting to join MacMahon, was defeated at Vionville (Aug. 16) and Gravelotte (Aug. 18) and returned to Metz. The Germans began their march on Paris, and on Sept. 1 the attempt of Napoleon III and MacMahon to rescue Bazaine led to disaster at Sedan. The emperor and 100,000 of his men were captured.
Although the loss of the main French army caused the demise of the Second Empire, it did not end the war, for the newly created Third Republic decided to continue fighting. The second phase of the war consisted largely of a German siege of Paris, the beating back of French attempts to relieve the capital, the taking of a number of French fortresses (such as Metz and Strasbourg), and considerable activity on the part of francs tireurs (French guerrillas) behind German lines.
When the news of Sedan reached Paris a bloodless revolution occurred (Sept 4th). Napoleon was deposed, and a provisional government of national defense was formed under General Trochu, Léon Gambetta, and Jules Favre. Paris was surrounded by the Germans on Sept. 19, and a grueling siege began. Gambetta escaped from Paris in a balloon to organize resistance in the provinces. Faidherbe made a gallant stand on the Loire, Chanzy in the north, and Bourbaki in the east, but the surrender (Oct. 27) of Bazaine, with a garrison of 180,000 men, made such resistance useless. Paris, however, held out until Jan. 28, 1871, suffering several months of famine. Though Bismarck and Adolphe Thiers signed an armistice on the same day, the fortress of Belfort resisted until Feb. 16.
A few weeks later a long-feared revolt erupted in the French capital—the Paris Commune—and the Franco-Prussian War gave way to a short but bloody French civil war.
Battle of Mars le Tour / Vionville, by Detaille.
The Results of the War
In the war's aftermath, Thiers was named chief of the executive power in France, and provision was made for the election of a French national assembly, which met at Bordeaux. The assembly accepted (Mar. 1) the preliminary peace agreement, which was formalized in the Treaty of Frankfurt (ratified May 21, 1871). France agreed to pay an indemnity of 5 billion Francs ($1 Billion 1870 US dollars) within three years—an indemnity fully paid before the term expired (the war had almost entirely been fought in France, so it may be asked what these 'reparations' had been intended for). Alsace, except the Territory of Belfort (since it didn't surrender until February 1871), and a large part of Lorraine were ceded to Germany, which on Jan. 18, 1871, in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles had been proclaimed an empire under William I.
The lesson drawn by most governments from the Franco-Prussian War was the efficacy of the German way of warfare. As a result, most of the world's armies began to imitate, with varying degrees of success, German uniforms, equipment, administration, military literature, organization, and training. This enthusiasm for methods that promised swift and decisive victory was so great, in fact, that most observers forgot that the initial German victory, though swift, had been far from decisive and that the French Republic was only brought to terms because it was less afraid of the Germans outside the gates of Paris than of the revolutionaries within.
Besides establishing the Third French Republic and the German Empire, the Franco-Prussian War had other far-reaching effects. Desire for revenge guided French policy for the following half-century. Prussian militarism had triumphed and laid the groundwork for German imperialistic ventures. The Papal States, no longer protected by Napoleon III, were annexed by Italy, which thus completed its unification. These and other effects were links in the chain of causes that set off World War I and World War II.
Interesting Facts of the Franco-Prussian War
He was elected President (1848-1852) of the Second Republic of France and subsequently Emperor (1852-1870), reigning as Napoleon III. In a situation that resembles the case of Louis XVIII of France, the numbering of Napoleon's reign assumes the existence of a legitimate Napoleon II of France who never actually ruled.
Napoleon was married to Empress Eugenie, a Spanish noble of Scottish and Spanish descent, Napoleon III had one son, Eugene Bonaparte (the Prince Imperial), whom was killed at Ulundi fighting the Zulus while a member of the British military in 1879. His unit was ambushed, and he was left to fend for himself after his stirrup strap broke. His body was found with 16 Asagai wounds, all to the front of his body.
Prince Eugene Napoleon
Imprisoned after the second of two abortive coup attempts (October 1836 and August 1840), he escaped to England in May 1846, returning after the revolution of February 1848 to win the presidential election December 2 that year on a platform of strong government, social consolidation and national greatness. President Bonaparte then on December 2, 1851 overthrew the Second Republic and seized dictatorial powers. He became Emperor exactly one year later and established the Second French Empire. That same year, he began shipping political prisoners and criminals to penal colonies such as Devil's Island or (in milder cases) New Caledonia, which he often pardoned soon afterwards in shows of goodwill. On April, 28th, 1855 he survived one of many attempted assassinations.
Napoleon III and the British Queen Victoria's challenge to Russia's claims to influence in the Ottoman Empire led to France's successful participation in the Crimean War (March 1854-March 1856). He approved the launching of a naval expedition in 1858 to punish the Vietnamese and force the court to accept a French presence in the country. On January 14, 1858 Napoleon escaped another assassination attempt. In May-July 1859 French intervention secured the defeat of Austria in Italy. But intervention in Mexico (January 1862-March 1867) ended in defeat and the execution of the French-backed Emperor Maximilian, and France saw her influence further eroded by Prussia's crushing victory over Austria in June-August 1866.
An important change during his reign was the rebuilding of Paris. Large sections of the city were razed and the old convoluted streets were replaced with many broad, tree-lined avenues, giving Paris the look that makes it so famous even today. The rebuilding of Paris was directed by Baron Haussmann (1809-1891; Prefect of the Seine 1853-1870).
Napoleon III also directed the building of the French railway network, adding thousands of miles of new track, and personally dedidcating many of the newly built train stations and routes.
Forced by the diplomacy of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck (See the Ems Telegraph, above), Napoleon began the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. This war proved disastrous, and was instrumental in giving birth to the German Empire. In battle against Prussia in July 1870 the Emperor was captured at the Battle of Sedan (September 2) after many reckless attempts to get himself killed in battle (during which many of his staff members were killed, but he survived without a scratch) After his capture, he was deposed by the forces of the Third Republic in Paris two days later. He died in exile in England on January 9, 1873. He is buried in the Imperial Crypt at Saint Michael's Abbey, Farnborough, Hampshire, England.
After studying law at Aix-en-Provence, Thiers went (1821) to Paris and joined the group of writers that attacked the reactionary government of King Charles X. Thiers reflected the views of the upper bourgeoisie. Although immensely popular in their time, Thiers's historical works are today generally regarded as superficial and inaccurate eulogies of the French Revolution and of Napoleon, written from the bourgeois point of view. His History of the French Revolution (10 vol., 1823–27; tr., 5 vol., 1895) illustrated his moderate liberal views. With F. A. M. Mignet and others he started (1830) the journal National, which had an important part in bringing about the July Revolution of 1830.
Thiers held ministerial posts under Louis Philippe, whose candidacy as king of the French he had promoted. As minister of the interior, he brutally suppressed the workers' insurrection of Apr., 1834, in Paris and Lyons. Thiers was premier in 1836, but his projected intervention against the Carlists in Spain caused his dismissal. In 1840 he again headed a cabinet, but his aggressive foreign policy—this time he sought to intervene in favor of Muhammad Ali in Egypt, thus bringing France to the brink of war with Great Britain—once again lacked royal support and brought about his fall.
He then became a liberal opponent of the July Monarchy and again turned to writing, beginning his History of the Consulate and the Empire (20 vol., 1845–62; tr. 1845–62). In the midst of the February Revolution of 1848, Louis Philippe offered him the title of premier, but he refused, and both king and Thiers were soon swept aside by the revolutionary tide. Elected (1848) to the constituent assembly, Thiers was a leader of the right-wing liberals and bitterly opposed the socialists.
Thiers supported Louis Napoleon Bonaparte (later Emperor Napoleon III) for president of the French republic, but his opposition to Bonaparte's coup in Dec., 1851, led to his arrest and exile. He was allowed to return not long afterward, but for ten years he remained out of government affairs. In 1863 he was elected to the legislature, where he opposed the emperor and helped to bring about reforms. Although he had previously favored an aggressive foreign policy, Thiers spoke out (1870) against involvement in the Franco-Prussian War. Vindicated by the disastrous defeat of France, he was chosen chief executive of the provisional government at Bordeaux in 1871. He negotiated the preliminary Peace of Versailles with Otto von Bismarck and ordered his troops to suppress the Commune of Paris of 1871—an order carried out with ferocious severity.
In Aug., 1871, his title became president of the republic. Credit for France's quick payment of its war indemnity to Germany and for the consequent evacuation (1873) of France by German troops belongs largely to Thiers's efficient economic policy. However, his insistence upon a conservative republic alienated both the monarchist majority and the left-wing minority in the national assembly, and in 1873 he was forced to resign. In the elections of 1877 he helped to restore republican unity and bring about the election of a republican legislature.
Bismarck was appointed premier in 1862 by William I in order to secure adoption of the Prussian king's army program, which was then being strenuously opposed in parliament. Bismarck, in direct violation of the constitution, dissolved parliament and collected taxes for the army without parliamentary approval.
To expel Austria from the German Confederation now became Bismarck's chief aim. The disposition of Schleswig-Holstein, former Danish territory annexed by Austria and Prussia after their defeat of the Danes in 1864, provided the necessary pretext. By the Gastein Convention of 1865 the two countries agreed to rule jointly—Austria was to administer Holstein and Prussia was to administer Schleswig; but friction soon developed. Bismarck accused Austria of violating the Gastein treaty and thus precipitated the Austro-Prussian War (1866), which ended after seven weeks with the defeat of Austria. By the treaty signed at the end of the war, Germany was reorganized under Prussian leadership in the North German Confederation, from which Austria was excluded.
Fear of France, skillfully propagated by Bismarck, was to bring the remaining German states into the Prussian orbit when the candidature of a Hohenzollern prince to the throne of Spain caused friction with the French Emperor Napoleon III. To make sure that this friction would provoke war, Bismarck published the famous Ems dispatch. In the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that ensued the states of S Germany rallied to the Prussian cause as Bismarck had anticipated, and in Jan., 1871, William I of Prussia was proclaimed German emperor.
In 1858 he visited France, where he minutely investigated the state of the French army, but it was not long before he was recalled, for in 1859, in consequence of the Franco-Austrian War, Prussia mobilized her forces, and Frederick Charles was made a divisional commander in the II. army corps. In this post he was given the liberty of action which had previously been denied to him. About this time (1860) the prince gave a lecture to the officers of his command on the French army and its methods, the substance of which was circulated more widely than the author intended, and in the French translation gave rise to much indignation in France. In 1861 Frederick Charles became general of cavalry. He was then commander of the IIIrd (Brandenburg) army corps. This post he held from 1860 to 1870, except during the campaigns of 1864 and 1866, and in it be displayed his real qualities as a troop leader. His self-imposed task was to raise the military spirit of his troops to the highest possible level, and ten years of his continuous and thorough training brought the IIIrd corps to a pitch of real efficiency which the Guard corps alone, in virtue of its special recruiting powers, slightly surpassed. Prince Frederick Charles work was tested to the full when von Alvensleben and the IIIrd corps engaged the whole French army on the 16th of August 1870. In 1864 the prince once more fought against the Danes under his old leader Papa Wrangel. The Prussian contingent under Frederick Charles formed a corps of the allied army, and half of it was drawn from the IIIrd corps. After the storming of the Duppel lines the prince succeeded Wrangel in the supreme command, with Lieutenant-General Freiherr von Moltke as his chief of staff. These two great soldiers then planned and brilliantly carried out the capture of the island of Alsen, after which the war came to an end.
In 1866 came the Seven Weeks War with Austria. Prince Frederick Charles was appointed to command the I. Army, which he led through the mountains into Bohemia, driving before him the Austrians and Saxons to the upper Elbe, where on the 3rd of July took place the decisive battle of Koniggrtz or Sadowa. This was brought on by the initiative of the leader of the I. Army, which had to bear the brunt of the fighting until the advance of the Italian Army turned the Austrian flank. After the peace he returned to the IIIrd army corps, which he finally left, in July 1870, when appointed to command the IInd German Army in the war with France. In the early days of the advance the princes ruthless energy led to much friction between. the Ist and IInd Armies, while his strategical mistakes seriously embarrassed the great headquarters staff. The advance of the IInd Army beyond the Saar to the Moselle and from that river to the Meuse displayed more energy than careful strategy, but herein at least the Red Prince (as he was called from the color of his favorite hussar uniform) was in thorough sympathy with the kings headquarters on the one hand and the feelings of the troops on the other. Then came the discovery that the French were not in front, but to the right rear of the IInd Army (August 16). Alvensleben with the IIIrd corps held the French to their ground at Vionville while the prince hurried together his scattered forces. He himself directed with superb tactical skill the last efforts of the Germans at Vionville, and the victory of St. Privat on the 18th was due to his leadership, which shone all the more by contrast with the failures of the Ist Army at Gravelotte. The prince was left in command of the forces which blockaded Bazaine in Metz, and received the surrender of that place and of the last remaining field army of the enemy. He was promoted at once to the rank of general field marshal, and shortly afterwards the II. Army was despatched to aid in crushing the newly organized army of the French republic on the Loire. Here again he retrieved strategical errori by energy and tactical skill, and his work was in the end crowned by the victory of Le Mans on the lath of January 1871. 0f all the subordinate leaders on the German side none enjoyed greater and a better deserved reputation than the Red Prince.
He now became inspector-general of the 3rd army, and a little later inspector of cavalry, and in the latter post he wa~ largely instrumental in bringing the German cavalry to the degre of perfection in manuevure and general training which it gradually attained in the years after the war. He never ceased to improve his own soldierly qualities by further study and by the conduct of manceuvres on a large scale. His sternness of character kept him aloof from the court and from his own family, and he spent his leisure months chiefly on his various country estates. In 1882 he travelled in the Mediterranean and the Near East. He died on the 15th of June 1885 at Klein-Glienick near Berlin, and was buried at the adjacent church of Nikolskoe. His third daughter, Princess Louise Margareta, was married, in March 1879, to the duke of Connaught.
William immediately set about reorganizing and strengthening the army, and when he met the opposition of the legislature, he appointed Otto von Bismarck his prime minister in 1862. From then until the emperor's death, Bismarck guided the destiny of Prussia and Germany. Opposition to the king's and Bismarck's military program was suppressed, and in 1864 Prussia began its career of military conquest in the war with Denmark over Schleswig-Holstein. This led to the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, from which Prussia emerged the leading German power. William I commanded in person in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71, received the surrender of Napoleon III at Sedan, and was proclaimed (Jan. 18, 1871) emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
Although William often disagreed with Bismarck's policies, he ultimately was always persuaded by his chancellor. William did not favor the Kulturkampf (Bismarck's struggle against the Roman Catholic Church) but gave it his tacit consent. As a symbol of reborn German unity he was popular, but his militarism and belief in his divine right to rule drew upon him the hatred of the radical elements. Two attempts on William's life (1878) enabled Bismarck to pass severe legislation against the socialists. William's reign was crucial in European history, for it saw Germany's rise to power on the continent. His son Frederick III succeeded him.
French forces holding out in the Cemetery of St. Privat by Detaille.
First engagement of the war. Elements of the French 2nd and 3rd Corps pushed back a greatly outnumbered Prussian force.
The first major engagement of the campaign, fought August 4, 1870, between the advance-guard of the Third German Army, under the Crown Prince of Prussia, and a portion of Marshal Macmahon's army, under General Abel Donay, who fell in the battle. The Germans carried the French position, and captured the town of Weissenburg, at a cost of 91 officers and 1,460 men. The French lost 2, 300 killed, wounded and prisoners.
Fought August 6, 1870, between the Third German Army, under the Crown Prince of Prussia, and the French, under Marshal Macmahon. After a closely contested engagement, the French were driven from all their positions, and made a hasty retreat beyond the Vosges. The Cuirassier division of General Bonnemain was completely cut to pieces in charging the German infantry, near Elsasshausen. The German losses amounted to 489 officers, and 10,153 men, while the French lost 10,000 killed and wounded, 6,000 prisoners, 28 guns and 5 mitrailleuses.
Fought August 6, 1870, between the Germans, under Von Alvensleben, and a superior French force, under General Frossard. After an obstinate encounter, the French were driven from all their positions with heavy loss, and compelled to retreat on Metz. The Germans lost 223 officers and 4,648 men. The battle is remarkable for the storming of the Rote Berg by I company of the 39th Regiment and 4 companies of the 74th Regiment, under General von Francois, who was killed. These 5 companies maintained their position throughout the afternoon, in face of a vastly superior force.
Fought August 11, 1870, between the retiring French army, and the advance guard of the First German Army Corps under von Steinmetz. The French maintained most of their positions, but two of their divisions were overthrown, and Bazaine's retreat on Verdun was seriously delayed. The French lost about 7,000 ; the Germans 222 officers and 5,000 men.
Baden troops reached Straßburg (Strasbourg) on 8 August 1870 and the city was encircled by 15 August. The German siege of the city began on 30 August and it capitulated on September 28, 1870.
Toul held out for almost 40 days, and 2,300 French defenders tied down 13,000 Germans.
Fought August 16, 1870, between the French, under Marshal Bazaine, and the 3rd and 10th German Army corps, under Von Alvensleben. The Germans, though at times very hard pressed, succeeded in holding their ground, and prevented the French breaking through to the westward. The battle is chiefly remarkable for the desperate charges of the German cavalry, and especially of Von Bredow's brigade, against the French infantry, under cover of which the shattered German infantry was enabled to reform. The losses were about equal, amounting to about 16,000 killed and wounded on each side.
Fought August 18, 1870, between the French, under Bazaine, and the combined German army under the supreme command of William of Prussia. The battle was most hotly contested, but while the French held their ground in the neighbourhood of Gravelotte, the Germans turned their right flank at St. Privat, and they were eventually obliged to abandon all their positions, and retire into Metz, where they were subsequently blockaded. The German losses amounted to 899 officers and 19,260 men killed and wounded. The French losses were somewhat less. This battle is also known as the battle of St. Privat.
This fortress was invested by the Germans after the defeat of Bazaine at Gravelotte in August 18, 1870, and after several fruitless attempts to break through the German lines had been repulsed, Bazaine surrendered to Prince Frederick Charles on October 26, with 3 marshals, 6,ooo officers, and 173,000 men.
An indecisive action between the Saxon (XIIth) Corps and the French 5th Corps.
August 30, 1870: The Army of the Meuse (4th Army) and the I Bavarian Corps engages the French 5th Corps. 1st Brigade, Blue Division (Marines), under Gen. Reboul, come to the aid of the 5th Corps, and the French Forces successfully withdraw.
The day after the Battle of Beaumont, August 31, around mid-day, the second brigade of the Blue Division (French Marine Division) is ordered to take Bazeilles, which was just occupied by the ennemy.
Gen. Martin des Pallières moves his troop. The enemy is pushed back, but its superiority in men and artillery allows them, by multiple assaults, to gain ground again. Fighting is harsh, losses are high on both sides; Gen Martin des Paillieres is wounded and the village in on fire.
Around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, the French Marines are only holding the nothern edge of the village. Brigade Gen. Reboul's Brigade was kept in reserve, and is now engaged and, before nightfall, Bazeilles is completely taken up again by furious fighting.
The French Marines refitted and reorganised during the night. Only one sentinel detachement, under the command of Major Lambert, Deputy Head of the Division Headquarter, will keep guard. Major Lambert, gessing that the enemy, strongly reinforced during the night, will come in force, sets a trap.
When, September 1st at dawn, Bavarians begin to enter the village, they guessed that it has been abandoned during the night. A vigorous counter-attack, lead by 150 Marsouins (Marines), surprises them and make them retreat. The French Marines are again, for the third time, controlling Bazeilles.
When suddenly, the unexpected happens. Gen. Ducrot, who just replace Mac Mahon (who was wounded), wants to combine his sread-out army immediately, and sends the orders to leave Bazeilles.
What the enemy never achived, the French Field Marshall did : Bazeilles is abandoned. But Gen. De Wimpfen, with in his hands a letter from the Paris H.Q., overturns the command and orders that the place must be reinvested.
The French must take Bazeilles again, now occupied by Bavarians. Gen. De Vassoigne doesn't hesitate and his Division takes the village for the Fourth time, in spite of a vigourous enemy defense.
The 1st Bavarian Army Corps, reinforced by an extra division, and backed-up by a large number of artillery, attacks again with a combination of encircling maneuvers, while in the village fires are spreading.
Fighting at odds of ten-to-one, the Marsouins (Marines), in spite of a heavy shelling, fires burning and choking them, defend inch by inch every street, every house, every ruin. They lose ground very slowly and they got a heavy toll of the enemy. But their losses are also heavy, and worse, ammunitions are starting to get short.
Gen. de Vassoigne, always very calm, considers his mission as accomplished, and that Marines have reached the extreme limit of duty and that he was no right to leave such a troop, able to serve in the future, to be massacred. Around noon, he orders the retreat.
Nevertheless, Gen. De Wimpfen wants to make a break-through to the east. To do so, around 16:00, he asks for Gen. de Vassoigne, and both, sword in hand, lead the remainders of the Division in the assault.
Balan is almost totally taken, when an order from the Emperor, says to lay down arms. The Blue Division lost 2,655 men, but the enemy more than double that.
Attempted breakout by French army from Metz defeated by Manteuffel's I Corps.
This battle, the most decisive of the war, was fought September 1, 1870, The French, under Marshal Macmahon, who was wounded early in the action, were driven from all their positions by the Germans, under the King of Prussia, and compelled to retire into Sedan, where they laid down their arms. The Emperor Napoleon III was among the prisoners, and one of the results of the surrender was his dethronement and the proclamation of a republic in Paris. The battle is remarkable for the charge of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, under General Margueritte, in the neighbourhood of Floing. The brigade was cut to pieces and the general killed. The Germans lost in the action 460 officers and 8,5oo men ; the French 3,000 killed, 14,000 wounded, and 21,000 prisoners, while 83,000 subsequently surrendered in Sedan. The Germans took 419 guns, 139 fortress guns and 66,000 rifles.
Paris was invested by the main German army, under the King of Prussia and von Moltke, September 19, 1870. The garrison, under the command of General Trochu, made a gallant defence, many serious sorties taking place, but the Germans gradually mastered the outer defences, and finally, being much straitened by famine, the city surrendered January 28, 1871.
Fought September 30, 1870, when a sortie from Paris under General Vinoy was repulsed by the Sixth German Corps under Von Tumpling, with a loss of 74 officers and 2,046 men. The Germans lost 28 officers and 413 men killed and wounded.
This was carried out by a force of all arms under Reyau on the 5th of October. It succeeded only too well. Prince Albert of Prussia, commander of the 4th cavalry division, which engaged Reyau at Toury, was so much impressed that he gave back 20 m. and sent alarming reports to army headquarters, which thereupon lost its incredulity and announced in army orders that the French Army of the Loire was advancing from Orleans. Von der Tann, the commander of the I. Bavarian corps, was ordered to take up a defensive position at Montlhry and to send out a detachment to cover Prince Alberts retreat. The 22nd infantry division was added to his command, and the 2nd and 6th cavalry divisions warned to protect his flanks. Thus the Germans were led to pay attention to the existence of the 15th corps when that corps was not only itself incomplete but also unsupported by the 16th, 17th and other still merely potential formations.
The preparations of the Germans were superfluous, for the demonstration ended in nothing. Reyau drew away leisurely towards Fontainebleau forest, and only a part of the 15th corps was sent up from Bourges to Orleans. Further, the fears of a sortie from Paris, which had occupied the German headquarters for some time, having for a moment ceased, Moltke on the 7th ordered von der Tann, with the I. Bavarian corps, 22nd division, and the three cavalry divisions, to advance. Next day these orders expanded. Orleans and, if possible, Tours itself were to be captured.
Fought October 7, 1870, when Marshal Bazaine attempted to break through the lines of the Germans investing Metz. He was unsuccessful, and was driven back into the city with a loss of 64 officers and 1,193 men. The Germans lost 75 officers and 1,703 men.
The punishment for the military promenade in Beauce was at hand. The main body of the French 15th corps, which had not been required to take part in it, was kept back at Bourges, and Vierzon, and only the miscellaneous troops actually in Beauce were available to meet the blow they had provoked. On the 10th von der Tann attacked Reyau, who had returned from Fontainebleau towards Orleans, at Artenay. Had it not been that von der Tann believed that the 15th corps was in front of him, and therefore attacked deliberately and carefully, Reyaus resistance would have been even more brief than it was. The French were enormously outnumbered, and, after a brave resistance, were driven towards Orleans in great disorder. Being still without any real offensive intentions, the Delegation and La Motte-Rouge decided, the same night, to evacuate Orleans. On the 11th, therefore, Von der Tann's advance had to deal with no more than a strong rearguard on the outskirts of Orleans. But he was no longer on the plain of Beauce; villas, hedges and vineyards, as well as the outskirts of the great forest of Orleans, gave excellent cover to the French infantry, all of which showed steadiness and some battalions true heroism, and the attack developed so slowly that the final positions of the defenders were not forced till close upon nightfall. The Germans lost at least 1000 men, and the harvest of prisoners proved to be no more than 1500. So far from pressing on to Tours, the Germans were well content with the occupation of Orleans.
the 22nd infantry and 4th cavalry divisions had been withdrawn from von der Tanns command and ordered back to Paris, and on their way thither they were told to clear the country round ChOteaudun and Chartres. General von Wittich, therefore, with the 22nd division and some cavalry, appeared before Chfiteaudun on the 18th of October. The little town was strongly held and repulsed the first attack. Wittich then prepared a second assault so carefully that sunset was at hand when it was made. It would seem indeed that at this period, when the Germans were hoping for a speedy return to their fatherland, the spirit of the offensive in all ranks had temporarily died away. The assailants carried the edge of the town, only to find themselves involved in a painful struggle in the streets. House-to-house fighting went on long after dark, but at last the inhabitants gave way, and the Germans punished the town for its unconventional resistance by subjecting it to what was practically a sack. After this von Wittich passed on to Charters, which, making his preparations more carefully, he was able to occupy after a few shells had been fired. These events, and the presence of a French force at Dreux, as a matter of fact signified nothing, for the 15th and 16th corps were still on the Loire and at Salbris.
A determined sortie by the French from Paris, October 27, 1870, in which they carried the village of Le Bourget. They held their ground there until October 30, when they were driven out by the Prussian Guard Corps, leaving 1,200 prisoners in the hands of the Germans, who lost 34 officers and 344 men.
The debut was singularly encouraging. Part of the German 2nd cavalry division, with its infantry supports, was severely handled by the French advanced guard near the hamlet of St Laurent des Bois (November 8). The half-heartedness of the Germans, evidenced by the number of prisoners taken unwounded, greatly encouraged the new formations, who cheerfully submitted to a cold bivouac in anticipation of victory. Next morning the advance was resumed, dAurelle with the 15th corps on the right wing, Chanzy with the 16th on the left and Reyaus cavalry to the front. The march was made straight across country, in battle order, each brigade in line of battalion columns covered by a dense skirmish line. The French generals were determined that no accident should occur to shake the moral of the young troops they commanded.
Fought November 9, 1870, between 20,000 Germans under Von der Tann, and a largely superior French force under General d'Aurelle de Paladines. After maintaining their position for the greater part of the day, the Germans were driven back, having lost 576 killed and wounded, 800 prisoners, an ammunition column and 2 guns. The French losses were about 1,500.
Fought November 27, 1870, between the French under General Faure, and the Germans under Manteuffel. The French were compelled to abandon the city, but the Germans failed to secure a decisive victory. The French lost 1,383 killed and wounded, and 1,000 missing; the Germans, 76 officers and 1,216 men.
The Detachment, which never yet had concentrated save to deliver blows in the air, was approaching Chteaudun and Bonneval when von Stosch arrived and gave it the encouragement, the reforms in the staff work and the rest-day it needed. The French, who themselves had suffered from over-extension, had by now condensed on the extreme right. The French attack began early on the morning of the 28th, under command of General Crouzat. It was directed on Beaune-la-Rolande from three sides, and only the want of combination between the various units of the French and the arrival in the afternoon of part of the IIIrd corps, Beauae saved the Xth Corps from annihilation. As it was, the Germans engaged were utterly exhausted, and the Xth corps had but three rounds of ammunition per man left. But the magnificent resistance of the men of Vionville prolonged the fight until night had fallen and Crouzat, thinking the battle lost, ordered his troops to evacuate the battlefield. As at Coulmiers, and with even more deplorable results, the French commander saw only the confusion in his own lines, and feared to hazard the issue of the campaign on the mere supposition that the enemy was even more exhausted. There was another resemblance, too, between Coulmiers and Beaune-laRolande, in that the French forces on ,the outer flank towards Artenay stood idle without attempting to influence the decision.
A determined sortie from Paris, under General Ducrot, on November 30, 1870, directed against the Wurtembergers. The French, who had at first gained some successes, were finally repulsed, with a loss of 424 officers and 9,053 men. The Germans lost
156 officers and 3,373 men.
French forces attempting to break out of Paris engage German forces of the Württemberg Division in heavy fighting around Villiers and Champigny in the Marne Valley east of Paris. Champigny, Villiers and Bry are occupied by the French on the 30th. The Württembergers, reinforced by the XII Saxon Corps, counterattack and retake the towns by 2 December.
French General Chanzy, about 1:30 pm, with one infantry divison and one cavalry division of the 16th Corps attacked part of the Ist Bavarian corps (later the entire Corps was engaged) at Terminiers and at the villages west of it. After much fighting, the Bavarian Corps was driven from its position and fell back to Villepion Château. Toward nightfall, their defenses were broken, and they retreated to Orgres. The Bavarians with 7,000 men and 48 guns, against 15,000 French, with 46 guns, lost 42 officers and nearly 1000 men.
The Detachment under Grand Duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, including the I Bavarian Corps, engages numerically superior forces of the Army of the Loire and defeats them.
A first hand account by a Times correspondent of the engagement at Loigny:
"It's spacious courtyard, flanked by two towers, and entered by an archway, was filled with soldiers, and the rooms to the right and the left were already full of German and French wounded, though it was not yet midday. Ascending to one of the towers in the chateau, I found myself in an admirable position tfor seeing the battle. The room was full of soldiers, who had loopholed the walls, but the enemy were not within range, or rather thought not to be so, until suddenly a large body of infantry, which was supposed to be German for the first moment or two, unexpectedly opened up a hot fire upon the regiment drawn up beneath the walls of the chateau.
Then from every loophole and crevise from the towers and walls rolled an incessant fire of rifles and the Chassepot balls seemed to rain upon the roofs and walls in reply until by degrees the old castle became the centre of the fight, and as it seemed to me, with every possible chance of being taken. The lieutenant in charge of the party in the loopholed chamber told me that it had been occupied at 2:00 in the morning, just ten minutes before the French could reach it, and that, in fact, the struggle for this position had opened the battle.
Unfortunately, it was not yet over, and the room was getting so full of smoke, and the clatter of rifle balls on the roof was so unpleasant, that, fearing they might be followed by shot and shell, I dscended to the courtyard. Here, too, the ubiquitous Chassepot balls kept pinging about. The wall from the side of the French attack was very low, behind it were lying the German riflemen. drawing a fire from the enemy upon them, and consequently into the yard, which made it advisable for those who wished to cross to make a run for it.
Every available cover concealed a rifleman, but the enemy were closing round, and the fire became hotter, until it seemed to me that the moment was rapidly approaching when the chateau and all it contained would fall into the enemy's hands. The courtyard being as bad as the tower, and the rooms full of groaning wounded, I ascended again, like 'Sister Ann', to see if any help was coming, and arrived just in time to see through a loophole which a soldier kindly vacated. The Hanseatic Brigade come up on the double on the right flank of the enemy, while Prince Albrecht's cavalry appeeared most opportunly on the left.
The French did not await the charge of the cavalry. They had made a gallant fight of it, and it was no shame to them if, attacked on three sides, they fell back on the hamlet, in which, I have already said, were French reserves. As they did so, the men of the Free Towns opened up a terriffic fire upon them, covering the field with killed and wounded. It was a great relief in one sense, but so dearly purchased that it was hard to say which was more painful--the prospect of being involved in hand-to-hand fighting inside the castle, or the sight of the slaughter which had preserved such a fate."
In pursuance of his idee fixe, the Crown Prince issued orders to the following effect: IIIrd corps to advance on Orleans and, to bring artillery into action against the city, at the same time carefully guarding his left flank; IXth Corps and 6th cavalry division to go forward along the general line of the main road; Detachment to make an enveloping attack on Gidy in concert with the attack of the IXth corps. In the forest Alvensleben, knowing that he could not capture Orleans single-handed, guarded his left with a whole division and with the other advanced on the city, stormed the village of Vaumainbert, which was stubbornly defended by a small French force, and close upon nightfall perfunctorily threw a few shells into Orleans. The flank-guard division had meanwhile been gravely imperilled by the advance of Crouzat's French 20th corps, but once again the Prussian IIIrd corps was miraculously saved, for Gen. Bourbaki, receiving word from d'Aurelle that the left group could not hold its position in advance of the Loire, and that the line of retreat of the right group was by Gien, ordered the fight to be broken off.
In the centre the Prussian IXth corps, after fighting hard all day, progressed no farther than Cercottes. The prince and the grand duke had a short interview, but, being personal enemies, their intercourse was confined to the princes issuing his orders without inquiring closely into the positions of the Detachment and its opponents. Thus while the main body of Prussian troops assaulted Orleans, the French left group, under the determined Chanzy, slipped away to the left, to continue the struggle for three months longer, the Detachment was compelled to conform to the movements of the IXth corps. But it was handled resolutely, and in the afternoon its right swung in to Ormes. The 2nd cavalry division, finding a target and open ground, charged the demoralized defenders with great effect, a panic began and spread, and by nightfall, when the prince, who was with the IXth corps, had actually given up hope of capturing Orleans that day and had issued orders to suspend the fight, his rival and subordinate was marching into Orleans with bands playing and colors flying. There was no pursuit, and the severed wings of the French army thenceforward carried on the campaign as two separate armies under Chanzy and Bourbaki respectively.
A series of engagements between the Detachment, Prussian 2nd Army and the 2nd Army of the Loire is mostly indecisive, but eventually, having received no support from the 1st Army of the Loire, the French commander withdraws from the field to consolidate. Cravant was the scene of heavy fighting between the French and Germans. The capture on the 8th of Beaugency on the Loire southwest of Orléans is about the only tactical highlight of the fighting for the Germans.
Fought December 23 and 24, 1870, between 40,000 French, under General Faidherbe, and 22,500 Germans, under Manteuffel. The French lost heavily in the village lying in front of their position, but the Germans were unable to carry the entrenchments on the heights. After their attack had been repulsed, the French assumed the offensive, but with no decisive result. The Germans lost 927 killed and wounded; the French over 1,000, besides 1,300 prisoners.
Fought January 3, 1871, between the French under General Faidherbe, and the Germans under Von Goeben. The result was indecisive, and though the French gained some tactical successes, the result strategically was an advantage to the Germans, as General Faidherbe was compelled to desist from his attempt to raise the siege of Peronne. The Germans lost 52, officers and 698 men; the French 53 officers and 1516 men killed and wounded, and 550 prisoners.
An indecisive action between Bourbaki's 2nd Army of the Loire and General von Werder's XIV Corps.
Fought January 10, 11, and 12, between the Germans, 50,000 strong, under Prince Frederick Charles, and the French, numbering about 150,000, under General Chanzy. The French army was completely routed, and the whole force so completely demoralised as to be no longer an effective fighting unit. The Germans took 20,000 prisoners, 17 guns, and great quantities of war material, at a cost to themselves of 200 officers and 3,200 men.
The French Army of the East under Gen. Bourbaki attacks German forces under Gen. Werder along the Lisaine as they attempt to relieve Belfort. After three days of heavy fighting, the Germans defeat the French attacks and hold the line.
A sortie from Paris under General Trochu on January 19, 1871. The French, advancing under cover of a fog, established themselves in the Park of Buzenval, and occupied St. Cloud, where they maintained their position throughout the day. At other points, however, they were less successful, and, on the morning of the 20th, the force at St. Cloud, finding itself unsupported, was obliged to retire, and all the captured positions were abandoned. The Germans lost 40 officers and 570 men ; the French 189 officers and 3,881 men.
Fort du Mont Valerien was located west of Paris. On January 19, the French conducted the last major attempt to break out of Paris. Under the protection of the guns of the fort, 90,000 French troops massed to attack the V Corps positions northeast of Versailles, but initial successes soon gave way to stiff German resistance as the French attacks were uncoordinated. By late afternoon, the French commander ordered his troops back inside the ring. Many allege that the only reason the French military leadership ordered the attack was so that it would fail, proving to the Paris Commune that the war was unwinnable.
Fought January 19, 1871, between the French, 40,000 strong, under General Faidherbe, and 33,000 Germans, under Von Goben. The French were decisively defeated, with a loss of 3,500 killed and wounded, 9,000 prisoners, and 6 guns. The Germans lost 96 officers and 2,304 men.
Die Bayern bei Worth, 6th August 1870 by Knötel.
See R. H. Lord, The Origins of the War of 1870 (1924, repr. 1966); D. Clarke, ed., Roger de Mauni: The Franco-Prussian War (1970); M. Howard, The Franco-Prussian War (1981). See also F. Hoenig, Volkskrieg an der Loire, and L. A. Hale, The Peoples War.
Info courtesy of The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2003, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. Battle statistics from Thomas Harbottle, Dictionary of Battles.