Battle of Sedan 




September 1, 1870


The most decisive battle of the war. The battle resulted in the capture of Napoleon III and his entire army and decided the war for Prussia. A new French republic continued to fight after the capture and exile of Napoleon III. The French had 17,000 casualties and 21,000 captured and the surrender gave the Germans 83,000 more .The German suffered only 9,000 killed and wounded. The high French casualties were due to the German artillery . The battle is remarkable for the charge of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, under General Margueritte, at Floing. His brigade was cut to pieces and the general killed.


Now we have them in the mousetrap .



Nous sommes dans un pot de chambre, et nous y serons emmerdes

We are in the chamber pot and about to be shat upon.

                         French General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot

MacMahon's object in falling back to Sedan was to gain time to reorganize and re-equip his forces . Sedan was the site of a 17th century fortress . Napoleon III, along with Field Marshal MacMahon, formed the new French Army of Châlons to march on to Metz to rescue Bazaine. With Napoleon III personally leading the army with Marshal MacMahon in attendance, they led the Army of Châlons in a left-flanking march northeast towards the Belgian border in an attempt to avoid the Prussians before striking south to link up with Bazaine.

Map of the battle of Sedan.

Click map for a larger image .

Bavarians of the Prussian army in a ferocious engagement at the  village of Bazeilles in the early morning of Sept 1st . Villagers took up arms to help the French army, many of whom were shot if captured. The village was taken by the Prussians at noon .

Les dernnieres cartouches (The Last Cartridges)

Alphonse de Neuville (1835 – 1885)

The Blue Division of France ( Marines that were placed in the army )  in action . Painting depicts the battle of Bazeilles . Bazeilles was retaken and abandoned four times, with 2,655 French and 5,200 Bavarians dead . The battle was one of the first to feature modern urban warfare tactics.

Click on painting for larger image .



 Entscheidung von Sedan - 1870


Battle of Sedan rare 19th photographs of actual battle .

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 Photos shows German skirmishers advancing on a French position

at La Mocelle from behind the French lines . Smoke from firing can be seen .

 Click here to see this location today .

A detailed study of the photographs . Do they show real battle or were they reenactments ?

The Prussians, under the command of Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, took advantage of this incompetent move to catch the French in a pincer grip. Leaving the Prussian First and Second Armies besieging Metz, Moltke formed the Army of the Meuse under the Crown Prince of Saxony by detaching three corps from them, and took this army and the Prussian Third Army northward, where they caught up with the French at Beaumont on August 30. After a hard-fought battle with the French losing 5,000 men and 40 cannon in a sharp fight, they withdrew toward Sedan.


Large cannons were not enough to protect the French at Sedan



Having reformed in the town, the Army of Châlons was immediately isolated by the converging Prussian armies. Napoleon III ordered the army to break out of the encirclement immediately. With MacMahon wounded by a shell fragment to the leg on the previous day, General Auguste Ducrot took command of the French troops in the field. Unlike MacMahon, he realized that if the French army stood and fought, it would be destroyed and issued immediate orders for retreat. At 8:30 am Gen Wimpffen, the new French commander arrived. A old warhorse, he countermanded the order to retreat, despite Ducrot's protest . Soon, the French army was surrounded, and a circle of batteries placed around the French and rained shells on the infantry. The king of Prussia and a gaggle of German princes gathered to watch the upcoming battle on the wooded hills above Frenois along with military observers such as Gen Sheridan from the United States and Colonel Walker from the British army .


Maps of the battle of Sedan at 7 AM and 2 PM.

Click map for larger image .

One the three great cavalry charge at Sedan led by

General Margueritte who was mortally

wounded against the Prussian IX Corp at Floring .


The French Imperial Guard with Prussian prisoners at Sedan


But by 11:00, Prussian artillery took a toll on the French while more Prussian troops arrived on the battlefield. The French cavalry, commanded by General Marguerite, launched three desperate attacks on the nearby village of Floing where the Prussian XI Corps was concentrated. Marguerite was killed leading the very first charge and the two additional charges led to nothing but heavy losses. Wimpffen tried to break out at Carigan, which failed and his force retreated pell mell to Sedan . During the day, Napoleon rode on the battlefield, seeking a death that eluded him .By the end of the day, with no hope of breaking out, Napoleon III called off the attacks. The French lost over 17,000 men, killed or wounded, with 21,000 captured. The Prussians reported their losses at 2,320 killed, 5,980 wounded and 700 captured or missing.


Guns captured by the Prussians at Sedan


Wimpffen was sent to negotiate with Bismarck and Moltke. Wimpffen wanted a ' honorable capitulation' with his army able to march away with its arms , under a promise not to take up arms against Prussia. Bismark and Moltke refused this, and Wimpffen threatened to defend Sedan to the last. Moltke pointed out that the French army was reduced to only 80,000 and was ringed by artillery , while the Prussians and their forces totaled some 250,000 . Wimpffen asked for more time to consult with his colleagues, and the truce was extended to 9:00am the next day .Napoleon, decided to make an appeal directly to the King of Prussia, and without his advisers knowledge, set off early on Sept 2 to the Prussian position at Donchery .

Napoleon III surrenders after Sedan, from a 1901 print .

Bismarck talks with Napoleon III at a cottage in Donchery. Napoleon suffered intensely from bladder stones and hemorrhoids at Sedan and exposed himself to danger during the battle, seeking death.

 1914 color print by W. Camphausen

Bismarck met him on the road, and foiled Napoleon's attempt to bypass him . Bismark said the King was too far away to fetch and together they went to a nearby cottage. However, Bismarck lost interest in the discussion once he discovered Napoleon regarded himself a prisoner and no longer a representative of France .Meanwhile, in Sedan, Wimpffen signed the terms Moltke presented him .The French army was to surrender as prisoners of war, with all arms and material .

Officers who pledged not to take up arms against Germany were to be allowed to go free. 550 officers took advantage of this .The Germans had taken 21,000 prisoners during the battle, and to this 81,000 more men were added . The French surrendered 419 guns. The Prussians lost some 9,000 men .With the French army surrendered, Bismark allowed Napoleon to see the Prussian King. It was a brief awkward meeting. Napoleon complimented the King on his army and had only one request- that he not go through the French countryside into captivity, but through nearby Belgium, to avoid embarrassment .


French troops turn their backs on Napoleon III as he departs for Prussia. The French Republic was declared two days after news of Sedan reached Paris. Napoleon died in exile in London in 1873.His last words to his friend Henri Conneau, who also was at at Sedan on his deathbed were ' We were not cowards at Sedan were we?'


This Bismarck and the King allowed . On Sept 3, Napoleon left for Wilhelmshohe. As Bismarck and Moltke watched the Napoleon go, Bismark remarked,' There is a dynasty on its way out.' If Napoleon was no longer the legal sovereign of France, who was ?


 Siege of Metz  


 Siege of Strasbourg