Loire campaign 



Dispatched from Paris as the republican government's emissary, Léon Gambetta passed over the German lines in a hot air balloon and organized the recruitment of new French armies.


News about an alleged German "extermination" plan infuriated the French and strengthened their support to their new government. Within a few weeks, five new armies totaling more than 500,000 troops were recruited.


The Germans noticed this development and dispatched some of their troops to the French provinces in order to detect, attack, and disperse the new French armies before they could become a menace, for the blockade of Paris or elsewhere. The Germans were not prepared for an occupation of the whole of France. This would stretch them out, and they would become vulnerable.

On October 10, fighting erupted between German and French republican forces near Orléans. At first, the Germans were victorious, but the French drew reinforcements and defeated the Germans at Coulmiers on November 9. But after the surrender of Metz, more than 100,000 well-trained and battle-experienced German troops joined the German 'Southern Army'. With these reinforcements, the French were forced to abandon Orléans on December 4, to be finally defeated near Le Mans (between 10–12 January).

Map of the battle of Lemans .

Click on map for larger image.

Prussian army crossing the Loire at Orleans


After the loss at Battle of Loigny-Poupry on Dec 2, Gambetta reorganized the army into two groups, one under Charles Denis Bourbak and the other under Antoine Chanzy. Chanzy 150,000 man force made up of new recruits reservists was defeated by a Prussian army of 50,000 at the battle of Le Mans on Jan 10 - 12, 1871, which ended organized French resistance in western France. Chanzy was able to retreat to Laval.

Battle of Le Mans, by Lionel Royer

 Click for larger image .

A second French army which operated north of Paris was turned back near Amiens (November 27, 1870), Bapaume (January 3, 1871) and St. Quentin (January 19).

Northern campaign 



Following the Army of the Loire's defeats, Gambetta turned to General Faidherbe's Army of the North. The Army of the North had achieved several small victories at towns such as Ham, La Hallue, and Amiens, and was well-protected by the belt of fortresses in northern France, allowing Faidherbe's men to launch quick attacks against isolated Prussian units, then retreat behind the belt of fortresses. Despite the army's access to the armaments factories of Lille, the Army of the North suffered from severe supply difficulties which kept the soldiers' already poor morale at a permanently low level.

In January 1871, Gambetta forced Faidherbe to march his army beyond the fortresses and engage the Prussians in open battle. The army was severely weakened by low morale, supply problems, the terrible winter weather, and low troop quality, whilst General Faidherbe himself was unable to direct battles effectively due to his terrible health, the result of decades of campaigning in West Africa. At the Battle of St. Quentin, the Army of the North suffered a crushing defeat and was scattered, releasing thousands of Prussian soldiers to be relocated to the East .

Eastern campaign 


French fortress at Belfort


Belfort Fort with lion .

The siege is commemorated by a huge statue,

the Lion of Belfort ( 1880 ) , by Frédéric Bartholdi.


Following the destruction of the French Army of the Loire, remnants of the Loire army gathered in eastern France to form the Army of the East, commanded by General Charles Bourbaki. In a final attempt to cut the German supply lines in northeast France, Bourbaki's army marched north to attack the Prussian siege of Belfort and relieve the beleaguered French defenders.

In the battle of the Lisaine, Bourbaki's men failed to break through German lines commanded by General August von Werder. Bringing in the German 'Southern Army', General von Manteuffel then drove Bourbaki's army into the mountains near the Swiss border. Facing annihilation, this last intact French army crossed the border and was disarmed and imprisoned by the neutral Swiss near Pontarlier (February 1).

Map of the battle of Belfort .

Click on map for larger image .

The Belfort Lion was created to honor the people of Belfort in their resistance against the Prussians in 1870. The Belfort citadel was one of the many citadels across France built by Vauban who revolutionized the designs of fortresses.He worked as a military engineer during the reign of Louis XIV in the 17th Century.


Arrival of German negotiators at Belfort. The garrison at Belfort withstood a siege of 103 days and was bombarded by 400,000 projectiles . Belfort surrendered on Feb 18, 1871. The garrison was allowed to march out with everything it could carry and withdrew to Grenoble.



  Siege of Paris