French Military Commanders 


Patrice de MacMahon (1808-93)


His ancestors came from Ireland. Graduated from the French military academy Saint-Cyr in 1827. Served in Algeria 1834-54. Became commander of the Foreign Legion in 1843.I n the Crimean War, he distinguished himself in the Battle of Malakoff . He fought in the Second Italian War of Independence as commander of the Second Corps ("Army of Italy"). He secured the French victory at Magenta (June,4 1859) and rose to the rank of marshal . He was later created Duke of Magenta by Napoleon III .

Personally courageous, but suffered from indecision in the heat of battle . Commanded the I and V French Corps (the Alsace army). Doomed his army by trying to relieve Bazaine . Wounded at Sedan and command passed to General De Wimpffen . MacMahon and resided at Wiesbaden until the conclusion of peace. He served as Chief of State of France from 1873 to 1875 and as the first president of the Third Republic, from 1875 to 1879.

François Achille Bazaine (1811-1888)

Bazaine rose through the ranks as a legionnaire . He served in Algeria for many years and in the Crimean War. He became the youngest general in the army at 44.He commanded the First Division under General Forey in the Mexican expedition in 1862.In 1863 he replaced Forey to take supreme command .At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War, he was given command of the III Corps of the Army of the Rhine .After the defeats of Marshal MacMahon’s army at Worth and Marshal Canrobert’s at Forbach, Napoleon III , was swift to hand over to Bazaine as Commander-in-Chief of the French Army on 13 August 1870.The day after assuming command he was badly wounded by a shell on the left shoulder. Forced to retreat to Metz after the battle of Mars-La-Tour. Bazaine asked for no aid, but they was a public outcry for Marshal Mac-Mahon's "Army of Châlons", to rescue Bazaine . After the fall of Napoleon, He refused to recognise the new republic and desired to restore the Monarchy. Bazaine surrendered Metz on Oct 23, 1870, which some claimed prevented the defeat of the German army in Loire by freeing up the German army besieging him .He was tried for treason and made a scapegoat for the French defeat in the war and sentenced to 20 years. He later escaped, and died in Spain in poverty.

 François Certain Canrobert (1809-1895)


He attended the St.Cyr and served in Algeria. He took part in the coup d'état of Napoleon in 1851 and fought in the Crimean War .In the Franco-Prussian War he commanded the VI army corps, which won the greatest distinction at the Battle of Gravelotte and was captured after the surrender of Metz .Refuseda position as commander of the Army of the Rhine, thinking it out of his range .

Marshall Edmond Le Bœuf (1808-88)


The war with the Prussians will be a mere stroll, stick in hand .


In 1869, became Marshall of War.

Distrustful of the Garde Mobile, when war came they were woefully unprepared to aid the regular army and ignored breech loading artillery such as the Krupp gun. The earlier work of his predecessor Niel to improve the rail system were also ignored . Laboef drew up the war mobilization plans based on the reports of General Charles Frossard which called for the creation of three armies on the frontier in a defensive position and invade Germany with Austrian allies. Dismissed on Aug 14, 1870 and assumed command of the IIICorps . Captured at Metz.

Gen Charles Denis Bourbaki (1816-97)

Son of Greek colonel Constantin Denis Bourbaki, educated at St Cyr and served in Africa. In the Crimean War he commanded a portion of the Algerian troops; and at the Alma, Inkerman and Sevastopol Bourbaki's name became famous. In 1870 he was given command of the Imperial Guard- a reserve force which saw little action in the opening weeks of the war. He offered his services to Gambetta and the new republic and received the command of the Northern Army, but was recalled on November 10 and transferred to the Army of the Loire.

In command of the hastily-trained and ill-equipped Army of the East, Bourbaki made the attempt to raise the siege of Belfort, which, after the victory of Villersexel, ended in the repulse of the French in the three days' battle of the Lisaine. Other German forces under Manteuffel now closed upon Bourbaki, and he was eventually driven over the Swiss frontier with the remnant of his forces. He tried to commit suicide on Jan 26, but was unsuccessful.

Louis Jules Trochu (1815-96)

Educated at St. Cyr and served in Algeria, the Crimea and distinguished himself in the Italian campaign of 1859. Lost some support from the court after publishing books advising reform of the army in 1867. Appointed to command the 12th Corps but later tapped to become  governor of Paris and commander-in-chief of all the forces destined for the defence of the capital, including some 120,000 regular troops, 80,000 mobiles, and 330,000 National Guards. After the downfall of Napoleon after Sedan on September4 he became president of the Government of National Defence (new Republic)

Antoine Chanzy (1823-1883)

Attended St Cyr and served in Algeria where he became governor . After the revolution he was given command of the Army of the Loire formed by Léon Gambetta. Regarded by the Prussians as one of their most formidable opponents .

General Pierre Louis Charles de Failly (1810-92)

Commander of the V Corps Attended St Cyr, defended Rome against Garibaldi, was to become infamous for actions at Worth and Spicheren .

German Military Commanders  

Helmuth von Moltke 1800-91

 (the Elder)


Chief of Staff of the German Army since 1857, whose great skill as an organizer was largely responsible for Germany's success with training and mobilization of reservists, railway organization  and his General Staff to run it . Unlike Napoleon I, who invaded Russia with an army half Germany's size, the German's were able to control theirs quickly and effectively . Moltke was also largely responsible for drawing up war plans .

Karl Friedrich von Steinmetz (1796-1877)


Educated at the cadet school of Stolp in Pomerania from 1807 to 1811 during the French occupation . Won the Iron Cross for his battles against Napoleon III. Awarded the Pour le Mérite for actions during the First Schleswig War. Led led the V Corps in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866. Given command of the first Army in the war. Moltke had trouble with him not following commands, such as at the beginning of the war in Aug along the Saar. After the fall of Metz, Moltke merged the three German armies into two . After reportedly being uncivil to Prince Frederick Charles, he was given a retirement position as Gov of Posen.

Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia



Son of Prince Charles of Prussia . Served in the First Schleswig War. Her served with distinction in the Austro-Prussian War, where he commanded the First Army. Given command of the 2nd Army at the outbreak of the war . Nicknamed the 'Red Prince' for his Hussar uniform. A reliable but cautious commander . Distinguished himself at the Battle of Spicheren and the battles of Vionville-Mars le Tour and Gravelotte-St.Privat and the following Siege of Metz. After the fall of Metz, his army was sent to the Loire to clear the area around Orléans, where French troops, first under Aurelle de Paladines, then under Chanzy, were trying to march north to relieve Paris. He won battles at Orleans and Le Mans. For his services he was promoted to the rank of Generalfeldmarschall.

Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (1831-1888)

(later to become Frederick III, German Emperor ) The only son of son of Emperor William I. He experienced his first combat in the Second Schleswig War and his army was instrumental in winning the Austro-Prussian War and awarded the Pour le Mérite . He commanded the Third Army at the outbreak of the war. He won victories at Wörth Wissembourg, and the Battle of Sedan . Noted for his humanness toward his soldiers and enemies , which some felt was unmilitary softness. See photo below .

Albrecht von Roon (1803-79)


His family was of Flemish origin. Entered military school in 1816. Aware of the inefficient state of the Prussian Army and introduced reforms under Prince William such as to increase universal military service  and combining the Landwehr and the regular army . After victories in the Second Schleswig War and the Austro-Prussian War,His army system was adopted after 1866 by the whole North German Confederation. Roon saw to it that a ring of fortifications armed with Krupp guns were built on the coast, preventing a French sea-invasion.

Click on photograph for a larger image .

Prussian Crown Prince Frederick  ( marked with an x ) was famous for his humanness toward his enemies, here

photographed with French prisoners of war at Cologne . It is estimated that nearly 730,000 Frenchmen

were captured by the Prussians at some point in the war . Most disease deaths came

 from typhoid and dysentery

( Epidemics resulting from wars , Prinzig 1916) .

 Comparisons of the Armies