The French Mobilization
Edmond Le Bœuf, French Minister of War
The French War minister, Edmond Le Bœuf, had made plans for the creation of three armies at Metz, Strasbourg and Chalons .The army of Strasbourg would be commanded by Marshall MacMahon ( of Irish ancestry), hero of Crimea and Governor of Algeria.All the troops which could be spared from Algeria would be sent to this army, which was to be made of three corps. The army of Metz, would also have three corps, commanded by Marshal Bazaine, the leader of the recent failed Mexican expedition. The army of Chalons, with two corps, would be under the command of Marshal Canrobert .
For five days all preparations were made on this plan, then on July 11, the emperor ordered that one large army, eight corps strong and under his personal command, which would gather in Metz .The three marshals, would command one corps each .Napoleon made these changes, expecting Austria would join the war on his side as well. Most Austrians, were rather surprised at what they considered premature declaration of war, for which they were unprepared .Russia, also threatened to mobilize to aid Prussia, if Austria mobilized . Austria was to declare neutrality on July 20th.
The French mobilization was chaos . French troops were scattered all over the country .There was no great organizer like Moltke in France .Leboef decided that mobilization should take place at once rather than successively to be able to launch an attack before German could bring their massive armies together. By August 6, only half of the reservist had reached their units and many lacked equipment and uniforms . Many were stuck in railway stations due to rail delays .
Most of the French command had served in Algeria in their formative years and this influenced the command style, with ambushes being common and a desire to seek a strong defensive position.France had been fighting in Algeria for 30 years by the time the war started .
Strasbourg was the base of operations for the French right, and Metz for the center and left. Besides Strasbourg and Metz other frontier fortresses strengthened the advanced line — Bitche and Phalsbourg in the Vosges, and Thionville on the Moselle. The French army occupied, therefore, a very long line, and its advanced corps, extending from Thionville on the left to Strasbourg on the right, were scattered over too wide a front, insufficiently connected, and too far from their supports at Metz .This left them be exposed to being defeated in detail
It was taken for granted by most foreign military observers, that the war would begin with a French invasion into Germany, either to the north into the Palatine or eastward into the Rhine .Fredrich Engels wrote in the Pall Mall Gazette, that the French must be planning an offensive if they declared war . The Germans themselves also expected an invasion .
The one strong card that the French held was their supposed ability to mobilize their smaller army quicker than the larger Prussian army could . Every day that passed without an invasion favored the Germans .Moltke was astonished that the French declared war two weeks before they were ready for it .What happened ?
The mobilization was in chaos because of poor planning .The main train station for the war with Germany was at Metz, which could not handle the huge quantities of supplies, ammunition and rations which were brought to it .Many supplies were uninventoried and eventually forgotten, including millions of rounds of chassepot ammunition. Troops assembled in Metz and Strasbourg lacking supplies .By the 14th day of mobilisation, Leboef, the French minister of war, hoped to have 385,000 men and around 900 guns ready of action .Instead he found 202,448 men. The French troops were garrisoned throughout the country and the troops were sent straight to the frontier, to be armed there .
The German Mobilization
The German crown Prince read the mobilization order to cheering crowds at Postdam on July 15. Within 18 days, 1,183,000 men were placed in the army and 462,000 were transported to the frontier .To make the mobilization go smoothly, a special Line of Communication Department of the General Staff was created and a civilian-military Central Commission to make plans for the railways in time of war . Moltke was deeply concerned with the details of mobilization and supply and contributed greatly to the German success .It did not all go smoothly, and the Germans suffered transportation problems as well, but nowhere near the chaos the French were having .
Moltke divided his attacking force into three armies, the First Army under Stienmetz with the I,VIII and VIII Corps of 50,000~70,000 made up of the 7th Corps of Westphalians, under General von Zastrow; the 8th Bhinelanders, under General von Goben ; part of the 10 th Corps ; and the Brandenburg . 7 division of cavalry and 186 guns .The 1st Army occupied the line of the Saar, from Saarburg on the right, to Saarbriicken .
The large Second Army under Crown Prince Charles of the III, IV,IX,X,XII Corps and the Prussian Guard of 134,000 and the Third Army under the command of Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, of the V,XI and 2 Barvarian Corps of 125,000 made up of the 1st East Prussian Corps, under General Manteuflfel; the 2nd Pomeranian, under General Fransetzky; the 3rd Brandenburger, under General von Alvensleben II.; the 4th Prussians, Saxons, and Thuringians, under General von Alvensleben I.; the 9th Schleswig Holstein, under General von Manstein; the 10th Hanoverians, under General von Voigts Rhetz ; the 12 th Saxons, under the Crown Prince of Saxony; the Hesse Darmstadt division ; the Garrison of Mayence (Mainz) ; and the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 10th, and 12th cavalry divisions with 660 guns.
At the beginning of the war the Third Army was considered to be less reliable due to its South German units .consisting of the Corps of the Guard, under Prince Augustus of Wurtemburg ; the 5th Poseners, under General von Kirchbach ; the 6th Silesians, under General von Sumpling; the 11th Hesse and Nassau, under General von Bose; the Wurtemburg contingent, under Lieutenant-General von Obernitz; the Baden contingent, under General von Beyer ; the Bavarian contingent, under General von der Tann ; and the 6th cavalry division : making a total of 250,000 men, with 660 guns.
The Germans dispersed their armies over 300 miles and were seperated by mountains. The French concentrated their forcesbetween Saarbruken and Metz. The orginal German plan was to destroy Napoleon's Army by encircling it after it had invaded German territory.
The War Begins
On 28 July 1870 Napoleon III left Paris for Metz and assumed command of the newly titled Army of the Rhine, some 100,000 strong and expected to grow as the French mobilization progressed. Napoleon was in ill health and suffered from a bladder stone and was in constant pain .Marshal MacMahon took command of I Corps (4 infantry divisions) near Wissembourg, Marshal François Canrobert brought VI Corps (4 infantry divisions) to Châlons-sur-Marne in northern France as a reserve and to guard against a Prussian advance through Belgium. A pre-war plan laid out by the late Marshal Adolphe Niel called for a strong French offensive from Thionville towards Trier and into the Prussian Rhineland. This plan was discarded in favour of a defensive plan by Generals Charles Frossard and Bartélemy Lebrun, which called for the Army of the Rhine to remain in a defensive posture near the German border and repel any Prussian offensive. As Austria along with Bavaria, Württemberg and Baden were expected to join in a revenge war against Prussia, I Corps would invade the Bavarian Palatinate and proceed to "liberate" the South German states in concert with Austro-Hungarian forces. VI Corps would reinforce either army as needed.
Unfortunately for General Frossard's plan, the Prussian army was mobilizing far more rapidly than expected. Against all expectations, the South German states had come to Prussia's aid and were mobilizing their armies against France. The Austro-Hungarians, still smarting after their defeat by Prussia, seemed content to wait until a clear victor emerged before committing to France's cause.
Already, by August 3, some 320,000 German soldiers were now massed near the French border. A 40,000 strong French offensive into southern Germany would run into superior numbers and be rapidly cut off and destroyed. Napoleon III, however, was under immense domestic pressure to launch an offensive before the full might of Moltke's forces were mobilized and deployed. Reconnaissance by General Frossard had identified only one Prussian division guarding the border town of Saarbrücken, right before the entire Army of the Rhine. Accordingly, on July 31 Napoleon III ordered the Army forward across the Saar River to seize Saarbrücken.
General Frossard's II Corps and Marshal Bazaine's III Corps crossed the German border on August 2, and began to force the Prussian 40th Regiment of the 16th Infantry Division from the town of Saarbrücken with a series of direct attacks. The Chassepot rifle proved its worth against the Dreyse rifle, with French riflemen regularly outdistancing their Prussian counterparts in the skirmishing around Saarbrücken. However the Prussians resisted strongly, and the French suffered 86 casualties to the Prussian 83 casualties. Saarbrücken also proved to be a dead-end in terms of logistics— only one single railway there led from the border to the German hinterland which could be easily defended by a single force, and the only river systems in the region ran along the border instead of inland.
While the French hailed the invasion as the first step towards the Rhineland and later Berlin, General Frossard was receiving alarming reports from foreign news sources of Prussian and Bavarian armies massing to the southeast in addition to the forces to the north and northeast.
Moltke had indeed massed three armies in the area— the Prussian First Army commanded by General Karl von Steinmetz (50,000 soldiers) opposite Saarlouis, the Prussian Second Army commanded by Prince Friedrich Karl (134,000 soldiers) opposite the line Forbach— Spicheren, and the Prussian Third Army commanded by Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm (125,000 soldiers) poised to cross the border at Wissembourg. Cavalry reconnaissance had identified a French division of MacMahon's corps at Wissembourg. The Third Army moved forward to engage this division. The Second Army moved forward towards the border and Forbach and Spicheren beyond. The First Army marched to Saarlouis, to catch in the flank and rear any French forces moving to reinforce Spicheren. Moltke planned for the First Army in concert later with the Third Army to envelop the entire French army against the Second Army and destroy the entire force.
August 4, 1870
Three German army corps surprise a small French garrison at Wissembourg and results in a Prussian victory and allows them to invade France.
The French defenders, despite being outnumbered, fought stubbornly
On learning that the Second Army was just 30 miles (48 km) from Saarbrücken and was moving towards the border, General Frossard hastily withdrew the elements of Army of the Rhine in Saarbrücken back to Spicheren and Forbach. Marshal MacMahon however was unaware of Prussian movements beyond vague rumours from newspapers, and left his four divisions spread 20 miles (32 km) apart in depth to react to any Prussian invasion. At Wissembourg on August 4, MacMahon's 2nd Division commanded by General Abel Douay was the first to make contact with leading elements of the Prussian Third Army, beginning the Battle of Wissembourg.
The first action of the Franco-Prussian War (excluding the push into Saarbrücken by elements of Frossard's French II Corps on 2 August) took place on 4 August. This bloody little battle saw the unsupported division of General Douay of I Corps, with some attached cavalry, which was posted to watch the border, attacked in overwhelming but poorly coordinated fashion by the German 3rd Army. As the day wore on elements of one Bavarian and two Prussian Corps became embroiled in the fight which was notable for the complete lack of higher direction by the Prussians and blind offensive haste by their low level officers.
Douay held a very strong position but his force was too thinly stretched to hold it and his division was driven south by way of Riedseltz at dusk. Douay himself was killed in the early afternoon when a caisson of the divisional mitrailleuse battery exploded near him. General Pelle took up command and withdrew the remnants of the division.
Although Failly's V Corps was just a few miles away at Bitsche and the other three divisions of MacMahon's I Corps were a similar distance away to the south at Worth, neither moved to assist, despite the clear rumble of guns.
Battle of Spicheren
August 6, 1870
The German I Army under General Karl von Steinmetz advanced west from Saarbrucken and attacked the French 2nd Corps under Charles Auguste Frossard. The German victory compelled the French to withdraw to the defenses of Metz.
Frossard repulsed early German attacks, but came under increasing pressure on his flanks as more Germans arrived. Bazaine sent no reinforcements and Frossard was forced to retreat. This failure of French commanders to support each other and Failley's failure to support MacMahon at Woerth became one of the causes célèbre of the French during the war.
The Battle of Spicheren, on August 5, was the second of three critical French defeats. The French were able to stall the German I Army until the German II Army under Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia came to the aid of their compatriots and routed the French in a blazing attack. Together with the Battle of Wœrth, on the following day, the Prussians succeeded in separating the northern and southern flanks of the French army. The German victory compelled the French to withdraw to the defenses of Metz.
August 6, 1870
German artillery caused high causalities among the French. Failley, who was ordered to send a corps to support MacMahon, only sent a division which was only useful for covering MacMahon's retreat.
The two armies clashed again only two days later (August 6, 1870) near Wœrth in the town of Frœschwiller, less than ten miles (16 km) from Wissembourg. The German 3rd army had drawn reinforcements which brought its strength up to 140,000 troops. The French had also been reinforced, but their recruitment was slow, and their force numbered only 35,000. Although badly outnumbered, the French defended their position just outside Frœschwiller. By afternoon, both sides had suffered about 10,000 casualties, and the French army was too battered to continue resisting. To make matters even more dire for the French, the Germans had taken the town of Frœschwiller which sat on a hilltop in the center of the French line. Having lost any outlook for victory and facing a massacre, the French army broke off the battle and retreated in a western direction, hoping to join other French forces on the other side of the Vosges mountains. The German 3rd army did not pursue the withdrawing French. It remained in Alsace and moved slowly south, attacking and destroying the French defensive garrisons in the vicinity.
The battle of Wœrth was the first major one of the Franco-German war, with more than 100,000 troops in the battlefield. It was also one of the first clashes where troops from various German states (Prussians, Badeners, Bavarians, Saxons, etc.) fought jointly. These facts have led some historians to call the battlefield of Wœrth the "cradle of Germany". It was not without cost, however, as Prussia lost 10,500 to death or wounds. The situation of MacMahon was more dire, as France lost 19,200 to not only death or wounds but to the enemy as prisoners
Battle of Mars-La-Tour or Rezonville
August 16, 1870
Two Prussian corps encountered the entire French Army of the Rhine under Bazaine, and successfully forced the Army of the Rhine to retreat into the fortresses of Metz. Generals Rhetz and von Alvensleben deceived Bazaine as to their real strength.Germany victory.
The bitter day long battle near Rezonville convinced Bazaine to fall back on the left bank of the Moselle.
With the Prussian army now steam rolling, 130,000 French soldiers were bottled up in the fortress of Metz following several defeats at the front. Their attempt to leave Metz in order to link up with French forces at Châlons was spotted by a Prussian cavalry patrol under Major Oskar von Blumenthal. Four days after their retreat, on the 16 August, the ever-present Prussian forces, a grossly outnumbered group of 30,000 men of III Corps (of the 2nd Army) under General Konstantin von Alvensleben, found the French Army near Vionville, east of Mars-la-Tour.
Bitter Cavalry action at Mars-La-Tour. On Aug 18, the Prussians attacked in force, the Prussian Guard lost over 8,000. Bazaine's right flank fell that night and Bazaine fell back on Metz.
Despite odds of four to one, the III Corps launched a risky attack. The French were routed, and the III Corps captured Vionville, blocking any further escape attempts to the west. Once blocked from retreat, the French in the fortress of Metz had no choice but to engage in a fight that would see the last major cavalry engagement in Western Europe. The battle soon erupted, and III Corps was decimated by the incessant cavalry charges, losing over half its soldiers. Meanwhile, French suffered equivalent numerical losses of 16,000 soldiers, but still held on to overwhelming numerical superiority.
On August 16, the French had a chance to sweep away the key Prussian defence, and to escape. Two Prussian corps attacked the French advanced guard thinking that it was the rearguard of the retreat of the French Army of the Meuse. Despite this misjudgment the two Prussian corps held the entire French army for the whole day. Outnumbered 5 to 1, the extraordinary élan of the Prussians prevailed over gross indecision by the French.
August 18, 1870
The largest battle of the Franco Prussian War. The combined German armies under Field Marshal von Moltke with 188,332 men fought The French Army of the Rhine under Marshal Bazaine with about 113,000 men. The Germans lost around 20,000, most to the Chassepots and mitrailleuses and the French around 7,800 to Krupp guns. Bazaine was blocked from going to the fortress of Verdun and retreated to Metz, where he was besieged.
The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about six miles (10 km) west of Metz, Lorraine, France where on the previous day, having intercepted the French army's retreat to the west at the Battle of Mars-La-Tour, the Prussians were now closing in to complete the destruction of the French forces.
French soldiers advance at Gravelotte. The French inability to take advantage of the many Prussian mistakes cost them their best chance to halt the Prussian advance.
The combined German forces, under Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, were the Prussian First and Second Armies of the North German Confederation numbering about 210 infantry battalions, 133 cavalry squadrons, and 732 heavy cannons totaling 188,332 officers and men. The French Army of the Rhine, commanded by Marshal François-Achille Bazaine, numbering about 183 infantry battalions, 104 cavalry squadrons, backed by 520 heavy cannons, totaling 112,800 officers and men, dug in along high ground with their southern left flank at the town of Rozerieulles, and their northern right flank at St. Privat.
The French use their mitrailleuse to great effect against the Prussians
On August 18, the battle began when at 08:00 Moltke ordered the First and Second Armies to advance against the French positions. By 12:00, General Manstein opened up the battle before the village of Amanvillers with artillery from the 25th Infantry Division. But the French had spent the night and early morning digging trenches and rifle pits while placing their artillery and their mitrailleuses in concealed positions. With them finally aware of the Prussian advance, the French opened up a massive return fire against the mass of advancing Germans. The battle at first appeared to favour the French with their superior Chassepot rifle. However, the Prussian artillery was superior with the all-steel Krupp breech-loading gun.
By 14:30, General Steinmetz, the commander of the First Army, unilaterally launched his VIII Corps across the Mance Ravine in which the Prussian infantry were soon pinned down by murderous rifle and mitrailleuse fire from the French positions. At 15:00, the massed guns of the VII and VIII Corps opened fire to support the attack. But by 16:00, with the attack in danger of stalling, Steinmetz ordered the VII Corps forward, followed by the 1st Cavalry Division.
By 16:50, with the Prussian southern attacks in danger of breaking up, the 3rd Prussian Guard Infantry Brigade of the Second Army opened an attack against the French positions at St-Privat which were commanded by General Canrobert. At 17:15, the 4th Prussian Guard Infantry Brigade joined the advance followed at 17:45 by the 1st Prussian Guard Infantry Brigade. All of the Prussian Guard attacks were pinned down by lethal French gunfire from the rifle pits and trenches. At 18:15 the 2nd Prussian Guard Infantry Brigade, the last of the 1st Guard Infantry Division, was committed to the attack on St. Privat while Steinmetz committed the last of the reserves of the First Army across the Mance Ravine. By 18:30, a considerable portion of the VII and VIII Corps disengaged from the fighting and withdrew towards the Prussian positions at Rezonville.
With the defeat of the First Army, Crown Prince Frederick Charles ordered a massed artillery attack against Canrobert's position at St. Privat to prevent the Guards attack from failing too. At 19:00 the 3rd Division of Fransecky's II Corps of the Second Army advanced across Ravine while the XII Corps cleared out the nearby town of Roncourt and with the survivors of the 1st Guard Infantry Division launched a fresh attack against the ruins of St. Privat. At 20:00, the arrival of the Prussian 4th Infantry Division of the II Corps and with the Prussian right flank on Mance Ravine, the line stabilised. By then, the Prussians of the 1st Guard Infantry Division and the XII and II Corps captured St. Privat forcing the decimated French forces to withdraw. With the Prussians exhausted from the fighting, the French were now able to mount a counter-attack. General Bourbaki, however, refused to commit the reserves of the French Old Guard to the battle because, by that time, he considered the overall situation a 'defeat'.
By 22:00, firing largely died down across the battlefield for the night. The next morning, the French Army of the Rhine, rather than resume the battle with an attack of its own against the battle-weary German armies, retreated to Metz where they were besieged and forced to surrender two months later.
The casualties were horrible, especially for the attacking Prussian forces. A grand total of 20,163 German troops were killed, wounded or missing in action during the August 18 battle. The French losses were 7,855 killed and wounded along with 4,420 prisoners of war (half of them were wounded) for a total of 12,275. While most of the Prussians fell under the French Chassepot rifles, most French fell under the Prussian Krupp shells. In a breakdown of the casualties, Frossard's II Corps of the Army of the Rhine suffered 621 casualties while inflicting 4,300 casualties on the Prussian First Army under Steinmetz before the Pointe du Jour. The Prussian Guard Infantry Divisions losses were even more staggering with 8,000 casualties out of 18,000 men. The Special Guard Jäger lost 19 officers, a surgeon and 431 men out of a total of 700. The 2nd Guard Infantry Brigade lost 39 officers and 1,076 men. The 3rd Guard Infantry Brigade lost 36 officers and 1,060 men. On the French side, the units holding St. Privat lost more than half their number in the village.
The Battle of Chateaudun, Oct 18, 1870. 1,000 Francs-tireurs and soldiers held of 5,000 Germans for nine hours.
September 3 – October 23, 1870
With the defeat of Marshal Bazaine's Army of the Rhine at Gravelotte, the French were forced to retire to Metz where they were besieged by over 150,000 Prussian troops of the First and Second Armies. The further crushing French loss was sealed when he surrendered 180,000 soldiers and 6,000 officers on October 27. Bazaine and his army marched off into captivity and a new Prussian army was now free to besiege Paris. The leaders of the new Republic labelled Bazaine a traitor and sentenced him to death. It was felt that his surrender and the freeing up of troops prevented a victory against the Prussians in the Loire.The sentence was commuted and he died in exile in poverty. He remains a hero to the Foreign Legion.
surrender of the French army of Bazaine at Metz
September 1, 1870
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 .
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.
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 .
The Prussians, under the command of Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, took advantage of this incompetent manoeuvre 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 realised 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 countermanned 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 .
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.
Wimpffen was sent to negotiate with Bismarck and Moltke. Wimpffen wanted a ' honourable 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 .
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.
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 ?
France a Republic again
Louis Jules Trochu
When news hit Paris of Emperor Napoleon's III capture, the French Second Empire was overthrown in a bloodless and successful coup d'etat which was launched by General Trochu, Jules Favre, and Léon Gambetta at Paris on September 4. They removed the second Bonapartist monarchy and proclaimed a republic led by a Government of National Defense, leading to the Third Republic. Napoleon III was taken to Germany, and released later. He went into exile in the United Kingdom, dying in 1873. Empress Eugenie was able to escape to London as was her son, Prince Eugène. The death of the prince in 1879 in Africa fighting as an English officer against the Zulus ended any hope of reviving the Bonaparte throne. Despite the fact that little remained of the armies Napoleon had led our six weeks earlier, the new government vowed to fight the war to the bitter end. A new sense of partiotism infused the lower classes, who no longer viewed it as an upper class affair .
celebration in Paris at the proclamation of the Republic, Farve being congratulated to the right
After the German victory at Sedan, most of France's standing forces were out of combat, one army was immobilised and besieged in the city of Metz, and the army led by Emperor Napoleon III himself had surrendered to the Germans. Under these circumstances, the Germans hoped for an armistice which would put an official end to the hostilities and lead to peace. Prussia's Prime Minister von Bismarck, in particular, entertained that hope for he wanted to end the war as soon as possible. To a nation with as many neighbors as Prussia, a prolonged war meant the growing risk of intervention by another power, and von Bismarck was determined to limit that risk.
Leon Gambetta, Minister of the Interior of the new Republic, leaves besieged Paris in a balloon
( considering the dangers of such a flight, this was no small act of courage) on Oct 8 to organize the provinces to fight the Prussians.His hand was grazed by a Prussian bullet departing Paris. He arrived safely in Tours in 48 hours, where he began to issue proclamations calling the provinces to arms.
At first, the outlook for peace seemed fair. The Germans estimated that the new government of France could not be interested in continuing the war that had been declared by the monarch they had quickly deposed. Hoping to pave the road to peace, Prussia's Prime Minister von Bismarck invited the new French Government to negotiations held at Ferrières and submitted a list of moderate conditions, including limited territorial demands in Alsace. Further claims of a French border along the Rhine in Palatinate had been made since (Adolphe Thiers, Rhine crisis) 1840, while the Germans vowed to defend both banks of the Rhine (Die Wacht am Rhein, Deutschlandlied). As Prussia had recently acquired large areas populated by Catholics, further extensions were not considered desirable by Bismarck, though.
While the republican government was amenable to reparation payments or transfer of colonial territories in Africa or in South East Asia to Prussia, Jules Favre on behalf of the Government of National Defense declared on September 6 that
Under these circumstances, the Germans had to continue the war, yet couldn't pin down any proper military opposition in their vicinity. As the bulk of the remaining French armies were digging-in near Paris, the German leaders decided to put pressure upon the enemy by attacking Paris. In October, German troops reached the outskirts of Paris, a heavily fortified city. The Germans surrounded it and erected a blockade, as already established and ongoing at Metz.
When the war broke out, European public opinion heavily favored the Germans. For example, many Italians attempted to sign up as volunteers at the Prussian embassy in Florence, and a Prussian diplomat visited Giuseppe Garibaldi in Caprera. Bismarck's demand for the return of Alsace caused a dramatic change, which was best exemplified by the reaction of Garibaldi:
illustration from The Young Francs-Tieurs
After the demise of France's main armies, the leaders of the new republic began to consider the use of guerrilla warfare .These were to be a auxiliary to the newly formed Army of the Loire . There was guerrilla activity against the Germans by a parts of the French population even before the new governments' consideration of a guerrilla war and became a serious problem for the Germans in Alsace. At first these guerrilla's sprang up on their own in local communities and joined by foreigners, such as Garibaldi who went to France and assumed command of the Army of the Vosges, an army of volunteers that was never defeated by the Germans.
They harassed the German lines from Wissembourg to Nancy until September .One of the most successful actions of the France-Tireurs was the destruction of a vital bridge on Jan 22, 1871 at Fontenoy-sur-Moselle. On Nov 4th, Gambetta brought the francs-tireurs under command of local military commanders . The actions of the francs-tireurs did tie down large numbers of German troops in many areas and led to brutal German reprisals .Moltke ordered that regular French soldiers were to be treated as prisoners of war, francs-tireur were to be shot on the spot .When individual francs-tireurs could not be caught, the village or area in which they were located was to be destroyed .As the war went on, the activities of the francs-tireurs grew, starting an ever savage cycle of savagery.
Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Army of the Vosges
The Italian revolutionary Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882) landed in Marseilles to support republican France. The republicans were distrustful of him with the communards agitating in Paris, and many of the monarchists leaders in the countryside did not care for him either. At first Gambetta offered him a command of 300 volunteers, which he considered an insult and a larger command was given him. He was too popular with the French people to be dimissed out of hand and was placed in charge of the motley Army of the Vosges, made up of volunteers from many countries and Frenchmen, including many francs-tireurs. This army, unlike the French, was able to defeat the Prussians despite being outnumbered.On Nov 4, 1870 they won a victory against the Prussians at Châtillon and holding off the Prussians from Dijon until Feb 1,1871. The French signed an armistice with the Prussians on Jan 30, but neglected to include the Army of the Vosges. Why this happened is still a mystery, some say Bismarck wanted to capture Garibaldi as a prisoner to Germany, and the Prussians continued to attacked even though the war was finished. Garibaldi, realizing he was being ill served, manage to retreat through Prussian lines.
Nov 9, 1870 The Battle of Coulmiers
One of the few French victories of the war for the French was at the Battle of Coulmiers, west of Orleans on Nov 9, 1870. Here, one of Gambetta's newly created armies,the French Army of the Loire under General D'Aurelle de Paladines surprised a Barvarian army under the command of Ludwig Freiherr von und zu der Tann at the village of Coulmiers west of Orleans. The French artillery detachment shelled the German camp, causing panic in the German camp and causing the Germans to retreat in disorder during a direct bayonet charge by French infantry. Orleans was recaptured and encouraged a sortie against the Prussians at Paris.
September 19, 1870 – January 28, 1871
A week without cafe au lait will break the Parisians
After the French defeat at Sedan the Prussian Army of the Meuse and First Army advanced on Paris, leaving the Sedan area on Sept 7 and arriving in the Paris area Sept 15 . The Prussians expected the French to ask for terms and were shocked by the calls to fight to the bitter end by the new French Republic .The Siege of Paris (19 September 1870–28 January 1871) brought about the final defeat of the French Army during the Franco-Prussian War. On 18 January the new German Empire was proclaimed at the Palace of Versailles .The new government predicted the food supply in Paris would last three months .
The shooting of the elephants Pollux and Castor for food in December. Parians were reduced to eating rats
Preparations for the defense of the city had been going on for 50 years, since Thiers in 1840 equipped the city with fortifications .The city was surrounded by a 33 foot high wall and 15 detached forts .There were two new corps, the 13th and the 14th, which were formed in Paris,10,000 troops who had escaped Sedan, 3,000 Marines and others which totaled around 106,000 officers and men, with the Garde Mobile and the hastily organized Parisian Garde Sedentaire, made up off all male citizens between the ages of 25 to 35, armed with whatever they could find , there were an estimated 400,000 French soldiers .The French commander, Trouchu, felt the men under his command were in no condition to meet the Germans in the open field, they were to await the Germans in their fortifications . The Germans cut the railway to Orleans on Sept 17 and on the 20th, two cavalry patrols met, sealing off the west.
Many weapons were being turned out in Parisian new factories. Many of the weapons, such as cannons, were supported by subscriptions. Inhabitants of the poorer districts felt that these weapons had been bought by them. This was to be one of the causes of the future outbreak of civil war in Paris after the war.
Balloons were used for getting messages and people out of Paris. Pigeons were used to send messages to and from Paris. The Prussians used trained falcons to attack the post pigeons.
Communication could only be done through a telegraph cable secretly laid in the Seine, that went into operation on Sept 23 It was dredged up by the Germans on Sept 27, and unable to decipher the telegrams, they destroyed it . Coal gas fired balloons started to be used on Sept 23 and on the 26 regular postal service was introduced, with the balloons leaving 2 or 3 times a week .Carrier-pigeons were also used, with typed reduced to microscopic size . A total of 10,675 kilograms and 164 went out in 65 balloons .All but eight of the balloons landed safely, one drifted as far away as Oslo, Norway . The last balloon was launched on Jan 28, 1871, the day of the armistice .Two railroad stations were transformed into balloon factories. The Prussians developed an anti-balloon gun and forced the French to launch balloons at night .On Oct 7 Léon Gambetta escaped Paris in a hot air balloon to rally French forces in Tours, narrowly escaped capture and suffered a wound to his hand from a Prussian bullet .
A magic lantern projecting balloon dispatch done in microfilm
The winter of 1870-71 was one of the coldest in living memory. Sentries froze to death .Smallpox arose and killed many .By Jan 5, 1871, the Prussian siege guns had arrived and Paris was shelled for 3 weeks . An estimated 400 shells fell on the city everyday. The guns were fired at night to keep the Parisians from sleeping and lower morale . The bombardment stopped on Jan 27 when the new government agreed to a surrender .
Faced with the German blockade of Paris, the new French government called for the establishment of several large armies in France's provinces. These new bodies of troops were to march towards Paris and attack the Germans there from various directions at the same time. In addition, armed French civilians were to create a guerilla force —the so-called Francs-tireurs— for the purpose of attacking German support lines.
The Battle of Villiers Nov 29 - Dec 3 1870
Fighting at Champigny during the Battle of Villiers.
One of the fiercest battles of the siege of Paris was the Battle of Villiers, a sortie against the Prussian forces besieging Paris .News of the recent victory at Coulmiers encouraged General Trochu decided to attempt a breakout to link with the French Army of the Loire. The French commander in Paris, Ducrot was making plans for an attack to the west, when a message by pigeon was received from Gambetta urging Trochu and Ducrot to attack southwards. Ducrot now had to shift 80,000 men and 400 cannon and cross the Marne in the face of the Prussians. The Prussians got wind of the switch in plans and Moltke began to reinforce the threatened positions .
French Gen Ducrot. Ducrot, who fought at Sedan was imprisoned after refusing to sign the treaty of capitulation. He was able to escape to Paris.
The date chosen for the sortie was Nov 29. This message was to go to Gambetta via balloon, but that balloon was blown to Norway and Gambetta was never informed .Ducroit was able to cross the Marne under a barrage of gunfire and captured the Prussian forts of Brie and Champigny firing on them. Next, the French had to attack the steep Villiers position, where the French ran into murderous fire and high casualties and the attack began to stall. Ducroit himself rode into the battle to encourage his men and sending retreaters back into battle under his saber point .By the end of the day, the French had lost a little over 5,000 men and the Prussians around 2,000. On Dec 1, a 24 hour truce was arranged to remove the wounded. On Dec 2 , the Prussians launched a massive counter attack, which nearly routed the French forces, who fled back across the Marne under cover of fog .The sortie had failed .
Meat was rationed starting in Oct , and the prices rose so high that the poor faced the prospect of starvation .The animals in the Parisian Zoo were eaten .
The Bombardment of Paris
Moltke felt that Paris would capitulate as soon as the milk supplies ran out , this was not to happen .It was feared by the Germans that if the French could prolong their resistance, other powers might intervene or the German alliance might collapse .These developments prompted calls from the German civilian public for a bombardment of the city. General Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, who commanded the siege, was opposed to the bombardment on civilised grounds. In this he was backed by other senior military figures such as the Crown Prince and Moltke. All of them had married English wives and as a result they were accused of coming under English liberal influence.The bombardment began on Jan 6 on forts around the city, but soon shells were aimed at the city itself .Between 300 - 400 shells fell on the city daily, but they did little damage .
The Battle of Buzenval
Jan 19, 1871
Ambulance Internationale during the siege of Paris
The shelling drove the Parisians to anger, not to surrender. 'There are 400,000 of you!' the Parisian women said to their men in the city. Surely they could overwhelm the German forces of 120,000 outside the city. The military felt the pressure to attack, even though they knew their troops could not accomplish much against the smaller, dug in and more disciplined German force .The result was the battle of Buzenval, a sortie en masse, in which 90,000 French troops were involved .On Jan 19, the French advanced against the German lines between Bougival and St. Cloud on a 4 mile front .The French fought their way into St. Cloud, but came under heavy German artillery fire, while the French were delayed in bringing their up .A retreat was called at nightfall by Trochu .The French lost some 4,000 killed and wounded, the Germans around 700 .Soon word came of the crushing French defeat at Le Mans. There was no longer any force capable of marching to relieve Paris .
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).
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 reservistswas 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.
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
French fortress at Belfort
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).
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.
Prussian coin celebrating victory over France
By the middle of January 1871 the armies of the provinces and Paris had been defeated and to a large extent destroyed .The French population was war weary and the Germans were overextended with an army of 800,000 in France . There were growing strains in the Prussian-south German alliance and Bismark feared possibly entry of other European powers on the side of France .Moltke and Bismarck were arguing on the future corse of the war.Farve left Paris for the German headquarters at Versailles on the 23rd after a stormy debate as to whether the armistice should be for Paris or all of France . The question was not decided and Farve was sent to see what terms the Germans would offer.
Bismarck, Favre and Thiers at the armistice negotiations in late February
Bismarck agreed to end the siege and allow food convoys to immediately enter Paris (including trains carrying millions of German army rations), on condition that the Government of National Defence surrender several key fortresses outside Paris to the Prussians. Without the forts, the French Army would no longer be able to defend Paris. Although public opinion in Paris was strongly against any form of surrender or concession to the Prussians, the Government realised that it could not hold the city for much longer, and that Gambetta's provincial armies would probably never break through to relieve Paris. President Jules Trochu,who swore never to surrender, resigned on January 25 and was replaced by Jules Favre, who signed the surrender two days later at Versailles, with the armistice coming into effect at midnight. Several sources claim that in his carriage on the way back to Paris, Favre broke into tears, and collapsed into his daughter's arms as the guns around Paris fell silent at midnight.
At Tours, Gambetta received word from Paris on January 30 that the Government had surrendered. Furious, he refused to surrender and launched an immediate attack on German forces at Orleans which, predictably, failed. A delegation of Parisian diplomats arrived in Tours by train on February 5 to negotiate with Gambetta, and the following day Gambetta stepped down and surrendered control of the provincial armies to the Government of National Defence, which promptly ordered a cease fire across France.Thiers was elected at an Assembly to decide matters on the war and left with Farve as his foreign Minister for Versailles on Feb 21st. At first, Bismarck wanted Lorraine, including Metz, Alsace, Belfort and 6,000,000,000 francs. The 6,000,000,000 was a bargaining ruse and Bismark accepted 5,000,000,000. Thiers threatened to walk out and let Bismarck govern france himself if he insisted on retaining Belfort, and Bismarck yielded on this . On Feb 26, Bismarck, Thiers,Favre and representatives of the German states signed a preliminary of peace.France was to pay 1,000,000,000 francs in 1871 and the rest within three years .The Germans would leave an occupation force till the indemnity was paid .There was no attempt to control the internal affairs of France nor a limiting of the size of the French military. Many in Germany felt Bismarck left France too strong and many agitated for some of the French overseas colonies .The French National Assembly passed the peace treaty with great speed by 546 to 107. There were few calls to resume the war .There was a by the Third Army down the Champs Elyees with some jeering and rock throwing. Later the army retired on the quarters along the Seine and mixed with their former enemies for the most part on amicable terms .As the troos marched out on March 3rd, riots were already beginning. Two weeks later the Commune seized power . The Germans sped up the return of prisoners so the French could supress the revolt .
The Treaty of Frankfurt was signed 10 May, marking the end of the Franco-Prussian War. The war had lasted 5 months and cost 88,488 German around 150,000 French lives .
France was able to repay the huge indemnity in two years, thanks in part into the boom in wine exports after the development of the pasteurization of wine by Louis Pasteur.