Commanders and leaders
Otto von Bismarck
Helmuth von Moltke
Crown Prince Friedrich
Prince Friedrich Karl
Karl F. von Steinmetz
Albrecht von Roon
Napoleon III (POW)
F. A. Bazaine (POW)
Louis Jules Trochu
Patrice de MacMahon (POW)
Total deployment: 1,494,412
730,274 regulars and reservists
Peak field army strength: 949,337
Total deployment: 2,000,740
492,585 active, including 300,000 reservists
417,366 Garde Mobile
Peak field army strength: 710,000
Casualties and losses
10,129 missing or captured
474,414 captured or interned
250,000 civilians dead
a Until 4 September 1870.
b From 4 September 1870.
c Leading member of the North German Confederation.
d From 18 January 1871.
Loigny et Poupry
Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War (German:
Deutsch-Französischer Krieg, French: Guerre franco-allemande), often
referred to in
France as the War of 1870 (19 July 1870 – 10 May
1871) or in
Germany as 70/71, was a conflict between the Second French
Napoleon III and the German states of the North German
Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. The conflict was caused
by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of
the shift in the
European balance of power
European balance of power that would result if the
Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked a French attack in
order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden,
Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the
North German Confederation
North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend
that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the
circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that
von Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German
alliances, given the situation as a whole. 
On 16 July 1870, the French parliament voted to declare war on the
Kingdom of Prussia
Kingdom of Prussia and hostilities began three days later. The
German coalition mobilised its troops much more quickly than the
French and rapidly invaded northeastern France. The German forces were
superior in numbers, had better training and leadership and made more
effective use of modern technology, particularly railroads and
A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France,
culminating in the Siege of Metz and the Battle of Sedan, saw Napoleon
III captured and the army of the Second Empire decisively defeated. A
Government of National Defence declared the Third Republic in Paris on
4 September and continued the war for another five months; the German
forces fought and defeated new French armies in northern France.
Following the Siege of Paris, the capital fell on 28 January 1871, and
then a revolutionary uprising called the
Paris Commune seized power in
the capital and held it for two months, until it was bloodily
suppressed by the regular French army at the end of May 1871.
The German states proclaimed their union as the
German Empire under
the Prussian king Wilhelm I, finally uniting
Germany as a
nation-state. The Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871 gave
Alsace and some parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial
Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen). The
German conquest of
France and the unification of
Germany upset the
European balance of power
European balance of power that had existed since the Congress of
Vienna in 1815, and
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck maintained great authority in
international affairs for two decades. French determination to regain
Alsace-Lorraine and fear of another Franco-German war, along with
British apprehension about the balance of power, became factors in the
causes of World War I.
2 Opposing forces
3 French Army incursion
3.1 Preparations for the offensive
3.2 Occupation of Saarbrücken
Prussian Army advance
4.1 Battle of Wissembourg
4.2 Battle of Spicheren
4.3 Battle of Wörth
4.4 Battle of Mars-La-Tour
4.5 Battle of Gravelotte
4.6 Siege of Metz
4.7 Battle of Sedan
5 The war of the Government of National Defence
5.1 Government of National Defence
5.2 Siege of Paris
5.3 Loire campaign
5.4 Northern campaign
5.5 Eastern campaign
6 The war at sea
6.2 Pacific and Caribbean
7.2 Effects on military thought
8 Subsequent events
8.1 Prussian reaction and withdrawal
8.2 The Paris Commune
8.3 German unification and power
8.4 French reaction and Revanchism
9 See also
12 Further reading
13 French and German studies
13.1 Caricatures and editorial cartoons
14 External links
Main article: Causes of the Franco-Prussian War
Map of the
North German Confederation
North German Confederation (red), the Southern German
States (orange) and
The causes of the
Franco-Prussian War are deeply rooted in the events
surrounding the unification of Germany. In the aftermath of the
Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Prussia had annexed numerous territories
and formed the North German Confederation. This new power destabilized
European balance of power
European balance of power established by the
Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna in
1815 after the Napoleonic Wars.
Napoleon III, then the emperor of
France, demanded compensations in Belgium and on the left bank of the
Rhine to secure France's strategic position, which the Prussian
chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, flatly refused. Prussia then turned
its attention towards the south of Germany, where it sought to
incorporate the southern German kingdoms, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden
and Hesse-Darmstadt, into a unified Prussia-dominated Germany. France
was strongly opposed to any further alliance of German states, which
would have significantly strengthened the Prussian military.
In Prussia, some officials considered a war against
inevitable and necessary to arouse German nationalism in those states
that would allow the unification of a great German empire. This aim
was epitomized by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's later
statement: "I did not doubt that a Franco-German war must take place
before the construction of a United
Germany could be realised."
Bismarck also knew that
France should be the aggressor in the conflict
to bring the southern German states to side with Prussia, hence giving
Germans numerical superiority. He was convinced that
not find any allies in her war against
Germany for the simple reason
that "France, the victor, would be a danger to everybody – Prussia
to nobody," and he added, "That is our strong point." Many Germans
also viewed the French as the traditional destabilizer of Europe, and
sought to weaken
France to prevent further breaches of the peace.
The immediate cause of the war resided in the candidacy of Leopold of
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a Prussian prince, to the throne of Spain.
France feared encirclement by an alliance between Prussia and Spain.
Hohenzollern prince's candidacy was withdrawn under French
diplomatic pressure, but
Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck goaded the French into
declaring war by releasing an altered summary of the Ems Dispatch, a
telegram sent by William I rejecting French demands that Prussia never
again support a
Hohenzollern candidacy. Bismarck's summary, as
mistranslated by the French press Havas, made it sound as if the king
had treated the French envoy in a demeaning fashion, which inflamed
public opinion in France.
Some historians argue that
Napoleon III also sought war, particularly
as a result of the diplomatic failure, in 1866, to obtain any
concessions following the Austro-Prussian War, and he believed he
would win a conflict with Prussia. They also argue that he wanted a
war to resolve growing domestic political problems. Other historians,
notably French historian Pierre Milza, dispute this. On 8 May 1870,
shortly before the war, French voters had overwhelmingly supported
Napoleon III's program in a national plebiscite, with 7,358,000 "Yes"
votes against 1,582,000 "No" votes, an increase of support of two
million votes since the legislative elections in 1869. According to
Milza, the Emperor had no need for a war to increase his
Ems telegram had exactly the effect on French public opinion that
Bismarck had intended. "This text produced the effect of a red flag on
the Gallic bull", Bismarck later wrote. Gramont, the French foreign
minister, declared that he felt "he had just received a slap". The
leader of the monarchists in Parliament, Adolphe Thiers, spoke for
moderation, arguing that
France had won the diplomatic battle and
there was no reason for war, but he was drowned out by cries that he
was a traitor and a Prussian. Napoleon's new prime minister, Emile
Ollivier, declared that
France had done all that it could humanly and
honorably do to prevent the war, and that he accepted the
responsibility "with a light heart." A crowd of 15,000–20,000
people, carrying flags and patriotic banners, marched through the
streets of Paris, demanding war. On 19 July 1870 a declaration of war
was sent to the Prussian government. The southern German states
immediately sided with Prussia.
For the organization of the two armies at the beginning of the war,
Franco-Prussian War order of battle.
A French mitrailleuse in the Bundeswehr Military History Museum
The French Army consisted in peacetime of approximately 400,000
soldiers, some of them regulars, others conscripts who until 1869
served the comparatively long period of seven years with the colours.
Some of them were veterans of previous French campaigns in the Crimean
War, Algeria, the Franco-Austrian War in Italy, and in the Mexican
campaign. However, following the "Seven Weeks War" between Prussia and
Austria four years earlier, it had been calculated that the French
Army could field only 288,000 men to face the
Prussian Army when
potentially 1,000,000 would be required. Under Marshal Adolphe
Niel, urgent reforms were made. Universal conscription (rather than by
ballot, as previously) and a shorter period of service gave increased
numbers of reservists, who would swell the army to a planned strength
of 800,000 on mobilisation. Those who for any reason were not
conscripted were to be enrolled in the Garde Mobile, a militia with a
nominal strength of 400,000. However, the
Franco-Prussian War broke
out before these reforms could be completely implemented. The
mobilisation of reservists was chaotic and resulted in large numbers
of stragglers, while the
Garde Mobile were generally untrained and
French infantry were equipped with the breech-loading Chassepot rifle,
one of the most modern mass-produced firearms in the world at the
time. With a rubber ring seal and a smaller bullet, the Chassepot had
a maximum effective range of some 1,500 metres (4,900 ft) with a
short reloading time. French tactics emphasised the defensive use
Chassepot rifle in trench-warfare style fighting—the
so-called feu de bataillon. The artillery was equipped with
rifled, muzzle-loaded La Hitte guns. The army also possessed a
precursor to the machine-gun: the mitrailleuse, which could unleash
significant, concentrated firepower but nevertheless lacked range and
was comparatively immobile, and thus prone to being easily overrun.
The mitrailleuse was mounted on an artillery gun carriage and grouped
in batteries in a similar fashion to cannon.
French reservists responding to the call, painted by Pierre-Georges
The army was nominally led by
Napoleon III, with Marshals Francois
Achille Bazaine and
Patrice de Mac-Mahon
Patrice de Mac-Mahon in command of the field
armies. However, there was no previously arranged plan of campaign
in place. The only campaign plan prepared between 1866 and 1870 was a
Prussian Army was composed not of regulars but of conscripts.
Service was compulsory for all men of military age, and thus Prussia
and its North and South German allies could mobilise and field some
1,000,000 soldiers in time of war. German tactics emphasised
encirclement battles like Cannae and using artillery offensively
whenever possible. Rather than advancing in a column or line
formation, Prussian infantry moved in small groups that were harder to
target by artillery or French defensive fire. The sheer number of
soldiers available made encirclement en masse and destruction of
French formations relatively easy.
The army was still equipped with the
Dreyse needle gun
Dreyse needle gun renowned for
its use at the Battle of Königgrätz, which was by this time showing
the age of its 25-year-old design. The rifle had a range of only
600 m (2,000 ft) and lacked the rubber breech seal that
permitted aimed shots. The deficiencies of the needle gun were
more than compensated for by the famous Krupp 6-pounder (3 kg)
steel breech-loading cannons being issued to Prussian artillery
batteries. Firing a contact-detonated shell, the
Krupp gun had a
longer range and a higher rate of fire than the French bronze muzzle
loading cannon, which relied on faulty time fuses.
The Prussian army was controlled by the General Staff, under Field
Marshal Helmuth von Moltke. The Prussian army was unique in Europe for
having the only such organisation in existence, whose purpose in
peacetime was to prepare the overall war strategy, and in wartime to
direct operational movement and organise logistics and
communications. The officers of the General Staff were hand-picked
from the Prussian Kriegsakademie (War Academy). Moltke embraced new
technology, particularly the railroad and telegraph, to coordinate and
accelerate mobilisation of large forces.
French Army incursion
Preparations for the offensive
Map of German and French armies near their common border on 31 July
On 28 July 1870
Napoleon III left Paris for Metz and assumed command
of the newly titled Army of the Rhine, some 202,448 strong and
expected to grow as the French mobilization progressed. Marshal
MacMahon took command of I Corps (4 infantry divisions) near
Wissembourg, Marshal François Canrobert brought VI Corps (four
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 Niel called for a strong
French offensive from
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 "free" the South German states in concert with
Austro-Hungarian forces. VI Corps would reinforce either army as
Unfortunately for Frossard's plan, the Prussian army was mobilizing
far more rapidly than expected. The Austro-Hungarians, still smarting
after their defeat by Prussia in the Austro-Prussian War, were
treading carefully before stating that they would only commit to
France's cause if the southern Germans viewed the French positively.
This did not materialize as the South German states had come to
Prussia's aid and were mobilizing their armies against France.
Occupation of Saarbrücken
Cuirassiers guarding captured Bavarian soldiers
Napoleon III was under immense domestic pressure to launch an
offensive before the full might of Moltke's forces was mobilized and
deployed. Reconnaissance by Frossard's forces had identified only the
Prussian 16th Infantry Division guarding the border town of
Saarbrücken, right before the entire Army of the Rhine. Accordingly,
on 31 July the Army marched forward toward the
Saar River to seize
General Frossard's II Corps and Marshal Bazaine's III Corps crossed
the German border on 2 August, 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 major obstacle in terms of logistics. Only one railway there led
to the German hinterland but 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 Le Bœuf
Napoleon III were 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 with 50,000 men, commanded by General Karl von Steinmetz opposite
Saarlouis, the Prussian Second Army with 134,000 men commanded by
Prince Friedrich Karl opposite the line Forbach-Spicheren, and the
Prussian Third Army with 120,000 men commanded by Crown Prince
Friedrich Wilhelm, poised to cross the border at Wissembourg.
Prussian Army advance
Battle of Wissembourg
Bavarian infantry at the battle of Wissembourg, 1870.
Main article: Battle of
Upon learning from captured Prussian soldiers and a local area police
chief that the Prussian Crown Prince's Third Army was just 30 miles
(48 km) from Saarbrücken near the town of Wissembourg, General
Le Bœuf and
Napoleon III decided to retreat to defensive positions.
General Frossard, without instructions, hastily withdrew the elements
of the Army of the
Rhine in Saarbrücken back to
Marshal MacMahon, now closest to Wissembourg, spread his four
divisions over 20 miles (32 km) to react to any Prussian
invasion. This organization of forces was due to a lack of supplies,
forcing each division to seek out basic provisions along with the
representatives of the army supply arm that was supposed to aid them.
What made a bad situation much worse was the conduct of General
Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot, commander of the 1st Division. He told
General Abel Douay, commander of the 2nd Division, on 1 August that
"The information I have received makes me suppose that the enemy has
no considerable forces very near his advance posts, and has no desire
to take the offensive". Two days later, he told MacMahon that he
had not found "a single enemy post ... it looks to me as if the
menace of the Bavarians is simply bluff". Even though Ducrot shrugged
off the possibility of an attack by the Germans, MacMahon tried to
warn the other divisions of his army, without success.
The first action of the
Franco-Prussian War took place on 4 August
1870. This 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 uncoordinated fashion by the
German 3rd Army. During the day, elements of a Bavarian and two
Prussian corps became engaged and were aided by Prussian artillery,
which blasted holes in the defenses of the town. Douay held a very
strong position initially, thanks to the accurate long-range fire of
the Chassepots but his force was too thinly stretched to hold it.
Douay was killed in the late morning when a caisson of the divisional
mitrailleuse battery exploded near him; the encirclement of the town
by the Prussians threatened the French avenue of retreat.
The fighting within the town had become extremely intense, becoming a
door to door battle of survival. Despite a never-ending attack of
Prussian infantry, the soldiers of the 2nd Division kept to their
positions. The people of the town of
Wissembourg finally surrendered
to the Germans. The French troops who did not surrender retreated
westward, leaving behind 1,000 dead and wounded and another 1,000
prisoners and all of their remaining ammunition. The final attack
by the Prussian troops also cost c. 1,000 casualties. The German
cavalry then failed to pursue the French and lost touch with them. The
attackers had an initial superiority of numbers, a broad deployment
which made envelopment highly likely but the effectiveness of French
Chassepot rifle-fire inflicted costly repulses on infantry attacks,
until the French infantry had been extensively bombarded by the
Battle of Spicheren
Map of Prussian and German offensive, 5–6 August 1870
Main article: Battle of Spicheren
The Battle of Spicheren, on 5 August, was the second of three critical
French defeats. Moltke had originally planned to keep Bazaine's army
Saar River until he could attack it with the 2nd Army in front
and the 1st Army on its left flank, while the 3rd Army closed towards
the rear. The aging General von Steinmetz made an overzealous,
unplanned move, leading the 1st Army south from his position on the
Moselle. He moved straight toward the town of Spicheren, cutting off
Prince Frederick Charles
Prince Frederick Charles from his forward cavalry units in the
On the French side, planning after the disaster at
become essential. General Le Bœuf, flushed with anger, was intent
upon going on the offensive over the Saar and countering their loss.
However, planning for the next encounter was more based upon the
reality of unfolding events rather than emotion or pride, as Intendant
General Wolff told him and his staff that supply beyond the Saar would
be impossible. Therefore, the armies of
France would take up a
defensive position that would protect against every possible attack
point, but also left the armies unable to support each other.
While the French army under General MacMahon engaged the German 3rd
Army at the Battle of Wörth, the German 1st Army under Steinmetz
finished their advance west from Saarbrücken. A patrol from the
German 2nd Army under Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia spotted decoy
fires close and Frossard's army farther off on a distant plateau south
of the town of Spicheren, and took this as a sign of Frossard's
retreat. Ignoring Moltke's plan again, both German armies attacked
Frossard's French 2nd Corps, fortified between
The French were unaware of German numerical superiority at the
beginning of the battle as the German 2nd Army did not attack all at
once. Treating the oncoming attacks as merely skirmishes, Frossard did
not request additional support from other units. By the time he
realized what kind of a force he was opposing, it was too late.
Seriously flawed communications between Frossard and those in reserve
under Bazaine slowed down so much that by the time the reserves
received orders to move out to Spicheren, German soldiers from the 1st
and 2nd armies had charged up the heights. Because the reserves
had not arrived, Frossard erroneously believed that he was in grave
danger of being outflanked as German soldiers under General von Glume
were spotted in Forbach. Instead of continuing to defend the heights,
by the close of battle after dusk he retreated to the south. The
German casualties were relatively high due to the advance and the
effectiveness of the Chassepot rifle. They were quite startled in the
morning when they had found out that their efforts were not in
vain—Frossard had abandoned his position on the heights.
Battle of Wörth
Aimé Morot's La bataille de Reichshoffen, 1887
Main article: Battle of Wörth
Battle of Wörth (also known as
Fröschwiller or Reichshoffen)
began when the two armies clashed again on 6 August near Wörth in the
town of Fröschwiller, about 10 miles (16 km) from Wissembourg.
The Crown Prince of Prussia's 3rd army had, on the quick reaction of
his Chief of Staff General von Blumenthal, drawn reinforcements which
brought its strength up to 140,000 troops. The French had been slowly
reinforced and their force numbered only 35,000. Although badly
outnumbered, the French defended their position just outside
Fröschwiller. By afternoon, the Germans had suffered c. 10,500
killed or wounded and the French had lost a similar number of
casualties and another c. 9,200 men taken prisoner, a loss of about
50%. The Germans captured
Fröschwiller which sat on a hilltop in the
centre of the French line. Having lost any hope for victory and facing
a massacre, the French army disengaged and retreated in a westerly
direction towards Bitche and Saverne, hoping to join French forces on
the other side of the Vosges mountains. The German 3rd army did not
pursue the French but remained in
Alsace and moved slowly south,
attacking and destroying the French garrisons in the vicinity.
Battle of Mars-La-Tour
The Prussian 7th
Cuirassiers charge the French guns at the Battle of
Mars-La-Tour, 16 August 1870.
Main article: Battle of Mars-La-Tour
About 160,000 French soldiers were besieged in the fortress of Metz
following the defeats on the frontier. A retirement from Metz to link
up with French forces at Châlons, was ordered on 15 August and
spotted by a Prussian cavalry patrol under Major Oskar von Blumenthal.
Next day a grossly outnumbered Prussian force 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.
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 shattered by
incessant cavalry charges, losing over half its soldiers. The German
Official History recorded 15,780 casualties and French casualties of
On 16 August, the French had a chance to sweep away the key Prussian
defense, and to escape. Two Prussian corps had attacked the French
advance 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. The French had lost the
opportunity to win a decisive victory.
Battle of Gravelotte
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Juliusz Kossak, Battle of Gravelotte, depicting the Prussians at
Main article: Battle of Gravelotte
The Battle of Gravelotte, or Gravelotte–St. Privat (18 August), was
the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. It was fought about
6 miles (9.7 km) west of Metz, 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. The combined German forces, under
Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, were the Prussian First and
Second Armies of the
North German Confederation
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.
On 18 August, 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. 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
The "Rifle Battalion 9 from Lauenburg" at Gravelotte
By 16:50, with the Prussian southern attacks in danger of breaking up,
the Prussian 3rd Guards 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 Prussian 4th Guards Infantry
Brigade joined the advance followed at 17:45 by the Prussian 1st
Guards 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 Prussian 2nd Guards Infantry Brigade, the last of the 1st
Guards 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,
Prince Frederick Charles
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 Guards 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 Guards 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 Guards Infantry Divisions
losses were even more staggering with 8,000 casualties out of 18,000
Special Guards Jäger lost 19 officers, a surgeon and 431 men
out of a total of 700. The 2nd Guards Infantry Brigade lost 39
officers and 1,076 men. The 3rd Guards 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.
Siege of Metz
Surrender of Metz.
Main article: Siege of Metz (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. Napoleon
III and MacMahon formed the new French Army of Châlons, to march on
to Metz to rescue Bazaine.
Napoleon III personally led the army with
Marshal MacMahon in attendance. The
Army of Châlons
Army of Châlons marched northeast
towards the Belgian border to avoid the Prussians before striking
south to link up with Bazaine. The Prussians, under the command of
Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, took advantage of this
maneuver to catch the French in a pincer grip. He left the Prussian
First and Second Armies besieging Metz, except three corps detached to
form the Army of the Meuse under the Crown Prince of Saxony. With this
army and the Prussian Third Army, Moltke marched northward and caught
up with the French at Beaumont on 30 August. After a sharp fight in
which they lost 5,000 men and 40 cannons, the French withdrew toward
Sedan. Having reformed in the town, the
Army of Châlons
Army of Châlons was
immediately isolated by the converging Prussian armies.
ordered the army to break out of the encirclement immediately. With
MacMahon wounded on the previous day, General Auguste Ducrot took
command of the French troops in the field.
Battle of Sedan
Napoleon III and Bismarck talk after Napoleon's capture at the Battle
of Sedan, by Wilhelm Camphausen
Main article: Battle of Sedan
On 1 September 1870, the battle opened with the Army of Châlons, with
202 infantry battalions, 80 cavalry squadrons and 564 guns, attacking
the surrounding Prussian Third and Meuse Armies totaling 222 infantry
battalions, 186 cavalry squadrons and 774 guns. General De Wimpffen,
the commander of the French V Corps in reserve, hoped to launch a
combined infantry and cavalry attack against the Prussian XI Corps.
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. 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. By the next day, on 2
Napoleon III surrendered and was taken prisoner with
104,000 of his soldiers. It was an overwhelming victory for the
Prussians, for they not only captured an entire French army, but the
France as well. The defeat of the French at Sedan had
decided the war in Prussia's favour. One French army was now
immobilised and besieged in the city of Metz, and no other forces
stood on French ground to prevent a German invasion. Nevertheless, the
war would continue.
The war of the Government of National Defence
Government of National Defence
"Discussing the War in a Paris Café"—a scene published in the
Illustrated London News
Illustrated London News of 17 September 1870.
When the news arrived at Paris of the surrender at Sedan of Napoleon
III and 80,000 men, the Second Empire was overthrown by a popular
uprising in Paris, which forced the proclamation of a Provisional
Government and a Third Republic by general Trochu, Favre and Gambetta
at Paris on 4 September, the new government calling itself the
Government of National Defence. After the German victory at Sedan,
most of the French standing army was either besieged in Metz or
prisoner of the Germans, who hoped for an armistice and an end to the
war. Bismarck wanted an early peace but had difficulty in finding a
legitimate French authority with which to negotiate. The Government of
National Defence had no electoral mandate, the Emperor was a captive
and the Empress in exile but there had been no abdication de jure and
the army was still bound by an oath of allegiance to the defunct
The Germans expected to negotiate an end to the war but while the
republican government was amenable to war reparations or ceding
colonial territories in Africa or in South East Asia to Prussia, Favre
on behalf of the Government of National Defense, declared on 6
France would not "yield an inch of its territory nor a
stone of its fortresses." The republic then renewed the
declaration of war, called for recruits in all parts of the country
and pledged to drive the German troops out of
France by a guerre à
outrance. Under these circumstances, the Germans had to continue
the war, yet could not 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. By September 15, German troops reached
the outskirts of Paris and Moltke issued the orders for an investment
of the city. On September 19, the Germans surrounded it and erected a
blockade, as already established at Metz, completing the encirclement
on 20 September. Bismarck met Favre on 18 September at the Château de
Ferrières and demanded a frontier immune to a French war of revenge,
which included Strasbourg,
Alsace and most of the
in Lorraine of which Metz was the capital. In return for an armistice
for the French to elect a National Assembly, Bismarck demanded the
Strasbourg and the fortress city of Toul. To allow
supplies into Paris, one of the perimeter forts had to be handed over.
Favre was unaware that the real aim of Bismarck in making such
extortionate demands was to establish a durable peace on the new
western frontier of Germany, preferably by a peace with a friendly
government, on terms acceptable to French public opinion. An
impregnable military frontier was an inferior alternative to him,
favoured only by the militant nationalists on the German side.
When the war had begun, European public opinion heavily favoured the
Germans; 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 that
Alsace caused a dramatic shift in that sentiment in
Italy, which was best exemplified by the reaction of Garibaldi soon
after the revolution in Paris, who told the Movimento of Genoa on 7
September 1870 that "Yesterday I said to you: war to the death to
Bonaparte. Today I say to you: rescue the French Republic by every
means." Garibaldi went to
France and assumed command of the Army
of the Vosges, with which he operated around
Dijon till the end of the
Siege of Paris
"The War: Defence of Paris—Students Going to Man the
Fortifications"—one of the iconic images of the Siege of Paris.
Main article: Siege of Paris (1870–1871)
Prussian forces commenced the Siege of Paris on 19 September 1870.
Faced with the blockade, the new French government called for the
establishment of several large armies in the French provinces. These
new bodies of troops were to march towards Paris and attack the
Germans there from various directions at the same time. Armed French
civilians were to create a guerilla force—the so-called
Francs-tireurs—for the purpose of attacking German supply lines.
These developments prompted calls from the German public for a
bombardment of the city. Von Blumenthal, who commanded the siege, was
opposed to the bombardment on moral grounds. In this he was backed by
other senior military figures such as the Crown Prince and Moltke.
Dispatched from Paris as the republican government emissary, Léon
Gambetta flew over the German lines in a balloon inflated with coal
gas from the city's gasworks and organized the recruitment of the
Armée de la Loire. Rumors about an alleged German "extermination"
plan infuriated the French and strengthened their support of the new
regime. Within a few weeks, five new armies totalling more than
500,000 troops were recruited.
The Germans dispatched some of their troops to the French provinces to
detect, attack and disperse the new French armies before they could
become a menace. The Germans were not prepared for an occupation of
the whole of France.
On 10 October, hostilities began between German and French republican
forces near Orléans. At first, the Germans were victorious but the
French drew reinforcements and defeated the Germans at the Battle of
Coulmiers on 9 November. After the surrender of Metz, more than
100,000 well-trained and experienced German troops joined the German
'Southern Army'. The French were forced to abandon
Orléans on 4
December, and were finally defeated at the
Battle of Le Mans
Battle of Le Mans (10–12
January). A second French army which operated north of Paris was
turned back at the Battle of
Amiens (27 November), the Battle of
Bapaume (3 January 1871) and the Battle of St. Quentin (13
Battle of Bapaume (1871)
Battle of Bapaume (1871) took place from 2–3 January 1871,
Franco-Prussian War in and around Biefvillers-lès-Bapaume
and Bapaume. The Prussian advance was stopped by Genéral Louis Léon
César Faidherbe at the head of the Armée du Nord.
Following the Army of the Loire's defeats, Gambetta turned to General
Faidherbe's Army of the North. The army had achieved several small
victories at towns such as Ham, La Hallue, and
Amiens and was
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 fortresses. Despite access to the
armaments factories of Lille, the Army of the North suffered from
severe supply difficulties, which depressed morale. 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 was unable to command due to his
poor 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.
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-Denis 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
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,
the last intact French army crossed the border and was disarmed and
interned by the neutral Swiss near
Pontarlier (1 February).
In this painting by
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes
Pierre Puvis de Chavannes a woman holds up an oak
twig as a symbol of hope for the nation's recovery from war and
deprivation after the Franco-Prussian War. The Walters Art Museum.
Main article: Armistice of Versailles
On 26 January 1871 the
Government of National Defence based in Paris
negotiated an armistice with the Prussians. With Paris starving, and
Gambetta's provincial armies reeling from one disaster after another,
French foreign minister Favre went to Versailles on 24 January to
discuss peace terms with Bismarck. 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 Trochu resigned on 25 January and was replaced by 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 Bordeaux, Gambetta received word from Paris on
29 January that the Government had surrendered. Furious, he refused to
surrender. Jules Simon, a member of the Government arrived from Paris
by train on 1 February to negotiate with Gambetta. Another group of
three ministers arrived in
Bordeaux on 5 February 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.
The war at sea
French warships at sea in 1870
Painting of Meteor in battle with Bouvet, by Robert Parlow (de)
When the war began, the French government ordered a blockade of the
North German coasts, which the small
North German Federal Navy
North German Federal Navy with
only five ironclads and various minor vessels could do little to
oppose. For most of the war, the three largest German ironclads were
out of service with engine troubles; only the turret ship
SMS Arminius was available to conduct operations. By the time
engine repairs had been completed, the French fleet had already
departed. The blockade proved only partially successful due to
crucial oversights by the planners in Paris. Reservists that were
supposed to be at the ready in case of war, were working in the
Newfoundland fisheries or in Scotland. Only part of the 470-ship
French Navy put to sea on 24 July. Before long, the French navy ran
short of coal, needing 200 short tons (180 t) per day and having
a bunker capacity in the fleet of only 250 short tons (230 t). A
blockade of Wilhelmshaven failed and conflicting orders about
operations in the
Baltic Sea or a return to France, made the French
naval efforts futile. Spotting a blockade-runner became unwelcome
because of the question du charbon; pursuit of Prussian ships quickly
depleted the coal reserves of the French ships.
To relieve pressure from the expected German attack into
Napoleon III and the French high command planned a
seaborne invasion of northern
Germany as soon as war began. The French
expected the invasion to divert German troops and to encourage Denmark
to join in the war, with its 50,000-strong army and the Royal Danish
Navy. It was discovered that Prussia had recently built defences
around the big North German ports, including coastal artillery
batteries with Krupp heavy artillery, which with a range of 4,000
yards (3,700 m), had double the range of French naval guns. The
French Navy lacked the heavy guns to engage the coastal defences and
the topography of the Prussian coast made a seaborne invasion of
French Marines and naval infantry intended for the invasion of
Germany were dispatched to reinforce the French Army of
Châlons and fell into captivity at Sedan along with
Napoleon III. A
shortage of officers, following the capture of most of the
professional French army at the Siege of Metz and at the Battle of
Sedan, led naval officers to be sent from their ships to command
hastily assembled reservists of the Garde Mobile. As the autumn
storms of the North Sea forced the return of more of the French ships,
the blockade of the north German ports diminished and in September
1870 the French navy abandoned the blockade for the winter. The rest
of the navy retired to ports along the
English Channel and remained in
port for the rest of the war.
Pacific and Caribbean
Outside Europe, the French corvette Dupleix blockaded the German
corvette SMS Hertha in Nagasaki and the Battle of Havana took
place between the Prussian gunboat SMS Meteor and the French
aviso Bouvet off Havana, Cuba, in November 1870.
German uhlans and an infantryman escorting captured French soldiers
Europe at This Moment (1872)- A Political-Geographic Fantasy: An
elaborate satirical map reflecting the European situation following
the Franco-Prussian war.
France had suffered a crushing defeat: the
Alsace and much of Lorraine; The map contains satirical
comments on 14 countries
The quick German victory over the French stunned neutral observers,
many of whom had expected a French victory and most of whom had
expected a long war. The strategic advantages possessed by the Germans
were not appreciated outside
Germany until after hostilities had
ceased. Other countries quickly discerned the advantages given to the
Germans by their military system, and adopted many of their
innovations, particularly the General Staff, universal conscription
and highly detailed mobilization systems.
The Prussian General Staff developed by Moltke proved to be extremely
effective, in contrast to the traditional French school. This was in
large part due to the fact that the Prussian General Staff was created
to study previous Prussian operations and learn to avoid mistakes. The
structure also greatly strengthened Moltke's ability to control large
formations spread out over significant distances. The Chief of the
General Staff, effectively the commander in chief of the Prussian
army, was independent of the minister of war and answered only to the
monarch. The French General Staff—along with those of every
other European military—was little better than a collection of
assistants for the line commanders. This disorganization hampered the
French commanders' ability to exercise control of their forces.
In addition, the Prussian military education system was superior to
the French model; Prussian staff officers were trained to exhibit
initiative and independent thinking. Indeed, this was Moltke's
expectation. The French, meanwhile, suffered from an education and
promotion system that stifled intellectual development. According to
the military historian Dallas Irvine, the system "was almost
completely effective in excluding the army's brain power from the
staff and high command. To the resulting lack of intelligence at the
top can be ascribed all the inexcusable defects of French military
Albrecht von Roon, the
Prussian Minister of War
Prussian Minister of War from 1859 to 1873, put
into effect a series of reforms of the Prussian military system in the
1860s. Among these were two major reforms that substantially increased
the military power of Germany. The first was a reorganization of the
army that integrated the regular army and the
The second was the provision for the conscription of every male
Prussian of military age in the event of mobilization. Thus,
despite the population of
France being greater than the population of
all of the German states that participated in the war, the Germans
mobilized more soldiers for battle.
Population and soldiers mobilized at the start of the war
Population in 1870
Second French Empire
Northern German states
At the outset of the Franco-Prussian War, 462,000 German soldiers
concentrated on the French frontier while only 270,000 French soldiers
could be moved to face them, the French army having lost 100,000
stragglers before a shot was fired through poor planning and
administration. This was partly due to the peacetime organisations
of the armies. Each Prussian Corps was based within a Kreis (literally
"circle") around the chief city in an area. Reservists rarely lived
more than a day's travel from their regiment's depot. By contrast,
French regiments generally served far from their depots, which in turn
were not in the areas of
France from which their soldiers were drawn.
Reservists often faced several days' journey to report to their
depots, and then another long journey to join their regiments. Large
numbers of reservists choked railway stations, vainly seeking rations
The effect of these differences was accentuated by the pre-war
preparations. The Prussian General Staff had drawn up minutely
detailed mobilization plans using the railway system, which in turn
had been partly laid out in response to recommendations of a Railway
Section within the General Staff. The French railway system, with
multiple competing companies, had developed purely from commercial
pressures and many journeys to the front in
Alsace and Lorraine
involved long diversions and frequent changes between trains.
Furthermore, no system had been put in place for military control of
the railways, and officers simply commandeered trains as they saw fit.
Rail sidings and marshalling yards became choked with loaded wagons,
with nobody responsible for unloading them or directing them to the
Denmark had both wished to avenge their
recent military defeats against Prussia, they chose not to intervene
in the war due to a lack of confidence in the French.
also failed to cultivate alliances with the
Russian Empire and the
United Kingdom, partially due to the diplomatic efforts of the
Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and thus faced the German
The French breech-loading rifle, the Chassepot, had a far longer range
than the German needle gun; 1,500 yards (1,400 m) compared to
600 yd (550 m). The French also had an early machine-gun
type weapon, the mitrailleuse, which could fire its thirty-seven
barrels at a range of around 1,200 yd (1,100 m). It was
developed in such secrecy that little training with the weapon had
occurred, leaving French gunners with no experience; the gun was
treated like artillery and in this role it was ineffective. Worse
still, once the small number of soldiers who had been trained how to
use the new weapon became casualties, there were no replacements who
knew how to operate the mitrailleuse.
The French were equipped with bronze, rifled muzzle-loading artillery,
while the Prussians used new steel breech-loading guns, which had a
far longer range and a faster rate of fire. Prussian gunners
strove for a high rate of fire, which was discouraged in the French
army in the belief that it wasted ammunition. In addition, the
Prussian artillery batteries had 30% more guns than their French
counterparts. The Prussian guns typically opened fire at a range of
2–3 kilometres (1.2–1.9 mi), beyond the range of French
artillery or the Chassepot rifle. The Prussian batteries could thus
destroy French artillery with impunity, before being moved forward to
directly support infantry attacks. The Germans fired 30,000,000
rounds of small arms ammunition and 363,000 artillery rounds.
Effects on military thought
The events of the
Franco-Prussian War had great influence on military
thinking over the next forty years. Lessons drawn from the war
included the need for a general staff system, the scale and duration
of future wars and the tactical use of artillery and cavalry. The bold
use of artillery by the Prussians, to silence French guns at long
range and then to directly support infantry attacks at close range,
proved to be superior to the defensive doctrine employed by French
gunners. The Prussian tactics were adopted by European armies by 1914,
exemplified in the French 75, an artillery piece optimised to provide
direct fire support to advancing infantry. Most European armies
ignored the evidence of the
Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 which
suggested that infantry armed with new smokeless-powder rifles could
engage gun crews effectively. This forced gunners to fire at longer
range using indirect fire, usually from a position of cover. The
heavy use of fortifications and dugouts in the Russo-Japanese war also
greatly undermined the usefulness of Field Artillery which was not
designed for indirect fire.
At the Battle of Mars-la-Tours, the Prussian 12th Cavalry Brigade,
commanded by General Adalbert von Bredow, conducted a charge against a
French artillery battery. The attack was a costly success and came to
be known as "von Bredow's Death Ride", which was held to prove that
cavalry charges could still prevail on the battlefield. Use of
traditional cavalry on the battlefields of 1914 proved to be
disastrous, due to accurate, long-range rifle fire, machine-guns and
artillery. Von Bredow's attack had succeeded only because of an
unusually effective artillery bombardment just before the charge,
along with favorable terrain that masked his approach.
The Germans deployed a total of 33,101 officers and 1,113,254 men into
France, of which they lost 1,046 officers and 16,539 enlisted men
killed in action. Another 671 officers and 10,050 men died of their
wounds, for total battle deaths of 28,306. Disease killed 207 officers
and 11,940 men, with typhoid accounting for 6,965. 4,009 were missing
and presumed dead; 290 died in accidents and 29 committed suicide.
Among the missing and captured were 103 officers and 10,026 men. The
wounded amounted to 3,725 officers and 86,007 men.
French battle deaths were 77,000, of which 41,000 were killed in
action and 36,000 died of wounds. More than 45,000 died of sickness.
Total deaths were 138,871, with 136,540 being suffered by the army and
2,331 by the navy. The wounded totaled 137,626; 131,000 for the army
and 6,526 for the navy. French prisoners of war numbered 383,860. In
addition, 90,192 French soldiers were interned in Switzerland and
6,300 in Belgium.
Prussian reaction and withdrawal
Europe after the
Franco-Prussian War and the German Unification
The Prussian Army, under the terms of the armistice, held a brief
victory parade in Paris on 17 February; the city was silent and draped
with black and the Germans quickly withdrew. Bismarck honoured the
armistice, by allowing train loads of food into Paris and withdrawing
Prussian forces to the east of the city, prior to a full withdrawal
France agreed to pay a five billion franc war indemnity. The
indemnity was proportioned, according to population, to be the exact
equivalent to the indemnity imposed by
Napoleon on Prussia in
1807. At the same time, Prussian forces were concentrated in the
Alsace and Lorraine. An exodus occurred from Paris as
some 200,000 people, predominantly middle-class, went to the
The Paris Commune
See also: Paris Commune
During the war, the Paris National Guard, particularly in the
working-class neighbourhoods of Paris, had become highly politicised
and units elected officers; many refused to wear uniforms or obey
commands from the national government. National guard units tried to
seize power in Paris on 31 October 1870 and 22 January 1871. On 18
March 1871, when the regular army tried to remove cannons from an
artillery park on Montmartre, National Guard units resisted and killed
two army generals. The national government and regular army forces
retreated to Versailles and a revolutionary government was proclaimed
in Paris. A commune was elected, which was dominated by socialists,
anarchists and revolutionaries. The red flag replaced the French
tricolour and a civil war began between the
Commune and the regular
army, which attacked and recaptured Paris from 21–28 May in the
Semaine Sanglante (bloody week).
During the fighting, the
Communards killed c. 500 people, including
the Archbishop of Paris, and burned down many government buildings,
Tuileries Palace and the Hotel de Ville. Communards
captured with weapons were routinely shot by the army and Government
troops killed between 7,000 and 30,000 Communards, both during the
fighting and in massacres of men, women, and children during and after
the Commune. More recent histories, based on studies
of the number buried in Paris cemeteries and in mass graves after the
fall of the Commune, put the number killed at between 6,000 and
10,000. Twenty-six courts were established to try more than
40,000 people who had been arrested, which took until 1875 and imposed
95 death sentences, of which 23 were inflicted. Forced labour for life
was imposed on 251 people, 1,160 people were transported to "a
fortified place" and 3,417 people were transported. About 20,000
Communards were held in prison hulks until released in 1872 and a
Communards fled abroad to Britain, Switzerland, Belgium or
the United States. The survivors were amnestied by a bill introduced
by Gambetta in 1880 and allowed to return.
German unification and power
Further information: Unification of Germany
Proclamation of the German Empire, painted by Anton von Werner
The creation of a unified
German Empire greatly disturbed the balance
of power that had been created with the
Congress of Vienna
Congress of Vienna after the
end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Germany had established itself as a major
power in continental Europe, boasting the most powerful and
professional army in the world. Although Britain remained the
dominant world power overall, British involvement in European affairs
during the late 19th century was limited, owing to its focus on
colonial empire-building, allowing
Germany to exercise great influence
over the European mainland. Anglo-German straining of
tensions was somewhat mitigated by several prominent relationships
between the two powers, such as the Crown Prince's marriage with the
daughter of Queen Victoria.
French reaction and Revanchism
The defeat in the
Franco-Prussian War led to the birth of Revanchism
(literally, "revenge-ism") in France, characterised by a deep sense of
bitterness, hatred and demand for revenge against Germany. This was
particularly manifested in the desire for another war with
order to reclaim
Alsace and Lorraine. It also led to the
development of right-wing ideologies emphasising "the ideal of the
guarded, self-referential nation schooled in the imperative of war",
an ideology epitomised by figures such as General Georges Ernest
Boulanger in the 1880s. Paintings that emphasized the humiliation
of the defeat became in high demand, such as those by Alphonse de
Franco-Prussian War order of battle
History of French foreign relations
Foreign relations of Germany
Belgium and the Franco-Prussian War
International relations of the Great Powers (1814–1919)
^ see Occupation of Saarbrücken
^ Clodfelter 2017, p. 184, 33,101 officers and 1,113,254 men were
deployed into France. A further 348,057 officers and men were
mobilized and stayed in Germany..
^ a b c d e f Clodfelter 2017, p. 184.
^ a b Howard 1991, p. 39.
^ a b c d e Clodfelter 2017, p. 187.
^ Clodfelter 2017, p. 187, of which 17,585 killed in action,
10,721 died of wounds, 12,147 died from disease, 290 died in
accidents, 29 committed suicide and 4,009 were missing and presumed
^ Nolte 1884, pp. 526–527.
^ Nolte 1884, p. 527.
^ Clodfelter 2017, p. 187, of which 41,000 killed in action,
36,000 died of wounds and 45,000 died from disease.
^ For instance, A. Ramm highlights three difficulties with the
argument that Bismarck planned or provoked a French attack. Agatha
Germany 1789-1919, Methuen & Co. Ltd, London, 1967, pp.
^ Howard 1991, p. 40.
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