Analysis of the Franco-Prussian War: Its birth, battles, and implications
| The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 was fought between France, Prussia and the North German Confederation and its allies of Baden, Württemberg and Bavaria. The conflict would change the course of European history. France, long considered the superpower of Europe, would be replaced by Germany, and the animosity due to the harsh peace terms would culminate in the development of World War I and the Versailles Treaty, which in turn would become a deciding factor in the cause of World War II. The war was most directly caused by the Ems Telegram, but one could also say that the megalomania of France and Prussia's leadership (Emperor Louis-Napoleon III of France & Count Otto von Bismarck of Prussia) also made war between Prussia and France unavoidable. These factors, as well as other factors that caused the war, such as the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 and the controversy surrounding the successor to the Spanish throne, will be examined in detail. The fighting of the war was undoubtedly one-sided. Prussia would win victory after victory. Prussian leadership, along with its army's breech-loading cannon, were superior to French leadership and its cannon, but the French infantry had the better rifles and, as the reader will see, Prussian casualties were enormous during the war. Many times when the French could have counterattacked with their superior rifles they did not; likewise, when it seemed that the Prussian infantry would be destroyed, their superior artillery saved the day in many of the battles. Ultimately, it would be the more audacious Prussian commanders and their army's effective use of artillery versus the French commanders' ineptitude that would secure Prussia's overwhelming victories in the field and its eventual victory of the war. The following paper will provide a survey of the entire Franco-Prussian War, giving special attention to its causes and implications in the future. 1
Marx would describe his Prussian homeland as radically different than when he grew there. What he said was true. By the 1860s, Prussia had the potential to be the most industrialized and powerful nation of Europe (if it could unite with the rest of Germany). It had an extensive rail system of 5,000 miles, far surpassing its three big neighbors, and it was producing more coal than all of them. In 1866, its population was nineteen million, more than half of France’s thirty-five million and Austria’s thirty-three million. 2
Berlin, the Prussian capital, would assume leadership of the German customs union (Zollverein). When it started back in 1834, it repealed tariffs between the thirty-nine states of the confederation, stimulated trade and consumption, and magnified Prussia’s leading role. Berlin’s heavier involvement worried the other powers. The combined population of the other thirty-nine states was twenty million, which if unified under Prussia would make it the most powerful state in Europe. 3
Prussia was dominated by the old knights (Junkers). Kings had taken away most of their political power in the 17th and 18th centuries, but the Junkers had compensated: they bought big land estates, kept local administrative authority, dominated the court, army, civil service, and held most of the important positions and ministries in the monarchy. Manufacturers, merchants, and professionals had a hard time piercing this cozy arrangement between the king and his nobles. 4
Paris at the time was the so-called capital of Europe. The French were a united and fiercely nationalistic people. France had colonies in Africa, the Caribbean, and Indochina as well as an 800 year history as a unified state with a unique culture based on food, wine, weather, fashion, music, and language. Its emperor, Louis-Napoleon III, is what made France have the appearance of strategic mastery. He had been exiled along with the rest of the Bonaparte’s, but would later find his niche as a conspirator in Italy. 5
Napoleon III wanted revenge on the states that had beaten his uncle in 1815. He joined the Carbonari, a revolutionary group dedicated to Italian reunification. He later went to England where he lived until 1836. He would try—and fail several times in throwing a coup d’état in France until the French Revolution of 1848. France wanted to become a social and democratic republic, but the bourgeoisie supported capitalism and private property along with the peasants who comprised 80% of the population. Louis- Napoleon, seeing this, returned to France yet again (since recent reforms allowed him to do so), and made himself the peasant candidate and was elected to the new parliament. He supported the army in the “June Days” against the radical French cities whose success allowed for a conservative bourgeoisie republic in the place of the original radical one. A crucial reform that was retained by the new conservative republic was manhood suffrage. Napoleon III would put his name in the ballot for president of France, knowing that the peasants wouldn’t recognize most of the other candidates’ names. He won the election by a landslide in December, 1848 and approached the end of his first term still widely popular. He was basically worshipped by the middle-class and peasants, and the urban working poor like his public works programs. Going on this popularity, Napoleon would try but be forbidden for running for a second term, and chaos seemed to be looming over France once again, but Napoleon had other plans. He actually succeeded in throwing a successful coup d'état in 1852, proclaiming himself prince-president, followed by emperor the next year. His grand dream was to create a United States of Europe with Paris as the capital. 6
Otto von Bismarck came from a Prussian noble Junker family. He was cunning, creative, and had a realistic view of diplomacy and politics. He was a dedicated opportunist and the embodiment of Realpolitik. Perhaps one of the best statesmen of the 19th century, he would, in the tumultuous 1860s, be able to juggle the Austrians, who wanted him to accept Hapsburg leadership, and France, that pushed him to leave Austria and bring the German state in league with Paris. He would fight a war with Denmark to get Schleswieg, allying himself with Austria to keep the French from getting involved, and later secretly meet with Napoleon III to discuss war with Austria. As a result of this meeting, Bismarck began to plan a war with Austria since it seemed that Napoleon wouldn’t resist Prussian expansion. 7
With his flanks secure, Bismarck set out fabricating a war with Austria in 1866. He demanded control of the North German states and Austria’s agreement to major reforms. When Austria refused, Bismarck threatened an action on which he would stake his whole career. He said he would put in place a national parliament which would eliminate the Diet of Princes. The bluff was designed to gain favor in France and anger the Austrians, which it did. The move made Bismarck public enemy no. 1 in Prussia. He had been hated by liberals because he wouldn’t accept idea of democracy and representative governments and now, when the Junkers heard about the national parliament bluff they cringed at the thought. They also considered starting a war with Prussia’s oldest ally an act of sacrilege. If Bismarck could win the war with Austria he would succeed in uniting the two halves of Prussia and effectively silence his critics. What liberals wanted more than anything was a united Germany, and if Bismarck’s master plan went smoothly, they would eventually have it. Junkers wanted to make sure that their noble privilege wouldn’t be lost in a unified Germany. To this, Bismarck would simply just enact the oppressive Prussian policies onto a unified Germany. With all this in mind Prussia declared war in June 1866 after making a secret treaty with the Italians. The pressure of a two-front war caused the Austrian Army to sag and Prussia would enjoy phenomenal success. 8
The Battle of Königgrätz won the Austro-Prussian War for the Prussians. Bismarck personally watched the battle at Moltke’s (the chief army commander) side. Afterwards, Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria had to give up Austria’s authority over Germany which it had had for three centuries in exchange for an armistice. Bismarck moved quickly. He abolished the fifty year old thirty-nine state German Confederation and annexed most of its members; with the rest he formed a North German Confederation. With this, Prussia was now the most powerful state in mainland Europe, even if the other powers hadn’t realized it yet. With Austria’s authority over Germany over, Bismarck now controlled most of it and was determined to take the rest. 9
France immediately recognized the new threat its eastern neighbor posed. Napoleon was being pushed by his advisors to take counter measures against Prussian power. Many were calling for war; they wanted to take away Prussia’s Rhine valley. Prussia’s western cities were the industrial hub of the entire state, thus Prussia could not maintain its power without them. Napoleon decided to try and bluff Bismarck instead. He demanded that Bismarck accept his demand to restore the borders of 1814, territories taken by France during the Napoleonic Wars and restored to Prussia after Waterloo. Bismarck flatly refused, and Louis-Napoleon left it at that, mostly because of his lack of enough battle-ready troops in France. 10
Louis-Napoleon III was also angry that he didn’t receive any territory after Prussia beat the Austrians. He had in effect allowed Bismarck to fight it undeterred, but had received nothing in return. Napoleon III’s legitimacy as a ruler depended on his winning militarily and diplomatically for the purpose of enhancing France’s national dignity. France had a long history of meddling with German affairs; Napoleon III hoped to use this trend to manipulate Bismarck in order to form his dreamed United States of Europe, but after the Austro-Prussian War, he quickly realized that this would now be impossible. 11
Desperate to win back fading popular support, Napoleon became much more aggressive in the years after 1866 in pursuit of territorial gains. Bismarck didn’t object to this, in fact, he quietly approved it because it gave France the impression of being the more dangerous power on the European mainland. Bismarck reasoned that because of this other powers wouldn’t ally themselves with the French in an eventual war with Prussia, thus giving Prussia the opportunity to grow in power.
Therefore, the Franco-Prussian arose from Napoleon III’s need to teach the Prussians a lesson and Bismarck’s overlapping need to foment a war with the French in order to complete the process of German unification. The Franco-German War that broke out in 1870 might as easily have come in 1867, 1868, or 1869, because France and Prussia went to the brink of war in each of those years and only reluctantly backed down. Bismarck wanted to buy more time for the spread of German national idea and Louis-Napoleon wanted to complete vital army reforms. 12
In 1868, Spain had thrown out the Bourbons as its ruling royal family. They had been looking for a new one since then. Hoping to gain support from mighty Prussia, they asked Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen to become their king. Leopold didn’t take to the idea well, and neither did Kaiser Wilhelm I of Prussia for a couple reasons: The Spanish monarchy was unstable, and if Leopold were to be deposed, it would embarrass Prussia and compel them to unwanted expeditions. The issue would have ended there had Bismarck not have pounced on it. He saw the placing of Leopold as king in Spain a powerful provocation of France, one that Louis Napoleon would have to answer. Leopold’s ascendance to the Spanish throne would also put France in the middle of two Hohenzollern monarchies. In addition, Bismarck would have no discussions with France for territorial compensation for this, further lowering the French people’s conception of their “national dignity.” 13
So as it happens, Leopold would change his mind and accept the Spanish crown in July, 1870. As soon as the word reached France, alarm bells started ringing within the French leadership; the legislative body was immediately convened by Duke Antoine Agénor de Gramont to decide what course of action to take. Gramont could almost be called a mini Bismarck, so to speak. He had been appointed by Napoleon III just two months before the Spanish throne issue because Gramont had vowed to create a war with almost any pretext against Prussia. Gramont was not the only man calling for war; in fact, virtually all of France was calling for war with Prussia. 14
French fervor for war would subside for a brief moment when July 12, 1870, Leopold’s father would take his son’s name out of the running for the Spanish throne. The two men most disappointed by this were Gramont and Bismarck. 15
Luckily for Bismarck, it seemed that Gramont wanted a war just as bad as Bismarck did. Gramont told Benedetti (French ambassador to Prussia) that Leopold’s retraction wasn’t enough. He demanded that King Wilhelm I publish a document pledging that Prussia wouldn’t ever again offer potential kings for the Spanish monarchy. Benedetti relayed this to Wilhelm, who responded by tipping his hat and walking away, canceling his meeting with him later on in the day. Wilhelm did not want to commit himself to any action in the future. He was very upset at the French for not letting the issue die there. He had been upset by the new French demand, unlike Benedetti who gave no sign in his reports to Gramont of being mistreated. In contrast, what Wilhelm telegrammed Bismarck of the meeting was a little more sharper, but this would have been inconsequential had Wilhelm not ended it by saying “His Majesty leaves it to your Excellency whether Benedetti’s fresh demand and its rejection should not at once be communicated both to our Ambassadors and the press.” When Bismarck read the telegram from Bad Ems describing Benedetti and Wilhelm’s meeting, he decided to change it in such a way as to insult the French. The original telegram said that Wilhelm cancelled the later meeting with Benedetti because confirmation of Leopold’s withdraw from the candidacy had been received. When Bismarck got through with the telegram, it had King Wilhelm canceling the meeting without any explanation at all, which would undoubtedly insult the rather sensitive French. He wanted the French to declare war on Prussia so that France would seem the aggressor and be blamed for the war. Bismarck then purposely leaked the new telegram to the newspapers. The Ems Telegram proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of the relations between France and Prussia. Napoleon III would begin calling up the reserves. Parisians would begin shouting for war in the streets. War was now unavoidable. 16
The first true battle of the Franco-Prussian War was the Battle of Weissembourg on August 4, 1870. It was a border town between France and Prussia which sat on the Lauter River, and it was the spot chosen by Moltke for the invasion of France. That day, Moltke had sent a telegram to Crown Prince Friedrich Wilhelm’s headquarters saying that he wanted to bring the Second and Third Prussian Armies into harmony. His strategy was to pin the Army of the Rhine with his First and Second Armies while letting his Third Army loose of Louis-Napoleon’s flank. 17
Gen. Douay was in charge of the French 2nd Division in MacMahon’s Corps. He was also the unfortunate soul who was located in Weissembourg on August 4, 1870. Lucky for the Prussians, Douay had arrived only the day before. Prior to this, nobody had taken the time to scout the woods on the other side of the Lauter, so when artillery shells started reigning down on top of Douay’s division, there was confusion to say the least at his headquarters. 18
When the Bavarian 4th Division came splashing across the Lauter, every French artillery piece opened fire on them. Combine this with the volleys by the French infantry with their highly accurate and effective Chassepot rifles, and the effect was devastating. Besides the French’s superior rifles, they had a new weapon called the mitrailleuse. These ancestors of the later machine gun were used not for strafing the enemy advance. The operators would fix their sights on one man at a time and pump thirty rounds into him, in effect vaporizing him. The first day of fighting proved to be a bloodbath for the Prussians; the French rifles were far more accurate than their own. However, Prussia’s superior artillery, far better than their French counterparts, proved to be an important variable. Many pieces were able to cross the Lauter and blast the wooden gates at close range while the others were used to bombard Weissembourg, which became engulfed in flames. The German artillery was able to knock the mitrailleuses out of action and push French riflemen off the town walls. 19
The Prussians weren’t relying on the frontal attack though. While the Bavarians were being scythed like wheat, the Bavarian 3rd Division was attacking Douay’s left flank while the V and XI Corps was hitting his right flank and rear. The Prussians would realize the next day that Douay only had one division, not to mention dangerously exposed on both flanks and having no communication with the other divisions of I Corps. By 11 A.M. on the second day, the German envelopment was almost complete. The French would continue to fight, even after being surrounded; ironically, it was the citizens of Weissembourg and not the troops who surrendered. The battle ended suddenly when a group of citizens lowered the Haguenau gate drawbridge, bidding the Prussians entry. 20
Moltke decided to move Prince Friedrich Karl’s Second Army through Saarbrücken to Frossard’s Corps’ new position at Spicheren and Forbach. Forbach was a French supply depot. Moltke hoped to lure in more French Corps to create a smaller target for the purpose of surrounding it. Moltke planned to have Steinmetz’s First Army turn south from Tholey and Prince Friedrich Wilhelm’s Third Army come north from Alsace. Steinmetz would not listen to Moltke’s orders. Instead of crossing the Saar on Prince Friedrich’s right and probing for the French flank, he marched his army straight to Frossard’s new position at Spicheren. In doing so, he used roads meant for Friedrich Karl’s Second Army, cutting him off from his forward units and blocking his way.
The extended position of the First Army in a southerly direction towards the Saar, which had not been intended by the commander-in-chief [Moltke], had brought its left wing into contact with the line of march laid down for the Second, and they crossed each other at Saarbrücken on the 6th. Thus there was no lack of strength at that point, but as a battle on that day was neither expected nor probable, a simultaneous arrival of troops had not been prearranged, and the several sections arrived there by different routes at different hours. 21
Surprisingly, Steinmetz would not be responsible for the Battle of Spicheren on August 6th. The fault would go to von Kameke, one of Steinmetz forward division generals. He thought he would be engaging the rear guard of Frossard’s Corps, which he believed was in retreat. He ordered a full attack, committing his two brigades under Gen. Francois into the walls of hills running between Spicheren and Forbach. 22
Francois’s attack had stopped cold by one o’clock. He would sit and wait for reinforcements, wondering all the while just how many French were in front of him. Lucky for him, every French attempt at a counterattack was stopped by his artillery. Kameke’s 28th Brigade under von Woyna would arrive in late afternoon and bring the battle back to life again, but the Prussian attack would again be repulsed. The French would now counterattack. Gen. Laveaucoupet’s 40th Regiment pushed back Francois badly demoralized surviving troops while Gen. Charles Vergé’s 2nd Brigade attacked Woyna’s troops, pushing them back almost to Saarbrücken. If Frossard had pursued these counterattacks he might have won the battle. 23
By this time, Gen. Alvensleben of Friedrich Karl’s leading units had arrived on the scene. He relieved Kameke of command and immediately began assessing the situation. He needed to figure out what to do pretty quickly, since Gen. Bazaine had agreed to lend Frossard a division under Montaudon. Alvensleben decided to attack Frossard’s left flank. With a combination of overlapping infantry and artillery attacks, the Prussians were able to roll the flank, thus gaining control of the Rote Berg Hill. By 9 o’clock, the French had given up the entire plateau outside Spicheren to the Prussians. Frossard had ordered a retreat towards Moselle. On the way there they ran into Bazaine’s division coming to reinforce them. France had lost another battle; the quality of its military commanders and their lack of initiative mainly to blame. 24
Prussia lost 5,000 men in the battle, the high number a direct result of Steinmetz’s actions and Kameke’s preemptive attack. King Wilhelm I’s only consolation as he toured the field the day after was the French losses. Fossard had lost 4,000 men, 2,500 taken prisoner, not to mention materiel lost in the retreat: forty bridges, hundreds of tents, clothing, food, wine, and rum all together valued at 1 million francs. 25
The Battle of Wörth was fought on the same day as the Battle of Spicheren. After Douay’s loss at Weissembourg, MacMahon was given independent command of the three southern army corps, including his own. He had 45,000 men to defend a wooded ridgeline near Wörth against the Prussian Third Army of 130,000 men. As in the battles before, the superior Prussian artillery carried the day, overcoming French rifle fire. In desperation, MacMahon would use his cavalry to charge the Prussians in order to give him time to fall back. He let Louis-Napoleon know that he intended to withdraw all the way to Châlons to reorganize. Napoleon III first agreed with this, but then he found out that MacMahon’s II Corps was already retreating towards Metz; therefore, he ordered MacMahon to unite his troops there. 26
With these three battles all fought within a week the French army was on the run. Paris would feel the pressure and its attempts to increase the French Armies’ troops were intensified. 27
Napoleon III relinquished his command of the Army of the Rhine to Gen. Bazaine on August 9, 1870. His plan was to reconcentrate all forces at Châlons as quickly as possible via Verdun in order to conduct a fighting retreat into the fortifications of Paris. Bazaine would delay the march nearly a week, concentrating instead on the mundane tasks of supplying his troops. He did little to monitor Prussian movements in the area; therefore, Bazaine did not know that there was in fact Prussian cavalry to the south advancing in front of III Corps under Alvensleben that was closing in fast onto the French position. Bazaine would begin the march to Châlons on August 15th with Louis Napoleon still there (he was apparently having trouble letting go of his army). At dawn the next morning, Napoleon would leave first, telling Bazaine to make all possible haste to arrive at Verdun by the next day. Bazaine didn’t make all possible haste; instead, he ordered the resupplying of the troops again and would “possibly” start marching again in the afternoon. Unfortunately, Alvensleben had caught up with Bazaine, bringing up his guns the night before. Gen. Alvensleben was completely outnumbered by the French, but of course he didn’t know that, assuming he was cutting off only the rear guard of the French army, which he had thought had begun marching early that morning. Bazaine wrongly believed that he had a major Prussian threat in front of him and south of him along the Moselle River. Only 30,000 Prussians, with their backs towards Paris, were facing a French army of 135,000, not to mention that the rest of the Prussian Second Army to the south was going the wrong direction. 28
The battle of Mars-de-Tour would begin early on August 16th with the Prussians opening up their artillery on the French. The Prussians were hopelessly outnumbered. Bazaine’s troops were eager for a fight and would have superior numbers all day.
“Lebeouf’s III Corps and Ladmirault’s IV Corps, having finally extricated themselves from Metz and the narrow, sinuous defiles up to Amanvillers, were ideally positioned to slide in at Vionville and Mars-de-Tour, which would have extended Bazaine’s right wing and enveloped the advancing Prussian columns.” 29
Bazaine didn’t do this; instead, he left Mars-de-Tour for the Prussians. Alvensleben would throw his infantry into the fight, which was consequentially thrown back at which point Alvensleben realized that he wasn’t facing just the rear guard of the French Army. He was hopelessly in danger, easy prey for Bazaine’s four corps, but Bazaine wouldn’t commit, thinking that Alvensleben’s attack was a just a ploy to lure him out of Metz. 30
France’s opportunity to win the battle was lost when the Prussian X Corps under Gen. Konstantine von Voights-Rhetz arrived to reinforce Alvensleben. His 19th Division was deploying against what was thought to be the French flank, but what was in reality the front. The French inflicted an astonishing casualty rate, but when it came time to counterattack, they refused. So the Prussians counterattacked, the French ran out of ammunition, and were overrun. 31
The fighting would continue on until night fall when both sides had nearly run out of ammunition. Prussian and French casualties exceeded 16,000 men. Bazaine would leave the Prussians the road to Verdun, retreating to Gravelotte. Although neither side effectively won the battle, tactically, the Prussian artillery carried the day by keeping French counterattacks at bay. 32
After Mars-de-Tour, Moltke would move to encircle Bazaine. He wanted to envelope Bazaine on the periphery of Metz, drive him into the fortress and besiege him, or push him into neutral Luxembourg where the French would have to lay down their arms according to the laws of war. Bazaine retreated to Amanviller’s ridge near Gravelotte, Cut off from the rest of France, he figured the safest course would be to defend since he still had plenty of supplies. 33
The Battle of Gravelotte began with a Prussian artillery barrage that would go on through the afternoon. Friedrich Karl’s IX Corps attacked first with the VII and VIII Corps supporting him in the south, but the Prussians were unsuccessful as the French position was too strong. French fire to the north at St. Privat hacked the XII Saxon Corps and the Prussian Guard to pieces. The infantry attacks having been fruitless, Moltke went back to artillery bombardment against the French northern flank at St. Privat. The bombardment would succeed in softening the French enough that the Saxon XII Corps took St. Privat, encircling the French IV and VI Corps causing them to rout. As night fell, the French retreated to the ring of forts just outside Metz and would promptly be surrounded. 34
Moltke had three things on his to-do list after Gravelotte: He needed to besiege Bazaine at Metz, start moving toward Paris, and find and crush MacMahon commanding the Army of Châlons. McMahon, for his part, would soon begin to march east in an effort to relieve Bazaine. In response to MacMahon’s bold march east, Moltke created a new Army of the Meusse, commanded by Prince Albert of Saxony, sending it and the Prussian Third Army after MacMahon, leaving the Prussian First and Second Armies to continue besieging Bazaine at Metz. 35
Moltke’s plan for the Battle of Sedan called for the Meusse Army to extend its right wing all the way to the Belgian border, while the Third Army was to move forward and close MacMahon off from Paris. 36
At daybreak on September 1st, the Bavarian I Corps attacked the village driving the French out after sustaining heavy casualties. Saxon XII Corps with IV Corps would push the French into Sedan; simultaneously, XI Corps crossed the Meusse River at Donchery with V Corps coming up behind and to the north to cut off the Belgian frontier and squeeze the Prussian circle tighter. They would link with the Prussian Guard coming from the east. The French would be trapped around Sedan. The Prussians then opened up their 500 guns. After desperate cavalry charges, the French finally began putting white flags up in surrender until finally Louis-Napoleon himself ordered the French to surrender. With the surrender of the Army of Châlons and Bazaine’s entrapment in Metz, the French no longer had a viable army to stop the Prussians. 37
The siege of Bazaine’s army at Metz caused the end of Louis Napoleon’s second empire. MacMahon’s defeat at Sedan in his attempt to relieve Bazaine and Napoleon’s capture broke the back of the Parisians. The new republic named the “Government of National Defence” was created on September 4, 1870. It was controlled by Louis-Jules Trochu, Jules Favre, Leon Gambetta. 38
After the Battle of Sedan, Moltke ordered the Third Army and Army of Meusse to march on Paris. The new republic wanted peace with Prussia, but was not willing to cede any territory to it. The Prussians would arrive at Paris on September 17th, and by the next day the ‘Iron Ring’ around it was in place. About one month later, Bazaine, still under siege in Metz, would surrender the city. Almost the entire French pre-war land military was now under Prussian captivity. 39
War Minister Leon Gambetta escaped Paris in a weather balloon and organized a levy-en-masse and people’s war against Prussia. Based in Tours, Gambetta was able to raise thirty-six divisions in an attempt to relieve Paris. The people’s war would produce a victory on November 9, 1870. Gen. Louis d’ Aurelle defeated the Prussians at Coulmiers, but the Prussians would regroup and eventually overpower the untrained army at Beaune-la-Rolande (Nov. 28), Loigny (Dec. 2), and Le Mans (Jan. 11, 1871). 40
By the winter of 1870-1871, the Parisians had eaten most of their stockpiled food. A famine was on the horizon. The war was also straining the Prussians; its army and economy having trouble coping with the unplanned prolonged war. Moltke was concentrating on disarming the de facto French armies which had sprung up throughout France, but Bismarck wanted a more direct approach. He wanted to start shelling Paris, killing innocent people and forcing the stubborn new republic to terms. After a series of long debates, the shelling started on January 5, 1871. 41
As if France’s predicament couldn’t get any worse, on January 18, 1871, Germany was declared united at Versailles under Kaiser Wilhelm I. The declaration of a newly united German Empire, on French soil, at Versailles, and while France was at war with Germany, was more than the proud French could bear. 42
The situation for the new republic in Paris was now becoming desperate. The Battle of Le Mans between Prussia and the people’s army had been lost, and with their loss, riots broke out in Paris, it was now clear to the new government that the war had to end. An armistice would be signed on January 26, 1871. 43
The losses of both sides were tremendous. The Germans had a total of 110,000 killed or wounded, while the French killed in action are estimated to be 150,000 with the same number wounded. 44
The Treaty of Frankfurt, signed on May 10, 1871, would effectively end the Franco-Prussian War. Five billion francs (15 billion today) had to be paid in reparations. Add that to the 12 billion francs that France had spent on the war itself and one can understand why contemporaries of the time would say that the France wouldn’t recover for another fifty years. Germany would get all of the Alsace and most of the Lorraine province. They would also be allowed to have a Prussian victory parade in Paris! 45
Diplomatically, the war destroyed the balance of power in Europe. Germany had effectively destroyed it. It would now be considered a huge threat by all of the powers in Europe, and this idea would be a main cause for World War I. Militarily, European and world armies would start to adopt Prussian styles of organization very rapidly such as universal conscription, and professional military education; also, railroads, telegraphs, medicine, and logistics were given much more importance worldwide. Prussian backwardness received new legitimacy after the war. German liberals had tried and failed to unite Germany peacefully, the king, Junkers, and the military had succeeded through Bismarck’s shrewdness. The Junkers would in effect be the new German Empire, all of them linking Germany’s health to war and expansion and all acquiring top positions in the government and running the military until 1918, ending with the end of World War I. French nationalism would not die with the war; in fact, it continued and became stronger than ever. The Franco-Prussian War had mobilized far more men and women than any of the previous wars had done. This would signal the end of French provincialism, as the regions and people of France began to connect their local interests with those of the French nation.The Franco-Prussian War would be a specter over Europe for the next seventy-five years. France lost its title as the dominant European power with the German Empire taking their place. After the war, France wouldn’t industrialize as fast as Germany. They would also fall behind to Great Britain economically; England would surpass France as a financial power and foreign investor. The most important legacy of the Franco-Prussian War was that it laid the groundwork for both the world wars in the 20th century. France never got over their defeat at the hands of the Prussians, and vowed revenge (la ravanche). They would have their revenge in World War I, consequentially the Germans would try to get even in World War II, and the two world wars would almost destroy Europe completely. 46
1. Stephen Badsey, The Franco-Prussian War: 1870-1871 (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2003), 87-89; Michael Howard, The Franco-Prussian War ( London and New York: Routledge, 2001), 53-54; Geoffrey Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-1871 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 33-38, 98-100.
2. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 1-2.
3. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 2.
4. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 2.
5. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 3-4.
6. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 4, 6-7.
7. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 12-13.
8. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 13-15.
9. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 16-17.
10. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 17-18.
11. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 18-21.
12. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 22.
13. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 34.
14. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 33-35.
15. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 36.
16. Howard, Franco-Prussian War, 53-54; Wawro, Franco- Prussian War, 36-38.
17. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 95, 97.
18. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 96-97.
19. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 98-100.
20. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 101-102.
21. Helmut von Moltke, The Franco-German War of 1870-71 (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1988), 20; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 107-110.
22. Moltke, Franco-German War, 21; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 110.
23. Wawro, Franco Prussian War, 112, 114.
24. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 114-118.
25. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 119.
26. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 37.
27. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 37.
28. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 41-42; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 141, 146, 148-149.
29. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 151, 154.
30. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 157-158.
31. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 160-161.
32. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 164-165.
33. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 144-145.
34. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 193, 201-202.
35. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 211.
36. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 49, 51-52.
37. Encyclopedia of Military History, vol. 1, s.v. “Franco-Prussian War.”
38. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 53; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 251-252.
39. Encyclopedia of Military History, vol. 1, s.v. “Franco-Prussian War.”
40. Encyclopedia of Military History, vol. 1, s.v. “Franco-Prussian War.”; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 276-278.
41. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 282.
42. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 295-296.
43. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 86.
44. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 304.
45. Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 306.
46. Badsey, Franco-Prussian War, 87-89; Wawro, Franco-Prussian War, 310, 312.
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Encyclopedia of Military History, vol. 1, s.v. “Franco-Prussian War.”
Howard, Michael. The Franco-Prussian War. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.
Moltke, Helmut von. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. New York: Harper Brothers,
Wawro, Geoffrey. The Franco-Prussian War: The German Conquest of France in 1870-
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