Franco-Prussian War - History

Franco-Prussian War - History

The Franco German War broke out at the instigation of Prussian minister Bismarck who believed the war would help unify Germany. Bismarck maneuvered so that France would declare war on Germany, thus helping to stroke German nationalism. On September 2, 1870 the French army was defeated at the battle of Sedan. The French commanders, as well Napoleon III were captured. The Germans advanced steadily on Paris. The fort at Metz held out until October 28th. On December 27th the forts surrounding Paris were placed under siege. On January 28, 1871 Paris fell and the French surrendered.

Battle of Sedan

The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War from 1 to 2 September 1870. Resulting in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III and over a hundred thousand troops, it effectively decided the war in favour of Prussia and its allies, though fighting continued under a new French government.

North German Confederation

  • Prussia
  • Saxony
  • Wilhelm I
  • Helmuth von Moltke
  • Friedrich Wilhelm
  • Albert, Prince of Saxony
  • Napoleon III(POW )
  • Patrice MacMahon (WIA )
  • Augustue Ducrot
  • Félix Wimpffen
  • Jean Auguste Margueritte(DOW )
  • Third Army
  • Fourth Army

The 130,000 strong French Army of Châlons, commanded by Marshal Patrice de MacMahon and accompanied by Napoleon III, was attempting to lift the siege of Metz, only to be caught by the Prussian Fourth Army and defeated at the Battle of Beaumont on 30 August. Commanded by Generalfeldmarschall Helmuth von Moltke and accompanied by Prussian King Wilhelm I and Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, the Fourth Army and the Prussian Third Army encircled MacMahon's army at Sedan in a gigantic battle of annihilation. Marshal MacMahon was wounded during the attacks and command passed to General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot, until assumed by General Emmanuel Félix de Wimpffen.

Pulverized from all sides by superior German artillery firepower and with all breakout attempts defeated, the French Army of Châlons capitulated on 2 September, with 104,000 men passing into German captivity along with 558 guns. Napoleon III was taken prisoner, while the French government in Paris continued the war and proclaimed a Government of National Defense on 4 September. The German armies besieged Paris on 19 September.


Franco-Prussian War: the conflict that plunged Europe into a nightmare

The Franco-Prussian War, which erupted 150 years ago, gave rise to a grudge match that would send a continent hurtling towards two world wars. Michael Rowe tells the story of a 19th-century conflict that had catastrophic consequences for the modern world

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Published: November 19, 2020 at 12:26 pm

On 7 October 1870, Léon Gambetta, strong-man of the French government, escaped from Paris in a gas balloon. The Franco-Prussian War had by then been raging for almost three months, and German forces were besieging the city. Gambetta hoped to raise new armies in the provinces to relieve the capital. It was an act of desperation, indicative of how low the fortunes of France had sunk.

Over the following weeks things got worse, with ordinary citizens in France’s famous capital reduced to eating cats, dogs, rats and horses. Memoirs and letters are full of debates over the relative merits of exotic meat sourced from the zoo, such as camel, antelope or elephant. Rats from breweries were (unsurprisingly) said to taste better than those caught in the sewers. Meanwhile, unscrupulous entrepreneurs started to peddle bizarre substitutes for basics like milk.

Emperor Napoleon III was primarily responsible for this disaster. A nephew of the great Napoleon who had conquered most of Europe, Napoleon III had made himself emperor of the French following a coup in 1852. Victor Hugo famously dismissed him as “Napoleon the Small”, but the French people expected great things of him. Nor were his achievements negligible: he rebuilt Paris, creating the city we know today and he reasserted French pre-eminence by defeating the Russians (with British help) in the Crimean War of 1853–56, and the Austrians in 1859, allowing for Italian unification.

Napoleon III was mid-19th-century Europe’s great disruptor. Unfortunately for him, and for France, an even greater disruptor emerged east of the Rhine, in the large German state of Prussia. His name was Otto von Bismarck.

When Bismarck became prime minister in 1862, Prussia was the weakest of Europe’s ‘great’ powers, just one of a patchwork of states that were yet to coalesce into the German empire. But its king, William I, was determined to rectify this through far-reaching military reforms, and appointed the maverick Bismarck to ram them through a reluctant Prussian parliament. Upon his appointment, Bismarck made his views clear in one of history’s more famous soundbites: “The great questions of the day are not decided through speeches and majorities but by iron and blood.”

Bismarck and Napoleon had a great deal in common. Both were conservative populists, and both recognised that the new force of nationalism sweeping Europe was something to be exploited rather than feared. Yet their attempts to harness this nationalist fervour set them on a collision course, one that would end in conflict.

The Franco-Prussian War, as that conflict is now known, was over in 10 short months, but its consequences were extraordinarily long-reaching. In a victorious and newly unified Germany, it helped make militarism the dominant ideology in a defeated and humiliated France, it fostered a seething desire for revenge. These toxic ingredients set the scene for further bouts of bloodletting – on a far greater scale – in the following century. It’s surely safe to say that without Napoleon and Bismarck’s battle for supremacy in 1870, Europe’s 20th century would have followed a very different trajectory indeed.

Napoleon’s wake-up call

The countdown to the Franco-Prussian War started with another war: that of 1866, when Prussia’s newly reformed army crushed Austria in seven weeks. This vindicated Bismarck at home and was a wake-up call to Europe. Prussia became the dominant power in central Europe and the other German states now looked to Berlin, not Vienna, for leadership.

This terrified France. Napoleon III’s initial panic response was to re-establish French prestige by annexing Luxembourg or even Belgium. He sought Bismarck’s agreement, but was rebuffed. Then, in 1868, a new European crisis started with the overthrow of Spain’s Queen Isabella II. Spain needed a new monarch and, as was often the case in this period, chose a member from one of Germany’s innumerable princely houses. Unfortunately that choice, Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern, was related to Prussia’s William. Not surprisingly, France went ballistic when this knowledge went public in July 1870. Napoleon III’s government, goaded by domestic opinion, tried to save face by forcing Prussia into vetoing the arrangement. King William was happy to oblige the French, as he had never liked the prospect of a close relative ruling an unstable country like Spain.

There things might have rested, but for the French then overplaying their hand. The French ambassador to Prussia met William at the spa resort of Bad Ems (13 July) and attempted to force a public climbdown, pressing him to block any future Hohenzollern candidacy. This backfired when William politely rebuffed the ambassador.

Bismarck was not present at Bad Ems, but had remained in Berlin, where an account of the exchange reached him in the so-called Ems telegram. Bismarck, in full knowledge of the likely consequences, then edited the telegram, deleting the diplomatic niceties, and released it for publication in the international press. This was Bismarck’s famous red rag, waved at the Gallic bull. The French duly rose to the bait and declared war, amid feverish jubilation on the streets of Paris.

The Franco-Prussian War, despite its name, saw France pitted against a coalition of German states who sided with Prussia. Their inhabitants increasingly saw themselves as fellow Germans and viewed the war against France as a national crusade. Prussia nonetheless provided the overwhelming majority of German forces, as well as the military leadership.

In technological terms, there was little between the belligerents: the French had better infantry rifles, the Prussians superior artillery. What gave the Prussians a decisive advantage was their numerical superiority at the outset, gained by very fast mobilisation, and above all superior military leadership.

“No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” So stated Helmuth von Moltke, the Prussian commander in 1870. Moltke was a new kind of military leader, more manager than charismatic warlord. He presided over the Prussian General Staff, an institution that planned operations and contingencies in peacetime. The regular rotation of staff officers back to their regiments ensured that best practice was spread throughout the army, which meant the overall commander could safely delegate to those best placed to seize opportunities that unfolded once hostilities commenced. This was the answer to the problem highlighted in Moltke’s quote above. Neither the French, nor other armies, operated in this way, and this showed in 1870.

Superior planning and numbers allowed the Prussians to concentrate along France’s eastern frontier. The French, without proper plans, quickly suffered setbacks and these destroyed the morale of Napoleon III, who had unwisely assumed personal command. The only sensible option for the French was to fall back and regroup, but Napoleon could not afford to lose face by retreating. The consequence was a series of major French defeats, starting with Gravelotte-St Privat on 18 August. This would prove the bloodiest engagement of the war, with a casualty rate that was a portent of 20th-century horrors. In just one 20-minute period, the Prussian Guard Corps alone suffered 8,000 men killed or wounded, due to an unholy combination of fast, modern weaponry and outdated attack styles involving massed ranks of men. At least the widespread introduction in this war of ‘dog tags’ – discs worn by soldiers that included their basic details – allowed for the identification of the dead.

Despite horrific losses at Gravelotte-St Privat, the Prussians won, thanks to superior artillery and better manoeuvring. Moltke then trapped most of the French army in the fortress of Metz. Political pressures intervened again on the French side and demanded a rescue effort. This resulted in the battle of Sedan (1–2 September), a second catastrophic French defeat in which Napoleon III himself was captured. News of this debacle reached Paris a few days later and caused regime change. The new republican Government of National Defence filled the political vacuum and proclaimed a war of national resistance.

The Franco-Prussian War now entered a new phase. Prussian forces advanced on Paris, which they besieged from 19 September. The French capital was too strong to be taken by storm, so needed to be starved into submission. While Léon Gambetta escaped to the provinces and raised new armies, irregular volunteers, known as Francstireurs, engaged in guerrilla tactics. The Prussians did not recognise them as legitimate combatants and shot them upon capture, burning down villages suspected of harbouring them.

This messy, dirty war dragged on for the remainder of 1870, to the discomfort of Bismarck who feared international opinion was swinging in favour of France. However, the defeat of Gambetta’s new armies in December meant that Paris was not going to be relieved, and with food running out there was no option but to seek a truce (28 January 1871) which ended the fighting. This created the conditions for French elections to be held, which produced a government with the authority to conclude a preliminary peace on 26 February. Though the new regime’s grip on power was threatened by the so-called Paris Commune, which briefly seized control of the capital in March, it nonetheless ratified the definitive Treaty of Frankfurt on 10 May.

Militarism off the leash

Few who ratified the Treaty of Frankfurt could have guessed the immense impact that the Franco-Prussian War would have on the continent of Europe – an impact that was, in the estimation of future British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, greater than the French Revolution. Geopolitically, Europe went from having a ‘soft’ centre, made up of lots of small separate states, to one with a hard core: impressed by Prussia’s military leadership, and driven by public opinion, Germany’s smaller states agreed to cede their independence to Berlin and form a single entity, the German empire. The big question that arose – and persists – is how such a powerful state can operate within the wider family of European nations.

Initially, things worked well enough. Bismarck used his undoubted political talents to preserve peace. However, when he fell from power in 1890, the more pernicious legacies of the 1870 war came to the fore, including militarism. All major powers in the late 19th century were militaristic, but newly unified Germany was more so than most. Prussia’s army, which formed the core of Germany’s military, emerged from the 1870 war with immense prestige. With Bismarck gone, no civilian leader had the stature to challenge its primacy. In Germany and across Europe, the military planner was let off the leash.

For France, defeat came as an awful shock made worse by the harsh treaty that followed, which inflicted the loss of the region of Alsace and part of Lorraine, and the payment of a large reparations bill. This humiliation nurtured a desire for revenge. A generation of schoolchildren grew up taught of the injustices of the peace settlement. In the 1890s, France exploited wider European unease at German power by creating an alliance, which in turn made Germany feel cornered.

This combination of militarism and bitterness created the perfect conditions for the next round of Franco-German conflict, the First World War, which on this occasion dragged in the rest of the world. Tragically, the millions of lives lost between 1914 and 1918 resolved nothing – and it was only after countless more died in the Second World War that the architects of Franco-German reconciliation built an edifice that still dominates Europe’s political landscape.

Chief among these architects were West Germany’s chancellor Konrad Adenauer and French president Charles de Gaulle. Both had fathers who fought in the Franco-Prussian War. Both originated from regions that bordered each other’s nations, and which had been contested throughout the centuries. There may or may not have been a sentimental dimension to their thinking.

The two statesmen also calculated that partnership within a European framework would enhance their ability to influence world events now largely shaped by the two new superpowers, America and the Soviet Union. This is what Adenauer meant when he told one of his French interlocutors that “Europe will be your revenge” shortly after the Suez debacle of 1956, when the US forced France and Britain to back down.

Both de Gaulle and Adenauer recognised the futility of the cycle of Franco-German wars initiated a century previously, and on 22 January 1963 concluded the Élysée Treaty, ushering in a new period of Franco-German friendship. Within this treaty’s framework other initiatives have flowed, designed to extend the relationship from the level of the state to society more broadly, through ideas such as youth exchanges, town twinning and joint history textbooks for schoolchildren. Within these textbooks, the Franco-Prussian War is not forgotten, but rather treated as a shared historical experience.

For Europe more broadly, including Britain, the Franco-German partnership as it now stands raises its own questions. Other European countries fear marginalisation when key decisions are essentially agreed beforehand by Paris and Berlin. Deeper integration is proposed as the best way of empowering these other states, and at the same time resolving the issue first created in 1870: how to run a continent with such a hard core. However, this integration process has spawned its own set of problems. Seen in these terms, it is clear that the legacy of the 1870 war still helps determine our continent’s everyday politics and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Michael Rowe is reader in European history at King’s College London


Franco-Prussian War - History

Comparisons of the Armies

Click image for larger view .

A Needle Gun, and one of the 1st bolt

action rifles ever produced.

Testing Chassepot Needle Rifle Cartouches

1867 French Chassepot Rifle Bayonet

The French Army comprised approximately 400,000 regular soldiers, some of them veterans of the Crimean War , Algeria , Second Italian War of Independence ( 1859 ), and in Mexico supporting the Second Mexican Empire . This strength would increase to 662,000 on full mobilisation with the recall of reservists, with another 400,000 in the loosely organised Garde Mobile , which would require time to train . Unlike the Prussians, who relied on universal conscription, the French relied on long serving professional army . There were also at the time about 60,000 French troops in Algeria . A soldier signed on for a seven year term and was offered bonuses to reenlist . The French thought their veterans would be better in the field than the green recruits of the Prussian army. The French soldiers had many weaknesses such as lack of discipline and alcoholism .

An animation of the Reffye Mitrailleuse of 1867. Multi-barrel Mitrailleuse (grapeshot shooters) were originally developed in Belgium in 1851. The Reffye Mitrailleuse, developed for the French Army in 1865, had 25 barrels and fired 13mm bullets. Firing rate was between 75 and 125 rounds per minute the animation shows the rather cumbersome loading and firing process. France fielded 190 Reffye Mitrailleuse during the Franco-Prussian war (1870-72) but the tactical use of these machine guns had not been worked out, and they were rarely used effectively.

The mitrailleuse was a precursor to the modern machine gun,developed from the American Gatling. The desire to keep it a secret meant that few French soldiers were instructed in its use. It weighed about 1750 lbs and required a team of six horses to transport it.

The Chassepot rifle and the mitrailleuse

French uniforms Illustrated Journal 1870

French colonial soldiers from North Africa, Ghoums and Spahis

A great illustrated reference on the history, organisation,

uniforms and equipment of the French Army

With these two weapons, why did the French not sweep the Prussians from the field as the Prussians had at Koniggratz ? One reason was is that they did not use these weapons effectively. The French battle plan was to mass men in a defensive position and deliver a withering wall of fire - the feu de bataillon . French commanders were not given much leeway in the battlefields as the Prussian officers had, who could improvise better. The Prussians swarmed their open with attacks of smaller groups of men from many different positions seeking to outflank the enemy . The Prussians also negated the French superiority of their rifles with their superior breech-loading steel Krupp cannons .

The French railway system was not as organized for war compared to the Prussians . The Prussians had a special staff to plan and synchronize the movement of troops .

The Prussians had reformed their cavalry service, no longer letting it be the field of the elite, but opening it up to advancement by merit and using it for skirmishing and screening . The French still made use of heavy cavalry with the Charge of the Light Brigade in the Crimean War had shown to be outdated with the longer range of rifles and cannons .

At the beginning of the war, the French could claim to have one of the best navies in the world . It had pioneered new developments in steam, shell-guns and armor . It had 49 ironclads and 9 corvettes armed with 16cm and 19cm guns . The largest French ironclad was the Rochambeau , purchased from America . Against this the Prussians only had 5 ironclads. The Konig Wilhelm ,which remained in port during the war, was more powerful than the French ironclads . When the war began, the French government ordered a blockade of the North German coasts, which the small North German navy (Norddeutsche Bundesmarine) with only five ironclads could do little to oppose. When the war broke out, most of the French navy was used to transport troops from Algeria to France. The was a planned seaborne invasion of the German North Sea coast, but the newly installed Krupp coastal guns and garrison troops of about 90,000 in the Hamburg Bremen area caused these plans to be shelved .

The French Marines were sent to the French army of Chalons and many of them were captured at Sedan.

The French Ironclad Rochambeau, formerly the USS Dunderberg

French gunboat on the Seine, Paris

SMS König Wilhelm, Prussian armored frigate, built in the UK in 1865 .

Illustration of The Battle of Havana on November 9, 1870 was a single ship action between the German gunboat Meteor and the French aviso (dispatch boat) Bouvet off the coast of Havana, Cuba. The battle came to an inconclusive end when the Bouvet, which had closed the range in an attempt to board the Meteor, suffered damage to a steam pipe which knocked out her propulsion and was forced to retreat into neutral waters under sail, whereupon she came under the protection of Spain once again. Neither ship was permanently disabled, mostly suffering damage to masts and rigging .

Prussia was not a country with an army, but an army with a country

Friedrich Freiherr von Schrötte, Prussian minister

Click image for larger view .

Click image for larger view .

The Dreyse needle gun in action at the Battle of Königgrät z (German)

The Prussian Army was composed not of regulars but conscripts and reservists. Service was compulsory for all men of military age, thus Prussia and its North and South German allies could mobilize and field some 1.2 million soldiers in time of war, which it did within 18 days of mobilization. The sheer number of soldiers available made possible the mass-encirclement and destruction of entire enemy formations. Every able bodied man had to serve in the army for three years, then he was released to the reserves for four years and after that he was on call to the national guard for five more years . Compared to the French, the Prussian soldiers were better educated with compulsory primary education that was not the law in France till after the war . An estimated 33,100 officers and 1,113,000 men took part in the war .

A breech loading 1000 pounder Krupp gun.

This won a prize for Krupp at the Great

Exhibition of Paris in 1867

A German ammunition train

Albumen photograph of a Prussian soldier

The German cavalry- the uhlan

Uhlans with their distinctive mortarboard top Pickelhaube

Click photograph for larger image .

The term uhlan comes from the Polish for light cavalry armed with lances, sabers and pistols. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies. Uhlans were tasked with shadowing passenger balloons launched from the city: their capacity for rapid movement made Uhlans the only troops able to keep pace with the balloons.

Uniforms of Prussian soldiers.

Upper right is a uniform of the Death Head Hussars.

Click photograh for larger image .

A French Vivandière or Cantinière, women attached to military


Key Facts & Information

GENERAL FACTS

  • The Franco-Prussian War started on July 19, 1870, and ended on January 28, 1871.
  • It lasted for a total span of 6 months, 1 week, and 2 days.
  • The war happened in France and Prussia.
  • The German forces won the Franco-Prussian War.
  • Here are the significant repercussions of the Franco-Prussian War:
    Treaty of Frankfurt The Second French Empire had fallen The French Third Republic was formed Franco-German enmity began Germany unified and the German Empire was formed Alsace-Lorraine territory in France was formed and annexed by German forces.

CAUSES OF THE WAR

  • Prussia gained power after the Austro-Prussian war of 1816.
  • Prussia annexed several territories, and the North German Confederation was formed.
  • Because of Prussia’s superiority, the European State System, with its rule that no European country should reign over a majority of Europe, was destabilized.
  • Thus, Napoleon III, the emperor of France, demanded compensation.
  • However, Otto von Bismarck of Prussia refused.
  • Prussia allied with the southern German kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden, and Hesse-Darmstadt. By this time, Germany was dominated by Prussia.
  • France strongly opposed Prussia’s further allegiance with other German countries.
  • Since France opposed the nationalist endeavor of Prussia to unite Germany, Prussian officials speculated that a war between France and Germany was necessary.
  • Otto von Bismarck, the Prime Minister of Prussia, believed that a war against France should be waged in order for German Unification to succeed.
  • Bismarck also knew that, with France as their opponent, the French aggression would only push southern German countries to side with Prussia, resulting in their superiority in terms of number.
  • Germans also held a traditional view that France was the destabilizer of Europe.

FORCES INVOLVED

  • Belligerents
    • The German Empire was made up of the German countries of Baden, Bavaria, and Württemberg, along with the North German Confederation.
    • The French forces involved the French Empire and French Republic.
    • William I
    • Otto von Bismarck
    • Helmuth von Moltke
    • Crown Prince Friedrich
    • Prince Friedrich Karl
    • Karl F. von Steinmetz
    • Albrecht von Roon
    • Napoleon III
    • François A. Bazaine
    • Patrice De MacMahon
    • Louis Jules Trochu
    • León Gambetta
    • Giuseppe Garibaldi
    • The German Empire deployed a total of 1,494,412 soldiers in the Franco-Prussian War.
    • Casualties totaled to 144,462
    • 44,700 dead
    • 89,732 wounded
    • 10,129 missing or captured
    • Casualties totaled to 756,285
    • 138,871 dead
    • 143,000 wounded
    • 474,414 captured

    DURING THE WAR

    • No other nations intervened in the Franco-Prussian War.
    • Even though Austria-Hungary and Denmark suffered recent defeat from Prussia and might want to avenge, they were not confident enough to side with France.
    • Napoleon failed to form allegiances with the Russian Empire and United Kingdom, as Bismarck already deployed diplomatic efforts to these kingdoms.
    • One reason why the German army was superior was because of their apt usage of Prussian railroads.
    • The major battles that happened in mid-August of the Franco-Prussian War include:
      • Occupation of Saarbrücken
      • Battle of Wissembourg
      • Battle of Spicheren
      • Battle of Wörth
      • Battle of Mars-La-Tour
      • Battle of Gravelotte
      • Siege of Metz
      • Battle of Sedan

      THE END OF FRANCO-PRUSSIAN WAR

      • Famine ruled Paris, and the French government was forced to initiate peace talks.
      • Peace talks began on January 24, 1871.
      • Ceasefire agreements were achieved.
      • The Germans successfully proposed a treaty.
      • The Germans were given Alsace-Lorraine, the German-speaking region of France.
      • France was also made to recognize the German Empire.
      • This treaty was known as the Treaty of Frankfurt.
      • French President Trochu resigned on January 25, 1871. He was replaced by Favre.
      • At Versailles, French President Favre signed the surrender on January 27, 1871.
      • The French Statesman León Gambetta heard the news and refused to surrender. However, he was convinced to step down and surrender on February 6, 1871.

      Franco-Prussian War Worksheets

      This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the Franco-Prussian War across 25 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Franco-Prussian War worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the Franco-Prussian War, also known as the War of 1870, which was a war between the conflicting countries of France and Germany, particularly the Second French Empire and the North German Confederation spearheaded by the Kingdom of Prussia.

      Complete List Of Included Worksheets

      • Franco-Prussian War Facts
      • Summary Timeline
      • Answer Scramble
      • Correct Choices
      • Key Leaders
      • Troop Classification
      • Battles Collage
      • Franco-Prussian Keywords
      • In My Own Words
      • Battle Name Decoding
      • Image Commentary

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      The Union

      August 4, 1866 Bismarck invited the states of Northern Germany to conclude an alliance with Prussia for a year, during which the principles of unification must be worked out. The Berlin Conference (December 13, 1866 – January 9, 1867) approved the hegemony of Prussia in the North German Union, built on a federative principle.

      The head of the union was the Prussian king, who is also the supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces of all the states that make up the union. The Prussian king was entitled, on behalf of the Union, to declare war, negotiate and conclude peace. Under the authority of the allied bodies, transport communications, monetary matters, criminal cases, and taxes were transferred. All the troops were rebuilt under the Prussian model. The Union Parliament (Reichstag) was elected by direct vote, but received limited powers. Great influence on state affairs enjoyed the Union Council (Bundesrat), which consisted of representatives of sovereigns. Prussia, despite the prevailing number of its subjects in the union, had in the council only 17 votes out of 43.


      Origins

      Success in the latter endeavor would change European power relationships in ways France could hardly be expected to ignore. Contemporary opinion in fact laid primary responsibility for the events of 1870 at the door of Napoleon III, who allegedly forced a conflict to shore up his unstable regime. Beginning in the 1890s, responsibility was increasingly shifted to a Bismarck described as provoking war in the interests of German hegemony: "blood and iron" in a European setting. Late-twentieth-century scholarship emphasizes Bismarck's desire to keep as many options as possible open for as long as possible. He prided himself on being able to step into a situation and stir things up, confident that he could respond to confusion exponentially better than his associates and opponents. In the spring of 1870 he had his chance.

      Bismarck's primary objective was resolving the German question in Prussia's favor. The argument that Bismarck's initial approval of Spain's offer of its vacant crown to Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen (a branch of the ruling house of Prussia) was intended to provoke a war overstates Bismarck's belligerence while underrating his self-confidence. The Hohenzollern candidacy was designed to provoke a crisis with France. But it was so managed that at each stage the final initiative, the final choice, remained with Paris. Bismarck recognized that war was an extremely likely outcome of the situation. At the same time he was testing the intentions of the emperor and of France itself.

      An international incident is what one of the parties involved wishes to define as an international incident. Negotiating room remained in the first days of July, particularly after Leopold withdrew his candidacy in the face of French hostility. But a French government enjoying its triumph overplayed its hand by demanding that Prussia guarantee the candidacy would not be renewed. Bismarck's negative reply was interpreted in Paris as a justification for a war Bismarck by now also believed inevitable. On 15 July the North German Confederation issued its mobilization orders.


      As early as August 1870, the Prussian 3rd Army led by Crown Prince Frederik of Prussia (the future Emperor Frederick III), had been marching towards Paris. [4] A French force accompanied by Napoleon III was deployed to aid the army encircled by Prussians at the Siege of Metz. This force were crushed at the Battle of Sedan, and the road to Paris was left open. Personally leading the Prussian forces, King William I of Prussia, along with his chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke, took the 3rd Army and the new Prussian Army of the Meuse under Crown Prince Albert of Saxony, and marched on Paris virtually unopposed. In Paris, the Governor and commander-in-chief of the city's defenses, General Louis Jules Trochu, assembled a force of 60,000 regular soldiers who had managed to escape from Sedan under Joseph Vinoy or who were gathered from depot troops. Together with 90,000 Mobiles (Territorials), a brigade of 13,000 naval seamen and 350,000 National Guards, the potential defenders of Paris totaled around 513,000. [5] The compulsorily enrolled National Guards were, however, untrained. They had 2,150 cannon plus 350 in reserve, and 8,000,000 kg of gunpowder. [6]

      The Prussian armies quickly reached Paris, and on 15 September Moltke issued orders for the investment of the city. Crown Prince Albert's army closed in on Paris from the north unopposed, while Crown Prince Frederick moved in from the south. On 17 September a force under Vinoy attacked Frederick's army near Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in an effort to save a supply depot there, but it was eventually driven back by artillery fire. [7] The railroad to Orléans was cut, and on the 18th Versailles was taken, and then served as the 3rd Army's and eventually Wilhelm's headquarters. By 19 September the encirclement was complete, and the siege officially began. Responsible for the direction of the siege was General (later Field Marshal) von Blumenthal. [8]

      Prussia's chancellor Otto von Bismarck suggested shelling Paris to ensure the city's quick surrender and render all French efforts to free the city pointless, but the German high command, headed by the king of Prussia, turned down the proposal on the insistence of General von Blumenthal, on the grounds that a bombardment would affect civilians, violate the rules of engagement, and turn the opinion of third parties against the Germans, without speeding up the final victory.

      It was also contended that a quick French surrender would leave the new French armies undefeated and allow France to renew the war shortly after. The new French armies would have to be annihilated first, and Paris would have to be starved into surrender.

      Trochu had little faith in the ability of the National Guards, which made up half the force defending the city. So instead of making any significant attempt to prevent the investment by the Germans, Trochu hoped that Moltke would attempt to take the city by storm, and the French could then rely on the city's defenses. These consisted of the 33 km (21 mi) Thiers wall and a ring of sixteen detached forts, all of which had been built in the 1840s. [9] Moltke never had any intention of attacking the city and this became clear shortly after the siege began. Trochu changed his plan and allowed Vinoy to make a demonstration against the Prussians west of the Seine. On 30 September Vinoy attacked Chevilly with 20,000 soldiers and was soundly repulsed by the 3rd Army. Then on 13 October the II Bavarian Corps was driven from Châtillon but the French were forced to retire in face of Prussian artillery.

      General Carey de Bellemare commanded the strongest fortress north of Paris at Saint Denis. [10]

      On 29 October de Bellemare attacked the Prussian Guard at Le Bourget without orders, and took the town. [11] The Guard actually had little interest in recapturing their positions at Le Bourget, but Crown Prince Albert ordered the city retaken anyway. In the battle of Le Bourget the Prussian Guards succeeded in retaking the city and captured 1,200 French soldiers. Upon hearing of the French surrender at Metz and the defeat at Le Bourget, morale in Paris began to sink. The people of Paris were beginning to suffer from the effects of the German blockade. Hoping to boost morale on 30 November Trochu launched the largest attack from Paris even though he had little hope of achieving a breakthrough. Nevertheless, he sent Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot with 80,000 soldiers against the Prussians at Champigny, Créteil and Villiers. In what became known as the battle of Villiers the French succeeded in capturing and holding a position at Créteil and Champigny. By 2 December the Württemberg Corps had driven Ducrot back into the defenses and the battle was over by 3 December.

      On 19 January a final breakout attempt was aimed at the Château of Buzenval in Rueil-Malmaison near the Prussian Headquarters, west of Paris. The Crown Prince easily repulsed the attack inflicting over 4,000 casualties while suffering just over 600. Trochu resigned as governor and left General Joseph Vinoy with 146,000 defenders.

      During the winter, tensions began to arise in the Prussian high command. Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke and General Leonhard, Count von Blumenthal, who commanded the siege, were primarily concerned with a methodical siege that would destroy the detached forts around the city and slowly strangle the defending forces with a minimum of German casualties.

      But as time wore on, there was growing concern that a prolonged war was placing too much strain on the German economy and that an extended siege would convince the French Government of National Defense that Prussia could still be beaten. A prolonged campaign would also allow France time to reconstitute a new army and convince neutral powers to enter the war against Prussia. To Bismarck, Paris was the key to breaking the power of the intransigent republican leaders of France, ending the war in a timely manner, and securing peace terms favourable to Prussia. Moltke was also worried that insufficient winter supplies were reaching the German armies investing the city, as diseases such as tuberculosis were breaking out amongst the besieging soldiers. In addition, the siege operations competed with the demands of the ongoing Loire Campaign against the remaining French field armies.

      In January, on Bismarck's advice, the Germans fired some 12,000 shells into the city over 23 nights in an attempt to break Parisian morale. [12] About 400 perished or were wounded by the bombardment which, "had little effect on the spirit of resistance in Paris." [13] Delescluze declared, "The Frenchmen of 1870 are the sons of those Gauls for whom battles were holidays."

      Due to a severe shortage of food, Parisians were forced to slaughter whatever animals were at hand. Rats, dogs, cats, and horses were the first to be slaughtered and became regular fare on restaurant menus. Once the supply of those animals ran low, the citizens of Paris turned on the zoo animals residing at Jardin des plantes. Even Castor and Pollux, the only pair of elephants in Paris, were slaughtered for their meat. [14]

      A Latin Quarter menu contemporary with the siege reads in part:

      * Consommé de cheval au millet. (horse) * Brochettes de foie de chien à la maître d'hôtel. (dog) * Emincé de rable de chat. Sauce mayonnaise. (cat) * Epaules et filets de chien braisés. Sauce aux tomates. (dog) * Civet de chat aux champignons. (cat) * Côtelettes de chien aux petits pois. (dog) * Salamis de rats. Sauce Robert. (rats) * Gigots de chien flanqués de ratons. Sauce poivrade. (dog, rats) * Begonias au jus. (flowers) * Plum-pudding au rhum et à la Moelle de Cheval. (horse)

      Air medical transport is often stated to have first occurred in 1870 during the siege of Paris when 160 wounded French soldiers were evacuated from the city by hot-air balloon, but this myth has been definitively disproven by full review of the crew and passenger records of each balloon which left Paris during the siege. [15]

      During the siege, the only head of diplomatic mission from a major power who remained in Paris was United States Minister to France, Elihu B. Washburne. As a representative of a neutral country, Washburne was able to play a unique role in the conflict, becoming one of the few channels of communication into and out of the city for much of the siege. He also led the way in providing humanitarian relief to foreign nationals, including ethnic Germans. [16]

      On 25 January 1871, Wilhelm I overruled Moltke and ordered the field-marshal to consult with Bismarck for all future operations. Bismarck immediately ordered the city to be bombarded with large-caliber Krupp siege guns. This prompted the city's surrender on 28 January 1871. Paris sustained more damage in the 1870–1871 siege than in any other conflict.

      Secret armistice discussions began on January 23, 1871 and continued at Versailles between Jules Favre and Bismarck until the 27th. On the French side there was concern that the National Guard would rebel when news of the capitulation became public. Bismarck's advice was "provoke an uprising, then, while you still have an army with which to suppress it". The final terms agreed on were that the French regular troops (less one division) would be disarmed, Paris would pay an indemnity of two hundred million francs, and the fortifications around the perimeter of the city would be surrendered. In return the armistice was extended until February 19. [17]

      Food supplies from the provinces, as well as shiploads from Britain and the United States, began to enter the starving city almost immediately. [18] Thirty thousand Prussian, Bavarian and Saxon troops held a brief victory parade in Paris on March 1, 1871 and Bismarck honored the armistice by sending trainloads of food into the city. The German troops departed after two days to take up temporary encampments to the east of the city, to be withdrawn from there when France paid the agreed war indemnity. While Parisians scrubbed the streets "polluted" by the triumphal entry, no serious incidents occurred during the short and symbolic occupation of the city. This was in part because the Germans had avoided areas such as Belleville, where hostility was reportedly high. [19]

      Balloon mail was the only means by which communications from the besieged city could reach the rest of France. The use of balloons to carry mail was first proposed by the photographer and balloonist Felix Nadar, who had established the grandiosely titled No. 1 Compagnie des Aérostatiers, with a single balloon, the Neptune, at its disposal, to perform tethered ascents for observation purposes. However the Prussian encirclement of the city made this pointless, and on 17 September Nadar wrote to the Council for the Defence of Paris proposing the use of balloons for communication with the outside world: a similar proposal had also been made by the balloonist Eugène Godard.

      The first balloon launch was carried out on 23 September, using the Neptune, and carried 125 kg (276 lb) of mail in addition to the pilot. After a three-hour flight it landed at Craconville 83 km (52 mi) from Paris. [20] Following this success a regular mail service was established, with a rate of 20 centimes per letter. Two workshops to manufacture balloons were set up, one under the direction of Nadar in the Elysềe-Montmartre dance-hall (later moved to the Gare du Nord), [21] and the other under the direction of Godard in the Gare d'Orleans. Around 66 balloon flights were made, including one that accidentally set a world distance record by ending up in Norway. [22] The vast majority of these succeeded: only five were captured by the Prussians, and three went missing, presumably coming down in the Atlantic or Irish Sea. The number of letters carried has been estimated at around 2.5 million. [23]

      Some balloons also carried passengers in addition to the cargo of mail, most notably Léon Gambetta, the minister for War in the new government, who was flown out of Paris on 7 October. The balloons also carried homing pigeons out of Paris to be used for a pigeon post. This was the only means by which communications from the rest of France could reach the besieged city. A specially laid telegraph cable on the bed of the Seine had been discovered and cut by the Prussians on 27 September, [24] couriers attempting to make their way through the German lines were almost all intercepted and although other methods were tried including attempts to use balloons, dogs and message canisters floated down the Seine, these were all unsuccessful. The pigeons were taken to their base, first at Tours and later at Poitiers, and when they had been fed and rested were ready for the return journey. Tours lies some 200 km (120 mi) from Paris and Poitiers some 300 km (190 mi) distant. Before release, they were loaded with their dispatches. Initially the pigeon post was only used for official communications but on 4 November the government announced that members of the public could send messages, these being limited to twenty words at a charge of 50 centimes per word. [25]

      These were then copied onto sheets of cardboard and photographed by a M. Barreswille, a photographer based in Tours. Each sheet contained 150 messages and was reproduced as a print about 40 by 55 mm (1.6 by 2.2 in) in size: each pigeon could carry nine of these. The photographic process was further refined by René Dagron to allow more to be carried: Dagron, with his equipment, was flown out of Paris on 12 November in the aptly named Niépce, narrowly escaping capture by the Prussians. The photographic process allowed multiple copies of the messages to be sent, so that although only 57 of the 360 pigeons released reached Paris more than 60,000 of the 95,000 messages sent were delivered. [26] [27] (some sources give a considerably higher figure of around 150,000 official and 1 million private communications, [28] but this figure is arrived at by counting all copies of each message.)

      Late in the siege, Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor on 18 January 1871 at the Palace of Versailles. The kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg, and Saxony, the states of Baden and Hesse, and the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen were unified with the North German Confederation to create the German Empire. The preliminary peace treaty was signed at Versailles, and the final peace treaty, the Treaty of Frankfurt, was signed on 10 May 1871. Otto von Bismarck was able to secure Alsace-Lorraine as part of the German Empire.

      The continued presence of German troops outside the city angered Parisians. Further resentment arose against the French government, and in March 1871 Parisian workers and members of the National Guard rebelled and established the Paris Commune, a radical socialist government, which lasted through late May of that year.

      Empires of Sand by David W. Ball (Bantam Dell, 1999) is a novel in two parts, the first of which is set during the Franco-Prussian war, more particularly the Siege of Paris during the winter of 1870-71. Key elements of the siege, including the hot-air balloons used for reconnaissance and messages, the tunnels beneath the city, the starvation and the cold, combine to render a vivid impression of war-time Paris before its surrender.

      The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett is a novel which follows the fortunes of two sisters, Constance and Sophia Baines. The latter runs away to make a disastrous marriage in France, where after being abandoned by her husband, she lives through the Siege of Paris and the Commune.

      Elusive Liberty is a novel by Glen Davies. It follows the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, Major Auguste Bartholdi, who fought against the German invaders as an aide-de-camp to General Garibaldi and is in Paris during the siege. [29]

      The King in Yellow, a short story collection by Robert W. Chambers, published in 1895, includes a story titled "The Street of the First Shell" which takes place over a few days of the siege. [30]

      Woman of the Commune (1895, AKA A Girl of the Commune) by G. A. Henty, also published in 1895, spans the Prussian siege and the ensuing events of the Paris Commune. [31]

      The Master, a 2012 film by Paul Thomas Anderson, alludes to the Siege when Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tells Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix) that they both were part of the pigeon post.


      La débâcle! The aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War

      As an Emile Zola masterpiece makes tragically clear, defeat in the Franco-Prussian War was among the greatest calamities in French history – one that, says Misha Glenny, was to have grave consequences for the wider world in the 20th century.

      This competition is now closed

      Published: December 2, 2015 at 3:35 pm

      Exhausted and disoriented, Jean Macquart climbed over a ridge with his new friend, Maurice, and the other men in his company. In front of them they saw “through the evening mists a ribbon of pale silver in the immense panorama of meadows and cultivated land. It was the Meuse, the longed-for Meuse…”

      Maurice, the student who had so recently been leading a dissolute life in Paris, was finding his new career as a soldier a shattering experience. The familiarity of the landscape gave him renewed strength.

      “Pointing to little distant lights twinkling merrily through the trees in this rich valley, making a charming picture in the tints of twilight, [he] said to Jean, with the joyful relief of a man finding himself back in his beloved homeland: ‘Oh, look down there… that’s Sedan!’”

      The date was 31 August 1870, the very eve of the battle of Sedan, a catastrophic reversal for the French army that all-but condemned it to defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. This was a seismic moment in modern history, for not only did it bring Emperor Napoleon III’s reign crashing down in ignominy and lead to the establishment of the Paris Commune (a radical socialist government that ruled the city for two months), it would also fashion a historical dynamic of enmity between France and Germany that would wreck Europe and the wider world in the 20th century.

      Macquart’s arrival at the Meuse is arguably the most poignant scene in Emile Zola’s novel La Débâcle, a true masterpiece which has been largely forgotten outside the author’s native France. And even there it has receded since its rapturous reception when it was first published 21 years after the traumatic events.

      Although the penultimate novel in a 20-book family saga, known collectively after the main protagonists Rougon-Macquart, La Débâcle is as much a piece of reportage as it is a novel. As such it sits as a slight oddity in the highly literary sequence. But far from diminishing its impact, this style heightens the importance and authenticity of the work. Above all, Zola’s novel offers illuminating insights into the psychological mood of the French as they attempted to process the disintegration of their nation at the end of the Franco-Prussian War.

      Napoleon Bonaparte’s nephew, Louis Napoleon, or Emperor Napoleon III, has shouldered much of the blame for the French defeat. The diplomatic events leading up to the conflict demonstrated that, whatever qualities the emperor may have possessed, these were no match for Otto von Bismarck. The Prussian chancellor knew exactly how to play Napoleon’s ego, provoking the emperor through his presentation of the famous Ems telegram, which misleadingly implied that the Prussian king, William I, and the French ambassador, Count Vincent Benedetti, had insulted each other at a recent conversation over the future of the Spanish throne. Within days, Napoleon – alarmed at the rise of Prussian power throughout the 1860s – had taken the bait and declared war.

      Bismarck’s genius

      Despite his neurotic personality, Bismarck was a political genius whose ability to persuade friends, opponents and neutrals alike to act as he wished, raises him, to my mind, high above his 19th-century peers. Equally, his use of warfare to achieve carefully designed political goals, most of them domestic, was remarkable.

      This is demonstrated by a series of triumphs on the battlefield, beginning with victory over the Danes at Schleswig-Holstein in 1864 and then moving on to the audacious defeat of Austria at Hradec Kralové (Königgrätz) in 1866. By making it a hat-trick with victory in Sedan, Bismarck achieved his primary aim – the absorption of the central and southern German states, minus Austria, into a new country, with the centre of power in Berlin.

      Zola believed that blame lay squarely on Napoleon III’s shoulders. And he wasn’t alone in this. Victor Hugo passed the most withering judgment on the emperor using just three words: Napoleon, le Petit.

      Sedan was the horrifying symptom of a disease that had coursed through the entire economic and political body – a metaphor that Zola deployed repeatedly in his descriptions of the aftermath of the battle. He believed that restoring France would involve chopping off many of its putrid limbs.

      More recently, French historians have sought to rehabilitate Napoleon III in recognition of his role as a moderniser. Under his rule, the French started to industrialise, rationalise the banking system and, of course, Baron Haussmann redesigned Paris. It is worth remembering that it is Haussmann’s Paris that today makes the French capital the world’s top tourist destination.

      But from his vantage point just two decades later, Zola was oblivious to these achievements, because the consequences of 1870–71 shook France to its core.

      And yet, great writer that he is, Zola also sympathises with Napoleon’s personal tragedy. He and his ludicrous entourage, which was like a petit Versailles in permanent transit, trailed around behind the army as it suffered defeat after defeat. By this time, Napoleon himself was ridden with disease and suffering chronic pain while his wife, influential politicians and generals were conspiring against him.

      There is something profoundly moving about Zola’s descriptions of Napoleon’s pathetic attempts to revive his uncle’s charisma on the battlefield, as observed by Maurice’s cousin: “[His] moustache was so waxed and his cheeks were so rouged that he at once thought he looked much younger, and made up like an actor. Surely he must have had himself made up so as not to go round displaying to the army the horror of his colourless face all twisted with pain, his fleshless nose and muddy eyes. Having been warned at five in the morning that there was fighting at Bazeilles, he had come like a silent, gloomy ghost with its flesh all brightened up with vermilion.”

      Zola believed the rottenness had spread through most of the country’s institutions. He was unsurprisingly contemptuous of the general staff, which had assumed that the French army would reach Berlin within a matter of two weeks after the declaration of war. While equipped with detailed maps of the German states, the French military astonishingly possessed no maps of eastern France.

      It never occurred to them that Prussian and Bavarian troops would cross swiftly and efficiently into Alsace before the French had even completed their mobilisation.

      Equally, the military was slipping behind the Prussians in technology. The decisive weapon at Sedan was not the mitrailleuse – the machine-gun had been slowly developing for two years – but the Prussian breech-loading cannons manufactured by Krupp, which almost completely outgunned the French muzzle loaders.

      After the Franco-Prussian War, France was compelled to cede Alsace-Lorraine to the new German empire. It was also liable to pay reparations of 5bn gold francs within five years, a circumstance that directly influenced France’s uncompromising stance on reparations at the end of the First World War, with all the economic consequences of that peace.

      Out of the Franco-Prussian War emerged the original revanchisme, a powerful movement of French nationalism dedicated to the restoration of sovereignty over Alsace-Lorraine and to avenge the defeat in 1870. The seeds of the First World War were sown and they started germinating almost immediately.

      Sedan and the later French capitulation at the Prussian siege of Metz were much more significant in their implications than the victory of the British and Prussians at Waterloo. Yet in this country, their significance is barely recognised. A pity. Zola certainly understood their gravity.

      The fall of France, 1864–71

      1864–66 French alarm at Berlin’s growing power soars following Prussian victories over Austria and Denmark

      June 1870 Tensions intensify when a Prussian-endorsed candidate accepts the Spanish throne

      14 July Bismarck publishes the Ems telegram, with the aim of provoking the French

      19 July Napoleon III declares war on Prussia

      2 August After rapid Prussian mobilisation, 380,000 troops are massed on the French border

      16–18 August The French fail to break through the advancing Germans at Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte. They are forced into retreat

      1 September Napoleon III surrenders following defeat at the battle of Sedan, but French forces fight on

      4 September A new government of National Defence takes power in Paris, proclaiming the birth of the Third Republic

      27 October Following a two-month siege, 140,000 French troops surrender at Metz

      28 January 1871 Paris surrenders to Prussian forces and France signs an armistice

      18 March Radicals establish a revolutionary government in Paris – known as the Paris Commune. It is defeated by French government forces on 28 May

      10 May France signs the Treaty of Frankfurt. It will pay Prussia 5bn francs. Germany annexes Alsace and half of Lorraine

      Misha Glenny is a journalist and former central European correspondent for The Guardian and the BBC. His books include The Balkans: 1804–2012 (Granta Books, 2012)


      The Siege of Paris during the Franco-Prussian War

      Through the first half of 1870 a confrontational fever with Germany spread throughout France. On July 15 Emperor Napoleon III led his nation "into one of the most disastrous wars in her history." (1) The Franco-Prussian conflict did not officially commence until July 19, 1870. In the course of its first weeks it produced a series of demoralizing defeats for the French. The army of Napoleon III "went to war ill-equipped, badly led, trained and organized, and with inferior numbers." (2) On August 19, one French army was trapped in the fortress of Metz and on September 1, the Empire of Napoleon III came crushing down when a second army was captured at Sedan with the Emperor himself. Three days later the news reached Paris and the fall of the Empire was proclaimed. The Empress left for England and a provisional government took power. (3) For the next five months, the "city of lights," as Parisians had proudly proclaimed "the center of the universe," was transformed. It became an army camp--French soldiers, National Guardsmen, volunteers-within, Prussian forces without. Luxuries, and then basic necessities slowly disappeared. Food became scarce, and the inhabitants resorted to edibles normally associated with other species. The government under General Trochu and leaders like Victor Hugo, Jules Favre, and Adolphe Thiers, tried to govern internal as well as external pressures. Finally, on January 27, an armistice was signed. It brought temporary calm to the capital, before the storm of the Paris commune and the second siege arrived.

      The new government in Paris, after the defeat at Sedan, was composed in part by publicists, politicians, lawyers, and teachers who had opposed Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat in 1851. "The Government of National Defense" was the official title, and nearly all kinds of political opinions were included, with the exception of the Bonapartists. The actual power rested with the Legitimists, Orleanists, and other conservatives. General Trochu, military governor of Paris and an Orleanist, held the presidency. Others included Leon Gambetta-minister of the Interior, General Le Flo- Minister for War, Jules Favre-Minister of Foreign Affairs and vice-president, Victor Hugo, Count Henri Rochefort-journalist and political enemy of Napoleon III who spent many years in prison, and Adolphe Thiers-the old minister of Louis Phillipe who went on diplomatic missions for the new republic. (4) Besides the day-to-day operation of the government, the three main objectives of the Government of National Defense were the procurement of a favorable peace treaty, enlistment of the aid of foreign powers, and the military preparation of Paris. The first objective got off to a bad start on September 6 when Jules Favre announced, "France would not give up an inch of her territory nor a stone of her fortresses." (5) This attitude went counter to that of Otto Von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, who saw the cession of territory as being as indispensable to the Prussians as it was inadmissible to the French. Bismarck demanded the immediate turnover of Alsace-Lorraine as well as Metz, Strasbourg, and Mont-Valerien (the fortress commanding Paris). Bismarck's proposals were rejected and the government was forced to defend the city and continue the war. Negotiations continued however, nothing concrete came out of them until the end of January when Jules Favre was sent to Versailles to discuss the terms of armistice. By this time Paris had been bombarded, food and other essential stores were nearly exhausted, and Prussian victories throughout the rest of France were a daily occurrence.

      The armistice was to set up the preliminary conditions for a peace treaty to be signed. Its terms included the surrender of all French fortifications, except those serving as prisons laying down their weapons with the exception of the Army which was to act independently for the maintenance of order, the immediate exchange of prisoners, and Paris was to pay 200,000,000 francs for war reparations within a fortnight. Also, anyone leaving the city needed a French military pass. (6) Back in September, the French government began pursuing the second objective, acquiring foreign aid, when Thiers was sent to England, Austria, and Russia to enlist help. He was sympathetically welcomed, but was unable to shore up any support. Only America showed enthusiasm for the new French Republic, however they were not yet ready to intervene on their behalf. Thiers tried again in October with the same results. From that point on he was used solely as the representative of the French government in the ongoing negotiations with Bismarck. Prior to the investment of Paris, the provisional government made efforts to prepare the military forces of the city. These efforts included: manpower allocations, defensive fortification and supplies. Troops were brought back from the surrounding provinces. General Vinoy's forces, which escaped capture at Sedan, were later consolidated with those of the provinces. Together they became the Provincial Mobile Guard. Meanwhile the National Guard furnished sufficient manpower to increase its size from 90,000 to more than 300,000 men. (7) Another aspect of the military preparation was the establishment of strong defensive fortifications. The forts in the vicinity of Paris were abandoned because it would have required too much work and time to get them ready, and the decision was made to move the defensive lines closer to the city's environs. All forests and wooded areas deemed favorable to enemy advantage were cut. Thus were the forests of Montmorency, Bundy, Boulogne, and Vincennes treated. The allocation of supplies was vital to the defense of Paris. Barracks, hospitals and factories for the manufacture of military hardware were established all over the city. Railway shops became cannon foundries, while tobacco factories became arsenals. The Louvre was transformed into an armament shop after the art gallery was moved for safekeeping. Balloons were constructed at the Orleans railway stations. (8) Hotels, department stores, theaters, and public buildings served as hospitals. The Tuileries and the Napoleon and Empress Circuses became barracks. (9) When in action, all the forces were under the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and subject to military law. Most of these actions centered on small sorties, unassumingly called "reconnaissances." In late September 1870, the objects of the sorties were to test the tenacity of the troops and probe the Prussian circle to determine its vulnerability. As for the Prussians, once the city was surrounded and more troops made available for the siege, the question was whether to bombard the capital or starve it into surrender. In his diary entry for October 8, Crown Prince Frederick states, "we shall certainly have to make up our minds to a bombardment of Paris. but to postpone as long as possible their actual accomplishment, for I count definitely on starving out the city." (10) The bombardment did not begin until January 4. The arrival of the shelling did not panic the Parisians. They had been expecting it since October.

      Precautions were taken to protect all works of art. Sandbags were placed in the windows of the Louvre, the School of Fine Arts and other important buildings, while outside monuments were taken underground. The bombardment lasted twenty-three days, usually from two to five hours each night. In the end, the Parisians refused to be intimidated and the psychological advantage of this tactic was lost. The siege of Paris slowly made its impact in an area critical to survival: the economy. According to a correspondent for The Times of London, "Business for France is everywhere broken up, and one-third of the country is devastated and ruined." (11) The first segment to directly feel the enclosure was the import and export activity. In order to survive, Paris needed a self-supporting economy, while also channeling most of its resources for the defense. Factories were now employed in making military necessities, instead of consumer goods. When the siege dragged on, the prospects for a speedy recovery evaporated and finally gave out completely when the bombardment began as some of those factories, in conjunction with other businesses, were damaged. The Prussians might not have been purposely inclined to destroy the French economy, except in one particular area: food consumption. The government's failure to establish a census system early during the siege caused it to miscalculate on its supply of comestibles, playing into the hands of the invaders. The census did not take place until December 30 and it was discovered that Paris contained a population of 2,005,709 residents excluding the armed forces. (12) The government however, did ask foreigners to leave, but the number who did was offset by the arrival of refugees from the provinces. This number of inhabitants and the Prussian encirclement had disastrous consequences. Early in 1870, the price of food had increased and by the start of the Franco-Prussian conflict it was 25 percent higher. (13) Prices did not go much higher because the government announced the number of cattle, sheep, and hogs within Paris to be adequate. However, everyone, even the government, believed the siege would last a very short time, perhaps a maximum of two months. The situation did not change until the early days of October. A few days before October 15, butchers suddenly refused to sell more than a day's ration. On October 15, the official rationing of meat began and continued throughout the entire siege, each portion becoming smaller and smaller. Eventually, nothing was left and Parisians resorted to other types of meat. The first substitute for the regular meat diet was horse. Parisians disdained it, at first, and it took the Horse-Eating Society to inform the public of the advantages to eating horse. When it finally came down to eating them, all breeds were included, from thoroughbred to mules. With time even this type of nourishment became rare, so other meats were introduced into the diet. Dogs, cats, and rats (14) were frequently eaten. The animals of the zoo were added to this diet, including Castor and Pollux, the two elephants that were the pride of Paris. Only the lions, tigers, and monkeys were spared the big cats for the difficulty of approaching them, the monkeys because of "some vague Darwinian notion that they were the relatives of the people of Paris and eating them would be tantamount to cannibalism." (15)

      During the middle of January, the government placed bread on the ration list, setting the daily quota at 300 grams for adults and half that amount for children. Parisians then realized that they were on the verge of starvation. As for the Prussians, this meant a quick solution to the conflict as Frederick III writes on his diary entry for January 7, "There is news from Bordeaux that provisions in Paris would be exhausted about the end of January, and at best could only last until early in February. I trust this may be true." (16) The terrible ordeal suffered by Paris between 1870-1871 was not their first, according to a German newspaper story reprinted in The Times. In 1590, Henry IV stood before Paris much like Bismarck was doing, and the city knew nothing worse. According to the story, the people of Paris forgot what meat was and they had to subsist on leaves or roots dug up from under stones. Terrible diseases broke out and in three months 12,000 people died. Bread no longer existed while all the dogs were captured and eaten. (17) The maledictions associated with siege warfare were no strangers to Parisians however, the peace treaty with Germany brought needed relief before the arrival of the Paris Commune with its own set of trials and tribulations.

      1. "The French Army and Politics 1870-1970"- pg. 7

      3. "The War Against Paris"- pg. 1

      4. "The Siege of Paris 1870-1871"- pg. 6

      6. "The War Diary of the Emperor Frederick III"- pg. 283

      7. "The Siege of Paris 1870-1871"- pg. 22

      8. Balloons served to carry the mail and diplomats outside the city safely from Prussian attack. Pigeons were used to carry messages. For more on this aspect of the siege read "Airlift 1870" by John Fisher.

      9. "The Siege of Paris 1870-1871"- pg. 24

      10. "The War Diary of the Emperor Frederick III"- pg. 150

      11. The Times of London, 1870 edition

      12. "The Siege of Paris 1870-1871"- pg. 43

      14. The price of rats became so high that not everyone could afford this delicacy, which was considered of the highest quality since rats fed on cheese and grains.

      15. "The Siege of Paris 1870-1871"- pg. 63

      16. "The War Diary of Emperor Frederick III"- pg. 253

      17. The Times of London, 1870 edition Bibliography Kranzberg, Melvin. The Siege of Paris, 1870-1871. A Political and Social History. Greenwood Press Publishers. Connecticut. 1950 Tombs, Robert. The War Against Paris- 1871. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge. 1981 Allinson, A. R. (translator and editor)- The War Diary of the Emperor Frederick III- 1870-1871. Greenwood Press Publishers. Connecticut. 1926 Horne, Alistair. The French Army and Politics- 1870 to 1970. Peter Bedrick Books. New York. 1984


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