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A Cultural History of Prussian State-Building after Civil War, 1866–1935

The further crushing French loss was sealed when he surrendered , soldiers on October The Prussians, under the command of Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke, took advantage of this incompetent maneuver to catch the French in a pincer grip. After a hard-fought battle with the French losing 5, men and 40 cannons in a sharp fight, they withdrew toward Sedan.

Napoleon III ordered the army to break out of the encirclement immediately. With MacMahon wounded on the previous day, Gen. Auguste Ducrot took command of the French troops in the field. But by , Prussian artillery took a toll on the French while more Prussian troops arrived on the battlefield.

The French cavalry, commanded by General Marguerite, launched three desperate attacks on the nearby village of Floing where the Prussian XI Corps was concentrated. Marguerite was killed leading the very first charge and the two additional charges led to nothing but heavy losses. By the end of the day, with no hope of breaking out, Napoleon III called off the attacks.

The French lost over 17, men, killed or wounded, with 21, captured.

Prussian Blue (Bernie Gunther, #12) by Philip Kerr

The Prussians reported their losses at 2, killed, 5, wounded and captured or missing. By the next day, on September 2, Napoleon III surrendered and was taken prisoner with , of his soldiers. It was an overwhelming victory for the Prussians, for they not only captured an entire French army, but the leader of France as well. The defeat of the French at Sedan had decided the war in Prussia's favor.

One French army was now immobilized and besieged in the city of Metz, and no other forces stood on French ground to prevent a German invasion. The war, nevertheless would drag on for five more months. They removed the second Bonapartist monarchy and proclaimed a republic led by a Government of National Defense, leading to the Third Republic.

Napoleon III was taken to Germany, and released later. He went into exile in the United Kingdom , dying in After the German victory at Sedan, most of France's standing forces were out of combat, one army was immobilized and besieged in the city of Metz, and the army led by Emperor Napoleon III himself had surrendered to the Germans. Under these circumstances, the Germans hoped for an armistice which would put an official end to the hostilities and lead to peace. Prussia's Prime Minister von Bismarck, in particular, entertained that hope for he wanted to end the war as soon as possible.

To a nation with as many neighbors as Prussia, a prolonged war meant the growing risk of intervention by another power, and von Bismarck was determined to limit that risk. At first, the outlook for peace seemed fair. The Germans estimated that the new government of France could not be interested in continuing the war that had been declared by the monarch they had quickly deposed. As Prussia had recently acquired large areas populated by Catholics, further extensions were not considered desirable by Bismarck.

While the republican government was amenable to reparation payments or transfer of colonial territories in Africa or in South East Asia to Prussia, Jules Favre on behalf of the Government of National Defense declared on 6 September that France would not "yield an inch of its territory nor a stone of its fortresses. Under these circumstances, the Germans had to continue the war, yet couldn't pin down any proper military opposition in their vicinity.

As the bulk of the remaining French armies were digging-in near Paris, the German leaders decided to put pressure upon the enemy by attacking Paris. In October, German troops reached the outskirts of Paris, a heavily fortified city. The Germans surrounded it and erected a blockade, as already established and ongoing at Metz. When the war broke out, European public opinion heavily favored the Germans.

For example, many Italians attempted to sign up as volunteers at the Prussian embassy in Florence , and a Prussian diplomat visited Giuseppe Garibaldi in Caprera. Bismarck's demand for the return of Alsace caused a dramatic shift in that sentiment in Italy, which was best exemplified by the reaction of Garibaldi soon after the revolution in Paris, who told the Movimento of Genoa on September 7, that "Yesterday I said to you: war to the death to Bonaparte.

Today I say to you: rescue the French Republic by every means. Faced with the German blockade of Paris, the new French government called for the establishment of several large armies in France's provinces.

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These new bodies of troops were to march towards Paris and attack the Germans there from various directions at the same time. In addition, armed French civilians were to create a guerilla force—the so-called Francs-tireurs —for the purpose of attacking German support lines. These developments prompted calls from the German civilian public for a bombardment of the city. Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, who commanded the siege , was opposed to the bombardment on civilized grounds.

Changing images of Germany in International Relations

In this he was backed by other senior military figures such as the Crown Prince and Moltke. All of them had married English wives and as a result they were accused of coming under English liberal influence. News about an alleged German "extermination" plan infuriated the French and strengthened their support to their new government.

Within a few weeks, five new armies totaling more than , troops were recruited. The Germans noticed this development and dispatched some of their troops to the French provinces in order to detect, attack, and disperse the new French armies before they could become a menace, for the blockade of Paris or elsewhere. The Germans were not prepared for an occupation of the whole of France. This would stretch them out, and they would become vulnerable. At first, the Germans were victorious, but the French drew reinforcements and defeated the Germans at Coulmiers on November 9.

But after the surrender of Metz, more than , well-trained and battle-experienced German troops joined the German 'Southern Army'. Quentin January The Army of the North had achieved several small victories at towns such as Ham, La Hallue, and Amiens, and was well-protected by the belt of fortresses in northern France, allowing Faidherbe's men to launch quick attacks against isolated Prussian units, then retreat behind the belt of fortresses. Despite the army's access to the armaments factories of Lille, the Army of the North suffered from severe supply difficulties which kept the soldiers' already poor morale at a permanently low level.

In January , Gambetta forced Faidherbe to march his army beyond the fortresses and engage the Prussians in open battle.

The Germans - Bismarck and the German Empire - DW Documentary

The army was severely weakened by low morale, supply problems, the terrible winter weather, and low troop quality, whilst General Faidherbe himself was unable to direct battles effectively due to his terrible health, the result of decades of campaigning in West Africa. At the Battle of St. Quentin, the Army of the North suffered a crushing defeat and was scattered, releasing thousands of Prussian soldiers to be relocated to the East.

In a final attempt to cut the German supply lines in northeast France, Bourbaki's army marched north to attack the Prussian siege of Belfort and relieve the beleaguered French defenders. In the battle of the Lisaine, Bourbaki's men failed to break through German lines commanded by General August von Werder. Facing annihilation, this last intact French army crossed the border and was disarmed and imprisoned by the neutral Swiss near Pontarlier February 1.

With Paris starving, and Gambetta's provincial armies reeling from one disaster after another, French foreign minister Jules Favre went to Versailles on January 24 to discuss peace terms with Bismarck. Bismarck agreed to end the siege and allow food convoys to immediately enter Paris including trains carrying millions of German army rations , on condition that the Government of National Defense surrender several key fortresses outside Paris to the Prussians.

Without the forts, the French Army would no longer be able to defend Paris. Although public opinion in Paris was strongly against any form of surrender or concession to the Prussians, the Government realized that it could not hold the city for much longer, and that Gambetta's provincial armies would probably never break through to relieve Paris. President Jules Trochu resigned on January 25 and was replaced by Jules Favre, who signed the surrender two days later at Versailles, with the armistice coming into effect at midnight. Several sources claim that in his carriage on the way back to Paris, Favre broke into tears, and collapsed into his daughter's arms as the guns around Paris fell silent at midnight.

Furious, he refused to surrender and launched an immediate attack on German forces at Orleans which, predictably, failed. A delegation of Parisian diplomats arrived in Tours by train on February 5 to negotiate with Gambetta, and the following day Gambetta stepped down and surrendered control of the provincial armies to the Government of National Defense, which promptly ordered a ceasefire across France. The Prussian Army held a brief victory parade in Paris on February 17, and Bismarck honored the armistice by sending trainloads of food into Paris and withdrawing Prussian forces to the east of the city, which would be withdrawn as soon as France agreed to pay five-billion francs in war indemnity.

An exodus occurred from Paris as some , people, predominantly middle-class, left the city for the countryside. Paris was quickly re-supplied with free food and fuel by the United Kingdom and several accounts recall life in the city settling back to normal.

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National elections returned an overwhelmingly conservative government, which, under President Adolphe Thiers, established itself in Versailles , fearing that the political climate of Paris was too dangerous to set up the capital in the city. The new government, formed mainly of conservative, middle-class rural politicians, passed a variety of laws which greatly angered the population of Paris, such as the controversial Law of Maturities, which decreed that all rents in Paris, which had been postponed since September , and all public debts across France, which had been given a moratorium in November , were to be paid in full, with interest, within 48 hours.

Paris shouldered an unfairly high proportion of the indemnity payments made to the Prussians, and the population of the city quickly grew resentful of the Versailles government. In the s, the Dreyfus Affair developed out of the aftermath of the war, when secret messages to Germany were discovered in a wastebasket in the French intelligence department, and Alsace-born Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully sentenced for treason. The Treaty of Frankfurt, in addition to giving Germany the city of Strasbourg and the fortification at Metz, more importantly gave them possession of Alsace and the northern portion of Lorraine Moselle , both especially Alsace of which were home to a majority of ethnic Germans.

The loss of this territory was a source of resentment in France for years to come, and contributed to public support for World War I , in which France vowed to take back control of Alsace-Lorraine. This revanchism created an on-going state of crisis between Germany and France French-German enmity , which would be one of the contributing factors leading to World War I. The creation of a unified German Empire ended the "balance of power" that had been created with the Congress of Vienna after the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

Countries previously without a General Staff or a system of universal conscription soon adopted both, along with developments in logistics, military use of railways , [48] and the telegraph system, all proven by the German victory to be indispensable. Germany quickly established itself as the main power in Europe with one of the most powerful and professional armies in the world.

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The following war was devastating for the French. The large and well trained German armies won many victories — most notably at Sedan in September , a defeat which persuaded Napoleon to resign and live out the last miserable year of his life in exile in England.

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The war did not end there however, and the French fought on without their Emperor. The walls of the new Postal Museum house five centuries of stories and secrets — not just about post, not just about stamps, but about the remarkable people who made the Royal Mail what it is today. A few weeks after Sedan, Paris was under siege, and the war only ended when it fell in late January In the meantime, Bismarck had gathered the German generals princes and Kings at Versailles and proclaimed the new and ominously powerful country of Germany, changing the political landscape of Europe.

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