Nations of Europe and the Great War - Charles Morris

The Franco-Prussian War

Birth of the German Empire and the French Republic


In 1866 the war between the two great powers of Germany, in which most of the smaller powers were concerned, led to more decided measures, in the absorption by Prussia of the weaker states, the formation of a North German League among the remaining states of the north, and the offensive and defensive alliance with Prussia of the south German states. By the treaty of peace with Austria, that power was excluded from the German League, and Prussia remained the dominant power in Germany. A constitution for the League was adopted in 1867, providing for a Diet, or legislative council of the League, elected by the direct votes of the people, and an army, which was to be under the command of the Prussian king and subject to the military laws of Prussia. Each state in the League bound itself to supply a specified sum for the support of the army.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


Here was a union with a backbone—an army and a budget—and Bismarck had done more in the five years of his ministry in forming a united Germany than his predecessors had done in fifty years. But the idea of union and alliance between kindred states was then widely in the air. Such a union had been practically completed in Italy, and Hungary in 1867 regained her ancient rights, which had been taken from her in 1849, being given a separate government, with Francis Joseph, the emperor of Austria, as its king. It was natural that the common blood of the Germans should lead them to a political confederation, and equally natural that Prussia, which so overshadowed the smaller states in strength, should be the leading element in the alliance.

Yet, though Prussia had concluded military agreements with the states of southern Germany and held them also by means of the Zollverein, this was far from bringing about a peaceful realization of unity. The southern states, not merely the sovereigns only, but the peoples, have always had little taste for Prussian leadership, and after 1866 this feeling was very visible. For this reason Bismarck felt it important to instigate a war against France. Union against the foreigner was to complete political unity. This subject has been dealt with in the preceding chapter, and we need here merely to repeat that warlike sentiments were in the air in 1867, in regard to the desire of Napoleon III to add to his empire the little duchy of Luxembourg and Bismarck's opposition to this desire. France was not then in a favorable condition for war, and the matter was finally settled by declaring Luxembourg a neutral state and ordering the walls around its capital to be destroyed.

Causes of Hostile Relations

In spite of this settlement, it remained certain to everybody that a conflict would break out in a short time between France and Prussia. We have seen what reasons Bismarck had for such a war. Napoleon III's government, justly censured by opinion for the weakness which it had shown in 1866, was eager to retrieve the fault it had then committed. Yet the weakness of the administration continued and prevented it from adopting the indispensable military measures that it should have done. The enemies of power were declaiming against standing armies, which they declared useless. The government deputies were afraid to dissatisfy their constituents by aggravating the burdens of the service. Marshal Niel, minister of war, tried indeed to adopt measures with a view to the seemingly inevitable conflict. He caused to be elaborated a plan of campaign, a system of transportation by railway, an arrangement for the chief places of the east to be armed with rifled cannon. But the Chamber grudged him the appropriations for the increase of the army, asking him if "he wished to make France a vast barracks." "Take care," he answered the opposition, "lest you make it a vast cemetery." Accordingly, when the mobile national guard had been created, made up of all the young men who had not been drawn by lot, organization was given to it only on paper, and it was never drilled. Leboeuf, who succeeded Niel in August, 1869, abandoned, moreover, most of his predecessor's plans. He even neglected to do anything towards carrying out on the eastern frontier any of the works of defense already recommended as urgent by the generals of the Restoration.

And thus time passed on until the eventful year 1870. By that year Prussia had completed its work among the North German states and was ready for the issue of hostilities, if this should be necessary. On the other hand, Napoleon, who had found his prestige in France from various causes decreasing, felt obliged in 1870 to depart from his policy of personal rule and give that country a constitutional government. This proposal was submitted to a vote of the people and was sustained by an immense majority. He also took occasion to state that "peace was never more assured than at the present time." This assurance gave satisfaction to the world, yet it was a false one, for war was probably at that moment assured.

Discontent in France

There were alarming signs in France. The opposition to Napoleonism was steadily gaining power. A bad harvest was threatened a serious source of discontent. The parliament was discussing the reversal of the sentence of banishment against the Orleans family.

These indications of a change in public sentiment appeared to call for some act that would aid in restoring the popularity of the emperor. And of all the acts that could be devised a national war seemed the most promising. If the Rhine frontier, which every Frenchman regarded as the natural boundary of the empire, could be regained by the arms of the nation, discontent and opposition would vanish, the name of Napoleon would win back its old prestige, and the reign of Bonapartism would be firmly established.

Acts speak louder than words, and the acts of Napoleon were not in accord with his assurances of peace. Extensive military preparations began, and the forces of the empire were strengthened by land and sea, while great trust was placed in a new weapon, of murderous powers, called the mitrailleuse, the predecessor of the machine gun, and capable of discharging twenty-five balls at once.

Causes of Hostile Relations

On the other hand, there were abundant indications of discontent in Germany, where a variety of parties inveighed against the rapacious policy of Prussia, and where Bismarck had sown a deep crop of hate. It was believed in France that the minor states would not support Prussia in a war. In Austria the defeat of 1866 rankled, and hostilities against Prussia on the part of France seemed certain to win sympathy and support in that composite empire. Colonel Stoffel, the French military envoy at Berlin, declared that Prussia would be found abundantly prepared for a struggle; but his warnings went unheeded in the French Cabinet, and the warlike preparations continued.

Napoleon did not have to go far for an excuse for the war upon which he was resolved. One was prepared for him in that potent source of trouble, the succession to the throne of Spain. In that country there had for years been no end of trouble, revolts, Carlist risings, wars and rumors of wars. The government of Queen Isabella, with its endless intrigues, plots and alternation of despotism and anarchy, and the pronounced immorality of the queen, had become so distasteful to the people that finally, after several years of revolts and armed risings, she was driven from her throne by a revolution, and for a time Spain was without a monarch and was ruled on republican principles.

But this arrangement did not prove satisfactory. The party in opposition looked around for a king, and negotiations began with a distant relative of the Prussian royal family, Leopold of Hohenzollern. Prince Leopold accepted the offer, and informed the king of Prussia of his decision.

The news of this event caused great excitement in Paris, and the Prussian government was advised of the painful feeling to which the incident had given rise. The answer from Berlin that the Prussian government had no concern in the matter, and that Prince Leopold was free to act on his own account, did not allay the excitement. The demand for war grew violent and clamorous, the voices of the feeble opposition in the Chambers were drowned, and the journalists and war partisans were confident of a short and glorious campaign and a triumphant march to Berlin.

The hostile feeling was reduced when King William of Prussia, though he declined to prohibit Prince Leopold from accepting the crown, expressed his concurrence with the decision of the prince when he withdrew his acceptance of the dangerous offer. This decision was regarded as sufficient, even in Paris; but it did not seem to be so in the palace, where an excuse for a declaration of war was ardently desired. The emperor's purpose was enhanced by the influence of the empress, and it was finally declared that the Prussian king had aggrieved France in permitting the prince to become a candidate for the throne without consulting the French Cabinet.

War with Prussia Declared

Satisfaction for this shadowy source of offense was demanded, but King William firmly refused to say any more on the subject and declined to stand in the way of Prince Leopold if he should again accept the offer of the Spanish throne. This refusal was declared to be an offense to the honor and a threat to the safety of France. The war party was so strongly in the ascendant that all opposition was now looked upon as lack of patriotism, and on the 15th of July the Prime Minister Ollivier announced that the reserves were to be called out and the necessary measures taken to secure the honor and security of France. When the declaration of war was hurled against Prussia the whole nation seemed in harmony with it and public opinion appeared for once to have become a unit throughout France.

Rarely in the history of the world has so trivial a cause given rise to such stupendous military and political events as took place in France in a brief interval following this blind leap into hostilities. Instead of a triumphant march to Berlin and the dictation of peace from its palace, France was to find itself in two months' time without an emperor or an army, and in a few months more completely subdued and occupied by foreign troops, while Paris had been made the scene of a terrible siege and a frightful communistic riot, and a republic had succeeded the empire. It was such a series of events as have seldom been compressed within the short interval of half a year.

In truth Napoleon and his advisers were blinded by their hopes to the true state of affairs. The army on which they depended, and which they assumed to be in a high state of efficiency and discipline, was lacking in almost every requisite of an efficient force. The first Napoleon had been his own minister of war. The third Napoleon, when told by his war minister that "not a single button was wanted on a single gaiter," took the words for the fact, and hurled an army without supplies and organization against the most thoroughly organized army the world had ever known. That the French were as brave as the Germans goes without saying; they fought desperately, but from the first confusion reigned in their movements, while military science of the highest kind dominated those of the Germans. Napoleon was equally mistaken as to the state of affairs in Germany. The disunion upon which he counted vanished at the first threat of war. All Germany felt itself threatened and joined hands in defense. The declaration of war was received there with as deep an enthusiasm as in France and excited a fervent eagerness for the struggle. The new popular song, Die Wacht am Rhein  ("The Watch on the Rhine"), spread rapidly from end to end of the country, and indicated the resolution of the German people to defend to the death the frontier stream of their country.

Self-Deception of the French

The French looked for a parade march to Berlin, even fixing the day of their entrance into that city—August 15th, the emperor's birthday. On the contrary, they failed to set their foot on German territory, and soon found themselves engaged in a death struggle with the invaders of their own land. In truth, while the Prussian diplomacy was conducted by Bismarck, the ablest statesman Prussia had ever known, the movements of the army were directed by far the best tactician Europe then possessed, the famous Von Moltke, to whose strategy the rapid success of the war against Austria had been due. In the war with France Von Moltke, though too old to lead the armies in person, was virtually commander-in-chief, and arranged those masterly combinations which overthrew all the power of France in so remarkably brief a period. Under his directions, from the moment war was declared everything worked with clock-like precision. It was said that Von Moltke had only to touch a bell and all went forward. As it was, the Crown Prince Frederick fell upon the French while still unprepared, won the first battle, and steadily held the advantage to the end, the French being beaten by the strategy that kept the Germans in superior strength at all decisive points.

But to return to the events of war. On July 23, 1870, the Emperor Napoleon, after making his wife Eugenie regent of France, set out with his son at the head of the army, full of high hopes of victory and triumph. By the end of July King William had also set out from Berlin to join the armies that were then in rapid motion towards the frontier.

The emperor made his way to Metz, where was stationed his main army, about 200,000 strong, under Marshals Bazaine and Canrobert and General Bourbaki. Further east, under Marshal MacMahon, the hero of Magenta, was the southern army, of about 100,000 men. A third army occupied the camp at Chalons, while a well-manned fleet set sail for the Baltic, to blockade the harbors and assail the coast of Germany. The German army was likewise in three divisions, the first, of 61,000 men, under General Steinmetz; the second, of 206,000 men, under Prince Frederick Charles; and the third, of 180,000 men, under the crown prince and General Blumenthal. The king, commander-in-chief of the whole, was in the center, and with him the general staff under the guidance of the alert Von Moltke. Bismarck and the minister of war Von Roon were also present, and so rapid was the movement of these great forces that in two weeks after the order to march was given 300,000 armed Germans stood in rank along the Rhine.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


First Meeting of the Armies

The two armies first came together on August 2d, near Saarbruck, on the frontier line of the hostile kingdoms. It was the one success of the French, for the Prussians, after a fight in which both sides lost equally, retired in good order. This was proclaimed by the French papers as a brilliant victory, and filled the people with undue hopes of glory. It was the last favorable report, for they were quickly overwhelmed with tidings of defeat and disaster.

Weissenburg, on the borders of Rhenish Bavaria, had been invested by a division of MacMahon's army. On August 4th the right wing of the army of the Crown Prince Frederick attacked and repulsed this investing force after a hot engagement, in which its leader, General Douay, was killed, and the loss on both sides was heavy. Two days later occurred a battle which decided the fate of the whole war, that of Worth-Reideshofen, where the army of the crown prince met that of MacMahon, and after a desperate struggle, which continued for fifteen hours, completely defeated him, with very heavy losses on both sides. MacMahon retreated in haste towards the army at Chalons, while the crown prince took possession of Alsace, and prepared for the reduction of the fortresses on the Rhine, from Strasburg to Belfort. On the same day as that of the battle of Worth, General Steinmetz stormed the heights of Spicheren, and, though at great loss of life, drove Frossard from those heights and back upon Metz.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


The occupation of Alsace was followed by that of Lorraine, by the Prussian army under King William, who took possession of Nancy and the country surrounding on August 11th. These two provinces had at one time belonged to Germany, and it was the aim of the Prussians to retain them as the chief anticipated prize of the war. Meanwhile the world looked on in amazement at the extraordinary rapidity of the German success, which, in two weeks after Napoleon left Paris, had brought his power to the verge of overthrow.

The Stronghold of Metz

Towards the Moselle River and the strongly fortified town of Metz, 180 miles northeast of Paris, around which was concentrated the main French force, all the divisions of the German army now advanced, and on the 14th of August they gained a victory at Colombey-Nouilly which drove their opponents back from the open field towards the fortified city.

It was Moltke's opinion that the French proposed to make their stand before this impregnable fortress, and fight there desperately for victory. But, finding less resistance than he expected, he concluded, on the 15th, that Bazaine, in fear of being cooped up within the fortress, meant to march towards Verdun, there to join his forces with those of MacMahon and give battle to the Germans in the plain. The astute tactician at once determined to make every effort to prevent such a concentration of his opponents, and by the evening of the 15th a cavalry division had crossed the Moselle and reached the village of Mars-la-Tour, where it bivouacked for the night. It had seen troops in motion towards Metz, but did not know whether these formed the rear-guard of the French army or its vanguard in its march towards Verdun.

In fact, Bazaine had not yet got away with his army. All the roads from Metz were blocked with heavy baggage, and it was impossible to move so large an army with expedition. The time thus lost by Bazaine was diligently improved by Frederick Charles, and on the morning of the 16th the Brandenburg army corps, one of the best and bravest in the German army, had followed the cavalry and come within sight of the Verdun road. It was quickly perceived that a French force was before them, and some preliminary skirmishing developed the enemy in such strength as to convince the leader of the corps that he had in his front the whole or the greater part of Bazaine's army, and that its escape from Metz had not been achieved.

They were desperate odds with which the brave Brandenburgers had to contend, but they had been sent to hold the French until reinforcements could arrive, and they were determined to resist to the death. For nearly six hours they resisted, with unsurpassed courage, the fierce onslaughts of the' French, though at a cost of life that perilously depleted the gallant corps. Then, about four o'clock in the afternoon, Prince Frederick Charles came up with reinforcements to their support and the desperate contest became more even.

Mars-La-Tour and Gravelotte

Gradually fortune decided in favor of the Germans, and by the time night had come they were practically victorious, the field of Mars-la-Tour, after the day's struggle, remaining in their hands. But they were utterly exhausted, their horses were worn out, and most of their ammunition was spent, and though their impetuous commander forced them to a new attack, it led to a useless loss of life, for their powers of fighting were gone. They had achieved their purpose, that of preventing the escape of Bazaine, though at a fearful loss, amounting to about 16,000 men on each side. "The battle of Vionville [Mars-la-Tour] is without a parallel in military history," said Emperor William, "seeing that a single army corps, about 20,000 men strong, hung on to and repulsed an enemy more than five times as numerous and well equipped. Such was the glorious deed done by the Brandenburgers, and the. Hohenzollerns will never forget the debt they owe to their devotion."

Two days afterwards (August 16th), at Gravelotte, a village somewhat nearer to Metz, the armies, somewhat recovered from the terrible struggle of the 14th, met again, the whole German army being now brought up, so that over 200,000 men faced the 140,000 of the French. It was the great battle of the war. For four hours the two armies stood fighting face to face, without any special result, neither being able to drive back the other. The French held their ground and died. The Prussians dashed upon them and died. Only late in the evening was the right wing of the French army broken, and the victory, which at five o'clock remained uncertain, was decided in favor of the Germans. More than 40,000 men lay dead and wounded upon the field, the terrible harvest of those nine hours of conflict. That night Bazaine withdrew his army behind the fortifications at Metz. His effort to join MacMahon had ended in failure.

It was the fixed purpose of the Prussians to detain him in that stronghold, and thus render practically useless to France its largest army. A siege was to be prosecuted, and an army of 150,000 men was extended around the town. The fortifications were far too strong to be taken by assault, and all depended on a close blockade. On August 31st Bazaine made an effort to break through the German lines, but was repulsed. It became now a question of how long the provisions of the French would hold out.

Napoleon III at Sedan

The French emperor, who had been with Bazaine, had left his army before the battle of Mars-la-Tour, and was now with MacMahon at Chalons. Here lay an army of 125,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. On it the Germans were advancing, in doubt as to what movement it would make, whether back towards Paris or towards Metz for the relief of Bazaine. They sought to place themselves in a position to check either. The latter movement was determined on by the French, but was carried out in a dubious and uncertain manner, the time lost giving abundant opportunity to the Germans to learn what was afoot and to prepare to prevent it. As soon as they were aware of MacMahon's intention of proceeding to Metz they made speedy preparations to prevent his relieving Bazaine. By the last days of August the army of the crown prince had reached the right bank of the Aisne, and the fourth division gained possession of the line of the Meuse. On August 30th the French under General de Failly were attacked by the Germans at Beaumont and put to flight with heavy loss. It was evident that the hope of reaching Metz was at an end, and MacMahon, abandoning the attempt, concentrated his army around the frontier fortress of Sedan.

This old town stands on the right bank of the Meuse, in an angle of territory between Luxembourg and Belgium, and is surrounded by meadows, gardens, ravines, ditches and cultivated fields; the castle rising on a cliff-like eminence to the southwest of the place. MacMahon had stopped here to give his weary men a rest, not to fight, but Von Moltke decided, on observing the situation, that Sedan should be the grave-yard of the French army. "The trap is now closed, and the mouse in it," he said, with a chuckle of satisfaction.

Such proved to be the case. On September 1st the Bavarians won the village of Bazeille, after hours of bloody and desperate struggle. During this severe fight Marshal MacMahon was so seriously wounded that he was obliged to surrender the chief command, first to Ducrot, and then to General Wimpffen, a man of recognized bravery and cold calculation.

Fortune soon showed itself in favor of the Germans. To the northwest of the town, the North German troops invested the exits from St. Meuges and Fleigneux, and directed a fearful fire of artillery against the French forces, which, before noon, were so hemmed in the valley that only two insufficient outlets to the south and north remained open. But General Wimpffen hesitated to seize either of these routes, the open way to Illy was soon closed by the Prussian guard corps, and a murderous fire was now directed from all sides upon the French, so that, after a last energetic struggle, they gave up all attempts to force a passage, and in the afternoon beat a retreat towards Sedan. In this small town the whole army of MacMahon was collected by evening, and there prevailed in the streets and houses an unprecedented disorder and confusion, which was still further increased when the German troops from the surrounding heights began to shoot down upon the fortress, and the town took fire in several places.

Surrender of Napoleon's Army

That an end might be put to the prevailing misery, Napoleon now commanded General Wimpffen to capitulate. The flag of truce already waved on the gates of Sedan when Colonel Bronsart appeared, and in the name of the king of Prussia demanded the surrender of the army and fortress. He soon returned to headquarters, accompanied by the French General Reille, who presented to the king a written message from Napoleon: "As I may not die in the midst of my army, I lay my sword in the hands of your majesty." King William accepted it with an expression of sympathy for the hard fate of the emperor and of the French army which had fought so bravely under his own eyes. The conclusion of the treaty of capitulation was placed in the hands of Wimpffen, who, accompanied by General Castelnau, set out for Donchery to negotiate with Moltke and Bismarck. No attempts, however, availed to move Moltke from his stipulation for the surrender of the whole army at discretion; he granted a short respite, but if this expired without surrender, the bombardment of the town was to begin anew.

At six o'clock in the morning the capitulation was signed and was ratified by the king at his headquarters at Vendresse (2d September). Thus the world beheld the incredible spectacle of an army of 83,000 men surrendering themselves and their weapons to the victor, and being carried off as prisoners of war to Germany. Only the officers who gave their written word of honor to take no further part in the present war with Germany were permitted to retain their arms and personal property. Probably the assurance of Napoleon, that he had sought death on the battlefield but had not found it, was literally true; at any rate, the fate of the unhappy man, bowed down as he was both by physical and mental suffering, was so solemn and tragic that there was no room for hypocrisy, and that he had exposed himself to personal danger was admitted on all sides. Accompanied by Count Bismarck, he stopped at a small and mean-looking laborer's inn on the road to Donchery, where, sitting down on a stone seat before the door, with Count Bismarck, he declared that he had not desired the war, but had been driven to it through the force of public opinion; and afterwards the two proceeded to the little castle of Bellevue, near Frenois, to join King William and the crown prince. A telegram to Queen Augusta thus describes the interview: "What an impressive moment was the meeting with Napoleon! He was cast down, but dignified in his bearing. I have granted him Wilhelmshohe, near Cassel, as his residence. Our meeting took place in a little castle before the western glacis of Sedan."

The Emperor a Captive; France a Republic

The locking up of Bazaine in Metz and the capture of MacMahon's army at Sedan were events fatal to France. The struggle continued for months, but it was a fight against hope. The subsequent events of the war consisted of a double siege, that of Metz and that of Paris, with various minor sieges, and a desperate but hopeless effort of France in the field. As for the empire of Napoleon III, it was at an end. The tidings of the terrible catastrophe at Sedan filled the people with a fury that soon became revolutionary. While Jules Favre, the republican deputy, was offering a motion in the Assembly that the emperor had forfeited the crown, and that a provisional government should be established, the people were thronging the streets of Paris with cries of "Deposition! Republic!" On the 4th of September the Assembly had its final meeting. Two of its prominent members, Jules Favre and Gambetta, sustained the motion for deposition of the emperor, and it was carried after a stormy session. They then made their way to the senate-chamber, where, before a thronging audience, they proclaimed a republic and named a government for the national defense. At its head was General Trochu, military commandant at Paris. Favre was made minister of foreign affairs; Gambetta, minister of the interior; and other prominent members of the Assembly filled the remaining cabinet posts. The legislature was dissolved, the Palais de Bourbon was closed, and the Empress Eugenie quitted the Tuileries and made her escape with a few attendants to Belgium, whence she sought a refuge in England. Prince Louis Napoleon made his way to Italy, and the swarm of courtiers scattered in all directions; some faithful followers of the deposed monarch seeking the castle of Wilhelmshohe, where the unhappy Louis Napoleon occupied as a prison the same beautiful palace and park in which his uncle Jerome Bonaparte had once passed six years in a life of pleasure. The second French Empire was at an end; the third French Republic had begun—one that had to pass through many changes and escape many dangers before it would be firmly established.

"Not a foot's breadth of our country nor a stone of our fortresses shall be surrendered," was Jules Favre's defiant proclamation to the invaders, and the remainder of the soldiers in the field were collected in Paris, and strengthened with all available reinforcements. Every person capable of bearing arms was enrolled in the national army, which soon numbered 400,000 men. There was need of haste, for the victors at Sedan were already marching upon the capital, inspired with high hopes from their previous astonishing success. They knew that Paris was strongly fortified, being encircled by powerful lines of defense, but they trusted that hunger would soon bring its garrison to terms. The same result was looked for at Metz, and at Strasbourg, which was also besieged.

Thus began at three main points and several minor ones a military siege the difficulties, dangers, and hardships of which surpassed even those of the winter campaign in the Crimea. Exposed at the fore-posts to the enemy's balls, chained to arduous labor in the trenches and redoubts, and suffering from the effects of bad weather, and insufficient food and clothing, the German soldiers were compelled to undergo great privations and sufferings before the fortifications; while many fell in the frequent skirmishes and sallies, many succumbed to typhus and epidemic disease.

No less painful and distressing was the condition of the besieged. While the garrison soldiers on guard were constantly compelled to face death in nocturnal sallies, or led a pitiable existence in damp huts, having inevitable surrender constantly before their eyes, and disarmament and imprisonment as the reward of all their struggles and exertions, the citizens in the towns, the women and children, were in constant danger of being shivered to atoms by the fearful shells, or of being buried under falling walls and roofs; and the poorer part of the population saw with dismay the gradual diminution of the necessaries of life, and were often compelled to pacify their hunger with the flesh of horses, and disgusting and unwholesome food.

Bismarck Refuses Intervention

The republican government possessed only a usurped power, and none but a freely elected national assembly could decide as to the fate of the French nation. Such an assembly was therefore summoned for the 16th of October. Three members of the government—Cremieux, Fourichon, and Glais-Bizoin—were despatched before the entire blockade of the city had been effected, to Tours, to maintain communication with the provinces. An attempt was also made at the same time to induce the great Powers which had not taken part in the war to organize an intervention, as hitherto only America, Switzerland and Spain had sent official recognition. For this important and delicate mission the old statesman and historian Thiers was selected, and, in spite of his three-and-seventy years, immediately set out on the journey to London, St. Petersburg, Vienna and Florence. Count Bismarck, however, in the name of Prussia, refused any intervention in internal affairs. In two despatches to the ambassadors of foreign courts, the chancellor declared that the war, begun by the Emperor Napoleon, had been approved by the representatives of the nation, and that thus all France was answerable for the result. Germany was obliged, therefore, to demand guarantees which should secure her in future against attack, or, at any rate, render attack more difficult. Thus a cession of territory on the part of France was laid down as the basis of a treaty of peace. The neutral powers were also led to the belief that if they fostered in the French any hope of intervention, peace would only be delayed. The mission of Thiers, therefore, yielded no useful result, while the direct negotiation which Jules Favre conducted with Bismarck proved equally unavailing.

Fall of the Fortresses

Soon the beleaguered fortresses began to fall. On the 23d of September the ancient town of Toul, in Lorraine, was forced to capitulate, after a fearful bombardment; and on the 27th Strasbourg, in danger of the terrible results of a storming, after the havoc of a dreadful artillery fire, hoisted the white flag, and surrendered on the following day. The supposed impregnable fortress of Metz held out little longer. Hunger did what cannon were incapable of doing. The successive sallies made by Bazaine proved unavailing, though, on October 7th, his soldiers fought with desperate energy, and for hours the air was full of the roar of cannon and mitrailleuse and the rattle of musketry. But the Germans withstood the attack unmoved, and the French were forced to withdraw into the town.

Bazaine then sought to negotiate with the German leaders at Versailles, offering to take no part in the war for three months if permitted to withdraw. But Bismarck and Moltke would listen to no terms other than unconditional surrender, and these terms were finally accepted, the besieged army having reached the brink of starvation. It was with horror and despair that France learned, on the 30th of October, that the citadel of Metz, with its fortifications and arms of defense, had been yielded to the Germans, and its army of more than 150,000 men had surrendered as prisoners of war.

This hasty surrender at Metz, a still greater disaster to France than that of Sedan, was not emulated at Paris, which for four months held out against all the efforts of the Germans. On the investment of the great city, King William removed his headquarters to the historic palace of Versailles, setting up his homely camp-bed in the same apartments from which Louis XIV had once issued his despotic edicts and commands. Here Count Bismarck conducted his diplomatic labors and Moltke issued his directions for the siege, which, protracted from week to week and month to month, gradually transformed the beautiful neighborhood, with its prosperous villages, superb country houses, and enchanting parks and gardens, into a scene of sadness and desolation.

Paris is Besieged

In spite of the vigorous efforts made by the commander-in-chief Trochu, both by continuous firing from the forts and by repeated sallies, to prevent Paris from being surrounded, and to force a way through the trenches, his enterprises were rendered fruitless by the watchfulness and strength of the Germans. The blockade was completely accomplished; Paris was surrounded and cut off from the outer world; even the underground telegraphs, through which communication was for a time secretly maintained with the provinces, were by degrees discovered and destroyed. But to the great astonishment of Europe, which looked on with keenly pitched excitement at the mighty struggle, the siege continued for months without any special progress being observable from without or any lessening of resistance from within. On account of the extension of the forts, the Germans were compelled to remain at such a distance that a bombardment of the town at first appeared impossible; a storming of the outer works would, moreover, be attended with such sacrifices that the humane temper of the king revolted from such a proceeding. The guns of greater force and carrying power which were needed from Germany, could only be procured after long delay on account of the broken lines of railway. Probably also there was some hesitation on the German side to expose the beautiful city, regarded by so many as the "metropolis of civilization," to the risk of a bombardment, in which works of art, science, and a historical past would meet destruction. Nevertheless, the declamations of the French at the vandalism of the northern barbarians met with assent and sympathy from most of the foreign Powers.

Determination and courage falsified the calculations at Versailles of a quick cessation of the resistance. The republic offered a far more energetic and determined opposition to the Prussian arms than the empire had done. The government of the national defense still declaimed with stern reiteration: "Not a foot's breadth of our country; not a stone of our fortresses!" and positively rejected all proposals of treaty based on territorial concessions. Faith in the invincibility of the republic was rooted as an indisputable dogma in the hearts of the French people. The victories and the commanding position of France from 1792 to 1799 were regarded as so entirely the necessary result of the Revolution, that a conviction prevailed that the formation of a republic, with a national army for its defense, would have an especial effect on the rest of Europe. Therefore, instead of summoning a constituent Assembly, which, in the opinion of Prussia and the other foreign Powers, would alone be capable of offering security for a lasting peace, it was decided to continue the revolutionary movements, and to follow the same course which, in the years 1792 and 1793, had saved France from the coalition of the European Powers. It was held that a revolutionary dictatorship such as had once been exercised by the Convention and the members of the Committee of Public Safety, must again be revived, and a youthful and hot-blooded leader was alone needed to stir up popular feeling and set it in motion.

[Illustration] from Europe and the Great War by Charles Morris


To fill such a part no one was better adapted than the advocate Gambetta, who emulated the career of the leaders of the Revolution, and whose soul glowed with a passionate ardor of patriotism. In order to create for himself a free sphere of action, and to initiate some vigorous measure in place of the well-rounded phrases and eloquent proclamations of his colleagues Trochu and Jules Favre, he quitted the capital in an air-balloon and entered into communication with the Government delegation at Tours, which through him soon obtained a fresh impetus. His next most important task was the liberation of the capital from the besieging German army, and the expulsion of the enemy from the "sacred" soil of France. For this purpose he summoned, with the authority of a minister of war, all persons capable of bearing arms up to forty years of age to take active service, and despatched them into the field; he imposed war-taxes, and terrified the tardy and refractory with threats of punishment. Every force was put in motion; all France was transformed into a great camp.

A popular war was now to take the place of a soldiers' war, and what the soldiers had failed to effect must be accomplished by the people; France must be saved, and the world freed from despotism. To promote this object, the whole of France, with the exception of Paris, was divided into four general governments, the headquarters of the different governors being Lille, Le Mans, Bourges, and Besancon. Two armies, from the Loire and from the Somme, were to march simultaneously towards Paris, and, aided by the sallies of Trochu and his troops, were to drive the enemy from the country. Energetic attacks were now attempted from time to time, in the hope that when the armies of relief arrived from the provinces, it might be possible to effect a coalition; but all these efforts were constantly repulsed after a hot struggle by the besieging German troops. At the same time, during the month of October, the territory between the Oise and the Lower Seine was scoured by reconnoitering troops, under Prince Albrecht, the southeast district was protected by a Wurtemberg detachment through the successful battle near Nogent on the Seine, while a division of the third army advanced towards the south accompanied by two cavalry divisions. A more unfortunate circumstance, however, for the Parisians was the cutting off of all communication with the outer world, for the Germans had destroyed the telegraphs. But even this obstacle was overcome by the inventive genius of the French. By means of pigeon letter-carriers and air-balloons, they were always able to maintain a partial though one-sided and imperfect communication with the provinces, and the aerostatic art was developed and brought to perfection on this occasion in a manner which had never before been considered possible.

Defiant Spirit of the French

The whole of France, and especially the capital, was already in a state of intense excitement when the news of the capitulation of Metz came to add fresh fuel to the flame. Outside the walls Gambetta was using heroic efforts to increase his forces, bringing Bedouin horsemen from Africa and inducing the stern old revolutionist Garibaldi to come to his aid; and Thiers was opening fresh negotiations for a truce. Inside the walls the Red Republic raised the banners of insurrection and attempted to drive the government of national defense from power.

This effort of the dregs of revolution to inaugurate a reign of terror failed, and the provisional government felt so elated with its victory that it determined to continue at the head of affairs and to oppose the calling of a chamber of national representatives. The members proclaimed oblivion for what had passed, broke off the negotiations for a truce begun by Thiers, and demanded a vote of confidence. The indomitable spirit shown by the French people did not, on the other hand, inspire the Germans with a very lenient or conciliatory temper. Bismarck declared in a despatch the reasons why the negotiations had failed: "The incredible demand that we should surrender the fruits of all our efforts during the last two months, and should go back to the conditions which existed at the beginning of the blockade of Paris, only affords fresh proof that in Paris pretexts are sought for refusing the nation the right of election." Thiers mournfully declared the failure of his undertaking, but in Paris the popular voting resulted in a ten-fold majority in favor of the government and the policy of postponement.

After the breaking off of the negotiations, the world anticipated some energetic action towards the besieged city. The efforts of the enemy were, however, principally directed to drawing the iron girdle still tighter, enclosing the giant city more and more closely, and cutting off every means of communication, so that at last a surrender might be brought about by the stern necessity of starvation. That this object would not be accomplished as speedily as at Metz, that the city of pleasure, enjoyment, and luxury would withstand a siege of four months, had never been contemplated for a moment. It is true that, as time went on, all fresh meat disappeared from the market, with the exception of horse-flesh; that white bread, on which Parisians place such value, was replaced by a baked compound of meal and bran; that the stores of dried and salted food began to decline, until at last rats, dogs, cats, and even animals from the zoological gardens were prepared for consumption at restaurants.

Yet, to the amazement of the world, all these miseries, hardships, and sufferings were courageously borne, nocturnal watch was kept, sallies were undertaken, and cold, hunger, and wretchedness of all kinds were endured with an indomitable steadfastness and heroism. The courage of the besieged Parisians was also animated by the hope that the military forces in the provinces would hasten to the aid of the hard-pressed capital, and that therefore an energetic resistance would afford the rest of France sufficient time for rallying all its forces, and at the same time exhibit an elevating example. In the carrying out of this plan, neither Trochu nor Gambetta was wanting in the requisite energy and circumspection. The former organized sallies from time to time, in order to reconnoiter and discover whether the army of relief was on its way from the provinces; the latter exerted all his powers to bring the Loire army up to the Seine. But both erred in undervaluing the German war forces; they did not believe that the hostile army would be able to keep Paris in a state of blockade, and at the same time engage the armies on the south and north, east and west. They had no conception of the hidden, inexhaustible strength of the Prussian army organization—of a nation in arms which could send forth constant reinforcements of battalions and recruits, and fresh bodies of disciplined troops to fill the gaps left in the ranks by the wounded and fallen. There could be no doubt as to the termination of this terrible war, or the final victory of German energy and discipline.

The Struggle Continued

Throughout the last months of the eventful year 1870, the northern part of France, from the Jura to the Channel, from the Belgian frontier to the Loire, presented the aspect of a wide battlefield. Of the troops that had been set free by the capitulation of Metz, a part remained behind in garrison, another division marched northwards in order to invest the provinces of Picardy and Normandy, to restore communication with the sea, and to bar the road to Paris, and a third division joined the second army, whose commander-in-chief, Prince Frederick Charles, set up his headquarters at Troyes. Different detachments were despatched against the northern fortresses, and by degrees Soissons, Verdun, Thionville, Ham, where Napoleon had once been a prisoner, Pfalzburg and Montmedy, all fell into the hands of the Prussians, thus opening to them a free road for the supplies of provisions. The garrison troops were all carried off as prisoners to Germany; the towns—most of them in a miserable condition—fell into the enemy's hands; many houses were mere heaps of ruins and ashes, and the larger part of the inhabitants were suffering severely from poverty, hunger and disease.

The greatest obstacles were encountered in the northern part of Alsace and the mountainous districts of the Vosges and the Jura, where irregular warfare, under Garibaldi and other leaders, developed to a dangerous extent, while the fortress of Langres afforded a safe retreat to the guerilla bands. Lyons and the neighboring town of St. Etienne became hotbeds of excitement, the red flag being raised and a despotism of terror and violence established. Although many divergent elements made up this army of the east, all were united in hatred of the Germans.

Thus, during the cold days of November and December, when General Von Treskow began the siege of the important fortress of Belfort, there burst forth a war around Gray and Dijon marked by the greatest hardships, perils and privations to the invaders. Here the Germans had to contend with an enemy much superior in number, and to defend themselves against continuous firing from houses, cellars, woods and thickets, while the impoverished soil yielded a miserable subsistence, and the broken railroads cut off freedom of communication and of reinforcement.

The whole of the Jura district, intersected by hilly roads as far as the plateau of Langres, where, in the days of Caesar, the Romans and Gauls were wont to measure their strength with each other, formed during November and December the scene of action of numerous encounters which, in conjunction with sallies from the garrison at Belfort, inflicted severe injury on Werder's troops. Dijon had repeatedly to be evacuated; and the nocturnal attack at Chattillon, 20th November, by Garibaldians, when one hundred and twenty Landwehr men and Hussars perished miserably, and seventy horses were lost, affording a striking proof of the dangers to which the German army was exposed in this hostile country; although the revolutionary excesses of the turbulent population of the south diverted to a certain extent the attention of the National Guard, who were compelled to turn their weapons against an internal enemy.

By means of the revolutionary dictatorship of Gambetta the whole French nation was drawn into the struggle, the annihilation of the enemy being represented as a national duty, and the war assuming a steadily more violent character. The indefatigable patriot continued his exertions to increase the army and unite the whole south and west against the enemy, hoping to bring the army of the Loire to such dimensions that it would be able to expel the invaders from the soil of France. But these raw recruits were poorly fitted to cope with the highly disciplined Germans, and their early successes were soon followed by defeat and discouragement, while the hopes entertained by the Paris garrison of succor from the south vanished as news of the steady progress of the Germans was received.

Operations before Paris

During these events the war operations before Paris continued uninterruptedly. Moltke had succeeded, in spite of the difficulties of transport, in procuring an immense quantity of ammunition, and the long-delayed bombardment of Paris was ready to begin. Having stationed with all secrecy twelve batteries with seventy-six guns around Mont Avron, on Christmas-day the firing was directed with such success against the fortified eminences, that even in the second night the French, after great losses, evacuated the important position, the "key of Paris," which was immediately taken possession of by the Saxons. Terror and dismay spread throughout the distracted city when the eastern forts, Rosny, Nogent and Noisy, were stormed amid a tremendous volley of firing. Vainly did Trochu endeavor to rouse the failing courage of the, National Guard; vainly did he assert that the government of the national defense would never consent to the humiliation of a capitulation; his own authority had already waned; the newspapers already accused him of incapacity and treachery, and began to cast every aspersion on the men who had presumptuously seized the government, and yet were not in a position to effect the defense of the capital and the country. After the new year the bombardment of the southern forts began, and the terror in the city daily increased, though the violence of the radical journals kept in check any hint of surrender or negotiation. Yet in spite of fog and snowstorms the bombardment was systematically continued, and with every day the destructive effect of the terrible missiles grew more pronounced.

Trochu was blamed for having undertaken only small sallies, which could have no result. The commander-in-chief ventured no opposition to the party of action. With the consent of the mayors of the twenty arrondissements  of Paris a council of war was held. The threatening famine, the firing of the enemy, and the excitement prevailing among the adherents of the red republic rendered a decisive step necessary. Consequently, on the 19th of January, a great sally was decided on, and the entire armed forces of the capital were summoned to arms. Early in the morning, a body of 100,000 men marched in the direction of Meudon, Sevres and St. Cloud for the decisive conflict. The left wing was commanded by General Vinoy, the right by Ducrot, while Trochu from the watch-tower directed the entire struggle. With great courage Vinoy dashed forward with his column of attack towards the fifth army corps of General Kirchbach, and succeeded in capturing the Montretout entrenchment, through the superior number of his troops, and in holding it for a time. But when Ducrot, delayed by the barricades in the streets, failed to come to his assistance at the appointed time, the attack was driven back after seven hours' fierce fighting by the besieging troops. Having lost 7,000 dead and wounded, the French in the evening beat a retreat, which almost resembled a flight. On the following day Trochu demanded a truce, that the fallen National Guards, whose bodies strewed the battlefield, might be interred. The victors, too, had to render the last rites to many a brave soldier. Thirty-nine officers and six hundred and sixteen soldiers were given in the list of the slain.

Entire confidence had been placed by the Parisians in the great sally. When the defeat, therefore, became known in its full significance, when the number of the fallen was found to be far greater even than had been stated in the first accounts, a dull despair took possession of the famished city, which next broke forth into violent abuse against Trochu, "the traitor." Capitulation now seemed imminent; but as the commander-in-chief had declared that he would never countenance such a disgrace, he resigned his post to Vinoy. Threatened by bombardment from without, terrified within by the pale specter of famine, paralyzed and distracted by the violent dissensions among the people, and without prospect of effective aid from the provinces, what remained to the proud capital but to desist from a conflict the continuation of which only increased the unspeakable misery, without the smallest hope of deliverance? Gradually, therefore, there grew up a resolution to enter into negotiations with the enemy; and it was the minister, Jules Favre, who had been foremost with the cry of "no surrender" four months before, who was now compelled to take the first step to deliver his country from complete ruin. It was probably the bitterest hour in the life of the brave man, who loved France and liberty with such a sincere affection, when he was conducted through the German outposts to his interview with Bismarck at Versailles. He brought the proposal for a convention, on the strength of which the garrison was to be permitted to retire with military honors to a part of France not hitherto invested, on promising to abstain for several months from taking part in the struggle. But such conditions were positively refused at the Prussian headquarters, and a surrender was demanded as at Sedan and Metz. Completely defeated, the minister returned to Paris. At a second meeting on the following day, it was agreed that from the 27th, at twelve o'clock at night, the firing on both sides should be discontinued. This was the preliminary to the conclusion of a three weeks' truce, to await the summons of a National Assembly, with which peace might be negotiated.

Fighting in the South

The war was at an end so far as Paris was concerned. But it continued in the south, where frequent defeat failed to depress Gambetta's indomitable energy, and where new troops constantly replaced those put to rout. Garibaldi, at Dijon, succeeded in doing what the French had not done during the war, in capturing a Prussian banner. But the progress of the Germans soon rendered his position untenable, and, finding his exertions unavailing, he resigned his command and retired to his island of Caprera. Two disasters completed the overthrow of France. Bourbaki's army, 85,000 strong, became shut in, with scanty food and ammunition, among the snow-covered valleys of the Jura, and to save the disgrace of capitulation it took refuge on the neutral soil of Switzerland; and the strong fortress of Belfort, which had been defended with the utmost courage against its besiegers, finally yielded, with the stipulation that the brave garrison should march out with the honors of war. Nothing now stood in the way of an extension of the truce. On the suggestion of Jules Favre, the National Assembly elected a commission of fifteen members, which was to aid the chief of the executive, and his ministers, Picard and Favre, in the negotiations for peace. That cessions of territory and indemnity of war expenses would have to be conceded had long been acknowledged in principle; but protracted and excited discussions took place as to the extent of the former and the amount of the latter, while the demanded entry of the German troops into Paris met with vehement opposition. But Count Bismarck resolutely insisted on the cession of Alsace and German Lorraine, including Metz and Diedenhofen. Only with difficulty were the Germans persuaded to separate Belfort from the rest of Lorraine, and leave it still in the possession of the French. In respect to the expenses of the war, the sum of five milliards of francs ($1,000,000,000) was agreed upon, of which the first milliard was to be paid in the year 1871, and the rest in a stated period. The stipulated entry into Paris also—so bitter to the French national pride—was only partially carried out; the western side only of the city was to be traversed in the march of the Prussian troops, and again evacuated in two days. On the basis of these conditions, the preliminaries of the Peace of Versailles were concluded on the 26th of February between the Imperial Chancellor and Jules Favre. Intense excitement prevailed when the terms of the treaty became known; they were dark days in the annals of French history. But in spite of the opposition of the extreme Republican party, led by Quinet and Victor Hugo, the Assembly recognized by an overpowering majority the necessity for the Peace, and the preliminaries were accepted by 546 to 107 votes. Thus ended the mighty war between France and Germany—a war which has had few equals in the history of the world.

The War at an End

Had King William received no indemnity in cash or territory from France, he must still have felt himself amply repaid for the cost of the brief but sanguinary war, for it brought him a power and prestige with which the astute diplomatist Bismarck had long been seeking to invest his name. Political changes move slowly in times of peace, rapidly in times of war. The whole of Germany, with the exception of Austria, had sent troops to the con-quest of France, and every state, north and south alike, shared in the pride and glory of the result. South and North Germany had marched side by side to the battle-field, every difference of race or creed forgotten, and the honor of the German fatherland the sole watchword. The time seemed to have arrived to close the breach between north and south, and obliterate the line of the Main, which had divided the two sections. North Germany was united under the leadership of Prussia, and the honor in which all alike shared now brought South Germany into line for a similar union.

The first appeal in this direction came from Baden. Later in the year plenipotentiaries sought Versailles from the kingdoms of Bavaria and Wurtemberg and the grand duchies of Baden and Hesse, their purpose being to arrange for and define the conditions of union between the South and the North German states. For weeks this momentous question filled all Germany with excitement and public opinion was in a state of high tension. The scheme of union was by no means universally approved, there being a large party in opposition, but the majority in its favor in Chambers proved sufficient to enable Bismarck to carry out his plan.