Franco-Prussian War

Prussia — versus — France

The Franco-Prussian War was the third war of expansion that Prussia fought against its neighbors in seven years, the two others being the Schleswig-Holstein War against Denmark, and the Austro Prussian War against Austria. In each case a plausible pretext for war existed, but the true purpose of the war was to provide an opportunity for Prussia to expand its territory and influence. In each case Prussia planned carefully for war; manipulating diplomatic relationships with potential allies, and cleverly provoking their antagonist into declaring war first. By this means, they were able to mask deliberate wars of aggression.

Franco-Prussian War
The events leading up to the Austro-Prussian War make sense when one understands that Prussia's whole purpose was to alienate Austria from its northern European allies, and provoke them into declaring war. Following the Schleswig-Holstein War, Prussia had generously given Austria control of Holstein, knowing there were ongoing disputes about how the newly independent province should be governed. Instead of remaining neutral, Prussia intervened on the side of Holstein and then interfered with Austria's preferred method of resolving the dispute diplomatically. At the same time she made secret alliances with Italy and France and did everything possible to prepare for war while provoking Austria. Prussia's outstanding generals, led by Helmuth von Moltke, prepared for every contingency, and acquired the most modern available weapons for their troops.

DateBattle Summary
Battle of Weissenburg   Prussians victory
The opening engagement of the campaign, fought August 4, 1870, between the advance-guard of the Third German Army, under the Crown Prince of Prussia, and a portion of Marshal Macmahon's army, under General Abel Donay, who fell in the battle. The Germans carried the French position, and captured the town of Weissenburg, at a cost of 91 officers and 1,460 men. The French lost 2,300 killed, wounded and prisoners.
Battle of Spicheren   Prussians victory
Fought August 6, 1870, between the Germans, under Von Alvensleben, and a superior French force, under General Frossard. After an obstinate encounter, the French were driven from all their positions with heavy loss, and compelled to retreat on Metz. The Germans lost 223 officers and 4,648 men. The battle is remarkable for the storming of the Rote Berg by 1 company of the 39th Regiment and 4 companies of the 74th Regiment, under General von Francois, who was killed. These 5 companies maintained their position throughout the afternoon, in face of a vastly superior force. This action is also known as the Battle of Forbach.
Battle of Worth   Prussians victory
Fought August 6, 1870, between the Third German Army, under the Crown Prince of Prussia, and the French, under Marshal Macmahon. After a closely contested engagement, the French were driven from all their positions, and made a hasty retreat beyond the Vosges. The Cuirassier division of General Bonnemain was completely cut to pieces in charging the German infantry, near Elsasshausen. The German losses amounted to 489 officers, and 10,153 men, while the French lost 10,000 killed and wounded, 6,000 prisoners, 28 guns and 5 mitrailleuses.
Battle of Colombey   drawn victory
Fought August 11, 1870, between the retiring French army, and the advance guard of the First German Army Corps under von Steinmetz. The French maintained most of their positions, but two of their divisions were overthrown, and Bazaine's retreat on Verdun was seriously delayed. The French lost about 7,000; the Germans 222 officers and 5,000 men.
Battle of Mars-la-Tour   Prussians victory
Fought August 18, 1870, between the French, under Marshal Bazaine, and the 3rd and 10th German Army corps, under Von Alvensleben. The Germans, though at times very hard pressed, succeeded in holding their ground, and prevented the French breaking through to the westward. The battle is chiefly remarkable for the desperate charges of the German cavalry, and especially of Von Bredow's brigade, against the French infantry, under cover of which the shattered German infantry was enabled to reform. The losses were about equal, amounting to about 16,000 killed and wounded on each side. The action is also known as the Battle of Vionville.
Battle of Gravelotte   Prussians victory
Fought August 18, 1870, between the French, under Bazaine, and the combined German army under the supreme command of William of Prussia. The battle was most hotly contested, but while the French held their ground in the neighbourhood of Gravelotte, the Germans turned their right flank at St. Privat, and they were eventually obliged to abandon all their positions, and retire into Metz, where they were subsequently blockaded. The German losses amounted to 899 officers and 19,260 men killed, and wounded. The French losses were somewhat less. This battle is also known as the battle of St. Privat.
Battle of Metz   Prussians victory
This fortress was invested by the Germans after the defeat of Bazaine at Gravelotte in August 18, 1870, and after several fruitless attempts to break through the German lines had been repulsed, Bazaine surrendered to Prince Frederick Charles on October 26, with 3 marshals, 6,000 officers, and 173,000 men. The Germans took 56 eagles, 622 field guns, 72 mitrailleuses, 876 pieces of fortress artillery, and about 300,000 rifles.
Battle of Beaumont   Prussians victory
Fought August 30, 1870, between the Fifth French Corps d'Armee under General de Failly, and the Fourth and Twelfth German Army Corps under the Crown Prince of Saxony. The French were surprised in their cantonments, and were driven back upon Monzon, with a loss of 4,800 men and 42 guns. The Germans lost about 3,500.
Battle of Noisseville   Prussians victory
A sortie of the French, under Bazaine, from Metz, August 31, 1870, in the endeavor to break through the investing line of the Germans, under Prince Frederick Charles. The French had some slight success at first, and maintained the ground they had won during the day, but on September 1, their further efforts to advance were fruitless, and they were driven back into Metz with a loss of 145 officers and 3,379 men. The Germans lost 126 officers and 2,850 men.
Battle of Sedan   Prussians victory
This battle, the most decisive of the war, was fought September 1, 1870. The French, under Marshal Macmahon, who was wounded early in the action, were driven from all their positions by the Germans, under the King of Prussia, and compelled to retire into Sedan, where they laid down their arms. The Emperor Napoleon III was among the prisoners, and one of the results of the surrender was his dethronement and the proclamation of a republic in Paris. The battle is remarkable for the charge of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, under General Margueritte, in the neighbourhood of Floing. The brigade was cut to pieces and the general killed. The Germans lost in the action 460 officers and 8, 500 men; the French 3,000 killed, 14,000 wounded, and 21,000 prisoners, while 83,000 subsequently surrendered in Sedan. The Germans took 419 guns, 139 fortress guns and 66,000 rifles.
Battle of Paris   Prussians victory
Paris was invested by the main German army, under the King of Prussia and von Moltke, September 19, 1870. The garrison, under the command of General Trochu, made a gallant defense, many serious sorties taking place, but the Germans gradually mastered the outer defenses, and finally, being much straitened by famine, the city surrendered January 28, 1871.
Battle of Chevilly   Prussians victory
Fought September 30, 1870, when a sortie from Paris under General Vinoy was repulsed by the Sixth German Corps under Von Tümpling, with a loss of 74 officers and 2,046 men. The Germans lost 28 officers and 413 men killed and wounded.
Battle of Bellevue   Prussians victory
Fought October 7, 1870, when Marshal Bazaine attempted to break through the lines of the Germans investing Metz. He was unsuccessful, and was driven back into the city with a loss of 64 officers and 1,193 men. The Germans lost 75 officers and 1,703 men.
Battle of Le Bourget   Prussians victory
A determined sortie by the French from Paris, October 27, 1870, in which they carried the village of Le Bourget. They held their ground there until October 30, when they were driven out by the Prussian Guard Corps, leaving 1,200 prisoners in the hands of the Germans, who lost 34 officers and 344 men.
Battle of Coulmiers   French victory
Fought November 9, 1870, between 20,000 Germans under Von der Tann, and a largely superior French force under General d'Aurelle de Paladines, After maintaining their position for the greater part of the day, the Germans were driven back, having lost 576 killed and wounded, 800 prisoners, an ammunition column and 2 guns. The French losses were about 1,500.
Battle of Amiens   drawn victory
Fought November 27, 1870, between the French under General Faure, and the Germans under Manteuffel, The French were compelled to abandon the city, but the Germans failed to secure a decisive victory. The French lost 1,383 killed and wounded, and 1,000 missing; the Germans, 76 officers and 1,216 men.
Battle of Beaune-la-Rolande   Prussians victory
Fought November 28, 1870, between 9,000 Germans under the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, and 60,000 French under General Crouzat. The French assailed the German position, but, notwithstanding the disparity of numbers, the Germans succeeded in maintaining their ground, after a desperate encounter, driving off their assailants with a loss of 8,000 men. The Germans lost 37 officers and 817 men only.
Battle of Villiers   Prussians victory
A determined sortie from Paris, under General Ducrot, on November 30, 1870, directed against the Wurtembergers. The operations lasted till December 3. The French, who had at first gained some successes, were finally repulsed, with a loss of 424 officers and 9,053 men. The Germans lost 156 officers and 3,373 men.
Battle of Loigny-Pouprey   Prussians victory
Fought December 1, 1870, between the Germans, 34,000 strong, under the Grand Duke of Mecklenburg, and about 90,000 French, forming the army of the Loire, under General d'Aurelle de Paladines. The Germans gained a signal victory, completely breaking the aggressive power of the Army of the Loire. The French lost 18,000 killed and wounded and 9 guns, the Germans 4,200.
Battle of Hallue   drawn victory
Fought December 23 and 24, 1870, between 40,000 French, under General Faidherbe, and 22,500 Germans, under Manteuffel. The French lost heavily in the village lying in front of their position, but the Germans were unable to carry the entrenchments on the heights. After their attack had been repulsed, the French assumed the offensive, but with no decisive result. The Germans lost 927 killed and wounded; the French over 1,000, besides 1,300 prisoners.
Battle of Bapaume   drawn victory
Fought January 3, 1871, between the French under General Faidherbe, and the Germans under Von Goeben. The result was indecisive, and though the French gained some tactical successes, the result strategically was an advantage to the Germans, as General Faidherbe was compelled to desist from his attempt to raise the siege of Peronne. The Germans lost 52 officers and 698 men; the French 53 officers and 1516 men killed and wounded, and 550 prisoners.
Battle of Le Mans   Prussians victory
Fought January 10, 11, and 12, between the Germans, 50,000 strong, under Prince Frederick Charles, and the French, numbering about 150,000, under General Chanzy. The French army was completely routed, and the whole force so completely demoralised as to be no longer an effective fighting unit. The Germans took 20,000 prisoners, 17 guns, and great quantities of war material, at a cost to themselves of 200 officers and 3,200 men.
Battle of Buzenval   Prussians victory
A sortie from Paris under General Trochu on January 19, 1871. The French, advancing under cover of a fog, established themselves in the Park of Buzenval, and occupied St. Cloud, where they maintained their position throughout the day. At other points, however, they were less successful, and, on the morning of the loth, the force at St. Cloud, finding itself unsupported, was obliged to retire, and all the captured positions were abandoned. The Germans lost 40 officers and 570 men; the French 189 officers and 3,881 men. This sortie is also known as the Battle of Mont Valerien.
Battle of St. Quentin (War of the Fronde ) Prussians victory
Fought January 19, 1871, between the French, 40,000 strong, under General Faidherbe, and 33,000 Germans, under Von Goben. The French were decisively defeated, with a loss of 3,500 killed and wounded, 9,000 prisoners, and 6 guns. The Germans lost 96 officers and 2,304 men.

Short Biography
Helmuth von Moltke Military mastermind of the Austro-Prussian, and Franco-Prussian Wars.
Napoleon III Nephew of Napoleon, elected emperor of France after revolution of 1848. Deposed after disastrous Franco-Prussian War.
Kaiser William I First Kaiser of a United German Empire. With Bismarck as Chancellor, defeated Austria and France.
Patrice MacMahon First elected president of the Third French Republic. Conservative popular with both Monarchists and Bonapartists.
Leon Gambetta Radical Republican politician who came to prominance after the Franco-Prussian War. Served briefly as Prime Minister.
Otto von Bismarck Prussian statesman and mastermind of German Unification. Strategically provoked wars against Austria and France.
Crown Prince Frederich

Story Links
Book Links
Later Days  in  France: Peeps at History  by  John Finnemore
Sedan  in  Boys' Book of Battles  by  Chelsea Curtis Fraser
Count Von Bismarck  in  Famous Men of Modern Times  by  John H. Haaren
Outbreak of War with France  in    by  
The Man of Sedan  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor
Prussian War and the Paris Commune  in  Historical Tales: French  by  Charles Morris
The Franco-Prussian War  in  Nations of Europe and the Great War  by  Charles Morris
Franco-German War  in  Growth of the British Empire  by  M. B. Synge
Vionville-Mars-la-tour  in  The Boy's Book of Battles  by  Eric Wood
France Invaded  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott
Prussian Victories  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott
The Capture of Sedan  in  The History of Prussia  by  John S.C. Abbott

Image Links

Battle Map: Sedan
 in Boys' Book of Battles

After the Battle of Sedan; First meeting of Napoleon III and Bismarck
 in Boys' Book of Battles

Napoleon III and Bismarck at Sedan
 in Famous Men of Modern Times

The capitulation at Sedan
 in Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire

Napoleon III and Bismarck on the morning after the battle of Sedan
 in Bismarck and the Foundation of the German Empire
The Enrollment of volunteers
The Enrollment of volunteers
 in Back Matter

Chairs were brought that Napoleon and the minister might sit out of doors
 in The Story of France

Scene from the Franco-Prussian war
 in Historical Tales: French

Mars-la-tour: It was a veritable death ride.
 in The Boy's Book of Battles