1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Franco-German War
FRANCO-GERMAN WAR (1870–1871). The victories of Prussia in 1866 over the Austrians and their German allies (see Seven Weeks’ War) rendered it evident to the statesmen and soldiers of France that a struggle between the two nations could only be a question of time. Army reforms were at once undertaken, and measures were initiated in France to place the armament and equipment of the troops on a level with the requirements of the times. The chassepot, a new breech-loading rifle, immensely superior to the Prussian needle-gun, was issued; the artillery trains were thoroughly overhauled, and a new machine-gun, the mitrailleuse, from which much was expected, introduced. Wide schemes of reorganization (due mainly to Marshal Niel) were set in motion, and, since these required time to mature, recourse was had to foreign alliances in the hope of delaying the impending rupture. In the first week of June 1870, General Lebrun, as a confidential agent of the emperor Napoleon III., was sent to Vienna to concert a plan of joint operations with Austria against Prussia. Italy was also to be included in the alliance, and it was agreed that in case of hostilities the French armies should concentrate in northern Bavaria, where the Austrians and Italians were to join them, and the whole immense army thus formed should march via Jena on Berlin. To what extent Austria and Italy committed themselves to this scheme remains uncertain, but that the emperor Napoleon believed in their bona fides is beyond doubt.
Whether the plan was betrayed to Prussia is also uncertain, and almost immaterial, for Moltke’s plans were based on an accurate estimate of the time it would take Austria to mobilize and on the effect of a series of victories on French soil. At any rate Moltke was not taken into Bismarck’s confidence in the affair of Ems in July 1870, and it is to be presumed that the chancellor had already satisfied himself that the schemes of operations prepared by the chief of the General Staff fully provided against all eventualities. These schemes were founded on Clausewitz’s view of the objects to be pursued in a war against France—in the first place the defeat of the French field armies and in the second the occupation of Paris. On these lines plans for the strategic deployment of the Prussian army were prepared by the General Staff and kept up to date year by year as fresh circumstances (e.g. the co-operation of the minor German armies) arose and new means of communication came into existence. The campaign was actually opened on a revise of 1868–1869, to which was added, on the 6th of May 1870, a secret memorandum for the General Staff.
Under the German organization then existing the preliminary to all active operations was of necessity full and complete mobilization. Then followed transport by road and rail to the line selected for the “strategic deployment,” and it was essential that no part of these operations should be disturbed by action on the part of the enemy. But no such delay imposed itself of necessity upon the French, and a vigorous offensive was so much Strategic deployment of the German armies. in harmony with their traditions that the German plan had to be framed so as to meet such emergencies. On the whole, Moltke concluded that the enemy could not undertake this offensive before the eighth day after mobilization. At that date about five French army corps (150,000 men) could be collected near Metz, and two corps (70,000) near Strassburg; and as it was six days’ march from Metz to the Rhine, no serious attack could be delivered before the fourteenth day, by which day it could be met by superior forces near Kirchheimbolanden. Since, however, the transport of the bulk of the Prussian forces could not begin till the ninth day, their ultimate line of detrainment need not be fixed until the French plans were disclosed, and, as it was important to strike at the earliest moment possible, the deployment was provisionally fixed to be beyond the Rhine on the line Wittlich-Neunkirchen-Landau. Of the thirteen North German corps three had to be left behind to guard the eastern frontier and the coast, one other, the VIII., was practically on the ground already and could concentrate by road, and the remaining nine were distributed to the nine through railway lines available. These ten corps were grouped in three armies, and as the French might violate Belgian neutrality or endeavour to break into southern Germany, two corps (Prussian Guard and Saxon XII. corps) were temporarily held back at a central position around Mainz, whence they could move rapidly up or down the Rhine valley. If Belgian neutrality remained unmolested, the reserve would join the III. army on the left wing, giving it a two to one superiority over its adversary; all three armies would then wheel to the right and combine in an effort to force the French army into a decisive battle on the Saar on or about the twenty-third day. As in this wheel the army on the right formed the pivot and was required only to stand fast, two corps only were allotted to it; two corps for the present formed the III. army, and the remaining five were assigned to the II. army in the centre.
When (16th-17th July) the South German states decided to throw in their lot with the rest, their three corps were allotted to the III. army, the Guards and Saxons to the II. army, whilst the three corps originally left behind were finally distributed one to each army, so that up to the investment of Metz the order of battle was as follows:
|The king of Prussia (General v. Moltke, chief of staff).
General v. Steinmetz
(C. of S., v. Sperling)
|corps, v. Manteuffel)
|” v. Zastrow
|” v. Goeben
|(1st) and 3rd cavalry divisions
Prince Frederick Charles
(C. of S., v. Stiehle)
|Guard Pr. August of Württemberg
|corps, v. Fransecky)
|” v. Alvensleben II.
|” v. Alvensleben I.
|” v. Manstein
|” v. Voigts-Rhetz
| ” (Saxons) crown prince
|5th and 6th cavalry divisions
crown prince of Prussia
(C. of S., v. Blumenthal)
|corps, v. Kirchbach
|” v. Tümpling
|” v. Bose
|Bavarian, v. der Tann
|” v. Hartmann
|(2nd) and 4th cavalry divisions
|(The units within brackets were those at first retained in Germany.)
On the French side no such plan of operations was in existence when on the night of the 15th of July Krieg mobil was telegraphed all over Prussia. An outline scheme had indeed been prepared as a basis for agreement with Austria and Positions of the French forces.Italy, but practically no details were fixed, and the troops were without transport and supplies. Nevertheless, since speed was the essence of the contract, the troops were hurried up without waiting for their reserves, and delivered, as Moltke had foreseen, just where the lie of the railways and convenience of temporary supply dictated, and the Prussian Intelligence Department was able to inform Moltke on the 22nd of July (seventh day of mobilization) that the French stood from right to left in the following order, on or near the frontier:
|Marshal MacMahon, duke of Magenta, Strassburg
|General de Failly, Saargemünd and Bitche
|General Frossard, St Avold
|General de Ladmirault, Thionville
|With, behind them:
|Marshal Bazaine, Metz
|General Bourbaki, Nancy
|Marshal Canrobert, Châlons
|General Félix Douay, Belfort
If therefore they began a forward movement on the 23rd (eighth day) the case foreseen by Moltke had arisen, and it became necessary to detrain the II. army upon the Rhine. Without waiting for further confirmation of this intelligence, Moltke, with the consent of the king, altered the arrangements accordingly, a decision which, though foreseen, exercised the gravest influence on the course of events. As it happened this decision was premature, for the French could not yet move. Supply trains had to be organized by requisition from the inhabitants, and even arms and ammunition procured for such reserves as had succeeded in joining. Nevertheless, by almost superhuman exertions on the part of the railways and administrative services, all essential deficiencies were made good, and by the 28th of July (13th day) the troops had received all that was absolutely indispensable and might well have been led against the enemy, who, thanks to Moltke’s premature action, were for the moment at a very serious disadvantage. But the French generals were unequal to their responsibilities. It is now clear that, had the great Napoleon and his marshals been in command, they would have made light of the want of cooking pots, cholera belts, &c., and, by a series of rapid marches, would have concentrated odds of at least three to one upon the heads of the Prussian columns as they struggled through the defiles of the Hardt, and won a victory whose political results might well have proved decisive.
To meet this pressing danger, which came to his knowledge during the course of the 29th, Moltke sent a confidential staff officer, Colonel v. Verdy du Vernois, to the III. army to impress upon the crown prince the necessity of an immediate advance to distract the enemy’s attention from the I. and II. armies; but, like the French generals, the crown prince pleaded that he could not move until his trains were complete. Fortunately for the Germans, the French intelligence service not only failed to inform the staff of this extraordinary opportunity, but it allowed itself to be hypnotized by the most amazing rumours. In imagination they saw armies of 100,000 men behind every forest, and, to guard against these dangers, the French troops were marched and counter-marched along the frontiers in the vain hope of discovering an ideal defensive position which should afford full scope to the power of their new weapons.
As these delays were exerting a most unfavourable effect on public opinion not only in France but throughout Europe, the emperor decided on the 1st of August to initiate a movement towards the Saar, chiefly as a guarantee of good faith to the Austrians and Italians.
On this day the French corps held the following positions from right to left:
|Belfort and Colmar
The French 2nd corps was directed to advance on the following morning direct on Saarbrücken, supported on the flanks by two divisions from the 5th and 3rd corps. The order was duly carried out, and the Prussians (one battalion, two squadrons and aAction of Saar-
brücken. battery), seeing the overwhelming numbers opposed to them, fell back fighting and vanished to the northward, having given a very excellent example of steadiness and discipline to their enemy. The latter contented themselves by occupying Saarbrücken and its suburb St Johann, and here, as far as the troops were concerned, the incident closed. Its effect, however, proved far-reaching. The Prussian staff could not conceive that nothing lay behind this display of five whole divisions, and immediately took steps to meet the expected danger. In their excitement, although they had announced the beginning of the action to the king’s headquarters at Mainz, they forgot to notify the close and its results, so that Moltke was not in possession of the facts till noon on the 3rd of August. Meanwhile, Steinmetz, left without instructions and fearing for the safety of the II. army, the heads of whose columns were still in the defiles of the Hardt, moved the I. army from the neighbourhood of Merzig obliquely to his left front, so as to strike the flank of the French army if it continued its march towards Kaiserslautern, in which direction it appeared to be heading.
Whilst this order was in process of execution, Moltke, aware that the II. army was behind time in its march, issued instructions to Steinmetz for the 4th of August which entailed a withdrawal to the rear, the idea being that bothMoltke, Prince Frederick Charles and Steinmetz. armies should, if the French advanced, fight a defensive battle in a selected position farther back. Steinmetz obeyed, though bitterly resenting the idea of retreat. This movement, further, drew his left across the roads reserved for the right column of the II. army, and on receipt of a peremptory order from Prince Frederick Charles to evacuate the road, Steinmetz telegraphed for instructions direct to the king, over Moltke’s head. In reply he received a telegram from Moltke, ordering him to clear the road at once, and couched in terms which he considered as a severe reprimand. An explanatory letter, meant to soften the rebuke, was delayed in transmission and did not reach him till too late to modify the orders he had already issued. It must be remembered that Steinmetz at the front was in a better position to judge the apparent situation than was Moltke at Mainz, and that all through the day of the 5th of August he had received intelligence indicating a change of attitude in the French army.
The news of the German victory at Weissenburg on the 4th (see below) had in fact completely paralysed the French headquarters, and orders were issued by them during the course of the 5th to concentrate the whole army of theBattle of Spicheren. Rhine on the selected position of Cadenbronn. As a preliminary, Frossard’s corps withdrew from Saarbrücken and began to entrench a position on the Spicheren heights, 3000 yds. to the southward. Steinmetz, therefore, being quite unaware of the scheme for a great battle on the Saar about the 12th of August, felt that the situation would best be met, and the letter of his instructions strictly obeyed, by moving his whole command forward to the line of the Saar, and orders to this effect were issued on the evening of the 5th. In pursuance of these orders, the advance guard of the 14th division (Lieutenant General von Kameke) reached Saarbrücken about 9 a.m. on the 6th, where the Germans found to their amazement that the bridges were intact. To secure this advantage was the obvious duty of the commander on the spot, and he at once ordered his troops to occupy a line of low heights beyond the town to serve as a bridge-head. As the leading troops deployed on the heights Frossard’s guns on the Spicheren Plateau opened fire, and the advanced guard battery replied. The sound of these guns unchained the whole fighting instinct carefully developed by a long course of Prussian manœuvre training. Everywhere, generals and troops hurried towards the cannon thunder. Kameke, even more in the dark than Steinmetz as to Moltke’s intentions and the strength of his adversaries, attacked at once, precisely as he would have done at manœuvres, and in half an hour his men were committed beyond recall. As each fresh unit reached the field it was hurried into action where its services were most needed, and each fresh general as he arrived took a new view of the combat and issued new orders. On the other side, Frossard, knowing the strength of his position, called on his neighbours for support, and determined to hold his ground. Victory seemed certain. There were sufficient troops within easy reach to have ensured a crushing numerical superiority. But the other generals had not been trained to mutual support, and thought only of their own immediate security, and their staffs were too inexperienced to act upon even good intentions; and, finding himself in the course of the afternoon left to his own devices, Frossard began gradually to withdraw, even before the pressure of the 13th German division on his left flank (about 8 P.M.) compelled his retirement. When darkness ended the battle the Prussians were scarcely aware of their victory. Steinmetz, who had reached the field about 6 P.M., rode back to his headquarters without issuing any orders, while the troops bivouacked where they stood, the units of three army corps being mixed up in almost inextricable confusion. But whereas out of 42,900 Prussians with 120 guns, who in the morning lay within striking distance of the enemy, no fewer than 27,000, with 78 guns were actually engaged; of the French, out of 64,000 with 210 guns only 24,000 with 90 guns took part in the action.
Meanwhile on the German left wing the III. army had begun its advance. Early on the 4th of August it crossed the frontier and fell upon a French detachment under Abel Douay, which had been placed near Weissenburg, partly to cover the Pigeonnier pass, but principally to consume Action of Weissenburg.the supplies accumulated in the little dismantled fortress, as these could not easily be moved. Against this force of under 4000 men of all arms, the Germans brought into action successively portions of three corps, in all over 25,000 men with 90 guns. After six hours’ fighting, in which the Germans lost some 1500 men, the gallant remnant of the French withdrew deliberately and in good order, notwithstanding the death of their leader at the critical moment. The Germans were so elated by their victory over the enemy, whose strength they naturally overestimated, that they forgot to send cavalry in pursuit, and thus entirely lost touch with the enemy.
Next day the advance was resumed, the two Bavarian corps moving via Mattstall through the foothills of the Vosges, the V. corps on their left towards Preuschdorf, and the XI. farther to the left again, through the wooded plain of the Rhine valley. The 4th cavalry division scouted in advance, and army headquarters moved to Sulz. About noon the advanced patrols discovered MacMahon’s corps in position on the left bank of the Sauer (see Wörth: Battle of). As his army was dispersed over a wide area, the crown prince determined to devote the 6th to concentrating the troops, and, probably to avoid alarming the enemy, ordered the cavalry to stand fast.
At night the outposts of the I. Bavarians and V. corps on the Sauer saw the fires of the French encampment and heard the noise of railway traffic, and rightly conjectured the approach of reinforcements. MacMahon had in fact determined to stand in the very formidable position he had selected, and he counted on receiving support both from the 7th corps (two divisions of which were being railed up from Colmar) and from the 5th corps, which lay around Bitche. It was also quite possible, and the soundest strategy, to withdraw the bulk of the troops then facing the German I. and II. armies to his support, and these would reach him by the 8th. He was therefore justified in accepting battle, though it was to his interest to delay it as long as possible.
At dawn on the 6th of August the commander of the V. corps outposts noticed certain movements in the French lines, and to clear up the situation brought his guns into action. As at Spicheren, the sound of the guns set the whole machinery of battle in motion. The French artillery Battle of Wörth.immediately accepted the Prussian challenge. The I. Bavarians, having been ordered to be ready to move if they heard artillery fire, immediately advanced against the French left, encountering presently such a stubborn resistance that parts of their line began to give way. The Prussians of the V. corps felt that they could not abandon their allies, and von Kirchbach, calling on the XI. corps for support, attacked with the troops at hand. When the crown prince tried to break off the fight it was too late. Both sides were feeding troops into the firing line, as and where they could lay hands on them. Up to 2 P.M. the French fairly held their own, but shortly afterwards their right yielded to the overwhelming pressure of the XI. corps, and by 3.30 it was in full retreat. The centre held on for another hour, but in its turn was compelled to yield, and by 4.30 all organized resistance was at an end. The débris of the French army was hotly pursued by the German divisional squadrons towards Reichshofen, where serious panic showed itself. When at this stage the supports sent by de Failly from Bitche came on the ground they saw the hopelessness of intervention, and retired whence they had come. Fortunately for the French, the German 4th cavalry division, on which the pursuit should have devolved, had been forgotten by the German staff, and did not reach the front before darkness fell. Out of a total of 82,000 within reach of the battlefield, the Germans succeeded in bringing into action 77,500. The French, who might have had 50,000 on the field, deployed only 37,000, and these suffered a collective loss of no less than 20,100; some regiments losing up to 90% and still retaining some semblance of discipline and order.
Under cover of darkness the remnants of the French army escaped. When at length the 4th cavalry division had succeeded in forcing a way through the confusion of the battlefield, all touch with the enemy had been lost, and being without firearms the troopers were checked by the French stragglers in the woods and the villages, and thus failed to establish the true line of retreat of the French. Ultimately the latter, having gained the railway near Lunéville, disappeared from the German front altogether, and all trace of them was lost until they were discovered, about the 26th of August, forming part of the army of Châlons, whither they had been conveyed by rail via Paris. This is a remarkable example of the strategical value of railways to an army operating in its own country.
In the absence of all resistance, the III. army now proceeded to carry out the original programme of marches laid down in Moltke’s memorandum of the 6th of May, and marching on a broad front through a fertile district it reached the line of the Moselle in excellent order about the 17th of August, where it halted to await the result of the great battle of Gravelotte-St Privat.
We return now to the I. army at Saarbrücken. Its position on the morning of the 7th of August gave cause for the gravest anxiety. At daylight a dense fog lay over the country, and through the mist sounds of heavy firing came from the direction of Forbach, where French stragglers Movements on the Saar.had rallied during the night. The confusion on the battlefield was appalling, and the troops in no condition to go forward. Except the 3rd, 5th and 6th cavalry divisions no closed troops were within a day’s march; hence Steinmetz decided to spend the day in reorganizing his infantry, under cover of his available cavalry. But the German cavalry and staff were quite new to their task. The 6th cavalry division, which had bivouacked on the battlefield, sent on only one brigade towards Forbach, retaining the remainder in reserve. The 5th, thinking that the 6th had already undertaken all that was necessary, withdrew behind the Saar, and the 3rd, also behind the Saar, reported that the country in its front was unsuited to cavalry movements, and only sent out a few officers’ patrols. These were well led, but were too few in number, and their reports were consequently unconvincing.
In the course of the day Steinmetz became very uneasy, and ultimately he decided to concentrate his army by retiring the VII. and VIII. corps behind the river on to the I. (which had arrived near Saarlouis), thus clearing the Saarbrücken-Metz road for the use of the II. army. But at this moment Prince Frederick Charles suddenly modified his views. During the 6th of August his scouts had reported considerable French forces near Bitche (these were the 5th, de Failly’s corps), and early in the morning of the 7th he received a telegram from Moltke informing him that MacMahon’s beaten army was retreating on the same place (the troops observed were in fact those which had marched to MacMahon’s assistance). The prince forthwith deflected the march of the Guards, IV. and X. corps, towards Rohrbach, whilst the IX. and XII. closed up to supporting distance behind them. Thus, as Steinmetz moved away to the west and north, Frederick Charles was diverging to the south and east, and a great gap was opening in the very centre of the German front. This was closed only by the III. corps, still on the battle-field, and by portions of the X. near Saargemünd, whilst within striking distance lay 130,000 French troops, prevented only by the incapacity of their chiefs from delivering a decisive counter-stroke.
Fortunately for the Prussians, Moltke at Mainz took a different view. Receiving absolutely no intelligence from the front during the 7th, he telegraphed orders to the I. and II. armies (10.25 P.M.) to halt on the 8th, and impressed on Steinmetz the necessity of employing his cavalry to clear up the situation. The I. army had already begun the marches ordered by Steinmetz. It was now led back practically to its old bivouacs amongst the unburied dead. Prince Frederick Charles only conformed to Moltke’s order with the III. and X. corps; the remainder executed their concentration towards the south and east.
During the night of the 7th of August Moltke decided that the French army must be in retreat towards the Moselle and forthwith busied himself with the preparation of fresh tables of march for the two armies, his object being to swing up the left wing to outflank the enemy from the south. This work, and the transfer of headquarters to Homburg, needed time, hence no fresh orders were issued to either army, and neither commander would incur the responsibility of moving without any. The I. army therefore spent a fourth night in bivouac on the battlefield. But Constantin von Alvensleben, commanding the III. corps, a man of very different stamp from his colleagues, hearing at first hand that the French had evacuated St Avold, set his corps in motion early in the morning of the 10th August down the St Avold-Metz road, reached St Avold and obtained conclusive evidence that the French were retreating.
During the 9th the orders for the advance to the Moselle were issued. These were based, not on an exact knowledge of where the French army actually stood, but on the opinion Moltke had formed as to where it ought to have been on military grounds solely, overlooking the fact that Advance to the Moselle.the French staff were not free to form military decisions but were compelled to bow to political expediency.
Actually on the 7th of August the emperor had decided to attack the Germans on the 8th with the whole Rhine Army, but this decision was upset by alarmist reports from the beaten army of MacMahon. He then decided to retreat to the Moselle, as Moltke had foreseen, and there to draw to himself the remnants of MacMahon’s army (now near Lunéville). At the same time he assigned the executive command over the whole Rhine Army to Marshal Bazaine. This retreat was begun during the course of the 8th and 9th of August; but on the night of the 9th urgent telegrams from Paris induced the emperor to suspend the movement, and during the 10th the whole army took up a strong position on the French Nied.
Meanwhile the II. German army had received its orders to march in a line of army corps on a broad front in the general direction of Pont-à-Mousson, well to the south of Metz. The I. army was to follow by short marches in échelon on the right; only the III. corps was directed on Falkenberg, a day’s march farther towards Metz along the St Avold-Metz road. The movement was begun on the 10th, and towards evening the French army was located on the right front of the III. corps. This entirely upset Moltke’s hypothesis, and called for a complete modification of his plans, as the III. corps alone could not be expected to resist the impact of Bazaine’s five corps. The III. corps therefore received orders to stand fast for the moment, and the remainder of the II. army was instructed to wheel to the right and concentrate for a great battle to the east of Metz on the 16th or 17th.
Before, however, these orders had been received the sudden retreat of the French completely changed the situation. The Germans therefore continued their movement towards the Moselle. On the 13th the French took up a fresh position 5 m. to the east of Metz, where they were located by the cavalry and the advanced guards of the I. army.
Again Moltke ordered the I. army to observe and hold the enemy, whilst the II. was to swing round to the north. The cavalry was to scout beyond the Moselle and intercept all communication with the heart of France (see Metz). By this time the whole German army had imbibed the Battle of Colombey-Borny.idea that the French were in full retreat and endeavouring to evade a decisive struggle. When therefore during the morning of the 14th their outposts observed signs of retreat in the French position, their impatience could no longer be restrained; as at Wörth and Spicheren, an outpost commander brought up his guns, and at the sound of their fire, every unit within reach spontaneously got under arms (battle of Colombey-Borny). In a short time, with or without orders, the I., VII., VIII. and IX. corps were in full march to the battle-field. But the French too turned back to fight, and an obstinate engagement ensued, at the close of which the Germans barely held the ground and the French withdrew under cover of the Metz forts.
Still, though the fighting had been indecisive, the conviction of victory remained with the Germans, and the idea of a French retreat became an obsession. To this idea Moltke gave expression in his orders issued early on the 15th, in which he laid down that the “fruits of the victory” of the previous evening could only be reaped by a vigorous pursuit towards the passages of the Meuse, where it was hoped the French might yet be overtaken. This order, however, did not allow for the hopeless inability of the French staff to regulate the movement of congested masses of men, horses and vehicles, such as were now accumulated in the streets and environs of Metz. Whilst Bazaine had come to no definite decision whether to stand and fight or continue to retreat, and was merely drifting under the impressions of the moment, the Prussian leaders, in particular Prince Frederick Charles, saw in imagination the French columns in rapid orderly movement towards the west, and calculated that at best they could not be overtaken short of Verdun.
In this order of ideas the whole of the II. army, followed on its right rear by two-thirds of the I. army (the I. corps being detached to observe the eastern side of the fortress), were pushed on towards the Moselle, the cavalry far in advance towards the Meuse, whilst only the 5th cavalry division was ordered to scout towards the Metz-Verdun road, and even that was disseminated over far too wide an area.
Later in the day (15th) Frederick Charles sent orders to the III. corps, which was on the right flank of his long line of columns and approaching the Moselle at Corny and Novéant, to march via Gorze to Mars-la-Tour on the Metz-Verdun road; to the X. corps, strung out along the road from Thiaucourt to Pont-à-Mousson, to move to Jarny; and for the remainder to push on westward to seize the Meuse crossings. No definite information as to the French army reached him in time to modify these instructions.
Meanwhile the 5th (Rheinbaben’s) cavalry division, at about 3 P.M. in the afternoon, had come into contact with the French cavalry in the vicinity of Mars-la-Tour, and gleaned intelligence enough to show that no French infantry had as yet reached Rezonville. The commander of the X. corps at Thiaucourt, informed of this, became anxious for the security of his flank during the next day’s march and decided to push out a strong flanking detachment under von Caprivi, to support von Rheinbaben and maintain touch with the III. corps marching on his right rear.
Von Alvensleben, to whom the 6th cavalry division had meanwhile been assigned, seems to have received no local intelligence whatsoever; and at daybreak on the 16th he began his march in two columns, the 6th division on Mars-la-Tour, the 5th towards the Rezonville-Vionville plateau. And shortly after 9.15 A.M. he suddenly discovered the truth. Battle of Vionville-Mars-la-Tour. The entire French army lay on his right flank, and his nearest supports were almost a day’s march distant. In this crisis he made up his mind at once to attack with every available man, and to continue to attack, in the conviction that his audacity would serve to conceal his weakness. All day long, therefore, the Brandenburgers of the III. corps, supported ultimately by the X. corps and part of the IX., attacked again and again. The enemy was thrice their strength, but very differently led, and made no adequate use of his superiority (battle of Vionville-Mars-la Tour).
Meanwhile Prince Frederick Charles, at Pont-à-Mousson, was still confident in the French retreat to the Meuse, and had even issued orders for the 17th on that assumption. Firing had been heard since 9.15 A.M., and about noon Alvensleben’s first report had reached him, but it was not till after 2 that he realized the situation. Then, mounting his horse, he covered the 15 m. to Flavigny over crowded and difficult roads within the hour, and on his arrival abundantly atoned for his strategic errors by his unconquerable determination and tactical skill. When darkness put a stop to the fighting, he considered the position. Cancelling all previous orders, he called all troops within reach to the battle-field and resigned himself to wait for them. The situation was indeed critical. The whole French army of five corps, only half of which had been engaged, lay in front of him. His own army lay scattered over an area of 30 m. by 20, and only some 20,000 fresh troops—of the IX. corps—could reach the field during the forenoon of the 17th.The 17th
of August. He did not then know that Moltke had already intervened and had ordered the VII., VIII. and II. corps to his assistance. Daylight revealed the extreme exhaustion of both men and horses. The men lay around in hopeless confusion amongst the killed and wounded, each where sleep had overtaken him, and thus the extent of the actual losses, heavy enough, could not be estimated. Across the valley, bugle sounds revealed the French already alert, and presently a long line of skirmishers approached the Prussian position. But they halted just beyond rifle range, and it was soon evident that they were only intended to cover a further withdrawal. Presently came the welcome intelligence that the reinforcements were well on their way.
About noon the king and Moltke drove up to the ground, and there was an animated discussion as to what the French would do next. Aware of their withdrawal from his immediate front, Prince Frederick Charles reverted to his previous idea and insisted that they were in full retreat towards the north, and that their entrenchments near Point du Jour and St Hubert (see map in article Metz) were at most a rearguard position. Moltke was inclined to the same view, but considered the alternative possibility of a withdrawal towards Metz, and about 2 P.M. orders were issued to meet these divergent opinions. The whole army was to be drawn up at 6 A.M. on the 18th in an échelon facing north, so as to be ready for action in either direction. The king and Moltke then drove to Pont-à-Mousson, and the troops bivouacked in a state of readiness. The rest of the 17th was spent in restoring order in the shattered III. and X. corps, and by nightfall both corps were reported fit for action. Strangely enough, there were no organized cavalry reconnaissances, and no intelligence of importance was collected during the night of the 17th-18th.
Early on the 18th the troops began to move into position in the following order from left to right: XII. (Saxons), Guards, IX., VIII. and VII. The X. and III. were retained in reserve.
The idea of the French retreat was still uppermost in the prince’s mind, and the whole army therefore moved north. But between 10 and 11 A.M. part of the truth—viz. that the French had their backs to Metz and stood in battle order from St Hubert northwards—became evident, and the II. army, pivoting on the I., wheeled to the right and moved eastward. Suddenly the IX. corps fell right on the centre of the French line (Amanvillers),Battle of Gravelotte-Saint Privat. and a most desperate encounter began, superior control, as before, ceasing after the guns had opened fire. Prince Frederick Charles, however, a little farther north, again asserted his tactical ability, and about 7 P.M. he brought into position no less than five army corps for the final attack. The sudden collapse of French resistance, due to the frontal attack of the Guards (St Privat) and the turning movement of the Saxons (Roncourt), rendered the use of this mass unnecessary, but the resolution to use it was there. On the German right (I. army), about Gravelotte, all superior leading ceased quite early in the afternoon, and at night the French still showed an unbroken front. Until midnight, when the prince’s victory was reported, the suspense at headquarters was terrible. The I. army was exhausted, no steps had been taken to ensure support from the III. army, and the IV. corps (II. army) lay inactive 30 m. away.
This seems a fitting place to discuss the much-disputed point of Bazaine’s conduct in allowing himself to be driven back into Metz when fortune had thrown into his hands the great opportunity of the 16th and 17th of August. He had been appointed to command on the 10th, but the Bazaine
in Metz.presence of the emperor, who only left the front early on the 16th, and their dislike of Bazaine, exercised a disturbing influence on the headquarters staff officers. During the retreat to Metz the marshal had satisfied himself as to the inability of his corps commanders to handle their troops, and also as to the ill-will of the staff. In the circumstances he felt that a battle in the open field could only end in disaster; and, since it was proved that the Germans could outmarch him, his army was sure to be overtaken and annihilated if he ventured beyond the shelter of the fortress. But near Metz he could at least inflict very severe punishment on his assailants, and in any case his presence in Metz would neutralize a far superior force of the enemy for weeks or months. What use the French government might choose to make of the breathing space thus secured was their business, not his; and subsequent events showed that, had they not forced MacMahon’s hand, the existence of the latter’s nucleus army of trained troops might have prevented the investment of Paris. Bazaine was condemned by court-martial after the war, but if the case were reheard to-day it is certain that no charge of treachery could be sustained.
On the German side the victory at St Privat was at once followed up by the headquarters. Early on the 19th the investment of Bazaine’s army in Metz was commenced. A new army, the Army of the Meuse (often called the IV.), was as soon as possible formed of all troops not required for the maintenance of the investment, and marched off under the command of the crown prince of Saxony to discover and destroy the remainder of the French field army, which at this moment was known to be at Châlons.
The operations which led to the capture of MacMahon’s army in Sedan call for little explanation. Given seven corps, each capable of averaging 15 m. a day for a week in succession, opposed to four corps only, shaken by defeat and unable as a whole to cover more than 5 m. a day, the Campaign
of Sedan.result could hardly be doubtful. But Moltke’s method of conducting operations left his opponent many openings which could only be closed by excessive demands on the marching power of the men. Trusting only to his cavalry screen to secure information, he was always without any definite fixed point about which to manœuvre, for whilst the reports of the screen and orders based thereon were being transmitted, the enemy was free to move, and generally their movements were dictated by political expediency, not by calculable military motives.
So unexpected was this move and so uncertain the information which called attention to it, that Moltke did not venture to change at once the direction of march of the whole army, but he directed the Army of the Meuse northward on Damvillers and ordered Prince Frederick Charles to detach two corps from the forces investing Metz to reinforce it. For the moment, therefore, MacMahon’s move had succeeded, and the opportunity existed for Bazaine to break out. But at the critical moment the hopeless want of real efficiency in MacMahon’s army compelled the latter so to delay his advance that it became evident to the Germans that there was no longer any necessity for the III. army to maintain the direction towards Paris, and that the probable point of contact between the Meuse army and the French lay nearer to the right wing of the III. army than to Prince Frederick Charles’s investing force before Metz.
The detachment from the II. army was therefore countermanded, and the whole III. army changed front to the north, while the Meuse army headed the French off from the east. The latter came into contact with the head of the French columns, during the 29th, about Nouart, and on the 30th at Buzancy (battle of Beaumont); and the French, yielding to the force of numbers combined with superior moral, were driven northwestward upon Sedan (q.v.), right across the front of the III. army, which was now rapidly coming up from the south.
During the 31st the retreat practically became a rout, and the morning of the 1st of September found the French crowded around the little fortress of Sedan, with only one line of retreat to the north-west still open. By 11 A.M. the XI. corps (III. army) had already closed that line, and about noon the Saxons (Army of the Meuse) moving round between the town and the Belgian frontier joined hands with the XI., and the circle of investment was complete. The battle of Sedan was closed about 4.15 P.M. by the hoisting of the white flag. Terms were agreed upon during the night, and the whole French army, with the emperor, passed into captivity. (F. N. M.)
Thus in five weeks one of the French field armies was imprisoned in Metz, the other destroyed, and the Germans were free to march upon Paris. This seemed easy. There could be no organized opposition to their progress, and Paris, if not so defenceless as in 1814, was more populous. Later operations.Starvation was the best method of attacking an overcrowded fortress, and the Parisians were not thought to be proof against the deprivation of their accustomed luxuries. Even Moltke hoped that by the end of October he would be “shooting hares at Creisau,” and with this confidence the German III. and IV. armies left the vicinity of Sedan on the 4th of September. The march called for no more than good staff arrangements, and the two armies arrived before Paris a fortnight later and gradually encircled the place—the III. army on the south, the IV. on the north side—in the last days of September. Headquarters were established at Versailles. Meanwhile the Third Empire had fallen, giving place on the 4th of September to a republican Government of National Defence, which made its appeal to, and evoked, the spirit of 1792. Henceforward the French nation, which had left the conduct of the war to the regular army and had been little more than an excited spectator, took the burden upon itself.
The regular army, indeed, still contained more than 500,000 men (chiefly recruits and reservists), and 50,000 sailors, marines, douaniers, &c., were also available. But the Garde Mobile, framed by Marshal Niel in 1868, doubled this figure, and the addition of the Garde Nationale, called into existence on the 15th of September, and including all able-bodied men of from 31 to 60 years of age, more than trebled it. The German staff had of course to reckon on the Garde Mobile, and did so beforehand, but they wholly underestimated both its effective members and its willingness, while, possessing themselves a system in which all the military elements of the German nation stood close behind the troops of the active army, they ignored the potentialities of the Garde Nationale.
Meanwhile, both as a contrast to the events that centred on Paris and because in point of time they were decided for the most part in the weeks immediately following Sedan, we must briefly allude to the sieges conducted by the Germans—Paris (q.v.), Metz (q.v.) and Belfort (q.v.) excepted. Old and ruined as many of them were, the French fortresses possessed considerable importance in the eyes of the Germans. Strassburg, in particular, the key of Alsace, the standing menace to South Germany and the most conspicuous of the spoils of Louis XIV.’s Raubkriege, was an obvious target. Operations were begun on the 9th of August, three days after Wörth, General v. Werder’s corps (Baden troops and Prussian Landwehr) making the siege. The French commandant, General Uhrich, surrendered after a stubborn resistance on the 28th of September. Of the smaller fortresses many, being practically unarmed and without garrisons, capitulated at once. Toul, defended by Major Huck with 2000 mobiles, resisted for forty days, and drew upon itself the efforts of 13,000 men and 100 guns. Verdun, commanded by General Guerin de Waldersbach, held out till after the fall of Metz. Some of the fortresses lying to the north of the Prussian line of advance on Paris, e.g. Mézières, resisted up to January 1871, though of course this was very largely due to the diminution of pressure caused by the appearance of new French field armies in October. On the 9th of September a strange incident took place at the surrender of Laon. A powder magazine was blown up by the soldiers in charge and 300 French and a few German soldiers were killed by the explosion. But as the Germans advanced, their lines of communication were thoroughly organized, and the belt of country between Paris and the Prussian frontier subdued and garrisoned. Most of these fortresses were small town enceintes, dating from Vauban’s time, and open, under the new conditions of warfare, to concentric bombardment from positions formerly out of range, upon which the besieger could place as many guns as he chose to employ. In addition they were usually deficient in armament and stores and garrisoned by newly-raised troops. Belfort, where the defenders strained every nerve to keep the besiegers out of bombarding range, and Paris formed the only exceptions to this general rule.
The policy of the new French government was defined by Jules Favre on the 6th of September. “It is for the king of Prussia, who has declared that he is making war on the Empire and not on France, to stay his hand; we shall not cede an inch of our territory or a stone of our The “Défense Nationale.”fortresses.” These proud words, so often ridiculed as empty bombast, were the prelude of a national effort which re-established France in the eyes of Europe as a great power, even though provinces and fortresses were ceded in the peace that that effort proved unable to avert. They were translated into action by Leon Gambetta, who escaped from Paris in a balloon on the 7th of October, and established the headquarters of the defence at Tours, where already the “Delegation” of the central government—which had decided to remain in Paris—had concentrated the machinery of government. Thenceforward Gambetta and his principal assistant de Freycinet directed the whole war in the open country, coordinating it, as best they could with the precarious means of communication at their disposal, with Trochu’s military operations in and round the capital. His critics—Gambetta’s personality was such as to ensure him numerous enemies among the higher civil and military officials, over whom, in the interests of La Patrie, he rode rough-shod—have acknowledged the fact, which is patent enough in any case, that nothing but Gambetta’s driving energy enabled France in a few weeks to create and to equip twelve army corps, representing thirty-six divisions (600,000 rifles and 1400 guns), after all her organized regular field troops had been destroyed or neutralized. But it is claimed that by undue interference with the generals at the front, by presuming to dictate their plans of campaign, and by forcing them to act when the troops were unready, Gambetta and de Freycinet nullified the efforts of themselves and the rest of the nation and subjected France to a humiliating treaty of peace. We cannot here discuss the justice or injustice of such a general condemnation, or even whether in individual instances Gambetta trespassed too far into the special domain of the soldier. But even the brief narrative given below must at least suggest to the reader the existence amongst the generals and higher officials of a dead weight of passive resistance to the Delegation’s orders, of unnecessary distrust of the qualities of the improvised troops, and above all of the utter fear of responsibility that twenty years of literal obedience had bred. The closest study of the war cannot lead to any other conclusion than this, that whether or not Gambetta as a strategist took the right course in general or in particular cases, no one else would have taken any course whatever.
On the approach of the enemy Paris hastened its preparations for defence to the utmost, while in the provinces, out of reach of the German cavalry, new army corps were rapidly organized out of the few constituted regular units not involved in the previous catastrophes, the depot troops and the mobile national guard. The first-fruits of these efforts were seen in Beauce, where early in October important masses of French troops prepared not only to bar the further progress of the invader but actually to relieve Paris. The so-called “fog of war”—the armed inhabitants, francs-tireurs, sedentary national guard and volunteers—prevented the German cavalry from venturing far out from the infantry camps around Paris, and behind this screen the new 15th army corps assembled on the Loire. But an untimely demonstration of force alarmed the Germans, all of whom, from Moltke downwards, had hitherto disbelieved in the existence of the French new formations, and the still unready 15th corps found itself the target of an expedition of the I. Bavarian corps, which drove the defenders out of Orleans after a sharp struggle, while at the same time another expedition swept the western part of Beauce, sacked Châteaudun as a punishment for its brave defence, and returned via Chartres, which was occupied.
After these events the French forces disappeared from German eyes for some weeks. D’Aurelle de Paladines, the commander of the “Army of the Loire” (15th and 16th corps), improvised a camp of instruction at Salbris in Sologne, several marches out of reach, and subjected his raw troops to a stern régime of drill and discipline. At the same time an “Army of the West” began to gather on the side of Le Mans. This army was almost imaginary, yet rumours of its existence and numbers led the German commanders into the gravest errors, for they soon came to suspect that the main army lay on that side and not on the Loire, and this mistaken impression governed the German dispositions up to the very eve of the decisive events around Orleans in December. Thus when at last D’Aurelle took the offensive from Tours (whither he had transported his forces, now 100,000 strong) against the position of the I. Bavarian corps near Orleans, he found his task easy. The Bavarians, outnumbered and unsupported, were defeated with heavy losses in the battle of Coulmiers (November 9), and, had it not been for the inexperience, want of combination, and other technical weaknesses of the French, they would have been annihilated. What the results of such a victory as Coulmiers might have been, had it been won by a fully organized, smoothly working army of the same strength, it is difficult to overestimate. As it was, the retirement of the Bavarians rang the alarm bell all along the line of the German positions, and that was all.
Then once again, instead of following up its success, the French army disappeared from view. The victory had emboldened the “fog of war” to make renewed efforts, and resistance to the pressure of the German cavalry grew day by day. The Bavarians were reinforced by two Prussian divisions and by all available cavalry commands, and constituted as an “army detachment” under the grand-duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin to deal with the Army of the Loire, the strength of which was far from being accurately known. Meantime the capitulation of Metz on the 28th of October had set free the veterans of Prince Frederick Charles, the best troops in the German army, for field operations. The latter were at first misdirected to the upper Seine, and yet another opportunity arose for the French to raise the siege of Paris. But D’Aurelle utilized the time he had gained in strengthening the army and in imparting drill and discipline to the new units which gathered round the original nucleus of the 15th and 16th corps. All this was, however, unknown and even unsuspected at the German headquarters, and the invaders, feeling the approaching crisis, became more than uneasy as to their prospects of maintaining the siege of Paris.
At this moment, in the middle of November, the general situation was as follows: the German III. and Meuse armies, investing Paris, had had to throw off important detachments to protect the enterprise, which they had undertaken on the assumption that no further field The Orleans campaign.armies of the enemy were to be encountered. The maintenance of their communications with Germany, relatively unimportant when the struggle took place in the circumstances of field warfare, had become supremely necessary, now that the army had come to a standstill and undertaken a great siege, which required heavy guns and constant replenishment of ammunition and stores. The rapidity of the German invasion had left no time for the proper organization and full garrisoning of these communications, which were now threatened, not merely by the Army of the Loire, but by other forces assembling on the area protected by Langres and Belfort. The latter, under General Cambriels, were held in check and no more by the Baden troops and reserve units (XIV. German corps) under General Werder, and eventually without arousing attention they were able to send 40,000 men to the Army of the Loire. This army, still around Orleans, thus came to number perhaps 150,000 men, and opposed to it, about the 14th of November, the Germans had only the Army Detachment of about 40,000, the II. army being still distant. It was under these conditions that the famous Orleans campaign took place. After many vicissitudes of fortune, and with many misunderstandings between Prince Frederick Charles, Moltke and the grand-duke, the Germans were ultimately victorious, thanks principally to the brilliant fighting of the X. corps at Beaune-la-Rolande (28th of November), which was followed by the battle of Loigny-Poupry on the 2nd of December and the second capture of Orleans after heavy fighting on the 4th of December.
The result of the capture of Orleans was the severance of the two wings of the French army, henceforward commanded respectively by Chanzy and Bourbaki. The latter fell back at once and hastily, though not closely pursued, to Bourges. But Chanzy, opposing the Detachment between Beaugency and the Forest of Marchenoir, was of sterner metal, and in the five days’ general engagement around Beaugency (December 7-11) the Germans gained little or no real advantage. Indeed their solitary material success, the capture of Beaugency, was due chiefly to the fact that the French there were subjected to conflicting orders from the military and the governmental authorities. Chanzy then abandoned little but the field of battle, and on the grand-duke’s representations Prince Frederick Charles, leaving a mere screen to impose upon Bourbaki (who allowed himself to be deceived and remained inactive), hurried thither with the II. army. After that Chanzy was rapidly driven north-westward, though always presenting a stubborn front. The Delegation left Tours and betook itself to Bordeaux, whence it directed the government for the rest of the war. But all this continuous marching and fighting, and the growing severity of the weather, compelled Prince Frederick Charles to call a halt for a few days. About the 19th of December, therefore, the Germans (II. army and Detachment) were closed up in the region of Chartres, Orleans, Auxerre and Fontainebleau, Chanzy along the river Sarthe about Le Mans and Bourbaki still passive towards Bourges.
During this, as during other halts, the French government and its generals occupied themselves with fresh plans of campaign, the former with an eager desire for results, the latter (Chanzy excepted) with many misgivings. Ultimately, and fatally, it was decided that Bourbaki, whom nothing could move towards Orleans, should depart for the south-east, with a view to relieving Belfort and striking perpendicularly against the long line of the Germans’ communications. This movement, bold to the point of extreme rashness judged by any theoretical rules of strategy, seems to have been suggested by de Freycinet. As the execution of it fell actually into incapable hands, it is difficult to judge what would have been the result had a Chanzy or a Faidherbe been in command of the French. At any rate it was vicious in so far as immediate advantages were sacrificed to hopes of ultimate success which Gambetta and de Freycinet did wrong to base on Bourbaki’s powers of generalship. Late in December, for good or evil, Bourbaki marched off into Franche-Comté and ceased to be a factor in the Loire campaign. A mere calculation of time and space sufficed to show the German headquarters that the moment had arrived to demolish the stubborn Chanzy.
Prince Frederick Charles resumed the interrupted offensive, pushing westward with four corps and four cavalry divisions which converged on Le Mans. There on the 10th, 11th and 12th of January 1871 a stubbornly contested battle ended with the retreat of the French, who owed their Le Mans.defeat solely to the misbehaviour of the Breton mobiles. These, after deserting their post on the battlefield at a mere threat of the enemy’s infantry, fled in disorder and infected with their terrors the men in the reserve camps of instruction, which broke up in turn. But Chanzy, resolute as ever, drew off his field army intact towards Laval, where a freshly raised corps joined him. The prince’s army was far too exhausted to deliver another effective blow, and the main body of it gradually drew back into better quarters, while the grand duke departed for the north to aid in opposing Faidherbe. Some idea of the strain to which the invaders had been subjected may be gathered from the fact that army corps, originally 30,000 strong, were in some cases reduced to 10,000 and even fewer bayonets. And at this moment Bourbaki was at the head of 120,000 men! Indeed, so threatening seemed the situation on the Loire, though the French south of that river between Gien and Blois were mere isolated brigades, that the prince hurried back from Le Mans to Orleans to take personal command. A fresh French corps, bearing the number 25, and being the twenty-first actually raised during the war, appeared in the field towards Blois. Chanzy was again at the head of 156,000 men. He was about to take the offensive against the 40,000 Germans left near Le Mans when to his bitter disappointment he received the news of the armistice. “We have still France,” he had said to his staff, undeterred by the news of the capitulation of Paris, but now he had to submit, for even if his improvised army was still cheerful, there were many significant tokens that the people at large had sunk into apathy and hoped to avoid worse terms of peace by discontinuing the contest at once.
So ended the critical period of the “Défense nationale.” It may be taken to have lasted from the day of Coulmiers to the last day of Le Mans, and its central point was the battle of Beaune-la-Rolande. Its characteristics were, on the German side, inadequacy of the system of strategy practised, which became palpable as soon as the organs of reconnaissance met with serious resistance, misjudgment of and indeed contempt for the fighting powers of “new formations,” and the rise of a spirit of ferocity in the man in the ranks, born of his resentment at the continuance of the war and the ceaseless sniping of the franc-tireur’s rifle and the peasant’s shot-gun. On the French side the continual efforts of the statesmen to stimulate the generals to decisive efforts, coupled with actual suggestions as to the plans of the campaign to be followed (in default, be it said, of the generals themselves producing such plans), and the professional soldiers’ distrust of half-trained troops, acted and reacted upon one another in such a way as to neutralize the powerful, if disconnected and erratic, forces that the war and the Republic had unchained. As for the soldiers themselves, their most conspicuous qualities were their uncomplaining endurance of fatigues and wet bivouacs, and in action their capacity for a single great effort and no more. But they were unreliable in the hands of the veteran regular general, because they were heterogeneous in recruiting, and unequal in experience and military qualities, and the French staff in those days was wholly incapable of moving masses of troops with the rapidity demanded by the enemy’s methods of war, so that on the whole it is difficult to know whether to wonder more at their missing success or at their so nearly achieving it.
The decision, as we have said, was fought out on the Loire and the Sarthe. Nevertheless the glorious story of the “Défense nationale” includes two other important campaigns—that of Faidherbe in the north and that of Bourbaki in the east.
In the north the organization of the new formations was begun by Dr Testelin and General Farre. Bourbaki held the command for a short time in November before proceeding to Tours, but the active command in field operations came into the hands of Faidherbe, a general Faidherbe’s campaign.whose natural powers, so far from being cramped by years of peace routine and court repression, had been developed by a career of pioneer warfare and colonial administration. General Farre was his capable chief of staff. Troops were raised from fugitives from Metz and Sedan, as well as from depot troops and the Garde Mobile, and several minor successes were won by the national troops in the Seine valley, for here, as on the side of the Loire, mere detachments of the investing army round Paris were almost powerless. But the capitulation of Metz came too soon for the full development of these sources of military strength, and the German I. army under Manteuffel, released from duty at Metz, marched north-eastward, capturing the minor fortresses on its way. Before Faidherbe assumed command, Farre had fought several severe actions near Amiens, but, greatly outnumbered, had been defeated and forced to retire behind the Somme. Another French general, Briand, had also engaged the enemy without success near Rouen. Faidherbe assumed the command on the 3rd of December, and promptly moved forward. A general engagement on the little river Hallue (December 23), east-north-east of Amiens, was fought with no decisive results, but Faidherbe, feeling that his troops were only capable of winning victories in the first rush, drew them off on the 24th. His next effort, at Bapaûme (January 2-3, 1871), was more successful, but its effects were counterbalanced by the surrender of the fortress of Péronne (January 9) and the consequent establishment of the Germans on the line of the Somme. Meanwhile the Rouen troops had been contained by a strong German detachment, and there was no further chance of succouring Paris from the north. But Faidherbe, like Chanzy, was far from despair, and in spite of the deficiencies of his troops in equipment (50,000 pairs of shoes, supplied by English contractors, proved to have paper soles), he risked a third great battle at St Quentin (January 19). This time he was severely defeated, though his loss in killed and wounded was about equal to that of the Germans, who were commanded by Goeben. Still the attempt of the Germans to surround him failed and he drew off his forces with his artillery and trains unharmed. The Germans, who had been greatly impressed by the solidity of his army, did not pursue him far, and Faidherbe was preparing for a fresh effort when he received orders to suspend hostilities.
The last episode is Bourbaki’s campaign in the east, with its mournful close at Pontarlier. Before the crisis of the last week of November, the French forces under General Crémer, Cambriels’ successor, had been so far successful in minor enterprises that, as mentioned above, the right wing of the Loire army, severed from the left by the battle of Orleans and subsequently held inactive at Bourges and Nevers, was ordered to Franche Comté to take the offensive against the XIV. corps and other German troops there, to relieve Belfort and to strike a blow across the invaders’ line of communications. But there were many delays in execution. The staff work, which was at no time satisfactory in the French armies of 1870, was complicated by the snow, the bad state of the roads, and the mountainous nature of the country, and Bourbaki, a brave general of division in action, but irresolute and pretentious as a commander in chief, was not the man to cope with the situation. Only the furious courage and patient endurance of hardships of the rank and file, and the good qualities of some of the generals, such as Clinchant, Crémer and Billot, and junior staff officers such as Major Brugère (afterwards generalissimo of the French army), secured what success was attained.
Werder, the German commander, warned of the imposing concentration of the French, evacuated Dijon and Dôle just in time to avoid the blow and rapidly drew together his forces behind the Ognon above Vesoul. A furious attack on one of his divisions at Villersexel (January 9) cost him 2000 prisoners as well as his killed andThe campaign
in the East. wounded, and Bourbaki, heading for Belfort, was actually nearer to the fortress than the Germans. But at the crisis more time was wasted, Werder (who had almost lost hope of maintaining himself and had received both encouragement and stringent instructions to do so) slipped in front of the French, and took up a long weak line of defence on the river Lisaine, almost within cannon shot of Belfort. The cumbrous French army moved up and attacked him there with 150,000 against 60,000 (January 15-17, 1871). It was at last repulsed, thanks chiefly to Bourbaki’s inability to handle his forces, and, to the bitter disappointment of officers and men alike, he ordered a retreat, leaving Belfort to its fate.
Ere this, so urgent was the necessity of assisting Werder, Manteuffel had been placed at the head of a new Army of the South. Bringing two corps from the I. army opposing Faidherbe and calling up a third from the armies around Paris, and a fourth from the II. army, Manteuffel hurried southward by Langres to the Saône. Then, hearing of Werder’s victory on the Lisaine, he deflected the march so as to cut off Bourbaki’s retreat, drawing off the left flank guard of the latter (commanded with much éclat and little real effect by Garibaldi) by a sharp feint attack on Dijon. The pressure of Werder in front and Manteuffel in flank gradually forced the now thoroughly disheartened French forces towards the Swiss frontier, and Bourbaki, realizing at once the ruin of his army and his own incapacity to re-establish its efficiency, shot himself, though not fatally, on the 26th of January. Clinchant, his successor, acted promptly enough to remove the immediate danger, but on the 29th he was informed of the armistice without at the same time being told that Belfort and the eastern theatre of war had been on Jules Favre’s demand expressly excepted from its operation. Thus the French, the leaders distracted by doubts and the worn-out soldiers fully aware that the war was practically over, stood still, while Manteuffel completed his preparations for hemming them in. On the 1st of February General Clinchant led his troops into Switzerland, where they were disarmed, interned and well cared for by the authorities of the neutral state. The rearguard fought a last action with the advancing Germans before passing the frontier. On the 16th, by order of the French government, Belfort capitulated, but it was not until the 11th of March that the Germans took possession of Bitche, the little fortress on the Vosges, where in the early days of the war de Failly had illustrated so signally the want of concerted action and the neglect of opportunities which had throughout proved the bane of the French armies.
The losses of the Germans during the whole war were 28,000 dead and 101,000 wounded and disabled, those of the French, 156,000 dead (17,000 of whom died, of sickness and wounds, as prisoners in German hands) and 143,000 wounded and disabled. 720,000 men surrendered to the Germans or to the authorities of neutral states, and at the close of the war there were still 250,000 troops on foot, with further resources not immediately available to the number of 280,000 more. In this connexion, and as evidence of the respective numerical yields of the German system working normally and of the French improvised for the emergency, we quote from Berndt (Zahl im Kriege) the following comparative figures:—
|End of July
|Middle of November
|After the surrender of Paris and the
disarmament of Bourbaki’s army
The date of the armistice was the 28th of January, and that of the ratification of the treaty of Frankfurt the 23rd of May 1871.
Bibliography.—The literature of the war is ever increasing in volume, and the following list only includes a very short selection made amongst the most important works.
General.—German official history, Der deutsch-französische Krieg (Berlin, 1872–1881; English and French translations); monographs of the German general staff (Kriegsgesch. Einzelschriften); Moltke, Gesch. des deutsch-französ. Krieges (Berlin, 1891; English translation) and Gesammelte Schriften des G. F. M. Grafen v. Moltke (Berlin, 1900– ); French official history, La Guerre de 1870–1871 (Paris, 1902– ) (the fullest and most accurate account); P. Lehautcourt (General Palat), Hist. de la guerre de 1870–1871 (Paris, 1901–1907); v. Verdy du Vernois, Studien über den Krieg . . . auf Grundlage 1870–1871 (Berlin, 1892–1896); G. Cardinal von Widdern, Kritische Tage 1870–1871 (French translation, Journées critiques). Events preceding the war are dealt with in v. Bernhardi, Zwischen zwei Kriegen; Baron Stoffel, Rapports militaires 1866–1870 (Paris, 1871; English translation); G. Lehmann, Die Mobilmachung 1870–1871 (Berlin, 1905).
For the war in Lorraine: Prince Kraft of Hohenlohe-Ingelfingen, Briefe über Strategie (English translation, Letters on Strategy); F. Foch, Conduite de la guerre, pt. ii.; H. Bonnal, Manœuvre de Saint Privat (Paris, 1904–1906); Maistre, Spicheren (Paris, 1908); v. Schell, Die Operationen der I. Armee unter Gen. von Steinmetz (Berlin, 1872; English translation); F. Hoenig, Taktik der Zukunft (English translation), and 24 Stunden Moltke’schen Strategie (Berlin, 1892; English and French translations).
For the war in Alsace and Champagne: H. Kunz, Schlacht von Wörth (Berlin, 1891), and later works by the same author; H. Bonnal, Fröschweiler (Paris, 1899); Hahnke, Die Operationen des III. Armee bis Sedan (Berlin, 1873; French translation).
For the war in the Provinces: v. der Goltz, Léon Gambetta und seine Armeen (Berlin, 1877); Die Operationen der II. Armee an die Loire (Berlin, 1875); Die sieben Tage von Le Mans (Berlin, 1873); Kunz, Die Zusammensetzung der französ. Provinzialheeren; de Freycinet, La Guerre en province (Paris, 1871); L. A. Hale, The People’s War (London, 1904); Hoenig, Volkskrieg an die Loire (Berlin, 1892); Blume, Operationen v. Sedan bis zum Ende d. Kriegs (Berlin, 1872; English translation); v. Schell, Die Operationen der I. Armee unter Gen. v. Goeben (Berlin, 1873; English translation); Count Wartensleben, Feldzug der Nordarmee unter Gen. v. Manteuffel (Berlin, 1872), Operationen der Sudarmee (Berlin, 1872; English translation); Faidherbe, Campagne de l’armée du nord (Paris, 1872).
For the sieges: Frobenius, Kriegsgesch. Beispiele d. Festungskriegs aus d. deutsch.-franz. Kg. (Berlin, 1899–1900); Goetze, Tätigkeit der deutschen Ingenieuren (Berlin, 1871; English translation).
The most useful bibliography is that of General Palat (“P. Lehautcourt”). (C. F. A.)
- This was the celebrated “baptême de feu” of the prince imperial.
- The II. corps had not yet arrived from Germany.
- Of the I. army the I. corps was retained on the east side of Metz. The II. corps belonged to the II. army, but had not yet reached the front.
- The 13th corps (Vinoy), which had followed MacMahon’s army at some distance, was not involved in the catastrophe of Sedan, and by good luck as well as good management evaded the German pursuit and returned safely to Paris.
- Jules Favre, it appears, neglected to inform Gambetta of the exception.