The New Student's Reference Work/Franco-German War

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Franco-German War (1870-71). The ostensible cause of this war, which proved so disastrous to France, was the offer, after the deposition and expulsion of Queen Isabella II, of the Spanish crown to Prince Hohenzollern, a relative of the king of Prussia. This France deemed an insult and peril to her. Though the prince declined the offer, France, by her distrust of Germany and racial hatred of the Teuton, made it the pretext of war. This occurred in July, 1870, and a conflict of great magnitude between France and Germany ensued. From the outset the war was disastrous to France, which was able to put, altogether, not more than 250,000 in the field against 450,000 Germans, with the most efficient equipment and unequaled generalship. The conflict began early in August with the crossing of the German frontier by a French division, 30,000 strong, which attacked the little town of Saarbrück, defended by a small force of Uhlans who were compelled to retire. At this affair there were present Napoleon and his son, the prince imperial, who, it was heralded by the emperor, here received his “baptism of fire.” Two days later occurred the affair at Weissenburg, where the German crown-prince (afterward Emperor Frederick) fell upon the right wing of the French army under MacMahon, and on Aug. 6 attacked and routed the French at Wörth. On the same day the Germans, under Steinmetz, gained another decisive victory at Spicheren, which was followed shortly afterward by a further success at Courcelles, over Marshal Bazaine, who was driven into Metz and there besieged by a German division under Prince Frederick Charles. Just before the investment of this, the capital of Lorraine, occurred the battle of Vionville and the murderous one at Gravelotte (Aug. 14-18), seven miles west of Metz, where some 35,000 men of both sides were placed hors de combat. These disasters to France only increased the hatred of the French people to the German nation, and roused the national spirit to a state bordering on frenzy. The Germans, on the other hand, with invincible courage and aided by the strategy of Field-marshal Von Moltke, lost no time in following their successes by others equally gratifying to their science and skill in war. At the end of August the French were once more defeated, this time in the battle of Beaumont, which compelled MacMahon to abandon the attempted relief of Bazaine at Metz, to fall back with the French emperor, and to shut himself and his army of 80,000 within Sedan, only to capitulate on the first day of September. When news of the surrender and the capture of the French emperor reached Paris, the tumult in the capital led Empress Eugenie to take flight, when the third republic was proclaimed and the empire collapsed. This was followed (Sept. 19) by the investment and siege of Paris by the Germans and, a week later, by the surrender of Strassburg and 18,000 French, and a month afterward by the surrender of Metz (Oct. 27), its fortress and 173,000 men. Various other victories fell to the Germans during the remainder of the year, and Paris capitulated, after a number of bloody sorties, Jan. 28, 1871. The end came with French overtures for peace, adopted at Versailles (Feb. 26), which were ratified, May 10, 1871, by a definitive treaty between the two nations at Frankfort-on-the-Main.