When the war broke out after riots in Hamburg, the French quickly moved to occupy the rebelling Confederation. Seeing an opportunity to spit in the face of their hated enemy, the British made the decision to assist the Germans in their fight for independence from France. Hearing this news, Napoleon II called on Louisiana and Spain to assist them in defeating the Germans and British. After a few weeks of fighting, France received a declaration of war from Russia due to a growing distaste for the French brought on by the European War, which turned the conflict into a bloody stalemate for nearly a year.
The British, having revitalized their navy, blockaded the French and Spanish coasts, cutting them off from aid from Louisiana and the United States. This tactic, combined with political unrest at home in France and Louisiana, eventually led to the exhaustion of the Western militaries and to the victory of the Central Powers. The conflict nearly bankrupted France, which was barely able to maintain authority over Austria and Prussia following the conflict. The majority of the French economy and resources were funneled toward the war for all 3 years, and the French had pay the Spanish and Louisianans for their efforts.
The war also served to provide a balance and check to the power and influence of France in Europe. The British had reclaimed central Europe after the war culminated in the formation of the German Republic. The war also served to stabilize the Russian economic situation which had been suffering following the Treaty of Verdun. Spain fell into civil war following the conflict, fought between Republicans and royalists in a similar fashion to the French Revolution, while Louisiana felt the effects of defeat very little.
The events preceding the Rhine War date back to the fall of the Holy Roman Empire in the early 1800s, when the Confederation of the Rhine was created. The German people were extremely divided and the nation was only a very loose alliance, seeing as the states were technically sovereign entities. However, when Napoleon I began oppressing the Germans after his paranoia set in, the mood gradually shifted toward one of unity against French rule over about two decades. Violent protests and strikes took place throughout the confederation calling for separation from France entirely, and nationalism spiked throughout the 1830s. Finally, on July 2, 1839, tensions exploded into an armed attacked on a French fortress in Hamburg by an organized, albeit a bit makeshift, militia. The fort was taken and the French were driven from the city. Early the next day, war was declared by both nations and Britain declared war on France, instituting a blockade after meeting with leaders from the confederation.
The French, Louisianans, and Spanish were all experiencing massive political unrest at home, severely harming their ability to carry out and sustain an effective war, which is generally believed to be the main reason the Central Powers prevailed. The weaponry used by the Western Powers was also much more advanced than that of the Central Powers, although much more expensive and not too much more powerful. French artillery, however, played an important role in their early victories in the conflict, while German artillery was ineffective for much of the war. The British, however, had a much larger supply of gunpowder than any other power in the war, which in turn allowed for the Germans and Russians to use guns and cannons more cheaply and in greater numbers, which was a large factor in why the inexperienced German army was so successful.
The Course of the War
The Northern Campaign
The Northern Campaign, as it came to be called, refers to the series of battles that took place throughout the French departments and cities north of the Confederation of the Rhine. The first battle took place at Hamburg, and lasted a few days following the riots on July 2, 1839. The French attempted to retake the city the following day, but the British had already arrived to help the Germans fortify the city, a variable Napoleon II had failed to predict, and the ill-prepared French unit failed in its assault on the city. On July 4, French soldiers stationed in Lübeck moved on the city of Schwerin, capturing the sparsely defended city and occupying a fort there. At the same time, a different force from Lübeck lay siege to Hamburg once again, and again, the British were able to hold on to the fort.
After the fall of Dusseldorf, the Germans and British were forced to take the offensive in the north in order to keep from being swiftly defeated in the war. On August 16, the Confederation's council decreed that all able bodied German men must register for conscription, giving them numbers that were at least able to match those of the French by the end of the year. The British, in the meantime, began their offensive in Bremen, failing to capture the city but securing a small, but effective, fortress on the eastern outskirts of the city. On the 23rd of August, France received a declaration of war from Russia and Sweden, which came following the fall of Rostock, the northernmost point of the Confederation. These declarations of war prompted a declaration of war on the central powers by Spain and Louisiana.
With the war along the Rhine still a stalemate and the Western Powers getting pushed back to Hamburg, the Russians decided to make a move against the French forces that occupied the northern areas of the Confederation. In early February, 1840, Nicholas I's men led a charge on the French fortifications in Rostock on a scale that was unseen thus far in the war, then, moved on to Schwerin and Lübeck, wrestling the entire northeastern region of Germany and France from French control. Nicholas I now commanded the largest active force on the battlefield, and the Germans under Bismarck used it to their advantage, attacking Bremen and taking it, as well as Oldenburg by June.
Later, the Germans and Russians went on to take Osnabruck and Münster in October while the British held the east bank of the Ems River. The fall of Münster is generally considered to be the end of the Northern Campaign, as no major battles north of the Rhine took place following this event.
The Rhine River Campaign
The Rhine River Campaign is the most famous phase of the war, and is what the war is named after. It began on August 4, with the invasion of the Confederation of the Rhine by the French Empire. The French, under the leadership of Patrice McMachon, crossed the Rhine into Dusseldorf and, after a 3 day siege, overran and captured the city. The Germans were very disoriented at this point, and lost a series of battles along the Rhine River, specifically at Bonn and Mainz, giving the French a clear advantage and invasion route. After an army had been raised, the Germans under Helmuth von Moltke joined with British commanders to halt the French advance at Frankfurt and Siegen, an event generally considered one of the most important moments of the war.
After the French were driven from Frankfurt, the capital of the Confederation, the Russians met with von Moltke to plan a counterattack on McMahon's forces in Mainz. The attack was carried out on March 7, 1840, and the Russians and Germans were able to wrestle the city from French control, followed by Bonn in June. The French regarded this loss as unacceptable, and launched what was called the August Plan, in which McMahon would encircle the forces at Bonn by using their possession of Dusseldorf, and then move south behind German defenses and strike at the heart of the Confederation. The Spanish, led by Joseph II, led an attack, which was purposely supposed to fail, on Koblenz in order to distract von Moltke, however, Bismarck's forces were moving south toward Bonn at the time, and intercepted the French advance at Dusseldorf, and the battle raged for weeks.
In the south, Koblenz was defended effectively by Moltke, who drove the Spanish out. The August Plan had failed miserably because of an unlucky break for the French, but regardless, the Battle of Dusseldorf ended in German victory after Nicholas arrived to assist, and the Rhine was firmly back in German hands by the end of 1840. Cities along the Rhine were attacked by both sides and repeatedly juggled between the two sides for almost a year before a significant event took place -- the Battle of Freiburg. In this battle, the Spanish crossed the Rhine and lay siege to Freiburg on December 11, 1841. The Germans, greatly outnumbered, managed to outmaneuver the Spanish and drive them from the city in shambles, crushing them against the Rhine. The Battle of Freiburg secured the victory of the Central Powers in the Rhine River Campaign.
Moltke's forces then moved north to the French city of Strasbourg, which was supposed to be guarded by the Spanish, who were forced to surrender in the Battle of Strasbourg. Moltke then moved north to Mainz, where he surrounded the French forces doing battle with Bismarck's forces and captured the city on January 28, 1842. Nicholas I's men in Koblenz and Bonn then caused the collapse of the entire French lines a few months later, sending the entire French war effort reeling, marking the end of the Rhine River Campaign.
The Mainz Offensive
The third and final stage of the war was known as the Mainz Offensive. The Mainz Offensive refers to the massive invasion of eastern France by Germany and Russia which ended in the fall of Metz and Luxembourg, ending the war. The offensive began on February 12, 1842 with the crossing of the Rhine by the armies of Bismarck and Nicholas I. They launched a highly coordinated advance toward Trier along the Mosel River, although they were met with heavy resistance along the way, slowing the invasion. They reached Trier in late March, and Nicholas I led his men to victory there while Bismarck headed north toward Lüttich to cut off the French reinforcements on their way to Trier to retake the city. On April 26, Bismarck's forces defeated the French force led by McMahon and forced his army to surrender.
Meanwhile, Moltke's men advanced on the city of Nancy, hoping to surround Metz from three sides. The attack was successful, although took longer than expected, and was not completed until June 3, just before the scheduled attack on Metz and Luxembourg. On June 7, the French, led by Napoleon II himself, attempted to divert the attack by leading a charge on Nancy and driving toward the Confederation from the south, but were driven back to Metz. Bismarck and Nicholas I marched on Luxembourg on June 13, and Moltke reached Metz two days later. Napoleon was unable to simultaneously defend both cities over a long period of time, and was forced to withdraw from Metz to defend Luxembourg in early August, and Moltke reached southern Luxembourg on August 15, joining the siege. This attack came joined with a British attack on Arneheim and Amsterdam, which were both lost within days.
Luxembourg fell on September 2, and Napoleon was forced back to the Maas River, as Den Haag fell to the British. Eventually, the French were surrounded and defeated, and the Treaty of Luxembourg freed the Confederation of the Rhine, created the German Republic, forced France to give up Illyrian province to the Ottoman Empire, immediately establishing good terms between Germany and the Ottomans, which would prove important during the Second European War. France ceded great amounts of northern land to the newly unified Germany, nearly putting it on par economically with France right from its birth and Prussia was annexed into the German Republic, but Austria remained a French territory, and following a loosening of Napoleon II's rule, the Republican movement lost some steam. Poland was released from its French rule as well.
France was in shambles after this loss. It is generally believed that if the Russians and British had continued the war, French influence could have been cut severely more than it was. The French treasury was nearly bankrupt, its people were nearly in rebellion, the Spanish started a 5 week revolution which ended in the establishment of the Spanish Republic, and France was left without continental allies other than Denmark-Norway.