Birth of the Second Empire
As France stabilised and prospered Napoleon III's ambitions began to grow. Already France had gained Savoy and Nice in Italy. Now he wanted to fulfill France's ancient dream of controlling the entire left bank of the mighty Rhine. The First Republic and Empire had held that line for nearly twenty years, and Napoleon III knew his legacy would not be complete if he did not achieve it as well. All that was needed was an opportunity to strike when no one would oppose him. And the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 presented just such an opportunity.
War of 1866
In 1866, the Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck was actively pushing his nation into armed conflict with her southern neighbour, Austria. His purposes were grand - the eventual unification of all the German territories under a Prussian monarch. It was a war he was sure his nation would win.
Prussia had all the elements necessary for military victory. A superior war machine turned out better weaponry than the their enemy could offer. An advanced rail network meant they could concentrate their armies far more quickly than Austria. An efficient and far-reaching system of conscription allowed Prussia to match their enemy man for man, despite their smaller territory and population. But moreover, they had the strategic guidance of a genius - Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke.
However, one element could throw all of Prussia's equations out of order - France.
14 June 1866: Outbreak of the War of 1866
2 July 1866: Battle of Königgratz
21 July 1866: France enters the war on Austria's side
20-21 August 1866: Battle of Magdeburg
25 August 1866: Armistice of Magdeburg
17 November 1866: Signing of the Treaty of Frankfurt
1867 - 1868: Flemish Rising
March 1868: Initiation of protectorate over Belgium via the Treaty of Lille
September 1868: Napoleon III intervenes in Spain to resolve the crisis surrounding the overthrow of Isabella II. Her son Alfonso is installed with French advisors.
3 March 1869: The French Army invades Spain in support of Alfonso, and initiates a permanent occupation