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The War of Nations was a war fought between July 19, 1870, when the feuding nations declared war, and ended on May 10, 1872, when the nations ended the war by signing the Treaty of Frankfurt. Fought originally between the Second French Empire, the Austrian Empire, and the Kingdom of Bavaria against the Kingdom of Prussia and its German allies and the Kingdom of Italy; by war's end it was between the Third French Republic, the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Kingdom of Italy. The war saw the rise and fall of nations, and set the stage for the events that evolved into greater wars and larger nations that continued to exist even in the modern day.
Tensions had been on the rise since the end of the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, between four nations across Europe: Prussia, France, Italy, and Austria. After the Rome Agreement of 1867, the Austrians, Italians and French created an alliance against the Prussians and their North German Confederation. The three began to talk about the strategy of a theoretical war on Prussia, its aftermath, and the bottom line of who gets what after Prussia is defeated. But as the alliance appeared to get stronger, the Prussians began to work immediately to break the anti-Prussian nations up.
Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, after secret talks with the King of Italy, Victor Emmanuel II, coerced the Italian King into secretly allying with Prussia, in exchange for gains in Illyria after the end of a war with Austria. While France and Austria continued to strategize, the Italians acted as a double agent, and helped wherever to secretly cripple the Franco-Austrian War machine. They made sure to mess up military intelligence they passed on, and neither France or Austria grew to know the wiser. Eventually, when war was to come, the French and Austrian intelligence services, so heavily dependent on Italy, failed to work to full capacity after Italy sided with Prussia.
Then came the Hohenzollern Crisis, when the Spanish Revolution of 1868 overthrew Queen Isabella II, and Leopold the Catholic prince of the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen branch of family was offered the title of King of Spain. But Napoleon III put political pressure on the Prussians to make sure that France wasn't surrounded by a Hohenzollern-run state on both sides of their borders. After a long political battle, Leopold and the Prussians backed down, giving the French a political victory, but only for a short time. The French then made more political moves and demands of the Germans to make sure that they remained as little a threat as possible to the French Empire.
After the French foreign minister held talks with the King Wilhelm I, the King gave Otto von Bismarck the sole ability to have the King's account of the meeting published. Bismarck edited the account, sharpened the language, edited out some of Wilhelm's statement, and made the whole conversation appear to focus on the ambassador threatening war if the demands weren't met. When the dispatch was published on July 13 (The same day the conversation happened) many media outlets picked up the story, it was designed to give the impression that the French ambassador had personally insulted Wilhelm I. After the news got out that this "insult" had occurred many though that war with France was by now inevitable. While Bismarck knew the dispatch was edited, he was a strong proponent of the unification of Germany and of war with France, giving him the reason for war he so needed.
France declared war on July 19, 1870 against Prussia, which was followed by Austria's own declaration of war on July 25. Even though both countries expected that Italy would soon follow suit, Italy declared war on both of them on July 27, beginning the War of Nation. Bavaria, betraying Prussia, declared war on it with allegiance to the Austrians on July 28, splitting the German lands down a defining line, while Baden and Württemberg sided with Prussia on July 28, joining the war with Prussia.
War in Bavaria (July 1870-November 1870)
Battle of Aschaffenburg
When war broke out in Central Europe, the General Staff of Prussia was well prepared for the prospect of war with Bavaria, and so integrated the idea into many of its war strategies. The Prussian Army began an invasion of the Kingdom of Bavaria on July 26, when the soldiers of the Prussian I Army Corps under General Karl Friedrich von Steinmetz moved from Prussian territory to the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg. The city was the home of one of Bavarian King Ludwig II's country homes, and was the sight of a similar battle in the Austro-Prussian War in 1866. The Bavarians knew the laying before the city lay tall hills topped with a forest, where they could easily hide their artillery and fire upon the Prussians.
But the Prussians were the wiser to their plans, and planned to use their secret weapon, the 1st Sturmtruppen Battalion. The Sturmtruppen were a special unit of Prussian heavy infantry, which were made as shock soldiers, who would perform special maneuvers and were armed with pistols and grenades. They stormed up the hill at 11:00, armed with breech-loading rifles, and met little resistance as the artillerymen were lightly armed, and most of the artillerymen were killed, while the Prussians only suffered a few men wounded. The Prussian infantry then marched unabated to the Bavarian lines at 14:00, where they stormed the Bavarian lines, and fired on them with their own artillery on the hills by 14:30, crushing Bavarian morale. The Bavarians continued to engage the Prussians and marched forward in a frontal assault, despite the overwhelming odds, something the Prussian commanders accredited them with.
At 15:30 the Bavarians, having suffered horrifying casualties, fell back to the banks of the Main River, where the Prussian Sturmtruppen, now travelling by boat to flank the retreating Bavarians. Upon being attack by assaulted by infantry from the north, bombarded from the east, and surprise attacked from the south and west, they are ordered to retreat east, giving the Prussians their first victory of the war.
Battle of Würzburg
As the Prussians triumphantly marched from their victory at Aschaffenburg, the Bavarian fell back to the Main Line. The Main Line was a strategic defensive position along the Main River, which extended from Wurzburg in the north to Weißenburg. The main defensive position of the line lay at Ansbach, where the defenses of the city had been building up since 1868, but the Prussians knew if they just bypassed the line, they'd just end up having to face it later, while still fighting Austria. Von Steinmetz and Von Moltke instead decided to break the line at where they perceived it weakest, Würzburg. Würzburg remained a strategic point on the line, as it was both along the Main River, the line's main supply line, and it was a strategic railroad junction, which could deliver Prussian soldiers directly into Ansbach.
The Prussian Army, under General von Steinmetz, march south, directly to Würzburg, where they then began to surround the city. They began to besiege the city by cutting it off the Bavarians from their supply line on the water. As multiple bridges crisscrossed the Main River at Würzburg, the Prussian set out to capture two bridges on each end of the city so that any supplies being floated down the river could be stopped and seized. First at the Laurentiusbrücke Bridge in the north, then at the Brückenauffahrt Bridge in the South, both very important as they also they next to important rail lines. So with the city cut off from supply lines, von Steinmetz proceeded to allow his artillery to bombard the city for three days, after which he would attack it.
After the artillery was silenced on August 1, the Prussian cavalry made for a straightforward assault on the Bavarian lines. The Bavarians, despite the setbacks of artillery and being cut off from their supply lines, once again showed a type of bull-headedness, and remained steadfast against the Prussian cavalry. The Bavarian infantry, surrounded and outnumbered, launched a counter-assault, that although having the element of surprise, was an uphill battle. The Prussian infantry took showed no respect or pity for their enemy, and opened fire on them as the July heat and their heavy weaponry weighed the Bavarians down. Of the 5,000 Bavarians that went into the charge, only 1,200 survived, most of which suffered horrible wounds, leaving them scarred for life. The Bavarians, broken and downtrodden, surrendered the city of August 3, ending the battle, and opening up Ansbach to attack.
The capture of Würzburg punched a hole into the Main Line, about three miles wide, and a direct railway line that extended out to the city of Ansbach. The Prussians had seized the rail line, but knew the high likelihood that the rails along the line had already been, or were about to be, blown. The Bavarians had already done this, and knew that if the Prussians were to send out forces to examine the railway, it would have to be Sturmtruppen. The Bavarians had now been forced to see the horrid effects these soldiers could cause, and were determined that the first step to victory would be to destroy them. Von Steinmetz knew that the Sturmtruppen were the soldiers for the job, but that he could do so without the support of either conventional infantry, cavalry, or artillery in the background. The decision would be that, until the Army could secure the route to Ansbach, they would wait to use the railway, and only then for supply lines.
Prussian Army soldiers, it was decided, would march in their lines down the track, and that it was then that they would march into Ansbach. The road to Anbach was littered with roadblocks, the Bavarians left trees fallen in the roads and set fire or blew up multiple bridges, but never actually tried to engage them along the road. But at the fields of Burgbernheim, 500 Prussian cavalry soldiers came to see that the field had been occupied by 700 Bavarian infantry men. Upon reaching their camps at night time, the cavalry men started screaming and carried torches, planning to burn the campsite. As they fought their way into the camp, they ended up catching the men while they were sleeping in their tents, which they promptly lit aflame. While about 280 men were able to get out of their tents in time and fire on the cavalrymen, many of them were then shot. The remainder of the men returned to Ansbach and called the unit, officially named the 3rd Cuirassier Regiment, the "Flaming Banshees," which stuck for the remainder of the war.
Upon actually reaching the outskirts of Ansbach on August 20, the Prussian Army formed into battle positions for the planned assault on the city. But in the time it took them to reach the city, it had been reinforced heavily, and now was defended by 56,000 soldiers, while the 75,000 soldiers of the reinforced Prussian First Army surrounded the city of Ansbach, and prepared for hell.
With the city rapidly being surrounded, the Bavarians, under General Jakob von Hartmann, had been preparing for the cities defense since before the war began, knowing of its strategic importance on Bavaria's rail lines. Jakob, rather then waiting for the Prussians to attack, decided to attack the Prussians pro-actively. His infantry headed the charge, but these soldiers were cut down by Prussian rifles between 14:00 and 14:30. When the Prussians counterattacked at 15:15, they were beaten back with light casualties, but managed to coerce the Bavarians into launching a forward assault on their lines. The Bavarian Army was fired upon by Prussian soldiers, who rapidly reloaded with their breach-loading rifles, and mowed down the Bavarian advance. The holes left in the Bavarian's lines left big enough spaces that the Prussians began to surround their remaining lines.
The Prussians garner their forces at around 7:30 on August 21 around the Bavarian lines, and have now clearly surrounded them. The Prussians begin a mass assault on the Bavarian lines, and slowly, but surely cut the Bavarians down through shear weight of numbers. While some battalions on the left flank are pinned down initially, the sweeping movement of the Prussian Army has descended on Ansbach, and the city is surrounded. The remaining Bavarians retreat into the city, and the Prussians now surround the city. Prussian artillery opens up on the old city, and the Bavarian commander requests a ceasefire, initially for only gathering the dead and wounded. But what starts out as a 12-hour ceasefire, turn into a surrender, when the Bavarian commander General von Hartmann, surrenders his army, only five minutes before the ceasefire ended. He was compelled by the losses of the previous 24 hours, and did not want to see his men destroyed any further, and his surrender is personally received by General von Steinmetz.
Push to Nuremberg
The capture of Ansbach left the Main Line in a point of collapse, the central rail lines were now seized by Prussian soldiers, and use their infantry brigades, sent by railway, to launch a lightning offensive from behind the Main Line. The surprise of the attacks break the Line into smaller bits and pieces, allowing the Bavarian casualties to accumulate, creating an unpopularity for the war with the Bavarian people. Von Steinmetz moved his army east, preparing to take the vital Bavarian city, Nuremberg, and believed that a lightning offensive by rail would easily take the city. Von Steinmetz garnered reinforcements from the north in artillery and infantry, and began the march of his main forces on September 3.
The road to Nuremberg was almost completely undefended, volunteer soldiers were by no means signing up in masses, and the conscription of troops seemed an unpopular option. The Army remained at a static level of about 25,000, completely inadequate for fighting the Prussians, now attacking from the north with a force in the hundreds of thousands. However, a godsend came to the Bavarians in early September, when Austrian soldiers began arriving by train to assist the Bavarians, and around 80,000 soldiers are received throughout September. But when the Prussians arrived at Nuremberg on September 7, only 12,000 soldiers defended the city, while the Prussian First and Second Army, tearing through Bavaria, numbered now at around 200,000 soldiers.
By now, Helmuth von Moltke was in complete control of the campaign, having stabilized the situation by now in the West. He wished to see a Kesselschlacht campaign throughout the rest of Bavaria, planning to waste no more time now in Bavaria, and growing impatient, along with the Kaiser Wilhelm, of the campaign to Austria. The Prussians surrounded Nuremberg, and 95,000 Prussian soldiers surrounded the city, but 105,000 soldiers from the First and Second Armies punched through Bavarian defenses, and were now lunging for the city of Munich, the Bavarian capital.
Between September and September 18, the city of Nuremberg, and its roughly 60,000 inhabitants was fiercely defended by the Bavarian soldiers defending it. Helmuth von Moltke spoke of the soldiers defending the city when he spoke to a journalist on September 15 while saying, "I have never seen any such courage in soldiers outside the Prussian Army as I have in the Bavarians, they are truly Germans to the core." The surging Prussian Army was forced to fight street by street for the city of Nuremberg, but the Bavarians, strong as ever, held fast. In the end, very few Bavarian soldiers were made casualties by being captured, only around 1,280, while many were killed or wounded in the battle. The Prussians lost 3,400 men taking the city, but they could afford such losses.
The Siege of Munich
Prussian soldiers arrived outside Munich on October 2, 1870, as the past several months have seen Bavaria's might destroyed before the weight of Prussia, and now their capital stands before the Prussian Army as little more than a prize. Helmuth von Moltke oversees 185,000 Prussian soldiers as they surround the city of Munich, defended by only 14,500 Bavarians, but buffed up by roughly 70,000 Austrian soldiers. The Prussian siege works built up to around 500 guns around the city, and the siege began officially on October 8, the guns of Prussia opened up on Munich.
While the area around Munich was less than satisfactory for artillery positioning, the Prussians kept the siege of the city on for about two weeks until they actually ordered troops in on October 17. Sturmtruppen became part of a coordinated push by the Prussian Army to plant a bomb in the city's Town Hall, which was being used for a military command center by Ludwig II. The bomb succeeded in going off, the Sturmtruppen suffered heavy casualties, causing a controversy in the Prussian High Command. Von Moltke now insisted that Sturmtruppen were elite units to used to create and exploit breakthroughs, not as special operation troops, thus ensuring the Sturmtruppen's place in the Prussian Army. But the bomb's greatest success was when it blew up, it did so underneath the table being used by Ludwig II to create a battle plan. Ludwig fell through the destroyed ceiling, and was killed, likely before even hitting the floor. His body was however, on top of the wreckage, and their was little problem finding the body. He was buried in the Munich Waldfriedhof Cemetery, and with full military honors by the Bavarian Army.
Prussia's General Staff took full advantage of the situation and began their assault on the city of Munich, sending in infantry to fight in organized lines into the city. Almost instantly upon entering the city, the Prussians met fierce resistance from Bavarians who were defending their home capital city, and Austrians who were trying to keep their best buffer between them and Prussia. Once again the Bavarians were showing that they were also capable of valiant defense in the face of their enemy, but the Prussians numbers gave them the strategic advantage. As they pushed deeper into the city, casualties stacked up on both sides, but on October 21, von Moltke ordered his troops to break up from their large units, and into small, versatile squadrons. The Prussians now saw new-found success, as the coordinated squadrons closed a noose around the Bavarian defenders of Munich.
Prussian soldiers now march through half the city, and by October 25, only a small portion of the inner city remained in Bavarian hands. But out of desperation, the Bavarians attempted one last breakthrough attempt on the Prussian Army. The result of a complete massacre of Bavaria's dead army, and the collapse of the Bavarian's remaining defense of the city. The city officially surrendered on November 2, and with it, fell the government of Bavaria. A client kingdom was established by the Prussians under Ludwig II's eldest son, Otto, who was then crowned the King, Otto I of Bavaria. The new King oversaw the recreation of the Bavarian Army under a Prussian-styled model, and saw to it that Austria would pay for what he saw as "misguiding and abusing the Bavarian people."
War in Austria (November 1870-January 1871)
With the Kingdom of Bavaria defeated and turned into a Prussian client state, the Prussians and their allies turned their sights on Austria. It was here that the Prussians knew their Italian allies would serve them best, as the two sides were now officially working together as allies. The plan the Prussians and Italians came up with would be to send Prussian soldiers from Silesia in the north to attack south in a giant pincer, and shoot for the city of Wagram. The Italians would attack from Venetia and would push for Aspern, where the two armies would then meet up, and then attack Vienna, Austria's capital.
Prussia's Bohemian and Moravian Invasion
The Prussian General Staff planned for an attack out of Glatz in Silesia to march through the slimmest part of Bohemia and Moravia and cut the area in half. But this would only be for supply line purposes, and it was decided also that a fullscale frontal invasion would take place for the capture of Prague. Between November 4 and November 16, Prussian soldiers were moved front the front in Bavaria to the invasion of Bohemia, which commenced on November 19. Prussians soldiers marched en masse into Bohemia, encountering little resistance from the Austrians, who were more convinced that the first attack would come from Bavaria, not Saxony. Only about 80,000 Austrian soldiers were stationed within Bohemia at the time, which was made to be a buffer area between Prussia and Austria.
The invasion of Bohemia showed varying success for Prussian along the front, and within the first week of the campaign, the Prussians had captured Usti nad Labem, and had advanced about 50 km into Bohemia. But after a week of fighting, Austria has gotten its act together, and re-inforcements begin to arrive. An Austrian counterattack on December 2, was viciously beaten back by Prussian soldiers, and only increased the will with which the Prussians moved on Prague. The fall of the city of Mlada Boleslav on December 7, was a severe blow to the Bohemian morale, and Kladno's fall on December 9, made the fall of Prague seem ever more likely. The Prussians are by December 10, now only 20 km from Prague, and now seemed favored to capture the city. Meanwhile out east, the Prussians have pushed to, and captured the city of Pardubice, where they seem to be also unstoppable.
But the efforts of Austrians to defend their land becomes ever more apparent when they launch a surprise counterattack from Trutnov into Prussian territory. The unsuspecting Prussians are stunned, and they send in 34,000 reservists to defeat the counter-invasion. The Austrians tried to send in reinforcements of the invasion from Prague, a risky move, but they were determined to make it work. However, not only did this leave the door to Prague wide open for the Prussians, but it left only 8,000 professional soldiers to stand up to over 102,000 Prussian soldiers. But by now around 98,000 Austrians were in the counterattack as reinforcements garnered from around Bohemia and Moravia. But the Prussian capture of Prague on December 20 marked the high-point of Austrian stupidity as the city was taken without firing a shot, the massive army around the city convinced the defenders to surrender.
Prussian soldiers now surrounded the Austrian army in northern Bohemia, and one battlefield would become a very ironic point in history. As the Austrians were beaten back in Bohemia and Silesia, they retreated southeast to the town of Sadova, this war appeared as though it may very well end in the same place it began. Austrian reinforcements came to Sadova on December 26, buffering their numbers to 108,000, while the Prussian reinforcements peaked their army at 125,000 soldiers. Wilhelm II now oversaw the entire operation, with the assistance of Helmuth von Moltke, and was set up much like the epic battle four years prior. The Prussians launched a massed attack on the Austrian right flank, perceived as weak due to its inexperience, but was pinned down on the move.
Prussian soldiers then marched on the Austrian center, where 60,000 of the Austrian soldiers fought them back, but Moltke saw this coming and instead told his soldiers to separate into lines and break apart from each other. Correctly presuming that the Austrians believe they have created a breakthrough, the inexperienced soldiers attack, and are slaughter and surrounded. While 8,900 die, and a further 10,000 are wounded, the remainder surrender, and Prussia attacks down the weakened center, and splits the Austrian Army in half. Just as had happened several years ago, the Prussians broke the camel's back at Sadova, ending in tragedy yet again for Austria. The Austrian Army collapses in Bohemia and Moravia, and a wide scale retreat is ordered.
Without any further resistance in the Bohemian and Moravian areas, the Prussian Army marches as a massed salient towards Austria. Helmuth von Moltke says of the attack, "Never before has there been such a beauty of this pinnacle military strategy as I have seen since my campaign into Bohemia. This is a battle of encirclement, the future of warfare, look out Vienna, here comes Prussia." This quote became the rallying cry for the Prussian Army, and the push through Bohemia was completed on January 12, 1871.
On Into Austria
Meanwhile in the South, Italy had made a wide scale push against the Austrian lines throughout the year of 1870, as the Austrians had considered them less of a threat as compared to the Prussians. Victor Emmanuel's Army was smaller than Wilhelm's, but the Austrians, distracted by catastrophic defeat in the north, ignored the losses they suffered in the south. On December 14, Klagenfurt fell to Italian advance and then on December 27, the city of Graz had fallen, putting them close to the encirclement of Vienna. The most significant battle for the Italians was on January 2, when the Italian Army, with 89,000 destroyed the Austrian Army of the Danube at the Battle of Weiz.
The two pincers came down while a new offensive was launched by the Prussian Army and their new Bavarian allies launched a campaign to attack Austria by frontal assault. The speed with which the two pincers came down on was rapid as the frontal assault reached the city of Linz. Linz, population around 50,000, was the sight of the Austrians last offensive of the war, and saw the Austrians sending 34,000 soldiers to try and halt just one-third of the enemy offensive. At Linz, the Austrians attacked broadly across a wide field, but every attack seemed useless as they were beaten back, with more and more mounting casualties. After the battle ended, of the 34,000 soldiers the Austrians threw into the city, only 8,000 were able to move back when they retreated back to Austria. The Austrian's strategic infrastructure was collapsing upon itself, and the Prussians captured Wagram on January 21, and the Italians captured Aspern on January 22.
Vienna was surrounded completely by January 24, and the allied command of Prussia and Italy under Helmuth von Moltke and Alfonso Ferrero La Marmora oversaw the siege that began soon after. The loss of much of their land had left the Austrians down on morale, and even worse, they were told it was there job to build the city's defenses. The citizens, at least those who volunteered, were given rifles and given rudimentary training, as was seen as the only remaining option. The commander of Vienna's defenses was Archduke Albrecht, Duke of Teschen, and Inspector General of the Army. His father, Emperor Franz Joseph, had already fled from Vienna for continuity reasons to Buda in Hungary. The Viennese left behind became notable for their solemn defense of the city, but even with their surprising morale, they stood little chance against the Prussian's mighty army.
On January 31, the city surrendered, and of its 600,000 residents, around 89,000 died in the battle, due to the fierce defense of the city. While the Prussians and their Italian allies only took about 9,000 casualties in the battle, the Austrian soldiers defending the city, numbered at around 12,000, lost 7,000 men in the battle, with the remaining soldier taken prisoner. With Vienna lost, Franz Joseph agreed to an armistice with Prussia and Italy on February 3, ending the war in Austria, leaving France alone in the fight against Prussia. However, when Vienna did surrender, they were surrendering, not to Prussia, or to Bavaria, on January 18, 1871, Wilhelm I declared the German Empire, forever crushing Austria's dream of becoming the paramount German state.
War in France and Prussia (February 1871-December 1871)
French attacks into Prussian territory had begun since the war did in late-summer of 1870, however, these were only mild, small-scale attacks that the Prussians easily beat off. The anti-Prussian strategy was to surround Prussia with enemies and stop their attack into Bavaria, which would then be the marking point for an invasion of Prussia. However, the Austro-Bavarian defeat at Munich marked the turn in this strategy, and France and Austria prepared to draw the Prussians into a war of attrition in Austria, which they were sure they could defeat. However, yet again the French and Austrians underestimated the Prussians and their Italian allies, and their own combined strength. The French had no way of transporting troops directly or in large numbers to Austria, so therefore the Austrians were left to fend for themselves, with less than satisfactory results.
With the defeat of Austria in January 1871, the Germans now had to pull the greatest military miracle in their history (besides maybe the Miracle of the House of Brandenburg), moving over 200,000 soldiers, by train, from the collapsed Austrian Empire, to the French border to counter a new French invasion of Prussia. The French Army of the Rhine under the French Emperor Napoleon III had launched the operation of February 10, into the German heartland of Prussia, and was determined to give the striking blow. Von Moltke, in a thought of military strategy, asked that Italy, rather than launch a distracting invasion of southern France, use their soldiers to assist Germany in the defeat of the French invasion, to which the Italians obliged. The first major engagement was outside Saarbrucken on February 15, where 5,000 Prussian soldiers encountered an advanced French brigade of 4,800 outside the city. There the Prussians, in a turn of events, were defeated, and withdrew further north, where they planned to join a burgeoning German defensive line.
Although Saarbrucken was taken, German resistance further into their country was fierce when the French tried to attack. German reinforcements started arriving in masses, and found that by February 27, the French had succeeded in capturing the Saarland from Germany, which von Moltke saw as unacceptable. On March 4, von Moltke lead a German counterattack our of Mainz that took back land up to Idar-Oberstein, but then the French took another step by launching another offensive further south, towards Stuttgart. Now having to deal with and counter two French offensives, von Moltke decided to follow their example, and launch an offensive. The offensive, made of 80,000 reservists from Prussia, pushing out from Germany, and then out towards Metz. Von Moltke presumed successfully that these offensives had drained French reserves, and the French were forced to withdraw to defend their homeland.
When the German Army reached Metz they surrounded it, and proceeded to lay siege to the ancient fortress city. The withdrawing French Army soldiers then in turn attacked the German encirclement on its right, which then prompted the French defenders of the city to attack in a breakthrough attempt. But the French, in their attempt to breakout of the siege, were defeated by the German soldiers, and the counterattack from outside was beaten off. The French suffered heavy casualties, but managed to keep a hold on the city, despite a German attempt on the city. But with this, further German reinforcements arrived in April, in order to amp up the siege of Metz, and demanded once again the surrender of the city.
As the war was developing around it, Metz finally did fall on May 2, ending the siege, and resulting in the surrender of the city, and its garrison, under General Francois Bazaine, who also surrendered. The Germans meanwhile, around Metz, had defeated the French offensives in mid-April, and the French Army was on a mass retreat home. On April 4, the Germans attacked Strasbourg, and captured in on April 8, and with the capture of Metz of May 2, secured Germany the territory of Alsace-Lorraine. The Germans, now along with Italian assistance, moved outward from Metz and Strasbourg on to capture the city of Nancy, moving in two encircling pincers, and capturing it on May 20. The Germans and Italians moved upward towards northern parts of France, from where they would then besiege Paris.
The Road to Sedan
Following the Siege of Metz, Napoleon III and Field Marshal MacMahon took the tatters of French soldiers left from the Eastern frontier, and created the Army of Châlons, which they jointly led, to counterattack the Germans. The Germans pushed northward towards Reims, but were defeated by the Army of Châlons on June 1, bringing the French hope. The Germans than attacked Reims a second time on June 5, defeating the French, and expelling them north. The French then attacked north to stop a coming German encirclement, temporarily succeeding at the Battle of Laon. The French were then defeated at an attempted recapture of Reims, and were pushed back to the city of Sedan. North of Sedan was already under German control, and French general Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot famously stated, "We are in the chamber pot and about to be shat upon."
Moltke was ecstatic, believing he had finally gotten the French into a point from which they were about to be decisively defeated once and for all. The Germans surrounded the embattled French in three areas, and numbered at around 200,000, while the Army of Châlons was now down to 120,000. The German's Third Army was attacked, beginning the battle on July 1, and planned to try and break out of the German encirclement. Napoleon III ordered a break out, which MacMahon planned to try at the fortified town of La Moncelle, which guarded the Third Army's right flank. The commander of Bavarian soldiers in the battle, General von der Tann, ironically, sent a brigade across pontoon bridges against the French First Corps attacking the town at 400, but only managed to hold the south part of the town. But when the French pushed for the remainder of the town, they drew in forces of First, Fifth, and Twelfth Corps.
The German 8th Infantry Division arrived on at 800 hours, giving von der Tann the time for a decisive attack, which he then used. Using artillery support from across the Meuse River, the German artillery however, didn't reach the city until 900 hours. The 8th Infantry Division reached the Bavarians at 1030 hours, but at 1100 hours, MacMahon, now injured from the bombardment, assigned General Auguste Ducrot as the commander of the French forces. As Moltke expected, Ducrot ordered a retreat from La Moncelle, but his order was overturned by General Emmanuel Felix de Wimpffen, who sent his soldiers against the Saxons in northern La Moncelle, who pushed the Germans back. This allowed the French to rally for a short time, and counterattacked, stopping the German artillery barrage, and pressing back the Saxons and Bavarians. However, when reinforcements reached the Germans, and they in-turn counterattacked, halting the French advance.
With the French counter-attack collapsing, at around 1300 hours, the German guns reopened on the French Army, and this combined with another German counterattack, pushed the French back to the town of Bois de la Garenne. There the German Army surrounded the French Army of Châlons, cavalry general Jean Auguste Margueritte launched three desperate, and ultimately futile, counterattacks with his horsemen against the German XI Corps at the town of Floing. Margueritte was mortally wounded in the first attack, and the last two were nothing but disaster, resulting in the end of the charges.
On the next day, July 2, with no hope left, and his army completely surrounded, Napoleon III surrendered to the German Army at Sedan, ending the battle. His army suffered 17,000 casualties, and now 103,000 French soldiers surrendered to the Germans, along with General MacMahon and Napoleon III himself. The Germans reported only 9,000 casualties, marking the greatest, and most decisive victory for the Germans of the war. Two days later, when news of Napoleon III's capture reached Paris, a bloodless revolution overthrew the Second French Empire, and gave birth to the Third French Republic. A provisional government, in the meantime, under the name of the Government of National Defense, and continued the war with a new French Army.
The Germans first reached the outskirts of Paris on July 18, beginning the start of a five month siege, but rather than stay only at Paris, the Germans expanded outward and campaigned out west. Out west, the French Army had garnered new strength, and Antoine Chanzy, an experienced French general, garnered an army of 150,000 soldiers from old Imperial reservists, citizen volunteers, and armed with a mishmash of old civilian firearms and almost useless muzzle-loading guns. Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, leading an army of 50,000 professional soldiers, went out to fight General Chanzy, and to shatter the French Army in the West. After a rainy day on December 10, Chanzy lead his army with ruined equipment into battle with the Germans under Prince Friedrich at Le Mans.
Chanzy ordered his men into trenches they had built before Le Mans, and the Germans began the battle by hitting the French on their left flank at the Huinse River. Artillery, however, saved the French from sure destruction, and turned the Germans back, who would have surely routed the French. Another large attack, this time on the French right flank, smashed through the French lines, and the French Army fell apart into pieces. French Corps officer and commander Jean Bernard Jaureguiberry tried to rally his men into a counterattack, but failed at this, and the remainder of the army retreated. Although only 25,000 casualties were taken by the French, Chanzy's "Army" fell apart, although he himself avoided captured, his army soon ceased to exist, and he left for Southern France.
But by late December, Paris had been surrounded, the Germans had destroyed any such idea of a French Army, and the last French troops were held up in the capital, Paris. The city was defended by 200,000 regular soldiers, and 200,000 sailors and militiamen, but even these numbers, compared to the German 240,000, failed to save their city. Paris surrendered on December 28, and the War of Nations ended as a result.
Treaty of Frankfurt and Aftermath
On May 10, 1872, after two years of fighting and negotiation, the War of Nations was formally ended with the Treaty of Frankfurt. Signed in its namesake city, the treaty officially ended the war, and was signed by delegations from the four nations that now existed in the place of those who entered. The Kingdom of Prussia and its North German Confederation started the war a separate, multitude of states, exited it a single nation: the German Empire. Once again, a Napoleon had lead the French people to a disastrous war to the east, and was now the Third French Republic as a result. Austria exited the war after Vienna fell, and spent the time in between then negotiating with the Kingdom of Hungary, and came out of the war as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Italy however, did not undergo any kind of major revolution during the war, but had come out as something many thought it would never be, Germany's closest, greatest, and currently only, ally.
The terms of the treaty were as follows for the four nations:
- The territory of Alsace-Lorraine will be transferred to the German Empire
- The citizens of Alsace-Lorraine will have until October 1, 1873 to decide whether to leave and emigrate, or stay and become German citizens.
- France shall pay Germany reparation of five billion francs to be delivered over the course of three years
- All signatories shall further recognize Wilhelm I of Prussia and his descendants as German Emperor
- German soldiers will occupy their current holds in France until the reparations are paid
- German soldiers will withdraw within 6 months of the reparations being paid
- The Kingdom of Dalmatia shall be handed over to Italy from Austria, along with Istria, Trentino-Alto Adige, Trieste, and Zara
The war became known across Europe, and soon the world, as the War of Nations, be called such for the fact that three of the four nations that went into it were destroyed or changed completely by the time it was over. Germany and Italy's alliance was cemented in the war, and while Austria-Hungary would soon become an ally of Germany and Italy, France's hatred and distrust of Germany would last for many years to come. The new German Empire became the biggest land power in Europe soon after the war, and both Italy and Germany were made great nations because of it. The two would soon also become colonial powers, putting them up against even greater powers in Europe, and some from beyond that. Wilhelm I consolidated control over Germany, and Otto von Bismarck would serve as Chancellor of the German Empire until 1890.