Franco-Prussian War

Franco-Prussian War

Franco-Prussian War refers to the war that was fought between 1870 and 1871 between South German states and France. It was also called Franco-German war. The South German states were led by Prussia in this war which was an indication of the rise of the military power of German as well as its imperialism. It also indicated the end of the French hegemony in the continental Europe leading to the unification of Germany. It was a war that violently changed the European history’s course.

What led to the Franco-Prussian War?

Prussia emerged as the leading power in Germany. This increased German states’ unification and Napoleon III viewed them with apprehension following the victory of Prussia in the 1866’s Austro-Prussian War. At the same time, the growing rift between France and Prussia encouraged Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian chancellor, to unify the states of Germany. He ensured Italian and Russian neutrality while counting on the neutrality of British. Both sides pushed for war preparations with France indicating remarkable inefficiency while Prussia had astounding thoroughness.

The offer of Spain throne to the Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen’s house prince acted as the immediate war pretext. This house was a branch of the Prussia ruling house. At first, the offer was rejected but accepted later on the advice of Bismarck on July 12th following a strong protest by France. The aggressive foreign minister from France, Duc de Gramont, insisted on Prussian assurances but the Prussia’s King William I, who became Emperor William 1, refused the assurances. Through the publication of Ems dispatch, Bismarch inflamed the feelings of France. On 19th July, France made a war declaration.

How the war was fought

South Germany states considered France as the aggressor. Therefore, they joined the confederation of North Germany enthusiastically just the way Bismarck hoped. Helmuth Karl Bernhad von Moltke was responsible for the military conduct during the war. Napoleon III was in command of the French side but later devolved on the Marshal Bazaine. Germans moved to Alsace on 4th August 1870. The French were defeated by the Germans at Wissembourg pushing French to the Châlons-en-Champagne forcing a wedge between the Bazaine and MacMahon’s forces while centering on Metz. Attempts to join MacMahon were defeated at Vionville on 16th August and at Gravelotte on 18th August. The Germans started to march to Paris leading to the Sedan disaster when MacMahon and Napoleon III attempted to rescue Bezaine. The emperor was captured alongside his 100,000 men.

A bloodless revolution took place after Paris received the Sedan disaster news. The deposition of Napoleon occurred while a provisional national defense government was formed. General Trochu, Jules favre and Leon Gambetta led the government. On 19th September, the Germans surrounded Paris leading to a grueling siege. In a balloon, Gambetta managed to escape out of Paris to the provinces from where he organized a resistance. A gallant stand was made by Faidherbe on Loire, Chanzy to the north as well as Bourbaki to the east. However, the surrender of Bazaine on 27th October with 180,000 men’s garrison made the resistance useless. However, Paris was held out till 28th January 1871 leading to a famine that lasted for several months. Though an armistice was signed by Adolphe Thiers and Bismarck on the same day, Belfort fortress resisted till 16th February.

Why and how the Franco-Prussian War ended

The war between Germany and France ended after the Frankfurt treaty was signed on 10th May 1871. According to this treaty, France was to cede Alsace province and partly Lorraine. France was also required to pay war indemnity in form of gold francs amounting to 5 billion. It was also to submit to the occupation by the German troops till the full amount was rendered. The discharge of this obligation occurred in September 1873 and at the same month following the occupation which lasted for about 3 years; France was finally freed from the German soldiers.

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