Franco-Prussian War and the Battle of Sedan

About the Battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian War between France and Prussia in 1870.

SEDAN, 1870

In August, 1870, after the French Army under Marshal Bazaine was forced into the mighty fortress at Metz and besieged by the Prussians, Marshal MacMahon was ordered to effect a relief. MacMahon, told by the Emperor Napoleon III that the fall of Metz was an unacceptable defeat, hurriedly marched along the Belgian frontier toward the fortress.

The Prussian commander, Von Moltke, could hardly believe his good fortune. He abandoned his march on Paris and swung his force north to intercept MacMahon, planning to pin the luckless French Army against the political wall of the Belgian border. The 2 forces clashed north of the Argonne forest and the Prussians halted the French advance. Then the French were surprised by the Prussians at Beaumont. MacMahon was forced to pull back his force of over 100,000 into the fortress town of Sedan.

Meanwhile, Von Moltke had continued his encirclement of the French, and the situation was fast approaching the critical stage. Before MacMahon could decide on a new course of acion, he was wounded. While his successor, General Wimpffen, debated alternatives, 250,000 Prussians surrounded Sedan and the French lost all chance of escape.

Prussian artillery, commanding the heights above the town, bombarded the trapped French troops. The courageous General Margueritte led repeated cavalry charges in a valiant attempt to break out, but these all failed. Finally a flag of truce was sent from the fort. To the Germans' surprise they discovered that Napoleon III himself was in Sedan. All French forces surrendered at 4:15 P.M., September 1.

With a loss of 9,000 men, the Prussians achieved total victory, taking 100,000 prisoners and killing 17,000 Frenchmen. Superior Prussian tactics and leadership had tumbled the 2nd Empire. The war raged on for another 6 months, but Sedan was the crucial victory.

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