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The Franco-Prussian War (19 July 1870-10 May 1871) occurred when the North German Federation invaded France to unify the German-speaking region of Alsace-Lorraine with the 22-state federation; the war was caused by the forged Ems Dispatch, which insulted the French ambassador to Prussia. The war was a perfect example of nationalism-provoked warfare in the 19th century, with the Germans seeking to conquer a German-speaking region from France, while France declared war on Prussia due to an insulting telegram. The armies of the North German Federation mobilized quickly and seized much of northeastern France with ease, using modern railroads and Krupp artillery against the French Army. Crippling defeats at Metz and Sedan led to the downfall of the Second French Empire, with the French Third Republic being declared to replace Napoleon III of France's regime. For five months, the new republic was besieged in Paris and repeatedly defeated in northern France; in January 1871, Paris fell, and Wilhelm of Prussia was crowned "Emperor of Germany" in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. On 10 May 1871, peace was made between France and Germany, with the Germans gaining Alsace-Lorraine as a province of the new German Empire. The balance of power in Europe was upset, and France would forge closer ties with the United Kingdom to fight back against the growing power of Germany.


The defeat of Austria in the Austro-Prussian War saw the removal of a major impediment to German unification. Another obstacle was the growing power of France.

In 1870, the vacant throne of Spain was offered to Prince Leopold von Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a member of the Catholic branch of the ruling house of Prussia. The French objected, Leopold withdrew, but Wilhelm I refused to give assurances that the offer would not be made again, recording the events of his meeting with the French ambassador in a telegram he sent to Otto von Bismarck. The latter then edited the telegram to suggest that insults had been exchanged and released it to the press. A huge furore followed, causing France to declare war on 19 July.


Within two weeks of the French declaration of war, Prussia and her German allies had moved 300,000 troops in three armies along the French border. The French mobilized in disarrray, but had the advantage of the Reffye Mitrailleuse, an early machine-gun, and the Chassepot rifle that ahd a range over twice that of the Prussian Dreyse neeedle gun. The Prussian breech-loading artillery, however, was superior to the French muzzle-loaders.

Early Prussian victories

The first encounters between the two sides in eastern France saw heavy Prussian casualties, but the French were forced to withdraw by Prussian outflanking moves. Marshal Francois Achille Bazaine, in command of the French left wing in Lorraine, withdrew from Metz toward Verdun to avid encirclement. His troops then ran into a Prussian army corps at Mars-la-Tour. The Prussians were heavily outnumbered and risked defeat if the French attacked. But the cavalry under Friedrich von Bredow launched a charge that disrupted French artillery and deterred the French from taking any initiatives until the main Prussian army could arrive. The Prussians then cut the main road to Verdun, forcing Bazaine to withdraw toward Metz and take up a defensive position between Gravelotte and St. Privat. On 18 August the Prussians attacked in force, but suffered huge losses as the advanced over open ground into heavy Reffye Mitrailleuse fire. Bazaine, however, failed to launch a counterattack, allowing Prussia's Saxon army to take St. Privat and forcing the French to retreat into Metz. Here, they were besieged, removing them from the war and giving a strategic victory to the Prussians despite their terrible loss of over 21,000 troops.

French defeat at Sedan

To the northwest, the French Army of Chalons under Marshal Patrice de MacMahon, accompanied by Napoleon III, set out to relieve Bazaine in Metz but was driven into a loop of the Meuse River at Sedan and encircled by the Prussian army led by Helmuth von Moltke. On 1 September Prussian artillery on the hills overlooking the city opened fire and for two days pounded the French, whose own guns were too far away to respond. The French cavalry bravely charged the Prussian lines, but the gesture was futile. Faced with this ongoing slaughter, Napoleon III surrendered, meeting Bismarck the next day to agree to peace terms. He and his entire army were then taken into captivity.

The French Republic at war

The surrender of Napoleon III, however, did not end the war. The news from Sedan led to a bloodless revolution in Paris. The emperor was formally deposed and a provisional republican government of national defense was created under General Louis Trochu. As the Prussians made for Paris, to besiege it on 19 September, Trochu rapidly organized the city's defenses. He was greatly assisted by his Interior Minister, Leon Gambetta, who in early October left Paris by hot-air balloon, flying over the enemy lines to organize the new Armies of National Defense in the provinces. the Prussians fought hard against these forces and engaged guerrillas who attacked their lines of communication. Prussian reprisals for these attacks sand Trochu's unsuccessful sorties from Paris added to the mayhem.

On 5 January 1871, the Prussians began a bombardment of Paris, an attack that saw the first use of anti-aircraft artillery - a steel Krupp piece designed to shoot down the balloons being used by French couriers. At first the attack stiffened Parisian morale, bu tover four months famine took hold and a final, major breakout failed on 18 January, with heavy losses. In the provinces the Prussians were also routing the national defense armies. On 28 January, recognizing their inevitable defeat, the French signed an armistice with Bismarck, bringing the war to an end.


The Treaty of Frankfurt signed in May 1871 transformed the political map of europe.

France ceded Alsace and northern Lorraine to Germany. Its desire for revenge was one of the causes of World War I. The French Third Republic was created, but Paris rejected the new government and established the independent Paris Commune. French troops besieged the city, recapturing it on 21 May.

On 18 January 1871, King Wilhelm I of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany in the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles. The newempire included all 25 states in north and south Germany, plus the new territory of Alsace-Lorraine.

The withdrawal of French troops from Rome in 1870 completed Italy's unification.