The Destruction of the Imperial Army

Volume 1 - The Opening Engagements of the Franco-German War, 1870-1871

Grenville Bird

A fresh study of the tumultuous events of August 1870 when Prussia overthrew the established order in Europe, laying the foundations for a military and political hegemony lasting into the 20th Century.
Date Published :
January 2023
Publisher :
Helion and Company
Language:
English
Series :
From Musket to Maxim 1815-1914
Illustration :
70 b/w & color ills/photos, 16 maps
Format Available    QuantityPrice
Binding. : Paperback
ISBN : 9781915113818
Pages : 424
Dimensions : 9.75 X 6.75 inches
Stock Status : Not Yet Published. Available for Pre-Order
-
+
$49.95

Overview
-

Shortly after noon on the 2nd August 1870 the Emperor Napoleon III, accompanied by his 14-year-old son the Prince Imperial, two generals and six officers of his état-major rode out onto the old Drill Ground overlooking the small Prussian border town of Saarbrücken. To his right 8,600 men of General Frossard’s 2nd Corps of the Army of the Rhine swept down from the Spicheren Heights, shook themselves out into formation, and advanced swiftly to the attack.

After little more than an hour’s brisk exchange of rifle fire the heavily outnumbered Prussians withdrew in orderly fashion and retreated across the river Sarre. With spirits buoyed by the sight of his troop’s victory, later that evening Napoleon proudly telegraphed the Empress Eugénie in Paris to inform her that their son had received his ‘baptism of fire.’ In Paris the Journal Officiel excitedly announced that the ‘French Army had taken the offensive, crossed the frontier and invaded Prussian territory.’ Church bells rang out and cheering crowds of Parisians took to the streets to celebrate what they expected was just the first of many such victories to come.

A month later on the morning of the 2nd September 1870 at the Chateau Bellevue outside Sedan an ashen faced and tearful Napoleon was granted a short audience with the Prussian King, Wilhelm. Nearby some 83,000 Frenchmen of the Army of Châlons prepared to march out of Sedan and into captivity on the Iges peninsula.  Seventy miles away in Metz 180,000 men of the Amy of the Rhine lay besieged by the Prussians; within two months they too would be starved into surrender. The elderly King spent a few moments alone with the broken Emperor and sought to commiserate with him on how fate had dealt such cruel blows to the armies of Imperial France. Permitted by his captors to send a telegram to his wife in Paris, Napoleon succinctly summed up the situation ‘L’Armée est défaite et captive. Moi-même je suis prisonnier.’

Two days later with Napoleon on his way to captivity at Wilhelsmshöhe the same crowds of Parisians who just a month earlier had taken to the streets in celebration at the emperor’s success, now rose up in open insurrection. Shortly after the Third Republic was declared and Eugénie hastily fled the capital escaping with her son to exile in England.

This work, the first in a new four volume series, takes a fresh and in depth look at the events of the opening months of the Franco Prussian War between Napoleon’s Imperial Army and King Wilhelm’s German armies when within the space of four weeks in summer 1870 the established order was overthrown and Prussia laid the foundations for a military and political hegemony in Europe which led directly or indirectly to two World Wars.

Many recent accounts of this pivotal conflict draw heavily on usual tried and tested sources, i.e., those which have been translated into English and are most readily available such as the German Official histories and the memoirs of senior German commanders. Whilst this work does reference these sources, the basic narrative is taken from the numerous volumes French official account, La Guerre de 1870-71 published by the Section historique de l’État-major de l’Armée around the turn of the 20th Century, which in addition to making use of information not available to the authors of the earlier German official history, also includes detailed annexes providing copious Orders of Battle, after battle unit reports and casualty records for almost every engagement. This excellent source material has been supplemented by the works of Lehautcourt and the memoirs of many of the French commanders with additional detail and analysis derived from the numerous official and semi-official Staff studies published during the 1880-90’s. Whilst many of the German works have been published in English few, if any, of the French works have been translated and their inclusion within this work will provide both a fresh perspective of events as well as providing a useful counterpoint to the somewhat ‘Prussian-centric’ viewpoints reflected in many previous works.

The first volume in the series covers the background to the conflict, the opposing armies, war plans, mobilization and the opening engagements of the conflict including the combats at Saarbrücken and Wissembourg, the battles of Froeschwiller and Forbach and the retreat to the Moselle. Subsequent volumes will take a similarly detailed and comprehensive look at the three major encounters around Metz at Borny, Vionville and St Privat; the short-lived campaign of the Army of Châlons and the fighting at Nouart, Beaumont and Sedan, and the oft- overlooked sieges of Strasbourg and Metz and the battles of Servigny–Noiseville and Landonchamps.

About The Author
-

Grenville Bird is a retired Chartered Surveyor who, during the last twenty years, has made repeated visits to the Franco-Prussian War battlefields around Metz and Sedan, whilst assembling an extensive collection of long out of print and obscure works relating to the subject, and in particular, the opening months of the war in August and September 1870.

More from this publisher