1870-71: Franco- Prussian War

Tanner O’Donnell

 The Franco-Prussian war, was fought between the German States led by Prussia against France between July 19, 1870 and May 10, 1871. The problem that began the conflict was when Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative to Prussian royalty, was a candidate for the thrown of Spain, which if aligned with Prussia, would threaten the French country. The Prussian Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck published a message that, ” Prussian king William I was unwilling to bow to the French ambassador’s demands that he promise to never again allow Leopold to be a candidate for the Spanish throne”  in a insulting form on July 14, 1870. This move agitated the French and led them to declare war on Prussia on July 19, 1870, under the advice that Napoleon III, the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, received from his military advisers. His advisers told him that, “French army could defeat Prussia and that such a victory would restore his declining popularity in France” backed by the thought of having a superior army thanks to new technology in guns. Unfortunately for the French, they were outnumbered, since the Northern states of Germany came together with the Southern states of Germany to fight the French, increasing mobility and troops for Prussia.

By the beginning of the war, Prussia and France were both able to amass large armies, but Prussia was able to do it much faster. With such large armies the ‘front’ of the war was split into two fronts, the right and left wings. On August 6, 1870 both French fronts were defeated and each of them retreated back West into the French countryside. On August 16 and 18, the right wing front was being blundered by the German armies, and the French were forced to retreat to the fortress of Metz and take refuge there. On August 31, the commander Mac-Mahon and Napoleon III, attempted to help the trapped right wing army, but was trapped by the German army in the Battle of Sedan. On September 1, the battle concluded with the German army capturing Napoleon III and 83,000 French soldiers as prisoners of war, and then began to march to Paris.

On September 4, 1870 an uprising began in Paris that toppled the existing government and establishing the Third Republic to continue the French fight. On September 19, as the German army began to attack Paris, the new foreign minister Jules Favre, attempted to reach a peace with Bismarck, but denied to give up Alsace and Lorraine in exchange for peace. With no peace achieved, small french armies formed outside of Paris to combat the German intrusion, but to no avail as Paris surrendered on January 28, 1871. Following the surrender negotiations began on a treaty, and on May 1, 1871 the Treaty of Frankfurt was ratified stating that the, “The Third Republic had to cede Alsace-Lorraine to Germany, pay an indemnity of five billion francs, and accept an army of occupation”. The war had major consequences for the future of the European continent. The war had established a unified German empire that was very powerful, and created an unstable continent with the imperialistic German power and France wanting to regain their lost territories. This later led to the beginning of World War I in 1914.


“Franco-German War | European History.” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2015.