On September 1, 1870, the Battle of Sedan was fought between France and Prussia. During the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871), it laid the stage for the battle. Emperor Napoleon III and over a hundred thousand troops were captured, and Prussia and its allies won the battle. However, the war continued under a new French government.
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In early 1870, the actions of the Franco-Prussian War saw the French defeated by their well-equipped and trained neighbors to the east. Marshal François Achille Bazaine’s Army of the Rhine fell back to Metz after being defeated at Gravelotte on August 18, where it was quickly besieged by the Prussian First and Second elements Armies. Responding to the crisis, Emperor Napoleon III moved north with Marshal Patrice de MacMahon’s Army of Châlons. They intended to move northeast towards Belgium before turning south to link up with Bazaine.
During the march, the Army of Châlons witnessed poor weather and roads, which exhausted them. As the news of the French advance reached the Prussian commander, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, he directed the army to seize Napoleon and McMahon. On August 30, at the Battle of Beaumont, the Prussian army under Prince George of Saxony attacked and defeated the French. After the setback, MacMahon returned to the fortress town with the hope to reform again. However, from a defensive outlook, Sedan proved to be a poor choice as the fortress was surrounded by high ground and restricted by the Meuse River.
Advancing on Sedan, Moltke ordered his troops to hold the French in one place while surrounding the town from all sides; he sent additional troops to the west and north. On September 1, the Bavarian army under General Ludwig von der Tann beagle to cross the Meuse and examine the Bazeilles village. Instead, they came across the French army under General Barthelemy Lebrun’s XII Corps. As the battle between the Bavarians and the Infanterie de Marine began, several streets and buildings were barricaded.
Early morning, the mist began to disappear, allowing the Bavarian to open fire on the villages. New breech-loading began bombarding; as a result, the French had to leave La Moncelleguns. The command framework of the French troops shattered, which quickly worsened their situation.
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The Great Trap
By 9:00 AM, the battle was raging along the Givonne from Bazeilles north. The Ducrot’s I Corps and Lebrun’s XII Corps mounted a massive counterattack with the Prussians marching forward. Moving forward, they regained lost ground until the Saxons were strengthened. Then, with the support of around 100 guns, heavy rifle fire, and allies such as Saxon and Bavarian, the Prussian army shattered the French.
The French were compelled to establish a new line west of the stream after losing several villages along the Givonne. Under Crown Prince Frederick, the Prussian army encircled Sedan while the French were busy focusing on the battle along the Givonne. Moltke ordered V and XI Corps into St. Menges to encircle the enemy, and as they entered the village, they attacked the French, who were not ready.
The Battle of Sedan 1870: French Defeat
By noon, the Prussians had won the battle. Having no other options left, Napoleon ordered the raising of a white flag as a sign of peace. However, Wimpffen, the army commander, overrode the order, and his men continued the battle. His troops marched forward to a breakout attempt near Balan to the south.
The same afternoon, Napoleon propounded himself and overruled Wimpffen. He surrendered himself to talk with the Prussians as he saw there was no point in continuing the battle and letting the remaining soldiers die. Moltke, King Wilhelm I, and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck were astonished at the surrender of Napoleon. The following day, Emperor Napoleon met Bismarck and surrendered the entire army.
Two days after the battle ended, French leaders in Paris formed a new government Third Republic and continued the war, resulting in a siege on September 19 in Paris.
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Frequently Asked Questions on the Battle of Sedan
Who was the last hope of Napoleon III to turn the course of a battle?
The Army of Châlons was the last hope for Napoleon III to turn the course of the battle. However, two German armies of Helmuth von Moltke’s surrounded and destroyed them at the fortress city of Sedan.
Who overruled General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot’s order of retreat?
General Emmanuel Félix de Wimpffen overrode the orders of a retreat given by General Auguste-Alexandre Ducrot. He took over the Army of Châlons, cancelled the retreat order, and began preparing for the battle.
For how many days the battle of Sedan was fought?
The Battle of Sedan was a two-day fight between the French and Prussians.
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