Franco-Prussian War

Franco-Prussian War
Part of the wars of German unification
Franco-Prussian War Collage.jpg
(clockwise from top right)
  • Battle of Mars-la-Tour, 16 August 1870
  • The Lauenburg 9th Jäger Battalion at Gravelotte
  • The Last Cartridges
  • The Defense of Champigny
  • The Siege of Paris in 1870
  • The Proclamation of the German Empire
Date19 July 1870 – 28 January 1871
(6 months, 1 week and 2 days)

German victory

  • Unification of Germany and formation of the German Empire
  • German annexation of Alsace-Lorraine
  • Belligerents
     German Empirec
    Second French Empire French Empirea
    French Third Republic French Republicb
    Commanders and leaders

    Total deployment:

    Initial strength:

    • 938,424

    Peak field army strength:

    Total deployment:

    Initial strength:

    • 909,951

    Peak field army strength:

    Casualties and losses


    • 44,700 dead[5]
    • 89,732 wounded
    • 10,129 missing or captured


    • 138,871 dead[7][8]
    • 143,000 wounded
    • 474,414 captured or interned
    ~250,000 civilians dead, including 162,000 Germans killed in a smallpox epidemic spread by French POWs[4]

    The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War (French: Guerre franco-allemande de 1870, German: Deutsch-Französischer Krieg), often referred to in France as the War of 1870, was a conflict between the Second French Empire and later the Third French Republic, and the German states of the North German Confederation led by the Kingdom of Prussia. Lasting from 19 July 1870 to 28 January 1871, the conflict was caused by Prussian ambitions to extend German unification and French fears of the shift in the European balance of power that would result if the Prussians succeeded. Some historians argue that the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck deliberately provoked the French into declaring war on Prussia in order to draw the independent southern German states—Baden, Württemberg, Bavaria and Hesse-Darmstadt—into an alliance with the North German Confederation dominated by Prussia, while others contend that Bismarck did not plan anything and merely exploited the circumstances as they unfolded. None, however, dispute the fact that Bismarck must have recognized the potential for new German alliances, given the situation as a whole.[9]

    On 16 July 1870, the French parliament voted to declare war on Prussia and hostilities began three days later when French forces invaded German territory. The German coalition mobilised its troops much more quickly than the French and rapidly invaded northeastern France. The German forces were superior in numbers, had better training and leadership and made more effective use of modern technology, particularly railroads and artillery.

    A series of swift Prussian and German victories in eastern France, culminating in the Siege of Metz and the Battle of Sedan, saw French Emperor Napoleon III captured and the army of the Second Empire decisively defeated. A Government of National Defence declared the Third French Republic in Paris on 4 September and continued the war for another five months; the German forces fought and defeated new French armies in northern France. Following the Siege of Paris, the capital fell on 28 January 1871, and then a revolutionary uprising called the Paris Commune seized power in the city and held it for two months, until it was bloodily suppressed by the regular French army at the end of May 1871.

    The German states proclaimed their union as the German Empire under the Prussian king Wilhelm I, finally uniting Germany as a nation-state. The Treaty of Frankfurt of 10 May 1871 gave Germany most of Alsace and some parts of Lorraine, which became the Imperial territory of Alsace-Lorraine (Reichsland Elsaß-Lothringen). The German conquest of France and the unification of Germany upset the European balance of power that had existed since the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and Otto von Bismarck maintained great authority in international affairs for two decades.

    French determination to regain Alsace-Lorraine and fear of another Franco-German war, along with British apprehension about the balance of power, became factors in the causes of World War I.


    Map of the North German Confederation (red), the Southern German States (orange) and Alsace-Lorraine (beige).

    The causes of the Franco-Prussian War are strongly rooted in the events surrounding the unification of Germany. In the aftermath of the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, Prussia had annexed numerous territories and formed the North German Confederation. This new power destabilized the European balance of power established by the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the Napoleonic Wars. Napoleon III, then the emperor of France, demanded compensations in Belgium and on the left bank of the Rhine to secure France's strategic position, which the Prussian chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, flatly refused.[10] Prussia then turned its attention towards the south of Germany, where it sought to incorporate the southern German kingdoms, Bavaria, Württemberg, Baden and Hesse-Darmstadt, into a unified Prussia-dominated Germany. France was strongly opposed to any further alliance of German states, which would have significantly strengthened the Prussian military.[11]

    In Prussia, some officials considered a war against France both inevitable and necessary to arouse German nationalism in those states that would allow the unification of a great German empire. This aim was epitomized by Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck's later statement: "I did not doubt that a Franco-German war must take place before the construction of a United Germany could be realised."[12] Bismarck also knew that France should be the aggressor in the conflict to bring the southern German states to side with Prussia, hence giving Germans numerical superiority.[13] He was convinced that France would not find any allies in her war against Germany for the simple reason that "France, the victor, would be a danger to everybody – Prussia to nobody," and he added, "That is our strong point."[14] Many Germans also viewed the French as the traditional destabilizer of Europe, and sought to weaken France to prevent further breaches of the peace.[15]

    The immediate cause of the war resided in the candidacy of Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a Prussian prince, to the throne of Spain. France feared encirclement by an alliance between Prussia and Spain. The Hohenzollern prince's candidacy was withdrawn under French diplomatic pressure, but Otto von Bismarck goaded the French into declaring war by releasing an altered summary of the Ems Dispatch, a telegram sent by William I rejecting French demands that Prussia never again support a Hohenzollern candidacy. Bismarck's summary, as mistranslated by the French press Havas, made it sound as if the king had treated the French envoy in a demeaning fashion, which inflamed public opinion in France.[13]

    French historians François Roth and Pierre Milza argue that Napoleon III was pressured by a bellicose press and public opinion and thus sought war in response to France's diplomatic failures to obtain any territorial gains following the Austro-Prussian War.[16] Napoleon III believed he would win a conflict with Prussia. Many in his court, such as Empress Eugénie, also wanted a victorious war to resolve growing domestic political problems, restore France as the undisputed leading power in Europe, and ensure the long-term survival of the House of Bonaparte. A national plebiscite held on 8 May 1870, which returned results overwhelmingly in favor of the Emperor's domestic agenda, gave the impression that the regime was politically popular and in a position to confront Prussia. Within days of the plebiscite, France's pacifist Foreign Minister Napoléon, comte Daru was replaced by Agenor, duc de Gramont, a fierce opponent of Prussia who, as French Ambassador to Austria in 1866, had advocated an Austro-French military alliance against Prussia. Napoleon III's worsening health problems made him less and less capable of reining in Empress Eugénie, Gramont and the other members of the war party, known collectively as the "mameluks". For Bismarck, the nomination of Gramont was seen as "a highly bellicose symptom".[17]

    The Ems telegram had exactly the effect on French public opinion that Bismarck had intended. "This text produced the effect of a red flag on the Gallic bull", Bismarck later wrote. Gramont, the French foreign minister, declared that he felt "he had just received a slap." The leader of the monarchists in Parliament, Adolphe Thiers, spoke for moderation, arguing that France had won the diplomatic battle and there was no reason for war, but he was drowned out by cries that he was a traitor and a Prussian. Napoleon's new prime minister, Emile Ollivier, declared that France had done all that it could humanly and honorably do to prevent the war, and that he accepted the responsibility "with a light heart". A crowd of 15,000–20,000 people, carrying flags and patriotic banners, marched through the streets of Paris, demanding war. On 19 July 1870 a declaration of war was sent to the Prussian government.[18] The southern German states immediately sided with Prussia.[13]

    Other Languages
    brezhoneg: Brezel 1870-1871
    Bahasa Indonesia: Perang Prancis-Prusia
    Kabɩyɛ: 1870 you tɔm
    Bahasa Melayu: Perang Perancis-Prusia
    日本語: 普仏戦争
    oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Fransiya-prussiya urushi
    Simple English: Franco-Prussian War
    slovenščina: Francosko-pruska vojna
    srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Francusko-pruski rat
    粵語: 普法戰爭
    中文: 普法戰爭