Waged and won in less than a year, the Franco-Prussian War was a decisive victory for a newly united Germany over France. The German victory in 1871 effectively ended French domination of Europe and led to the abdication of French Emperor Napoleon III. A newly unified Germany, led by the Prussians Kaiser Wilhelm I and Chancellor Otto von Bismarck imposed punitive terms on France that would have repercussions half a century later during the Treaty of Versailles. Read on to find out more about this brief but bloody war that would decisively change European history.
By analyzing questions, you can see patterns emerge, patterns that will help you answer questions. Qwiz5 is all about those patterns. In each installment of Qwiz5, we take an answer line and look at its five most common clues. Here we explore five clues that will help you answer a tossup on the Franco-Prussian War.
THE EMS DISPATCH
Leopold, Prince of Hohenzollern and relative of Wilhelm, I was offered the Spanish crown following the abdication of Spain’s Queen Isabella in 1868. Napoleon III was concerned about Prussians on his eastern and southern borders. He sent France’s ambassador to Prussia, Vincent Benedetti, to the town of Bad Ems to protest Leopold’s ascension. Wilhelm sent a telegram to Bismarck detailing his meeting with Benedetti. Bismarck made some choice edits to the telegram to make it look as if the meeting was more contentious than it actually was. These edits ratcheted up tensions between Prussia and France and eventually led to the outbreak of war.
BATTLE OF MARS-LA-TOUR
The French suffered a series of rapid defeats as the war began in August 1870. Command of France’s Army of the Rhine fell to Marshall Bazaine. Bazaine’s troops were intercepted by the Prussian General Constantine von Alvensleben. The Prussians, though seriously outnumbered, routed the French. This battle featured the last cavalry charge in Western Europe.
BATTLE OF GRAVELOTTE
Following on the heels of the defeat at Mars-La-Tour, Bazaine’s forces retreated to the West and were pursued by the Prussian First and Second Armies. The French enjoyed higher ground, and their mitrailleuse volley guns and chassepot rifles inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing Prussians. However, Bazaine failed to press his advantage and eventually found his army outflanked and then decimated. Forced to flee again, the tattered Army of the Rhine holed up in Metz, where after a grueling two-month long siege they would surrender.
BATTLE OF SEDAN
With the Army of the Rhine trapped in Metz, the French Army of Châlons attempted to come to their aid. Commanded by Emperor Napoleon III and Marshal Patrice MacMahon, the French Army was soundly defeated by the Prussians, commanded by Helmuth von Moltke. It was at this battle that the Emperor surrendered, effectively ending the Franco-Prussian War.
TREATY OF FRANKFURT
The Treaty of Frankfurt was signed in May of 1871. Its terms were disastrous for the French, who were forced to watch the Prussians annex the French provinces of Alsace and Lorraine. As a direct result of this treaty and the war’s outcome, King Wilhelm I was officially crowned Kaiser Wilhelm I over a newly unified Germany.
Quizbowl is about learning, not rote memorization, so we encourage you to use this as a springboard for further reading rather than as an endpoint. Here are a few things to check out:
Just how much did Bismarck edit the Ems Dispatch?
Who is Léon Gambetta and what was his ingenious method of breaking through the Siege of Paris? Read this to find the answer to both questions!
The radical, short-lived Paris Commune is one of the most well-known events stemming from France’s defeat. Read from news articles at the time describing the fall of the commune.
For a helpful military overview of the war, including more information regarding each side’s strengths and weaknesses, check out this video!
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