Battle of Sedan



A.D. 1870

Note: Do not confuse this battle with the later Battle of Sedan that was fought during the First World War. - Brad


One of the most noteworthy victories of modern times was that won at Sedan by the German army, under King William I of Prussia, over the French, commanded by Napoleon III and his generals, MacMahon and Wimpffen. This event led to the fall of the French Empire and the establishment of the Third Republic. It also marked the culmination of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. While the immediate ostensible cause of this war was the nomination by the Cortes of Prince Leopold, who was related to the Hohenzollerns, as successor to the Spanish throne, the underlying causes were of much greater import. After her triumph over Austria in 1866, Prussia rose to great prominence, and soon she appeared to be supplanting France as the leading State of Continental Europe. Napoleon III wished to add to his territory on the Rhine, but Prussia refused to cede the coveted lands. She also thwarted his attempt to purchase Luxemburg from Holland.

After these rebuffs the Emperor only awaited some pretext for war, although France had seldom been so poorly prepared. He eagerly seized upon the choice of Leopold for Spain, objecting on the ground of that Prince's relationship to the royal house of Prussia. Napoleon obtained from King William the withdrawal of Prussia's consent to Leopold's candidacy, but when the Emperor demanded also of the King a promise that never, in any circumstances, should Leopold accept the Spanish crown, William declined to make such an agreement. Napoleon regarded this refusal as a valid excuse for war. But Prussia was equally desirous of a conflict, and the statecraft of Bismarck took the form of subtle intrigue that made the rupture inevitable.

Napoleon meant to take a strong initiative and invade Germany; but after his declaration of war (July 19, 1870), he found the movements of the German armies too quick for him. The first important battle was fought at Weissenburg in Lower Alsace, August 4, 1870, and was won by the Germans. The French were turned back, and their enemies became the invaders. German victories followed in rapid succession - Woerth, Spicheren, Colombey-Nouilly, Vionville, Gravelotte were all won by August 18th - the French were driven from all sides toward Sedan, and there, on September 1st, the decisive battle of the war was fought. Moltke's account of this engagement, which, on the German side, he directed as chief of staff under King William, forms a part of his famous history of the Franco-Prussian War. The letter of Bismarck that follows Moltke's narrative was written to Bismarck's wife, but never reached her. It was captured in the mail by French soldiers, and was published in a French newspaper. Bismarck, the "Creator of German Unity," was at this time chancellor of the North German Confederation, and was often present with the armies in the field.


WHILE the Fifth French Corps were still fighting at Beaumont [Here, August 30, 1870, the Germans defeated a division of the French army under General MacMahon. - ED.], and before the rest of the army had crossed the Meuse, General MacMahon had given orders that it was to concentrate on Sedan.

He did not intend to offer battle there, but it was indispensable to give his troops a short rest and provide them with food and ammunition. He meant to retreat afterward via Mezieres, whither General Vinoy was just then proceeding with the newly formed Thirteenth Corps. The First Corps, which had arrived at Carignan early in the afternoon, detached two of its divisions to Douzy in the evening to check any further advance of the Germans.

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2 Corinthians 12:9