The Franco-Prussian War Primer

A history of the war for the Rhine frontier

Battle of Wörth

There were two major battles on August 6th, Wörth and Spicheren, that saw the French once again unable to stop the German advance. The German Third Army continued their offensive and quickly entered into skirmishes with MacMahon’s force that had assembled near the town of Wörth to head off the German advance.[1] The location for this battle held four German Corps of over 80,000 men against roughly 55,000 men of MacMahon’s First Corps.[2] The battle actually began against the wishes of Prince Friedrich Wilhelm, who had given orders not to begin any major actions.[3] One of the ongoing minor skirmishes unintentionally sparked the battle of Wörth when one of the German units involved in the skirmishing fired their artillery. They were not aware that German artillery fire was the signal for Jakob von Hartmann’s Second Bavarian Corps to continue their advance, where they soon entered combat with the French left flank at Froschwiller.[4]

The sound of fighting led the Eleventh Corps on the German left flank to begin their advance[5], where French artillery fire led to some confusion in the vanguard, and mixed orders led to an attempted German assault across a river.[6] The assault failed and led to a French counter-attack that was slightly more successful but eventually lost momentum when they ran into fresh German units.[7] The German fifth corps, facing the French center, heard the fighting on their flanks and felt it was their responsibility to take action and keep the French force occupied. After setting up their artillery batteries, they began a difficult frontal assault on Wörth. Soon after, the Crown Prince repeated his orders that he did not wish for a battle that day, but by this point, the commanders of the Fifth and Eleventh Corps felt they were too far involved to end their actions.[8] The Bavarians, however, after facing stiff resistance from the French left-wing, heeded the Crown Prince’s orders and withdrew. They reentered combat later in the day when it was clear to the Crown Prince that the battle was unavoidable.[9]

While the French held strong in the center, their right flank began to lose ground and eventually retreated under cover of a costly cavalry charge.[10]  Due to prolonged fighting, the cohesion was low for the German troops that now occupied the former positions of the French right. That led to an attempted counter-attack by French reserves, combined with a last-ditch cavalry charge, that stalled when they encountered fresh German troops.[11] The French right-wing routed, and in their confusion, they gathered much of the French center along with them as they fled.[12] The French left, however, held firm against the Bavarians at Froschwiller, but the victorious infantry of the German Eleventh and Fifth corps charged forward, in a rather disorganized manner, to take this last village, with batteries of horse artillery taking part in the confused charge to provide close-range artillery cover for the final assault that captured the village.[13] Most of the French army fled southwest towards Saverne, only one brigade retreated north to join Bazaine’s army.[14] Due to the Crown Prince’s earlier orders not to start a battle that day, German cavalry was not in a position to pursue the fleeing French army.[15] Of the dead, wounded, or captured, the French lost roughly 20,000 men, and the Germans lost roughly 10,000.[16]

[1] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.14

[2] Hozier, Adams, The Franco-Prussian War, P.310-311

[3] General Staff School, Franco-German War, P.12

[4] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.15

[5] Blumenthal, Journals, P.87

[6] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.15-16

[7] Rustow, War for the Rhine Frontier, P.255-256

[8] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.87-88

[9] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.16

[10] Rustow, War for the Rhine Frontier, P.257

[11] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.92

[12] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.17

[13] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.93-94

[14] General Staff School, Franco-German War, P.12

[15] Moltke, The Franco-German War, P.18

[16] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.97-98