The Franco-Prussian War Primer

A history of the war for the Rhine frontier
Map of Paris, General Staff School. Franco-German War of 1870: Source Book. Fort Leavenworth, Kansas: The General Service Schools Press, 1922.

The German Response

With the negotiations unproductive, and the opportunity to use Bazaine withering away with his army, the Germans were left with few options to terminate the war. In continuing the war, they decided to force the Government of National Defense back to the negotiating table. This time made more willing to German demands by crushing their resolve through the harsh realities of war. They would besiege Paris and destroy new French armies on the field that sought to save Paris.[1] With a long siege of Paris, they would be able to force, through hunger and disease, the most extreme supporters of the war to understand the reality of the situation. To make matters more confusing, elements of the Government of National Defense broke off and set itself up in Tours, allowing the continued management of the country. More importantly, it enabled the creation of new armies to relieve Paris and continue the war.[2] The Tours government brought another complication to Germany, who do they negotiate with, and will the Tours government accept peace terms made with the Paris government, or vice versa?[3] While at Tours and in a matter of weeks, Leon Gambetta formed new armies to save Paris, totaling five new armies and over 500,000 men, even going so far as to bring French troops back home from Italy and the Levant. Additionally, foreign volunteers began to arrive, such as the Italian war hero Giuseppe Garibaldi, who originally was hostile to the French Empire but changed his opinion when the new republic was declared, though Garibaldi’s extremism worried Gambetta. [4]Chief of the German General Staff Helmuth von Moltke was quick to respond to the threat of new French armies sent forces further into the interior of France.

The five new armies raised by Leon Gambetta were not of the best quality to face the Germans sent to intercept them. Gambetta had fewer regular soldiers or marines to call upon for each army and was forced to rely on National Guard and Mobile troops. Consequently, these armies could not defeat the German forces sent to block them and thus reach Paris.[5] As the relief armies continued to fall, the situation in besieged Paris worsened.[6] The French capital had a large garrison of soldiers, sailors, and militia and surrounding fortifications that prevented a German assault. However, the garrison could not break out of the German encirclement, though they certainly tried on multiple occasions.[7] The cohesion within the city also began to fall, the worry of a radical uprising never diminished, and relations between the army and national guard worsened by the day. Otto von Bismarck even began to suggest to French negotiators that they should accept peace terms while they still had soldiers to combat a radical uprising. With the German armies consistently defeating the new French armies, the hope and morale of the Parisians, and the Government of National Defense, was dropping. Outside of Paris, Leon Gambetta was beginning to understand how futile his efforts were, and his branch of the Government of National Defense, too, was beginning to lose hope. The starvation of Paris, the lack of support for the war in the countryside, and the unlikelihood of the French army turning the war around finally forced the Government of National Defense to accept German peace terms.[8] The North German Confederation gained the Alsace-Lorraine region they desired, recognition of Wilhelm as Kaiser of Germany, and a major war indemnity.[9]

[1] Blumenthal, Journals, P.123-125, 153

[2] Rüstow, The War for the Rhine Frontier, P.153-159

[3] Washburne, Elihu Benjamin, Franco-German War and insurrection of the commune, Washington: Government printing office, 1878, P.71

[4] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, P.262-263

[5] Blumenthal, Journals, P.275, 285

[6] Hozier, The Franco-Prussian War, Volume 2, P.230-240

[7] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.261-327

[8] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, P.295-298

[9] Pflugk-Harttung, The Franco-German War, P.617-621