The Franco-Prussian War Primer

A history of the war for the Rhine frontier

The New Government

Unfortunately for Otto von Bismarck and King Wilhelm, the new French government proved to pose a problem for terminating the war. Leon Gambetta announced the Government of National Defense with the promise of “war to the bitter end,” and Jules Favre stated that “not an inch of territory, not a stone of the fortresses will be yielded up to the enemy.”[1] Such statements were not conducive to the negotiated peace that the Germans sought, including the transfer of much of the Alsace-Lorraine region over to Germany. Even after the revolution, Paris was not quite as united in thought as it seemed, with the constant worry in the air of another revolution by more extreme elements, which became quite prescient when the Paris Commune was later formed.[2] However, a common theme formed around the need to continue the war against Germany. Even the moderate Republicans leading the government, such as Trochu, Gambetta, and Favre, agreed with the more extreme types on continuing the war, even though many protested against it at the start.[3] Even then, they did not always agree to the extent to which it should be continued.[4] Naturally, the German leadership saw the problems posed by this new government and would need to reorient.

The German leaders saw this officially stated eagerness to continue the war and also understood that the French military had the capacity to keep fighting, with hundreds of thousands of men that they could still throw into the fight. That left the Germans with the need to search for an alternative to negotiations with the Parisian government.[5] There was one possible solution in the army surrounded at Metz, and Marshall of France Francois Bazaine. Marshall Bazaine had notably not recognized the new government in Paris, and Otto von Bismarck was quick to take note of this stance.[6] Representatives of Bismarck and Marshall Bazaine floated several potential options during negotiations. One option was to convince Empress Eugenie and the young Prince to attempt to regain control of France by using Bazaine’s Army of the Rhine, bolstered by prisoners from the Army of Châlons.[7] A similar option was to return Napoleon III to power by using Bazaine and the Army of the Rhine and captured Army of Châlons. Of course, Bismarck also offered to end the siege of Metz and let Bazaine march into the French interior and take control of the nation for himself. However, the ongoing siege of Metz meant that Bazaine’s army only grew weaker as the negotiations with Bazaine, and Empress Eugenie for the first option, continued for months as Bazaine hoped the Germans would weaken the new French government. Eventually, it became clear to Bismarck and Moltke that the starving army of Bazaine was in no shape to march into France in a campaign against the Government of National Defense. The Germans were now left with far fewer options to terminate the war.[8]

[1] Moltke, Franco-German war, P.114-116

[2] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, P.252

[3] Rüstow, The War for the Rhine Frontier Volume 2, P.113

[4] Hozier, Adams, The Franco-Prussian War, Volume 2, P.20-27

[5] Moltke, Franco-German war, P.114-116

[6] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, P.239

[7] Rüstow, The War for the Rhine Frontier Volume 2, P.248-250

[8] Wawro, The Franco-Prussian War, 244-247