Sedan, France (1870 AD)
The Battle of Sedan was the decisive battle of the Franco-Prussian War, and one of the largest battles fought in Europe between the Napoleanic era and World War I. A resounding victory for Prussia, it was a humiliation for France and led directly to the capture of French Emperor Napolean III, the collapse of the French government, the end of the war and the creation of the German Empire. It also officially ended any doubt of Germany’s status as a great power as well as the most powerful nation on the European continent. It also left the French spoiling for revenge that would later lead to the beginning of the First World War.
For well over five decades, a nearly unparalled era of peace existed between the French and Germans. However, under the surface centuries of wars and unresolved issues still lurked between the two most powerful states in continental Western Europe. In the 1860s, Prussia, under the direction of the brilliant Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, began the final stages of absorbing the remaining German states of the south. This, along with Prussian interference in the Spanish royal succession, led the France to declare war.
This was a disastrous decision for France, which was not as well prepared for war as they thought. The Prussians, on the other hand, had one of the best trained and equipped armies in the world. Moreover, with a French declaration of war, they were not hampered by concerns of international opinion. The early French invasion of Prussia was a complete failure, and throughout the summer the French suffered a nearly unbroken string of defeats.
The war came to a head in October, when after several major strategic victories the Prussians had managed to surround the main French army at Metz, which was personally being led by Emperor Napolean III. After several disastrous losses, the French army faced the Prussians with inferior forces and inferior arms under siege like conditions.
The Battle of Sedan essentially was one massive attempt for the French to break out of the encirclement and retreat towards Paris. The French, led by the emperor and honored General Patrice de Mac-Mahon, attempted several assaults on the entrenched Prussian positions, but these were anticipated by the brilliant Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke, who blocked the French at every turn. Eventually the trapped French leaders recognized the impossibility of their predicament and the army surrendered. This quickly led to the fall of Paris, the collapse of the French Empire and the establishment of Germany as a state.
Because the Battle of Sedan raged around the whole city, there are a number of sites in and around Sedan of interest. Among the more interesting places is the location where Emperor Napolean III surrendered. Not surprisingly, because Sedan was a disastrous defeat for the French, the battle is not well remembered. However, there is a magnificent marble monument in Sedan commemorating the Franco-Prussian War in general
The Franco-Prussian War monument is in the center of town, while other sites are scattered around Sedan, approximately 150 miles northeast of Paris. All relevant places are open sites, and there is no cost of admission. Web: www.tourisme-sedan.fr (official tourism website of Sedan).