The battle of the Sedan was the final battle of the first phase of the Franco-Prussian War – the conventional clash between the combined German armies and the forces of Napoleon III, and was a crushing French defeat that ended the Second Empire and appeared to have won the war.
The historical part of the book covers the entire course of the war. The first two chapters look at the initial rise in tension between Prussia and France, to the outbreak of war and the disasterous battles on the frontier that led to the isolation of France’s main army at Metz. Next comes a look at the events that saw MacMahon’s army end up retreating back to Chalons and the series of errors that convinced the French to begin the move that ended at Sedan. This is followed by two chapters looking at the march north-east from Chalons that was meant to help the forces besieged at Metz, and one looking at the one-sided, costly French defeat at Sedan. A brief final chapter takes us through the rest of the war – the fall of Napoleon III’s regime, the Prussian siege of Paris, the formation of the German Empire and the final surrender of the French, although this is more of an overview. This first part of the book combines a good history of the first part of the Franco-Prussian War – the period from the outbreak to the defeat of the last of the initial French field armies at Sedan, and a detailed account of the Sedan campaign. The account of the fighting is suitably atmospheric, with a good combation of a narrative of the campaign and the individual experiences of the fighting.
The second part includes two car tours and three walking tours of the campaign area and the battlefield. One thing that stands out about this part of the book is how many German memorials there are around Sedan. This is less surprising closer to Metz, which became part of Germany after the war, but somewhat unexpected in those areas that remained French. The tours are clear and easy to follow (although I can’t test then out in person, I have been able to follow them on Google streetview), and provide plenty of handy extra information (such as the location of nearby food shops), as well as the historical material.
Overall this book provides a good overview of the first, descisive campaign of the Franco-Prussian War, a detailed look at the Sedan campaign, and a series of interesting looking tours of the area.
1 – France and Germany 1860-1870
2 – From Saarbrucken to Metz, 2-18 August
3 – Army of Chalons, 17-28 August
4 – Nouart, Beaumont, Mouzon, 29-30 August
5 – Bazeilles, 31 August-1 September
6 – Sedan, 1-2 September
7 – Aftermath
Car Tour 1: Introductory tour: from Buzancy to Sedan
Walk 1: Beaumont
Walk 2: Bazeilles
Walk 3: Floing
Car Tour 2: Sedan and surroundings
Author: Maarten Otte
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military