Napoleon III’s Waterloo — Sedan: September 2, 1870
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Napoleon III had been assured that the French army was well prepared for war, but this was untrue. The French army was in a deplorable condition, and the attempts to mobilize it were filled with mishaps. The men, moreover, were badly equipped and poorly trained. They were in no condition to meet what had become the most disciplined army in Europe, under the best military commander of the day— General Moltke.
The French placed 200,000 men at the city and fortress of Metz in Lorraine and another 100,000 at Strasbourg, in Alsace. From these two cities (called the gateways to Germany), the French thought they would invade Germany. The Prussians for their part had three armies (together numbering 424,000 men), with which they planned to force their way through the “gateways” of Metz and Strasbourg into France.
The Prussian strategy had been so well planned that the German armies moved with the precision of a machine. By mid August, the Prussians forced the French general, Marshal Patrice de Mac-Mahon, to abandon Strasbourg and withdraw from most of Alsace. On August 18, another Prussian army defeated Marshal Achille François Bazaine at Gravelotte in Lorraine and forced him to take refuge in the fortified town of Metz. Though the French fought bravely through several bloody battles, their lack of preparation brought them defeat after defeat at the hands of the Prussians. (more…)