Around the borders of the trap,
The German host, with sardonic grin,
Shoot at the hapless French within—
Until resistance, bound to snap,
At last gives up to those iron shod
Who came to snatch this ground of God.
I. THE INVESTMENT
 IN the latter part of August, 1870, during the Franco-German War, Marshal MacMahon set out from Chalons with the
purpose of effecting the relief of Metz, where Bazaine had been locked up by the German forces, after the series of
engagements terminating with the battle of Gravelotte.
MacMahon was at the head of the Second Army Corps, but was really the acting commander-in-chief of the French
forces, in association with Emperor Napoleon. He was now sixty-three years old—an age not too far advanced for
activity of mind and body, yet sufficiently so for a wide range and variety of valuable experience. He had served
with distinction in Algeria, and had acquired a brilliant name in Crimea, although it was in the Italian war of
1859 that he finally established his reputation as one of the ablest commanders of the time.
 Even before the declaration of war, Prussia had begun to mobilize her troops, and to make other preparations for
the conflict—a condition of affairs not unlike her movements in the late World War, showing the same degree of
extensive cunning, planning and conditioning, from which it is easy to guess she knew what was coming before her
adversaries ever dreamed of it. In the Franco-German War she had brought to the front, within less than three weeks
after declaration of hostilities, as many as half a million highly-trained soldiers, and back of them was one of
the most perfect military organizations of directors, under Count von Moltke and Count Bismarck, that the world had
The Third and Fourth German armies, by forced marches, succeeded in barring the way to Metz, and pressed the French
northward towards the Belgian frontier, which it was a part of the German plan to compel them to cross. Mac-Mahon,
however, after several days' fighting, chose the alternative of throwing himself into the fortress of Sedan, and
occupied the heights which surrounded the fortress on the east, north, and west.
The early dawn of Thursday, September 1st, therefore, found Marshal MacMahon in his position of defense, confronted
by enormous masses
 of the enemy, who opened a vigorous fire shortly after daylight.
During the night the Prussians had received reinforcements which occupied the heights of Frencheval. The French
also had been strengthened by some fresh corps, but even then they were greatly outnumbered by the enemy, who had
at his command nearly two hundred and forty thou-sand men, with nearly seven hundred guns.
It was now the plan of the Germans to have the Crown Prince of Saxony turn the extreme left of the French, to
assail their front at the same time, and when these operations should have been crowned with success, to send a
force around to the rear, which, meeting a detachment from the German Third Army, was to close upon the shattered
and reeling lines of the adversary. At the same time, the Crown Prince of Prussia was to attack the right center of
MacMahon at the projecting points of Bazeilles and Balan, to overwhelm the French right wing and to effect a
junction with the Crown Prince of Saxony to the north.
To ensure the success of these movements the whole of the 31st of August had been devoted to placing the various
corps in the necessary positions: those of the Crown Prince of Saxony along the course of the Chiers, and those of
 Crown Prince of Prussia beyond Rémilly in the direction of the Meuse, with supports in other positions where they
would be required to cooper-ate in the great turning movement that was to be the leading feature of the climax.
When the French, in the early morning of the following day, found themselves attacked by the Germans, they must
have seen how desperate was their situation. Partly by their own rashness, and partly by the admirable plans of the
enemy, they found themselves trapped—driven into a corner of the country where there was no retreat open to them
except into a foreign land.
Under cover of a thick fog, the advanced guard of the Crown Prince of Saxony crossed the Chiers, while the
Bavarians, who had already crossed the Meuse, came into line with his left wing, and prepare to attack Bazeilles.
By an extraordinary and culpable oversight, the French had neglected to break down the bridges over the Chiers, so
that the advance of the Germans met with no obstacles. The forces of the Saxon Crown Prince proceeded towards
Givonne, while the Bavarians simultaneously advanced upon Bazeilles.
The action did not fully commence until six o'clock A. M. By nine, a furious artillery fight at close range was
going on along the whole line. The troops stationed at Givonne were
panic-  stricken at the approach of the Germans. Hastily they gave way, their adversaries, after a brief combat, having no
trouble in turning the French left wing, as planned. The beaten troops fled in disorder into the woods, or fell
back upon the center, which they incommoded and discouraged by their precipitate appearance on a part of the field
where they were not wanted.
On the other hand the victors, by ten o'clock, were getting far to the rear of the whole French position. Shortly
afterwards, as a consequence, the junction with the Prussian Crown Prince was accomplished.
Equal success for the Germans was obtained in other directions. The French center began to recede, although the
contest was still prolonged with desperate tenacity, the weaker side fiercely disputing every hill-slope and other
point of vantage, and inflicting as well as sustaining tremendous losses.
Bazeilles and Balan were the two great scenes of carnage; for the French knew the importance of holding those
places, and clung to them as long as it was possible to hold an inch of ground. This was done for a time despite
the murderous cross-fire which the Bavarians poured in from their supporting batteries. Headed by the Emperor
himself, who in the heat of battle exposed himself recklessly and was the acme of energy, the French
 at one time succeeded in driving back the enemy, and it seemed as if they might possibly win.
Meanwhile the French right was as hotly engaged. A railway bridge which crosses the Meuse had been broken down by
MacMahon; but in the early morning the Crown Prince of Prussia had moved a division over the river on pontoon
bridges. This was effected at the loop made by the Meuse in the rear of Sedan, and it enabled the prince to plant
his batteries on the crest of a hill which overlooks Floing and the surrounding country.
The French, suddenly attacked in the rear, were astonished at their position. But they bravely confronted the enemy
with all their available strength, and maintained a prolonged and heroic resistance. Their musketry fire was poured
in with such deadliness and determination, that it was heard even above the deeper, dry, shrieking notes of the
mitrailleuses, which were now playing with terrible results upon the Germans.
By noon, however, the Prussian battery of six guns on the slope above the broken bridge over the Meuse, near La
Villette, had silenced two batteries of French guns near the village of
 Floing. And in another ten minutes the French infantry were compelled to retire from that position. At
twelve-thirty, twelve large bodies of French were seen on the hill between Floing and Sedan, their ranks shelled by
a Prussian battery in front of St. Menges.
At ten minutes to one, another French column appeared in full retreat to the right of Sedan, on the road leading
from Bazeilles to the wood of La Garenne. Then a third French column was observed moving up a broad grassy road
immediately above Sedan. It seemed designed for the support of the troops defending the ravine of Bazeilles, to the
northeast of the town.
About one o'clock the French batteries on the edge of this wood and above it opened up a most terrific fire on the
Prussian columns of the Third Corps, advancing with a view to gaining possession of the hill northwest of La
Garenne. The batteries created so much havoc among these regiments that they were obliged to keep shifting their
ground till ready for the final rush.
Soon the French forced the Germans down the hill. But at the bottom they were strongly rein-forced, though still
inferior in numbers to the French. The French cuirassiers now dashed for-ward to charge the scattered ranks that
began to stagger up the slope, heartened by the fresh assistance.
 Squares, it seems, are not used by the Prussians. On this occasion they did not even form line, but received the
cavalry with a fearful fire at a distance of not more than a hundred yards. Men and horses fell by the score. The
survivors turned and fled, and the Prussians dashed after them at double-quick.
It was now the turn of the French infantry to advance. They threw into the Germans a heavy fire with their
chassepots. They were allowed to come on within ninety yards, whereupon the Germans replied so vigorously that the
infantry, like the cavalry, retired behind a ridge on the road to Sedan.
A little later another regiment of French infantry made a renewed attempt to dislodge the enemy, who was now being
reinforced every minute. This effort was quite as unsuccessful as its predecessor, and shortly afterwards it became
apparent that the Prussians, by some extraordinary effort, had gotten a couple of four-pounders up the steep
elevation, for they began to use them with telling results.
Although still outnumbering their opponents, the French infantry seemed paralyzed. They stood still most of the
time, doing nothing. Further cavalry charges followed, however, but even these, executed with dash and bravery,
were productive of no effect, the Prussians coolly standing
 their ground, and killing many with their destructive volleys.
Now giving up the position for lost, the French rapidly fell back. By two o'clock the Prussians' reinforcements
were such that there was little further likelihood of the hill being taken away from them.
The closing of the German line on the French rear, which took place about one o'clock in the afternoon, cut off all
chance for retreat. A little after three the Bavarians managed to get inside the fortifications of Sedan, and to
maintain them-selves there. At four the ridge above Bazeilles was carried by the attacking force, and Sedan was
swept on all sides by the German cannon.
Battery after battery was opposed to the advancing armies; charge after charge was frantic-ally directed against
the German ranks. But the French were steadilly pressed back, until, losing all order and restraint, they were
driven head-long into Sedan, under a most scathing shower of artillery fire.
The Germans had completed their circle of investment. The French found themselves hemmed in on all sides—held in a
grip of iron—placed beyond all hope of escape.
II. THE GERMANS VICTORIOUS
 VERY sultry is the day. Low the smoke clouds hang over the Meuse, as if the sea of early mist had disintegrated and
gathered in martial array above the beleaguered town—great, soft, billowy balls which awaited only some mysterious
signal of the heavens to drop down and crush the hamlet hopelessly.
Through the interstices of sky-blue and cloud-gray, a brazen sun glitters down upon the cuirasses of a Prussian
regiment that trots along to support a battery of Bavarian guns. A second—and a third—regiment of cavalry follows,
with a great jingling of thin steel and clatter of hoof. Dark clusters of horsemen and footmen, bearing the heavy
brow of the Teutonic soldier, seem to have sprung up everywhere around Sedan. These clusters are close
together—almost blending—but ever in one gigantic circle about the little town, girdling it with a relentless hoop
of steel which continually vomits out its wrath in nauseating powder puffs, missiles of death, and fagots of
AFTER THE BATTLE OF SEDAN—FIRST MEETING OF NAPOLEON III AND BISMARCK.
Meanwhile the state of things within Sedan
 was terrible beyond the power of words to express. Huddled up in cellars, pits, corners here and there, the
civilians,—mostly old men, women and children,—did their best to protect their bodies; but scores of them were
slain as solid shot tore great gaps in their refuges and other balls from the German guns on the heights caught
them fleeing to other shelters. Soon, too, buildings in the town and in nearby villages, were fired by hot-shot,
and many were burned to death while the survivors were kept frantically at work to subdue the flames before the
conflagration should get beyond control and sweep all buildings before it.
In the fortress conditions were not much better. Here the soldiers were better protected, of course, but all were
weary from the hard fighting on the outskirts the day before, many were suffering from thirst, many were ill and
wounded, and so crowded was the place that the well were made so weak they could hardly stand.
The most frightful incident of the day was the burning of the village of Bazeilles by the Bavarians. This dreadful
atrocity alone would be sufficient to cast disgrace upon the German arms; but, although the greatest of that
period, it was far from the only instance of a ferocious spirit of. revenge manifested by the invaders of France.
There had been a desperate conflict in the
 streets, in the course of which the Germans had suffered severely. At last, gaining the upper hand of the
inhabitants, they set the place on fire, and not content with this destruction of property, added to it the wanton
sacrifice of innocent lives, burning the greater number of the people alive.
As an extenuating circumstance, the Germans claimed afterwards that they had been treacherously fired on from the
houses, and that the inhabitants had acted with horrible cruelty to some wounded Bavarian soldiers whom they had
seized. But the villagers most emphatically denied this, and subsequent investigations proved that the excuse was a
myth, just as similar stories to alleviate their inhuman practices in many instances in the late Great War have
proven the Hun a resourceful fabricator.
Indeed, a correspondent of a London paper, whose sympathies at the time were with the Germans, and who was loth to
believe that they could have been guilty of the foul conduct claimed by the French, found that conditions had been
even worse than told him, when he looked into the matter. Many were dragged from cellars and ruthlessly shot down.
Others were tied to planks, then cast upon bonfires. The sick and infirm were bayoneted in their beds. Two infants
were thrown alive out of an upstairs window, the house fired, and cast back inside again
 through a lower window. In short, this skeptical correspondent found that acts had been committed which, in their
utter depravity and horror, he had never known to be surpassed in the remote ages, much less equaled in a civilized
era. Out of a population of over two thousand, less than fifty of these poor French people had escaped with their
As the day came to a close and there was no sign of Pazaine, who had been expected with reinforcements, all hope of
relief departed among the defenders of Sedan. A council of war was called by the Emperor. In this it was almost
unanimously decided that there was no alternative but to submit to surrender. The town was completely surrounded by
the enemy; batteries, planted on all the hilltops dominated the place, and could lay it in ashes before another
sunset; the Germans were intoxicated with the degree of their success thus far; and the French troops were in a
state of disheartenment which must soon develop into dissolution, if not indeed mutiny itself.
General Wimpffen, who had succeeded Marshal MacMahon as active leader of the French since the latter's injury early
in the morning, at first strongly opposed the capitulation. He declared he would sooner die than sign it, and
argued that the situation was not so desperate as the other
 staff officers represented. But maps were brought out, and the positions and force of the enemy (of which he was
scarcely aware, owing to his recent arrival) were pointed out.
Bitter as was his mortification, General Wimpffen had no choice but to give way. "And now," he added, "my name will
go down linked with a humiliating capitulation for all time." It was the irony of fate that he who had not
committed the fault should thus have to bear the bur-den of shame, but there seemed no help for it.
Night closed in upon Sedan with gloom and menace. Watch-fires were lighted in every direction, and the heavens
reflected a crimson glow beneath which the threatened fortress lay black and still, a supplicating, gaunt specter.
And during those short hours of darkness, an eternity of emotion must have passed through the troubled mind of
When the French statesman surveyed the situation early on the morning of the 2nd of September, it must have
appeared still more obvious than on the previous night that further resistance was useless. Dense bodies of German
troops were to be seen on the heights above the Meuse; the elevations bristled with guns in a threatening position;
the plains were covered, as far as the eye could reach, with regiment upon regiment of the enemy.
 The Emperor dispatched a colonel of his staff to King William to ask for the latter's terms of surrender. The King
and Count von Moltke consulted a while, and the messenger was told that, in a matter so important as the surrender
of a great army and a strong fortress, an officer of higher rank should have been sent.
"You are therefore to return to Sedan," said the King, imperiously, "and tell the commandant of the town to report
himself immediately to the King of Prussia. If he does not arrive within an hour, our guns will open up again. You
will also tell him that it is useless to attempt to obtain other terms than an unconditional surrender."
Without waiting for word from this message, King William a little later sent Lieutenant-Colonel von Broussart, of
his general staff, with a flag of truce, to demand the capitulation of the fortress and the army.
On being admitted into Sedan, and asking for the commander-in-chief Colonel von Broussart was unexpectedly brought
into the presence of the Emperor of France himself. Napoleon asked Colonel Broussart what his message was, and on
being informed, referred him to General Wimpffen, who had undertaken the command in place of Marshal MacMahon. Just
before the arrival of the officer from the Prussians, Napoleon had written a letter to the King, and this he
 now gave to his adjutant-general, Reille, with orders to deliver it at once.
But Colonel von Broussart arrived in the Prussian camp a little ahead of General Reille, and through his own
messenger the King first learned with certainty of the presence in Sedan of Emperor Napoleon. Barely had this
information been delivered, when General Reille came up. Springing from his horse, he handed to the King the letter
from his own sovereign, with the words: "Sire, I have no other orders from Napoleon than these."
"But I demanded as the first condition that your army lay down its arms," said King William to Reille, before
opening the communication. Evidently he jumped at the conclusion, from the Frenchman's manner and words, that
Napoleon had sent a highly conditional message, if a surrender at all.
As General Reille stood mute, the King irritably opened the message. It was a memorable letter—one of the most
remarkable, considered with reference to the events to which it referred, and the issue to which it led, in all
It commenced with these words: "Not being able to die at the head of my army, I lay my sword at the feet of your
majesty." All arrangements of the surrender were left to the King!
In answer to this surprising letter, King
Wil-  liam wrote a brief reply, in which he deplored the manner of his meeting with the Emperor, and begged that a
plenipotentiary might be sent, with whom the capitulation might be concluded.
The effect on the field of battle, as the fighting men began to sense a probable surrender, was most extraordinary.
The opening of one of the gates of Sedan, to permit the exit of the officer originally dispatched to the King, gave
the first impression of an approaching capitulation. This had gradually gained strength, until it acquired all the
force of actual knowledge. Then ringing cheers and gleeful antics went all along the German lines. Shakos, helmets,
bayonets and sabers were flourished and thrown high into the air, and the vast army of King William swayed to and
fro in the excitement of a stupendous, easily-won triumph. Even the dying shared in the general enthusiasm. An
officer told Dr. Russel, of the London Times, that he saw a huge Prussian who had been lying in mortal
agony, with his hand at his wounded side, rise suddenly to his feet as he comprehended the meaning of the cries,
utter a choking "Hurrah!" wave his hands once on high, and then, as the blood rushed from his injury, fall dead
across a Frenchman at his feet.
Accompanied by a few of his staff, Napoleon started from Sedan about five o'clock in the morning, and proceeded
along the road to Donchery,
 where the negotiations for the capitulation were to take place. When the carriage of the Emperor had gotten among
the Germans, Napoleon put his head out of the window, and asked some Uhlans in their own language where Count
Bismarck was, as he must see him at once. It was replied that Donchery was the most likely place in which to find
Bismarck. The carriage therefore continued on its way towards the little town.
Count Bismarck was still in bed in Donchery when an officer entered in hot haste and advised him that the Emperor
of France was near and wished to see him and the King. Hurriedly dressing, the Count rode off to meet his
distinguished guest. He encountered the royal equipage and its attendants just outside of town.
The Emperor alighted, and Count Bismarck, uncovering his head, stood respectfully, with his cap in his hand.
Napoleon requested him to resume the cap, to which Bismarck replied, with fine deference, "Sire, I receive your
majesty as I would my own royal master."
Together they went on towards Donchery. At a small weaver's cottage by the wayside they halted, tempted by the
inviting surroundings and bright morning. Chairs were brought out on a little flat esplanade in front of the house,
and the two illustrious negotiators sat down, while
 their staff officers occupied the grassy slope of the grounds just out of earshot.
Napoleon,—who wore the undress uniform of a general, with a decoration on his breast, and the usual kepi,—looked
anxious and careworn, though he was not ill in health. Count Bismarck, on the contrary, was fresh and vigorous in
appearance—as, indeed, he might have been expected to be—he, the minister of a great and victorious power which had
lost little and gained much.
Napoleon opened the discussion by saying that he placed himself at King William's disposal, but added that he could
not enter into any engagements of a political character by which he might hamper the French people or the
government of the Empress Regent. He went on to state, in answer to remarks of Bismarck, that he had no power to
negotiate a general state of peace; that he could not give orders to Marshal Bazaine, and that the Empress and her
ministers must decide the future policy of the State.
At this Count Bismarck coldly declared that it would be of no avail to hold any further conversation on political
"Then I would like to see the King himself," said Napoleon, rising.
"That you cannot do, sire," was the decided
an-  swer. "It would be useless to see His Majesty. The capitulation must be signed first. After that the King will
arrange terms with your generals."
At this, Napoleon went to consult with his staff, while Count Bismarck sought out his sovereign, to report matters.
"It was a stupendous moment," writes Dr. Russel. "The garrison of Sedan was furious at the idea of capitulation.
But there, in grim, black lines, on every bluff and knoll, on every ridge above the Meuse, on all the heights
around, were drawn up the batteries which would rain a hail of fire on the little town. Some six hundred guns would
burst in a sheet of red-hot iron against every house. The town, with a few old guns on the walls, with the French
field artillery utterly crushed, could offer no real resistance. The troops outside the fortress would simply have
been turned into a mass of shattered bones and torn flesh in such a shambles as history has never recorded in its
pages of horrors."
Count von Moltke so clearly explained his plans to General Wimpffen, and made it so evident that nothing but a
frightful massacre could result from any attempt to further opposition, that the French commander reluctantly
agreed to sign the act of capitulation as the only resource left.
The discussion took place, and the document
 was executed, at Frenois, a little village not far from Donchery. It was dated September 2, 1870, and was signed
"Von Moltke, Wimpffen." The articles provided that the French troops should give themselves up as prisoners of war;
that all officers who pledged their word of honor not to bear arms again till the close of the existing war, should
be privileged to retain their side arms and personal effects; that all regular arms, flags, war appurtenances,
etc., should be delivered to a German military commission, and that the town and fortified works of Sedan should be
given up not later than the evening of September 2nd.
The Emperor of France expressed a wish—a most pathetic one it was, since only three years before he had been at the
zenith of his power—not to be paraded before his troops, and to pass as little as possible through French
territory. These points were conceded by his captors. He was allowed to take with him his personal luggage, his
servants, his carriages, and a few of the officers of his household. A German military escort accompanied him and
his party, by way of Belgium, to his place of captivity in Wilhelmshohe. A sad procession it was for the French of
the party, and the limited French who witnessed it. Along the way Napoleon, pale and worn but well-groomed, smoked
 cigarette, and pulled at his waxed mustache. At last he reached his destination, and became a prisoner in the same
palace which his uncle had formerly occupied as a King.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics