|The Growth of the British Empire|
|by M. B. Synge|
|Book V of the Story of the World Series. Treats the revolutions in South America and Mexico, the Boer War in South Africa, and the exploration of Central Africa, the Greek and Italian wars for independence, the Crimean War, the American Civil War, the opening of trade with Japan and China, and the rebellion in India. Ages 13-18 |
THE FRANCO-GERMAN WAR
"Heirs no more of others' glory,
But the makers of their own."
THE victory of the Prussians at Sadowa, startled the French Emperor Napoleon III., and set all France in a ferment.
This growing power of Prussia, this union of the northern German states, must be stopped—the unity of
Germany prevented at all costs.
For the next few years the storm-cloud hung over France and Prussia, only to burst in 1870, when war was
declared by France. Never did a nation rush so headlong upon its fate, than did France in that
 fateful July. She had yet to discover that the Grand Army of Napoleon I. existed no longer.
Within a fortnight of the ultimatum, the wonderful machinery of the Prussian army was in perfect order, and
half a million men stood at the frontier fully equipped for the coming war. In the face of a common danger,
many of the southern German states had thrown in their lot with Prussia. The last days of July found William,
the old warrior-king, now seventy-three, bidding good-bye to his white-haired Queen, as he left her for his
last campaign, while Napoleon was leaving the Empress Eugenie in Paris and hastening with his only son, the
young Prince Imperial, to the Franco-German frontier.
While William King of Prussia was taking over the command of the splendid army, created by himself, Napoleon
was experiencing bitter disappointment, as he too placed himself at the head of the French troops. For the
truth was dawning upon him, that the French army had degenerated, and that it was totally unprepared to carry
on a great war.
In the first battle, fought at Saarbrücken, a small Prussian town just across the frontier, the young Prince
Imperial received his "baptism of fire," displaying a coolness and presence of mind worthy the name he bore.
The victory was with the French. It was their first and almost their only success in their unfortunate contest.
A few days later, a
 victory was won by the Prussian Crown Prince
on the heights of Wörth, and on the same day the Germans defeated
another French army at Spicheren. Within a week, the French armies were in full retreat towards Metz, whither
they were being forced by the Prussians.
Napoleon, now ill, disappointed, broken, resigned his command to Marshal Bazaine. Matters fared no better. By
the middle of August, after severe fighting, Bazaine, with 70,000 French soldiers, was shut up into Metz and
communication was cut off.
Meanwhile Paris was in a state of wild consternation. Marshal Macmahon, sent with a large force to the relief
of Bazaine at Metz, was forced by the enemy towards Sedan, into the beautiful valley of the Meuse. Napoleon and
the Prince Imperial, after driving hither and thither, had reached Sedan at midnight on August 30. Their
outlook was hopeless enough. By masterly strategy, the Germans had surrounded Sedan by an iron circle.
"Soldiers," pleaded Napoleon in broken tones,—"Soldiers, prove yourselves worthy of your ancient renown.
God will not desert France if each of us does his duty."
The morning of September 1 broke through dense mist. The battle began early.
While William, King of Prussia, with Moltke and Bismarck, watched the fight from the top of a neighbouring
hill, the Emperor Napoleon was exposing himself recklessly, hopelessly, wherever the fight
 was hottest. As the day wore on, the struggle continued, and the Prussian ring of fire closed in more and more
hotly round the gallant Frenchmen. It is impossible to describe that fateful day of Sedan. Macmahon was wounded
early in the morning, and disorder prevailed among the French troops. In a confused and hopeless mass, the
French fought heroically: they were almost sublime in their despair. At last all was over. At five o'clock, a
white flag of truce was borne to the King of Prussia from Napoleon, shouts of "Victory, Victory," rent the air;
but it was in a broken voice that the old king read aloud the few heart-broken words, addressed to him, by his
fallen foe: "Not having been able to die in the midst of my troops, there is nothing left me, but to render my
sword into the hands of your Majesty."
The capitulation of Sedan was complete. An unconditional surrender was demanded by Prussia. A meeting took
place between William of Prussia and Napoleon. The contrast between the two men was very great. William,
notwithstanding his burden of seventy-three years, was tall and upright; his keen blue eyes were flashing;
there was the glow of triumph on his fresh cheeks. Napoleon was suffering deeply: his eyes drooped, his lips
quivered, as he stood bareheaded and weary before his German conqueror. His sun had set for ever. His career
was ended. After some detention in Germany, he went to England, where, with the
 Empress Eugenie and Prince Imperial, he made a home at Chislehurst till 1873, when, broken-hearted, he died.
Meanwhile Paris was in a state of revolution. When Bismarck demanded the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, with
the fortresses of Strasburg and Metz, France stoutly refused.
"Not one inch of our territories, not one stone of our fortresses will we surrender," cried the French people.
In less than a week after Sedan, two German armies began rolling their "waves of men" towards Paris, and the
city prepared for a siege. "Like some gigantic clock whose works have broken, social life, industry, trade,
business, had suddenly come to a stand-still, and there remained but one passion—the resolution to
conquer." Everywhere men were in uniform, being equipped and drilled; Paris had become an immense intrenched
On September 19, 1870, the siege of Paris began. Three weeks later the King of Prussia entered Versailles, and
the palace of Louis XIV. became his home for the next five months. Paris had now no means of communication with
the outer world, save by balloons. One day, Gambetta—now Dictator of the French Republic—escaped
from the besieged city in a balloon. There is a story, that, as the balloon passed over the Prussian and German
armies, amid the clouds and the birds of the sky, William turned to Bismarck.
A MEETING TOOK PLACE BETWEEN WILLIAM OF PRUSSIA AND NAPOLEON III.
 "What is that black speck in the sky?" he asked.
"It is a minister," replied Bismarck. "It is the heroic Gambetta on his way to Tours, where he will assemble
He was right. Gambetta collected an army and marched against the enemy, only to be defeated near Orleans. A
greater disaster yet, was in store for the unfortunate French people. On October 27, Marshal Bazaine
surrendered at Metz, and his 70,000 men and vast stores of war-material fell into the hands of the Germans. It
was a cowardly act, for which he was afterwards tried and sentenced to death.
Meanwhile, inside Paris, famine was threatening. Since the middle of October, meat had been rationed. In
December, not a beast remained of the great droves of oxen and flocks of sheep, which had been turned into
Paris in September. Horses were being slaughtered. Winter came on, with unusual severity. Balloons ascended
into the cheerless wintry sky with their freight of carrier-pigeons, despatches, and letters, bearing news of
suffering and misery to the outer world. December came and went. The New Year of 1871 dawned drearily. The
sorties of the besieged were unsuccessful. At last 40,000 horses had been eaten. Dogs, cats, and rats fetched
high prices. The death rate increased rapidly. With the advent of January, all shops shut and the streets grew
 deserted. Yet in all their misery, the Parisians would not tolerate the idea of surrender.
Meanwhile, under the influence of German triumphs on the battlefield, an idea of German unity had seized the
minds of the German people. State after state had joined the union, and now the moment had come, to declare the
old King of Prussia, Emperor of United Germany, of which Prussia would be the head.
He was at Versailles, when this supreme honour was offered him. As the deputation from the German states
entered, the King stood in front of the great fireplace in full uniform, wearing all his well-won decorations.
On his right stood the Crown Prince, on his left, the princes of the new empire. The voice of the old
white-haired monarch trembled with emotion, as he accepted the great position. On January 18, he was proclaimed
Emperor of Germany at Versailles.
The following day, the men of Paris made their last desperate sortie on a large scale, but thousands were
killed and the rest driven back to the now starving city. It was the beginning of the end. "Capitulation had
become a brutal necessity." Pitifully, hopelessly, Paris awoke to the bitter truth. In January the last shot
was fired. Paris had surrendered. By the treaty of peace Alsace and Lorraine, with Strasburg and Metz, were to
be ceded to Germany. France recovered quickly,
 and has lived in peace under her Republic ever since.
And the old King of Prussia made his triumphant entry into Berlin, as Emperor of Germany, amid cheers that rent
the air. Bismarck and Moltke, and his beloved son, the Crown Prince, were with him, to share in his
"Hail, Emperor William! Hail to thee and to the brave German host thou leadest back from victory!" ran the
words on the banner, that floated from the statue of Frederick the Great.
So united Germany hailed its conquerors, and to-day the grandson of William reigns over a German Empire, which
has grown yet stronger since the eventful days of Sedan, Metz, and the siege of Paris.
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