- Siege of Paris
Infobox Military Conflict
caption="The Siege of Paris " by
Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier. Oil on canvas.
conflict=Siege of Paris
September 19 1870– January 28 1871
result=Decisive German victory
Wilhelm I of Germany
Helmuth von Moltke
Louis Jules Trochu Joseph Vinoy
200,000 militia and sailors
casualties1=12,000 dead or wounded
casualties2=24,000 dead or wounded
47,000 civilian casualties|
The Siege of Paris, lasting from
September 19, 1870– January 28, 1871, brought about French defeat in the Franco-Prussian Warand led to the establishment of the German Empire.
As early as August
1870the Prussian 3rd Army led by the Crown Prince (the future Emperor) Frederick III had been marching towards Paris, but was recalled to deal with French forces accompanied by Napoleon IIIhimself. These forces were crushed at the Battle of Sedanand the road to Paris was left open. Personally leading the Prussian forces Wilhelm I of Prussia along with his chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke, took the 3rd Army along with the new Prussian Army of the Meuse under Crown Prince Albert of Saxonyand marched on Paris virtually unopposed. In Paristhe Governor and commander-in-chief of the city's defenses General Louis Jules Trochu, assembled a force of regular soldiers that had managed to escape Sedan under Joseph Vinoyplus the National Guards and a brigade of sailors which totalled around 400,000.
The German armies quickly reached Paris and on
September 15Moltke issued orders for the investment of the city. Crown Prince Albert's army closed in on Paris from the north unopposed, while Crown Prince Frederick moved in from the south. On September 17a force under Vinoy attacked Frederick's army near Villeneuve Saint Georgesin an effort to save a supply depot there and were eventually driven back by artillery fire. The railroad to Orleanswas cut and on the 18th Versailleswas taken, which would then serve as the 3rd Army's and eventually Wilhelm's headquarters. By September 19the encirclement was complete and the siege officially began.
Prussia's prime minister von Bismarck suggested to shell Paris in order to ensure the city's quick surrender and render all French efforts to free the city pointless, but the German high command, headed by the king of Prussia, turned down the proposal on the insistence of General
Leonhard Graf von Blumenthal, who commanded the siege, on the grounds that a bombardment would affect civilians, violate the rules of engagement, and turn the opinion of third parties against the Germans, without speeding up the final victory. It was contended also that a quick French surrender would leave the new French armies undefeated and allow France to renew the war shortly after. The new French armies would have to be annihilated first, and Paris would have to be starved into surrender.
Trochu had little faith in the ability of the National Guards which made up half the force defending the city. So instead of making any significant attempt to prevent the investment by the Germans, Trochu hoped that Moltke would attempt to take the city by storm and the French could then rely on the city's defenses. Moltke never had any intention of attacking the city and this became clear shortly after the siege began. Trochu changed his plan and allowed Vinoy to make a demonstration against the Prussians west of the
Seine. On September 30Vinoy attacked Chevilly with 20,000 soldiers and was soundly repulsed by the 3rd Army. Then on October 13the II Bavarian Corps was driven from Châtillonbut the French were forced to retire in face of Prussian artillery.General Carey de Bellemarecommanded the strongest fortress north of Paris at Saint Denis. On October 29, without orders de Bellemare attacked the Prussian Guard at Le Bourgetand took the town. The Guard actually had little interest in recapturing their positions at Le Bourget, but Crown Prince Albert ordered the city retaken anyway. In the battle of Le Bourgetthe Prussian Guards succeeded in retaking the city and captured 1,200 French. Upon hearing of the French surrender at Metz and the defeat at Le Bourget, morale in Paris began to sink. The people of Paris were beginning to suffer from the effects of the German blockade. Hoping to boost morale Trochu launched the largest attack from Paris on November 30even though he had little hope of achieving a breakthrough. Nevertheless he sent Auguste-Alexandre Ducrotwith 80,000 soldiers against the Prussians at Champigny, Creteiland Villiers. In what became known as the battle of Villiersthe French succeeded in capturing and holding a position at Creteil and Champigny. By December 2the WürttembergCorps drove Ducrot back into the defenses and the battle was over by December 3.On January 19a final breakout attempt was aimed at Buzenval near the Prussian Headquarters west of Paris. The Crown Prince easily repulsed the attack inflicting over 4,000 casualties while suffering just over 600 himself. "See main article: Battle of Buzenval". Trochu resigned as governor and left General Joseph Vinoywith 146,000 defenders.
During the winter, tensions began to arise in the Prussian high command. Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke and General
Leonhard, Count von Blumenthalwho commanded the siege (seen in the illustration on this page behind Bismarck's right shoulder) were primarily concerned with a methodical siege that would destroy the detached forts around the city and slowly strangle the defending forces with a minimum of German casualties.
But as time wore on, there was growing concern that a prolonged war was placing too much strain on the German economy and that an extended siege would convince the French
Government of National Defensethat Prussia could still be beaten. A prolonged campaign would also allow France time to reconstitute a new army and convince neutral powers to enter the war against Prussia. To Bismarck, Paris was the key to breaking the power of the intransigent republican leaders of France, ending the war in a timely manner, and securing peace terms favourable to Prussia. Moltke was also worried that insufficient winter supplies were reaching the German armies invading the city, as diseases such as tuberculosiswere breaking out amongst the besieging soldiers. In addition, the siege operations competed with the demands of the ongoing Loire Campaign against the remaining French field armies. Due to a severe shortage of food, Parisians were forced to slaughter whatever animals at hand. Rats, dogs, cats, and horses were regular fare on restaurant menus. Even Castor and Pollux, the only pair of elephants in Paris, were not spared.
A Latin Quarter menu contemporary with the siege reads in part: * Consommé de Cheval au millet. (horse) * Brochettes de foie de Chien à la maître d'hôtel. (dog) * Emincé de rable de Chat. Sauce mayonnaise. (cat) * Epaules et filets de Chien braisés. Sauce aux tomates. (dog) * Civet de Chat aux Champignons. (cat) * Côtelettes de Chien aux petits pois. (dog) * Salmis de
Rats. Sauce Robert. (rats) * Gigots de chien flanqués de ratons. Sauce poivrade. (rats) * Begoniasau jus. (flowers) * Plum-pudding au rhum et à la Moelle de Cheval. (horse)
January 25 1871, Wilhelm I overruled Moltke and ordered the field-marshal to consult with Bismarck for all future operations. Bismarck immediately ordered the city to be bombarded with heavy caliber Kruppsiege guns. This prompted the city's surrender on January 28 1871. Parissustained more damage in the 1870-1871 siege than in any other conflict.
The Prussian Army held a brief victory parade in Paris on
February 17, 1871and Bismarck honored the armistice by sending train-loads of food into Paris and withdrawing Prussian forces to the east of the city, which would be withdrawn as soon as France paid the agreed war indemnity.
pigeon postwas employed during the course of the siege, pigeons were regularly taken out of Paris by balloon. Soon a regular service was in operation, based first at Toursand later at Poitiers. The pigeons were taken to their base after their arrival from Paris and when they had preened themselves, been fed and rested, they were ready for the return journey. Tours lies some 200 km from Paris and Poitiers some 300 km. Before release, they were loaded with their despatches. The first despatch was dated 27th September and reached Paris on 1st October. During the four months of the siege, 150,000 official and 1 million private communications were carried into Paris by this method.cite book |last=Levi |first=Wendell |title= The Pigeon|year= 1977|publisher= Levi Publishing Co, Inc|location= Sumter, S.C.|isbn=0853900132 ] Balloon mailwas also used to overcome the communications blockade, with a rate of 20 cents per letter. Letters were photographically reduced by René Dagronto save weight. A total of 66 balloon flights were made, including one that accidentally set a world distance record by ending up in Norway. [ [http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1132.htm]
The Prussians had secured their victory in the
Franco-Prussian War. On January 18 1871at Versailles Wilhelm I was proclaimed German Emperor. The kingdoms of Bavaria, Württemberg, Saxony, the states of Baden and Hesse, and the free cities of Hamburgand Bremen were unified with the North German Confederationto create the German Empire. The preliminary peace treaty was signed at Versaillesand the final peace treaty was signed with the Treaty of Frankfurt on May 10 1871. Otto von Bismarckwas able to secure Alsace-Lorrainefrom France as part of the German Empire under the Treaty of Frankfurt.
Another stipulation of the treaties was a German garrison to be left in Paris. This angered bitter Paris residents at the continued presence of German troops in the wake of defeat. Further resentment arose against the current French government and from April-May 1871 Paris workers and National Guards rebelled and established the
* Horne, Alistair "The Fall of Paris: The Siege and the Commune 1870-71" ISBN 0-330-49036-2
* Chandler, David G. "Atlas of Military Strategy" ISBN 0-02-905750-7
* Howard, Michael "The Franco Prussian War" ISBN 0-415-26671-8
* [http://napoleonistyka.atspace.com/FRENCH_ARMY.htm The French Army 1600-1900]
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