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France at war 1870

caesar novus

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I downloaded a free Amazon Kindle book which was a memoir of a Brit reporter stuck inside Paris under siege by Prussia. 1870 was an interesting period where the unified architectural redo beloved by the world today was being started, and then fired upon, for the oddest of reasons. Napoleon3 was trying to suppress urban revolutionists on one hand by making wide blvds that couldn't be barricaded against gov't military response, and on the other hand by baiting the Prussians into a war which could bolster French patriotic unity.

 

Well, like another free Kindle memoir from the Confederate war department in US civil war, it was an interesting time covered by a rambling lousy memoirist. It worked better when I mixed in readings of a quality history book of FrancoPrussian war, which was one of the bloodiest yet most needless of the 1800's. Bismark also wanted to bait France into war in order to rally and unify Germany; southern parts of modern Germany had been losing interest in joining up with Prussia, just as Parisians were increasing hostile to their agrarianist national gov't.

 

Well, I haven't read that far and am already forgetting stuff, but I have the nerve to make a few observations. Napoleon3 is thought to be the dunce because he was tricked into declaring war first over a ridiculous nicety about how a wedding was called off. Bismark got the appearance of not initiating war and was able to win it with better organization and cannons (although worse small arms). I do give points to Napoleon3 for trying sort of a "suicide by cop" approach of wandering a field under fire when things first looked hopeless (his companions were hit), then surrendering to stop bloodshed well before ammo ran low. Bismark wanted to shell Paris vs his superiors trying a standoff first.

 

My most bold observation is that there seem tremendous echos of 1870 tactics in WW2. It almost seems like WW2 wasn't an attempt to redo the freakish case of WW1 more effectively, but to address or relive the more conventional issues of 1870 war. In the case of 1940 France, it was still hobbled by terrible communications and disunity which made it hard to benefit from some superior technology like tanks and fortresses.

 

In the case of Germany, so many of the oddball concerns of Hitler which were in his generals memoirs seem to be avoiding pitfalls from the 1870 war. Hitler was obsessed by the exact performance of every small arm, maybe recalling the much superior 1870 French rifle and crude machine gun. Many 1870 units squandered ammo to a disastrous extent, and Hitler insisted certain wasteful units not be resupplied with ammo as a punishment that could mean wipe out. Speed of deployment problems of 1870 would be ruthlessly corrected, etc... I may not be explaining this well, but there seem echos galore.



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P.S. Many sources quoted an American observer, the famous civil war general Sheridan and I found his writeup here http://www.shsu.edu/~his_ncp/Sedan.html . It's strange how he is treated like royalty and personally hosted by Bismarck and the Prussian king near the key battlefields, with an intimate view of Napoleon3 surrendering. I mean he even shared a bedroom with (english speaking) Bismarck, who taught him how to be a harder drinker. The night before Bismarck lost 20k killed by the French, he focused not on battle plans but whether Sheridan thot US opinion considered France as the bully.

 

Other sources explain Sheridan had earlier acted against Napoleon3 by secretly donating his surplus civil war weaponry to the Mexican rebels trying to throw the French out, and "out" did Maximilian go. The US remained the only major power not threatening Prussia to stop carving up France. Sheridan reported to President Grant the US had nothing militarily to learn from that war, just that France had terrible leadership vs Prussia. But I think he was too far from the front after the initial surge of the French drove the VIP observers permanently to the rear.

 

Sheridan isn't a gifted writer, but it's interesting to hear details like where do I go to the bathroom with dignity when all buildings are packed with wounded and it's literally knee deep with their dead outside. How can I requisition food when the troops are crazed with thirst and hunger while being forced to bury the dead. Sheridan should have been overrun at the first battle, but the loopy French general who was overwhelmingly winning  called for a retreat.

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