France at Bay 1870 - 1871 - The Struggle for Paris
By Douglas Fermer
Published by Pen and Sword (www.pen-and-sword.co.uk)
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The defeat of the French at Sedan on 1st September 1870 did not lead in itself to the end of the Franco-Prussian War. An entire French Army surrendered and the Emperor Napoleon III was captured causing his regime, the French Empire, to collapse. The war did not end for another long and agonising five months.
The war developed into a contest for Paris. If Paris held out then the French nation was undefeated. These final agonising months are the subject of the author’s exceptional study. His narrative describes the efforts of the besieged French forces against the Germans, how they fought desperately and in vain to break-out of the German’s siege and the state of the French civil population.
He gives an excellent treatment of the politics of the French side. The Germans often did not know which French Government to recognise or to deal with. The Empire had been crushed at Sedan and a temporary Republican Government was in Paris. Indeed there was almost a second “mini- revolution” in Paris which nearly replaced the first Republican government. Such were the complicated politics of the situation.
The civilians of Paris were isolated and they froze in the slowly staring capital. Their conditions caused the bloodletting of the Paris Commune. Equally amazing is the role and exploits of the Germans. The tension in the German High Command was extreme and the roles of Bismarck and Moltke are eloquently described.
The author’s book on “Sedan 1870” is a prelude to this book yet the current book is also a significant achievement within its own terms of reference. The complex changes in the French governmental structure caused many problems for both sides especially when there was almost a second revolution in Paris. The Germans initially were not prepared to recognise the Republican government(s) and only recognised the Empire under the defeated Napoleon III. These serious political issues were too great for one of the leading French Generals who tried to commit suicide over it.
The book treats the subject in chronological order – starting with the advance of the Germans and concludes with the Armistice and the parade of the victorious Germans through Paris. The fall of many French cities is discussed and the author gives the subject an excellent treatment.
The author has done a great service in compiling this volume. He has conducted first class research and he not only presents the hard facts of the campaign but he also intertwines vivid eyewitness accounts from both combatants and non-combatants. Those historians of this campaign will find his scholarly work most useful and it will also appeal to the “interested” public.