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Battle of Sedan

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The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War on September 1, 1870.

The 120,000 strong French Army of Châlons, commanded by Marshal Patrice MacMahon and accompanied by the French emperor Napoleon III, was attempting to relieve the Siege of Metz, only to be caught by the Prussian Meuse Army and defeated at the Battle of Beaumont. The Meuse Army and the Prussian Third Army, commanded by Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke and accompanied by Prussian King Wilhelm I and Prussian Chancellor Otto von Bismarck cornered MacMahon's army at Sedan, in a massive encirclement battle. Marshal MacMahon was wounded during the attacks and command passed to General Auguste Ducrot.

With the defeat of Marshal Bazaine's Army of the Rhine at Gravelotte, they were forced to retire to Metz where they were besieged by over 150,000 Prussian troops of the First and Second Armies. Emperor Napoleon III, along with Marshal Patrice MacMahon, formed the new French Army of Châlons to march on to Metz to rescue Bazaine. With Napoleon III personally leading the army with Marshal MacMahon in attendance, they led the Army of Chalons in a left-flanking march northeast towards the Belgian border in an attempt to avoid the Prussians before striking south to link up with Bazaine.

The Prussians, under the command of Field-Marshal Helmuth von Moltke, took advantage of this incompetent maneuver to catch the French in a pincer grip. Leaving the Prussian First and Second Armies besieging Metz, Moltke took the Prussian Third Army and the Army of the Meuse northward where they caught up with the French at Beaufort on August 30. After a hard-fought battle with the French losing 5,000 men and 40 cannons in a sharp fight, they withdrew towards Sedan. Having reformed in the town, the Army of Chalons was immediately isolated by the converging Prussian armies. Napoleon III ordered the army to break out of the encirclement immediately. With MacMahon wounded on the previous day, General Auguste Ducrot took command of the French troops in the field.

On September 1, 1870, the battle opened with the Army of Chalons, with 202 infantry battalions, 80 cavalry squadrons and 564 artillery guns, attacked the surrounding Prussian Third and Meuse Armies totaling 222 infantry battalions, 186 cavalry squadrons and 774 artillery guns. General De Wimpffen, the commander of the French V Corps in reserve hoped to launch a combined infantry and cavalry attack against the Prussian XI Corps. But by 11:00 Prussian artillery took a toll on the French while more Prussian troops arrived on the battlefield. After an intense bombardment and Prussian attacks from the northwest, east and Bavarian attacks from the southwest, the Army of Châlons was driven into the Bois de la Garenne and surrounded. The French cavalry, commanded by General Marguerite, launched three desperate attacks on the nearby village of Floing where the Prussian XI Corps was concentrated. Marguerite was killed leading the very first charge and the two additional charges led to nothing but heavy losses.

By the end of the day, with no hope of breaking out, Napoleon III called off the attacks. The French lost over 17,000 men killed and wounded with 21,000 captured. The Prussians reported their losses at 2,320 killed, 5,980 wounded and 700 captured or missing.

By the next day, on September 2, Napoleon III ordered the white flag to be run up and surrendered himself and the entire Army of Châlons to Moltke and the Prussian King. It was an overwhelming victory for the Prussians for they not only captured an entire French army, but the leader of France as well. When news hit Paris of Emperor Napoleon's III capture, the French Second Empire was overthrown two days later in bloodless revolution, ending the Second French Empire, and leading to the creation of a new government of national defense and the Third Republic.

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The defeat of the French at Sedan and the capture of Napoleon III decided the outcome of the war in Prussia's favor. With the Second Empire overthrown, Napoleon III was permited to leave Prussian custody for exile in England while within a fornight, the Prussian Meuse Army and the Third Army went on to besiege Paris.fr:Bataille de Sedan de:Schlacht von Sedan

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