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Battle of Bazeilles
Part of The Battle of Sedan, in the Franco-Prussian war
Alphonse-Marie-Adolphe de Neuville - Les dernières cartouches (1873).jpg
Alphonde de Neuville, Les dernnieres cartouches (The last bullets)
Date1 September 1870
LocationBazeilles
Result Bavarian Pyrrhic victory
Belligerents
 Kingdom of Bavaria France France
Commanders and leaders
General von der Tann General de Vassoigne
General Lambert
Strength
I Royal Bavarian Corps
1 division
The Blue Division
Casualties and losses
about 4000 (including 213 officers) 2655 (including 100 officers) + 40 civilians


Photogravure of Bazeilles (1870) by François Lafon.

Das Blutbad in Bazeilles. Bavarian troops are ambushed by French marines hiding in a house

The Battle of Bazeilles was fought on 1 September 1870. It was part of the larger Battle of Sedan during the Franco-Prussian War and was one of the first occurrences of modern urban warfare. The battle took place in Bazeilles, France, a small village in the Ardennes department near Sedan and involved a force of Bavarian soldiers pitched in battle against French marines and partisans.

The battle was, in effect, an ambush of a force of Bavarians (who were allies of the Prussians), by a small detachment of the "Blue Division" Troupes de marine (also known as marsouins), under the command of General de Vassoigne. Marsouin snipers, along with local guerrillas, fired on the Bavarians using quick-firing Chassepot breech-loading rifles.

Although outnumbered ten to one, the French held the village until Napoleon III gave orders to withdraw. A small group under commander Arsene Lambert remained in the last house on the road to Sedan, the Auberge Bourgerie, fighting to the last bullet in order to cover the retreat.[1]

After 7 hours of conflict, the Bavarians took the village. They captured Francs-tireurs partisans who, along with other civilians, were considered unlawful combatants. These men were then executed.

Later the same day, France suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Sedan, where Napoleon III was captured along with his army. Coupled with the loss of another French army at Metz, these events effectively ended Napoleon III's Empire, ushering in the Third Republic. People of the new Republic saw continued partisan warfare for several months.

General de Vassoigne famously remarked about the French soldiers involved in the battle, stating that "The troupes de marine fought beyond the extreme limits of duty."

The anniversary of the Battle of Bazeilles, and specifically the defense of the last house on the road to Sedan, is now celebrated by the Troupes de marine as an identity building event.[2]

The Battle[edit | edit source]

The Bavarian vanguard having prevented the demolition of the railroad bridge south of Bazeilles the previous day had encountered fierce resistance in their pursuit of the retreating French. By the evening they retired to the bridgehead north of the Meuse. The following night, the French army garrisoned Bazeilles with infantry and Marines of the "Blue Division". Orders were passed to defend the town to the last shot. Roads were blocked and the houses were loopholed and fortified for defense.

On the morning of 1 September at 4am, General Ludwig von der Tann-Rathsamhausen, commander of the First Royal Bavarian Army Corps, may have acted rashly out of personal ambition when he ordered his troops forward to attack Bazeilles. The Chief of Prussian General Staff Helmuth von Moltke, in overall command, was elsewhere leading troops. Due to poor light and visibility the Bavarian units quickly suffered heavy casualties during the attack. Continued troop reinforcements resulted in the 1st and 2nd divisions being engaged by 9am. At 11am the French began to withdraw as the line between Bazeilles and Sedan could be held no longer.

During the fighting at Bazeilles, some civilians were killed and numerous houses were burned. In response, angered citizens fought back by hiding in basements and firing at the advancing troops. Some of these armed civilians were later arrested and executed as illegal combatants by the Bavarians.[3]

Losses and Reactions[edit | edit source]

The French army lost 2655 soldiers.[4] The Bavarian army suffered the loss of 213 officers and 3876 men.[5] French propaganda showed massacres of men, women and children. However, an official French investigation found that only 39 people from Bazeilles died during the fighting.[6] A further 150 people (10% of the population) died from injuries in the subsequent months.

The battle for Bazeilles was a dark day for the Bavarian army; the Germans however deemed it "A bloody contribution to the Bavarian military honour, an honourable putty for German unity."[7]

For many military artists and illustrators of the late 19th Century, the struggle for Bazeilles was a popular motif. Michael Zeno Diemer described it in 1896, resulting in a Panorama depicting the struggle for Bazeilles. It was shown in a building in Mannheim. Also, Anton von Werner mentioned it in his 1883 Sedan panorama on Alexanderplatz in Berlin. The painters Otto von Faber du Faur, Friedrich Bodenmüller, Franz Adam, Carl Röchling, Richard Knötel, and the Frenchman Alphonse de Neuville all created Bazeilles representations.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. NOTE: The house is now a museum featuring, among many other historic artifacts, a clock stopped by a bullet during the fighting —at 11:35.
  2. histoire/hist001.htm Site non officiel of the Troupes de Marine
  3. Schmidthuber (Hrsg.): Der deutsch-Französische Krieg 1870/71 unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Antheilnahme der Bayern. Auszug aus dem Generalstabswerk, J. F. Rietsch, Landshut 1900, S. 90
  4. Site non officiel of the Troupes de Marine
  5. Schmidthuber (eds) The German-French War 1870/71 with particular reference to the sympathy for Bavaria. Extract from the General Staff, JF Rietsch, Landshut, 1900, pp. 116/117
  6. Jan N. Lorenzen: The great battles - myths, people, stories, Routledge, 2006, Frankfurt, p.162 According to other data, only 31 civilians were killed, wounded, or were missing due to direct fighting. Dennis A. Showalter: The face of modern warfare. Sedan 1st, and second in September 1870. Stig Förster, Markus Pohlmann, Dierk Walter (ed.): battles in world history. Salamis to Sinai. Munich 2001, p 239
  7. Schmidthuber quoted General v. Helvig, supra, p 116

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