1. The Royal Army of King Louis XIV, The Sun King.
2. 1700-1790: The French Army in Wars in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
3. The Revolutionary Army.
4. The Imperial Army.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1803-1807 The Glory Years.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1808-11
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1812 The Turning Point.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1813 (Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden, Leipzig)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1814 (La Rothiere, Craonne, Paris)
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1815 (Ligny, Waterloo)
"Conceptions about French military prowess go back for centuries, but they first became prevalent during the reign of Louis XIV, when French military hegemony both inspired and angered many Europeans. A series of coalitions formed against France in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, but all failed in their stated objectives of rolling back the extensive French territorial conquests. French military success provided a model of standardization and professionalism followed by many European armies and leaders, who regarded the likes of Turenne and Vauban as the foremost military men of the age.
During the reign of Napoleon in the early nineteenth century, France reached the height of its power. By 1807, after spectacular triumphs at Austerlitz, jena and Friedland, many Europeans believed the French were invincible. The French Empire was eventually defeated, but memories about the Napoleonic Wars lingered. Until World War I, commanders and nations throughout the world hoped to reproduce Napoleon's lightning campaigns. Several military leaders in the American Civil War, like George McClellan, often styled themselves after the erstwhile French Emperor and hoped to emulate his triumphs.
The Royal Army of King Louis XIV, The Sun King.
"The glare of Napoleonic brilliance outshone the radiance of the Sun King.
The Napoleonic Wars have probably attracted more attention from 19th and 20th century
readers than any other period of French military history. Library shelves groan under
the weight of works on the campaigns of Napoleon, yet to my knowldge the only complete
history of the campaigns of Louis XIV was written in the first half of the 18th Century
... The Section historique of the French general staff, which operated between 1899 and
1914, provides one measure of the military's interests; it published 80 volumes on the
Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars but only 6 specialized studies dealing with the reign
of Louis XIV.
On picture: Mousquetaires Noirs (Black Musketeers) in 1660
Under King Louis XIV ("The Sun
King" - ext.link) the French army had been the world's finest army. Military service
represented a living of sorts for the French nobility and gentry, a source of prestige.
The greycoats led by de Turenne won numerous battles until Eugene of Savoy and Duke of
Marlborough broke their reputation but not their spirit.
Louis XIV regarded himself a soldier. From the age of twelve he spent a great deal of time with his troops.
Only advancing years forced him to forgo such activity. Louis never commanded a battle in the open field, though he came close to doing so
at Heurtbise in 1676. He was excellent organizer and administrator.
Louis XIV enjoyed a great military inheritance as he began his personal reign.
Even after demobilization, his army remained large and skilled, in Turenne and Conde, now back in Frencgh service, he probably had the best field commanders in Europe.
"A young king with a lust for glory would not let such a fine military instrument grow dull
from disuse. ... Louis plotted to chastise the Dutch and continue his acquisitions of Spanish lands. He carefully isolated the Dutch from their allies and struck in 1672.
This Dutch War, 1672-8, began with an invasion, masterfully supported and supplied by Louvois ...
Louis intended to defeat and humble the Dutch so as to force them to give him a free hand in the Spanish Netherlands, but he failed."
(Lynn, - pp 16-17)
Strength of the Army.
King Louis XIV achieved greater regularity; early in his reign, French infantry battalions usually included 12 companies, 50 men each.
The German mercenary companies claimed 100 men each. Before long, grenadier companies were added to French battalions.
The number of companies in battalion increased to 16 by the close of the Dutch War.
Uniforms and Weapons.
The officers led from the front, braving the same dangers that their men faced.
There was honor to be won on the battlefield - honor to be won at any price.
Like Louis XIV, his officer corps pursued gloire.
According to John A. Lynn the quest to attain glory by publicly fulfilling the demands of
honor explains the undeniable taste for war on the part of the French aristocracy.
A 1601 Guide des courtesans noted: 'I hear our young nobility murmur against the peace which limits them from displaying what they have of good in their souls. They can appease their warrior ardors by taking themselves,
with the leave of their prince, to some just war outside their country.' Louis XIV noted the enthusiasm of nobles to raise units to serve him.
Infantry of King Louis XIV (The Sun King), by Paul Armont (flats-zinnfiguren.com)
from left to right: drummer, musketeers, color-bearers, grenadier, NCO, senior officer.
1700-1790: The French Army in Wars in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.
The 18th century saw France remain the dominant power in Europe, but begin to falter largely because of internal problems. The country engaged in a long series of wars, such as the War of the Quadruple Alliance, the War of the Polish Succession, and the War of the Austrian Succession. The Royal Army was a typical 18th century force. The ranks were filled with mercenaries, volunteers, adventurers and others. The discipline was harsh (a soldier who struck an officer had his offending hand chopped off before he was hanged) and the morale low. The Royal Army used linear tactics, copied from Prussian system.
The Seven Years' War (1756–1763)
The Lost War in Canada.
The Won War in America.
Rochambeau's corps (8 battalions, and few squadrons) was somehow neglected by the French government from military point of view. In comparison in March 1781 a powerful French fleet departed from Brest, it was composed of 190 warships, transports and merchantmen, whose destinations included West Indies, South America, Africa and Indian Ocean. Even in the New World, North America ranked behind the Caribbean in French priorities. For example, to Martinique, Guadeloupe, and Santo Dominque (ext.link) were sent 29 battalions to join the 19 battalions already garrisoning those islands. The French military activities beyond United States forced Britain to extend her own military efforts considerably, thereby contributing to the American cause - a contribution only few Americans appreciated, however.
"The American rebellion became a global war, and the French monarchy entered the last phase of its ancient rivalry with England. ... In their conception - and consequently their strategy - of the war against Britain, French and American authorities had entirely different approaches. In contrast to the Americans, the French did not conceive of this conflict as a war waged solely for US independence; for them, the stakes involved the balance of power in Europe and in the European-dominated world. As far as Americans were concerned, the struggle was confined to North America. For the French, the scene of operations stretched from India - where Pierre Andre, bailli de Suffren, won some of the most impressive victories of the war near the end of hostilities - to Africa, where a French expedition succeeded in recovering Senegal (ext.link) from the English in late January 1779; from the Caribbean, the most crucial region for French interests at that period, to Nova Scotia, which throughout the war remained a potential area for French operations; and from North America, where the French hoped to alternate the employment of West Indian garrisons during appropriate seasons, to Europe, where a cross-channel operation against England continued to attract continental strategists. The last of the Old regime's projects for an invasion of Britain (anticipating Napoleon's plans by a quarter of a century) was a Franco-Spanish project that antedated Spain's entry into the war against England in July 1779. Typically, the extensive preparations for this attack were frustrated by Spanish slowness, disease, and weather." (Scott - "From Yorktown to Valmy" pp 5-6)
1781 Battle of Yorktown:
It was a victory by a combined American and French force led by Washington and
Marquis de Lafayette, (ext.link) and the French under Rochambeau over the British army.
A formal surrender ceremony took place on the morning following the battle.
Cornwallis refused to attend out of pure embarrassment, claiming illness. According to
legend, the British forces marched to the fife tune of "The World Turned Upside Down,"
though no real evidence of this exists.
The Revolutionary French Army.
The Revolution erupted in France. In 1792, every able-bodied Frenchman was declared liable for military service, and National Guard was formed. Revolutionary France had been the first to adopt the principle of universal conscription, according to which all young men of draft age were subject to being called up; in fact, however, a system of drawing names was in place, and as a result, only the minority of those eligible were enrolled every year. Even though entering the draft lottery was theoretically required of all male citizens, malfunction exemptions, favors and bribes - together with every man's perfectly legal right to buy a replacement if he could afford one - guaranteed that the burden of conscription fell principally upon the country and town folks. Nevertheless, the army considered itself as representative of the entire society.
In the beginning the new French armies, composed of demoralized regulars and untrained volunteers, refused to face the disciplined Austrian troops and were more dangerous to their own officers than to the enemy. The victory at Valmy (ext.links) stimulated the French morale, then the Jacobin fanatics infused the French soldiers with something of their own demonic energy. Untrained but enthusistic volunteers (ext.link) filled the ranks. In the spirit of liberty and equality, the volunteers elected their officers, and discipline all but disappeared. "In the summer of 1790, the army was rocked by a wave of troop mutinies that shattered the officers' authority and set in motion a series of events that would ultimately destroy the National Assembly's carefully constructed military constitution. Ironically, it was the officers themselves who had given the first examples of insubordination in mid-1788 during the royal government's attempt to dissolve the parlaments. ... In the spring of 1790, insubordination returned to the army with a vengeance. This new burst of disturbances was characterized by increasingly direct confrontations between soldiers and officers. Most incidents were provoked by disputes over pay which, the soldiers claimed, had been illegaly withheld from them." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" pp 75-77)
On the night of 20-21 June 1791, King Louis XVI made an unsuccessful attempt to flee from France. This provoked a crisis in the army. "Interpreting their sovereign's action as a repudiation of the Revolution, the officers began to abandon their posts, some resigning from military service and others crossing the frontier to swell the ranks of the emigre armies. Emigration confirmed the soldiers' doubts about the officers' patriotism and provoked a new wave of mutinies. ... Emigration and indiscipline fed each other as the army descended into a state of chaos." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" p 85) Perhaps 2/3 of the officers of the Royal army had fled the country to escape guillotine. The replacement of emigre officers began in 1791 when the Assembly authorized generals to make emergency nominations.
Battalions of National Guard volunteers were formed in three successive levies between 1791 and 1793.
The first battalions were raised in response to King's flight.
In 1791 the National Assembly called upon the departments to raise battalions to maintain internal
order and defend the frontiers from expected invasion. "Two structural differences - the organization of the
battalions along territorial lines and the designation of their officers by election - distinguished the
volunteers from the regular army and lent their cadres particular characteristics. ... Officials who tried to shuffle
volunteers between the companies could face stiff resistance." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" p 101)
"It had been obvious for some time that firm action was needed to give the army a cost-efficient and militarily sound organization. Sonsequently, as its last act, the Thermidorean Committee of Public Safety approved a drastic consolidation of under-strength units and a corresponding reduction of officer strength. ... The 952 existing battalions were to be consolidated into 140 new demi-brigades of 3 battalions each. As a result 532 battalions were to be dissolved ... A similar consolidation of the cavalry was to eliminate 145 squadrons, reducing their number from 323 to 178. ... The impact on the officer corps was profound. ... The climate of professional insecurity created by the second amalgame would dominate the mentality of the officer corps for the duration of the Republic." (Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820" pp 142-3)
The Imperial infantry.
The Imperial French Army.
On picture: charging Napoleonic hussar. Maughan - "Napoleon's Cavalry Recreated in Color Photographs".
France had been aggressive neighbor, and other nations (especially Austria and England), were willing enough to see her weakened. The European powers formed alliance and France was forced to dramatically strengthen her army. Conscription was the solution. Generally speaking, under the empire 100.000 conscripts were called annually, which meant that about 1 name in 7 was drawn. The last conscripts to join their units en masse were those of 1814, whose call-up had been advanced to the preceding year. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 20, 26) Conscription allowed the French to form the Grande Armee, what Napoleon called "the nation in arms", which successfully battled European professional armies.
Under Napoleon many new regiments were formed, the discipline and morale greatly improved. All the troopers were dressed, fed, armed to teeth and very eager to fight.
In 1805 the French army was the largest and the most powerful in Europe and in the World.
The Napoleonic period (1805-1813) saw France's influence and power reach immense heights.
The Glory Years 1803-1807.
On picture: Grand parade at Boulogne Camp.
During the early period of Empire (1803-1807) Napoleon's army reached its peak.
According to reseracher Robert Goetz following the breakdown of the Peace of Amiens Napoleon took the opportunity to assemble an Army of the Ocean Coasts along the English Channel in preparation for an invasion of Great Britain. Approx. 100,000-150,00 troops (of total 450,000) gathered in training camps for 18 months and went through intensive training and maneuvers on large scale.
Boulogne, map (ext.link)
The troops from Boulogne Camps and those occupying Hannover were put together and formed a new army that would soon become legendary - the Grand Army (Grande Armee). These troops had had close to 3 years of training and drill. Approx. 1/3 were veterans of at least 6 years' service. According to de Segur the old-timers could easily be recognized "by their martial air. Nothing could shake them. They had no other memories, no other future, except warfare. They never spoke of anything else. Their officers were either worthy of them or became it. For to exert one's rank over such men one had to be able to show them one's wounds and cite oneself as an example." They stimulated the new recruits with their warlike tales, so that the conscripts brightened up. By so often exaggerating their own feats of arms, the veterans obliged themselves to authenticate by their conduct what they've led others to believe of them.
The Grand Army demolished the armies of the established great powers of Europe.
They won with easy in such epic battles like
Jena, Auerstadt and
1805 & 1806
In 1806 the campaign against Prussia was a brilliant one. The enemy was outmaneuvered and defeated at jena and Auerstadt. The Prussian forces were scatterred all across Prussia and the remainder of the campaign was basically a mopping-up operation.
Battle of Austerlitz, large map. (ext.link)
In spring 1807 though the weather was still severe, so Napoleon rousted his troops out of their winter quarters for drills and frequent field exercises. The army was weakened as many veterans were killed, wounded or sick and in hospitals. Meanwhile in France thousands of young men were called to arms. Napoleon caused these to be despatched to the front as soon as possible and they were drilled en route.
Napoleon at Eylau, large picture by Gros (ext.link)
On picture: French light cavalrymen captured British infantryman, by Woodville.
In this period the army was still in good shape, although not as good as few years ago.
Much of the revolutionary ardour that had fired the French troops of the 1790s and early 1800s had been quenched by 1808. Napoleon himself sensed a lack of enthusiiasm for the forthcoming campaigns.
In 1808-09, for the new war with Austria tens of thousands of new recruits joined the field armies. They were hastily trained. "After 1808 fewer French soldiers received extensive training." (Elting - "Swords Around a Throne" p 534)
Napoleon increased their effectiveness in the field and bolstered their morale by forming regimental artillery and attaching 2-3 light guns to every infantry regiment.
The first provisional regiments, squadrons and battalions appeared already in October 1807. Napoleon, when he needed, took one or two squadrons/battalions from one regiment and one or two from another regiment, named a field officer and thereby formed a provisional regiment. Rarely these troops returned to their parent regiments. The temporary regiments had no Colors, no Eagles, no esprit de corps and no tradition. They served mainly in Peninsula against the Spaniards and the British.
Between 1808 and 1811 the French enjoyed several victories, including the costly victory at Wagram (ext.link) where Napoleon suffered more than 30,000 killed and wounded (!) Austria was again brought on her knees. The war in Spain was not a bloody affair, there were few battles and apart, but the troops were demoralized by lack of discipline, looting, and fighting the elusive Spanish guerillas and British troops. Several hundred of veterans were selected from the troops in Spain and sent to join the Middle Guard. Although they looked good with tanned faces, some of them went around and stole things in Paris. General Michel arrested them and sent to prisons.
John Arnold wrote on French failure in Peninsula: "A young French conscript, Phillipe Gille, provides a detailed account of the inadequate manner in which French soldiers were rushed to the front. Mobilized in France in 1808, Gille apparently did not even receive his musket until arriving at the Spanish border.
There he joined a provisional unit composed of fellow conscripts, crossed the border, and soon
engaged in combats with guerilla. Eventually his unit merged with similar ad-hoc formations to make up Dupont's ill-fated army.
Near the Spanish town of Jaen they faced their first formed opposition from Spanish regulars. In spite of their inexperience,
the conscripts formed line, advanced with trailed arms, received a close range volley, charged at the bayonet, and routed the
Spanish. While such intrepid shock action worked against poorly trained Spanish infantry, it was ill-suited for more
professional opponents such as the British. ...
In 1811, except the guerilla war in Spain, Europe was in peace.
Napoleon had time to train the young soldiers. They were clothed and well armed.
The cavalry was supplied with thousands of German, Polish and French horses.
The artillery and engineers were well equipped and trained. The Grand Army of
1812 was almost as good as the Grand Army of 1805. But in 1812 there were less veterans
in the ranks but the troops were better suplied and armed (far more guns).
"The veteran troops were sadly diluted by the influx of recent recruits and the demands of the Spanish campaign.
A similar expansion had occurred in 1809 when the French army was largely composed of new recruits. In both instances the recruits lacked the discipline and savoir faire to
be able to sustain themselves in a foraging situation, but as the 1809 campaign was fought in Austria, the impact of this indiscipline on supplies was minimal compared to what it was to be in 1812."
(Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia" p 88)
Most military experts agree that the Grand Army of 1812 was the most carefully and completely
organized force Napoleon had ever commanded. It had the most thoroughly prepared supply system (The baggage was hauled by
18,000 heavy draft horses). The army was also bigger than any other army Napoleon had
before. One of the conscripts wrote: "Oh Father !, this is some army ! Our old soldiers
say they never saw anything like it." But only half of the troops were French, the rest were
made up of Poles, Italians, Germans, Swiss, and Austrians. Napoleon passed the Imperial
Guard in review at Dresden, before a throng of vassal rulers, including many princes, five
kings and one emperor (of Austria).
"I have no army any more!"
On picture: Napoleon, his staff and army, from movie 'War and Peace' by Bondarchuk
French military was in crisis and scrambling to raise men as quickly as possible. Despite such horrendous losses suffered in 1812 Napoleon decided to continue his fight. He turned to every possible resource at his disposal that could produce manpower, and do this quickly. It required not only time and energy but also money. The expense of organizing only the Guard amounted to 18,000,000 frans !
The new army was huge but the 18- and 19-years old soldiers lacked stamina and the rapid marches and hunger weakened them physically. The high stress (they were put into action without full training) exhausted many of them. They fell sick by hundreds, there were also deserters and stragglers. Special detachments were formed to catch the stragglers and find the weak and 'make them walk'. In Paris alone 320 soldiers of Young Guard were arrested for desertion and sent to prisons. During Emperor's journey from Dresden (ext.link), through Gorlitz to Bautzen, he saw the German roads and villages choked with thousands of stragglers. Napoleon was outraged and issued the following order: "Every soldier who deserts his flag betrays the first of his duties.
As a consequence, His Majesty orders: Article 1. Evry soldier who deserts his flag without legitimate cause will be subject to decimation. To this effect, as soon as 10 deserters are returned the generals commanding the army corps will have them draw lots, and have one shot." Bautzen. 6 Septeber 1813 Napoleon." (Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813" p 160)
"The levy, calling upon the adolescents of France one full year before they normally would have been eligible for military service clearly illustrates Napoleon's desperate need for numbers of troops. " (Bowden p 31) The new units were thrown together quickly and their men had not had the necessary time to form the interpersonal bonds within their companies that gave them the morale strength necessary to wage war successfully. Despite these problems, the army's morale was generally high. Many of the young troops who stayed in the ranks, were filled with boundless confidence in their leader whom they loved with unflagging devotion. The few veterans had regained their faith in Napoleon. The artillery and engineers were as usual excellent. When led by Napoleon in person the young soldiers won every battle (Lutzen, Bautzen, Dresden etc.) Without Him they were routed at Kulm, Dennewitz and Katzbach. (ext.link)
"A decree ordering a levy of 300,000 soldiers was made, and another augmenting the Guard to 112,500 men... The levy, however, was not successful. France was exhausted not only of her men, but even of her youth, and boys were now in his greatest need to form his battalions. To add to his trouble, as fortune always seems to delight in pushing down a falling favorite, the Typhus fever broke out among his troops along the Rhine." (Headley - "The Imperial Guard of Napoleon")
By 1814 allied armies were advancing into France from every direction. Napoleon put up an impressive performance, fighting on average a battle or skirmish every day, and winning many of them. The battles of this campaign included Brienne, Craonne, Laon, Montmirail and La Rothiere, Napoleon's first defeat on French soil. Many of Napoleon's marshals were either weary or downright prophets of doom. In the end of campaign some defected to the Allies. Paris was taken by storm by the Russian and Prussian troops.
Some of the English authors claim that the French army of 1815 was made up of veterans and was Napoleon's best. The fact is the majority of the army that Napoleon rebuilt after returning from Elba, was composed of soldiers who had at least one campaign behind them, although in the eyes of veterans of Austerlitz and Egypt, the recruits of 1814 still seemed like little boys. (Barbero - "The Battle" p 20) A call for volunteers produced only some laughable 15,000 men. There were French eyewitnesses who stated that many regiments included a high percentage of young soldiers who had never been under fire. Several battalions of Young Guard were in Vendee. General Lamarque complained that they were filled with recruits and deserters who neither knew how to maneuver nor shoot. (Lasserre - "Les Cent jours en Vendée: le général Lamarque et l'insurrection royaliste, d'après les papiers inédits du général Lamarque." published in 1906.)
In 1815 Napoleon's army was not as good as their predecessors in 1804-1812 who felt invincible after the glorious victories at Austerlitz, Jena and Friedland. The soldiers who marched to Waterloo knew well the taste of defeat, some survived the horrors of retreat from Russia, flights before Cossacks, defeats at Viazma, Berezina, Leipzig, Kulm, Dennewitz, La Rothiere and Paris. They also witnessed Allies' entry to Paris, capitulation and abdication of Napoleon. Thousands of ex-POWs who spent years in Russian, British or Spanish captivity now were accepted to the army. Some could be angry men but without the air of invincibility. According to Lachouque ("Anathomy of Glory") "notwithstanding the initial enthusiasm, not all the discharged veterans returned. Some had been spoiled by civil life." Captain Duthilt thought the soldiers who had suffered the defeats of the emperor's recent campaigns and the returned prisoners of war from Russia had lost a great deal of their enthusiasm.
In 1815 the discipline was poor, the old timers were annoyed and complained that the young men went out with girls or got drunk. Sergeant Mauduit of Imperial Guard described his comrades during march toward Waterloo. The guardsmen had broken into houses and had stopped and plundered army supply wagons, laughing in the faces of the gendarmes assigned to maintain order along the road. General Radet, commander of the military police, was so disturbed by this behavior that he tendered his resignation that very evening.
The army was hastily assembled, lacked uniforms and shoes. At Ligny the Prussians took the poorly clothed Old Guard for second rate militia. (For comparison, eight years earlier at Friedland, the Guard entered battle in their parade outfits; including white gloves ! At Borodino, Guard's uniforms catched the eye of many troops around. Read memoirs of Heinrich von Brandt and you will know what I mean.
In 1815 not 20 men in the Guard could be found wearing the same uniform in any company in these regiments. The supplies were scarce and everything was performed in haste and confusion.
Many soldiers wore civilian clothes under their greatcoats and forage caps instead of shakos.
In some infantry regiments only the grenadiers were issued bayonets. Some cuirassiers had no armor. "The 11th Cuirassiers fought without them at Waterloo ... Shoes, twenty regiments had none." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 24)
In 1815 several French top rank commanders defected to the Allies. On June 15 General Comte Louis Bourmount rode directly over to the Prussians and surrendered with five of his staff. According to Colonel Elting "Wellington should have been thoroughly informed as to Ney's strength, the chief-of-staff of one of d'Erlon's divisions having deserted to the English during the morning" (before the Battle of Quatre-Bras). It all had a great impact on morale of the soldiers and junior officers. The old camaraderie of the troops was replaced by suspicion. "The soldiers were upset at the excessive number of senior officers who had betrayed, or who were suspected of being ready to betray the emperor... The troops had neither confidence in their commanders nor the ability to accept discipline." (Barbero - "The Battle" pp 277-278) At Waterloo an officer of horse carabiniers defected - in the middle of battle - to the British and Germans and informed the enemy about Napoleon's plans.
"The soldiers doubted the loyalty and competence of many senior officers.
They resented officers being promoted merely for going over to the Emperor while they
received nothing for doing the same. Six officers of the 1st Cuirassiers who had been rewarded in this way were greeted with groans and shouts on parade. The 12th Dragoons petitioned the Emperor requesting, "... the dismissal of our colonel, whose ardour in the cause of Your Majesty is by no means equal to our own." (Adkin - "The Waterloo Companion" p 78)
The Battle of Gravelotte-St. Privat, was the largest battle during the Franco-Prussian War. The combined German forces (188,000 men), under von Moltke the Elder defeated French Army of the Rhine (113,000 men), commanded by Marshal Bazaine. While most of the Germans fell under the French Chassepot rifles, (ext.link) most French fell under the Prussian Krupp shells. The Prussian Guard Division losses were staggering with 8,000 casualties out of 18,000 men ! On the French side, the troops holding St. Privat lost more then 50 % of their number. General Bourbaki refused to commit the reserves of the French Old Guard to the battle because he considered it a 'defeat'. (source: wikipedia.org 2005)
The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. It resulted in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III (ext.link) along with his army and practically decided the war in favour of Prussia, though fighting continued under a new French government. The French lost over 38,000 men killed, wounded and captured. The Prussians reported their losses at 9,000 killed, wounded and captured or missing. Napoleon III surrendered himself to Moltke and the Prussian King With the Second Empire overthrown, Napoleon III was permitted to leave Prussian custody for exile in England, while, within a fortnight, the Prussian Army went on to besiege Paris.
"Relations with the German Empire dominated France's whole foreign policy up to 1914. Every French government reached a decision on the basis of the intentions attributed
to Germany, and on the danger that German political initiatives represented for France.
Franco-German relations were themselves dominated by the question of Alsace-Lorraine.
The territorial annexation carried out under the Treaty of Frankfort (1871) had inflicted such a wound on France that nothing could exceed in urgency the desire to avoid a repetition of the
German Invasion. The lost provonces had belonged to France since the days of Louis XIV and Louis XV, and the question of national sovereignity had not been raised even after the collapse of Napoleon.
Promotion in the army was determined by a law that had been passed in 1832. Approx. 66 % of the officers were
promoted on the basis of seniority, up to the rank of commandant. According to Major Simon the soldiers "spent
whole weeks adjusting the straps or revolver holsters and the straps around canteens, seeing to it that the former should run between the 2nd and 3rd tunic buttons ...
On the range, what mattered was not to hit the target frequently but to adopt the precise posture that regulations called for, even if the marksman's physique made this uncomfortbale for him.
To allow the lefthand soldier to put a rifle against his left shoulder would have seemed a grave
infringement of discipline."
Sources and Links.
Crowdy - "French Revolutionary Infantryman 1791-1802"
Blaufarb - "The French Army 1750-1820"
Elting - "Swords Around a Throne"
Chandler- "The Campaigns of Napoleon"
Bowden - "Napoleon's Grande Armee of 1813"
La Gorce - "The French Army; a military-political history"
Lynn - "Giant of the Grand Siecle: The French Army"
Nafziger - "Napoleon's Invasion of Russia"
Britten-Austin - "1812: The March on Moscow"
Petre - "Napoleon's Conquest of Prussia, 1806"
Blond - "La Grande Armee"
Digby-Smith - "1813:Leipzig"
Bielecki, Tyszka - "Dal Nam Przyklad Bonaparte"