History of Franco-Prussian War


Franco–Prussian and Civil wars are two characteristic wars that took place in the nineteenth century and are connected to each other in several ways. The war between Prussia and France erupted due to differences in leadership issues where French forces fought with those of Prussia but were later defeated since Prussia had acquired more support from other German countries. On the other hand, Confederacy Army was fighting with Union Army due to a disagreement concerning Slavery extension and in this case, Unionists emerged winners bringing unity between the warring parties. There are also similarities as well as differences that are realized in the organization, tactics, strategies, and weapons employed in both wars.

Franco -Prussian War


According to page 66 of The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, Nagler states that the war that took place between Prussia and France as a result of disagreements due to tension that had built up between them for many years. These disagreements finally broke out when Hohenzollern candidate showed interest in filling the position of the Spanish throne which had been left vacant after the previous government had left. The ambassador of France and the King of Prussia argued and insulted each other over that issue which culminated in the declaration of war against Prussia by France, where Prussia was supported by the confederation of Northern Germany as well Southern Germany.

The war was characterized by superior forces which were primarily supported by steel artillery as well as railways. However, after heated struggles, Prussia together with parties that had supported it managed to defeat France. Another characteristic war is the Civil War which took place in 1861 and ended in 1865 where America’s Confederacy States declared war against the federal government of the U.S., otherwise known as the Union. Generally, the slave states of the south were fighting against the Free states and northern slave states due to differences in opinions concerning slavery extension where the Union was against the issue. Strategies and organizations applied in this war were also superior, making it the most characteristic war that has ever occurred in America.

Strategies and tactics of Franco-Prussian War

On pages 67 to 78, Nagler found out that, railway construction was a major contributing factor to the strategies employed in this war since railways that had been widely spread all over Europe would allow them to make use of modern warfare tactics. This is where armed forces would be positioned at a better place to have a direct attack on the enemy. The armies covered long distances of walks in very short periods which prepared them for long marches during battle, where they would fight for longer periods without getting exhausted. Prussia decided to improve its efficiency by constructing additional railway lines which were more efficient than those of France. Four additional railway lines were constructed which necessitated the use of lesser time in the concentration of North Germany’s corps, which could be accomplished within four weeks instead of the previous period of six weeks. The additional railways would also allow the Prussian army’s commander to get three hundred and sixty thousand men in the field of battle in France within three weeks, while four hundred and thirty thousand men would be availed within four weeks. However, Prussia had only managed to get large numbers of troops into battle but had not managed to equip them appropriately which became another major problem.

Supplies would be trapped in the railroads leaving troops that had been sent to France to feed on agricultural supplies that they got from the land of their enemies, which was quite different from what they were used to in their land. However, by this time France suffered from congested railroads which resulted in the poor organization of their forces since they were also sent to battle without enough food to sustain them. This made them engage in stealing after what they had was over deteriorating their discipline levels, while others who could not stand the hunger left the forces. At this point, France decided to improve the situation of its railway system where Marshal Adolphe who was leading the French commission at that time hastened efforts of the construction of an important line to assist their militants. Marshal had not seen the project to the end when he was succeeded by general Edmond who was pressurized by the country’s public works ministry, which made the project of the important rail construction to be dissolved. French, forces made use of the section that had already been constructed to attack their Prussian enemies. They took over Saarbrucken town, but this did not have a considerable negative effect on the forces of Prussia who were flooding the river of the Rhine where they were attacking French forces.

The Prussian system of the railway was better to a point that, it necessitated communication to flow freely between forces in battle and those at home which made their commander be informed when more troops and/or supplies were needed. The available means of communication was a telegraph service where an efficient wiring system was put in place to connect the two areas, which allowed news correspondents to make the necessary trips as they reported back through telegraph. Prussian members of the forces who would suffer injuries as they fought in France would be transported back to their home country for timely treatment as others would be sent to replace them, which made the Prussian army more effective as casualties were not kept in battle. Prussian system of the railway also necessitated the traveling of troops who were able to take leaves to get more energy as others represented them in battle and this rotation continued to strengthen men who were used by Prussia.

Weapons Used In Franco-Prussian War

In Savage perils in American Civil War, Patrick states that both forces were found to have weapons that were almost similar in terms of power as well as type. France used a chassepot model which had been previously designed in 1866 which was far much better than the model of needle gun that was used against them by Prussian forces. Fearing defeat, Prussian forces decided to modify their needle gun to a better model called M1862 but the chassepot was still better in terms of efficiency than the improved model.

The main difference between the modified version of the needle gun and the chassepot was the muzzle velocity, where the modified needle gun had a smaller velocity, which in turn reduced the average lethal range that it would cover. When compared with chassepot, needle guns would only cover three-quarters of the distance covered by chassepot. This was evident because; while chassepot would cover one thousand and six hundred yards, needle gun would only make six hundred yards. Prussian forces’ weaponry was also limited by another problem that arose in their model of the needle gun, which did not have a gas breach to get rid of bad odor that would be produced during firing. This odor attacked Prussian forces making them reduce their pace in attacks which gave their enemies time to counterattack.

However, this problem was solved when French forces fixed a ring made from rubber in their weapon, which made it more efficient in firing and could also cover a larger distance and Prussian forces borrowed that style of modification. In addition to the chassepot, French forces had another machine gun that was equally terrifying called the mitrailleuse, making them a bit more equipped than Prussians. Mitrailleuse would manage to fire a distance of about two thousand yards, where one hundred and fifty rounds would be covered within a single minute. However, this weapon had not been introduced to the forces until later in the course of battle and despite its effectiveness, its introduction did not make a great significance in battle, since French men did not exploit it to the full. On pages 14 to 19, Patrick states that French men used the mitrailleuse to supplement chassepot instead of using it separately as a major weapon that was independent resulting in inaccurate firing, which was quite wasteful when compared to how it would perform if the men had enough knowledge concerning its use.

Prussian men were amazed by the efficiency of the weapons used by their counterparts in war and they realized that they had to come up with better weapons that would curb the power of massed batteries used by French forces in their weapons. The solution was brought by new Krupp artillery that was made of steel and would comfortably dismantle powers from chassepot as well as massed batteries of mitrailleuse from quite a distance, which was safe for the Prussians. To the success of Prussian forces, their new weapon would not be compared with the French gun that was made of bronze where the one belonging to Prussians was much faster, covering a larger distance and firing more accurately. The new weapon of Prussians had projectiles that would explode as directed by the forces, which put them in a better position since they would make desired attacks effectively.

This was contrary to the gun used by French men which would only explode at the standards that had already been set, where the short standard was designed to cover one thousand and three hundred yards while the long standard covered two thousand and five hundred yards. The inefficiency of the weapon served as an added advantage towards the victory of Prussians who would position themselves appropriately at the safe areas, where the French weapon would not cover which was the distance between the two standards as well as beyond the longest standard. Therefore, Krupp artillery of Prussian forces saw them through important successes that they achieved in this particular war against France, among them being Napoleon III’s capture, which occurred when they were fighting at Sedan. During this time, chassepot belonging to French forces was overpowered by Krupp artillery resulting in the defeat of Frenchmen due to superiority and proper utilization of weaponry.

Organization of Franco- Prussian War

In The Franco-Prussian War, Geoffrey argued that how forces in this war used their weapons portrayed the level of their organization, where Prussian forces were quite disorganized at first when they sent troops without enough supplies to carry them through the entire period of war, at the time when the system of their railway was a limiting factor. However, the situation changed when the system was improved through the construction of more lines allowing Prussian forces to organize themselves better, where they would transport enough troops as well as supplies to the battlefield, while casualties were transported back for treatment. The military agency of Prussia otherwise referred to as general staff was far much prepared to achieve the success of Prussia.

On page 45, the General staff of Prussia was well versed with military bureaucracy who planned strategic movements for their forces and also equipped them with training enabling them to make directed attacks in war. On the contrary, French forces were quite disorganized since nothing had been planned before. Members of their troops would collect their uniforms and armory from the depots and by the time they came back, they would find that there was no food for them. This disorganization was caused by poor leadership, which resulted in the incoherence of conflicting ideas on regulations that should be followed, resulting to defeat since their counterparts thought and planned ahead of them. Therefore, with its success, Prussia was able to bring together German lands to be united in a single empire, where Wilhelm I became the first Emperor of German origin to rule over Mirrors Hall, France as well as Versatile Palace.

Organization of Civil War

On pages 46-51 Geoffrey states that the two warring parties; Confederacy and the Federal government had put in place war departments which were supposed to organize the activities of their armies. The organization of these armies was based on the manuals of militants which resulted in a high level of organization. The expansion of areas that had to be covered by armies in the Civil War made them be divided into different sections. Each of the armies representing either side had its own general headquarters, signalmen, artillery as well as engineers. For both sides, the section that represented the largest army organization was referred to as the corps.

The army fighting for the Union managed to organize itself into one corps of the Calvary group, which was accompanied by seven corps of infantry group with each corps under its own major general. On the other hand, Confederate Army consisted of three corps of the infantry group, where each corps was under its own lieutenant general. However, the sizes of the armies’ corps were different with those belonging to Union Army being smaller than Confederates. A single corps was made up of three divisions of infantry, which would be accompanied by a brigade of the artillery in the case of the Union Army but in Confederacy, the artillery brigade would be replaced by an artillery battalion. Rules and regulations for both armies were issued by war departments, but in some instances, army commanders were allowed to make adjustments in areas that they felt needed changes.

Weapons Used In Civil War

In Bismarck, Napoleon III, and the Origins of the Franco –Prussian War, there were a number of handguns that were employed by armies that fought in civil war, which were of various types among them being colt revolvers. These were mostly used by members of the Union army and were made of six shots that could be used to attack enemies in war. This type of revolver was also designed in such a manner that, stocks were attached at the rear end of the revolver to enable those fighting to place it comfortably on their shoulder, which in turn increased their level accuracy. Navy revolver is another handgun that was in use during the civil war and was mostly used by the confederacy. On page 59, it was widely distributed among Confederacy forces that used it to counterattack Union forces. Starr revolver emerged after the colt and was a modified version of the same. Union army was quick to try it and they managed to purchase two thousand and five hundred Starr revolvers at the first instance to combat the Confederacy army. Rifles were also part of the weapons employed in the Civil War, where the Confederacy used the model 1853 Enfield which it purchased in larger numbers than other weapons. Confederacy imported quite a large number since it would not be sold local armory as the British government had already detected signs of its defeat.

Strategies and Tactics of Civil War

Confederacy army based its strategies as well as tactics on their main objective, which was to have the nation defended from defeat and its members stood by the motion that, their victory would be achieved by all means. This meant that, even if there were signs of being defeated, they would still remain in battle until it was over. On pages 60 to 62, David argued that their leader took up the strategy that was once employed by Washington where he valued space more than time and only retreated when the Union army proved stronger. This particular strategy involved forcing the enemy to continue fighting in order to have war prolonged, which made the whole exercise costly than it would have been. However, Confederacy did not keep up with this strategy to the end, since they were limited by military realities which required them to spread all over their region in order to prevent Union forces from penetrating it, but to their surprise, the Union army still managed to penetrate. The increased limitations of the first strategy made Confederacy shift to another one of “offensive-defensive”, where they made use of communication lines to defend their region and in some instances, they would practice offensive strategy by invading their enemy’s territory.

On the other hand, the Union army had differences concerning the strategy to be used which emerged from the divided leadership of both the army commanders as well as the cabinet. William Seward, who had a great influence in Cabinet proceedings, preferred “border strategy” where union forces were to surround the borders of the Confederacy assuring them of peace which was directed to uniting the two parties. However, this did not work well for unionists who opted to invade their enemy’s territory and make their excess power overwhelm their enemies, who could then fear and opt to unite until they succeeded and won the battle.

Differences between Franco – Prussian and Civil Wars

In The geography of war and peace, These two wars’ main difference was the time in which they took place where civil war occurred before that between Prussia and France, which resulted in other differences in the development of weapons and strategies employed in war. For example, the weapon known as Gatlin Gun, which was used in the civil war of America, was of the lesser standard when compared to the mitrailleuse that belonged to French forces which had acquired the official standards of the equipment designed for armed forces. Strategies employed during the war between Prussia and France were more advanced than those employed during the civil war since they were more organized and focused to win.

Similarities between Franco-Prussian and Civil Wars

On pages 80-83 Colin states that the war between Prussia and France imitated the tactics of the Civil War, where their armed forces were determined to remain on the battlefield as long as the railways remained undisturbed while providing them with war supplies and supporting troops in case of deficiencies. The war between Prussia and France is also similar to Civil War since in both cases, there was witnessed innovative implementation of weapon technology, troop mobilization, strategic planning, and better modes of transport as well as a military organization. Most of these similarities emerged from the fact that a large number of strategies and weapons employed in the war between Prussia and France were modifications from what was employed during the Civil War.


Evidence shows that civil war has a number of characteristic similarities as well as differences with the war between Prussia and France, which is realized by a look at their organization modes, strategies as well as weapons. However, both wars portrayed great efforts, which resulted in a variety of innovations in various areas. On page 84 Colin states that Prussia proved their effectiveness by having a better organization in war, which saw them to victory, while large numbers and power of Union army led to their victory in Civil war.


Colin R. The geography of war and peace: Oxford University Press, 2005 pp79-84.

David W. Bismarck, Napoleon III and the origins of the Franco –Prussian War: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 2003 pp 59-62.

Geoffrey W. The Franco-Prussian War: Cambridge University Press, 2003 pp45-51.

Nagler J. The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification: Cambridge University Press, 2002 pp 66-78.

Patrick B. Savage perils in American Civil War: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007 pp 12-19.

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