The Siege of Paris 19 September 1870–28 January 1871


Map Code: Ax01414

The culminating action in the Franco-Prussian War, the siege of Paris led to French defeat and the establishment of the Paris Commune. It was a formative event in the establishment of the German Empire. The Franco-Prussian War was a conflict that arose from Prussian ambitions for German unification and French disquiet at the shifting balance of power within Europe. The siege followed a series of decisive Prussian victories, notably at Metz and Sedan, where the French Third Republic surrendered but refused to accept German peace terms. By mid-September Crown Prince Albert of Saxony’s army was closing in on Paris from the north, while Helmuth von Moltke, in charge of the 3rd Army, was closing in from the south. Encirclement was complete by 19 September. A series of attacks were launched from the beleaguered city: from Fort St Denis on 30 October; at Champigny, Créteil and Villiers on 30 November, which was initially successful but driven back by 2 December. On 3 January a final break-out was attempted in the Rueil area west of Paris, but the attack was easily repulsed. Food shortages meant that Parisians were forced to eat dogs, cats, rats and even zoo animals. German shells bombarded the city over 23 nights in January, leading to the death of 400 citizens, and on 25 January 1871 Bismarck ordered the bombardment of the city by large-caliber siege guns. Paris capitulated on 28 January; French troops were disarmed, fortifications were surrendered and an indemnity of 200 million francs was paid to the Germans. Parisians also had to submit to the humiliation of a German victory march through the city.

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