by Quinton Barry
Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. . Pp. 308+.
Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 1913336085
British scholar Barry, author of the excellent two-volume The Franco-Prussian War: 1870-1871, and several other books on particular campaigns during that war, is ideally suited to be the author of this look at the role of Marshal François Achille Bazaine (1811-1888) in that conflict. He opens with three chapters tracing Bazaine’s early life and military career, from junior officer of the Foreign Legion to marshal, while fighting in Algeria, Spain, Crimea, Italy, and Mexico. Another chapter profiles the French and Prussian-Germans armies and one covers the outbreak of the war in July of 1870. The bulk of the book is devoted to the war.
Initially assigned a corps command, early in August, after several reverses, Napoleon III divided his army, giving Bazaine command of the Army of the Rhine. By August 19th, totally outmaneuvered, Bazaine was surrounded and besieged at Metz. Desperate attempts to break the siege followed. Napoleon and most of the rest of the French army were captured at Sedan in September and several improvised relief forces were beaten off by the Germans On October 27th Bazaine surrendered nearly 200,000 hungry troops, many ill or wounded, and much equipment. The war dragged on, as the Pruss0-German forces invested Paris, beating off improvised French armies until the ‘City of Light” surrendered in January.
Having covered these events in considerable detail, Barry proceeds to look at the post war court martial and conviction of Bazaine on multiple charges, including treason. He makes a good case that while Bazaine might have done better, holding out a little longer, the marshal was hardly responsible for France’s national disaster, rooted in flawed pre-war politics, military policy, and strategy.
Bazaine 1870, a volume in the Helion series “From Musket to Maxim, 1815-1914”, is an excellent book for anyone interested in the Second French Empire or the Franco-Prussian War
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