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At Any Cost: Metz 1870

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On the morning of August 16th, 1870 at the Gravelotte crossroads outside the fortress of Metz, Napoleon III, Emperor of the French Second Empire, turned over command of the Army of the Rhine to a reluctant Marshal Francois Achille Bazaine. The Army of the Rhine, the last intact field army and already the last hope for France during the two-week old Franco-Prussian War, was gathered around the protection of the Metz fortress complex. The Prussian I and II Armies were sweeping forward, hot on the heels of the retiring French. But poor weather and a disorganized cavalry screen allowed the French army to break contact with the pursuing Prussians. Helmuth von Moltke, Chief of the Prussian General Staff, instructed his armies to wheel south of the fortress, cross the Moselle River and attempt to catch the French in flank. The only problem with this plan was – where were the French? The resulting two-day campaign produced some of the more remarkable battles in military history – the Battles of Mars-La-Tour and Gravelotte-St. Privat. These two battles produced over 60,000 casualties, with each army suffering equally. Both battles had significance not only for the Franco-Prussian War, but for the course of European history. In fact, Otto von Bismarck remarked at Versailles in January 1871: “What is certain beyond argument is that the war – and with it the future of Europe – was decided at Mars-la-Tour on 16 August 1870.”

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