Time Capsule #53
France, defeat, and building financial models.
✏️ Disaster — The Battle of Sedan (1/2 September 1870)
With the August sun on their backs, Emperor Napoleon III and his newly-formed, ~120,000 strong Army of Châlons began their march to Metz to relieve the French Army of the Rhine, which found itself besieged by two massive Prussian armies after their defeat at the Battle of Gravelotte. The Prussians, under the excellent generalship of Helmuth von Moltke, would deal a categorical, but not decisive defeat to the approaching French at Beaumont, forcing them to abandon their initial plan and retreat back to the fortress of Sedan in North-Eastern France. With the fortress at their rear and surrounded by hills, the commanding Marshal Patrice de MacMahon believed he could safely rest and resupply his army before continuing the campaign. Requests to dig trenches were declined, as the stay in Sedan was supposed to be a short one. This would prove to not be the case.
Now we have them in the mousetrap.
Helmuth von Moltke
Moltke divided his army into 3 groups: one to hold the French in position, another to strike in the event of a French retreat, and a third to hold the riverbank on the Meuse. After positioning his army, the Prussians effectively encircled the French, cornering them and putting them in a precarious position.
The Emperor demanded a breakout be attempted. In the early morning mist, French and German troops would engage at La Moncelle, a fortified town east of Sedan. The Bavarians would capture the town, and as the mist lifted would pummel the French fighting from the adjacent buildings with artillery. The French would fight back, but their situation worsened considerably when Marshal MacMahon was wounded early in the day, requiring a change in the command structure. When the new general, General de Wimpffen, had assumed command, he overruled the decision to retreat.
Fighting continued throughout the day, with non-stop heavy rifle fire and artillery bombardment from the Prussians causing heavy casualties. Desperate attempts by the French to counter-attack and open an escape route were repulsed, and the French troops on the field dissolved into a panic-stricken mob. By day’s end, it was clear that victory was impossible; the Emperor raised the white flag on the fortress walls conceding defeat.
The Battle of Sedan was a pivotal moment in the Franco-Prussian war: the Prussians would take over 100,000 prisoners, including the Emperor himself. With the destruction of the French 2nd army and its 1st still holed up in Metz, the road to Paris was open. The Prussians would besiege Paris by mid-September, and the 2nd French Empire would fall not long after.
📸 Photo of the Week
📖 Book of the Week — Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts
Andrew Roberts, one of my favourite biographers, wrote a masterful biography fit for an emperor. Napoleon rose to power during one of the most tumultuous times in French history, creating an empire that encompassed almost all of Western Europe at its height. Particularly in the early years, his military track record was excellent and he is widely considered as one of the great generals of history.
💭 Quote of the Week
You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
🔭 Sunday Best
Building a financial model for Apple — with pharma-bro and current federal inmate Martin Shkreli
The Dark Years: Vichy France — an undergraduate lecture at Yale discussing the outbreak of WW2 in France and the subsequent collaborationist Vichy regime
💡 Food for Thought
Defeat is the mother of reform.
See you next year.