SEDAN – La Citadelle pendant l’occupation allemande (1870-71)
Citadel during the German occupation (1870-1871)
(Card dated c.1910)
Sedan is a large town in north-east France near the Belgium border. (Google Maps.)
From “The Historic Town Of Sedan Ardennes France”:
Sedan was originally a sovereign principality presided over by the illustrious Marshall Turenne. It later became a part of France when it was surrendered back to the main state to spare the life of Frederic Maurice de La Tour d’Auvergne. He was a prominent member of the ruling family and represented a threat to the French state; he was sentenced to death.
Much more recent history records that the Emperor Napoleon III was taken prisoner along with 100,000 of his troops at Sedan during the Franco Prussian War in 1870. It was one of the early Prussian victories and led to an annual national holiday in Germany that remained until 1919. The holiday was called ‘Sedan Day’.
Sedan was occupied again by Germany for four years during the Great War. The German Crown Prince paraded his 13th Infantry Division around the town to mark their conquest.
It’s the Franco-Prussian War that the image in the postcard relates to.
The Battle of Sedan was fought during the Franco-Prussian War from 1 to 2 September 1870. It resulted in the capture of Emperor Napoleon III and large numbers of his troops and for all intents and purposes decided the war in favour of Prussia and its allies, though fighting continued under a new French government.
The newspapers of the time, even in Australia, filled many columns with account of the battle: before, during and after, and from both sides; and descriptions of the locations. I’ve posted some extracts below. If you want to read the longer versions, click on the links. They are full of many details, if you have a need or interest in such things. Many, many details. The writer of the last article below goes on to say “There were long rows of graves which marked the exact positions of the opposing forces. On some graves were pieces of wood, chalked with the numbers of those who lay beneath. Thus I read—’Thirty-four sleep here,’ ‘One hundred rest here;’ and on scores of other mounds the numbers varied from forty to one hundred.”
THE BATTLES BEFORE SEDAN
On the other side of the frontier, right at our feet lay the little town of Sedan, famous for its fortifications by Vauban, and the birthplace of Turenne, the great Marshal ; known also as the place where Sedan chairs originated. As we were only about two and a quarter miles from the town, we could easily distinguish its principal edifices without the aid of our glasses.
On the left was a very pretty church, its Gothic spire of sandstone offering a conspicuous target for the Prussian guns had General Moltke thought best to bombard the town. To the right, on the south-east of the church, was a large barrack, with the fortifications of the citadel beyond it, and beyond this to the south-east again, was the old chateau of Sedan, with a picturesque group of round turreted towers of the sixteenth century, very useless, even against the four-pounder Kruppfield pieces. This building, I believe, is now an arsenal.
Beyond this was the citadel, the heart of Sedan, on a rising hill above the Meuse to the south-east, but completely commanded by hills on both sides of the river which runs in front of the citadel. The French had flooded the low meadows in the valley before coming to the railroad bridge at Bazeilles, in order to stop the Germans from advancing on the town in that direction. With their usual stupidity, for one can find no other word for it, the French had failed to mine the bridge at Bazeilles, and it was of immense service to the Prussians throughout the battle.
Sydney Mail, 29 October 1870
WITH THE FRENCH ARMY AT SEDAN.
(A French correspondent.)
To one entering the town as I did were was no longer any battle to describe-it was first a retreat and too soon a rout. I thought myself lucky to get away from the field as I did, for an hour afterwards the rout of those forces near by was complete. Already soldiers were crushing against each other in the struggle to get inside the town. Dismounted cavalry were trying to make their way even by the ramparts, leaping down the counterscarp, others forcing their way in by the postern gates. From a nook of the ramparts, as I rested a moment, I saw also cuirassiers jumping, horse and all, into the moat, the horses breaking their legs and ribs. Men were scrambling over each other. Officers of all ranks, colonels, and even generals, in uniforms it was impossible to mistake, mixed in this shameful melee. Behind all came guns with their heavy carriages and powerful horses, forcing their way into the throngs, maiming and crushing the fugitives on foot. To add to the confusion and horror, the Prussian batteries had by this time advanced within range, and the Prussian shells began falling into the midst of the struggling mases of men. On the ramparts were the Garde Nationale, manning the guns of the town, and replying with more or less effect to the nearest Prussian batteries. It was a scene horrible enough to have pleased the fancy of Gustave Dore himself. I could form but one idea of our unhappy army that it was at the bottom of a seething cauldron.
I hurried back as best I could to my hotel, following the narrow streets where the shell were least likely to reach the ground. Wherever there was a square or open place I came upon the bodies of horses and men, quite dead, or still quivering, torn to pieces by bursting shells. Beaching my hotel, I found the street in which it stood choked, like the rest, with wagons, guns, horses, and men. Most luckily, the Prussian fire did not at this moment enfilade the street, for a train of caissons filled with powder blocked the whole way, itself unable to move backward or forward. There was every chance that these caissons would explode, the town being then on fire in two places; and I began to think that Sedan was a place more uncomfortable than even the battle-field over which a victorious enemy was swiftly advancing.
Adelaide Observer, 29 October 1870
SEDAN AFTER THE BATTLE
(A German correspondent)
The small drawbridge was already let down, and a number of men and women hastened towards us, asking whether the Prussians would allow them to pass. The walls were empty ; not a soldier, to be seen on them. A peasant woman was standing like a sentry, with an umbrella under her arm, on the wall over the gate, probably seeking her sou. We passed in unmolested. “Prussians! Prussians!” was the general exclamation. The narrow, dirty streets, soaked with rain, swarmed with townspeople, from whose heart a heavy load seemed to have fallen, and with unarmed soldiers—Turcos and Zouaves, cavalry, artillery, and Line, all streamed together, and amidst the throng rushed horses who had lost their masters in the battle. It was a frightful chaos. Tho townspeople seemed happy to have escaped a bombardment. The soldiers were evidently glad to be free from their weapons. Many had thrown them into the moat. A cavalry soldier was engaged before us in thrusting his sword into a sewer. At our request soldiers were ordered to conduct us through the mud and the crowd of French troops to the citadel. As we passed through the streets no abusive word was addressed us, though we were the first Prussians who had to-day entered the place. The troops allowed us to pass peacefully. If McMahon really declared he could do nothing more with such soldiers, I endorse it. And yet on the 1st of September they had fought with great bravery. After a long promenade, in which loose horses rushed against us, and everywhere a picture of the direst confusion met our eves, we reached the citadel.
Mount Alexander Mail, 26 November 1870
THE CITADEL OF SEDAN. –
The barracks have been turned into an ambulance, which is under the superintendence of Dr. McCormack and Miss Pearson. The fortifications of the citadel are of enormous strength, but they are commanded by hills in several directions. Preceding the surrender the Prussians fired shells, a few of which struck the hospital, but without doing much damage; but a large number of French soldiers were killed, and they are buried on the left of a steep plateau which leads to the highest point of the fortifications.
Sydney Mail, 3 December 1870