François Achille Bazaine

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François Achille Bazaine
François Achille Bazaine on campaign in Mexico by Jean-Adolphe Beauce.
Born(1811-02-13)13 February 1811
Versailles, France
Died23 September 1888(1888-09-23) (aged 77)
Madrid, Spain
Allegiance Flag of France.svg Kingdom of France
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  French Second Republic
Flag of France (1794-1815).svg  Second French Empire
Flag of France (1794-1958).svg  French Third Republic
Service/branch French Army
Years of service1831–1873
Rank Marshal of France
(Dignity of the State)
Commands heldGovernor of Tlemcen, Algeria 1848
1st Regiment, 1st Foreign Legion
1er R.E.L.E 1851
Foreign Legion Brigade
(1st & 2nd Foreign), Crimea
Governor of Sevastopol
Army Inspector General
French Forces in Mexico
Commander-in-Chief Imperial Guard
Paris 1867
III Army Corps, Army of the Rhine 1870
Commander-in-Chief French Forces, Franco-Prussian War
Battles/wars First Carlist War
Crimean War
Franco-Austrian War
French intervention in Mexico
Franco-Prussian War
Awards Grand-Croix of the Légion d'honneur
Médaille Militaire
Grand Ciordon of the Order of Léopold of the Belgians
Companion of the Order of the Bath
Other work Senator of the Second French Empire

François Achille Bazaine (13 February 1811 23 September 1888) was an officer of the French army. Rising from the ranks, during four decades of distinguished service (including 35 years on campaign) under Louis-Philippe and then Napoleon III, he held every rank in the army from Fusilier to Marshal of France. He became renowned for his determination to lead from the front, for his impassive bearing under fire and for personal bravery verging on the foolhardy, which resulted in him being wounded on numerous occasions and having his horse shot from under him twice. From 1863 he was a Marshal of France, and it was in this role that he surrendered the last organized French army to Prussia during the Franco-Prussian war, during the siege of Metz.

Napoleon III French emperor, president, and member of the House of Bonaparte

Napoleon III was the first elected President of France from 1848 to 1852. When he could not constitutionally be re-elected, he seized power in 1851 and became the Emperor of the French from 1852 to 1870. He founded the Second French Empire and was its only emperor until the defeat of the French army and his capture by Prussia and its allies in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870. He worked to modernize the French economy, rebuilt the center of Paris, expanded the overseas empire, and engaged in the Crimean War and the war for Italian unification. After his defeat and downfall he went into exile and died in England in 1873.

Kingdom of Prussia Former German state (1701–1918)

The Kingdom of Prussia was a German kingdom that constituted the state of Prussia between 1701 and 1918. It was the driving force behind the unification of Germany in 1871 and was the leading state of the German Empire until its dissolution in 1918. Although it took its name from the region called Prussia, it was based in the Margraviate of Brandenburg, where its capital was Berlin.

Siege of Metz (1870)

The Siege of Metz lasting from 19 August – 27 October 1870 was fought during the Franco-Prussian War and ended in a decisive Prussian victory.


Sentenced to death by the government of the Third Republic following the war, his sentence was commuted to 20 years imprisonment in exile, from which he subsequently escaped. He eventually settled in Spain where aged 77, he died alone and impoverished in 1888. To the Foreign Legion he remains a hero and to this day is honoured as one of their bravest soldiers.

Spain Kingdom in Southwest Europe

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country mostly located in Europe. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagoes: the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera make Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean.

French Foreign Legion military service branch of the French Army

The French Foreign Legion is a military service branch of the French Army established in 1831. Legionnaires are highly trained infantry soldiers and the Legion is unique in that it was, and continues to be, open to foreign recruits willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. When it was founded, the French Foreign Legion was not unique; other foreign formations existed at the time in France.

Early life

His father général de corps d'armée Pierre-Dominique Bazaine, a polytechnic (promotion X1803), meritorious engineer of Napoleon I and director of the Institute of Communications Channels of the Russian Empire. François Achille Bazaine was born at Versailles, on February 13, 1811, from an affair prior to his father's marriage, with Marie-Madeleine, Josèphe dit Mélanie Vasseur. His elder brother Pierre-Dominique Bazaine was a renowned engineer. Achille Bazaine conducted studies at the institute of Bader (or Barbet), then the college of Saint-Louis.

Pierre-Dominique Bazaine Russian mathematician

Pierru-Dominique Bazaine (1786–1838) was a French scientist and engineer. He was educated at the École polytechnique in Paris as an engineer. At the request of Alexander I of Russia he was sent to Russia by Napoleon I as an army officer in the engineering corps to set up an institute for the education of transportation engineers, and in 1824 he became its director. Bazaine remained in Russia until 1834, organizing transportation routes and directing the work of inland navigation. He was responsible for many of the bridges of St. Petersburg and its outskirts, as well as other major civil engineering projects, including flood protection. He received many Honours and Awards for his extensive contribution to the infrastructure of Russia, as well as Honorary Fellowship of a number of science academies across Europe for his ground-breaking mathematical theses. He finally returned to France in 1834 and died in Paris aged 52 in 1838.

Adolphe Bazaine-Vasseur French engineer

Pierre-Dominique "Adolphe" Bazaine, was a French railway engineer. He was a regional engineer with the highways department at Altkirch, subsequently becoming director of railways for Alsace Fichier:Strasbourg-Bâle P-D Bazaine.jpg

French Foreign Legion & Algeria

While not passing the academic entry test of the French Polytechnic School in 1830, he enlisted as a simple soldier (private) on March 28, 1831 at the 37th Line Infantry Regiment (French : 37e régiment d'infanterie de ligne ), and was promoted to Caporal (Corporal) on July 8, 1831. He was subsequently passed to Corporal Fourrier on January 13, 1832 and Segent (Sergeant) Fourrier (fourrier: non-commissioned officer responsible for stewardship) in July.

École Polytechnique French institution of higher education and research in Palaiseau

École polytechnique is a French public institution of higher education and research in Palaiseau, a suburb southwest of Paris. It is one of the most prestigious and selective French scientific and engineering schools, called grandes écoles in French. It is known for its ingénieur polytechnicien scientific degree program which is equivalent to both a bachelor and master of science. Its entrance exam, the X-ENS exam, is renowned for its selectivity with a little over 500 admitted students out of the 53 848 students enrolled in the preparatory programs for the French scientific and engineering schools entrance exams.

A private is a soldier of the lowest military rank.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

With this rank, he arrived to the French Foreign Legion in August. He was designated as Sergent-Major, on November 4, he attained the Epaulette on November 2, 1833 and on July 22, 1835, he was wounded in the battle of Macta (French : la Macta ) of fires to the wrist, and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant and received the knight order of the Legion d'honneur.

Origins of the French Foreign Legion

The French Foreign Legion is an elite force composed of soldiers of different race, trade, religion, and sentiments, which began as part of the French Army. Through the years, it has earned a quasi-legendary reputation due to its victories and also its gallant defeats. It was founded in 1831 and was given the right to hire foreign recruits. The Foreign Legion was deeply rooted in the French conquest of Algeria. Since its inception, the Legion played an important role in advancing France's colonial expansion.

Sergeant major is a senior non-commissioned rank or appointment in many militaries around the world. In Commonwealth countries, the various degrees of sergeant major are appointments held by warrant officers. In the United States, there are also various grades of sergeant major, but they are all of the same pay grade of E-9. However, the Sergeant Major of the Army and the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps, as their respective service's Senior Enlisted Advisor, receive a special rate of basic pay that is higher than all other sergeants major.

Epaulette Military rank insignia

Epaulette is a type of ornamental shoulder piece or decoration used as insignia of rank by armed forces and other organizations. In the French and other armies, epaulettes are also worn by all ranks of elite or ceremonial units when on parade. It may bear rank or other insignia, and should not be confused with a shoulder mark - also called an shoulder board, rank slide, or slip-on - a flat cloth sleeve worn on the shoulder strap of a uniform.

With the Legion, he was ceded by Louis Philippe I to Queen Christine to combat the Carlists. Named immediately Spanish Captain at Foreign Title, he commanded a company of voltigeurs then was attached to the general staff headquarters of colonel Conrad. He was cited at the combats of Ponts (French : Ponts ) in 1835, Larminar (French : Larminar ) in 1836, Huesca (French : Huesca ) in 1837 and the battle of Barbastro in 1837, where he dragged out the body of général Conrad from the hands of the enemy, despite a bullet wound to the right leg. He was then attached to colonel Cariès de Senilhes, commissioner of the French government to the Army of Spain.

Louis Philippe I King of the French

Louis Philippe I was King of the French from 1830 to 1848. His father Louis Philippe II, Duke of Orléans had taken the name "Philippe Égalité" because he initially supported the French Revolution. However, following the deposition and execution of his cousin King Louis XVI, Louis Philippe fled the country. His father denounced his actions and voted for his death, but was imprisoned and executed that same year. Louis Philippe spent the next 21 years in exile before returning during the Bourbon Restoration. He was proclaimed king in 1830 after his cousin Charles X was forced to abdicate by the July Revolution. The reign of Louis Philippe is known as the July Monarchy and was dominated by wealthy industrialists and bankers. He followed conservative policies, especially under the influence of French statesman François Guizot during the period 1840–48. He also promoted friendship with Britain and sponsored colonial expansion, notably the French conquest of Algeria. His popularity faded as economic conditions in France deteriorated in 1847, and he was forced to abdicate after the outbreak of the French Revolution of 1848. He lived out his life in exile in the United Kingdom. His supporters were known as Orléanists, as opposed to Legitimists who supported the main line of the House of Bourbon.

Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies Queen consort of Spain

Princess Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies was queen consort of Spain from 1829 to 1833 and regent of the kingdom from 1833 to 1840.

Ranks in the French Army Wikimedia list article

Rank insignia in the French Army are worn on the sleeve or on shoulder marks of uniforms, and range up to the highest rank of Marshal of France, a state honour denoted with a seven-star insignia that was last conferred posthumously on Marie Pierre Koenig in 1984.

In 1838, he joined the 4th Light Infantry with his French rank of Lieutenant. On October 20, 1839, he was re-promoted to Captain in the Legion in Algeria. In 1840, he passed to the 8th Chasseurs à Pied Battalion. He partook in a part to the expeditions in Miliana (French : Miliana ) where he was cited, from Kabylie and Morocco. Promoted to chef de battaillon (Commandant - Major), on March 10, 1844, he was assigned to the 58th Line Infantry Regiment in quality as the Arab Bureau Chief of Tlemcen. He was promoted to officer order of the Legion d'honneur following the combat of Sidi Kafir, on November 9, 1845. Cited to the combat of Sidi Afis, on March 24, 1846, he passed to the 5th Line Infantry Regiment while still in charge of Arab relations, in 1847. He was cited at the combats of Afir for his contribution to the submission of AbdelKader in December. Promoted to Lieutenant-colonel on April 11, 1848, he was assigned to the 19th Light Infantry Regiment then went back to the 5th Line Infantry Regiment on August 30 in quality as superior commander of the place of Tlemcen. On June 4, 1850, he was designated as a colonel in the 55th Line Infantry Regiment (French : 55e de ligne ) and Director of the Arba Affairs division of Oran.

On February 4, 1851, he was placed at the head of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Foreign Legion 1er R.E.L.E, and the next month, he commanded the subdivision of Sidi bel Abes, a post which he occupied until 1854. During this commandment time, he married Maria Juaria Gregorio Tormo de la Soledad, on June 12, 1852.

Crimea and Italy

On October 28, 1854, he was admitted to the 1st section of officer generals with the rank of Maréchal de camp and commanded two regiments of the Legion at the Army of the Orient. On September 10, 1855, he became the military commandant of Sevastopol and général de division on the next September 22. During the Crimean War, he was wounded and cited during the attack of the Quarantaine, with a horse shot underneath him, the same day. In October, he won another citation, earning him the commander order the Legion d'honneur for the apprehension of the position of Kinbourn at the closing of Dniepr, which he concluded in three days.

The way in which he conducted the left wing of the French forces in the final Allied assault on Sebastopol on 8 September 1855 (wounded, shell fragment in left hip, his horse killed under him), received acclaim of the highest order from the Allied Command and he was subsequently promoted to Major General (General de Division) on 22 September 1855 and selected from all the Allied Generals to assume the Governorship of Sebastopol.

At 44, this made him the youngest General in the French Army. In October 1855, Bazaine was chosen to give the coup de grâce. With a mixed French and British Force, he sailed to Kinburn at the mouth of the Dnieper to attack the remaining Russian forces to the North of Sebastopol. He led a daring landing and seized the naval fortress with a frontal assault, an action for which he received particular praise: "General Bazaine who commands that portion of the French Army now operating at the mouth of the Dnieper may be cited as presenting one of the most brilliant examples of the achievement of military distinction in the modern day". [1] At Sebastopol, on 25 June 1856 he was invested by the British Commander in Chief, Lord Gough, with the Order of the Bath, for his conspicuous contribution to the Allied campaign during the Crimean War.

Upon his return to France, he occupied the post of inspector of the infantry then commanded the 19th Infantry Division (French : 19e Division Militaire ) at Bourges.

Commander of the 3rd Infantry Division (French : 3e Division d'Infanterie ) of the 1st Army Corps (French : 1er Corps d'Armée ) of Achille Baraguey d'Hilliers, he was close to the combat line of Melegnano, on June 8, 1859, and the Battle of Solferino, on June 24, during the conquest of the cemetery.

Actually, during that year in 1859, he commanded the Division in the Franco-Sardinian campaign against Austrian forces in Lombardy. He was wounded by a shell splinter in the head on 8 June, during the action at the Battle of Melegnano. He recovered to play a conspicuous part in the Solferino, which he captured on 24 June 1859, despite being wounded again (bullet to the upper thigh) and having his horse shot from under him again, earning another citation.


Francois Achille Bazaine in 1860. Bazaine Disderi BNF Gallica.jpg
Francois Achille Bazaine in 1860.

Returned to Paris, he was designated as the general inspector of the 4th and 5th infantry arrondissements. The souvenir of Spain made him suggest to Napoleon III to lend the French Foreign Legion to the new emperor in Mexico. This idea would become that of the Emperor.

Bazaine was later designated to be part of the expedition to Mexico (French : expédition du Mexique ).

Commandant of the 1st Infantry Division of expditionary corps to Mexico on July 1, 1862, his action was decisive during the siege of Puebla in 1863. He commanded with great distinction the First Division under General (afterwards Marshal) Forey in the Mexican expedition in 1862, where he pursued the war with great vigour and success, driving President Benito Juárez to the frontier. His decisive action was instrumental in the taking of the city of Puebla in 1863. As a consequence, he was cited and designated at the head of the expeditionary corps by replacing Élie Frédéric Forey. He received a citation at the battle of San Lorenzo and the insignias of the Grand-Croix of the Légion d'honneur, on July 2, 1863. He was elevated to the dignity of Marshal of France and Senator (French : Senator of the Second Empire ) of the Second French Empire by Imperial decree on September 5, 1864, the first Marshal who had started as a Legionnaire. [2] He commanded in person the siege of Oaxaca in February 1865, following which, the Emperor complimented him while decorating him with the Médaille militaire, on April 28, 1865.

Here as in 1870, two of Bazaine's nephews, Adolphe and Albert Bazaine-Hayter served with their uncle as his aide-de-camp. The Marshal's African experience as a soldier and as an administrator stood him in good stead in dealing with the guerrilleros of the Juárez party, but he was less successful in his relations with Maximilian, with whose court the French headquarters was in constant strife.

His first wife died while he was in Mexico. While he was in Mexico, Bazaine got engaged then to Maria-Josefa Pedraza de la Peña y Barragán on May 28, 1865, then married her. Maximilian I of Mexico offered him the palace of Buena Vista.

His enemies whispered that he aimed to depose Maximilian and get the throne of Mexico for himself, [2] or that he aspired to play the part of a Bernadotte. His marriage to a rich Mexican lady (Pepita de la Peña y Azcarate), whose family were supporters of Juárez, still further complicated his relations with the unfortunate emperor, and when at the close of the American Civil War the United States sent a powerful war-trained army to the Mexican frontier, Napoleon III commanded Bazaine to withdraw French forces and return to France. Bazaine skillfully conducted the retreat and embarkation at Veracruz (1867).

Consequently, his relations with Emperor Maximilian became tense. He was accused of dragging the expedition against the will of Napoleon III, a situation which provoked his repatriation. On November 12, 1867, he obtained the commandment of the 3rd Army Corps (French : 3e Corps d'Armée ) at Nancy, and the following year, he commanded the camp of Châlons then replaced Auguste Regnaud de Saint-Jean d'Angély at the head of the Imperial Guard.

Franco-Prussian War

Battle of Saint-Privat. Le cimetiere de Saint-Privat (preparatory work).jpg
Battle of Saint-Privat.

At the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Bazaine took field command of the French front line forces of III Army Corps of the Army of the Rhine near Metz.


On August 12, 1870, during the war, Bazaine was nominated as the commander-in-chief of the Army of the Rhine, which was forced to unfold towards Châlons-sur-Marne to rejoin reserves in order to face the German troops. On the other hand, while he was presented with the occasion to destroy several enemy army corps following the Battle of Mars-la-Tour (French : bataille de Mars-la-Tour ), on August 16, he decided, to the astonishment of his general staff headquarters to unfold his army of 180,000 men at Metz (French : Metz ), accordingly cutting himself from free France and his reserves. Two days later, at the eve of the Battle of Saint-Privat (French : bataille de Saint-Privat ), Marshal François Certain de Canrobert requested urgently and for several times reinforcements from Bazaine, but did not obtain them. The latter had judged that Saint-Privat was not an important battle and refused to engage his reserve troops, which were numerous. No reinforcements were sent to the French troops which were engaged heroically in combat on the plateau and Bazaine didn't even appear on the field of battle.

Directing the only true organized armed force of France at that moment, he seemed to consider it mainly as a political tool and contemplated the various intrigues, notably with the Empress, probably to restore the Empire torn since September 4. He negotiated equally with the Germans the authorization of an exit of his army « pour sauver la France d'elle-même » (to save France from itself), which meant from the republican push, as in revolutionary. It was during this stage that he vigorously opposed captain Louis Rossel who wanted to pursue the war and not betray his country (Rossel was the only officer to join since March 19, 1871 the Paris Commune).

Since the Fall of Sedan, on September 2, he represented the last hope in the French camp, Bazaine renounced to pursue combat and capitulated on October 28. This surrender is often explained by the lack of motivation of Bazaine to defend a government which was corresponding less and less to his conservative ideas. However, Bazaine also presented the situation differently in a letter on November 2, 1870 in the Journal du Nord (Northern Journal): "famine, the atmospheres brought down the arms of 63,000 real combatants which remained (the artillery no longer fixed and the cavalry demounted, all this after having eaten the majority of horses and searched the land in all directions to find rarely a weak provision to general privations).[...] Add to this dark painting more 20,000 sick or wounded to the point of absence of medicines and a torrential rain since 15 days now, flooding the camps and not allowing the men to rest because their small tents were the only shelter they had".

The news of this surrender afflicted France, while general Louis-Jules Trochu couldn't even seem to loosen the German noose around Paris which was besieged. Léon Gambetta, gone to Tours in the hope to assemble a Liberation army, understood that his tentative was unworkable and accordingly launched a proclamation where he explicitly accused Bazaine of treason in his speech: "Metz was capitulated. A general on who France was counting on, even after Mexico, just lifted from the Nation more than a 100,000 of its defenders. Marshal Bazaine has betrayed. He has made himself the agent of Sedan, the partner in crime with the invader, and, in the middle of the army which had the guard of, he simply delivered it, without even attempting a supreme effort, 120,000 combatants, 20,000 wounded, guns, cannons, the flags and the strongest citadels of France, Metz, virgin, to him, of foreign defilements".

"Nous marchons à un désastre"

It is clear even at this early stage that Bazaine was acutely aware of his Army's shortcomings against the well known speed and menacing efficiency of the Prussian military machine, evidenced by his remark to a friend whilst boarding the train from Paris to Metz: "Nous marchons à un désastre." ("We are walking into a disaster.") He had absorbed certain lessons that were to become a vital part of French military thought. From the story of Waterloo he had learned that a line of resolute men on the defensive could again and again break an enemy attack. From Mexico he had watched Lee's dashing Confederates lose a war despite their commander's brilliance in attack. He had also learned that dramatic sorties were invaluable in North Africa but were risky against European armies. Finally, Bazaine saw with misgivings the Prussian invention all-steel Krupp breech-loading gun, which was to shape the future of artillery on the battlefield. He concluded at this time that for France defensive war is better than offensive war. "It is better," he said, "to conduct operations systematically (i.e., defensively), as in the Seventeenth Century." [2]

Takes over as Commander in Chief from Napoleon III

Bazaine took no part in the earlier battles, but after the defeats of Marshal MacMahon's French Forces at Wörth and Marshal Canrobert's at Forbach, Napoleon III (who was in increasingly poor health) was swift to give Bazaine the title of Commander-in-Chief of the French Army on 13 August 1870. At the time, Napoleon's choice was considered to be a wise one. It was widely believed by French politicians and soldiers alike, that if anyone was capable of saving France from the Prussian onslaught, it was "notre glorieux Bazaine" ("our glorious Bazaine"). He was the only remaining Marshal of France not to have suffered defeat at the hands of Prussian forces in the early weeks of the war. However, being the youngest of the French Marshals, Napoleon's choice was met with suspicion and jealousy by the older, socially superior Marshals. Hence it was with reluctance that he took up the chief command, and his tenure became the central act in the tragedy of 1870. He found the army in retreat, ill-equipped and numerically at a great disadvantage, and the generals and officers discouraged and distrustful of one another. Bazaine's solution was to bring back his army to Metz. The day after assuming command of the Army, on 14 August at Borny he was badly wounded by a shell on the left shoulder, a fact which was to be excluded from his service roll presented at his Court Martial in 1873.


How far his inaction was the cause of the disaster of Spicheren is a matter of dispute. The best that can be said of his conduct is that the traditions of warfare on a small scale and the mania for taking up "strong positions," common to the French generals of 1870, were in Bazaine's own case emphasized by his personal dislike for the "schoolmaster" Frossard, lately the Prince Imperial's tutor and now commander of the army corps posted at Spicheren. Frossard himself, the leader of the "strong positions" school, could only blame his own theories for the paralysis of the rest of the army, which left the corps at Spicheren to fight unsupported. Bazaine, indeed, when called upon for help, moved part of his corps forward, but only to "take up strong positions," not to strike a blow on the battlefield. [3]

It seems to be clearly established that the charges of treason had as yet no foundation in fact. Nor, indeed, can his unwillingness to leave the Moselle region, while there was yet time to slip past the advancing enemy, be considered even as proof of special incompetence. The resolution to stay in the neighbourhood of Metz was based on the knowledge that if the slow-moving French army ventured far out it would infallibly be headed off and brought to battle in the open by superior numbers. In "strong positions" close to his stronghold, however, Bazaine hoped that he could inflict damaging repulses and heavy slaughter on the ardent Germans, and in the main the result justified the expectation. The scheme was creditable, and even heroic, but the execution throughout all ranks, from the Marshal to the battalion commanders, fell far short of the idea. The minutely cautious methods of movement, which Algerian experience had evolved suitable enough for small African desert columns, which were liable to surprise rushes and ambushes, reduced the mobility of a large army, which had favourable marching conditions, to 5 miles a day as against the enemy's rate of 15. When, before he had finally decided to stay in Metz, Bazaine attempted halfheartedly to begin a retreat on Verdun, the staff work and organization of the movement over the Moselle was so ineffective that when the German staff calculated that Bazaine was nearing Verdun, the French had in reality barely got their artillery and baggage trains through the town of Metz. Even on the battlefield the Marshal forbade the general staff to appear, and conducted the fighting by means of his personal orderly officers. [3]

Bazaine and his staff officers including Colonel Willette and his nephews Capt Adolphe Bazaine-Hayter and Lt George Bazaine-Hayter in 1870 Marshal Bazaine with his personal staff officers in 1870.jpg
Bazaine and his staff officers including Colonel Willette and his nephews Capt Adolphe Bazaine-Hayter and Lt George Bazaine-Hayter in 1870


After the cumbrous army had passed through Metz it encountered an isolated corps of the enemy near the village of Mars-la-Tour, which was commanded by the brilliant leader Constantin von Alvensleben, and promptly attacked the French. At almost every moment of the day victory was in Bazaine's hands. Two corps of the Germans fought all day for bare existence. But Bazaine had no confidence in his generals or his troops, and contented himself with inflicting severe losses on the most aggressive portions of the German army. [3]

Gravelotte and Sedan

Two days later, while the French actually retreated on Metz (taking seven hours to cover 5 to 6 miles) the masses of the Germans gathered in front of Bazaine's Army at Gravelotte, intercepting his communication with the interior of France. This Bazaine expected, and feeling certain that the Germans would sooner or later attack him in his chosen position, he made no attempt to interfere with their concentration. The great battle was fought, and having inflicted severe punishment on his assailants, Bazaine fell back within the entrenched camp of Metz. But although he made no appeals for help, the only remaining army of France, Marshal Mac-Mahon's Army of Châlons , moved to rescue Bazaine. Napoleon III followed close behind MacMahon's army in a carriage. When on 2 September 1870, MacMahon blundered into a German trap at Sedan, the Emperor mounted a horse despite his pain, rode along the firing line for hours seeking death. It never found him. Napoleon III surrendered with 80,000 men. [2] With Sedan the Second Empire collapsed, Napoleon III being taken as a prisoner of war.

Siege of Metz

The Prussian army of 200,000 men now besieged the city of Metz, where 3 French marshals, 50 generals, 135,000 men, and 600 guns were encircled. Bazaine attempted to break the siege at Noisseville on 31 August but the French were repulsed, losing 3,500 men in the attempt. There were supplies in Metz to last no more than a month, such that by early September the order was given for work horses to be slaughtered for food. By mid September, cavalry horses also began to be slaughtered. Without cavalry and horses to pull the guns, Bazaine's ability to mount effective attempts to break out rapidly diminished. On 7 October, hungry and immobilised, Bazaine dispatched two 40,000 man foraging parties along both banks of the Moselle, but the Prussian guns blew the French wagons off the road and the Prussian infantry cut swathes through the desperate French soldiers with Chassepots captured at Sedan. Over 2,000 men were lost in this operation. Typhus and smallpox was spreading and by 10 October, it is estimated that 19,000 of the French troops in Metz were hospitalised. A further attempt was made to break the siege on 18 October at Bellevue, but again the French troops were repulsed, with the loss of 1,250 men. The city was on its knees, the troops and inhabitants on the point of starvation.

Diplomacy, then surrender

As commander of the only remaining organized army of France, Bazaine took it upon himself, perhaps justifiably, to control the country's destiny. He refused to recognise the new Government of National Defence, formed following Napoleon's capture and the resulting collapse of his government, and instead engaged in a series of diplomatic negotiations with the Prussian high command and Empress Eugenie who with the Prince Imperial had fled to Hastings, England. The purport of these negotiations still remain to some extent obscure, but it is beyond question that he proposed with the permission of the Prussians to employ his army in "saving France from herself", perhaps to ignite a revolution against the government of the Third Republic. When considered in light of the fact that Bazaine had long been a known Bonapartist, his actions were clearly designed to forge a way to restore the monarchy.

The scheme, however, collapsed and Bazaine surrendered the Army of the Rhine, who became prisoners of war to the number of 180,000. This surrender is often explained by Bazaine's lack of motivation to defend a government that corresponded less and less to his political ideals and the best interests of France, as he saw it. A week's further resistance would have potentially enabled the levies of the National Defence government to crush the weak forces of the Germans on the Loire and to relieve Paris. But the army of Prince Friedrich Karl of Prussia, set free from the siege of Metz by Bazaine's surrender, hurried up in time to check and to defeat the great effort at Orléans.


Marshal Bazaine T-bazaine.jpg
Marshal Bazaine


The defection of Bazaine liberated the army besieged by Germans, and who hastened to Orleans to front face the initiative in progress of raising a Republican Army. It was then therefore easy to bear the moral weight of the defeat to Bazaine. On August 1873, he arrived to Paris, where an investigation board procedure was opened on the initiative of general Ernest Courtot de Cissey. The investigative board gave their advice which led to several accusations. The defendant Bazaine requested then to be case presented in front of a war council. The royalists and the republicans held their bouc émissaire in order to weight all the responsibilities of a defeat to a bonapartiste and justify the proclamation of the French Republic of September 4, 1870, attempting to show the incapacity of the Emperor, by interposed person. Certain bonapartists, were not unhappy that Bazaine was being judged, blacking out accordingly the responsibilities of Napoleon III. Bazaine was then the ideal expiatory victim who was translated in front of a war council sitting at Grand Trianon. The Duke of Aumale, President, condemned him to death with military degradation for having capitulated in an open campaign, collaborated with the enemy and surrendered Metz before having exhausted all defense means available to the defendant. However, the same tribunal, which just condemned him, signed unanimously and sent to the President of France (and the Minister of War) a request of mercy in regards to M. Marshal Bazaine. His sentence was commuted then to 20 years in prison, without degradation ceremony, by the new President-Marshal MacMahon, who also was beaten at Sedan. This inspired Victor Hugo the following comment : « Mac-Mahon absolves Bazaine. Sedan washes Metz. The idiot protects the traitor ». [4]

He was incarcerated at a Fort. However, with the help of ex-Captain Doineau, Arab Bureaux, his aide de camp, lieutenant-colonel Henri-Léon Willette and his wife, who shared his captivity, he was able to escape in night of August 9 and 10 1874 and went to Spain.

Accusation of treason

The French nation could not rest with the thought that their military supremacy had been broken by the superiority of the Prusso-German armies; their defeats could have proceeded only from the treachery or incapacity of their leaders. The commanders who had surrendered the French fortresses to the enemy were subjected to a trial by court-martial under the presidency of Marshal Baraguey d'Hilliers. The majority of them were, on account of their proved incapacity or weakness, deprived of their military honours. Even Ulrich, the once celebrated commander of Strasbourg, whose name had been given to a street in Paris, was brought under the censure of the court-martial. But the chief blow fell upon the Commander-in-Chief, Marshal Bazaine, to whose "treachery" the whole misfortune of France was to be attributed.

When Bazaine returned from captivity, aware that in his absence he had been put forward as a scapegoat by the new government of the Third Republic for France's defeat at the hands of the Prussians, he was keen to be given an opportunity to clear his name and put his version of events to the public. In 1872, Bazaine published his account of the events of 1870 in L'Armée du Rhin and formally requested and was granted a trial before a military court. For months he was retained a prisoner at the Grand Trianon in the Palace of Versailles with his wife and two youngest children, while preparations were made for the great court-martial spectacle, which started the following year on 6 October 1873 under the presidency of the Duc D'Aumale in the Grand Trianon's Peristyle.

For some time the Duke and his colleagues had been looking for a way out of their difficulty, by which they could save themselves, satisfy public clamor and yet avoid responsibility before history. Bazaine stated in his defence "I have graven on my chest two words - Honneur et Patrie. They have guided me for the whole of my military career. I have never failed that noble motto, no more at Metz than anywhere else during the forty-two years that I have loyally served France. I swear it here, before Christ". [5] Despite a vigorous defence of Bazaine's actions by Lachaud, and the presentation of a number of strong witness statements from his staff including Colonel Willette, the court found Bazaine guilty of negotiating with and capitulating to the enemy before doing all that was prescribed by duty and honour. It was clear even to the most partial observer, that the verdict bore very little relation to the evidence. For example, the Marshal surrendered only after receiving letters recommending him to do so from his generals, but the presentation of these at the trial was ignored. "I have read every word of the evidence [against Bazaine] and believe it to be the most malicious casuistry" (New York Times correspondent). [6] A letter which Prince Frederick Charles wrote in Bazaine's favour only added to the wrath of the people, who cried aloud for his execution. The court sentenced Bazaine to 'degradation and death', and to pay the costs of the enormous trial (300,000 francs), which was to leave the Marshal's young family penniless. Bazaine's reaction on being read the sentence of the court was "It is my life you want, take it at once, let me be shot immediately, but preserve my family". Since the Revolution, only two French Marshals have been condemned to death — Ney, by a Bourbon, and Bazaine, by an Orléans. But, as though the judges themselves felt a twinge of conscience at the sentence, they immediately and unanimously signed a petition for 'Executive Clemency' to the President of the Third Republic, Marshal MacMahon, although Bazaine refused to sign this petition himself.

Imprisonment and escape

MacMahon, who was a fellow Foreign Legion Officer and had served in many campaigns alongside Bazaine, was visibly disgusted when he received the news of the Court's decision and was incensed by their attempt to pass responsibility to him. [6] The government wanted to banish Bazaine for life; MacMahon first proposed life imprisonment, though he softened and commuted the punishment of death to twenty years' imprisonment and remitted the disgrace of the formalities of a military degradation. Bazaine wrote to thank his fellow legionnaire, though he added, tongue in cheek, that he might have let his feelings run away with him. It was an academic concession for a man nearing sixty-three. Bazaine was incarcerated on the Île Sainte-Marguerite and treated rather as an exile than as a convict. During the night of 10 August 1874, using parcel rope supplied by Angelo Hayter, (son of the Court Painter Sir George Hayter) and baggage straps which he knotted into a rope, the 63-year-old Marshal attached one end to his body and tied the other end to a gargoyle and climbed down the 300 foot cliffs to a boat which his wife had brought out from Cannes. They sailed to Genoa in Italy, and from there Bazaine came to London with his young family where he stayed for a time with his Hayter relations.

Later life

By midsummer 1875, Bazaine had settled in Madrid, where he was treated with marked respect by the government of Alfonso XII, who were grateful for Bazaine's conspicuous bravery as a young Foreign Legion Officer in the Carlist War. Queen Isabella had arranged lodgings for him and his family in the Calle Hortaleza. In these spartan rooms, he toiled slowly on his book Episodes de la guerre de 1870 which was published in 1883, in which he recorded his defence against the 1873 accusation of treason. With his own means stripped of him, he had his eldest son's pay to depend upon besides the assistance of some well-known army men who were charitable to the old soldier. [7]

As his years progressed, the numerous wounds Bazaine had received while serving France during his 40-year Army career caused the ex-marshal's health to deteriorate further each winter. The last years he spent alone. Pepita did not like Spain and took her daughter to Mexico. Pepita expected to receive compensation from the Mexican government for the loss of the couple's property. Meanwhile, Bazaine stayed in Spain with his two sons, could no longer pay his lodgings and moved to miserable rooms in the Calle Atocha. He had to cook for himself, and allowed himself only one luxury: a few small cigars each week. On 20 September 1888, he was found dead in his lodgings. At seventy-seven, his heart had given out. He had never fully recovered from an infection he contracted during the harsh Madrid winter of 1887/8. Bazaine's remains were interred on 24 September 1888 in the San Justo Cemetery in Madrid, his sons and Marshal Campos attending the funeral, his sword and epaulettes resting on his coffin. [8] The officiating priest was a relative of his wife. French newspapers remained vitriolic in their reporting of the Marshal's passing "Let his corpse be flung in to the first ditch. As for his memory, it is nailed forever to the pillory". [9] German papers refer to Bazaine kindly and repeat that he was wronged by his own people.

In the same year as Bazaine's death, Count d'Herrison published an account [10] in defence of the Marshal's decisions during the Franco-Prussian war, which cast significant, verifiable doubt upon the characters and motivations of witnesses whose testimonies were key to the finding of the court that Bazaine was guilty of treason. Between 1904 and 1912, the French Court of Appeal lawyer Élie Peyron published several works in defence of Bazaine. [11] [12] [13]

"The Duke, Marshal and 3rd President of France de MacMahon, survived Bazaine by five years; Paris gave President Marshal MacMahon a funeral that choked the wide boulevards for hours. The Doyen of Marshals de Canrobert, last of the Foreign Legion Marshals of the Second French Empire, was buried like a prince in 1895. The Foreign Legion, which has never felt obliged to accept the French view on anything, still honours Bazaine. In its museum there exists almost no trace of MacMahon, nor of Canrobert or of de Saint-Arnaud. Bazaine however has his own corner, adorned with his battered kepi, the bits and pieces of the harness he used at Rezonville and Gravelotte, and the cross Conrad pinned on him after Macta. The Legion knows that courage is not a mask that a soldier can wear or discard at will". [14] To this day, the Legion annually pays tribute to Bazaine's courage while de Chabrières, another noble, along with Vienot, have actually and had more than one regimental garrison named after them.


For the accusations brought upon him, he was suspended of his rights to wear his French and Foreign decorations.

For the record and Memory, the decorations and distinctions which he earned formerly were:

He was cited 10 times for serving France and 4 times for serving Spain.


Appearances in Fiction

There is a brief reference to Bazaine in David Weber's science fiction novel, In Death's Ground (1997), the third novel in that author's Starfire series of novels.

Clamence in Albert Camus's novella "The Fall" refers to his friends as 'Bazaines'

His actions during the French interdiction in Mexico are recorded in Norman Zollinger's novel "Chapultepec."

Along wit Napoleon III, Bazaine plays a small, but crucial role, in April and the Extraordinary World .

See also

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  1. Illustrated London News: 1855
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Bazaine and Retain". Time. 1943-07-26. Retrieved 2008-09-22.
  3. 1 2 3 Chisholm 1911.
  4. Victor Hugo, Choses vues 1870-1885, p. 321, Paris, Gallimard, 1972, total pages 529, ISBN   2-07-036141-1
  5. Hugh McLeave: The Damned Die Hard (Page 81)
  6. 1 2 New York Times: 12 December 1873
  7. New York Times: 30 September 1888
  8. New York Times: 25 September 1888
  9. La Paris: 25 September 1888
  10. Comte d'Hérisson, La Légende de Metz (Paris, 1888)
  11. Élie Peyron Bazaine fut-il un traître? (Paris, Picard 1904)
  12. Élie Peyron Le cas de Bazaine (Paris, Stock, 1905)
  13. Élie Peyron Bazaine devant ses juges (Paris, Stock, 1912)
  14. Hugh McLeave; The Damned Die Hard (Page 83-84)