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Franco-Prussian War

If you are just looking for some quick information on German soldiers and French civilians in the war of 1870–71, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870–71.” Otherwise, please read on.

I decided to upload my MA thesis to Google Docs to make this information available to the general public. The file is huge, 34.9 MB, because I had to scan the original some time ago, having produced it on my 1987 Mac in 1994 and not having electronic copies of the illustrations or a way to make the pagination of the text come out the same as the original on my old ImageWriter. I tried to reduce its size with the usually magical PDF Shrink, but the result looked awful in this case.

Before I get to the thesis, though, let me list two relevant articles I wrote, which are better, in case that is what you are after. This might seem like a silly, self-agrandizing exercise to some, but since this blog frequently get hits from people using search engines like Google to learn about this war, I think getting this information together in one post could be helpful.

First, there is “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. (Reprinted in Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. Edited by Peter Wilson. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.) Here’s the abstract. The advantage to this article is it is all in English, and it integrates my earlier findings into the total war debate discussed at a productive series of conferences launched in 1992 by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. (See the titles that contain “total war” on this page, but ignore the links, which don’t seem to work outside the institute.) In terms of the actual subject, it devotes quite a bit of space to a close-up view of Bazeilles.

The other article I wrote on this topic is “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert, ed. Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39. If you don’t read German, I’m sorry. Check out the link at the end of this paragraph and then move to the next one. If you do read German, this article lets you see the original language of the sources, instead of making you read my translations. It is also in an interesting edited collection on atrocities. The big difference between this and the article in English is that I do not spend much time on Bazeilles here, instead devoting much more attention to other interactions with civilians, both positive and negative. Also, I had to try to frame it in a way that fit the volume’s overall concept. For more information, see an older post on this blog, “Atrocities in the Franco-Prussian War, 1870-71,” which summarizes the highlights.

Personally, I think my articles on the Franco-Prussian War are much more readable than my old master’s thesis, and their arguments are certainly more mature, not least because they engage more recent historiography. Still, I own the copyright to this thesis, but not my articles, so why not share? Here: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–71.” M.A. thesis, Universität Augsburg, 1994. One oddity: It is written in English, but all the quotes are in the language in which I found them, usually German. That will irritate some, but it will possibly help anyone who wants to see the original German quotes that I translated into English for the War in History piece.

Lastly, for the sake of completeness, here’s a short blog post that explains how I happened upon this topic: “Paradoxes.” It was my first post on this blog. I thought it would become a part of a series, but the blog has had less focus than that, as blogs often do.

Now if anyone wants to suggest an appropriate internet archive to upload my MA thesis to and can explain why that particular archive is a good bet, I’m all ears. I’d be especially interested in finding something that deals with either the military topic or this period in German history. For now, though, my Google Docs solution will have to do.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

An essay on the Franco-Prussian War (1870–71) that I wrote last year appeared in print this fall in a book about war atrocities from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. Here’s the reference, in case you read German: Mark R. Stoneman, “Die deutschen Greueltaten im Krieg 1870/71 am Beispiel der Bayern,” in Sönke Neitzel and Daniel Hohrath, eds., Kriegsgreuel: Die Entgrenzung der Gewalt in kriegerischen Konflikten vom Mittelalter bis ins 20. Jahrhundert (Paderborn: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2008), 223–39.

The essay focusses on German soldiers and French civilians using the example of the Bavarians. It examines why soldiers sometimes departed from generally accepted standards in Europe about sparing civilians the effects of war as much as possible.

The war began as a “cabinet war” that the German leadership hoped to win quickly through a series of decisive battles of annihilation. In this way the state, led by the king and his cabinet, would maintain control over the war effort and not face any undue influence from civilians, whether its own or those of the enemy. After destroying the Second Empire’s army at Sedan, however, France refused to capitulate. Its people toppled the empire and vowed to fight on. The German leadership had a “people’s war” on its hands that it took five more months to win. While the French and Germans fought most of this war with conventional means between armed forces organized by the state, the war also saw substantial civilian involvement that had the potential to lead to an ever deepening spiral of violence.

The most extensive contact between soldiers and civilians occurred as a result of the German military policy of living off the land, which made German forces more mobile. To maintain discipline, officers were supposed to take small details of soldiers to requisition what animals, fodder, and food their units required. Requisitioning resembled theft in that those whose property the German officers took had no choice in the matter, but it differed insofar as the German officers issued receipts for what they took. These would be paid off by whichever side lost. German forces were also quartered on civilian households. These circumstances enabled soldiers to pursue their own private initiatives. If their “hosts” would not give them what they needed, the soldiers often took it.

More famous, however, were reports of armed French civilians called francs-tireurs. While their number was not great enough to present a strategic threat, the German forces did have to devote some 120,000 soldiers to their lines of communication. Armed incidents led the invading soldiers to shoot suspected partisans summarily, burn down houses and even villages where such incidents occurred, and use hostages, most famously on locomotives. While some reactions had an ad hoc quality to them, the common thread was the notion of “military necessity.” The German forces found the actions regrettable but necessary, in order to prevent the war from lasting longer than necessary. The idea was to counter French “terror” with measures so harsh that the French would see the error of their ways and refrain from any further resistance.

References for these incidents and the historiography of the Franco-Prussian War are available in this new essay as well as the following related one, in which I devote a lot of space to the events in Bazailles, which the Bavarians infamously burned down during the Battle of Sedan: “The Bavarian Army and French Civilians in the War of 1870–1871: A Cultural Interpretation,” in: War in History 8.3 (2001): 271–93. Reprinted in Peter H. Wilson, ed., Warfare in Europe 1825–1914. The International Library of Essays on Military History, ed. Jeremy Black. Ashgate Publishing, 2006. 135–58.

My source base for this research was published personal narratives, that is, letters, diaries, and memoirs. Most of them came from Bavarian soldiers and officers, though I drew on other German narratives by way of comparison. It is in some ways surprising how freely the fighting men wrote about these events, but what they were describing was either acceptable in their minds or told in relation to what lines they believed the French had crossed.

One phenomenon I found little mention of was the hostage-taking. This might be because the Bavarian veterans felt they had crossed a line, although it is also worth noting that their units were not as heavily involved in maintaining lines of communication in the rear, which is where the hostage-taking occurred. Recently I learned more about this subject from Heidi Mehrkens’ new book, which includes a section on the German military using hostages on locomotives. Mehrkens’ book is also helpful, because it uses archival sources that confirm the impressions I gained about relations between soldiers and civilians from the published primary sources.

Update (Aug. 19, 2010): If you want to learn more, see MA Thesis on Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), which links to the thesis.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

My review of Heidi Merkehns’ book on the Franco-Prussian War appeared yesterday on H-Soz-u-Kult. The book is in German, but I wrote the review in English, because that takes less time and does not require an extra set of eyes on the manuscript before I submit it.

By the way, the review lists me as at Georgetown, which is not true. I did my PhD there, and I taught there again this summer, but I am still leading the life of an adjunct. Right now that means I am at George Mason University. What happens in the winter, on the other hand, is up in the air because of budget cuts in Virginia.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

I was looking through Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists, a play I have used a few times in a survey course on modern Europe. In the back of the English translation by James Kirkup are “21 Points to The Physicists,” one of which reads, “The more human beings proceed by plan the more effectively they may be hit by accident.” This quote sums up my recently completed dissertation on three levels that I would like to consider: the content of my research from the point of view of its historical subjects, the path my research takes from my point of view, and the shape of the narrative that eventually emerges. I plan to look at these paradoxes in future posts at irregular intervals. For now I will mention a different one that is not as difficult to resolve:

I spent four years in the U.S. Army during peacetime, and I disliked being a soldier. I also rarely found military history interesting. Nonetheless, my research has focused on war. My M.A. thesis is about Bavarian soldiers and French civilians in the Franco-Prussian War, and my Ph.D. thesis is about the Imperial German officer corps and war planning. How did a former soldier who hated his experience in the military come to enjoy studying military history?

At least part of the answer lies in my military experience. A kid from the woods of New Hampshire had a lot of learning to do in a unit in which most everyone else came from the inner city or rural south. Add class, race, and educational levels to this mix, and I got a first-rate education. You see, I was not just in the army, but combat arms, specifically, the field artillery. When I enlisted I made the naive assumption that the army was the army no matter what one did, and it was offering a substantial bonus for four years in the artillery. So why not? Without going into a longer story, let me say that I left the army in 1987 with an insight of which at the time I was unaware: studying the army can teach a person a lot about that army’s country.

Not until I was doing my M.A. in Augsburg, Germany did I realize that I knew this. I think it was late 1992 or early 1993 when I met Professor Stig Förster, who had just returned to Europe from a stint at the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. Stig was editing On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871, and I, as an American there, was recruited as one of his student helpers. I found the topics interesting, because in a seminar I had recently taken with another historian, we had learned about the lead-up to the war and the postwar settlement, but the war just kind of happened. I remarked on this circumstance to Stig. One thing led to another and he suggested I could explore the Bavarians’ treatment of civilians in 1870-71 for my master’s thesis. The topic sounded interesting, but also vaguely pornographic. Was it even decent to probe into such suffering? At the same time, scenes from Bosnia on TV suggested to me that such topics mattered. Before making up my mind, I asked if there was an historical treatment of these kinds of issues that might show me the historical value of examining atrocities. That led to Michael Fellman, Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict In Missouri During The American Civil War, as well as James M. McPherson, Battle Cry Of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Of course, I also dug into Michael Howard’s perennial The Franco-Prussian War: The German Invasion of France, 1870-71. These books showed me that the study of war was integral to mainstream history and vice versa. With war being fought once again on European soil (the Balkans), I not only was hooked, but I thought such studies were a moral imperative.

Having completed a PhD program and many years of teaching, I no longer see my research in such grandiose terms. Still, I try to integrate at least one lecture on broad trends in war and society into each survey course I teach. I think students need to know that human behavior in war is historically contingent. They need to know, for instance, that humanity and atrocities in warfare have a history. The list is much longer, of course, but I can revisit the topic another time.

Thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment or ask a question.

Update (9/5/2007): I originally posted this as Part I of a series. While I plan to explore the questions raised here, I have decided to give follow-up posts their own titles.

Update, Feb. 12, 2012: For more posts on military and other history, please visit my new blog, Stoneman’s Corner.

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