In 1870 France embarked on a war with Prussia and her allied German states that was to be a complete disaster. For Napoleon III, after his ignominious surrender with thousands of his troops from the Army of the Rhine and the Army of of Chalons, it meant his abdication and exile. For France it resulted in the humiliation of her army, a bitter civil war in Paris, the loss of two Provinces (Alsace and Lorraine) and a heavy indemnity.
Maarten Otte provides background chapters to place the lead up to the war and the issues that were involved; he describes the make up of the opposing armies and some of their principal commanders.The campaign around Sedan was short, fought in the fag end days of August and early September 1870, though the war was to drag on for four months. The Sedan Campaign was fought over a relatively small area and the locations of some of the key battles have changed little, though some of those near the built up areas, such as Sedan itself, require some imagination.
After the war several German regiments erected monuments and a surprising number remain today, often hidden away in isolated fields and copses. Several communal cemeteries have a number of German graves. Perhaps one of the most macabre of these is the ossuary in Bazeilles, where the visitor is able to see skeletons that still have shreds of uniform and footwear on them.
A notable feature of this battlefield is to see memorials to the conflicts of the twentieth century – the Great War and the Second World War – Sedan was a focus of the most recent and most bloody western European wars.