British Battles of the 18th Century – Sea

Battle Year Country Conflict Outcome
Vigo Bay 1701 Spain War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Málaga 1704 Spain War of the Spanish Succession Inconclusive
Cape Passaro 1718 Spain War of the Quadruple Alliance British Victory
Nassau 1720 Bahamas War of the Quadruple Alliance British / French / Dutch Victory
La Guaira 1739 West Indies War of Jenkins’ Ear Spanish Victory
Porto Bello 1739 Panama War of Jenkin’s Ear British Victory
San Lorenzo el Real Chagres 1740 Panama War of Jenkin’s Ear British Victory
Cartagena de Indias 1741 Columbia War of Jenkin’s Ear Spanish Victory
Toulon (1744) 1744 France War of the Austrian Succession Inconclusive
Santiago de Cuba (1748) 1748 Cuba War of Jenkin’s Ear Spanish Victory
Havana (1748) 1748 Cuba War of Jenkin’s Ear British Victory
Minorca (1756) 1756 Spain Seven Year’s War Pro-French Victory
Negapatam (1758) 1756 Tamil Nadu Seven Year’s War Inconclusive
Lagos 1759 Portugal Seven Year’s War Pro-British Victory
Pondicherry 1759 Tamil Nadu Seven Year’s War Inconclusive
Quiberon Bay 1759 France Seven Year’s War Pro-British Victory
Valcour Island 1776 New York American Revolutionary War French Victory
Ushant (1778) 1778 France American Revolutionary War Inconclusive
St. Lucia 1778 West Indies American Revolutionary War British Victory
Grenada 1779 West Indies American Revolutionary War French Victory
Cape St. Vincent (1780) 1780 Portugal American Revolutionary War British Victory
Martinique (1780) 1780 West Indies American Revolutionary War Inconclusive
Porto Praya 1781 Cape Verde American Revolutionary War French Victory
Fort Royal 1781 West Indies American Revolutionary War French Victory
Dogger Bank (1781) 1781 North Sea American Revolutionary War Inconclusive
Chesapeake 1781 Virgina Capes American Revolutionary War French Victory
Ushant (1781) 1781 France American Revolutionary War British Victory
Saint Kitts 1782 West Indies American Revolutionary War British Victory
Sadras 1782 Tamil Nadu American Revolutionary War French Victory
Saintes 1782 West Indies American Revolutionary War British Victory
Providien 1782 Sri Lanka American Revolutionary War French Victory
Negapatam (1782) 1782 Tamil Nadu American Revolutionary War Inconclusive
Trincomalee 1782 Sri Lanka American Revolutionary War French Victory
Cuddalore (1783) 1783 Tamil Nadu American Revolutionary War French Victory
Prairial  (Glorious First of June) 1794 France First Napoleonic War British Victory
Cape St Vincent (1797) 1797 Portugal First Napoleonic War British Victory
Camperduin 1797 Netherlands First Napoleonic War British Victory
Nile (Aboukir Bay) 1798 Egypt First Napoleonic War British Victory

18th Century Naval Battles With British Involvement

 

Copyright ©2018 Savereo John

British Battles of the 18th Century – Land

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The Battle of Palashi (Plassey) 1757 part of the Seven Years War

Battle Year Location Troops Conflict Outcome
Siege of St. Augustine (1702) 1702 Florida 1,000 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Gibraltar 1704 Spain 2,400 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Schellenberg 1704 Bavaria 35,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Blenheim 1704 Bavaria 108,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Siege of St. John’s 1705 Newfoundland 500 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
 Siege of Barcelona 1706 Spain n/k War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Ramillies 1706 Belgium 122,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Alamansa 1707 Spain 41,000 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Oudenarde 1707 Belgium 165,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Wijnendale 1708 Belgium 30,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
St John’s 1709 Newfoundland 500 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Malplaquet 1709 France 160,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Almenar 1710 Spain 46,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Saragossa 1710 Spain 50,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Port Royal 1710 Nova Scotia 1,500 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Brihuega 1710 Spain 14,000 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Villaviciosa 1710 Spain 34,000 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Bloody Creek (1711) 1711 Nova Scotia 200 War of the Spanish Succession Bourbon Victory
Preston 1715 England 4,200 Jacobite Rebellion (1715) Hanoverian Victory
Sheriffmuir 1715 Scotland 18,000 Jacobite Rebellion (1715) Inconclusive
Glen Shiel 1719 Scotland 2,100 Jacobite Rebellion (1719) Hanoverian Victory
Porto Bello 1739 Panama n/k War of Jenkins’ Ear British Victory
St. Augustine (1740) 1740 Florida 3,800 War of Jenkin’s Ear Spanish Victory
Gully Hole Creek 1742 Georgia 600 War of Jenkin’s Ear British Victory
Bloody Marsh 1742 Georgia 850 War of Jenkin’s Ear British Victory
La Guaira 1743 Venezuela 3,400 War of Jenkin’s Ear Spanish Victory
Puerto Cabello 1743 Venezuela 6,000 War of Jenkin’s Ear Spanish Victory
Dettingen 1743 Bavaria 58,000 War of the Austrian Succession Allied Victory
Villafranca 1744 Italy 38,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Siege of Louisbourg (1745) 1745 Nova Scotia 6,500 War of the Austrian Succession Allied Victory
Fontenoy 1745 Belgium 102,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Prestonpans 1745 Scotland 4,800 Jacobite Rebellion (1745) Jacobite Victory
Falkirk Muir 1746 Scotland 15,000 Jacobite Rebellion (1745) Jacobite Victory
Culloden 1746 Scotland 15,000 Jacobite Rebellion (1745) Hanoverian Victory
Rocoux 1746 Belgium n/k War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Lauffeld 1747 Netherlands 140,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Siege of Bergen op Zoom (1747) 1747 Netherlands 40,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Jumonville Glen 1754 Pennsylvania 100 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Fort Beauséjour 1755 New Brunswick 2,500 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Monongahela Valley 1755 Pennsylvania 2,200 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Fort Bull 1756 New York 400 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Siege of Fort William Henry 1756 New York 10,500 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Fort Oswego (1756) 1756 New York 4,100 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Palashi (Plassey) 1757 Bengal 65,100 Seven Years War East India Company Victory
Hastenbeck 1757 Hanover 95,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Bloody Creek (1757) 1757 Nova Scotia 200 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Siege of Louisbourg (1758) 1758 Nova Scotia 25,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Carrilion 1758 New York 21,600 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Fort Duquesne 1758 Pennsylvania 1,200 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Fort Ligonier 1758 New York 2,600 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Bergen 1759 Hesse 63,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Ticonderoga 1759 New York 11,800 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Fort Niagara 1759 New York 5,700 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Beauport 1759 Quebec 14,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Minden 1759 Westphalia 77,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Plains of Abraham 1759 Quebec 7,800 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Wandiwash 1760 Tamil Nadu 11,200 Seven Years War East India Company Victory
Sainte-Foy 1760 Quebec 8,800 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Warburg 1760 Westphalia 36,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Thousand Islands 1760 Ontario 12,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Villinghausen 1761 Westphalia 155,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Manilla 1762 Philippines 19,600 Anglo-Spanish War British Victory
Bushy Run 1763 Pennsylvania 1,000 Pontiac’s Rebellion British Victory
Buxar 1764 Bihar 47,000 The Bengal Wars East India Company Victory
Lexington and Concord 1775 Massachusetts 5,500 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Fort Ticonderoga 1775 New York 250 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Bunker Hill 1775 Massachusetts 5,400 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Siege of Fort St. Jean 1775 Quebec 2,500 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Longue-Pointe 1775 Quebec 400 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Great Bridge 1775 Virginia 1,300 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Quebec 1775 Quebec 3,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Moore’s Creek Bridge 1776 North Carolina 1,900 American Revolutionary War American Victory
The Cedars 1776 Quebec 750 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Trois-Rivières 1776 Quebec 3,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Long Island 1776 New York 30,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Harlem Heights 1776 New York 6,800 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Pell’s Point 1776 New York 4,700 American Revolutionary War British Victory
White Plains 1776 New York 8,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Fort Cumberland 1776 New Brunswick 600 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Trenton 1776 New Jersey 4,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Assunpink Creek 1777 New Jersey 11,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Princeton 1777 New Jersey 5,700 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Bound Brook 1777 New Jersey 4,500 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Fort Ticonderoga (1777) 1777 New York 10,800 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Oriskany 1777 New York 1,300 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Bennington 1777 New York 4,100 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Brandywine 1777 Pennsylvania 21,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
1st Saratoga 1777 New York 16,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
2nd Saratoga 1777 New York 18,000 American Revolutionary War American Vcitory
Germantown 1777 Pennsylvania 20,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Crooked Billet 1778 Pennsylvania 1,200 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Monmouth 1778 New Jersey 25,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Alligator Bridge 1778 Florida 1,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Kettle Creek 1779 Georgia 1,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Siege of Fort Vincennes 1779 Indiana 400 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Brier Creek 1779 Georgia 2,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Stony Point 1779 New York 2,200 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Paulus Hook 1779 New Jersey 500 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Newtown 1779 New York 1,200 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Fort Bute 1779 Louisiana 1,400 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Baton Rouge (1779) 1779 Louisiana 1,300 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Siege of Savannah 1779 Georgia 8,200 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Fort Charlotte 1780 Alabama 1,600 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Siege of Charleston 1780 South Carolina 19,300 American Revolutionary War British Victory
St. Louis 1780 Missouri 1,300 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Springfield 1780 New Jersey 7,500 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Camden 1780 South Carolina 6,100 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Fishing Creek 1780 South Carolina 1,000 American Revolutionary War British Victory
First Pollilur 1780 Tamil Nadu 8,000 Anglo-Mysore Wars Mysore Victory
Kings Mountain 1780 South Carolina 2,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Mobile 1781 Alabama 1,000 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Cowpens 1781 South Carolina 3,000 American Revolutionary War American Victory
Guilford Court House 1781 North Carolina 6,500 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Siege of Pensacola 1781 Florida 19,000 American Revolutionary War Spanish Victory
Hobkirk’s Hill 1781 South Carolina 2,400 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Groton Heights 1781 Connecticut 1,900 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Eutaw Springs 1781 South Carolina 4,200 American Revolutionary War British Victory
Yorktown 1781 Virginia 27,900 American Revolutionary War American / French Victory
Siege of Negapatam 1781 Tamil Nadu 18,000 Anglo-Mysore Wars East India Company Victory
Second Pollilur 1782 Tamil Nadu n/k Anglo-Mysore Wars East India Company Victory
Blue Licks 1782 Kentucky 500 American Revolutionary War Loyalist / Shawnee Victory
Siege of Toulon 1783 France 50,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Hondschoote 1783 France 64,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Tourcoing 1794 France 144,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Fleurus 1794 Belgium 115,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Fallen Timbers 1794 Ohio 4,000 Northwest Indian War American Victory
Cape Colony 1795 South Africa 4,400 First Napoleonic War Allied Victory
Ballymore-Eustace 1798 Ireland 550 United Irishmen Rebellion British / Loyalist Victory
Naas 1798 Ireland 1,200 United Irishmen Rebellion British / Loyalist Victory
Kilcullen 1798 Ireland 750 United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish Victory
Carlow 1798 Ireland 1,700 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Tara Hill 1798 Ireland 4,700 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Oulart Hill 1798 Ireland 4,100 United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish Victory
Three Rocks 1798 Ireland 1,600 United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish Victory
Bunclody 1798 Ireland n/k United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Toberanierin 1798 Ireland n/k United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish Victory
New Ross 1798 Ireland 12,000 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Antrim 1798 Ireland 4,700 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Arklow 1798 Ireland 11,700 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Prosperous 1798 Ireland 650 United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish Victory
Foulksmills 1798 Ireland 6,000 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Vinegar Hill 1798 Ireland 29,000 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Castlebar 1798 Ireland 8,000 United Irishmen Rebellion United Irish / French Victory
Ballinamuck 1798 Ireland 28,000 United Irishmen Rebellion British Victory
Callantsoog 1799 Netherlands 22,000 First Napoleonic War Allied Victory
Krabbendam 1799 Netherlands 48,000 First Napoleonic War Allied Victory
Bergen (1799) 1799 Netherlands 52,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Alkmaar (1799) 1799 Netherlands 65,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Castricum 1799 Netherlands 52,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory

Battles of the 18th Century with British Involvement

 

Copyright ©2018 Savereo John

Twenty Biggest Battles of the 18th Century

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Battle Year Country Troops Conflict Outcome
Oudenarde 1708 Belgium 165,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Panipat 1791 India 160,000 Afghan – Maratha Wars Afghan Victory
Malplaquet 1709 France 160,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Villinghausen 1761 Germany 155,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Stavuchany 1737 Ukraine 150,000 Russian-Ottoman Wars Russian Victory
Tourcoing 1794 France 144,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Grocka 1739 Serbia 140,000 Ottoman-Hapsburg Wars Ottoman Victory
Lauffeld 1747 Netherlands 140,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Prague 1757 Czech Republic 127,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Ramillies 1706 Belgium 122,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Kagul 1770 Moldavia 115,000 Russian-Ottoman Wars Russian Victory
Fleurus 1794 France 115,000 First Napoleonic War French Victory
Kunersdorf 1759 Germany 112,000 Seven Years War Pro-British Victory
Breslau 1757 Poland 112,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Hochkirch 1758 Germany 110,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Blenheim 1704 Netherlands 108,000 War of the Spanish Succession Allied Victory
Fontenoy 1745 France 102,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Hastenbeck 1757 Hanover 95,000 Seven Years War Pro-French Victory
Siege of Maastricht 1748 Netherlands 93,000 War of the Austrian Succession French Victory
Piacenza 1746 Italy 85,000 War of the Austrian Succession Allied Victory

Twenty Biggest Battles of the 18th Century by Combatants

 

Copyright ©2018 Savereo John

Ten Biggest Battles of the 19th Century

 

Battle Year Combatants Outcome
Nanjing, China

1864

900,000

Taiping Rebellion (Qing victory)
Siege of Paris, France

1870

640,000

Franco-Prussian war (Prussian victory)
Leipzig, Germany

1813

625,000

Napoleonic wars (Allied victory)
Sadowa, Czech Republic

1866

430,000

Austro-Prussian war (Prussian victory)
Dresden, Germany

1813

350,000

Napoleonic wars (French victory)
Siege of Metz, France

1870

325,000

Franco-Prussian war (Prussian victory)
Sedan, France

1870

320,000

Franco-Prussian war (Prussian victory)
Solferino, Italy

1859

320,000

2nd Italian war (French / Sardinian victory)
Gravellotte, France

1870

305,000

Franco-Prussian war (French victory)
Wagram, Austria

1809

300,000

Napoleonic wars (French victory)

 

The question of which was the largest war of the 19th century is a matter of some debate, however broadly speaking, in scale, cost and impact, the biggest four were probably –

  1. The Napoleonic Wars (1803 – 1815)
  2. The Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864)
  3. The American Civil War (1861 – 1865)
  4. The Franco Prussian War (1870 – 1871)

Although the Franco-Prussian war has many of the century’s largest battles, it was relatively short in duration containing a small number of large battles, most fought on the frontier – as a contest it was over within three months, although the siege of Paris continued into the following year. The American Civil War, by comparison, had more soldiers (about 3m), but lasted much longer (4 years) and consisted of a large number smaller battles (nearly 400). The largest battle of that conflict was the Seven Days which had 195,000 combatants – about the same as Waterloo, but neither make it onto the list above. Neither do two other decisive battles of the 19th century – Austerlitz (1805) and Gettysburg (1863); both of which had about 170,000 combatants although Gettysburg lasted much longer, 3 days, whilst Napoleon needed just 8 hours to annihilate Kutuzov at Austerlitz.

The Battle of Nanjing, China (1864)

The 3rd battle of Nanjing was the decisive engagement of the Taiping Rebellion, which raged across southern China from 1850 to 1864, the latter stages occurring at the same time as American Civil War. About 1,000,000 government troops, loyal to the ruling Qing dynasty, fought about 500,000 well-armed Taiping rebels.

The Qing (“ch-ing”), known in western histories as the Manchu, had ruled China since the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 and were originally from Manchuria, being of a separate ethnic group to the majority Han. Qing power reached its zenith in the early 18th century, particularly under the 61 year reign of the Kangxi Emperor and formed the basis of what is now the territorial area of modern China. During the early and mid 19th century a combination of natural disasters, economic stagnation and disastrous wars against more technologically advanced foreign powers, such as the British who annexed Hong Kong, had substantially eroded Qing authority.

The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom grew from a quasi-religious, millenarian cult founded by Hong Xiuquan (“hung hsiu-chuan”) in Guangxi province during the 1840’s. Hong had been an applicant for the Imperial Civil Service the previous decade who had locally been exposed to the preaching of Christian missionaries, and possessed a Chinese translation of the bible. Although he paid little attention to Christianity at the time, when in 1836 he failed the entrance examinations for the 4th time (not so strange, the pass rate was less than 5%) the failure brought on a period of intense depression which culminated in a nervous breakdown during which he claimed to have experienced a spiritual revelation during a series of dreams. He interpreted this experience as a divine summons to rid China of “demon worship” and came to believe that he was a re-incarnation of the younger brother of Jesus Christ and began preaching among the local community of the Hakka ethnic group, of which we was a member. He laid out a quasi-Christian philosophy that included common ownership of property, equality for women (but also strict separation of the sexes) and the destruction of Buddhist and Confucian symbols and images. By 1840, the sect had as many as 40,000 followers and attracted the attention of the Qing authorities who attempted to violently supress it, leading eventually to civil war.

The revolt proper began in Guangxi province in 1850 when a 10,000 strong Taiping force attacked and captured the town of Jintian (present day Guiping). The Qing government, already heavily committed in the 2nd Opium War against the British, failed to quell the revolt and by 1853 and the rebels had occupied Nanjing and declared it their capital, changing its name to Tianjing (“heavenly capital”). The Heavenly Kingdom expanded its control over more of south east China and attempted to enlist the support of European powers, but were rebuffed. In 1860 they attempted to take the city of Shanghai, but were repulsed by Qing forces, by now trained and advised by a small number European officers, and a slow painful fightback by the government began.

By 1864, most of the rebel area had been re-occupied and the Qing, by now with the support of western powers, prepared to re-take Nanjing. By June, Nanjing had been surrounded and was preparing for siege when Hong suddenly died, most likely of food poisoning. With a force of 500,000 Qing troops against of maybe 400,000 in the city a bitter struggle erupted in the outer suburbs as government troops took the city gates and bridges one-by-one, eventually capturing the city on the 19th of July, and carrying out a massacre of the inhabitants in which as many 100,000 may have been killed. The fall of Nanjing effectively destroyed the Taiping army and, although sporadic resistance and interlinked rebellions in neighbouring provinces continued for several years afterwards, the Heavenly Kingdom collapsed with the fall of the city.

The Taiping rebellion may well have been the largest and bloodiest civil war in all human history, although the Napoleonic wars in Europe were a larger scale conflict. Both sides engaged in the destruction of urban commercial centres and rural agricultural production, including the massacre of inhabitants, as an economic warfare tactic; as many as 600 major towns and cities were destroyed in this way. It has been estimated that as many as 20-30m people died during the conflict – to put that in context, it is more than the total Soviet Union war dead, civilian and military, during the whole of the second world war.

Always an avowedly peasant and working class movement, the Taiping were referenced in later Chinese history by both nationalist leader Sun Yat Sen and communist Mao Tse Tung as examples of the power of ordinary Chinese to stand up to a decaying and corrupt imperial system. Although victorious in the rebellion, the Qing dynasty was gone within 50 years; the last emperor, Pu Yi, was overthrown in 1912 and China became a republic after 2,000 years of rule by the Emperors.

Siege of Paris (1870)

At the outset of the Franco-Prussian war in July 1870, France was led by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte III (nephew of Napoleon I). Although elected as president of the Second Republic in 1848, he seized power in a bloodless coup-d’état in 1851 and crowned himself Emperor, initiating the short lived Second Empire. He had already fought a successful war in Italy to aid the Italian nationalists in ejecting the Austrian army from northern Italy and speeding Italian Unification as well his attempt to install Maximillian Hapsburg as Emperor of Mexico; he was also the prime mover in the coalition that fought Russia in the Crimean war.

Prussia was then a monarchy under William I, but real power lay in the hands of his formidable Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. Territorially enlarged from wars with Austria and Denmark, and rapidly industrialising – Prussia was the “Tiger” economy of 19th century Europe, riding a wave of German nationalism as head of the North German Confederation – a growing and ever present threat to the pre-eminence of France in European power politics.

When war broke out in 1870, the French appeared the stronger side – the two armies where evenly matched in size (900,000 French v 1.2m Prussians, Wurttenburgers and Bavarians), but the French had the interior lines and a much shorter route to the frontier. In addition, the French army was 50% regular troops, whilst the bulk of German force was conscript. In weapons the French had a clear advantage – the German Dreyse rifle that had decimated the Austrians at Sadowa was now outclassed by the French Chassepot – the best in the world; also the French possessed the Mitrailleuse, an early form of machine gun. The Prussians for their part had the steel barrelled breech loading Krupp six-pounder artillery piece that fired contact detonating shells, whilst the French still used bronze cast muzzle loaders. The greatest advantage the Prussians had however was their leaders – they had the only professional general staff in Europe – the speed and efficiency of their mobilisation plus their adaptable tactics where to prove the decisive factor from day one.

Only partly mobilised and badly organised, the French Army of the Rhine was divided into two wings – one under Marshall McMahon and accompanied by Louis Napoleon; the other, commanded by Marshall Bazaine and under huge political pressure, attacked first and crossed the border to occupy the manufacturing town of Saarbrucken. Rapidly outnumbered by the speedy Prussian mobilisation, the French fell back fighting a series of rear-guard actions as the Prussians, many deployed by rail, started to pour across the border. The fast moving Prussian columns surrounded them and used their superior artillery to destroy most of the French army at the catastrophic defeats of Metz and Sedan in September 1870, after just 3 months of war, with Louis Napoleon himself among the captured. Von Moltke is reputed to have said to a captured French officer after Sedan “If my army had your rifles, I would have won this war in three weeks, and if your army had my generals then you would have won in two weeks!”

What was left of the French army fell back into the defences of Paris. Completely cut off from outside supplies and able to communicate only by hot air balloon or carrier pigeon, the French held out from Sept until January of the following year, by which time much of Paris had been damaged by artillery bombardment and food was running out. The city was surrounded by 240,000 regulars of the pan German force and its defences contained 200,000 French regulars, plus another 200,000 militia and sailors; 640,000 in total. French defeat brought about German re-unification plus the loss of Alsace – Lorraine and a huge indemnity (5 billion francs); the re-building of Berlin was paid for largely with the French indemnity. The most important consequence however was the proclamation of the 19th century German Empire – the Second Reich – in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

Dresden and Leipzig (1813)

The four day battle fought near Leipzig, Germany in October 1813 was also known as the Battle of the Nations, and was far the largest battle of the Napoleonic Wars, and the largest pitched battle of the whole century. It was the decisive engagement of the Sixth Coalition war, fought by the allied powers to finish off Napoleon after his defeat in Russia. Just two weeks after Napoleon’s return from Russia a coalition formed consisting of Russia, Prussia, Austria, Great Britain, Sweden, Spain, Portugal, Sicily and Sardinia to capitalise on his defeat and finish him off. Napoleon, who still had a few allies (Kingdom of Italy, Duchy of Warsaw, Naples, Denmark-Norway, Switzerland, Confederation of the Rhine) was able to put 900,000 troops into the field against about 1 million allied troops, although this number swelled as the war went on and Napoleon’s allies began to defect – the allies swelled to 1.2m, whilst Napoleon’s army reduced to 400,000.

The war was fought on three fronts. In Dec 1813, Swedish troops attacked the Danes in Holstein and fought the battles of Bornhoved (Swedish victory) and Sehested (Danish victory). By the terms of a separate treaty after the war in 1814, Denmark was forced to cede Norway, which had been previously ruled by Sweden during the 17th century. The Norwegians however rejected this and declared independence and this led to a Swedish invasion of Norway which restored rule from Stockholm and left Norway part of Sweden until 1905 when it regained its independence.

Meanwhile, in Iberia, A force of British and Portuguese regulars with Spanish partisans led by Arthur Wellesley had been tasked with completing the ejection of the French, begun in 1808. Allied victories at Burga and Vitoria where 100,000 allied troops (50% British, 25% each Spanish and Portuguese) defeated 65,000 French were followed by the Spanish capture of Pancorbo the following month. Despite a French fightback at the battles of Maya and Roncesvalles, by October 1813 the allies were across the Bidasoa river and into France proper.

The main action however took place in Germany. Napoleon invaded Prussia with a force of 400,000 in April 1813 and defeated the allies at Lutzen and Bautzen, inflicting heavy casualties; a brief armistice was declared in June with the combined casualties from April having now reaching 250,000. When fighting resumed  in August, Napoleon with 135,000 defeated 214,000 Austrians, Russians and Prussians at the two day battle of Dresden; but weakened by his losses and lacking cavalry he withdrew 190,000 of his force to Leipzig in Saxony, where he was finally cornered by 430,000 Russian, Austrian, Prussian and Swedish troops (although 50% of the allied force was Russian). The resultant four day battle completely destroyed Napoleon’s force and he was compelled to flee. The following year, 1814, the allies invaded France and finally forced Napoleon to abdicate on 6th April 1814 – to be exiled to the Italian island of Elba, whilst the Bourbon monarchy was restored in France.

Sadowa, Czech Republic (1866)

Known also the Battle of Konnigratz, it was the decisive battle of the Austro-Prussian war. Fought less than 12 months after the end of the Civil War in America, it had more than twice the number of combatants as that war’s largest battle – The Seven Days, Virginia (1863) which had 190,000. Austria’s defeat is regarded as an important milestone in the development of Prussian and, ultimately, German nationalism. The conflict marked the end of Austrian ambitions to be the leader of the huge collection of German speaking states that the medieval German empire (the First Reich) had collapsed into after the devastation of the Thirty Years War in the 17th century. The emerging power of Prussia, now rapidly industrialising and, with possession of the coal fields of Silesia, taken from the Austrians a century earlier, now became the clear leader among the German states. Fought in a single day near the village of Sadowa in Bohemia; 221,000 Prussians, armed with rapid firing, breech loading Dreyse rifles beat 206,000 Austrians and Saxons still armed with muzzle loading musket-rifles; the Austrians suffering 44,000 casualties, against only 9,000 Prussian. The aftermath of the battle led directly to the formation of North German Confederation and fostered the idea of “little-Germany” nationalism – the idea of unification of German speakers, but without Austria. It was also an important pre-cursor conflict to the Franco – Prussian war four years later.

Gravellotte, Metz, Sedan (1870)

Marshall Bazaine’s early advance into Saarland was quickly reversed as the German commander von Moltke deployed his huge force to outflank and surround them. The French rapidly withdrew across the border with the Prussians in pursuit; on 4th August von Moltke attacked part of McMahon’s army at Wissembourg in the first major battle of the war. 8,000 French troops with 12 guns fortified the small town and fought hand to hand in the streets against 60,000 Germans. The local populace, trapped in the town during the fighting were eventually so sickened by the slaughter around them, that they formerly surrendered the town to the Germans to stop the bloodshed.

Further Prussian victories at Worth and Spickeren left Bazaine’s force falling back towards the fortress of Metz and led to the two interlinked battles of Mars-Le-Tour and Gravellotte. At the second of these the French were finally able to establish an effective defensive posture and took a heavy toll of the Prussian infantry, who lost 20,000 casualties to Chassepot and Mitrailleuse fire against 12,000 of their own, almost all of those from artillery fire . Although a tactical French victory, Baziane’s army had been badly mauled and fell back to the defences of Metz to regroup and await re-enforcements from McMahon.

Von Moltke, like Grant at Fort Donaldson in 1862 or O’Connor in the western desert in 1940, realised that by quick manoeuvre he could cut off the routes into the town and turn a fortress into a prison. Quickly surrounding Metz he trapped 190,000 French troops in the fortifications of a small town designed to hold a tenth of that number.

The newly formed French Army of Chalons commanded by McMahon made two attempts to relieve Metz, the first was defeated at Beaumont-en-Argonne whilst the second occurred close to the fortress of Sedan where McMahon’s main force was deployed. Again, the battle centered on a small town, in this case Bazeilles, who’s populace where trapped in the town during the fighting and helped the army build barricades as the battle commenced with a street by street fight for the town. The fighting spread south from the town into the countryside with McMahon himself wounded – under heavy Prussian artillery fire, the French were finally driven inside the defences of Sedan, where they were rapidly surrounded and cut off from any relief. The following day, 2nd September, 120,000 men of the army of Chalons surrendered along with their commander McMahon and their Emperor Louis Napoleon. Shortly afterwards, and facing starvation, the 190,000 troops in Metz also surrendered.

With the fall of Sedan, the bulk of France’s field army had been lost after just 3 months of war; on the following day, 3rd September the news of Louis Napoleon’s capture reached Paris and a bloodless coup-d’état ensued led by Trochu, Favre and Gambetta that overthrew Louis Napoleon and proclaimed the Third Republic, plus a determination to continue the war. Just as in 1940 after Dunkirk, the small remnant of the regular army that survived fought back with near fanatical bravery, but it was too late. Once they had fallen back to the defences of Paris, their fate was sealed. Louis Napoleon was to go into exile after the war in Britain, where he lived at Camden House, Chislehurst until his death in 1873, referring several times in his last words to Sedan.

Solferino (1859)

Louis Napoleon is remembered as the loser at Sedan, but he was no fool, he had his successes too. One of these was his assistance to the Italian independence struggle, Il Risorgimento (“the Resurgence”). Italy had long been divided into petty states that individually fell prey to many foreign powers over the centuries – Spanish, French and Austrian – and its independence movement was initially looked on favourably by France and Britain, but neither were prepared to do anything to upset the Austrians. Consequently the First Italian Independence war, fought by the leading Italian state, Piedmont to drive the Austrians from Lombardy and Venice, failed through lack of great power support.

The situation was brought home to Louis Napoleon personally in 1858, when an attempt was made on his life; this shocked Napoleon into realising that the Italian situation would spiral out of control if not resolved and he determined to aid the nationalists in the hope of acquiring a useful ally in the new Italy and seriously diminishing his rival Austria in the process. Piedmont had previously been an ally for the French in the Crimean war; it also had a railway line designed by Brunel.

Thus was set the scene for the Second Italian Independence war, the decisive engagement of which was the seventh largest battle of the 19th century, fought near the villages of Solferino and San Martino, south of Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.

In 1858, Louis Napoleon concluded a secret treaty with the Comte di Cavour, prime minister of Piedmont that France would aid the Italians in ejecting the Austrians from Lombardy and Venice, whilst receiving the provinces of Nice and Savoy in return. Napoleon committed half the French army – 130,000 men, plus brought along 70,000 Sardinian troops against 240,000 Austrians.

At the outbreak of war, there were no French troops in Italy, so the French commander, McMahon organised a mass deployment by rail into Piedmont to link up with the Sardinians. The first major clash was at the battle fought for the railway junction at Magenta, near Milan in June 1859 where McMahon’s 60,000 men defeated 125,000 Austrians and shortly afterwards occupied Milan. The Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I now personally took command of his army, the last European battle in which two monarchs personally led their armies against each other.

Attempting to counter – attack after their defeat at Magenta, they ran into the French at Solferino and were drawn into a confused and fast moving fight for three small towns Solferino, Cavriana and Volta Mantovana. Badly mauled, the Austrians drew off beyond the Micinio and Po rivers and, at the treaty of Villafranca in July 1859 ceded Lombardy to the Piedmontese, but not Venice. The Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed two years later, in 1861.

The battle will remain best known however, for the visit to battlefield after the conclusion by a Swiss businessman and philanthropist where he witnessed the suffering of the battle’s estimated 30,000 casualties and was moved to found an organisation to relieve their suffering who took it’s symbol from the reverse colours of the Swiss flag. The businessman was Henri Dunant and the organisation he founded was the Red Cross.

Wagram (1809)

During the Fourth Coalition war, and after Napoleon’s success against the Austrians at Ulm and Austerlitz in 1805, Austria had been left subdued, and the Emperor turned his attention to Prussia. At the twin battles of Jena and Auerstedt Napoleon’s 120,000 French troops defeated 110,000 Prussians and Saxons so comprehensively that Berlin was occupied shortly afterwards and Prussia reduced to a French vassal state, which it would remain until the Sixth Coalition war in 1812. The trauma that Prussia suffered during the Napoleonic occupation acted as a spur to the modernisation of the state – later reformers such as Clausewitz , Scharnhorst and Gneisenau served in the army and were profoundly affected by it, as was the philosopher Hegel who called it “the end of history”.

Wagram was the main engagement of the Fifth Coalition War, and was fought in 1809; the coalition consisted of Austria, Great Britain, Spain, Sicily, Sardinia and Brunswick against a French led alliance with Duchy of Warsaw, Confederation of the Rhine, Italy, Naples, Switzerland and Holland.

The war was fought on two fronts. In Iberia, both Spain and Portugal had been invaded a few years earlier and the small British force driven out, when Napoleon entered Madrid at the head of 80,000 troops having first fomented a coup. By 1809, however, the British had returned and with Arthur Wellesley in command set about the recovery of Portugal, after Marshall Soult had invaded again. Wellesley’s Anglo-Portuguese force defeated Soult at Grijo and Porto in May, whilst Marshall Ney with another French force was defeated by the Spanish at Puente Sanpayo. With Portugal secure, Wellesley pushed on into Spain and linked up with Spanish partisans. The costly British victory at Talvera forced Wellesley’s hasty retreat after the battle with French re-enforcements nearby, but the essential objective, that of liberating Portugal, had been achieved.

Buoyed by allied success in Iberia, and heavily subsidised by the British, the Austrians made their move by invading Napoleon’s ally, Bavaria in March 1809. The Austrians massed their army in Bohemia on the frontier of Prussia, then a French vassal, in the hope that it would foment an anti – French revolt and bring in Prussia on the allied side, but this never happened. Also, Austrian hopes of assistance from the Russians were dashed by the fact that they were technically at war with Britain, which also meant that Britain’s ally Sweden would not intervene either. Nonetheless, the speed of the Austrian advance across the Inn river caught the French by surprise and at first they fell back as a series of mistakes by the French commander Berthier allowed the Austrians to occupy the old imperial capital of Regensberg. Napoleon himself arrived in Bavaria on 17th April to take command and launched a series of counterattacks that resulted in the French victories at the battles of Eckmuhl and Ebersberg and re-took Regensberg while the battered remains of the Austrian army fled back across the border.

Pursuing them, Napoleon crossed into Austria and, on the 13th May occupied Vienna for the second time in four years. Despite a failed attempt to cross the Danube that resulted in the battle of Aspern-Essling (Napoleon’s first significant battle defeat), the French retained the initiative and crossed the Danube in force in June and resumed the offensive. The two armies finally met near the village of Wagram north east of Vienna where 140,000 French fought a two day battle against 160,000 Austrians resulting in a decisive French victory with high casualties on both sides (80,000 in total), mostly caused by artillery fire into the packed ranks of 300,000 troops crammed into a battlefield just a few miles across.

Napoleon imposed harsh terms on the Austrians taking provinces containing 20% of Austria’s population and leaving them bankrupt. Despite his overwhelming success, the Fifth Coalition war was to prove the high water mark for French ambitions – just three years later Napoleon embarked on his disastrous Russian campaign, followed by the cataclysm of the Sixth Coalition war in 1813/14 that climaxed with the battle of Leipzig and the eventual fall of France and Napoleon’s abdication in April 1814.

Copyright ©2015 Savereo John