Book Review: Bazaine 1870: Scapegoat for a Nation


by Quinton Barry

Warwick, Eng.: Helion / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2020. . Pp. 308+. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $55.00. ISBN: 1913336085

British scholar Barry, author of the excellent two-volume The Franco-Prussian War: 1870-1871, and several other books on particular campaigns during that war, is ideally suited to be the author of this look at the role of Marshal François Achille Bazaine (1811-1888) in that conflict. He opens with three chapters tracing Bazaine’s early life and military career, from junior officer of the Foreign Legion to marshal, while fighting in Algeria, Spain, Crimea, Italy, and Mexico. Another chapter profiles the French and Prussian-Germans armies and one covers the outbreak of the war in July of 1870. The bulk of the book is devoted to the war.

Initially assigned a corps command, early in August, after several reverses, Napoleon III divided his army, giving Bazaine command of the Army of the Rhine. By August 19th, totally outmaneuvered, Bazaine was surrounded and besieged at Metz. Desperate attempts to break the siege followed. Napoleon and most of the rest of the French army were captured at Sedan in September and several improvised relief forces were beaten off by the Germans On October 27th Bazaine surrendered nearly 200,000 hungry troops, many ill or wounded, and much equipment. The war dragged on, as the Pruss0-German forces invested Paris, beating off improvised French armies until the ‘City of Light” surrendered in January.

Having covered these events in considerable detail, Barry proceeds to look at the post war court martial and conviction of Bazaine on multiple charges, including treason. He makes a good case that while Bazaine might have done better, holding out a little longer, the marshal was hardly responsible for France’s national disaster, rooted in flawed pre-war politics, military policy, and strategy.

Bazaine 1870, a volume in the Helion series “From Musket to Maxim, 1815-1914”, is an excellent book for anyone interested in the Second French Empire or the Franco-Prussian War




StrategyPage reviews are published in cooperation with The New York Military Affairs Symposium (

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi   

Buy it at



Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close