The 4th Chasseurs d'Afrique.
Figures by Foundry, flag by Adolfo Ramos.
The Chasseurs d’Afrique were part of the light cavalry of the Armée d’Afrique, being the describing term of the colonial contingent of the Second Empire’s armed forced, with its roots in the French military presence in Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria during the 19th century.
With these the 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique, I wanted to create a unit in direct reference to the Battle of Sedan 1st September 1870, and one of the last big heroic old world cavalry charges made in European history.
The Chasseurs d'Afrique also fought with distinction in the Crimean War.
Here seen at Balaclava 1854.
After the bloody battles of Mars-la-Tour and Gravelotte-St-Privat on the 16th and 18th of August 1870, the French Army of the Rhine under Marshal Bazaine had had enough, and took refuge behind the walls of Metz. He was now surrounded and caught by the Prussian army.
In an attempt to free the now besieged army in Metz, Napoleon III ordered Marshal MacMahon with the Army of Châlons to march to Bazaine’s aid, and assist the trapped army in it’s coming break out attempts.
The Germans under the brilliant strategic leadership of Moltke were quick to play tricks on the approaching French under MacMahon. Soon the Army of the Châlon was out manoeuvred into yet a trapped defensive position at the city of Sedan.
Around 200.000 Germans had encircled the French Army of Châlons, some 120.000 and their Emperor Napoleon III.
The Army of Châlons encircled at Sedan - Floing in the upper left corner.
Source: "Champs de Bataille Thématique" no 29.
As the Germans came into position with some 700 Krupp guns pointing at the city, the French general Ducrot would become famous for the words: ”Gentlemen, were are in the night pot and about to be shat upon”. Ducrot was quite right, disaster lured around the corner for the army, the Emperor and the French Empire.
The ensuing battle would see desperate fighting and incredible sacrifice on both sides.
In a last attempt to break the German line at the position around Floing on the French left flank, General Jean Auguste Margueritte was ordered to lead his cavalry division forward in a desperate attack on the Prussian XI Corps.
The charge of Margueritte's division at Floing.
Margueritte’s division consisted of the 1st, 3rd and 4th Chasseurs d’Afrique, 6th Chasseurs a Cheval and a hussar regiment. 138 officers and 1.650 men were upon to charge over open ground right into a fixed position of formed Prussian infantry with Needle guns pointing at them. At 700 meters they would be within range of the very heavy and precise German fire. The fruitlessness and despair of their charge was clear to them as they drew swords and set off.
Jean-Auguste Margueritte, 1823-1870.
He had two sons born during his service in Africa.
Both became recognized writer and playwrights
The 47 years old General led his men gallantly, but after the first charge and in preparation for the second he was hit and carried of to Sedan. He would die a few days later from his wound. The command passed to General Galliffet, who carried out the subsequent charges. After sustaining 40% losses, and with three successive charges carried out with no apparent result, the remains of the division withdrew.
The wounded Margueritte is escorted away from the front line,
his troops cheering at their brave commander.
Watching this display of courageous self-sacrifice made the Prussian King Wilhelm exclaim
“Oh, such brave men!”
I would argue that the Franco-Prussian War in general, but this episode in particular, constitutes the final concluding point in European history, when it becomes clear that no longer is massed cavalry charges going to be a weapon against formed infantry. The technological development increasing the firepower of the infantry had simply out-dated the gallant dash of cavalry.
Heading for safety after a dose of Prussian Needle guns.
The Battle of Sedan ended with the surrender of the complete Army of Châlons, the capture of the French Emperor and the collapse of the Second French Empire.
It marks the end of Bonaparte influence on French politics, and the starting point of the Third Republic proclaimed only few days later by General Louis Jules Trochu in Paris. Very notably, the first act of the new republic was officially to re-new the proclamation of war on Prussia.
Thank you very much for reading!