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The Campaign of the Army of the North 1870-71
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The Campaign of the Army of the North 1870-71 (Hardback)

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This is a translation of Faidherbe's slim volume entitled Campagne de l'Armee du Nord (Campaign of the Army of the North), published in 1872. It sets out in some detail the operations of the Army of the North and includes many appendices which give supporting evidence and documents. Certain of Faidherbe's opinions were not shared by his principal later German opponent, General August von Goeben, and Goeben, himself a writer and thinker of some stature, replied in a volume that year to refute Faidherbe's claims. Faidherbe riposted with Army of the North: a response to General Goeben in 1873, and the controversy continued until Goeben died in 1880. The work translated here is the 1872 volume. It has been reproduced in its entirety, and the presentation of the original has largely been followed. An appendix with a detailed order of battle for the Army of the North about the middle of January 1871 has been added.

The author of this work, Louis (Leon-Cesar) Faidherbe was recalled to France, from Africa, after the disaster of Sedan, and on 18 November 1870 given command of the so-called Army of the North. As a native of the region and a staunch republican, Faidherbe was a natural choice as commander, despite his lack of combat experience. Moreover, he was a modest man, almost painfully honest and well aware that the raw material with which he had to fashion his army was most inadequate.

Nonetheless, by the end of 1870 Faidherbe had made fairly good progress, although not to the extent he wished when government pressure to link up with the army in Paris increased by the end of November. However, he dutifully moved south and engineered a striking success by capturing the fortress of Ham, thereby cutting German rail communications to the west and threatening their rear areas. The German reaction was belated, but on 23 December Faidherbe was able to fight a partly successful delaying action east of Amiens. However, he realized his troops were fast deteriorating in the wintry weather and that German reinforcements were coming in, and so he withdrew north to Arras.

His next task was set as the relief of the important fortress of Peronne, then besieged by the Germans, and in a series of closely contested fights around Bapaume on 3 January 1871 the French made some progress. However, Faidherbe did not feel his troops up to further effort and withdrew northwest; perhaps not the best decision under the circumstances, for the Germans too were weak and were preparing to lift the siege of Peronne, but it was a consistent one for Faidherbe. In fact, Peronne capitulated on the 9th.

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