Battle of Mars-La-Tour
The Battle of Mars-La-Tour was fought on 16 August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

 near the town of Mars-La-Tour
Mars-la-Tour is a commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in northeastern France.-History:The Battle of Mars-La-Tour was fought on 16 August 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War near the town of Mars-la-Tour....

 in northeast France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. Two Prussia
Prussia was a German kingdom and historic state originating out of the Duchy of Prussia and the Margraviate of Brandenburg. For centuries, the House of Hohenzollern ruled Prussia, successfully expanding its size by way of an unusually well-organized and effective army. Prussia shaped the history...

n corps
A corps is either a large formation, or an administrative grouping of troops within an armed force with a common function such as Artillery or Signals representing an arm of service...

 encountered the entire French Army of the Rhine in a meeting engagement
Meeting engagement
A meeting engagement, a term used in warfare, is a combat action that occurs when a moving force, incompletely deployed for battle, engages an enemy at an unexpected time and place.-Description:...

, and with the surprise entailed, successfully forced the Army of the Rhine to retreat into the fortresses of Metz
Metz is a city in the northeast of France located at the confluence of the Moselle and the Seille rivers.Metz is the capital of the Lorraine region and prefecture of the Moselle department. Located near the tripoint along the junction of France, Germany, and Luxembourg, Metz forms a central place...


A cavalry patrol, the 1st Squadron of 1st Hanoverian Dragoon Regiment No. 9, led by Rittmeister [captain] Oskar von Blumenthal
Von Blumenthal
The von Blumenthal family are German nobility from Brandenburg-Prussia. Other, unrelated, families of this name exist in Switzerland and formerly in Russia, and many unrelated families called "Blumenthal" without "von" are to be found worldwide.The family was already noble from earliest times ,...

, discovered that 130,000 French troops were attempting to escape from Metz to join with French forces at Verdun, after suffering several defeats at the front. This intelligence prompted General Prince Frederick Charles
Prince Frederick Charles of Prussia
Prince Friedrich Carl Nicolaus of Prussia was the son of Prince Charles of Prussia and his wife Princess Marie of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach . Prince Frederick Charles was a grandson of King Frederick William III of Prussia and a nephew of Frederick William IV and William I...

 to send, on 16 August 1870, a grossly outnumbered group of 30,000 men of the advanced III Corps (of the 2nd Army) under General Constantin von Alvensleben
Constantin von Alvensleben
Reimar Constantin von Alvensleben was a Prussian general.Born at Eichenbarleben in the Province of Saxony, Alvensleben entered the Prussian Guards from the cadet corps in 1827...

 with orders to cut them off. They located the French Army near Vionville, east of Mars-la-Tour. Despite being outnumbered more than four to one, III Corps routed the French and captured Vionville, blocking any further escape attempts to the west. Once prevented from retreat, the French inside Metz had no choice but to fight a battle that would see the last major cavalry engagement in Western Europe. III Corps, reinforced by X Corps under Konstantin Bernhard von Voigts-Rhetz
Konstantin Bernhard von Voigts-Rhetz
Konstantin Bernhard von Voigts-Rhetz was a Prussian general who served in the Austro-Prussian War and the Franco-Prussian War....

, was devastated by incessant cavalry charges, losing over half its soldiers, while the French suffered equivalent numerical losses of 16,000 soldiers, but still held on to overwhelming numerical superiority.

On 16 August 1870, the French could have swept away the key Prussian defense and escaped. Two Prussian corps attacked the French advance guard, believing that it was the rearguard of the retreat of the French Army of the Meuse. Despite this misjudgment, the two Prussian corps held the entire French army for the whole day. The extraordinary confidence and tenacity of the Prussians prevailed over Bazaine's gross indecision.

Von Bredow's "Death Ride"

The Battle of Mars-La-Tour is also notable for one of the very few successful cavalry
Cavalry or horsemen were soldiers or warriors who fought mounted on horseback. Cavalry were historically the third oldest and the most mobile of the combat arms...

Charge (warfare)
A charge is a maneuver in battle in which soldiers advance towards their enemy at their best speed in an attempt to engage in close combat. The charge is the dominant shock attack and has been the key tactic and decisive moment of most battles in history...

 of modern warfare. Harassed by French artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 each time he redeployed his forces following a French attack, his infantry reserves exhausted and fearing that his shaky left flank was about to be charged by French cavalry, General von Alvensleben sent a message to the commander of the nearby 12th Cavalry Brigade, Major-General Friedrich Wilhelm Adalbert von Bredow
Adalbert von Bredow
Friedrich William Adalbert von Bredow was a German cavalry officer.Born in Briesen, he joined the military in 1832. He is best known as a hero of the Franco-Prussian War after the battle of Mars-la-Tour on August 16, 1870. During this battle he commanded the Prussian 12th Cavalry Brigade on one...

, demanding that he silence French General François Canrobert
François Certain Canrobert
François Certain de Canrobert, usually known as François Certain-Canrobert and later simply as Maréchal Canrobert , was a marshal of France.-Biography:...

's artillery and forestall a French cavalry charge with one of his own.

Noting that "it will cost what it will", von Bredow took his time to organize the brigade, consisting of the 7th Cuirassier
Cuirassiers were mounted cavalry soldiers equipped with armour and firearms, first appearing in late 15th-century Europe. They were the successors of the medieval armoured knights...

s, 19th Dragoon
The word dragoon originally meant mounted infantry, who were trained in horse riding as well as infantry fighting skills. However, usage altered over time and during the 18th century, dragoons evolved into conventional light cavalry units and personnel...

s, and 16th Uhlan
Uhlans were Polish light cavalry armed with lances, sabres and pistols. The title was later used by lancer regiments in the Russian, Prussian, and Austrian armies....

s. In what would become known as "Von Bredow's Death Ride" the cavalrymen rode out from Prussian lines at 14:00, von Bredow using the terrain and gun smoke to mask movements from French observers until the very last moment. Bursting into view some 1000 meters from the French lines, the Prussian cavalry charged into and broke through the French gun lines, causing widespread panic and scattering Canrobert's soldiers in all directions. Two brigades of French cavalry attempted to counter-charge into Bredow's flank and rear, but were partially dispersed by Canrobert's infantry, who gunned down any cavalrymen they could see without discrimination.

Having silenced the French artillery, neutralized the French cavalry, and panicked the French infantry, von Bredow's brigade managed to extricate itself and withdrew to their own lines. Of the 800 horsemen who had started out, only 420 returned. Among the wounded from the 12th Brigade was Lieutenant Herbert von Bismarck
Herbert von Bismarck
Herbert, Prince of Bismarck was a German politician, who served as Foreign Secretary from 1886 to 1890. His political career was closely tied to that of his father, Otto von Bismarck, and he left office a few days after his father's dismissal...

, son of the Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...



The battle was a strategic victory for the Prussians. Bazaine had failed to make it to Verdun. In a short time, the Prussians trapped Bazaine in the city, and the siege of Metz
Siege of Metz
The Siege of Metz lasting from 19 August – 27 October 1870 was fought during the Franco-Prussian War and ended in a decisive Prussian victory.-History:...


Von Bredow's death ride "was perhaps the last successful cavalry charge in Western European warfare." Its success won it a renown among military historians that created a myth to the effect thatfor some decades 'Bredow’s achievement was the norm', that cavalry could still play a decisive role in battle in a modern war between equally equipped forces, and so cavalry units continued to be part of the armed forces of major European powers for the next half century.
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