Summary (Masterplots: Revised Category Edition, European Fiction Series)
Corporal Jean Macquart, a sturdy French peasant, led the squad of infantry of which Private Maurice Levasseur was a member. The squad was a part of the 106th Regiment of the Seventh Corps of the French Army. A state of war existed between France and Prussia; the year was 1870. At the outset, it had been felt in France that the war would be nothing more than a quick promenade to Berlin, but shortages of equipment, the rivalry of the French commanders, and quick Prussian success made the outcome of the conflict doubtful.
Maurice, a scapegrace who had enlisted to get away from financial troubles in Paris, believed in the evolutionary necessity of war. As a member of the middle class, he loathed Jean, whose peasant common sense was unendurable to him.
Misinformation and lack of information led the leader of the Seventh Corps to order his divisions to fall back from their positions around Mulhausen, in Alsace. Defeat was in the air. Civilians, having heard that the Prussians were sweeping all before them, were fleeing westward. Demoralized, the troops threw away their packs and rifles. At Belfort, the corps entrained for Rheims, where the retreating and disorganized French forces were regrouping.
Prussian victories cost Emperor Napoleon III his command of the French armies. Napoleon, however, with his official entourage, remained with the troops. In Rheims, Maurice learned from battle veterans that the Prussians were young, healthy,...
(The entire section is 1236 words.)
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