Section a relevant source on the formation of Germany

Section 1: Identification and Evaluation of Sources

            This investigation will explore: To what extent was General Moltke responsible for the formation of the German Empire? By focussing on the years 1848-1871, factors that affected the unification of German states can be analysed. Moltke’s The Franco-German War of 1870-71 is a relevant memoir as it provides the history and war planning of the most influential war of unification. Additionally, Pflanze’s Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871 is a relevant source on the formation of Germany from nation states to a united German Empire under the leadership of Bismarck.

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The first source to be evaluated is Helmuth von Moltke’s The Franco-German War of 1870-7. One value of the origin is General Moltke wrote it so it provides an account of war strategies and outcomes from an important participant in the war and the individual of focus in this investigation. The origin is also valuable because it was written in 1887, thus providing a perspective with hindsight. For a historian studying Moltke’s role in the formation of Germany, the purpose is valuable because he wrote it to provide an accurate view of the war “from his own standpoint as chief of General Staff”.1 The content is valuable because it provides information about specific strategies and plans that led to Prussia and the German states’ war victories. Additionally, specific details are provided about the number of weapons, soldiers, etc., which gives a historian valuable insight into the factors that led to the German states winning the war against France and ultimately uniting.

However, the origin is limited because it was written from the perspective of Moltke so there are instances of ambiguity as to whether his own role is inflated or an accurate representation. Additionally, the origin is limited because it was written over a decade after the war, so the memories may be distorted or poorly remembered.  Another limitation is the purpose “was to give a concise account of the war”,so information was omitted.2 Lastly, the content is limited in assessing Moltke’s role, as he focuses on his strategies and occurrences during the war more so than the aftermath.   

            Otto Pflanze’s Bismarck and the Development of Germany: The Period of Unification, 1815-1871 is the second source. The origin is valuable because it was written by an internationally accepted historian and expert on early Germany, thus providing accurate knowledge of Germany’s formation. Additionally, he provides a unique, rounded perspective on early Germany as he is an American who also worked in Germany for many years. The purpose is valuable because it was intended to evaluate unification by connecting the military and politics to “Germany’s internal political growth”,which is useful for a historian studying Moltke as his responsibility was the military.3 The content is valuable because he examines both the role of Bismarck and the military in German unification and focusses on the years leading to unification.

            However, the origin is limited because it was written over ninety years after the unification of Germany. Additionally, the purpose is limited because Pflanze intended to narrow the scope of this source by focussing on German internal affairs rather than foreign affairs. Lastly, the content is limited when examining Moltke’s role as it is often demonstrated in conjunction with Bismarck’s, which shows his role as secondary to Bismarck.


Section 2: Investigation

During the late 1800s, Otto von Bismarck dreamt of uniting ethnically German states to increase German strength and prosperity. However, German states were influenced by the powerful nations surrounding them.4 Bismarck played a huge role in convincing German states to unite under Prussia. He concocted political strategies that forced German states to feel a sense of nationalism and kinship towards each other. However, Helmuth von Moltke’s military prowess and innovation led Prussia and the German states to victory during the Wars of Unification. Without his leadership, Prussia would have suffered many defeats and there would have likely been no formation of  Germany. Although, some states likely would have unified regardless of Bismarck and Moltke as they shared ethnic and cultural backgrounds. In this way, General Moltke was moderately responsible for the formation of the German Empire in 1871.

Otto von Bismarck, an excellent political strategist, played a crucial role in the unification of the German states. He intimidated smaller German states to join his new nation under Prussia using Realpolitik, or highly practical approach.5 Through conflicts with Denmark, Austria, and France, Bismarck created a feeling of nationalism and unity amongst the German states. He saw it necessary for the German states to unify under Prussia.6 However, both Austria and Prussia strongly influenced the German states, but Bismarck believed Germany was “too small for us both”.7 For this reason, Bismarck initiated a war against Denmark over the territories of Schleswig-Holstein in 1864.8 Together, allies Austria and Prussia defeated the Danes.9 The war increased Prussia’s prestige, but Bismarck still needed Austria out of the way.10 Therefore, Bismarck created another dispute with Austria over the territory they just won.11 Prussia was victorious again and Bismarck severed ties between Austria and southern German states.12 Once Austria was defeated and their influence decreased, Prussia became a likelier candidate for smaller German states to unite under. However, they needed a further push to join Prussia.

In Bismarck’s final push for German unification, he knew one last war would seal the deal with the southern states to join under a common cause with Prussian leadership. To begin another conflict, Bismarck altered a report of a meeting between King William I and  French ambassador Benedetti by removing parts, making it appear as if the King insulted the French ambassador according to the historian, Pflanze.13 Bismarck released this new report of the Ems Telegram to the press. His plan successfully incited the anger of the French public.14 When there was a call to war, he bullied southern states into allying with Prussia against France.15 During the war, the southern and northern states were forced to work together which paved the way towards unity.16 Prussia was victorious in this final war and France surrendered in 1871. That same year, the southern states unified with the north establishing the German Empire.17 Through this, Bismarck was largely responsible for the formation of the German Empire in 1871.

            However, for Bismarck to unify Germany, he needed victories in each of the wars, which was achieved due to the military strategies of Helmuth von Moltke. Moltke advanced the Prussian army so that it surpassed Denmark’s, Austria’s, and France’s armies. Moltke, in particular, focused on developing ways to make his armies faster leading to faster ‘. He increased the speed at which an army could attack and counterattack using railroads to transport troops and supplies.18 He stressed the ability of railways to make battles faster overall.19 Moltke fiercely believed that “the greatest good deed in war is the speedy ending of the war” and was willing to do whatever it took to accomplish it.20 Moltke prepared and modernized the German military for war by advancing training for soldiers and utilizing railroads as much as possible before war commenced.21 Moltke also utilized innovative weaponry like breech-loading rifles and rifled cannons.22 Both these weapons were significant because they gave the German army an advantage, particularly over the Austrian army that used older weapons like the muzzle-loading rifle.23 In addition, he used the telegraph to promote better communication during war.24 Despite Moltke’s diminished role in the Danish War,as Bismarck often took control, Moltke played a large part in the Austro-Prussian War. 25 Molke directed troops to take over parts of Bohemia, which according to military historian Eric Dorn Brose effectively kept Austrian forces from concentrating.26 Then, he used three armies to attack Austria’s armies via the railroad at Saxony, Lower Silesia, and Upper Silesia.27 Moltke’s tactics were successful as the Prussians defeated the Austrians at the Battle of Koniggratz.28

            Despite successes in the previous two wars,  Moltke’s military prowess was exemplified in the Franco-Prussian War. Again, Moltke separated his armies into three units. One army was the center unit, commanded by Prince Frederick Charles, with an army of 134,000 troops; the most soldiers of all three units. Prince Frederick III and General von Steinmetz commanded the two outer armies.29 The plan consisted of driving the French back into the North until Paris was captured.30 Despite the notoriety of the French army, the German army was more prepared and fit for battle with Moltke quickly achieving victories in places like Worth and Spichern.31  Eventually, the German army pushed the French back to Sedan and forced them and their leader, Napoleon, to surrender.32 As the Prussian armies continued their siege of Paris, Moltke planned on setting harsh terms of surrender before Bismarck stepped in. It is possible that if the French were presented with those terms, the siege would have continued longer as France would have resisted surrender.33 However, Bismarck made arrangements for more reasonable terms of surrender and a three-week armistice was signed. The success of the Franco-Prussian war was essential for the unification of the German Empire. The war brought the German states together and they recognized the leadership of Wilhelm I. In 1871, the German states unified under Wilhelm and Bismarck, and Germany’s official establishment was signified by the creation of a constitution.34 Overall, Moltke successfully conducted three instrumental wars of unification, where the German states unified through his strong leadership and revolutionary military strategies. However, he was not responsible for causing the wars in the first place and made poor political decisions which could have cost Prussia’s victory.

            Arguably, it is also possible many of the German states would have unified regardless of the wars. While Bismarck believed France stood in the way of unification between the northern states and the southern states, a union of states called the North German Confederation did already exist.35 AJP Taylor suggests that this confederation was created independently of Bismarck after the Austro-Prussian war as the smaller states began signing treaties with Prussia on the basis of the creation of a federation.36 While the Austro-Prussian War encouraged states to unify under Prussia, it is possible they would have unified with another ethnically German state for protection as they were small states surrounded by powerhouses like France. There was also already a close relationship between Austria and the states and Austria could have supported a German federation as a sphere of influence.37 However, it is more likely that the German states would have just unified with Austria, therefore creating a larger Austrian Empire rather than the German Empire.

            In conclusion, while Moltke significantly impacted the unification of Germany through successful military campaigns, Bismarck was more responsible for the formation of the German Empire in 1871. It is also likely that the cultural and ethnic similarities between the German states brought some states together regardless. As demonstrated in this investigation, Bismarck played the most crucial role of initiating conditions that led to the wars of unification and the unification through crafting situations to begin conflicts with other nations that may have been an obstacle to unification. Moltke, however, aided Bismarck by winning the wars of unification, through his use of superior military tactics and innovations. Lastly, the similarities and close relationships already established between the German states made it easier for them to unify.


Section 3: Reflection

Through this investigation, I utilized many methods of a historian but  experienced many challenges during my research. I found it difficult to find many sources specifically relating to my research question, were translated into English, and  available online or in a library I could access. Since, the role of a historian is to assess evidence in order to construct an accurate interpretation of past events, I compiled knowledge from bits and pieces of many sources in order to create a complete and logical response to Moltke’s role in the formation of the German Empire.

When finding evidence to construct an accurate interpretation of General Moltke’s role in the formation of the German Empire, I used many different sources from electronic books, paper books, letters, and more. However, I found it difficult to find information that directly related to Moltke’s role. It was difficult in some instances to ensure that the information pertained to Moltke the Elder, and not his son of the same name. So, I confirmed the dates and events being examined in the source several times to check. Because I struggled to find information directly pertaining to Moltke, I carefully examined documents related to Bismarck and specifically the wars of unification primarily to discover more information about Moltke. This was very tedious and I spent many hours searching to find more about the Prussian military and Moltke’s actions I also found that if I focused on significant events, I could find more information on the key participants. Thereby, I was able to gather a lot of evidence on Moltke’s role in the wars and then how the wars influenced unification. I learned through conducting this investigation that a historian must interpret past events rather than make definitive statements because I found that there were many factors that contributed German unification, rather than just one.  

1  Helmuth von Graf Moltke and Archibald Forbes, The Franco-German War of 1870-71 (London: J.R. Osgood, McIlvaine, 1893), Internet Archive, accessed November 3, 2017, vi,

2 Ibid., vi.

3 Otto Pflanze, Bismarck and the Development of Germany: Period of Unification, 1815-1871 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1971), vii,

4 Pflanze, Bismarck and the Development of Germany, 369.

5  Jennifer Stock, ed., Global Events: Milestone Events Throughout History, 2014 (Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2014), vol.4.

6 Samuel J. Newland, Victories Are Not Enough: Limitations of the German Way of War (Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2005), 19.

7 Otto von Bismarck to Minister von Manteuffel, 1856, Modern History Sourcebook, accessed November 13, 2017,

8 Christopher Clark, Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 2006), 528. 

9 Newland, Victories Are Not Enough, 19.

10 Ibid. 

11 Ibid.

12 Clark, Iron Kingdom, 532.

13 Pflanze, Bismarck and the Development of Germany, 456.

14 Alistair Horne, La Belle France: A Short History, (New York: Vintage Books, 2004), 270.

15 Robert Howard Lord, The Origins of the War of 1870: New Documents from the German Archives (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1924), 116,

16  Otto von Bismarck to Johanna von Puttkamer, “Bismarck’s letters to his wife, from the seat of war, 1870-1871,” 1871,

17 Clark, Iron Kingdom, 552.

18 Dennis Edwin Showalter, “More than nuts and bolts:technology and the German army, 1870-1945”,The Historian  65, no. 1 (2002): p. 123+, accessed 5 Nov. 2017, World History in Context.

19 Anne Commire, ed., Historic World Leaders, (Detroit: Gale, 1994), “Helmuth von Moltke”, accessed November 3, 2017, Gale.

20 Helmuth von Moltke to Johann Kaspar Bluntschli, “Letter on the Nature of War (1880),” December 11, 1880, World History: ABC-CLIO, accessed November 5, 2017,

21 Ibid.

22 Dennis Edwin Showalter, “More than nuts and bolts”, 123+.

23 David G. Williamson,  Bismarck and Germany: 1862-1890. 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2013), 38.

24 Newland, Victories Are Not Enough, 22-23.

25 Clark, Iron Kingdom, 528.

26 Eric Dorn Brose, German History, 1789-1871: From the Holy Roman Empire to the Bismarckian Reich (Providence, RI: Berghahn Books, 1997), 341.

27 Ibid., 341.

28 Newland,Victories Are Not Enough, 21-22.

29 Moltke and Forbes, The Franco-German War, 7.

30 Ibid., 8.

31 Pflanze, Bismarck and the Development of Germany, 459-460.

32 Williamson, Bismarck and Germany, 56.

33 Ibid., 58.

34 Stock, Global Events.

35 Lord, The Origins of the War, 6.

36 A.J.P. Taylor, Bismarck: The Man and the Statesman (London:Hamish Hamilton, 1955), 94.

37 Clark, Iron Kingdom, 534.