Verrières, Benjamin Locatelli, 2014. Photo/Foto. TES.

Bourbaki and Verrières

On 1 February 1871, the French general Justin Clinchard and the Swiss general Hans Herzog (1819-1894) agreed in Verrières (canton of Neuchâtel) on the crossing of the border by the exhausted and defeated French army of 90 000 men and their horses and equipment.

Neutral Switzerland accommodated the army on condition of disarmament and repatriation to France.

The French army had capitulated on 28 January 1871. The French Emperor Napoleon III (1808-1873) had been captured at Sedan on 2 September 1870, after his declaration of war on Prussia on 19 June 1870.

However, the army of General Charles-Denis Bourbaki (1816-1897) was not part of the capitulation agreement; instead, they fled to Switzerland in the cold and snow of the Jura Passes.

The Swiss banker Henry Dunant (1827-1910) had founded the Red Cross in Geneva in 1863. The reception of the French army was his first major action.

The Red Cross in action is depicted in the Bourbaki Panorama by Edouard Castres (1838-1902) in Lucerne. Henri Dunant is and was also there, in Lucerne and in Verrières.

There was great solidarity in Switzerland. Almost all cantons accommodated the tens of thousands of soldiers and officers.

The logistical venture (food, medical care, shelter) was a smooth and efficient operation and, within a few months, repatriation began.

For a small border village and the young Swiss Confederation (since 1848), it was the first humanitarian action on behalf of their French neighbour.

The three generals Bourbaki, Clinchard and Herzog are depicted in Verrières.

The symbols of the Red Cross, the articles of the Geneva Convention and the Swiss ‘virtues’ — neutralité, humanité and hospitalité — can be seen as well.

The Bourbaki trail in Verrières shows the route of the French army and the aftermath of this event. (more information: