Alphonse Daudet's "The Last Lesson" is set in Alsace, a territory that Germany annexed from France during the Franco-Prussian War. That war, also known as the Franco-German War or the War of 1870, was fought between the Second French Empire and the North German Confederation.
Historians consider the six-month conflict to have arisen through a combination of France's desire to regain a dominant position in continental Europe and Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck looking to exploit a war with France to consolidate independent southern German states into the Prussian-led Northern German Confederation.
The war resulted in Germany's victory, the capture of France's leader Napoleon III, and the German annexation of the North-Eastern French territories Lorraine and Alsace. The battle also brought independent German states into alliance and completed the Unification of Germany, which collected previously sovereign states into the German Empire.
The war saw the deaths of 44,000 German and 138,871 French soldiers. In addition, 250,000 civilians died in the conflict, with 162,000 German civilians dying in a smallpox epidemic spread by French prisoners of war.
At the outbreak of World War I, recovering the territory of Alsace-Lorraine became a major goal of the French military.