Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 91;
Written: by Engels on March 16,1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 248, March 17, 1849.

Now, following the résumé published in today’s special supplement, here are the detailed reports from the Hungarian theatre of war.

First concerning the operations at Pest. The fighting appears to be concentrated in the area of Szegléd, accordingly both the Hungarian and the royal imperial forces must have moved significantly south. At any rate we no longer hear of any fighting in the area of Erlau, Kapolna or Mezö-Kövesd. Jellachich is therefore said to have also moved off to Szegléd. It is confirmed that Windischgrätz, vexed by his ill successes, has moved his headquarters back to Ofen and have thus withdrawn from active command. That he has been wounded is, however, disputed. The great defeated general is now drawing all troops by any means available to himself, even from the Komorn siege corps and from Cracow, so as somehow to maintain his position. — With regard to the latest military operations the Magyar correspondent of the Breslauer Zeitung of March 9 writes:

“Yesterday a battle must have taken place in the direction of Szolnok for very many wagons full of wounded were brought in during the night. The fact that still no Bulletin has been issued and also that, on the orders of the military command, the entire front of the Donauzeile facing the fortifications of the Pest bridgehead had suddenly to be cleared and is being occupied by the military, points to a new defeat. For this last measure can only have been taken for the purpose of covering a hasty retreat. Moreover, the higher officers of the Ofen fortress garrison have today sent their wives away. Direct news is entirely lacking, since no traveller from the lower areas is allowed to approach Pest. Another battle is expected today, unless the heavy rain which is falling continually prevents it. If the battle is fought nevertheless, the retreat will involve heavy losses for the defeated side, for the roads there turn into deep mud whenever it rains, making it altogether unthinkable to bring away the guns and baggage. In Pest meat has risen in price by 2 kreutzers per pound because a Hungarian raiding corps drove away a large consignment of oxen from Gödöllö, three hours from here. From Debreczin we learn that the Hungarian Government has accused of high treason and deposed Johann Hám, the Lord Primate of Hungary, and two other high prelates, who remained in Pest. The clever and liberal Hungarian historian, Horvath Mihaly, formerly Canon, later Bishop of Chanad, has been appointed Lord Primate” (this is also confirmed from another source). “When last night many spectators gathered at the bringing in of the wounded, they were dispersed by a strong patrol sent out for the purpose. Incidentally, all hospitals and barracks are so overcrowded with wounded that newcomers had to be laid on the stairs and in the forecourts.”

Moreover, that the imperial cause is in a very peculiar way can also be deduced from a proclamation of Prince Windischgrätz from Ofen headquarters, dated March 8, prohibiting all direct or indirect intercourse with the rebels and the inhabitants of the areas occupied by them for the duration of the state of siege. Similarly, all trading links are disrupted. Anyone acting against these prohibitions is to be dealt with under martial law, as well as all who aid and abet them in any way. The goods, however, are confiscated and sold for the benefit of the state treasury.

In the rear of the imperial armies things look equally jolly. What stage these gentlemen at Komorn have reached and what illusions they endeavour to spread is shown by the following communication of the government Lloyd from Pressburg:

“While the main army under Field Marshal Windischgrätz, tireless in the pursuit of the enemy, is already active on the other side of the Theiss (!), the second army corps is operating at Komorn, where, according to reliable reports, a great offensive will begin on the 15th of this month (!). For this purpose many (!) steamboats with very many howitzers of every calibre and with fourfold powder supplies have been dispatched there from Vienna, Ofen and Esseg. On our bank of the Danube several tugboats, equipped with cannon and bombs in the manner of warships, are tied up, intended to serve as the main transport of the reserve. It will probably take but a few rocket-throwing exercises to bring the Komorn garrison to its senses and lead to the surrender of the fortress and the re-opening of the waterway between Vienna, here and Pest.”

The same article which began with these absurd boasts goes straight on to admit that the Slovak peasants do not want to have anything to do with the royal imperial occupation. For besides other arrests,

“last week 12 peasants from nearby Slovak villages accused of concealment of arms with evil intent, were placed under arrest, brought here, and sentenced to two, three or four years’ imprisonment depending on their crime”.

The Slovaks, who have been vainly incited to rebellion several times already, are so loyal to the Magyars that only 1,400 men out of 2 to 3 million could be recruited for Austria. Read the following report from Leutschau (Zips), which also confirms that the imperial troops are still where they were when Görgey moved to the Theiss:

Leutschau, March 1. The Slovak Landsturm consists up to now of 15 companies of 90 men each. Three companies form the Leutschau garrison, five that of Eperies; the rest are moving to Kaschau. Yesterday, General Ramberg imposed a war-tax of 20,000 florins on this town. More than 500 people have fled from Eperies for fear of Görgey, many of them as far as Pest.”

From the south we hear only that Szegedin is still in the hands of 40,000 Magyars and that 30,000 Serbs are standing by ready to take the town.

Finally, we have received several reports from Transylvania, but which, strangely, still do not go beyond February 16 or 17. According to one of them (a Saxon report), Bem is supposed to be dangerously ill as a result of a wound in his hand; another report, about the Szeklers[93] taking Schüssburg, is interesting because of the details which it gives of the strength of the Szeklers at a single point. On February 16, about 8,000 men and 12 cannon from Mediasch, 5,000 men and five cannon from Udvarhely and 3,000 men from Maros-Vásárhely advanced simultaneously on Schässburg. These fighting forces caused the brave Austro-Russian troops under Major von der Heydt and the virtuous civic militia of the town to withdraw without a fight to Hermannstadt and to leave wives, children and property to the mercy of the Szekler robber bands. These are said to have immediately imposed a war-contribution of 30,000 florins on the town:

“a much greater sum would be exacted from the administrative localities. The enemy was looking for lead and tin, as much as could be raised; he even fetched up the cartridges which had been sunk in the wells and dried the powder in the sun to make it usable again.”

Finally we quote the following interesting report from Cracow. This shows how completely preconcerted is the plot between Russia and Austria.

Cracow, March 12. The royal imperial General Legeditsch, in command here, yesterday had Prince Stanislaw Jablonowski summoned before him and informed him quite abruptly that the municipal authority should make an application to the administration asking the Russian troops standing on the border to enter Cracow to maintain calm, since he (Legeditsch) would have to march off to Hungary with all Austrian forces. The Prince, however, replied to the royal imperial General that the people of Cracow would certainly not make such a request and should the town be completely denuded of troops, the citizenry would guarantee to maintain law and order.

“It will he remembered that General Puchner in Transylvania, before the entry of the Russian troops, made a similar indirect demand to the towns of Kronstadt and Hermannstadt that they should call for Russian aid.”

Finally, on the question of the Hungarian banknotes, the despotism of the sabre had to yield to the necessitas rerum, the absence of credit of the royal imperial state. Part of the Kossuth notes have already been called in, despite the weeping and gnashing of teeth of the Pest petty bourgeoisie.

“In fact Field Marshal Windischgrätz on the 9th of this month issued an announcement in Pest by which Hungarian 100-florin and 5-florin notes were banned from acceptance at public counters. This announcement produced great consternation there and all transactions are at this moment completely disrupted.”

The Pest Fair, which is anyway sparsely attended, is therefore unlikely to be held at all. The Hungarian one- and two-florin notes will hardly have any other fate.