Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 95;
Written: by Engels about March 17, 1849;
First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 249, March 18, 1849.

As the Vienna mail has again failed to arrive, we are again without any direct news from Hungary. What has reached us via Prague and Augsburg contains very little that is new.

The Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung carries a report from Pest of the 8th to the effect that Szolnok is again occupied by imperial troops. Later reports, as we shall see, sound quite different. The Allgemeine Zeitung, incidentally, admits that the imperial troops have suffered “a considerable defeat” at Szolnok, in which “of two companies barely 40 men were saved”. Concerning the fighting, the same paper reports from Abony near Szolnok:

“After the day of Kapolna we advanced as far as Kövesd, and then to Poroszlo. As the cavalry was unable to operate there because of the marshy nature of the ground, we received orders to go to Szolnok. We arrived just in time to put an end to the fighting which 15,000 Hungarians with 40 cannon had begun against two brigades and which cost us dear, for the Karger brigade was driven out of Szolnok. At the moment reinforcements are arriving from Pest and we shall oppose them with 15,000 men and 36 to 40 cannon, but we do not doubt that they will withdraw when they see a significant deployment of strength. The bravery of our troops is very commendable. Szolnok got into Hungarian hands yesterday, it is true, but by tonight we shall surely have it back again.”

What we are to think of these boasts about the re-taking of Szolnok is evident from a report from Pest, printed in the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen which says:

“The Ban did indeed start from Pest yesterday, and that at 4 a.m. Unfortunately we know nothing at all about the events in the theatre of war in our immediate neighbourhood, between Szegléd and Abony, it is said. The local secret agitators tell marvels about the strength of the rebel army, nay even that it takes six hours to cross their camp. Of course, these rumours are obviously much exaggerated, but it cannot be denied that along the Szoinok route a considerable insurgent army has now already for the second time advanced closer to the capital than is desirable. The anxiety of the loyally-inclined is even more increased by the doubtless necessary measures to safeguard the communications between the fortress of Ofen and the New Edifice, the new and only citadel of Pest. Yesterday afternoon embrasures were made in this construction, in great haste, and the inhabitants of the houses in the neighbourhood received strict orders to hold themselves in such readiness to march that they would be able to leave their quarters with bag and baggage within six hours of receiving notice. Moreover, the buildings, workshops etc. of the company which is building the suspension bridge, situated next to the blockhouses of the suspension bridge, were yesterday hastily demolished on both banks of the Danube. Hence a gloomy mood prevails among the few local loyalists, while the opposing party finds it difficult to hide its secret joy.”

How things are going in general for the imperial side is evident even from the fact that Windischgrätz has strictly prohibited all traffic and commerce with the areas occupied by the Magyars so as to cut off their connections. All individuals trafficking there are to be arrested and their goods confiscated. Extraordinary police measures against aliens have also been ordered for the approaching Pest Fair.

There is still not the slightest news from the left wing of the main army (Schlick). The Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung claims, it is true, that he has already been standing 8 hours from Debreczin and that it was not yet known whether he had gone back again. But this is a most impudent lie; Maklar, where the imperial armies were standing according to their own reports, is fully 15 German miles from Debreczin, and the Theiss, with its mile-wide belt of swamps, lies between, 10 miles from Debreczin. In the absence of facts the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen boasts as follows:

“We confidently expect (!) good results from the operations of Lieutenant-Field Marshal Count Schlick, and in general we may claim with pride (!) that Count Schlick has proved a most excellent general, especially in his plight after the skirmish at Tokaj!”

The Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen also confirms that the Magyars have occupied the southern part of the Pest comitat at Kecskemét. They have even advanced to the Danube and are in contact with the insurgents on the opposite bank (the Tolna comitat):

“One of the main centres of insurgent activity is Kalocsa; they are stirring up the entire neighbourhood, particularly the Tolna comitat, on the other side of the Danube. There the rebels are so bold that they sink every ship that passes on the Danube. The peasants of Földvar and Duna Vecse are distinguishing themselves particularly in this respect. They have not the smallest fear of the royal imperial troops, imagining that 12,000 Honveds are at Kalocsa. They are constantly being made more fanatical by posters from Debreczin.”

It follows from this that along the whole stretch from Duna Vecse to Tolna (9 to 10 miles as the crow flies) both banks of the Danube are in the Magyars’ hands and shipping is greatly threatened.

The following report shows how the war is being conducted in this area and how little prospect the clumsy Austrians have of coping with these elusive bands of rebels.

“The detachment of troops which left a few days ago for Duna Földvar (Tolna comitat) by steamer to suppress the latest revolt has never come face to face with the enemy. Although the tugboat was shot at on landing, the mutineers dispersed like chaff in the wind even before the troops had disembarked. A true guerilla war! The Simunich brigade, according to a rumour, is said to be entering a fortified camp near the Bicske estate of Count Kasimir Batthyány, four hours drive from Ofen, to maintain the security and continuity of the new order of things beyond the Danube.”

From Transylvania not a word.

From the Banat

“it is expected that simultaneously with the arrival of the Ban (in the campaign against Szolnok) the long line of the Austro-Serb troops which extends from Baja to Temesvar will now be set in motion” (Constitutioneties Blatt aus Böhmen).

Indeed! Now at last we learn that the famous division Lieutenant-Field Marshal Gläser formed from the troops of Rukavina, Todorovich and other generals, greeted with so many newspaper fanfares, which was to conquer Transylvania and Grosswardein, has not even stood its ground on the Maros but has retreated to Temesvar! Magyar reports indeed told us this long ago, but they were not to be believed, of course!

And in another article in the same paper we read:

“Until yesterday (March 7) neither Szegedin nor Theresiopel (Subotica) were captured, in the neighbourhood of which, as I have already reported, the Serbs won a brilliant victory and literally made hay of the Magyars, and a Magyar corps has advanced in this direction. This is related by travellers who have come from these areas today.”

But thereby hangs a tale. The Serbs are to the highest degree dissatisfied with their chiefs. Patriarch Rajachich is making himself daily more unpopular by outlawing Stratimirovich, by his intervention against the National Committee,[94] which he has now disbanded, reconstituted and moved to Becskerek, and by other arbitrary measures. Stratimirovich has disappeared and seems to have gone over to the Magyars. Rukavina and Todorovich are Serbs, it is true, but above all royal imperial generals, who know no other nationality than the Austrian. Moreover, considerable tension exists between the regular troops and the Serb frontier guards and volunteers.

“The Serbs complain of a shortage of cavalry, and, what is more, the imperial troops are in no hurry to leap to the aid of the Rascians, [95] a designation which has become popular again among the military” (Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen).

In short, since Stratimirovich has gone, the Serbs have become obstinate and what is more are negotiating with the Magyars, as even the Vienna papers report. What effect Kossuth’s appointment of Stratimirovich as Ban and voivode will have remains to be seen.

Another blow for the Austrians is being prepared here by the recall of the Turkish Serbs from Hungary. The Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen reports on this:

“By a princely decree from Belgrade the Serbs who are fighting on Austrian soil are recalled. Whether Knicanin’s corps is included is not known, since the order is couched in too general terms. Our Serbs interpret this measure with suspicion, claiming to know that the Olmütz Court has worked for this decree through diplomatic channels. Others see in it purely a matter of organisation and conscription, while we are inclined to connect it with the Turkish armament measures. Certainly, the Serbian irregulars knew nothing better than looting, killing and burning; they were the dregs of Serbia. Their rapacity was quite indiscriminate. They dragged their booty across the Sava by the cartload, and, wherever these hordes broke in, the complaint went up from all sides: Heaven preserve us from these friends, we can cope with our enemies.”

The same paper writes in another article on this affair:

“Another untoward circumstance which fills us with gloomy forebodings is the recall of the troops of the Serb Principality from the Voivodina. We are unable to penetrate the secret of this policy. It is said that The Pope, England and France have demanded the recall of these troops. We do not believe this, at any rate they had no right to do so; for the troops who came to our aid from the principality were not regular troops of whom the local government can dispose as it pleases, they are volunteers who came to take part in the liberation struggle of their compatriots. The Serbs, however, had a right to take part in this struggle, for Serbia is a constitutional country, its people are free people. There is no end to the South-Slav troubles, indeed they are increasing with every passing day.”

The following announcement by the Patriarch, dated Gross-Kikinda, February 24, shows moreover that the plundering, by the Serbs must be very bad:

“As looting is on the increase by both the auxiliaries and even our regulars, I feel compelled to order: 1) Nobody shall dare to purchase any cattle or other effects taken as booty. 2) In case of violation the purchaser will lose both the booty he has bought and the purchase money handed over. 3) All objects taken as booty will be confiscated wherever found and the matter reported to me through the appropriate authority.”

But what angers the Serbs most, who are, after all, waging a national struggle, is the action taken in the interest of Germanisation by the noble Banus Jellachich, who as Ban is at the same time chief of the Military Border district.[96] The Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen received the following report from the Sava dated March 1:

“Ban Jellachich has become the chief talk of the day; his latest action is cloaked in the darkness of secrecy, and the Southern Slavs do not regard him without suspicion. His order to the Patriarch announcing that the German language is to be re-introduced in the local Military Border district, was very badly received here. Indeed, Ban Jellachich has not grasped the implications of this pronouncement. The Serbs kindled the national war solely to rid themselves of the rule of an alien nation, to save from destruction their literature (!), their art (!), their songs, all their national treasures, to which they cling with loyal hearts; the Serbs will not readily obey this order. Whatever may have induced the highly respected Ban to issue it, we do not doubt for a moment that the Patriarch will reject it.”

Clearly, the noble, gallant Ban is playing a most contemptible role. Sent for a time to Pest, under suspicion, he served the Government to cover all its acts that were unpalatable to the Slavs with his name and position. The noble personage, once having entered into relations with the Austrians, has irrevocably broken with the Magyars. Now, too late, he realises that despite his Slav cunning he has been ignominiously duped by the imperial side and cannot even refuse to sign such a disgraceful declaration as his recent one about his alleged quarrel with Windischgrätz. It serves him right.

Peterwardein is surrounded. The garrison is said to have taken all its officers prisoner as disloyal and traitorous.

We have learned more details about the battle in Slovakia against the Czechoslovak volunteers. The fighting took place at Turan on the Waag (at the foot of the Jablunka Pass, already once before so ominous for Messrs. Stúr and Hurban). The Magyar-Slovak corps, 12,000 strong, which was victorious here, is occupying the High Carpathians and is said to be under the command of Klapka and Aulich.

The Austrian Government is said to have disavowed Puchner’s invitation to the Russians to enter Transylvania and insists on their withdrawal as soon as 15,000 Banat troops have arrived in Transylvania as reinforcements. But since the Serbs refuse to march, the Russian corps will surely stay for the time being.

The following is reported in Pest from Debreczin, according to the Constitutionelles Blatt am Böhmen:

“A deputy is said to have proposed that the National Assembly should recognise the Emperor Francis Joseph as the legitimate King of Hungany. Nyáry was the first to support this pacification proposal, and even Kossuth made a brilliant speech in favour of the proposal which was then unanimously adopted.”

A letter from Pest the next day adds:

“The news from Debreczin reported yesterday appears to find confirmation, and the National Assembly is indeed said to have recognised the Emperor Francis Joseph as legitimate King of Hungary. This recognition rests, however, on the Pragmatic Sanction, and the demands which Kossuth’s party piles up on this basis we still remember from the last Imperial Diet but one. [97]According to reports received it has also been explicitly added that this step had been induced above all by the wish to prove to the European monarchies, especially to the great powers in the immediate neighbourhood, that there was not the least intention to found a united, big, perhaps even red, Sarmato-Magyar republic. This would therefore seem not to be a step towards actual pacification.”

If the Magyars have really taken this decision, such a manoeuvre would basically have little significance. If they are victorious and stand before Vienna, the “legitimate King of Hungary” will soon come to his end.

Moreover, in another letter from the Drava we read:

“In and around Debreczin everything looks extraordinarily martial and warlike. An imperial officer who was discharged under bond because he did not want to fight against his brothers gave us information from which we single out the following as remarkable. ‘Kossuth’s army,’ he said, ‘must amount to about 100,600 men and the artillery to 400 (?) cannon. Rockets of a unique kind are being made. A regular infantry is also available and seven old-style hussar regiments, besides which seven more hussar regiments have been formed, the Kossuth-, Mészáros-, Batthyány-, Madarász-, Hunyadi-hussars etc. There is much drilling and for up to six miles from Debreczin the villages are very strongly fortified, and it would be a great mistake to think of victory over these rebels as easy and rapid'; so far the statements of our informant. As far as our knowledge of the movements on the Theiss goes, we believe that our operations have to be carried out with all seriousness and caution, since skilful manoeuvres will here be necessary, and the troops in Hungary, at least at this present decisive moment, still appear to us insufficient. I do not want to be accused of pessimism. We see among the rebels much energy and among the masses in and around Romania a veritable fanaticism; hence we regret the delay in recruitment in the northern provinces, since this hampers the Government in fighting the Magyars.”

With this report, which should make our neighbouring journalist rejoice, we conclude for today, still waiting for finem Hungariae.