Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

From the Theatre of War — The Confused Situation in Serbia

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 144;
Written: by Engels about March 26, 1849;
First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 256, March 27, 1849.

Today we must begin our reports from Hungary with news of a victory which, if it were true, would spread the greatest joy among the German democrats.

We have received the following from Breslau:

Breslau, March 23. Just now, news has arrived from Ratibor that Dembinski has taken Pest by storm. Görgey, who had already occupied the heights of Raab with his army, is marching as a vanguard on Vienna, which Dembinski intends to occupy soon.
"In Bohemia, the outbreak of a terrible revolution is expected at any moment, which will in the main spread among the oppressed rural population and lead to a veritable civil war. The national hatred between Germans and Czechs has almost completely disappeared; the old Czech deputies Palacky and company have been booed, while the German Left and its Bohemian President Borrosch have received one ovation after another. Moreover, a state of siege has already been proclaimed in Prague.”

We have received the same news by way of the democratic correspondence in Berlin. According to it, a deputy has received the following communication:

Ratibor, March 23. Just after winning a major battle, and following a number of previous important victories Dembinski has taken Pest by storm. Görgey, who had previously occupied the heights of Raab with his army corps — to cut off the line of retreat of the Austrian army, in case it escaped — is marching on Vienna as the vanguard of the Hungarian advance. In that city Dembinski will probably disturb the Easter ceremony of washing the feet, [144] and take upon Austria the revenge it so richly deserves.
Prague is in a state of siege, with the indispensable 26 guns trained on the city. It is true that a revolution has not broken out there but is expected, and it is to be hoped that in this way it will be provoked. And if that occurs, if Bohemia rises against the Cabinet — post-horses will become expensive in Olmütz.”

This news was communicated to Minister Manteuffel who, quite alarmed, replied that the Ministry had not yet received any dispatches about it.

Unfortunately, though, this news is obviously false in the version here available and at the very least premature. The positions of the armies ascertained according to the latest reports do not admit the possibility that the Hungarians have captured Pest by now.

Our news from Pest goes up to the 18th. The most recent Vienna papers, which could have extended it to the 19th, have not yet come to hand. The Breslauer Zeitung has a Hungarian report of the 15th, which does indeed mention a Magyar victory over Jellachich at Izsak and Alpar. These two places lie to the right and left of the highway which leads from Pest to Szegedin via Kecskemét, about the level of Felegyhaza, where, as we know, Jellachich is supposed to have been defeated once before; though whether this is the same battle or a new action, it is not possible to judge. In any case, as the Magyar report says, the news of this Hungarian victory has been reflected on the Pest money market in a rise of 20 per cent in the Hungarian banknotes. Dispersed corps, as well as large numbers of wounded are also said to have arrived in Pest. Incidentally, the same report adds afterwards that the events of the Magyar war do not seem to have been confirmed to the extent the money market assumed. As regards monetary affairs in Pest the Magyar report writes:

“There is no stock exchange in Pest, and current monetary transactions which have become considerable only since the ban on Hungarian banknotes, were temporarily conducted in a coffee-house. But yesterday the local military authorities had one of the main dealers arrested, and by this argumentum ad hominem brought about a partial stoppage of the exchange of banknotes. Despite this, Hungarian banknotes maintained yesterday’s level, though many dealers view the abovementioned arrest as foreshadowing the complete invalidation of Hungarian banknotes even for private dealings.
"The contribution which Pest was not scheduled to pay till May must now by order of His Highness Prince Windischgrätz be paid within 24 hours. The imperial salt office now sells only for hard coin.”

In addition, the report talks of an alliance between the Magyars and the Turks, in consequence of which the Magyar operations would be directed not against Pest but towards the Banat and the Turkish borders. But this item sounds rather fantastic. — Palóczy, who retired because of old age, is reported to have been replaced by Paul Almasy as President of the Hungarian National Assembly in Debreczin.

According to other, Austrian, reports Jellachich is said rather to have gained a victory over the Magyars at Szegedin (or Felegyhaza).

The action in question is obviously the one already mentioned above. But so long as the Austrian Bulletins do not break their obstinate silence about the operations on the Theiss, and so long as their reports of any victories are not confirmed by other, unbiased news, so long we shall believe the Magyar report that Jellachich has suffered a welcome defeat at Felegyhaza.

What confirms us in this belief is the following item from the Lithographierte Correspondenz published in Vienna under martial-law supervision:

“The news from Hungary is as yet still far from satisfactory: it is known that considerable mishaps have occurred there, and that even officers of the highest rank have been called to account. Among them even Count Wrbna is mentioned.”

Today there is no word from the Banat. Not a word of Jablonowsky, Götz, and the rest of the missing corps of the Austrian army.

On the other hand, from Transylvania we hear today nothing but compliments for Bem. Thus the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

“The reports from the camp agree, however, that Bem has proved his ability once more in the latest encounter at Mediasch, for he took up such advantageous positions that during the entire engagement he may be said to have manoeuvred rather than fought.”

And even the Siebenbürger Bote, whose war reports, as we well know, express the official view, says:

Whoever has not seen for himself the impressive bearing of Bem, his tenacity on the field of battle, can have no true conception of this general’s ability. While his position seems to be shrouded in a veil, he leaves the ground he occupies only with sudden brisk movements, and if his troops were as reliable as his skill in offering battle from such well-chosen positions — which, as it were, always strikingly display the closest correlation — we would have to fight engagements that are not only interesting but brilliant. Bem fought with his 5,000-6,000 strong force from 9 in the morning till 6 in the afternoon, from three positions, with a tenacity which shows what he can do not only now but in future as well.”

The Imperial Government has realised, incidentally, that the Serbs are not to be trifled with. The Napredak (Forward) of Karlowitz writes on March 13 that, late at night on the 8th, a letter from Minister Stadion arrived in Becskerek for the Patriarch, in which the Ministry confirms the provisional Serb provincial government and at the same time expresses the wish that the Serb newspapers should say what kind of government the people would want to be installed in the “Voivodina”. Moreover, Minister Stadion demands two representatives from the Voivodina; accordingly, Paskowich, Zivanovich and Suplikac have also been sent off to Vienna, in addition to Bogdanovic. The commission in Becskerek has already begun negotiations about the setting up of the Serb Diet. The majority of the deputies favours an early calling of a National Assembly, at which the voivode should also be elected.

Several of the Uhlans who recently dispersed the district council in Hatzfeld went on to Kécsa and seized the arms of the Serbs. Then they rode to Serb Crnja intending to dissolve the district court there, but the Serbs declared they would not obey the military command and would defend their rights to the last drop of blood. Had the Uhlans permitted themselves the slightest transgression, blood would have flowed. In Kómlos and Masdorf, too, the Uhlans wanted to dissolve the councils, but the Romanians and Germans there immediately denounced that intention, so that it came to the knowledge of the Patriarch. In this way Rukavina wanted to dissolve the district courts and national offices in the whole area. It was fortunate that he did not go further; had the Uhlans continued to molest the Serbian villages, not one of them would have kept his head on his shoulders. When the Patriarch was informed of the seizure of the aims, he flew into a rage. Now we hear that Rukavina has yielded and the Uhlans (Schwarzenberg) have been put under the command of Todorovich.

Whether this is the end of the Serbian disorders remains to be seen. In any case, Windischgrätz and Jellachich have been compromised and disowned by the Government, an outcome which we find especially pleasing in the case of the fanatic Jellachich.