Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 152;
Written: by Engels about March 28, 1849;
First published in the supplement to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 258, March 29, 1849.

In spite of all the reinforcements asked for, in spite of all their numerical superiority, fortune refuses to favour the imperial forces. The Ost-Deutsche Post, in a report (?) from Pest dated March 20, spins the following yarn:

“Baron Hammerstein is said to have already crossed the Theiss and advanced to Nyiregyhaza, eight hours from Debreczin. Advancing from the other side, Puchner must already be near Grosswardein, and at this moment the rumour is spreading that Szegedin has surrendered without striking a blow.”

“Is said to” — “must” — “the rumour is spreading” — such is the reliable news from the theatre of war which the Ost-Deutsche Post publishes, and which the reliable, “critically sifting”, experienced Kölnische Zeitung communicated to its readers in its second edition this morning without further comment.

In addition the Ost-Deutsche Post and following it the Kölnische Zeitung report:

“According to fairly reliable reports, the Serbs at Szegedin have received orders to join the imperial army stationed on the Theiss. The Ban then took over general command of these two united corps and set out on the march to Debreczin with them.” (!!!)

This supposed report from Pest is simply the usual Viennese martial-law gossip, in which there is not a word of truth. The Kölnische Zeitung should know that; firstly, there was no official Bulletin, which would have been issued if there had been any successes however small; and secondly, it could have read, copied in the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung and in the original in the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen a genuine report from Pest of the 20th, in which there is no mention of the “reliable news” printed in the Ost-Deutsche Post. And the worthy Cologne paper still dares to accuse the Breslauer Zeitung, which does not claim to have a critical approach, of lacking a critical approach as far as reports from Hungary are concerned!

Actually, the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen reports quite the opposite from Pest on the 20th:

“The fall of Szegedin has not been confirmed, on the contrary, the imperial forces are said to have relinquished Kecskmét owing to strategic considerations. The enemy appears to have concentrated all his forces at Szegedin, and to regard it as the key to the current Austrian plan of operation. Yesterday reinforcements went also from our side to the battlefield by rail.”

That is all that this report, which was actually written in Pest, says about the theatre of war.

True enough, Baron Hammerstein has moved from Galicia down the Hernad to Tokaj with reinforcements — ten battalions, it is said. But he would never have got across the Theiss there without a hard-fought and victorious action — and would not the imperial authorities have trumpeted abroad so important a victory in a Bulletin? From Tokaj to Nyiregyhaza is a good four miles, i.e. in this marshy region and in this rainy season, fully two to three days’ march for a regular army. And Hammerstein is supposed to have got through to Nyiregyhaza without the official report of his successful crossing of the Theiss some days previously having reached Vienna!

If Hammerstein had even got as far as Tokaj we would have received Bulletin after Bulletin full of triumphant chants. We would know where Götz is stationed and where Jablonowsky, Csorich and Schlick are stationed. We know nothing whatsoever of all this. Since February 26, the date of the ambiguous battle at Kapolna, that is for almost four weeks there has been no official mention of the Theiss; and the unofficial reports we receive contradict each other daily.

Hence the first of the three columns at whose head the Kölnische Zeitung crossed the Theiss existed only in the imagination.

The second would have to be that of Schlick. But Schlick was still in Szegléd on the 17th or 18th, as the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen has also reported. At Szolnok, the nearest crossing-point, there could be no question of crossing the Theiss. Here even the wits of the noble Ban and robber chief Jellachich were baffled, and any attempt to cross there was given up. If however he had crossed the Theiss at Tisza-Füred, the only crossing-point in the vicinity, he would first have had to march there to concentrate his forces there and to wage a battle. All this would have had to have happened in the short period from the 18th to the 20th, and that is impossible for obvious chronological reasons. Schlick’s presence in Szegléd, far from proving that a hurried crossing of the Theiss was to take place, on the contrary, in conjunction with other reports, leads to the conclusion that Schlick was purely on a visit of inspection at Szegléd, where the right wing of his army must establish contact with the extreme left wing of Jellachich’s corps.

The third column would naturally have been that of Jellachich. But according to the only news reaching us directly from Pest, it has been withdrawn “for strategic reasons” (as the imperial authorities say every time they are defeated) even beyond Kecskemét. But Kecskemét lies 12 miles from Szegedin, the only possible crossing-point of the Theiss there, and the notorious hinge of Jellachich’s operations. Of what use is it to us now if the Serbs have “received orders” to “effect a junction” with him, when he is 14 miles away from them? And what is the meaning of the ridiculous remark that, as a result of this simple plan of joining up with the Serbs, the Ban “is marching directly on Debreczin”, which is 25 miles from Szegedin, the as yet unconquered Szegedin!

Moreover, the Ost-Deutsche Post writes in a further flight of the imagination, Puchner must by now be already near Grosswardein. Indeed, if the wishes of the imperial side had anything to do with it, he would have been there long ago. But all we know so far is that, while the 30,000 Russians now stationed in Transylvania are keeping a tight rein on the Szeklers[150] he is operating not in the direction of Grosswardein but in the opposite direction, towards Schässburg and Maros-Vásárhely.

By the way, the difficulties involved in driving the Hungarians from their strong positions behind the Theiss and capturing Debreczin, especially now that the rainy season is near, are indicated in the following excerpt from the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen:

“It would certainly be better for the military operations on the clayey roads and fields on the Theiss and on this side of it, if the usual rainy season were to arrive a few weeks late. During this season, Debreczin becomes temporarily an island, to which even in peace-time one can make one’s way only with great difficulty. This will show you the obstacles of terrain with which our brave troops have to contend even before they reach the seat of rebellion. Moreover, on the way to Debreczin there are pusztas[151] so wide that one must ride for almost a whole day to reach the only well which supplies water for the horses. And on these plains the Austrian cavalry must contend with an enemy who is at home there and whose small, tireless horses may be called the came of the puszta.”

Hence, first the swamps of the Theiss and Körös, which form a natural trench round the heath of Debreczin, and then the Sahara of Debreczin itself, where the Austrian cuirassiers and Uhlans are supposed to fight the same battle with the Hungarian light hussars that the clumsy French cavalry had to fight against the Arab horsemen in the first years of the Algerian war.[152]

We have learnt from the Banat that a new complication has been added to the old ones in Serbia. The Romanians have been incited against the Serbs — though whether for or against the imperial authorities we do not know. Imperial intrigue is probably at the bottom of it.

The Temesvar fortress is being heavily armed — not against the Magyars, but against — the Serbs. Obviously ill-feeling among the Serbs must be growing.

As regards the capture of Peterwardein, “hoped for” repeatedly for some time, this is again dissolving in mist. The Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen writes:

From the Drava, March 18. The Vienna papers reported some time ago that imperial troops had succeeded in storming the fortress of Peterwardein. But Peterwardein cannot be stormed unless one is prepared to see 20,000 or 30,000 men slaughtered in the assault. Anyone who is a soldier and is familiar with the fortress will agree. If the fortress does not surrender hunger is the only thing that can conquer it. Unfortunately, our hopes of its speedy surrender, initially raised by bearers of the flag of truce, are growing dimmer and dimmer, and the officers who have just escaped from the fortress do not hold out an encouraging prospect, for particularly the common soldiers and the Honveds are behaving in a terroristic fashion.”

A new revolt is “to be hoped for” in the rear of the imperial forces. The regiment of dragoons that was occupying the Bakony Forest has been called to Pest and has arrived there. The Honved guerillas, who are roaming about in large numbers in the Bakony Forest, will immediately organise a fresh uprising and establish contact with the insurgents of the comitat of Tolna.