Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 164;
Written: by Engels on March 29, 1849;
First published: in the supplement to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 259, March 30, 1849.

As we were able to inform most of our readers yesterday, two engagements have taken place simultaneously, at Vigevano and Mortara, in one of which the Austrians gained advantages, in the other the victory went to the Piedmontese.

Today we have more definite news. We shall relate it in chronological order.

Ramorino’s treachery is, according to a report of the Constitutionnel beyond doubt. His orders were to prevent the Austrians from crossing the Ticino with the Lombard division from Vigevano. He sent a battalion of riflemen which occupied the crossing. An Austrian regiment made its appearance on the morning of the 20th and was held back for five hours, from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. In the meantime, instead of the regiment, an entire imperial brigade arrived at the Ticino. The Lombard battalion commander, Manara, astonished still to be left without any aid, retreated to Vigevano, the division’s headquarters. Vigevano was deserted by Ramorino’s troops. The Lombards retreated still further and eventually met a Piedmontese corps, which they were able to join. During this time, Ramorino had led his division off on marches which flagrantly contradicted the orders he had received. He was, however, arrested on the same day and, let us hope, will be shot.

As a result of Ramorino’s treachery, the Austrians succeeded in concentrating the main body of their forces in the Lomellina, between the Po and the Ticino, thus driving a wedge into the Piedmontese army. Durando and the entire corps stationed south of the Po are cut off from the main army.

On the 21st, Radetzky with two columns marched north towards Vigevano and Mortara, on the road leading to Vercelli. At Vigevano, one of the columns was halted by Piedmontese troops. For four hours they fought against numerically superior imperial forces at Sforzesca and Gambolo, without retreating. At last, the Savona brigade arrived at about four o'clock and drove back the Austrians with casualties. 1,500 prisoners are said to have fallen into the hands of the Piedmontese.

Immediately afterwards, at 6 o'clock, Mortara was attacked by the imperial forces; after defending themselves bravely, the Piedmontese eventually withdrew from this position under the protection of the reserve division.

This division continued the battle into the night, and only then did Mortara fall into the hands of the enemy.

So much is certain. But from here on the reports are contradictory. According to one, the Duke of Savoy had resumed the offensive on the 22nd, and put two Hungarian regiments to flight; according to another, Radetzky is advancing along the Vercelli road.

In Paris, a telegraphic dispatch said to have been received on the 26th puts Radetzky only four miles from Turin. Even the Journal des Débats, which is favourably disposed towards the Austrians, has to admit that this report is unfounded and could not possibly have been received in Paris on the 26th. It even makes the effort to prove this by comparing the dates and distances involved.

It further admits that Radetzky has got himself into a position in which one defeat will finish him off.

“If the Piedmontese army has time to concentrate in Radetzky’s rear, it will be able to put him into a most difficult position.”

But this is precisely what the Journal des Débats doubts. Firstly, it says, the Piedmontese army has been drawn up along far too long a line, taking up positions from Novara to Castel San Giovanni, and even having other detached corps at Arona and Sarzana, or now at Parma; and secondly, it must be assumed that Radetzky, when he decided to cross the Ticino, had with him the whole of his available forces, 70,000 men with 120 cannon.

Firstly, the Piedmontese army has, indeed, been deployed since the 21st in such a way that the corps which directly confronts Radetzky is certainly too weak by itself to withstand him. That is the result of Ramorino’s treachery. But this is not the issue. The Duke of Genoa is operating on the right flank of the Austrians, the Piedmontese reserves are stationed on their left flank at Casale and Alessandria, and Durando is in their rear at Stradella. Radetzky is literally encircled, and his retreat in case of a defeat is as good as cut off. It is a curious assumption that these distinct Piedmontese corps would not operate together (and the Duke of Genoa and the reserve corps of the main army are dose enough to do so). By his treachery, Ramorino was able to put the Piedmontese at a momentary disadvantage, but he could not thereby decide the outcome of the campaign.

Secondly, the Austrian army between the Ticino and the Po is by no means 70,000 strong. The Journal de Débats really argues too naively when it asserts: because Radetzky had an alleged 70,000 men under his command between the Adda and the Ticino, he must have led the same number across the Ticino. Clearly, he must have left behind a considerable number on the Lombardic bank of the Po and in Pavia, as well as on the Lambro and the Adda, to cover his base of operations. According to a report in the Basler Zeitung (which enthusiastically supports the imperial cause), the Austrians had 8,000 men at Gallarate, 20,000 at Magenta, 25,000 at Pavia and 25,000 at Piacenza. Only the first three corps, together 50,000-53,000 men, could be taken across the Ticino in case of extreme necessity; the corps at Piacenza barely sufficed to cover the Po from Piacenza to Pavia.

Even without the outermost formations dispatched to Como via Arona and to Parma via Sarzana, the Piedmontese army will therefore probably completely suffice to hold out against Radetzky.

Moreover, that Radetzky has left Lombardy largely stripped of troops is clear even from the hasty transfer of the troops from the Venice area, from Verona to Lombardy, from Padua to Verona. In the Tirol a corps of 7,000 riflemen is said to have been mobilised. Venice will thus be fairly denuded of troops, and the encirclement from the landward side will surely soon cease of its own accord.[157]

In Paris, the rumour was circulating on the 27th that the Duke of Genoa had defeated the Austrians. 12,000 Austrians, encircled by three Piedmontese divisions, were said to have laid down their arms. We regard this rumour as scarcely more trustworthy than that spread on the 26th about the defeat of the Piedmontese.

A letter from Parma says that 7,000 Tuscans and 8,000 Romans have joined La Marmora.

The Roman general Zambeccari has routed an Austrian corps on the Modena-Bologna border.