Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung April 1849

The War in Hungary

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 231;
Written: by Engels on April 5, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 265, April 6, 1849.

Cologne, April 5. It is a fact that the Austrians, when they win battles in Hungary, only do so because of the longer and more regular arms drill of their soldiers; they win them not because of their commanders but in spite of their commanders. The thoroughly exercised military drill and the coherent compact mass resulting from this is their only strength. This compact military mass has been employed by the generals from the inception of the war until now with a mediocrity, with a lack of talent which is quite unparalleled. There is no grand design, no daring, no dexterity in manoeuvres, no trace of a worked out plan, no attempt to surprise the enemy or to impress him. With a triviality of calculation which does not go beyond the four fundamentals of strategy (s'il y en a), the Austrian armies keep marching directly toward the point to be conquered sticking as punctiliously as possible to a straight line, unconcerned about what is happening to the right or to the left of them, and if an unexpected manoeuvre by the Magyars throws them out of this line then they are at a loss and good for nothing until they have once again found some other straight line leading to their appointed goal. Nothing creates a more dreadful impression than to see that even the most unexpected and brilliant manoeuvres of the Hungarian generals are incapable of imparting even the slightest animating thought to the unwieldy body of the Austrian army and of inducing it to produce an adroit idea, however slight. It is nothing but the simple and honest old strategy of the Coburgs, Clerfayts, Wurmsers & Co., of yore, which has, thank God, for about a hundred years been harping on the axiom that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points.

Thus while the Austrians slowly but by no means surely plod forward and demonstrate an unparalleled poverty of strategic thought, we find an astounding wealth of strategic genius at the head of the Magyar army. The whole campaign is conducted according to a plan whose mastery becomes daily more evident; and between the individual elements of this great plan a series of episodes occur each of which is more brilliantly contrived and more surprisingly and dexterously executed than the last. The Magyars, though inadequately drilled and armed, oppose everywhere the most subtle calculation, the most masterly use of the terrain, the clearest overall view of the situation and the most daring and swift execution to the indolent and mindless but well-drilled mass of the Austrian armies. Superiority in genius is here doing battle with superiority in numbers, weapons and arms drill. Observing the bold, rapid marches of the Magyar corps, it is hardly possible to grasp how an almost completely untrained, poorly armed and ill-equipped army can undertake such movements and carry them through to completion. We need only recall Görgey’s brilliant march from Pest through the Slovakian mountain towns, along the Carpathians, through the Zips to the Theiss and from there back to within six miles of Pest again, and Bem’s repeated lightning triumphal expeditions through Transylvania.

Today’s reports from the Theiss, admittedly, unofficial but nevertheless coming unanimously from the most various sources and therefore less subject to doubt than all the martial-law bulletins, at last permit us to pass sound judgment on the latest movements between the Theiss and the Danube.

Once again these movements form one of the most brilliant and inspired manoeuvres perhaps ever to figure in the history of war. By means of manoeuvres whose design was as bold and superior as their execution was lightning fast, the Magyar commanders Görgey and Dembinski (and this manoeuvre is the best proof that he still holds his command) have completely disconcerted an army which would certainly have proved superior to them in regular, open pitched battle, they have driven it back a whole 20 miles, frustrated all its plans and even threatened its line of retreat.

The most recent dispositions of the two armies are known:

The Magyars on and behind the Theiss: Görgey at Tokaj, Dembinski at Polgar and Tisza-Füred, Vetter at Szolnok, Damjanich at Szegedin.

The imperial forces on the opposite bank: Ramberg along the Hernad up to Miskolcz, Schlick from Miskolcz to Szegléd, Jellachich from Szegléd to Kecskemét and Felegyhaza.

Suddenly Görgey broke away from the Theiss, marched by way of a detour (evidently through the Zernpleri comitat) north towards Kaschau and threw Ramberg’s division (the Götz and Jablonowsky brigades) out of the Sáros and the Abauj comitat. Götz and Jablonowsky — at least so the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung would have it — held Eperies and Kaschau, but on the other hand the open country was everywhere swept clean of imperial troops. Only stopping briefly Görgey now proceeded along the Hernad once more towards the south, driving the remnants of Ramberg’s troops constantly before him, took Miskolcz and then headed west; by way of Rimaszombat he went to Losoncz, and took up a position on the Ipoly (Eipel) between Losoncz and Balassa-Gyarmat. His vanguard is said to have pushed forward as far as Nograd.

The heroic Ramberg beat a hasty retreat by way of Hatvan on the very worst roads to Waitzen on the Danube, four miles above Pest. There he immediately built a pontoon bridge to withdraw his corps to the right bank of the Danube and thus put the river between Görgey and himself.

While Görgey was advancing by way of Miskolcz, Dembinski crossed the Theiss at Czibakhdza and with 30,000 men broke through Schlick’s disposition at its weakest point between Jasz-Berény and the battlefield of Kapolna, marched through the middle of the country occupied by the enemy and linked up with Görgey on the other side of the Mátra mountains.

To cover Pest Schlick left part of his forces behind at Hatvan (the same place the Magyars had visited in February). With the other part he “pursued”, as they say, Dembinski’s army. What is meant by this “pursuit” is absolutely incomprehensible unless he is anxious to be cut off and thrown back against the Hernad into a purely Hungarian area.

At the same time Jellachich’s army was being pushed back by Damjanich from Szegedin and Vetter from Szolnok. As is well known, Jellachich had occupied Kecskemét and advanced his headquarters another four miles to Felegyhaza. Damjanich expelled him from there, forced him to leave Kecskemét, defeated him at Nagy-Körös and drove him back to Szegléd. According to the latest reports Jellachich is said to have abandoned this place as well and withdrawn his headquarters to Pilis, four miles from Pest.

Thus the Austrians are being driven back at all points, and the theatre of war is again situated but a few miles from Pest.

But this time the Magyars are operating with completely different forces, and have taken up a disposition quite different from that of six weeks ago when they stood at Hatvan.

Then they were drawn up in a line from the Mátra mountains on the right to the Theiss on the left. To begin with they only had the aim of threatening Pest.

This time things are different. The main thing now is to relieve Komorn and support the insurrection on the right bank of the Danube in the rear of the imperial forces. Hence the much greater degree of daring and the much greater ingenuity in the coordination of the movements.

The Magyars are positioned in two long curved lines, the one drawn up to the north-east of Pest and the other to the south-east of it. The first extends from Erlau and Gyöngyös, occupied by Dembinski, to Balassa-Gyarmat and Neograd, where Görgey is. While Dembinski holds Schlick in check and threatens Pest, Görgey has driven Ramberg over the Danube and presents such a serious threat to the besieged area of Komorn, hardly two days’ march distant, that troops from there have already been sent against him and the encirclement of the fortress is at present very slack. At the same time he is in a position to cause the adjoining Magyar comitats on the Danube, particularly Gran, to rise again in revolt, to interrupt river communications between Pest and the besieging army and, in the rear of the Austrians, to call into being an enemy who at the least will force them to weaken their main army. In the event of a defeat he once again has the possibility of a retreat into the Slovakian mountains.

The second Magyar army is positioned to the south-east of Pest, one flank on the Danube, the other on the Theiss, its centre in Kecskemét, Nagy-Körös, or perhaps by now already in Szegléd. This corps threatens Pest from the other side, and is equally capable of throwing auxiliary troops across the Danube into Stuhlweissenburg and the Tolna comitat to support the insurrection here too. Only some thousand Honveds[187] with light artillery and a few hussars would be needed to rouse the whole of the Bakony Forest from the Danube to the Raab into full rebellion in the rear of the main Austrian army, to isolate the besieging troops at Komorn and to necessitate the detachment of whole army corps against the rebels. Thus weakened, the imperial army would be unable to put up much resistance against the united Hungarian armies.

And the Hungarians undertake these rapid and daring marches at a time when, thanks to the bad weather and the muddy roads, the Austrian army cannot take a single step forward, but only steps backwards!

Incidentally, one can see from the whole design that something more serious is intended this time than last. Previously single corps, but now it is the whole main army of the Austrians that has been pressed back under the walls of Pest. Pest itself is obviously the goal. This is recognised very clearly in the town itself. The Hungarian banknotes[188] have risen again! The reserve has been returned to Pest from Gödöllö (three miles away) and its baggage carried over the Danube to Ofen. The garrison of Pest and Ofen was confined all day long to its barracks and to the citadel.

In short, the Austrians have been forced back towards Pest on all sides, the Magyar army is more concentrated than ever, Szegedin has been liberated, the link-up between Jellachich and the Serbs has been foiled, the siege area of Komorn has been breached, the mountain towns threatened, the guerillas in Slovakia and on the right bank of the Danube supported and Pest more seriously threatened than ever — these are the immediate results of this concentric movement of the four Magyar Theiss corps, its conception was as bold and skilful as its execution has been precise and rapid.

In Transylvania Bem’s situation is also beginning to clarify. First of all Bem defeated Puchner and drove him to Hermannstadt. On March 10 he sent a representative under a flag of truce and demanded surrender. Instead of an answer the Russian general ordered the representative to be whipped with the knout. Thereupon Bem attacked and took the town on March 11. No quarter was given to the Russians, a revolutionary committee was set up and many Cossacks hanged. Puchner escaped to Wallachia, the Russian general is said to have remained. On March 14 Bem marched against Kronstadt. In the meantime 40,000-50,000 Russians marched in by way of the Roterturm and the Törzburg passes (near Kronstadt), attacked Bem and defeated him thanks to their double superiority in numbers. Bem withdrew into Szeklerland.[189] The story of the five hanged Polish officers has been confirmed; their names were Bilski, Prince Woroniecki, Dumanski, Podalecki and Wronski. Moreover, another 70 or so officers and NCOs are said to have been hanged by the Russians. The rumour about Bem having been forced to enter Wallachia is scarcely mentioned any more; a second rumour sounds almost as wild, claiming that he has fled to the Magyar Theiss army. The terror inspired in the imperial forces by the name Bem is so great that they are already claiming that it was he who planned and commanded the daring move across the Theiss.

Nothing new from the Banat, except that Rukavina has conceded the Patriarch all his demands concerning Serbian nationhood.

Komorn and Peterwardein are holding out. Welden himself has left for the former. Nous verrons!