Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung April 1849

From the Theatre of War

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 283;
Written: by Engels about April 15, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 273 (second edition), April 15, 1849.

The imperial troops have been driven further and further back; the Magyars have reached the Rakos plain[226] the field where the Hungarian kings used to be elected, half an hour from Pest, and are offering battle.

This is the latest news from Pest, of the 8th. The other information received is less certain. For instance, somebody has written to the Breslauer Zeitung that Windischgrätz would not accept battle and had already retreated to Pest with his troops. Those with pro-imperial views believe that the Magyars would not dare attack Pest, on the one hand because of the strong entrenchments thrown up there, on the other so as not to expose their capital to destruction. In the meantime things look grim in Pest. Windischgrätz returned first to Pest then to Ofen, but without giving any indication of how the battle is going. Of course, this has deeply hurt the “loyal subjects” and, greatly cheered the Magyars.

At the same time Herr Wrbna has had the following proclamation posted up on the 7th of this month:

“The cities of Ofen and Pest are in a state of siege, hence all meetings in squares and prohibited; but as this order has not been observed for some days, I feel compelled to remind the inhabitants herewith that they must stay at home and also avoid unnecessary travel; patrols are authorised to intervene in any gathering with full use of arms. A further consequence of any kind of riotous movement would be the immediate bombardment of the city, for which everything is in readiness.”

Many loyal subjects of His Apostolic Majesty, who no longer feel safe in Pest, have already moved across to Ofen, into the fortress; refugees from Pest have already arrived even in Vienna. The Pest Magyars are jubilant; the Austrians, on the other hand, are threatening. Two loaded twelve-pounders from the Ofen side of the pontoon bridge, and many heavy guns from the Ofen citadel, are aimed at Pest, to give emphasis to Welden’s threat.

The intensity of the Magyar attack is said to exceed all expectations of the Austrians. In particular the countless Magyar hussars have been giving no rest by day or by night to the imperial troops for five days, and the audacity of these hussars is beyond all Austrian calculation.

The imperial troops, by the way, have mustered everything so as to stand their ground. The garrisons of Waitzen and Vesprim have gone to Pest; reinforcements are approaching by forced marches from Komorn, Vienna etc., but will in any case be too late for the decisive battle.

On April 11 the news spread at the Vienna Stock Exchange that the Hungarians had been beaten off at Pest. We regard this rumour as a mere speculators’ bluff. Not much more trustworthy is another rumour according to which Görgey is said to have relieved Komorn with one Magyar corps, and to have compelled the siege army to march against him and so relinquish the fortress. Nothing is more probable than that Hungarian or Slovak volunteers in the comitats of Neutra, Gran and Nograd are raiding and harassing the Komorn siege corps; but that the main Magyar army should send off Görgey with an important corps while it is waging a decisive battle at Pest, is not credible.

The matter of Jellachich’s victory, announced in the 33rd Bulletin (he thereupon “took up the positions assigned to him“, as the comical placard-maker Welden expressed it in the 34th Bulletin), is also given away by the Lloyd, reporting from Pest that the people there had to believe that the Ban was a prisoner, and were much surprised to get further news from him.

Further details are available about the Magyar army. Klapka is not a prisoner, as some papers have maintained, but is in charge of a detachment in the Magyar centre. The left wing of the Hungarian army is led by Damjanich, a Banat Serb, who earlier led an army corps against Nugent and Dahlen in the Baranya comitat and then in the Bacska and at Szegedin. If some martial-law papers say that he has now sold (!) himself to the Magyars, this is a lie as silly as it is contemptible. The earlier Austrian Bulletins are there to prove the contrary.

The decisive battle was to be fought on the 8th. We know that it was fought, and fought very violently; but as regards the outcome we only have the rumours quoted above.

If Windischgrätz is driven to the right bank of the Danube, he can immediately withdraw his troops beyond the Raab and relinquish Komorn. He has not a single line of defence, as far as the Leitha, and whether he can hold even that will depend entirely on the morale of his beaten army. In any event, with Windischgrätz’s defeat Hungary will for the time being be cleared of imperial troops, while a rebuff of the Magyar attack would not take the Austrians further than the Theiss. On the Theiss the old game of trick-track would in the meantime begin again, until royal imperial reinforcements of 50,000-60,000 men arrive.

It is confirmed in the Banat that the Magyars have conquered the whole of the Bacska and have relieved Peterwardein. The Nugents, père et fils have once again made fools of themselves.

In conclusion we give the following details from a Vienna Lithographierte Correspondenz concerning certain Hungarian generals and the Hungarian army:

Among the Hungarian generals Görgey deserves special mention. He is still very young, but most talented and extremely active, untiring and personally courageous; it is perhaps not saying too much to describe him as the soul of all the military operations, since, as everyone knows, Kossuth, in his career as a lawyer, had little opportunity to distinguish himself in the military sciences. Among the foreigners the Englishman Guyon is outstanding. His daring knows no limit. For instance, recently he stormed a mountain (which can only be reached by a road with seven bends and which was held by an adequate garrison of Austrian troops and guns) at the head of his column, with a loss of 400 men, although it would have been possible to bypass it, but with considerable loss of time.

The courageous Guyon shrinks from no obstacle and is as cool-headed as he is fearless, one of the most daring partisans of this in its way unique campaign. The Honveds who initially were poorly clad and fed, are now in much better shape. In the winter it was not uncommon to find some ill-clad Honveds frozen to death by the road. They have learned to bear the hardships of the campaign and fight with the courage of disciplined troops. The lull Windischgrätz the Hungarians at the beginning they used in the best possible way, and in particular they proceeded with the training of the Honveds by employing them in small raids so as to accustom them gradually to warfare.

In the meantime their military training was completed as far as possible. At present the Honveds are significantly advanced in their development and have already distinguished themselves in individual engagements. The main strength of the Hungarian army, of course, is its excellent cavalry which daily arouses more respect in the Austrian cavalry; even the Wallmoden cuirassiers, known for their courage, have often had opportunity to get to know the might of the Hungarian hussars and have succumbed to their impetuous attacks more that once.