From the Theatre of War, April 8, 1849 (1)

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Today we have gladdening news. Bem’s bulletins, which we printed yesterday, are confirmed to the very last letter.

Bem has driven the Russian garrison of Hermannstadt right out of Transylvania, has destroyed the Austrian army and is advancing on Kronstadt. Puchner and his generals have fled to Wallachia. Bem had captured Hermannstadt on March 11 and beaten the Russians so soundly that only 2,000 of them found their way over the Roterturm Pass into Wallachia. The remainder, between 2,000 and 6,000 men (the reports are contradictory) were partly cut down, partly taken prisoner. On March 12 and 13 Bem pursued them to the defile.

In the meantime unlucky old Puchner had set out from Mediasch to pursue Bem. He arrived before Hermannstadt exactly fifteen hours too late and stationed his troops at Frek on the Aluta, to one side of Hermannstadt and the Roterturm. Now, on March 15, Bem drove the Russians right out of the defile and on March 16 he destroyed the Austrian army. The childish old Puchner and his generals Pfersmann, Gedeon and Schurter likewise escaped into Wallachia together with three companies. Command of the defeated corps was assumed by Major-General Kalliani; he fled with his men in great disorder to Fogaras on the Aluta, eight to ten miles from Hermannstadt.

Bem fortified the Roterturm Pass in such a way that, as he affirms, the Russians will no longer get through. Then he immediately headed for Kronstadt, hoping to take it in 3-4 days. The Russians, who immediately sent considerable forces to Transylvania (20,000 men with 50 cannon are mentioned), will probably arrive too late as they are taking a circuitous route through Wallachia, and perhaps Bem will still succeed in occupying and fortifying the Törzburg, Tömös and Boha passes (two to three miles from Kronstadt) before the Russians get there. That the latter are counting on considerable resistance and only very uncertain success is evident from the fact that they are sending a second corps of occupation into Transylvania by way of the Bukovina.

The capture of Hermannstadt was of incalculable significance for Bem. All the depots of arms, munitions and provisions of Puchner’s army were here. All these supplies have fallen into his hands and such a skilled and active insurrectionary general as Bem, who can obtain soldiers with ease, will be able to make excellent use of precisely these weapons.

The capture of Kronstadt completes Bem’s conquest of Transylvania. He promises, as soon as he succeeds in this enterprise, to head for Hungary with an army. Even if the Russians, who are exerting themselves to the utmost to revenge the humiliating reverse they have suffered, do not permit him to reach the Theiss, it will nevertheless be possible for the fast-moving Bem to create a diversion by marching into the Banat, and just there his presence may prove decisive.[1]

To avoid the suspicion that these facts, which incidentally reach us from all sides simultaneously, are fabricated, we print the few melancholy lines in which the official Wiener Zeitung itself announces them:

“According to reports from Bucharest Master of Ordnance Puchner was in Rimnik (Wallachia) on March 19. Bem had occupied the Roterturm and the Russians the quarantine. A courier from Kronstadt brought the news to Czernowitz on March 26 that the royal imperial Transylvanian corps, after arriving too late for the relief of Hermannstadt, had retired to Kronstadt in order to cover the town. On account of illness Master of Ordnance Puchner has handed over the command of this corps to Major-General Kalliani, and he himself has withdrawn to Rimnik with the General Command.”

The martial-law reports of the arrival of two Russian columns by ‘Way of the Roterturm and the Törzburg passes were thus totally untrue. Unfortunately for the Kölnische Zeitung they were not published by Magyar but by genuine imperial journals. On the contrary, this time the “Magyar boasting” has been corroborated word for word.

Let us turn from Transylvania to the Banat. Here on March 16 and 18 the Szegedin and Theresiopel Magyars inflicted serious defeats on the Serbs at Kanizsa on the Theiss. After this they are said to have advanced into the Banat as far as Zenta and to have caused great devastation. As a result of these defeats the Patriarch ordered the Landsturm to be recalled in the whole of the Voivodina. However, the latest news from this area (Semlin, March 28) mentions a new victory of the Serbs over the Hungarians by which the former are said to have regained their previous advantageous position.

Baja on the Lower Danube is still occupied by a band of insurgents. Colonel Horváth received the order to expel them, to clear the Danube line completely and to this end to destroy the insurgents’ ships. These pirate barges appear to be the principal reason for refusing the request of the steamship transport company agency here to be allowed to sail the stretch of the Danube to Esseg.

Horváth, however, returned with his mission unaccomplished. He does not appear to have got further than Kis-Körös (eight to ten miles from Baja).

There is very little to be heard from the Theiss today. An Austrian column which had dared advance as far as Losoncz was suddenly attacked by the Honveds and completely wiped out. In an imperial bread store at Gödöllö (three miles from Pest) considerable supplies have been spoilt by the rain. The state of things here may be judged from the following dirge from a Vienna correspondent of the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen:

“I am very much afraid of this Hungarian business, and were I a Minister I should be unable to sleep in peace because of it. Would you find it incredible if I were to report that Windischgrätz will actually be relieved of his command? Things have gone so far that the plans of the battle at Kapolna have been sent to the Emperor at Olmütz to demonstrate the Marshal’s incompetence. The officers before Komorn have held their own council of war, and it took Welden’s energy and the proven confidence of the troops in him to settle a great many differences. Welden is expected to return tonight and thus we shall already be able to read a report on the operations at Komorn tomorrow evening; my wish is that it may be favourable, but I dare not hope so.”

An issue of the Lithographierte Correspondenz from Vienna states that Dembinski has crossed the Danube below Pest with an army corps and is threatening Stuhlweissenburg. This remains to be proved. Several days ago we were already saying that Magyar corps would cross the Danube in this area; it is quite possible that they are threatening Weissenburg; but whether merely guerillas are involved or considerable army corps cannot yet be ascertained. In any case it may be assumed that Dembinski is not commanding them; according to the latest reports he and his troops have taken up positions significantly further northwards, on the Zagyva and the Mátra mountains.

From the camp at Komorn Herr Welden has brought back a long account of the operations against the fortress, which in spite of all its rhetoric and deliberate vagueness does not give the least consolation to the imperial side. Not the faintest prospect of capture. It merely contains a dry enumeration of events to date. The following is an extract from it:

“In the summer of 1848 Komorn was re-equipped, provided with nearly 300 cannon and victuals for at least a year; in the month of September the Magyars raised the red-green-and-white flag there and handed over the general command to Baron Jessenak. The garrison of the fortress still comprises the following military units: 6 companies of the Alexander regiment, [2] 2 companies of Prussian infantry, 8 Honved battalions, 700 Honved artillery troops and two squadrons of Austrian hussars who changed sides. All attempts at attacking the fortress with the enormous masses of troops under Windischgrätz came to nothing; the encirclement commenced in January with the advance on Leopoldstadt was abandoned as futile, and only towards March 10 did the Austrians make an attack in earnest. Siege equipment, cannon and technical detachments were sent down from Vienna; in vain, however, for the bad weather conditions and the bottomless roads hindered both the transport and the mounting of the cannon. On March 24, 42 twelve- and 18-pound cannon, mortars and howitzers opened a murderous fire on the fortress from the Sandberg. The besieged troops replied likewise with heavy fire and on March 31 in particular tried to hinder the erection of the batteries; on this day the siege troops threw a bridge across the Danube at Nemes-Oers. On the day mentioned the Austrian Lieutenant-Field Marshal Simunich began the closer encirclement of Komorn; he ordered the troops to march in part along the Waag and after they had taken up their positions pickets of the besieged caused considerable damage with intensive small arms fire, to Sossay’s brigade in particular. — The damage inflicted on the enemy section which crossed the Danube by the Hungarians with the fire they maintained from 10 o'clock in the morning to 4 o'clock in the afternoon is naturally given out as very slight by the official press. At the same time Veigl’s brigade too advanced on the Waag bridgehead in three sections, while the raiding party under Cremeville formed the reserve. The first section moved on Batföldre which the Hungarians had set fire to, the second against the fortified brick wall, and the third moved by way of Lisza on the left bank of the Danube against the powder tower where the fire was liveliest. The Austrian side suffered very considerable losses during this operation. — Thus the western, northern and eastern sides of Komorn were surrounded by a line of fire; finally, 42 pieces of artillery were bombarding the fortress and the Danube bridgehead from the Sandberg. During the night four 24-pounders forced the bridgehead and bombarded the fort with red-hot cannon-balls. In the course of April 1 another 12 heavy cannon and two 60-pound mortars arrived and were disembarked opposite Nemes-Oers.”

The only positive thing to emerge from this account is that the Palatine redoubts so often alleged to have been conquered by the imperial forces are still in the hands of the Hungarians, as is also the Danube bridgehead, and that there can be no talk yet of direct-fire batteries, let alone breach batteries.[3]

In Debreczin spirits are high and the mood is very cheerful. Bem has sent seven captured Russian cannon there, which have been decked with garlands and put on public display. It is said that the Debreczin National Assembly has been convoked for April 15 in Pest.[4]

A report has arrived from Croatia which indicates a curiously sudden indulgence of the imperial Government towards the Slavs. As is known the Southern Slavs had protested against the continuation of the military dictatorship in the Military Border area.[5] The imposed Constitution declared that in the border area everything must remain as of old. Hence particularly the discontent of the Croats and the Serbs, who saw their country split by this into two halves set against each other. Now, when the Slavs are needed more than ever, the following poster was suddenly put up on March 30 in Agram:

“We learn from a reliable source that all the decisions of our world-historic Diet [6] of the year 1848 and in particular Article 26 concerning the future state of the Military Border area have been ratified by His Majesty our youthful Emperor and King Francis Joseph. The man to whom, besides the grace of the Emperor, our thanks are most due for this favourable turn of events, will be divined in the heart of every true patriot. Southern Slavs! Dear brothers! Do not despair! We shall thus have a fatherland and consequently love Austria again; then shall the gaping wounds of our people, inflicted on so many battlefields in the struggle for the power and the glory of Austria, be healed. Then, brothers, will it be our glory so courageously to have contributed to reconstruction in the South of Europe in which we shall take our allotted place as members in the free dwelling house of so many nations, and forgetting the pain and tribulation of the past, we shall be able to exclaim: Long live the constitutional King and Emperor Francis Joseph! Long live the darling of the nation, the brave Ban Jellachich!”

There was no signature at all on this poster, but it was considered to have originated with Minister Kulmer and to be semi-official. The decisions of 1848 referred to demanded: subordination of the civil administration of the Military Border area to the ministries concerned, so that only the military organisation should remain with the Ministry of War, and the restriction of the borderers’ obligation to service abroad by fixing a definite contingent in proportion to the rest of the monarchy. For hitherto the civil administration in the border area has also been made over to the military authorities, and all borderers between 16 and 60 years of age could be enlisted for active service abroad. It was precisely the borderers thus conscripted whose massive presence decided the war in Austria’s favour in Italy in August and in Hungary on the Drava and in the Banat in October last year. If the poster in Agram is not merely a royal imperial Austrian puff, then the trick of being able to stamp soldiers out of the earth has come to an end with it.

  1. The march of Bem’s army to the Banat (a district in the Serbian Voivodina, then administratively included in Hungary) took place in April 1849 after his troops had routed the Austrian army and Russian auxiliary detachments and occupied almost the whole of Transylvania. In the Banat, the troops under Bem and the Hungarian General Perczel inflicted a number of defeats on the Austrians and the Serbs of the Voivodina, whom the Austrian Government and pro-Austrian circles of the Serbian nobility and clergy had involved in the war with revolutionary Hungary (see Note 24); but they were unable to achieve any decisive successes. At the end of June 1849, large army contingents from tsarist Russia entered Transylvania to assist the Austrian counter-revolution and this again made the presence of Bem’s troops necessary in the Transylvanian theatre of war. This time he was defeated by the superior Russian troops. Later Marx and Engels drew attention to Bem’s expedition in the Banat in the article “Bem” written for the New American Cyclopaedia in September 1857
  2. Up to 1868, regiments and other independent military units in the Austrian imperial army were named after their “patrons” or chiefs (Inhaber). This custom dated back to the mercenary armies when commanders maintained regiments at their own expense and therefore had the right to appoint officers. Later the commanders retained the right, to give their names to the regiments, but the state assumed the responsibility of maintaining them
  3. The Palatine redoubts, direct-fire batteries — see Note 168. Breach batteries were installed at the concluding stages of a siege to destroy the bastions and other fortifications of a besieged fortress
  4. The Debreczin National Assembly — see Note 14. This session of the National Assembly was held in Debreczin because only on April 24, 1849 did the Hungarian troops liberate Pest
  5. The reference is to the inhabitants of the so-called Military Border area, i.e. the southern border region of the Austrian Empire under a military administration. The area included part of Croatia and southern Hungary. its population was made up of Serbs and Croats who were allotted land in return for military service, the fulfilment of state obligations and payment of duties. Borderers often rose in revolt against this system of military-feudal oppression (see also notes 22 and 45).
  6. World-historic Diet” — the reference is to the Sabor of the Southern Slavs in Agram (Zagreb) on June 5, 1848 (see Note 67). Though the Sabor came out in favour of uniting Croatia, Slavonia and Dalmatia and of certain reforms there, on the whole, it sought compromise with the Austrian monarchy and did little to modify the former military feudal order in these regions and the enslaved position of their population. Only a small group of democratic delegates connected the struggle for the national cause with the revolutionary struggle against feudal monarchist regimes