From the Theatre of War (March 3, 1849)

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How things stand with the imperial cause emerges from the silence of the official reports better than from any other circumstance. Tonight, it is true, we have not received our Vienna letters and newspapers, but the Berlin evening papers, which customarily bring the news from Vienna at the same time as the Wiener Zeitung, do not contain anything either. Profound silence from the otherwise so talkative Vienna commandant’s office on the operations on the Theiss, the Maros and in Transylvania.

Unofficial reports make up for this. The pro-Austrian reports from Vienna and the Magyar report in the Breslauer Zeitung from Hungary agree on one fact: the Magyar army stands at Hatvan, six miles from Pest, where a decisive battle is in preparation.

Some say: the insurgents have been driven back into this area by Schlick, Schulzig and Götz; others maintain: the victorious Magyars have advanced into this area.

Who is right?

A glance at the map decides the question. According to the latest news, Görgey marched from Kaschau down along the Hernath so as to join up with Dembifiski. Dembinski on his part crossed the Theiss below the Hernath estuary and advanced in a north-westerly direction through Miskolcz. As a result the left wing (Schlick, Schulzig and Götz, who has been driven into the Upper Carpathians) was threatened at its communications with the main army and attacked simultaneously by Dembinski on the right and by Görgey on the left flank. The Schlick-Schulzig corps therefore withdrew at once from Torna to Rimaszombat. According to the latest (royal imperial official) news, the two armies confronted each other at Rimaszombat.

Now we suddenly find the whole position completely changed. The Magyars have gone from Rimaszombat, over twenty miles from Pest, to Hatvan, six miles from Pest, and a decisive battle is expected there.

If Schlick had beaten the Magyars their line of retreat would not have been,to the Danube, where they would have encountered the centre of the enemy army, but to the Theiss and Hernath, where the entire region is in Magyar hands. But if the Magyars retained the upper hand they could not advance from their positions on the Upper Theiss and Hernath in order to reach Pest in any other direction than that of Hatvan. For the way from Kaschau to Pest leads in a straight line through Rimaszombat and Hatvan! The roads from Miskolcz to Pest and from Polgdr and Tiszafüred (the two crossing points of the main Magyar army over the Theiss) to Pest also lead through Hatvan!

If then, as the Vienna reports say,

“the insurgents under Görgey and Dembifiski, pursued by Generals Schlick, Schulzig and Götz, have been driven into the area of Hatvan”,

they have been pressed to the very point to which they would anyway have had to get as victors, the point on which all the various Magyar corps marching upon Pest would converge.

Hence: either the Austrian generals are such dolts that their victories lead the enemy to exactly the same result as their defeats, that they render a better service to their enemies when they defeat them than when they let themselves be defeated by them, or the imperial reports have once again lied brazenly.

That the latter is the case — although we do not wish thereby in the least to diminish the clumsiness of the royal imperial generals — that yet another attempt has been made to cover up a shameful defeat by pompous assertions of victory, is proved by the concluding sentence:

“It is to be expected, therefore, that in the next few days a major blow will be struck against them [the insurgents].”

There is at Hatvan either only one Magyar corps or a whole army. In the first case one cannot speak of a “major blow”; in the second case it will hardly be credited that the three corps of the royal imperial left wing, which could not even cope with Görgey alone, have defeated and “pursued” an entire army of which Görgey’s troops form only a small part.

And even if the main Hungarian army had been “driven” to Hatvan, would it wait there until the entire army of Windischgrätz had come to the aid of the “pressing” Austrian corps so as to strike a “major blow”, or would it march back as fast as possible to the Theiss, hindered by nobody since its rear is completely free?

It is as clear as daylight: since Görgey joined the main Magyar army the Austrians have been driven back at all points of their left wing and centre. Where Schlick and his associates are roaming, nobody tells us.

The present position of the Magyars, north-east of Pest, speaks, however, more clearly than all reports. For the Magyars to be able to march from Rimaszombat to Hatvan, Schlick had first to be rendered harmless, that is chased ten miles further back to the Slovak mountain towns, where, separated from the main army by the Danube bend, he stands quite isolated and powerless. Then, the vanguard of the main royal imperial army, even the main army itself, had to be thrown back five to seven miles further; for it is not long since Windischgrätz occupied all the country as far as Erlau, in which town he actually wanted to set up his headquarters! And both these events must have taken place, otherwise how did a Magyar army get within six miles of Pest?

Until more accurate reports come in we shall hardly have any alternative but to give credence to the Magyar “exaggeration” of the Breslauer Zeitung, evidently written in Pest, the more so because this “exaggeration” bears all the internal and external marks of the greatest truthfulness. It reports that the Magyars standing at Hatvan belong to the Hungarian northern army. (Görgey, who, moreover, has evidently been reinforced by a corps of the Theiss army.) It says:

“As on January 27, when the Hungarian Theiss army twice beat the imperial army at Szolnok and at Czegled, so also now in Pest everything is being evacuated and prepared for a retreat, following the repeated victories of the northern army over the imperial Lieutenant-Field Marshal Count Schlick. All military offices, regimental stores etc. have been forwarded to Raab since the day before yesterday. The victorious Hungarian northern army, which can shake hands with the Hungarian Theiss army, according to the unanimous statements of travellers, yesterday set up its outposts three stages from Pest, that is in Hatvan, it is commanded by the Polish General Klapka and the excellent Hungarian General Görgey, both of whom are, however, under the supreme command of Dembinski. As on January 27, a proclamation was also issued yesterday, signed by Commander Count Wrbna, informing the inhabitants of both towns’ that the rebels were threatening to advance on Pest, and so part of the garrison had gone to meet the enemy. The inhabitants were therefore particularly warned to keep calm, since at any attempt at an insurrection the Ofen fortress would at once begin a bombardment. In Pest a great battle is expected in the next few days.

Postscript. A courier just arrived from Pest has brought news that much artillery has left Ofen under grenadier escort, and that between today and tomorrow one must be prepared for a battle in the neighbourhood of Pest. The Komorn garrison has driven out the imperial forces from Old Szony.”

Moreover, Kossuth has recently given very palpable proof that he is in no mind to tolerate the Austrians behaving like veritable barbarians in that part of the country which for strategic reasons he must abandon. He has used the only means which helps in such cages: to retaliate measure for measure. The Magyar correspondent (Breslauer Zeitung) writes:

“In Debreczin, the imperial Colonel Fligely is said likewise to have been shot in reprisal for the shooting in Ofen, contrary to all international law, of the Hungarian Major Spöll. — From an Austrian officer we learnt at the same time that Windischgrätz has received a letter of the Hungarian Government, according to which reprisals will immediately follow any repetition of the execution of Hungarian prisoners. The 73 imperial staff officers who are held prisoners in Debreczin have also sent a letter to Windischgrätz in which they implore him to refrain from further action against Hungarian prisoners of war so as to spare their own lives. On this occasion we were given the names of five imperial generals who are prisoners in Debreczin. These two letters have had more effect on Windischgrätz than all the German addresses and interpellations in connection with the execution of Blum, and since then no executions at all have no place in Ofen; however, it must be noted that the sentences have also been postponed, probably to a more favourable time. Yesterday a number of ladies of high rank were arrested in Pest. The Hungarian women yield nothing to the Polish women in patriotic enthusiasm and sacrifice.”

From the other sectors of the theatre of war we have only very scanty Austrian news. In the south-west the royal imperial General Dietrich entered Sexard (Tolna comitat) on the 14th, drove out Kossuth’s hussars and arrived in Pest on the 19th. So, here too, on the right bank of the Danube, there are still Kossuth’s hussars and they are even holding towns!

A correspondent of the Allgemeine Oder-Zeitung reports from Transylvania that Bem, whom the imperial bulletins have already reported to be either dead or a prisoner, has repulsed Herr Puchner in the Banat, whither the latter had pursued him, has marched to Klausenburg, where he won over a large number of Hungarian and Szekler groups, and has again taken the offensive against the united Austrians and Russians in the Saxon region.[1] We shall leave open for the time being the question of how much truth there is in this report. In part it is, however, confirmed by the report of the Grazer Zeitung from Temesvár that the insurgent troops, pressed into Transylvania, have again tried to enter the Banat at Facset-Lugos and that the imperial troops were thereby forced to leave Arad in great haste so as not to be cut off.

These reports prove how correctly we have understood the position of the warring parties. A decisive victory over the imperial army before Pest, the outbreak of war in Italy, and Austria will fall to pieces in spite of all Russian interventions!

  1. A major part of the urban population in Transylvania was made up of Germans (Saxons) who constituted about 16 per cent of the region’s total population