The Sevastopol Hoax

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The article "The Sevastopol Hoax" and the following one, "The Sevastopol Hoax.—General News", were sent by Marx to New York as one article which was entered in the Notebook as "Freitag, 6. October. Renommage über Sebastopol". The editors divided it in two, and published them both in the same issue on October 21, 1854, one as a leader, the other unsigned but with the note usual for signed items: "Correspondence of the New-York Tribune". The beginning of the article "The Sevastopol Hoax" was reprinted in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 685, October 28, 1854.

"Catch a Tartar," is an English proverb. It happens that not only the English, but the French and Austrians as well, have been caught by a Tartar[1]. We may, perhaps, be pardoned for expressing a little satisfaction that The Tribune and those of its readers who carefully follow the course of the present campaign in the Crimea were not caught with the rest.

When the extraordinary story of the capture of Sevastopol first reached us, we endeavored to show[2], by an examination of the alleged channels of the intelligence, as well as on critical military grounds, that the victory of the Alma, however decisive it might have been, could scarcely have been followed in so close succession by the surrender of the object of the campaign. But we think we established, at the same time, the fact that no very decisive victory had been gained at all by the allies, the Russians having retired in good order with all their guns. Lastly, we took particular care to point out how the whole statement, in so far as it exceeded the limits of the official report on the battle of the Alma, rested exclusively on the verbal relation of a Tartar sent to Omer Pasha with sealed dispatches. Thus we were fully prepared for receiving the news that the tremendous "Fall of Sevastopol" was nothing but an imaginary exaggeration of the victory of the Alma, reported by a jocose Tartar at Bucharest, announced by the melodramatic Louis Napoleon at Boulogne, and implicitly believed by that excellent specimen of humanity, the English shopkeeper. The English press in general has proved a worthy representative of that class, and it would seem that the very name of Sevastopol need only be pronounced in England to put everybody in a fool's paradise. Perhaps our readers will recollect that at the close of the last Parliamentary session the destruction of Sevastopol was announced by Lord John Russell to be in the plans of the English Government, which announcement, though in the same sitting duly recanted, kept the honorable members five hours in a fool's paradise—to use the words of Mr. Disraeli, uttered on that occasion[3]. The London Times has now written no less than nine leaders, by actual count, all conceived, bona fide or mala fide[4], in this identical fool's paradise; all, as it would appear, only with a view to entrap Sir Charles Napier into a headlong attack upon Kronstadt or Sveaborg. Affecting to be drunk with glory and flushed with success, that journal even proceeded to bombard in imagination of course—the Prussian coasts on the Baltic, as well as King Bomba at Naples, and the Grand Duke of Tuscany[5], at Leghorn.. In fact it was ready to make war on all the world, not omitting "the rest of mankind,"[6] of course.

The actual state of the land fortifications of Sevastopol is too little known to admit of any positive prognostication as to how long that fortress may be able to hold out. The success on the Alma is an almost certain indication that the place will be taken, as it must have raised the courage and spirit of the allied troops, and will prove a powerful preventive against sickness—the most dangerous enemy they have to deal with in the Crimea, and one which is reported to be already at work. But it is foolish to expect that the allies should walk into Sevastopol as they would into a coffee-house.

After the great mystification of the conquest of the place, with its 30,000 killed and wounded and 22,000 prisoners—a mystification whose like was never known in all the history of hoaxes—it would be natural to expect that the real official documents would at least possess the merit of affording clear and positive information as far as they go. Still the report published in London on the 5th of October in an extraordinary number of The Gazette, and copied in our columns this morning[7], is, after all, not free from ambiguous expressions. Indeed, it is most open to criticism—a circumstance which must be ascribed to its proceeding from Lord Stratford de Redcliffe, one of the Palmerston school of diplomacy. This dispatch, in the first place, purports to have been sent to England from Bucharest on the 30th of September at 31/2 p.m., while Lord Redcliffe dates it from Constantinople on the 30th at 91/2 p.m.; so that the dispatch purports to have been actually received at Bucharest six hours before it was sent off from Constantinople. In the second place, the dispatch omits all mention of what passed in the Crimea between the 20th and 28th of September, telling us that

"the allied armies established their basis of operations at Balaklava on the morning of the 28th, and were preparing to march without delay to Sevastopol. The Agamemnon"

(with Admiral Lyons)

"and other vessels of war were in the Bay of Balaklava. There were facilities there for disembarking the battering train."

Assuming this dispatch to be exact, the English press has naturally concluded that the allied armies had passed the Belbek and Severnaya, forced the hights at the back of the Bay of Sevastopol, and penetrated in a straight line to the Bay of Balaklava. We have here to observe that, on military grounds, it is inconceivable that an army in possession of the hights commanding Sevastopol should quietly descend from them on the other side, in order to march to a bay eleven miles distant, for no other purpose than to "establish a base of operations." On the other hand, it is quite. conceivable that Admiral Lyons should go around Cape Chersonesus with a portion of the fleet for the purpose of securing a harbor of refuge, at once close to Sevastopol and adapted to the debarkation of the siege artillery, which, we have always contended[8], had not before been landed. The guns, of course, would not be landed without a protecting force, which may have been either detached from the main body of the army after landing at Old Fort, or may consist of a portion of' the reserve shipped from Constantinople and Varna.

The new dispatch further states that

"Prince Menchikoff was in the field at the head of 20,000 men, expecting reenforcements."

Hence the English papers conclude that the Russians must have lost 25,000 to 30,000 men in the combats between September 20 and 28, assuming with Lord Raglan that they were from 45,000 to 50,000 strong in the battle of the Alma. We have previously stated[2] our prima facie[9] disbelief in these numbers, and have never allowed more than about 25,000 men to Prince Menchikoff, disposable for field operations, and in this it turns out that we were within the mark of the Russian statements.[10]

The dispatch next proceeds to state that

"the fortified place of Anapa has been burned by the Russians. Its garrison was marching to the scene of action."

We cannot believe this news to be true. If Prince Menchikoff expects any reenforcements at all to reach him in time, they can do so much better from Perekop than from Anapa, which is nearly two hundred miles distant; if none could be expected by him from the former place, it would have been most foolish, by calling up the garrison of Anapa, on the other side of the Black Sea, to sacrifice in addition to Sevastopol the last stronghold upon the Caucasus. It will be seen, then, that with all the "information" of this official dispatch, we are still sent hack to the battle of the Alma as the chief event whose authenticity must be admitted. Of this event, however, the details are also still wanting, and the Duke of Newcastle has now warned the British public that they must not expect to receive them before Monday, October 9. All that we have learned, in addition to the official report by telegraph from Lord Raglan, amounts to this: That the hero of the London pawnshop, Marshal St. Arnaud, was "indisposed" on the day of battle— (who ever heard the like of other heroes?)—that Lord Raglan had the chief command, that the English loss was not 1,400 but 2,000, including 96 officers, and that already six steamers with wounded had arrived at Constantinople.

The movements of Omer Pasha's army, which is directed from Bucharest and Wallachia, by way of Rustchuk, Silistria and Oltenitza, to the coast of the Black Sea, appear to confirm the report that the allied commanders in the Crimea have asked for reenforcements. But this retreat of the Turks from Wallachia may also be attributed to Austria's desire to keep them from every road in the direction of Bessarabia, except the impracticable one through the Dobrodja.

In the enormous credulity of which the English public have given us such imposing proofs, it deserves to be noted that the London Exchange was very little caught by the general enthusiasm, the rise in the funds having never exceeded 5/8 per cent. At Paris, however, the rentes rose immediately 1½ per cent., a rise which, after all, is insignificant when compared with the rise of 10 per cent. after the defeat of Waterloo. Thus the hoax, if, as is possible, it was invented for commercial purposes, has altogether failed to realize the great results its authors must have counted on.

  1. Here Marx and Engels pun on the word "Tartar". The Tartars were famous for their fast horses and were employed by the Turks as couriers. In the nineteenth century the word "Tartar" was used in the European languages as a synonym for courier, and it was so used in the news on the capture of Sevastopol printed in the European papers, The Times and Le Moniteur universel of October 3, 1854 in particular.—Ed.
  2. 2.0 2.1 See The News from The Crimea —Ed.
  3. See The Policy of Austria. The War Debates in The House of Commons —Ed.
  4. In good or bad faith.—Ed.
  5. Ferdinand II and Leopold II.—Ed.
  6. The Times, No. 21864, October 5, 1854, leader.—Ed.
  7. The words "and copied in our columns this morning" were added by the Tribune editors. This refers to the reprint: "From the London Gazette Extraordinary. War Department, Oct. 5" published in the New York Daily Tribune on October 21, 1854. Reports on the events in the Crimea published in the same issue of the Gazette are analysed by Marx and Engels below.
  8. See The Attack on Sevastopol —Ed.
  9. Based on the first impression.—Ed.
  10. These figures are given in a telegram from Vienna of October 4, published in The Times, No. 21864, October 5, 1854.—Ed.