Marx and Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung June 1848

Cologne in Danger

Source: MECW Volume 7, p. 68;
Written: by Engels on June 10, 1848;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 11, June 11, 1848.

Cologne, June 10. The lovely holiday of Whitsuntide had arrived, the fields were green, the trees were blossoming [Goethe’s “Reineke Fuchs”, paraphrased] and as far as there are people who confuse the dative with the accusative [allusion to a grammatical mistake commonly made by people speaking the Berlin dialect], preparations were made to pour out the holy spirit of reaction over all lands in a single day.

The moment is well chosen. In Naples guard lieutenants and Swiss mercenaries have succeeded in drowning the young liberty in the people’s blood. In France, an Assembly of capitalists fetters the Republic by means of Draconic laws[49] and appoints General Perrot, who ordered the shooting at the Hôtel Guizot on February 23, commandant of Vincennes. In England and Ireland masses of Chartists and Repealers [50] are thrown into gaol and unarmed meetings are dispersed by dragoons. In Frankfurt the National Assembly itself now appoints the triumvirate which the blessed Federal Diet proposed and the Committee of Fifty rejected.[51] in Berlin the Right is winning blow by blow through numerical superiority and drumming, and the Prince of Prussia declares the revolution null and void by moving back into the “property of the entire nation”.[52]

Troops are being concentrated in Rhenish Hesse.; the heroes who won their spurs fighting the republican partisans in the Lake district[53] are encamped all around Frankfurt. Berlin is invested, Breslau is besieged and we shall presently discuss how things stand in the Rhine Province.

The reaction is preparing a big coup.

While there is fighting in Schleswig, while Russia sends threatening Notes and gathers 300,000 men at Warsaw, troops are inundating Rhenish Prussia even though the bourgeoisie of the Paris Chamber once again, proclaims “peace at any price"!

According to the Deutsche Zeitung, fourteen entire infantry regiments (the 13th, the 15th, [This is not quite correct since the 13th remains in part and the 15th entirely in Westphalia but they are able to get here by train within a few hours. — Note by Engels] the 16th, the 17th, the 25th, the 26th, the 27th, the 28th, the 30th, the 34th, the 35th, the 38th, the 39th, and the 40th), i.e. a third of all the Prussian line and guard infantry (45 regiments), are located in Rhenish Prussia, Mainz and Luxembourg. Some of these forces are fully mobilised for war, the rest have been reinforced by calling up a third of the reserves. Besides these there are three uhlan regiments, two hussar regiments and one dragoon regiment as well as a regiment of cuirassiers that is expected to arrive shortly. In addition there is the major part of the 7th and 8th artillery brigades of which at least half are already mobilised (i.e. each battery of foot-artillery has now 121 horses instead of 19, or 8 instead of 2 horse-drawn cannon). In addition a third company has been formed for Luxembourg and Mainz. These troops are drawn up in a wide arc which extends from Cologne and Bonn to Koblenz and Trier and to the French and Luxembourg frontiers. All fortresses are being armed, the moats are stockaded, and the trees of the glacis are razed either completely or in the line of fire.

And what is the situation here in Cologne?

The forts of Cologne are fully armed. The artillery platforms are being extended, the embrasures are being cut and the cannon have arrived and are being set up. Work continues on these projects every day from 6 in the morning until 6 in the evening. It is even said that the cannon were driven out of the city during the night with wheels wrapped in rags so as to avoid all noise.

The arming of the city wall started at the Bayen Tower and has already advanced to Bastion No. 6, i.e. half the wall has been fortified. On Sector 1, 20 cannon have already been brought up.

Cannon are installed above the gate of Bastion No. 2 (at the Severin gate). They need only to be turned around to bombard the city.

The best proof that these armaments are only ostensibly directed against an external enemy but in reality are aimed at Cologne itself lies in the fact that here the trees of the glacis have everywhere been left standing. In the event of the troops having to evacuate the city and retreat into the forts, the cannon of the city wall are thereby rendered useless against the forts, whereas the mortars, howitzers and twenty-four pounders of the forts are in no way hindered from lobbing grenades and shells over the trees and into the city. The distance of the forts from the city wall is only 1,400 paces and enables the forts to pour shells that can travel up to 4,000 paces into any part of the city.

Now as to the measures which are pointed directly against the city.

The arsenal opposite the government building is being evacuated. The rifles are nicely wrapped up in order not to attract attention, and are brought into the forts.

Artillery ammunition is brought into the city in rifle crates and deposited in bomb-proof magazines all along the city wall.

While we are writing all this, rifles with bayonets are being distributed to the artillery, although it is a well-known fact that artillery units in Prussia receive no training with these weapons.

Part of the infantry is already in the forts. All of Cologne knows that each company received 5,000 ball-cartridges the day before yesterday.

The following arrangements have been made in case of a clash with the people:

At the first alarm, the 7th (Fortress) Artillery Company is to move into the forts.

Battery No. 37 will then also move out to face the city. This battery has already been equipped fully “ready for war”.

The 5th and 8th artillery companies will remain in town for the time being. These companies have 20 shells in each of their caissons.

The hussars are moving from Deutz to Cologne.

The infantry occupies the Neumarkt, the Hahnen gate and the Ehren gate so as to cover the retreat of all troops from the city, and thereafter is also to withdraw into the forts.

The higher officers are moreover doing everything in their power to inculcate in these troops the traditional Prussian hatred for the new older. Nothing is easier during the present state of mounting reaction than to launch, under the pretext of denouncing agitators [54] and republicans, the most vicious attacks against the revolution and the constitutional monarchy.

Yet Cologne has never been calmer than precisely in recent times. Except for an insignificant gathering in front of the house of the Regierungspräsident and a brawl in the Heumarkt, nothing has occurred for the past four weeks that so much as even alarmed the civic militia in any way whatever. Thus all these measures are completely unprovoked.

We repeat: after these otherwise totally incomprehensible measures, after the troop concentrations around Berlin and Breslau, which have been confirmed to us by letters, after the inundation with troops of the Rhine Province, which the reactionaries hate with such passion, we cannot doubt that reactionary forces are preparing a big general coup.

The eruption here in Cologne seems to have been fixed for Whit Monday. The rumour is being assiduously spread that things will ‘,start moving” on that day. They will try to provoke a small row so as to call the troops out immediately, threaten the city with bombardment, disarm the civic militia, arrest the chief agitators, in short to maltreat us in the fashion of Mainz and Trier.

We warn the workers of Cologne earnestly not to fall into this trap set for them by the reactionaries. We urgently plead with them not to give the old-Prussian party the slightest pretext for placing Cologne under the despotism of martial law. We beg them to let Whit Sunday and Whit Monday pass in an especially tranquil atmosphere and thereby frustrate the entire scheme of the reactionaries.

If we give the reaction a pretext for attacking us we will be lost and our fate will be the same as that of the inhabitants of Mainz. If they should feel compelled to attack us and if they really dare to stage an assault, the inhabitants of Cologne will have plenty of opportunity to prove that they too will not hesitate for one moment to defend the gains of March 18 with their blood and lives.

Postscript. Just now the following orders have been issued:

No watchword will be announced during the two Whitsuntide holidays (whereas usually it was issued with special solemnity). The troops will remain confined to barracks where the officers will receive the watchword.

As of today, the fortress and auxiliary artillery companies as well as the infantry garrison of the forts will obtain, in addition to their normal rations, daily bread rations for four days in advance so that they will always have in hand food for eight days.

The artillery will begin rifle practice already at seven o'clock this evening.