Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

The War in Hungary

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 350;
Written: by Engels on February 10, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 219 (2nd edition), February 11, 1849.

At last official Austrian reports have again arrived from Transylvania. They confirm Bem’s rapid advance to the vicinity of Hermannstadt, which was seriously threatened by him, and inform of a battle which occurred on January 21 somewhere between Hermannstadt and Mediasch (Medgyes), in which the Magyars are said to have been beaten. They are said to have been pursued as far as Stolzenburg, some of them having already taken the road to Torda (Torenburg) in the direction of Klausenburg. Five cannon and four ammunition wagons are said to have fallen into the hands of the Austrians under Puchner. The resistance put up by the Magyars is described as having been very stubborn. We shall await further reports to ascertain whether this “victory” was really so “brilliant”. The Austrians give their own losses as 60-70 dead and 98 wounded.

Just how credible the Austrian reports are can be seen from the Transylvanian documents published on this occasion in the Wiener Zeitung.

In an address to the Hermannstadt civic militia on January 19 Bem’s army is described as “the Hungarian troops who have been repulsed by the victorious army in Hungary, and have had to flee to Transylvania”. Puchner too, in his order of the day, boasts about huge victories in Hungary, which of course for us were long ago reduced to their true value by the news which came later.

The Rumanians are said to have marched 25,000 men of the Landsturm to Hermannstadt. On the other hand, the Szeklers [307] and the Hungarians in Transylvania can hardly be relied on; Puchner, in his order of the day, and the Transylvanian papers agree that the royal imperial black-and-yellow spirit cannot make any headway amongst them at all, and that they are joining the movement wherever Bem shows himself.

In Hungary itself the peasant risings in the rear of the imperial troops are beginning to assume a serious character. On January 15 the imperial troops occupied and subjugated Gran on the Danube, above Pest, but on January 26 they left the town again. They marched towards Ofen [Buda] because Windischgrätz needed them urgently after the battle at Szolnok. Immediately the royal imperial standards and eagles were torn down, Madarasz’s posters[308] calling for revolt were put up, and people were heard to shout “Eljen [Long live] Kossuth”. The peasants from the left bank of the Danube who had not surrendered their arms came into the town, fired on chief justice Koller, took juror Biro off to Komorn,[309] abolished the jurisdiction of the comitats, and appointed chief notary Palkovicz as president. The imperial troops sent orders for the pontoon bridge to be brought up; Simunich intended to cross the Danube at this point in order to carry out Wrbna’s order to march immediately to Pest. Since, however, at the same time a letter arrived from the National Defence Committee[310] at Debreczin with the order that the Landsturm was to be organised, and the enemy’s supplies cut off or destroyed, it was decided that the bridge should not be brought up and that the orders from Debreczin would be carried out. The comitat moved to Batorkesz, where it is protected from Komorn. Furthermore troops are said to have been sent from Ofen to Gran. This news is taken from the official Wiener Zeitung.

For the rest, the very fact that the Austrians have no fresh news whatsoever from the Theiss to a certain extent provides confirmation — by way of omission — of the Magyars’ reports that they have been victorious. On the other hand, the Magyar correspondent of the Breslauer Zeitung again reports a number of interesting and highly probable facts. Colonel Montecuccoli of the royal imperial army is reported taken prisoner by the Magyars at Gyöngyös. Kövesd (five miles this side of Miskolcz) and Keresztúr (north of Tokaj) are said to be in the hands of the Magyars. The imperial troops sallying forth from Temesvár are said to have been almost completely annihilated by the Hungarians hurriedly approaching from Szegedin. The newspaper then adds:

“Very bad blood has been caused in Ofen by the fact that the lovable poet and Catholic priest Czuczar has been led away in heavy irons to six years’ confinement in a fortress because of an inspiring war-song he had composed. In general one notices that the military rule is becoming much stricter here since the most recent defeats suffered by the Austrian troops. Arrests for the most innocuous remarks are the order of the day. Any strangers coming here from Debreczin and the surrounding area are immediately taken off to police headquarters, subjected to strict interrogation, and then released with the prohibition to say a word about events. Curiosity, however, knows no restraint and people here are fairly well informed. It is believed that the Hungarian Theiss army will renew its attack on the imperial troops at Szoinok in the next few days. — The news has come from Debreczin that the Hungarian General Mör Perczel has been appointed commander in Transylvania. Bem will head the Banat army in Hungary.

“The Hungarian regular forces are given at 160,000, and if one considers that these forces are being led by two world-famous generals, Dembifiski and Bem, and that in addition to the natural defences afforded by Transylvania and the great Theiss area, the Hungarians also have the majority of the fortresses and the most important of them under their control, then it seems more than ridiculous that warrants of arrest should be made out for Kossuth in Vienna. They must think the public is totally blind to be fooled by manoeuvres of that kind.”

Meanwhile new quarrels are breaking out daily among the little nations which have been liberated from what is described as the oppression of the Magyars — they are quarrelling either among themselves or with the Austrian Government. The Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen says:

“A deputation of Rumanians was due to arrive at Olmütz to lodge a complaint about the encroachments of the Serbs from the Banat. — In Istria, where language and customs are pre-eminently Italian, people are most strenuously resisting the plan to incorporate this province in Croatia, and protests against it have been made and published.”

In the Voivodina the Karlowitz Government has voiced support for Stratimirovich and annulled the warrant for his arrest issued by Patriarch Rajachich. The Patriarch will not have anything to do with a voivode; before the Voivodina is constituted, he says, the districts of Kikinda and Becse, of Bfics and Baranya must be united with it. He says this should be aimed at and, on the other hand, the machinations and intrigues of ambitious people should be restrained, “so that the imperial army does not treat the Serbs as it did the Magyar rebels"! The Südslavische Zeitung, is already beginning to make serious complaints, but these dreamers will, of course, only open their eyes when it is too late and military rule has been established in their province. Incidentally anyone can see that these differences of opinion can only be most helpful to the Magyar cause.

Here is just a sample of the way in which these Serbs wage war, and it is confirmed by two South-Slav newspapers, Vestnik and Napredak dated January 27. Weisskirchen in the Banat wanted to surrender and sent a deputation to General Todorovich to this end. Todorovich had already heard earlier that the people of Weisskirchen had killed all the Serbs in their town, and he asked the deputation: “Who among you delegates is a Serb?” The Germans shrugged their shoulders. “Go then,” said Todorovich, “I'm not going to negotiate with you.” Thereupon the Serbian army stormed Weisskirchen and captured it. Only two Serbs were found in the town, and both of them had had their eyes put out. Travellers say that Todorovich then had fifty main culprits sought out and all fifty hanged. He stood the rest in a line and had every fifth person shot. Reports have it that 400 were shot in this way.

Those are the valiant heroes with whom the Kölnische Zeitung sympathises!