Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

Latest News of the Magyars. — Victory on the Theiss. — Brutality of the Austrians. — State of the War in General

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 427;
Written: by Engels on February 24, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 231, February 25, 1849.

The Allgemeine Oder-Zeitung cites the following, among other things, from the reports of a Hungarian who left Pest on the 17th:

When the Magyar army withdrew from Pest to the other side of the Theiss, the dismay of the inhabitants of the two cities was extreme, especially on the part of the Magyars, who saw their last hope of freedom dashed and lamented that in abandoning the capital the army was disgracing itself before all Europe. Nevertheless, the policy of the Hungarian Government was a shrewd one, fully realising as it did that in their eagerness to save their property the inhabitants of the two cities would have helped the enemy. Later on, of course, when it turned out that the Austrian Government was not sparing any of those involved, these people realised that they were up against an implacable enemy. The atrocities committed by the Austrian troops in the area of Buda-Pest exceeded all bounds. In this, the Croats outdid all the others. What they could not use they destroyed. Two days after the retreat of the Hungarians across the Theiss an army corps of 20,000 men under Ottinger occupied Szolnok, with its rearguard in Abony. In this position the Austrians were attacked by a Hungarian corps about 12,000 strong under Perczel, and would have been completely annihilated had not an advancing Hungarian army unit under Brigadier Kasinsky been delayed. In any case, the Austrians saw themselves forced to flee, which they did under cover of night, and were unable to rally their forces until they reached Czegléd. It was remarkable to watch the terror that seized them — that is the cavalry and the officers — and how they were forever shouting, “Onward! Onward! The butchering dogs” (as they call the Hungarian hussars) “are hard on our heels!”

On the 21st the Hungarians arrived at Abony, and this time they were 22,000 strong. General Dembinski was with them, though not in command at that stage. The day after the battle at Szolnok a division of Austrian cuirassiers[350] advanced as far as St. Marton, where the Hungarian outposts were positioned, and what occurred there was incredible: they were attacked by six Hungarian hussars who killed twenty of them and took some of them prisoner.

At dawn on the 23rd the Hungarians reached Czegléd, where the Austrians had taken up a very favourable position. The Hungarians attacked, beat the Austrians and pursued them through the town right out into the vineyards of Alberty. There they heard that an Austrian corps of considerable size was marching via Alau towards Debreczin and this news compelled them to give up the pursuit. General Dembinski, however, expressed his dissatisfaction with the entire execution of this attack, which in his opinion should have led to the complete annihilation of the Austrian corps.

The news of the defeat of Ottinger’s corps reached Pest straightaway, and the townspeople once again sought out their red feathers, but their hopes were soon disappointed. The Hungarians crossed the Theiss and burned the bridge at Szolnok. This was used by the Austrians as a pretext to boast of victories, and fear of their brutality safeguarded them against contradiction. It was a sorry state of affairs for the local populace, who had hoped that they had already been freed from the Austrian yoke. The Austrians came in greater numbers and with demands even harsher than before.

Some houses were forced to billet 30 to 40 soldiers, and the officers were callous enough to throw old men out of their beds and lie down in them themselves, saying, “You Hungarians can sleep on the ground. That’s good enough for you dogs.”

These reports will be continued.

The Schlesische Zeitung, a reactionary paper every bit as good as the Breslauer Zeitung, gives for its part the following account of the state of affairs in Hungary:

Pest, February 12. The war is dragging on longer than one would have expected, which is primarily due to the fact that the Magyars have found a staunch ally in the mild winter. The overflowing of the rivers as well as the almost completely impassable roads are confronting the Austrian army with well-nigh insuperable obstacles. The Theiss is now the demarcation line between the opposing armies. There is fighting now at one point, now at another, from Tokaj to Szegedin, a distance of more than 40 miles. The halfway point on this line is Szolnok. There has already been fierce fighting at this point, but it still remains under the control of the Magyars. It is of importance because it is situated in the centre of fighting.

On the Upper Theiss, i.e. in the area of Tokaj, the Magyars are rising up in large numbers, the population having been driven to desperation by the cruelties of the war. The population in and around Miskolcz is extremely agitated, as in the whole of Borsod comitat. The gains made here by the Austrians are always quickly snatched away from them again. Downstream from Szolnok, and indeed a long way upstream too, the land on both sides of the Theiss is so badly flooded that it is under water for a mile on either side in many places, which usually lasts well on into April. Only the local inhabitants are familiar with this terrain. Any foreign military force entering it can easily be driven by them into the swamps and floods.

Further downstream around Csongrad and Szantó the roads are at present quite impassable for an army corps, for the artillery would sink in the marshy roads. This is the road to Szegedin and Arad. The Austrian army, particularly the Croats, attempted to push forward here but became convinced that it was impossible. Rumour has it that for this reason Prince Windischgrätz has fallen out with Jellachich. The latter got as far as the steppes of Keczkernet, but was pushed back again. This region is inhabited by the Cumans and the Jazyges,[351] an extremely powerful race of men who are noblemen every one and recognise only the imperial palatine as their supreme authority. They are impassioned Magyars.

Between the Theiss and the border of Transylvania the towns are considerable distances apart, it is true, but are unusually populous. Thus, for example, the market-town of Csoba has a population of 24,000, and Cozula nearly 18,000. All are enthusiastic Magyars.

Further down in the Banat the Serbs are certainly pressing forward, but the Hungarians, nevertheless, still hold a good deal of country.

If General Bem succeeds in the plan which he now seems to have of setting out from Hermannstadt (in Transylvania) by way of the Szászváros and Deva through the mountain passes to Hungary and joining the Magyars there, their cause will take a favourable turn. And there are no particularly great obstacles in his path. For Transylvania is almost completely conquered, and the Wallachians were already defeated when Bem turned on the Saxons. Many of these are said to have joined up with him in the area of Kronstadt, doubtless only because there was no other course open to them. Only the fortress of Karlsburg (between Klausenburg and Mühlenbach) might have offered some resistance, but it is said to be in the hands of the Hungarians already.

On the right bank of the Danube, as in the Carpathians, the fighting is mostly confined to skirmishes. All along the stretch from the borders of Styda to the Danube patrol-corps have been formed which keep the Austrian army under General Nugent on the move. Several of these have respected Hungarians at their head. The occasional sorties made from Komorn serve to protect these guerillas. Even this virginal fortress would have fallen had the winter lasted another month, for it would then have been possible to approach it across the frozen rivers. On one side flow two arms of the Danube; on the other, the Waag and the Neutra. The fortress itself rises scarcely 50 feet above the plains, but from there it is quite inaccessible. Cannon-ball can hardly reach it, — whereas the besieged are, on the other hand, able to inflict great damage on the besiegers. When Napoleon sent out Marshal Duroc to Komorn to reconnoitre during the war with the Austrians, not long before the Treaty of Pressburg,[352] the Marshal returned with’ the laconic verdict: “Sire! imprenable."'

In the Carpathians, too, the Magyars still have support, and neither is there any lack of patrol-corps, particularly in the comitats of Trentschin, Honth and Abaujvár.

From all this it is evident that the war is still far from being at an end, and that Austria will still have to raise large fighting forces before it conquers an enemy whose morale is improving with every day that passes, and which is now better led, partly by French and Polish officers, than it was in the beginning.