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Fate of The Great Adventurer[81]

Frederick Engels

We published the other day some interesting extracts from the pamphlet lately issued by Prince Napoleon, which, we doubt not, were duly considered by our readers. That pamphlet[a] reveals the striking and most important fact, that the Crimean Expedition was an original invention of Louis Bonaparte himself; that he elaborated it in all its details, without communicating with anybody; that he sent it in his own handwriting to Constantinople, in order to avoid the objections of Marshal Vaillant. Since all this is known, a great portion of the flagrant military blunders connected with this expedition is explained by the dynastic necessities of its author. In the council of war at Varna it had to be forced upon the Admirals and Generals present, by St. Arnaud, appealing, in the most direct manner, to the authority of the "Emperor," while that potentate, in return, publicly branded all opposing opinions as "timid counsels." Once in the Crimea, Raglan's really timid proposal to march to Balaklava was readily adopted by St. Arnaud, as it led directly, if not into, at least to somewhere near, the gates of Sevastopol. The frantic efforts to push the siege, though without sufficient means—the eagerness to open the fire, which made the French neglect the solidity of their works to such a degree that their batteries were silenced by the enemy in a couple of hours—the consequent overworking of the troops in the trenches, which is now proved to have done as much as anything else toward the destruction of the British army—the inconsiderate and useless cannonade from the. 17th of October to the 5th of November—the neglect of all defensive works, and even of a sufficient occupation of the ridge toward the Chernaya, which ended in the losses of Balaklava and Inkermann[82]—all this is now as clearly explained as can be wished for. The Bonaparte dynasty was bound to take Sevastopol at any cost, and at the shortest notice; and the allied armies had to do it. Canrobert, if successful, would be made a Marshal of France, Count, Duke, Prince, whatever he liked, with unlimited powers to commit "irregularities" in financial matters; while if unlucky, he would be a traitor to the Emperor, and would have to go and join his former comrades, Lamoricière, Bedeau, and Changarnier, in their exile. And Raglan was just enough of an old. woman to give way to his interested colleague.

All this, however, is but the least important feature of the consequences incumbent upon this Imperial plan of operations. Nine French divisions, equal to eighty-one battalions, have been engaged in this hopeless affair. The greatest efforts, the most lavish sacrifices have accomplished nothing; Sevastopol is stronger than ever; the French trenches are, as we now learn from authentic sources, still fully four hundred yards from the Russian works, while the British trenches are twice that distance; Gen. Niel, sent by Bonaparte to look into the siege works, declares that an assault is not to be thought of; he has changed the principal points of attack from the French to the British side, thereby not only causing delay in the siege, but directing the main attack toward a suburb which, even if taken, is still separated from the town by the Inner Harbor Creek. In short, device after device, dodge after dodge is resorted to, to keep up, not the hope, but the mere appearance of a hope of success. And when matters are come to this pitch, when a general war on the Continent is imminent, when a fresh expedition to the Baltic is preparing—an expedition which must do something this season, and therefore must be far stronger in land-troops than that of 1854—at this moment, obstinacy goads Louis Bonaparte to engage five more divisions of infantry in this Crimean slough, where men, and even whole regiments, vanish as by enchantment! And, as if that were not sufficient, he has made up his mind to go there himself, and to see the final assault carried out by his soldiers.

This is a situation to which the first strategic experiment of Louis Bonaparte has reduced France. The man who, with some sort of reason, thinks he is bound to be a great Captain, approaching, in some degree, the founder of his dynasty, turns out at the very beginning a mere presumptuous piece of incapacity. With very limited information, he forms the plan of the expedition at some 3,000 miles from the spot, works it out in its details, and sends it off secretly and without consulting anybody, to his General-in-Chief[b], who, though but a few hundred miles from the point of attack, is yet equally ignorant as to the nature of the obstacles and the force of resistance likely to be encountered. The Expedition once commenced, disaster follows disaster; even victory is worse than sterile, and the only result obtained is the destruction of the expeditionary army itself. Napoleon, in his best days, would never have persisted in such an undertaking. In such a case, he used to find some fresh device, to lead his troops on a sudden to a fresh point of attack, and by a brilliant maneuver, crowned with success, make even temporary defeat appear as but contributive to final victory. What if he had resisted to the last at Aspern[83]? It was only in the time of his decline, when the thunderstroke of 1812 had shaken his confidence in himself, that his energy of will turned into blind obstinacy, that, as at Leipsic[84], he clung to the last to positions which his military judgment must have told him were completely false. But here is just the difference between the two Emperors; what Napoleon ended with, Louis Napoleon begins with.

That Louis Bonaparte has the firm intention to go to the Crimea, and to take Sevastopol himself, is very likely. He may delay his departure, but nothing short of peace will shake his resolution. Indeed, his personal fate is bound up with this expedition, which is his first military effort. But, from the day he actually sets out, the fourth and greatest French revolution may be said to date its beginning. Everybody in Europe feels this. Everybody dissuades him. A shudder runs through the ranks of the French middle-class when this departure to the Crimea is mentioned. But, the hero of Strassburg[85] is inflexible. A gambler all his life, a gambler accustomed of late to the very heaviest of stakes, he stakes his all upon the one card of his "star," against the most fearful odds. Besides, he knows well enough that the hopes of the bourgeoisie, to escape the crisis by retaining him in Paris, are entirely hollow. Whether he be there or not, it is the fate of the French Empire, the fate of the existing social order of things, which is still approaching its decision in the trenches before Sevastopol. If successful there against hope, by his presence he will overstep the barrier between a highwayman and a hero, at least in the opinion of Europe; unsuccessful, his Empire is gone under all circumstances. That he calculates upon the possibility of such an event, is shown by his taking with him his rival and heir presumptive, the young Jérôme Bonaparte, in the livery of a Lieutenant-General.

For the moment, this Crimean Expedition serves nobody better than Austria. This slough which drains off by army-corps after army-corps the strength of both France and Russia, must, if the struggle before Sevastopol lasts a few months longer, leave Austria the main arbiter of the Continent, where her 600,000 bayonets remain disposable, in a compact mass, to be cast as an overwhelming weight into the scale. But, fortunately, there is a counterpoise against this Austrian supremacy. The moment France is launched again in the revolutionary career, this Austrian force dissolves itself into its discordant elements. Germans, Hungarians, Poles, Italians, Croats are loosened from the forced bond which ties them together, and instead of the undetermined and hap-hazard alliances and antagonisms of today, Europe will again be divided into two great camps with distinct banners and new issues. Then the struggle will be only between the Democratic Revolution on one side and the Monarchical Counter-Revolution on the other.

Written about March 16, 1855
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4353, April 2, 1855.
Re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1028, April 3, 1855 as a leading article


[a] De la conduite de la guerre d'Orient....—Ed.

[b] Saint-Arnaud.—Ed.

[81] The text of this article, written by Engels for the New-York Daily Tribune, was included by Marx, in his own translation and with a number of alterations and additions, in his report "Criticism of the French Conduct of the War" published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on March 20, 1855. Marx's version is published in this volume on pages 90-93.

The New-York Daily Tribune version was reproduced in full by Marx's daughter, Eleanor Marx-Aveling, and Edward Aveling in the collection The Eastern Question. A Reprint of Letters written 1853-1856 dealing with the events of the Crimean War, London, 1897. Marx was given as the author of all the articles in the collection as they were published in the New-York Daily Tribune either with his signature or unsigned. The publication of the Marx-Engels correspondence in 1913 (Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Stuttgart, 1913) revealed that a considerable number of the articles sent by Marx to the Tribune had been written by Engels.

The first sentence in this article was supplied by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune. The reference is to the extracts from the pamphlet De la conduite de la guerre d'Orient which were reprinted in English translation in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4350, on March 29, 1855 under the heading "Secret History of the Crimean Expedition. Its Origin and Blunders. Revelations of Prince Napoleon".

[82] Engels is referring to the battles of Balaklava and Inkerman (see notes 10↓ and 35↓).

[83] On May 21 and 22, 1809 at Aspern, on the left bank of the Danube near Vienna, Napoleon I's troops lost a battle to the Austrian army commanded by Archduke Charles. However, Napoleon succeeded in saving his troops from destruction by withdrawing from the left bank. On July 5 and 6 he defeated the Austrians at Wagram. Napoleonic France won the war against the Fifth Coalition (Austria, Britain, Spain and Portugal).

[84] In a full-scale battle fought at Leipzig from October 16 to 19, 1813, the forces of the coalition of European Powers formed after Napoleon's expulsion from Russia in 1812 (Russia, Austria, Prussia, Britain, Sweden and others) inflicted a decisive defeat on the army of Napoleonic France and her allies.

[85] An allusion to Louis Bonaparte's abortive putsch in Strasbourg on October 30, 1836. Aided by several Bonapartist officers he succeeded in persuading two artillery regiments of the Strasbourg garrison to mutiny. The mutineers were disarmed in a matter of hours.

[10] The battle of Balaklava took place on October 25, 1854. Ünits of the Russian army tried to cut off the British and Turkish troops taking part in the siege of Sevastopol from their base in Balaklava. They succeeded in inflicting serious losses on the enemy, especially on the British cavalry, but failed to achieve their main objective. For a description of this battle see Engels' article "The War in the East" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 518-27).

[35] In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 528-35).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.86-89), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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