Farsi    Arabic    English   

Napoleon's Last Dodge[101]

Frederick Engels

"If Croesus does pass the Halys, he will destroy a great empire." This answer, given to the Lydian King by the oracle of Delphi[a], might, with equal aptness, now be sent to Louis Bonaparte on his Crimean excursion. It is not the Russian Empire which this journey is calculated to destroy, but his own.

An extraordinary, anomalous position creates anomalous necessities. Every other man, in his place, would be considered a fool if he undertook this trip, whose unfavorable chances are to the favorable as ten to one. Louis Bonaparte must be quite aware of that fact, and nevertheless he must go. He is the originator of the whole expedition; he has got the allied armies into their present unenviable position, and is bound, before all Europe, to get them out of it again. It is his first military feat, and upon its issue will depend, for some time at least, his reputation as a general. He answers for its success with no less a pledge than his crown.

There are, besides, minor reasons, which equally contribute to make this hazardous journey a matter of State necessity. The soldiers in the East have shown, on more than one occasion, that their expectations of the military glories of the new Empire have been sadly disappointed. At Varna and Bazardshik, the paladins of the mock Charlemagne were saluted by their own troops with the title of "apes." "A bas les singes![102] Vive Lamoricière!" was the cry of the Zouaves when St. Arnaud and Espinasse had sent them into t he Bulgarian desert, to die of cholera and fever. Now it is no longer the banished generals alone whose fame and popularity are opposed to the commanders of doubtful reputation, now leading the French army. The singular conduct of Napoleon Jérôme junior, while in the East[103], has recalled to the mind of the old Algerian soldiers the far different behavior of the Orleans Princes in Africa, who, whatever else may be said against them, were always at the head of the troops and did their duty as soldiers. The contrast between young Aumale and young Napoleon was certainly strong enough to make the soldiers say: If the Orleans were still in power, the Princes would be with us in the trenches, sharing our dangers and fatigues; and yet, their name was not Napoleon! Thus the soldiers do speak, and what is to be done to stop them? The man who "is permitted to wear the uniform of a General of Division," has managed to throw a stain upon the military traditions of the name of Napoleon; the remainder of the family are all very quiet civilians, naturalists, priests, or else unmitigated adventurers; old Jérôme cannot go on account of his age, and because his warlike feats of old throw no great halo of glory around his head; so Louis Napoleon cannot but go himself. Then the rumor of the Crimean journey has been made known in the remotest hamlets of France, and has been hailed with enthusiasm by the peasantry; and the peasantry it was that made Louis Napoleon Emperor. The peasantry are convinced that an Emperor of their own make, and who bears the name of Napoleon, must actually be a Napoleon redivivus[b]; his place is, in their eyes, at the head of the troops, who, led by him, will rival the legions of the great Army[c]. If Sevastopol is not taken, it is only because the Emperor has not yet gone there; let him but once be on the spot, and the ramparts of the Russian fortress will crumble into dust like the walls of Jericho. Thus, if ever he wished to retract his promise to go, he cannot now do so, since the report has once gone forth.

Accordingly, everything is being prepared[d]. The ten divisions now in the Crimea are to be followed by four new ones, two of which are to form, in the beginning of the campaign, an army of reserve at Constantinople. One of these divisions is to consist of the Imperial Guard, another of the combined élite companies, or the Grenadiers and Voltigeurs of the army of Paris; the two other divisions (11th and 12th) are already getting embarked or concentrated at Toulon and Algiers. This fresh reenforcement would bring the French troops in the Crimea to some 100,000 or 110,000 men, while, by the end of April, the 15,000 Piedmontese troops, and numerous British reenforcements will be arriving[e]. But yet, it can hardly be expected that the Allies can well be in a position to open the campaign in May, with an army of 150,000 men. The state of the Heracleatic Chersonese, which has been turned into one great and wretchedly managed burial-ground, is such that with the return of hot and damp weather, the whole must form one hotbed of pestilence of all kinds; and whatever portion of the troops will have to stop in it, will be exposed to losses by sickness and death far more terrific than at any previous time. There is no chance for the Allies to break forth with an active army from their present position, before all their reenforcements are up; and that will be somewhere about the middle of May, when the sickness must have already broken out.

In the best event the Allies must leave 40,000 men before the south side of Sevastopol, and will have from 90,000 to 100,000 men at liberty for an expedition against the Russian army in the field. Unless they maneuver very well and the Russians commit great blunders, this army, on debouching from the Chersonese, will have first to defeat the Russians, and drive them back from Sympheropol, before it can effect its junction with the Turks at Eupatoria. We will, however, suppose the junction to be effected without difficulty; the utmost reenforcement which the Turks will bring to this motley body of French, English and Piedmontese, will be 20,000 men not very well adapted for a battle in the open field. Altogether this would make an army of some 120,000 men. How such an army is expected to live in a country exhausted by the Russians themselves, poor in corn, and whose main resource, the cattle, the Russians will take very good care to drive off toward Perekop, it is not very easy to see. The least advance would necessitate extensive foraging and numerous detachments to secure the flanks and the communications with the sea. The Russian irregular cavalry, which has hitherto had no chance to act, will then commence its harassing operations. In the meantime, the Russians will also have received their reenforcements; the publicity with which the French armaments have been carried on for the last six weeks, has enabled them to take their measures in time. There can be no doubt that at this present moment two or three Russian divisions, either from the army of Volhynia and Bessarabia, or from the new-formed reserves, will be on the march so as to maintain the balance of power there.

The greatest detachment to be made from the allied army, must, however, be the force which has to inclose Sevastopol on the north side. For this purpose, 20,000 men will have to be set aside, and whether the remainder of their forces will then be sufficient, fettered as they must be by difficulties of sustenance, embarrassed with trains of carriages for stores and provisions, to drive the Russian field army out of the Crimea, is very doubtful.

So much is certain, that the laurels by which Louis Bonaparte intends to earn the name of a Napoleon in the Crimea are hung up rather high, and will not be so very easily plucked. All the difficulties, however, which have been hitherto mentioned, are of a merely local character. The great objection to this mode of campaigning in the Crimea is, after all, that it transfers one-fourth of the disposable forces of France to a minor theater of war, where even the greatest success decides nothing. It is this absurd obstinacy about Sevastopol, degenerating into a sort of superstition, and giving to successes, but also to reverses, fictitious values, which forms the great fundamental mistake of the whole plan. And it is this fictitious value given to events in the Crimea which rebounds with redoubled force upon the unfortunate originator of the scheme. For Alexander, Sevastopol is not Russia, far from it; but for Louis Bonaparte, the impossibility of taking Sevastopol is the loss of France.

Written about March 23, 1855
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4358, April 7, 1855
Re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1030, April 10, 1855 as a leading article;
An abridged German version was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 143, March 26, 1855,
marked with the sign x


[a] Herodotus, History, I, 53.—Ed.

[b] Napoleon risen from the dead.—Ed.

[c] The army of Napoleon I which invaded Russia in 1812.—Ed.

[d] Here begins the text of the German version of Engels' articles "Napoleon's Last Dodge" and "A Battle at Sevastopol", which, was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 143, March 26, 1855 under the title "On the Latest Events in the Crimea". The opening sentence in it reads as follows: "While the peace talks continue in Vienna, the war preparations are being stepped up in France."—Ed.

[e] The further text in the version of the Neue Oder-Zeitung up to the end of the article is abridged and changed: "Apart from all difficulties of a purely local character, there remains the principal objection to this mode of campaigning in the Crimea, viz., that it consigns a whole quarter of France's disposable forces to a secondary theatre of war, where even the greatest success decides nothing. The fictitious value that has been attributed to the successes and defeats in the Crimea rebounds with redoubled force upon the originator of the scheme. Sevastopol is far from being Russia for Alexander II, but it has become France for Bonaparte.—As for the local difficulties, it is clear that Chersonese, at present the 'burial-ground of thousands of people and animals, will with the first ray of sun turn into a hothouse of pestilential diseases. Assuming that the Allies will bring up their army to 150,000 men, keeping them supplied with provisions in a Crimea already grazed down by the Russians and poor in corn will be the harder for the fact that the Russians will not fail to drive off the cattle in good time before their own retreat."—Ed.

[101] An extract from this article by Engels, and his next article, "The Battle at Sevastopol", were included by Marx, in abridged form, in the report "Ueber die letzten Vorgänge in der Krim" ("On the Latest Events in the Crimea"), which was dated March 23, 1855 and published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 143, on March 26. The more important different readings in the English and German versions are indicated in the footnotes.

The present article was included in The Eastern Question.

[102] "Les singes", which means "monkeys" and also "buffoons" and "superiors", was the name given to pro-Napoleonic generals. Marx mentioned the fact in a letter to Engels of September 13, 1854 and in several articles for the New-York Daily Tribune (see present edition, Vols. 13 and 39).

[103] Prince Jerome Bonaparte, Junior, commanded a division in the Crimea in 1854. Disapproving of the Crimean expedition, lacking military talent and unpopular with the army, he feigned sickness to stay away from directing military operations and later returned to Paris without permission.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.109-112), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0873en.html