Farsi    Arabic    English   

Napoleon's Apology[126]

Frederick Engels

Napoleon III, in his quality as chief editor of the Moniteur, has published a long leading article on the Crimean Expedition[a], the important portions of which we have duly published. The purpose of this manifesto is evidently to console the French nation for the failure of the enterprise, to shift the responsibility of it from the Imperial shoulders, and at the same time to reply to the famous pamphlet lately issued by Prince Napoleon[b]. In that half familiar, half dignified style, characteristic of the man who writes at the same time for French peasants and for European Cabinets, a sort of history of the campaign is given, with the alleged reasons for each step. Some of these reasons merit a special examination.[c]

The Imperial adventurer informs us[d] that the allied troops were brought up to Gallipoli, because otherwise the Russians might have crossed the Danube at Rustchuk, and turning the lines of Varna and Shumla, passed the Balkan and marched upon Constantinople. This reason is the worst ever given for the landing at Gallipoli. In the first place Rustchuk is a fortress, and not an open town, as the illustrious editor of the Moniteur seems to fancy[e]. As to the danger of such a flank march of the Russians, it is well to recollect that an army of 60,000 Turks, firmly established between four strong fortresses, could not safely be passed without leaving a strong corps to observe them; that such a flank march would have exposed the Russians, in the ravines of the Balkan, to the fate of Dupont at Baylen, and of Vandamme at Culm[128]; that in the most favorable case they could not bring more than 25,000 men to Adrianople; and that whoever thinks such an army dangerous to the Turkish metropolis, may have his opinions corrected by reading Major Moltke's well-known observations on the campaign of 1829 lately republished in English at London.[f]

In case there should be no danger to Constantinople, the Allies were, as we learn from the Moniteur, to push some divisions to Varna, and to end any attempt at besieging Silistria. This done, two other operations would offer themselves—a landing near Odessa, or the seizure of the Crimea. Both were to be discussed by the allied Generals on the spot. Such were the instructions to St. Arnaud, which wound up with some sound military advice in the form of maxims and apothegms:—

Always know what your enemy is doing; keep your troops together, divide them on no account; or if you must divide them, manage so that you can reunite them on a given point in twenty-four hours—and so forth.

Very valuable rules of conduct, no doubt, but so trite and common-place, that the reader must at once conclude St. Arnaud to have been, in the eyes of his master, the greatest dunce and ignoramus in the world. After this, the instructions wind up with:

"You have my entire confidence, Marshal. Go, for I am certain that, under your experienced leadership, the French eagles will earn new glory!"

As to the main point, the Crimean Expedition, Mr. Bonaparte confesses that it was certainly a favorite idea with him, and that at a later period he sent another batch of instructions to St. Arnaud respecting it. But he denies having elaborated the plan in its details, and sent it to headquarters; according to him the Generals still had the choice of landing near Odessa. As a proof of this, a passage from his fresh instructions is given. In it he proposes a landing at Theodosia (Kaffa), on account of its offering a safe and capacious anchorage to the fleets, which must form the base of operations of the army. What a base of operations is he had explained to St. Arnaud in his first instructions, in terms which leave no doubt that the illustrious Marshal was supposed never to have read any standard work whatever upon his profession. From this point—Kaffa—the army was to march upon Sympheropol, drive the Russians into Sevastopol, before the walls of which a battle would probably be fought, and, finally, to besiege Sevastopol. "Unfortunately" this "plan was not followed up by the allied generals"—a circumstance very fortunate for the Emperor, as it allows of his shuffling off the responsibility of the whole affair, and leaving it on the shoulders of the generals.

The plan of landing 60,000 men at Kaffa and marching thence upon Sevastopol is indeed original. Taking as a general rule that the offensive strength of an army in an enemy's country decreases in the same ratio as its distance from its base of operations increases, how many men would the Allies have brought to Sevastopol after a march of more than 120 miles? How many men were to be left at Kaffa? How many to hold and fortify intermediate points? How many to protect convoys, and to scour the country? Not 20,000 men could have been collected under the walls of a fortress requiring three times that number barely to invest it. If Louis Napoleon ever goes to the war himself, and conducts it upon this principle, he may as well order quarters at Mivart's Hotel[129], London, at once, for he will never see Paris again.[g]

As to the safety of the anchorage at Kaffa, every mariner in the Black Sea knows, and every chart shows that it is an open roadstead, with shelter against northerly and westerly winds alone, while the most dangerous storms in the Black Sea are from the south and south-west. Of this the storm of the 14th of November is an instance. Had the fleets then been at Kaffa they would have been driven upon a lee-shore[h]. In this way our hero clears himself from the responsibility thrown upon him by his cousin[i]; but it would never do to sacrifice Raglan and Canrobert. Accordingly, to show the cleverness of the said Generals, a very decent sketch is given of siege-operations according to Vauban—a sketch which, from the total ignorance of the subject it supposes in the reader, might have been written for the benefit of Marshal St. Arnaud[j]. This sketch, however, but serves to show how Sevastopol was not to be taken, for it winds up with the assertion that all these rules were inapplicable to Sevastopol. For instance,

"in a common siege where one front is attacked, the length of the last parallel would be about 300 yards, and the whole length of trenches would not exceed 8,000 yards; here the extent of parallel is 3,000 yards, and the whole linear length of all the trenches is 41,000 yards."

This is all true enough, but the question here is why has this enormous extent of attack been adopted, when every circumstance called for the greatest possible concentration of fire upon one or two determined points? The answer is:

"Sevastopol is not like any other fortress. It has but a shallow ditch, no masonry scarps, and these defenses are replaced by abattis and palisades; thus our fire could make but little impression on the earth breastwork."

If this was not written for St. Arnaud, it is surely written for the French peasantry alone. Every sub-lieutenant in the French army must laugh at such nonsense. Palisades, unless at the bottom of a ditch, or at least out of the sight of the enemy, are very soon knocked over by shot and shell. Abattis may be set on fire, and must be at the foot of the glacis, about 60 or 80 yards from the breastwork, else they would obstruct the fire of the guns. Moreover, these abattis must be large trees laid on the ground, the pointed branches toward the enemy, and the whole firmly connected together; but where such trees could have come from, in a woodless country like the Crimea, the Moniteur does not say. The absence of masonry scarps has nothing to do with the protracted siege, for according to the description in the Moniteur itself., they only come into play when the breaching batteries have been established on the top of the glacis—a position from which the Allies are yet far distant[k]. That palisades are an improvement upon masonry scarps, is certainly new; for these wooden ramparts can be very easily destroyed by enfilading fire, even at the bottom of the ditch; and thus they allow of an assault as soon as the defending guns are silenced.

In conclusion, we are told by this new military authority, that all the facts show that the allied generals have done what they could—have done more than, under the circumstances, could have been expected from them—and have, indeed, covered themselves with glory[l]. If they could not properly invest Sevastopol—if they could not drive away the Russian army of observation if they are not yet in the place—why, it is because they are not strong enough. This is also true: but who is responsible for this greatest of all faults? Who but Louis Bonaparte! Such is the final conclusion which the whole French public must inevitably draw from this wordy, round-about, shuffling, and ridiculous explanation of their Emperor.[m]

Written about April 14, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4377, April 30, 1855
Re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1036, May 1, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 712, May 5, 1855 as a leading article;
the German version was first published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 177, April 27, 1855,
marked with the sign x
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See "Paris, le 10 avril. Expedition d'Orient", Le Moniteur universel, No. 101, April 11, 1855. In the Neue Oder-Zeitung this passage is preceded by the following words: "The public, even in France, seems to have uncovered the mysteries surrounding the siege of Sevastopol. Therefore Louis Bonaparte...".—Ed.

[b] De la conduite de la guerre d'Orient.... (see this volume, pp. 76-77).—Ed.

[c] Instead of this sentence the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "The document is in the highest degree unpolitical because it is exceedingly feeble and inadequate. Yet the 'pressure from without' must have been dangerously strong if Bonaparte has had to come forward in this way and defend himself." The phrase "pressure from without" is in English in the original.—Ed.

[d] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung this sentence begins as follows: "After a ponderous introduction he recounts part of the instructions received by St. Arnaud at the beginning of the campaign and explains...".—Ed.

[e] The Neue Oder-Zeitung further has the following sentence, which does not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune: "This recalls the historical howler made by the Moniteur in its obituary for Emperor Nicholas [Le Moniteur universel, No. 86, March 27, 1855] in which, in particular, the Treaty of Adrianople was confounded with the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji."[127]—Ed.

[f] H. K. B. Moltke, Der russisch-türkische Feldzug in der europäischen Türkei 1828 und 1829. The English translation appeared in London in 1854 under the title The Russians in Bulgaria and Rumelia.... There is no reference to it in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[g] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung the end of this sentence reads as follows: "and conducts it upon this principle, then one and the same family will certainly represent the most astounding contrast in the history of wars."—Ed.

[h] The Neue Oder-Zeitung further has a sentence which does not occur in the New-York Daily Tribune: "Now comes the most ticklish part of the article."—Ed.

[i] Prince Napoleon (Jérôme Bonaparte, Jr.), the presumed author of the pamphlet De la conduite de la guerre d'Orient....—Ed.

[j] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung the end of this sentence beginning with the words "according to Vauban" does not occur.—Ed.

[k] This sentence does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[l] The Neue Oder-Zeitung further has: "Dubious glory if it needs to be proved, and is proved in this manner!"—Ed.

[m] Instead of this last sentence the article in the Neue Oder-Zeitung has the following concluding passage: "That is the inevitable conclusion following from the leading article in the Moniteur. What impression it produced in Paris is shown by the following passage from the letter of the otherwise servile Paris correspondent of The Times: 'There are persons [...] who [...] consider it as [...] preliminary to the abandonment of the Crimea altogether [...] and in some Legitimist circles [...] these words have been made use of:—"We were led to expect a war a la Napoleon; but it seems we are now to have a peace a la Louis Philippe." On the other hand [...] an impression of a similar kind'" prevails "'in the minds of the working classes of the Faubourg St. Antoine.'" They " 'interpret it as an avowal of weakness [...]'." (The Times, No. 22028, April 14, 1855.—Ed.

[126] A German version of this article dated April 14, 1855 was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 177, on April 17 under the heading "Kritik des napoleonischen 'Moniteur'-Artikels" ("A Critique of Napoleon's Article in Le Moniteur"). The article was translated into German and edited by Marx. The more important changes are indicated in the footnotes.

Under the heading "Napoleon's Apology" the English version was included in The Eastern Question.

The first sentence of the article in the New-York Daily Tribune shows editorial interference. It was evidently the editors who added the lines concerning the reprinting in the Tribune of passages from the Moniteur leading article (actually there was only a brief summary of the article in the "Letters from Europe" column of the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1035, April 27, 1855).

[127] The Treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829 following the war of 1828-29. Under the treaty Russia obtained the Danube delta including the islands, and a considerable part of the eastern Black Sea coast south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was to recognise the autonomy of Moldavia and Wallachia, granting them the right to elect their own hospodars (rulers). Their autonomy was to be guaranteed by Russia. The Turkish government also undertook to recognise the independence of Greece, whose only obligation to Turkey was to pay an annual tribute to the Sultan, and abide by all the previous treaties relating to the autonomy of Serbia, which was to be formalised by a special firman.

The Balta-Liman Treaty, concluded by Russia and Turkey on May 1, 1849, laid down conditions for the continued presence of their troops in Moldavia and Wallachia, which had been occupied to suppress the revolutionary movement. Under the treaty, the occupation was to continue until the threat of revolution had been fully eliminated (the foreign troops were not withdrawn until 1851), for a certain period the hospodars were to be appointed by the Sultan in agreement with the Tsar. A series of measures by Russia and Turkey, including another occupation, were envisaged to provide for the eventuality of another revolution. The Kuchuk-Kainarji peace treaty was concluded by Russia and Turkey on July 21, 1774, following the former's victories in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74. Russia obtained part of the Northern shore of the Black Sea between the South Bug and the Dnieper with the fortress of Kinburn; she also got Azov, Kerch and Yenikale and compelled Turkey to recognise the independence of the Crimea, which facilitated its eventual incorporation into Russia. The Sultan undertook to grant a number of privileges to the Greek Orthodox Church. Article 14, in particular, provided for the building of an Orthodox church in Constantinople.

[128] In the battle of Baylen on July 20, 1808, during the Spanish war of independence (1808-14), the French troops commanded by General Dupont were encircled by the Spaniards and laid down their arms.

At Culm (Bohemia) on August 29 and 30, 1813, during the war of the coalition of European Powers against Napoleonic France, the Austrian troops encircled and captured the French forces commanded by General Vandamme.

[129] A reference to Mivart's (Claridge's) Hotel, 42 Brook Street, London, where Louis Napoleon stayed from 1838 to 1840, during his banishment from France after the abortive coup in Strasbourg on October 30, 1836.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.146-150), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0883en.html