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The State of The War[371]

Frederick Engels

It is plain from the advices of the last Liverpool steamer that the Czar[a] has no intention of making peace under the circumstances now existing. His sudden departure for Odessa instead of going to Warsaw, where he had arranged to meet the King of Prussia[b]; the transfer of the residence of the Empress[c] from St. Petersburg to Moscow[d], the heart and center of Holy Russia; the leaving the administration of affairs in the hands of the Grand Duke Constantine, the most warlike of his brothers; and the taking of the other brothers with him to the seat of war—all this indicates a determination to prosecute the contest to some other end than can now be realized. At the same time extensive preparations are making for the defense of South Russia[e]. Nikolaieff and Kherson, the two most important fortified points, form the centers for an army of reserve now collecting in the government of Kherson, and that portion of Taurida situated north of Perekop. Beside a number of army reserves (Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth battalions of the line-regiments), whose number it is impossible to fix even approximately, forty thousand men of the militia are reported to be collected at Nikolaieff. About twenty-five thousand men are said to be at Odessa. Whether these rumors are exact or not, the fact of the Emperor's departure shows that a considerable force must be concentrating there.

The plan of operations of the Russians seems to be elaborated with the same foresight for which all their grand strategic schemes are generally distinguished. Not only is the complete loss of the Crimea taken into account as a possible event, but even a campaign in South Russia. For this purpose the line of the Dnieper is chosen, very naturally, as the main line of defense; and Kherson and Nikolaieff as the first, and Ekaterinoslav as the ulterior base of operations. Nikolaieff is within reach of an attack by water; therefore, against an enemy in possession of the Black Sea, an inland base is absolutely necessary. Now, Ekaterinoslav is a position of great strategical importance[f]. Situated on the very point where, by a bend in its course, the Dnieper forms an angle of about seventy-five degrees, it is a capital center for an army which, in its retreat toward the interior, intends to cover itself first behind the southern course (N. E. to S. W.) and later on behind the middle course (N. W. to S. E.) of that river. An army advancing from Perekop into the interior of Russia would first have to force the passage of the Dnieper somewhere about Kherson, and then, advancing toward Ekaterinoslav, to pass the same river again at that place. Any detachments advancing on the left bank of the Dnieper could easily be stopped a few leagues south of Ekaterinoslav, on the line of the Voltschya, a river which there empties into the main stream. Beside these advantages, the whole country to the south of Ekaterinoslav is one vast steppe, two hundred miles in width, through which it is extremely difficult to convey and to feed an army; while that town itself, situated on the northern range of the steppe, and in close proximity to the rich and comparatively densely populated provinces of Kieff and Poltava, can receive any amount of provisions without difficulty. And lastly, Ekaterinoslav maintains the communication with the army of the center at Kieff and covers the road to Moscow.

Ekaterinoslav, as we learn from trustworthy sources, is now being fortified and provided with the reserve magazines for the southern army[g]. Stores of food, equipments, ammunition are collected there; and if ever the Allies should venture to advance into the interior, they would have to force this point before they could proceed any further. But even under circumstances very unfavorable to the Russians, the chances are that the forces of either party would be at least pretty equally matched at Ekaterinoslav. Such an advance, however, is out of the question in this campaign, and nearly so in that of 1856. Indeed, any movement of the Allies into the interior of Russia would be a blunder, unless the Crimea and all the countries south of the Caucasus, nay, even of the Kuban and Terek, were freed from Russian dominion, all the Russian coasts devastated, Ismail taken, the mouths of the Danube up to Galatch opened to trade, and, in short, everything done which could be attempted against the extremities of Russia on that side. Then even it would be a mistake to advance into the interior of the steppe, until the passive resistance of Russia, successfully maintained, left no other choice. It is evident that the probability of such an event occurring is not very great; but if the Russians are already preparing against it, we have another proof of that comprehensive foresight which has of late distinguished the chief strategical management of their forces, and which is apparently due to the commanding influence of General jomini.

For the present, the conquest of the Crimea is still the great task of the Allies. On that head our latest intelligence[h] was that they had sent a strong column of infantry and cavalry into the valley of the upper Chernaya, threatening to turn, by Aitodor or the upper Belbek, the Russian extreme right. Gorchakoff had telegraphed, besides, that the Allies were daily concentrating additional troops on the Chernaya. Now, this movement of the Allies toward the Russian right has evidently been made with such a degree of show, the Russians themselves having noticed it at once, that it cannot prelude a serious attempt at turning the Russians on that side. It may serve either to draw away from the camp at Mackenzie's farm a portion of the troops defending that intrenched position, or else to mask a great expedition to Eupatoria. The first supposition hardly seems likely, from the concentration of the allied troops on the Chernaya, noticed at the same time by Gorchakoff; the second supposition is more likely; and though, as we have before stated, a flank movement by the south coast would seem preferable[i], such an expedition, suddenly transporting a large force on the flank and rear of the Russians, cannot but be of great effect, and must decide the campaign.

As to the actual position of the Russians in the Crimea we have no clear information. They are doing their best to maintain a bold front, and if the state of their stores allows, it is certainly the best they can do. Still we remain of opinion that they must soon leave the Crimea unless the Allies make great mistakes and they, themselves, receive provisions more plentifully than they have a right to expect. The great object of the Allies is to drive them away from the position of Mackenzie's hights, for that position once lost, the north side of Sevastopol, defended by a small garrison, must be abandoned to its fate, and the Crimea must be evacuated; because between Mackenzie's farm and Sympheropol there is not a single tolerable position which cannot be turned with the greatest ease, and beyond Sympheropol the steppe, being untenable for large armies, offers no positions whatever.

One thing however is certain, namely, that there can be little delay in the decision of this question. The Atlantic, due here to-day, will most probably bring us intelligence of a battle in the field, which, if unfavorable to the Russians, must be followed by their prompt retreat from the peninsula.

Written on September 26, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4522, October 17, 1855,
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1085, October 19, 1855 as a leading article;
an abridged German version was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 455, September 29, 1855,
marked with the sign x.
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune.


[a] Alexander II.—Ed.

[b] Frederick William IV.—Ed.

[c] Maria Alexandrovna.—Ed.

[d] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung the article begins as follows: "The Emperor's departure from Russia to Odessa; the transfer of the residence of the Empress from St. Petersburg to Moscow...."—Ed.

[e] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung this sentence does not occur.—Ed.

[f] Instead of the last two sentences the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "As Kherson and Nikolayev lie within the range of operation not only of gun-boats but even of sloops of war, an inland base is needed. This is provided by Ekaterinoslav."—Ed.

[g] Instead of the text following this sentence the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "If on the one hand this testifies to the Russians' strategic foresight—and it is certainly not in vain that the old general and deserter Jomini has schooled them for such a long time—it just as much shows, on the other hand, that they expect no successes for a considerable time to come. If the Allies ventured to advance into Russia's interior (via Perekop) they would of course have to force Ekaterinoslav. That, however, is out of the question in this campaign, and nearly so in that of 1856. First the Russians would have to evacuate the Crimea, the whole of Trans-Caucasia and the Caucasus up to the Terek and Kuban, Odessa would have to be burnt down, the port of Nikolayev destroyed and the Danube cleared up to Galatz. All these extremities of Russia would have to be amputated before the Allies could so much as think of undertaking a campaign into Russia's interior. So the long-range strategic plan of the Russians seems to bode nothing good.

"The allied troops are moving towards the valley of the Upper Chernaya in order to turn the Russians' extreme right wing at Aitodor or the upper Belbek. Both Gorchakov and Pélissier say so in their dispatches. It seems to us the Allies are executing this manoeuvre with too much show really to pursue that end.

"Clearly the object of the Allies is to drive the Russians from their entrenched position on Mackenzie's heights. Once they have succeeded in this, the Russians will have to abandon the northern fort and therefore evacuate the Crimea. For there is not a single position between Mackenzie's heights and Simferopol which cannot be turned, and beyond Simferopol the steppe, being untenable for large armies, offers no positions whatever. Whether the Russians will be able to maintain the Crimea therefore depends on their ability to maintain, in particular, their present position on Mackenzie's heights."—Ed.

[h] As can be seen from the version published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, the reference is to Pélissier's dispatch of September 11, published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 268, September 25, 1855, and Gorchakov's dispatch of September 17, published in The Times, No. 22169, September 26, 1855.—Ed.

[i] See this volume, p. 529.—Ed.

[371] An abridged German version of this article was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on September 29, 1855 under the heading "Die Widerstandskraft Rußlands" ("Russia's Power of Resistance"). The translation and changes were made by Marx.

The first and last paragraphs of the English version contain changes made by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.537-541), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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