Farsi    Arabic    English   

Strategy of The War[285]

Frederick Engels

We have very little to add to our last observations on the action at Montebello[a]. From the official Austrian report, which has at last turned up, and which yesterday adorned our columns, it becomes evident, that of the three brigades with which Gen. Stadion advanced on Montebello, portions were left behind to guard the flanks of the line of march[b]. The remainder arrived before Casteggio, which was taken by the Prince of Hessen Brigade; this brigade kept the town occupied, while the two other (incomplete) brigades advanced and took Montebello and Genestrello. They bore the brunt of the battle against the whole of Forey's division and the two cavalry regiments of Gen. de Sonnaz (Real Piedmont and Monferrato regiments)—and when they were ultimately driven in toward Casteggio, the Prince of Hessen Brigade appears to have so well supported them that no attack was ventured, and the Austrians were allowed to retreat in perfect good order and at their own convenience. It appears, however, very likely, from the Austrian reports which have come to hand, that at least the whole of Marshal Baraguay d'Hilliers's corps was assembled on the field toward the close of the engagement. This corps has three divisions of infantry and one of cavalry—amounting in all to twelve regiments of infantry, three battalions of Chasseurs, four regiments or twenty squadrons of cavalry, and a proportionate artillery force. This agrees with what the Austrians report[c] of the statements of French prisoners, that there were twelve French infantry regiments present, and with two reports from Turin—according to the first of which, Vinoy's, and, according to the second, Bazaine's division supported Forey's[d]. Now, these three divisions form together the whole of Baraguay's infantry. There is also some talk of French cavalry and Piedmontese infantry having been present; but that appears less authentic. The result, then, is this: The Austrians, who could not have any object but reconnoitering (otherwise it would have been madness to attack with three weak brigades), attained this object to the fullest extent, by compelling Baraguay to show the whole of his strength. During the engagement they fought quite as well as their opponents; when driven out of Montebello they had to retire before superior numbers, and the pursuit ended before Casteggio, where the Austrians even turned round and drove the pursuers so energetically back that they were not again molested, although by that time the French had nearly four times as many men on the field as the Austrians. Thus, if the French claim the victory, because they finally held Montebello and the Austrians retreated after the engagement, the Austrians may claim it on the ground that they drove the French from Casteggio and had the last success of the day, and especially that they completely fulfilled the object they had in view; for the engagement was commenced with the purpose of coming ultimately upon superior forces, and of course retreating before them.[e]

Since Montebello, the center and right wing of the Austrian army have seen some fighting. According to the dispatches which we received by the Fulton, and published yesterday[f], the Sardinians crossed the Sesia near Vercelli on the 30th ult. and attacked and carried some Austrian intrenchments at Palestro, Casalino and Vinzaglio. Victor Emmanuel himself commanded[g]; and the work was accomplished by the bayonet. The loss of the Austrians is described by the Sardinians as very heavy. By the Europa at Halifax we now learn that the Austrians have twice endeavored to retake Palestro, and once were on the point of succeeding, when a body of Zouaves came to the rescue and repulsed them. Here the Sardinians say they[h] took a thousand prisoners; but as to this affair it is impossible to form a judgment, owing to the absence of all precise details. Such obstinate fighting at the outposts on the Sesia is not what we expected from the Austrians, who are said to be in full retreat across the Ticino[i]. On their extreme right, however, they have[j] not shown so much pluck and tenacity. On the 25th of May, Garibaldi, who, with his Chasseurs of the Alps and some other troops, in all perhaps 5,000 men, had passed round the extreme right of the Austrians, crossed the Ticino and marched upon Varese, between Lake Maggiore and the Lake of Como, and took possession of that town. On the 26th he defeated an Austrian detachment which attacked him, followed up his victory with great vigor, and again, on the 27th, defeated the same detachment (reenforced by the garrison of Como), and entered that town the same night. The flying corps of Gen. Urban marched against him, and actually drove him into the mountains; but[k] our latest dispatches, received last night by the Europa[l], report that he had come back and surprised the Austrians and retaken Varese. His success produced an insurrection in the towns on the Lake of Como and in the Valtellina or Upper Valley of the Adda, a mountain district, which in 1848 showed more insurrectionary energy than the towns of the Lombard plain. The steamers on the Lake of Como are in the hands of the insurgents, and 800 men from the Valtellina had joined Garibaldi. It is said that notwithstanding his temporary reverse, the insurrection in that part of Lombardy was spreading.

In this movement of Garibaldi the Allies have gained a great advantage, and the Austrians have made a great mistake. There was no harm to the latter in allowing him to take Varese; but Como ought to have been held by a strong column, which he would not have dared to meddle with. Another detachment sent toward Sesto Calende would have cut off Garibaldi's retreat, and thus, hemmed in in the small district between the lakes, a vigorous attack must have compelled him either to lay down his arms or to pass into the neutral Swiss territory, where he would have been disarmed. But the Austrians, underrating this man, whom they call a brigand chief, and whom, if they had taken the trouble to study the siege of Rome and his march thence to San Marino[286], they might have known to be a man of uncommon military talent, of great intrepidity, and full of resources, treated his incursion as lightly as the irruptions of Allemandi's Lombard volunteers in 1848[287]. They quite overlooked the fact that Garibaldi is a strict disciplinarian, and that he has had most of his men under his hands for four months—quite enough to break them to the maneuvering and movements of petty warfare. Garibaldi may have been sent into Lombardy by Louis Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel in order to destroy him and his volunteers—elements rather too revolutionary for this dynastic war—a hypothesis strikingly confirmed by the fact that his movement was made without the indispensable support; but it is not to be forgotten that in 1849 he took the same route and managed to escape. At all events, he gained possession of the bridge at Lecco, and of the steamers on the lake, and this insured to him the liberty of moving to the eastward of the Lake of Como. Here there is a large mountainous tract, extending north to the Splügen and Stelvio passes, east to the Lake of Garda, south to Bergamo and Brescia—a country especially adapted to partisan warfare, and where it will be very difficult to catch him, as Urban has just discovered. If 6,000 to 8,000 men would have been sufficient to ruin him in the Varese country, it may now require more than 16,000, so that his one brigade will henceforth fully occupy three of the Austrians. Still, with the forces accumulating in the Tyrol (a full army corps has been passed from Bohemia through Saxony and Bavaria by rail to the Tyrol), and with the troops holding Lombardy, we do not see how he can hold his own, notwithstanding his last success at Varese, unless the Allies gain a very speedy and very decisive victory over the Austrians. This will be a difficult matter. Another Austrian army corps, the 9th, has joined the active army, making it consist of six corps, or at least 200,000 men in all; and other corps are on the march. Still, from the fact that Louis Napoleon cannot afford to be long quiet, a battle may soon be expected; and the report that he has gone with his headquarters and guards to[m] Voghera, on the extreme right of the Allied position, would indicate a battle in the neighborhood of Stradella. If this be the case, we shall very likely see the Austrians defend the defile of Stradella in front, and try to operate on the French flank and rear by the bridge at Vaccarizza.[n]

Written on May 30, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5663, June 15, 1859 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1467, June 17, 1859
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 927, June 18, 1859
Reproduced 'from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, pp. 338-40.—Ed.

[b] Mention of the official Austrian report belongs to the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune. See "The Battle of Montebello. Count Gyulay's Official Report", New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5662, June 14, 1859.—Ed.

[c] "Von der österreichischen Armee in Italien. Garlasco, 22.Mai", Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 147, May 27, 1859.—Ed.

[d] The Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 148, May 28 and No. 149, May 29, 1859.—Ed.

[e] In the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune the foregoing passage is omitted.—Ed.

[f] Here and in what follows information about the dispatches received is given by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed.

[g] The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune adds here: "and fought most gallantly".—Ed.

[h] In the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune there is the following insertion here: "not only suffered heavy losses themselves but".—Ed.

[i] The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune has here: "Such obstinate fighting at the outposts on the Sesia is probably intended to hold the allied advance in check while the Austrians recross the Ticino and reenter Lombardy."—Ed.

[j] The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune has here: "not been defeated, they have been outgeneraled".—Ed.

[k] The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune further has: "he came back, surprised the Austrians, retook Varese and regained his former position at Como".—Ed.

[l] The words "received last night by the Europa" are inserted by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune.—Ed

[m] The New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune further has: "Novara, on the left of the Allied position, would indicate a bat.tle in that neighborhood".—Ed.

[n] The last sentence is omitted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune.—Ed.

[285] In the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune the article was published under the title "Progress of the War". It was abridged.

In the New-York Weekly Tribune two Engels' articles—"Strategy of the War" and "The Battle of Montebello"—were united under the title "The War".

[286] On July 2, 1849, shortly before the downfall of the Roman Republic (see Note 127) and after the Roman Constituent Assembly had decided to cease the struggle, Garibaldi left Rome with a detachment of 4,000 volunteers and went to the aid of the Venetian Republic, which was fighting against the Austrian forces. Garibaldi manoeuvred skilfully in the Austrian rear and many times broke out of encirclement but failing to reach besieged Venice, he was forced to enter the neutral Republic of San Marino on July 30, 1849 and to disband his detachment.

[287] The reference is to the anti-Austrian actions of a 5,000-strong detachment of Lombard volunteers under General Allemandi who in April 1848 blocked the Tyrol passes from Tonale to Stelvio.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.349-353), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME1141en.html