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State of The Russian War[179]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

Our European correspondence and files of journals received last evening by the arrival of the America's mail, fully confirm the reported expulsion of the Russians from their trenches before Silistria and their subsequent withdrawal from Wallachia back to the line of the Sereth. We learn also that there is no doubt of the immediate entrance of the Austrians into the evacuated province of Wallachia, under the treaty concluded at Constantinople on the 14th ult[180].—an event under the circumstances of no small value to the Czar, brought about too, as we learn, under the immediate direction of Prince Metternich, who, in fact, again controls the foreign policy of the Hapsburgs.

Besides the curious coincidence of the Russians evacuating and of the Austrians occupying Wallachia, the very manner in which the siege of Silistria was undertaken, carried on, and finally abandoned, indicates that agencies were at work altogether distinct from mere military considerations. From the official Russian report, which comes down to the night of May 28,[181] and which differs from the Turkish bulletins only with regard to the respective numbers of killed and wounded, it appears that the operations were of a strangely precipitate character; that the rudest efforts to dismount the outworks were not made until the impossibility of taking the place by storm was practically ascertained, and that the attack was more wild and unscientific than any known even in the annals of Russian sieges. As to the operations between the 28th of May and the 15th of June, the reports which we have received are yet too fragmentary to allow of a detailed description; the fact, however, that during the repeated desperate assaults, nearly all the commanding officers , were wounded and disabled Paskievich, Schilder, whose leg has since been amputated, Gorchakoff, Lüders and Orloff who was shot through the eye, clearly proves that the Russians were under orders, not merely to take the place at any cost, but to take it within a certain fixed time. Indeed the whole was conducted on their part in a manner which reminds us more of the barbarian method of carrying the cities of Kurdistan by Timur Tamerlane, than of the proceedings of regular modern warfare. On the other hand, it is evident that the heroic and able defense of Silistria created equal surprise with the allied powers and the Ottoman Divan. Our readers may remember that about six weeks ago the allied commanders met at Varna, that they discovered that the Balkan line formed the natural defense of Turkey[a], and that now many of the British journals not only confess, but glory in the avowal, that Silistria was not relieved by a single French or English soldier. Lastly, it cannot be denied that Silistria was a point of great military importance, that the fate of this fortress decides the fate of the campaign, and that with the abandonment of its siege and the sudden retreat of the Russians upon the Sereth, the whole of the Russian conquests of territory made this year as well as the last are lost.

Still it must be said that our English contemporaries, many of them, greatly exaggerate the extent of the present Muscovite reverses. It certainly requires a high degree of credulity to believe that the sortie made by the garrison of Silistria on June 13, and the succor of 2,000 men they are said to have received from Omer Pasha, resulted in the total defeat of the Russians, and forced 90,000 to 100,000 men to fly before 15,000. The sudden retreat of the Russians is, so far as we can judge, quite as mysterious as their sudden attack. It is only to be explained by a previous understanding with Austria, involving the occupation of Wallachia by Austrian troops. Under these circumstances, the following passage which we find in a letter of The Morning Chronicle's Constantinople correspondent, revealing this plot on June 10, as early as four days before the conclusion of the Austro-Turkish treaty, is of a peculiarly interesting character:

"The Turks think that diplomacy is playing with them, and that it is their intention to allow Silistria to fall into the hands of Russia. These suspicions receive confirmation from the news that has been received here of the preparation of a new protocol at Vienna, in which the fall of Silistria is, I learn, spoken of as if it were accomplished; and, the military honor of Russia being satisfied, Austria would consider the time to have arrived for her armed intervention to bring about an arrangement by the means of her co-operation—occupying the Danubian Principalities, which would be evacuated by the armies of Russia."

According to this, if the Russians had taken Silistria in due time, all would have been right. But though they did not succeed in satisfying the military honor of the Czar, they must, according to the compromise with Austria, beat back in a somewhat inglorious manner. The Russians receding behind the Sereth, ' the Austrians advance to the Sereth and Danube, and thus place themselves between the Muscovites and the Turks and their allies. In this position they are arbiters of the quarrel, preventing both parties from moving forward. The Russians remain in Moldavia, while the Vienna Conference will be more than ever busy itself with protocols, and thus the winter will be gained. If the Conferences end in nothing —a result which is sure since the Emperor of Russia has got the money on his new loan of $37,000,000 from Hope & Co. of Amsterdam[b]—the position of the Russian army behind the Danube and the Sereth will be twice as strong as was its line between Bucharest and Kustendje. Besides, if we look at the relative strength of the Russians before Silistria and in Bulgaria, now on their retreat behind the Sereth, and of the allied armies as far as they can, thanks to their ingenious arrangements, be thrown at all into the balance, it is plainly seen that, with even the best intentions, the latter would not be capable of baffling this combination of Austria with Russia.

The Russian forces employed against Turkey and the allies on the European shores of the Black Sea amount to thirteen divisions of infantry, three of the third, three of the fourth, one of the fifth, three of the sixth army corps, and three reserve divisions. Besides these, the third, fourth, fifth and sixth divisions of light cavalry, and the third, fourth and fifth divisions of artillery. These troops, making up nearly one-half of the grand army of operations, should amount, according to the official statements, to 16,000 men per division of infantry, 5,000 per division of cavalry, and 160 guns per division of artillery; altogether something like 250,000 to 260,000 men, inclusive of train and camp followers. But, if we measure the strength of a Russian army by what it actually was in the Hungarian war[182], we cannot estimate a division of Russian infantry at more than 13,000 to 14,000 men, and the cavalry and artillery must be reduced in proportion. The actual forces, then, which the Russians have successively marched into the Principalities would be reduced to about 210,000 men, and even from this number must be deducted, on account of loss in battle and by sickness, at least 20,000 to 25,000 more. Recollecting the ravages made by the marsh-fever in the ranks of the Russian army during 1828-29, and comparing the letters of a Russian surgeon[183] in the Vienna Medical Journal[c], we cannot consider a loss of from eight to ten per cent. upon the total of the army as exaggerated. Thus about 180,000 Russians are left as the disposable number of their army.

It is interesting to learn what portion of this force can have been employed in the operations against Silistria. A large body of troops was required to guard the communications and magazines established in the rear of the line of battle. Bucharest and the line of the Dobrodja had to be occupied. Detachments were indispensable to cover the flanks, and partly the front of the army; and if we deduct 60,000 men for these various duties we obtain a net result of 130,000 men available for the siege of Silistria and the covering of that operation. This is rather above than below the mark. Now the position of Silistria on a large river made it unavoidable that the besieging army should divide itself, with a view to inclose the fortress from all sides. It further necessitated the establishment of strong reserves on the northern bank, in order to receive the troops pushed forward from the southern bank in case of a defeat. Finally these troops occupying the southern or right bank had to divide themselves again into a double army, the one to carry on the siege and to repel any sallies of the besieged, the other to cover the siege and defeat any army marching to the relief of the fortress. About 35,000 to 40,000 men were required to occupy the left bank and carry on the siege on the right. Thus an army of 80,000 Russians would have remained available for active field-operations against a relieving army, and this was the utmost the Russians could bring to battle on Bulgarian ground within from ten to twenty miles of Silistria.

Now let us see what force the allies have to oppose to the 180,000 Russian total at this moment. The Turkish army at Shumla was stated, some time ago, to be about 80,000 strong, but short of everything required for action in the open field, and is, according to the latest report of Lord Raglan and French staff officers, badly officered, altogether in a condition which peremptorily forbids offensive operations. It is neither our purpose nor within our present means to determine the accuracy of this report. Suffice it to say that such is the character of the Turkish main army in the official opinion of its allies. Since then the troops from Kalafat have been drawn to Rustchuk, where a camp of 40,000 men is said to be establishing. It would be difficult to conceive the policy of thus rendering idle a corps of such strength, which, if it had marched upon Bucharest instead of Rustchuk, might have compelled the Russians to raise immediately the investment of Silistria, but for the conduct of the war being entirely in the hands of diplomacy. Setting apart the present garrison at Rustchuk and the garrison and reserve at Shumla, it may well be doubted whether the Turks can muster 50,000 men in the open field in a condition fit for the work before them. An Anglo-French soldier being equal, in the estimation of western military authorities, to at least two Russians, there would still be required a force of 65,000 allies to balance the strength of the Russian army of occupation. Unless, therefore, they can muster that force at Varna they would hardly go to battle, the case of extreme necessity excepted.

They have however been most careful not to drop at once into the field in such force as would leave no further pretext for abstaining from active operations. The whole Anglo-French force now in Turkey does not amount to more than 80,000 men, besides from 15,000 to 20,000 more now on their way thither, including almost the entire cavalry and artillery. The amount of transports at hand in the Bosphorus is, whether intentionally or not, very limited, so that it would take many a journey there and back, if they were to be transported to Varna by sea alone. But,

"according to the latest and most accurate accounts,"—says the correspondent we have already quoted—"there are at present but 12,000 British and French troops who have been transported by sea, while the bulk of the French army is slowly advancing from Gallipoli toward Constantinople and Adrianople."

The roads being notoriously bad and the difficulty of victualling extreme, an arrangement which allows their famous General St. Arnaud to be permanently under steam between Varna and Constantinople, where we may be sure he does not lose an opportunity for turning every intrigue in the Divan to a solid advantage for his unfathomable purse. As to the two British divisions still at Scutari, we are informed by the same correspondent that

"they do not seem ready to start yet, though there is a whole fleet of transports and steamers at anchor, waiting to embark them."

From all these facts it is sufficiently clear to everybody that the allied powers have taken full care not to be in a state to frustrate directly the present arrangement between Russia and Austria. For, if it were intended to pursue that object, a very simple alternative for doing so offers itself either by an Anglo-Swedish alliance in the Baltic, which would give a basis of operations for auxiliary troops by facilitating an invasion of Finland and a turning on the land-side of the fortresses of Sweaborg and Kronstadt; or by a combined attack by sea and land on the Crimea and Sevastopol. With regard to the first supposition, it is amusing to see how The London Times which, not three weeks before, preached the necessity of sending the Black Sea squadron to the Baltic, now recommends a simple blockade of the harbors of the Baltic and an immediate return of the greater portion of the Baltic fleet to the Black Sea, where it suddenly advocates the occupation of the Crimea[d]. This is the same journal which affected to regret that nothing could be undertaken by Napier before the French fleet should have joined him[e]. Now that it has done so, it is supposed that nothing will be done, after all, and that both the French and English fleet had better take another excursion through the Kattegat, the Channel, and the straits of Gibraltar sound to the Euxine. Reflecting on the time which the juncture of these fleets has required, and again on the time which their junction with the forces under Admiral Dundas would require, it becomes plain that to do nothing either in the Baltic or in the Black Sea is the great object of these propositions.

The only point on which the Russians apart from their unforeseen and unexpected defeat at Silistria have undergone substantial losses and are surrounded with dangers, is the Caucasus though this is not altogether certain. They had abandoned nearly all their fortresses on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, not from any fear of the allied fleets, but in order to strength-en their Georgian army. On their retreat across the Dariel Pass they are stated to have been suddenly attacked by a large force of mountaineers, in the van and rear, to have had their advanced guard cut to pieces, while their center and rear were compelled to retire with severe loss. At the same time the army of Selim Pasha advanced from St. Nicholas upon Ussurgheti, whence the Russians had frequently molested and menaced the Turks, and now forced the Russians to evacuate that fortress, a result by which the communications between Selim Pasha and the main Turkish army at Kars have been secured. When it is recollected that even this army was throughout the winter and spring in the most deplorable state of inefficiency, the maneuver of the Russians indicates at least that they felt their position in Georgia to be no less precarious, and that they were sadly in want of reenforcements from the coast. If, now, this reported defeat at Dariel be true or even partially so, the consequence is that the army of Woronzoff is cut off, and must try either to procure a tenable basis at Tiflis with a view to hold out until next winter —a matter of no slight difficulty or it must attempt to make its way at any loss through the pass. This operation would at all events be preferable to a retreat upon the Caspian Sea, the pass leading thither being of infinitely greater danger than that of Dariel. On this point, however, we shall be better able to speak positively on the receipt of more complete and authentic information from that quarter. So far we may set down Russia as having certainly gained two victories by the recent operations, one in the loan from Hope & Co., and one in the Austrian treaty with the Porte; and as having suffered one defeat that of Silistria. Whether the former will have permanent advantages enough to compensate for the disgrace of the latter, the future only can decide.

Written on June 16 and 23, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4125, July 8;
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 952, July 11
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 670, July 15, 1854 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, p. 222.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 267-68.—Ed.

[c] Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift.—Ed.

[d] The Times, No. 21774, June 22, 1854, leader.—Ed.

[e] The Times, No. 21747, May 22, 1854, leader; report from Gothland, May 16, 1854. The Times, No. 21751, May 26, 1854.—Ed.

[179] The article "State of the Russian War" by Marx and Engels, and the one following it, "The Russian Retreat", were arbitrarily compiled by the Tribune editors from two works: Marx's article dispatched to New York on June 16 (it is entered in Marx's Notebook as "16. Juni. St. Arnaud (Schluß). Dänemark Einfluss der Verteidigung von Silistria auf den Kriegsplan v.d. Times (sieh. 9)") and Engels' and Marx's article written on June 19 and 23 respectively (this joint article is entered in the Notebook as "23. Juni. Freitag"). The first article was probably delivered to New York by the steamer Washington on July 5, and the second to Halifax by the America on July 5, 1854. The editors omitted from the first article the passage concerning Saint-Arnaud and Denmark and added from the second article some details about military operations at Silistria.

The article "State of the Russian War" was included by Eleanor Marx in The Eastern Question. The first paragraph was left out.

[180] The reference is to the Austro-Turkish treaty signed in Constantinople on June 14, 1854. It provided for immediate occupation of the Danubian Principalities by Austria, after the withdrawal of the Russian troops.

[181] Paskievich's official report on the siege of Silistria by the Russian troops was published in The Times on June 24, 1854; Marx may have used some other source.

[182] An allusion to the participation of Tsarist troops in suppressing the Hungarian revolution of 1849.

[183] Marx presumably refers to a number of reports from Wallachia and one from Dobrudja which were published anonymously in the Wiener medizinische Wochenschrift in the first half of 1854.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.246-252), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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