Farsi    Arabic    English   

The Russian Defeats[321]

Frederick Engels

We have carefully examined the European journals brought by the Canada in order to gather all possible light as to the fighting which has taken place between the Turks and the Russians in Wallachia, and are able to add some important facts to those reported by the Washington, which we commented upon on Friday last[a]. We knew then that several engagements had taken place, and with regard to their details we know little more now. Our reports are still incoherent, contradictory and scanty, and so will probably remain till we receive the official dispatches of the Turkish Generals. So much is, however, clear, namely, that the Turks have been maneuvered with a degree of skill and have fought with a steady enthusiasm sufficient to justify the laudations of their warmest admirers, laudations that by the mass of cool and impartial men have been regarded as exaggerated. The result is a general surprise. Of Omer Pasha's talents as a commander, all persons were prepared to receive very brilliant proofs, but the merit of his army has not been recognized by western journalists or statesmen at its true value. It is true its ranks are filled by Turks, but they are a very different sort of soldiers from those Diebich drove before him in 1829. They have beaten the Russians with heavy odds and under unfavorable circumstances. We trust this may prove but the augury and beginning of far more conclusive defeats.

We now learn for the first time that the Council of War at Constantinople had concentrated at Sofia an army of some 25,000 men in order to operate in Servia in case of need. Of this force and its destination, strange to say, no previous information seems to have reached Western Europe, but it is clear that Omer Pasha has made the best use of it. Its disposition at Sofia was a blunder since if the Servians should not revolt and make common cause with the Russians, which under the reigning prince[b] they are not likely to do, there is no occasion for an army in that quarter; while in case of a revolt the Turks must either march into the country and suppress it, for which, with the Russians in Wallachia, 25,000 men would not suffice, or else they must occupy the passes of the frontier and confine the Servians at home, for which a quarter of that force would be ample. Omer Pasha evidently viewed the matter in this light, for he has marched the corps straight to Widin, and added it to the force he had there previously. This reenforcement has, no doubt, essentially contributed to the victory he has now gained over the right wing of the Russians under General Dannenberg, a victory of which we have no particulars beyond the number of Russian officers killed and captured; but which must have been quite complete, and will prove morally even more beneficial to the Turks than it was materially.

We now learn, also, that the Turkish force which crossed from Turtukai (a point between Rustchuk and Silistra), to Oltenitza, was led by Ismail Pasha or [by] General Guyon (he has not renounced Christianity though he holds a high rank in the Sultan's army), whose gallantry in the Hungarian war gave him a high reputation as a bold, energetic and rapid executive officer. Without remark-able strategic talent, there are few men who will carry out orders with such effect, as he has proved on the present occasion, where he repelled his assailant with the bayonet. The defeat of Gen. Pawloff at Oltenitza, must substantially open the country behind the Aluta, and clear the way to Bucharest, since it is proved that Prince Gorchakoff has not advanced to Slatina, as was reported, but remains at the Capital of the Principalities, wisely preferring not to divide his forces, which is again an indication that he does not think himself entirely secure. No doubt a decisive battle has been fought long ere this in the vicinity of that place. If Gorchakoff is not a humbug, and if he can concentrate there from seventy to eighty thousand men —a number which all reasonable deductions from the official force of the Russians still leave to him, the advantage is decidedly on his side. But seeing how false and exaggerated are the figures reported from the Russian camp; seeing how much more powerful and effective is Omer Pasha's army than has been supposed, the conditions of the campaign become more equal than has been imagined, and the defeat of Gorchakoff comes within the probabilities of the case. Certainly, if the Turkish Generalissimo can concentrate for the decisive struggle fifty or sixty thousand troops already flushed with victory and we now see nothing to prevent it his chance of success is decidedly favorable. In saying this we desire to speak with moderation, for there is no use in making the Turks seem better off than they are because our sympathies are with them.

It is impossible to study the geographical structure of Wallachia, especially in a military point of view, without being reminded of Lombardy. In the one the Danube and in the other the Po and its confluents form the southern and western boundaries. The Turks have also adopted a similar plan of action with that pursued by the Piedmontese in the campaign of 1849, ending in the disastrous battle of Novara[322]. If the Turks prove victorious, the greater will be their claim on our admiration, and the more palpable the bullying incapacity of the Muscovite. At all events Gorchakoff is no Radetzky and Omer Pasha no Ramorino.

Written about November 11, 1853. Reproduced from the newspaper.
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3936, November 28, 1853, as a leader


[a] See this volume, pp. 450-56.—Ed.

[b] Alexander Karageorge.—Ed.

[321] This article by Engels, as can be seen from the entry in Marx's notebook, was dispatched to the New-York Daily Tribune together with Marx's article "The Labor Question" (see this volume, pp. 460-63) as a single report. However, the newspaper editors divided it in two parts and published Engels' text as a leader and the text written by Marx as a separate article under his signature in the issue of November 28.

From Engels' article it is evident that he had at his disposal inaccurate information on the balance of forces on the Danube during the battles of Kalafat and Oltenitza and some other facts; the Russian troops at Oltenitza were commanded by Dannenberg, not Pavlov; General Guyon and Ismail Pasha are two different people and not the same person as is stated in the article. Later when he obtained more reliable information Engels reassessed the balance of forces and also the qualities of the Turkish military command and the results of the battles of Kalafat and Oltenitza (see this volume, pp. 471-76 and 516-22).

[322] On March 23, 1849 the Austrian army commanded by Radetzky inflicted a decisive defeat upon the Piedmontese army at Novara, which led to the restoration of Austrian rule in Northern Italy. In the course of the campaign the Austrian commander-in-chief made use of the dispersal of Piedmontese forces under the command of General Ramorino.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.457-459), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0774en.html