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The Turkish War[119]

Frederick Engels

On the Danube there is nothing new except the complete evacuation of Lesser Wallachia by the Russians, and their preparations to storm the fortress of Silistria. With a view to this they had concentrated a large force of artillery on the opposite bank, and were, as it is reported, about to fling across some 30,000 men for the assault. It remains to be seen how far this report is true, but at any rate such a plan is not improbable. Its success is another question. It is certain that Silistria is the weakest of all the great Turkish fortresses, commanded within comfortable dismounting and breaching range by hights which have not, that we are aware, been fortified since the last war[120]. But this same Silistria, which fell in 1810 after four days' attack, sustained in 1828-29 two blockades of ten months' duration, and held out thirty-five days after the opening of a regular siege, and nine days after the completion of a practicable breach in the main wall. A fortress which has undergone such varying fates may well be said to be beyond any reasoning as to its strength and defensibility[a].

But supposing Silistria to be carried by storm by an overwhelming superiority of force, it by no means follows that the road to Constantinople is clear for them. In order to advance on Shumla and Varna, they must leave at least 6,000 men behind at Silistria, which would then have to serve them as bridge-head for another and more conveniently situated bridge. Shumla they could hardly attack; for even if they took this famous intrenched camp, they would simply deprive the enemy of a good position without gaining one for themselves. Shumla shuts against the Russians the passage of the Balkans, but if taken it does not open that passage to them.

The importance of Shumla consists in the fact that Varna is the key to the Lower Balkan, and Shumla is the key to Varna. Whatever may be the defects of the fortifications of Varna and they are many if fully garrisoned it requires a siege-corps of 20,000 to 30,000 men; and unless there remain troops enough, after deducting these, to cover the siege against any sallies from the intrenched camp of Shumla, where the Turks can concentrate all their forces, the siege cannot be carried on successfully. Varna held out, in 1828, three weeks after two practicable breaches had been made in its ramparts, and that at a time when the Russian fleet commanded the Black Sea, and the Turks had hardly the shadow of an army to attempt an attack upon the besiegers. Now, supposing Silistria taken, the various and very difficult river-lines before Varna and Shumla forced, and Varna blockaded, is there a chance that enough Russian troops would remain to neutralize Shumla? For the Turks at Shumla could act not only against the besiegers of Varna, but in the direction of the Danube, and at least one of the lines of communication of the Russians, so as to force them to detach more and more troops from their main body, which ultimately might be weakened to a dangerous extent.

And if Varna .should fall what would Paskievich do if Omer Pasha sullenly remained in his stronghold of Shumla, ready to profit by the very first mistake the Russians made? Would he dare to push on toward Constantinople with but a single line of communication, which at the same time would be hemmed in and menaced by the Shumla army on one side, and by the allied fleets in the Black Sea on the other? Not he, indeed, if we are to judge from his exploits in Asia and Poland. He is an almost over-cautious general, a sort of military slow-coach, with nothing of the Radetzky in him. And if he had he would find that maneuver extremely hazardous, for he knows very well what a plight his predecessor Diebich was in when he arrived, in 1829, at Adrianople. Thus, even without taking into account the Anglo-French troops landing in Thrace, and making no more of the allied fleets than what they have justified us in, namely, supposing they will do next to nothing, we find that it is not such an easy thing for the Russians to march straight ahead to Constantinople with banners displayed and bands playing. That against Turkey unaided they were sure ultimately to get there no one ever denied except those new-fangled military writers who form their judgment not from facts but from a conviction that "right against might" is necessarily victorious, and that in a "good cause" no blunders can possibly be committed.[b]

We may add that the British forces in the Baltic have done even less so far than those in the Black Sea.

Written on April 24, 1854
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4080, May 16;
Reprinted in the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 662, May 20, 1854 as a leader


[a] For details see this volume, pp. 239-40.—Ed.

[b] Arnold, "The Coming War", The Leader, Vol. V, No. 200, January 21, 1854, pp. 59-60.—Ed.

[119] This article was written by Engels on April 24, 1854. The authorship is established on the basis of Engels' letter to Marx of April 21, 1854 (see present edition, Vol. 39 and the entry in the Notebook on its dispatch to New York: "Dienstag. 25. April. Militaria"). It was sent by the steamer Washington which left Southampton on April 26 and arrived in New York with considerable delay on May 14. The newspaper editors interested in Engels' military reviews published the material as a leader. At the same time they made it appear to have been written on the basis of later information received with the Atlantic, which left Europe a week later, on May 3, 1854. For this purpose they added the first paragraph with a survey of the news of the bombardment of Odessa by the allied fleet, published in the same issue of the New-York Daily Tribune in the section "The War". The ironical appraisal of Admiral Dundas' bravery may have been taken by the Tribune editors from Marx's article "The Bombardment of Odessa.— Greece.— Proclamation of Prince Daniel of Montenegro.— Manteuffel's Speech" published in the same issue (this volume, pp. 173-80). The first paragraph was as follows:

"The Atlantic arrived yesterday, bringing intelligence of the first actual attack on the Russians by the British and French fleet in the Black Sea. It seems that the British war-steamer Furious went to Odessa with a flag of truce to bring away the British and French Consuls, from that place, and that after having got them on board, she was fired at from the shore. The British represent this act as a wanton violation of the rights of the flag of truce, for which summary vengeance must be taken. The Russians on the other hand say that after the Consuls were embarked, the ship remained in the harbor to enable the officers to take sketches of the fortifications, and that she was fired at simply to put an end to such impropriety. However this may be, the British and French Admirals agreed that something must be done, and accordingly a large force was sent to bombard the place. This operation does not seem to have been accomplished in a very brilliant way, for though the official details have not yet reached us, there is a report that several British ships were badly damaged in process of silencing the shore batteries, burning a few merchant ships in port, and knocking to pieces a palace belonging to Prince Woronzoff, not far from the water's edge. The town of Odessa they did not harm, as it is situated on the top of a hill comparatively out of the way. Having thus taken vengeance, they sailed away again. Admiral Dundas has apparently adopted for his rule of action the advice of a letter from one of his officers, which has been published at London, and means to take anything easy, but to leave difficult and dangerous enterprises alone."

[120] The reference is to the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-29.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.163-165), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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