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The European War[437]

Frederick Engels

As the term approaches for the opening of the new Conference at Vienna, the probability of any concessions on the part of Russia dwindles away into misty and most uncertain tenuity. The brilliant success of that great diplomatic coup[a], the prompt acceptance by the Czar of the proposed basis of negotiations, puts him, for the moment at least, in a commanding position, and renders it certain that, under whatever appearances he may agree to proposals for peace, the only real basis on which he will now consent to arrange the quarrel is substantially that of the status quo. By accepting the Four Points[b] he has thrown Austria back into a doubtful position, while he retains Prussia in his leading strings, and gains time to bring all his reserves and new formations of troops to the frontier before hostilities can begin.

The very fact of negotiations having been agreed upon, sets free at once as many Russian soldiers of the army of observation on the Austrian frontier as can be replaced in two months or ten weeks—that is, at least sixty to eighty thousand men. As the whole of the late Danubian army has ceased to exist as such, the fourth corps having been in the Crimea since the end of October, the third corps having arrived there in the latter part of December, and the rest of the fifth corps, beside cavalry and reserves now being on the way thither, these troops must be replaced on the Bug and Dniester by fresh men, to be taken from the western army in Poland, Volhynia and Podolia. Accordingly, if the war is to be transferred to the center of the Continent, two or three months' time is of the utmost importance to Russia; for, at the present moment, the forces she has scattered on the long line from Kalish to Ismail are no longer sufficient, without reenforcements, to withstand the increasing number of Austrian troops opposed to them. That time she has now gained, and we proceed to show what is the present state of her military preparations.

We have, on former occasions, given an outline of the Russian military organization[c]. In the great active army, the one destined to act against the South and West of Europe, there were originally six army-corps, of forty-eight battalions each; two corps of selected troops, of thirty-six battalions each, beside a comparatively strong force of cavalry, regular and irregular, with artillery. As we have before stated, the Government has not only called in the reserves to form the fourth, fifth and sixth battalions of the selected troops, and the fifth and sixth of the other six army-corps; but even the seventh and eighth battalions of each regiment had been formed by new levies, so that the number of battalions has been doubled for the six corps of the line, and more then doubled for the selected troops (Guards and Grenadiers). These forces may now be approximately estimated as follows:

Guards and Grenadiers—the first four battalions per regiment96 bats. at 900 men86,400
Guards and Grenadiers—the last four battalions per regiment96 bats. at 700 men67,200
First and Second Corps (not yet engaged)—the first, or active, four battalions per regiment96 bats. at 900 men86,400
First and Second Corps—the last four battalions per regiment96 bats. at 700 men67,200
Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Corps—the active battalions192 bats. at 500 men96,000
Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Corps—the last four battalions per regiment192 bats. at 700 men134,400
Corps of Finland16 bats. at 900 men14,400
Total784 bats.552,000
Add: Cavalry, regular80,000
Cavalry, irregular46,000

A part of these estimates may appear high, but in reality they are not so. The enormous recruiting which has taken place since the war began, should have swelled the ranks of the army higher than this, in spite of the losses sustained, which, all of them, fell upon the 96 active battalions of the third, fourth, fifth and sixth corps; but we have allowed amply for the many recruits who die before they reach their regiments. Besides, for cavalry our estimate is very low.

Of the above troops, 8,000 men (one division of the fifth corps) are in the Caucasus, and must, therefore, be deducted; for we leave unnoticed here the forces employed out of Europe. The remaining 750,000 troops are distributed nearly as follows: On the shores of the Baltic, the Baltic Army, under General Sievers, consisting of the Finland corps, and reserves of the Guards, Grenadiers, and sixth corps, amounting, with cavalry and artillery, to about 135,000 men, part of whom, however, may be considered as raw recruits and battalions hardly organized. In Poland and on the frontier of Galicia, from Kalish to Kamenicz, the Guards, the Grenadiers, the first corps, one division of the sixth corps, and some reserves of the Grenadiers and first corps, with cavalry and artillery, about 235,000 men. This army is the finest part of the Russian troops; it contains the select troops, and the best of the reserves. In Bessarabia, and between the Dniester and Bug, are two divisions of the second corps, and part of its reserves, about 60,000 men. These formed part of the army of the West, but upon the army of the Danube being sent to the Crimea, they were detached to take its place. They now oppose the Austrian troops in the Principalities, and are commanded by General Panyutin. For the defense of the Crimea are destined the third and fourth corps, one division of the fifth corps, two divisions of the 6th, and some reserves already there, beside one division each of the second and fifth corps on the march, the whole composing, with cavalry and artillery, a force which can hardly be estimated at less than 170,000 men, under Menchikoff. The remainder of the reserves and new formations, especially of the first, second, third, fourth and fifth corps, are now being organized into a grand army of reserve by General Cheodayeff. They are concentrating in the interior, and must count about 150,000 men. How many of them are on the march to Poland or the South is, of course, impossible to tell.

Thus the Emperor Nicholas, who, last summer, had less than 500,000 troops on the western frontier of his Empire, from Finland to the Crimea, now has 600,000 men placed there, beside a reserve forming in the interior to the number of 150,000. For all that, he is weaker now against Austria than he was then. In August or September there were in Poland and Podolia 270,000 Russians, and on the Pruth and Dniester the army of the Danube, counting about 80,000 men; for this latter was also kept there more for the sake of the Austrians than for anything else. This made a total of 350,000 men who might have operated against Austria. Now there are, as we have seen, only 295,000 men concentrated along the Austrian line of outposts, while Austria must by this time have 320,000 men directly opposed to them, and 70,000 to 80,000 men in Bohemia and Moravia to support these. This momentary inferiority of numbers on the Russian side, and the great uncertainty as to the time of arrival of fresh formations from the interior, in the present season, and in a country where the whole administration is corrupt, are quite sufficient causes to make the Russian Government try to gain as much time as possible. Such an inferiority of numbers disables the Russians for offensive operations; and in an open country like Poland, with no great river-lines between the two armies, this means the necessity of a retreat, on the first encounter, to a tenable position. In this especial case it means the cutting of the Russian army in two portions, one of which would have to retreat upon Warsaw, and the other upon Kiev; and between these two halves would there lie the impassable Polesian moors, extending from the Bug (tributary to the Vistula, not the Southern Bug), to the Dnieper. In fact, it would be better luck than the Russians generally have on such occasions, if large numbers escaped being driven into these morasses. Thus, even without a battle, the greater part of Southern Poland, Volhynia, Podolia, Bessarabia, the country from Warsaw to Kiev and Kherson would have to be evacuated. On the other hand, a superior Russian army could quite as easily drive the opposing Austrians, without their risking a decisive battle, out of Galicia and Moldavia, and force the passes into Hungary, and the consequences of such a result can easily be imagined. Indeed, in such a war between Austria and Russia, the first successful offensive movement is of the highest importance to either party; and either will do the utmost to establish itself first on the other's territory.

We have often said that this war would not have that military interest which properly attaches to European wars, until Austria should declare herself against Russia[d]. Even the efforts in the Crimea are nothing but a great war upon a small scale. The enormous marches of the Russians, the sufferings of the Allies, have hitherto reduced the contending armies to such numbers that no really great battle has been fought. What are fights where but from fifteen to twenty-five thousand men on a side are engaged? What strategical operations of really scientific interest can occur within the small space from Cape Chersonesus to Bakshiserai? And even there, whatever occurs, there are never troops enough to occupy the whole line. The interest consists more in what is not done, than in what is done. For the rest, it is anecdote, instead of history, that is performed.

But it will be a different thing should the two grand armies, now facing each other on the Galician frontier, come into play. Whatever the intentions and capabilities of the commanders may be, the very magnitude of the armies and the nature of the ground admit of no sham war and of no indecision. Rapid concentrations, forced marches, stratagems and outflankings of the largest kind, changing bases and lines of operation in fact, maneuvering and fighting on a grand scale, and according to real military principles, - here become a necessity and a matter of course; and then the chief who is influenced by political considerations or who acts with a want of resolution must lose his army. War on such a scale and in such a country takes a serious and a business-like turn at once; and it is this which will make the Austro-Russian war, if it does break out, one of the most interesting events since 1815.

As to the prospect of peace, that is by no means so clear as it seemed a few weeks since. If the Allies are willing to put an end to the struggle on the terms, substantially, of the status quo, it may be done; but how little hope there is of that, our readers cannot require to be informed. Certainly, with half of Germany acting, morally at least, in her favor, and after having put on foot the enormous armies whose strength we have above exhibited, we cannot expect Russia to agree to any terms which France and England are likely to propose or consent to. The almost uninterrupted series of profitable treaties of peace, from Peter the Great to the peace of Adrianople, will hardly now be followed by a treaty surrendering the dominion of the Black Sea, before Sevastopol is taken, and when only one-third of the Russian forces have as yet been engaged. But if peace cannot be concluded before the fate of Sevastopol or of the allied expedition is fully developed, it will be less probable after this Crimean campaign is decided. If Sevastopol falls, the honor of Russia if the Allies arc defeated and driven into the sea, their honor will not admit of a settlement until more decisive results are obtained. Had the preparations for the Conference been attended by an armistice, as we intimated on hearing of the Czar's acceptance of the Four Points, there would have been reason for continuing to entertain hopes of peace; but, under present circumstances, we are compelled to admit that a great European war is much more probable.

Written about January 29, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4316, February 17;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1016, February 20
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 702, February 24, 1855 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Move.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, pp. 579-84.—Ed.

[c] See this volume, pp. 498-504.—Ed.

[d] See this volume, pp. 543-49.—Ed.

[437] The authorship of this article was established on the basis of complete coincidence of a number of its propositions with those expounded in the article "From Parliament.— From the Theatre of War" (see this volume, pp. 615-19) published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung and marked with Marx's correspondent's sign. In the latter article the report on the parliamentary debate was written by Marx and "Militaria" was compiled and translated by Marx from this article written by Engels.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.609-614), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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