Page images
PDF
EPUB

employed in the promising task of converting a National Guard into a regular force. Although the number of these National Guards for the district of Szolnok was estimated at 5000, Görgei with difficulty succeeded in the course of a month in bringing together 700 men under arms, and of these barely 100, he says, were real volunteers-a statement which we quite believe, and which, if true, lends little credit to the vulgar theory that the agitators were mainly supported by the enthusiasm and military aptitude of the common people. The war was already raging with unparalleled ferocity between the Magyars and the Rátzen or Serbs on the southern frontier, and the corps of Roth and Jellachich menaced the Hungarian capital. At this time Görgei was sent with his small contingent to the isle of Czepel, below Pesth, with orders to hinder, if possible, the junction of these commanders, but especially to prevent them from crossing the Danube. He had been but a few days in this situation when an incident occurred which had a decisive effect on his career, and leaves a very dark blot on his reputation.

Even

On the 29th September-that is, two days after the massacre of Count Lamberg on the bridge of Pesth-Counts Eugene and Paul Zichy were arrested at the outposts of Görgei's detachment at Stuhlweisenburg, and brought on the following day to his headquarters at Adony. The first suggestion of two staff-officers of the Hunyady Legion, then serving under Görgei, was, that these unhappy gentlemen should be conveyed under escort to Pesth, where they would in all probability have been torn to pieces by the population which had just immolated Lamberg. This atrocious suggestion was rejected by Görgei. at Adony, on the right bank of the Danube, they were by no means safe; but by great personal exertions Görgei succeeded in protecting his prisoners against the infuriated peasantry whilst he conveyed them to the isle of Czepel. All the boats had been removed or concealed; and it was only by threatening two millers with instant death that the means of transport were provided. But, though they were thus preserved from the fury of the peasants, the Zichys had fallen into the hands of no merciful judge. The charge against them was, that they were the bearers of proclamations, still wet from the press, addressed by the Emperor and King to his subjects and troops in Hungary, which Count Eugene declared to have been packed up by mistake among his baggage by his valet; and that an open letter or safe conduct, signed by Jellachich, was found on the same nobleman's person. Upon these charges Eugene was convicted of an understanding with the enemies of his country by a court-martial, whose proceedings are said to have been

regularly

regularly conducted according to the usages and regulations of the Austrian army, and he was forthwith hung. Count Paul was acquitted for want of proof against him.

Into Görgei's defence of this action it is needless for us to enter, for a more odious exercise of military power is hardly to be found even in the annals of this fratricidal war. At the outset of a civil contest, when parties are still scarcely defined, and when what is treason on one day is called duty to one's country on the next, it is not surprising that the more irresolute or prudent class of men should hesitate before they plunge into this abyss of evils. Count Eugene Zichy was living on his own estate, alternately exposed to the attacks of two armies, one of which was that of his sovereign, the other called itself that of his country. He probably wavered, and sought safety between the two. But he had done nothing to bring him clearly within this severe construction of the laws of high treason. His execution was a judicial murder, and the more deliberate Görgei makes it out to have been, the worse the case appears. At any rate, being, as he then was, within a few hours' ride of head-quarters, it was quite unnecessary for the major of an irregular company to take upon himself this terrible responsibility, and the precipitation with which the whole affair was conducted warrants the worst suspicions. The execution of Count Zichy, however, produced two most important results. It induced a multitude of wavering members of the Hungarian aristocracy to join the ranks of the insurgents, for it seemed less dangerous to take up arms than to retain a neutral position:-it was this terrible example that first drove many to a course which allowed of no retreat. It likewise pointed out the young Honved Major to the notice of Kossuth and the extreme party, as a man upon whom no light scruples were likely to have much influence. They probably took him for a more reckless revolutionist than he afterwards proved; and we are bound to add, that we know of no action in his career so discreditable as the first. No doubt, it was this guilty transaction which recommended him to Kossuth, as it might be supposed to make him a desperate man; and if not already, he was soon afterwards acknowledged to be an able one; for his skilful assistance brought the operations of Moriz Perczel's corps against Roth and Jellachich to a speedy and successful termination, in spite of the blunders and resentment of Perczel himself.

These facts had their due weight in Pesth, where it was felt that the war had been begun in earnest without any of the means of conducting it; and accordingly the Committee of Defence summoned Görgei to the capital, whence he was despatched to the main body of the army, then commanded by General Móga, on 2 B 2

the

the Leitha, which forms the extreme frontier of the kingdom on the side of Vienna. The position of this army at that moment was of essential importance to the fate of Austria herself; for it was on the 13th October, just seven days after the murder of Latour in Vienna, that Görgei was ordered to the command of the vanguard which already had its outposts beyond the Hungarian territory. The advance of the Hungarian army to the relief of the capital, which was then in the power of the revolutionary Aula, with their gang of armed students and navvies, though Prince Windischgrätz still threatened it from the south-west, was confidently anticipated by the leaders of the Viennese revolt. But, on the other hand, Móga himself was at heart much more an Austrian general than a rebel chief, and the whole moderate party in his camp were bent on defending the Hungarian territory against the menacing Croatians, and averse to any offensive measures as regarded the capital of the Empire or the Imperial forces beyond the Leitha. For about a fortnight the attitude of Móga's corps remained undecided; but on the arrival of Kossuth at headquarters-followed, it was said, by a reinforcement of 12,000 men-a council of war was held, to which Görgei was summoned; and for the first time he confronted, in a very characteristic manner, the ultra-revolutionary influence of the leaders of this rebellion. Kossuth opened the deliberation by a passionate appeal in favour of the besieged democracy of Vienna, whose cause he at once and completely identified with that of his own country, and represented that his own heroic reinforcements were burning to cross the frontier and fly to the relief of their friends. To these appeals the council yielded a timid assent. Görgei alone opposed the practical views of a soldier to the dreams of a demagogue, and pointed out with force the utter inability of the National Guards and Honveds, of whom the Hungarian army was then composed, to assume the offensive at all.

'Kossuth was evidently displeased with my declaration, and put to me the question: How high did I estimate the enthusiasm which his address would call forth among the troops?" In the camp, and immediately after the address, very high; but after the endurance of hardships, and in presence of the enemy, very low."-"Then you think," he asked again, irritated, "that we shall not bring back a single man of our army?""For the safety of the National Guards and the Volunteers," I replied, "their nimbleness is to me a sufficient guarantee; but the few good troops which we possess might be ruined by it, and with them the material which we so pressingly need for training up a useful army." —Life and Acts, vol. i. p. 75.

This conference, however, did not prevent M. Kossuth from summoning Prince Windischgrätz to raise the blockade of Vienna and to disarm Jellachich and his corps. One of the trumpets sent with this message was detained, and as the 28th October had now arrived, when the attack was made on the city, the Hungarians advanced, and fought on the 30th the ludicrous and disgraceful battle of Schwechat. Their Generalin-chief committed a series of blunders, and, after a very short cannonade, of the 5000 National Guards and Volunteers whose valour, heated by M. Kossuth's eloquence, was to have rescued Vienna and saved their country at a blow, not a single man remained.

'I thought I should have sunk to the earth for shame,' says Görgei, 'at the unspeakable cowardice of my countrymen, and wished that a ball would strike me from my horse! Of my once numerous suite, only my younger brother and a first-lieutenant of hussars kept near me in the moment of danger. The whole of our forces from Schwechat to Mannswörth were swept away. The other brigades were said— incredible as it may seem-to have taken to their heels before mine. Like a scared flock, the main body of the army was seen rushing in disorder to the Fischa for safety; and nothing saved it from utter destruction but the forbearance of the enemy, who did not pursue.'

Görgei followed Kossuth to Presburg, where he found the Dictator in bed, sorely depressed by this commencement of the war, for all his speechifying had not stopped a single party of fugitives. The state of affairs admitted of no delay, for General Simunich, heading a detachment of Imperial troops, had already penetrated as far as Tyrnau in the north; Windischgrätz would obviously soon be in a condition to follow up his victory at Schwechat; the south was invaded or menaced by the Croatians; Transylvania was still held by the Austrian forces; and all systematic defence was wanting. Under these circumstances the command of the defeated army was pressed by Kossuth upon several officers of higher standing than Görgeibut then, they all declining it, upon him; and he accepted it. Bem, who had just escaped from Vienna in some marvellous way -it is said, in a coffin-was despatched to Transylvania, where his brilliant successes afforded some palliation of the choice of a Polish adventurer for such a command. Guyon, whom Görgei dubs a Count, but in truth a mere Irish soldier of fortune, was despatched against Simunich; and it was therefore the more urgent that the central military forces of Hungary should be under the command of a Hungarian. But the army of the Upper Danube, as it was called, amounted to little more than 12,000 men, of whom part were desponding and part dis

affected;

affected; and in the month of December 1848 the affairs of Hungary seemed to have assumed a hopeless aspect. Two events contributed to alter this state of things:-first, the abdication of the Emperor Ferdinand, followed by the accession of his nephew -which was represented to the Magyars, and especially to the regular troops who had deserted from the service of the Crown without clearly knowing what they were doing, as a deposition of their lawful sovereign; and secondly, the vacillation of Prince Windischgrätz, who might at that instant have either crushed the rebellion by a rapid advance or effectually disconcerted it by negotiation.

Kossuth and the Committee of Defence continued to talk of burying themselves under the walls of Buda, or of staking the fate of their country on a general action at Raab. They even persuaded Görgei (who had so little local knowledge of the country that he was unacquainted with the high road from Pesth to Vienna) that there was a tremendous defile-a Magyar Thermopyla-on the Fleischhauer road, through which he would hardly be able to find a passage for his own safety, and where the tide of advancing war would easily be stemmed. On arriving at the spot it was found to be wholly undefended and indefensible. After a skirmish at Raab, the retreat of the Hungarian forces rapidly continued, and-though the plan proposed by Görgei for concentrating the defence of the country behind the Theiss had been contemptuously rejected by Kossuth a few weeks before—on the 30th December Görgei learned that the government was about to retire to Debreczin, leaving him to fight a battle at Ofen-with the Danube in his rear--or, if he preferred it, to convey his army to the left bank, where the fortress of Comorn offered him a secure position, and might have the effect of diverting the enemy from his march on Debreczin. In pursuance of these injunctions Görgei passed the Danube at Waitzen on the 4th and 5th of January: the Austrians crossed the river on the same day at Pesth upon the ice, which was sufficiently thick to support even their artillery. Görgei says:

"The Hungarian armed rising-although originally stirred up by the instigation of the nationalities against each other systematically introduced from Vienna, and diametrically opposed to the realisation of the idea of a collective Austrian unity-was nevertheless purely monarchical-constitutional: and herein lay its strength; for it was to this circumstance alone that it owed the co-operation of the regular troops. In 1848 the agitations in favour of the arming succeeded only when they were attempted in the name of the King.

A proof of this are the great difficulties that had to be surmounted, when it was necessary-in contradiction to the proclamations dispersed in great numbers by the authorised or unauthorised agents of the re-ac

tionary

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »