Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.
Sir: Since my last date both military and political events have moved rapidly towards the crisis.
The Prussian army, considered as one great whole, occupies all Germany north of thè river Maine, together with those German portions of the Austrian empire lying north of the Danube, including Bohemia and Moravia. The Prussian right rests on Frankfort; the extreme left almost touches Pressburg in Hungary.
Resistance on the part of the 7th and 8th corps of the Bund army (consisting of the troops of the southwestern states, Baden, Wurtemberg, and Bavaria,) maybe said to have ceased. A practical truce exists between those states and Prussia since the last combats at Kissingen and Aschaffeuburg, and the occupation of Frankfort by the Prussians.
On the other hand, the army now menacing Vienna, consisting of the two great armies of Prince Frederick Carl, and of the Crown Prince, now united under the King in person, occupies that great plain, some twenty-five miles in extent, watered by the river March, a tributary to the Danube, and so famous in military history as the Marchfeld. Here, among other historical and eventful conflicts, were fought the renowned battles of Aspern and Wagram.
The headquarters of the King of Prussia are now at the castle of Nickolsburg, (belonging to Count Mensdorff, imperial royal minister of foreign affairs,) about forty English miles due north of Vienna. The extreme left of the Prussian army has been pushed across the March, and is close to Pressburg, numbering, it is thought, 45,000 men. The centre is spread out over the Marchfeld towards the Danube, and amounts, probably, to 120,000 men. The extreme right, perhaps 50,000 strong, is under command of General Herworth Von Bittenfeld, and is thought to be directed upon Krems, one of the points where an attempt to force the Danube has been expected.
Of course these estimates of numbers are founded only on conjecture.[Page 677]
The Austrian position of defence, on the other hand, is a very strong one; if the troops were sufficiently numerous, it might be almost deemed impregnable.
The army of the Danube, as the united forces formerly constituting the armies of the north and south are now called, is under supreme command of field marshal the Archduke Albert. Great confidence is felt in the archduke’s generalship since his victory over the Italians at Custozza, and in the capacity of his chief of staff, General Yon John. The basis of the line of defence is the entrenched camp of Florisdorff, just opposite Vienna, on the opposite or left bank of the Danube.
From the height of Leopoldsberg, a hill just outside the city, I took an opportunity, a few days ago, of obtaining a bird’s-eye view of the camps which rest on the river and extend across the plain. Artillery was in position to great amount upon the works, and the camp-fires of the army corps of General Gabbeuz, who commands at Florisdorff, and who has much distinguished himself in the recent campaign in Bohemia, were visible all over the low meadows and on the verge of the woods which intersect the plain in various directions.
From this camp as a centre, the army stretches from Pressburg in Hungary to beyond Krems, in Upper Austria, an extent of some one hundred and twenty English miles, at several points within which a crossing may be attempted by the Prussians.
You will perceive that an immense force is needed to make so long a line secure.
Such is the military position, and such it has been since my last date of writing.
There has been much marching and counter-marching within the line of the Danube during the past week. Vienna is like a camp. Troops are quartered in almost every house in the capital and the neighboring villages; large forces have been temporarily encamped in the pleasure grounds of the Prater; the town palaces of great nobles and their chateaus in the country have been converted by the generosity of their proprietors into hospitals for the sick and wounded; the ladies of all classes, from high-born dames to those of humbler degree, vie with each other in ministering to the wants of the suffering; large contributions of money and of needful articles have been freely made; volunteers for the army have come forward in considerable numbers, and a burgher guard has been formed to supply the place of the military police when summoned to take part in the hostilities outside the town; and there is a very general resolve that Vienna shall do its part manfully in the defence of its own inhabitants, and in that of the thousands of fugitive families who have flocked hither from the surrounding country for protection.
This praiseworthy tone of the public mind has been heightened by the news of the remarkable naval victory obtained off Lissa on the 19th. Although we are as yet without full details of the engagement, yet it seems certain that this achievement of Admiral Tegetthoff will be accounted by all men, however they may vary in political sentiment and sympathy for the different belligerents, as one of the most remarkable and heroic deeds that naval history records.
According to accounts published here, official and private, the twelve ironclads under Admiral Persano numbered 316 guns and 5,746 men. On the Austrian side were seven iron-clads, with 185 cannon and 2,530 men.*
The calibre of the guns was also very much to the advantage of the Italians, the Affondatore having alone two 300-pounders.
The result will of course be accurately known to you before this despatch arrives, but it seems certain that the Italian fleet, after its ineffectual bombardment of Lissa, has been badly defeated in this engagement, with a loss of one iron-clad frigate and one iron-clad gunboat, while the Austrians, although losing [Page 678] two very distinguished officers, Eric of Klint and Captain Moll, have suffered comparatively little damage.
The news of this affair reached us on Sunday last, July 22.
On the same Sunday morning an engagement was taking place between the Austrian army and the advance of the Prussian left wing, at Blumenan, a suburb of Pressburg. The skirmish was gradually growing into a considerable engagement, the Prussians having been repulsed, and falling back for reinforcements, when, in the midst of the combat, the news of the suspension of arms for five days, beginning at noon of Sunday, was announced, and the battle was suddenly terminated.
It is quite possible that the war itself may have thus almost dramatically been brought to an end, and that these are the last shots to be interchanged between fellow Germans for many years to come. God grant that it may prove so!
You are aware, of course, that negotiations have been steadily continued ever since the 4th of July. It will be for history to decide, with all the facts before her, whether the cession of Venetia by Austria to France was a fortunate conception or a merely abortive and superfluous complication. Certainly the whole of the southern army of Austria was not disengaged by the transaction in order to be employed without hesitation against the Prussians, nor does it appear that France has yet accepted the cession in such wise as to take the kingdom under her protection, to decide the terms of its eventual transfer to the King of Italy, or to interpose her flag between Austria and the advance of her southern antagonist.
At the present moment, through the mediation of the French Emperor, as represented by his ambassador at the Prussian headquarters and at Vienna, a suspension of arms (waffen ruhe) has been arranged until Friday next, 27th July, between Austria and Prussia. It is hoped that this suspension of arms, will be succeeded by an armistice, during which a permanent treaty for peace will be concluded. Italy will probably accede to the suspension of arms, and it is certain that the treaty between that power and Prussia forbids the conclusion of a peace by either of them without the consent of the other.
Without going into details of the preliminary conditions to a pacification, as to which there will be public knowledge probably before this can reach you, I would observe that the instinctive feeling expressed in my last despatch, No. 195, (July 17,) is much strengthened by recent events, and my hope is firmer than before, that the war approaches its end.
There are many difficulties to be overcome, but I have never believed that among them was a fixed determination on the part of Prussia to dictate peace at Vienna, and to hazard the possible loss of what she has already gained, if she can secure her enormous advantage without further bloodshed.
A glance at the map shows that she has already in her possession what she has so long aspired to with a steady far-seeing ambition—the military and political control of all Germany north of the line of the river Main.
At this moment, whatever future developments may be, there are no “sovereigns” properly so called in Germany save the King of Prussia, the Emperor of Austria, the Kings of Wurtemberg and Bavaria, and the grand duke of Baden. The potentates north of the Main line have either apparently accepted the policy of Prussia, or have left their dominions. From all that territory now governed, influenced, or occupied by Prussia, of which the population in round numbers may be stated, including the whole kingdom of Prussia, at thirty millions, delegates will probably be chosen to the parliament summoned by Prussia. The plan of Prussia is understood to require the renunciation on the part of the sovereigns above the Main line of the control of their armies and of their foreign relations in favor of Prussia, and to leave the other departments of government as they were.
The southwestern states, comprising, with the German population of Austria, [Page 679] some twenty millions, will probably form a separate confederation, together, with or without the exclusion of Austria. It is understood, I believe, that Austria consents to her “exclusion from the, Bund.” As the “Bund” has ceased to exist, this is hardly a sacrifice on her part; nor can I believe that a true policy should lead her to struggle against the inevitable union of North Germany under the supremacy of Prussia.
That difficulties in regard to claims for war expenses will lead to a renewal of the war after Friday, I cannot believe. More grave are the complications in regard to those sovereigns who have been dispossessed, and, for the time at least, dethroned, by their adherence to the cause of the Bund, or more properly speaking, perhaps, of Austria.
A chivalrous and heroic sense of honor may lead Austrians to renew the war, unless the Kings of Saxony and of Hanover are restored to all those sovereign rights enjoyed by them before the war. This I doubt if Prussia will concede, and the war party in Austria, still very powerful, may gain the upper hand.
The army victorious in the south, under their popular chieftain, the Archduke Albert, and having fought in the north with remarkable although unfortunate valor, is united to a man in a desire to renew the conflict and obtain revenge for past defeats. As it is believed, however, that Prussia, although in actual possession of such large portions of the Austrian empire, is not disposed to appropriate any part of them, I remain strong in the hope that peace on the basis of her territorial integrity excepting of course the cession of the kingdom of Venetia to Italy) will now be concluded by Austria.
I have the honor to remain, sir, your obedient servant,
Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.
- Of course I do not vouch for the accuracy of these figures.↩