Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No. 216.]

Sir: I send herewith a copy of the official Vienna Gazette, for December 8th. It contains a letter from the Emperor to the Imperial Royal minister of war, in regard to General Benedek and Generals Henikstein and Krismanie. A preliminary investigation as to the conduct of those officers in the late Bohemian campaign was made by high military authorities, assembled at Wiener, Neustadt, immediately after the battle of Königgratz. The letter of the Emperor is as follows :


I take notice of the decision of the supreme senate of military justice to ordain a trial by military law against general of ordnance, (Feldzergmeister,) Chevalier von Benedek, Lieutenant Field Marshal Baron von Henikstein, and Major General Chevalier von Krismanie, on account of their conduct in the late campaign, but think proper to decree that any further judicial action against those three generals shall be pretermitted.

In the same way are other generals and staff officers to be dealt with, who, on account of similar tactical or strategic faults have been or were to be held to account. You are to do the needful for the execution of this my decree.


SchönbRUNN, December 4, 1866.

It will be perceived that this decree is in the nature of a pardon, it being assumed that the result of a judicial prosecution, following upon the preliminary investigation, could not help being a sentence of severity.

The generals in question have already been placed on the pension-list, and of course removed from active service for the future. The publication of the Emperor’s letter is accompanied by a leading article of great length in the same number of the Vienna Gazette. The censure thus officially, but anonymously, pronounced upon the unfortunate commander in chief is very bitter, as may be judged by the following extract :

Painful as it is to us, we must repeat the hard word that General Benedek was not equal to such a great task; that there were mistakes in his plans and dispositions, which cannot, by any means, be justified according to the rules of military art, and which, looked at by themselves from a judicial point of view, might even afford sufficient grounds for the continuation of a legal action, if there were not the weightiest reasons for a milder treatment of the case.

Had there appeared, by the investigations held, only the slightest sign of a bad intention or premeditated neglect, the severest interpretation and application of the law would have been justifiable, and would certainly have taken place. From the examination, however, no such sign appeared. Not from carelessness nor from a want of energy, not from indifference nor imprudence, resulted the faults in Benedek’s tactics. No one could have striven with a “better will or greater zeal for the victory of our army; for the glory of Austrian arms. But political and military circumstances which, as it is known, existed before, and during this unfortunate war, could only be vanquished by one of those generals gifted with genius, of which there are at all times so few, and among whom General Benedek cannot be counted, notwithstanding his prominent qualities as a soldier. That this is so, we must deeply regret, after the misfortune which has occurred, and which is hardly to be measured in its full extent; but there is no statute which declares the want of the highest mental gifts to be punishable, and nothing remains in such cases but the unavoidable expiation which lies in the immediate removal of the persons concerned from a sphere of action to which they [Page 549] are unsuited—an expiation which is the harder to bear the higher, and more honorable was that sphere.

The loss of the confidence of his imperial chief, the annihilation of his military reputation in the eyes of the present world and of posterity, the knowledge of the immeasurable misfortune, which, under his direction, and through its defects, the whole monarchy has suffered, must be—for the honorable and high-minded man Benedek has always shown himself to be— a harder expiation than any punishment which might have struck him, had the legal action been continued.

I have not time to translate the whole article, but I thought it probable that it might have interest for the War Department and the military authorities of the United States, and I accordingly forward it for reference, if necessary.

The article concludes with an intimation that the official report of the late campaign will soon be published. I record these proceedings as part of the current history of the war, abstaining from all comment upon them for the present. It would seem hardly possible that some answer on the part of the late commander-in-chief should not be made to this severe and unusual denunciation from an official source.

I have the honor to be, sir, your obedient servant,


Hon. William H. Seward, Secretary of State, Washington, D. C.