Mr. Motley to Mr. Seward.

No. 193 ½.]

Sir: When I was writing my last despatch, No. 192, of July 4,* no one in Vienna was aware of the extent of the military disaster which had befallen this empire. It was known only that there had been a decided repulse near Koniggratz; yet, before my despatch had left the post office, on its way to the United States, the startling news of the utter overthrow and flight of the great army of the north was spread over Europe.

The fact sufficiently illustrates the impossibility of my conveying fresh intelligence of current events to you by post. Even now, the amount of the loss to the imperial army can only be guessed at approximately. No official reports [Page 674] have been published, nor have the numbers of the imperial army in Bohemia ever been authentically stated.

It is certain, however, that there were seven corps under General Benedek, which could hardly have amounted to less than 220,000 men, besides the Saxon army and the cavalry, which must have swelled his aggregate force to 260,000 or 270,000, As nearly as I can ascertain, his army, now rallied and organized at Olmutz, does not exceed 150,000 men.

The Prussians claim to have taken 120 cannon and 20,000 prisoners in the action of the 3d.

The active campaigning in the north lasted hardly longer than ten or twelve days, and it is very probable that the war is already finished. Three causes are most prominently assigned for the terrible misfortune which has befallen Austria, the Bund, Benedek, and the breech-loading rifle.

Dependence upon the Bund has paralyzed the action, both political and milltary, of this government, from first to last. Previous months were wasted in putting Prussia in the wrong before the Frankfort Diet, and thus securing the vote of execution against her as the peace-breaker, while the advance of 150,000 Bund troops through Thuringia against Berlin was undoubtedly reckoned upon by the commanding general as a leading part of his plan.

Those troops never moved, never lifted a finger to prevent the surrender of the Hanoverian army, and the vote of the Diet Was of about as much practical service to Austria as if it had been taken at a college debating society.

The general-in-chief, who had long enjoyed a high and well-deserved reputation as a brave and patriotic corps commander, now finds public defenders nowhere, and the censures of his strategy are loud and universal.

As to the needlegun, it is now discovered, too late, that it is desirable for armies, however brave and enduring, to be provided with modern improvements.

The Prussian gun, as you are aware, was reported upon to the United States government by a military commission before our war against the rebellion began. It was used by the Prussian troops, when allied with Austria, three years ago, in the Schleswig-Holstein war. The American Remington rifle has been exhibited, as I have been informed, to the imperial royal government, without success; and thus Austria went into this tremendous war with nothing but muzzlé-loaders against Prussian needle-guns.

I suppose the day is not far distant when muskets with ramrods will be as obsolete as bows and arrows.

Certainly the advantage in weapons has seemed to make the Prussian army comparatively superhuman; yet I suppose it to be certain that the Prussian gun is inferior in rapidity of firing and simplicity of mechanism to the last rifle used in the United States.

It would be difficult to describe the gloom, almost amounting to despair, which has held posession of this city and the whole empire ever since the fatal 4th of July, when the disaster was first revealed in its full extent—a day destined to have a less cheerful sound, alas! in the Austrian fasti than in our own.

No soldiers have ever fought with more reckless bravery than the imperial troops. The instances of individual heroism and self-devotion have been manifold, but the army was outgeneraled, outweaponed, and outflanked, and for the last seven days a sickening expectation has been almost universally prevalent of seeing the victorious enemy enter Vienna.

The black week has, however, come to an end, and a singular change in the situation has occurred. You are, of course, already aware of the negotiations with France, although they are fresh at this moment. A single word, founded on perfectly authentic information, may not, however, be superfluous. Austria, after the successful battle of Custozza, on June 24, conceived the thought of ceding by treaty Venetia,, which she had thus proved her ability to hold against force. As day by day afterwards it became more and more evident that the [Page 675] Bund army, though voted mobile, was not likely to move, while the Prussians were advancing from one success to another in the north. It seemed the more desirable to liberate the splendid southern army under Archduke Albert for service in Bohemia. On the eventful 3d of July the offer was made to cede Venetia to France, in exchange for her mediation with Italy. The negotiation lasted during the 4th. France agreed to accept Venetia, and to mediate with Italy, and proposed to go a step further, and mediate with Prussia. This was not exactly the object of Austria, who wished to disengage her southern army, in order to re enforce Benedek’s defeated troops; she, however, accepted the proposition of France. Meantime, the parallel negotiations between the commander of the Austrian army of the north and Prussian headquarters had come to nothing.

The war at this moment still continues, but the news of an armistice is daily expected. France has sent General Le Boeuf, aide-de-camp of the Emperor, as commissary, to take possession of Venetia, which is now a French province; and a French fleet is on its way to Ancona and Venice. Italy is to receive provisional possession of Verona, and, as I learn, is distinctly informed that if she invades Austrian territory, she will find herself at war with France.

Prince Napoleon is on his way to the headquarters of the Italian King, with; information to the same effect.

On the other hand, the French ambassador at Berlin is on his way to the headquarters of the King of Prussia, where he is to insist upon an armistice, and, in case of non-compliance by that sovereign, to intimate war upon the part of France, and an immediate occupation of the Rhine provinces.

This is the situation at the present moment. The answer of Prussia cannot be long delayed. If she accepts the armistice, it will be on the basis of uti possidetis, and the possessions of Prussia are formidable. She has gained in her rapid and startling campaign, besides Schleswig-Holstein, Hanover, Electoral Hesse, Saxony, the sovereigns of which countries are either in prison or in exile, and Bohemia, in which kingdom her united armies are established, while, in its capital, the imperial city of Prague, a Prussian garrison is quartered.

With such a basis of possession, she may well go into an armistice. In the negotiations of peace to follow, she will be likely to secure practical sovereignty over Schleswig-Holstein, Hesse-Cassel, and Hanover, while Italy, conquered , at Custozza, will owe Venetia to victorious Prussia, although forced to accept it nominally from neutral France.

It is the fashion to consider this form of transfer an immense triumph for the Emperor of the French, but I do not quite perceive the force of the reasoning. History will record, I think, that the separation of Venetia from Austria was effected on the 3d of July, at the battle of Sadowa-Koniggratz.

So far as I can comprehend the situation, the attempt of the Prussians to occupy Vienna would be a great mistake. They would leave the still formidable army of Benedek at Olmutz on their rear and flank; they would find very powerful works at Florisdorff, outside Vienna, to prevent their crossing the deep, rapid, and dangerous Danube, and they would be exposed to the advance of Archduke Albert’s army, 150,000 strong, and not wanted certainly now to defend a French province against Italy, which is expected this week in Vienna.

If, however, they advance towards Vienna at all, they would seem more likely to cross the Upper Danube, in the neighborhood of Linz, leaving the northern army far away on the left, and coming down along the right bank of the river. But if Austria can really rely on the alliance of France, this movement would seem like madness. There is still suspicion here as to the real intention of the French Emperor. It would seem probable from official statements that he had expected both German powers so to exhaust themselves in a long campaign as to be unable at its close to confront his power or refuse his dictation. The brevity of the campaign and the marvellous success of Prussia must have essentially [Page 676] disturbed his calculations. As, however, a very strong military power in Central Europe, whether called Great Prussia or Great Germany, is considered adverse to the interests of France, it would seem to be his obvious policy, with the assistance of Austria and Russia, (which power is now said to act in harmony with France,) to check the ambition and prevent the rapid expansion of Prussia, before it becomes even a greater military power than France itself.

Meantime Austria, which from the beginning of these transactions has been straightforward and sincere in her desire to avoid war and to remain on good terms with all mankind, has been the victim of some ancient errors and of many hostile combinations. Certainly it would have been more profitable to sell her share of Schleswig-Holstein for the thirty millions which Prussia would have paid, and to have ceded Venetia to Italy, for the forty million pounds sterling, which I believe that this government could at any time during the last year have guaranteed. Such transactions were not considered prudent or honorable, but the Elbe duchies and the ancient Italian oligarchy have at last obeyed the laws of political gravitation, despite the blood and treasure which have been poured out to prevent that result.

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


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

  1. Accidentally, I believe, in the copy July 3.