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Artúr Görgey

Artúr Görgey,The military talents of the Hungarian general Artúr Görgey (1818-1916), have always been tarnished by accusations that he betrayed Hungary during its War of Independence in 1849. Immediately following the struggle Görgey was branded a traitor by the Hungarian president, Lajos Kossuth, who referred to him as "Hungary's Judas." Kossuth alleged that Görgey had undermined the state by surrendering to the Russians at Világos, and delivered his officers and soldiers to Austrian vengeance while he secured amnesty and payment for himself. Unfortunately for Görgey, these perceptions have continued to be a focus of debate in Hungarian historiography. Critics question his apparent lack of chivalry in a profession which is steeped in romanticism and demands a code of justice and honor. Military history is often written by what Arden Bucholz calls "participant-observers--career soldiers or civilians who fought in wars." Consequently, the perception that a captain must go down with the ship and generals should share the fate of their men and officers. Although there have been attempts, most notably under the regency of Admiral Miklós Horthy, to resurrect Görgey's image, he is still the victim of these misconceptions. Unfortunately, the perception of Görgey's surrender and escape from the gallows has overshadowed his brilliant military performance during the war.

Regrettably for Görgey, he did not possess the personality of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, who in defeat aroused the resect and admiration of both friend and foe. Lee's surrender at Appomattox has never been overshadowed by accusations of treachery. On the contrary, admirers, such as Winston Churchill, write that "Lee was one of the greatest captains known to the annals of war." Such statements have not been forthcoming in Görgey's defense. Although Friedrich Engels considered Görgey, along with the Pole Józef Bem, to be the most talented commanders of that age, few people today are familiar with Görgey's exploits during the Hungarian War of Independence. According to István Deák, he was "cold, sarcastic, overly modest, puritanical, and contemptuous." These are not personal traits which inspire admiration among anyone else but his soldiers. The South could forgive Lee for his blunder at Gettysburg, but Görgey could never escape the charge that he had sold his honor and country for a price.

Regardless of örgey's performance in battle and the common sense he showed in surrender, accolades are never easily given to commanders who lose a war. In particular, an individual such as Görgey, whose contempt for politicians and military superiors, such as János Moga and the Pole Henryk Dembinski, led him to obstruct, disobey, and interfere with their decisions. Machiavelli wrote "If a general wins a battle it cancels out all other errors and miscarriages." The converse of this statement implies that if a general loses a war, all brilliance, daring, and audacity must be canceled out by his failure. Charles Fair states "there have been few men so strategically placed and so overpowering in their authority that they were able,...single-handedly, to bring on a general disaster...(and) in defeat, the first concern of those officially responsible is always to shift the blame onto others and prove their own conduct to have been above reproach, if not wasted in its brilliance." As far as Görgey's reputation is concerned, history experiences an occasion when a unique military leader falls in defeat, losing in the process both the war and his reputation.

There are other factors besides generalship which can lead to military failure. As a result, it might be fitting to place Görgey in a category with Hannibal, Charles XII, Napoleon, and Lee, all who fell in defeat. He should, however, rank in Hungarian military historiography with Ferenc Rákóczi II, who led struggle for Hungarian independence from 1703 to 1711. Victory requires that one opponent overmatch another in the sum of his generalship plus all other capabilities for waging war. Hence, if historians want to judge Görgey fairly they must consider his performance along with the resources at his command. In Görgey's case, he opposed superior forces but managed to hold out and inflict defeat with his ill-supplied and poorly supported army.

Görgey's accomplishments are even more remarkable when one considers the lack of organization, trust, and interference of Kossuth's government. His Vác Proclamation of 5 January 1849, which affirmed the independence of the Army of the Upper Danube and its loyalty to the Constitution of 1848, saved both the army from disintegration and the state of collapse. (Görgey's troops and officers were passionately loyal to their commander, and at times, were the actual force preventing any government threat to remove him.) Afterward, Görgey's army emerged from northern Hungary to take the counteroffensive, with the General György Klapka's army corp, against the Austrian Field Marshall Alfred Windischgrätz. Under Görgey's leadership the Hungarians liberated Kormáron, Buda-Pest, and eventually, almost all of Hungary. Unfortunately, Görgey was only able to defeat, not destroy, the Austrian army which opposed him, but his successes were responsible for the removal of Windischgrätz as head of the Austrian forces. This campaign was the high point of Hungary's struggle for independen ce and gave Kossuth the military victories needed to announce the dethronement of the Hapsburg dynasty on 14 April 1849. Kossuth, who distrusted Görgey and even ordered his court-martial on 24 March, 1849, would not appoint Görgey commander-in-chief of the Hungarian forces until the situation was lost. (Görgey was appointed minister of war in May 1849) Also, Kossuth's choice of Józef Bem, a Pole, over Görgey as commander of all Hungary's troops only served to create further dissention among the army and within the state.

Finally, the addition of Austrian troops from the successfully concluded Italian campaign, the intervention of Tsar Nicholas' Russian troops under Field Marshall Ivan Paskevich, the appointment of General Ludwig Haynau as the Austrian commander-in-chief in Hungary, and Görgey's further involvement in political issues and intrigues would all play roles in Hungary's defeat; however, judging by the attitudes of the great powers, in particular Great Britain and Russia, it is highly doubtful that Hungary's struggle for independence would have ended in victory. For Görgey, the most Hungary could hope for was to fight long enough to convince the opposition to accept a negotiated settlement in which Hungary would retain its autonomy and the April Laws of 1848. After almost two months of continual retreat against superior forces, Görgey, having forced the resignation of Kossuth on 11 August, had himself appointed dictator. Having realized the situation as hopeless, Görgey proceeded to negotiate the surrender of his army to the Russians at Világos two days later. Eventually, as Görgey had realized, the Hungarians would have to settle for a compromise, but that would not be negotiated until 1867.

As for Görgey, he would be forever branded by Kossuth for betraying Hungary. In an open letter dated September 12, 1849, Kossuth put responsibility for Hungary's defeat squarely on Görgey's shoulders. While in exile, Kossuth would study military strategy and tactics so he could personally lead Hungary's forces during its second war of independence and thereby prevent the "intrigues" of another Görgey. Kossuth believed this second struggle would involve the west against Russia, and he was actively involved in emigre politics promoting this new confrontation. Görgey, however, with the exception of his memoirs, would live the remaining sixty-seven years of his life in Hungary in virtual obscurity, with his reputation and legacy a continual subject for debate.
Samuel J. Wilson


Deák, István. The Lawful Revolution Louis Kossuth and the Hungarians, 1848-1849. New York: Columbia University Press, 1979.

Engels, Friedrich. The German Revolutions. Leonard Krieger (ed.) Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967.

Görgey, Artúr. Életemés Müködésem. 2 vols. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 1988.

Görgey, Artúr. Mein Leben und Wirken in Ungarn in den Jahren 1848 und 1849. 2 vols. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1852.

Klapka, György. Emlékeimböl. Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiad&pacute;, 1986.

Macartney, C. A. The Habsburg Empire 1790-1918. New York: Macmillan, 1969.

Scserbatov, A lekszandr Petrovic. Paszkevics Magyarországon. Budapest: Európa Könyvkiadó, 1984.

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