Counter-revolution and Civil War

Between early September and mid-October 1848, when the forces of conservatism launched a military intervention, there was mounting unrest in Transylvania. Having concluded that they could not {3-276.} achieve their political objectives without one another, the pro-Habsurg military leadership, discontented members of the Romanian intelligentsia, and Saxons leaders began to seek ways of uniting their strength. In Transylvania, as in Hungary, the army represented the most powerful threat to the revolution; the majority of officers at the headquarters in Nagyszeben and in the two Romanian border-guard regiments remained loyal to the emperor.

In late August, the emperor passed on to the Hungarian government a memorandum, prepared by the Austrian government, that affirmed its authority over the whole empire. This demand for centralization had all the appearance of an ultimatum. The monarch waited until the beginning of October before formally endorsing a military 'solution' to the problem created by Hungary's claim to constitutional autonomy. Meanwhile, the court, under the guidance of the timid emperor-king's brother, Archduke Francis Charles, and his wife Sofia, had been busily planning for counter-revolution. Samu Jósika overcame his contempt for court politics and emerged from semi-retirement to participate in a secret conference at Vienna. The conservatives did not hesitate to take advantage of the reverses suffered by European revolutionary movements and of the Hungarian revolution's progressive isolation. Hungarian statesmen had hoped that a constitutional Germany would materialize and become their ally. Radicals had anticipated that the German revolution would have an impact in eastern Europe comparable to that of the French revolution; instead, and unexpectedly, the German movement ran out of steam. When the Viennese parliament convened to draft a new constitution, a delegation from the Budapest parliament arrived to present the case of Hungary's government. With something close to malicious pleasure, the majority of Austrian deputies ruled against giving the Hungarians a hearing. That ruled out any possibility that the 'peoples' of the empire would overcome their divisions by negotiating with each other. The people and nations of the Austrian empire had become the pawns of absolutism.

{3-277.} The Austrians politicians who once toyed with the idea of relinquishing the Italian provinces were put to shame by the victorious campaign that imperial forces waged that summer in northern Italy. Josip Jellačić, Croatia's governor and military commander in the Croatian frontier zone, observed in early September that the vice was tightening around the Hungarian government. He probably felt that the 'opportunity' was too good to be missed, and he did not want to be beaten to the punch. The cliques that momentarily predominated at the Viennese court accepted his offer to crush the Hungarian revolution, and act that has to be counted among the more tragic episodes in the history of the Danubian region.

The ambitious Jellačić launched his attack at the very moment when the Hungarian government was preparing to grant full autonomy to Croatia, a development much feared by Defence Minister Latour. Claiming that he was defending the equal rights of nationalities as well as the unity of the empire, the governor attacked what he considered to be an easy prey, a country whose leaders and people in arms were the last effective bearers of revolution in Europe — a judgment shared by many European progressives, including Marx and Engels. At first, the Hungarians benefited from some remnants of revolutionary solidarity. On October 6, having learned that Austrian troops were being dispatched to aid Jellačić, the people of Vienna rose in outrage and hanged one of the key counter-revolutionary plotters, the devious defence minister, Latour. The Hungarian army managed to repulse the Croats' attack, but it failed to save the Viennese from repression. In early November, the full weight of Austrian military power was turned against the Hungarians.

As the confrontation between the court and the Hungarian government grew more acute, so did the ethnic and social tensions in Transylvania. The two Romanian border regiments were the greatest source of ferment; they would serve as the bulwark, and then as the spearhead of the counter-revolution. The Hungarian government had evidently failed to win over the Romanian border-guard community. This would have been, at the best of times, a difficult {3-278.} challenge; the regiments offered Romanians an opportunity for social advancement, and the proposals for their disbandment provoked false fears that the guards would revert to the status of serfs. The military commanders in Nagyszeben proved to be good tacticians when, on their own volition, and hinting that the assent of the imperial and royal, that is, Austrian, ministry of defence was forthcoming, they took some small steps to ease the burdens of frontier guards. At this point, in early September, the Hungarian parliament had not got around to dealing with this sensitive issue, and the Hungarian ministry of defence had to content itself with professing good intentions. Meanwhile, the assignment of one battalion from each border-guard regiment to the task of quelling civil strife in southern Hungary led to unrest among the troops and made them susceptible to incitement. Even in Csík and Háromszék, some minor acts of insubordination had to be quelled before the battalions could be sent on their way. The regiments in Naszód began by refusing to swear allegiance to the constitution, then refused to join combat; at the end of the year, they had to be disarmed and sent home. The efforts to mobilize the units at Orlát dragged on until late summer, when tempers reached boiling point. Fearing that the reactivated Romanian national committee would try to undermine lawful order, Vay ordered the arrest of the ringleaders. However, when the Gubernium's agents seized Laurian and Bălăşescu in Nagyszeben, the Romanian frontier guards became very aggressive. Claiming that they wanted to avoid a violent clash, the military commanders ordered the release of the two men, who promptly resumed their earlier activity.

Early in September, a large number of peasants in the counties — until then peaceful — suddenly turned against the Hungarian government. In response to the threat of counter-revolution, the government had ordered the registration of men eligible for military service, with a view to creating a new army (Honvédség); independently of this initiative, recruitment to bring the {3-279.} Transylvanian regiments up to complement had been proceeding since the beginning of the year, much to the disgruntlement of the peasantry. To make matters worse, in numerous villages, rumours to the effect that the 'lords' wanted to turn peasants against the emperor had stimulated active resistance; peasants variously fled to avoid conscription, mangled the registers or refused to hand them over to recruitment officers, and barred the latter from their villages.

Popular resistance was bolstered by the myth of a benign emperor, which served to channel all manner of grievances into opposition to the revolution. The court, in turn, opportunistically exaggerated the depth of social and ethnic cleavages. Székelys at Harasztos, in Aranyosszék County, disliked the prospect of compulsory military service, which they considered to be the nobles' 'blood-tax'; incited by a former member of the Jósika party, one 'Sir' István Rácz, they refused to be conscripted. The latter's inflammatory speeches were full of anti-Romanian rhetoric, which dissuaded Romanians from trying to free him after his arrest; in any case, he soon regretted his verbal excesses. Meanwhile, Rácz won such notoriety that the people of Aranyoslóna were reportedly calling for this 'leader' when they assembled to protest against military registration. Although the villagers had originally assented to registration, they later recanted and turned Aranyoslóna into a hotbed of resistance. The county authorities reacted by calling for military aid, and when, on September 12, a two hundred-strong detachment restored order in the village, a dozen villagers lost their lives. The clash only served to add fuel to the fire.

By the time the Hungarian government suspended the registration drive, the damage was done; the discontented had become pawns of the counter-revolution. Events seemed to unfold according to a carefully-planned script. As early as September 15, the commander-in-chief, Puchner, had warned the minister of defence in Vienna that 'the need may arise to exert our influence over the {3-280.} Romanian nation — which, much like the Ruthenes in Galicia, is [strategically] well situated and full of loyalty and devotion to His Majesty — so that it will help us constrain the Hungarians' efforts at democracy; however, we must do our utmost to keep this people in arms from indulging in any excesses.'[56]56. Kriegsarchiv, Hofkriegsrat, Präs. MK 1848: 5462. His caution was informed by the precedent of Galicia, where success in exploiting local animosities had come at the price of severe damage to the international prestige of the monarchy.

Between September 11 and 14, while Jellačić's forces crossed the Drava River on their way to the Hungarian capital, delegates were summoned from the frontier-guard villages to two regiments' headquarters, where they endorsed messages to the monarch in support of the unity of empire and army. In the same district, some tax-paying lesser nobles as well as former serfs, Romanian, Hungarian, and Saxon, resorted one last time to a peculiar and archaic form of struggle against landlords: they applied to join the border guards. This growing demand for 'militarization' was motivated by hopes that they would be thereby be freed from the influence of landlords and the latter's claims on their property, and further, that they might obtain more land and be exempted from taxes.

Karl Urban, a lieutenant colonel in the Naszód regiment, had agreed in mid-August to help implement the plans for counter-revolution. Upon his return on September 8 from Vienna, he gave new impetus to the resistance movement among peasant-soldiers. Urban offered protection both to villages that rejected conscription and to the landowners who feared a peasant rising; he administered the oath of allegiance to the hundreds of peasants and village delegates who streamed into Naszód. He informed local officials, and declared publicly that he was acting on instructions from higher authority. A sense of solidarity and shared necessity exerted a powerful influence on the peasants. Encouraged by priests, seminarians, and law students, villages sent delegates to Naszód — on behalf, and at the expense of the whole 'community' — to apply for the pajura{3-281.} (Romanian for eagle). This certificate, bearing a seal with the two-headed Habsburg eagle, signed by the border-guard officers of Naszód, and drafted in elaborate German, testified that a village was loyal to Emperor Ferdinand and was prepared to send its young men to fight for him. In many places, peasants had laid siege to the local manor house and forced the landowner, Calvinist minister, and county officials to accompany them to Naszód. By the end of September, some 527 villages had taken the oath of allegiance. Urban estimated that, on the basis of twenty hunting rifles per village, over 10,000 armed men were ready for action; they included Romanian lesser nobles from the Kővár district as well as former Hungarian serfs, although there were apparently some attempts to exclude the latter from the movement. Urban had little success among the Romanians of Máramaros County, where for Gábor Mihályi, the government commissioner and an ethnic Romanian, took harsh measures to suppress counter-revolutionary propaganda. Ironically, Romanians in the villages around Zsibó were mobilized by Hungarian peasant activists; they joined forces and dragged along to Naszód the local Calvinist minister, an ardent promoter of popular education who looked after the kindergarten that had been founded by Wesselényi. The promise of great 'change' bred its own 'heroes.' One ambitious yokel 'told all comers that he was the second Jellačić,' claiming that Urban had appointed him military commander of a district stretching from Naszód and Nagybánya to Szilágysomlyó, and warned that 'those bold enough to disobey him would vanish like dewdrops in the sun.'[57]57. Investigation report of the magistrate of Közép-Szolnok County, Zsibó, 25 May 1849. OL, 1848/49, Igazságügyminisztérium, Álla-dalmi ügyész, 2-116. And it was advisable to humour him for a few days, until he himself felt overwhelmed by the task of controlling the 'troops' that rushed to the assistance of neighbouring villages.

The more militant members of the Romanian national movement were eager to spring into action. They cooperated with the military but also sought to take independent initiatives. The militants found little scope for asserting themselves in northern {3-282.} Transylvania. At Naszód, the petition had been drafted by Austro–German officers (including an ethnic Hungarian). At Orlát, on the other hand, the petition was mostly the work of Romanian officers, priests, and schoolteachers, who founded their demands on the right to self-determination. South of the Kolozsvár–Szászrégen line, the military failed to impose full control over the popular protest movement.

Balázsfalva now became the crucible of the Romanians' national and social discontent. Axente, who in early spring had already toyed with the possibility of an armed rising, headed off from Orlát with a few hundred followers; by the time they reached Balázsfalva, their numbers had grown to several thousand. From all points of the compass, people (including, as in spring, some Hungarians) thronged to Balázsfalva, some on their own, others under the leadership of members of the intelligentsia. Iancu, too, emerged from hiding, and arrived at the head of an armed mob that he had recruited in the villages of the Érc Mountains. In the second half of September, Balázsfalva became a vast peasant encampment, and the scene of another national assembly.

Noting the reticence of the authorities, the Romanian leaders proceeded to carry out the threats they had issued months before. The assembly not only demanded the abolition of compulsory services (meaning, at this point, labour to pay off arrears in service obligations or as rent for land) but also rejected the union and requested that the Austrian constitution be applied in Transylvania. It called for a provisional government that included Romanians as well as Saxons and Hungarians, and demanded that a diet be convened to take decisions on Transylvania's future. The assembly also sought Austrian backing for Romanian national unity. 'The elected representatives of the Romanian nation,' headed by Laurian, drafted a message to the Viennese parliament, urging Austria to guarantee the right to self-determination of the two Romanian principalities, so that the latter would be free to 'join any power that enjoys {3-283.} their trust.' Austria, they said, should become 'a free association of free nations.'[58]58. Quoted in C. Bodea, Lupta românilor pentru unitatea naţională 1834-1849 (Bucharest, 1967), pp. 337-40. It is not known whether the petition was actually sent to Vienna, but the initiative marked a new departure: for the first time, Transylvania's Romanians had taken a public stand (in concert with their co-nationals in the principalities) on behalf of national unity, although they were led by tactical considerations to deny that they nurtured 'pan-Dacian' notions.

Austria's military leaders were evidently concerned at the nationalistic fervour shown by the Romanian inteligentsia. According to Laurian, the Austrian generals at Balázsfalva had 'promised everything' — that is, to forward the petition to the emperor and to supply arms to the Romanians.[59]59. A. T. Laurian's letter to G. Bariţ, Nagyszeben, 22 September/2 October 1848, quoted in ibid, p. 340. The spread of popular discontent must also have troubled them, for until the emperor ordered them into action, the military had to forestall conflicts that might require armed intervention. Urban's forceful methods gave rise at the Nagyszeben headquarters to 'a justifiable concern that he might prematurely provoke' the other side.[60]60. General Gedeon's letter to Urban, Nagyszeben, 19 September 1848. Kriegsarchiv, Feldakten, Armee Corps Siebenbürgen (hereafter: ACS), 144. Fasz. 9/3. Puchner sought to avoid open confrontation with the Hungarian authorities and to present himself as a pacifyer of the restless peasantry. However, whenever Hungarian activists tried to suborn his soldiers and disarm them, the commander-in-chief would promptly protest at the infringent of his authority. He warned Transylvanian–Hungarian officials that he might be 'compelled to accept assistance that [he] would subsequently be unable to cancel' — a scarcely-veiled reference to the Romanians.[61]61. Puchner's official letter to the Transylvanian Gubernium, Nagyszeben, 9 October 1848. OL, 1848/49, Vay Miklós iratai, 1389. In early October, Puchner reached a tentative understanding with the Romanians. To maintain leverage over an eventual Romanian uprising, he officially recognized the Romanian national committee, although public announcement was withheld until October 16. Bărnuţiu, the staunch advocate of an 'Austrian,' i.e. imperial, orientation, became the committee's chairman. Earlier, Bariţ and Cipariu had made some attempts to find a peaceful solution, but, faced with a fait accompli, they, too, joined the committee. Belatedly, some Romanians at Balázsfalva submitted to {3-284.} the parliament a more moderate set of demands, although, out of fear of the radicals, they did so anonymously.

The conveners of the Balázsfalva assembly issued a manifesto, drafted in Latin, that called the people to arms in the name of the Populus Romanus. In building up an organization, they tried to revive Roman practices which, they claimed, were part of their legacy. Thus they divided Transylvania into 'prefectures,' each potentially with its own legion; the officials and officers were known as prefects, tribunes, centurions, and decurions. The new officers adopted Roman-sounding names, such as Sever, Probu, and Martian. Villagers were persuaded to submit to military training, under the command of some former soldier, with scythes and spears; it was hoped that Puchner would stand by his promise to provide arms and officers. In the meantime, material was taken to hilltops for the fires that would serve as the signal to launch an attack.

Hungarian governing circles in Transylvania faced ever more daunting challenges. As villages defied higher authority, county administrations were paralyzed; at best, they countinued to produce situation reports. Faced by the threat of a 'bloody outburst,' more and more people must have shared the view that 'even where there is no overt opposition, the appearance of submissiveness is frightening: the [peasants'] commonly-expressed view that "we will remain obedient until we see how things turn out''.'[62]62. Report of Baron István Kemény, lord lieutenant of Alsó-Fehér County, to the Gubernium, Nagyenyed, 30 September 1848. OL, GP 1848: 11 302.

Since the arrest of troublemakers in August had proven politically counter-productive, Miklós Vay tried a more conciliatory approach. He visited Balázsfalva, suspended military registration, and ordered the release of six Romanian intellectuals who had been seized over the spring and summer. Believing that the crucial factor was the attitude adopted by the Austrian commanders, the Hungarian leaders in Transylvania decided not to provoke the latter by intensifying military preparations. Hungary's new constitutional order had been endorsed by the emperor, and they tried to convince {3-285.} themselves that the Austrians would not try to overthrow it by force; nor did they want to believe that the military command would take the risk of precipitating a civil war in Transylvania. Since late August, they had been observing Puchner's behaviour with mounting suspicion, but they were not ready to ring the alarm bells in Pest. Vay tried to get Puchner recalled, and, in the meantime, made an effort — apparently successful — to restrain the commander by stressing the complexity of the situation. In this respect, the royal commissioner could take advantage of his political prestige, which only rose when, during the September crisis, he was invited to join the new government formed by Batthyány. That government was acceptable to parliament, but the monarch refused to endorse it, revealing his opposition to the Hungarian revolution. When, upon Batthyány's resignation, the emperor invited Vay to lead the new government, the outgoing prime minister endorsed the choice. However, Vay chose to return to Transylvania, perhaps because he had not given up hope that a political solution could be found to the Hungarian crisis. Although he was a conservative, Vay agreed — not that he had much choice — to cooperate with his former opponent, Lajos Kossuth, as the latter methodically set about preparing for armed defence of the revolution. In Transylvania, as well, more and more Hungarians came to the conclusion that there was no other way of their saving their honour and ensuring the survival of their nation.

The preparations for defense in Transylvania were undermined, to a varying extent, by Vay's ineptitude, by the Hungarian liberals' rather clumsy policies regarding the region, and, ultimately, by the confused reactions of the Hungarian government. The unification committee, chaired by József Teleki, had begun in late July to draft the necessary bills. Only in September did parliament take up the legislative task, initiated by the Kolozsvár diet, of reconciling Transylvania's distinctive circumstances with those of Hungary. Of the twenty bills submitted by the committee, eight {3-286.} were enacted by the parliament, covering the dissolution of the Gubernium, the harmonization of the judicial system, and the disbandment of the frontier-guard. However, the most significant bills, bearing on national and social issues, either did not come up for debate or were promptly referred to committee.

To be sure, there was a need for prudent deliberation, but the extraordinary circumstances invited more rapid legislative action. The unification committee, for its part, had lost no time in tackling the Kolozsvár diet's bill on the abolition of serfdom. The chairman of the Gubernium, Imre Mikó, was acutely conscious of the urgency of the situation: he repeatedly pressed Justice Minister Ferenc Deák to appoint the committees which, as prescribed by the Kolozsvár act, would determine, village by village, and 'in compliance with the principles Transylvanian law and the principles of civil law,' how land would be divided up between landowners and emancipated peasants.[63]63. Ibid, 1848: 10 272. The minister of justice, on the other hand, was equally justified in waiting until the unification committee had drafted the necessary bill. By the time it was drawn up, the bill — which confirmed that the redeemed serfs and cotters should receive the land they cultivated, unless the landlord proved its allodial status — could only serve as a testimony to good intentions.

The looming threat also prompted some positive action on the Romanian question. In late August, Wesselényi tabled, in the upper house, a bill on Romanian language rights. Romanian deputies from Hungary proper had called for such action to consolidate the two nations' alliance. Parliament refused to debate the bill until the unification committee had completed its task, a decision that made procedural sense but did not fail to disappoint the Romanians. Meanwhile, Kossuth stressed the necessity of cooperation between the two nations: 'The future happiness of Hungarians and Romanians lies in a fraternal alliance, and not in one allowing itself to be seduced into oppressing the other, which would be a double-edged sword.'[64]64. Kossuth's speech in parliament on 26 August 1848, quoted in: Kossuth Lajos összes munkái XII, ed. by I. Sinkovics (Budapest, 1957), p. 804. In more tranquil times, such a message would have {3-287.} augured well for Transylvania. There was another, more auspicious development. After a humiliating delay, the Romanian substitutes were finally allowed — thanks to the intercession of Szemere and Dénes Kemény — to participate in the work of the unification committee. In late September, they and the Hungarian liberals reached agreement on a draft that promised to inaugurate a new era in Hungarian-Romanian relations, and, perhaps, in the regulation of the legal status of all non-Magyar ethnic groups in Hungary. The bill acknowledged that the Romanians had collective rights: its sixteen clauses were based upon the principle that 'the nationality and language of the Romanians will be recognized.' The right to use the Romanian language applied not only to schools and churches but also to governing institutions in counties and municipalities 'where Romanians account for at least half of the population' and the national guard. Romanians would have to receive a 'just proportion' of jobs in the civil service and 'share in all the rights and benefits that other nationalities in our country now possess, or will be granted by future legislation.'[65]65. Az 1848/49. évi népképviseleti országgyűlés, ed. and intr. J. Beér and A. Csizmadia (Budapest, 1954), pp. 583-5.

Amidst the intensive preparations for military defense, the bill only got as far the parliament's chairman. A few Romanian leaders in Transylvania did indicate that the bill went a long way toward satisfying their demands, but the initiative scarcely weakened the Romanians' disposition to cooperate with the Austrian military. In early October, after Cipariu had reported to him on the developments in Pest, Bălăşescu wrote to Bariţ: 'We will get everything we want from the emperor. But I want you to know that the Hungarians' parliament in Pest has granted us all the attributes of nationhood.'[66]66. Nicolae Bălăşescu's letter to G. Bariţ, Nagyszeben, 24 September/6 October 1848, Bucharest, Biblioteca Academiei, Ms. 993, 60. When Cipariu returned from Nagyszeben to his home in Balázsfalva, he unaccountably chose to align himself with the side that seemed the strongest, and to fly the Austrian flag. The Romanian leaders apparently believed that a show of military force, along with Jellačić's offensive, would make the Hungarians give up full independence and accept the imperial constitution. Brassó's {3-288.} Romanian newspaper anticipated that this still-to-be defined constitutional system would provide for a balance between the diverse national interests and thereby satisfy the Romanians' wish for recognition. These illusions blinded Romanian leaders to the risks of collaboration with the imperial forces. In any case, by now, they would have been hard put to impose a different orientation on the masses that they had mobilized. The military did nothing to discourage the peasants' faith in a 'benign monarch'; Urban, for his part, was preparing for a repetition of the 'Galician drama' while, at the same time, urging county officials to do all in their power to avoid such an eventuality.[67]67. OL, GP, 1848: 10 997.

The Saxon leading circles did not have to contend with such social tensions, and they concentrated on assessing the balance of forces in the empire. When, in early September, the Pest parliament refused to curtail Hungary's autonomy in military and financial affairs to the extent demanded by the Austrians, and the Hungarian leadership began to prepare for armed resistance, the Saxon deputies resigned their seats, and all save Brassó's Elias Roth headed home to Transylvania. The more cautious among them cited private obligations; the leaders argued in justification that the Hungarian parliament was acting unconstitutionally and refusing to recognize the Saxon nation. They felt deeply offended by the provision in the unification committee's bill that the top official in Saxon (and) local governments be appointed, as was the case with lord lieutenants, by the government. The bill did allow Saxons to elect their count (comes) and retain their existing administrative system, including the Universitas, but they found this insufficient. There had been no time for debate on the issue of language use, and the unification committee's proposal, to make German the official language in Saxon local government (except in Szászváros) failed to alter the course of events. Yet it had become clear, in the course of the parliamentary elections, that the liberal reform of public administration did not threaten the elite that bore responsibility for the survival of Saxons as a nation.

{3-289.} In early October, Stephan Ludwig Roth reflected that the Saxons had only two options: 'The first is to side with the Hungarians, and thus turn against the Romanians and the empire; the second is to side with the Romanians, and thus support the empire against the Hungarians. In this choice, the Romanians and Hungarians are incidental factors. The most important principle is that of a united empire, for it guarantees the extension of Austria's proclaimed constitution.' The dominant motives were constitutionalism, German national pride, and loyalty to the emperor. Roth felt that his choice would have been justified 'even if the Hungarians had accepted all of our terms'; their failure to do so 'make our choice that much easier.'[68]68. Roth's letter to Johann Gött, Muzsna, 14 October 1848, in St. L. Roth, Der Geldmangel, pp. 115-16.

The conflicts between Romanians and Saxons were overshadowed by their efforts to forge a counter-revolutionary alliance. As the Saxons elaborated the policy first adumbrated in May, two tendencies became apparent. The first aimed at turning Transylvania into a federation of four 'nations' enjoying regional autonomy and equal representation in a federal parliament where all three languages would have official status. This program was adopted in early October by Nagyszeben's municipal council and published in the press. The Saxons' delegates in Vienna, on the other hand, favoured a counter-revolutionary program that included German-ization and a centralized system of government; in this variant, the Saxon region would become fully detached from Transylvania and have an autonomous administration answerable only to the imperial government in Vienna.

The Szászföld became the military launching pad of the counter-revolution. Early in October, Puchner deployed his troops around Saxon towns. He was said believe that without this military presence, the local Romanians could not be mobilized against the Hungarian government, but his main goal was to establish a base for an operation to maintain peace and order, to 'save' Transylvania from civil war — in other words, to conquer Transylvania. (Bedeus, the provincial high commissioner in charge of military logistics, {3-290.} had tactically endorsed, that spring, the unification of Transylvania with Hungary, but he now encouraged and assisted Puchner.)

The withdrawal of troops from the counties heightened tensions in Transylvania. One consequence was that the Hungarian leadership in Transylvania, noting the failure of the policy of concessions and 'amnesty' pursued by Mikó and Vay, deployed Hungarian volunteers and the national guard in an attempt to break peasant resistance; several Romanians activists who had been preparing for an insurrection were seized and summarily executed. The Hungarians' goal was to weaken local support for the imperial military and to avoid direct confrontation as long the latter held back and used the rebellious peasantry as a shield. Progressive Hungarians regarded the Romanians and Saxons who aligned themselves with Austrians as the pawns of reactionary forces intent on destroying Hungarian constitutionalism and national renewal. The perceived threat of national annihilation and tyranny logically led to preparations for defensive war; the Hungarians drew moral sustenance from a belief that their struggle for independent constitutionalism was part of a Europe-wide movement for national self-determination. 'Let the world's conscience be aroused by our appeals, and, in the unlikely event that our nation must perish, let us meet a glorious death as the champions of European freedom,' declaimed a Hungarian radical newspaper in Kolozsvár in mid-September.[69]69. D. Dózsa, 'Hazafiak!' Ellenőr, 14 September 1848, no. 74.

Progressives in Hungary expected much from the mobilization of Székelys. In mid-September, parliament had abolished the border-guard so as to sever the link between Székely officers and the Austrian high command. On Kossuth's initiative, nine commissioners were dispatched to carry out the change and to recruit volunteers. The most impetuous of these commissioners was László Berzenczey, a deputy from Marosszék. Heedless of the disapproval and predictable opposition of the local Hungarian leadership, he convened a national meeting of Székelys on October 16 at their {3-291.} ancestral gathering place, Agyagfalva. To rouse the mass of Székelys, Berzenczey resorted to slogans that already sounded rather archaic, but his purpose was to rally them behind eminently modern, national and revolutionary objectives. He called upon men of military age to meet and 'reassert the ancient freedom of the Székely nation' — under penalty of death or loss of property. They came, much as the Austrian officers in Nagyszeben had predicted: some 60,000 former border guards and serfs as well as nobles, all driven by a sense of common obligation and the wish for a better future. They were militant and determined, as if they still believed that military service was the key to social advancement. The several social groups joined forces, if only to prevent one of them from obtaining an advantage at the others' expense, and to prevent a counter-revolution from dashing their hopes. Thus, at a time when Transylvania's several national movements were tragically at odds with each other, Agyagfalva became, like Balázsfalva earlier, the stage for a popular demonstration of nationalistic solidarity, one that filled participants with unprecedented pride and self-confidence. The Hungarian flag flew over the rostrum, on a staff decorated with a Kossuth hat, the symbol of social equality and of the determination to defend Hungary. Imre Mikó, who had initially opposed the assembly, then agreed to chair it, found his anxiety dispelled by the prevailing mood of enthusiasm: 'Our struggle is holy and just — we are fighting for freedom,' he wrote to the Hungarian parliament.[70]70. OL, 1848/49, Országos Honvédelmi Bizottmány (hereafter: OHB), Kossuth Polizei Akten, 331. The participants swore an oath of allegiance to the constitutional monarchy and readily agreed to send a message of thanks, on behalf of the Székely nation, to 'Lajos Kossuth, the foremost champion of Hungary's constitutional autonomy, and to the Viennese aula, which had defended not only the freedom of the Austrian people, but also Hungary's constitution, against the machinations of the Viennese court.'[71]71. Minutes of the Székely national assembly at Agyagfalva, quoted in Okmánytár az 1848-49-i erdélyi eseményekhez, ed. by L. Kővári (Kolozsvár, 1861), p. 98. The university aula (assembly hall) symbolized the armed students and intellectuals who had led the popular uprising in the Austrian capital.

{3-292.} The reports of revolution in Vienna cooled the ardour of the imperial troops preparing to take power in Transylvania. As early as October 13, the Hátszeg border-guard regiment, backed by thousands of Romanian insurgents, made an attempt to capture Déva, which was defended by a few hundred Saxon and Hungarian militiamen. The small town on the Maros River had strategic importance, for it lay on the road linking Transylvania and the Banat, and thus between two strongholds of the counter-revolution, the military headquarters at Nagyszeben and Temesvár. As soon as they got wind of the events in Vienna, the attackers drew back to raise reinforcements. According to reports, Major Riebel instructed his troops to fan out and 'compel all Romanian commoners and nobles to rally under the banner of dissent; those who demurred were threatened with damage to their property and even execution.'[72]72. Gotthárd Kun, lord lieutenant of Hunyad County, to the national defence committee, Kőrösbánya, 17 October 1848; OL, OHB, 1848: 1569.

At Agyagfalva, the immediate question was how and when to unleash the armed might of the Székelys. Berzenczey called for immediate military action, but initially he was overruled by Mikó and the majority of government commissioners, who wanted most of the Székelys to return home and prepare for war. Then the assembly was apprised of the secret order to attack, issued to Puchner on 3 October by Austrian Defence Minister Latour; there were also reports from the counties of assaults against Hungarians, as well as rumours — which proved to be unfounded — that Urban had occupied Marosvásárhely. The mood of the meeting changed, and it was decided that the assembled Székelys would pass to the attack. They had yet to set off when, on 18 October, Puchner announced that, in the name of the emperor, he was provisionally assuming full powers. The counter-revolution had imposed military rule in Transylvania.

The Hungarian leaders in Transylvania had neither dared, nor wanted to assume responsibility for provoking a civil war, but now they felt free to act. The assembly called upon 'our Saxon and Romanian brothers' to rally in defence of the constitution, assuring them that 'we respect your nationality, language, and religion.'[73]73. Quoted in Erdély szabadságharca. 1848-49 a hivatalos iratok, leve-lek és hírlapok tükrében, ed. by Gy. Bözödi (Kolozsvár, 1945), p. 52.

{3-293.} However, the Romanian leaders responded in kind to both gentle language and to threats. On 10 October, Kossuth had issued a proclamation inviting Székelys to rise against the 'traitors'; the Romanians, in turn, were called upon by their leaders to 'exterminate enemies who may harm us.' It remained to be seen how many people would actually fight for their principles, and according to what 'rules of engagement'; for, in the same manifesto, the Romanian leaders had declared that 'even if our ideals concerning political rights and freedom differ, we should least mutually acknowledge the principle of humaneness.'[74]74. Quoted in L. Kővári, Okmánytár, p. 102.

Sadly, these pious intentions were not realized in the autumn of 1848. Puchner unaccountably had overestimated the Hungarian government's military resources in Transylvania, and he wanted to reinforce his already superior capability by organizing a popular insurrection. He expected the Romanian intelligentsia to mobilize 195,000 militiamen and to assist in the rather unpopular task of conscription. To coordinate the efforts of the military and the insurgents, he created a 'conciliation commission' — a misnomer if there ever was one — composed of Saxons and Romanians, and headed by one of his generals.

A few Romanian priests participated in the preparations for insurrection, although an anti-clerical mood prevailed in many places, and the two Romanian Churches initially stayed aloof. When Puchner issued his proclamation, the two bishops were compelled make a choice. Leményi continued to back the Hungarian government, whereupon Puchner, acting unlawfully, had him replaced; several priests in Balázsfalva were jailed for refusing to turn against the Hungarians. The Orthodox Bishop Şaguna, who had long followed a policy of wait-and-see, had just returned from Pest, where he had rejected a request by Hungarian leaders that he circulate a conciliatory pastoral letter. Now he gave in to Pucher's blandishments and instructed his flock to submit to imperial authority. Many must have felt that the vision of the poet Andrei Mureşan was about to be realized: 'Priests in the lead, bearing crosses! For {3-294.} holy is the armed throng,/ Its slogan is liberty, its aim is sacred,/ Let us meet a glorious death in battle,/ Rather than become slaves again in our ancestral land.'

Puchner's first priority was to disarm the Hungarian militias. He deployed the regular army in southern Transylvania, which was strategically important because of its proximity to the Banat, and left Romanian insurgent units in charge of an area stretching north of the Nagyszeben–Arad line as far as Kolozsvár. This division of labour was probably motivated not only by military considerations, but by political ones as well. The eventual clashes between Transylvania's national groups would serve to rule out any chance of reconciliation, and that would give Puchner the pretext of intervening as a peacemaker in the civil war. Transylvania's only modern fortress, well-equipped with artillery, overlooked the small Hungarian town of Gyulafehérvár; yet Puchner mobilized local Romanian peasants to attack the small defensive force of some 150 militiamen. He may well have calculated that in the long night following the first armed clash, when the townspeople saw the cannons primed for action, they would welcome military mediation between them and the loyal Romanians and Hungarians, and bow to the emperor's will. In Kisenyed, near Nagyszeben, Romanian peasants besieged for two days a large manor-house where some one hundred Hungarian nobles and their families had taken refuge, yet the military made no attempt to intervene. The military also assigned to Romanian insurgents the task of disarming the Hungarian militia in Zalatna and the villages of Alsó-Fehér County, where relations between the nationalities were notoriously bad. In revenge and reprisal, the insurgents set ablaze farmhouses and castles, villages and towns.

All the passions and grievances of the peasant movements found an outlet in the pro-Habsburg insurgency. The peasant masses rose in fury, as if to sweep away a threat to the purportedly ideal balance of their existence and regain the ancient, happy state that {3-295.} was often evoked in sermons and prayers; or, perhaps, they simply wished to eliminate what they regarded as obstacles on the road to a better future. They set fire to the state-owned smelter at Zalatna, which, through the compulsory exchange of gold, served to regulate production. Their confused resentment gave rise to the battle cry, kill 'the blue-trousered people'; indeed, peasants shod in mocassins did not welcome to their ranks other peasants who wore boots. They destroyed Miklós Wesselényi's modern agricultural facilities and threshing machine. Villagers moved to 'reoccupy' or expropriate woods, pastures, and, in some cases, even ploughland. In the peasants' scale of values, allegiance to the emperor was the highest form of loyalty, but religious influences were also present. Significantly, the Romanian committee in charge of the insurrection incited people to fight against the 'godless pagans.' In some instances, Hungarian peasants allowed themselves to be 'baptized' in the 'Romanian religion' by their Romanian neighbours and evoked this, among other excuses, to stay out of the conflict.

Romanian villagers who ignored the emperor's call — notably around Kolozsvár, where the county authorities made peasants swear an oath of allegiance to the Hungarian crown and government — were subjected to threats and false rumours. Handbills were circulated, warning those unwilling to rise against the Hungarians that perpetual serfdom would be their lot, and that they would suffer retribution at the hands of the Russians. Thus the peasantry felt anxiety and terror as well as anger and determination. In some instances, when Hungarian militias were being disarmed, and a negotiated cease-fire was within reach, someone panicked, pulled the trigger, and the killing resumed; naturally, each side would blame its opponent. The insurgent masses sought to exterminate their enemy, so that there would be no one left to threaten them with retribution at the hand of the Székelys.

The threat of the Székelys was evoked only too often, and their deployment did not always serve the best interests of revolutionary {3-296.} self-defence. It did not augur well that those assembled at Agyagfalva were divided up and dispatched in four directions. Some of their officers acted to defend the interests of landowners, or to discredit the revolution, or without any clear objectives whatsoever; they gave free rein to their troops, who became demoralized by the negligent leadership and by the consequent looting, and were easily routed by the imperial forces. In these circumstances, the efforts of Hungarian militiamen and volunteers to suppress the insurgency in Felső-Fehér County proved futile. Many lives were lost, and some Romanian villages suffered heavy damage, but none of this had great military significance. The Maros Valley southwest of Marosvásárhely could not be made secure, for the Hungarians could not deploy sufficient force to halt the advance of the Austrian regiments.

Initially, the forces that were marshalled against Urban proved to be more successful, but then they frittered away their gains. The Székely troops from Csík paraded through Marosvásárhely with the solemnity of crusaders, bearing burning candles and chanting psalms. Having scattered Urban's insurgents, they plundered and set fire to the small Saxon town of Szászrégen; the brawls among looting soldiers claimed more lives than the actual battle.

In 1848, the public was struck by two, inconsistent aspects of the Székelys' behaviour. The first, shameful event occurred when, after the plunder of Szászrégen, they encountered the regular army on the outskirts of Marosvásárhely; a few shots were enough send them into disorderly rout. The second was the heroic and self-sacrificing resistance of the people of Háromszék, who, until the end of the year, put up a successful defence of the revolution. Arguably, artillery was the decisive factor on the battlefield. That summer, Vay had tried to have Puchner send some heavy guns to Kolozsvár; at the time, this might have been feasible, although there was no pressing need. Now it was too late, just as it was too late for Vay to gain control of the fortress at Gyulafehérvár, a measure belatedly {3-297.} urged on him by the Hungarian leaders in Pest. The promised field guns from Hungary arrived too late, when it was longer feasible to send them to the Székelyföld. In Háromszék, however, a Székely jack-of-all-trades, Áron Gábor, managed to cast some cannons.

Puchner's demand of unconditional surrender by the people of Háromszék proved counterproductive, for it made people forget their differences and form a united front. Mózes Berde, a government commissioner, skilfully reconciled various social strata in organizing resistance. The people of Háromszék were alone in this respect. Confronted with border-guard officers loyal to emperor, the Székelys of Csíkszék could not come to the aid of Háromszék and made no attempt to attack the enemy. Meanwhile, in Udvarhelyszék, Habsburg officers sometimes managed to turn peasants against the nobility. In Háromszék, the old officer corps had turned passive early in the fall, only to be reactivated under the supervision of the radical-controlled village assemblies; the officers balked only at the prospect of capturing Brassó, for they feared that this would end in plunder.

Puchner's other major blunder was to dispatch insufficient forces for the pacification of the Háromszék. Later, he could not overcome the consequences of this miscalculation and would complain that 'at the most crucial moment, half of my troops were tied down' in the Háromszék.[75]75. Puchner's report to Defence Minister Cordon in Vienna, Nagy-szeben, 27 February 1849. Kriegsarchiv, Feldakten ACS 145, Fasz. 2/33. Popular resistance in the Háromszék can be counted among the successes of Hungary's War of Independence, for it prevented Austrian troops in Transylvania from posing a serious threat to the strategically important city of Nagy-várad. In other regions, the Hungarian forces failed to cope with the regular army and insurgent peasants. The morale of most officers was high enough, but the high command became demoralized by the enemy's numerical superiority and the inexperience of Hungarian troops. Manó Baldacci, the Hungarian commander-in-chief in Transylvania, sympathized with the conservatives and favoured a peaceful solution — and this at a time when peace was out of the {3-298.} question, if only because Vay himself had clearly taken a stand against Puchner. Only at Kolozsvár was an attempt made to resist the powerful imperial forces, and even there, Baldacci acted more with death-defying boldness than with professional expertise in directing the military operations. Admittedly, his force of three thousand was outnumbered by a factor of two or three, and there had been no time to properly deploy the field guns received from Hungary. In the end, Baldacci evacuated Kolozsvár without having joined battle; convinced that they had been betrayed, the townspeople turned on the royal commissioner, who barely escaped with his life. The Hungarian public, which judged Transylvania by her past, had to face an unpalatable fact:

What happened — though it was not your just desert —
Had to happen, Transylvania.
[Megesett, — ha nem is, amit érdemeltél, —
Aminek szükségkép esni kellett, Erdély.]
(János Arany, Erdély)

Transylvania, apart from the Háromszék, came under Austrian military rule. For a time, Puchner found himself facing an unexpectedly dangerous opponent, Imre Mikó, who, instead of fleeing with Vay to Hungary, grudgingly undertook to collaborate with the counter-revolution. In early November, Mikó had been urgently requesting assistance from Hungary, and thus it came as a surprise when, on November 14, the emperor named him to head the Gubernium. His view — expressed in a published response to Puchner's manifesto — was 'there is no solution to the political issues' in Transylvania.[76]76. Quoted in L. Kővári, Okmánytár, p. 118. The task before Mikó was no longer to avoid bloody civil war but to bring it to an end. To this end, he wanted to cooperate with the counter-revolutionary wing led by Prince Windischgrätz, who was in charge of the military operations against Hungary. This wing wanted to give the crown provinces {3-299.} some limited autonomy and draw on support of the landowning aristocracy in order to preserve the empire and restore the emperor's absolute authority. Mikó made no secret of his conviction that the military takeover in Transylvania was illegal, and he wanted the insurgents to surrender their arms. Not without difficulty, Puchner managed to have the newly-named Gubernium dissolved. That left political power in the hands of the Austrian military and the leading elements of Romanian and Saxon national movements. Their mutual relations were influenced by changes in the military situation and, as the danger receded, became increasingly tense.

The Romanian national committee at Nagyszeben was momentarily intent on pursuing its objectives by assuming the functions of the old Gubernium. Romanian peasants called the committee the 'Romanian Gubernium' and sought redress for their grievances from the 'Romanian lords' in Nagyszeben. Meanwhile, the Romanian intelligentsia unavoidably fell under the control of the Austrian military. Unable to plan military operations on their own, the rebel leaders conceded that it was in their interest to obey the career officers who had been assigned to them. The committee had no choice but to endorse and pass on Puchner's instructions; meanwhile, it set about implementing the Balázsfalva program. How-ever, the committee shrank from dealing with the delimitation of seigniorial and allodial lands; it put off this contentious issue to a time when the judicial system would be functioning once again. They considered their main task to be organization of a new system of public administration, one that would justify their armed struggle by serving the national interests of Romanians. For the moment, the old structure of county administration remained in place. Puchner appointed retired officers, most of them of Romanian ethnic origin, to head the counties and districts, assigning them powers more extensive than those enjoyed by the former lord lieutenants; each of them was given one or two assistants (adlátus), usually lawyers and priests. Other officials were chosen by election.

{3-300.} Although the Romanian national committee would have liked the new county officials to be elected on the basis of universal suffrage, this proved impracticable. Instead, each village was instructed to send a dozen or so delegates to the county seat; led by their priest, they voted for their choice among the nominated candidates. An attempt was made to turn village councils into the lowest rung of the administrative system, and to ensure that the nationalities were given proportional representation on these councils. Village leaders had to swear allegiance to their 'superiors' and pledge that they would 'not oppress anyone, in word or in deed, regardless of religion and nationality.'[77]77. 'Documente istorice din anul 1848-9, Colecţiunea canonicului preposit Ştefan Moldovan,' Transilvania (1875), no. 14, p. 162.

The circumstances allowed for only a tentative attempt at implementing these reforms. Brassó's Romanian press evoked three approaches to the satisfaction of national demands: filling administrative posts in accordance with the size of each nationality, creating separate administrative units for each nationality, or establishing a single electoral and administrative system in which all three languages enjoyed official status. In practice, efforts were concentrated on implementing the first of these models. The Romanians had long sought a proportionate share of official posts. Now, Puchner had to admonish the Romanians that Hungarians — who were momentarily reluctant to cooperate — be apppointed to some of the posts, if only in the interest of retaining the services of experienced civil servants.

At the best of times, it would have been difficult to convert theory into practice. To be sure, a scholarly member of the Romanian national committee, Cipariu, would stress the importance of 'setting an example of equal rights for all nationalities.' In practice, these good intentions were limited to the selection of officials. Cipariu indicated that in Küküllő County, where a retired lieutenant named Karl Commendo (known by the Romanians as Carol Commando) had been appointed chief administrator and 'captain,' the ratio of Romanians to Hungarians and Saxons was six to one, {3-301.} and therefore one of the seven assessors who replaced the former chief magistrates had to be a 'Hungarian–Saxon'; it was further prescribed that 'debate and written communications will be conducted in Romanian' and that German be used solely for communication with the high command.[78]78. T. Cipariu's letter to Ştefan Moldovan, Balázsfalva, 10/22 November 1848. HL, Abszolutizmuskori iratok, Militär Distrikts-Commando: Grosswardein, 1849. Amidst all this planning, the Austrian officers would threaten to hold the Romanian intellectuals to account for the damage wrought in the civil war.