Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

which I replied that I never had seen anything like it before, but I never told who strung the bow which sent that ponderous arrow.

It has been supposed that the position of the Austrian troops and oficers in Italy never was, and, from the nature of it, never could have been, agreeable ; but this was not the case. Any regiment that received its orders for Lombardy or Venetia accepted them with real pleasure, and those that had once served there longed to return. It is true there were drawbacks. We were well aware that being there we were in a conquered country, and ruled it against the wishes of the majority of the inhabitants, but we were also aware that our duty was to the Kaiser and to Austria, and the idea did not trouble us more than it would an English soldier in Ireland or India. The only result of any outward sign of ill-will or malevolence was to bind still more closely the bonds of brotherhood among us. An Italian soldier in the Austrian service clung to his comrades with all the greater fidelity, because he was otherwise never safe from assassination. Within the ranks the two races fraternized well, and if the Italians, with their hot quick tempers, sometimes tried and often astonished their German comrades, they were such droll gay-hearted fellows that they were none the less liked. Neither did we mistrust them in battle, whatever the Government might do. It was commonly thought that the reason why the regiments which contained the most of the Italian element were despatched to northern quarters in emergencies was because they could not be trusted to fight in the south ; but I think it was rather to avoid an unnecessary cruelty, and also because, in street riots, the German phlegm will endure with stolid patient courage much more stone-throwing and mob ill-usage, without retaliation, than the southern temperament. I saw enough of shooting from windows, and hurling of bottles and all kinds of missiles from the roofs, in the rising at Milan, to make me quite sure on this head. But I never had the least mistrust or hesitation about leading our Italian soldiers on to battle, nor had any of my brother officers. They always fought exceedingly well under such circumstances, and with an additional desperation, because they had a conviction that no quarter would be given them if taken alive. As soldiers, I

are more easily discouraged and demoralized than either

or Austrians, and in this respect resemble the French troops, who are, in my opinion, good for little after two defeats, although almost irresistible after two victories. As to the actual terms we were on with the inhabitants of the country, I believe no one who knows the Austrian officers as a body will doubt that they deserve to be called gentlemen, or will deny their kindly nature and systematic patience under very trying circumstances. The peasantry were everywhere extremely friendly with us, and the shopkeepers were as civil as they dared be, but they were in great dread of their countrymen. One point of contention, which would have hopelessly embittered our relations, fortunately did not exist. Austria, liko

was Catholic, and though there were a large number of Protestan's our service, German Protestantism is pacific and tolerant, not to say

think they

English

Italy, in

[ocr errors]

lax, to a degree that the Scotch or untravelled English comprehend with difficulty. I am myself a Protestant, but never experienced inconvenience or discourtesy on that account, either from Austrians or Italians. Many of the priests, especially the poorer ones, were terrible patriots, but they always believed and firmly maintained that in this the Pope was at heart entirely with them, and several traits of his Holiness give colour to the idea that he loves the Austrians better out of Italy than in it. But patriots or otherwise, they were uniformly kind and hospitable to us. We did not as a rule, seek the society of the Italian men. Those of the higher ranks were always polite, and often better disposed towards us than they could venture to appear in public; but the middle and professional classes—the students, artists, lawyers, doctors, professors, and, above all, the professional patriots, of which there were not a few-hated us bitterly, and scowled at us whenever we chanced to meet, even in the streets. It was no doubt chiefly owing to the more compassionate and generous nature of the

sex, and perhaps a little to the love of intrigue and adventure born in the race, that we met with very different treatment from the Italian women. With them we were on anything but hostile terms, and of love-affairs, and even marriages, between the Germans and Italians there were not a few. I have even heard that the women did not infrequently use their influence to obtain mercy for their male relatives, and it was possibly quite true, but of course mercy does not mean immunity. The absolute authority in the hands of the Austrians was very great, and it was easy to make a punishment less severe, but it was our bounden duty to regard a rebel as a criminal. The best proof of the truth of what I bara advanced is the fact that our men invariably reported so favourably of their residence in Italy, that even the officers who were Vienna would gladly do almost anything, if they could only thereby get transferred to the Italian army. Now that the Austrians have finally abandoned the country, there are, I think, many reasons, apart from interested considerations, why the two races should in future be well inclined towards each other. I fear, nevertheless, that it will be long before Itals is really united except in name. Besides the multitude of “reds," or impracticables, the better class of the citizens who live within the borindaries of the ancient republics, as Venice or Rome, are imbued with the antique and genuine spirit of republicanism, in its most stern and elevated type, to a •degree that can hardly be conceived by prosaic people. remember throughout the war it was always our conviction that for one man capable of deserting his colours for the Piedmontese king, Carlo Alberto, there would have been fifty ready either to accept Garibaldi as a military dictator, or to proclaim a republic, and some who were deroted to their country were yet very hazy and fastidious in their notions as to the kind of authority they would really be prepared to obey. About this period I was promoted a step, and shortly afterwards I was

, for the first time, summoned to serve on a court-martial : in this instance a particularly painful piece of duty. In Austria, court-martials are diffe

quartered in

I

rently constituted to our English ones; but they are exceedingly systematic and just in operation. Each regiment has its Regimentsauditor, or “regimental lawyer.” This gentleman must pass his examination, and take his degree as doctor of law before entering. He then ranks with the captain, wears the uniform of an officer, and advances according to seniority in that particular branch of the service. His duties are to examine into all cases of prisoners sent to the regimental prison, to sift and prepare the evidence, exclude all irrelevant matter, and get everything into such form that when the court assembles he can thoroughly explain the nature of the case, the laws affecting it, and the particular points which have to be decided ; and especially he is to see that all the circumstances which are in the prisoner's favour shall be kept prominently in view. He likewise keeps the historical records of the regiment, and transacts all business of a legal nature which may affect it.

There are two kinds of court-martials—the first, or full court, the members of which must consist of two of every rank, from the private to the captain, with a field-officer as president. This is only assembled for very grave offences, when the punishment may be to pronounce sentence of death on the offender. The lesser court consists of only one of each rank upwards, beginning with the rank of the man about to be tried, so that a private would have one of his own comrades as judge, besides several non-commissioned officers. It is presided over by a captain. The members assemble Fearing their cartouche-belt and shako, as if on ordinary duty; but for the first kind they meet in full uniform. We had to try one of the Hussars of the seventh squadron for shooting the sergeant of his troop. He was a Hungarian by birth, had served for two years, was a good horseman, a first-class soldier, and had never once been had up for any kind of punishment. One morning, on turning out to the riding-school, his sergeant observed that the man's curb-chain was not properly cleaned, and told him that such was not a fit state for a good soldier to appear in. Nothing further passed, and they both entered the school, and afterwards returned to barracks. The man happened to be likewise on duty as reserve, and consequently had his carbine loaded on the stand in the guard-room : this he took away on some pretence, and waiting till he saw the sergeant, immediately shot him dead, exclaiming, "I shall not be a first-class man much longer.” He then threw down his gun, and went and surrendered himself prisoner. The sergeant was a most inoffensive and good-tempered man, an excellent officer, and universally liked; the prisoner

was one of the most magnificent-looking young fellows and best men in the squadron. Like most Hungarians of pure blood, he was excessively proud ; and it would seem that this amour propre had been wounded by his fault being noticed, and that this murder was in revenge. The witnesses were examined, but the prisoner pleaded "guilty” from the first; then the room was cleared, and the Regimentsauditor read over the evidence, explained the law for such offences, and urged all that was weak in the prosecutor's case, and all that could be said in favour of the

prisoner, which indeed, except his former good character, was little enough, for he was taken red-handed and confessed his crime. At that moment, in the eye of the law, soldier and officer all held the same rank, the judgment and opinion of each was demanded and respected, and if any greater favour and courtesy were shown to one more than another it was to the two privates who had to condemn their own comrade. For we all felt alike in the matter; we would have given anything to save him, but not even a microscope could discover an extenuating feature in the case. Even by civil law his punishment would have been death ; but here was, in addition, the grossest breach of discipline towards his superior officer. Having concluded our consultation as to our verdict, we resumed ou places. The president asked each of us, commencing with those lowest in rank, whether we had decided ; and receiving an answer in the affirmative, he said, " My opinion is that the prisoner is guilty, and must suffer as the law directs: those who are of the same opinion with myself, grasp side-arms." There was a heavy clash as each man grasped the hilt of his sword and let it ring on the ground : we were unanimous, and the fate of the young Hussar was sealed, bitterly as we regretted it. “ Attention " was called, and the prisoner was brought in, and told what our verdict was. It was then 1 P.m., and he was sentenced to be shot next morning at daybreak, according to military law. We were all marched next day to witness the execution, which took place in the dry moat just outside of the walls of the town, and close to the barracks. The prisoner had not even changed colour, and was perfectly calm and composed. It was a bleak morning, and he wore his fur jacket : this be took off, but was told by the “propos ” sergeant to keep it on. he said, “it is a new one; why should we let the bullets tear it? My captain and comrades have always treated me well ; let it

back into store.” He then said to the men standing round, “ Comrades, my sentence is just,” and in a few more instants he had ceased to live; the three bullets had gone true and sure to their mark. No civilians were present, nor would they have been allowed to witness it. In our service men and officers had a great dislike to civilian interference of any kind, and next to that I think we held in horror the sight of a woman on the field of battle. I am aware some ladies have made a point of trying to be present at such scenes, and have consequently beheld very dreadful and revolting incidents, apparently for the object of putting their exploits into print; but according to our notions the proper place for women is not " under fire."

Death is of course the last punishment of martial law, but when this sentence is accompanied with a recommendation to merey, or by the admission of extenuating circumstances, there were other punishments by which a man was given a chance of life, and the sentence would be commuted to, “ Hundert Stockstreich, viermal wechseln die Unterofficiere"-• One hundred strokes, four times changing the non-commissioned officers”). The strokes were fairly delivered on the seat of

"No,"

[ocr errors]

the culprit, and after each twenty-five, fresh corporals and fresh sticks were at work. Another punishment is “Zehnmal auf und absgassen laufen durch drei hundert Man”-or, in fact, the ancient running the gauntlet—" Ten times through three hundred men divided into two ranks." This was only inflicted on very bad characters, and for crimes which were regarded as degrading to a soldier and held in general detestation. Theft from a comrade was one of these, and the men themselves always wished that the chastisement of a thief should be exemplary, -very naturally, because soldiers have nothing under lock and key, and no stronger fastenings than the straps of their knapsacks or the strings of their saddlebags, and if pilfering were common there would be no security for property in barracks. If a soldier was so often punished and for disreputable offences, that his comrades got to consider him a disgrace to the regiment, they would make application to the proper quarter, and have him transferred to the “Straf bataillon,"--punishment or reformatory corps, of which there were several for this purpose. There was no instance during my time of service of an officer being brought to trial by court-martial, at least not to my knowledge. The Austrians have another way of settling such matters among themselves. If an officer commits any action unworthy of his uniform, all the officers of his corps are called together, and they hear the evidence and examine the question thoroughly. If their opinion is adverse to the accused, he has no choice but to resign his commission at once. If they consider that some leniency may justly be shown, a kind of procès verbal is drawn up, giving a concise statement of all the facts and granting one year of probation. This is read over to the delinquent and signed by him. If during that year he commits no fault of any kind, whether on or off duty, no more is said about the affair ; but if one just complaint, even the smallest, be preferred against him, he is instantly compelled to quit the service. From this it will be seen that the result of the Austrian system is to make the military an exclusive and privileged order to an extent which would not be endured in England. With other Continental nations, as France and Prussia, the tendency is in the same direction, but then, unlike England, their very existence often depends on their armies, and the spirit by which the soldiers and officers are inspired. I remember once seeing an old Hussar up for punishment,twenty-five strokes for being drunk on duty. He took them with an easy and audacious sang-froid, never moving so much as a rowel of his spurs, but pretending to be asleep on the bench. When he presented himself to the captain, to thank him according to custom for “ the well-deserved punishment,” he observed, “ Herr Rittmeister, I beg of you to give me seven more, and then I shall have received exactly three hundred during my term of service.” I need scarcely add that he got another twenty-five as a reward for his impertinence. But some of these old offenders seemed to be made of leather-indeed by constant riding they became so extremely bard that Stockstreich was by no means so severe a punishment as one would think. The sticks used were generally good hazel switches, and

« ZurückWeiter »