BEM, JOSEF (1795-1850), Polish soldier, was born at Tarnow in Galicia, and was educated at the military school at Warsaw, where he especially distinguished himself in mathematics. Joining a Polish artillery regiment in the French service, he took part in the Russian campaign of 1812, and subsequently so brilliantly distinguished himself in the defence of Danzig (January-November 1813) that he won the cross of the Legion of Honour. On returning to Poland he was for a time in the Russian service, but lost his post, and his liberty as well for some time, for his outspokenness. In 1825 he migrated to Lemberg, where he taught the physical sciences. He was about to write a treatise on the steam-engine, when the Polish War of Independence summoned him back to Warsaw in November 1830. It was his skill as an artillery officer which won for the Polish general Skrynecki the battle of Igany (March 8, 1831), and he distinguished himself at the indecisive battle of Ostrolenká (May 26). He took part in the desperate defence of Warsaw against Prince Paskievich (September 6-7, 1831). Then Bem escaped to Paris, where he supported himself by teaching mathematics. In 1833 he went to Portugal to assist the liberal Dom Pedro against the reactionary Dom Miguel, but abandoned the idea when it was found that a Polish legion could not be formed. A wider field for his activity presented itself in 1848. First he attempted to hold Vienna against the imperial troops, and, after the capitulation, hastened to Pressburg to offer his services to Kossuth, first defending himself, in a long memorial, from the accusations of treachery to the Polish cause and of aristocratic tendencies which the more fanatical section of the Polish emigrant Radicals repeatedly brought against him. He was entrusted with the defence of Transylvania at the end of 1848, and in 1849, as the general of the Szeklers (q.v.), he performed miracles with his little army, notably at the bridge of Piski (February 9), where, after fighting all day, he drove back an immense force of pursuers. After recovering Transylvania he was sent to drive the Austrian general Puchner out of the Banat of Temesvár. Bem defeated him at Orsova (May 16), but the Russian invasion recalled him to Transylvania. From the 12th to 22nd of July he was fighting continually, but finally, on the 31st of July, his army was annihilated by overwhelming numbers near Segesvár (Schässburg), Bem only escaping by feigning death. Yet he fought a fresh action at Gross-Scheueren on the 6th of August, and contrived to bring off the fragments of his host to Temesvár, to aid the hardly-pressed Dembinski. Bem was in command and was seriously wounded in the last pitched battle of the war, fought there on the 9th of August. On the collapse of the rebellion he fled to Turkey, adopted Mahommedanism, and under the name of Murad Pasha served as governor of Aleppo, at which place, at the risk of his life, he saved the Christian population from being massacred by the Moslems. Here he died on the 16th of September 1850. The tiny, withered, sickly body of Bem was animated by an heroic temper. Few men have been so courageous, and his influence was magnetic. Even the rough Szeklers, though they did not understand the language of their "little father," regarded him with superstitious reverence. A statue to his honour has been erected at Maros-Vásárhely, but he lives still more enduringly in the immortal verses of the patriot poet Sandor Petöfi, who fell in the fatal action of the 31st of July at Segesvár. As a soldier Bem was remarkable for his excellent handling of artillery and the rapidity of his marches.
See Johann Czetz, Memoiren über Bems Feldzug (Hamburg, 1850); Kálmán Deresényi, General Bem's Winter Campaign in Transylvania, 1848-1849 (Hung.), (Budapest, 1896).
(R. N. B.)
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)