Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Hunyadi’s Long Campaign in 1443-44, part two

Sultan Murad II is taking Hunyadi’s head: a wishful thought, it never happened…

In fact, the so-called Long Campaign lasted no more than 5-6 months but it gained this name because of the unusually frequent military clashes with the enemy. Besides, leading a campaign in the winter was not a small thing, 2,000 kilometers back and forth on the enemy’s territory. You can read about the preparations for this campaign here:

but Hunyadi János was very much alive

The ultimate goal of King Ulászló I and Lord Hunyadi János was to sweep the Ottoman Empire out of Europe. Their Crusade’s first target was Edirne (Drinápoly, Hadrianopolis), the capital of Sultan Murad II. 

The Serbian horsemen of Despot Brankovics proved to be very useful guides after crossing the Danube River in October 1443. Their marching order took shape whereas the units of Hunyadi and Újlaki (some 12,000 men) were on the heels on the vanguard all along the campaign. They were followed by the main army that marched after them in a two days distance, led by King Ulászló I.

After a few days, the vanguard (this time led by Hunyadi) stumbled upon the first Ottoman forces around Jagonida. Having scattered them, the 35,000-strong-army moved on with his 3,000 wagons, among them at least 600 Hussite war-wagons, supplied with seasoned Czech mercenaries. The Czech mercenaries, paid by Cardinal Cesarini, and the German / French knights’ number was altogether about 5,000 men. 

As the bulk of the Sultan’s army was busy in Morea, the Ottomans could send only their soldiers from Serbia and Bulgaria for the time being. Hearing the news of Hunyadi’s coming, Murad ordered his Janissary troops to take up positions at the passes of Balkan mountain. The Ottoman ruler hurried to summon his army which was about 150,000-men-strong.

The first major battle was against Bey Szinán who was defeated, then the crusaders took the fort of Krusevác and pulled it to the ground. Then, they aimed Nis and took it without much-a-do. Having plundered and burned the city, the crusaders received the news that three Ottoman armies were approaching rapidly.

 Hunyadi threw himself on them, beating the armies before they could join forces. At first, he defeated the 10,000-strong army of Bey Isaac / Iszák, then the second was beaten which came from Sofia’s direction, and was led by Begler Bey Khászim (30,000 soldiers). Finally, he turned towards Bey Turachán, and his 20,000 soldiers dealt with him accordingly. As a rule, the enemy was held up by the Wagenbburg (wagon-fort) of the mercenaries, and Hunyadi’s heavy cavalry attacked the foe from a different direction.

Hussite style war-wagons

Shortly after this, Hunyadi was informed on 3 November that a huge Ottoman army was sneaking around him, presumably intending to attack the king’s army at Nis. They were about 30,000 soldiers,  led by the Rumelian Pasha Kaszun who managed to collect the units that Hunyadi had recently scattered. Obviously, they wanted to cut him off from the king’s army.

Hunyadi immediately turned to the North and even he was frightened to see at dusk the enemy at the Nisava River. The foe was three-fold stronger than his army, as he later admitted it in his letter written to Lord Újlaki. (Újlaki joined the army just later.)

After not much wavering, he bravely gave the order to attack the enemy, though.

His heavy cavalry’s charge hit the Rumelian Pasha’s army so hard that his men fled. There were 2,000 Ottomans killed and 4,000 of them taken, while the fleeing soldiers were hunted down by the local Balkanian villagers.

Nine flags were taken and there was a rich bounty, too. Many high-ranking Ottoman officers were captured, like Bey Kese of Vidin, Bey Omár of Sofia, Bey Ali of Sumla, son of Timurtas, Pasha Balaban of Tokat, Begler Bey Kaszim of Rumelia, and Bey Kursolch and Kovjanov, along with Bey Zsivan and Bey Hamzsa. There were Bey Isaac of Philippopolis, Bey Dan of Zetnice, and Mahmud Cselebi, brother-in-law of Sultan Murad among them, as well as the Sultan’s chancellor, Bey Kapus, and Pasha Chalil, the brother of the Grand Vizier.

All in all, Hunyadi has had four victories in two days, against an enemy that was minimum twice stronger than his army. I dare say it is called an unmatched military success.

Hunyadi joined the king’s army on 8 November. King Ulászló didn’t allow him to dismount his horse, greeted him from the saddle as an equal, thus paying him honor. After a few days, they set out towards Sofia in the beforementioned marching order.

These were the days when Sultan Murad II rapidly made peace with Emir Ibrahim of Karaman so as to hurry home and save what he can.

 Also, it was the beginning of a famous Albanian military leader’s career, Scanderbeg aka Gjergj Kastrioti (1403? -1468) who had been educated from the age of nine to become an Ottoman officer. Yet, he found the appearance of Hunyadi quite encouraging and fled from the Ottoman camp at the Battle of Nis, bringing along 300 Albanian riders. He managed his escape in a very smart way.

He withdrew his cavalry from the battle of Nis and didn’t fight against Hunyadi and later they could never join their forces.

Now, in the confusion after Hunyadi’s victory, he sought out the Sultan’s scribe and got hold of an official authorization on behalf of Murad. He took his riders home to his father’s castle called Kruja. There, he handed the forged “pherman”, the Sultan’s order to Pasha Szábel who was in charge of the castle.

Thus, he could get his family’s stronghold back without having to fight for it. In a month’s time, he reconquered the lands that had been taken by the Ottomans and became the Prince of Albania. Skanderbeg abandoned Islam, reverted to Christianity, and ordered others who had embraced Islam or were Muslim colonists to convert to Christianity or face death. Yet, he is a dividing figure to some modern historians.

Hunyadi’s Long Campaign had a lot to do with his success. 

Bey Iskander aka Skanderbeg

The Long Campaign has not been finished just yet… (There is one more part to read.)

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