1 March 1552 the Peril of Szeged and the Battle of Dorozsma
1 March 1552 the Peril of Szeged and the Battle of Dorozsma
During the Ottomans’ campaign in Hungary in 1551, several Borderland castles were taken by the Turks along the Maros river. Becse and Becskerek castles were among them, but the Hungarians managed to beat them back at Temesvár castle, after a few days of fierce siege. Then, Pasha Szokollu Mehmed quit the campaign and withdrew his troops at the end of October. then, the troops of Royal Hungary and Transylvania launched a counter-attack and took back Lippa castle and a few smaller fortifications around the Maros River’s region. (Please, note that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)
At this period of the Dual Kingship of Hungary, Brother György (Juraj Utješenić aka Martinuzzi György), Archbishop of Esztergom, Governor of Transylvania was preparing a grand campaign against the Ottomans that he was supposed to launch in the spring of 1552. He was anticipating sending his troops against the Turks before the main Ottoman army would arrive there. In his plans, Szeged castle played an important role. If he had been able to take Szeged back before the Ottomans got there, the attacking enemy would have been in a more difficult position to advance. Thus, the Ottoman army would have been in a more disadvantageous situation between the Tisza and the Maros rivers. Most sadly, his plans were in vain, because he was assassinated by General Castaldo, the man of King Habsburg Ferdinand in December 1551.
Sultan Suleiman got mightily angry because of the failures at Temesvár and Lippa. He was annoyed by the quick construction of Szolnok castle and was not happy that Brother György had ceded Transylvania to the Habsburgs before his death, either.
He had to know that Castaldo`s army was unpaid – the mercenaries have plundered all settlements in 10 miles diameter around Temesvár, for example. The Turks were also informed that the Hajdú soldiers of Tóth Mihály, former chief judge of Szeged, would be up to no good, they were openly plotting to take Szeged from the Ottomans. Szeged, in Hungarian hands, could have blocked the Ottomans to reach Szolnok and Eger. Indeed, Tóth went to Giovanni Battista Castaldo who was the commander of the Transylvanian army of the Habsburgs. Tóth persuaded him to join the campaign against Szeged. Castaldo sent an order to General Bernardo de Aldana to join in as well.
The Spanish General Aldana began the preparations in January and summoned a military council in Arad. According to the chronicler, Istvánffy: „Aldana met there Tóth, Bakics Péter and Dersffy István, Dóczy Miklós and Horváth Ferenc aka Nagy, and there was Alonso Perez from Temesvár, a Spanish by origin but a brave and renowned leader of Hungarian Hussars. As for the Germans, there was Ádám Oppersdorff of Silesia with his 300 armored riders. Aldana had a military council and as they agreed on everything, decided to try a fortune and take such a great opportunity. Having set the day, they decided that Tóth Mihály would go in front with his own infantrymen, the other units would follow him.”
Istvánffy mentioned that Tóth Mihály and his fellow captain Nagy Ambrus had 5,000 Hajdú soldiers that „he had gathered and kept in readiness” for the attack. Forgách, another chronicler, wrote the same: „Mihály and his helpers who knew about the attack, had recruited 5,000 infantrymen from peasants, they are the so-called Hajdús: the best men of the people who were the most excellent in physical strength and speed and who were able to endure the tiredness and the hunger, thirst, cold or heat the best.” At the same time, Tinódi Lantos Sebestyén (a minstrel and historian) simply described them as „peasant soldiers”.
During this time, Pasha Kászim was ordering the local peasants to swear fealty to the Ottomans. As a result of this, the local folks fled from the area. The Pasha was bringing reinforcement in the area of Becse and Becskerek in February. Soon, huge crowds of Hajdú soldiers were being gathered at Gyula Castle, coming from the Nyírség Region and from Debrecen, in hope of plundering Szeged. All the mercenaries and the local noblemen shared their problems about the lack of food and money, though.
The campaign was being delayed, the Christians thought there were 700 Turk guards in Szeged but in earnest, there were only 345 there in February, under the sword of Sandjak Bey Mikhaloglu Khidr. The Christian king appointed Bernardo Aldana and Bakics Péter to lead the troops. Their plan was based on cooperation with the burghers of Szeged city. They went to Arad castle and they were divided into two armies.
The first was commanded by Tóth Mihály. He had 600 Hajdú infantrymen and 240 Hajdú riders while Nagy Ambrus had 560 infantrymen and 110 riders. The second army was led by Alonso Perez, there were 300 German heavy riders under Oppersdorf`s command, 200 Spanish musket-men, and 100 Hungarian Hussars. There were further 600 Hungarian Hussars under the command of Bakics Péter, Nagy Horváth Ferenc, Dersffy István, and Dóczy Miklós. The total number of the two armies was 3,710 men. According to other sources, there were 5,000 soldiers. Here is more about Hajdú soldiers:
The first army set out on 14 February towards Becskerek so as to confuse the Turks. They arrived at Óbesenyő on 17 and were joined by 700 peasants. The second army arrived at Szeged on 19 February at night where the armed locals were waiting for them already. They helped them to cross the Tisza River safely. They carried 400 picked men on boats to the Palisade fort of Szeged, being unnoticed by the Turk guards. The frozen ice of the moat helped them to climb the walls quickly. They slaughtered the guards and opened the gate, letting the Christian troops in the town.
All the Turks were killed and the Hajdús began to plunder the houses of the rich merchants. Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr aka Héder got out from his bed in a shirt but his few men were killed after a short fight. His son was captured. He and the rest of the Turks could hardly flee into the stone fort. They pulled the draw-bridge up before the pursuers, though the Hajdús tried to prevent it with their savage assault. According to Istvánffy, „the Hajdús attacked the gate with such ferocity and boldness that seven of them could even get into the castle but they were captured and beheaded”.
The guards of the inner castle woke up and opened dense artillery fire at the Hajdús to cover their fleeing comrades. Yet, many Turks (about 450) could not get in, they ran towards the Tisza River but the Hajdús cut them down, taking just 150 prisoners. (The sources seem a bit confusing because only 345 „registered” Ottoman soldiers were listed in Szeged but let us not forget that many marauders called „martalóc” (irregular raiders) were in the Ottoman garrisons as a rule.)
Despite the cannonade and the rifle fire, the Hajdús didn`t go away from the wall but began to cut the outer palisade cover of the wall to pieces with their battle-axes but they could not breach the strong brick wall behind it. Then, they tried to scale the walls with ladders but the Turks were defending themselves bravely and repelled their attack, killing many of them. So they went back into the city and continued looting the houses of the Turks, then the houses of the wealthy burghers of Szeged. They were indisciplined, and their officers were leading the plunder. They were not guarding the Turks, either. Seeing this, the Turks made a counter-attack, Istvánffy says: „Bey Háder has also regained his courage and opening the gate, he sallied out with some armed men. He beat the Hajdús out from the trenches and saved his castle.”
The Hungarians could do nothing without siege-equipments. They piled up the Turks` corpses in two great heaps and returned to their favorite past-time, the plundering of the Jewish and the Turkish burghers of Szeged. They took away lots of money from the local Jews who were employed by the Ottomans as tax collectors. Also, the Jewish tax collectors „rented” some taxes from the Ottomans as a second income, as was usual in the Ottoman Occupied Lands.
Istvánffy: „the Hajdús took many soldier-horses, gold and silver goblets, a huge amount of precious silk and carmine and wool clothes…, they found many herds of sheep, horses, and cattle that they herded away”. Istvánffy emphasized how greedily the Hajdús drank the best wines they had found in the cellars, and what they were doing with the captured women. Forgách adds that the sultan`s tax was also discovered and mentions that all Hajdús who were there got rich.
The Hajdús launched a second attack against the castle on 21 February but it was repelled. As the besiegers had just one or two cannons, they were just going on with drinking and doing nothing. They repeated the attack on 22 February but it was beaten back by Bey Mikhaloglu Khidr, too. The military discipline has disappeared from the besiegers` camp and Captain Bakics was pleading to Aldana in his letters to send food and soldiers to keep the Hajdús from going home. The discipline was so bad that the Hajdús failed to guard the castle properly. As a result of this, a Serbian soldier could sneak out from the castle, a man called Damján who ran to the Pasha of Buda for help. Moreover, he could even return to the castle from Buda with the good news that the reinforcement is coming!
The Hajdús, having looted the Turks and the Jews, began to hunt for the Protestant Hungarians. There was a Protestant priest called Abádi Benedek, a personal enemy of Captain Tóth because the Turk Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr of Szeged had allowed his preaching there. Now, Tóth had the priest chased away.
Aldana`s army was only at Makó, marching towards Szeged very slowly on 25 February. The Turks acted faster. It was the Serbian envoy, Damján`s message why Pasha Hádim Ali of Buda took action and set out to relieve Szeged. According to a Spanish source he had 5,800 soldiers but he had definitely more than 2,500 men. All in all, he had the troops of Székesfehérvár, Hatvan, and Esztergom castles with him. He put the infantrymen on fast wagons and was hurrying towards Szeged. The main strength of the Ottoman army was in the Janissaries and his rifles but they brought 12 Scorpion cannons which fired 3-pound-balls. During his march, he summoned Bey Rusztem of Szendrő Castle who, collecting all the Ottoman forces on his way, joined Ali with his Sipahi riders in a forced march.
There was an irregular unit of Serbian „martalóc” (marauder) soldiers who were also hurrying to Hádim Ali, led by Pasha Kászim, aided by his 800 Sipahies. They ran into the 400 Hajdús of Nagy Bálint and Török Péter at Martonos, sent there by Aldana. They defeated and scattered the marauders on 27 February. According to Tinódi, „lots of harm was befallen on the Serbians there”. Pasha Kászim lost his horse and got wounded but could flee, unlike most of his men. The Hungarians got on the captured 400 Turk horses, put the heads of the fallen enemy on two wagons, and went to Szeged, triumphally. Aldana considered them as lower-quality soldiers and sent them away to raid and patrol the area.
Aldana arrived at Szeged only on 28 February. He had 180 Spanish, 90 Hungarian, 60 German infantrymen, and 1,000 Hungarian Hussars, the latter was led by the Spanish Alonso Perez de Sayavedra. The troops from Gyula have also arrived with 160 riders and 700 infantrymen, bringing two light cannons. Aldana tried to stop the confusion, had besieging trenches dug around Szeged and rescued the surviving Christian burghers. The two cannons began to „bombard” the walls, in vain.
Seeing the situation clearly enough, Castaldo sent a letter to Aldana, urging him not to wait for the Ottoman reinforcement to arrive and quit the siege. Yet, Aldana was still hoping that the Christians` reinforcement would get there faster than Hádim Ali`s troops. Now, according to the list made on 1 March, he had 5,556 soldiers altogether. Hajdús: 2,160 infantrymen, 350 riders, and 700 weaponless peasants. Royal troops: 2,346 men, mainly Hussars but there were musket-men as well. It was the day when the Turk reinforcement has arrived.
Hádim Ali stopped at Dorozsma and his infantrymen got out from the wagons and got deployed in battle-order. He had 800 Janissaries and 5,000 picked riders and 12 cannons. There were a few Hungarian shepherds who were running to inform the indiscipline Christian army. By this time, Aldana and Bakics were together and they had already evacuated most of the burghers of Szeged. Nevertheless, the merry-making, drinking Christians were surprised and got caught between him and the troops of Bey Mikhaloglu-Khidr of Szeged Castle. On top of that, there was no bridge over the Tisza river so the Christians could not have withdrawn their troops.
Pasha Ali put his riflemen and 800 spearmen (Janissaries) into the first battle line, led by himself. It was a defensive position. The cavalry (1,500 riders) was placed on the two sides of the first battle line. The majority of the cavalry was deployed on the right wing and the rest, mixed with infantrymen, on the left. The cannons stood in front of the battle line. The second battle-line consisted of Serbian irregular infantrymen (marauders) and peasants. The two sides of the army were covered by wagons, just like the back. The wagons were guarded with Janissaries armed with muskets.
Aldana and Bakics could deploy only 3,500 men as the rest of them were raiding in the area. Many Hajdús were still drinking in the town. The Christians were utterly unprepared for the battle, some of the officers „were taking a bath”. The Hajdús didn`t want to obey, and Aldana`s horse collapsed right after getting out of the town. It was a bad omen. The Turks in the castle began to fire intensively at the Hajdús so some of the drunk ones joined the army at last.
Aldana and his armored Spanish and German cavalry took a position in the middle, with his Spanish infantry. The Germans were led by Johann Opperstorf. Bakics Péter and his riders were on the left wing with some of the Hajdús while the rest of the Hajdús was on the right wing. The Hajdú soldiers stood right behind them, they were commanded by Tóth Mihály and Nagy Ambrus. They deployed their two cannons before them. There were 300 warriors in the second line, while the light cavalry was deployed in the third line. The riders were led by Alfonso Pérez, his job would have been to beat the Ottomans back from the castle.
Then, the Christians launched an attack against the Turks. At once, the Ottomans were firing their muskets and cannons, causing confusion. Bakics begged Aldana to assault before the Hussars would flee. The Spanish commander took his advice. Aldana`s attack was so successful that he could even seize the flag of the Pasha. The Hajdús of the right-wing were able to defeat their opponents but after scattering the enemy, the cavalry of Bakics and Opperstorf ran into the killing fire of the Janissaries who were on the wagons: the Hussars were stopped by the volley. It was not very adventurous for the Christians, that after breaking the enemy’s resistance, they immediately began looting. The Turks could successfully regroup around the Pasha and launched a counterattack.
After a while, both armies got separated and withdrew. The Christians attacked again and killed many Ottoman warriors. they seemed to have gained the upper hand but Ali`s cannons devastated their lines. A cannonball broke the Imperial flag and it fell. The Christians lost faith and the Turks attacked them, breaking their lines. The Hussars of Pérez fled first, then, all the Christian riders were running and abandoned the Hajdú infantrymen on the battlefield. The Hajdús fled into the town and thus they got caught between two fires. The Ottomans sallied from the castle, and after a fierce fight, the Hajdús were forced out of the town, many of them died in the Tisza river, the rest of them were slaughtered. Tóth Mihály could escape only with 20 of his men by swimming the river. Ali’s army was also exhausted so they didn`t pursue the runners but took his revenge on the Hajdús.
Aldana and Opperstorf managed to escape. Aldana sent the surviving troops to the ferry of the Tisza river, and they crossed the water. Then, they ran towards Lippa and Szolnok castles. Bakics, Dersffy, and the other Hussar officers swam across the river, using reed and wood bundles. In the meantime, a Hussar unit led by Captain Horváth Bertalan returned from the countryside and ran into the Pasha’s army. His troops were defeated and the captain could barely flee and got away to the ferry.
There was another Christian unit that happened to arrive after the battle: they had defeated the army of Pasha Kászim of Becskerek and now they were approaching Szeged. They came to know the disaster befallen the army of Aldana and Bakics quite soon but the Hajdú soldiers demanded to attack the Turks. However, the enemy got around them from all sides and almost all of them were slaughtered, including one of their commanders, Török Péter.
Although the Turks have lost many soldiers, they gained all the plunder that had been busily collected by the Hajdús…According to the Ottoman historian, Dzselálzáde: ” the swords were like wrestlers, they cut the infidels to the ground whose blood was flowing in streams. The spears and lances, as if they were doctors, cut up the veins of the infidels and the enemy’s blood was flooding like the Nile. The army of Islam was triumphant and the army of the foe has been crushed.”
While the Hungarian-foreigner cavalry got decimated, almost 5,000 Hajdús got killed. Castaldo blamed Aldana for the defeat, claiming that his cowardice and inertness largely contributed to the outcome. Yet, we have to add the deeds of the indisciplined Hajdú warriors, too. It was their fault that the reinforcing Ottoman army could arrive and beat them.
Pasha Ali had the noses of the dead Hajdús cut off and sent to the sultan, along with 40 flags and some high-born prisoners of war which made Sultan Suleiman very happy. The rest of the inhabitants of Szeged were slaughtered and the town was burned down. All in all, the attempt of taking Szeged has turned out to be a benefit to the enemy, helping them to make the Ottoman weapons more successful in the baleful year of 1552. In fact, the taking of this key fort gave a huge advantage to the Ottomans in their coming successful campaign when they could eventually take Temesvár and Szolnok castles as well.
Source: Szibler Gábor and Szerecz Miklós
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