The Long War, Part 14 / Spring-summer, 1596
Now, we are going to learn about the Sultan’s preparations for the great campaign and see initial Christian success, including the siege of Hatvan Castle. Let us follow the research of our historian, Szibler Gábor, and see what happened right before the important Battle of Mezőkeresztes.
Due to the defeats suffered in Hungary and in Wallachia, the Sultan had Sinan replaced but he was taken back again because of the quick death of Sultan Mehmed. It was the fifth time that Sinan had been appointed to the highest post in the Ottoman Empire under the Sultan. Pasha Sinan wanted to persuade the Sultan to lead his army to Hungary in person. It was the advice of the Divan and the mercenaries of the Sublime Port demanded it as well. Finally, Sultan Mehmed III has given in. Unfortunately, the old but agile Sinan passed away in April and Pasha Dammad Ibrahim took his place. Some historians even call the first phase of the Long War (1591/93-1606) the “Sinan War” that lasted from 1593 to 1596.
According to the plans, the main Ottoman army was supposed to go towards Vienna while a smaller army of the Crimean Tatars was sent against Transylvania. They set out only on 20 June from Istanbul and they arrived in Belgrade in the middle of August. They took a two-week-long rest there and were discussing the targets of the campaign. It was when they received the news about the Christians’ attack on Hatvan Castle, and it changed their previous plans.
The Siege of Hatvan Castle
As the Turks had started their campaign against Hungary too late, the Christians had plenty of time to begin the siege of Hatvan Castle. Although they were playing with the idea of taking back Győr, Tata, Pápa, Buda, and Pest finally they agreed to take Hatvan Castle which was an important fort in the chain of castles around Buda. The chief commander became the younger brother of Habsburg Matthias, Archduke Maximilian (aka Miksa in Hungarian). Here you can read more about Hatvan Castle’s history:
General Pálffy Miklós (note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians) moved against Vác Castle. Seeing him come, the Ottomans had destroyed their fort and fled. The Christians spent weeks rebuilding it then they withdrew to Párkány (Sturovo). It was the idea of General Teuffenbach to take Hatvan and Szolnok, the Military Council had no idea at all but finally accepted it. The army arrived there on 15 August which was defended by 1,000-2,000 Turks. The siege lasted for nearly three weeks. The Turk garrison of Hatvan had asked for reinforcement but they were late to arrive there.
The defenders once made a successful sally when they charged out but the Christian cannons ruined the wall so much that the Imperials could launch a great assault on 3 September. The first attack was repelled by the valiant defenders but the castle fell after the second assault. The angered Christian mercenaries have slaughtered the surviving guards and all his family members. When they received this news in the Sultan’s army, swore revenge for it. Not much later, we will see how the Ottomans slaughtered the foreign mercenaries of Eger, despite their given word.
After the taking of Hatvan
As the news about the coming of the Sultan’s army spread in the Christian army, nobody wanted to stay in Hatvan. They destroyed the fort and withdrew. Chief Commander Miksa (Maximilian) supplied the Chief Captain of Eger Castle, Nyáry Pál with adequate reinforcement, then he sent him back to Eger. The main Christian army withdrew to Vác, then to Esztergom. They were planning the besiege Tata Castle when they got the news that the Sultan had begun the siege of Eger Castle. They have finally decided to set out to reinforce this important fort. The reinforcing army had to make a detour to the north, moving towards Fülek (Filakovo)-Rimaszombat (Rimavská Sobota)-Miskolc in order to get to Eger, though. It meant, that the defenders of Eger had to hold the castle for at least a month. All eyes were watching them because now everything was up to them.
Indeed, the Ottomans decided to lead the army against Eger Castle. As the Christians had taken many castles in Nógrád County near Eger, the Turks wanted to change the balance of the power structure by taking this important fort. It was not their primary reason to cut the communication lines between Hungary and Transylvania. In this case, they should have attacked Kassa (Kosice, Kaschau) in order to do so. They were not hoping to conquer the rich Mining Towns, either. They wanted to stabilize the area and make the lands around Buda safer at the same time.
The Ottoman army reached Szeged by the first part of September. The supplies of the army were transported by boats to Szolnok and it was where the Crimean Tatar army joined them, led by Feth Giráj. They all arrived at Eger around 20-22 September. See my next post about the siege of Eger.
As the Ottomans had set out too late from Istanbul, the Christians could start their moves earlier. The Chief Captain of Croatia, Georg Lenkowitz launched his attack in the spring and took Klissza Castle with an ambush. Unfortunately, his army was defeated by the Pasha of Bosnia and Klissza surrendered to the Ottomans. Captain Siegmund Herberstein of Slavonia also attacked the Turks and besieged Kosztajnica Castle. The Pasha of Bosnia led his reinforcement there but he received a severe defeat there. The Christians took the town of Kosztajnica but they could not take its fort.
There was another Ottoman army, led by Pasha Achmed which moved against Petrinja but he was beaten near to Sziszek by the troops led by Lenkowitz, Herberstein, János Draskovich, and Bán (Duke) Erdődy Tamás. They have also taken the fort of Petrinja at the same time.
In the meantime, the Pasha of Temesvár (Timisoara) had attacked Lippa Castle but he had to withdraw after a two-week-long siege. It was because the army of Prince Báthori Zsigmond had arrived and began the siege of Temesvár on 10 June. The Ottoman and Crimean Tatar reinforcing armies were both beaten but the Transylvanians had to cease the siege after six days because the former Pasha of Buda, the Beglerbey of the Rumelian army, Szokolluzáde Haszán was approaching with his 20,000 men.
Hearing this, Prince Báthori Zsigmond set out to join the forces of the Imperial army which were being gathered with the goal of bringing reinforcement to Eger Castle. Things were pointing toward the Battle of Mezőkeresztes that lay between Hatvan and Eger…
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