The Long War, Part 22; a great Hajdú victory in 1599

Both the Imperials and the Ottomans had been exhausted by this period of the 15-Year-War (1591/93-1606). The Christian troops were getting together very slowly and they launched only ambushes against the enemy. The assault at Tolna was one of the most remarkable Hajdú attacks during the 15-Year-War, carried out by the Hajdú warriors of Esztergom, Vác, and Nógrád castles. (Please, note, that I use the Oriental name order for Hungarians where family names come first.)

The Hajdús’ ambush at Tolna, 1599

Pálffy Miklós had always been keeping an eye on the southern region from Esztergom castle, with the help of his spies to find out the military situation in the Occupied Lands and the castles’ strength, especially Buda castle’s. His attention included not only the number of the enemy but also their supply and their animals and cattle. He had more and more free-lads and warriors who were brave enough to isolate the Turk-held cities of the Occupied Lands from each other and could cut the supply lines of Buda castle as well. Pálffy has intentionally applied this tactic to send his soldiers down the Danube river and had them hide in marshlands, forests, and hamlets which were hard to penetrate for the enemy. They had to spy on the Ottomans and ambush them whenever they could. 

Pálffy Miklós (1552-1600)
This time there was a great lack of food in Buda already, and prices went to the sky on the market. Both the Turkish soldiers and the residents had been waiting for the arrival of the new supplies coming via the Danube river. They were on the brink of starvation. As it was, the Christians received the information at the beginning of June that the Turks would get a large food supply via the Danube river. The boats would sail from Istanbul to Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) castle, and from there to Buda castle. After this news, the Hajdú soldiers were keeping an eye on the river and their spies noticed more than 100 ships coming on 22 June.
A strong war galley was the vanguard, accompanied by several armed boats, the cargo ships were behind them, surrounded by other armed boats. There were 60 large cargo ships and 56 big ships, along with 40 armed boats. The cargo ships carried food to the starving garrison of Buda. Together with the Ottoman warriors who escorted the ships on the bank of the river, there were altogether about 5,000 soldiers who guarded the fleet, including the warriors of the Beys of Báta, Mohács, and Eszék (Osiek).
The famous bridge of Ezsék (Osiek): only Zrínyi could destroy it 65 years later
About 1,000 free Hajdús set out from Kanizsa castle and 400 more castle-warriors of the Borderland joined them on the way, led by a lieutenant called Fekete Miklós. They were to keep an eye on the boats on the Danube River between Mohács and Szekszárd area and they were to disturb the Ottoman boats’ traffic which was transporting supplies from Belgrade to Buda. During the summer Pálffy Miklós had already sent several Hajdú units down along the Danube – there were the famous sloopers of Esztergom among them – to make havoc and destroy the bridge of the Danube at Eszék (Osiek) that everybody knew was an impossible errand. The Hajdús took themselves into the area between the Danube and the Dráva rivers and kept harassing the Turks with their attacks. But their most remarkable assault was that of Tolna city.
A Hungarian armed boat similar to the sajka (16th century)
 Pálffy could arrange his ambush without getting seen by the enemy because the Danube River had a bend at Foktő that covered them. When the sun rose, the Hajdú soldiers boarded their ships in total silence. Before setting out, they all made an oath that they would not betray each other, not loot, and would not take Turkish captives. In the Bohemian source that gave an account of the attack, there was a Hungarian phrase in the oath that they could not translate. It was taken over from the text of the Hungarian oath, namely the „besste Kurwaffi”. (“beastly son-of- a-bitch”). The assault was launched on the dawn of 19 or 20 of June 1599 (some sources date it a month later), near the small market town of Tolna. The Hajdú soldiers – mostly “free lads” – hired by Chief Captain Pálffy Miklós attacked the Ottoman Turks both on land and the Danube river. The meaning of „free lads” was that they were free to offer themselves for employment.
Hungarian Hajdú soldiers

 Having taken the oaths, the spies reported the first ship of the enemy. It was an armed boat, and Pálffy ordered the first volley. The Ottoman ship immediately turned back toward the Turk camp behind the bend. The Hajdús also set out to get to the enemy’s camp but the Ottomans were already alarmed. Soon, the strongest Ottoman galley appeared, accompanied by four armed boats, and the rest of the ships followed them after a short time.

The Turks received the attackers with a heavy musket and cannon fire but the Hajdús answered with a similar savage shooting. In the meantime, Pálffy’s Hajdús of Esztergom engaged in a battle with the enemy on the bank of the river. The big galley came too forward and it was captured by the Hajdús. The Bey of Bács castle was particularly hated by the Hajdús, no wonder he was beheaded on the galley. In the first phase of the assault at Tolna, the Hajdús took twenty food-carrier barges of the Bey of Bács castle and sank at least four (or eight) armed boats that were guarding the convoy. 

After the galley was taken, a short pause commenced. The Ottomans were confused by the loss of their commander. The Hungarian armed boats were deployed for the next assault, and Pálffy took position on the recently captured galley. He placed his soldiers on the other boats he had taken from the enemy and launched an even stronger attack. They assaulted sixty barges and almost as many smaller boats that were accompanied by armed warships. Again, heavy artillery fire was started and close combat took place.

The struggle was fought with such zeal that while the Hajdús lost only fifteen men (according to Illésházy, it was 100 men), they killed several thousand (more than 5,000) Turks who were felled by their rifles and sabers or by other weapons. Allegedly there were more than 1,200 Janissaries among the fallen Ottoman warriors which was a high number. 

The victory at Tolna was celebrated in Germany, too

According to the Bohemian report about the battle, two other beys were also slain, the Bey of Mohács and the Bey of “Daru”. However, it is thought that the Bohemian text may have washed together with the death of the Bey of Barcs whose headquarters was at Mohács. Pálffy said that the Bay of Barcs had been killed a few days earlier but mentioned that many high-ranking Ottoman officers lost their lives at Tolna, too.

The victorious Hajdús certainly got hold of an enormous amount of plunder: flour in huge quantities, rice, honey, wheat, butter, and many expensive clothes and fabric, not to mention the coins of more than three thousand Forints value and numerous weapons, including 13 cannons. They took 58 boats and 60 cargo ships. Yet, they could take home only a small part of this, they sank the surplus boats while the supplies were burned. 

Three Hungarian infantrymen (Hajdú) from 1591

Illésházy István, a contemporary historian wrote about the event like this: „They (*the Hajdús) make much harm in the Turks, regularly. (…) they were preparing to get on boats because before that they had taken the castles of Tolna and Erdőd and other ones and they found gunpowder, bullets, and all kinds of artillery weapons, and then they burned all those castles down. (…) One dawn they ambushed those food-carrier barges, the galleon where the Pasha was, was taken, and the Pasha was beheaded (…) They had been hoarding the cattle and food on the shore for two days, part of it was taken away or hidden in the ground, and then everything else was put on fire and thrown into the Danube. (…), they caused damage to the Turks that went over one million coins and the Turks got so frightened that they had to replace the boats and the supplies that took more than two months for the Turkish Sultan.”

the portrait of Illésházy István (1541-1609) on a mural of his castle called Bazin

Illésházy went on like this: „Not much time after this, Pálffy Miklós, the famous Hungarian general of the 15-Year-War, sent three-and-a-half thousand free-lads, infantrymen to burn the bridge of Eszék. He was opposed by the combined troops of the Turkish castle warriors coming from the castles of Pécs and Szigetvár and from other forts, led by the Pasha of Bosnia. The Hajdús had come to realize this and went out to meet them and took up their positions on two sides of a narrow road, hiding along the road in the forest and in the hamlets, with riflemen. When the Turks arrived, they began to shoot them strongly from both sides all along the road and were cutting them down and the Turks turned their tail and ran away, leaving behind 500 dead. They got many nice flags, prisoners, and horses – then they went to the bridge and put it on fire and they also burned the bridge of Baranya castle.”

The Tolna Region in Hungary, south of Lake Balaton

After the Battle of Tolna, the “free” Hajdús went on to destroy the bridge of Eszék but this mission was not fully completed. After this, the free Hajdú soldiers destroyed the castle of Valpó and even set the bridge of Eszék (Osiek) on fire. Then, they had a grand-scale battle against the Pasha of Bosnia on the open field. the Pasha had a 10,000-strong army, the fight took place on 7 July at Földvár. There were 200 Hajdú and 500 Turks killed in the battle and then, the latter fled.

The Ottoman ships were not safe anymore because the Christians captured the castle of Valpó in south Baranya county and took up strong positions from where they could control the ships of the Danube for a while. The raids against the logistic lines caused serious losses to the Ottomans. As for the coordination of the assaults, there was another unit that had set out in the meanwhile from Esztergom and attacked and sacked Bicske near Buda castle. They took other smaller fortified stately homes as well, happily plundering and burning them. Other warriors made a shortcut back home through the Vértes and the Gerecse mountains and approached Buda castle for fifteen kilometers.

Hungarian Hajdú reenactors

The sloopers of Esztergom didn’t have such great success at Duna-Földvár in the middle section of the Danube River. The Turks were raining a very strong grapeshot fire at them from their castle and about 400 Hajdús died in the unfortunate assault. Here you can read more about Hajdú soldiers:

(Source: mainly by Szerecz Miklós, and partly by Szibler Gábor, and Kovács Eszter: Cseh nyelvű beszámoló a tolnai csatáról. In.: Stemler Ágnes. Források és hagyományképek: Az Országos Széchényi Könyvtárban rendezett tudományos ülésszak válogatott, szerkesztett anyaga. (2014)

Beszédes József: Adatok az 1599. évi „tolnai csata” lokalizálásához. In.: Gaál Attila (szerk.): A Wosinszky Mór Múzeum Évkönyve 21. Szekszárd, 1999.
Varga J. János: A dunai flotta és az 1599. évi tolnai csata. In: Bene Krisztián–Végh Ferenc (szerk.): Dél-Dunántúli Hadtörténetírás. 2020. 1.


The Hajdús at Tolna, 1599

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