Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars between 1372-1699

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

The Hajdús’ ambush at Tolna, 1599

It happened on 19 or 20 of June 1599 (some sources date it a month later), at Foktő, near the small agricultural town of Tolna. The Hajdú soldiers hired by Pálffy Miklós chief captain – mostly “free lads” – carried out an assault against the Turks both on land and on the Danube river. The meaning of „free-lads” was that they were free to offer themselves for employment. (Note, I use the Eastern name order for Hungarians where  family names come first.)

Hungarian Hajdú soldiers

The assault at Tolna was one of the most remarkable Hajdú attacks during the 15-Year-War (1591/93-1606). About one-thousand 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 – so as 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. Illésházy István, a contemporary historian wrote about it like this:

The famous bridge of Ezsék (Osiek): only Zrínyi could destroy it 65 years later

„they 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, the Pasha was beheaded (…) They had been hoarding the cattle and food to the shore for two days, part of it was taken away or hid in the ground, 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 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 victory at Tolna was celebrated in Germany, too

Pálffy Miklós had been keeping an eye on the region from Esztergom castle, with the help of his spies to find out the military situation on the Occupied Lands and of the castles’ strength, especially of 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 hid 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. 
This very thing happened at the assault at Tolna, too. However, here you can read more about Hajdú soldiers:

This time there was a great lack of food in Buda already, 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 had to go hungry, though. In the first phase of the assault at Tolna, the Haidús took twenty food-carrier barges of the Bey of Bács castle and sank at least four armed boats that were guarding the carriers. The Bey of Bács castle was particularly hated by the Hajdús, no wonder he was beheaded on the spot.

The Tolna Region in Hungary, south of Lake Balaton

After this success came the actual triumph of Tolna, when they assaulted sixty barges and almost as many smaller boats that were accompanied by armed warships. The ambush was so sudden and happened with such a zeal that while the Hajdús lost only fifteen men, they killed several thousand (more than 5,000) of Turks who were felled by their rifles and sabres or by other weapons. Allegedly there were more than 1,200 janissaries among the fallen Ottoman warriors which was a high number. It is certain that the victorious Hajdús 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 in more than three thousand florins value and numerous weapons, including 13 cannons. 

The Hajdús at Tolna, 1599

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. 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 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 short-cut back home through the Vértes and the Gerecse mountains and approached Buda castle to fifteen kilometers.

Hungarian Hajdú reenactors

The sloopers of Esztergom didn’t have such a great success at Duna-Földvár at 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. 
(Source: mainly by Szerecz Miklós, and partly by Szibler Gábor)

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