1703 Kuruc victory at Zólyom, and the Ocskay vs. Bottyán duel
1703 Kuruc victory at Zólyom, and the Ocskay vs. Bottyán duel
As a result of Ocskay László’s defeat at Léva on 31 October, the Kuruc forces lost the Mining Towns, but Rákóczi sent Bercsényi and Károlyi Sándor to the scene to fight the Imperials. First of all, we should clarify where the two heroes of our story stood at the beginning of Rákóczi’s War of Independence (1703-1711). The 60-year-old Bottyán János was still on the Labanc (Imperial) side, while the 23-year-old Ocskay László was a Kuruc officer. Later, Bottyán became one of Rákóczi’s best soldiers, while Ocskay betrayed him and sided with the Habsburgs.
Bercsényi Miklós stopped at Losonc (Lusenec) on 12 November, where he was joined by the Károlyi contingent from the Kecskemét area. This brought the Kuruc army up to around 15-20,000 men. Here is more about Bercsényi’s life:
The Imperial commander-in-chief, Leopold Schlick, belittled his enemies, boastfully declaring that ‘the followers of Rákóczi are kind guests whom I shall receive with kindness, but I believe that they have not yet the audacity to dare anything openly against the Imperials’. His army was assembled at Zólyom (Zvolen) castle.
Bercsényi’s troops reached Zólyom on 15 November, but Schlick was no longer there. That morning he left for Besztercebánya (Banská Bystrica) with 600 horsemen to celebrate the name day of Emperor Leopold. He entrusted the defense of Zólyom castle to Forgách Simon, who was to send a courier to him as soon as the Kuruc forces approached, and he would return immediately.
At about 10 o’clock Forgách was informed that the Kuruc troops were on their way to Zólyom. He sent a courier to Schlick, but he was unable to join the defenders of Zólyom because the town was already surrounded by the enemy. The Kuruc advance was led by Ocskay. The commander of Zólyom Castle, Colonel Bottyán János, challenged the enemy’s bravest soldier to a duel in order to gain time. Ocskay accepted the challenge.
Two legendary saber fencers clashed, the nearly 60-year-old battle-hardened Bottyán and the young but already renowned daredevil Ocskay. At first, they went head-to-head with lances, but despite three attempts, neither could dislodge the other. Then they took up sabers, but to no avail, so they drew pistols. Both fired, and Ocskay was hit in the chest, his nose and mouth were bleeding, and although his armor took the bullet, he fell from his horse, unconscious from the blow. Bottyán was not spared either. Ocskay’s bullet hit him around the waist and he had to be lifted from the saddle. His wound was treated for three weeks in the castle of Zólyom.
After the duel, the parties went to battle. The battle began around 2 or 3 in the afternoon but did not last long. The imperialists fought street by street in the city, forcing their way back to the castle, which the Kuruc troops were unable to take. Here is more about Zólyom’s history:
Schlick, meanwhile, retreated to Besztercebánya and the next day fled through Körmöcbánya (Kremnica) to Bajmóc (Bojnice). He also ordered Forgách to attempt an escape. He was able to do so only on the night of 19 November, when the Kuruc troops attacked, but he reached Bajmóc relatively unharmed.
Soon Bottyán, trapped in Zólyom, secretly offered his services to Rákóczi, who in December 1703 made him a general and commander-in-chief of Transdanubia. However, from Zólyom, which surrendered on 8 December, he returned to Esztergom, presumably with the aim of converting the castle to Rákóczi’s allegiance. Although he continued to swear allegiance to the emperor, he was captured by the castle commander Kuckländer in April 1704.
Meanwhile, after the Battle of Zólyom, the Kuruc troops did not pursue Schlick, who retreated to pick up Adam Ritschan’s unit. However, the mining towns were returned to Rákócz.
Source: Szibler Gábor
The following text is an excerpt from Jókai Mór’s novel “Szeretve mind a vérpadig” (“Loved to the Scaffold”), he described the duel in a slightly different way:
A battlefield duel between two heroes whose bodies are imperishable by neither sword nor bullet.
The camp was below Zólyom, opposite the Labanc (Imperial) forces. The Kuruc camp was located on the historically famous square where King Louis the Great held a diet and betrothed his daughter Hedvig to Jagello, and where, according to folklore, a thin golden thread was once found wound around the stalk of a wheatgrass. The town of Zólyom itself is surrounded by a four-fathom high stone wall, with access through strong gates, and the huge castle built by King Matthias Hunyadi, with its magnificent palace, which was the residence of kings and the guardian of the crown, can be seen adjacent to the town.
For the first time, the Kuruc and Labanc faced each other in two great camps.
Hitherto, their warfare had consisted only of attacking small troops in great masses, scattering carelessly charging enemies in a random attack, besieging and capturing poorly defended fortresses, and destroying enemy cities; but now they had before them the difficult task of confronting two armies of equal strength in a fixed order of battle, and winning victory in open combat, with unfurled banners, according to the science of a commander.
Both camps were largely cavalry. Kuruc and Labanc were both Hungarian and Slovak. There were even more Russians in the Kuruc camp. There were few regular soldiers in either camp. The Labanc had two regiments of musketeers who could fight in a straight line, a few Serbian riflemen, and the Danish dragoons. In the Kuruc there were the Polish dragoons, a few thousand Hajdú infantry who had been used to cannon fire in the Turkish war: the rest was all rebel cavalry, on their own horses, in their own dress, and with their own weapons. They had cannons, with Moravian artillerymen, but you could hardly trust the cannons.
The councils of war were held on both sides.
The weather was fine, a better time for battle could not be wished for; it was bitterly cold in the early morning, but by midday, it had warmed up considerably; the horses were suffering from clegs, the soldiers from thirst. Nevertheless, the battle could not begin. Bercsényi held constant councils of war with the French officers, and as soon as one measure was taken, he immediately sent another, ordering the opposite. He wanted to do it very well. His two lieutenants, Károlyi and Ocskay, argued and sulked.
The Labanc camp was led by three Hungarian generals, Forgách, Bottyán and Eszterházy. The first was an educated soldier, a leader well versed in military science; the second, whom the people called Blind Bottyán because he had only one eye, gained fame and leadership through his brave deeds during the Turkish war; Schlick, the Austrian general, was parading with his German troops somewhere in Beszterce on Leopold’s day.
The three Labanc generals were in exactly the same situation as the Kuruc leaders. They could not agree. By now it was three o’clock in the afternoon; the two armies had grown tired of facing each other while showing no inclination to attack each other. They knew that they were Hungarians from here and beyond: the only question that could set them against each other was: “Who is the braver one?
Blind Bottyán then remembered the story told about the customs of the Turkish wars, that a single mighty warrior had leaped out of the ranks and, placing himself in the space between the two armies, with a loud cry had challenged the bravest fighter of the enemy to a duel. The end of such a duel would infuse the winning warrior’s army with spirit and often decide the fate of the battle.
Blind Bottyán, seeing that he could not agree with his comrade-in-chief, slammed his helmet down on his head and, spurring his horse, sprang from the line into the middle of the field, shouting loudly so that both camps could hear him:
– Now, Kuruc army, if you have a soul, call it from your bootleg! I am here, the Blind Bottyán! – If any of you have the courage to challenge me to a little jousting, you are welcome – to Pilate’s supper!
As soon as the call for the duel was made, there was a great roar from here and beyond. The Labanc sneered, and the Kuruc grunted: It was said of Blind Bottyán that his body could not be harmed by sword or bullet: the devil go and fight with him!
But there was no time for Bottyán to repeat the challenge when a young warrior darted from the Kuruc ranks and made his way toward the challenger.
Blind, Bottyán recognized the approaching figure with his one eye. He had been described many times: the dashing Kuruc Ocskay, with his blond hair braided in front, in his red scarlet dolman, his white bear cloak. He knew everything that had happened to him during the war. And he looked down on him terribly!
– Get out of here, you slimy brat! – cried the old, battle-hardened hero. – For when I catch you, I’ll throw you to the moon! Is there no better man among you to stand against me?
But Ocskay was not indebted to him either.
– Even if I close one eye, I’m still a warrior like you!
– You are indeed a warrior behind your wife’s skirts! Go home, my son. Your mother has made porridge with milk, who’s going to eat it if you stay here?
– Whoever still has the spoon in his hand will,” replied Ocskay.
– Spoon? The boy is a cheeky one! Let’s start with the soup! Let’s exchange some balls first.
With that, Blind Bottyán pulled a pistol from his saddlebag and fired at Ocskay. He fired back, but neither hit.
Then they both drew their other pistols; Ocskay stepped closer to his opponent. Blind Bottyán made his horse flinch in one place, making it difficult to aim.
Once, when Ocskay was within twenty paces of him, the old warrior fired her weapon with a sure hand, and at that moment Ocskay felt a blow on his chest that turned the whole world blue-green. The steel chain mail prevented the bullet from penetrating his body, but the blow was so violent that his mouth was instantly covered with blood, and he himself fell forward onto the neck of his horse: the clever animal stopped silently.
– Hahaha!” laughed Blind Bottyán. – Spit it out if it’s bitter!
And with that he began to make his horse dance, showing his own camp with his triumphantly raised pistol that he had defeated his opponent.
But Ocskay was not yet unconscious. He knew very well that Blind Bottyán also wore an armor under his dolman, and one made of rings from which the bullet would slide. But he remembered that the mail had an opening at the back so that it could be detached.
When Blind Bottyán, in his great triumph, spurred his horse forward and turned his Achilles’ heel towards him, Ocskay suddenly gathered himself, raised his pistol with all his strength, aimed, and fired. – The pistol was loaded with three bullets: one of them found a gap in the armor and lodged in the brave general’s waist, in the spine of his back.
At this shot, Blind Bottyan fell back in the saddle, howling, and only the stirrups kept him from falling from his horse.
Ocskay could see no more: the world went dark before him, he no longer knew what was happening to him.”
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