Selected Passages from Hungarian-Ottoman Wars

Zsarnóca

Zsarnóca (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

Zsarnóca (Zarnovica, Zarnovia) is in Slovakia, it is not far from the Castle of Revistye and it is only 17 kilometers from Selmecbánya City, on the right bank of the Garam River. The settlement was first mentioned in 1332 as „Zanog” and „Zirnog”. Its church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

Zsarnóca (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

There was a ferry at the ford of the Garam River where fees and taxes were collected. Zsarnóca belonged to the Castle of Revistye and it was mentioned as „Sarnocza” in 1389. The Dóczy family became its owner in 1479. They built the three-story castle on a rocky hilltop, in late gothic style, between 1480 and 1485, surrounded by strong walls. Zsarnóca became a town in 1563 and was allowed to hold markets in 1681. The meetings of the local Noble Estates of Bars County were held in the city during the 17th century.

Zsarnóca (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

The army of Prince István Bocskai made its camp next to Zsarnóca in 1605. The first Battle of Zsarnóca took place next to the castle in 1644 where an Ottoman army was defeated. The Turks attacked again in 1647 and killed Zsigmond Dóczy and took away his wife. As the Dóczy family had no more male heirs, the Treasury seized the castle in 1647 and placed it under the authority of Selmecbánya. The Turks attacked it during the same year and caused lots of destruction. The City of Besztercebánya belonged to the king, so it took over the administration of Zsarnóca in 1662.

The second Battle of Zsarnóca took place on 16 May 1664, when General de Souche and his Imperial Army defeated the army of the Pasha of Várad. The city was totally destroyed in the battle.

The mercenaries of the king ceded Revistye Castle to the Hungarian rebel Kuruc troops in 1677 who sacked the area.

The first guild to be established in the agricultural town was the Furrier’s Guild in 1696. The Burghers were famous for their wood products, and for their beer, which they could sell easily in Selmecbánya.

The castle is still intact but seems empty, and we know little about its present conditions.

Zsarnóca (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

As for the Battle of Zsarnóca, read my short dramatized historical story, from my book “33 Castles, Battles, Legends”:


 

The Battle of Zsarnóca (16 May 1664)

“Did you say it was Pasha Kücsük Mehmed from Várad Castle who had set out against me?” General Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches asked of the dust-covered messenger, a trusted Hungarian Hajdú of his. The Hajdú called Balogh, was a thin, sinewy man. He was dwarfed by the well-built and tall French man. The General entrusted nobody else to carry his personal messages to his good friend, Count Miklós Zrínyi who had just finished his famous campaign in the southern Borderland of Hungary. His Croatian-Hungarian friend had just burned the famous bridge of the Sultan at Eszék in February.

De Souche had come to like these Hungarian Hajdú soldiers for their steadiness in battle. He had seen, not once, how they perished under the enemy fire with that indifferent eastern look in their eyes, fighting until the last man. Not all his fellow generals loved them, though. General Raimondo Montecuccoli, Zrínyi’s lethal rival, hated them for their allegedly cruel and savage ways. De Souche allowed his messenger to sit down in his spacious tent. And while the thirsty man was being served by his attendants, he thought of his last encounter with Montecuccoli in Vienna.

“You never know when they will slit your throat from behind,” Montecuccoli used to say “they always separate themselves from the rest of the decent troops in camp. When they drink and dance they give out unearthly cries like beasts from the underworld to the music of that damned Turkish clarinet. It should be banned because one day it will turn them into rebels. But, they are even more baleful when they are just sitting around their fires and wordlessly peer into the flames saying nothing for hours.”

How he cursed Zrínyi, and how he tried to discredit him, calling him a traitor and a secret conspirator against the crown. It was due to Montecuccoli`s propaganda that Emperor Leopold did not take advantage of Zrínyi’s victory and sent no reinforcements. And this was why his Croatian-Hungarian friend’s efforts evaporated in vain; the military engineers of Grand Vizier Köprülü Achmed had recently rebuilt the great bridge and a forty-thousand strong Ottoman army presently is said to be crossing the capricious Dráva River unhindered, according to the report of Balogh.

De Souche looked at the unrolled map on his camp table and sighed. “Now,” he thought, “I have taken the Castle of Nyitra after two long weeks of siege, but Zrínyi and General Hohenlohe have been trying to take the formidable Kanizsa Castle, however, they will not succeed without the Emperor’s reinforcements. Grand Vizier Köprülü Achmed will most likely chase them away and no one has enough troops to stop him in the Trans-Danubian Region. As a result, the Vizier will end up here, in the north. I must not let him join the forces of Pasha Kücsük Mehmed. Damn Montecuccoli. He dissuaded the Emperor from helping Zrínyi because Zrínyi was given the desired Golden Fleece from the King of Spain sooner than he.” he mused and hummed.

Yes, reputation was everything. Rank and privileges could always be purchased from the Emperor in exchange for offering a generous loan to the Treasury. And he, De Souche, has been raised into the highest aristocrats of Hungary this way. He had urged his promotion with an extra one thousand freshly minted gold Forints just like Montecuccoli, Salm, Caprara, and others did. As for his own career, De Souche made the Pasha of Várad responsible for spoiling his good luck four years ago.

The General pursed his lips while recalling the unfortunate incident. Pasha Ali and Kücsük Mehmed were cunningly waiting until the Hungarian Captain of Várad left his castle leaving behind less than nine hundred defenders. The Turks immediately besieged the city, which was the Gateway to Transylvania, while De Souche and his ten thousand men were idly staying at Rakamaz not very far from them. Did not the poor Burghers of Várad send an envoy to him, pleading for help? They begged for the sending of only three or four hundred good musket-men and a few skilled artillerymen because they could not use their cannons. Did not he agree to send them? Yes, he did and asked them to swear fealty to Emperor Leopold and obey the captain he would send. The poor fellows accepted his terms, but in the end, he could send them no help at all. He received strict orders from his ruler not to give any help so he had to go back on his word. Várad Castle fell forty days later and half of Europe blamed him for not having aided his Christian brothers. He had to live with this shame attached to his name. Now that Palatine Wesselényi had allowed him to take the Ottoman castles in this western corner of Upper Hungary, he had a chance to make amends for his fault. He turned to Balogh who was already standing at attention.

“How many people does the Pasha have, and where is he now?”

“Sir, he has fifteen thousand men and he is making haste. He can be here in ten days.”

The General dismissed his man and issued his order to strike camp and prepare to meet the enemy on a proper battlefield that was more to his liking.

General
Jean-Louis Raduit de Souche

It was not easy to snare the Turks into his trap and it took several days to reach the flooding Garam River where he pretended to make his army ready to cross it. There, he let the scouting Turk irregular riders come close and count his troops. He had less than eight thousand, and five-hundred Austrian soldiers, most of them footmen, and he knew how the Turks despised the Christian infantry. In fact, the lay of the land in Hungary was not favorable because one could not fully use the advantages of the infantry. The terrain was frequently divided by thickets, higher or lower hills, marshlands, and dense forests where the light cavalry could gain more success. Proper battlefields were rare, but De Souche knew of one. He wanted the Turks to follow him there, making them place their trust in their overwhelming numbers. His heart was on fire with the desire for revenge.

By the time the army of Kücsük Mehmed suffered itself across the river, De Souche was already deploying his army on a long gradually rising slope. He carefully placed his rested musket-men on the higher ground. Three or four lines could easily fire above each other’s heads and then run behind the next three lines to reload their weapons. The slope was narrow enough so that the attacking cavalry had to be thronged because the left and the right sides were impenetrable thickets and marshlands. Behind the Austrians was the Garam River, with the only usable ford, in case of a retreat. It was called the Ford of Zsarnóca.

Zsarnóca (Photo: Lánczi Imre)

De Souche had ropes tied across the ford to prevent accidents and posted a few sentries there to conduct the withdrawal if it was needed. The City of Bakabánya was not very far and could offer a very good fortified shelter at any time. Yet, he wished he had just a handful of Hussar riders with him. De Souche prayed to God that the Pasha would bite the bait. He knew that further Ottoman units were coming from the north, sent by the Pasha of Érsekújvár, and the Bey of Esztergom had launched his troops as well. His prayers must have been answered because he did not have to wait more than a day.

It was the 16th day of May when the Ottomans realized they could not get around him and decided to launch an attack. The formidable “Allahu Akbar” roar filled the air and thousands of hooves shook the land. The Ottoman musicians were trying to be heard over the clamor and the enemy wanted to trod them into the harsh green grass of the slope. As they rode on, the terrain became narrower as if it was a huge triangle laid on the ground.

The Battle of Zsarnóca

De Souche stood out from the midst of his men and excitedly shouted: “Fire!”

His officers had been thoroughly informed of what their duty was to be, and the Austrian war machine came swiftly into motion. This hellish grinding device of subsequent rows of musketeers swallowed the newer and newer waves of Turk attacks. The Asab riders were shocked and simply could not believe why they could not reach the Austrians.

The Turks were more frightened of the rage of their Robber Bey than from the throats of the muskets and desperately fought on until the Pasha himself was shot. After the death of Kücsük Mehmed, the Ottoman officers sent no more riders up the steep and slippery killing ground. Some tentative moves were made to prepare their retreat without losing face.

This was the perfect time to launch the counter-attack. De Souche ordered his soldiers to drop their muskets and draw their side swords. He led the infantry on foot like one of them, and they ran down the remains of the Ottoman army pushing them into the flooding River of Garam. The heart of General Jean de Souche swelled with joy.

He wished he had just a handful of Hussars, or a few hundred mounted Hajdús, to make his victory complete.”

Zsarnóca (Photo: Imre Lánczi)

Some more historical notes about the Battle of Zsarnóca:

While the main Imperial army was getting ready for the siege of Kanizsa castle in the south, the troops of Count Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches tried to block the advancing Ottoman army. Following the instructions of Palatine Wesselényi Ferenc, they managed to retake Nyitra castle on 3 May. Then, they were heading toward Léva castle. Kücsük Mehmed, the Pasha of Várad was late to bring reinforcement to Nyitra castle, the two armies met on the way. 

The Battle of Zsarnóca

 They clashed at Zsarnóca on the bank of the Garam River, similar to the description given above. The Ottomans had 15,000 men who tried to surround the Imperials but Count Jean-Louis Raduit de Souches deployed his troops on a slope of a hill. He could repel the enemy’s assaults one by one, I think the counterattack was successful because of the plug-bayonets of the Imperial infantrymen. However, historians say these weapons were more commonly used rather in the Reconquest Wars of Hungary in the 1680s. You can read more about these early bayonets here:

https://www.hungarianottomanwars.com/firearms/bayonets-in-the-hungarian-fights/

a plug-bayonet from the 17th century
The fight ended just before sunset, and the Ottomans left the battlefield. Historians claim that there was no real winner. However, they say they were the ones who accomplished a victory. It is also true, that there were no Hungarian cavalrymen in the battle because they were patrolling the area. After the battle, De Souches took Léva castle and burned the bridge of the Danube at Esztergom. Then, he defeated the Pasha of Buda at Garamszentbenedek in a bloody fight. While the Pasha of Várad was away from home, the Hungarian troops of Upper Hungary attacked Várad castle. It was the fight where Count Rákóczi László lost his life at the end of May.
Source: Partly from Szibler Gábor

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Update: Zsarnóca in 2021 (Photos: Radovan Maňák):

Photo: Radovan Maňák
Photo: Radovan Maňák
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