First Battle of Vác (1849)
|First Battle of Vác|
|Part of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848|
Hungarian Revolutionary Army|
|Commanders and leaders|
|János Damjanich||Christian Götz †|
Total: 11,592 men|
Did not participate:
Detached troops from I. corps: 2973 men
|Casualties and losses|
|Total 150 men||
Total 422 men|
– 60 dead
– 147 wounded
– 215 missing or captured
The Battle of Vác, fought on 10 April 1849, was one of two important battles which took place in Vác during the Spring Campaign of the Hungarian War of Independence between the Austrian Empire and the Hungarian revolutionary army. This battle was the starting point of the second phase of the Spring Campaign, during which the Hungarians planned to relieve the fortress of Komárom from an Austrian siege, and to encircle the Austrian forces headquartered in the Hungarian capitals of Buda and Pest.
The Hungarians won the battle. The Austrian commander, Major General Christian Götz, was fatally wounded, dying shortly after the battle. His body was buried by the Hungarian commander Artúr Görgei with full military honors as a mark of respect.
With the Battle of Isaszeg the Hungarian Revolutionary Army led by Artúr Görgei managed to force the Austrian Habsburg Imperial Army led by Field Marshal Alfred I, Prince of Windisch-Grätz to retreat towards the Hungarian capitals of Pest and Buda. This liberated the Hungarian territories between the Tisza and the Danube rivers. The imperial troops took up a strong defensive line before Pest. The Hungarian commanders did not attempt to storm the position, but encircled Pest up to the Danube, and stood in position until 9 April. The imperial army retreated to the capital.
On 7 April a new campaign plan was made. According to this plan the Hungarian army was to split; General Lajos Aulich with the II Hungarian Army Corps, and the division of Colonel Lajos Asbóth remained in front of Pest, maneuvering to make the imperials believe that the whole Hungarian army was there. This diverted their attention from the north, where the real Hungarian attack was to start with the I, III and the VII corps going westwards on the northern bank of the Danube via Komárom, to relieve it from the imperial siege. The Kmety division of the VII corps was to cover the three corps's march, and after the I and the III corps occupied Vác, the division was to secure the town, while the rest of the troops together with the two remaining divisions of the VII corps, were to advance to the Garam river, then heading for the south to relieve the northern section of the Austrian siege of the fortress of Komárom. After this, they were to cross the Danube and relieve the southern section of the siege. If all this could be finished successfully, the imperials would have only two choices: to retreat from Middle Hungary towards Vienna, or be encircled by the Hungarian troops in the Hungarian capitals. This plan was very risky (as was the first plan of the Spring Campaign too) because if Windisch-Grätz had discovered that only a Hungarian corps remained in front of Pest, he could have destroyed Aulich's troops, and with this he could easily cut the support lines of the main Hungarian army, and even occupy Debrecen, the seat of the Hungarian Revolutionary Parliament and the National Defense Committee (interim government of Hungary), or he could encircle the three corps advancing to relieve Komárom. Although the president of the National Defense Committee (interim government of Hungary), Lajos Kossuth, who after the battle of Isaszeg, went to Gödöllő, the Hungarian headquarters, and wanted a direct attack on Pest, he was finally convinced by Görgey that his and the other generals' plan was better. To secure the success of the Hungarian army, the National Defense Committee sent 100 wagons with munitions from Debrecen.
After the Battle of Isaszeg, Field Marshal Windisch-Grätz ordered the division quartered in Balassagyarmat to defend the Ipoly valley, led by Lieutenant General Georg von Ramberg, to move to Vác, to secure the Danube Bend from a Hungarian attack. But at the same time he made the mistake of ordering Lieutenant General Anton Csorich, who actually was defending Vác with his division, to move to Pest. If two imperial divisions had been defending Vác when the Hungarians attacked, they would have had more chance of repelling them. On 10 April, when the Hungarian army planned to attack Vác, Görgey feared an imperial attack against his troops in the region before Pest. And indeed Windisch-Grätz ordered a general advance of his I and III corps, to learn if the Hungarian main army was in front of Pest, or moved northwards. But the II Hungarian corps led by General Aulich together with the VII corps, and much of the I corps, easily repelled the attack. At the same time, the misleading movements of Aulich and Asbóth managed to catch the eye of the imperials, who did not observe the march of the III corps, led by János Damjanich. As a result, the field marshal was unable to obtain the information he needed. The inefficiency of the imperial reconnaissance is shown by the fact that on 12 and 14 April (4 days after the battle of Vác, with the main Hungarian army departed towards Komárom, and only the II corps remaining there), Anton Csorich reported that Pest was in danger of being attacked by important Hungarian forces. The troops of Lajos Aulich and Lajos Asbóth did their job of making the imperials believe that the main Hungarian army was still in front of the capital, so well that Windisch-Grätz, until his dismissal, and the interim main commander, Lieutenant Field Marshal Josip Jelačić, until the arrival of Feldzeugmeister Ludwig von Welden, who was named as the new high commander, had no courage to do anything. In contrast, the Hungarian reconnaissance was excellent: learning that WindischGrätz still waited before Pest with three army corps, the Hungarian attack, and at Vác the Ramberg division, composed of the Götz and Jablonowski brigades, blocked the road to the Danube valley and to the Vág river.
Because of the participation of the VII and much of the I corps in the skirmishes around Pest, the Hungarian army which moved towards Vác was composed only of the III corps and the brigade led by Lieutenant-Colonel János Bobich from the I corps. The rest of the first corps arrived at Vác only after the end of the battle. According to László Pusztaszeri (in 1984) the whole I Hungarian corps joined the advance of the III corps towards Vác, but this is unlikely. But the work of the military historian Róbert Hermann, written 20 years later (2004) states that only the Bobich brigade from the I corps marched with the III corps towards Vác. So it is more likely that Hermann was right. They started to move north on 9 April at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, followed by the VII corps, which was extracted, step by step, from among the Hungarian troops, which were doing demonstration maneuvers.
On the morning of the 10th of April, after his troops arrived to Vác, General Damjanich sent the brigade of Bobich, consisting of 2973 men and 20 cannons through Rád and Kosd to encircle the imperial troops from Vác. But his infantry lost their way in the fog and moved towards Penc (east instead of west), so his troops failed to appear in the battle. In the last moment before the battle Georg von Ramberg, the commander of the imperial troops became ill, so Major General Christian Götz took command. Windisch-Grätz advised him to retreat without a fight, west to the Garam (in Slovakian Hron) river, if he faced superior troops. The troops commanded by Götz had not fought since the middle of February, being occupied to move here and there in Northern Hungary, so from this point of view the battle-hardened Hungarian troops had the advantage.
On the rainy day of 10 April, Damjanich started the attack against Vác at 9 o'clock from the south, moving along the Pest-Vác road, because the soggy morning fields were impassable. The road which led to Vác crossed the stone bridge on the Gombás creek, so Götz installed his infantry on it.
At this moment Götz was unaware of a serious Hungarian attack, thinking it was a numerically inferior force making a demonstration. Thus when he saw the Hungarians install their cannons, he strengthened only his vanguards by sending his 2nd battalion to position themselves along the Gombás creek, between the railway embankment and the Danube. The battle started with an artillery duel, which lasted several hours. Damjanich installed the Czillich and Leiningen brigades at left, and the Kiss and Kökényessy brigades at the right wing. He was waiting for the brigade of Bobich to complete the encirclement of the imperial troops, but in vain. In the meanwhile Götz understood that he faced a numerically superior army, and at 3 o'clock in the afternoon, decided to start the retreat from the town. He ordered his brigade commanders to withdraw from the city, but he wanted to hold the bridge until his troops would be far enough from the Hungarians, to be safe.
Seeing no sign of the Bobich brigade in the enemy rear, Damjanich lost his patience and ordered his infantry to charge the bridge, while his artillery was shooting continuously. Götz saw his troops start to retreat from the foreground of the bridge because of the huge pressure from the Hungarians. He rode forward, screaming: "Advance, do not retreat!" In that moment he was hit by a shell splinter in his forehead, while his horse was taken down by at last ten bullets. The Austrian soldiers held him while he was falling down, and took their wounded commander to the military boarding school in Vác.
The Wysocki division was the first to charge the bridge, but their attacks, which they repeated several times crumbled in the fusillade of the imperial kaiserjägers. After their failure came the 3rd and the 9th battalions, which were among the most renowned Hungarian units, to try, but the soldiers were not willing to risk their lives in a seemingly hopeless task. Than came to the scene the commander of the 3rd battalion, Major Károly Földváry, the hero of the Battle of Tápióbicske. He took the flag of his battalion and rode onto the bridge with it, under a hail of bullets from the enemy soldiers who occupied half of the bridge. His horse was shot dead in seconds, but he went back to his soldiers, took another horse and rode up the bridge again, and the same thing happened: the horse fell down under him in a second, but he remained unharmed. In that moment the imperial officer who was commanding the volley was so astonished by his recklessness, that he forgot to order his soldiers to shoot, and in that moment the soldiers of the Hungarian 9th battalion arrived on the bridge and swept away the Austrian resistance. After that the other Hungarian battalions too crossed the bridge, and in heavy street fighting pushed the imperials out of the city. During this street fighting the Hungarians arrived at the building of the military boarding school where the wounded Götz lay, defended by the Bianchi infantry regiment. The Hungarians occupied it after heavy fighting, and found the Austrian commander inside, taking him prisoner with many enemy soldiers. The imperial troops which fought by the railway embankment withstood for an hour after the Hungarians crossed the bridge, preventing an encirclement of the imperial troops from the east, then they also retreated in heavy fighting.
The imperial forces, now led by Major General Felix Jablonowski, retreated from Vác in heavy street fighting, heading towards Verőce. The Austrian commander positioned two cannon batteries, one of 12 pounds, the other of 6 pounds, and a rocket battery, to support his troops' withdrawal. His troops retreated in good order.
One of the interns of the Polish Legion took care of Götz's wounds. On 11 April Görgey arrived at Vác, and one of the first things he did was to visit Götz and ask how he was feeling. But because of his wound, he had lost his ability to talk, could not respond. His last wish was to be buried together with his ring. He received extreme unction from a Hungarian army chaplain, who prayed next to him until he died. Götz was buried on 12 April, his coffin being carried by Hungarian soldiers on their shoulders accompanied by military music and drumbeat, in front of the Hungarian soldiers and the Austrian prisoners. The coffin was lowered to the grave by three generals: Görgey, György Klapka, Damjanich and a staff officer. In 1850 Götz's widow showed gratitude for the care and respect paid to her husband by his enemies, by donating 2,000 forints to the military boarding school in which her husband had spent his last hours.
From a tactical point of view, although they had lost their commander, the imperial defeat was not heavy, and the army could retreat in good order. After the battle Damjanich was dissatisfied with the performance of some Hungarian commanders and units, believing that this battle could have been a more decisive victory. The choleric, fast decision-making general criticized the slowness of the cautious Klapka, who would have arrived at the battlefield on time if he had moved faster, and also General József Nagysándor, the commander of the cavalry, for the slow pursuit of the enemy after the battle. He also wanted to decimate the Polish Legion because they ran away after the first attack, but Görgey arrived and prevented this. Damjanich was angry lack of exploitation of this victory, and the others before it in the Spring Campaign (Tápióbicske, Isaszeg), and he believed that the other commanders were responsible.
With the victory at Vác, the Hungarian army opened a way towards the Garam river. After the battle the imperial command in Pest continued to believe that the main Hungarian forces were still before the capital. This was because in the Battle of Vác only one corps participated, which made the commander think that the rest of the Hungarian army had not yet arrived in Pest. When Windisch-Grätz finally seemed to grasp what was really happening, he wanted to make a powerful attack on 14 April against the Hungarians at Pest, and then cross the Danube at Esztergom, cutting off the army which was marching towards Komárom. But his corps commanders, General Franz Schlik and Lieutenant Field Marshal Josip Jelačić, refused to obey, so his plan, which could have caused serious problems to the Hungarian armies, was not realized. Windisch-Grätz, to hold back the Hungarian advance in the west towards Komárom, sent an order to Lieutenant General Ludwig von Wohlgemuth to stop them with the reserve corps formed from the imperial troops available from Vienna, Styria, Bohemia and Moravia. These troops would suffer a heavy defeat on 19 April by the Hungarian army in the Battle of Nagysalló, and with that the Hungarians opened the way to the besieged Komárom. But when these events took palace, Windisch-Grätz was not in Hungary, because in the meanwhile, on 12 April he was relieved from the high command of the imperial troops in Hungary, by the emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. In his place Feldzeugmeister Ludwig von Welden was appointed.
- Hermann 2004, p. 236.
- Hermann 2001, p. 282.
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- Hermann 2001, p. 282
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