1704-05-28 – Engagement of Smolenitz

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Hierarchical Path: War of the Spanish Succession (Main Page) >> Battles and Encounters >> 1704-05-28 – Engagement of Smolenitz

Kuruc victory

Introduction

In January 1704, Major-General Baron Ritschan was posted in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava/SK) with an Imperialist force of approx. 1,600 foot. In March, his small force was posted at Bilnitz (present-day Bylnice/CZ) to cover Moravia.

On 3 May, Ritschan at the head of 2,000 foot, 120 horse and 1,000 Movavian militia marched to relieve Trentschin (present-day Trenčín/SK). He drove a Kuruc (rebel) party out of the entrenchments defending the Vlar Pass and followed them up to Trentschin. He then drove the besiegers back and resupplied the fortress.

Field Marshal Heister then instructed Ritschan to march towards the Waag River (present-day Váh River) to effect a junction with his own corps. However, Ritschan received orders from the Hofkriegsrath (War Council) to let the recruits destined to the Austrian regiments operating in Italy leave. Ritschan protested that he would not be able to participate in Heister’s planned operations if he sent his recruits away. The Hofkriegsrath finally authorized Ritschan to keep the recruits but operations had been delayed.

On 17 May, Heister sent orders to Major-General Ritschan to march to Gutta (present-day Kolárovo/SK).

On 26 May, Ritschan set off from Ungarisch-Skalitz (present-day Skalica/SK) to relieve Tyrnau (present-day Trnava/SK), leaving a small garrison (200 men of Jung-Daun Infantry and 2 artillery pieces) behind. He marched to Smolenitz (present-day Smolenice/SK). Most of Ritschan’s forces consisted of recruits enlisted in Moravia for Italy and were poorly equipped, only part of them were armed with muskets. These forces penetrated, without any supply, with the exception of a 2-days provision of bread, into a territory entirely controlled by the Kurucs.

On 27 May, Ritschan’s Corps rested near Smolenitz, awaiting the arrival of the detachment of under the command of János Wolfy from Ungarisch-Skalitz. Instead of sending out detachments, he contented himself with recalling a few men of Hasslingen Infantry who were posted in the Fortress of Scharfenstein (present-day Záruby/SK). Late in the evening, Ritschan was informed that a large Kuruc army under Count Miklós Bercsényi de Székes and Count Sándor Károlyi planned to attack his corps from three sides.

Ritschan immediately held a council of war. He advocated to march to the Castle of Bibersburg (present-day Burg Červený Kameň/SK) to evade the attack of the Kurucs. But this movement would have exposed Moravia and it was finally decided to retreat towards Ungarisch-Skalitz.

At 10:00 p.m. on 27 May, Ritschan, without having made any reconnaissance, gave the orders to march towards Ungarisch-Skalitz through bad roads into a heavily wooded area.

Map

Engagement of Smolenitz
 
Courtesy: Dinos Antoniadis
Engagement of Smolenitz Legend.jpg

Description of Events

At 10:30 p.m., on 27 May 1704, Ritschan’s Corps set off from Smolenitz in one column, preceded by a vanguard and covered by a rearguard. The retreat was made very slowly, delayed by the baggage-wagons and the broken roads. The troops marched by way of Nádas (probably Nahács/SK) towards Jablonica.

The Kurucs had been informed of Ritschan’s retreat and, preceding the Imperialist column, they occupied the edge of the forest with foot soldiers, while their main force, the cavalry, advanced through woods towards Jablonica to cut Ritschan’s line of retreat.

Around 2:00 a.m. on 28 May, after another delay of one hour to wait for the battalion of Guido Starhemberg Infantry, the head of the corps finally reached the edge of the forest above Nádas, where it was received by musketry fire from Ocskay’s Corps.

The fire coming out of the forest momentarily stopped the Imperialist columns. Major-General Ritschan rode to join his vanguard and gave orders to continue the advance towards the forest. The infantry of the Kurucs gave way.

Around 2:30 a.m., the head of the Imperialist column entered into the forest, which was occupied by Kuruc troops.

While the vanguard was clearing the way to resume the advance, the rearguard was attacked by Bercsényi’s and Károlyi’s cavalry (approx. 2,500 men). The infantry marched along a stretch of road, which was enclosed on one side by a ditch and on the other by bushes, it was thus impossible to form line. Meanwhile the Imperialist cavalry rode alongside across a meadow. The cavalry soon became entangled with companies of the Guido Starhemberg Infantry.

When Major-General Ritschan heard that his rearguard had also been engaged, he halted the advance of his left wing and rushed to join his right wing.

The Kuruc cavalry moved closer to the Imperialist right wing and opened a lively fire. The Guido Starhemberg Infantry answered with sustained salvos.

As the Kuruc attacked the flank of his right wing (still formed in column of march), Major-General Ritschan let a platoon of the Deutschmeister Infantry swing out of the column. The Kuruc cavalry finally retired after losing some 300 men and rallied out of musket range. The Imperialist had also lost 100 men in this action. Ritschan had been wounded twice; and Lieutenant-Colonel Wachtendonk, once.

The Imperialists deployed 2 artillery pieces to fire on the Kuruc cavalry which stood out of musket-fire range.

During these combats of the Imperialist right wing, the left wing was still under the fire of the Kuruc troops posted in the forest. Lieutenant-Colonel Maltzan tried to bring the baggage uphill from the swampy valley floor of the Tyrnau stream.

After having repulsed the cavalry attack of the Kurucs, Major-General Ritschan returned to his left wing to resume the march. The right wing followed.

By 4:00 a.m., Ritschan’s entire corps had penetrated into the forest.

Soon after the entry of the Imperialist column into the woods, the Kurucs swarmed around the two flanks and the rear of the right wing.

As the Kurucs were trying to capture his baggage, Major-General Ritschan ordered the Maltzan Battalion and Kriechbaum Infantry to protect the wagons. He also had a gun brought forward from the right wing to clear the road because the Kurucs were trying to block it with an abatis.

Because of his wounds, Major-General Ritschan could no longer stay on his horse. He was placed in a wagon where he was kept informed of the evolution of the engagement.

The right wing progressed slowly, halting, then charging. Detachments of Guido Starhemberg Infantry and Deutschmeister Infantry now formed the rearguard.

Gradually a large gap appeared between the two wings of the Imperialist column. Major-General Ritschan and Major Morelli informed Lieutenant-Colonel Maltzan that Lieutenant-Colonel Wachtendonk, commanding the right wing, had been wounded twice and that he needed to be replaced. Accordingly Maltzan sent the Maltzan Battalion and Kriechbaum Infantry to reinforce the right wing and decided to personally join this wing to replace Wachtendonk.

The Imperialist infantry of the right wing was running out of ammunition and Lieutenant-Colonel Wachtendonk sent men to the baggage train to bring back ammunition. Major Morelli left them some but they never reached the right wing.

The left wing was no longer harassed by the Kurucs and continued its march towards Jablonica unmolested. However, the right wing was constantly harassed and attacked by the Kurucs and could only advance step by step. Gradually, it strayed from the road leading to Jablonica and lost communication with the left wing.

Around 9:00 a.m., the left wing came out of the forest. Major-General Ritschan then halted to wait for his right wing.

After a while, Ritschan sent his cavalry back to re-establish communication with his right wing without success. He finally decided to resume his march towards Jablonica. When he was within a thirty-minutes march of Jablonica, he halted once more, hoping to see his right wing emerge from the woods.

Suddenly, large bands of Kurucs appeared on the heights beyond Jablonica. Ritschan sent messengers to his right wing in the Weiss Mountains to warn Wachtendonk that an attack was imminent. Meanwhile, Captain Giordani established cavalry outposts to prevent an attack against the column forming the left wing. After a while, the dispatched messengers returned with the report that no trace of the right wing could be found.

Once his lagging baggage-wagons had rejoined his column, Ritschan resumed his march towards Jablonica, because any delay could only increase the risk that his line of retreat would be cut.

Kuruc foot appeared at the tail of Ritschan’s column, threatening to encircle it. When Ritschan and his 700 men found themselves surrounded on all sides, he abandon any idea of retreat. He marched through Jablonica and occupied the castle with his infantry while his 300 horse and his baggage crossed the bridge of Jablonica, planning to form a “Wagenburg” to the right of this bridge.

However, the Kurucs attacked the bridge and prevented the Imperialists to from their “Wagenburg.” Captain Giordani managed to retire towards Ungarisch-Skalitz with the cavalry.

Once more, Major-General Ritschan hoped that his right wing would manage to join him at the Castle of Jablonica, and that he would then be able to force his way through the Kuruc forces.

Around noon, the exhausted Imperialist right wing finally emerged from the forest to the west of the road leading to Jablonica. The Kurucs were following at a distance and occupied the surrounding heights.

Lieutenant-Colonel Wachtendonk expected to find the Imperialist left wing deployed near the woods. However, he could only see a dust cloud in the direction of Ungarisch-Skalitz and large Kuruc parties near Jablonica. Realizing that the left wing had certainly met a disastrous fate, he decided to try to reach the Fortress of Scharfenstein, thus depriving Ritschan of any help at Jablonica.

Wachtendonk, with the remnants of the right wing, advanced southwards against the heights occupied by the Kurucs, who soon gave way. Wachtendonk then allowed his troops to rest briefly.

Around 3:30 p.m., Wachtendonk’s column reached Scharfenstein, closely followed by 2,000 Kurucs.

Meanwhile, the Kurucs had surrounded the Castle of Jablonica. In the evening, they brought forward a few artillery pieces. Ritschan finally surrendered as prisoner of war with 23 officers, 42 soldiers and 63 men of the train.

Outcome

The same evening, Wachtendonk’s column set off from Scharfenstein and retired towards the Fortress of Blasenstein (present-day Plavecký hrad).

In this engagement, the right wing of the Imperialists had lost 250 men killed or missing. To the exception of 114 horse belonging to Visconti Cuirassiers, the entire left wing had been killed or taken prisoners. Overall, the Imperialists had lost 700 men and 3 artillery pieces. The Kurucs escorted their prisoners to Nádas, and later to Tyrnau.

The Kurucs lost approx. 350 men.

Order of Battle

Imperialist Order of Battle

Commander-in-chief: Major-General Johann Baron Ritschan

Summary: approx. 2,300 foot, 250 horse and 4 artillery pieces.

Order of March

Vanguard under Captain Giordani

Left wing under Lieutenant-Colonel Maltzan

Right wing under Lieutenant-Colonel Wachtendonk

Rearguard under Lieutenant Baron Velleis accompanied by Major-General Ritschan

  • Vaubonne Dragoons (approx. 50 men)
  • Taaffe Cuirassiers (approx. 50 men)

Kuruc Order of Battle

Commanders-in-chief: Count Miklós Bercsényi de Székes and General Sándor Károlyi

Summary: approx. 15,000 untrained men (approx. 5,500 men took part in the battle)

References

Abtheilung für Kriegsgeschichte des k. k. Kriegs-Archives: Feldzüge des Prinzen Eugen von Savoyen, Series 1, Vol. 6, Vienna 1879, pp. 153-158

Wikipedia – Battle of Smolenice

Acknowledgements

Harald Skala for an initial summary of the engagement