1708 – Rákóczi Uprising in Hungary
The campaign lasted from February to December 1708
At the beginning of February, Emperor Joseph I convened the Hungarian nobility to a Diet in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava). Rákoczi had been invited but refused to attend. The promises made by the Emperor's representatives, Duke Adam von Liechtenstein and Count Traun did not satisfy the Hungarian nobility and, once more, the Diet came to an end without significant result.
For the coming campaign, Rákoczi initially intend to advance into Silesia to support the claims of King Frederick I against the Habsburgs but his commanders persuaded him not to leave the Castle of Trencsén, hold by the Imperialists, in their rear.
When the Imperialist FM Heister was informed of the advance of Rákoczi's forces (8,000 foot, 7,000 horse and 12 guns), he sped up his march towards Trencsén. The strength of FM Heister's Corps is not exactly known. Most sources mention approx. 5,200 horse, 2,800 foot and 3,000 militia (Raizen). His cavalry consisted of Hohenzollern Cuirassiers, La Tour Cuirassiers, Steinville Cuirassiers, Althan Dragoons, Wolfskehl Dragoons, Josef Esterházy Hussars, Demetri Militia Hussars and Secula Militia Hussars.
On 1 August, Rákoczi's troops encamped near the Castle of Beckov.
On August 2, Rákoczi's troops marched on Trencsén.
On 3 August, Heister arrived at Beckov and followed the rebels. In the morning, the noise of a brief skirmish between the Imperialists and the vanguard of the rebels (150 horse under Colonel Orbán Czelder) alarmed Rákoczi who immediately deployed his troops in order of battle between the villages of Sedličná, Trenčianská Turá, Hámre, Mnichova Lehota and Soblahov (all of them near Trenčín/SK). Around 7:00 a.m., Heister reconnoitred Rákoczi's positions and realised that the rebels had a numerical superiority. Heister then tried to march along the battle line of the rebels in order to take position under the guns of the castle. Rákoczi's artillery opened on Heister's troops. The terrain was not suitable for cavalry charges. Nonetheless, Pekry's dragoons and hussars launched an attack against the Imperialists. Pekry's forces reached a very narrow dike. Pekry then hesitated and finally started a retreat which soon turned in total chaos. At 7:30 a.m., Johann Count Pálffy realised that Pekry's troops were completely disorganised and initiated an attack with Althan Dragoons and Demetri Militia Hussars. At the second attack of Pálffy's cavalry, Pekry's cavalry routed. Between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., while Pálffy was achieving victory over Pekry's cavalry, Heister halted his advance towards the Castle of Trencsén, formed line and attacked the centre of the positions of the rebels. Meanwhile, rebel recruits forming the right wing were attacked by Pálffy and started to flee. Rákoczi sent some German and Polish carabiniers to stabilize his right wing but they were unable to put a stop to the attack of the Imperial troops. Rákoczi personally joined the fray but he fell, when his horse stumbled, and lost consciousness. With their leader out of combat, panic spread among the rebels and most of them turned and fled. Only the Perényi, Celder, Andrássy, Csajághy and Nyáry regiments along with the artillerymen and the Fierville and Bonefous French grenadiers fought till the end. Most of them were killed including La Motte, the commander of the French artillery. Three coys (500 men) of rebel infantry under Johann Istványi, which occupied the village Hámry at the beginning of the battle, arrived too late to take part in the battle but were all taken prisoners. The unconscious Rákoczi was rescued by Ladislaus (Lázslo) Bercsényi from his life guard. He was the son of Nikolaus Bercsényi, commander of Rákoczi's troops.`By 11:00 a.m., the battle was finished. In this disastrous action, the rebels had lost around 3,500 dead and 600 (including 25 officers) prisoners, a loss of approx. 27 % of their original strength, all their guns, their complete train with ammunition, 500 flags and 2 kettle-drums. Heister lost only 200 men. The impetus of Rákoczi's uprising was broken in this battle. It was the beginning of its tragic end.
After his victory, Heister marched to Neutra (present-day Nitra/SK).
On 25 August, Révay, the commander of the Fortress of Neutra, surrendered without opposing any resistance. After some negotiations with FM Pálffy, Ladislav Ocskay and his 1,000 hussars changed allegiance and entered into the Imperial service. Many Hungarian aristocrats took advantage of the offer of general pardon issued by the emperor and changed allegiance.
Despite his recent defeat, Rákoczi was able to collect 5,000 men near Erlau. Bercsényi had to retreat behind the Ipel River. Heister seized this opportunity to occupy Schemnitz (present-day Banská Štiavnica/SK), Kremnitz (present-day Kremnica/SK) and Neusohl (present-day Banská Bystrica/SK).
Meanwhile in Transylvania, Károlyi with his 16,000 men could not hold his ground against the Imperial troops commanded by GFWM Georg von Kriechbaum and was forced to retreat.
Only Johann Botyán experienced some success in Western Slovakia, occupying Modrá and Pezinok, and, for a short time, Levencz (Levice/SK).
On 7 December, Rákoczi called a meeting in Sáros-Patak. He promised to his poor soldiers freedom from the aristocracy, and pensions to the widows. At the end of that meeting, Colonel Emerich Bezerédy and Captain Adam Bodea were beheaded when their intention to change side with their troops was disclosed.
By the end of 1708, Rákoczi's Army had been driven back behind the Gran River (present-day Hron/SK). Bercsényi took his quarter at Munkács.
Chrastina, Ph Dr. Petr: Krajina v bitke …, Prešov/SK, 2012
Fessler, Dr. I. A.: Die Geschichte der Ungern, part IX. File 19. Leipzig 1825
Vojenské dejiny Slovenska, file II, Bratislava 1995
Harald Skala for the initial version of this article