It is not easy to describe the Rebel Army of Ferenc II Rákóczi's because it was not comparable with any European army of these years. There are only few written documents published till now.
In June 1703, Ferenc II Rákóczi entered into Hungarian territory with around 200 hussars under the command of Lászlo Ocskay and Blasius Borbély. Part of them were deserters from Imperial hussar regiments; others, the so called “Hajduks”, were free farmers who had already fought against the Turks and served in fortresses. Within a few weeks after Rákóczi's arrival, his force increased to some 10,000 men. Most of those who joined him were deserters, poor farmers escaped from the estates of their lords and brigands. Of course the quality of such “soldiers” was poor. These undisciplined units attacked villages and small castles, looking only for booty.
After the defeat of Tyrnau (26 December 1704), Rákóczi and his staff started to built a better organized, trained and paid regular army. Besides the fact that Rákóczi was Prince of Transylvania, most rebels came from Upper Hungary (present-day Slovakia) and most battles took place on this region. Rákóczi's Palace Guard (home troops) formed the kernel of his army along with his Horse Carabiniers (a 1,000 men strong regiment) and 2 infantry regiments (each of 2 battalions of 500 men each) In addition, there was a Lifeguard company (called Kapcsosok or Deliasok). Later on, a Horse Grenadier Regiment was added (around 150 French, later reinforced by Polish and Germans).
During the winter of 1704-05, three regular cavalry regiments were raised. Their respective commanders were Anton Esterházy, Franz Barkóczy junior and Georg Palocsay. Each regiment consisted of 10 companies for a total of 915 men excluding staff. In the first years of the uprising, all cavalrymen who enlisted in these regiments were volunteers. Beside these three regular cavalry regiments, irregular cavalry still formed the main part of Rákóczi's cavalry.
In 1705, one company of "Green Riflemen" (200 men) joined Rákóczi's Army.
Rebel infantry regiments counted 2 battalions, each of 4 musketeer companies and 1 grenadier company, for a total of 1,300 men. However, the regiments rarely reached this strength. After the Battle of Trencsén in 1708, they could only field about 34% of this nominal strength. By the end of the uprising, some regiments counted only 60.
From the beginning of the uprising the rebel army experienced wide fluctuations. Rákóczi once said: “… after a victory most soldiers went home with their booty, after a lost battle they also went home to soothe their relatives…”
Around 1706, the free enlisting system collapsed. Rákóczi therefore decided that each Komitat (county) would have to supply a certain amount of recruits. The recruits were enlisted for a one year campaign (annus militaris, from November to November). Contrarily to volunteers, these enlisted recruits did not enjoy freedom from their former lords.
In the second part of the uprising, some foreign mercenaries served in Rákóczi's army. There were deserters from Imperial Army, as well as 3,500 Swedish-Polish troops under the command of Prince Lubomirski and around 1,300 French soldiers, 80 of them artillerists commanded by Colonel La Motte. In 1708, a company of “Arnauts” (Arnót – from Albania) joined the army.
The artillery was not organized as a separate branch. It was divided in field artillery and fortress artillery. Small cannon were manufactured in Neusohl (present-day Banská Bystrica/SK) and Kaschau (present-day Košice/SK). Gunpowder was fabricated at Kaschau, Neusohl and Radvan. The entire military industry supplying the rebels was concentrated in the middle of Upper Hungary (present-day Slovakia). From the three main magazines two were in Upper Hungary in Kaschau and Neuhäusel (present-day Nové Zámky/SK).
During the first years of the uprising, poor farmers formed the bulk of the rebel army. Nobility represented only from 1,5% to 2% of this force. Volunteers were very poorly armed and equipped. Only 20% of them were completely armed. Among the cavalrymen, only 30% possessed a musket or carabine, some cavalrymen did not even own a sabre! Part of the recruits had no weapon at all, in some infantry regiments only 20% of the soldiers were armed with a carabine, others had lances, axes or budzogans (maces).
Between 1705 and 1707, Rákóczi estimated that his army fluctuated from 40,000 to 70,000 men. However, historians estimate his army to approx. 53,000 men in 1707 and approx. 34,000 men at the end of 1708. After the battle of Trencsén in 1710, the rebel army decreased to only 27,000 men.
At the peak of the uprising, the rebel army counted approx. 4,600 officers, but only a few had experienced war. All of the 25 rebel generals were aristocrats, 8 of them counts. Only two reached the rank of marshal (Bercsényi and Sándor Károlyi). Only two of the brigadiers (rank taken from the French army organisation) came from the lower class (Thomas Ecse and Urban Celder). Among the high ranking general only Miklós Bercsényi, Anton Esterházy, Georg Palocsay, Johann Botyán, Simon Forgách, Lászlo Ocskay, Urban Celder, Paul Andrássy and Sándor Károlyi had war experience.
To improve the organisation of his army, Rákóczi issued some military patents and instructions. Most important were the Regulamentum universale and the enclosed Edictum universale. These documents had been accepted by the estates present at the meeting of Onód but unfortunately remained indications for the instruction of commanders.
During the winter of 1705 to 1706, 4 cavalry regiment and 6 infantry regiments were raised among the regular troops by Simon Forgách. Afterwards, regular cavalry reached a total of 6 regiments notwithstanding and Rákóczi's Lifeguard which included the Székler Lancers Regiment.
The cavalry, hussars and – later on – dragoons (there was no heavy cavalry regiment) built the bulk of the rebel army. A typical rebel army would consist of 66% cavalry and 33% infantry. In 1706, the rebel army counted 52 cavalry and 31 infantry regiments. Looking at total figures, the ratio was not so high because cavalry regiments counted less men. In fact, the ratio of cavalry over infantry was more 57:43.
In October 1707, the rebel army was down to a total of 44 cavalry and 29 infantry regiments. From 1708, 4,000 horsemen were paid with French subsidies. In 1709, a Hajduk regiment of horse was raised in Rákóczi's homeland. The army then consist of 31 infantry and 52 horse regiments, for a total of 40,000 to 60,000 men, but only half of them were trained and adequately equipped. Only 30-50 % of cavalry had carabines, 10% had not even a sabre. Parts of the infantry used archaic rifles from the 17th century.
Colonels of the regular cavalry regiments were Paul Gyürky, Paul Bokros, Franz Deák, Johann Györy Nagy, Stephan Balogh, Paul Szalay, Georg Nikházy, Alexander Luszénszky, Georg Ordódy; for their part, the colonels of the irregular cavalry were, among others, Siegmund Bessényi, Michael Nyúzó, Franz Somogy and Ladislaus Szemere.
The main weakness of the rebel army was its lack of training and discipline. Battle usually started with a charge of the cavalry. If Imperial troops withstood this first attack, the rebel cavalry retired. The rebel infantry was not able to withstand an attack of the Imperial heavy cavalry and – without support of its own cavalry – mostly fled in panic. Therefore, Imperial forces won most “regular” battles even when the rebels enjoyed numerical superiority.
Due to the lack of heavy artillery and insufficient experience in siege warfare, surprise or betrayal were the only ways for Rákóczi to make himself master of a fortress. Therefore, Rákóczi's commanders preferred quick raids into Imperial territory, surprise attacks and ambushes. This system of fighting better suited the habits of the rebels.
Dangl, V. and V. Segeš: Vojenské dejiny Slovenska, vol. II., Bratislava/SK, 1995
Ságvári, G. and G. Somogyi: Das Buch der Husaren, Budapest 1999
Harald Skala for the initial version of this article