Prince Eugene - George Upton

The Siege of Vienna

Eugene arrived at last in Vienna, although the journey then consumed much longer time than it does to-day. This had its advantages, for one had time to consider one's plans and to make u p one's mind whether one were doing the right thing or not. But, as we already know, Eugene was not he man to vacillate when once he had decided. When he had the goal before him he made straight for it, looking neither to right nor left; in fine, he no doubt felt that God was leading him; and this is the best guide for us all, whether prince or beggar.

At the royal castle in Vienna he was very kindly received. He had not grown handsomer or statelier on the road from Paris to Vienna; but Emperor Leopold overlooked these externals and saw some thing deeper. Eugene's firmness of bearing, his directness of speech, and his whole personality impressed him. There were other considerations also which influenced the Emperor. Like Eugene, he had been destined in youth for the Church; he was also pleased to have princes and cousins of the already powerful Duke of Savoy, flocking to his banner at a time when the operations of the rapacious and murderous Turk were becoming more and more of a menace to Vienna. Every German sword that freely offered itself was welcomed as a real acquisition. So thought the Emperor. To be sure the Viennese had other ideas, for with all their amiability they have a sense of humor.

The little Prince of Savoy-Carignan was almost too tiny for them. When they had heard his story, they scarcely blamed the French King for having destined this little chap for the priesthood. They insisted that he was not fit for war. They called him "The little Capuchin"—a name which fitted him, for he generally wore a long brown cloak which closely resembled a monk's habit. Very often people stopped on the streets, shaking their heads, to gaze after him. Eugene would have had to be very obtuse not to have noticed this. At present it could not be helped, but he no doubt thought to himself, "Just wait, and sooner or later the little Capuchin will show you what he can do." There was that within him which neither the king of France nor the jokes of the Viennese could subdue; genius was bound to assert itself. His opportunity soon came.

The Turks as well as the French were enemies of the empire at that time. Until quite recent times the German people were accustomed, in their church prayers, to call on God for protection against both these enemies. The French were constantly harassing the empire on its western frontier, and the Turks on the eastern. Here and there great domains were taken, and it is only to be wondered at that under such desperate circumstances it did not go quite to pieces. This shows how full of tenacity and endurance the German people were. The worst of the situation at that time was that "the Most Christian" King of France encouraged the Turks and was playing the game with them. He argued that if the Germans were busy in Vienna with the Turks, the Emperor could not send an army to the Rhine; and the beautiful country on both sides of this river had long excited his cupidity. Shortly before this (1681) Strasburg had fallen into his hands through abominable treachery. Such a rich morsel had excited Louis the Fourteenth's appetite anew.

In Hungary, which was the portal of entry into the empire for the Turks, the ruler was an adventurous spirit and a dare-devil soldier, named Tokely, who had been bribed by Louis. Indeed, as many historians tell us, he had a secret understanding with the Turks for the destruction of Germany. It was very difficult to accomplish this from the French side, for here a stanch German prince opposed him and defended German rights against the impious attacks of the French. This German prince was Frederick William, the great elector of Brandenburg. You see it was even then one of the Hohenzollerns who entered the lists in Germany's behalf; how long they have been misunderstood and accused of base schemes of conquest!

But let us pass from the Hohenzollerns to the French, Hungarians, and Turks. The Emperor had concluded a twenty-years' armistice with the last of these after the battle of St. Gotthard. This was now nearly at an end. If the court of Vienna had made good use of it, the Turks never would have dared to attack this still powerful enemy. As it was, they had been sitting with folded hands, idle and impassive. The imperial army was small in numbers and insufficiently fitted out. The fortresses in Hungary were in a neglected condition, and the country itself was kept in disorder and insurrection by Tokely and his lawless followers. Thus it was an easy matter for the Turks to subdue not only Hungary but other sections of Austria, and to carry the victorious crescent to the very gates of Vienna.

It was during this period of nervous anxiety that, by imperial command, Prince Eugene was given a lieutenant's commission in the dragoon regiment of his brother, Prince Julius Louis of Savoy-Carignan, in order that he might win his spurs under the latter's eye. The commander of the imperial army was Duke Charles of Lorraine, who had a tale to tell of the French King's arrogance, as he also had been spurned in that country. What must have been Prince Eugene's feelings when he first donned the imperial uniform! His entry into the Austrian army gives us much food for thought. His future had not been foretold from the cradle; but who knows what would have become of the German fatherland had he gone to Spain instead of to Austria; had he never striven against the Turks; if in the Spanish war of succession he had fought against instead of for Germany; if the French instead of being his enemies had been his friends?

Instantly the torch of war was ablaze. The Turks and Hungarians, uniting, pushed forward from the lower Danube. Burning villages and towns, desolated landscapes, hunger, misery, and all the horrors of war marked their path. Many thousands of youths and maidens fell into their hands, to be carried away as hostages or to be sold into slavery. All was confusion, and no one could suggest a remedy. The whole Austrian army numbered 35,000 men, and the Turks were 200,000 strong. What a contrast!

The operations of the Emperor's troops were mostly unsuccessful. They were anxious to hinder the enemy's advance, so that the Viennese might have time to strengthen their entrenchments. Perceiving this, the Grand Vizier pushed rapidly forward to the Leitha; and in order not to be cut off from Vienna, Duke Charles of Lorraine was obliged to change his position. He was attacked with furious impetuosity at Petronell, July 7, 1683, by the advance-guard of the Turkish army. It was a bloody engagement, for it was necessary for the Germans to defend themselves at any cost.

It was there that Eugene met the enemy for the first time and proved himself a soldier. He fought as bravely as the best, keeping at his brother's side, wherever the danger was greatest. The King of France should have seen the little abbe  in this wild cavalry encounter—he would certainly have changed his mind. Despite their ardor the Turks were obliged to retire, and this pleased Eugene mightily. But unfortunately the joy of victory was embittered by a great sorrow. His beloved brother Julius was a victim of the day's work and was found, terribly disfigured, under the horses' hoofs. Eugene shed some bitter tears, said a prayer for his brother's soul, then pressed on after the enemy.

But it was impossible to stem the tide of their superior numbers; already they had surrounded Vienna, and a division of Turkish cavalry had taken possession of one of the suburbs, where they were conducting themselves in truly barbaric style. That could not be tolerated. The Margrave, Louis of Baden, who had succeeded Prince Julius Louis of Soissons as commander of the dragoon regiment, attacked the Turks, sabre in hand, cut down many of them and put the rest to flight. Eugene took part in this fight with enthusiasm; as also a few days later at Presburg, where the Duke of Lorraine defeated the rear-guard of the enemy. Here also the dragoons of the Margrave Louis of Baden did their part, and Eugene distinguished himself above all the rest.

In the meantime the main army of the Turks, under command of the Grand Vizier, Kora Mustapha, had entirely surrounded Vienna. Such peril had never before befallen a German city. All Germany was in a fever of excitement. It was plain that, should Vienna fall, the whole German empire would be open to the marauding and murdering infidels; and God knows what might come next. But it turned out differently. The mayor of Vienna, Rudiger von Starhemberg, was a good soldier as well as administrator. Here he encouraged, there led an attack; and the Viennese citizens and students fought like heroes under his leadership. Although the Turks stormed the walls and had even made a breach here and there, they were obliged to retreat before the defenders, who were fighting for their dearest and most sacred possessions. The good Viennese, however, would have been obliged at last to succumb, had not help come from the Electors of Bavaria and Saxony, the Emperor's troops under Duke Charles of Lorraine, and with them, of course, the chief of the dragoon regiment, Margrave Louis of Baden, with "the little Capuchin," Prince Eugene, all led by King John Sobieski of Poland. The Capuchin was already become a mighty hero; Eugene had smelled powder, and even the dragoons, who had at first regarded him doubtfully, had quite changed their minds about him.

The decisive battle took place September 1z, 1683, under the walls of Vienna. The assistance was timely, for the city could scarce have held out twenty-four hours longer. The Turks had been bombarding it since the fifteenth of July. It was a wonder that it had resisted so long. The last day was destined to be the hardest one for the Viennese. The Grand Vizier had divided his army. Legions attacked the deliverers on the Kalenberg, and other legions were commanded to take the city. For a long time the outcome was uncertain. The Turks fought with incomparable ferocity and recklessness; and it became necessary for the Germans to exert their strength to the utmost against their attacks. The fury and confusion were terrible, the slaughter unparalleled. Wild cries to Allah mingled with the groans and prayers of the Christians. Blood flowed in streams, and the trenches were filled with the corpses of friend and foe alike. It was well that the decisive moment was at hand, for the defenders had expended their last effort. At length the trumpeters sounded the glad tidings of victory from the Cathedral tower of St. Stephen, from whence the flight of the Turks could be seen. It was heroic work, in which every man did his share, and especially Prince Eugene. With the Duke of Lorraine, he pushed down the steep declivity of Leopoldsberg toward Nussdorf, then along the banks of the Danube, in pursuit of the enemy.

Once more the Turks made a sharp and ferocious attack on the walls and entrenchments of Vienna. Although repulsed on the outside, they were determined to take the city. The danger increased, but little more patience and endurance was needed, for help was at hand. Margrave Louis of Baden detected the greatest danger-point at the Schottenthor (Scotch Gate). With three battalions of infantry and his dragoon regiment he cut his way to this point. He wished to outflank the enemy and give the Viennese a breathing spell. Prince Eugene was at every point where the danger was greatest. With his dragoons he was the first to enter the Scotch Gate. What a slashing and butchering there was! It was necessary to effect a meeting with Starhemberg. The long blades of the dragoons did terrific execution among the enemy. At the head stormed the "little Capuchin," giving orders here and striking a blow there, until he heard trumpet calls from the other side. It was Starhemberg, and the Turks were between two fires; there was no longer any escape, they must go down in this sea of fire and flame.

Vienna was saved. The Turks fled, and the dragoons kept close at their heels. Order had now to be restored in all directions.

A little defeat which the Polish cavalry had suffered on the seventh of October at Parkan was revenged two days later by the reunited army. Margrave Louis of Baden took the city by storm; then Gran surrendered, and this closed the famous campaign of the year 1683.

Before the year had closed Prince Eugene had received the thanks of the Emperor for his gallantry. On the twelfth of December, 1683, he was appointed Commander and Colonel of the Kuefstein regiment of dragoons; and this fine regiment he retained without a break during his long career. For a long time it had the honor of being a model for the whole imperial cavalry. And is it a wonder? Prince Eugene understood his profession and was a past master in the art of war.