Prince Eugene - George Upton

The Battle of Zenta

In the year 1697 we find Prince Eugene a Field-Marshal. How did he arrive so quickly at such high honors? Old Count von Starhemberg, at that time president of the Imperial Council of War, had recommended him to the Emperor with the words: "I know of no one who possesses more understanding, experience, industry, and zeal in the Emperor's service, no one who is more generous and unselfish, or who possesses the love of the soldiery to a higher degree, than Prince Eugene of Savoy." This was a recommendation which carried great weight, above all from the mouth of so brave, thorough, and experienced a soldier as old Starhemberg, the valiant defender of Vienna. It was a time also when such a well recommended man could be very useful.

All was quiet in Italy, to be sure; the campaign on the Rhine was not being very actively conducted; but in Hungary the arch-enemy of Christendom threatened anew, and Eugene was the real scourge of the Turks. This warlike nation had, in more recent years, gained the ascendency through the breaking up of the imperial forces. The Elector of Saxony, Frederick August the Second, as the Emperor's commander-in-chief, had not been man enough to hold them back or destroy them. Fortunately, just at the right time, he was relieved of the command of the army, by accepting the throne of Poland. In this position he injured the German cause far less than he might have done as a soldier. When the Emperor's troops in Hungary learned that Prince Eugene was to command them again, there was loud rejoicing. Starhemberg's words about the love of the soldiers for him had already proved themselves true. It was really from this time that Eugene began his victorious career. He had now to depend solely on himself; upon his own powers, his own genius, and had no one above or beside him to tie his hands.

It must not be forgotten that Belgrade had again been taken from the Emperor. The Viennese Council of War did not consider it prudent, just then, to attempt its recapture, although Eugene would certainly have accomplished the task. It was far more necessary to furnish the half-starved army with provisions and clothing, and to improve the very loose discipline. For this latter task Eugene, with all his mildness, was well fitted—for the soldiers loved the thirty-two-year-old Field-Marshal like a father, and love makes obedience easy. Eugene gathered the scattered army together into camp at Cobila. Here he learned that the Turkish ruler, Mustapha the Second, was in Belgrade and had built bridges over the rivers Danube and Save.

It was the universal opinion in the army that the Turks intended to cross the Save and attack Peterwardein. Eugene was the only one who understood the situation. He saw that the Turks had quite a different plan, and intended to push forward by forced marches toward Siebenburgen to attack the eight Austrian regiments under General Rabutin, who were coming up. Leaving a sufficiently strong corps behind to observe the enemy, Eugene marched with the greater part of his forces along the Theiss to meet Rabutin.

It turned out splendidly; the meeting took place; and now Eugene determined to return to Peterwardein to defend this fortress against possible attacks of the enemy. He arrived there just in time to prevent the Turks from destroying the bridges over the marshes at St. Thomas-Syreck. A cheerful and courageous spirit prevailed throughout the army; the confidence of the leader communicated itself to each individual soldier. Eugene had good spies and scouts, those necessary evils of the army even down to our day. From one of them he learned that the Turks were going to advance on Szegedin, take the city and then hurry on to Siebenburgen.

As this had to be prevented under all circumstances, Eugene hurried forward so quickly by forced marches, that by the twelfth of September he was within a mile of the enemy. He determined to attack at once. You should have seen the former little abbe or Capuchin now! The thought of fighting his first battle independently, without interference from any one, developed in the highest degree all the latent resources of his genius. He was equally ready in decision and in execution, and still his plans were so well considered and to the point that, as an eye witness declared, "there was no loophole for the goddess of chance to decide the day against him."

Scarcely had Eugene completed the placing of his army when a part of the Turkish cavalry made a descent upon him. To repulse them with great loss was an easy matter. And now the cannon began to roar from all sides—a terrible concert. One could see, from the continuous cloud of dust in the Turkish camp, that the Austrians were hitting the mark. After a sharp bombardment, the command was given, "Forward! march!" The Turkish entrenchments had to be taken in spite of a heavy fire from the enemy's lines. It was a bloody piece of work in which many a brave soldier bit the dust. Very likely the columns sometimes hesitated, but a glance at their brave leaders, their beloved Prince Eugene at the head, urged them forward. During this advance toward the enemy's front, Eugene had ordered the left wing of the army, under Starhemberg, to open a passage into the enemy's camp across the sandbars of the Theiss.

In spite of the desperate defence of the janissaries who, attacked from the rear, fought with the courage of despair, they were forced back step by step. The Austrian lines reached the entrenchments, which they carried with a rush and then began to scale the walls. To heighten the courage of his soldiers still more, Eugene himself led the cavalry regiment Styrum into the fight. Once more a terrific conflict broke out at the barricades, once more success seemed doubtful. There was less and less room for the cavalry to operate; there was nothing left but to leave the outcome to the already decimated infantry. But this the cavalry did not wish to do; they wanted to claim a share in the honors of victory. Like lightning they dismounted, mingling with the rapidly advancing infantry, and together they threw themselves against the entrenchments.

The janissaries saw that they were lost, but they resolved to sell their lives dearly. They threw away their muskets and drew their sabres. A short but terrible carnage began, man to man, eye to eye. The Emperor's troops in the majority, holding the advantage on every side, did terrible destruction. At last, with cries like wild animals, the janissaries turned for flight; all was not lost—the outlet over the bridge was still open. Horrible delusion! The general's eye had not failed here. The road to the bridge had long since been cut off—no outlet in any direction, no help! In wild confusion the Turks swarmed the rocky banks of the Theiss, where they were pushed, crowded by their own numbers and driven into the water by the Austrians with loud cries of victory, and thus most of them perished in the river. Terrible conflicts such as these took place all over the battlefield. Drunk with victory, the soldiers seemed to crave blood. With cries of: "This for Vienna!" "This for Buda!" "This for Belgrade!" they gave no quarter, and scorned the highest ransoms offered in order to take vengeance on their ancient enemies.

It was only nightfall which ended this bloody battle. Twenty thousand Turks lay dead or wounded on the field, ten thousand had found death in the wild waters of the Theiss. Barely a thousand had fled to the opposite shore, whence the Sultan watched the destruction of the faithful; the tragic end of his hopes. In the fear that his retreat toward Temesvar might be cut off by the Austrian troops, he rode away in the night on a fleet steed, accompanied by only a small band.

Messengers of victory hurried to Vienna. In his report to the Emperor, Eugene picturesquely said: "Even the sun would not set, until it had seen the complete triumph of the imperial arms." And the great general added: "Next to God's help, the victory at Zenta is to be ascribed to the heroic spirit of the leaders and soldiers." This modest soldier said not a word about himself and yet he had been the soul of it all. His military keenness, the boldness of his decisions, and not least of all, the energy with which he had carried out his plans on this day—which will always be a glorious one in Austrian annals—redound to his highest fame.

Eugene's fame spread on the wings of the wind over the whole of Germany and of Europe. He was classed with the greatest generals and even his enemies said, "This has been a miracle."

What must King Louis the Fourteenth and Louvois have thought of this? Perhaps they may have had a presentiment that some day France herself might be in his power.

The following day Eugene led the victorious army into the deserted camp of the Sultan. Here they discovered treasures beyond belief. Besides three million piastres in the war chest, they found an immense quantity of all kinds of weapons, all the ammunition and baggage, whole herds of camels, oxen, and sheep, and a great number of flags, horse-tails, standards, and other trophies of war.

Such a victory as this at Zenta had never been won by Christians over unbelievers, and the heathen had never before suffered such a terrible defeat. It was now necessary to follow up the victory and to gather the fruits of it. The way in which Eugene contrived to do this in spite of many drawbacks and hindrances serves but to add another glorious leaf to his victor's wreath. In short, in a single campaign he had reconquered Siebenburgen, Hungary as far as Temesvar, also Banat and Slavonia as far as Belgrade for his Emperor.

At the end of November Eugene returned to Vienna. The Emperor received him with every mark of favor and gratitude, and presented him with a sword richly set with precious stones. The populace enthusiastically greeted the famous conqueror of the Turks. He who had already so often repulsed the infidels had now exceeded their wildest hopes. Eugene became the people's hero and ever remained so.

On the twenty-sixth of January, 1699, peace was declared between the Emperor and the Porte, after seventy-two days of negotiations at Carlovitz, a little town near Peterwardein. This consummation, ardently desired by conquerors and conquered, had been brought about by Eugene.

The time of peace was taken advantage of by the Prince to found a home for himself in Vienna. This had long been his secret wish so that he could live quietly and devote himself to scientific study, for which he was more and more inclined. The house which he bought stood in the street called "Gate of Heaven," in the same place where later he built his new palace Belvedere, at present the seat of the Ministry of Finance. The Emperor also presented him with important estates in Hungary, and the Prince bought others for a mere song. There were now great hopes for an extended period of peace. The sound of arms had died away in the West as well as in the East, and even the mischief-maker, King Louis the Fourteenth, was eager to bequeath to his people the memory of a peace-loving ruler. The world drew a long breath, but alas—all too soon, to be again plunged into fresh disorders and new alarms of war.