Battle of Călugăreni (1595)

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Wallachian victory at Battle of Călugăreni (1595)

Battle of Calugareni 1595

Wallachian Army

After the battle of Mohacs (1526), most of Hungary fell into
Turkish hands, but Transylvania, Moldavia and Wallachia (today making up
Roumania) were left as semi-independent states in a ‘no-man’s-land’ between
Turks, Poles and Austrians. Wallachia was generally a Turkish satellite, but 20
standards of Wallachians served in the Polish forces, and their princes or
Voivodes sometimes fought the Turks – Michael the Brave winning a notable
victory over them at Călugăreni (1595). Wallachian armies of this period were
entirely of cavalry, mainly nobles, lightly equipped, with spear, shield, sabre
and often bow, occasionally replaced with pistols. A Polish source says they
were very brave, but great looters!

At Călugăreni the Wallachians had the aid of Cossack and
Transylvanian contingents. The Princes of Transylvania fought for and against
most of their neighbours at one time or another and were involved in the early
stages of the 30 Years’ War. Unusually for the area, the Transylvanian nobility
got on fairly well with the peasantry (apart from Count Dracula, I presume) so
that their army included infantry as well as the traditional levy of mobile
cavalry. After 1606, the Princes established landless wanderers – ‘Haiduks’ –
on holdings along the Turkish frontier, on military service terms like the
Austrian ‘Grenzers’.

Opposition to the Ottomans was constant, but the majority of
princes were realists. Aware that their countries were too weak to challenge
Ottoman supremacy directly, they looked for support to Po- land, the Habsburg
empire, and Russia. Theirs was the classic strategy of playing powerful
neighbors off against one another, thereby securing independence. One of the
high points of this delicate game was the reign of Michael the Brave of
Walachia (ruled 1593-1601), who allied himself with the Habsburgs and won
several significant victories over Ottoman armies, notably at Călugăreni in
1595. He also brought Moldavia and the principality of Transylvania under his
rule for a brief time, but his enemies prevailed, and the Ottomans regained
their predominance over the principalities.

Wallachian offensive

Michael led an army of mounted Wallachians south across the
Danube River into Ottoman- held Bulgaria in January 1595. The swift- moving
column systematically captured a string of Ottoman strongholds along the
Danube, including Rusciuc, Silistra, Nicopolis and Chilia. These gains greatly
worried the Ottomans because it threatened their supply line along the Lower

In the meantime, Transylvanian Voivode Sigismund Bathory
sought to establish his authority, with Rudolf’s approval, over the voivodes of
Wallachia and Moldavia. Transylvania historically was part of Hungary, but its
ruler often oversaw regional matters on behalf of the Habsburg emperor.

Voivode Aaron of Moldavia dutifully arrived in the
Transylvanian capital of Alba Iulia. Bathory imprisoned and poisoned Aaron so
that he could install one of his own officials, Stefan Razvan, as ruler of
Moldavia. Bathory also summoned Michael, but the Wallachian was busy
campaigning against the Ottomans, so he sent a group of Wallachian boyars
(aristocratic landowners) to act on his behalf. They signed an agreement
whereby Michael became Bathory’s vassal.

Michael expected a large Ottoman army to invade Wallachia to
restore the disrupted supply line to the war zone in northern Hungary. The
Ottomans needed to secure the corridor in order to safely move troops, siege
guns, ammunition and food stores to the battlefront in Hungary. The Ottomans
also wanted to secure Wallachia because they relied on it for grain and horses
for their armies.

Sinan Pasha invaded Wallachia in the summer of 1595 with
115,000 troops for the purpose of securing the Ottoman supply corridor along
the Lower Danube. To oppose him, Michael had 22,000 Wallachian, Székely and
Cossack troops. The native Wallachians and the Cossacks fought mounted, whereas
the Székelys fought on foot.

Michael deployed his troops in a strong position on marshy
ground behind the Neajlov River, south of the village of Călugăreni, to impede
the Ottoman akinji and sipahi horsemen. As they advanced against the
Wallachians on 25 August, the troops of the Ottoman vanguard ran into stiff
resistance while crossing a bridge over the Neajlov.

Once the Ottomans had secured a foothold on the north side
of the Neajlov, the janissaries went to work constructing makeshift causeways
and bridges through the marshes using logs and planks. When his entire army was
on hand, Sinan Pasha attempted a double envelopment with his skilled horsemen.

The Turks never managed to achieve their double envelopment
because Michael moved to seize the initiative. He dispatched a portion of his
cavalry on a wide flanking move in which it assailed the Ottoman flank and
rear. While the cavalry was moving into position, Michael led a spirited attack
on the Ottoman centre, wading into the enemy ranks swinging his double-bladed
axe. The Ottomans fell back in the face of the fearsome counterattack. The
victorious Wallachians seized 15 guns and captured the green banner of the
prophet as a trophy.

Unable to further resist the much larger Ottoman army and
wanting to avoid destruction, Michael withdrew north across the Wallachian
plain to the safety of the primeval woods of the Transylvanian Alps. Sinan
Pasha retook the fortress of Giurgiu and then occupied Targoviste and

Using captured Ottoman guns to support his men, Michael
defeated the Ottomans at Targoviste in 1595.

Michael requested troops from Bathory, who duly came to his
aid. At the head of a 40,000-strong Wallachian-Transylvanian army Michael
recaptured Targoviste on 18 October. Instead of attacking Michael, Sinan Pasha
retreated towards the Danube for fear that Michael would cut his supply line.
Michael’s troops attacked the Ottomans at Giurgiu on 27 October. The Ottomans,
who were withdrawing to the south bank of the Danube over a bridge of boats,
had to fight a desperate rearguard action to protect their crossing. Sinan
Pasha sacrificed his rearguard in order to get the main body safely across.

Wallachian Cavalryman c. 1575

The original occupants of what is now known as Romania
called themselves Vlachs (not to be confused with a similar word used in Serbia
and Bulgaria for cattle-raisers), and formed three independent states:
Wallachia about 1324, Moldavia in 1359 and Transylvania at the beginning of the
fifteenth century. First they were vassals of Hungary, later battlegrounds for
the interests of Hungary, Poland, Austria and Turkey. At the beginning of the
fifteenth century, the Ottoman Turks appeared on the borders of Wallachia,
which finally fell under their rule in 1526, after the Battle of Mohacs. Prince
Vlad Tepes the Impaler (1418-56) (also known as Count Dracula) gained notoriety
through his cruelty in the struggle against the Turks, and it was from him that
the Turks learned to impale their prisoners on stakes without killing them at
once, a skill they were later to use extensively. After the Turkish occupation,
the Vlachs shared the fate of all occupied peoples. The local feudal lords
(bospodars) often rose against the Turks, and took to the mountains and woods
with their armed bands.

In equipment and appearance, the Vlachs were similar to the
Hungarians and Russians; they wore large fur capes decorated with feathers, and
sported the characteristic long, rounded beards. After their victory over the
Turks at Călugăreni in 1595, Vlach armies became almost completely cavalry
forces. Several contemporary engravings by de Bruyn, made between 1575 and
1581, help us to reconstruct the appearance of the Wallachian cavalrymen.

They belonged, for the most part, to a type of light cavalry
(calarasi), who acquired much of their equipment and equestrian skills from the
Ottomans. Besides training their horses to walk, trot and gallop, the Vlachs
taught them to walk like camels, moving both legs on one side at the same time.
Today one can find horses walking that way, but it is considered a bad trait.

From the end of the sixteenth century, Wallachians served as
mercenary horsemen to both the Ottoman Empire and its enemies – Poland, Hungary
and Russia. They were organized in squadrons (sotnia, from the Russian word for
100) of about one hundred men. At one time there were 20 sotnias in Polish
service in the Ukraine, and one of the frequent motifs on their flags was a
bull’s head. Like the Ottomans, they refused to use firearms for a long time;
their main weapons were spear, sabre and composite bow. For protection, they
wore mail shirts and used a light round shield.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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