Világos
Surrender at Világos Photo: honvedelem.hu

One hundred and seventy years ago, the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight against the Habsburg Empire ended at the plateau of Világos. The longest-lasting revolution and freedom fight of 1848 was broken down by the combined forces of two superpowers in the continent: the Habsburg Empire and the Russian Empire. On 13th August, 29889 men, 9839 horses and 144 cannons were gathered at the plateau of Világos. Many soldiers were crying, kissing the Hungarian flags and hugging their horses in a distressing atmosphere. 

In the 19th century, the Hungarian kingdom was part of the Habsburg Empire. In 1848 several revolutions broke out all over Europe for freedom against the tyrannical absolutist systems. One of these revolutions was in Hungary on 15th March 1848. The revolution was successful without blood in Pest, and it made Emperor Ferdinand V. accept the April Laws, so Hungary became a constitutional monarchy with a sovereign government of Pest – the Batthyány government. 

Pákozd - 1848
Battle of Pákozd
Photo: honvedelem.hu

The Habsburgs’ answer came quickly – Croatian troops attacked Hungary from the South with Austrian help, led by Josip Jelacic. The Croatian ban and Habsburg general was defeated by János Móga (commander in chief of the newly formed Hungarian army) at the battle of Pákozd 29th September 1848. After that, the third revolution of Vienna broke out on 6th October. The Hungarian army was chasing Jellacic but hesitated to cross the border or not – if they did, it would not be home defence anymore. Finally, they decided to help the revolutionaries of Vienna, but they were too late – general Windisch-Grätz broke down the revolution and repelled the Hungarian troops at the battle of Schwechat (30th October 1848). The uprising turned into a

freedom fight, to defend Hungarian liberty and independence. 

What came next was troubling for the Hungarians. Revolts broke out among the ethnic minorities of the country (Serbs, Romanians) supported by the Empire. In the meantime, imperial troops launched a full-scale invasion of the country. The Hungarian army was greatly outnumbered, so it had to retreat and give up the capital, Pest-Buda (4th January 1849) – the government moved to Debrecen. Emperor Ferdinand V. resigned and the new emperor Francis Joseph I was crowned. After losing the battle of Kápolna (28th February) the new Constitution of Olmütz was introduced which declared Hungary to be an integrated, province of the Habsburg Empire.

Görgei tábornok
General Görgei
Photo: honvedelem.hu

Artúr Görgei reorganised the main part of the Hungarian army during its retreat, and then it was concentrated on the Eastern side of the river Tisza, preparing for the counter-attack. General Józef Bem (of Polish origin) managed to liberate Transylvania and defeat the Austrian troops (9th February – decisive battle at Piski), and in the meantime, the Serbian rebels were also defeated in the South. General Görgei (the new commander in chief) launched a full-scale counter-attack called, the Spring campaign, against the Austrian troops. This campaign was one of the most glorious ones in the entire Hungarian history. The Hungarian army achieved a series of victories (Hatvan, Tápióbicske, Isaszeg, Vác) over one of the strongest and largest armies of Europe. At the end of the campaign Pest-Buda was liberated (21st May 1849), and the Austrian army retreated. The Habsburg dynasty was officially dethroned, and Hungary was declared an independent kingdom on 14th April. Lajos Kossuth became the governor of the country. 

1849 - Buda ostroma
Siege of Buda
Photo: honvedelem.hu

However, the Habsburgs did not give up conquering back the country. As a member of the Holy Alliance (formed against Napoleon) Francis Joseph asked for the help of Nicholas I. Russian tsar. The combined forces of the two empires attacked Hungary from two sides – the Russians from the East (Transylvania) and the Austrians from the West. The Hungarian army had no real chance to stand against the invasion of the two vast armies. Kossuth authorised Görgei to start negotiations with the Russians. Shortly after the government resigned and gave full political power to Görgei. 

General Paskievics stated that he was ready to discuss the terms of surrender, but all political issues were to be negotiated with the Habsburgs. After the battle of Segesvár (31st July) and the decisive defeat at Temesvár (9th August) Görgei decided to lay down arms to the Russian army – to express, that

Hungarians were defeated by the Russian Empire, not the Habsburgs. 

The Hungarian army was out of ammunition and supply, so it had no chance to continue fighting. Görgei’s primary goal at that point was to save as many of his men as possible. On 13th August, 29 889 men, 9839 horses and 144 cannons were gathered at the plateau of Világos. Many soldiers were crying, kissing the Hungarian flags and hugging their horses in a distressing atmosphere. Görgei as “dictator” of the country took all responsibility and asked for amnesty of his men. Paskievics kept the Hungarian captives in good conditions, but he firmly warned the Hungarians not to expect pardon. Retaliation was inevitable. Beside many imprisonments, 500 revolutionaries were sentenced to death, and 110 of them were executed, including the first prime minister count Lajos Batthyány (in Pest-Buda) and the 13 generals (at Arad) with the potent contribution of the Austrian General Haynau. 

Batthyány Lajos kivégzése
Execution of Batthyány
Photo: honvedelem.hu

However, the fight was not over in the whole territory of the country. The fortress of Komárom, under György Klapka, refused to surrender and repelled the attacks of the united Austrian and Russian forces until 27th September 1849. He managed to negotiate terms with the enemy and save 30000 of his soldiers and himself in exchange for surrender. The life of Artúr Görgei was also spared. As a captive of the Russian army, it was a prestige issue for the tsar to decide about his fate. So he was taken as a hostage to Klagenfurt and later released. In emigration, Lajos Kossuth called him a traitor because of the surrender, and the public opinion turned against him, until the end of his life. The majority of the people never forgave him for giving up the fight for freedom. However, Görgei tolerated the unfair accusation with humbleness and dignity. Many Hungarians could thank him for their lives for his wise decision.

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