6/17/12

The Night Attack 1462: Vlad the Impaler and the Ottoman-Wallachian War of 1461-1476

On the night of June 17th in the year 1462, Prince Vlad Tepes, known to history as Vlad the Impaler or Prince Dracula (b.1431-1476), carried out a daring night raid on the armed camp of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (b.1432-1481) during the Ottoman-Wallachian Wars 1456-c.1475. A bloody battle ensued when Vlad's cavalry and infantry attacked the Ottomans outside Târgoviște (Tirgoviste) in Wallachia (modern day Romania) which came to be know as the 'Night Attack'. It is believed that Prince Vlad launched the assault in an assassination attempt on Sultan Mehmed following the Turkish invasion of Romania in 1462, in what is mostly modern day Romania and Bulgaria.

Prince Vlad III on campaign

The real Dracula, known also by his cognomen, Vlad Tepes or Vlad the Impaler, was a vovoide (princely ruler ) of Wallachia, a once moderately influential kingdom in the Southern Balkans known archaically still today as a portion of Transylvania. Prince Vlad III, Dracula (son of the dragon) had inherited his titles from his father, Prince Vlad II Dracul who had been a member of the Order of the Dragon, a crusader-type noble order founded by the King of Hungary and king of the Holy Roman, Emperor Sigismund in the year 1408; devoted to defending the Balkan kingdoms from the Ottoman Muslims

Prince Vlad II ruled Wallachia as voivode (royal prince) before being ultimately being deposed by the armies of the Hungarian Kingdoms and the boyar (feudal aristocracy) plotters in 1447. The same anti-House Drăculești forces killed his eldest son Prince Mircea as well. Prince Vlad II's two surviving sons, Vlad III and Radu were sent into exile to live as hostages of the Turkish Sultans during the reign of Vladislav II of the House of Dănești. In the year 1456 Vlad returned to Wallachia and overthrew and killed Vladislav II in single combat, gaining the crown as prince of Wallachia.

Portrait of Prince Vlad III, Dracula, State Library of Stuttgart

His brother Prince Radu the Handsome (Radu cel Frumos) eventually converted to Islam and fought for the Ottomans, commanding a Janissary battalion against his countrymen as Radu Bey. As a young man Prince Vlad had gained courtly experience in Hungary and Moldavia. He grew close with his cousin Stephen III of Moldavia (b.1433-1504) and they had fought side-by-side in the Battle of Crasna against the Poles in the year 1450. When Prince Vlad was voivode of Wallachia in 1457 he sent military aid to Stephen helping him to win the Moldavian crown later in that year.

Many early sources place Prince Vlad III in the context of the late Crusader Era as a ruthless and fanatical anti-Muslim king in the east-a crusader prince in opposition to the feared ever expanding Turks. Ultimately however his violent efforts for control of Wallachia and Romania were unable to turn back the Ottomans 'onslaught' or his own enemies, the boyars, members of the rival House of Danesti who allied and plotted against him throughout his troubled reign, and the Hungarians/Moldavians as ell. Vlad ruled Wallachia for a short time as a young man in 1448, from 1456-1462, and then again in 1476 for less than a year. One of his lasting legacies were the series of bloody purges and mass executions perpetrated against his domestic enemies in 1459-1460.

Battle of Breadfield 1479, Hungarian-Wallachian Wars Against the Ottoman Empire

The second phase of the Ottoman-Wallachian War began in 1461 after Prince Vlad refused to pay taxation on all non-Muslims living within his kingdom (the Jizya) which the Turks claimed rightful rule over. The Kingdom of Wallachia  had remained for many years as a semi-independent vassal state caught in between the Christian Kingdoms of the west and Sultanate in the east. Wallachian cavalry had raided Bulgaria and Transylvania in the previous on the order of Prince Vlad Dracula drawing the ire of both ethnic-German settlers and the Ottoman Empire.

In response to Vlad Dracula's declaration of war, Turkish soldiers landed in Romania via the Olt River in the summer of 1462. Soon after Sultan Mehmed II came ashore as well along with Prince Radu who commanded some 4,000 Turkish cavalry. This Turkish force numbered around 100,000-130,000 soldiers and noncombatants. This army was comprised of well trained and armed household janissary battalions, tens of thousands of infantry, sipahi cavalry, and artillery. Hundreds of Turkish ships were moored in the Black Sea as a result of this conflict.

Woodcut of Prince Vlad, Vovoide of Wallachia, Nuremburg 1488 

Knowing that his 30,000-50,000 strong Wallachian army could not stop the vast Turkish army, Prince Vlad engaged in a sharp and bloody scorched earth and guerrilla campaign in his war against Sultan Mehmed and the Turks. Peasants and laborers fled their homes and occupations to hide in the swamps and marshes. A hot summer added to the misery of the Turkish troops who could find little food or water in a hostile and foreign territory. Thousands of Turks would die on the one week march across the Danube River and into the heart of Romania from diseases alone.

The Night Attack

The battle that is called the Night Attack or 'Night of Attack' was a raid launched by Prince Vlad Dracula in order to overrun the camp of Sultan Mehmed II and to kill the sultan and thus rout his much larger force. According to one period Italian source, Vlad Dracula learned the location of the sultan's camp from several captured Turkish foragers that he had taken prisoner at twilight on the eve of the surprise raid. It was fought in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains south of Tîrgoviște. According to one Turkish chronicler, the battle began about three hours after the sun had set and was fought with intensity until four in the morning the next day. The Night Attack was a bloody and costly incursion where men fought to the death, shadowed in the darkness of night only faintly illuminated with scant touches of campfire and torches.

"The Battle with Torches", Theodor Aman-1896

With 24,000 men in his overall command he marched on the Turkish camp and attacked "like lightning" in a daring raid causing "great slaughter" and chaos in the Turkish camp. His soldiers carried torches whilst they stormed the sleeping and quiet Turkish camp, slaying hundreds with sword, mace, and spear before many janissaries or common soldiers could arm themselves. Another Wallachian boyar commanded troops alongside Vlad but had been unwilling to join in on the attack, diminishing the already grave Turkish casualties which were sustained in the battle. After the Night Attack, Turkish commander Ali Bey Mihaloğlu and a few thousand Turkish janissaries were tasked with pursuing a wounded Dracula and the rest of his 6,000-8,000 men whilst they attempting to flee further north, capturing or killing an additional 2,000 Wallachians in the chase.

Though the Night Attack failed in its greater objective of killing Sultan Mehmed II and neutralizing his command, Dracula's heavily outnumbered army still inflicted heavy casualties on the Turks as they retreated to the Romanian coast. One source notes that Dracula lost 5,000 men and the Turks lost 15,000 men counting the skirmishes fought in aftermath of the night attack. The remaining 70-90,000 soldiers of the Sultan's army eventually retreated east beginning in 22-23 June. Several various secondary and primary sources confer that the withdrawal from Wallachia was due to the fear instilled in the Turkish army when they witnessed perhaps as many as 20,000 Turkish captives impaled to death on wooden stakes outside the city of Tîrgoviște. Though overextended lines of supply and diseases certainly would have thinned Turkish ranks. Sultan Mehmed greatly respected (and feared) Prince Vlad; he was literally in awe of his destructive and violent capabilities and thought him a man of immense power.

Turkish Soldiers as depicted in Hungary c.1400-1500's

Vlad did not enjoy his success long when in the late summer of 1462 his cousin King Stephen of Moldavia attacked Wallachia with Turkish aid attempting to take the fortress at Chilia. Vlad and his Hungarian allies defeated Stephen's army at a heavy cost to the Moldavians and King Stephen himself was wounded seriously in the battle. One fact is obvious in contrary to the opinion of Sultan Mehmed; Vlad Dracula did not rule Wallachia with supreme confidence. Eventually Dracula was overthrown by the ever scheming and powerful boyars in yet another internal plot against his families' rule. He fled to the Kingdom of Hungary and Croatia after he was dethroned in the winter of 1462-1463 where he became a prisoner of his former ally King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary until his release sometime in 1466.

Prince Vlad's brother Radu the Handsome had taken control of a portion of Romanian lands until his sudden death in 1475. A power vacuum had formed very quickly and Vlad most certainly felt that the time was nearing for him to finally reclaim Wallachia. A year later an army led by Prince Vlad and Prince Stephen Bathory of Ecsed (b.1430-1493), a Transylvanian vovoide and Order of the Dragon member, entered Romania with an army. After which Vlad was made again vovoide of Wallachia for a time. However he was soon dethroned for a second time and killed in battle or assassinated by the ever plotting boyars near Bucharest in late 1476 or early 1477. According to legend and several historical chronicles; his was head was severed and then sent as proof of his demise to his old adversary, Sultan Mehmed II in Constantinople.

Suggested Further Reading
Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Time of the Historical Dracula. Kurt W. Treptow (2000).

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times. Radu R Florescu and Raymond T. McNally (Back Bay Books, 1990). 261 pgs.

1 comment:

  1. - Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476), was a member of the House of Drăculești. His father Vlad the II was Dracul, Vlad the III was the impaler.
    - Wallachia is in the north of balkans and in the south of Transylvania. Map of balkan peninsula http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Balkan_topo_en.jpg

    - In December 1447, boyars in league with the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi rebelled against Vlad II Dracul and killed him in the marshes near Bălteni. Mircea, Dracul's eldest son and heir, was blinded and buried alive at Târgoviște. To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and put young Vlad III on the throne. However, this rule was short-lived as Hunyadi himself now invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II, of the Dănești clan, to the throne.
    - as for books : Florescu, Radu R. & McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, prince of many faces: his life and his times. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-28655-9.


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