Slovak Uprising of 1848–49

Slovak Uprising of 1848
Part of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848

Painting of Capt. Ján Francisci with Slovak volunteers on Miava by Peter Michal Bohúň
Date19 September 1848 – 21 November 1849
LocationUpper Hungary, what is modern Slovakia.
Result Indecisive settlement

Slovakia Slovak National Council

  • Slovak militia and peasant guerrillas
  • Volunteers from Bohemia and Moravia[1]
  • Austria Austrian Imperial Support

Hungary Kingdom of Hungary

  • Hungarian Armies and Militias
Commanders and leaders
Several thousand volunteers, with Austrian Imperial support Abt. 80,000 at height
Casualties and losses
Unknown Unknown

The Slovak Uprising (of 1848/49) (Slovak: Slovenské povstanie) or Slovak Volunteer Campaigns (Slovak: Slovenské dobrovoľnícke výpravy) was an uprising of Slovaks against the Hungarian rule in Upper Hungary (now Slovakia), within the 1848–49 revolutions in the Habsburg Monarchy. It lasted from September 1848 to November 1849.


The year 1848 is well-noted in history as a peaking moment in nationalist sentiment among European nationalities. The Slovak nation, though not fully conscious of ethnicity in 1848, were certainly an important part of the general revolts occurring in the lands of the Habsburg Monarchy. After the revolutionary fervor left Paris in 1848 it traveled to Vienna, where a popular uprising ousted the reactionary government of Prince Klemens von Metternich on 13 March 1848. This revolutionary fervor soon spread to the Hungarian lands of the Empire. On 15 March, mass protests in Buda and Pest along with a proclamation of the Hungarian Diet, under direction of Lajos Kossuth, saw the Hungarian Kingdom declare itself independent of Habsburg domination.

Slovaks before 1848

Slovaks were not prominently placed in this first wave of revolution to reach Hungarian controlled lands. On 26–28 August 1844, a meeting between both Catholic and Protestant confessions of Slovaks met along with other factions in Liptószentmiklós (today: Liptovský Mikuláš). This town in the Žilina Region was the base of Slovak nationalist Michal Miloslav Hodža, uncle of future Czechoslovak politician Milan Hodza. The meeting, though with fewer than wished Catholic participation, formed a non-sectarian association called the Tatrin in order to unite all Slovak groups in one national bloc.[2] Catholics later became more involved in 1847 with their acceptance of Ľudovít Štúr's standardization of the Slovak language.

Michal Miloslav Hodža
Jozef Miloslav Hurban

In addition to the uniting of Slovaks in one national bloc, there were other factors leading to the rise in Slovak consciousness before 1848. In 1845, governmental authorities permitted the printing of Slovak language newspapers for the first time. The first one was Ľudovít Štúr's The Slovak National News which printed its first issue on 1 August 1845. This was quickly followed by Jozef Miloslav Hurban's Slovak Views on the Sciences, Arts and Literature which did not have as much success as Stur's paper. Beyond the printed word, representatives of the Slovak National Movement worked among average Slovaks promoting education, Sunday schools, libraries, amateur theatre, temperance societies and other social functions.[3] In agriculture, Samuel Jurkovic founded a credit cooperative in the village of Sobotiste, called the Farmer's Association, which was the first of its kind in Europe.[4]

In November 1847 Ľudovít Štúr, the member of the Hungarian Diet for Zvolen, spoke before his colleagues in Bratislava. In his speech to the Diet, Štúr summed up his six-point platform involving problematic political and economic issues. His points were:

Along with these points, of which several even met the praise of Kossuth, Štúr raised the issues about the use of the Slovak language in government and the enforcement of Magyar interference in many parts of Slovak life, including religion.[5]

Events of 1848–1849

The events of the years 1848–1849 caused the buildup outbreak of the Slovak Uprising.

Build up to the revolt

After the revolution in Pest-Buda in 1848 March 15., and the formation of a new government on March 17. the threat of forcible Magyarization grew ever more present. In Hont County, some of this tension came to a boiling point where two Slovaks, named Janko Kral and Jan Rotarides made demands for the liquidation of serfdom and recognition of the Slovak language in schools and the government. These demands soon landed the pair in jail.[6] On 28 March 1848 a vast assembly of former serfs convened by Liptó County and held in Hodza's base of Liptovský Mikuláš was used as a proving ground for systematic recognition of new rights and extended rights to national minorities. This was met well and soon the word was spreading about possible new freedoms that would reach Slovaks, prompting some miners in Central Slovakia to demonstrate rowdily before being quieted by a special commissioner from Budapest.

In April 1848 Štúr and Hurban left Slovakia in order to attend a preliminary Slavic meeting in Vienna, which would later provide the basis for the first Pan-Slavic Congress to be held in Prague. In the meantime, back in Liptovský Mikuláš, Hodža along with twenty delegates created a document entitled Demands of the Slovak Nation which listed 14 points setting national and social goals for the Slovak nation. Naturally this document was received coldly by Budapest, which subsequently imposed martial law on Upper Hungary and issued warrants for Štúr, Hurban and Hodža on 12 May 1848.[7] At the same time, uprisings among Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in the southern part of Hungary diverted Magyar attention to the south, as these conflicts were more armed uprisings than the Slovak one. Hurban attended a session of the Croatian Diet on 5 July, speaking to the Croats on the plight of the Slovaks. Hurban spoke so well a joint Croat-Slovak declaration was issued shortly thereafter which only inflamed Magyar opinion.[8] When the full Pan-Slavic Congress met on 2 June 1848, Štúr, Hurban, Hodža and many other prominent Slovaks attended, along with hundreds of other Slavic delegates. This congress was held with the aim of developing a cohesive strategy for all Slavic peoples living in Austro-Hungarian territories. Unfortunately, the congress was cut short when an armed uprising in Prague on 12 June prompted a hurried end to the affair. However, one critical item came out of the short congress for the Slovak cause. In the congress, the Slovaks secured the help of two Czech military officers, Bedřich Bloudek and František Zach, in case the Slovaks came to armed blows with the Hungarians.

František Zach in 1867

Though many calls for autonomy came from nearly every corner of the Empire, Vienna noted that at neither the Pan-Slavic conference nor other Slavic uprisings was the thought of the breakup of the Empire considered, only this was so in Hungary. Seeing the situation as malleable, the Emperor along with his closest advisors authorized armed action against the Hungarian uprising. This first manifested itself in the form of the leader of the Croatians, Ban (governor) Josip Jelačić, a friend of the Slovaks, who was authorized to march against the Hungarians in August 1848 after the Hungarians had defied a direct imperial order. Despite this, Vienna’s response to the Hungarian uprising had stayed largely quiet and mixed.[9] While allowing Jelacic to march against the Magyars, they had also given the Hungarian Army several units in order to help preserve internal order. At the same time, Slovaks started working with Jelacic's Croatians by creating a Slovak volunteer corps. This corps was put together and gathered in Vienna from August to September 1848. In order to lead this burgeoning revolt, a Slovak National Council was organized in Vienna, where a marker stands today commemorating the spot. The council was made up of Štúr, Hurban and Hodža—the "big three" of the Slovak nationalist groups—with the Czech František Zach as commander-in-chief.


Slovak volunteers, 1848/49

Initially, the strategy for the volunteer corps was not clear. However, on 16 September a decision was made that the 600 men of the corps would march from Vienna, up the Vág River valley and into Turóc County and Liptó County Counties via the southern Moravian town of Břeclav. When the corps arrived at the Slovak border on the 18th, they were met with 500 more volunteers from Brno and Prague. Once convened, the volunteers received arms and swore an oath on the Slovak flag. Despite nudging Viennese cooperation, when the volunteers encountered Imperial troops on the road to Miava they were regarded coolly by the troops.[10]

Once the volunteers arrived in Miava, an assembly of Slovaks with Hurban presiding took the step of seceding from Hungary on 19 September 1848. Imperial troops soon ordered the Slovaks volunteers to leave Myjava, though this order was rejected and instead the corps attacked an Imperial detachment and confiscated its supplies. Despite this inauspicious act, Imperial troops ordered both sides to halt the fighting. After several more days of indecisive armed action, the volunteers retreated back into Moravia. Not long after, the new commander of Imperial forces sent to restore order in the Kingdom of Hungary, Count von Lamberg, was hacked and mangled by an irate mob in central Budapest only three days after arrival.[11] This halted attempts at negations between Kossuth and the Imperial party.[12] The Viennese response was to formally order the disbandment the Hungarian Diet and the appointment of Ban Josip Jelačić as newest commander over Hungary. However, effective response to this latest development was also halted by another popular, pan-Germanic uprising in Vienna at the time which resulted in the death of war minister Count Latour on 6 October 1848.

In this midst of the turmoil in Vienna, which saw the Emperor and the Imperial Diet flee to Olomouc in Moravia, Magyars stepped up measures against Slovaks, stripping the leaders of the Slovak National Council of their Hungarian citizenship and executing a handful of prisoners. This move caused the Slovak faction to appeal more to the Imperial court and despite initial concerns of the commander-in-chief Prince Windisch-Grätz, another Slovak volunteer unit was allowed to be created.[13] Initial recruitment problems delayed this second campaign of the volunteer units until 4 December 1848. Throughout December and January, the Slovak volunteers under Bloudek worked with Imperial troops to reoccupy Túrócszentmárton. On 13 January 1849 a mass rally in Túrócszentmárton was followed by the signing up of new volunteers. Acting with Imperial support, Bloudek moved east and, picking up another few thousand volunteers,[14] occupied Prešov (Eperjes) on 26 February and Košice (Kassa) on 2 March. Meanwhile, another detachment of Slovaks was defeated after running into Magyar forces near Muráň (Murányalja) in Banská Bystrica. To make matters worse, dissension between Czech and Slovak officers in the volunteer corps began to erupt.

A young Emperor Franz Joseph I

After leading activist rallies in Eperjes and Túrócszentmárton, Štúr and Hurban led a delegation of twenty-four men to meet the new Emperor Franz Jozef with a proposal to make Slovakia an autonomous grand duchy directly under Viennese oversight with representation in the Imperial Diet. The delegates also requested a Slovak provincial diet, with further demands for Slovak schools and institutions. Despite a formal audience with the Emperor, little real progress resulted and the Slovaks were sent packing hoping for more productive results in the future.[15]

After several victorious battles in Spring of 1849, Kossuth and the Hungarian Diet declared the Habsburgs deposed on 14 April 1849. Around the same time, the Slovak volunteer corps, largely stationed in Árva County, was dealing with internal struggles of its own. Conflicts between Czech and Slovak officers soon brought about the effectual dissolving of the corps.[16] After Russian intervention by Tsar Nicholas I brought about the gradual fall of Kossuth and Hungarian independence. During this period, the corps was revived one final time to 'mop-up' isolated Magyar units until the eventual capitulation of Magyar forces at Világos (what is now Şiria in Romania) on 13 August 1849. On 9 October 1849, the Imperial army transferred the Slovak corps from the central territories of Upper Hungary to Pozsony, where it was formally disbanded on 21 November 1849. This marked the end of Slovak participation in the Revolutions of 1848–1849 that swept the continent of Europe[17]


Slovak Perspective

Historians Anton Špiesz and Dušan Čaplovič sum up the impacts of the uprising and the era the following way:

Many Magyar historians have presented a positive evaluation of Kossuth and the Magyar revolution. On the other hand, they have branded the activities of Štúr and the Slovak volunteers and their cooperation with the Viennese Court and Imperial army as counter-revolutionary. In truth, Štúr and the Slovak leaders, by their conduct during the revolution of 1848–49, demonstrated that they well understood the [...] nature of Magyar nationalism, which refused to even acknowledge Slovak existence. [...Kossuth's] contention that the Viennese Court was oppressing Hungary economically and politically cannot be accepted without major reservations. After all, Hungary had enjoyed a permanent credit balance in trade with the nations of Cisleithania; more money had flown into the Hungarian treasury from those nations than vice versa. Indeed, even the measure of political freedom enjoyed by Hungary had been greater than that of the Czech Kingdom, or even of Austria 'proper' and the other ethnic groups of Cisleithania. It is possible, however, to sympathize with Kossuth and the Magyar leaders in their fear of various political combinations under active contemplation in Central Europe at the time; for instance, German unification, embracing the entirety of the Habsburg realm, or a complete restructuring of the Austrian Empire on an ethnic basis. In either of these constructs, the Magyars would have found themselves in the minority. [...] These various consideration may help clarify, but they certainly do not justify, the total suppression of non-Magyar nationalities in Hungary.
Anton Špiesz and Dušan Čaplovič, 2006.

Hungarian perspective

However, the Slovak nation siding with Vienna is a widespread myth, in truth the number of Slovaks fighting on the other side is a magnitude greater. In fact, Slovaks had a higher percentage of their population serving in the Honvédség (Home Guard), then Hungarians. Notable troops with purely or almost purely Slovak soldiers are the 2., the 4., the 34., the 51., the 60. and the 124. infantry battalions, and a lot of Slovaks served in the famous red-hatted 9. battalion. Also, the 8. and 10. Hussar regiment had more companies composed from Slovak soldiers. There were also a lot of high-ranking officers in the Honvédség, who thought themselves as of Slovak patriots, the most notable one is probably Lajos Beniczky, who was nicknamed the "Duke of Slovakians" by contemporaries, and who didn't learn Hungarian till after the end of the war.

See also

Notes and references

  1. Liptai, E.: Magyarország hadtörténete I. (1984), Zrínyi Military Publisher ISBN 963-326-320-4 p. 481.
  2. Špiesz, pp. 107
  3. Špiesz, pp. 108–109
  4. Špiesz, pp. 109
  5. Špiesz, pp. 110
  6. Špiesz, pp. 111
  7. Mallows, pp. 191
  8. Špiesz, pp. 114–115
  9. Špiesz, pp. 115
  10. Špiesz, pp. 116
  11. Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences, vol. 13 pp. 429
  12. Špiesz, pp. 117
  13. Špiesz, pp. 118–119
  14. Špiesz, pp. 119
  15. Bartl, pp. 222
  16. Špiesz, pp. 121
  17. Špiesz, pp. 122


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