Artúr Görgey, General of the 1848-49 War of Independence, Was Born 200 Years Ago Today
Fanni Kaszás 2018.01.30.
Artúr Görgey, possibly the most skilled Hungarian commander in the 1848-49 Revolution and War of Independence, and undoubtedly the most controversial, was born 200 years ago this day, on 30 January, 1818. After he was forced to surrender at Világos, he was accused by Hungarian nationalist contemporaries of “betraying” the country, and had to spend his life as “victim of national vanity and nationalistic romanticism”.
Görgey was a member of an aristocratic family that could trace its roots back to the middle ages. After serving in the military, he studied chemistry, before joining the new Hungarian military as a captain to take part in the fight for independence; it was at this time that he changed his surname from the aristocratic Görgey to Görgei. He soon became major and commandant of the troops north of the river Tisza, and won battle after battle (Kápolna, Gödöllő, Isaszeg), saving the collective skins of Hungary’s young government on more than one occasion. Eventually, he assumed command over the entire Hungarian military.
After Hungary’s declaration of independence on 14 April 1849, Görgey agreed to merge his command with the post of minister of defense, although he disaproved of the dethronement of the Habsburgs. When the war turned against Hungary, he refused suggestions to move his armies to the western frontier, proclaim himself military dictator, and make peace with the Austrians before the expected Russian invasion occurred.
from left to right: Artúr Görgey, Mór Perczel, József Bem, Henrik Dembinszky, Lajos Kossuth, Lajos Aulich. (photo: dka.oszk.hu)
Unable to gain control of the situation, Emperor Francis Joseph penned a letter to Russian Tsar Nicholas I seeking armed assistance in subduing the Hungarian freedom struggle. As a result, a Russian army numbering 200,000 men burst into Hungary in mid-June 1849. Outnumbering Hungarian troops several times over, it easily crushed the Hungarian military, despite fierce resistance.
On August 11th, with Hungary’s situation hopeless, Kossuth abdicated as governor in favour of Görgey. Two days later, on August 13th, the Hungarian army, led by Görgey, was forced to surrender to Russian general Theodor von Rüdiger’s troops at Világos (today: Şiria, Romania). His generals were court-martialed and only the personal intervention of the Russian emperor Nicholas I spared Görgey from execution.
This surrender, to Russian rather than Austrian troops, led Kossuth to decry Görgey as a traitor to the Hungarian cause in his letter from Vidin, calling him “Hungary’s Judas.” By that time, Kossuth was already safely in exile, having left Görgey in charge of the country as military dictator.
After his surrender, Görgey was interned in Klagenfurt, Austria and was only allowed to return to Hungary in 1867. For decades, Görgey was hated and scorned by the Hungarian public, despite the best efforts of former comrades like Klapka to defend his honor.
Only in the years leading up to his death in 1916, at the age of 98, did public opinion begin to reevaluate the place and contributions of the War of Independence’s greatest general.