“Pang Juan died under this tree” – The battles of Guiling and Maling

The twin battles of Guiling and Maling (354 and 342 BC respectively) during China’s Warring States period made the reputation of the otherwise little known Sun Bin, a supposed descendant of Sunzi. These battles were also of epochal importance by breaking the military power of the State of Wei and, indirectly, making the rise of Qin possible.

With the partitioning of the “Super-State” of Jin in 453 and the three states that resulted formally recognized by the Royal Zhou in 403, the most powerful successor was Wei. Its strength derived from its control over the central regions of Jin. However, Wei also possessed significant strategic weaknesses since its territory comprised two large halves connected by a narrow strip. Additionally, both of Wei’s capitals were located on flat terrain that left them completely exposed to attack.

Nevertheless under the able rule of Prince Wen (445-396) the state underwent radical internal reforms. In this, he was aided by capable individuals like Li Kui, Ximen Bao, and the military administrator Wu Qi. Wei grew in power steadily, causing the other Jin successor states, Hann (different Chinese character then the Han Dynasty) and Zhao, to become wary and break off their existing alliances. In 370 Wen’s grandson, Prince Hui came to power following a civil war and invasions by Hann and Zhao. Hui, an ambitious ruler, immediately began expanding in all four directions.

By 356 Prince Hui felt powerful enough to force attendance by the minor states of Lu, Song, Wey (different Chinese character then Wei), and Zheng to a formal conference to affirm Wei superiority. Zhao was also supposed to attend, but instead formed a mutual defense pact with the State of Qi, now a great northeastern power. Two years later Wei led Hann, Zhao, and Wey in expanding their territories at the expense of their perimeter enemies. Zhao though failed to profit and now felt pressure to find some way to continue keeping up with Hann and Wei.

Later that year Zhao launched a mass invasion of Wey, forcing it to pay homage. This action was poorly received by Wei, as Wey was previously paying tribute to them. Prince Hui ordered a single, great, surgical strike directly at the Zhao capital of Handan aiming for a short war that would empower his state. As a first stroke, Wei forces besieged Chiqiu before heading on to the capital.

The other feudal states of China reacted badly to this move, wishing to prevent Wei from being able to wield power like Jin had done before the Warring States. Zhao sent a desperate plea for aid to Qi and Chu (a great southern power). Duke Wei of Qi was undecided about what to do and allowed his retainers to argue it out. The arguments of Sun Bin and Duanhan Lun (who might have been the same person) to “rescue” Zhao won out. Sun and Duanhan did not advocate for immediate intervention, but waiting until the two sides had worn each other out. Thus, Qi would be left in a position of strength by the end of the fighting.

To that end, they advanced a three-point plan:


  1. Attack Xiangling with Song, Wey, and Chu to fool the Wei forces into thinking that Qi intended to attack their supply lines and primary staging area in the south.


  1. Send a dispatch to Handan to let Zhao know that help was on the way.


  1. Allow Handan to fall and Zhao to teeter on the brink of collapse before actually moving forward.



Sun Bin as depicted in a Ming Dynasty portrait. See page for author [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

This let Qi appear as if it was fulfilling its obligations but also let it take advantage of the situation. Qi forces were mobilized and a small, but highly skilled, the army was sent to besiege Xiangling. When Handan fell a year later, Qi gathered its forces to attack.

The army sent to Wei was commanded by General Tian Ji, with Sun Bin as his strategist. Sun suggested an attack on Pingling, another southern supply depot and staging area as a feint. To do this, he had the general send two detached columns under incompetent commanders. On receiving word of the columns’ defeat Tian Ji and Sun Bin dispatched their light chariots and light infantry to attack the suburbs of Daliang, Wei’s greatest city in the east. Chu was also active in this campaign, posing its own a threat to Daliang.

An already rattled Prince Hui desperately called for aid from his general Pang Juan, still in Zhao. Pang, believing the Qi army to be relatively small, departed for Daliang with only his elite light troops with him. While the Wei forces marched south, Sun Bin called forth his tactical reserves from across the border and planned an ambush. The site he chose was Guiling, through which Pang Juan would have to pass to reach Daliang. The Qi forces deployed in depth and partially concealed.

As a result when the Wei forces finally did arrive they were taken completely by surprise. Suffering both from the after-effects of siege warfare and the quick march south the forces of Pang Juan crumbled under the press of the Qi assault. Sun Bin’s forces were well-rested and supremely motivated, allowing him to defeat Pang’s Wei forces handily.

In the chaos, the Wei commander was captured and General Tian allowed Sun Bin to decide his fate. For the strategist, this was an opportunity for revenge. Pang Juan and Sun Bin had once been competitors for Prince Hui’s favor, and Pang won the contest by mutilating and exiling Sun. Strangely Sun Bin allowed Pang Juan to live and sent him back to Wei in disgrace. The campaign had ended in smashing victory for Qi, allowing Zhao to recover and ending the myth of Wei military invincibility. In the west Qin, sensing opportunity, invaded Wei. At the battle of Yuanli, they defeated Prince Hui’s troops and annexed Shaoliang, part of Wei’s home territory.

Sun Bin and the Qi army’s spectacular feat was not enough to end Wei’s hegemonic ambitions. In 352 Prince Hui, with Hann assistance, was able to defeat the allied armies at Xiangling and conclude terms. The next year Handan was returned to Zhao and a peace settlement reached on friendly terms. This allowed Prince Hui to turn his attentions on Qin. Shaoliang was reclaimed, and the city of Dingyang captured. In 350 Prince Hui was able to force Duke Xiao of Qin to do homage and accept Wei overlordship. In 344 Prince Wei declared himself equal to the Zhou king and gave himself a royal title. Qi’s Duke Wei followed suit, the two rulers agreeing to recognize the other’s independence from Zhou.

In a display of strength, Wei called a conference at Fengze to affirm its power and superiority. Song, Wey, Zou, Lu, and Hann were all summoned to attend. Hann was the only absence, building up strength under the guidance of its Legalist chief counselor, Shen Buhai. In 343 Hann armies attacked minor states nearby, which coupled with Hann’s general aim since Guiling of strengthening their position in the center of the plains, posed a serious threat to Wei.

King Hui, therefore, had three reasons to attack Hann. First, Hann territory intersected Wei and divided them into halves. Second, Hann’s growing strength posed a threat to Wei hegemony. Third, Hann’s refusal to show up at Fengze was perceived as an insult.

Pang Juan was dispatched to attack Xinzheng, the Hann capital. Much like with Zhao twelve years earlier, King Hui was aiming for clean surgical strike straight at the enemy capital to bring the war to an end quickly. Hann called on Qi for aid, judging that Qin was in no position to help and that Chu would just swallow up their southern half.

King Wei asked his retainers to argue it out. Eventually, the arguments of Sun Bin and Tian Chensi won out. Wary of Hann’s growing power and hoping to increase Qi’s prestige Sun and Tian advocated waiting for one year to allow both sides to tire out. A repeat of the strategy adopted when Wei invaded Zhao. Like before, Hann was given assurances of support.

A year later Hann, having been defeated by Pang Juan five times in major battles, sent a second plea for aid. They even agreed to recognize Qi overlordship in their desperation. Qi, which had been gathering its troops along the border, swung into action. Tian Ji (given certain chronological difficulties, Tian Ban is sometimes suggested instead) and Tian Ying were both appointed generals and Sun Bin as their strategist.

Under Sun Bin’s advice, Tian Ji led his army on a march to Daliang. King Hui responded by recalling Pang Juan from his siege of Xinzheng, the Hann capital. He also mobilized a fresh army under his heir, Crown Prince Shen (also called Jia), which would unite with Pang’s army to overwhelm the Qi forces with sheer weight of numbers.

The Qi army withdrew in the sight of the two Wei columns. Sun Bin knew Pang Juan would be wary of ambush, so he concocted a clever ruse. Over three days he ordered the number of cooking fires reduced to less than half the original to make it appear as though their troops were deserting. In the meanwhile, Tian Ji and Tian Ying had been leading the army to Mt. Maling, near modern Tancheng in Shandong.

Sun Bin had chosen his site carefully. The road to the mountain passed through a valley marked by ravines and wooded hillsides. Here Sun laid out an ambush force in a circular formation along the sides and the far end of the valley, erected fortifications, and held most of the Qi army in reserve at the mouth of the valley. Pang Juan, meanwhile, had abandoned the greater part of his army to race ahead with his elite vanguard at double pace. He arrived at Maling by dusk, with Crown Prince Shen lagging behind.

According to the Records of the Grand Historian Sun Bin, had scraped some bark off of a tree and wrote: “Pang Juan died under this tree”. He also left orders to his crossbowmen to rise and fire as one when they saw a torch. The results were predictable. Pang perished in a hail of bolts (alternatively he escaped the initial volley only to commit suicide later), and his army thrown into disarray as the Qi army sprung its trap. Crown Prince Shen’s troops were soon caught up in the trap as well as they found themselves attacked from behind by the Qi reserve. The Wei forces found themselves trapped in a killing zone with no way out and destroyed.




A map of the Maling campaign. By Tzhu (the English language Wikipedia (log)) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.

Historical records differ as to the fate of the Wei crown prince, with him either falling in battle, being captured, or committing suicide. In any case, the Qi victory at Maling was another smashing success and confirmed Sun Bin’s reputation. Qin and Zhao allied with Qi to make considerable territorial gains at Wei’s expense. Qin, in particular, prospered at the direction of Shang Yang, who attacked Wei in 340, capturing the new Wei crown prince and forced King Hui to cede all territory west of the Yellow River. Wei then moved its capital to Daliang to escape Qin and never recovered its former power. Qi meanwhile enjoyed undisputed hegemony in eastern China for the next several decades before its decline.



Battle of Santiago de Cuba

The naval battle of Santiago de Cuba was the greatest naval action of the Spanish-American War, fought in 1898. Here the naval forces of the United States, under the joint command of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson and Commodore Winfield Scott Schley fought the Spanish naval forces under the command of Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete. The American victory, coupled with the victory at Manila Bay, propelled the United States Navy to worldwide prominence.

The Spanish-American War was long in the wings. Spain had once ruled the greatest colonial empire that was ever seen. By the late 19th Century most of that empire had rotted away, inspired to revolt and create nations of their own by the success of the United States. Only a few colonies remained in Spanish hands, much to the chagrin of the native populace, and the United States. Cuba and the Philippines were the most important of these colonies, and the cause of the greatest grief. In 1895, another Cuban revolt against Spanish rule gained widespread coverage in the American press. When the situation escalated due to the refusal of the Conservative controlled Spanish government to let go of even one inch of land, US President Grover Cleveland intervened politically. However, the Spanish Prime Minister, Antonio Canovas del Castillo, refused to listen at all. Instead, he sent General Valeriano Weyler y Nicolau to assume the captaincy general of Cuba. Weyler’s brutal methods (among them relocating entire towns of people by force), born more of frustration than cruelty, made him despised by the American press.

In 1897, William McKinley succeeded Cleveland as President, and he brought more pressure to bear on Spain. To make matters worse a rebellion broke out in the Philippines and in June Prime Minister Canovas was assassinated by an anarchist. His successor, the Progressive Praxedes Mateo Sagasta, took a different stance to the situation. He offered the rebels autonomy and self-governance, a wildly unpopular move in Spain. It was for moot for the rebels felt that only bloodshed would earn their independence. Meanwhile the American press, outright lying about the situation in Cuba to sell newspapers, had only inflamed the national sentiment against Spain. Cries for intervention soon began to drown out all attempts at moderation in the crises and President McKinley, by nature a peaceful man, was besieged on all sides by the jingoists in Congress and the greater public. In February 1898, the Spanish Ambassador, Enrique Dupuy de Lome, wrote a critical letter about the President, which the Cubans leaked. Public outcry resulted in Prime Minister Sagasta sacking de Lome, hoping to calm American ire. Then on February 15th the battleship USS Maine blew up in Havana harbor. Why the Maine blew up remains a mystery, but to the press it was clear who was responsible. Headlines across the nation blared the news that the Maine had struck a Spanish mine and sunk. Demand for a war against Spain now reached a fever pitch with the cry of “Remember the Maine!” President McKinley tried his best to calm things down by ordering an investigation into the matter. Prime Minister Sagasta and his Progressive government were anxious to avoid war, making vague promises to help the Cubans.

No one in the United States believed these promises, and the climate within Congress grew increasing hostile. By early April McKinley knew he could no longer stem the tide of public opinion away from war. On April 11th, he asked Congress for authorization to send the Army in to enforce a peace settlement in Cuba. He received this on April 19th and a Three-Point Resolution detailing the following: That Cuba was now a free and independent nation, that America had no designs on Cuba, and that all Spanish forces must withdraw. A fourth resolution was added later giving the President the authority to use as much force as necessary to aid the freedom fighters in Cuba. Spain then cut off all diplomatic ties with the United States. On April 25th, Congress retaliated with a formal Declaration of War. The Spanish-American War had begun.

With the beginning of hostilities, the navies of both nations started to prepare for a great clash. In the United States, the Navy Department had been planning for a war since 1897, specifically for a war in the Philippines. Theodore Roosevelt, while he was still Under-Secretary of the Navy had been the most vocal proponent of the need for the Navy to prove itself. When the age of the steel battleship had begun, the United States Navy was forced to undergo a transformation. The so-called ‘New Navy’ was untried and unsure of itself. There was also a great deal of mistrust over the need to even have battleships, many believing that the United States had little need for such status symbols. The Navy Department knew the ‘New Navy’ needed to prove itself not only to the American people but the world at large.

In Spain, they had also been preparing for war. Rear Admiral Pascual Cervera y Topete, world renowned and a legend even then, was Spain’s greatest naval leader and had seen that a war with the United States was inevitable. At the urging of Maria Christina, Queen Regent of Spain, he had returned from self-imposed exile to prepare the Spanish Navy for war. Unfortunately the Ministerio de Marina, the Spanish Admiralty, was hostile to Cervera’s ideas due to political differences. For this reason, the well-prepared plan to fight the naval war from the Canary Islands was brushed aside. Many within the Ministerio felt that the United States Navy did not pose a threat to Spain’s naval forces. On April 30th, Cervera’s squadron left the port of Cape Verde with orders to proceed west to protect Cuba.

File:Almirante cervera.jpg

Rear Admiral Cervera. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the United States, a plan had been laid for the naval war in the Caribbean. US naval planners realized early that Key West, part of an island chain within the area between Florida and Cuba, would make the perfect place for a base of operations in that theater. The first force sent there, the Atlantic Squadron, was placed under the command of Acting Rear Admiral William T. Sampson. Sampson was subsequently chosen to be overall commander for Navy affairs in the area. During this time the battleship, USS Oregon proceeded to make an incredible journey to join Sampson’s squadron at Key West from Puget Sound, Washington. The 67-day voyage of the Oregon was a major morale lifter for the sailors of the ‘New Navy’ and also the public. While the Oregon was making her journey, more news arrived. A group of mysterious ships had been spotted off the Eastern Seaboard. These strange ships were none other then the Flota del Ultramar, the squadron under Cervera’s command. A public panic ensued as the people wondered as Cervera’s intention. Would he shell the coast? Would he burn Washington D.C. as the British had done in 1812? Would he prey on the merchants? No one knew and Congress, to assuage the public, ordered the formation of a ‘Flying Squadron’ to be based at Hampton Roads, Virginia. This squadron was put under the command of Winfield Scott Schley, and ordered to protect the East Coast from enemy attack.

File:William Thomas Sampson.jpgWinfield Scott Schley.jpg

Rear Admiral Sampson (top) and Commodore Schley (bottom). Sampson: By http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Curps [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Schley: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

In the offices of the Navy Department, there was some concern that Cervera would attack the Oregon, which had no escort and would be vulnerable. The knowledge that Spanish destroyers Pluton and Furor carried torpedos, the most feared weapon of the day, only increased those concerns.  So on May 4th the Navy sent out Sampson with a mission to intercept Cervera at Puerto Rico. The Navy guessed that Cervera would need to make a stop at Puerto Rico to re-coal. On May 11th, Sampson arrived at the island and shelled the harbor of San Juan. After two hours, Sampson realized that Cervera was not there and returned to Key West. On May 15th, Sampson received word that Cervera was at the French island of Martinique. By the time he got there, the Flota del Ultramar had already vanished. Sampson then followed Cervera to the Dutch island of Curacao, but once again the wily Spaniard had escaped. Sampson returned to Key West once again. The Navy Department, frustrated by the lack of progress ordered all major warships, save those serving with Rear Admiral George Dewey in the Pacific, to converge on Cuba.

On May 18th, Sampson met with Schley, commander of the ‘Flying Squadron’ and now his second in command to discuss how to handle the situation. Unfortunately, the Navy could not have picked a worse pair of men to put together. Schley was brash and took unnecessary risks. Sampson was reserved and taciturn. It was exactly the kind of thing Cervera could take advantage of, and he did. On the 22nd Schley and his ‘Flying Squadron’ blockaded the port of Cienfuegos near Havana, sure that Cervera was there. Over the course of the next several weeks, Schley would disobey several direct orders from Sampson to move out from Cienfuegos. Finally, he left the port, but instead of proceeding to Santiago de Cuba to investigate a sighting there Schley made for Key West. To this day, no one knows why Schley decided just to get up and leave the area against orders to stay in Cuban waters. After many arguments, some of which with the Secretary of the Navy himself, Schley finally made for Santiago de Cuba. On the morning of May 29th, they found the Cristobal Colon, a key vessel in the Flota del Ultramar, lying moored in the harbor. Finally, after weeks of playing cat-and-mouse they had found Cervera.

The two United States Navy squadrons may have been slow, but they were powerful. Of the ships present in the combined fleet at Santiago de Cuba there was: five battleships, (USS Indiana, USS Massachusetts, USS Oregon, USS Iowa, and the USS Texas). They were accompanied by two armored cruisers, (USS Brooklyn and the USS New York) several armed yachts that carried about the pestering newspapermen, the coal ship Merrimac and with other supply vessels. Finally was the mine layer Resolute.

The Spanish Flota del Ultramar was smaller than the American ships but faster. The ships that were with Cervera at Santiago de Cuba were not the full number of vessels in the Flota del Ultramar. Most notably missing was the battleship Pelayo, which was, along with the armored cruisers Princesa de Asturias and Emperador Carlos V, left behind to join the Home Squadron to defend Spain itself. Because of this Cervera only brought four armored cruisers (Almirante Oquendo, Viscaya, Infanta Maria Teresa, and the Cristobal Colon) and two destroyers (Pluton and the Furor) with him to Cuba.

  On May 31st, ecstatic over finally cornering Cervera, Rear Admiral Sampson arrived with the Atlantic Squadron to join Commodore Schley’s ‘Flying Squadron’ in the blockade of Santiago Bay. A new problem soon presented itself. As long as Cervera remained in the bay the American ships could not touch him. The entire harbor area was covered by Spanish coastal batteries that could tear Sampson and Schley’s ships to shreds. Unsurprisingly Cervera had no intention of coming out. Besides that, a variety of technical problems plagued his command. The breech-loading mechanisms were faulty, the boilers were in bad need of repair. Additionally, Viscaya‘s keel in severe need of a scrubbing, and on the Cristobal Colon the ship had been rushed out of the docks before its main gun could even be installed. Complicating matters further, the gunnery crews had little experience in firing live ammunition. Most of those problems could have been fixed within the harbor, but for some reason never explained the Captain-General of Cuba, Ramon Blanco y Erenas, refused to be of help. So with both fleets not moving the situation turned into a stalemate.

On June 2nd, Admiral Sampson decided to make a move to break the impasse by blocking the harbor mouth. For this purpose, he decided to scuttle the troublesome coal ship Merrimac. The attempt failed, and the Spaniards were able to capture the Merrimac‘s crew. Nevertheless the American press made a great deal of fanfare about the whole event, blowing everything out of proportion. Meanwhile, the 5th Corps of the United States Army commanded by Major General William Shafter had begun an overland campaign against Santiago de Cuba. On July 1st, the Americans won a great victory over the Spanish defending the San Juan Heights overlooking the city. Later in the day Captain-General Blanco ordered Cervera to get underway and to leave the harbor as soon as possible.

Spain could not afford to let the Flota del Ultramar fall into enemy hands while in port. Cervera knew he could not just steam straight out of the harbor in broad daylight (his ships would get blasted to bits). Nor could he do it at night (there was a danger of collision). Instead, the crafty admiral cooked up a plan. July 3rd fell on a Sunday, and the United States Navy held mandatory church services at 9:00 in the morning. Therefore, the Flota del Ultramar could make a breakout while the Americans went to church. To prepare for this Cervera ordered all his ships to begin storing up a full head of steam (steam power took quite a while to build up) on the morning of July 2nd. By noon lookouts onboard the USS Brooklyn, Commodore Schley’s flagship, noticed increased steam smoke rising from Santiago Bay. Schley immediately knew something up and had the armed yacht Vixen send word of what was happening up and down the blockade. Sampson, onboard the USS New York, ordered the blockade tightened on Schley’s advice. However despite the order the blockade was in some disarray the following morning Sunday, July 3rd, 1898. At 8:45 the New York suddenly began to move off from the line. It had raised the signal flag meaning ‘Disregard the movements of the Commander-in-Chief’ and steamed out of view. As it turned out, Rear Admiral Sampson was due to meet Major General Shafter for a strategic conference. Meanwhile, Admiral Cervera noticed the sudden gap in the western portion of the blockade line. Knowing he would not have a second opportunity like this again he prepared to move out at 9:00 as planned. At the appointed time, the Flota del Ultramar, already in position from the previous day, begun moving. At 9:35 the navigator of the Brooklyn spotted the Spanish flagship, Infanta Maria Teresa, exit the harbor. He immediately sounded the alarm with the signal ‘The Enemy is coming out!’ The Battle of Santiago de Cuba had begun.

File:Infanta Maria Teresa at Sao Vicente April 1898.jpg

By U.S. Naval Historical Center photo.Mdnavman at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

Cervera’s plan for the battle was to steam out as fast as possible through the gap created by the absence of the New York. Schley noticed immediately and knew he had to cut off the Flota del Ultramar by cutting in front of them. Taking quick action Schley signaled for the closest ships, the battleships Texas, Oregon, Iowa, and Indiana as well as the yachts Vixen and Gloucester. The firing commenced when the Teresa opened fire with her forward guns, sounding a response the Iowa returned fire and it was soon joined by the rest of the fleet. Soon a dark fog of thick smoke covered the whole area, and no one was quite aware of what was going on.

Meanwhile Rear Admiral Sampson, having just disembarked from the New York, noticed the smoke from the battle. Quickly realizing what was happening Sampson got back on board and ordered the crew to take him back to the Bay as quick as they could. However, the New York would not arrive until the battle was over. On the Spanish side, Cervera had signaled his ships to begin to make the turn to the southwest, to the gap. Schley noticed this and made a move that to this day bewilders naval historians. Instead of keeping on the intercept course he had started Schley had the Brooklyn make a sudden, unwarned of, turn to the northeast. This threw the American fleet into confusion as suddenly the crew of the USS Texas noticed the flagship seemed to be steaming toward them on a ramming course. On the Brooklyn, the navigator tried to warn Schley that he was about to hit the Texas. Schley did not heed the warning, and the crew of the Texas had to back the engines into reverse, just barely missing what would have been a disaster. However crazy and dangerous the move had been Schley had accomplished something. He had cut off Cervera and the Infanta Maria Teresa from the rest of the Flota del Ultramar. However, it was in the end a hollow victory for Schley.

Cervera had noticed the move as his American opponent had made it and knew that if the rest of the squadron was to survive he would have to sacrifice himself. So he ordered the Teresa to steam straight ahead into the trap while signaling for the rest of ships to continue steaming along the preplanned course, which was now almost open. When the Teresa steamed into Schley’s trap, nearly all of the American ships had arranged themselves in a semicircle. The Spanish flagship was hit on all sides by withering fire and soon the ship was alight. Admiral Cervera, unwilling to doom his men to die a grisly death ordered the vessel to be beached, which signaled that the ship was surrendering. Meanwhile the remaining vessels of the Flota del Ultramar, now led by the Almirante Oquendo were beginning to get out of range. Schley now realized that it was he that had been tricked, not Cervera. However, there was a problem. To get going a ship needed a full head of steam, and only the USS Oregon had built one up.

The rest of the US fleet was running only on half power, and by the time the boilers had been brought back up it would be too late. So Schley ordered the fleet to pursue the best they could, guns blazing. The first Spanish ship to go down would be the new leader, Almirante Oquendo. Damaged badly by a combination of enemy fire and its own guns’ bursting that the vessel broke in two shortly after beaching. The feared destroyers Pluton and Furor went next, with the Pluton beaching itself after suffering a direct hit from a battleship and the Furor blowing up before reaching shore, the only Spanish ship not to do so. Despite all of these victories that the US fleet was making against the Spaniards, Schley was convinced that his casualties would run so high that it would be a Pyrrhic victory. In fact despite the heavy amount of fire that the Flota del Ultramar had been putting out much of it was useless, and the Americans suffered only two dead.

As all of this was happening the remaining two Spanish ships, Viscaya and Cristobal Colon, were steaming ahead. Schley decided to take off after the Viscaya with his ship the Brooklyn as well the battleships Texas and Oregon. The rest of the fleet was ordered to stay behind and help any Spanish survivors to best of their ability, as according to the Rules of Engagement of the time. Quickly it became apparent that only the Brooklyn was going to be able to keep up with the Viscaya. For over an hour, the two ships blasted away at one another, due to both the heavy armor of the Viscaya and the ineffectiveness of the Spanish shells. According to later reports, the running duel between the Viscaya and the USS Brooklyn was the most savage of the entire battle. The contest ended when a shell fired from the Oregon took off the bow of the Viscaya. The ship then ran aground, and Commodore Schley ordered a cease-fire. The Texas then moved in to help survivors. Pulling in close the captain of the Texas noticed how bad the fires aboard the Viscaya were and ordered his crew to stop cheering. A little later the Iowa pulled up to aid in the rescue effort. When the captain of that ship noticed that the Cuban rebels were taking pot-shots at the Spanish wounded he turned his guns on the rebels and told them to stand down.

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USS Brooklyn in 1898. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.


The last remaining Spanish vessel, the Cristobal Colon, continued to make good her escape. For two hours the Brooklyn, Oregon, and Texas tried in vain to catch up to the Cristobal Colon, but the Spanish cruiser had a six mile lead on them and faster besides. Schley knew he could not let the Colon go, but neither could he catch it. So instead Schley decided to try to catch the ship when she made a turn to the south to follow the Cuban coastline. However, as it turns out Schley would not have to spring his trap. At about 12:15 the Cristobal Colon had run out of good coal and was forced to switch to inferior Santiago coal. This switch allowed for the USS Oregon to finally catch up with the Spanish ship. The Oregon fired seven times at the Colon, but only the last two shots hit. In any case the crew of the Spanish ship knew the jig was up and struck her colors, signifying surrender, much to Schley’s surprise. At this point, as the battleships closed in to claim the Cristobal Colon as a prize Rear Admiral Sampson and the New York finally arrived.

Sampson was furious that the battle had already been fought and won without him; he blamed Schley for this loss of martial glory. With the surrender of the Cristobal Colon, the battle of Santiago de Cuba was over, and the United States’ ‘New Navy’ had admirably proved herself in battle beyond all doubt. However, no account of the battle can be complete without the mention of this one last bizarre incident. As the Iowa steamed about the area rescuing survivors they came across the captain of the Viscaya. After his wounds were treated, the captain turned to the flaming hulk of what was once his ship and tearfully saluted it farewell. Almost as in reply the Viscaya suddenly blew up, the explosion noticeable for miles.

In conclusion, the naval battle of Santiago de Cuba was one of the most decisive battles of the war. With the destruction of the Flota del Ultramar Spanish naval power ceased to exist, the only other squadron of importance having been destroyed by Commodore George Dewey and the Asiatic Squadron at Manila Bay. The Spanish-American War ended not long afterward on August 12th, 1898, having not even lasted a year. In the aftermath of the war the United States annexed what remained of Spain’s colonial empire, and became a world power.

The Nicopolis Crusade

In 1389, the Ottoman Sultan Murad, I led his army into Serbia following a defeat at the hands of a Serb-led coalition at Plocnik some years previous. In the battle that followed at Kosovo polje, the Field of Blackbirds, the Ottomans won a great victory and Serbia became a vassal of the young Ottoman Empire. However, it came at a high price. In the course of the battle, Murad was assassinated by a Serbian knight making a false surrender. While this is the common belief, the circumstances of Murad’s death remain unclear. His oldest son, Bayazid, quickly took control after executing his younger brother Yakub. After marrying the Serbian princess Olivera Despoina and setting her brother Stefan Lazarevic on the Serbian throne, Bayazid made his way back into Anatolia. However, the Ottoman state had no peace, and the new Sultan was forced to move at a pace most would find unbelievable, earning him the nickname, Yildirim, the Thunderbolt.


Sultan Bayazid the Thunderbolt from an Ottoman family tree. By Ottoman miniature painter (Badisches Landesmuseum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

By 1391, Bayazid had won control of all of Western Anatolia, bringing the Ottoman Empire to direct borders with the Emirate of Karaman, ruled by his troublesome brother-in-law Ala ud-Din Beg. To celebrate his conquests, Bayazid called for a conference at Edirne (formerly Adrianopolis, conquered by Murad), the Ottoman capital in Europe. This conference highlighted a rising tension between Bayazid and the Roman (Byzantine) Emperor, Manouel II. Earlier in life Manouel had been an enemy of the Ottomans, and the passage of time had done nothing to smooth his hostility. Bayazid for his part had already begun to cast his eyes on Constantinople, the Queen of Cities and capital of the Roman Empire. Other matters in the Balkans soon drew Bayazid’s attention.

In 1393, Bayazid moved into the remnants of the Second Bulgarian Empire, having heard of Bulgarian negotiations with Ottoman enemies. With the fall of Tarnovo in the summer, he had nipped this threat in the bud and Ivan Shishman, the former Tsar, was kept under close watch at Nicopolis. Bayazid continued to move, dealing with border skirmishes with the Sultan of Sivas, Qadi Burhan al-Din in Anatolia. By winter he was back in the Balkans, and called for another conference, this time in Serres, a Roman princedom in Macedonia. News that Manouel II was plotting to reconcile with his nephew and rival for the throne, Ioannes, was a cause for concern. So Bayazid called Manouel, all of the Roman princelings, and Stefan Lazarevic, to report to him. Strangely enough Bayazid did nothing more than berate the assembly for not governing their lands well and sent them on their way.

In the spring of 1394 his intentions became clear: Ottoman forces began to move into Thrace and construct a series of castles to encircle Constantinople. Bayazid was going to lay siege to the city. However when the Roman and Latin princes of Greece decided to move toward independence Bayazid left his preparations and struck west. Macedonia and Thessaly were both annexed outright, and the Latin Duchy of Athens forced into vassalage.

In 1395, Bayazid seemed intent on reducing the Despotate of Morea when news from the north called him back. Mircea cel Batran, or Mircea the Old, was Voivode of Wallachia and self-proclaimed champion of Balkan Christianity. He was also allied to the powerful Sigismund I of Luxembourg, the king of Hungary. Taking advantage of the Ottoman focus on Greece, Mircea had launched an invasion. Bayazid replied in kind, living up to his nickname by striking like a thunderbolt into Wallachia. While ultimately ending in a stalemate the invasion had the aftereffect of destabilizing Wallachia and sending Mircea straight into the arms of Sigismund.

  Ottoman success had finally caught Western Christendom’s attention. The rapid rise of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans since they first entered the area under Murad I had been a cause of concern in Europe. By 1395, Bayazid was almost in complete control of the Balkans. Bulgaria was dying a slow death, the Roman Empire’s authority extended little beyond Constantinople’s famed triple walls, and now with Mircea the Old pleading in Buda for aid the situation had reached a critical stage.  However, Western Christendom had problems of its own.

The Western Schism, which had begun in 1378 when two popes, both elected by the Curia following Gregory XI’s death, had split Europe in two. The Hundred Years’ War between England and France had also flared up again, creating further chaos. With the threat of the Ottomans looming over them though, a strange thing began to happen. Richard II of England and Charles VI of France agreed to a cease-fire in 1384 and started to plan for a joint Crusade to end the Hundred Years’ War permanently and heal the Western Schism.

A desire for a real chivalric culture of peace, love, and understanding had become popular in both England and France and the two kings realized that all this energy needed a powerful outlet. Richard and Charles reaffirmed the peace in 1389 and headed by Charles’ tutor Philip of Mezieres preparation and organization for a Crusade was underway.

  In 1392, Charles VI laid down the first concrete plans for what was to become the Nicopolis Crusade with his uncle, Philip II the Bold, Duke of Burgundy. Sigismund had already started calling for aid by this time, and the first joint Anglo-French army arrived in Hungary. In 1394, Richard II, Philip II, and the French king’s brother Louis I, Duke of Orleans organized a joint planning session with Sigismund. A massive Anglo-French army would be gathered to wage a Crusade for the salvation of Constantinople.

Philip II, Louis I, and the English king’s uncle, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster were appointed to hold joint command of the Crusade. The following year was set as the departure date. Crusade taxes were levied in Burgundy, France, and England. By the end of the year, Philip II had the money needed to fund the Crusade and John of Gaunt had gathered 1,500 men-at-arms. Contracts with Venice to provide naval support were agreed on. Finally in June and again in October that year the Roman Pope Boniface IX issued a papal bull for the Crusade, preaching it to the masses. The Avignon Pope, Benedict XIII, did not like being left out and copied him, preaching the Crusade to his flock as well.

However in 1395 the plan began to fall apart. Negotiations to finalize the contracts with Venice dragged on for months, and it was not until May the planned summit between Sigismund, Philip II and Louis I at Lyons could take place. This ended all hopes of the Crusade getting off on schedule. Further problems resulted as France experienced internal turmoil while bickering with England over whom Richard II should marry, now that his first wife, Anne of Bohemia, was dead. This moved John of Gaunt to cancel his Crusade obligations, and he delegated his responsibilities to John Beaufort, his eldest illegitimate son. However, Beaufort never went on Crusade, due to a revival in Anglo-French tensions. Philip II followed his lead and pulled out, delegating his obligations to his eldest son, Jean I, Count of Nevers. Louis I then pulled out entirely and the Crusade, which had stood as the best hope for peace in Western Europe, had become little more than a Burgundian expedition.

In April 1396, the Crusade finally left France for Hungary, under the command of Jean. By late July, the Western Crusaders had reached Buda, the capital of Hungary, and the leadership met with Sigismund and Mircea the Old to decide how to proceed.


An older Sigismund of Hungary. Pisanello [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

From the start, the campaign was fraught with problems. Sigismund feared Bayazid and knew the Ottoman Sultan would attempt to invade Hungary. He had called the Crusade in hopes of having at his disposal the force necessary to defend his lands. However, the Crusaders had come to lift the Siege of Constantinople, not to support Hungary and overruled the angry Sigismund at the Buda conference. Instead, they opted for a massive strike into Ottoman territory, forcing Bayazid to meet them on the field of battle as soon as possible. This choice seemed to be the right one in the eyes of the Western leaders as Sigismund’s much-feared invasion never materialized. As a result, they labeled him a coward. The territory the Crusaders chose, with the aid of Mircea, was the former lands of Ivan Shishman.

Meanwhile on the other side of the line Bayazid had hardly been sitting still.  He ended the possibility of Bulgarian collaboration with Mircea by having the former tsar, still at Nicopolis, beheaded and the city invested with an Ottoman garrison. He then turned to Constantinople and with the ring of castles now complete settled in for a siege. However, the Ottoman fleet was unable to cut off the Romans by sea and even with the ring of castles cutting them off by land the Queen of Cities remained supplied. Bayazid was quickly growing impatient and attempted to assault the city, but the triple walls, which had saved Constantinople so many times before, saved the city again. News reached Bayazid relatively quickly of the Crusade, and he left only a small holding force behind while rallying an army at Edirne. In the meantime, he issued orders to his irregulars and scouts to not engage. The Crusaders were at this time advancing into former Bulgaria.

When they arrived at Vidin, the city surrendered to them. As it turned out, Vidin was ruled by Ivan Sratsimir, the younger half-brother of Ivan Shishman. While technically an Ottoman vassal, Ivan Sratsimir had claimed the title of tsar following the execution of his half-brother and had aspirations to restore the Bulgarian Empire. After negotiations with Ivan Sratsimir were concluded the Crusader-Hungarian force proceeded to the next fortress, Rahowa. Here they encountered resistance from the Ottoman garrison. Rahowa held out for five days before surrendering. When the Crusaders entered the city, they massacred the Turkish population before moving on.

On September 12th, the Crusaders and their allies arrived at Nicopolis, the last major fortress to besiege. Unfortunately the Ottoman commander, Dogan Beg, proved far more skilled then the Western leaders expected. Neither the Crusaders nor the Hungarians had brought siege weapons, probably hoping to reduce any obstacles by starvation. Alternatively the Crusaders hoped to force Bayazid to break the blockade. While the siege continued, the Ottomans made real progress and Bayazid met Stefan Lazarevic on the 22nd. That same day a Hungarian scouting party encountered the main body. The Crusader-Allied army, surprised, dispatched more scouts and located Bayazid’s newly fortified camp on the 24th, just south of Nicopolis (he had just arrived the previous day). In reaction, the Crusaders prepared to leave Nicopolis (executing their prisoners beforehand) to face Bayazid on the open field the morning of the following day, September 25. The battle of Nicopolis had begun.

The Crusader army was a diverse group of men drawn together from all walks of life. The central component of the Crusader forces at Nicopolis was the Franco-Burgundian cavalry.  Jean I, Count of Nevers and his personal household contingent and Burgundian vassals formed the core part. The other leading commanders, the epitome of French chivalry and valor, were Jean Boucicaut, the Marshal of France, Philip de Artois, the Constable of France, and Jean de Vienne, the Admiral of France. Enguerrand VII de Coucy, Henri de Bar, and James I de Bourbon were other prominent knights and lords present with the main body but had joined the Crusade after the march had begun.

Jean I, Count of Nevers

Jean I of Nevers, later duke of Burgundy. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

While the Crusade was passing through Germany, it was joined by men from the Palatinate of the Rhine, the Duchy of Bavaria, and the city of Nuremberg. Many other Germans besides joined the Crusade. Also, there may have been a small English detachment serving under the Earl of Huntingdon, but this is disputed. Lastly, we know of contingents from Aragon, Poland, and many other Christian powers. Naval support was provided by the Hospitallers, Venice, and Genoa.

On reaching Buda in Hungary King Sigismund joined his men, mostly light infantry, and cavalry, to the Crusader forces. The Hungarian army was remarkably varied and while centered around a superficial knightly class was made up predominantly of horse archers and mixed infantry (especially crossbowmen).

The Wallachians of Mircea the Old also joined the Crusade with what remained of his army, though he was Orthodox, not Catholic like the Crusaders. While organized along tribal lines rather than feudal the Wallachians were known as some of the best soldiers in the Balkans. The Crusader army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 16,000 men.

The Ottoman army was the living legacy to the brilliance of Murad I. Bayazid Yildirim owed much of his success to the new model army that his father devised and that he perfected. This new army was not based on tribal ties, but instead on a professional, standing, basis. The core was the Ottoman ruler’s household, divided into an inner and outer “service”. These men were called the kapikulu, or slaves though most of those in service would have long since been manumitted. This included the elite palace cavalry corps (the Six Regiments) and the Yeni Ceri (Janissary) infantry battalions.

The majority of the Ottoman troops were divided up between two large formations, the Anatolian, and Rumelian corps. Comprised of men from the eastern and western halves of the state respectively, the organization of these troops was much more streamlined than in the West. The cavalry were divided into timariots, (regulars maintained by Latin-style fiefs called timars), maasli, (regulars supported by the state) akinjis, (irregular frontier warriors) and musellems (irregular mounted pioneers). Infantry were divided up between the yayas (irregular spearmen) and the azaps (semi-regular skirmishers).

To this forces must be included the Serbian army of Stefan Lazarevic. Latin feudalism had entered the Balkans earlier in the century and had been embraced by the Serbs. Stefan Lazarevic’s army was organized into a mainly heavy cavalry force supported by mercenaries and a general levy though it appears that only the Serbian knights themselves took the field at Nicopolis. The Ottoman army in total then numbered somewhere in the ballpark of 15,000 men.

The final preparations were underway. The previous evening Sigismund had advised caution to his allies, suggesting to first of all discover whether or not the Ottomans planned to attack and second to send Mircea’s troops out in front to clear the field of akinijs ahead of the main assault by the Franco-Burgundians. This plan was met with resistance by the other leaders, angered at being denied the right to lead the charge.

Jean, I was more outraged then anyone and countered that Sigismund wanted the glory for himself. This brought to a head what had so far been the Crusade’s biggest problem: Sigismund and Mircea thought in the mold of eastern style warfare. The Hungarian king’s plan was backed by a belief that he could harass the Ottoman lines into weakening enough to collapse upon contact with the Franco-Burgundian knights. The concept of first man in combat gains the most glory, so dear in the contemporary West, was foreign in the Balkans, even with Hungary fielding knights of its own. The matter reached its height when Robert de Artois, Count d’Eu, made the following speech:

“Yes, yes, the king of Hungary wishes to gain all the honor of the day. He has given us the vanguard, and now he wishes to take it away, that he may have the first blow. Let those who will believe what he sends to us, but for my part I never will… In the name of God and Saint George, you shall see me this day prove myself a good knight.”

This brought the second problem to the fore. Western thought in general and French thought, in particular, focused on the superiority of the knight over all others on both the battlefield and in society. Even though this certainly did not hold true even in Europe itself anymore, the lesson was hard learned. Sigismund was caught in a vice, but could not risk alienating the French and Burgundians. He caved to their demands, allowing the knights to take vanguard.

The line was organized thus: The Franco-Burgundian knights all took a position out in front. King Sigismund took command in the center with the Hungarians and the German Crusaders. The Transylvanians under Stephen Laczkoivc (subject to Sigismund) took a position on the right, and the Wallachians took a position on the left.

Bayazid had none of the problems that afflicted the Crusaders and already formed his men in a classic crescent formation. He had established a fortified camp with the purpose of forcing the Crusaders to attack him, another classic move. The Rumelian regulars were deployed on the right, the Anatolians on the left. In the center, behind the stake barricade, were the azaps and Yeni Ceri. In front of the barricade were the akinjis. Behind the main lines, hidden from view, was the household division of Bayazid with his personal guard in the center and the Six Regiments divided into three each on his right and left. On the further left was the knights of Stefan Lazarevic.

Sigismund was reluctant to engage the Ottoman lines and intended to play a waiting game with Bayazid. However, the French had no such ideas. Jean had lost all patience and unable to hold it in any longer shouted the charge straight into the Ottoman light cavalry. Surging forward on their great horses the greatest warriors of Western Christendom collided head on with the akinjis. Jean himself commanded from the front, earning him the nickname ‘sans Peur’, the Fearless. The Ottoman skirmish cavalry at first appeared to have broken on impact, but it was, in fact, a clever ploy by Bayazid.


The battle of Nicopolis. By J. Schiltberger (J. Schiltberger, Ein wunderbarliche…) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Turning around the skirmishers led the Crusader knights into the wall of stakes. At first they attempted ride over the wooden barricade but their horses were not bred for leaping, especially over sharpened logs. Realizing they would have to dismount, the knights began to leave their horses. On that signal, the azaps and Yeni Ceri took out their bows and opened fire. Under a hail of arrow fire, the French and Burgundians tore the stakes out of the ground and took many casualties. Finally, they managed to clear a path through the barricade but because they could not remount their horses Jean ordered his men to advance on foot. The other knights followed his lead and engaged the azaps and Yeni Ceri. Some of the akinjis and regular cavalry were also drawn into the melee. Even without horses the Western knights were still formidable opponents, and the Ottoman infantry was devastated, especially the azaps, who soon broke and fled for real. In a testament to their skills, the Yeni Ceri managed to maintain their cohesion and begun an orderly retreat, drawing the dismounted Crusaders with them.

When they reached the hills, the main body of the Ottoman regular cavalry moved to engage. However, they withdrew almost as quickly as they came. The Franco-Burgundians continued to struggle uphill only to walk into an ambush by the Ottoman household troops led by Bayazid. The regulars then rejoined, to surround the Crusaders on three sides. Within minutes, the entire body was either dead or captured. Among the first group was Jean de Vienne, who was slain defending the French banner and among the latter group Jean I, Count of Nevers.

Meanwhile on the other side of the field the horses of the French and Burgundian knights had begun to return to camp. King Sigismund, who had already ordered the center forward in an attempt to support the charging knights, now knew something was wrong. The fresh troops first encountered the reformed Ottoman infantry on the plateau before facing the mounted regulars. The resulting contest was far more equally matched, but Bayazid had one last trick up his sleeves. As the day passed into the late afternoon, the Serbian knights of Stefan Lazarevic burst from cover and hit the king of Hungary’s undefended flanks.

The Transylvanians and Wallachians had retreated during the march (neither Mircea nor Steven Lazarevic felt any great loyalty to Hungary, and were more concerned about their people), and left the center exposed. The Serbian knights threw themselves toward the main Hungarian banner and overthrew it. Seeing the lead banner fall, the Hungarian commanders prevailed on Sigismund to disengage. The King agreed, and his forces retreated in good order to the banks of the Danube, where the joint Hospitaller and allied Italian fleet was waiting. The remaining Crusader-Allied senior leadership was able to embark safely, but many others were not so fortunate as there was not enough room for everyone on the ships. As word of this spread, a panic broke out in the ranks. A few ships were sunk in the chaos by overloading. As the water was low in September, many Crusader-Allied troops were able to ford the river safely by swimming or crossing further downstream where it was broken up by islands. The Ottomans took advantage of the chaos, isolating bodies of Crusaders on hill tops (including the famous incident of the “Knight of Poland”, who sacrificed himself to keep the Ottomans from being able to fire on the fleet from the heights), or hunting them in the space between the hills. However, Bayazid was largely content to watch his enemy self-destruct. Observing this as his ship sailed for Constantinople, Sigismund famously remarked on the French:

“If only they had listened to me… We had men in the plenty to fight our enemies.”

The battle of Nicopolis, the last great battle of the Crusading Era was over. The Ottoman dominion was reaffirmed.

In the aftermath of the battle much happened. The outcome of the Nicopolis Crusade was a surprise to the powers of Western Europe. In one single horrific afternoon, the flower of the west were either struck down or captured. For those who were caught the culture shock left a profound and lasting effect. Islamic culture did not have the same codes toward the treatment of prisoners that Christian culture had.

The worst came when Bayazid, in a fit of anger over the massacres and the heavy casualties his men suffered in the first phase of the battle executed a large number of Crusaders he had taken prisoner. Only the most wealthy (Like Jean I) or young (like Johann Schiltberger) survived. The exact number is unknown (ranging from 300 to 10,000), but it seems likely that Bayazid wanted to execute even more, holding off out of awe from the peaceful way in which the executed went to their deaths. This was perhaps an even wider shock to Western Europe, and never again would a Crusade be launched against the Ottomans. Left alone the Ottoman Empire continued to expand, only to be nearly destroyed in 1402 when Bayazid was defeated and captured by the great Turko-Mongol conqueror Timur-e Lang, or Tamerlane at Ankara.



Norman Housley, The Later Crusades, 1274-1580: From Lyons to Alcazar.  New York, 1992.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusades of the Later Middle Ages. New York, 1965.

Aziz Atiya, The Crusade of Nicopolis. New York, 1978.

George  Nafziger and Mark Walton, Islam at War: A History. Westport, 2003.

Buchan Telfer, trans, The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger. London, 1979.

David Nicolle, Nicopolis 1396: The Last Crusade, illustrations by Christa Hooks. Oxford, 1999

Caroline Finkel, Osman’s Dream: The History of the Ottoman Empire. New York, 2005.

The Siege of Vienna, 1683

On September 12th, 1683 the armies of the Ottoman Empire were defeated in battle before the walls of Vienna. After 1529, this was the second and last time the Ottomans, the greatest Islamic empire in recent memory, would lay siege to Vienna and seriously threaten Europe.

Over the past few years, the Ottomans had already begun to experience a revival. Starting 1656 the leadership of the Ottoman state had fallen into the hands of the new grandee dynasty of Koprulu, an Albanian family of previously little importance. Beginning with the patriarch Koprulu Mehmed the family led a reversal of Ottoman fortunes across the board.

The Ottoman revival did not become a cause for concern until the next round of the Ottoman-Polish Wars. In this conflict, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lost control of a substantial chunk of its territory in the south. The lost territory included the Right Bank Cossack Hetmanate in 1672 and all to the forces of Grand Vizier Fazil Ahmed Pasha. While the war eventually ended in 1676 on far less severe terms the sudden resurgence of the Ottoman military strength was worrisome.

The same year the war against the Commonwealth ended saw the ascension of the third Koprulu Grand Vizier, Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa. Ambitious and talented Kara Mustafa intended to build on his adopted family’s accomplishments. From the beginning, the new administration was plunged into war. This war, against the Tsardom of Russia, ended in 1681 in the Ottomans’ favor and allowed them to turn to Europe.

There the Ottomans were faced by their most enduring foe, the Catholic Habsburg dynasty, and the Holy Roman Empire. Internally, the empire was experiencing the Counter-Reformation. The emperor, Leopold I, seemed to have two great goals in life. First, the end of the Protestants, and second the containment of Louis XIV, the Sun King of France.

Thus, it was the Habsburgs found themselves fighting a losing war with the Calvinist Hungarian leader Imre Thokoly, Prince of Transylvania. The success of the anti-Catholic cause attracted Ottoman attention, especially when Thokoly wrestled a large part of Northern Hungary from the Habsburgs. In 1682, the Grand Vizier negotiated to make Thokoly an Ottoman vassal as King of Central Hungary. Louis XIV saw the inevitable result of Kara Mustafa’s policy and sent word to his embassy in Constantinople to let the Ottomans know he did not plan to interfere.

With the French King’s promise, the Grand Vizier felt confident enough to begin to convince the sultan, Mehmed IV, to declare war. However, the sultan needed more convincing, and Kara Mustafa went as far as to falsify documents and manipulate the Habsburg desire for peace at all costs, to his advantage. On August 26th, Mehmed IV finally agreed to war and sent a message to Vienna telling the emperor to stay where he was until the sultan could arrive to take his head personally. Mehmed also let Leopold know his intent to wipe the population out in its entirety unless they converted to Islam.

The Ottoman army converged on Edirne, but with the lateness of the season did not leave. They had gathered there to await the Sultan’s blessing as supreme leader of Islam, and the invasion was pushed back to the following year.

The Christians took this time to recover from the shock of the Ottoman declaration of war and prepare. Leopold called on the Pope, Innocent XI, to help out with the diplomatic offensive. The Pope responded wholeheartedly but found his efforts to unite Christendom blocked by Louis XIV, who believed that an Ottoman victory would ensure France’s supremacy over Europe. The main battleground of the diplomatic war was the Sejm (Parliament) of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

File:Jan Tricius - Portrait of John III Sobieski (ca. 1680) - Google Art Project.jpg

King Jan III of the Poland-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Attributed to Jan Tricius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The King of the Commonwealth, Jan III Sobieski, was more than willing personally to ride to war. But the law of the Commonwealth dictated the unanimous approval of the Sejm was needed first. As a result, France and Papacy competed for votes through 1682 and 1683. Frustration mounted as the situation continued over several sessions.

Meanwhile, the Ottoman war machine rumbled forward. On March 30th, 1683 the Ottoman Army left Edirne and marched north into Hungary. By May 3rd, they had reached Belgrade and were joined by the vassal armies of Imre Thokoly and the Chinggisid Khan of the Crimean Tatars. At a war council in Belgrade, the Grand Vizier decided on a change of plans. Rather then advance and besiege the Habsburg fortress at Gyor he opted to proceed directly to the capital at Vienna. The sultan had no objections and gave the go-ahead to the plan though he stayed behind in Belgrade. On July 7th, Ottoman plans became apparent to the Habsburg court and the emperor, with his nobles, most his army, and some 60,000 civilians abandoned Vienna. Only a skeleton garrison of 11,000 under Ernst Rudiger, Graf von Starhemberg, and 5,000 civilians remained when the Ottoman army finally arrived on July 14th. Their army totaled 120,000 men, with an extensive siege train.

On arrival, the Grand Vizier set up one of the most splendid siege camps in history and ordered his men to begin to set up siege trenches and bring up the artillery. Before the firing began Kara Mustafa sent forth an emissary to the walls, telling the garrison that if they laid down their arms and became Muslims they and the population would be spared. A resounding roar of defiance answered him, and the siege began.

The Ottoman siege would be the key element to sway the Sejm. With reports from Hungary and Austria coming in and one last massive bribe from Rome, the Sejm gave the unanimous decision to declare war on the Ottoman Empire. King Jan was already resolved to go to war regardless from the previous winter. Now with official sanction the King of the Commonwealth moved his forces ever closer to the western border.

On August 15th, he crossed into the Holy Roman Empire.  Toward the end of the month the Commonwealth army, composed of the finest forces he had to offer, met an Imperial army commanded by Leopold’s brother-in-law, Karl V of Lorraine. A combination of Austrian, Bavarian, Swabian, Franconian, and Protestant Saxon troops the ragtag forces had been steadily harassing the Ottomans for some time. With the arrival of the Commonwealth forces, the Christian leadership felt that they could now relieve Vienna. The allied troops numbered 87,000 in total. Of those 50,000 were Austrian and German, the remaining 37,000 being Commonwealth.

Meanwhile, the siege was not going well for the defenders. Merzifonlu Kara Mustafa Pasha was not an inpatient or hotheaded man and as far as he knew he had all the time in the world to conduct the siege. His actions were methodical and steady. When the Ottoman cannons, 300 in all, proved to be too light to breach Vienna’s walls he adopted tunneling instead. But Vienna’s walls were quite advanced, so undermining them was slow going. Ottoman tunnels were met by answering tunnels from Vienna, planting and defusing bombs back and forth steadily.

File:Kara Mustafa Pasha.jpg

Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha of the Ottoman Empire. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

But the Ottomans knew they were winning. On September 8th, the Ottoman sapper corps blew a massive chunk out of Vienna’s walls when they destroyed the Burg ravelin and the nearby Nieder wall. As the Ottoman infantry stormed the fortifications the defenders, now whittled down to 4,000 continued to hold grimly despite the damage. They were prepared to fight the Ottomans in the streets if needed.

However, help was coming. Two days earlier the allied forces had crossed the Danube at Tulln and were marching with all speed to Vienna, working out a solid command structure along the way. News of the breach caused them to move even faster. The King soon led the combined armies through the dense and mountainous forest region of the Wienerwald. On September 11th, Christian forces arrived on a small hill overlooking Vienna known as Kahlenberg and drove off an Ottoman observation force. They then lit up three large torches to let the Ottomans and the defenders know of their arrival.

The Ottoman response was lackluster. Kara Mustafa was convinced the natural terrain of the Wienerwald would prevent any force significant enough to threaten him from coming through. Fatally he had also underestimated the Christian resolve to defeat him. Even as his staff urged the Grand Vizier to break camp and wheel about to face the allied forces he refused. Instead, he moved a small force of 30,000 infantry and cavalry to his rear supported by cannons and the Crimean cavalry. At the same time he shifted most of his troops for one final attack on Vienna the next day on September 12th.

Meanwhile in the Christian camp the allied forces were preparing for battle. Jan III was careful in his deployment, putting the Austrians on the left flank, most of the German troops in the center, and the Commonwealth forces augmented by German infantry on the right.

In the early morning dawn of the next day, the Catholic forces held Mass while the Protestants held their service, both prayed for victory. At 5:30 AM, the Ottomans, moved to dislodge them, except for the Crimean cavalry. In a fit of anger at the prior treatment, the Tartars had chosen to peel off and raid the suburbs of Vienna, abandoning their positions.

Duke Karl reacted quickly and led his troops forward, joined by the Imperial infantry in the center. The resulting battle would soon dissolve into a steady concerted effort to push back the Ottoman line. However, it was slow going as the heavy woods made the fighting and advance difficult on both sides. The whirling battle soon began to drag more Ottoman troops into the fray.  But, Kara Mustafa kept his best troops, the crack Janissaries, and the heavy cavalry out of the fighting and in the trenches before Vienna.

Even as the Christians tried to break the siege the Ottomans were attempting to create a second large hole in the walls, making the relief effort and the defense futile. But the defenders, already suspicious of another mining attempt like that of September 8th, discovered a massive bomb under the Lobel bastion just in time. The last ditch chance for victory had effectively gone up in smoke in the early afternoon around 1:00.

At the same time, the bomb was diffused the Commonwealth forces had finally managed to make their way onto the battlefield proper and took a position on the ridge. King Jan then detached his infantry to aid the Imperial center in turning the Ottoman lines. The Commonwealth cavalry then returned to the woods with a unit of Imperial cavalry.

At 2:30 PM the Christian cavalry, led by Poland’s winged hussars, burst from their cover on the far right of the Ottoman lines. The impact of such a charge head-on nearly broke the stressed siege lines on contact. Within another 3 hours, the rest of the besiegers broke and fled as well under pressure from the Austrian left. The last force to resist was the 20,000 man Janissary corps, but even they were overrun under the press of the Christian advance and fled.

The Grand Vizier then ordered the withdrawal to Belgrade, which turned into a rout. Leaving their whole camp and its riches behind, which greatly benefited the victors. Jan III was the first to reach the Grand Vizier’s tent from which he received the delirious and joyful cheers of his army and the defenders of Vienna as the savior of Europe. The city was saved.

As the allied troops plundered the camps, Jan III took the time to dictate a letter to the Pope by which he would report his victory to all Europe. In this letter, he made his famous paraphrase of Julius Caesar’s dispatch from the battle of Zela in 47 BC:

“Venimus, Vidimus, Deus Vicit” We Came, We Saw, God Conquered.

The Mughal Succession War of 1657-1661

The Mughal Empire of India was the first empire to achieve actual supremacy on the subcontinent. Founded by the Timurid prince-adventurer Babur in 1526 the empire experienced its greatest period during the reign of his grandson, Akbar. In Akbar’s declining years, his son Salim (the later Emperor Jahangir) rose against him, the first such incident of what would become a Mughal tradition. Shah Jahan, the 5th of the “Great Mughals” experienced this for himself following an illness that unexpectedly struck him down in September 1657. It did not take long before the emperor’s sons began fighting to succeed him, regardless or whether he recovered or not. Even though there were four sons in dispute only two mattered: the eldest, Dara Shikoh and the third, Aurangzeb.

File:Dara Shukoh.jpg

Dara Shikoh, eldest son of Shah Jahan.  By NADEEM NAQVI (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.


File:Equestrian Aurangzeb.jpg

Aurangzeb as a cavalryman. See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


The two brothers’ rivalry came to a head quickly. In 1652, Shah Jahan moved to deal with the issue of the Deccan Sultanates on the southern border by appointing Prince Aurangzeb as governor of the Deccan for the second time (his first being from 1636-1644). Mughal involvement in the south stretched back to the beginning of the century when Akbar annexed the Sultanate of Ahmadnagar. The newly conquered territories would prove troublesome under the pressure of a guerrilla war until Shah Jahan finally secured it. He then reduced the two remaining Deccan powers, the Sultanate of Bijapur and the Sultanate of Golkonda, to vassalage in 1636. Aurangzeb considered this state of affairs to be unacceptable. To a man of simple, fundamentalist, Sunni Muslim convictions like him the sultanates (which were heavily influenced by Hinduism and Shi’a Islam) represented a blemish it was his duty to destroy. To this end, he recruited the services of Mir Jumla, a Persian general, and merchant prince, and together they launched an assault on Golkonda in 1656. However, at the height of their success orders came down from Delhi to stop the war. The Sultan had appealed to Crown Prince Dara Shikoh, who in turn persuaded Shah Jahan to call off the campaign. Dara was not a man of warfare but more of a man of intellectual, religious, and artistic pursuits. In the crown prince, the peoples of the empire saw a champion, and the empire’s enemies saw a man they could manipulate. Nevertheless, Dara Shikoh was no simpleton, and he actively moved to check the growing ambitions of his younger brother. Aurangzeb was forced to content himself was a massive indemnity and move on. The following year Aurangzeb and Mir Jumla invaded Bijapur and again on the cusp of victory Shah Jahan called it off on pressure from Dara Shikoh. This time Aurangzeb wrung out even greater concessions than he had from Golkonda, forcing the Sultan to cede land as well pay the indemnity. Up to this point the rivalry between Dara and Aurangzeb, which extended back some years, had taken place within legal bounds, a game of political chess.  However, when Shah Jahan was announced to be ill with an acute case of constipation in September, the game changed. The emperor was confined to his bedchamber, and soon the news leaked he suffered from swelling of the limbs and high fever. Rumors flew Shah Jahan was dying or permanently incapacitated. It was all his sons needed to rise against him.


From left to right: Shah Shuja, Aurangzeb, and Murad Baksh as young adults. By Cordanrad [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The early stage of the resulting civil war seemed to be a four-way contest, but it was soon cut down. Dara Shikoh, who held direct Imperial support (thanks to Shah Jahan’s partial recovery and support on October 18) was strongest and had the armies in Delhi, Agra, and the Rajput rajas supporting him. Aurangzeb commanded the elite armies of the Deccan and the forces of Mir Jumla.  Finally was Shah Shuja (the second son), governor of Bengal, and Murad Baksh (the youngest), governor of Gujarat. Shah Shuja moved first, proclaiming himself emperor and crossing the Ganga River in force. Dara Shikoh moved quickly and sent an army under the Kacchwaha Rajput Mirza Raja Jai Singh and Prince Sulaiman (Dara’s eldest son). Near Varanasi/Benares, the Bengali army was defeated, and a pursuit ordered after Shuja in February 1658. By now Aurangzeb, who had carefully bided his time and brought Murad Baksh (Murad, like Shuja, had made himself Emperor) into his orbit, was moving north. With both of his greatest allies, Prince Aurangzeb tried to breach northward through Malwa. Dara Shikoh reacted by sending an army under the Rathore Rajput Maharaja Jaswant Singh and the loyalist commander Qasim Khan. On April 15, 1658, the forces of Aurangzeb won a great victory over the Imperial forces at Dharmat. Success was owed mainly to the European-manned artillery that Mir Jumla hired on his patron’s behalf. Until only a few decades previous, the Turks (both from Central Asia and the Ottoman Empire) were the premier artillery crews on the subcontinent. But the Europeans, especially the French, had proved superior for while possessing technically inferior pieces the European crews were better trained, able fire more accurately and faster than any in India. The rebel victory at Dharmat shifted the momentum of the war as well as the odds into Aurangzeb’s favor. Taking advantage of the change, the ulama (the Islamic scholars and jurists) condemned Dara Shikoh and charged him with heresy, playing right into Aurangzeb’s hands. He declared his object was to free their father from Dara’s heretical influences, and that the crown prince had illegitimately taken power. Shah Jahan could only protest ineffectively from Agra as defections from the Imperial army, previously a small trickle accelerated into a flood as the majority Muslim contingents went over to Aurangzeb and Murad. Those contingents that did not defect, such as the army of Qasim Khan, chose to stand on the sidelines and take no side in the civil war. Forced to rely more and more on his Rajput allies, Dara Shikoh assembled an army and marched south to block the road to Agra at Dholpur, where the road north crossed the Chambal River.

However, the rebel princes proved to be more cunning than anticipated. Aurangzeb quickly became aware of Dara’s fortifications at Dholpur and knew better than to try to cross there. He enlisted the aid of the local Rajput strongman, Champat Rai, who showed him a crossing further east of Dholpur where he could cross the Chambal and end behind the lines. As a precaution, he left his camp near Gwalior standing and crossed the river on May 23. Dara Shikoh only became aware of the deception well after Aurangzeb and Murad had crossed and hurried to find another river crossing at which to block the way to Agra. He finally found it at Samugarh, near the Jamuna River. On May 28, Dara and Aurangzeb faced off on the field for the first time but neither side fired a shot. The Crown Prince had lost his nerve, only highlighting his inexperience and making Aurangzeb look even better. The following morning the decisive battle was joined. Once again, Aurangzeb’s European-manned artillery played a crucial role. However, even more importantly was the differences between the two armies and their commanders. Dara Shikoh’s last military experience had been a military blunder in Qandahar fighting the Safavids decades previous; he was untried, and his Muslim soldiers viewed him with suspicion. His army was an ill-disciplined polyglot of inexperienced recruits and rash (though valorous) Rajputs. By comparison, Aurangzeb was a hard military man, possessed of restless energy, with experience under his belt who attracted the loyalty of his men. His army was all battle-tested veterans of the Deccan Wars or experienced mercenaries, many having been there long before Aurangzeb took command. Nevertheless, the tide of battle favored Dara Shikoh until he committed a series of tactical blunders. As a result, he lost his cavalry, including the Rajputs, and his center became spent without even engaging the enemy. Aurangzeb had only sat put, intending to fight a defensive battle. His patience was rewarded, even though Murad Baksh broke ranks and was nearly killed by Dara’s cavalry. The battle was lost when Dara Shikoh dismounted his elephant on the advice of Khalilullah Khan, a mole working with Aurangzeb, and rumors spread the Crown Prince was killed. Even though Dara quickly mounted a horse and tried to rally his men, he could not gain control of them. Their discipline broke under the weight of hard fighting, almost constant bombardment, and in the Imperial center, nearly continuous marching. Aurangzeb saw his chance and ordered the advance, meeting no resistance. The civil war was over for all practical purposes.

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The battle of Samugarh, May 29th, 1658. By Payag (http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/216542) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Dara Shikoh fled to Agra, collected his wealth and his family and fled to Lahore. Aurangzeb triumphantly entered Agra in his brother’s wake on June 8, 1658. Once there he dropped all pretense of rescuing the Emperor and besieged Agra Fort. The Emperor surrendered on the pleas of his son’s leading commanders and was declared mentally incapable. The Emperor’s sole comfort was Aurangzeb’s decision to allow Jahanara, his older sister (the eldest child over all), to care for Shah Jahan in his old age. After taking care of things in Agra, Aurangzeb marched towards to Delhi and at Mathura had Murad Baksh arrested during a drinking bout on June 25. The younger prince’s military forces went over to Aurangzeb without trouble as he had already taken care of their pay-off.   He soon Delhi to great fanfare and soon seated himself on the Peacock Throne. He then made himself Emperor under the reign name Alamgir (Conqueror of the Universe) on July 21 but dispensed with the full ceremonial until he was certain his throne was secure. He had good reason to fear. In the east Shah Shuja was still at large and the loyalists under Jai Singh and Prince Sulaiman were in close pursuit. Aurangzeb feared that they could link-up and pose a significant threat to him. In the west, Dara Shikoh evaded capture, but Aurangzeb always had his agents in pursuit. The possibility of Dara going into Persia and the seeking the aid of the Safavid Emperor Sulaiman I (much like their ancestor Humayun had sought the assistance of Emperor Tahmasp I) was a real danger.

Aware of these threats, Aurangzeb moved quickly to deal with them. As Dara could not be found yet, the new Emperor turned his attention to Jai Singh, Prince Sulaiman, and Shah Shuja. The former two were dealt with more easily. Jai Singh and his lieutenant, Dilir Khan, had already learned of the events at Samugarh, of Dara Shikoh’s flight, and Aurangzeb’s ascension to the throne. They judged the situation to not be in their favor and decided to recognize Aurangzeb as emperor. But Jai Singh’s Rajput honor would not allow him to turn over Prince Sulaiman to his uncle. Instead, he advised the prince to flee and try to find his father in the Panjab. Aurangzeb was enraged by this news but delighted at Jai Singh’s decision to swear fealty. After this, an exchange of letters started between the emperor and Shah Shuja. Despite flowery declarations of brotherly affection by Aurangzeb, the older prince was suspicious and made secret preparations to march on Delhi. In October, this became apparent and Shah Shuja issued a declaration of his intent to march on Agra and free Shah Jahan from confinement in the Fort. Support swelled for the Bengali forces as they marched out from Rajmahal and loyalists turned out in droves to join. Varanasi (the site of Shuja’s previous defeat) surrendered peacefully, which Shuja repaid by forcing the merchants to give him their gold to supply his treasury. He then marched on, and by the third week of December he was advancing to the city of Allahabad in modern Uttar Pradesh. Aurangzeb was not still during these events, and he also gathered his forces, now bolstered by the addition of the Rajputs who had sworn fealty (for this campaign principally Jaswant Singh). Mir Jumla, who had returned to the Deccan, was also recalled and given orders to join with the emperor.

After much maneuvering, the two forces faced each other and set camp on the flat plains of Kajwa. On January 4, 1659, Jaswant Singh sent messages to the camp of Shah Shuja asking him to attack the Imperial camp shortly after midnight. For Jaswant was intending to betray the emperor, loot the camp, and return to his fief. This way the Bengali army could attack and sweep the field, defeating Aurangzeb and end the war. The Rajput leader distrusted his new master and was chiefly concerned with the welfare of his kingdom, which he believed would not prosper under Aurangzeb. At midnight, January 4-5 the Maharaja kept his word and attacked. The Imperial army lost half its number to either death or defection, and the Emperor lost his previously overwhelming numerical superiority. The resulting battle of Kajwa on January 5 was the most closely fought battle of the war.  Due in no small part to Prince Shah Shuja’s use of war elephants. War elephants in the real sense of the word had become rare in Indian warfare and had seen only limited action since the advent of the Delhi Sultanate centuries previous. However the tide of military change went more slowly in Bengal, so elephants still featured prominently there, which influenced Shah Shuja. The elephants came into play against the Imperial left wing and proved impervious to gunfire, arrow fire, and lance wounds. Once they turned towards the center Aurangzeb ordered his matchlock men to shoot the riders off their mounts, which finally defeated the elephants. In the end the Emperor was victorious by the two elements that had served him so well at Dharmat and Samugarh: his superior European artillery and the veteran status of his core army. Also, while both wings were routed, the center, always led by Aurangzeb personally, held on. Shah Shuja caused his army to rout by dismounting his elephant and fleeing on horseback, like Dara Shikoh had done at Samugarh,. Shah Shuja, however, was able to recover in better order and still posed a threat. Aurangzeb, however, was still more concerned with Dara Shikoh then anyone else and left the matter of Shuja in the capable hands of Mir Jumla, and left for Delhi.

Mir Jumla and Shah Shuja would fight many battles in the first three months of 1659, but affairs finally came to a close that April. On April 5 the Imperial forces dealt the decisive blow at the battle of Maksudabad, reducing Shuja to a fugitive. The prince flittered around Bengal, evading capture until he accepted an offer of asylum from King Sandathudamma of the Burmese kingdom of Arakan. Shah Shuja left India on May 12, 1660, and never returned. He was eventually murdered, with his entire family, by Sandathudamma, but for what reasons remain unknown. Meanwhile, Aurangzeb had little time to rejoice over Mir Jumla’s victory, for Dara Shikoh was moving in force.

The former Crown Prince had led an eventful life underground. He had run in every direction across the Panjab, through Sind, and eventually into Gujarat. All along the way Dara tried to gather support and a new army. But the situation had changed from a year previous. The events at Samugarh, Aurangzeb’s coronation, and the defeat of Shuja had made any attempt to dislodge the Emperor seem fool hardly at best. While Dara Shikoh still commanded the affection and loyalty of many non-Muslims in the empire his power base had mostly abandoned him. Aiding Dara in his recruitment efforts was his youngest son, Prince Sipihr. Eventually, father and son found the support they sought in Gujarat from Shah Nawaz Khan, the governor. From Gujarat, Prince Sipihr was sent ahead into Rajasthan to bring the Rajputs into the fold. Up to this point, Dara had been altering his plan on the run and on reaching Gujarat his first idea had been to flee into the Deccan and link with the forces of Bijapur and Golkonda against Aurangzeb. But the safety of Gujarat and Aurangzeb’s campaign of disinformation had caused the former Crown Prince to think he could dash to Agra and free Shah Jahan. For that reason, he had sent Siphir to prepare the way through Rajput territory, and the kingdom of Jaswant Singh. Jaswant was initially agreeable to the plan and agreed to supply forces in February 1659. But Jai Singh intervened and persuaded Jaswant that it would smarter to back Aurangzeb. He, therefore, changed his mind and left the army of Dara Shikoh in a dangerous situation. The emperor was delighted and was already in Rajasthan by March. Dara could neither go forward to Ajmer as the Rathore Rajputs of Jaswant Singh had changed sides or backward to Gujarat as Aurangzeb would catch him quickly. Instead, he opted to take position at the defile of Deorai, hoping to defeat his brother’s far larger army in detail. The battle of Deorai lasted from April 12 to April 14 with the final victory of Aurangzeb. In this fight, the Imperial victory was owed to the hard fighting spirit of the Rajput cavalry and Dara Shikoh’s well demonstrated military incompetence. Dara and his family would flee again and make for Persia. But they were betrayed by Malik Jiwan Khan at Dadar near Bolan Pass on June 9. Aurangzeb, who had finally ascended to the throne in full pageantry and ceremony on June 5, immediately ordered his older brother brought to Delhi.

The final act of the succession conflict now opened. The prisoner train bearing Dara Shikoh and his family arrived in Delhi on August 23 under the authority of Prince Mu’azzam. Aurangzeb wanted a public display of his triumph and so paraded a chained and destitute Dara through the streets of Delhi with his son Sipihr on August 29. The next day a trial was held, as the Emperor sought to end all threats to his rule by legal means. The ulama condemned Dara Shikoh has an apostate from Islam, not just a heretic as they had before and delivered a verdict of death by beheading. The former Crown Prince’s body was buried unceremoniously in the Tomb of Humayun in an unmarked plot. The head was sent to Agra as a “gift” to Shah Jahan and Princess Jahanara in the Fort. Prince Sipihr, because of his youth, was spared his father’s fate and became a ward of the Imperial Court. The fate of Shah Shuja has already been covered. However, Mir Jumla did use Shuja’s activities in Bengal as an excuse to war with the Ahom dynasty of Assam (a venture that ended in failure and the Persian adventurer’s death). Murad Baksh, languishing in Gwaliar, or Gwalior, was executed on December 4, 1661, as punishment for his murder of the Chancellor of Gujarat, Ali Naqi, in 1657. His son, Izid, was spared like his cousin Sipihr and made a ward of the Imperial Court. The last challenger to Aurangzeb then was the eldest son of Dara Shikoh, Prince Sulaiman. After being allowed to escape by Jai Singh in 1658 the Prince had tried to join his father in the Panjab through the Himalayas via Haridwar but Aurangzeb had foreseen such a possibility and had the road blocked. He thus eventually came into the protection of Raja Prithvi Singh of Garhwal, a Hindu kingdom in the same region. Prince Sulaiman found protection in the Garhwal capital of Srinagar for a year and half before he was betrayed by the royal heir, Medni Singh, and handed over to Imperial authorities on December 27, 1660.

File:Aerial View of Srinagar City.jpg

Modern Srinagar City. By Sauood07 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The prisoner train arrived in Delhi on January 2, 1661. Aurangzeb initially made promises to treat his eldest nephew lightly (comparatively), his fate being to be confined for life in Gwaliar. But the Emperor instead had Prince Sulaiman killed by slow poisoning, and the Prince died in May 1662. Alternatively it said that Sulaiman was dying of poisoning, but death itself was delivered by the executioner’s ax.

With the death of Prince Sulaiman, Aurangzeb now sat unchallenged on the Peacock Throne and would continue to do so for the next 49 years. Except for Prince Akbar, none of Aurangzeb’s sons rose against their father. Aurangzeb did attempt to preempt any conflicts after his death by dividing the empire among his heirs, but this only drove the conflict harder. In this way, the Mughal tradition of fratricidal conflict continued until well into the era of regional fragmentation, ending only after the events of the reign of Emperor Alam II, the great-great-grandson of Aurangzeb.




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