June 17, 1462: The Battle of the Blood Drinkers

Like flaming demons, Wallachians rushed out of the night and into the Turkish camp, striking terror in an army of terrorists. Leading the charge was a gore-spattered chieftain—hewing and hacking a path to the central tents where the Sultan huddled in fear. On he came, Vlad Dracul, raining down slaughter and raging for Mehmed’s blood.

On June 17, 1462, outside Targoviste, Romania, the world was given a rare instance of how the good can be accomplished though the grotesque—for God can deploy His enemies as allies. Vlad Dracul III, Prince of Wallachia, can hardly be considered a warrior of faith; but he was certainly a warrior for the Faith.

VladTheImpalerWhen Constantinople fell in 1453, 21 year-old Sultan Mehmed II boasted that finally Trojans were given vengeance over Greeks, and that he should be known as the Caesar of the Caliphs. He was more widely known, however, as the Blood Drinker. Mehmed enjoyed torture and execution for its own sake, making him a terrifying conqueror whose ambition was bent on the Christian West.

Mehmed launched his conquest of Eastern Europe, but was repelled at the Siege of Belgrade by John Hunyadi of Hungary in 1456. The retreating Ottomans regarded Wallachia (present day southern Romania) as a buffer between them and Hungary, and so, for a yearly jizyah (tax for non-Muslims), they left Wallachia alone—though both Hungary and the Turks vied to make Wallachia their vassal.

 

At that time Vlad III, a savage and sadistic prince of the Dragon Order, ruled in Romania. Vlad, like Mehmed, was also known for the pleasure he took in murdering people through excruciating procedures. Impaling was his trademark method, and it is said that in his lifetime Vlad the Impaler impaled in the tens of thousands.

Also at that time Pope Pius II, a saintly and savvy prince of the Church, ruled in Rome. Pope Pius called for a crusade against Islam in 1459, appointing the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, with the task of organizing a Catholic military resistance to the Moslem threat that loomed on the eastern horizon.

Seeing an opportunity to maintain independence from Mehmed, Prince Vlad allied himself with the Hungarians in 1461. Later that year, when envoys from Mehmed arrived at Vlad’s capital of Targoviste to collect the annual tribute, Vlad refused to pay—suggesting instead that the emissaries remove their turbans in the presence of a prince. When this demand was in turn refused, Vlad ordered the turbans nailed to their heads.

In response, Mehmed sent a punitive troop to Wallachia under pretense of making peace but intending an ambush to crush the insubordinate prince. Spies brought Vlad intelligence of this treachery, however, and he ambushed the Ottoman soldiers himself. Any who were not killed by Vlad’s cannons, were captured and impaled. Then Vlad Dracul marched his army across the frozen Danube and utterly devastated the Turkish outposts in Bulgaria, leaving twenty-four thousand dead behind him. Furious, Mehmed sent his own Grand Vizier with an army of eighteen thousand to end the routing. The router marched out to meet them, and not eight thousand Turks survived.

By March 1462, Vlad III found himself the keenest participant in the Pope’s crusade—though his motivation was hatred for the Turk rather than love for the Church. When reports of his violent victories over the Ottoman Empire spread throughout Europe, however, Te Deum was sung and Catholics rejoiced with Pius II at these campaigns that continued to drive Mehmed’s forces further from Rome.

Sultan Mehmed IIIt was then that Mehmed abandoned his siege of Corinth and determined to go after Vlad personally. He assembled a force of nearly one hundred thousand, and set forth to conquer Wallachia, which would put Vienna within his grasp—the doorstep to Rome.

Vlad III, whose peasant infantrymen and boyar cavalry only numbered thirty thousand, could not prevent Mehmed from crossing the Danube into his country. The Turks began their march toward Targoviste, while Vlad’s army lurked just beyond their reach, employing sudden guerilla strikes and scorched earth tactics. Hidden archers shot down janissaries. Scores fell into pits covered with brush and lined with stakes. Waters were poisoned. Livestock was slain. The Wallachian prince even paid people with leprosy or the bubonic plague to mingle with the Turks and infect them. Mehmed’s militia was severely impaired by these strategies as they dragged heavy artillery through disease-ridden marshes, sustaining great loss from Vlad’s hit-and-run maneuvers.

Finally, Mehmed trapped his enemy in a mountain pass and set up siege, determined to wait till Vlad and his followers starved or surrendered. Recognizing his peril, the Wallachian prince determined to meet death in a manner befitting the temper of his blood. He laid his plans on that June evening, and waited till nightfall.

The Ottoman camp lay in silence. Suddenly, a trumpet blast brayed out. The rumble of rushing feet and roaring voices swelled over the tents as Vlad III lead a surprise attack in the dead of night, blades gleaming in the torchlight. The prince threshed a path toward Mehmed’s tent, spreading chaos and carnage with the ferocity of his invasion. The panicked Turks reeled beneath the blow, until the Janissaries rallied themselves. Encircling the Sultan, they drove the Wallachians back into the gloom—only after fifteen thousand Turks had been butchered.

This famous skirmish of June 17, 1462, allegedly left Mehmed II petrified. With his forces in tatters and demoralized, he abandoned the chase of Vlad Dracul, allowing the Wallachians to return to Targoviste. Soon afterwards, however, Mehmed repented pulling away and marched on the capital after Vlad. Another surprise awaited him there. The gates of the city stood open. No resistance was offered.

And twenty thousand dead Turks surrounded the city, impaled on stakes.

The Sultan beheld this masterpiece of horror and knew that here was a match for Turkish terrors—a man who knew his enemy well enough to give them a taste of their own brutality. Though Mehmed shrank from the sight, something like admiration burnt in his eye. He wheeled his army southward, and retreated. Barbarism put the barbarians to flight, the Moslem Moon waned in the east, and a shadow was lifted from Vienna.

It is common and commendable that Christians defend the truths and beauties of heathen things. History, however, provides moments of mystery when it is heathens that defend Christian things. The overawing of Mehmed II by Vlad III is one of those moments. Though Vlad Dracul is—and for good reason—the historical basis for the blood-drinking Dracula, he is still the prince who waged war against the Ottoman Blood Drinker. The story surrounding the 1462 Night Raid is both terrible and triumphant, featuring an unholy hero for the Faith who bore the Standard of Christ without really intending to. There are realities here that are worth wrestling with: God can inspire the ungodly to save His Church; many who fight for the Faith are not among the faithful.

It can be argued that the attitude of bold and brutal attack against the infidel that the bloodthirsty Vlad Dracul exhibited was embraced and ennobled a century later by Don John at the Battle of Lepanto, and a century after that by Jan Sobieski at the Siege of Vienna. Each of these victories was pivotal in keeping the Cross over Rome instead of the Crescent—and even savages like Vlad the Impaler should be given credit where credit is due.

Just as sending a thief to catch a thief is sometimes advisable, so too, perhaps, is sending a devil to conquer a devil.

Sean Fitzpatrick

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Sean Fitzpatrick is a graduate of Thomas Aquinas College and the Headmaster of Gregory the Great Academy. He lives in Scranton, PA with his wife and family of four.

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