The Strength of Slavs is in Their Concord
There were nine thousand Serbs and three thousand Russians on one side and twice as many Turks on the other. Joseph Cornelius O’Rourke, of Irish ancestry, commanded the Serbo-Russian forces, and Hurshid Pasha commanded the Turks. Great and shiny was the Slavic victory. Besides Count O’Rourke, many other heroes, such as Jovan Kursula, Hayduk Veljko, knyaz of Temnić Jefta Brkić, described in epics and unforgettable, fought admirably

By: Ivana Stojanović Šešlak

”Great people are not born as such. You need events in which they will show their ability to be leaders”, wrote Milorad Ekmečić. In the battle on the Varvarin field in September 1810, which celebrated its two hundred and tenth anniversary recently, many people shone. They are remembered in history and national consciousness. Especially Count O’Rourke, Hayduk Veljko Petrović, Jovan Kursula, knyaz of Temnić Jefta Brkić…
According to historians, this is one of the important ones in recent Serbian history. After difficult defeats in the year preceding it, this victory enabled the recovery of revolutionary Serbia, and thereby its support for another three years. Victory was gained by joint efforts of Serbian and Russian forces under the command of count O’Rourke.


Joseph Cornelius O’Rourke was of Irish ancestry. After the fall of the Catholic Stuart dynasty in England, in late XVII century, his ancestors first emigrated to France then finally settled to Russia. O’Rourke was commander of the Russian army expedition corpus in Serbia. Upon the order of the main commander of the Russian army in Wallachia, Count Zuccat, he was sent to Serbia to help the revolutionaries. He was taken from the Danube to the Morava by Serbian forces under command of Hayduk Veljko Petrović. Vuk Karadžić writes about Hayduk Veljko: ”In autumn, he was leading the Russian army to Varvarin. His left arm was wounded in that famous battle, resulting in a permanently dysfunctional hand (he couldn’t make a fist or stretch his fingers).”
While moving through eastern Serbia towards the Morava, O’Rourke and Hayduk Veljko liberated several towns with joint forces. They met with Karađorđe near Deligrad. Combined Serbo-Russian forces were directed towards Jasika near Kruševac. There they clashed with the forces of Turkish commander Hurshid Pasha. People believe that Hurshid Pasha was of Serbian origin, taken away as Devshirme by the Turks. After the conflict in Jasika, where O’Rourke’s nephew died, he decided to strategically retreat towards Varvarin, considering the terrain near Jasika unfavorable for battling. He advised Karađorđe to retreat. Lazar Arsenijević Batalaka, historian, writes that O’Rourke was ”advising Karađorđe to retreat to the field near Varvarin, which they crossed when heading to Jasika, because, as Count O’Rourke told Karađorđe, ’when we retreat to that field, Hurshid Pasha will have to attack us with his army, because the strategic lines will not let him avoid us and leave us behind’”.
O’Rourke emphasizes that ”on that field, with my army, together with yours, which you are putting under my command (immediately upon their encounter, Karađorđe put his army under his command), my combat actions can be most comprehensive and most certain”. Retreating from Jasika wasn’t the only O’Rourke’s advice that Karađorđe accepted. There were more.
Batalaka writes that Karađorđe ”upon O’Rourke’s advice, started collecting as many people as he can for the army, because Count O’Rourke instructed him in that matter as well: Rushid’s force is four times bigger than ours, so it can easily happen that we won’t be able to resist; so, go among people and collect as many as you can for the army”. Vuk Karadžić also tells that O’Rourke influenced Serbs to retreat towards Varvarin: ”Then Count O’Rourke talked Serbs into moving to Varvarin the following day”.


The place which O’Rourke chose for the battlefield was about three kilometers from present Varvarin, on the border of the Varvarin village. It is also known as the village of Sastavci (Connection) because that is where the Southern and the Western Morava meet. There is a story that, upon seeing the supremacy of the Turks, Count O’Rourke asked Karađorđe why he wasn’t informed earlier, so that he could ”bring more Moscows” (as they called Russians then). There were different estimations about the balance of power. According to the most acceptable one, there were about 9.000 Serbs and 3.000 Russians on one side. On the opposite side, there were about 25.000 Turks together with Albanians.
He was determined to deal with the opponent. O’Rourke sent a letter to Hurshid Pasha, asking him to end the commenced battle near Jasika, on a new terrain, near Varvarin. He was an insightful planner. He knew how to prepare for a battle with an overwhelming foe. He immediately ordered renewing the existing trenches, while people from neighboring villages helped in preparing a new one, looking up to the Russian ones. Due to the upcoming battle, O’Rourke ordered moving the then village of Varvarin to a new location, where it still stands today. Some of the famous Serbs who fought in the battle were Jovan Kursula, Miloš Obrenović, Stanoje Glavaš, Ilija Barjaktarević, Mladen Milovanović, as well as the already mentioned Hayduk Veljko. Knyaz Jefta from Obrež, Nikola Mandrda from Pajkovac and Mileta Radojković from Gornji Katun were some of the renowned people of Temnić.
Vuk Karadžić notes Hurshid Pasha’s comment after his arrival to the Varvarin field: You all say that Serbs do not dare come to an open field, that they hide in the woods or bury themselves in the hills like pigs. Here’s a field now, and here are Serbs…” Hayduk Veljko and Count O’Rourke persuaded Karađorđe not to participate in the upcoming battle, due to the great supremacy of Turks. Ćorović writes:
”A decisive fight began on the Varvarin field on September 6. United Serbian and Russian army repelled all Turkish attacks and forced the Turks to retreat all the way to Niš. Karađorđe didn’t take part in the Battle of Varvarin. The reason stated was that they feared that, since the Turkish army was too strong, they would destroy the allies. Russian commander, Count O’Rourke, told Karađorđe that it was everyone’s best interest that he, as the supreme commander, withdraws from the fight… However, it was hardly the real reason… It was possibly because of not bothering each other in the command; that is, the Russian wanted to be independent in his activities.”


Karađorđe watched the beginning of the battle from a nearby hill. O’Rourke waited for the Turks to come closer. When they approached and were within the range of his cannons, he began an incredible cannonade. The enemy artillery, although in possession of more cannons, was not precise. Witnesses write that Turkish cannonballs often missed their targets. After a fierce and precise artillery preparation, O’Rourke started attacking the Turkish center from the sides, with the Serbian and Cossack cavalry. Such tactics made good results and broke down the strength of the Turkish attack. The battle was so fierce that, according to one of the legends, Count O’Rourke rushed after the enemy in his underwear. The battle lasted from morning to late afternoon. Casualties on the Serbo-Russian side were small. On the opposite, Turkish side, estimations are that about a thousand soldiers died.
After the first day of the battle, O’Rourke made a feast for his soldiers to recuperate them. Meanwhile, Hurshid Pasha, angry due to great losses, was planning a new attack to force the Serbo-Russian army into the Morava. His intention was to encompass both wings of Serbo-Russian forces with his calvary. However, Count O’Rourke had a prepared response. First, he did not take his army out immediately. He patiently waited for the enemy to approach closely. When needed, he sent Cossacks under command of Niko Nikić to his endangered right wing. After O’Rourke’s strong response, Hurshid Pasha managed to consolidate his forces, so he hit the Serbian left wing. Hayduk Veljko remarkably repelled that attack.
General Vladimir E. Gofman highlights O’Rourke’s calmness during the Turkish cavalry attack. In the decisive moment, when ”they gathered and rushed towards the Serbian cavalry again, O’Rourke sent Volinsky uhlans and Cossacks to their wing and destroyed it. Losing hope in success and possibly not wanting to take any more risks, due to the difficulties of a potential retreat, Hurshid withdrew his army.”
The situation was very favorable for allied Serbo-Russian forces. Casualties on the opposite side were enormous. According to Nićifor Ninković, volunteer from Srem, ”the flat field was white with Turkish horses. One could think those were grazing sheep or swans fallen on the field.”
After the victory on the Varvarin field, Karađorđe called O’Rourke the savior of Serbia.


Jovan Kursula, Famous Warrior
”The year 1810 has a special place in the history of Temnić. That year, one of the most important and most brilliant battles of the time – the famous Battle of Varvarin took place”, says Slavica Milutinović, professor of history in the Varvarin gymnasium. ”The importance of the battle for our area is best shown by the fact that the day of the battle, September 23, was proclaimed the day of the Varvarin Municipality to honor that great historical event. And not only that. The elementary school in Varvarin is named after famous Jovan Kursula. After killing Omer-Aga, ’the Black Arab’ from Jovan Dragašević’s poem, Kursula became famous and predicted the Serbian army victory.”


Church in Orašje
The nearby Orašje Monastery, today church, in the village with the same name near Varvarin, was a shelter for the wounded during and after the famous battle. That is where famous Jovan Kursula was treated. This monastery, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, was originally raised by King Milutin in the XIV century. As people believe, he did it to honor his reconciliation with his brother Dragutin. The Temnić knyaz Jefta Brkić from Obrež was buried in the church yard. In 1812, he renewed the church in Orašje, because the Turks destroyed it several times. Knyaz Jefta, a remarkably brave man, was considered one of Karađorđe’s most loyal associates. That was why prince Miloš Obrenović handed him over to the Turks in 1814. They assassinated him in Belgrade shortly after.


The impact of the glorious victory of allied Russo-Serbian forces was great. The significance of the victory was firstly in raising morals of the people for their further fights for freedom. Honoring the hundredth anniversary of the glorious victory, grateful people of Temnić raised a monument to Count O’Rourke in the spot where the battle took place. The monument is made of granite, four and a half meters high. These words are carved on it: ”The strength of Slavs in in their concord.” King Peter I attended the celebration of the hundredth anniversary together with the Russian delegation. Not far from the church, in the center of Varvarin, a monument was raised to Jova Kursula. The monument made of black marble has engraved verses from Jovan Dragašević’s poem about the famous fight between Jova Kursula and the Black Arab.


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