This post may have been better done a couple months back, so I’ll crib mercilessly from my friend the Didact who told the tale far better than I could:
At the Gates
The armies of the invaders were gathered outside, tens of thousands strong. Within the walls, the defenders looked out on a plain swarming with enemies; there was no safe refuge to be found anywhere nearby. The city had been under siege for two long and terrible months; its destruction and conquest was at hand, and everyone knew it.
The defenders of the gateway to Europe knew that the future of not just their nation, but of all of the nations of Christendom, hinged upon the outcome of this battle. When the siege had begun, they had numbered perhaps 25,000 soldiers and volunteers- facing an army of 170,000 invaders. Their one and only advantage was their overwhelming superiority in terms of cannons and artillery- but that would not last long against the guns of the invaders, not in a prolonged siege.
The defenders knew what would happen if they allowed the invaders to win. Before the siege had begun- what seemed a lifetime ago to the 16,000 or so defenders left on the walls of Europe’s gateway to the east- news had been received of the massacre of Perchtoldsdorf, a small town to the south. The people of that city had voluntarily surrendered- and were slaughtered wholesale.
The military leader of the city refused to surrender. He knew that the enemy’s promises were not worth even the words taken to utter them.
For more than sixty days, the defenders of the city held out against their enemies- short on food, on sleep, on medicine, on everything but faith and desperation. They beat back wave after wave of attacks against the walls of their beloved city. They repeatedly countered their enemy’s efforts to mine the city walls and dig tunnels under the fortifications.
Starving, bleeding, dying, they held out nonetheless. Their dead were left where they fell; there was no way to bring their fallen back into the city for a proper burial. Death stalked the city walls, and yet they held out. Their only choice was to fight, or to die.
When it became clear that the invaders were going to besiege the city, a desperate plea for help had been sent by the beleaguered defenders to the heart of a distant empire, begging for aid from any quarter. But Christendom at this time was deeply riven by religious and political divisions of all kinds; getting the Hungarians and the Polish and the Germans and the French to cooperate with each other was worse than herding cats. Their troops were some of the finest heavy cavalry and artillerymen and foot soldiers in the world- but their leaders were as likely to stab each other in the backs as they were to order their troops to fire in the same direction.
It was perhaps Christendom’s darkest hour- worse than Lepanto- when all that the kingdoms of Christ stood for was at stake. And it was in that time of desperation that two great men heeded the call.
A king and an emperor of two rival nations and powers put aside their differences, knowing that if they did not, then all of Christendom would fall. The flags of their mortal enemies would fly high from St. Peter’s Basilica; the very Throne of the Vicar of Christ would be overthrown. For the sake of all that they held dear, they knew that they had to fight.
Together they assembled a force of some 74,000 men with the express intent of relieving the siege and breaking the enemy’s lines around the shattered city. The army arrived barely in time; another few days, and the city would surely have fallen, with all of its inhabitants slaughtered and the path to the conquest of Europe laid open.
The relief force was still outnumbered nearly two to one. They knew this. Yet they marched- for home and nation, for emperor and king, for faith and freedom, for God Himself.
The next day, with the coalition forces assembled on the slopes of the hills overlooking the city, the fateful order was given for a cavalry unit, whose name lives today in legend, to charge.
Around sunset, eighteen thousand of the world’s finest heavy cavalry thundered down the hillside in the largest cavalry charge ever recorded in the history of war. Their banners flew furiously in the wind; the roar of their battle cry echoed across the field, striking terror into the hearts of their already faltering enemy on the plain; the wings on their backs gave them the appearance of avenging angels come down from on high.
Their king himself led his men into battle. The heavy troops smashed into enemy lines already wearied and harried from a full day of battle, on top of two months of brutal siege warfare. The city was saved- and with it, the future of Christendom itself.
Lepanto, Tours, Vienna – these are names that should not be forgotten. They were all turning points in the fight to maintain civilization against a culture of barbarians and central authoritarian control. They gave us legends, literature, and room to grow.
And the courage of the Poles lives on to this day, unbowed by its time spent under the yoke of murderous communism and socialism.