Jelačić was born in Petrovaradin, at the time part of the Slavonian part of the Military Frontier of the Habsburg Monarchy, which is today's Vojvodina, Serbia. He was the son of Croatian Baron Franjo Jelačić Bužimski (or in other documents, Franz Freiherr von Jelačić) (1746–1810) a Feldmarschall-Leutnant, and Anna Portner von Höflein of Austrian origin. He pursued a successful military career after schooling in the Vienna in Theresianische Ritter-Akadémie, today Theresianum, entering the Austrian army in March 11, 1819 as a novice with the rank of a lieutenant, to the regiment of Vinko Freiherr von Knežević, which was named after his uncle. He had a versatile education in the Academy, he was interested in history and foreign languages. He spoke well all South-Slavic languages, and German, Italian, French.
He was promoted to first lieutenat in May 1, 1825 and later in Sept 1, 1830 to capitain in Karlstadt (today: Karlovac). He lead a military campaign against the Bosnian Ottoman troops in Velika Kladuša in Oct 17, 1835, which he was honoured by medal. He was moreover promoted in Feb 20, 1837 as major in the Freiherr von Gollner regiment, then in May 1, 1841 he was promoted to lieutant-colonel in the First "Banal-Grenz-Regiment" (Croatian Frontier Guard Regiment) in Glina in central Croatia, finally he was positioned as colonel from 18th of October same year. As a colonel, and so the administrative commander in the region, he has won the sympathy of the border nations, which later in crutial times he took advantage.
On 22nd of March Jelačić was again promoted to major-general, at the same time, the Sabor, the National Assembly of Croatia (which was under Kingdom of Hungary) has elected him as ban of Croatia. The Sabor also declared that from that day, the representatives of the Assembly will be elected from elective franchise, and the first elections would be May 1848.
Jelačić received the rank of fieldmarshall-lieutenant (Feldmarschall-Leutnant) in Apr 7, 1848, therefore he became the commander of all Habsurg troops in Croatia.
Jelačić traveled to Vienna to take the oath. He took the oath to be the counsel of Austrian Kaiser, but refused to take oath for Ban of Croatia, because it was linked to Hungary. The relationship between Hungary and Austria has deteriorated after the breakout of the Hungarian Revolution in March 15, 1848. The oath for Ban of Croatia was taken later, in 5th June, 1848, because of the absence of Bishop Juraj Haulik, it was before the Serbian Patriarch Josif Rajačić that the Ban took his oath of office.
The new ban supported the Croatian aims to maintain their autonomy from the Hungarians. Jelačić proceeded to sever all official ties of Croatia with Hungary. The Austrian imperial court initially opposed this act of disobedience and separatism, declaring him to be a rebel and claiming the Croatian Parliament to be illegal. However, this was superficial, because they used the situation for their advantage given that the Croatian forces under Jelačić were an immediate aid for the imperial army against the newly formed Hungarian government under Lajos Batthyány.
Traveling back to Zagreb in April, Jelačić refused to cede the newly formed Hungarian government of Lajos Batthyány, refused any cooperation, and called the elections for Croatian Parliament, the Sabor for March 25, 1848.
The Sabor - now acting as National Assembly - has declared the following demands to the Habsburg king:
The Sabor strongly refused the "massive nationalist magyarization politics of the Kingdom of Hungary from Carpathians to Adria, which the newly formed government represents, especially Lajos Kossuth."
In Apr 19, 1848 Jelačić proclaimed the union of Croatian provinces, and the break-away from Kingdom of Hungary, and the same time, he proclaimed unconditional loyalty to the Habsburg house. The Croatian constitution of April 24, 1848 declared "languages of all ethicities should be inviolable". Regarding serfdom, it was apparent that the resolution of the problems for the Croatian peasantry would have to wait until the end of the revolution, as Jelačić maintained the institution of the Military Frontier in order to be able to draft more soldiers. This was protested by the people in the region, but ban Jelačić quelched the dissent by summary court-martialing and executing many dissenters.
Later that year in May, Jelačić has estabilished the Bansko Vijeće or the Council of Ban (in German: Rat des Banus). The resort of the Council of Ban was de facto ministerial tasks (Internal Affairs, Justice, Shool and Education, Religion, Financial, and Military resorts), so this council was acting as a governing body in Croatia.
The Austrian position on the independence of Croatia from Hungary was not firm. In the beginning Austria refused the break-away of Croatia from Hungary. During his return back to Zagreb, he read in the railway station of Lienz that by the manifest of Kaiser of 10th June, the Kaiser has exempted Jelačić from all his positions. However, Jelačić was still loyal to the Kaiser, and kept hte relationship with the imperial court, especially with empress Sophia, who was the mother of Franz Joseph.
Immediately after arriving to Zagreb, he got the order to join the intermediary discussions with the Hungarian government in Vienna. During these discussions, Jelačić stated his position is from Pragmatica Sanctio, while Lajos Batthyány called him "separatist" to break-away from the Habsburg Monarchy. Jelačić called this a rebellion. Count Batthyány warned Jelačić this could cause civil war. Jelačić stopped discussions, saying "civil war is the worst that could happen but he will not be intimidated by this, even if this might be shocking to hear".
Jelačić returned to Croatia, where Hungarian troops have gathered on the border and hostile proclamations were given against the ban.
By August, ban Jelačić proclaimed a manifest for the Croatians, where he declined accusations of separating Croatia to support panslavism. According to the manifest "being a son of (the Croatian) nation, being the supporter of liberty, and being subject to Austria, I am faithfully committed to the constitutional Kaiser of the Empire and its Kings, and I long for a great, free Austria", and the closing words were "the Hungarian government, as it is evident, would not like to agree on this, they insist on their separatist moves, which means they struggle to dismantle our Empire. It is the command of our duty and honour to go till the ultimate and to call for arms against them. And we, not sparing our wealth, blood and life, will stand for our rightful demands and sacred deed."
Jelačić found that the disorder in the Empire was growing so he decided for immediate action. In Sept 1. in Varasd (today: Varaždin) he crossed the Drava with 45,000 soldiers, and another 10,000 soldier of Croatian insurgents, led by brigadier Roth, crossed Drava from the lower part of the river. Jelačić occupied the mainly Croatian-habited Muraköz (today: Međimurje). The poor armament of the two armies were the result of quick engagement. The supplies were not well organised, so the advance in Hungarian territory was difficult. The subsitence was done by the requiration from local population. The Hungarian squadrons led count Wrbna, count Kress and count Hardegg has joined Jelačić's troops.
The enthusiasm of the Croatian troops grew when at Siófok the ban received letter from Ferdinand I to cancel the manifest of exemption from all positions, and promoted him to be the general commander of all troops in Hungary.
During his march toward Pest-Buda (today: Budapest), Jelačić got a message from Archduke Stephen, situated in Veszprém, to inform him on the decision of the Kaiser that count Lajos Batthyány was approved to set up a new government, so the disorder is over, and to stop the troops, and to discuss further actions at his office. Jelačić replied he cannot stop his army at that moment, but he is ready for discussions in the ship of the archduke in the port of Balatonszemes. The meeting did not take place as, according to Austrian sources, advisors of Jelačić refrained him from this meeting due to a threat of being assasinated by murderer paid by Hungarian government. After the fiasko of the meeting, Archduke Stephen resigned and fled from Hungary.
The army of the ban occupied Székesfehérvár 26 Sept 1848. The same day the Kaiser appointed lieutenant-general Ferenc Lemberg as general commander of all troops in Hungary, but was nulled by the Hungarian Parliament. Lajos Kossuth called the Hungarians for resistance, and the Országos Honvédelmi Bizottmány (National Homeguarding Committee) was given the power of execution. Lamberg, trying to take over the command of the Hungarian troops was identified and killed.
Jelačić advanced onward, reaching Lake Velencei in Sept 29, where they met Hungarian troops. After the first strikes, lieutenant-general János Móga withdrew to north to Sukoró. Jelačić asked Móga to stand against the rebels, and "get back to the road of honour and duty", but Móga refused, and his army attacked Jelačić between Móga and Pákozd. The Battle of Pákozd lasted for some hours and according to Hungarian sources, Jelačić was defeated, according to Croatian sources, it was a draw.
The day after, 30th Sept, Jelačić asked for armistice for three days; he wanted to use these days to wait for Roth's army. Soon he could sum up the preponderance of the Hungarian troops and the poor armament and fatigue of his troops, moreover, at Oct 1st, the supply routes to Croatia was cut by rebels, so he advanced toward Vienna. on 3rd of October Móga was going after Jelačić, but wanted not to attack the troops.
On the 4th of October, Kaiser Ferdinand V. has again nominated Jelačić as the general commander of all troops in Hungary, and dismissed the Hungarian Parliament.
Austrian Minister of Military Theodor Baillet von Latour have called the guards in Vienna to join the troops of Jelačić, but this made Vienna to revolt in 6th of October. Latour was identified in Magyar-Óvár (German: Altenburg) where he was killed. On 7th of October, commander Mór Perczel has defeated the armies of general Roth and Filipović, and took them to custody. The Hungarian Parliament anulled the Kaiser's decree of 4th of October.
Jelačić moved onward to Vienna to join the troops around the city. Under lieutenant-general Todorović, he organised a body of 14,000 soldiers to move south to Stayer for the protection of Croatia.
The Viennese revolution commitee asked for the help of the Hungarian government. On 10th of October at Laaer Berg Jelačić joined Austrian troops lead by Auersperg, and the army was strengthened with troops of Karger from Pressburg, a regiment of count Wallmoden and Franz Joseph regiment. Jelačić's forces were soon under field marshal Windisch-Graetz. On 21st of October, seeing preponderance, Móga returned from the borders of Austria, and the revolution in Vienna was suppressed. Jelačić's forces were fighting at Landstrasse, Erdberg and Weissgerber suburbs.
On 21st of October - which was too late - Lajos Kossuth ordered Móga to turn back to Vienna, they met forces of Jelačić at Schwechat in 30th of October. A day of artillery fight broke out, and Jelačić initiated a counterattack in the evening. Led by general Zeisberg, the attack pushed back the Hungarian forces and defeated them. After this defeat, Móga stepped off as general commander, and Kossuth nominated general Artúr Görgey in his postion.
On Dec 2, 1848 the camarilla resigned Ferdinand the V, and appointed Franz Joseph as Kaiser. On Dec 13, Windischgrätz crossed the Hungarian border. On Dec 16, Jelačić also crossed the border and defeated Hungarian troops at Parndorf, later occupying Magyar-Óvár and Győr. Being informed that Mór Perczel is stationed at Mór, Jelačić made a detour toward this city and defeated the Hungarian troops there, taking into custody 23 officers and 2000 honvéds. With this battle, Pest-Buda became vulnerable, so the Hungarian government fled to Debrecen. Görgey could resist the march of Jelačić at Tétény for some time, but on 5th of January Windischgrätz, together with Jelačić occupied Pest-Buda.
After the occupation of Pest-Buda the greater campaigns have ceased. Windischgrätz declared military dictatorship, caught Batthyány and asked for capitulation. He moved to Debrecen but was stopped by Perczel at Szolnok and Abony. Kossuth nominated Dembinszky Henrik to replace Görgey, and started a strategic counterattack but was defeated near Kápolna. Windischgrätz ordered Jelačić to march quickly to Jászfényszaru. On 4th of April Klapka attacked him but at Tápióbicske the bayonets of Otočany of Jelačić pushed them back. On 5th of March Damjanich re-occupied Szolnok. Jelačić now got a new order to turn from Jászfényszaru and head to Gödöllő. On 2nd of April Jelačić met Damjanich at Tápióbicske and was defeated. On 6th of April Windischgrätz, together with Jelačić, was heavily defeated near Isaszeg, retreating to Pest-Buda suburbs, Rákospatak.
After the defeat, count Windischgrätz was exempted from general command, and was replaced by general Welden and later Haynau. Jelačić was ordered to gather the scattered troops in south Hungary and to organise an army. This army was consisted of 15,800 footsoldiers, 5100 cavaliers and 74 cannons, and moved to Eszék (today:Osijek) immediately. During his march southward, Jelačić had to make order in the region from rebels, esepcially in Pécs. After a series of wrong decisions, the army of Jelačić could not join the imperial army, so it was put to defensive fights.
The Serbian troops led by Kuzman Todorović had to surrender strategic points to the honvéds. The Hungarians have occupied and fortified Petrovaradin, where the troops received supplies as the population supported the Hungarian revolution. In April, Mór Perczel have occupied Szenttamás drove away the ring around Pétervárad/Petrovaradin, defeated Todorović so he could occupy Pancsova and finally, together with Bem occupied Temesköz region.
Jelačić, cut off from all supplies, have fortified his armies for defense and fought small battles in Slavonia. The supply from the Austrian Empire was stuck at Szalánkemén (today:Slankamund). In June he decided to break out and advance to Zombor-Dunaföldvár. During his march, on 6th of June, Perczel attacked him near Káty (Kać) and Zsablya (Josefsdorf), and defeated Perczel, marched forward, but could not occupy Újvidék (today:Novi Sad).
On June 24th he successfully occupied Óbecse, but was retaken by Hungarians on 28th. This way Jelačić could not push out Hungarian forces from Bačka. On 6th of July Richard Guyon drove out Croatian troops at Kishegyesnél (today: Mali Iđoš, Serbia). On 14th of July Hungarians took control over Feketehegy (today:Feketić) and Szeghegy (Sekić, today: Lovćenac), and Jelačić had to retreat. This was the last fight in the region.
After Temesvár fell, Jelačić joined troops of Haynau, and after the end of revolution, he traveled to Vienna to take part in discussions of reorganising Croatia, Slavonia and the frontier regions.
When peace was restored, Jelačić returned to Croatia where he was treated as national hero, the saviour of the homeland. He received the medal of order of Maria Therese, the cross of order of Lipot from Franz Joseph. He was elected as count on 24th of April 1854 (Jelačić von Bužim). He received medals from the Russian tsar, the king of Saxony, king of Hannover, duke of Parma.
After the war the Empire's new constitution stripped the local authorities in Hungary of their political power, but this punishment also affected Croatia despite its assistance to the imperial cause during the revolution. Nevertheless, ban Jelačić implemented the new Constitution (published March 4, 1849), and proceeded to outlaw various newspapers that published anti-Austrian opinions. In 1851, when Baron Alexander von Bach came to power in the Kingdom of Hungary, Jelačić worked under him and made no objections to the Germanization of Croatia. He remained in office until his death in 1859 in Zagreb.
In his time and shortly after, Jelačić was a fairly unpopular figure among the Croatian political elite, including Ante Starčević and others, and especially among the people who suffered losses due to his military campaigns and had little benefit from his economic measures. He is also quite unpopular in Hungary as one of the main thwarters of their national revolution. However, he only fought for the good of Croatia and is a national hero as well as Ante Starčević, the "father of Croatia" and Stjepan Radić, Croatian political leader until 1928.
He died on May 20, 1859 from illness.
Today, Ban Jelačić is considered an important and admirable figure in Croatian history. The central square of the city of Zagreb was named Ban Jelačić Square in 1848, and a statue of him was erected in 1866. Originally, the statue of Jelačić "pointed" with his saber north towards the enemy of Croatia, Hungary. Today the statue's position is reversed.
The patriotic song Ustani bane (Rise, ban) was written to glorify Jelačić .
The picture of Josip Jelačić appears on the 20 kuna banknote.
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