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Perczel Miklós - Fought for Freedom on Two Continents
Perczel Miklós - Fought for Freedom on Two Continents

Battle of Corinth, Mississippi

Bonyhádi Perczel Miklós (1812-1904) was born in Bonyhád in southwestern Hungary, about 26 miles northeast of Pécs.  He was one of 19 children of bonyhádi Perczel Sándor, a wealthy landowner whose original (German) title of nobility had been bestowed on an ancestor by the Holy Roman Emperor in the 16th century. In 1697, the family also received a Hungarian title of nobility.  In 1745, in recognition of services rendered in the political arena, Empress and Queen of Hungary Maria Theresa issued a document granting the family the right to add ”bonyhádi” to their name. 

Bonyhádi Perczel Miklós, together with his brothers Móric and Béla, was tutored by Vörösmarty Mihály who later became one of Hungary’s great lyric poets.  (Their sister Adél, who died very young, was Vörösmarty’s secret love whom he immortalized as Etelka.  But Vörösmarty, who came from an impoverished family of the lower nobility,  thought the social gap  between them was insurmountable, and hid his emotions.) 

Miklós studied law, and served in several County positions. In 1848, he was elected to Parliament, as representative of Baranya County, and also of a district in Tolna County.  In the 1848-49 War of Independence, he served as Major in the Hungarian National Guard (nemzetőrség). He fought in a number of battles, including the Battle of Pákozd and Mór. Under his brother Móric’s command he took part in the liberation of Bácska. He was temporarily named commandant of Pétervárad, then promoted to General by Kossuth who named him commandant of Arad fortress.  However, his unbridled temper caused friction with his superior, who had him locked up.  Only the intervention of Vörösmarty saved him from further consequences. On his release he joined his brother Móric and fought as a volunteer in the Battle of Temesvár. 

Following the defeat at Temesvár, the last battle of the War of Independence, Perczel Miklós and Móric fled with Kossuth via Vidin and  Shumla to Kutahia, Turkey, where they were interned.  In September 1851, he, Kossuth and a number of others were hanged in effigy by the Austrians in Budapest.  That same year, Perczel was freed and left with his wife for the United States, settling in Davenport, Iowa. 

At first he gave French lessons, then tried farming.  In 1857, he went to England, where his brother Móric lived, and two years later, both of them went to Italy to take part in the Second Italian War of Independence, fought by the French and the Kingdom of Sardinia against the Austrian Empire. But it was a short war, lasting a little more than two months, and Miklós returned to Davenport.

After the outbreak of the American Civil War in April of 1861, Perczel took an active part in the organization of the 10th Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment in July of that year, and became its first Colonel. In the Missouri Campaign, he saw active duty at Charleston, New Madrid, and in the capture of Island No. 10. His regiment was also part of the army that captured 5,000 Confederate soldiers near Tiptonville. 

Perczel’s regiment was part of General Rosecrans’ force, and he was commended for his bravery and tenaciousness in the battles of Corinth and Iuka, Mississippi.  It was reported that his conduct won the ”applause” of his own officers and men.  He was recommended for an appointment as Brigadier-General, but left the service in November of 1862, some say because of intrigues among the leadership and because his supervisors often did not have his military experience or  knowledge.  Another version mentions his having contracted malaria as the reason for his leaving the army.  I have also seen a report that General Ulysses Grant himself awarded him a medal, but  could not find confirmation of that. 

He moved to New York, where he supported his family by selling  Hungarian wines.  For a year he served as the first President of the Hungarian Society there, organized in 1865.

Following the Compromise of 1867, Perczel returned to Hungary and became Chief County Executive (főispán) of Pécs and Baranya (1867-1887).  From 1887 to 1892, he was parliamentary representative of the city of Pécs. He also took part in organizing the  veterans of the War of Independence. 

He died at Baja on March 14th, 1904, a freedom fighter to the end. 

 


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