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Purveyors of Authentic Militaria

Christoph Freiherr (Baron) von Pittel & Heinrich Freiherr (Baron) von Pittel

This one-of-a-kind frame tells the story of a father and son, both recipients of the highest military honour of the Austro-Hungarian Empire: the Military Order of Maria Theresa. Two captioned boxes at the top indicate the honours for which both men received the decoration. The left box is for the father, stating: “Christoph Freiherr (Baron) von Pittel, for Belfort on July 4th 1815 as Captain in the Engineer Corps.” His son is described in the right box as “Heinrich Freiherr (Baron) von Pittel, for Goražde on October 21st 1869 as Major in the 52nd Infantry Regiment Erzherzog (Archduke) Franz Karl.”

Below is a framed newspaper article from the Salzburg Times, dated Tuesday September 3rd 1816, which tells the story of Christoph Freiherr von Pittel's formal decoration as Ritter (Knight) of the Maria Therese Order. The article describes the festivities that took place in his honour as a celebration that the walls of Salzburg had never before witnessed. The Infantry Regiment Erzherzog Rudolph was garrisoned at Salzburg at the time, and the reveille of the troops ushered in the day and its festivities.

According to the article, by 8 a.m. the entire Garrison marched in full parade in the Residenzplatz square. Local officers and civil authorities formed a ring around three men: General Grafen Lilienberg, General Baron Volkman, and hero Christoph von Pittel. As Commander of the fort at Salzburg, General Lilienberg began an ornate speech worthy of repeating:

“Today we are celebrating a festival which is the highest goal of an Austrian warrior. An outstanding brother-in-arms is being adorned with the holy sign of the Maria Therese Order. His last two military campaigns formed one and the same chain of heroic feats. The Austrian armies, as well as all the allied armies, have adorned their flags with eternal laurels. All of Germany and all of Europe owe them gratitude for their freedom. The glory of all armies is thus carved into history with the stylus of immortality. The common man, like the General – or indeed anyone from any sphere of influence – all fence with the same courage, and with the unchanging determination to win or die. It was therefore difficult for this bravery to shine forth and distinguish itself amidst a more general show of courage. The Captain of the Engineer Corps, Ritter von Pittel, found himself in this commendable instance; he who knew to earn the admiration of his subordinates, the esteem of his comrades, and the highest satisfaction of all his superiors through his own determination and extraordinary military cunning at Belfort. The high Ordenskapitel (decision-making sector of the Order) has recognized this outstanding merit. And after passing the test by his admirable deed, he has been deemed worthy by the Order of Knighthood [...]”

After this speech, General Lilienberg decorated Christoph von Pittel with the Order and formally greeted him with a brotherly kiss as the crowd looked on. A formal service followed, as well as a full military display by the Garrison amidst resounding military music. The anonymous author of the article concludes with the sentiment that this event will remain unforgettable among the citizens of Salzburg.

It is extraordinary that Heinrich von Pittel shared the same rare military honour as his father. Heinrich was born on February 12th 1833 in Mainz, a Fortress of the German Confederation where his father was garrisoned. Following in his father's footsteps, Heinrich von Pittel was immediately drawn to the military. He officially began his career in August of 1851 as Armee-Lieutenant (Army Lieutenant) of the k. k. Genie-Akademie (Imperial and Royal Academy of Engineering). He quickly ascended the military ladder over the next several years: By February 16th 1852, he simultaneously became Lieutenant II. Classe in the 18th Feldjäger-Bataillon (Field Police Battalion) as well as Pionier-Abteilungs-Commandant (Commandant of the Combat Engineer Division). After a transfer to the 5th Uhlanen-Regiment in April of the next year, von Pittel was promoted to Lieutenant I. Classe. Less than six months later, he became Oberlieutenant (First Lieutenant). During his service as Divisions-Adjutant of the Cavalry he was promoted to Hauptmann II. Classe (Captain) in August of 1858. Just two weeks later, he transferred to the 39th Infantry Regiment, where he became Hauptmann I. Classe in 1859.
Heinrich von Pittel was involved in many campaigns and battles leading up to the efforts at Goražde that earned him the honor of the Maria Therese Order. In an 1859 war against France and Piedmont, von Pittel made his debut as Compagnie-Commandant. Battling against Prussia and Italy in 1866, he was wounded in the neck by an enemy bayonet, and subsequently rewarded with the highest praise for his actions. This would only be the beginning of von Pittel's many recognitions.

After enjoying promotion to Major in 1869, von Pittel fought revolts in southern Dalmatia. Later that year, a series of complicated operations began in Montenegro that would eventually lead to the battle at Goražde. From Krivošije and Kotor to Trinità, Major von Pittel and the Austro-Hungarian armies kept mobile through various battles. In a desperate effort to subdue Trinità, Major von Pittel sent reinforcements to the municipality while he himself ventured toward Goražde with a half-company of soldiers. While Trinità was successfully subdued, Major von Pittel became entrenched in an increasingly rapid-fire battle at Fort Goražde. As he realized his opponents' upper hand in the battle, von Pittel immediately sent for an entire company of soldiers. Through an hours-long struggle, in which half of the involved soldiers were shot down, Goražde continued to gain strength.

Despite the impressive power of his opponents, Major von Pittel remained confident and eventually formed ten trains of troops. In a quick plan, von Pittel brought in a left-flanking troop toward a weak spot in the Fort. Fighting at the forefront of his troops, he was able to simultaneously gain victory on the left flank and surprise from the rear with rapid fire. Gripped with sudden fear and surprise, the opponents fled to the national border until Major von Pittel's relentless attack caused their complete disappearance.

Though it was just one of many battles in the region, Fort Goražde proved to be significant for Major von Pittel. For his highly influential military action there, von Pittel was decorated with the Militär-Verdienstkreuz (Military Merit Cross) of Prussia. Von Pittel's involvement in southern Dalmatia was also taken into consideration for this award.

Ten years later, the now Lieutenant Colonel von Pittel was still fighting influential battles. Through a retrospective vote on his notable efforts at Goražde, von Pittel was decorated with the Order of Maria Therese, thus promoting him to Knight. It is likely that von Pittel came under public radar during this time (1879), as he had just successfully finished battling in the Imperial and Royal Kärntnerisches Infanterie-Regiment „Graf von Khevenhüller“ Nr. 7 for the Austrian occupation of Bosnia and Hercegovina.

Not surprisingly, Heinrich von Pittel did not stop there. He continued to advance in his career as he transferred from division to division, finally settling on the military title of Lieutenant Field-Marshall. Nevertheless, by May 11th 1890, the long-time soldier filed for retirement for health reasons. For his outstanding service in both war and peace, Heinrich von Pittel enjoyed a final honor: the Imperial Order of the Iron Crown, II. Class, bestowed by His Majesty the Kaiser. Lieutenant Field-Marschall von Pittel died in 1895, a highly celebrated servant and leader of the Austrian military.

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