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A Tyrolean patriot of 1809, born at Gnadenwald, near Hall, in the Tyrol, 13 July, 1767; died at Hall, 28 March, 1820. Speckbacher was the son of a peasant and spent his youth in roaming, and he did not learn to read and write until later in life. At the age of twelve he was a poacher and was often involved in fights with the customs officers. When a little older, he worked in the imperial salt-mines at Hall. On 10 Feb., 1794, he married Maria Schmiederer of Judenstein, and in this way came into possession of her farm and house. At the beginning of the war with France he became one of the volunteers who sought to defend the fatherland; his first encounter with the enemy took place at the bloody skirmish near Spinges on 2 April, 1797. He was a fine sharp-shooter and one of the most zealous of the Tyrolean patriots. In 1805 he fought under Lieutenant-Colonel Swinburne against Marshal Ney, but was obliged like the other patriots to accept the cession of the Tyrol to Bavaria in 1806. When in 1808 the Archduke John entered into negotiations with Andreas Hofer for regaining the Tyrol, Speckbacher soon became one of the most trusted friends of Hofer and courageously supported the latter in preparing for the struggle for liberty. With the entrance of the Austrian army into the Pustertal in the month of April, 1809, began the heroic struggle of the Tyrolese. Speckbacher took a prominent part in the three efforts to free the country from the yoke of Napoleon. He showed himself to be not only a daring fighter, but above all a cautious, unterrified strategist. In this year, according to his own diary, he took part in thirty-six battles and skirmishes. On 12 April, 1809, he surprised the city of Hall early in the morning, made the garrison prisoners, and prevented the flight of the French into the valley of the lower Inn. On 31 May he commanded the left wing of the battle of Mount Isel, and fought victoriously near Hall and Volders. He conducted the siege of the castle of Kufstein (23 June-16 July). Here he gave countless proofs of personal courage, built batteries, destroyed the mills and boats, burnt the city, captured the train of provisions, and made his way as a spy into the castle. From 4 Aug. to 11 Aug. he was most of the time the commander in the battles between Sterzing and Franzensfeste against Marshal Lefebvre. He forced the marshal to retire and with Hofer and Haspinger commanded at the famous third battle of Mount Isel (13 and 15 August). After the enemy had been driven away, he and his men forced their way into the mountains of Salzburg, and stimulated there the defence of the country; on 25 Sept. he defeated the allied French and Bavarians at Lofer and with great loss fell back on Reichenhall. On 16 Oct. he was surprised at Melleck by a superior force of the enemy and was obliged to retire; his young son Andreas was taken prisoner, and he himself was severely wounded. At Waidring on 17 Oct. and at Volders on 23 Oct. he was able to maintain himself against the foe, escaped capture once more in a skirmish on 28 Oct., and captured a battalion of the enemy. After the last and unsuccessful fight on Mount Isel on 1 Nov., he wished to continue the struggle, but was obliged to abandon the unequal contest. He was proscribed, and a reward of five hundred florins was offered to anyone who would deliver him alive or dead.
Speckbacher spent the entire winter in the Tyrolese mountains, sometimes hid among friends at lonely farms, sometimes hid in Alpine huts and always hunted by enemies. He was betrayed only once, but he saved himself this time by a daring flight and hid himself until Jan., 1810, in the clefts of the rocks, being often near death from hunger. His wife and four children were also obliged to seek safety by flight and to hide in the mountains. Speckbacher's last hiding-place was near the summit of a high mountain in the Voldertal, where the only person who came to him was his faithful servant George Zoppel, who brought him food. On 14 March he was severely injured by an avalanche which overwhelmed him. He was brought by friends to his farm at Judenstein, where Zoppel hid him in the stable under the floor until 2 May. When scarcely well Speckbacher fled amid great dangers through the Pinzgau and Styria to Vienna, where he was warmly received by the Emperor Francis I. The emperor presented him with a chain of honour and a pension. The emperor's plan to settle the Tyrolean refugees in Hungary could not be carried out and in 1811 Speckbacher was made the superintendent of an estate near Linz given by the ruler to Hofer's son. Speckbacher's wife, who had been imprisoned thirteen weeks at Munich, however, remained on the farm in the Tyrol. In the autumn of 1813 Speckbacher returned to the Tyrol as a major of the Tyrolese volunteers in the imperial army under General Fenner. He shared with these troops in the garrisoning of Southern Tyrol against the French and in maintaining these garrisons against the enemy. On 12 Sept., however, the Bavarian government at Innsbruck once more set a price, 1000 florins, on his head, and it was not until the summer of 1814 that Speckbacher was able to return home unmolested. A year later he received a second gold chain of honour, and in 1816 at the time of the national demonstration he received the personal notice of the emperor. He joyfully met his son, who had been well educated at Munich, and looked forward to a peaceful old age, but the hardships he had undergone forced him to sell his farm and move to Hall, where he died after a short illness.
He was first buried at Hall, but in the summer of 1852, at the command of the Emperor Francis Joseph I, his remains were transferred to the Court church at Innsbruck, where they were placed by those of Hofer and Haspinger. In 1908 a bronze statue was erected to him at Hall. His widow received a pension from the emperor of 500 florins and a supplementary sum for the education of her children. She died in 1846. Speckbacher's eldest son Andreas only lived to the age of thirty-seven years. After completing his studies as a mining engineer he went to the iron works at Mariazell and Eisenerz in Styria, received positions at Pillersee, Brixlegg, and Jenbach in the Tyrol, where he did much to improve the methods of mining ore. He married Aloisia Mayr and died in 1834. His sons and his brother died at an early age, and the family is extinct in the male line. Speckbacher was one of the most striking of the men who shared in the struggle for freedom in the Tyrol. His character is well expressed in his epitaph: "In war wild but also human, in peace quiet and faithful to the laws he was as soldier, subject, and man worthy of honour and love".
HIRN, Tirols Erhebung 1809 (Innsbruck, 1910); MAIR, Speckbacher, eine Tiroler Heldengeschichte (Innsbruck, 1904); DOMANIG, Speckbacher, der Mann von Rinn. Schauspiel in fünf Akten (Kempten, 1909), from the dramatic trilogy Der Tyroler Freiheitskampf); VON SCALA, Josef Speckbacher, der Mann von Rinn. Volksschauspiel in vier Aufzügen (Brixen, 1905).
APA citation. (1912). Josef Speckbacher. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14210b.htm
MLA citation. "Josef Speckbacher." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14210b.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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