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King Charles XII of Sweden's Invasion of Poland

Looking for information about Charles XII of Sweden and his military campaigns? Need a custom paper on this subject? Need to learn about the histoire de Charles xii de suède? You're in the right place!

Charles XII's life and history is multifaceted. To understand this dissertation, it is important to note that this leader is also known as:

  • Charles of Sweden
  • Charles XII: King of Sweden
  • Carl XII
  • Charles X11
  • King Karl XII of Sweden
  • Charles 12 of Sweden

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Dissertation on King Charles XII of Sweden's Invasion of Poland

An in-depth dissertation on King Charles XII, a talented historical military leader. The dissertation focuses on this King's invasion of Poland.

Subject History, Warfare, Political Science
Length 56 Pages Including Title Page, Reference Page, Table of Contents, and Figures
Style Custom
Level Undergraduate

Running head: INVASION OF POLAND 1







Invasion of Poland

The Disastrous Triumph of Charles XII, King of Sweden

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CLASS

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Table of Contents

Introduction and Background

Analysis and Discussion

Prelude to the Invasion

Battle of Riga

Battle of Kliszów

Battle of Pultusk

Siege of Thorn

Campaign of Grodno

Battle of Gemauerthof

Battle of Warsaw

Battle of Fraustadt

Blockade of Grodno and Associated Battles

Battle of Olita

Battle of Olkieniki

Battle of Kletsk

Russian Breakout from Grodno

Invasion of Saxony

Treaty of Altranstädt

Battle of Kalisz

Summary and Conclusions

References


Invasion of Poland

The Disastrous Triumph of Charles XII, King of Sweden

Introduction and Background

During the 1600s, Sweden had increased in power and influence, and done so at the expense of other nations. Denmark and Sweden had been feuding since the breakup of the Kalmar Union. Gustaf Wasa led an uprising against the Danish king Kristian in 1521. Strategic stalemate ensued for over 100 years with several wars trying to break it, but it wasn't until Karl X Gustaf decided to invade Denmark in 1658 after a successful campaign in Poland, that Denmark was forced to give up any property. The gain for Sweden was the west coast of Sweden proper and Scania (Skåne) along with the county of Trondhjem in Norway which belonged to Denmark at the time. The change of ownership of Skåne vas encouraged by the seafaring nations, since up to that point Denmark had owned the strait of Öresund and had levied heavy tolls for the use of it by other nations. By awarding Skåne to Sweden in the peace treaty, the straight became neutral territory, which forced the Danes to open it to trade routes for free. Denmark tried to recapture the southern counties in 1676 after Sweden and Denmark had been drawn into a war, mainly fought on the continent between France on one side and the Netherlands and the German empire on the other (Nordstrom, B. J. 2000).

The Danish hope for conquer was shattered at the battle of Lund 1676. After peace had been restored, Karl XI of Sweden decided that never again should Sweden be brought so close to defeat, and fundamentally strengthened his position relative to the nobility (reduktionen) and reorganized the army to become the most well trained army in all of Europe. Unfortunately, Karl XI died suddenly in 1697 and the heir, Karl XII, was only 15 years old. The Danish king Kristian V saw an opportunity, believing the Swedish resolve to be weak. Karl X Gustaf and his uncle, Gustaf II Adolph, before him had ravaged Poland several times during the 1600s.

The quarrel with Poland was older still. In 1586, the Polish throne was occupied by a catholic king, Sigismund, grandson of Gustaf Wasa. Sweden had been Lutheran for many years, and when Sigismund, also occupying the Swedish throne since 1592, wanted Sweden to revert to Catholicism, his uncle Karl IX opposed him in 1598 and was crowned king of Sweden after thwarting Sigismund's plans. During the 1600s, Poland lost its Baltic possession of Livonia and for a while Elbing in West Prussia was in Swedish hands. When Augustus II, elector of Saxony, was elected king of Poland 1697, he promised to regain the lost territories. Russia had lost Estonia and Ingria in 1583 to Sweden, and in the early 1600s had had a sizable Swedish army on its soil during a messy war of succession.

When Peter I became Tzar, he endeavored to bring Russia to more modern standards, upgrading the army and building a navy in the Black Sea. Unfortunately the Ottomans controlled the Bosporus Strait, later to be the focus of the Commonwealth and French forces at Gallipoli in 1916, and Peter's navy didn't manage to defeat the Ottomans in battle, so Russia could not trade by sea that way. Archangelsk was ice locked for many months and was of no real use for trade, either. Trade going west went through the baltic ports, levying heavy tolls on goods, and we know who owned these... Peter wanted a sea port of his own in the West and there was only one way to get it. This was the background for the Great Northern War. In 1697, Danish, saxo-polish and russian diplomats met and the result was an agreement between these nations to join efforts against Sweden. The Danes had a very good excuse, besides the old quarrels (Nordstrom, B. J. 2000).

The small duchy of Holstein-Gottorp had traditionally been subject to Danish rule, but in the last decades of the 1600s, it had grown closer to Sweden and the current duke was even a brother-in-law of the Swedish king as well as close friend. As Denmark tried to assert its power over Holstein-Gottorp, the Swedes aided them with skilled engineers and officers and raised fortifications around the duchy. This enraged the Danish king, and he went in and razed the same. The naval powers, Britain and Netherlands, along with Hannover signed a treaty with Holstein-Gottorp, guaranteeing its autonomy. In 1699, however, the Danish king thought himself to have enough backing by Saxony-Poland and Russia to go on the offensive. He also knew that the naval powers were very occupied with the old enemy of theirs, Louis XIV - Le Soleil Royale.

Charles the XII of Sweden was one of the most compelling figures of the early 18th century. A renowned commander of men, disciplined and sober for his entire life. Accounts from his compatriots claim that the man was nearly immune to pain and brave nearly to a fault. Despite his many strengths and virtues Charles XII oversaw the near total destruction of Sweden’s armies and the dissolution of her empire. There are many factors that must have weighed on Charles XII that determined the decisions he made during the course of the Great Northern War. In order to determine those factors is it important to understand what kind of man Charles XII was, the context in which he ascended to the throne, his goals and desires for Sweden, and the ambitions of Sweden’s neighbors. Charles XII has been criticised as overly fond of war however he did not initiate the majority of the warfare during his reign (Scott, F. D. 1988). The Swedish King was also a largely absentee leader, spending all but three years of his reign away from the capital on campaign.

Of particular interest is Charles XII’s campaign against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Poland and Sweden were never, technically, at war. The King of Poland, Augustus II known as Augustus the Strong, had declared war on Sweden in his capacity as Elector of Saxony rather than as King. Charles XII could not allow a belligerent Poland to threaten Sweden’s Baltic holdings and so resolved to remove Augustus II and install a Polish King friendlier to Sweden. While Charles XII won nearly every battle in the Polish Invasion and managed to depose Augustus II in the end his efforts availed Sweden not at all and the Swedish Empire lay in ruins. One interpretation of how this could have come about is that Charles XII either underestimated the threat of an emergent Russia or placed too high a priority on eliminating the threats posed by Saxony and Poland. At the time of the Great Northern War the Swedish Empire boasted the largest, best trained, and best equipped army of Northern Europe.

Their troops were capable of fast marches, a high rate of fire with their small arms, and were disciplined with a high level of morale. They were specifically the envy of Peter the Great Tsar of Russia. Russia at the time lagged far behind Europe in technology and infrastructure particularly in their armed forces. Despite the prowess of the Swedish army they fought nearly every battle at a numerical disadvantage. Sweden and its empire covered an enormous area but was not particularly populous as the northern climate discouraged large subsistence populations. This inevitably led to Swedish forces being spread thinner and more reliance on local levies to protect Swedish holdings. This is, in some ways, a parallel of the downfall of the Roman Empire.

It is important not to underestimate the jealousy the other powers of Northern Europe for Sweden’s domination of the Baltic. The Baltic seaports were important nexuses of trade and military power for those who held them and in the late 17th and early 18th centuries the Swedish Empire held a great many of them. Russia particularly desired to wrest control of at least one Baltic port from Swedish hands. Adding fuel to fire of foreign jealousy were the so called ‘reductions’ carried out by Charles XI, Charles XII’s father (Scott, F. D. 1988). When Sweden was establishing its empire it ensured the loyalty of local nobility by granting them large holding of land and property. As a result the nobles exercised great influence over the populous and local governance.

Spurred by the demands of the peasantry and tradesmen, and the need to make the Swedish crown financially secure, Charles X and Charles XI took back much of the lands earlier granted to those nobles. Charles XII would later sell some of the land to peasants further angering the nobles. One of these nobles, a Livonian noble named Johann Patkul, had petitioned Charles XI to curb the reductions in Livonia. In the course of doing so Patkul insulted the crown and was forced to flee to Europe accused of high treason and all his land and holdings confiscated. After failing to receive a pardon from Charles XII Johann Patkul began assembling an alliance to wrest control of Livonia from Sweden. Patkul initially desired an alliance between Poland-Lithuania, Saxony, Denmark, and Brandenburg but Brandenburg would not join the alliance and Patkul reluctantly approached Peter the Great Tsar of Russia. The combined alliance forces planned to divest Sweden of Livonia, Estonia, and Ingria with the latter two ceded to Russia to ensure their cooperation. Livonia would be a fief of Poland-Lithuania but a hereditary holding of Saxony. Denmark was hoping to regain control of the Duchy of Holstein-Gottorp which was allied by marriage to the Swedish Crown.

Analysis and Discussion

In order to examine the Swedish invasion of Poland it is important to examine the battles of the campaign and analyse the decisions made by Charles XII during that time. Charles XII won many stunning victories in Poland and beyond, often defeating much larger armies decisively. Despite these successes, however, Charles XII also ruled Sweden during the moments that ultimately destroyed its empire.

Certainly there is no sovereign who by the study of the history of Charles the Twelfth ought not to be cured of the madness of conquering; for where is the sovereign who can say, I have greater courage, more virtues, more resolution, more strength of body, greater skill in war, or better troops than Charles the Twelfth? If with all these favourable circumstances, and after so many victories, he was so unfortunate, what may other princes expect, who shall have as much ambition, well less talent and few resources. (De Voltaire, F. M. A., & XII, C. 1801)

Prelude to the Invasion

On or about March 1700 The alliance of Denmark-Norway, Saxony, Poland-Lithuania, and Russia launched a threefold attack against Tönning in Holstein-Gottorp, Riga in Livonia, and Narva in Ingria respectively. Sweden called upon the alliance obligations of England and the Dutch Republic to support his naval operations against Denmark-Norway.

As the council were one day deliberating, in his presence, on the dangerous predicament in which they stood, some of them proposed to avoid the impending tempest by negotiations; when the young prince immediately rose with the grave and assured air of a man of superior abilities, who had fixed his resolution."Gentlemen," said he, "I am resolved never to begin an unjust war, but never to finish an unjust one but with the destruction of my enemies. My resolution is fixed; I will march and attack the first who shall declare war; and when I shall have conquered him, I hope to strike terror into the rest." All the old councillors, astonished at this declaration, looked at each other without daring to answer. In short, surprised at having such a king, and ashamed to appear less confident than him, they received his orders for the-.war with admiration (De Voltaire, F. M. A., & XII, C. 1801).

Charles XII managed a landing at Humlebæk in Denmark’s territory and commenced a march toward Copenhagen. Copenhagen suffered bombardment from the combined Swedish-English-Dutch fleet and in August of 1700 signed the Peace of Travendal with Holstein-Gottorp and withdrew from the alliance against Sweden. Charles XII then swiftly redeployed his army to the eastern coast of the Baltic in an effort to relieve Estonian Narva from a Russian siege. In November 1700 Charles XII personally commanded the attack against the sieging Russian forces.

The Russians, who numbered approximately three times the Swedish forces, did not expect Charles XII’s army to attack during the winter storms. The Swedish army, however, was accustomed to winter operations and attacked. Using the weather to his advantage Charles XII advanced on the Russian lines with two columns and split the Russian force into three parts. The Russians quickly routed and attempted to retreat. The Swedish army relieved Narva at the cost of less than seven hundred dead on their side while killing nine thousand and capturing twenty thousand Russian soldiers. Charles XII also captured the majority of the military equipment available to the Russian army at the time. Charles XII then decided to march to the relief of Riga in the south instead of pursuing an advance into Russia, a critical point that will be examined later in the paper.

Battle of Riga

On the other hand, there was constantly by his side the man who had first kindled the Great Northern War, and was now devoting all his energies to keep it alive. For Patkul was still the chief counsellor of Augustus, and his extraordinary abilities, inspired by his revengeful hatred of Sweden, made him her most formidable foe. He was in constant correspondence with all her actual and potential enemies; is, with good reason, suspected of having brought about the interview between the Tsar and the King of Poland, and was never weary of urging the latter to snatch Livonia from the grasp of the exhausted and diminutive Swedish army there. Still Augustus wavered. He attempted, first of all, to secure a peace with Charles through the mediation of the Elector of Brandenburg, but Charles persisting in his determination never to negotiate with one who had once played him false, Augustus was driven to the ultimate arbitrament of battle, and on March 27, I701, Field-Marshal Steinau set out from Warsaw, to take the command of the Saxon army in Livonia (Bain, R. N. 1899).

Charles XII marched 14,000 men south to Riga ordering ahead to the Governor-General of Livonia to assemble landing craft to assist his army in crossing the Düna river. The Swedish army arrived at the outskirts of Riga on July 17th 1701. Charles XII had intended to attack immediately but the weather was poor for a crossing he decided to delay the assault for a day. In order to divide the attention of the Russian/Polish army entrenched across the Düna Charles XII dispatched a regiment of cavalry to threaten the nearby town of Kokenhusen. The Saxon general Adam Heinrich von Steinau split his forces entrusting the defense of the crossing to Otto Arnold von Paykull. Paykull intended to allow a portion of the Swedish army to land hoping to defeat them in detail and capture Charles XII and so had his forces fortified some distance back from the beach.

Battle of Riga

First phase of the battle: In preparation for the assault across the river Charles XII had assembled four batteries of ten guns each mounted on river barges as well as a sixteen gun corvette. Throughout the day of the 18th Swedish artillery bombarded the alliance positions across the river and as night began to fall the Swedish infantry began preparations for the crossing. Six thousand Swedish infantry and 535 cavalry embarked on 190 small river craft obscured from view from the opposite bank by Fossenholm island. The Swedish army set a variety of smaller craft on fire and pushed them into the current to establish a smoke screen and further reduce visibility. At four o’clock in the morning the crossing began in earnest and the first Swedish troop transports rounded Fossenholm. Their transports were spotted and came under fire from the entrenched allied troops. The floating artillery batteries that Charles XII had ordered constructed returned fire and effectively suppressed the allied bombardment of the flotilla. Roughly half an hour later the first landing boats reached the shore and began engaging the Saxon skirmishers and pickets left on the bank. The Swedish assault secured their initial landing and began offloading men with Charles XII in the van just as the allies had hoped.

Second phase of the battle: When approximately 3,000 Swedish infantry had assembled on the beach a Saxon formation of 3,500 men attacked with the intention of driving them back into the river and capturing Charles XII. The Swedish infantry, disciplined and inspired by the presence of their king, held the landing and threw back the Saxon assault. Charles XII then led an assault on one of the nearby fortified positions and secured a foothold to cover the rest of the transports and the construction of a floating bridge. Charles XII hoped to use the floating bridge to cross the bulk of his remaining infantry and almost all of his cavalry. The cavalry contingent of the first crossing was small because of the difficulty in transporting horses in the small river craft available. Paykull ordered another assault on the Swedish beachhead but the infantry had the time to organize into formations and denied the Saxon advance.

Final phase of the battle: Steinau returned from Kokenhusen to reinforce the allied troops defending the river crossing and set about organizing a third assault on Charles XII’s position. Unfortunately for the Saxon general the Swedish flotilla had completed unloading the infantry and small cavalry contingent. As the armies formed up to face one another the Swedish left flank was protected by the river bank and the Swedes had only managed to land a limited number of cavalry. Steinau accordingly ordered his own cavalry to engage the Swedish army’s exposed right flank. The Swedish infantry, demonstrating their discipline and excellent drill, managed to hold until their cavalry managed to harass the Saxon cavalry enough to force their withdrawal. The allied commanders realized that they had lost their advantageous position and risked the loss of their entire force in the face of the superior Swedish equipment and training. At 7 AM the morning of the 19th Steinau and his generals decided to withdraw under the cover of a final assault. The Swedish army defeated the final attack easily and desired to pursue and harry the retreating allied army however the floating bridge was not completed and their cavalry was unable to cross in time.

Outcome of the Battle: The Swedish army lost as few as 100 men dead and 400 wounded while killing, wounding, or capturing over 2,000 men from the allied force. The Russian army of nearly 10,000 men never truly engaged in the fighting and began a withdrawal toward Russian territory. The surviving Saxon force retreated into Prussia which was still neutral in the conflict.

The fruits of this second great victory were much more considerable than those of Narva. The Saxon troops never stopped in their flight till they had reached Prussian territory, thus exposing Courland,* which Charles instantly invaded, traversing it from east to west without the slightest opposition, and capturing its capital Mittau which was found to be full of stores and ammunition. For the next few years the whole Duchy was treated like an incorporated province, administered by a Swedish Governor-General, and the inhabitants of Livonia were permitted and even encouraged to cut timber freely in its forests. All the Swedish fortresses on the Dwina were now recaptured one after another; the land was cleared of Saxons and Russians in every direction, and in the beginning of September Charles went into winter quarters in western Courland around Wiirgen, a place not far from Libau, on the confines of Poland (Bain, R. N. 1899).

The Swedish victory led to the capture of 36 artillery pieces, 8,000 muskets, 9,000 pistols, and the town of Kokenhusen. The retreat of the Saxon army allowed the Swedish army to pursue almost totally unopposed through much of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and capture the undefended capital of Warsaw in May of 1702. Charles XII pursued this course of action despite the continued threat of Russia to the east however deemed that less of a risk than allowing Augustus II to remain free with his army in the south and west. To that end Charles XII continued his pursuit of Augustus II and managed to get within striking range near the town of Kliszów.

Battle of Kliszów

On July 19th 1702 Charles XII was camped with his army a mere five miles from Augustus II and his army. The Saxon-Polish force is secured by the Nida River on their left and swampy terrain to their north. A thick woods separated the two forces, screening each from the other’s artillery. This battle was represented by heavy cavalry forces on both sides, particularly the Saxon-Polish force. The combined cavalry regiments of the Saxons and Polish numbered over 15,000 and the Swedish contingent numbered 4,000 nearly a third of their total force. In addition to the cavalry the Saxon-Polish army boasted over 8,000 infantry and 46 artillery pieces. Charles XII and his commanders fielded 8,000 infantry as well and possessed an artillery park but the Swedish artillery was inconsequential in this battle.

Battle of Kliszow 1 of 2

First phase of battle: At 9 o’clock in the morning Charles XII ordered his army to cross through the woods to confront Augustus II’s combined force. The Swedish force was divided into four main groups. General Rehnskiöld commanded the right wing of the Swedish flank including a substantial portion of the available cavalry regiments. Hans Henrik von Liewen and Knut Göransson Posse commanded the two middle lines of the Swedish infantry. The left wing of the Swedish flank was commanded by Charles XII’s brother in law Frederick IV, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp with Charles XII in overall command. The Saxon general Adam Heinrich von Steinau commanded the Saxon forces on their left flank including the bulk of the Saxon cavalry. Their main infantry force holding the middle line was under the charge of General Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg. The Saxon right wing was commanded by Jacob Heinrich von Flemming reinforced by Hieronim Augustyn Lubomirski commanding the entire Polish cavalry force.

It is important to remember the balance of cavalry facing each other across this swampy terrain. The Saxon-Polish army fielded more than three times the number of mounted soldiers and were able to use their artillery in the battle ahead. Audacious as it may seem for his outnumbered army Charles XII planned an envelope maneuver consisting of overlapping advances and redistribution of his forces to reinforce his flanks as they engaged. Almost all of the Swedish artillery was stuck in the woods and would be unavailable for the battle to come. At 2 pm the Swedish left wing under the command of Frederick IV, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, attacked the Polish cavalry on their right wing commanded by Hieronim Augustyn Lubomirski. The Saxon artillery was able to respond to the sudden Swedish advance and nearly stop it in its tracks when Frederick IV was killed almost immediately by the bombardment. Lubomirski’s cavalry counterattacked into the Swedish left wing advance but the disciplined drill and high morale of the Swedish infantry repelled the counterattack while the wing reformed.

Battle of Kliszow 2 of 2

Second Phase of the Battle: Flemming sees the apparent disaster of Frederick IV’s death as an opportunity and advances his forces across the swamp in an attempt to turn the Swedish flank with the combined weight of the Polish cavalry. General Steinau on the opposite flank sees and opportunity as well and attempts to drive a wedge of Saxon cavalry between General Rehnskiöld’s forces and the main body of the Swedish army. A remarkable cavalry engagement ensued as 34 squadrons of Saxon cavalry clashed with 21 squadrons of Swedish cavalry. The battle between 4,500 Saxons and 2,100 Swedes was ferocious but the Swedish cavalry prevailed and Steinau’s wing was forced to retreat with many of its squadrons splintered away and unable to rejoin the main force. Lubomirski on the right wing assaults the Swedish left wing again but the Swedish infantry holds its ground and readies to face the Saxon assault from the marsh led by Flemming. The Saxons are beaten handily by the Swedish formation which has had time to regain its footing and resumes their advance. Lubomirski and Flemming are forced to withdraw in the face of this advance. The Swedish cavalry harries the Polish cavalry under Lubomirski and drives them away from the battle to the nearby town of Kije. Flemming’s withdrawal allows the Swedish left wing assault to engage the Saxon right middle infantry force along their exposed flank.

Final Phase of Battle: Combined with the middle lines of Swedish infantry the two forces are able to perform a pincer attack that slowly crushes the Saxon right flank. At 4pm with the Saxon right flank turned Charles XII is able to advance into the Saxon camp and capture their artillery. The Swedish army begins using the Saxon artillery to bombard their enemies who are now forced back into the surrounding swamps. With control of both flanks and the enemy camp Charles XII is able to achieve the enveloping attack he desired and begins to maneuver to cut off the Saxon army’s avenue of retreat across the Nilda River. Rehnskiöld begins an advance parallel of the river to get behind the Saxon infantry lines.

The Saxons did retain one intact formation under the command of General Schulenburg including the bulk of their infantry. Schulenburg’s men had hardly been involved in the fighting up to this point and were both fresh and determined. They realized, as did Schulenburg, that if they were unable to defend the Nilda River crossing it would mean death or capture by the Swedes. The Saxon formation was able to stand off the Swedish forces long enough for the majority of the Saxon survivors to cross the river and retire from the field of battle. At 5pm the last Saxon rearguard elements disengaged and the battle was concluded.

Outcome of the Battle: The Swedish army, despite the abortive first advance on the left flank, took only 1,100 casualties with 300 dead. Notable among those dead of course was Frederick IV, Charles XII’s friend, cousin, and brother in law. The Saxon-Polish army suffered much greater losses including 1,800 dead, 900 wounded, and 1,700 captured by the Swedes. It seems to be an overwhelming victory for Charles XII and in some respects it is. His army drove the enemy from the field with minimal losses and opened the way to Cracow. They were able to capture the Saxon artillery and war chest and even captured Augustus II’s luggage. It was not, however, the unqualified success that it seems.

The ‘honour of the victory of Klissov belongs entirely to Charles XII. Stuart had devised the invasion of Zealand, Rehnskjold had planned the attack at Narva, and possibly at Diinamiinde likewise, but the tactics adopted at Klissov were the King’s own and the result was a conclusive testimony to his genius as a commander. He had also not wantonly , exposed himself during this battle, though he was always to be found where he was most wanted (Bain, R. N. 1899).

Charles XII’s goal has been to destroy the Saxon-Polish army in the field and so eliminate them as a threat in order to free his army to pursue other ends. This battle offered the best opportunity Charles XII had to date to utterly defeat Augustus II’s military capacity. Schulenburg’s masterful defense of the river crossing allowed the Saxons to escape with a majority of their strength intact. In addition Charles XII lost his friend and ally Frederick IV, a man who shared his enthusiasms, which could not have been good for the king’s morale. Augustus II retreated to Sandomierz and Charles II captured Cracow on July 31st 1702. Though the capture of Cracow helped consolidate Sweden’s control over Poland Charles XII retained his focus on destroying Augustus II and his Saxon-Polish forces.

Battle of Pultusk

After the capture of Cracow Augustus II retreated north and west recruiting new men as he went. He dispatched Field Marshal Steinau to Thorn in South West Prussia with a strong contingent of troops for the winter. In February of 1703 Steinau left Thorn with eight regiments of cavalry to rejoin Augustus II’s main army. General Rehnskiöld had been stationed with a strong force north of Cracow and sent out regular scouting patrols. The Swedish patrols found Steinau taking up a position near the town of Pultusk and Rehnskiöld sent word to Charles XII. The King joined Rehnskiöld immediately and they set out to attack Steinau and thereby deprive Augustus II of cavalry reinforcements. Charles XII and Rehnskiöld commanded a force of 3,000 cavalry and dragoons against Field Marshall Steinau and General Schulenburg’s 3,500 cavalry. Near dawn on April 21st 1703 the Swedish dragoons advanced toward Pultusk.

Battle of Pultusk

First Phase of Battle: Steinau and Schulenburg were initially formed up on a ridge west of Pultusk but upon sighting the Swedish cavalry dragoons decided to retreat the left flank into the city. The Swedish dragoons pursued immediately and engaged the Saxon rear elements even as they crossed a bridge into the city. The Saxons attempted to form up in the city center but the dragoons charged and broke up their formation. The Saxons retreated further eastward seeking escape from the city but the bridge proved to be a deadly bottleneck and many men drowned in the press at the bridge. Steinau was able to retreat with some of his cavalry but a large portion of his force was trapped in the town and eventually surrendered.

Second Phase of Battle: The Saxon section that had been left on the ridge began to withdraw as light levels increased but they were spotted by the Swedish reserve. Elements of the reserve and squadrons from the assault on Pultusk were able to pursue and harry them causing many casualties. The Swedish cavalry suffered only 40 casualties with 20 dead while killing 400 Saxons and capturing 800. A Saxon General Schulenburg, not the same General that defended the Nilda River crossing, was killed in the attack. Charles XII was able to achieve his objective of destroying the Saxon cavalry as an effective force and denied the Saxon detachment at Thorn their cavalry support. It would now be much easier for Sweden to capture Thorn.

Siege of Thorn

Siege of Thorn

The defeat of Steinau’s cavalry at Pultusk opened the way for the Swedish army to siege and capture the town of Thorn which had been a major staging point for Augustus II’s troops since their defeat at Kliszów. The lack of cavalry denied the Saxons the ability to scout and effectively forage for supplies. Throughout the summer of 1703 the Swedish forces laid siege to the town with bombardments and raids. The siege denied vital resupply to the Saxon forces and they began to suffer the effects of malnutrition and scurvy. The total strength of the sieging force eventually numbered over 25,000 men facing the 6,000 strong Saxon defenders. With reinforcement, resupply, and relief impossible the situation for the Saxon army at Thorn was untenable. On the 14th of October 1703 the army at Thorn surrendered to the Swedish forces. The combination of repeated Swedish victories finally forced Augustus II to relinquish his claim on the Polish crown. With Warsaw and Cracow under Swedish control and Augustus II’s army effectively neutralized the Polish magnates were forced to accept Stanislaw I as king. Stanislaw I was the candidate backed by the Swedish dominated Warsaw Confederation.

Campaign of Grodno

Johann Patkul gets his hand in again during the many defeats suffered by his beleaguered alliance in 1704. In cooperation with Otto Arnold von Paykull he designed a multi-front simultaneous assault on Swedish forces. The ambitious plan consisted of no less than five armies each with their own goals and schedules within the larger strategy. The Russians would use three armies for their part. The first army, between 13,000 to 20,000 strong, led by Russian Field Marshal Boris Sheremetyev would engage the 6,000 strong Swedish army in Courland commanded by Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt. The second army under General Georg Benedict Ogilvy numbered some 50,000 troops and was intended to capture the fortified town of Grodno and hold out there for reinforcements. The third force consisted of 20,000 Cossacks commanded by Ivan Mazepa was to act as a mobile threat in the east and act as a reserve in case of need.

This alliance, to which Augustus now clung as to a last straw, alienated many of his Polish subjects who had hitherto supported him. The intense national hatred of Russia revived, and when the Prussian palatinates * also joined the confederation of Great Poland, the Cardinal, who ever since the indignities practised upon him at the Diet of Lublin had burned for vengeance, felt strong enough to summon, on his own responsibility, a General Confederation at Warsaw, which assembled there in January, 1704. Although numerously attended it could by no means be regarded as a national assembly as all the southern palatinates of Poland and the whole of Lithuania were unrepresented ; but, such as it was, it ' suited the purpose of Charles XII., who had now gone into winter quarters round Heilberg in the Bishopric of Ermeland, and he determined, with the assistance of the Cardinal, to use it as an instrument for deposing Augustus (Bain, R. N. 1899).

A combined Polish-Saxon force of approximately 10,000 men would be commanded by Paykull and march west into Warsaw in order to stop the coronation of Stanislaw I. The final army arrayed against Sweden numbered 20,000 Saxons led by Schulenburg was intended to march out of Saxony and catch Charles XII’s main army exposed or alternatively march to relieve Ogilvy’s army at Grodno. The combined allied force numbered nearly 120,000 men arrayed against 50,000 men commanded by Charles XII, only 40,000 of which were Swedish. In early 1705 the main body of the Swedish forces in Poland were stationed south of Warsaw. In July of 1705 the allied campaign began with Sheremetyev’s attack on Lewenhaupt at the battle of Gemauerthof. Lewenhaupt was able to win the battle but suffered enough casualties to convince him to retreat to Riga. Shortly thereafter Paykull arrived at Warsaw to disrupt the coronation.

Campaign of Grodno

Battle of Gemauerthof

Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt had arrived in Livonia in 1701 and subsequently became army commander over the forces in Courland, south of the Düna (Dvina) river. After the battle of Saladen. Boris Sheremetyev had been harassing Livonia for several years and practically destroyed the defending forces there under Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach. After capturing several towns, including Dorpat and Narva, The main russian army had been transferred to eastern Lithuania in order to coordinate with the beleaguered saxon troops. Only together, could they successfully attack the main Swedish army under the King's own command. But in order to do this, Lewenhaupt's army had to be eliminated, or it would be a threat in the rear of russian operations (Derry, T. K. 2000). The army had been gathering around Polotsk in north-eastern Lithuania during the spring and in June it began the journey westward into Courland.

It consisted of 8 regiments of dragoons and 3 regiments of infantry. Lieutenant General Rosen, commanding the dragoon regiments, was first to arrive to Neustadt, followed by Chambers with the infantry. Here, they waited for Sheremetyev who arrived to Neustadt on July 7. Meanwhile, Lewenhaupt, made aware of the russian army's advance, had ordered the available Swedish units to gather around Szagarren. The troops had been spread out during the winter months. And many of them had detachments in different towns as garrisons. Some had lost half their strengths in Livonia during the previous years. By July 12, Sheremetyev's army arrived in Mesoten. Here, Major General Bauer was detached with 1400 dragoons to attack the Swedish garrison in Mitau. The detachment arrived at daybreak and surprised the members of the garrison which were in the town itself. Bauer could not attack the castle itself, but the garrison lost about half its numbers. Bauer then returned to the main force the same day. Lewenhaupt was informed of the attack and, while ordering Stackelberg with the infantry to go to Gemäuerthof, he took the cavalry and advanced to Mitau, hoping to surprise Bauer, but he had already left. Lewenhaupt, therefore, joined the rest of the troops at Gemäuerthof. The weather was very miserable, and the troops were cold and wet and had not had a chance to eat for several days.

Battle of Gemauerthof

First Phase of Battle: During the day of July 16, the Swedish army had taken up position just west of Gemäuerthof north of the creek Schwedt. Around 10:00, a couple of companies of cossacks made a harassing attack on an outpost. Lieutenant Colonel Brömsen was then sent on a reconnaissance mission a few km to the East with 100 men. At about 2pm, Brömsen sent a courier to Lewenhaupt, informing him that the enemy was advancing in large numbers. Lewenhaupt joined him to confirm the report. Meanwhile, the Adjutant-Generals Sinclair and Knorring arranged the army according to a previously decided order of battle after crossing the creek.

The field Lewenhaupt had chosen was good from a defensive standpoint, but disastrous from a strategic standpoint. Had Lewenhaupt's army been routed, it would have had to retreat to the South West away from Riga. Since Major General Rönne had a strong russian army corps in northern Lithuania, the Swedes would then have been trapped. Lewenhaupt, however, was more concerned with the upcoming battle and wanted all the advantages possible. The army was arranged facing East, with the creek Schwedt to the North and a swamp to the South. The creek was passable in some spots and impassable in others.Lewenhaupt mentions that it could not be crossed in front

Second Phase of Battle: It was now about 5:30pm, and Lewenhaupt had just returned after joining Stackelberg, whose detachment also returned. While the russian army arrived at the battlefield and tried to arrange into 2 lines, Lewenhaupt decided to use his advantage and attacked over the whole front. The fiercest fighting happened just south of Schwedt, where Bauer's dragoons counter attacked. Sheremetyev had mounted his infantry on the horses, one behind each dragoon to facilitate a speedier advance. These now dismounted and followed the dragoons in the attack. A few squadrons had also advanced north of the creek and, after crossing, attacked Wennerstedt's flank. He was forced to retreat and unfortunately a battalion of grenadiers were in the way. They were run over first by the Swedish cavalry and then the russian dragoons. The situation would have been very serious had not the nearby infantry units been able to intervene and stop the russian attack and allow Wennerstedt to regroup his squadrons.

The russian infantry on this flank suffered heavy losses, while the apparently undisciplined dragoons kept their movement to the West and ended up plundering the Swedish baggage train. At the same time, the Swedish centre and right flank also attacked. The fighting on the right wing was very similar to that of the left, except for Horn not being forced back. The russian dragoons proceeded to the Swedish rear, leaving the now dismounted infantry to be slaughtered. As the Swedish right wing advanced, the battle line actually swung around so that it now faced North East. The units which had been placed between the 1st and 2nd line were now brought into the battle line. The battle now became precarious for the Swedes, as the russian dragoons in the rear began to attack. The Swedish army was actually surrounded and had to stave off numerous attacks from all directions. The battle was fierce and bloody, but after 3 hours, Sheremetyev had to retreat in order to get a more advantageous position. The main force retreated to the East across the creek Wilze, while the dragoons in the Swedish rear crossed Schwedt and took up defensive positions after being brought to order.The battle now became two separate engagements.

Sheremetyev, on the other hand had few options. He could either attack the Swedes head-on, which meant that he would have to arrange his army close to the already arranged Swedes, or make a circling move to the North, only to find the Swedes behind the creek. While they were waiting for the russian army's next move, the Swedes finally had time to have a direly needed meal. the troops were starved after the forced marches. Brömsen was recalled and replaced by a stronger avantgarde under the command of Stackelberg. This detachment advanced about a kilometer to the East, but didn’t stay long, as the russian army was now advancing.

Third Phase of Battle: Lewenhaupt made an effort to bring his totally confused units to order, and as a matter of interest, a battalion of Hälsinge regiment, which had been on the right, ended up supporting Wennerstedt's dragoons on the far left! Unfortunately, Lewenhaupt's efforts were cut short, when Horn, without orders, crossed Wilze and attacked the russians on the other side, pulling the infantry along. Horn's squadrons had advanced too far and were counter attacked and brought into disorder, and only by the Swedish infantry advancing were they saved from disaster. Wennersted was ordered to attack and crossed the Schwedt, but also faced superior numbers. He, likewise, was saved by the infantry on that wing. The russians retreated further, finally giving Lewenhaupt a chance to bring his left wing over to his right and await the Russian's next move.

It was now after 10pm and after sunset. Sheremetyev, however had had enough and reached Mesoten the next day and then continued South past Birsen. Lewenhaupt's army was in no shape to pursue, as the cavalry in particular was decimated after the last phase of the battle and many troopers had actually fled the area. Lewenhaupt was able to carry the day against the larger Russian army but stretched his capabilities to the limit and beyond in doing so.

Outcome of the Battle: The Swedes lost around 900 killed and around 1000 wounded. The russian loss, however is more difficult to determine. Some sources say as much as half his troops were killed , while Sheremetyev reports only 1000. A reasonable figure is around the 2000 mark reported by D von Der Schulenburg. The result of the battle was that Lewenhaupt was promoted to Lt General. Sheremetyev received reinforcements to the tone of 6 regiments of dragoons and 13 regiments of foot. In the face of that, Lewenhaupt could only retreat to Riga, leaving small garrisons in Mitau and Bauske, but these were lost in early September. Due to the battle of Gemäuerthof, the russian conquest of Courland was delayed by a couple of months, tied down twice as many troops as intended and caused the main russian army around Wilna and Grodno to remain inactive during 1706, while waiting for Courland to be emptied of Swedish forces.

Battle of Warsaw

Paykull very nearly achieved total surprise with his advance on Warsaw. The Swedish garrison force, commanded by Lieutenant General Carl Nieroth, sent out two scout contingents of 180 men. A subunit of 20 men encountered a lead element of 500 men in the vanguard of the Polish army early in the evening of 30 July. The Polish vanguard was beginning their crossing of the Vistula River. The Swedish cavalry troop charged the Polish troops but were repulsed and suffered heavy losses in the one-sided fight. The remainder of the scout contingent, 160 cavalrymen, arrived to reinforce the troop that had made the initial contact with the Polish advance. The Swedish cavalry charged again hoping to stop or delay the crossing however there were nearly 5,000 Polish army infantry at the crossing by this point. The cavalry attack was unsuccessful but some of the Swedish scouts were able to warn Lieutenant General Carl Nieroth of the impending attack.

Battle of Warsaw

First Phase of Battle: The next day, July 31st 1705, Paykull had advanced to just outside Warsaw and Nieroth formed up his outnumbered army to face them. The Swedish 2,000 strong force was almost entirely composed of cavalry regiments, three to be exact, and a very small 60 man infantry unit. Arrayed against the Swedes were 3,500 Saxon cuirassiers and 6,000 Polish cavalry split into five commands. The disparity of numbers deserves special notice in this battle as the Polish component of the allied army alone outnumbered the Swedish cavalry by more than three to one. Nieroth apparently believed that the numerical superiority of his opponents would give them too much flexibility and control of the tempo of battle if he were to go on the defensive. With astonishing nerve General Nieroth ordered his heavily outnumbered force to charge the Polish-Saxon army.

The attack was divided into two main thrusts to avoid being entirely encircled by the much larger allied cavalry force. The Swedish commander organized his two thrusts into three regimental elements with the Upplands Tremänning Regiment on the right wing, Smålands Cavalry Regiment in the middle, and the Östgöta Cavalry Regiment on the left wing. Nieroth hid his small company of infantry in a nearby grain field to preserve an element of surprise as well and a small reserve. The Smålands Regiment charged the comparatively light Lithuanian cavalry element of the Polish force and forced them into an uncontrolled rout that suffered losses over a twenty kilometer stretch of ground.

Second Phase of Battle: The allied General Paykull committed a portion of his heavier Saxon cavalry to swing from right to left through the middle elements of the advancing Swedish squadrons in order to take the Upplands Regiment in their flank as they positioned themselves for a charge. The maneuver met with initial success and disrupted the Upplands Regiment’s formation stalling their attack. The Saxon cavalry had committed part of its strength to the effort, however, and the Östgöta Regiment took the opportunity to charge the remaining Saxons. Despite committing six squadrons to the attack on the Upplands Regiment the Saxon cavalry retained more than 3,000 men and were able to stand off the Östgöta Regiment’s charge enabling the fractured Polish cavalry regiments to reform. The Polish cavalry was then able to make repeated wheeling charges against the Swedish flanks with fresh companies of horsemen making almost ceaseless charges.

These attacks, known as attack-on-attack, were a classic tactic of the time designed to quickly erode the morale and stamina of the opposing force. In almost any scenario involving contemporary armies this attack-on-attack by a larger force should have ended the battle quickly. It underscores again the remarkable discipline and training of the Swedish army compared to their enemies that the Östgöta Regiment did not crumble under the attack. Indeed the Östgöta Regiment renewed their assault on the Saxon cavalry and against almost incomprehensible odds were able to break the Saxon lines and forced them to retreat.

Third Phase of Battle: Meanwhile the Upplands Regiment had finally managed to dispatch the attacking Saxon Cavalry and join up with the Östgöta Regiment. The two regiments formed up for a series of coordinated attacks against the Saxons eventually forcing them to break and regroup again. At this critical point the 60 Swedish infantry men revealed themselves and swept the harried Saxons with musket fire. With the army in disarray and under threat of total destruction the allied army commanders decided to retreat. The order for retreat was not passed on as it should because Paykull had been captured and coordination between the remaining commanders was fragmented. The Polish-Saxon cavalry had lost all sense of momentum or strategy and fought in small engagements without any overriding purpose. The Swedish forces, on the other hand, were under skillful command and had clear goals and a plan for winning. The Swedes pursued their attacks and managed to capture officers and war material. The most significant of these were General Paykull himself along with correspondence that indicated the beginnings of the Campaign of Grodno and the Russian plans to attack.

Outcome of the Battle: With only marginal success in the Battle of Gemauerthof, a tactical defeat but strategic victory, and a decisive, frankly embarrassing, defeat at Warsaw the Campaign of Grodno was off to a poor start. General Paykull was unable to interrupt the coronation of Stanislaw 1 and ended up in captivity himself.

...the Swedish general Nieroth with his little army corps of 2000 men gallantly threw himself in its way, and after an obstinate six hours' fight, completely routed it, with the loss of 2000 men and nearly all its officers, including Paikull himself, who was sent to Stockholm and there beheaded as a traitor. A second and still larger Russian army under Sheremetev, had, by the advice of the ubiquitous and indefatigable Patkul, at the same time invaded Lithuania, so as to catch the Swedes between two fires and overwhelm them, but Charles himself frustrated this plan by making one of his astounding marches (he covered the whole distance between the Silesian frontier and the Polish capital in ten days), and in the beginning of August suddenly appeared at Blonie, a small place close to Warsaw. Levenhaupt, whose recent victories (of which more anon)1‘ had swept Livonia clear of the Russians, though they came too late to save Courland, strongly advised his master to pursue Sheremetev forthwith, and give him the coup de grace; but Charles would do nothing till the new King of Poland had been crowned, and remained idle, though not useless, at Blonie for the next four months to overawe the Polish Diet. And indeed his Polish friends gave him far more trouble than his Russian and Saxon foes (Bain, R. N. 1899).

Further the correspondence in his position forewarned the Swedish military leaders that a larger plan of attack was in the works and needed countering. The failure of the allies to win at Warsaw threw into question the viability of the campaign as a whole. Paykull would not be able to serve as the distraction and pinning force that Schulenburg and Ogilvy needed for their portions of the plan to succeed.

Battle of Fraustadt

Despite the loss suffered by Paykull in Warsaw Augustus II was not inclined to give up his designs for regaining the crown of Poland. In late 1705 and early 1706 Augustus II was accompanying the Russian army commanded by Georg Benedict Ogilvy that had marched to occupy and fortify Grodno. Charles XII, informed of the Campaign of Grodno by the capture of Paykull’s correspondence at the Battle of Warsaw, began making plans to eject the Russians from the city. The allied leaders believed that Charles XII would wait until Spring to march against Grodno but the Swedes surprised them. In a fashion typical of the Swedish army, but almost unthinkable to the continental armies, Charles XII ordered a quick march in the dead of Winter leaving an army of some 10,000 men under General Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld at Poznań to ward against the threat of the 20,000 strong Saxon army under General Schulenburg still waiting to cross into Poland.

Peter absolutely trembled for his safety, as his recent reforms had revolted the conservative instincts of the Moscovites, and it needed but a convenient opportunity to convert secret discontent into open rebellion. He pathetically implored his good brother and ally Augustus to make a diversion in the West, and that potentate, who fancied it would be an easy task to crush the little army under Rehnskjold that had been left behind to secure Poland and watch Saxony, crossed the Oder accordingly with 15,000 men, while Schulenburg with 20,000 more, most of whom were Russians, set out to attack Rehnskjold from the West simultaneously. So certain was Augustus of victory, that he sent his Minister, Fleming, to Berlin to persuade the Prussian Government not to harbour the Swedish fugitives (Bain, R. N. (1899).

Augustus II fled Grodno before Charles XII arrived at Grodno on January 24th 1706. Augustus II took with him 5,000 cavalry, the majority of the cavalry available to the army occupying Grodno, and gathered another 3,000 men to his banner. He then ordered Schulenburg to begin his advance through Poland. Their intention was to combine their forces into a single army that would defeat Rehnskiöld and thereby be free to attack Charles XII in the rear as he attempted to siege Grodno. Rehnskiöld chose, in inimitable Swedish fashion, to pursue an aggressive response to this threat. The Swedish General, aware that Augustus II was marching to reinforce Schulenburg, marched to meet the Saxon army in the field (Derry, T. K. 2000). Once the armies were within reconnaissance contact range of one another Rehnskiöld feigned a full retreat hoping to lure the Saxon army into a less advantageous position. Schulenburg, perhaps thinking that Rehnskiöld had underestimated the Saxon army and truly was in retreat, marched his army in pursuit. Schulenburg fortified his army outside the town of Fraustadt and Rehnskiöld attacked on February 13th 1706.

Battle of Fraustadt

First Phase of Battle: The Saxons and Russians had positioned themselves in a strong defensive position ahead of Fraustadt, between the villages Geiersdorf and Röhrsdorf. The army was arranged in two battle lines with cavalry on the flanks and the most prestigious units on the right. Obstacles, a sort of spiked timber barrier designed to deter cavalry charges called chevaux de frise, were placed in front and artillery dispersed throughout the front line. The Swedes marched onto the battlefield in 3 columns, with cavalry either side of the infantry. As they marched on, the Saxon artillery was firing furiously. This did not stop the very disciplined Swedes. The battle lines were arranged and the Swedish cavalry charged.

The Saxon right flank under Lieutenant General von Plötz was attacked first, but the Swedish cavalry had to negotiate an area covered with slippery ice. The un-shod horses fell in great numbers and had to be led to more secure ground. All the time they were mocked by the Saxon Garde du Corps, "Wir wollen die Mäussen lebendig fangen" we are going to capture the mice alive. In their conceited state, they forgot that they could easily have slaughtered the Swedes which would prove to be a grave mistake. As soon as the dragoons were organized again, they charged the Saxons, full gallop with drawn swords. Three times they charged through each other's' lines before the Saxon cavalry finally turned and fled in a wholesale route. The Saxon Garde du Corps and Chevaliers Garde were the only units to make any impression on the Swedes. The Saxon held right flank managed to maintain discipline and exchange fire with the Swedish infantry advancing on their bulwarks and artillery.

Second Phase of Battle: The Saxon left flank was hit very soon after the right, and fled the field when the right wing departed, disheartened by the utter rout of their best cavalry regiments. The Swedish cavalry did not pursue the Saxon route too far, as their outnumbered infantry needed their assistance as they approached the zone of best effect for the artillery, so they returned to the battle field and attacked the Saxon and Russian infantry from behind. Colonel von Krassow commanded the dragoon wing and brought his cavalry to bear on the left middle of the Saxon army approaching from the rear. This caused the heavy infantry Saxon Guards regiments to buckle and break formation. Meanwhile, the Swedish infantry advanced through heavy cannon fire and with one musket salvo cleared the Saxons' detachments from behind the obstacles, removed the same and firing at very close range drove the Saxons before them.

When the Swedes found the left Saxon flank to be manned by Russian units, their attention was directed at them. The Russian units, notorious for their inferior fighting capabilities, had turned their white coats inside out displaying the red lining so that they would not stand out against the red-clad more experienced Saxons. This was done on orders of General Schulenburg who hoped that the Swedish captains would not recognize the Russian troops as such and focus their efforts on that flank. Once pressed, however, the Swedish troops recognized the quality of the Saxon-Russian left flank and pressed hard. Through superior tactics and exemplary discipline, the Swedes drove the Saxons back, until they started to reel and finally route. They fled through Fraustadt, but were met at the exits by the Swedish cavalry, and surrendered in droves.

Outcome of the Battle: At this point the Saxons were pardoned, but due to atrocities committed by the Russians in the Baltic states, the 500 Russian captives were mercilessly slaughtered by Rehnskiöld's order. Rehnskiöld was later to be criticized for this, but according to the standards of the times, the victor did not have to grant pardon. It was actually more common for the victors to slaughter their prisoners, than is generally known. The battle was over in less than two hours. The losses were 700 killed and wounded Swedes against over 8000 Saxons and Russians killed and over 7000 captured, including 2 generals. It was said that Schulenburg was one of the first to flee. As a result of the battle, the Saxon infantry had almost ceased to exist, and Augustus II could no longer influence the Swedish movements.

The battle has been seen as a textbook example of a successful battle of annihilation, and was the crowning achievement of Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld, who was promoted to Field Marshal. With Schulenburg’s defeat there was little standing between Charles XII’s armies and the Saxon heartland, seat of Augustus II’s real power. Even more immediately important the king was now secure from attacks in the rear and free to pursue his siege of Grodno. Interestingly the non-Russian elements of the army that were captured were sent to Sweden to form a new regiment that would later fight for the nation that had defeated them.

Blockade of Grodno and Associated Battles

Charles XII’s fast Winter march caught the allied commanders in Grodno by surprise and forced them to remain in the city until conditions improved to the point where they could reasonably maneuver in the field. Charles XII determined to starve out the defenders by surrounding the city and cutting of lines of supply, communication, and reinforcement. On January 15th 1706 the Swedish army crossed the Neman River and forced the withdrawal of 15,000 Russian cavalry effectively eliminating any chance for the besieged troops to forage or scout. If Augustus II had not stripped the defenders of their cavalry contingent it is possible the allies would have been able to maintain contact and offer mutual support between their forces in the area but were denied that opportunity. A portion of the Swedish army was sent into Lithuania toward Vilnius in order to deny any aid or succor from the allied army there under the command of General Christian Felix Bauer. Peter I ordered Ivan Mazepa’s Cossacks to use harassing attacks on the Swedish forces in an attempt to offer relief to his army there. The Swedish army countered by dispatching smaller forces to intercept and destroy the Cossacks. Word of the Battle of Fraustadt reached Grodno and Peter on March 27th and the Russians realized that the allied plan had failed.

Blockade of Grodno and Associated Battles

Battle of Olita

Part of Charles XII plan for retaking Grodno demanded that the defenders have no access to supply or reinforcement. The closest allied army that could reasonably accomplish that feat was located in Lithuania near Grodno where they had been deterring pro-Swedish supporters. To counter the possibility of relief from that quarter Charles dispatched several small forces into Lithuania to re establish contact with Swedish Livonia and pin down any Russian forces there. One of these forces was commanded by Jan Kazimierz Sapieha and Józef Potocki who encountered a Russian cavalry and infantry detachment outside the small town of Olita. On February 9th 1706 the Swedish forces attacked and were able to disperse the numerically superior Russians despite an almost three to one advantage.

It had become clear that by this point in the war none of the allied armies wanted to face the Swedes in a direct confrontation without totally overwhelming strength. The Russians in particular had a shortage of experienced commanders and the Swedish Generals and Captains took full advantage of this to rout enemy formations before they could inflict much attritional damage. This was a huge asset for them in larger set battles where they were outnumbered and destruction of the enemy's main strength required the scattering of its supporting elements. It did have a downside, however, in that in smaller engagements the allied forces would simply rout before the Swedes could inflict much damage and remained available for incorporation in another army down the road.

Battle of Olkieniki

On March 6, 1706 another Swedish cavalry force of approximately 1,000 dragoons sent out by Charles XII from Grodno under Carl Gustaf Dücker approached Olkieniki. There they hoped to meet up with the Swedish allied Polish-Lithuanian force commanded by Potocki and Kazimierz after their victory at Olita. The combined force was then to march onto Vilnius and secure the connection between Sweden and its possessions in the region that had been under threat ever since Lewenhaupt was forced to retreat after the Battle of Gemauerthof. General Christian Felix Bauer commanded an allied army in the area that numbered approximately 7,000 Russians, Poles, and Lithuanians. Their goal was to deny the support of the Swedish contingents to the pro-Swedish Lithuanians much the same as Sweden hoped to deny Russian support to Grodno (Derry, T. K. 2000). Both forces expected to meet with the pro-Swedish Polish-Lithuanian forces before facing each other. Counter to both their aims, however, the two armies ran across one another outside the town of Olkieniki. The Russians attacked on sight, charging the Swedish cavalry twice before they were able to disengage and reform on the edge of a treeline.

The Polish-Lithuanian force friendly to the Swedes arrived in time two witness a third attack by the Russian on the Swedish line which was again thrown back. The potential relief force hesitated upon seeing the battle already underway and the initiative in the Russian’s favor. Almost immediately, however, the Swedish cavalry counter charged the Russians and and began to push them from the field in a quickly expanding rout. The Polish-Lithuanian army then joined in the pursuit of the Russian forces inflicting additional casualties. The two forces then combined and continued on to Vilnius. They were able to occupy the capital and open the lines of communication. They also captured a large quantity of Russian war materiel. The death toll from this battle was relatively light for both sides owing to the quick Russian retreat. As few as 100 soldiers friendly to the Swedes died with a similar number dead on the opposing side. This Swedish victory further impressed upon Peter I that the Campaign of Grodno was a lost cause.

Battle of Kletsk

As part of his overall response to the Swedish encirclement of Grodno Peter I ordered Ican Mazepa, Hetman of the Cossacks, to use his army of 14,000 mean to conduct continuous harassing attacks against the Swedish forces gathered around Grodno. The Swedish command was aware of the Cossack army and the potential threat it posed to their operations. In a well coordinated series of sorties the Swedish army was able to launch successful attacks against the reinforcing Cossacks. A Swedish commander named Carl Gustaf Creutz located a combined Cossack-Polish contingent in the city of Lyakhavichy and encircled it with his 2,000 strong detachment.

Ivan Mazepa had dispatched a major portion of his strength, some 4,700 men, to relieve Grodno when he received word of his men trapped in Lyakhavichy. Instead of marching to Grodno as planned he decided to divert this force to first rescue his trapped forces and then reform and continue on. The large Cossack force marched toward Lyakhavichy and set up camp in Kletsk nearby. Creutz’s reconnaissance teams spotted the approaching Cossack army and delivered the warning. The Swedish commander left only 500 men to maintain the siege of Lyakhavichy and marched with his remaining 1,500 cavalry to meet the Cossacks at Kletsk.

First Phase of the Battle: The next morning on on 30 April 1706 the Swedish cavalry confronted the numerically superior Cossacks. The commander of the Cossack relief force was Danylo Apostol who was personally in charge of defending a half kilometer long bridge leading into Kletsk. The Swedish cavalry charged the defender at once and threw them into disarray almost instantly. The Cossacks attempted to retreat across the bridge but were impeded by traffic on the causeway. The defenders then attempted to jump into the marshes surrounding the city and escape but the Swedes were able to easily pursue and kill the retreating soldiers. Apostol was captured shortly after having first one and then a second horse shot out from under him.

Battle of Kletsk

Second Phase of the Battle: A Russian commander in charge of the infantry and artillery defending the city attempted to sortie out to help the beleaguered Cossacks but realized he was too late to effect a rescue and tried to return to the city. The Swedish cavalry pursued the retreating Russians and managed to capture four of their artillery pieces which they put to use right away bombarding the infantry. The remaining Cossacks and Russians secured the entrances to the city and set about making ready for the impending Swedish assault. The Swedish cavalry charged in a concerted mass and managed to punch through the defender’s lines. The Cossack-Russian formations crumpled and began a disorganized retreat through the city to the outlying fields. The Swedish cavalry pursued and harassed the retreating men over open ground and managed to kill or capture virtually every single man.

Outcome of the Battle: The Swedish cavalry had lost only 15 men with another 16 wounded and killed nearly 4,000 Cossacks and Russians. This translates to roughly 265 enemy soldiers killed for every Swedish soldier who died in this battle. Carl Gustaf Creutz returned to Lyakhavichy with his spoils, including the four cannon, and shortly after the 1,300 men besieged there surrendered. The failure of the Cossack army to neutralize any of Charles XII strength arrayed against Grodno and the loss of so much of that army’s capacity to assist the trapped Russian army in the case of a withdrawal was a punishing blow to Peter I’s plans.

Russian Breakout from Grodno

This is what could be properly called the Battle of Grodno although very little direct fighting took place at Grodno. In the spring of 1706 it was clear to Peter I that the planned combined assault on Charles XII’s main army would not be possible and his main army at Grodno was under threat of total annihilation. The loss of Christian Felix Bauer’s army to the north and Ivan Mazepa’s Cossacks to the south-east reduced the Russian’s odds of being able to hold out in Grodno until help could arrive until they approached zero. Peter ordered Ogilvy to break out of the city and retreat as soon as the river ice melted. Charles XII had expected, reasonably enough, that the Russian army would break east toward Moscow and had arranged his army accordingly. In May of 1706 the rivers melted and the Russians made their move to escape. Instead of heading east the Russian army marched south-west, well away from any major Swedish concentrations of force. Charles XII attempted to give chase and tried an ambitious crossing of the Polesian swamps but was unable to maintain the pursuit and was forced to give up the chase. The Swedish army lost about 3,000 men during the siege and the Russians lost 8,000 during the siege and as many as 9,000 during the retreat. As with many winter campaigns of the era the vast majority of the life lost during the conflict at Grodno was caused by exposure, exhaustion, and starvation rather than lead or steel. With the Russian threat temporarily eliminated Charles XII decided to combine his forces with Rehnskiöld for an invasion of Saxony by which means he intended to remove Augustus II from the conflict permanently.

Invasion of Saxony

After the battle of Fraustadt and the ejection of the Russian armies from eastern Poland Charles XII was ready to move against Augustus II’s home of Saxony. He marched to meet with the recently promoted Field Marshal Rehnskiöld to organize for the invasion. Charles XII rendezvoused with Rehnskiöld on August 5th 1706 and began marching toward the Saxon border. The Saxon General Schulenburg had been attempting to rebuild his army after the disastrous defeat at Fraustadt but that same famous defeat made men leery of joining with him and Schulenburg was unable to raise an army. In much the same manner as Peter I after Charles XII defeated him at Narva, Augustus II sued for peace when he saw his undefended homeland was under threat of Swedish invasion.

Augustus II attempted to offer Courland and Lithuania to the Treaty of Warsaw allies, the Lithuanian territory to be restored to Greater Poland and Courland to Sweden, but Charles XII offered him the same response as he did Peter I. He said no. On September 5th 1706 Charles XII and his army crossed into Saxon territory and marched toward the capital. Two weeks later they captured Leipzig after encountering almost no resistance at all. With his home and only real remaining seat of power, wealth, and legitimacy essentially held hostage Augustus II was forced to make peace with Sweden on its terms. Part of those terms, of course, was the breaking of his alliance with Russia. The man behind much of the planning for the initial allied attack on Sweden and later the Campaign of Grodno, Johann Patkul, was given over to Swedish custody. Patkul was sentenced to death by breaking on the wheel.

Treaty of Altranstädt

On the 13th of October 1706 Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, was forced by Charles XII’s occupation of his home to sign the Treaty of Altranstädt. Augustus II was forced to declare peace with Sweden, break his alliance with Russia, hand over any Russian personnel under his command, relinquish his claim on the Polish crown, and declare Johann Patkul a criminal and allow the Swedes to take him into custody. This, formally then, is the conclusion of Charles XII’s invasion of Poland. He was able to first resist the initial attacks by the nations allied against him and then bring the war to them. He occupied Warsaw early in the campaign and was able to start the process for installing Stanislaw I as a Polish King friendly to Sweden. During the Campaign of Grodno Sweden was again able to stand off attack from all sides and turn it to their advantage. The Swedish victories encouraged the Polish Magnates to join the winning side and coronate Stanislaw I. Charles XII was able to run the large Russian army out of eastern Poland and move immediately to invade Saxony and force Augustus II’s capitulation. The Treaty of Altranstädt was conducted in secrecy, presumably Charles XII saw some advantage in hiding the treaty from the Russians, and Augustus II was able to retain Saxony as its Elector. Augustus II was traveling with the third Russian army at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Altranstädt. The Russian army was marching to Poland hoping to succeed where the first two had failed.

Battle of Kalisz

The third Russian army was marching through Poland with the intention of relieving their Saxon allies from the occupation by Swedish forces. The army was commanded by Aleksandr Menshikov and numbered about 20,000 Russian soldiers and approximately 15,000 Poles, Saxons, and Cossacks. Augustus II was accompanying this army when he received word that the Treaty of Altranstädt had been accepted by all parties. The treaty included a voiding of the alliance between Augustus II and Russia and so he should have parted company with the Russians if he were going to comply with the terms of the treaty.

Augustus II was, however, receiving a huge amount of financial and material aid from Peter I. Further Augustus and Peter were personal friends and Augustus was in the middle of a large army marching to expel Charles XII from Saxony. It is possible that Augustus II intended to renounce the Treaty of Altranstädt and resume his efforts to regain the Polish crown. In any case Augustus II did not tell Aleksandr Menshikov about the peace he had agreed to with Charles XII. The large Russian army did not go unnoticed in its travels across Poland and a small garrison army in western Poland was positioned such that Aleksandr Menshikov needed to destroy it to secure his rear as he advanced toward Saxony.

The Swedish army of just over 4,000 men was commanded by Major General Arvid Axel Marderfelt who had not received word of the Treaty of Altranstädt likely due to interception of communication by Russian agents. Augustus II, either out of a desire to avoid angering Sweden or basic human decency, tried to convince the Swedish commander that he would get word of the peace treaty soon and to avoid battle. Marderfelt was not inclined to believe Augustus II and replied that if battle came to him that he would stand his ground. Marderfelt did not, in fact, wish to engage the much larger Russian force in a direct confrontation. Józef Potocki commanded the Polish crown army and offered to support the Swedes in the upcoming battle for the purpose of removing Russian troops from Polish soil. Potocki had more than twice Marderfelt’s men to contribute to the fight but Marderfelt hesitated.

The Swedish General was familiar with Polish reluctance to anger their enormous neighbor to the east and suggested gently that this may still hold true. Józef Potocki assured him that they would stand and fight with their Swedish allies. Marderfelt understood his duty to oppose the Russian advance and knew his small Swedish army could not hope to prevail without assistance so he reluctantly accepted Potocki’s offer of help. On October 29th 1706 the two armies lined up outside the town of Kalisz to face one another. Arvid Axel Marderfelt arranged his forces in a defensive line with the Swedish troops holding the center and the Polish-Lithuanian troops guarding either flank. The Russians lined up with their cavalry to the fore, their infantry still not a match for the Swedes, and began to advance.

When the Polish-Lithuanian elements saw the Russian cavalry advancing they quit the field of battle at once leaving the Swedish army totally exposed. With their typical discipline and dourness the Swedish infantry held against the much larger attacking force for three hours and inflicted nearly 3,000 casualties on the Russians before finally surrendering. Word of Marderfelt’s defeat reached Charles XII who immediately made public the ratified Treaty of Altranstädt. Augustus II’s deceit was made plain and it is likely to avoid total humiliation that Augustus II decided to abide by the terms of the treaty and retreat to Saxony. The Russians had captured nearly 1,800 Swedish troops at Kalisz and these were returned to Sweden.

Summary and Conclusions

Charles XII achieved, not without difficulty or loss, to achieve every single objective he might have desired in his campaign against Augustus II in Poland. In a very short time, however, Sweden would lose everything it had gained in the campaign and lose still additional territory. It is difficult to reconcile these two facts but there are some points during the campaign where Charles XII might have been able to obtain a better future for the Swedish Empire. The most obvious points at which Charles XII could have drastically changed the nature of the conflict were the many offers, some quite generous, of peace sent to him by Augustus II and Peter I. Charles XII was famous for his determination to end any war started against him by conquering the aggressor.

The King’s resolution was seen as a great source of inspiration for his Generals and the soldiers under his and their commands but his refusal to entertain peace as a possible end of the conflict may have been the doom of his empire. When Peter I offered to restore all the Swedish territory except St. Petersburg along with other generous terms Charles XII could have accepted. That would have all but eliminated any alliance against Sweden because Augustus II could never have maintained his armies without Russian support. The conflict in Poland and the Coronation of Stanislaw I could have concluded much more quickly allowing a period of reconstruction and consolidation before the start of any new potential hostilities. It is likely that any peace between Sweden and Russia while Russia still held St. Petersburg would be short lived but it could have worked to Charles XII’s advantage. To be sure such a delay would strengthen Peter I’s position as he desperately tried to modernize his army and it is purely speculative to guess who might have prevailed in such a conflict.

Alternatively Charles XII could have pursued the Russian army after their defeat at Narva. The Russians were almost entirely defenseless at that point and a fast push into Moscow may have put the Russians out of the war for good. Charles XII decision to deal with Augustus II first cost him years in which Peter had time to prepare. Finally after the Treaty of Altranstädt Charles XII could have accepted Peter I’s second offer of peace and relieve Sweden of the burden of constant war while they reinforced their frontiers. Charles XII also made the inexcusable mistake of angering the sovereigns who had been friendly to him at the start of the conflict. Most notably Charles XII blundered badly in relations with England who should have been their natural ally by virtue of shared religion. It is not certain that Sweden would have been better off if Charles XII had been able to maintain or even expand the Swedish Empire. The death of Charles XII led to one of the most representative governments in Europe at the time and although the monarchy would be restored later the memory of that brief representative government remained in their cultural memory. Charles XII refusal to bend in his principles was one of his greatest strengths but it also limited his flexibility in the political sphere (Derry, T. K. 2000).

Charles XII’s campaign in Poland was a stunning military success and a crippling wound to the Swedish Empire at the same time. Sweden is a very large country if judged by land area but relatively small when considering population. The climate and terrain of Sweden was not conducive to large populations and the territories conquered by Sweden were similarly large land areas. Simply put there were not enough Swedish people to hold the Swedish Empire. Russia lost huge numbers of troops in their conflict with Sweden. Even in their victories they often lost as many men or more than the Swedes. But the Russian population was much much larger than that of the Swedes and they were able to absorb loss after loss and still maintain strength of arms. Charles XII on the other hand scarcely added to the overall troop numbers under his command during the entire campaign and the single crushing defeat at Poltova was enough to unravel the Swedish military capacity for years to come.








References

Bain, R. N. (1899). Charles XII and the Collapse of the Swedish Empire, 1682-1719.

GP Putnam's Sons.

Derry, T. K. (2000). History of Scandinavia: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and

Iceland. U of Minnesota Press.

De Voltaire, F. M. A., & XII, C. (1801). The history of Charles XII, king of Sweden.

Nordstrom, B. J. (2000). Scandinavia since 1500. U of Minnesota Press.

Scott, F. D. (1988). Sweden, the Nation's History. SIU Press.

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