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Artillery personnel
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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 22 July 2012
The Dorpat naval disaster in 1704
Topic: Source criticism

On 4 May (Swedish style) 1704 a major disaster struck the Swedish naval squadron stationed at Dorpat (Tartu). Upon leaving the town on the river Embach it encountered a large Russian force and was within a very short time totally lost. The commander Carl Gustaf von Löschern Hertzfelt was killed when he blew up his ship Carolus. The commander of the garrison in Dorpat Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte very shortly started an investigation into the circumstances, but the records were lost when Dorpat fell to the Russians just over two months later. However, Skytte's own report about the siege of Dorpat is preserved. It was printed in 1916 and has because of this been readily available for anyone interested in this matter. Skytte's opinion is clear - the ships were lost through the stupidity and arrogance of Löschern. Löschern had spent the night before sailing from Dorpat celebrating and drinking heavily. Disregarding warnings and sound advice he had stubbornly sailed directly into the trap set up by the waiting Russians, so the responsibility for the outcome rested with Löschern only. 

I don't think it's an exaggaration to say that this is the dominant view of the matter. The Swedish writer Carl von Rosen, who in 1936 published a study about the war in the Baltic provinces 1701-1704, follows Skytte closely and so does Margus Laidre in his recent book about Dorpat during the GNW. Both authors do however mention that the local army commander Major General Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach was of a different opinion and that he instigated a new investigation. When I some years ago went through a lot of documents from the archives of the College of the Admiralty I found quite a few references to this matter and particularly to the intense effort Löschern's widow put into exonerating her late husband. Her opinion was (if I remember correctly) that Skytte had smeared her late husband and made him a scapegoat.

It is quite clear from the letters Schlippenbach sent to Governor General Frölich in Riga that he profoundly disliked Skytte. On 22 May 1704 he replies to a suggestion by Frölich that it would under the present circumstances be best to "caress" Skytte rather than starting an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the loss of Löschern's squadron. In Frölich's opinion the aging Skytte (who probably was around 60 years old) should instead be assisted by the appointment of a deputy garrison commander. Schlippenbach stated that he had indeed "caressed" Skytte, but only "won his own contempt". If Frölich wanted to appoint a deputy - fine. However, Schlippenbach feared that this would only make Skytte suspicious and besides - why would Skytte listen to his deputy when he didn't listen to Schlippenbach who was his superior? Ten days earlier Schlippenbach had outlined his criticism of Skytte in regard to the Löschern disaster:

1. If Skytte had used his 2 000 horse for reconnaissance he would have known about the arrival of the Russians.

2. When the ships had sailed from Dorpat the previous years they had always been preceded by scouting parties on both side of the river. Why had this not been done this time?

3. Why were the ships not escorted by units from the garrison? This had been done the previous years.

4. A senior officer from the garrison had always before been present when the ships sailed in order to keep an eye on the junior officers and the soldiers from the infantry. This had not been done this time even though Skytte had received specific orders from Schlippenbach to do so. Because of this some officers had stayed behind when the ships sailed, while others had fled without offering any resistance when the fight began.

This criticism may or may not have been valid. However, it's quite obvious that the fact that Skytte's journal has been available in print since 1916 has resulted in a rather onesided interpretation of the events. If greater attention was paid to the view put forth by Schlippenbach, by Löschern's widow and by her supporters the result would probably be more knowledge of the circumstances. At the very least it would mean a greater understanding of the personal rivalry that apparently existed between some of the leading figures.

Source: Letters from Schlippenbach to Frölich 12 & 22 May 1704, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 282, pp 190-193 and 211-213, Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs, Riga


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 12:01 AM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2012 6:01 PM MEST
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Saturday, 21 July 2012
To cross a bridge
Topic: Transport

In preparation for the planned assault on the Saxon positions south of the Daugava river, Charles XII on 17 April 1701  (Swedish style) instructed Governor General Dahlbergh in Riga to prepare the construction of a bridge. Unfortunately the conditions during the crossing on 9 July made it impossible to use the bridge in the way it was intended, so the bulk of the Swedish cavalry did not arrive until the battle was over. Apparently the bridge was subsequently donated to the city of Riga.

In the spring of 1702 the Riga City Council presented Dahlbergh with a proposed tariff for those using the bridge. Those on official government business (civilian or military) would get free passage, but otherwise the proposal looked like this:

A single person on foot - 1 shilling

A person on horse - 7 shillings

An empty peasant wagon (without horses) - 3 shillings

A basket wagon (without horses) - 6 shillings

A chaise or Berlin coach (without horses) - 12 shillings

A coach (without horses) - 18 shillings

Each person travelling in one of these - 1 shilling



Each horse, whether loose or part of a team - 6 shillings

An ox, cow or large pig - 6 shillings

A sheep, calf or small pig - 1 shilling

A barrel of salt or herring (without horse and wagon) - 2 shillings

A sack of flour or rye (without horse and wagon) - 3 shillings

A baker's (?) sack of flour or rye (without horse and wagon) - 3 shillings

A common sack of flour or rye - 2 shillings

A sack of malt, oats, barley or wheat  (without horse and wagon) - 2 shillings

A cart with flax seeds, including wagon and horse - 18 shillings

A cart with hops or leather, including wagon and horse - 24 shillings

A pipe of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 43 shillings

A hogshead of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 24 shillings

A tierce of wine or snaps, including wagon and horse - 18 shillings

A barrel of beer, including wagon and horse - 6 shillings

Two barrels of beer, including wagon and horse - 9 shillings

A sack of spent hops, [?] and coal (when it is carried) - 1 shilling

A quarter of butter, including wagon and horse - 8 shillings

A barrel of vinegar (?), including wagon and horse - 12 shillings

A struse (loaded or not) which wants to pass the bridge when it's opened - 15 shillings

A boat - 6 shillings

Source: Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 371, pp. 427-428, Latvijas valsts vestures arhivs, Riga

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 3:43 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 21 July 2012 5:50 PM MEST
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Sunday, 15 July 2012
A diplomatic web
Topic: Diplomacy

In 1699, on the eve of the Great Northern War, Sweden had an extended network of permanent diplomatic and commercial representatives all across Europe. One of their duties was naturally to look out for Swedish interests abroad, but a major task was also to keep the government in Stockholm informed about political developments. The main focus lay traditionally on Germany and western Europe, not least the Hague where a Swedish ambassador was in the middle of things as far as relations between France and the Maritime Powers were concerned. Eastern Europe was a bit different. There was a commissioner in Moscow (since 1688 Thomas Kniper), but no ambassador. Kniper was supplemented by Philip Vinhagen in Novgorod and Thomas Herbers in Pskov. I Poland there was a permanent ambassador, since 1698 Georg Wachslager (a native of Torun) and the commissioner Per Cuypercrona in Danzig. Included in this list should perhaps also Mauritz Vellingk be, as he was on a special mission to August II. 

These men, who were more or less permanent "listening posts", did not only correspond with the government in Stockholm but also with the Governor Generals in the Baltic provinces. They were in 1699 Otto Vellingk in Ingria (brother of Mauritz), Axel Julius de la Gardie in Estonia and Erik Dahlbergh in Livonia. These were all men of considerable experience. Vellingk, born in 1649, had joined the Swedish army in the 1660's and fought in the so called Scanian War 1675-79. Later he had been both a county governor (landshövding) and Governor of Scania. Axel Julius de la Gardie (born in 1637) came from one of the most distinguished families in Sweden. Grandson of the French immigrant Pontus de la Gardie and son of Jakob de la Gardie, he was the youngest brother of the late Chancellor of the Realm Magnus Gabriel de la Gardie. Axel Julius had joined the Swedish army as early as the 1650's and been a Councillor of the Realm since 1664. 

The most famous of them all was the Governor of Livonia, Erik Dahlbergh. Born in 1625 as the son of a commoner he had through his own ability (and a fair amount of luck) advanced  to the highest positions. A Count, a Councillor of the Realm and a Field Marshal since 1693 he possessed a military and administrative experience second to none. He was also, as modern research have shown, quite conscious of his position in history and willing to use some rather dubious methods in making sure that posterity appreciated this. 

Dahlbergh's information network in 1699 can be investigated reasonably well through the copies of outgoing correspondence in archive of the Livonian Governor General's office (Fond 7349,op. 1, vol. 51 and 71, Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs). For example: during the month of January Dahlbergh sent at least three letters to Wachslager in Warsaw, at least two letters to the envoy Leijonstedt in Berlin, to commissioner Cuypercrona in Danzig and to commissioner Herbers in Pskov. Knieper in Moscow, Rothlieb in Hamburg and Mauritz Vellingk got at least one letter each. Most of these men, if not all, likely also wrote regularly to Dahlbergh's colleagues de la Gardie and Vellingk and the three Governor Generals were naturally in frequent contact with each other. 

So the means of discovering what was being planned may not have been perfect, but it's clear that Dahlbergh well over a year before the Great Northern War broke out was quite suspicious of the Saxons. On 8 February 1699 he wrote to Charles XII about a recent visit to Riga by Jacob Heinrich von Flemming, a close advisor to August II. Flemming claimed that he just wanted to buy clothes for a new dragoon regiment, but Dahlbergh found him to be "a greater statesman than soldier and well versed in intriguing" (Fond 7349, op. 1., vol. 71). Towards the end of 1699 Dahlbergh had gathered enough information to be able to send Charles XII a fairly detailed outline of the Saxon dispositions. He found it quite suspicious that the forces stationed in Courland were equipped with a rather strong artillery and informed the King that according to a widespread rumour the Saxons were prepared to act if something happened in Holstein (Ibid., Dahlbergh to Charles XII, 27 december 1699). But, as is well known, at the very same time Mauritz Vellingk repeatedly assured the King that all was well in Dresden and that August II was a good friend of Sweden...


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:52 PM MEST
Updated: Sunday, 15 July 2012 11:03 PM MEST
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Saturday, 14 July 2012
A fresh start
Topic: Archives

About fifteen years ago I started to research the life of Admiral Gustaf von Psilander (1669-1738), one of the most famous naval officers in Swedish history. Some years later I got involved in an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Charles XII in the trenches outside Fredriksten fortress, something which eventually resulted in Peter From's book Karl XII:s död: gåtans lösning and the now defunct web site

During the last couple of years I have studied (among other things) the papers of General Adam Ludvig Lewenhaupt (1659-1719) and particularly how (and when) a substantial portion ended up in the old ecclesiastical library in Linköping. This has so far resulted in an article in Linköpings biblioteks handlingar no 19 called En karolinsk general och hans arkiv (A Carolean General and his archive), but many unclear points remain. In the course of this research I have taken an interest in the old Swedish archives from the Baltic provinces, particularly the papers of the Governor Generals of Livonia. These records, now primarily preserved in Riga and Tartu, contains much of interest for the student of the Great Northern War. Unfortunately they have not always been treated well. When the Swedish archivist and historia Per Sondén (1853-1955) came to Riga in the late 1880's he was horrified to find that these valuable records were kept under appalling conditions in Riga castle. Some bundles of documents were, he writes, "laying on the floor - or rather on the ground as there was no floor". It was also clear that the archive had been plundered as empty covers were scattered about.

Some ten years later the Russian authorities decided to do something about this and a commission was appointed. The task of sorting out the mess and writing a catalogue was given to Friedrich Bienemann junior (1860-1915). His job was undoubtedly very difficult, but the method used was perhaps not the best, particularly when it came to the period of the Great Northern War. Instead of sorting incoming correspondence strictly according to year and/or alphabetically, a large number of subject related volumes were created, such as Schreiben and Aktenstücke betr. die Fortifikation der livl. Festungen (Letters and documents concerning the fortifications of the Livonian fortresses). This means that letters from prominent Swedish officials can be found not only in volumes which bears their names, but also scattered throughout the archive.

Through the dramatic political changes which took place during the first half of the twentieth century this old Swedish archive ended up being divided between Tartu and Riga, resulting in an even greater confusion. Some records, not included in Bienemann's catalogue, have also turned up. In the 1990's the Riga part (fond 7349, Latvijas Valsts vēstures arhīvs) was microfilmed in a joint Latvian-Swedish project and it's at present available on microcards. Although very difficult and time consuming to work with due to the sometimes poor quality and the often chaotic content of the volumes, they are veritable treasure troves. Some of the blog entries will undoubtedly be based on these records.

I will hopefully be able to write a new entry about once a week, but this is at present a bit of an experiment.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 4:58 PM MEST
Updated: Saturday, 14 July 2012 9:19 PM MEST
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