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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 11 January 2015
Indexes : some notes
Topic: Archives

My attempt to create an index for the many GNW volumes in the archive of the Livonian Governor General continues. The database now contains about 13,000 entries. Of the letters and other documents about 800 are dated in Dorpat, about 350 in Narva, close to 600 in Reval, almost 1,500 in Pernau and about 800 in Mitau. The most prolific writers are Colonel Gustaf Ernst Albedyhl (750 letters), Major General Schlippenbach (600) and Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte (about 400). A chronological list would look something like this:

1700: 1,100 documents

1701: 2,000 

1702: 1,600

1703: 850

1704: 1,600

1705: 850

1706: 870

1707: 1,000

1708: 1,300

1709: 500 

The remaining consists mainly of undated items or documents older than 1700.  

It's worth noting (again) that the database at present covers incoming correspondence from civilian and military officials and some other volumes, but not the very large series of letters from various suppliants or the letterbooks of outgoing correspondence. The rather confused state of the archive is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that I have thus far found letters from Gustaf Ernst Albedyhl in 16 different volumes (!). 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:22 PM CET
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Sunday, 4 January 2015
The attack on Riga in 1700 - part 2
Topic: Livonia

The presence of Saxon troops in the vicinity of Riga becomes more apparent in Dahlbergh's correspondence when 1699 becomes 1700. On 29 January he wrote to De la Gardie in Reval, informing him that rumours were saying that the Saxons had been transferred to the King of Denmark, i.e. would be used for some kind of diversion after a Danish attack on the Duke of Holstein. There was not much cavalry in Livonia, Dahlbergh wrote, but the small force available had been sent to the shores of the Daugava. Dahlbergh would be much obliged if de la la Gardie put the cavalry companies in Estonia on alert. 

Two days later Dahlbergh sent a long report to Charles XII. There were no firm information yet, he wrote. One set of rumours suggested that the Saxons had been given to the King of Denmark and would be picked up by Danish ships for use in Holstein. However, Dahlbergh believed that this could well be an attempt to convince him that there was no danger to Riga. As the fortress Dünamünde was very weak he had sent an additional 360 men with 8 guns in order to discourage the Saxons, but as he did not dare to weaken the garrison at Riga Dahlbergh had ordered them to sneak back the same evening. Dahlbergh also told the King that a merchant in Riga had received word from Lithuania that Hetman Sapieha had told his people to abstain from transporting goods to Riga. The Governor General also pointed out that he had on two occasions appealed for the strengthening of Riga's defences.

The actions by Dahlbergh are also traceable in the orders he sent to various commanders. On the 27th of January he wrote to Major Haij at Kokenhusen, telling him to keep his eyes open. To von Ceumern, the leaseholder of Bersohn and Lubahn, Dahlbergh wrote that he was grateful for the information received, i.e. that once the Saxon troops advanced the local peasants would stop obeying the Swedes. Dahlbergh would be very grateful if Ceumern could  obtain accurate information about the Saxons. On the 29th Dahlbergh wrote to Col. Skytte in Dorpat, telling him that Saxon units were gathering near the border, but it was still unclear what their intentions were.


LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 52, Letterbook for 1700 (in German)

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 72, Letterbook for 1700 (in Swedish) 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:21 PM CET
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Sunday, 28 December 2014
Carl Gustaf Skytte again
Topic: Factoids

Some days ago my attention was drawn to the article (or rather part of an article) in Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon (Swedish Biographical Dictionary) which covers Carl Gustaf Skytte and the Skytte family. About Skytte's career during the first half of GNW the following is stated:

"1697 utnämndes S till kommendant i Dorpat och överste för ett värvat livländskt infanteriregemente. S blev ansvarig för förstärkningen av fästningen i Dorpat, som han framgångsrikt försvarade mot ryska angrepp. 1703 lyckades S besegra en överlägsen rysk styrka vid Wimarski, men följande år blev Dorpat belägrat av ryska trupper. S tvingades efter ett hjältemodigt försvar att kapitulera, och trots löfte om fritt uttåg fördes han till Reval och kvar-hölls en längre tid i rysk fångenskap. Han frigavs och blev 1706 utnämnd till generalmajor i infanteriet och fortsatte att delta i försvaret av Baltikum. Han var 1708 förlagd till Kurland och sändes följande år med sitt regemente till Litauen." 

The most interesting part here concerns the Russian attack on Dorpat 1704, which roughly translates as "Skytte was forced to surrender after a heroic defense. Despite promises of free passage he was brought to Reval and kept as a Russian prisoner for a long time. He was released and was in 1706 appointed Major General and continued to take part in the defense of the Baltic provinces."

Now, Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon is generally considered to be the most important Swedish reference work of its kind. It has been published since the late 1910's and the articles have over the years been written by some of the foremost experts we have (and have had). The part about Skytte is, particularly in light of this, absolutely awful. For starters - how could Skytte possibly have been a Russian prisoner of war in Reval in 1704?? The town wasn't captured by them until 1710... What makes things even worse is that Svenskt Biografiskt Lexikon works out of the Riksarkivet building in Stockholm - with literally hundreds of Skytte letters right under their feet (to Schlippenbach, to Charles XII, to Governor Generals Dahlbergh and Frölich and so on). In fact, not even this would have been necessary - Skytte's so called "journal" of the siege was printed in 1916 and it contains sufficient information for avoiding such a mistake.

As for Skytte's "heroic defense" there were obviously other opinions (as I have mentioned before), but such opinions are symptomatic of what happens when too much weight is given to works which are based only on the writings of one side  - in this case Skytte himself.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:32 PM CET
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Sunday, 21 December 2014
The attack on Riga in 1700 - part 1
Topic: Livonia

The archive of the Livonian Governor General contains a lot of material concerning the surprise Saxon attack in February 1700. Let's start from the very beginning:

On 11 january 1699 Governor General Dahlbergh informed Charles XII that some units from "The Royal Polish Army" had been quartered at Birzai, close to the Courland border. In order to find out more about this Dahlbergh had sent an officer to the area. A month later the Governor General reported that Lt. General Flemming had visited Riga for the purpose of buying various items for his regiment of dragoons. However, Dahlbergh remarked, Flemming appeared to be a better statesman than soldier and had a gift for "intrigues". 

Another indication can be found in a letter from Dahlbergh to the commander at Kokenhusen major Haij, dated 9 May 1699. Haij had apprently reported troop movements in Courland. The matter did not appear to be cause for concern, Dahlbergh replied, but it would do no harm if Haij very discreetly made inquiries. However, no spy should be sent.

More worrying signs started to appear towards the end of 1699. On 27 December wrote to Charles XII, telling him that seven Saxon regiments were quartered on the other side of Mitau, while one regiment was at Polangen. A lot of rumors were going around, but Dahlbergh was making preparations for an outbreak of hostilities following a "rupture" in Holstein.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 10:11 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 21 December 2014 10:12 PM CET
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Sunday, 14 December 2014
Russian prisoners at Neumünde
Topic: Food

On 26 February 1703 Colonel Joachim Cronman, commander of Neumünde (Dünamünde) fortress wrote to Governor Frölich in Riga about a problem. Old flour which had arrived from Mitau in March 1702 was still in storage and some of it was beginning to taste "terribly". Cronman was thinking about distributing the sacks that appeared to be OK among his own soldiers and then mixing the rest in the flour which was given to the Russian prisoners. 

In his reply to Cronman's suggestion Frölich seems to have disregarded the idea and instead concluded that this showed how urgent it was to complete the bakery at Neumünde. If for some reason some flour was unsuitable for baking bread it could be used for producing snaps.

Frölich was (as I have noted before) a man with many ideas. The following year he started a great baking experiment at Neumünde, in the course of which he took it upon himself to teach the bakers of Riga their profession.  


Uppsala University Library, Riga-Tartu collection, Box 3, Joachim Cronman to Carl Gustaf Frölich 26 February 1703 

LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 75, Carl Gustaf Frölich to Joachim Cronman 28 February 1703 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:31 PM CET
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Sunday, 7 December 2014
The Embassy of 1674
Topic: Diplomacy

In LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 73-76 is preserved  a considerable amount of material concerning the Swedish embassy to Moscow in 1674. Among the more odd items is a fragment of a letter book (June-July 1673) which once belonged to Gustaf Oxenstierna, the leader of the Swedish delegation. It contains information about the preparations for the journey, for instance the hiring of a translator and the purchase of presents. In vol. 76 there is a specification of how many horses and wagons the delegation needed. Count Oxenstierna should have 20 wagons, while his two colleagues would have to do with 15. The total number required was 169 - along with 148 horses (for riding). A curious item in the same volume is an unsigned and undated diatribe against the Russians, "this barbaric nation which does not care for reason or agreements". 

The volumes also contains a number of letters from Gustaf Oxenstierna and other members of the delegation to Governor General Tott and Governor Fersen in Riga. Some of the letters are coded, but luckily there is a key in vol. 74.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 11:05 PM CET
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Sunday, 30 November 2014
Otto Vellingk and the fear of a Russian attack
Topic: Generals

On 16 February 1700 (Old Style) Erik Dahlbergh wrote to Colonel Carl Gustaf Skytte in Dorpat and Governor Otto Vellingk in Narva to inform them of the Saxon attack on Riga. The two letters were mostly identical, but in the one sent to Vellingk Dahlbergh added that the attack had not been preceded by any sort of declaration. Because of this, the Governor General stated, it was difficult to interpret the situation. Were these Saxon troops in fact in the service of the Danes or did they represent a new enemy? The letter did not reach Vellingk for quite some time as he was away inspecting the border with Russia, but on 9 March he was back in Narva. Several couriers were on there way to Sweden, Vellingk wrote. The mobilization of the Finnish regiments had also started due to an order by Governor General de la Gardie in Reval, but Vellingk himself had not dared to take similar action without orders from the King. He was also under the impression that the Saxons were not planning a direct attack on Riga, but simply wanted to collect provisions in Livonia after consuming those that could be found in Courland. Vellingk was expecting the King's orders any day and hoped these would permit an attack across the river into Courland. In the Governor's opinion such a development would be welcomed by the Polish Republic as a means of getting rid of the unwanted Saxons. 

About the situation on the Russian side Vellingk stated that there had been a lot of rumours about an attack, but this was just reports by nervous merchants. Even the Swedish representative Thomas Herbers in Pskov had been struck by this fear, Vellingk stated. However, Vellingk continued, he did not himself believe these reports as it was well known that the Czar would not undertake anything while his negotations with the Ottoman Empire were continuing. News from Moscow further suggested that the Czar was busy with his fleet and such preparations indicated that he did not plan to start a new war.


LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 72, pp. 70-74, Erik Dahlbergh to Otto Vellingk, Riga 16 February 1700 

Uppsala University Library, Dorpat-Riga collection, Box 1, Otto Vellingk to Erik Dahlbergh, Narva 9 March 1700

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:58 PM CET
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Sunday, 23 November 2014
Adlerfelt's Histoire Militaire
Topic: Source criticism

One of the most popular sources for the history of the Great Northern War is Histoire militaire de Charles XII, roi de Suède (1741), presented as a work by Gustaf Adlerfelt (1671-1709). As the late historian Hans Villius showed in his dissertation Karl XII:s ryska fälttåg (1951) it is nothing of the kind, especially as far as the campaign of 1707-1709 is concerned. Histoire Militaire is in fact an extremly "dangerous" source in the sense that it, contrary to what is explicitly stated in the introduction, was heavily edited by Adlerfelt's son (who had no firsthand knowledge of the events). This resulted in many mistakes which are not present in the Gustaf Adlerfelt's original Swedish manuscript (published in 1919 under the title Karl XII:s krigsföretag).

The preserved manuscript is accompanied by various letters to Gustaf Adlerfelt, which bear testimony to the fact that he sought to collect information from various theatres of war. Another example of this can be found in a small collection of Lewenhaupt papers in Riksarkivet, Stockholm (E 4645). On 18 May 1706 Gustaf Adlerfelt wrote to Lewenhaupt from Pinsk about the latest developments, thanking the General for his willingness to send a copy of his journal. "My curiosity is legitimate and has to be excused", Adlerfelt writes. If it was possible to send the journal over Königsberg he would be much obliged. Later contacts between the two can also be established. On 23 February 1707 Adlerfelt wrote to Lewenhaupt from Altranstädt (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1., vol. 296, pp. 253-255). The wish this time was very different: a relative by the name of Ernst Magnus von Hargen, who was serving in the garrison at Wismar, was interested in obtaining a vacant spot in the Österbotten infantry regiment. The Colonel of the regiment, a friend of Adlerfelt, was favorably disposed and had promised to write to Lewenhaupt about it. Adlerfelt hoped this would settle the matter and assured the General that his relative was a very experienced officer. So how did it go? Well, according to a note on Adlerfelt's letter it arrived in Riga on 11 March. On the very same day Lewenhaupt appointed von Hargen to the vacant position and on 2 April Charles XII confirmed the appointment (Krigskollegium, Militiekontoret, Avlöningshandlingar., SE/KrA/0009/A/G IV b/59 (1707), page 509). 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:27 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 23 November 2014 9:28 PM CET
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Sunday, 16 November 2014
Systerbäck 1703
Topic: Battles

The known Swedish sources for the encounter at Systerbäck on 9 July 1703 are few. Most extensive is Relation von der Action, so den 9 Julii 1703 bey Sösterbeck zwischen der unter meinem Commendo stehenden under feindtlichen armee vorgefallen, printed by Yrjö Koskinen in 1865. This account was sent by Cronhjort to "Defensionskommissionen" on 14 July and is preserved in the committee's archive.

A couple previously overlooked Systerbäck sources can be found in LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 358 as attachments to a letter from Lt. General Georg Johan Maydell to Governor Frölich in Riga. Maydell had at that point not yet reached the army in Finland, but as a long time commander of a Finnish infantry regiment he undoubtedly had many contacts in Cronhjort's army. In the letter Maydell writes that the losses luckily hadn't been as bad as the rumours had been suggesting despite the fact that the action had started at 6 in the morning and continued until 2 p.m. The Swedes had lost 250 killed and 220 wounded, but the Russian losses were twice as high, Maydell claimed (according to Cronhjort's account there had been 203 killed and 184 wounded on the Swedish side). 

Maydell's sources seems to have been two letters, one from captain Maydell and one from captain Paykull (summaries attached to the letter to Frölich).



Riksarkivet, ÄK 243, vol.  107 (Letters to Defensionskommissionen from Cronhjort 1703)

LVVA, fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 258 (Miscellaneous letters 1693-1703) 

Handlingar till upplysande af Finlands öden under det Stora nordiska kriget / utg. af Yrjö Koskinen. - Helsinki, 1865


Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:39 PM CET
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Sunday, 9 November 2014
The action at Vinni 16 June 1708
Topic: Livonia
Some weeks ago Vlad Velikanov wrote about the action at Vinni on 16 August 1708. The Swedish literature on the subject is pretty meagre, basically just a few pages in Fredrik Hjelmqvist's Kriget i Finland och Ingermanland 1707-1708 (1909) and Fredrik Arfwidsson's Försvaret av Östersjöprovinserna 1708-1710 (1936). Both relied heavily on Kelch's Liefländische Historie and reports from Governor General Nils Stromberg rather than on testimony from actual Swedish participants. Such do exist, although fairly well hidden. Most detailed is a letter from Lt. Colonel J. F. von Liewen to Stromberg, dated 19 August 1708 (most likely an important source for Stromberg's own reports), which was copied and on 3 September forwarded to Deputy Governor of Riga Rembert von Funcken by Hans Henrik von Liewen (LVVA, fond 7349, op. 2, vol. 248, pp 1-6). Contrary to the descriptions by Hjelmqvist and Arfwidsson the report by J. F. von Liewen does not suggest poor behavior by any Swedish unit. Everybody did their outmost, Liewen writes, and the only reason for the defeat was the overwhelming numerical superiority of the enemy.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:58 PM CET
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