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The Great Northern War
Sunday, 5 May 2019
An inquest
Topic: Battles
On 29 July 1702 three soldiers who had participated in the Hummelhof battle were interrogated in Riga. They all belonged to Governor Frölich's regiment. Jörgen Busch belonged to the Colonel's Company, Heinrich Sassau to the Major's Company and Hans Schwartz to the late Captain Pontus Company. 

Busch stated that as the army left the camp in order to march towards Hummelshof a force of 150 horse and 100 foot were ordered to hold a bridge. They were accompanied by two guns under the command of a captain of artillery. Busch didn't know the name of the cavalry commander, but lieutenant Campenhausen was in charge of the infantry. They remained at the bridge the entire night. At about 6 the following morning the enemy was so close that skirmishes broke out with the outposts. At that point the cavalry commander wanted to remove the guns and reported to Major General Schlippenbach how the situation was developing. The enemy was pressing very hard and the cavalry commander decided that he could not wait for Schlippenbach's instructions. Order for retreat was given and the cavalry was supposed to cover the infantry, but as the enemy kept pushing forward the cavalry started fleeing through the infantry. Lieutenant Campenhausen and ensign Nöding, who were on horseback, were caught up in this. 

Some of those on foot were cut down, others tried to save themselves by running away and hiding in the bushes. Busch and his companions were hiding for three days and two nights before they made their way back to Riga. Five other soldiers from their regiment had been hiding with them, but they became separated. 

Sassau stated that Busch had told the truth and Schwartz added that they on the third day saw the enemy burning a lot.

Frölich ordered that the three men should be searched. How much ammunition did they have? Busch had 23 cartridges in his bag and his musket was loaded. He also had a number of musket balls of various sizes. Schwartz had 20 cartridges, 30 full-sized musket balls and several smaller ones. Both stated that neither the guns nor the cavalry had fired a single shot and no one had given any orders to resist. Sassau was a pikeman and he said that the pike had been broken by a fleeing horseman. He had no ammunition. 

Source: EAA.278.1.XV-0-50 (Rahvusarhiiv, Tartu)

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:46 PM MEST
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Sunday, 17 March 2019
A very long hiatus
Topic: Battles

For various reasons I have not posted since November. I'll try and improve upon that during the coming months. 

Recently I found myself in a discussion focused on the Poltava battlefield. Some ten years ago a group of Swedish archaeologists went to Poltava in order to "solve" the many remaining questions once and for all. At the time I expressed considerabler skepticism, being under the impression that too much had happened to the battlefield since 1709 for such a project to be successful. 

As far as I can tell from written reports the investigations yielded very limited results. The only real cluster of ammunition was for example retrieved in an area which traditionally has been seen as the western part of the fortified Russian camp. Most of the retrieved ammunition was judged to have been Russian, but the presence of a couple of "Swedish looking" musket balls resulted in the conclusion that the Russian camp was smaller than it's shown on most plans and looked more like it appears on the well-known Husson plan 

The Husson plan is indeed among the oldest, as it was printed in the Netherlands already in 1709. From some letters found by Anna Croiset van der Kop it would seem that the Russian envoy Andrey Matveyev was involved in the publication, i.e. it had some sort of Russian source. But where does that leave the official Russian plan?

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:29 PM MEST
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Sunday, 30 July 2017
Vellingk, Oxenstierna and Maydell
Topic: Battles

The large autograph collection in the Ericsberg archive (preserved in Riksarkivet) contains a tremendous amount of valuable material concerning the GNW. The basis for the collection is in this regard the personal records of the Chancery President Bengt Oxenstierna (1623-1702) and his son-in-law Magnus Stenbock. The autograph collection consists of more than 300 large volumes and is divided into four parts. The Swedish royal autographs part naturally contains a large collection of letters from Charles XII, but these are rather well known. More rarely used are letters from Swedish officers and officials, particularly those who were not in the King's immediate circle.

One example is an undated letter from Otto Vellingk, apparently written in May 1700 and addressed to Bengt Oxenstierna. It deals with both political and military matters. It was originally accompanied by a letter to Vellingk from Major General Georg Johan Maydell, who together with Major General Johan Ribbing commanded the advance guard of the relief army sent towards Riga. Vellingk acknowledges the receipt of a letter from Oxenstierna, dated 24 April, in which the Chancery President apparently had written about "secret" and "reliable" warnings about more enemies than the Saxons and the Danes. Oxenstierna appears to have suggested that King Augustus would be discouraged from further expanding his war against Sweden because the Emperor had ordered several regiments in Bohemia and Moravia to march towards the Saxon border. Vellingk believed, he wrote, that this was very likely as their was no signs of any Russian support for the Saxons. The Swedish representative in Moscow Thomas Kniper had, Vellingk continued, also received written assurances from Golovin that the Czar was about to send an envoy to Sweden and then a large embassy. Golovin had stated that he would be a member of this embassy and had asked Kniper to inform the Swedish authorities of this so that a ship could be ready at Narva. This, Vellingk concluded, indicated that the Czar did not have any hostile intentions. There was also a shortage of money in Russia, forcing the Czar to mint copper coins worth a lot less than the existing ones. The Czar was still in Voronezh, where he was most upset with his Dutch Admiral Cruys because the latter had not been able to put to sea. 

Vellingk had started to raise two new regiments in Ingria. One consisting of 600 dragoons and another of 1,000 foot. He had also ordered the nobility to make preparations for mobilization. 

There was no indication of the Polish Republic being inclined to join King Augustus and reports from Riga were encouraging. The Saxons had been driven off and forced to back to the other side of the Düna.

Vellingk enclosed a report from Maydell, dated 7 May, which nowadays is in another volume: Colonel Klingspor had been sent ahead with 600 men and orders to stop the Saxon marauders. On 26 April Klingspor had encountered 200 Saxons at Wenden. Maydell had on 4 May driven off more Saxons. Later he had come upon 300 Saxon dragoons and 500 Cossacks. He had ordered Klingspor to move around the enemy force and strike it from behind, but as soon as the latter appeared they fled. Many of them were caught by the Finns and killed. After these three defeats the enemy had been struck with such fear that he had abandoned a fortification at Neuermühlen,thrown 36 guns into the river, retreated back across the Düna and burnt the bridge. The mood in Riga was ecstatic, Maydell wrote. 


Riksarkivet, Ericsbergsarkivets autografsamling, Vol. 39 and 232

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:34 PM MEST
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Sunday, 13 November 2016
The artist Erik Dahlbergh
Topic: Battles

Örjan Martinsson has recently in his blog published a number of short essay on drawings and paintings of GNW war battles and the possibility of using them as sources for uniforms and colours. On 24 January 1702 Governor General Dahlbergh wrote a letter to the Chancery College, outlining the work he had managed to do in regard to illustrating the battles of Charles XII. In the letter Dahlbergh emphasized that these drawings should be seen as a continuation of the ones he had previously made for the military history of Charles X Gustavus and Charles XI. The list goes as follows:

1. A geographical drawing of the town of Riga with surroundings and the events from the beginning of the war.

2. Two prospects of the town of Riga and the events.

3. A drawing of the bombardment and the assault on Dünamünde.

4. A scenographic drawing of the crossing of the Düna and the great victory.

5. An ichnographic drawing of the fortress of Narva and the Russian siege.

6. A perspective drawing of Narva and the Swedish assault on the Russian camp.

7. A prospect of Mitau.

Would the Chancery please look at these drawings and determine if they were suited for illustrating a future history of the war? If others were able to produce better works, Dahlbergh would be happy to take a step back. His only wish was to show devotion to his dear Fatherland.

Some of the preparations for these drawings can be followed in Dahlbergh's correspondence, mot notably in the letters from Henning Rudolf Horn in Narva (which I believe I have written about earlier). These shows that Dahlbergh was very adamant about getting accurate sources for his own works, i.e. had drawings made by officers who had been present in Narva during the siege.

Source: Riksarkivet, Kanslikollegium E VII: 5-6 



Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:39 PM CET
Updated: Monday, 14 November 2016 9:34 AM CET
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Sunday, 6 November 2016
Schlippenbach's "enemies"
Topic: Battles

In his analysis of the Errastfer defeat the major general hinted that certain people were responsible for delaying his expected reinforcements. Who were they? One of Governor General Dahlbergh's letters gives a hint. On 4 February 1702 he wrote to Gustaf Adolf Strömfelt, saying that Schlippenbach in rather shocking terms had accused him of delaying the rasing of militia cavalry units from the small towns in Livonia. Dahlbergh found Schlippenbachs expressions most offensive, but was prepared to drop the matter if Strömfelt made the situation clear to the major general. If the latter was not prepared to let the matter rest it would be best to let the King decide. The following day Dahlbergh wrote to Strömfelt's colleague Mikael von Strokirch, telling him to use a planned visit to Schlippenbach's headquarters for persuading the major general to make better arrangements.

The King had already reached a similar conclusion. On 16 January he had written to Strokirch and Strömfelt, ordering them to go to Schlippenbach and discuss how the Livonian army was to be supplied. On 18 February Strömfelt sent a report to Dahlbergh. According to this it had soon become clear to the participants that Livonia could not provide everything the soldiers needed. The discussions had ended with the decision to send a formal appeal to King, asking him for support from Stockholm as well as from Finland. They were reluctant to ask for more recruits from Livonia leaseholders and officials as it could cause further supply problems, so the recommendation was requests for horses, wagons, clothes and shoes rather than for more men. As for the militia from Estonia they were rather troubled by the costs and suggested it would be more useful if these units were used as a recruiting pool for other regiments, thereby bringing the raw recruits into already well disciplined and well trained units. 

On the same day Strokirch, Strömfelt and Schlippenbach also sent a joint report to Charles XII. The King replied on 10 April, categorically dismissing the suggestion to make changes to the militia units. He also turned down the proposal to bring supplies from Finland as these must go to Cronhjort's army. As for the supplies in Livonia the King rejected the suggested construction of depots. It would be better if the supplies were kept at the various estates where they were produced, thereby limiting the risks for massive losses if the enemy attacked. To permanently keep 1,000 horses by the army (another proposal) just for bringing forward supplies was simply impossible and could not be accepted.


LVVA, Fond 7349, op. 1, vol. 74

Riksarkivet, Livonica II, vol. 126 

Riksarkivet, Riksregistraturet

Riksarkivet, Gustaf Adolf Strömfelts arkiv, vol. 4 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:31 PM CET
Updated: Sunday, 6 November 2016 8:48 PM CET
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Monday, 31 October 2016
After Errastfer
Topic: Battles
Shortly after the battle of Errastfer Schlippenbach sent the King an extensive account of the battle. A couple of days later (5 January 1702) he added his own analysis. Schlippenbach emphasized that he had always attempted to serve Charles to the best of his ability and the defeat was primarily a result of the cavalry not having done its duty. It was impossible, the major general wrote, to rely on such soldiers. Could the King not send some reinforcements? The units sent in September had only partially reached him. Albedyhl’s dragoons were supposed to be 300, but were only 60. Only ¼ of Stenbock’s dragoons were with the army and Wactmeister’s regiment was 120 men short.
Schlippenbach’s brother had also been ordered to join the army, but his unit had neither received supplies nor weapons. I dare not, the major general stated, write everything because of fear that those who have caused these problems will take their revenge on me. The artillery had done very well, especially captain Sonnenberg who had been forced to assist in loading the guns. The guns had 25 to 30 shots each and had used up all but 3-4. If the cavalry had had not begun to flee so quickly the guns would have been saved and the army could have stopped its retreat much earlier.
Schlippenbach had, he stated, done everything he could and no one could reasonably blame him for the defeat. All the officers had done their duty, so the fault lay with the common soldiers in the cavalry. The major general had brought the executioner from Dorpat to set an example. 
Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol.  24.

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 5:46 PM MEST
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Sunday, 25 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 4
Topic: Battles

On 25 July 1700 Vellingk was forced to inform Charles XII that the Saxons had been able to cross the Düna in force. In light of the General's previous optimistic assessments of the situation this must have embarrassed him. What had happened?

Well, according to Vellingk the cause was Governor General Dahlbergh's failure to keep the army supplied. Otto Vellingk had, he stated, repeatedly asked Dahlbergh for bread but none had arrived. Major General Maydell's advance party of 2,700 men had been without bread for three days and had been unable to remain. On the 20th Vellingk had anvanced towards the Saxons with his entire army, but they had already built a formidable camp near the shore. Vellingk placed his force in battle order, but could not get the Saxons to attack. Finally he had been forced to withdraw towards Yxkull. The Saxons pursued and as Vellingk considered them to be significantly stronger (about 14,000 to 15,000 men) than his own army (about 8,000), he decided to continue his withdrawal. During this two squadrons of the Åbo Cavalry were attacked, but the enemy pulled back when these were supported by infantry. The enemy had used a peculiar tactic. Each horseman was supported by a musketeer sitting beside him, who stepped forward and fired when the cavalry was about to attack. The Swedish cavalry withstood this fire as well as the fire from the Saxon horse and returned fire. A lot of Saxons were killed and 30 Saxons horses with empty saddles came over to Swedes. 

In this situation Vellingk sent an officer to Dahlbergh, informing the Governor General that only two options remained. Either to fight the Saxons, in which case Dahlbergh ought to send 2,000 men from the Riga garrison or further retreat. Dahlbergh replied by sending Governor Frölich and colonels Wangersheim and Albedyhl, who informed Vellingk that no reinforcements from the garrison were possible. Instead Vellingk should detach 4,000 infantry from his own army as well as some cavalry. Vellingk accepted and kept only 1,600 infantry. Dahlbergh also took 400 cavalry. This meant, Vellingk wrote, that the garrison in Riga was stronger than the Saxon infantry.

Vellingk hoped that the events would not be harshly judged by the King. All the officers under his command had conducted  themselves very well and he hoped that no one would be able spread unfavorable stories. He could have crossed the Düna himself, but too much was lacking. There was a shortage of fodder for the horses and the two Governor Generals had not been very helpful. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29 

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:49 PM MEST
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Sunday, 18 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 3
Topic: Battles

Vellingk sent his next report on 18 June.  According to the general not much had changed. A lot of Saxon deserters were arriving. They were alla saying that the wages were poor and the supply situation very bad. Vellingk had spread a rumour about how extremely well all deserters were treated and hoped this would further weaken the enemy. 2,000 Lithuanians had arrived in the enemy camp as well as 800 Guards and four regiments of cavalry. The Saxons force was now estimated at 7,000 horse and three regiments of infantry. Further units had been recruited in Lithuania and Courland, but their strength was unknown. More Saxon units were expected by sea, so Vellingk estimated that he would soon be outnumbered. This made him believe that a change in approach was needed, i.e. it was no longer advisable to attempt a crossing of the Düna. Vellingk were instead planning to strengthen his defensive positions and wait. Presumably the enemy's supply situation would continue to worsen and the desertions increase. But, Vellingk assured the King, if he could get supplies for two weeks an attack on the Saxons would still be possible - the general did not consider the Saxon and Lithuanian cavalry to be of any higher quality. If just the Danes were beaten quickly - then a Swedish relief army could land in Courland and force the Saxons back to deal with the new threat. Vellingk could then cross the river and drive them into Dünamünde. 

The report reached Charles XII in Malmö at the beginning of July after passing through Stockholm. The King was not pleased. On Vellingk's letter he personally wrote (rough translation): "We have received several of your reports at the same time, the last being dated 18 June. As we note from the content that you still haven't crossed the Düna we are quite displeased. We are convinced that something good could have been achieved if you had just crossed the river before the enemy received reinforcements. We certainly appreciate the need of being careful, but it should not put a stop to all initiative." This reply was sent to Vellingk on 5 July. 

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 7:02 PM MEST
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Sunday, 4 September 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 2
Topic: Battles

Otto Vellingk sent his next report on 6 June 1700. He started by alluding to his letter two days earlier and the supply problems he would encounter if the army crossed the river into Courland. Vellingk then went on to say that he believed the King would not favour an attack into Courland since this would risk drawing not only the Polish Republic but also Brandenburg into the war. Vellingk believed it important to proceed carefully and not move ointo Courland until the army could be supplied from Livonia. The General also stated that he was about to send letters two Hetman Sapieha and to the Duke of Courland in order to ascertain their views on the situation. Otto Vellingk also suggested that it would be beneficial to open an additional mail route from Pernau to Sandhamn, thereby improving on the two existing (Pernau-Reval and Dorpat-Narva). A couple of yachts going back and forth between Pernau and Sandhamn would speed up communications.

Vellingk's next report was sent on the 11th. He informed the King that the letters to Sapieha and the Duke of Courland had been sent. Three Danish ships had appeared outside Dünamünde and small vessels had been seen travelling between them and the fortress. Major Rosen had been sent on a scouting mission to Courland and the Lithuanian border in order to find out if rumours about Russian reinforcements to the Saxon army were true. Rosen had found that they were quite false. As for more Saxon troops, Vellingk believed it unlikely they would arrive before Midsummer. Before then Vellingk hoped to have collected enough supplies to be able to cross the river. It was unfortunate, Vellingk concluded, that many believed all sorts of rumours. Not long ago the peasants near Dorpat had started to run away because Colonel Skytte had spread unfounded reports.

On the 13th Vellingk again wrote to the King, informing him that Duke Ferdinand had replied. The Duke was in the Saxon camp and had had taken command of their forces. In his letter the Duke made it clear that his own service to King Augustus was an entirely different from him being the administrator of Courland. The Duchy remained outside the conflict. As Vellingk had been made aware of disagreemnts between the Dowager Duchess and Duke Ferdinand he had written to the former as well. The Saxon army had received reinforcements from Lithuania, but these consisted of untrained and badly clothed men. Vellingk remained intent on crossing the Düna, but the supply problems were still unsolved. For the time being it seemed better to remain on the defensive.

The news indicated that the Polish Republic would remain neutral. Sapieha's decision to support King Augustus with troops had caused a rift in Lithuania and many had gone over to Oginski. Vellingk had spread a rumour that a relief army of 8,000 had arrived from Sweden and he hoped that this would spread fear among the Saxons.

Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 8:20 PM MEST
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Sunday, 21 August 2016
Vellingk's second thoughts : part 1
Topic: Battles

On 12 May 1700 Otto Vellingk wrote to Charles XII, stating that he was on his way to join the relief corps. Major General Maydell, who was in charge of the lead units, had attacked the Saxons and made them go back across the Düna. Vellingk was very pleased with this development and assured the King that rumours about strong Saxon reinforcements most likely were untrue. As the Polish Republic apparently did not want to have anything to do with the war it was likely that Augustus could find no other support than Oginski's forces. No matter what the Saxons brought, Vellingk stated, he would put up such a resistance that they could not cross the Düna again even if they managed to gather a force three times as strong as Vellingk's. He would even, Vellingk assured Charles XII, seek out those places where the glorious Gustav II Adolf had crossed the river and make an attack on the enemy (these proud boasts are quite similar to the ones made by Major General Cronhjort in Ingria when he took charge after the battle of Narva. The results there were also quite similar to the ones Vellingk managed to produce....)

Vellingk reached his army on 17 May. On the 21st he wrote the King again. All was well and the enemy back on the south side of the river. The fear among them was great. The duchess of Courland and many citizens of Mitau had already brought their possessions to safety, while some nobles had requested letters of protection from Vellingk. The general has assured everyone that no harm would come to them who respected the Treaty of Oliva. Three bridges were being built in order to make an attack across the river possible and Vellingk stated that he would soon make the Saxons regret their attack on Riga. In Vellingk's opinion the Saxons enterprise was a speculation, attempted in the hope of receiving support from Hetman Sapieha, Brandenburg and the Czar. But these hopes were all in vain. According to rumour Lt. General Flemming had been arrested in Warsaw and Patkul had gone into hiding. Prince Ferdinand of Courland had tried to raise three regiments, but the nobility had refused. The recruitment attempts by the Saxons had completely failed. Colonel Göhr had promised to recruit 400 but had arrived in camp with just 40. Everything was going fantastic!

A couple of weeks the mood was a bit different. On 4 June Vellingk wrote that he needed more supplies before he could cross as the Saxons already had taken everything on the other side. It would also send bad signals if Vellingk went into Courland and had his army live off the land when the Polish Republic remained neutral. 


Source: Riksarkivet, Skrivelser till Konungen. Karl XII, vol. 29  

Posted by bengt_nilsson at 9:25 PM MEST
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