GREAT NORTHERN WAR
Telpukhovski, Col. B. S.
Excerpts translated by John Sloan
Northern war was carried out during a period of complex internal and
international relations. It was linked to the War of the Spanish Succession,
which occurred at the same time. The war resulted in major international change
with the emergence of Russia as an European power. The war had much for
development of military art. The Russian army lead western Europe armies in
quality. Peter and his helpers worked out new strategy and tactical principles
which were the basis for the study of Rumantsiev and Suvorov.
Before the war Russia lagged the West. The people were illiterate and the
country had a medieval government structure, basically that of Ivan III. The
army lagged in weapons and organization
In Moscow in the 1600's many native and foreign master artisans appeared. They
began building and created manufacturing industries, especially at Tula and
Kashir uezd. The Russian B. I. Morozov built iron works and the Moscow man
Gavrilov built factories at Olonetski. The factories served the governments
military needs. They made cannon and other firearms. The Izmailovski factory
belonged to the Tsar. There was also an increasing foreign trade. Leather
amounted to 5 mil rubles a year. Among the imports were tobacco, luxury items,
firearms and military supplies. Shipping at Archangel developed between 1600-21
Peter used the situation in Western Europe to help him get his objective. Peter
knew less how to exploit this situation.
Organization of the Russian army in 1690's
Peter used the first years of his reign to maximum to strengthen his army.
He had inherited an army which could not succeed even in getting to the Black
Sea. In 1682 the army consisted of 9 razryads or corps. In these there were 38
soldier regiments with a total of 61,000 men. There were also 21 streltzi
regiments with 20,000 men, several reiter and lancer regiments with 29,000 men,
the dvoriani and deti boyarski cavalry of 31,000 men. The total was 81,000
infantry and 60,000 cavalry or 141,000 in all. In addition there were the
supply and service people, the cossacks and the Tatars. The armed force was a
temporary body which assembled on call. The dvoriani was a militia with no
fixed organization. They were armed mostly with cold weapons, sabers, palash,
knife, bows, crossbows, the berdisch, lances, axes, etc. Only the men of the
big landowners had firearms.
The permanent force was the streltzi and the foreign type (soldier) regiments.
The streltzi organization lagged and no longer met military requirements. The
best units were the foreign type (soldier) regiments. They began to be formed
in the first quarter of the 17th century but still did not have a final
They were not made up mostly of foreigners. They were mostly Russian serfs,
part of the officers, especially the senior officers were foreigners. The
artillery was mostly siege weapons and very slow moving. The basic
insufficiency was the lack of a unified organization. The lack of a single
system of organization of units, training, supply, and the lag in technical and
cultural level. The small number of native officers was also a problem.
The reform of Peter as his other reforms was not accidental. but it was
prepared by development of the Russian state. The needs created also the
answers. The basic characteristic of the new army was it had the principle of
formation in support by the state budget. This differentiated it from the army
of the 17th century. Instead of pomestiniks and temporary enlistments, it was
established on the basis of yearly recruitment for service from all classes,
excluding only churchmen. The service was for life. The army received a
permanent administration and tactical organizations, formations, tactical and
disciplinary codes. One unified supply system was created. The systematic drill
and tactical training were established. All Peter's attention was on the army
As a youth, Peter devoted his attention to military. He set up his
"play" regiments. He leaned from foreigners such as the Dutch
merchant Timmerman, and the Scot general Gordon. Other leaders knew the army
needed changes but nod were strong enough to make it happen.
In 1691 the Preobrazhenski and Semenovskhy regiments were formed. The basis and
model for the new regular units. Also there were two select Moscow regiments.
The command of the Butirski regiment was Patrick Gordon and the second
"select" regiment was commanded by Lefort and named for him. The
command of all forces was united into the Preobrazhenski Prikaz
:"izbe" although formally it remained in the other prikazi.
Gordon and Lefort had special talks with Peter on questions of military art,
history, etc. Gordon acquainted Peter with various means of conducting war with
the activities of Montecuculi and Tureene and their influence on the
organization of an army.
Theoretical occupations were fulfilled with practical drills. The manual with
the musket and pike and volley fire of small groups and units were practiced.
Attention was paid to individual training, especially target practice, and to
the activities of grenadiers, who were at first in one company in Gordon's
Then joint training of all regiments was added. Then to combined arms training
of infantry and cavalry and artillery and engineers. Maneuvers were
accomplished each year. large maneuvers were conducted in 1691, 1692, and 1694.
The 1691 mission was to teach combined infantry and cavalry operations. The
maneuvers were two sided. One side had 4 select regiments in order to show the
superiority of the new regiments over the old ones. On the other side were
streltzi and dvoriani militia. The new regiments won.
Peter also paid attention to the navy. In 1688 on the Yauza River he had an old
English ship. This he called the grandfather of the fleet. In 1689 he had a
ship on Lake Pereyaslav. Soon he had more. He learned to act on board a ship.
Peter decided tot put a fleet on the White Sea. The lake was insufficient for
training. so in 1693 and 94 he went to Arkhangel'sk. There he saw foreign ships
and met traders. He saw the great disadvantages Russia had with no good port.
The Archangel voevoda, F. M. Apraksin, was ordered to build a town on
Solombalksi island and build a shipbuilding wharf. At that place Peter ordered
constructed the first Russian 44 gun ship and he bought a second from Holland.
Peter returned in the fall of 1694 and held a grandiose maneuver. The location
was a wide plain near Moscow on the bank of the Moscow river. A fortified town
Kozhukhov, and village of Kolomenskoye. IN the river bend opposite Kozhukhov
they built a five cornered fortified camp with a wall five arshins high and a
moat four arshins deep. This maneuver was Peter's first step for the new
campaign against Azov.
Campaigns against Azov
Peter had to conclude alliances in the West to avoid being isolated. Until
the first Azov Campaign during peace Peter used his experience of West Europe
armies to strengthen Russian regular army. We can't say exactly when Peter made
the decision for the Turkish (Azov) Campaign. In the autumn of 1694 and winter
of 1695 he began campaign preparations. By Spring all was ready.
Peter renounced the old strategic campaign direction across the steppe to
Crimea and selected an new direction across the Azov Sea. This caught the Turks
In June 1695 the Russians began the siege of Azov. It was a series of
unsuccessful assaults throughout the summer. In the fall Peter had to raise the
The campaign of 1695 showed a series of shortcomings in the Russian army. There
was no general command over all the units. The plan did not foresee the need
for a fleet for a blockade of the town. The army was still weak in tactical and
engineer training and preparedness for assault of fortified places. The
engineer operations were out of order due to a lack of knowledgeable people.
After the failure Peter did not lose spirit. But he started new preparations
for a second campaign. Now he built a flotilla. By the fall the fleet was
constructed. During the winter he prepared the troops. Mostly they practiced
assaults on fortifications. The command of the whole army was given to the
boyar Shein, the first Russian generalissimo. On 19 May 1696 the army arrived
at Azov. The new flotilla blockaded the town. After a fierce battle on 19 July
the fort surrendered.
This campaign showed the shortcomings were overcome. First, the plan was
well-made. There was one commander. The operations were conducted by the
combined army and fleet. The artillery and engineer activities were still not
The Azov campaign was only the beginning of Peter's plans for his entrance into
the Black Sea area. He still had to capture more Turkish fortresses to get to
the Sea through the Kerch straits. This required a more powerful fleet. So
Peter began building such a fleet. For this he organized "kumpanstva"
of nobles and church officials, who were ordered to build ships. One ship for
each 10,000 serfs or one ship for 8000 church peasants. There were 18 secular
and 17 religions companies created. Also townsmen were ordered to build boats.
Peter called from Holland, England, Venice, and Denmark master shipbuilders. He
put them into his service both to build ships and to teach the Russians how to
Reorganization of the armed forces
For the war with Sweden Peter made major preparations for industrial
development to support the army and state. The army needed reorganization.
Peter made up a plan before going on a trip abroad. While abroad he studied the
army organization and recruited officers and specialists and asked about his
proposed plan. H could test his views and reforms. On his return he decided on
The year 1699 was the chief turning point in the organization of the Russian
army. Peter disbanded the Streltzi and gave a ukaz on instituting a permanent
army of 60,000. Later this was greatly enlarged.
The army was formed of serfs levied on the noble households. Preobrazhenski was
the location of the commission for induction and training. The head was F.
Golovin and Adam Weide. Recruits came under Peter's direct attention. In all 27
infantry regiments and 2 dragoon regiments were formed. The infantry had two
battalions of five companies each. In some regiments one company was a
grenadier company and the rest were fusiliers. The regiment had 1200 lower
ranks, 35 under officers, and 3 staff officers.
The dragoons were formed in Moscow of 1000 men each. Each had 10 companies. The
new regiments ere united into divisions. The commanders of divisions were
Avtonom Golovin, Anikita Repnin, and Adam Weide. Weide was the son of
foreigners, who had been in the "play" regiment with Peter and was
self educated in military literature. He was one of Peter's closest assistants
in the creation of the army.
Peter gave Golovin the task of training the officers from the dvoriani for
infantry service. Training for officers and men was not done by the old method
of the 17th century, but by new "articles" in one unified system.
This system was set up by A. M. Golovin "Stroyevoye polozhyeniue 1699
goda" (Service regulations of 1699). Later he completed the
"Uchyeniyem dlya grenodyerov" (Instructions for grenadiers) and the
"Kratkoye obiknovyennoye uchyenie" (Short standard instructions).
These served as the official regulations without basic changes until 1716. In
1699 A. Golovin and A. Weide wrote two more documents "Rotniye pyekhotniye
chini" (Infantry company ranks) and "Statii voinskiye kak nadlyezhim
soldati v zhitii syebtya derzhat, v strouu i v uchyenii kak obkhoditcya"
(Military articles on how a soldier must conduct himself in life and how to act
in formation and in training).
These documents were edited by Peter and were official rules for training till
the publication of the "Military Regulations" of 1716. These with
supplementary instructions put out as experience dictated, were the basis for
the later Military Regulations. The experience of Western Europe and the
peculiarities of Russia formed the basis. They told the duties of all ranks and
gave rules for formations, tactical training. They were major steps forward.
The army was armed with fusils, a weapon with a bayonet, and with a sword.
The range of the fusil was 300 steps and its accuracy was not very great. Part
of the infantry had pikes. The dragoons had fusils (of 12 punt weight without
bayonet) and the palash (sword) and two pistols.
Peter introduced new uniforms and accoutrements. The infantry had green caftan
and the dragoons a blue mundir. The units formed up an trained every day except
holidays. The basic formation for infantry was six ranks, but in 1704 it was
cut to four ranks. The manual of arms was very simple: loading for fire,
present arms, carry arms and stack arms.
The cavalry at first had no basic regulations. They were trained by the
infantry regulations. The basic formation of dragoons was in three ranks in
line. Each horseman and line was separated by three pace interval. Each man
executed his turn individually. A whole rank charged together frontally.
Formations were simple to allow for rapid training. By July 1700 the newly
formed regiments were trained in the manual of arms and reformed. From an
external viewpoint they made a good impression. The main obstacle slowing down
the training was the absence of commanding cadres. Many of the foreigners
called into Russian service had very weak preparedness themselves. some of them
went about their work unconscientiously. As a result of this, Golovin suggested
preparing officers from the dvoriani rather than use the "slave"
Soon events showed that much more was needed to accomplish the creating of a
good army, that could face European armies. In very difficult times, during a
war, and on the battlefield, they gained experience. The hard conditions had
fruitful results for the future. All changes in organization and training and
methods were the result of military experience not peacetime theory.
On the eve of the war Sweden was one of the strongest European Powers. It
had a first class army and fleet and an empire around the Baltic Sea. Its navy
had 42 ships of the line, 12 frigates, 13,000 sailors and 900 merchantmen that
could be used for war. It had large quantities of military supplies. It was
clear that such a war would need much skill from Peter.
Peter made his first move to try to units some allies, Denmark and Poland,
In 1700 Augustus II besieged Riga but Peter was not ready for rapid action. he
awaited peace with Turkey. He sent an ambassador in April 1699 to
Constantinople in a warship whose appearance was like a bombshell to the Turks
"Fortress" The treaty came on 3 July 1700. Peter succeeded thus in
securing his rear before Swedish war. On 19 August Peter declared war and
invaded Swedish territory. He had an idea to capture Narva and Schlesselburg.
On 2 March 1700 he wrote Golovin from Voronezh on the necessity to organize
reconnaissance for the campaign. For this task the stolnik Korchmin was sent.
he had studied engineering abroad. Peter warned Golovin to be sure that
Korchmin was not seen, because the Swedish ambassador knew he was trained and
would guess his purpose, revealing the secret.
Before the war Peter managed to do only the first steps in preparing the new
army. It still could not really conduct serious operations. The army did have
25 infantry regiments, two cavalry regiments and all Russian artillery. IN
addition the dvoriani militia participated under the command of Sheremetev. The
army totaled 33 regiments and totaled about 40,000 men.
Siege and battle of Narva
On 25 October the Russians reached Narva. By then Charles XII had already
managed to put Denmark out of the war. Frederick of Denmark signed a peace the
same day that Peter received word of the Treaty of Peace with Turkey. Augustus
did not push his siege of Riga energetically until the Russians appeared at
Narva, but merely awaited their help. But then Augustus raised the siege, thus
allowing Charles to support Narva. When the Swedish army assembled at
Helsingfors the Russians had been at Narva for half of October. ON 9 September
the first detachment of Prince Ivan Trubetskoi arrived and on 23 September the
detachment of Buturlin and Peter I himself. From Pskov and Novgorod the
artillery of 66 cannon arrived. ON 14 October the detachment of Golovin arrived
and then the 5000 pomestnik cavalry under Sheremetev. The troops commanded by
Repnin, 10,000 men, formed in the south were still en route. It took over a
month to assemble the army. This was typical for the time.
The Fortress of Narva was on the left bank of the Narovi River, 15 km from its
mouth. It was a strong fortification. ON the right bank was the town,
Ivangorod, built by Ivan III. Ivangorod fortress was connected to Narva by a
bridge. In order to capture Narva it was necessary to destroy the bridge and
siege Ivangorod, or else the garrison of Narva could go out and cross over to
Ivangorod. Therefor there was a simultaneous siege of both towns.
Peter arrived together with the foreign experts and generals, the Duke de Croy
and Baron Allart, sent by Augustus II and the same day they made a
reconnaissance of the fortresses. The engineer general, Allart, was in charge
of the engineer effort. He was considered a great specialist. In action he did
not justify the hopes placed in him. In stead of personally conducting the
reconnaissance he delegated that to second rate people and occupied himself
with criticizing the Russian generals. Seeing the Tsar with pencil and paper in
hand proceeding to the dangerous task of close reconnaissance, Allart told him
to have someone else do it. To which the Tsar replied with the words of Paul
the Apostle "Those who work will ear" and further remarked that
"Whoever is a coward should go to the rear (trains)" and continued to
work. After the reconnaissance the plan was drawn up. It consisted of
simultaneous occupation of both river banks. Besides this, expecting the
appearance of a Swedish relief force, they decided to build a double wall of
circumvallation on the left bank, from the river bank above the town to the
bank below the town. The walls were not uniformly separated. The space between
varied from 600 sazhen on the right end to 40-50 sazhen on the left. In the
center where the main position was located the distance between the lines was
about 120 sazhen. The narrowness between the lines, especially on the left and
the barracks hindered internal maneuver.
The army was distributed in the following manner:
on the right flank were the group of General Golovin, 14,000 men;
in the center on the hill of Germansberg was the group of Prince
Trubetskoi, 6,000 men;
on the left was the division of Weide, 8,000 men.
to the left of it, between the fortified lines on the left flank to the
river bank were the irregular cavalry of count Sheremetev, 5,000 men.
the siege artillery park of 145 weapons was partly placed on line with 22
cannon and 17 mortars, and all the rest of the artillery operated from
positions built opposite Ivangorod.
We must note that notwithstanding the large quantity of artillery, the
Russian defense in the field was weak. There was also a shortage of shells. The
main quarters of the Russians was on the right flank on Kamperholm Island.
The bombardment of Narva began on 20 Oct and continued with short breaks almost
to the appearance of the Swedish relief army. But the Russians had no success.
Sheremetev detachment was sent on the Revel road on 26 Sept and on 30 October
reached Vezenberg. But on 25 October the Swedish detachment of Velling, which
had left Revel on 12 October, having traveled 180 versts approached Vezenberg.
Sheremetev did not find a good defensive position. He feared the Swedes could
turn his left flank and cut him off. Therefore without a battle he retreated to
the village, Purttes, 36 versts away. Velling successfully used the Russian
failure to conduct a reconnaissance of the Swedish forces to get his advance
guard into Purttes and by surprise fell on the Russians on 26 October from the
village of Vargl. The Russian soldiers were in houses without any kind of
security measures. From the moment of attack they had to defend themselves
individually. The Russian position became still worse when the Swedes burned
A few brave Russians broke through the encirclement and brought the news of the
Swedes to Sheremetev, who was located in the rear, between Povinda and Iov.
Sheremetev quickly despatched 21 squadrons of cavalry, that arrived at the
critical moment. The Swedes were attacked in turn by part of the Russians in
their rear and had to fight out of encirclement. However, Sheremetev instead of
digging in there, after the success, decided to retreat to the village of
Peter was very unhappy about that move as, in his opinion, a line of defense
should have been set at Purttes. he demanded an explanation from Sheremetev and
categorically demanded that he hold Pukharog. Sheremetev, to justify his
action, wrote that the terrain at Purtts was unsuitable.
On 16 November the Swedish force by surprise fell on the cavalry of
Sheremetev at Pukharog, 32 versts from Narva. It began to retreat out of order
toward Narva. The retreat lasted all night and on 17 November it became known
to Peter that the Swedes were attacking Narva. However Peter still did not know
that it was Charles XII himself who was attacking, since the necessary
reconnaissance had not been made.
Then Peter prepared to flee to Novgorod in order to prepare reserves and start
negotiations with Augustus II. ON the eve of his departure it is clear that
before receiving news of the attack at Pukharog, Peter put the command in the
hands of the Duke de Croy. He gave him instructions on what to do and on 18
November in the evening left for Novgorod. On 18 November Charles with his main
force arrived at Lageni, located 10 versts from Narva. In order to inform the
garrison in Narva of his help he ordered two cannon salvos fired. having
reconnaissance data from Latvian peasants and from his own spies Charles made
an unseen approach to the Russian lines. ON the night of 19 November a heavy
fog cam in. Under of which the Swedes advanced, keeping silence. By morning
they fog became heavier and changed to snow. The Darkness was so thick that one
could not see 50 paces. Charles told his followers the darkness will help us as
it will be hard for the Russians to find out our numbers. At about 10 AM the
day lightened and the Russians saw the Swedish ranks. To the sound of trumpets
and kettledrums, with two volleys of cannon, the Swedes invited a battle.
There was no answer from the Russian camp. A council gathered at the Field
Marshal, Sheremetev, realizing that the fortifications would hamper action
suggested that a small force be left to watch the Narva garrison and all the
rest be gathered in one strong force and issue out to meet the Swedes in the
open field. But this correct advice was not taken. The Duke de Croy was afraid
that the Russian forces would prove unprepared in open battle and declined to
offer battle in this manner. This fear proved unfounded in later battles.
The council decided to keep the army in place. Thus the "Swedish king
could freely choose his place of attack and be assured that he would only have
to face part of the Russian army , because the crowded location prevented use
of all units to support each other" (Quote from D. Buturlin, Military
History of Russian campaigns in the 18th Century, St. Petersburg, 1819. p.
By remaining in place the Russian command in essence gave the initiative to
Charles. Charles seeing that the Russians were staying in the trenches decided
to attack. Having conducted reconnaissance and having data form spies, Charles
saw that the Russian center was most strongly fortified. Therefore he decided
to attack the flanks in order to defeat them in detail. The Swedish right flank
for the attack was led by Velling with 11 battalions of infantry and 24
squadrons of cavalry. The left flank was under general Renshild and the King.
They had 3 columns with total of 10 battalions. In addition in front of each
column went 500 grenadiers carrying fascines. With Charles was also his
personal guard, the Drabant Corps.
The King planned also a reserve of 12 squadrons of cavalry and the artillery
was divided into two parts, according to the two objectives. At 2 PM the Swedes
rushed to the attack. They carried confusion into the Russian ranks.
Sheremetev's cavalry jumped into the river and fled. The new cavalry regiments
fled across the bridge to the island of Kamperholm at the other end of the
line. The bridge collapsed form the weight and rush. This increased the panic.
The high command under the Duke de Croy made up of foreigners, fearing a
soldiers rebellion, at the beginning of the battle surrendered to the Swedes.
However despite this treachery, the Russian soldiers under command of their
officers stoically fought with the Swedes in the trenches and also fought the
garrison, which made a sortie.
A specially bloody battle continued on the right flank. Here the Russian could
not put up resistance as units were moving to the bridge and retreating from
the Swedes. However the Preobrazhenski and Semenovsky regiments standing in
squares stopped the Swedes. They covered the retreating units and even threw
the column of general Renshild into disorder. Then the King appeared there, but
he could not break the strength of resistance of these two regiments. They
continued fighting until evening securing their assigned positions. Night came,
halting the battle.
On the left flank the defense continued by the division under general Weide,
who was wounded early in the battle. They were cut off from the Russian right
However the morale effect on the army from having all its high command taken
prisoner, especially the abandoned general staff administration, and the
Russian generals not knowing the situation in each half of the army and the
disorder in the Swedish army, decided to capitulate under terms of retaining
For negotiations with the Swedes Buturlin was sent to Charles. Buturlin
demanded free retreat for the Russians with their weapons across the bridge to
Kamperholm Island. It is clear already before this appearance in the Swedish
camp, the King received via Velling a not from Weide which said "Cut off
from the rest of the army, I decided to defend to the last ounce of blood;
however I am ready to accept honorable capitulation and surrender on reasonable
terms if they are received."
Under such conditions, when as yet not one Russian unit had laid down its
weapons, Charles knowing the disorder in his own army agreed to the Russian
suggestion. However, he broke his duty. During the crossing, separating the
generals and officers from the soldiers, he ordered them to surrender their
weapons, and then all of them about 700 were taken prisoner.
The Swedes themselves helped the Russians to quickly repair the bridge so that
they could speed up the crossing to the far bank. At 4 AM the crossing began
for the remanent of the right flank forces. The Semenovsky and Preobrazhenski
regiments crossed the river and did not surrender their weapons. It began to
get light. On the battlefield their still remained the left flank division.
Weide and his soldiers could see how the Swedes were ready to attack them and
despite that, the soldiers under Weide's command awaited bravely the renewed
attack. Up galloped an adjutant of Prince Dolgoruki with an order to surrender.
The Russians who on the evening before under Weide's command had fought
excellently rejected that offer at first, not wanting to obey generals who were
in captivity, and preferring death to shameful surrender. A second time the
adjutant with a declaration that as the result of agreement concluded with the
Swedish king, they had to lay down army and General Weide, seeing that the
large part of the Russians had fallen on the field of honor, fled or retreated
and the rest were wounded and hungry, himself decided to convince the troops,
who finally agreed to surrender on terms of withdrawing with honor.
Weide's division crossed the bridge as a long ribbon. Passing by Charles and
his suite, the troops laid down their weapons. Then they crossed the Bridge and
in disorder, without their leaders, moved toward Novgorod. Many soldiers died
en route form hunger and cold. Thus ended the unsuccessful battle. The Russian
forces lost the battle not only because they were not yet prepared for serious
war, but also first of all as a result of the treason of the foreign generals.
Nevertheless the Russian forces in the battle with the Swedes displayed courage
Of great interest for us is a dispatch on the action of the Russian and Swedish
forces at Narva, that was given by Hummert when crossing over from the Russians
to the Swedes. Afterwards, when Hummert decided to repent, he wrote Peter I,
"the forces of your highness and so great, that they can simultaneously
fight three or four enemies. the people are so good themselves, that in any
case it would be impossible to find better, but not the chief need is simple
direct orders and training. No one wants to do his duty, they think only of
their own comfort and fortune."
Further, Hummert remarked that the Swedes conduct careful reconnaissance and
intelligence work. But the Russians don't know anything about the enemy.
Thus for example at Ivangorod beginning the breach at the most fortified
spot, where the walls were newest, double, with strong vaults in which were
batteries. There nothing could make a breach. When Russian guard regiments were
in squares and put up decisive resistance, the Swedes were in fright and
confusion and could not give a repulse. They were on the hairs breadth of
disaster. Hummert shows that the Swedes were in bad shape. Count Wrede of
Charles' staff also notes that the hungry Swedish troops, who had not slept for
some time, when they broke into the Russian camp became drunk and disordered,
so their officers could not get them into formation. He said "If the
Russian general having 6,000 under arms had decided to attack us we would have
Operations in 1701-05
After Narva Peter strengthened his alliance with Augustus. In February of
1701 he held a meeting at Birse in Samogetia. The Polish landlords demanded to
be given the Ukraine for their participation. Peter promised 15,000 to 20,000
men for Augustus and 100,000 pounds of powder and 100,000 rubles a year. The
War of the Spanish Succession helped Peter to continue the war against the
Swedes. On 5 August 1702 Peter wrote Sheremetev that the war in Holland with
France was helping them.
Peter paid careful attention to international scene. He wanted to keep the
Swedes busy in Poland. Peter went to great trouble to create favorable opinion
in West Europe. His manifestos emphasized that he only wanted a entre to the
Baltic for trade and he offered peace on minimum terms. But Charles expected
success and refused to compromise. He considered the Russians an easy enemy and
went after Augustus first. ON 13 December 1700 he waited at Narva and then
moved to Dorpat for winter quarters. In the Spring of 1701 he struck at the
The Russian army quickly recovered after Narva. Two weeks after Narva Peter
ordered Repnin to put the defeated men form Narva back in order. Sheremetev
with the dvoriani militia detachment of Novgorod razryad and the cossacks were
to cover the border. Besides this, Peter ordered him to use part of the troops
to raid and attack the Swedes. Novgorod, Pskov, and Pechora were all fortified.
A new regular army was formed. In December a new recruitment was held to fill
up the old regiments and for new regiments. It gave the possibility to create
ten new dragoon regiments. The Guards, Preobrazhenski and Semenovski regiments,
were turned into officers schools to train the new command elements. Golovin
taught drill and tactics to the officers and men according to the
"Articles". Peter paid special attention to creating a more sure
system of administration and command and better system of organizing the units.
The general military administration was conducted by T. Streshnev. The
organization of dragoons was conducted by Boris Golitsin.
Vinius was ordered to rebuild the artillery. Peter lost nearly all his
artillery at Narva. Vinius fulfilled the order . In a year he made 300 cannon.
the Quality of the cannon surprised even foreigners. All the church bells were
melted for the cannon. Other measures were also taken to increase manufactures.
Peter built new factories expressly to supply military needs. In 1703
Olonetsk was laid out. And later Sigirskie iron factory, in 1710 special powder
factor at Petersburg and Sestrorotski arms factory. In 1712 the arms factory at
Tula, in 1714 the Liteini court at Petersburg, in 1715 the Okhtenski power
Russian military manufacture grew so fast especially artillery production, in
the first quarter of the 1700's it is clear that although in 1701 they only
made a total of 268 cannon, yet by 1718 counting only the ships of the Baltic
fleet there were already 2048 cannon.
At the Olonetsk factory they introduced the latest methods and means to make
weapons and speed up production. By the end of his reign Peter's artillery had
9000 cannon of them 5000 for the army and 4000 for the fleet. Peter paid
attention to the Ural industrial development. In 1702 he gave Nevgyanski
factory to the Tula master Demidov, who quickly built new factory at Tagil.
Peter sent 25,000 serfs to the Ural factories. Also serfs living within 100
versts had to serve at factories also by preparing wood, etc. Also for the army
supply Peter built 15 factories for wool cloth, 15 for linen, 15 for silk, 11
for leather, and 5 for cotton manufacture.
Peter pressed the native industry. He built two metallurgy centers, the Urals
and Petrozavodsk. there were 20 factories at the beginning and over 200 at his
death. Peter tried to improve techniques also. The uniting of the bayonet on
the firearm increased the attacking force of infantry. Making more exact the
functions of artillery, its division into regimental and siege, The dragoon
regiments received artillery and organized it so as it could move on horse and
in foot order. Peter reorganized the supply system. He set up a system of
magazines in the rear and on operational lines used by the army. Peter took
care of all details and checked on the fulfillment and on timeliness of supply.
He supervised development of operations plans.
Peter made up the plan for "little war" with the Swedes that had to
continue until the Russian army would be trained in the art of victory.
Therefor the plan of action after Narva followed this idea. Peter commanded
himself but also tried to develop initiative in his commander.
Charles launched an offensive in the Spring of 1701 against Augustus, who
had 20,000 Russians and was trying to besiege Riga. But the allies did not work
closely enough. Charles unexpectedly attacked the Saxons on 9 July 1701. He
crossed the Dvina River almost in the face of the enemy. The Swedes defeated
Steinau, who lost all his artillery and 2,000 men. The Swedes lost 500. Then
the Swedes moved into Poland.
This was extremely fortunate for Russia. Augustus was a fine ally by drawing
the Swedes out of Russia. This gave Peter the opportunity to gain time and to
take measures for defense. Charles left 15,000 men to defend Swedish territory
from the Russians, of them 8,000 man detachment of Shleppenbach at Dorpat and
the rest under Krongiort in Ingria. The main Swedish force went against
To cover his border Peter distributed his army in this manner:
30,000 men under Sheremetev at Pskov
10,000 under Apraksin at Novgorod and Ladoga
A detachment under Repnin returned from Courland to Pskov
Thus against the 15,000 Swedes the Russians had 40,000 and in a year they had
It is not true to say the Russian campaign of 1701-05 was only active
defense as some say. Still during this period Peter achieved important
strategic results in the east part of Finland gulf. Peter demanded that
Sheremetev send units into Latvia to destroy small units of Shlippinback. This
campaign lasted all of 1701.
Battle at Erestfer
Only in January of 1702 did Sheremetev with 17,000 men fight Shlippenback
at Erestfer village, 50 versts from Dorpat. In this battle, units of
Schlippenback lost one half their force and six cannon, and the remainder
barely could retreat to Sagnitsa. This first victory over the Swedes thrilled
Peter. He said "in order to defeat Swedes we have to assemble two to their
one but soon we will begin to beat them with even numbers." After Erestfer
the Russians gained courage to operate against the Swedes. In July of 1702 the
Russians defeated the Swedish flotilla at Chudski and Ladogski lakes. In this
same month Sheremetev for the second time defeated Schlippenback, at
Hummelshof. In this battle nearly all the Swedish infantry was destroyed, of
6,000 only 500 remained. Loosing all artillery and flags, Schlippenback with a
small number of cavalry retreated to Pernov. The Russian forces took the
Swedish bases in east Lifland and returned home.
At this time Apraksin's detachment successfully operated against Krojgiort, who
he defeated at the River Izhori on 13 August 1702.
These victories convinced the Russian army that the Swedes could be defeated.
Russians gained experience in battle After victories in Lifland Peter decided
finally to open a way to the sea. For this he had to capture two fortresses on
the Neva River, Noteburg (former Oreshek) located at the exit of the river from
Lake Ladoga and Nienshantsem on the Okhte River.
All winter and summer they conducted preparations for the sieges. AT the end of
September 1702 Sheremetev and Repnin's forces were united near Noteburg. Peter
arrived there at the head of his guards regiments coming from Arkhangelsk. For
the siege of Noteburg the forces were disposed on both banks of the Neva,
besides this, the Tsar concentrated on Lake Ladoga at the entrance of the Neva
a flotilla of 50 large boats brought there on his order. The siege lasted about
two weeks. On 11 October, 1702 he ordered an assault. The first assault was
thrown back, but brave Prince Golitsin, so that the troops could not retreat,
ordered the boats away from the shore and again launched an assault. At the
second assault the Swedish commander ordered a cease fire and signaled
surrender with drums.
Peter renamed the fort Shulesselburg, that is key to the sea.
In the Spring the next year Peter decided to seize the other fortress
guarding the Neva at the mouth of the Okhte, Nienshants. At the end of April
1703 the Russians concentrated at Shulesselburg and on 1 May the siege of
Nienshants began with a heavy bombardment. The Swedish garrison had to
surrender in 12 hours.
On 5 may after the capture of the fort two Swedish ships arrived and dropped
anchor n of knowing the fort had fallen to the Russians. Peter and Menshikov
with two guard regiments attacked the ships and captured them. This was the
first naval victory over the Swedes. With the capture of the fort Peter cut the
Swedish communications between Karelia and Latvia and prepared a strong
defensive line on the river.
After careful reconnaissance, on 16 may Peter laid out a fortress of six
bastions on an island Lustland, where he had 20,000 men working and named it
Petersburg. On the island Yani Sari he built the fortress of Peter and Paul. To
defend the entrance way in 1703 on Kotlin island he built fortress Kronshlot
armed with 14 cannon. Besides this on the Kitlin island he placed a battery of
60 cannon. The commandant of Kronshlot was given instructions on what to do if
ships cam in. The first point said to defend the citadel with all strength to
the last man.
At the beginning of the war Peter considered creating a strong Baltic
fleet. Only with such a fleet could Russia be a strong naval power. At the end
of his reign the fleet had 48 ships of the line, 800 galleys and small ships
with 28,000 men.
On 21 January 1702 Peter ordered Tatishchev to build on Ladoga Lake 6 naval
ships of 18 guns and on the Syasi River from Ladoga to 30 versts on the Pash
River that falls into the Svir there were special wharfs built for 4 frigates.
The ships were built at Arkhangel'sk.
In 1701 the Swedes tried to attack Arkhangel'sk by preparing in secret. But
the Russian government took defensive measures. IN 1700 voevode was ordered to
build a fort and keep careful watch. In 12 July 1701 the Swedes in seven ships
under English and Dutch flags like merchant ships approached the mouth of the
Dvina. After 13 hours shelling the Swedes had to retreat. In 1702 Peter
fortified the town and prot. The success of Sheremetev in Ingria in 1702
enabled the Russians to clear lake Ladoga and Lake Chud of Swedes. On Lake
Ladoga Colonel Ostrovski with a small detachment on ships defeated a Swedish
flotilla of 6 ships under Admiral Numers. When Numers again appeared on Lake
Ladoga Colonel Tirtov again defeated his. This time Numers lost some ships and
300 men and retired to Viborg. On Lake Chud colonel Tolbukhin put soldiers in
large boats and boarded three yachts and smaller craft of the enemy.
In February of 1703 on the Svir River they built a dock called Olonetski. There
they built a frigate and 7 merchant ships. Peter striving to speed up
construction worked there in 1703 he helped build in 6 weeks 7 frigates, 5
smaller boats, 7 galleys, 13 galliases, and 13 brigantines. The distance of
Olonetsni from the sea made construction there hard, so the military council
decided to build ships at Petersburg.
In 1708 the fleet had 12 frigates - 2 of 32 guns and 10 of 28 guns, plus 8
galleys armed with 36 pounder mortars and 7 6 pounder cannon and 6 smaller
guns. There were also 2 bombard ketches, 10 (shnyab) and 20 brigantines.
Between 1693 and 1700 the Russians opened 10 shipyards at which they built 170
ships. Between 1700 and 1715 they opened 12 wharves and built 530 ships.
Between 1715 and 1725 they built 3 more wharves and 195 ships. Peter also
bought ships from Holland and England.
Peter took steps to get native crews of sailors and officers. In 1701 the
Navigation School was opened and in 1715 the Naval Academy. Peter obtained
experts from abroad. some of these worked well and did much for the Russian
navy. One such was the Dutchman, Kruis (Crews). There were also English
shipbuilders Den and Nye. The Englishman, Perry, built the canal and docks. And
there was the professor of naval science (mathematics) Farvarson.
After Russia obtained its entrance onto the Finnish Gulf, they needed to defend
it. To do this they needed Karelia and Estonia. In 1703 the Russians captured
the fortresses of Yam, Kopor'ye, and Marienburg. In 1704 they moved on Dorpat
and Narva. Narva was quickly taken this time and from Narva Ivangorod was also
taken. The capture of Narva was a major political event. Only four years before
at that fortress the Russian recruits had been soundly defeated. The Russians
defeated the Swedes also on Lake Peipus. In Liefland and Estland they captured
Revel, Pernov, and Riga from General Shleshpenbach. In the gulf of Finland the
navy defended Petersburg. The Ingermandland campaign ended in 1704. Russia had
come to the Baltic Shore.
In 1705 Peter planned for future operations in the Baltic area. To build
north of the Neva a defense line. The question of Viborg and Keksholm arose. At
the end of 1704 and beginning of 1705 the situation in Poland grew worse and
Peter had to move large forces to Lithuania near Vilna in order to keep Charles
from Saxony. Peter also wanted to have the possibility to influence the
struggle in Poland between the supporters of Augustus and Charles. Taking
advantage of this the Swedes attacked Petersburg. The strong corps of General
Maidel operated on land. The corps managed to reach the shore of the Little
Neva River, but here he was defeated by the commandant of the Peter and Paul
Fortress, Bruce, and had to retreat. In June 1705 at sea at Kotlin the Swedes
under Admiral Ankershtern moved a significant naval force of 24 flags. With a
bombardment he tried to siege the fortress, but Vice Admiral Crews commanding
the defense of Kotlin defeated the Swedes even though he had less forces. Then
Admiral Ankershtern made a landing to storm the fortress. His two assaults were
defeated by Colonel Tolbukhin. The Swedes lost 560 men killed during the final
assault and then retreated.
The Ingermanland campaign gave the Russians much combat experience. They
modernized themselves and improved their tactics. The command element made
better strategy. At this time Peter already developed the idea to combine the
operations of the army and navy. This was put into operation after Poltava.
The campaign in Courland, Lithuania and Poland
Charles had a series of victories over Augustus, but could not catch him.
Understanding his aimless operations in Poland were useless, Charles decided to
cut Augustus off from his base and territory, Saxony. In the Summer of 1704-5
the Swedes accomplished this. As a result Poland split into two camps. In
Warsaw they elected Stanislas Leshchinski as King and The Sandomirski
Confederation was on Augustus' side. Peter had to be concerned about Poland. He
had to support Augustus and that part of the Poles supporting him because
Augustus kept the Swedes from invading Russia. Peter sent a corps under Prince
Golitsin. ON 20 August they unexpectedly appeared at Warsaw. Stanislas was
forced to flee and the Swedish garrison surrendered. Augustus had 40,000
troops, but could not use even these in good circumstances to stop Charles.
At the end of 1704 Augustus fled with his cavalry to Cracow and then to Lublin
and Brest Litovsk to unite with the Russians. His general, Shulenberg, managed
to escape across the Oder River, followed closely by the Swedes. Charles
decided to stop following Augustus temporarily and went into winter quarters in
Silesia for the winter of 1704-5. This location of the Swedes menaced
Augustus's supply lines to Saxony. The Russian government supported Augustus,
when Charles did not threaten Saxony, but when he arrived there the situation
changed. Augustus then had to surrender and agree to a treaty with Charles
against Peter. Peter, fearing such an end, the decisive defeat of Augustus,
decided to undertake more measures to support him. In the fall of 1704 Peter
sent Prince Repnin to Poland. In January 1705 Sheremetev with 50,000 men was
sent as well. By spring of 1705 the main forces of the Russian armies were
united at Polotsk. They had 40,000 infantry, 20,000 cavalry and large quantity
of artillery. This gave them a chance to operate on two fronts or lines of
attack - to the rear of the Swedes to draw them from Saxony - and against
Levenhaupt in the Riga region.
The Russian army by then was well organized and armed. The English
resident, Withworth, wrote the State Secretary Harley, that "Peter by the
power of his own genius almost without outside help, by 1705 has achieved
success exceeding all expectations and soon will raise his state to the level
of power which will threaten his neighbors."
In order to draw Charles away Peter moved his army from Polotsk to Grodno. The
proximity of the army to Poland gave it a chance to move to actively interfere
in the internal battle between the two Polish groups and give aid to Augustus.
Beside this at Grodno they were a threat to the Swedish army and its Western
operations since Grodno was on the route of communications of Charles and his
Baltic Provinces. This gave the Russians a chance to carry the war into foreign
soil. On 1 June 1705 the Russian army under Field Marshal Og'livy moved to
Vilnus and Grodno. to secure the operations line to Polotsk the forces of
Sheremetev, 8,000 dragoons and three infantry regiments, were moved to the
flank toward Courland and Riga to oppose the 9,000 Swedes under Levenhaupt.
General Levenhaupt took up a good position near Murmiza (Hemauerdof). On 15
July he defeated there part of Sheremetev's force. Peter did not get too upset
at this as he considered it a small incident in a big war. Sheremetev's failure
did not disturb the Russians from occupying the mina towns of Courland, Mitav
and Bausk. These were reached thus securing the line from Polotsk to Grodno on
the Riga flank. In the fortress at Grodno were Saxons, Russians, and Poles. A
fortified camp was built and supplies were collected. By the beginning of
December 1705 the united Russian army was distributed as follows. On the Narev
River near Tikotsin was the 12,000 man advance guard of Menshikov; in the
region of Grodno was Augustus' main force of 25,000 men; on the line Nur -
Brest was the Saxon/ Lithuanian force of 10,000; Hetman Mazeppa had 15,000
cossacks in Volhinia; and lead elements at Zamosta.
Nevertheless Charles remained nearly all summer of 1705 in a state of inaction
on the border of Saxony. Finally in the fall he moved to Warsaw where
Stanaslaus was crowned king. This kept Charles from military actions. At this
time the Russian and Polish partisans conducted raids in the Swedish area. One
time they even reached Prague, the suburb of Warsaw and captured there six
flags and 400 prisoners from Staanislaus's own guard.
Fearing a Russian campaign in the Vistula area he moved from Warsaw and
built a camp at Bron. Peter, thinking that Charles did not plan any military
action till Spring, on 17 December left his army with the command given to
Augustus. On 18 December Charles quickly crossed the Vistula and then forced
the Rivers Bug, Bobr, and Nieman to cut off the Russian forces in the Grodno
area, some 45 battalions and 6 dragoon regiment, from the Russian main forces.
Campaign in 1706-07
In the middle of January 1706 the Swedes prepared to attack the allied
fortified camp. Such unexpected and rapid movement to Grodno prevented an
allied concentration. There were only 30,000 remaining forces cut off by the
Swedes from Grodno and these were taken by Menshikov to Minsk. Augustus fled
from Grodno with four dragoon regiments and the command devolved to Field
Marshal Ogil've, who did not enjoy much authority among the Russians.
As soon as Peter heard of the Swedish move he hurried to the army. On the way
to Dubrovno he met Menshikov, form whom he learned the current situation. From
there Peter commanded the army himself. He ordered help for Grodno and to
prevent communication between Charles and Levenhaupt. Special attention was
paid to strengthening the old Russian frontier. Along the Western frontier from
Pskov to Bryansk and to the southern Steppes a gigantic abatis was built.
Important points and towns on the border were fortified by the local people.
Menshikov's corps covered the border area. The situation of the Russian force
in Grodno awaiting Augustus became worse.
The plan of Augustus was to hit Rensheld and then move on Grodno. On 4 Feb
at Fraushtadt the Saxons were completely destroyed by the Swedes. Augustus was
forced to flee to Cracow.
The Russian situation was critical. Only solution was to move the army out of
Grodno to Brest and then to Kiev. The move of the Russian army was accomplished
by the genius of Peter's plan. This was done in spite of the opinion of Oglive
who wanted to move to Warsaw. ON 27 Feb Peter gave Ogil've the order to leave
Grodno. He being an opponent of the plan did not want to move out of the
encirclement at Grodno to the Russian border. He sent a not to Augustus asking
to move to Warsaw. News of this came to Repnin, who told Peter. After this
Peter ordered that Oglive give a copy of all orders to Repnin, who in essence
commanded the army. On 22 march the ice melted on the Nieman and in one more
day Ogil've crossed the army to the left bank and moved toward Brest. He
arrived there on 4 April. Meanwhile the bridge over the Nieman built by Charles
was destroyed by the ice and the Swedes could not cross on 3 April. Charles
decided to move in force toward Pinsk to cut the Russian line. But despite
forced marches he could not reach the Russian army as it was already at Kovel
by the time Charles reached Pinsk. At Pinsk the Swedes waited a month and then
moved to Lutsk and Dubno and into Volhinia.
Charles seeing the Russians retire before him again decided to finish with
Augustus at home in Saxony. By September 1706 he was in Leipzig. Augustus,
rearing to lose his homeland, surrendered and the treaty was concluded on 14
September 1706. Augustus renounced the throne of Poland and recognized
Stanislaus as king. He agreed to give up prisoners and pay money. Now Peter had
no allies left.
Peter managed to keep the alliance with the Sandomirski Confederation under
Adam Sinyavski alive. On 7 Feb 1707 they signed an alliance. This was a big
victory for Russia. The Swedish King had to keep a corps against the Sandomir
league and he could not use the forces of Stanislaus, which were needed to keep
him in power. Russia also tried to keep Sweden and Turkey apart. The Russian
army from Kiev moved back to Volhynia in November and took up winter quarters
at ostrog the infantry under Sheremetev
At Zholkiev the cavalry under Menshikov
At Polotsk for observation on Levinghaupt in Riga was a detachment under
Petersburg was covered by Apraksin forces
Later Peter learned of the peace treaty signed by Augustus and hurried to
the army, which was by then in difficult condition.
To work out defense measures Peter a military council at Zholkiev in December
of 1706. They discussed the plan of campaign presented by Sheremetev. After
long discussion it was decided to met the enemy in Poland. "but not give
battle because in case of an unlucky occurrence it would be difficult to
retreat, and it would be better to give battle at our own border, when the
necessity would demand it, but in Poland to wear down the enemy at the river
crossings and by harassing the foraging parties"
This plan was the only means which could have cooled the ardor of the Swedes.
It took into account the Russian and Swedish capabilities and character. The
Swedish army did not use the usual supply bases but lived off the country more.
It traveled like a ship at sea and lived on the population. The plan envisaged
an active defense of the state border using all resources. Taking advantage of
the long stay of the Swedes in Saxony Peter undertook measures to organize the
defense. On 31 January 1707 he wrote Apraksin "It is already known to us
The western border was prepared. Along the entire extent of a 200 verst wide
border strip from Pskov to Smolensk the defense lines were create by cutting
the roads in woods and building special fortifications on the main roads. The
inhabitants of the border area prepared to move into the interior. Measures to
fight spies were taken as well.
In the spring of 1707 Peter decided to move the army form Volhynia in the
northwest theater to Polesia for the aim of covering the route to Petersburg
and Moscow. Meanwhile Charles filled up his army to 50,000 troops. On 11
September he crossed the Polish border and stooped at Slutsk, where he stayed
until the beginning of November. As soon as the rivers and roads froze Charles
at the end of December crossed the Vistula River near Vlotskavski and moved on
Grodno. On 26 January 1708 he captured that town. After a three day stop he
moved to Smorgon, trying to catch and beat the Russian army. But he did not
succeed. The Russian army successfully got away from the blow and by spring of
1708 was located on a wide front along the border prepared especially for
defense. The army was disposed as follows:
1 army of Sheremetev - 57,000 men concentrated near Vitebsk across the river
Ullou and occupied Borisov the cavalry of general Gol'ts watched over the
2 army of Apraksin had 50,000 men in Ingria
3 watch on Riga continued with 16,000 men under Bauer
4 Force of Prince Golitsin was distributed in garrisons in Kiev, Chernigov,
Nizhin, and Pereyaslavl.
5 Beside these the defense of the Ukraine was done by the Ukrainian cossacks
with Hetmann Mazeppa and with the help of a Russian brigade of 2,000 men.
As Charles always tried to catch Russians by surprise in a bad spot where
he would deliver his main blow, so this defense line gave the Russians the
possibility for rapid concentration against any maneuver, if the Swedes moved
on the Dnieper or Moscow or Petersburg.
By the time of the decisive engagement the Russians had disposed of 135,000
regulars. Only in Poland by the time of the encounter the Russians had 99,994.
The army command was in the hands of talented leaders. Sheremetev, who
commanded all the infantry and Menshikov, who commanded all the cavalry. the
selection of the defense line on the Ulloi River was successful as this
location of the army enabled the Russian command to block the operational route
of the Swedes through Mogliev and Smolensk to Moscow; and through Polotsk to
Campaign in 1708-09
Charles main objective was Moscow.
On 12 February 1708 the Saxon resident in Berlin, Westfall, wrote his
government that most letters from the theater of war say the Charles intends to
unite his army with that of Levenhaupt and then attack the Russians and move
straight on Moscow.
Augustus' secret agent sent to the Russian camp said that Charles some 10 weeks
before he left Saxony told the former King of Poland in secret, while they were
still agreed, that he would move by the direct route to Moscow and as soon as
he reached the capital he would call on the boyars, lords and have them name a
new Tsar and return to their old ways, including throw away their new weapons
The Swedes wanted to make Russia a colony and control its economy and
political development and push it a few centuries back. This aim was shown in
In Russian and Swedish historiography the idea has long existed that Charles
supposedly before Smorgon intended to send his army to Moscow via the round
about route through Pskov and Petersburg and to push the Russians from the
Finish Gulf. Only new materials show Charles' operational strategy. From this
comes the idea of why Charles pinned the Russian army to the Dnieper River.
with the coming of spring the Russians were strongly prepared for a decisive
battle. In Beshenkovichazx the military council session decided that if Charles
moved to unite with Levenhaupt for action in the Baltic area then the field
army would go to the aid of Bauer. If the King called Levenhaupt to his own aid
then the Russians would act against his rear. If the Swedes began to attack in
three different places, then the Russians would beat the Swedes in detail. The
movement of the Swedes on Kiev was considered unlikely. The decision of the
council shows that the Russian commanders were in a difficult position. They
did not know the Swede's intentions and therefor took measures to be ready for
any attack. However, the far seeing advisor, Menshikov, stated the he expected
the attack on Smolensk and Moscow. His expectation was right. The decision of
the council opened two important circumstances:
Charles kept a close secret of his plans
Russian commanders were unaware of Charles plan
Strategic plan of campaign in Russia was worked out by Charles already in
Saxony. It was to go by the shortest route and time to Moscow. But on the way
to fulfill this plan the heroic defense of the Russian army and white Russian
and Ukrainian peoples brought trouble and Charles had to change part of the
operation plan to try to keep to the strategic plan.
Battle of Golovichi
At the beginning of June 1708 Charles had a three month supply of food. He
left Radoshkovichi, where his main headquarters was located, and moving to
Minsk from where in 7 June 1708 he began to move toward the Berezina. Deciding
not to force the river at Borosova, he went south to the Berezina and on 14
June the lead units forced the river and on 17 June all the Swedes were across
the river on to the left bank.
The Russian army after a retreat, took up positions on the Golovchinski line on
the Babich River, covering the route to Mogliev, Shklov, and Kopis. They
occupied all the crossing sites. This put them on a 10 verst frontage. The
right flank which was held by Sheremetev with 13 infantry regiments and
Menshikov with 11 dragoon regiments was cut off from the center by a swamp. In
the center was Repnin with 9 infantry and 3 dragoon regiments. The left flank
was held by Prince Golitzin with 10 dragoon regiments and was also cut off from
the center by a swamp. Charles did not lose the chance and on 3 July by
surprise attacked Repnin's division in the center. At 2 PM the artillery fire
opened and within two hours the Swedish infantry crossed a ford in the Babich
Repnin's division turned out to be the decisive enemy, but as a result of the
superior numbers of Swedes the Russians could not hold and had to retreat. Then
the rest of the army drew back to the Dnieper. On 5 July they crossed the
Dnieper. On 8 July the Swedish army entered Mogliev. However, this local
success cost the Swedes greatly. They lost many men killed and wounded and
especially officers. This was the first baptism of fire for the Russians since
Narva. Although the battle at Golovchin showed some deficiencies in troop
command, it was already clear that the Russians could enter single combat with
the Swedes and Peter remarked _-
Operations after Golovichi
After the battle at Golovchinski, the military initiative went to the
Russians. after this the Swedes did not have success in a single significant
battle. This is shown by the operations after Golovchinski. The Swedes were
more careful and stayed in Mogliev until 5 August waiting for Levenhaupt's
corps, which received the order on 3 July to move to met Charles. The Russians
found out their march route to Mogliev. Therefor on 6 July in Shklov the
military council decided to move the infantry to Gorki with artillery and
trains, but if it would appear impossible to defend one crossing of the Dnieper
then to send the cavalry of each division for whom it is easier to retreat in
good order to Gorki and there to unite with the infantry to observe the enemy
and ascertain whether he will go toward Smolensk or toward the Ukraine and then
move before him.
Sheremetev began to show his full military talent. At the council he made the
proposal in which all the details of the way for securing the retreat of the
army to Gorki were worked out as well as measures for holding the Swedes a
while on the Dnieper. IN his proposal he mentioned destroying the bridges over
the Dnieper and removing all materials to the rear, to take all provisions from
the Dnieper river towns and to move the artillery and supplies to Smolensk.
Sheremetev paid special attention to organization of the rear area trains,
supply of the army with munitions and food; to cover the uniting of the Russian
army near Gorki Detachments of cavalry were placed on the line of the Dnieper
from Mogliev to Shklov.
At the same time Charles could not keep waiting for Levenhaupt's corps as it
was moving to slowly. But the main reason pressing the King to leave Mogliev
was that the Russian detachments were crossing the Dnieper and attacking the
Swedish army, whenever its units were separated. The Swedish foraging units
were especially vulnerable when out looking for supplies. The Swedish trouble
was there were no supplies in the area to be taken. Each day they suffered from
separate small encounters with the Russians and from partisan detachments. This
made Charles decide to attack without waiting.
On 4-6 August Charles crossed the Dnieper and moved toward Cherikov to turn
the main Russian position near Gorok. He did not intend to give a general
engagement until he united with Levenhaupt for the decisive advance on Moscow.
However the king was unable to complete the turning of the Russian Army. Peter
was able to move his main force from Gorok to Mstislavl and the lead units
united in the village of Dobroe. They took up positions there covered by swampy
river Belaya Natopa.
On 26 August 1708 the Russian military council met in the town of Podluzhe and
decided that the cavalry and infantry regiments would be split into three
divisions under the command of Sheremetev, Menshikov, and Gol'ts, all of whom
then went to their assigned divisions. This decision showed that the Russian
high command, not knowing where the Swedes might move, decided to fight them by
units. But for this in order to be more mobile, the Russian army was split into
three divisions. ON 22 August the Swedes went from Cherikov to Mstislavl with
the aim of continuing toward Smolensk. Along the course of the Black Natopi
River toward Molyatich the Swedish advance guard moved under command of General
Ross. The local peasants reported to the Russian camp about this Swedish move
north. By such a move Ross threatened to turn the Russian position in the
Direction of Smolensk.
Peter decided to attack this advance guard while it was separated from the main
body. On the night of 30 August Golitsin using guides from the local population
with eight battalions attacked the Swedes at Dobroe. The battle lasted two
hours. The Swedes wavered and only the arrival of the main force saved the
advance guard. Of the outcome Peter wrote to his intimates "In a two hour
uninterrupted artillery fire Golitsin and Flug defeated the enemy who had 3,000
killed and more wounded and captured banners. The king himself arrived on the
scene. However, our troops retired in order before him. I never saw such fire
and maneuver from our soldiers and the King of Sweden himself never saw such
from anyone either."
The Swedes were therefore unsuccessful in out flanking the Russians at
Smolensk and only managed by 10 September to cross the old Russian frontier at
Starishe toward the south west of Smolensk. The Russian army withdrew across
the Vikhr and Gorodnya Rivers and covered by them took up defensive positions.
The local population took active part in fortifying the area. The defense line
was covered by fortified points with forward detachments at towns Raevk and
Starishi. The main force was united at Sobolevo. After the Russians spoiled
their turning movement, the Swedes moved to the Russian border and took
positions in front of the Vikhra River with their front facing toward the
northeast. To take this position they gave battle at Medvegovka and Raevka,
which covered the river crossings. They met string resistance there from the
Russians. ON 9 September the Swedish advance guard began the offensive on
Raveka. This was an important defense point covering the main Russian forces.
The town was held by a small Russian detachment that held off the Swedes so
fiercely that they could not take it. Then Charles decided to lead the next
attack of the main body to take the point. A small Russian cavalry unit blocked
the way. In a two hour battle that saw success shifting back and forth, Charles
was wounded and nearly captured.
The Russian unit having done its job and seeing that the main Swedish force was
attacking had to withdraw toward Kadino, while holding back Swedish advance
guard. The Swedes lost in that battle 1,500 men. The Russians captures one flag
and over 100 prisoners. The Russians lost 106 men killed and wounded.
The Swedes decided not to move further. They had to force the rivers Vikhra
and Gorodnya, behind which the Russians had strong positions. The first
skirmishes with the defenders showed the Swedes that the Russians were well
entrenched and that to force the river would cost many lives.
Charles realized it would be a Phyric victory, which would hurt his main goal
of reaching Moscow. He still had to besiege Smolensk and Moscow. Moreover the
local population prevented the Swedes from collecting supplies by hiding all
their grain and taking their cattle into the forests. The Russians cut off
small Swedish units and attacked them. Charles put propaganda to the people
trying to win them over. The Russian cavalry burned all supplies left including
grain in the fields. The situation of the Swedish army became more and more
critical. Communication with Levenhaupt was almost impossible and correct news
of his position was not available. Between the two Swedish forces the Russian
cavalry was operating and capturing the couriers. The situation of the Swedish
army deteriorated still further. They continued south leaving the sick in the
towns on the way. Hunger and cold cut their ranks. The Swedish soldiers said
they had three doctors, "doctor Vodka, doctor garlic, and doctor
Death." There was also a steady rain that drenched them.
The Russian army fortified positions at the Vikhra and Gorodnya rivers and
concentrated the main force in Sobolevo and prepared to offer battle. Now the
generals and Charles began to hesitate and be unsure of what to do, Some
counseled return to Mogliev and wait there for Levenhaupt, and some urged
continuing to Smolensk. Charles decided to turn south to the Ukraine to gain
the help of the Tatars, cossacks and supplies from Mazeppa. He placed much hope
in the arrival of Levenhaupt. Peter decided to take advantage of this to defeat
the Swedes in detail.
While he was still before the fortified line at Smolensk Charles received word
that Levenhaupt had crossed the Dnieper and another report that he was already
at Chausakh. Charles could see that the Russians were not prepared to do battle
on the road to Smolensk./ In turning south Charles hoped to fulfill three tasks
of his strategic plan. The first was to unite with Levenhaupt in the region of
Krichev or Starodub and improve his supply position. The second was to prepare
to move into central Russia on the line Krichev, Bryansk. The third was to
hasten the shift of Mazeppa to his side.
On the night of 14-15 September Charles again completely surprised the Russians
and moved his army in a flanking maneuver to Starodub in order to continue from
there across Bryansk and Kaluga toward Moscow. In the lead was the 4,000 man
advance guard of Lagerkron, which was to siege the important points of Severski
region - Mglin, Pochep, and prevent the Russian army from taking them.
Lagerkron was ordered to build bridges to speed the Swedish advance. His main
task was to siege Mglin, the key road junction, and only one through which the
Russian army could move into Seversk from Smolensk and beat the Swedish army to
the provincial towns. However a peasant-guide led him astray by causing him to
take a road too far to the right, so that instead of Mglin he arrived at
Starodub, which was too well defended for him to risk a storm by the advance
guard alone. ON 15 September the king entered Seversk region with his main
force. ON 19 September he crossed the Sozh River near Krichev. Approaching
Mglin he learned that the Russians had already occupied Pochep. His
supplementary advance guard under Koskul met the Russians around the city and
Koskul tried a storm of the town, but was thrown back by the garrison of 300
soldiers and armed peasantry. As a result of the impossibility of getting to
Mglin and Pochep in time Charles turned from Kostukovich toward Kostenich and
reached it on 25 September. There he waited 14 days. By seizing Pochep the
Russians blocked the road to Kaluga. The Russian command had quickly understood
the purpose of Charles' maneuver. The Tsar understood the intention of Charles
to advance through Bryansk on the Kaluga road. He ordered the fortification of
Bryhansk. Two engineers were sent from Moscow to do this and fortify the
crossing of the Oka River. The Russian command also fortified Starodub as a
On the trip south Charles took local peasants to serve as guides for his
columns, but the peasants purposely led him astray into swamps and into woods
and along the wrong roads. At the first opportunity the guides would flee from
the Swedes to report to the Russians the objectives of the Swedish forces and
their situation. This data was of great value to the Russian command. It gave
them the possibility of quickly taking measures to block the Swedish plans. The
Russian command had a complicated task, to defend along a wide front along the
border from a new direction in order to prevent the Swedes from bursting into
central Russia and the task of preventing the unification of the Swedish army
and the detachment of Levenhaupt. As soon as it was known to the Russians that
the Swedes had taken a new position a detailed reconnaissance was organized and
then the forces moved parallel to the enemy. at the military council it was
decided to move the main force to Roslavl, Pochep in order to prevent the
Swedes from taking Bryansk. At the lead of this column was Sheremetev. In the
rear of the Swedish force to pursue them was a 5,00 man detachment of cavalry
under Baur. For action against Levenhaupt a special flying detachment was
organized under Peter.
Battle of Lesnaya
Meanwhile the 16,000 men of Levenhaupt with a huge transport train and
supplies slowly moved from Riga to unite with Charles. ON 19-20 September
Levenhaupt crossed the Dnieper at Shklov and on the basis of the order of his
king moved to Propoisk. IN order to confuse the Russians Levenhaupt circulated
false rumors and sent an agent to them at their camp at Romanov. The agent told
them that the Swedes had not yet crossed the Dnieper and that their objective
on the march was Orsha. The Russians at first believed this and set out for
Orsha, but soon they encountered an eye-witness of the crossing who told them
that the Swedes had crossed at Shklov. Learning of this Peter changed the
direction of his move and ordered all forces to move to block the Swedes
crossing of the Sozh at Propoisk. He determined to destroy the corps of
Levenahaupt. Menshikov was sent out to conduct reconnaissance. On 25 September
he found Levenhaupt and discovered that his force was twice as large as
expected. The Russians had though it was only 8,000. This disturbed Peter
somewhat but he decided to give battle anyway. To increase his force Peter
ordered Bauer who was located at Cherikov to rapidly unit with him The Russian
command carefully worked out plans for the operation. Reconnaissance of the
locality was completed. In order to cut off the river crossing at Propoisk the
detachment of Fastman was sent therefrom Krichev.
As soon as Levenhaupt leaned of the closeness of the Russians he took
measures to save his transport. Under cover of a 3,000 man advance guard he
sent it on ahead to Propoisk, while he with the main force took defensive
positions blocking the roads from the rear near the village of Dolgi Mox, in
order to delay the Russian forces at the crossing of the river Resta. Here he
stayed until 27 September and then under cover of darkness withdrew and took
positions near Lesnaya village. Lesnaya village was located on the left bank of
the swampy Leshyanka River. The clearing around the village was about one
square kilometer in size. To the north east and west of the village was a small
hilly area. The clearing was bordered by thick woods. To the north west of the
clearing was a copse and beyond it in the direction of Lopatichi was another
small clearing and then almost impenetrable woods and swamps. The copse between
the large and small clearings enabled a force to remain hidden there and cover
the approaches from any direction. From the side of Lopatichi from which the
Russians had to come there lead two roads, one to Lesnaya and the other toward
Propoisk. Of these the eastern crossed both fields and through the copse and
across the stream ant he western passed through the heavy woods. The two roads
were connected by smaller local trails. To the east of Lesnaya went the road to
Krichev on which Bauer moved. On the right bank of the river Lesnyanka was
located a large woods through which went the road to Propoisk. The Swedish army
moved on this road. Thus the location selected by Levenhaupt was excellent for
his activities, but as a result of the absence of sufficient strong points the
position could not be secured from a persistent attack, but it could be used
for a meeting engagement which would fit into his plans. Levenhaupt well
understood this and therefor awaited the approaching Russians determined to
give battle rather than be ambushed somewhere unexpectedly in the woods in the
region between Lesnaya and Propoisk.
The lead detachment of the Swedes of six battalions occupied the copse and
prepared to defend it. To the rear of this position on the rise the Swedes set
up a wagon fort of the supply wagons not sent ahead with the advance guard. The
camp had both flanks resting on the stream and ran along the high ground, but
to accomplish this it did not secure the exit from the clearing on the road to
Propoisk and the bridge on this road over the stream. Only the left flank of
the position came to the river at the bridge. This meant that the critical
route of retreat was at the weakest point on the defense.
At dawn on the 28th of September in accordance with the decision of the
military council Peter crossed the Resta and moved after the Swedes toward
Lesanaya. In order to protect the rear and also to cover the river crossing
site at the Resta, which was especially important because Peter expected the
arrival of the division of von Verden from Chausa, a 1,000 man dragoon
detachment was left under the command of Colonel Kempel. Soon after crossing
the river the Russian reconnaissance detachment discovered that the Swedes were
disposed on the clearing near Lesnaya. In order to move in the direction of the
Swedish force the Russians had to go through such rugged country that Peter
ordered that they obtain guides form the local population so that they could be
let into the Swedish camp area without being seen. Under direction of these
guides the Russian column passed the village of Lopatichi. Here it became clear
that the Swedish fortified camp could be approached by two roads. The Russians
used these two roads. Peter decided to deliver the main blow with his right
flank. For this the Russian force was divided into two columns. In the first
column under Peter's command were the guards regiments, one battalion of the
Astrakhan Regiment and three dragoon regiments. In the second column were two
infantry regiments, six dragoon regiments, and the life regiment Menshikov. The
strength of the two columns were about equal. The columns advanced about
2¼ - 3 km. from Lopatichi. They were entering the first clearing with the
head of the columns and starting to deploy into battle formation but did not
finish deployment when the Swedes attacked. The Swede detachment in the copse
launched a surprise attack on the left Russian column and inflicted heavy
casualties on the lead element. The lead units blocked the road so the rest of
the column could not deploy. Having superiority of strength the Swedes
outflanked the Russian column of the left with their right wing. By order of
Peter the lead units of the Russian right column deployed and hurried to the
aid of the left. The Semenovski regiment linked up with the Ingermanlandski
regiment and led the attack. But the Swedes repulsed the attack and continued
to outflank the Russians. However with the attack of the Semenovsky Regiment
the strength of forces was equalized, so the Swedes could not complete their
flanking movement. The lead elements of the Russian left column held their own.
meanwhile the right column sent some units secretly toward the left flank of
the Swedes and after delivering several unexpected volleys launched a surprise
attack. This attack made a strong impression of the Swedes so that they decided
to withdraw. The Russians followed them into the copse and occupied the edge of
the forest opening into the larger clearing. The Swedish detachment retired to
their main position, having lost several standards and cannon. The Swedes now
prepared to receive the Russians under cover of the Swedish cavalry.
Peter's force concentrated on the field of battle and prepared to attack in
two lines. In the center of the first line were eight battalions of infantry
and two dragoon regiment were on each flank. In the second line were six
dragoon regiments divided into three equal groups between which were mixed
battalions of infantry. To strengthen the flanks grenadier companies were
posted there with three infantry and two dragoon regiments. At one PM the
Russians launched a heavy attack. The Swedes met them with artillery and small
arms fire and then launched a counter attack. The battle continued for three
hours with success going back and forth. But finally the strength of the Swedes
was broken and having lost several standards and eight cannon and suffering
losses of killed and wounded the Swedes had to retreat from their main position
to the wagenburg fort. They continued to hold out in the wagenburg expecting
the arrival of the advance guard back from Propoisk. As a result of the violent
nature of the struggle there was a lull and both sides awaited reinforcements.
Then the detachment of Baur arrived on the battlefield. Peter regrouped his
forces and again opened a bitter bloody hand to hand battle. The Russians with
a supreme effort seized the bridge on the Swedish left flank. At that critical
moment on this road from Propoisk appeared the Swedish advance guard, which
enabled the Swedes to counter attack and regain the bridge. However, by then
the Russians had overrun most of the wagenburg. Only the advent of night ended
the battle. At dawn the next morning the Russians prepared to attack, but the
Swedes during the night had quietly and unknown to the Russians retreated from
the field and moved to the crossing of the Sozh. They left all their artillery,
a huge supply column, and military supplies and food. In the dark of night the
Swedes arrived at Propoisk, but there they found a new disaster. The bridge
over the river had been destroyed and on the far bank was the detachment of
Fastman. besides that, behind the Swedes rear guard was the leading Russian
Levenhaupt had to destroy the supply column and the second part of the
transport. He mounted all his men and went down the river. Only on the 30th of
September in Glinki town he managed to cross to the left bank of the Sozh. The
remanent of the defeated corps united with the king.
The Russians gave the Swedes a great defeat at Lesna. The Swedish losses
were huge; 8,000 men lay on the field, 500 men were killed and 45 officers and
500 men captured, 17 guns, 44 flags and standards were captured, Besides that
the Russians captured 7,000 carts with military supplies and food. The Russians
losses were less, 1,000 killed and 3,000 wounded.
Levenhaupt brought only 6-7,000 men to the king's army. They were tired and
worn out. Charles lost the huge supplies he had counted on. The idea of the
plan to defeat the enemy in detail in the "small war" was brilliantly
put into practice by the Russian commanders. This circumstance significantly
eased the further battles with the Swedish army and prepared the final defeat
of the Swedes at Poltava. Peter's first operations against Levenhaupt at Lesna
contained many significant examples of the development of the Russian military
The selection by Peter of the operating lines after the sudden turn of
Charles to the south answered all the requirements of military science and
conformed to the plans of destruction "in detail" of the enemy
The strategic reconnaissance was well organized by the Russian command
staff. The formation of independent flank covering units for the defeat of
Levenhaupt's corps and the reserve for simultaneous following of the main force
of the enemy is a classic example of he use of the principle of defeat the
enemy in separate units and at the most important place. Such a grouping of
forces by the Russian army did not constitute a break with the plan to defeat
in detail and secured the accomplishment of two missions; the defeat of
Levenhaupt and the following of the Swedish main army with the objective of
preventing the possibility of Charles breaking through into central Russia.
The decision of Peter taken already before the arrival of the covering
force of Baurer to attack the Swedes irrespective of their numerical
superiority, was a brave decision, in that Peter took measures to concentrate
on the battlefield a large quantity of forces.
Correctly determining the direction of the main blow, Peter concentrated
superior forces at that place. The enemy blow was able to be parried by the
Semenovsky Regiment, and the situation at the secondary line of attack
reestablished. (principle of mutual support).
The surprise attack of the enemy created the need to regain the initiative
in battle and subordinate the enemy to the Russian will.
The careful preparation for the attack, the use of artillery and small
arms volleys preceding the attack, the concealed advance to the flank of the
enemy and the surprise attack at the copse all these showed that Peter
understood the exceptionally large significance of preparation of the attack at
a decisive stage in battle.
The securing of the security of communications with the rear was achieved
by the leaving of the detachment of Kempelya at the crossing of the Resta
River. Blocking possible blows at the flanks in the main battle was done by
posting grenadier companies on the flanks.
Operations against Levenhaupt were worked out with genius and conducted by
Peter on the basis of deep understanding of the basic principles of military
art in conjunction with real situations. In this connection it without doubt
represents a classic model in the history of military art. This operation is
all the more famous in that it symbolized the completion of the organizational
phase of the Russian regular army. Such serious success strongly raised the
spirit of the Russian Army. The battle at Lesna showed that the Russian army
had learned to defeat the Swedes.
"The strength of our victory can be first called with this under the
regular forces never had been; the same was
In the movements and operations of the Russian army during the operations
against Levenhaupt besides the positive side there were also shortcomings.
The tactical reconnaissance was still weak. Knowing that the whole region
lying along the Dnieper between Dubrovno and Mogiliev was the most likely route
of enemy movement, the Russians should have covered it with a thick net of
scouts, but only sent a few parties, which limited reconnaissance between
Dubrovna and Kopis. In the staff sometimes the predilection to use unconfirmed
and doubtful rumors of the direction of Swedish movement led to lost time and
allowed Levenhaupt to move closer to Shklov. Even then the Russians learned
about it only thanks to accident.
At the end of battle night observation was not organized. This allowed
Levenhaupt to withdraw unnoticed under cover of night to Propoisk. The Russians
were not able to secure rapid pursuit of the enemy , which undoubtedly would
have lead to his complete destruction.
Operations in winter 1708-09
In the first days of October Charles XII received news of the defeat at
Lesna from a lost soldier from Levenhaupt's detachment. He continued to remain
at Kistenich, awaiting the arrival of the remanent of Levenhaupt's corps. ON 9
October Charles received word from Lagerkron that Levinghaupt had united with
him ON the next day the king left Kostenich and passing Starodub with two
columns moved towards Novgorod-Seversk. However it turned out that town already
was occupied by the forces of the Russian garrison and well fortified. Charles
turned his movement to Gorok. Thus the attempts of the Swedes to penetrate deep
into the country in the region of Starodub and Novgorod- Seversk were not
successful. After this the Swedes made still another attempt to reach Kursk in
order to then proceed toward Moscow, but this attempt was also a failure. The
further movement of the Swedes in the Ukraine was connected with great
difficulty; the forcing of the Desna River, a fortified defense line covered by
the Russian army, which followed the Swedes on a parallel line.
At the same time that the Swedes made a stop at Gorok Hetman Mazeppa arrived on
28 October. Cunning Mazeppa had kept a waiting policy until this time, trying
to wait until the question of who would win was more clear. he played a waiting
game until Charles arrived in the Severshchina area and when the king went from
the northern part of the Severshchina area to the south Mazeppa had to make a
decisive choice between the one side or the other. After a bit of wavering on
25 October Mazeppa left Baturin, crossed the Desna River at Oboloni, and moved
north, keeping a space away from the Desna River. On 27 October he met at
Orlovka with Swedish detachments and on the 29th occurred the first meeting
between the king and Hetman. With Mazeppa were a few more than 2,000 cossacks,
but their Hetman was a traitor.
Charles hoped and expected that with Mazeppa would come not only a strong
military force, but also the help of the population, especially the provision
of food and supplies. However these hopes were not fulfilled. The Hetman was
not able to bring the Ukrainian cossacks along with him. The population of the
Ukraine did not care to join the Swedish soldiers who were making requisition
and living off the country. During the winter of 1708-9 the population helped
the Russian army.
On the same day Mazeppa arrived in the Swedish camp Peter arrived at the
headquarters of the Russian army; located at Pogrebka. here at the military
council of 30 October it was decided to destroy the Hetman's capital and base
at Baturin. Menshikov was given the mission of doing this. His army was located
at Novi Mglin, across the Seim River. On 31 October Menshikov already arrived
at the walls of Baturin. He asked the commandant to surrender, but in order to
gain time the cossacks asked to conduct negotiations. some of the cossacks went
over to Peter's side. Seeing that negotiations would be useless, Menshikov
decided to storm the town. With the help of the cossacks who came to his side,
Menshikov in a two hour assault captured the town. It was destroyed along with
all the military supplies on which the Swedes placed their hopes. The
destruction of Baturin had a profound effect on the other cossacks who realized
the consequences of going over to the Swedes and therefor remained loyal to
Peter. Many of the wagering cossacks left the Hetman and returned.
During his stay at Glukov Peter issued two manifestos to the Ukrainian people.
In the first manifesto he urged the people to believe in him and not in the
manifestos published by the Swedish king. IN the second he granted amnesty to
all those who had been traitors and gone with Mazeppa, if they would return
from the enemy king of the Swedes and from Mazeppa. In the manifesto he said
that some cossacks had gone with Mazeppa only because they feared him.
Meanwhile the Swedes crossed the Desna at Psarevka and on 11 November
reached Baturin, but they found there only the ruins. In Gorodishch the king
called a halt in order to rest his army. On 15 November the Swedes moved out in
the direction of Romna-Gadyach, and in this region on the advice of Mazeppa
they stopped to set up winter quarters. At that time the Russian army blocked
all attempts to penetrate along the line of the Psel and Vorskla Rivers.
Russian cavalry detachments followed the Swedes constantly.
The Swedish army had a great need for food supplies. The cavalry units
destroyed their foraging parties sent by the Swedes to collect supplies. And
the inhabitants hid their food and drove the cattle into the woods and hid
themselves. The Swedes quickly used up what supplies they could find in the
region and had to move to new quarters. But the Russians conducting the tactics
of guerilla warfare without letup harassed them. AT first they operated in
small detachments and in the second half of December began to use larger and
stronger units. At the end of December the main force of the Russians was
located at Sumakh. The cavalry of Menshikov was located in Akhtirka. The
Russian army nearly surrounded the Swedes. Such towns as Priluki, Romni, Sumi,
and Mirgorod were occupied by Russian garrisons. All towns located near the
Swedish camp were occupied by Russians. During the winter the Swedes tried to
expand their area of control in order to gain a larger area from which they
could obtain supplies and to reduce the attacks of the Russians.
Siege of Veprik
Charles at the beginning of January decided to drive the Russian army from
the Vorskla and Psel Rivers in order to secure the future attack route in the
direction of Akhtirka, Belgorod, and Moscow. The first step of this plan was
the siege of Veprik, located on the left bank of the Psel. The garrison
consisted of 1,500 Russian soldiers and some sotnitsa of cossacks. They had
Gyllenkropk in his account wrote, "The cossack town, Veprik, was made in
the form of a redoubt with four sides, We had trouble surrounding it. The wall
had no bastions and did not have hard defenses. The moat was small.
The Swedes surrounded the town and then threw two infantry and three cavalry
regiments with artillery against Veprik. The king tried to persuade the town
commandant, Colonel Urlov, into capitulation, if he did not the king threatened
to hand him on the gate. The brave commandant sent the following answer to the
king: "By the command of my lord I must defend to the last possibility and
, knowing that the king values bravery, I don't believe that his highness would
take, in the event of victory, such cruelty." Irritated by such an answer,
on 5 January the king himself, taking with him an incomplete artillery and
dragoon regiment, went to Veprik to aid in the Swedish storm. Arriving there he
again sent the offer to the defenders, but they answered this demand of the
king with cannon fire. Then the Swedes opened fire on the town from four
batteries. The brave defenders of Veprik stoically held fast. On the morning of
6 January the Swedes again opened artillery fire. Under cover of heavy fire
three columns from different sides were thrown into the storm of the fortress.
But one column moved late and a simultaneous storm was not achieved. Instead of
one general attack there were two at separate times. Both attacks were thrown
back by the garrison.
This unsuccessful storm of Veprik cost the Swedes over 1,200 men killed and
wounded. The wounded included Prince Wirtenburg, General Shatakelberg, and
Field Marshal Rensheld, who received a concussion. The Swedish historian Steel
wrote: "Losses during the storm of Veprik can be compared to the losses of
a large battle. Especially grievous for the Swedes was the fact that they lost
in it the pick of their officers. Meanwhile after the devastation wrought on
the army by the front, now still smaller than previously was it possible to
lose people for nothing."
On 6 and 7 January the Swedes prepared to renew the attack, but before that
the king again sent the commandant an offer to surrender. The besieged garrison
already was in no condition to continue battle with the Swedes. All military
supplies were expended. The commandant, after repelling three cruel storms, was
required to agree to surrender. Having taken the town, the Swedes burned it and
ruined the population. In connection with the Swedish efforts to widen their
area of winter quarters over the Vorskla River the Russians brought their main
strength from Sum in Akhtirka in order to block the path of the Swedes to
Belgorod or Kharkov. Colonel Kellin was sent to strengthen the defense of
Poltava. A special detachment under command of Sheremetev was sent to the west
to cut the Swedish communications lines to Poland.
The Swedes were not able until the beginning of spring to move their army into
the region between the Psel and Vorskla Rivers. All their efforts to advance in
the direction of Belgorod ended in failure. The Russian army by the beginning
of spring was divided in two parts; one part was located on the left bank of
the Vorskla under command of Menshikov, and the second part under command of
Sheremetev was concentrated in fortified Mirgorod, between the Sula and Psel
The Battle of Poltava
The Battle of Poltava and its historical importance - Characteristics
situation of the country in the eve of the battle
With the coming of spring 1709 the decisive moment in the historical
argument between Russia and Sweden was approaching and at the same time that of
Russia with Western Europe; either Russia would become an equal member of the
family of Western European states, or she decisively would loose her economic
and political independence. With strained attention Western European diplomats,
philosophers, writers ,and journalists followed events on how the great dispute
would be decided. The seriousness of the imminent events occupied the attention
of both countries. Peter I considered the foerthcoming battle to be a very
Peter I forsaw that with the comiong of spfring a general battle with the
Swedes was inevitable, andall winter he thoroughly prepared for it. During the
9-year war with the Swedes the Russian army followed its own military school
and studied victory. At the head of that army stood battle tested and talented
fellow fighters Peter I, Sheremetev, Menshikov ando thers, who in military
science determined their 'teacher-Swedes'.
The Russian solciers by their quick wits, singular endurance, discipline,
andbravery became superior to their contemporary Western European soldiers, The
battle with the Swedes is only one example of that. The Army of Charles in the
Ukraine, surrounded by an almost solid ring of Russian detachments, operating
from a multitude of fortified points and with the support of the local
population suffered from almost constant raids. This resulted in the strength
of the Swedish army diminishing with each day.
Besides this, the Swedish army suffered from the condition of the severe winter
of 17808-09 and the poor food supply brought on considerable losses in its
ranks, In the army there were only 35,000 men remaining.