N. Rashba, L. Podgorodyetskii
For centuries the peoples of Eastern Europe. First of all the Russians,
warred with the Turkish feudalists, enslavers of the Balkan Peninsula, Northern
Black Sea Coast, with the help of the Crimean Khan, who were attempting to
extend their rule along the lover Volga and Don Rivers. But Russian power, Don
Cossacks, Zaporozhie Cossacks and Moldavians interfered with the accomplishment
of these plans.
1. In 1538 Moldavia became a Turkish vassal, but often rose in battle
against its overlord. The Khotin War of 1621 became a turning [point in the
battle against Turkish aggressors, who in the words of Engels "threatened
all European development".
The pretext for this war was served by the offensive of the Polish Chancellor,
Zholkyevski, who moved with a small force in September 1620 into Moldavia,
supposedly for the defense of the overlord, Gratsian, whom the Sultan had
ordered dethroned; but at the same time in order to prevent the campaign of the
Turks to the West. The utter defeat of the forces of Zholkyevski convinced
Sultan Osman of the weakness of Poland, and he decided to conquer it. On 29
April 1621 the Sultan left Istanbul at the head of his army, uniting to it on
the road the forces of his European territories, Walachia and Moldavia. The
Crimean Khan, Dzhanibeg Gerei, also united his forces with the Sultan's. Osman
gathered not less than 100,000 militarily experienced soldiers and 62 cannon.
The Poles fortified L'vov, Cracow, Kamenetz and other fortresses. At the head
of the Polish forces (about 33,000 with 28 cannon), was placed the Grand Hetman
of Lithuania, Carl Khodkyevich - the renowned conqueror over the Swedes at
Kirkhgol'ma in 1605. In order to repel the Turkish invasion, the Polish king,
Sigismund III, appealed to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Feofan, who was
returning from Moscow to Palestine, with a request to persuade the Zaporozhie
Cossacks to sally forth against the common enemy.
Feofan's appeal to aid Poland brought forth an answer from the Cossacks and
Ukrainians. The Rada gathered on 15 June in Sukho Dubrav, between Rzhishchev
and Beloe Tserkov. The Hetman, Borodavka, selected 40,000 well armed Cossacks,
in order to send them in campaign against the Turks.
Jacob Nerodich Borodavka was a representative of the Cossack lower class who
was elected at the end of 1619 to be Hetman of the Zaporozhie Cossacks in place
In the middle of August the Polish detachments, approaching the Dnister from
the north, began to cross to Khotin. The Zaporozhie at this time already were
across the Dnister, in Moldavia.
This was done on the demand of the King, but not voluntarily by Borodavka, in
this his contemporaries chided him, asserting that but for this he would not
have lost the force over which the Cossacks later dried their tears.
Sigismund III hoped that they , even if at the price of their destruction,
would delay the enemy's offensive and gain time needed for the Polish forces to
assemble at Khotin.
The detachments led by the Crown Prince Wladislav were especially delayed and
only assembled at Khotin on 1 September, crossing the river later.
Borodavka managed to fulfill the king's plan, preserving the majority of his
forces and concentrating them near the Dnister, in the region of Molgilev. From
there he distributed Cossack detachments in various directions. Some went as
far as Jassy and Suchavi, with the mission of harassing the enemy. In the
heroic account of the exploits of the Ukrainian people are entered the actions
of the detachment, sent back to Mogilev from the raid on Suchavi. The Turks
drove the detachments together near the Pruth River. In the uneven battle many
Zaporozhie perished, part of them fell prisoner. The survivors were divided as
follows; 200 Cossacks who concealed themselves on the right bank of the Pruth
in woods and about 100 occupying rocky caverns on the left bank near the road
on which the Sultan's forces must approach when moving to Khotin.
On 18 August, when the Turkish column appeared on the road, the Cossacks fired
at them. The Turks stopped. At first it seemed to them that they would without
difficulty deal with the audacious fellows. But time passed and the Zaporozhie
did not cease resistance. Then the Turks decided to burn them out of the caves
with fire. Running from their refuge, half-blinded from smoke, the warriors
fired from their bows but were killed by the Yataghan.
The battle ceased when all had perished. Against 2 sotin's of Cossacks deployed
on the opposite bank of the Pruth the Sultan directed Janissaries with cannon.
But the cannonballs did not penetrate the thickets and the Zaporozhie beat back
all assaults. By night the Cossacks abandoned their fortifications in order to
exit from the Pre-Carpathian woods. Not more than 30 of them fell prisoner. The
Chronicler in the 17th Century compared the exploits of the Cossacks
to the heroic deeds of the defenders of Thermopylae.
The Cossacks inflicted great casualties on the Turkish forces and for 24 hours
held up their advance on Khotin, which gave the main forces the opportunity to
elude the enemy and unite with the Polish forces a day before the enemy
Thus, bearing heavy losses, the Zaporozhie under leadership of Borodavka,
halted the movement of the Turkish horde, averted a blow on the Poles, united
with them literally under the nose of Osman.
Some historians assert that all Cossacks or at least 6,000 went to Khotin with
Hetman Sagaidichi, but this is not true. In reality on 21 August he arrived at
the Khotin camp from Warsaw, where he had gone after the Rada of 15 June for
discussions with the king. He hurried to the army, fearing that the laurels of
victory over the Turks would go to Borodavka. He met the Cossacks when they
already had arrived at Khotin, "were already en route to him". As
wrote the commissar in Khotin camp Jan Sobieski.
The Zaporozhie arrived on 1 September at the Khotin Camp, that was laid out on
a well defended location. Only from the west was their an easy access toward
it. From there one could expect an enemy attack. For this reason on the
threatened part two lines of high walls were built, in several places in front
of them were laid out fortifications defending the approaches to the main
walls. Between the walls was dug a wide ditch. At a distance of 200 meters not
large bastions were built. The Cossacks, disposed themselves to the south of
the Polish positions, in the valley of the Dnister, and covered themselves
initially only with two lines of carts. For cover from enemy fire, they dug
trenches. Defending all these fortifications was artillery, 28 Polish and 23
Cossack cannon. The Turks placed opposite them not less than 62 cannon, of
which most were larger caliber. To make up for this the Polish- Cossack camp
had the preponderance in hand held firearms and also in infantry which for the
Turks was insufficient. The Polish army numbered about 33,000 men.
The right flank, commanded by the Polish Hetman, Lubomirski, consisted of
Polish detachments; the center was filled by gradually arriving foreign
mercenaries and other detachments and was commanded by Wladislav. On the left
flank were arranged the Lithuanian and White Russians at the head of whom was
Khodkyevich. In the gap between his detachments and the Zaporozhie there were
Polish Cossacks. The Zaporozhie stood clear to the river.
The Turkish advance guard attacked the Cossacks on 2 September and was driven
off thanks to the arrival from Khodkyevich of cavalry, German riters and Polish
Cossacks. In the evening Khodkyevich ordered men to aid the Cossacks. This
mutual support of the allies guaranteed victory.
On 4 September the main Turkish forces arrived. The storm of the camp began. It
continued all day, but did not bring the Turks success. They shifted over to a
systematic siege. One of the detachments crossed the Dnister to cut
communications between Khotin and Kamenetz, the Polish-Cossack supply base.
Detachments of the Crimean Khan's forces at the same time moved to L'vov and
Zamost'ya, ravaging the country.
On 7 September the Turks attempted to break into the Khotin camp by breaking a
large and significant part of two of Wladislav's infantry companies composed of
raw troops. Khodkyevich's reserves threw them from the wall and then began to
pursue. The enemy lost over 1500 men killed, among them Mustafa, the Pasha of
(A Kamenetski, "Istoriya Khotinskoi voini",
Istoriko-filologischeski journal, Yerevan 1958 #2).
The great loses in infantry forced the Sultan to order 4,000 Janissaries of his
personal guard to attack the Cossacks, who heroically beat them back. Osman
raged and stormed. Only the intervention of Karakasha, Pasha of Budi (capital
of Hungary under Turkish rule), gave him hopes of success. Karakasha, at the
head of 5,000 Janissaries and 21,000 sphais, attacked on 15 September a section
of the Polish right flank., which, according to a deserter, was weakly
fortified.. Mounting the wall, the Turks penetrated into the depth of the camp.
Khodkyevich organized a counter attack by the foreign infantry. Karakasha Pasha
was killed in the battle and the Turks fled in panic. The Cossacks struck the
rear of the fleeing Turks and destroyed over 300 of them. Osman blamed the
Grand Vizier, Hussein Pasha, for the defeat and replaced him with Dilaver
On 24 September Khodkyevich died. Deciding that after his death his Lithuanians
would not want to be subordinate to the Polish Hetman, Lubomirski, the Turks on
25 September began to shell the camp from the south, west and from across the
Dnister. They launched an attack at noon. The Turks, availing themselves of the
fact that the defense lines had been shortened due to losses, seized the old
positions of the foreign mercenaries and Cossacks and strongly attacked the new
open positions of the Polish Cossacks. But Lubomirski struck them on their
right flank, at the Polish Cossack gate. The Turks fell under accurate fire of
two masked cannon. The Cossacks attacked intermingling with the ranks of the
attackers and putting them to flight. The assault was driven off.
With the morning of 26 September the Turks renewed the shelling of the Cossacks
from across the Dnister, where they had 18 cannon, but they could not inflict
much damage. Knowing of the difficult situation of the besieged, Osman
attempted to tighten the noose of the blockade still further. On 28 September
he concentrated all his force for a final assault. He left only 10,000 men of
his personal guard in his camp. From across the river, 40 cannon fired on the
Cossacks and Poles. There also was concentrated the units of the Crimean Khan,
spahis, and Janissaries. Their mission was to distract the Poles from the main
The first blow was brought down upon the positions of the Polish Cossacks,
which were pushed forward in front of the main lines and which beat off eight
attacks. Some places the defenders began to fall back from the walls, but
receiving reinforcements from Lubomirski and the Zaporozhie, they returned to
their former positions. The Cossack beat off eleven attacks.
Toward evening the Turks attacked the center. The sudden fire from two
concealed cannon stopped the attack. The Polish artillery on that day operated
extra successfully. Cannon were loaded with lumps of iron and glass, causing
great wounds among the enemy. The assault ended in complete failure. The
Turkish chronicler, Naim, explained this by saying the Janissaries acted
weakly, and for this the Sultan decided to disband them. Avksent considers that
the Janissaries lost 1400, spahis 3000. The Polish losses were not great.
The failure forced the Sultan and Grand Vizier on 29 September to ask for
negotiations under the leadership of Jan Sobieski. The negotiations began only
in 2 October. The Vizier demanded that Poland recognize its dependence on the
Turkish Empire, send a yearly tribute, and suppress the Cossacks. The Poles
refused to declare dependence and refused to give tribute. On the demand to
suppress the Cossacks, they declared that first the Turks had to stop the Tatar
raids, and then they demanded compensation for their losses.
Sobieski wrote that "the Vizier, seeing that we would not give tribute
made a fool of himself, and changed from threats to tearful pleas." On
dependence or paying tribute there was nothing more to say. The Vizier agreed
to a one time gift to the Sultan. With that the Khotin battle ended.
Only the approach of the Don Cossacks near Khotin may have had an effect on the
outcome of the negotiations. Borodavka called for them already right after the
Rada of 15 June. But they agreed to come to Khotin only after the return of
those who were at sea. The Don Cossacks kept their word.. On 29 September from
Kamenetz the report arrived that 20,000 Cossacks were approaching.
The Khotin War is a noteworthy example of the military cooperation of Russian
Ukrainian, Belorussian, Lithuanian people with the Poles. Like the battle at
Grunevalde, at Khotin a terrible enemy faced them, threatening the independence
and the very existence of Ukrainian and Polish peoples, endeavoring to
perpetuate the enslavement of the southern Slavs. The Great Ukrainian poet and
writer I Franko, wrote on the meaning of Khotin victory, "The Turks
received their first decisive defeat at Khotin in 1621, and began to lose their
power and strength."
News of the victory was widespread in Europe. Songs about it were sung by the
Ukrainian people and occupied Polish poets.