Gustav Adolf in Livonia
This is a tough one, as the written history of this great subject is tainted with much 'coloring', so to speak.
I want to state that I have no predilection of Sweden over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (in its heyday known as Rzeczpospolita Krolestwa Polskiego i Wielkiego Ksiestwa Litewskiego), nor do I have an agenda beyond a study of this tense period; I feel that the great Swedish monarch Gustaf II, or Gustav II (anglicized as Gustavus Adolphus) was one of history's greatest figures, establishing a veritable confidence between king and people. His domestic reforms of his country, and military reforms were exemplary and affecting by the time of his death in 1632, cultivating the primary aspects of tactics (mobility, shock, and defensive capacity) as well as any other in history. He didn't 'invent' anything, something his critics jump on, thinking the false 'innovations' somehow militate against his skill as a comamnder; Gustavus synthesized existing practices into a harmonious doctrine. Never before had an army been executed with all arms supporting each other in such viable conjunction as at the battle of Breitenfled in September of 1631. But in this prior conflict he was still working out things with weaponry and troop reforms, and he was not the outright winner, at least militarily. The Polish armed forces had the greatest cavalrymen ever seen (non-horse archers), and even in displaying punctiliously vigilant conduct, he still almost got flattened; he showed up to fight the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with a shovel in his hands at Riga, and didn't put it down until the Treaty of Altmark! Let us take a look.
"Here strive God and the devil. If you hold with God, come over to me. If you prefer the devil, you will have to fight me first."
We do have a problem, one within the bounds of historical tradition, regarding the wars waged by Gustavus Adolphus (Gustaf II Adolf) against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1617-1629: the acute details of this war are indeed very nebulous. History is based on both truth and deception, and certainly colored by nationalism. But I will never believe that events can be thoroughly concocted. The war ended in a Swedish victory, but one of a political and economic nature, not a military one; tactical successes offset one another, and attrition bogged things down miserably. Thus it's easy for both sides to claim and denounce things, as nothing was inexorably decisive. But the disparity is 'worse' than usual. The Swedes claim a 'skirmish' occured when the action was undoubtedly worse for them, and the Poles claim a victory when the Swedes merely retired due to an injury to their king (a failed operation yes, but not due to being bested by the enemy). But the Polish view has not been given a fair go, it seems from my research of material not of the Polish view.
Sweden indeed had a standing army by the mid 1620s, but its population was about an eighth of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1620 (1.25 million people in Sweden, over 10 million in the latter). Among other things, Gustavus gave war a new look by not altering the tactical doctrine any arm (or even two), but by synthesizing existing practices, improving upon them (Mauritz van Nassau and [b]Henri IV, for example), and forging a nationally conscripted army of combined arms, and drilled with precision under his assiduous guidance. Whether his 'new' cuirassiers galloped or sped at a trot (they perhaps galloped then trotted upon impact, as formation is more easily maintained at a trot), they achieved success when charging home, firing their pistols in a tight formation with cold steel, supported by infantry fire. In essence, they were often an effective battering ram assaulting an already softened foe from supporting firepower. Swedish discipline became exemplary, religious duties strictly observed, and crime virtually non-existent. Gustavus Adolphus' actions during his involvement of the Thirty Years War greatly influenced the political and religious balance of power in most of Europe at this time.
Before 1626, Gustavus' army was still basically, as he put it,
"My troops are poor Swedish and Finnish peasant followers, it's true, rude and ill-dressed; but they smile hard and they shall soon have better clothes."
Gustavus' army became a paradigm of one element from the classic military Byzantine manual, the Strategikon, written, according to tradition, by the emperor-general Flavius Maurikios Tiberius,
"Constant drill is of the greatest value to the soldier."
Gustavus formed military tactics centered around increased firepower, including mobile field artillery. His army was in peak form by 1631, and his system of cavalry charges, influenced by the Poles, initiated with pistol fire, integrated with infantry (pike and shot) and field artillery, supporting each other in self-sustaining combat groups, was the first time this had ever been seen in modern warfare. Much like Philip II of Macedon and Chinggis Khan in their day, Gustavus was arguably the greatest developer of a balanced army for his time. But perhaps more than any other great commander of history, his reforms touched on every area of military science, including the administrative and logistic branches.
But a topic of Gustavus' reforms must include the influence impressed upon him by the great Maurice of Nassau: the brilliant Dutch innovator and his staff created a military system of drill to train officers and soldiers, and began to move away from the dense column of the omnipotent tercio, developing a more extended and elastic formation. He equipped his cavalry with pistols and began to concentrate artillery pieces in batteries. Moreover, Maurice put supply, training, and pay on a regular basis. The tercio, an innovation for its time, was restructured to be smaller after the Battle of Rocroi in 1643, in which the stout tercios were blasted away by the maneuverability and superior firepower of Louis II de Bourbon (the Great Conde). But it was Maurice at Nieuwpoort (1600), then Gustavus at Breitenfeld (1631), who presaged that doom. Basically, Gustavus refined what Maurice did to a broader scale.
But things take time, and not without trial and error; Amrogio Spinola, another brilliant leader of this age, reversed this innovative trend for a while against the Dutch, and the Swedes, sans Gustavus, suffered a defeat at Nordlingen in 1634 against an army with the Spanish tercio on hand. But Johan Baner won victories thereafter.
The Swedish disasters at the hands of the Poles/Lithuanians at Kircholm (modern Salaspils, about twelve miles SE of Riga) and Klushino (Kluszyn) were in the past, and Gustavus would not let that happen again; no Swedish force would ever again be fooled by a feint to pull them out of a strong position (at least under him); his earthworks were not to 'hide' behind, in my opinion, but to provide security to fall back on if things went awry. This was sound war-making. It is opined by some that he waltzed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth while their backs were turned, and easily captured towns to set up his entrenchments. But I am inclined to think the Baltic ports of Pilawa (Pilau) and Konigsberg (modern Kaliningrad) could not have been vulnerable to the degree it was child's play for the Swedes to take them, and there was also much diplomacy involved. They probably were defended by the trace italienne system. The town of Zamosc, for example, though further to the SE, saw the construction of new walls and seven bastions by 1602. But it seems quite accurate the Swedish onslaught in the 1620s initially made good progress because of an overall vulnerable scenario of the enemy.
Dr. Geoffrey Parker, an expert on the Thirty Years War, wrote in his The Military Revolution, Pg 37,
"...Several outraged books and pamphlets were promptly written by Polish propagandists, excoriating the invaders for their 'unchivalrous deceit' in raising ramparts around their camps 'as though they needed a grave-digger's courage to conceal themselves', and deploring their painstaking siege techniques as 'Kreta robota (mole's work)'. But, mole's work or not, Crown Prince Wladislaw was immediately dispatched to the Netherlands to learn about these deceitful tactics at first hand. he was followed by Polish engineers, such as Adam Freitag who, in 1631, published at Leiden an international classic on developments in military fortification..."
This is from Richard Brzezinski, an authority on this chapter of history, who wrote a book on the Polish Hussars (possible red flag: Osprey Publishing),
"...if you take an UNBIASED (as in non-patriotic) view of Polish-Swedish actions from 1622 onwards through to the Great Northern War they are characterised by a consistent reluctance of the Poles to charge when the Swedish cavalry is deployed in formal battle-order backed by their infantry and artillery firepower. Take away the fire support, and the hussars are far less hesistant, and generally victorious..."
That may not be completely true, as some husaria did penetrate Swedish musketry formations at the battle of Mitawa (Mitau, modern Jelgava) in 1622, and again at Gorzno (Gurzno) in 1629 - but only initially; the threats were quickly closed. Excellent details are provided by experts on Zagloba's Tavern. Radoslaw Sikora, who denounces Brzezinski, and is a prime source for this topic, is working to right what he thinks are wrongs etc. He provides figures from the Polish army register, and Daniel Staberg, the Swedish expert, gives figures from some battle draws by Gustavus himself. But Sikora writes something peculiar, on the topic of the Polish husaria fighting Swedish regiments of musketeers,
"...Unfortunately I noticed that this selective and partial treatment of primary sources appear in Richard Brzezinski's work quite often. It is most apparent in the quoted descriptions of the hussaria fighting against the Swedish army (Kokenhausen, Mitawa/Mitau or Tczew/Dirschau). Anyone who knows what truly happened there grabs his head when reading how these battles are used to support false thesis of alleged considerable efficiency of firearms of the Swedish cavalry against the husaria."
What truly happened? Well, I feel one can admire something without it being a vice of 'partiality'. The battle of Mitawa was fought before Gustavus' efficient reforms took significant effect. Poland ultimately lost this war (I would say more on a political than military scale), and the husaria never defeated Gustavus (his tactical rebuff at Trzciana, in which he counter-attacked twice to protect his infantry, notwithstanding). Koknese was a Swedish victory, and Gustavus clearly overcame the husaria at Gniew (Mewe) and Tczew (Dirschau), via method. Sikora's opinion as to why the Sejm (Polish diet) acquiesced to favorable terms for Sweden in 1629, if they were not losing the military aspect of this war (as some Polish apologists believe) - one in which he compares the feeling of the people of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to that of the American people in regards to Vietnam (late 1960s/early 1970s) is incredulous. Perhaps I am misconstruing him, but Polish soldiers were fighting in their own land against an invader. I am the last poster who wishes to insult people, and Mr. Sikora, clearly a civil and intelligent man, is invaluable for providing much trivia for this period.
From a political standpoint, the death of Gustavus amid the fog at Lutzen, a month before his 38th birthday, was a disaster. Looking back, perhaps we can blame him for that element of his leadership of heroic self-indulgence, and he was getting a little impetuous, it seems. But his death might have removed the one man who seemingly was capable of imposing an end to the fighting. But that must be based on private convictions over any solid evidence; he may have come too late. Instead, the Thirty Years War dragged on for sixteen more years, witnessing hellish circumstances of disorganized and impoverished conditions. As the Dutch philosopher Hugo Grotius, who paid much attention to the concept of 'humane' warfare, tells us,
"...I saw prevailing throughout Europe a licence in making war of which even barbarous nations would have been ashamed..."
Gustavus Adolphus' War in Livonia and Polish Prussia 1617-1629
I have done the best I can to present a balanced view of this conflict (I am still a student with opinions); modern works which are very helpful are from Michael Roberts, Robert I. Frost, Ulf Sundberg, Richard Brzezinski, Radoslaw Sikora and Daniel Staberg. If you can find it, the Sveriges Krig 1611-1632 II Polska Kriget (Stockholm, 1936) is found as the source in most of Roberts' footnotes. But if you do, don't use it without any Polish sources to cross-reference this great topic. This site is invaluable for our topic:
Zagloba's Tavern, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth 17th Century Living History
The correspondence between Sikora and Staberg is exemplary, both for scholarship and amicableness.
Many of Gustavus' detractors (or some who are simply indifferent), perhaps mostly German and Polish Catholics etc., have the right to view him as a master propogandist. But in his mind he justified himself in terms of contemporary ideals, and plotted each move with the care of a diamond cutter. He was a champion of his cause, but doubtless a Realpolitiker as well. They all were/are!
The campaigns fought by Gustavus in Livonia and Polish Prussia between 1617 and 1629 receive comparitively little attention. This disappoints me, as the substantial military reforms of Gustavus were surely influenced by the fact that the superior Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, most notably the vaunted husaria (plural for hussar, or husarz), the crack heavy Polish cavalry, fighting with support from the medium/light cavalry, the Cossack (kozacy) horsemen (this name would be later changed to pancerni to distinguish them from rebellious ethnic Cossacks in 1648), could not be beaten at this time in the early 17th century, at least in an open area, without utilizing combined arms and terrain not conducive to their style, which would diminish their ability to fight to the degree that ensured them victory. These great Polish cavalrymen were as light as most classified 'light' cavalrymen, but could strike in concentration with their 15 ft.+ lances at the gallop (perhaps longer, to outreach enemy pikes)! They could carry their charge through the enemy ranks. This tactical asset was one result of the organizing skills of the redoubtable Stefan Batory (d. 1586).
Gustavus never tactically overwhelmed the Poles, but he certainly got the better of them, except for one substantial time - when he was caught in a manner he painstakingly tried to avoid. It is not accurate, from my view, when claimed by some that he was 'crushed' by the Poles. But minor defeats of his cavalry, particularly units caught out in the open, by Polish cavalry are what affected some of his theories, reforms, and practices, which were realized throughout his later, more famous campaign.
Gustavus' father, duke Karl (Charles) IX of Sweden (king as of 1604), ousted Catholic officials, and repulsed an incursion into Sweden by Sigismund (Zygmunt) III at Stangebro (near modern Linkoping) in 1598. Sigismund III, officially crowned as the Swedish king in 1594, but reluctant to accept Protestantism as the state religion, desired to establish a permanent union between Sweden and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, but instead created hostilities which led to intermittent war between the two nations lasting until 1721 (if we include up to the fall of Karl (Charles) XII). Charles was, however, unsuccessful when he invaded Livonia in 1600; his army was smashed by Jan Chodkiewicz's cavalry, of which about a third was the husaria, at Kircholm in 1605. Another army of 30,000 Muscovites under Dmitry Shuisky, supported by approx. 5,000 Swedish mercenaries (probably more so Scottish and German) under Jakob De la Gardie, was defeated five years later at Klushino by a much smaller Polish army, again with the ferocious husaria proving to be too strong. But Sweden's power was rising in the Baltic, as her fleet appeared outside Danzig (modern Gdansk) and Riga, capturing and searching ships trading with these prominent ports. Due to Danzig's neutral status at this time, the Swedes were able to provision their troops in Livonia from there. Aging and overwrought, Karl IX died in October, 1611, while war with Christian IV of Denmark, known as the Kalmar War, which broke out the previous April, was looking bad for Sweden. As a ruler, Karl IX, basically a practical man, was the link between his great father Gustavus Vasa and his even greater son. The Vasa kings in the 16th century laid the foundation of a national regular army. Gustavus perfected it.
At sixteen years of age, Gustavus Adolphus inherited the wars his father began, and only by exerting himself to the utmost was he able to achieve peaceful settlements with Denmark (Treaty of Knarod, January, 1613) and Russia (Treaty of Stolbova, February, 1617). He had to restrict himself due to the terms involving indemnity with Denmark, but his treaty with Russia altogether shut out Muscovy from the Baltic, and its trade became dependent on Sweden. It was clear that Gustavus would resolve to take up the struggle with the Poles in Livonia if necessary. The Sveriges Riksdag (Swedish parliament) consented to this in spite of financial concerns.
Hostilies had already begun in 1617, though a truce had been formally agreed upon in 1613 and prolonged for two years the following year. The king of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Sigismund III, whose unwavering claims to the throne of Sweden (by birth he was united along the royal lines of the Vasa and Jagiello) would involve Poland in a whole series of unprofitable wars with Sweden spanning 6 decades, instructed his government to not renew the truce. The Swedes captured Pernau (modern Parnu), and by the autumn of 1618 Gustavus was willing to arrange an armistice, but Sigismund III rejected every proposal in that course, keeping unflinchingly to his claim to be acknowledged King of Sweden. Finally a truce was arranged on September 23, 1618, and Jan Chodkiewicz, who had conducted himself with such esteem on the Livonian front, was sent against the Ottoman threat from the south. The great Polish hetman died in September of 1621, amid his successful entrenched defense against the sultan Osman II's huge invading army, perhaps numbering 100,000, at Khotyn (Chocim), in the Ukraine. During this time the rivalry between Gustavus and Sigismund III transposed into a very different and higher plane.
Another blow for the Poles was the death of Jan Zamoyski in 1605. It had been the firm conviction of this great szlachcic and magnate that Poland could not achieve any long term success against Sweden without a navy. But his efforts to prevail upon Danzig (modern Gdansk) to produce a fleet were in vain, as the neutral city didn't want to displease the Swedish sovereign at the time (among other reasons).
A Protestant coalition, including the Dutch Republic, Lubeck (the anchor of the Hansaetic League), and Sweden, was formed amongst the Northern countries, while Sigismund III fixed his attention on the Hapsburg monarchy, a land power firmly Catholic in its policy. An 'eternal' alliance, very vague in principle, was concluded. Sigismund III now geared his thoughts to far-reaching plans for winning Sweden back (he always believed Sweden was rightly his). Attacking Gustavus by propaganda in his own kingdom, he endeavored, with the help of Spain and other external enemies of Sweden, to create a constant menace to his adversary. Gustavus proposed peace, including the right for Sigismund III to use the title 'King of Sweden', but this was rejected. Gustavus then obtained from the Sveriges Riksdag the funds for renewing the war.
Essentially, Gustavus' war against Poland was for control of the Baltic coast. He viewed Catholic Poland as a threat to Protestantism - a threat that perhaps barely existed, but one he thought existed, and the Scandinavian monarchies certainly symbolized the pillars of Protestantism. It was very prudent on the part of Gustavus to form an alliance with Denmark in 1628 to defend Stralsund (NE Germany), as a divided Protestant Scandinavia would result in their defeat by the Catholic states. Like Danzig (modern Gdansk), Stralsund was a principal strategic base on the Baltic. Sigismund III, the son of the Swedish king John III (d. 1592) and Catherine Jagiellon (Katarzyna Jagiellonka, d. 1583), lost his title as the official Swedish king in 1599, deposed by the Sveriges Riksdag. His politics of support for Catholic Reformation (counterreformation) and personal ambition were among the reasons for the wars to come. This, of course, can be viewed in other ways by his apologists, which is totally understandable.
In 1617, Gustavus indeed took advantage of Poland's involvement with the Muscovites and Ottomans, gaining hegemony on the eastern Baltic in Livonia, compelling the Poles under Prince Krzysztof Radziwill to conclude an armistice until 1620. The Thirty Years War had begun two years earlier, and Gustavus clearly saw Sweden would be drawn into the vortex. He vainly tried to renew the truce with Poland, as Sigismund III, influenced by the Jesuits and feeling safe from the central and north-east with a newly agreed truce with Russia, could not be influenced. After thorough preparations, Gustavus sailed for the mouth of the Dvina (Duna) in July, 1621 with about 18,000 men aboard 76 ships. The fort commanding the mouth of the Dvina, Dynemunt (Dunamunde), was taken, and the siege of Riga began on August 13. Terms were refused by the garrison, which numbered 300 and supported by a citizen militia of 3,700. Gustavus was thus compelled to open a bombardment. On August 30, a small relief force under Radziwill, perhaps just 1,500 men, was beaten back; Swedish entrenchments were too firm and gunfire too solid to overcome, and Radziwill withdrew by August 31. After mining was resorted to, in which Gustavus threatened to explode all the mines at once, Riga surrendered on September 25, 1621. To isolate Poland even more from the sea, he marched south across the Dvina, took Mitawa (Mitau, modern Jelgava), and, leaving ravaged Livonia to its fate, stationed his troops in Courland. The conquest of Riga meant there was no longer any possibility for Poland to establish herself as a Baltic power. Through Riga passed a third of her exports. With it Gustavus gained political and strategic advantages and a base for equipping his fleet. At the same time, the Poles and Ottomans opened talks, and a mutual peace was agreed upon (for now).
The east part of Livonia and the important town of Dorpat remained, however, in Polish hands. In the autumn of 1622 both sides were again ready to accept an armistice. Gustavus was too eager for a truce to grudge Sigismund III the kingship of Sweden, so long as he did not call himself Hereditary King. Krzysztof Radziwill had advised Sigismund III to ask for an armistice, but, as usual, he hesitated to the very last. This gave Sweden's Chancellor, Axel Oxenstierna, an opportunity to seperate the interests of Poland and Lithuania, and to offer the latter peace and neutrality in the struggle between Sweden and Poland. This was the first Swedish attempt to drive a wedge between the two halves of the Polish-Lithuanian Monarchy. But the plan did not succeed, and Gustavus personally conducted the campaign in the summer of 1622. Radziwill retook Mitawa, and a battle was fought on August 3, 1622. Initially, it seems Swedish infantrymen, positioned in thickets with swampy ground between them and the Lithuanians, fired upon the enemy, refusing to come out in the open, a condition which Radziwill proposed. The Swedes overwhelmed the outnumbered haiduks (mercenary foot-soldiers of mostly Magyar stock from Hungary) in an infantry clash. Some companies of husaria then displayed some recalcitrance, as there existed serious financial problems with the Lithuanian forces, which was more a private army than a state one at this time, which led to a lack of loyalty and morale amongst many. But two banners, perhaps about 400 husaria (numbers for these banners, more properly known as Choragiews, vary) did intrepidly charge into the Swedish ranks and, despite unfavorable ground, penetrated through with minimal loss (the Swedish army was not yet the drilled, disciplined force of a few years away, but vastly improving). The Swedes reinforced their positions which precluded the husaria from turning around (there was also no support for the husaria either). Radziwill built solid fortifications around Mitawa (Mitau) which precluded a resolved effort by the Swedes to recapture it by military means. But Radziwill was again forced to conclude an armistice, as adequate forces could not be sent to stop Gustavus from continuing his conquest, as the serious war with the Ottomans was too recent to not keep forces on the lookout further south. From a Swedish viewpoint, this establishment by Gustavus wiped away much of the shame caused by the disaster of the Battle of Kircholm sixteen years earlier, and Mitawa (Mitau) was occupied on October 3, 1622 by Gustavus. But so severe was the sickness which afflicted the Swedish forces that some 10,000 reinforcements had to be called. Renewed in November, 1622, the truce was prolonged year after year until 1625, though the sole object of each side was to gain time to prepare for more impending war.
A few years earlier Gustavus had found support in Brandenburg-Prussia, which might, under favorable conditions, become very useful. East Prussia had been inherited in 1619 by the Elector of Brandenburg, and his sister, Hedvig Eleonora, had married Gustavus in 1620. But the Elector Georg Wilhelm was himself afraid of Poland and not yet willing to comply immediately with the demands made by Gustavus, now his brother-in-law. Inactive and not willing to be decisive, Georg Wilhelm tried to avoid difficulties and therefore added an element of uncertainty to the political situation amongst the Northern countries. Sigismund III's phlegmatic temperamant had a similar effect, who carried a fear of losing the leading elements of Prussia into the arms of Sweden. For Gustavus, it was very important that Sigismund III didn't gain a firm footing in Ducal (East) Prussia.
When Gustavus renewed hostilities against Poland, it was partly for national reasons and partly to assist the German Protestants. During the preceding years, Sigismund III had constantly showed a desire to attack Sweden on a large scale, although the Polish Sejm at this time expressed no desire to support him and the funds at his disposal were insufficient. Two factors important for Gustavus were the change of James I of England's policy and his desire to arrange, with the help of Cardinal Richelieu of France, a coalition of Protestant powers against the Hapsburgs and their Catholic allies. Christian IV of Denmark, whose relations with Sweden had again, in the fall of 1623, been strained to the utmost, and with the support of England and the Dutch Republic, he led Protestant action against the Hapsburg coalition in Germany, and this at last made Gustavus feel safe with regard to Denmark. He would have preferred to land in Polish Prussia, but probably out of consideration for his brother-in-law and the Dutch, who grudged him Danzig (modern Gdansk), he resumed the struggle in Livonia. Gustavus' earlier strategic successes in 1621-1622 marked a shift in the balance of forces within the Baltic, and denied Sigismund III a port from which he could launch a legitimist invasion of Sweden, though he was fortunate he was able to establish this valuable footing here in Livonia and Courland scarcely opposed. But he did beat back the small relief force at Riga; he wouldn't have been able to take the city if he hadn't overcome this force, perhaps just 1,500 men; the garrison of Riga was very valiant in its defense, spurred by the hope for Radziwill to make some headway. Polish apologists stress the Ottoman threat as being more serious. While this is true for before the autumn of 1621, the Ottomans were repulsed (as I already mentioned) with great loss by Jan Chodkiewicz in September-October, 1621, at the fortress of Khotyn (Chocim), and internal strife soon broke amongst the janissaries, during which the sultan Osman II was murdered. A peace was agreed upon and the Polish/Lithuanian-Ottoman border would be fairly quiet until 1633. Gustavus was now seemingly the threat to be dealt with. But Stanislaw Koniecpolski, a superb commander, was busy dealing with the Tartars from 1624-1626, to the east.
A permanent peace could not be reached between Gustavus and Sigismund III to replace the existing truce, so Gustavus again arrived with his army at the mouth of the Dvina in May of 1625 with some 20,000 men aboard 148 ships, his army now in a rapidly-advancing phase of a newly forged instrument of war. His forces attacked at three points - (1) Courland, on the Baltic shore, taking the ports of Ventspils (Windau) and Liepaja (Libau), (2) Koknese (Kokenhausen), further inland, and (3) Dorpat (modern Tartu), to the north. No major field engagements occured, but Koknese was taken on July 15 of 1625, followed by the castle of Birze (modern Birzai) a month later, after a valiant defense by the garrison. The attempt of a Polish colonel to retake Riga with 2,000 men was repulsed, and a second attempt by the Chancellor of Lithunia, Jan Stanislaw Sapieha, with 3,000 men (these figures are not confirmed) was driven off with a loss of all their guns. Around the same time, Dorpat was taken by Jakob De la Gardie, and in late September Mitawa was taken by Swedish forces. But Polish forces prevented Gusav Horn from capturing Dunaberg (modern Daugavpils). Gustavus would now resolve to take the initiative against enemy ground forces, concentrated to his south.
In 1624, Gustavus decreed a lighter design to replace the matchlock musket for standard issue - the wheel-lock pistol and musket, reputedly invented in 1517 by one Johann Kiefuss, a German gun maker from Nuremburg. These firearms did not entail a smoldering match, thus there would be no more stressing about it going out when precipitation rolls in, or the danger of handling gunpowder around the match. The idea of this mechanism is simple; think of a modern lighter which has a flint pressed up against a roughened little metal wheel - when the wheel is spun with your finger, the flint pressed against its surface throws off sparks. The same system was used in these firearms to create sparks as needed to ignite the gunpowder to fire the gun. It's all evolutionary. But it was more expensive: surely not everyone received the better design (dragoons must have been given priority, as they carried their muskets across the back in a leather strap. But even those of Gustavus' men retained the matchlock, they increasingly received lighter ones. By 1626, reloading speeds in Gustavus' army were improved to the point where three ranks of musketeers, reduced from six when all loaded, could simultaneously maintain a continuous barrage; his musketeers were trained to fire by salvo - the discharge of an entire unit's supply in one or two volleys to produce a wall of bullets, and they waited until their enemy was not more than a distance of 35-70 yards. Firepower was greatly increased by the addition of copiuos field artillery pieces. In 1626, the 3 lb. 'leather guns' were introduced, which were developed by a Scottish engineer, Robert Scott, and a heavier model ushered in by an Austrian officer, Melchior von Wurmprandt; these little guns were the first regimental guns to fire fixed ammunition with wooden cases, and they could fire at a rate not much slower than a musketeer. It was named the 'leather gun' because the external casing (frame) of the barrel was made of leather. The bore (tube) of the gun was made of copper. Every effort was made to curtail weight, and without its comparitively light carriage, and the gun weighed 90 lbs. (about 400 lbs. including the carriage). The 'leather gun' could easily be manuevered on the battlefield by two men and one horse. It possessed the asset of mobility to the highest degree, and albeit it was a major technological development, it turned out to have a major drawback: the gun sacrificed too much to lightness and mobility, and upon repeated fire it became so hot that a new charge would often ignite spontaneously, which could lead to disaster amongst its crew, who could still be in the recoil path. Ultimately, the 'leather gun' was a failure as a regimental field piece, but certainly the advent of light mobile artillery in the field. Once Gustavus entered Germany in 1630, the 'leather gun' had been replaced by the 4 lb. Piece Suedoise, made of heavier substance, if slightly less mobile; a third man was required, along with two horses to handle it. This regimental gun was supreme, and could fire eight rounds of grapeshot to every six shots by a musketeer. This was possible because its design involved a new artillery cartridge, in which the shot and repellant charge were wired together to expedite holding. Moreover, a 9 lb. demiculverin, produced by Gustavus' bright young artillery chief, Lennart Torstensson, was introduced. This weapon was classed as the feildpeece - par excellence. The science of mobile field artillery (ie, movable amid battle) may be arguably said to have been first utilized substantially by Gustavus and his engineers. But we can always find precedents; in this case, Babur and Charles V of Spain identified the value of field guns.
n late 1625, Gustavus could be fairly sure of his ground. Sweden was more prepared for war than ever; the unity of king, ministry, noble class, and people was in marked contrast to the condition of any other European state. The ordinary soldiers were given a personal stake in their country, as Gustavus provided land as compensation for service, and for the officers, usually farms on crown lands, form which they collected rent from the tenant-farmer. When not on campaign, the soldier worked on these farms in exchange for board and lodging. I'll spare these details, but basically the soldiers of Sweden under Gustavus' reign became bound to the land, assisiting with its maintenance. Thus the civilian population was involved with the army and its support, and Gustavus was supported to utilize Swedish commerce and industry to fully subsidize the wars he would fight. Moreover, a system of regulated conscription and administration was established, in which each province raised regiments which were supported by local taxes. These provincial regiments would remain permanent. Also by 1625, the Sveriges Riksdag was operating on a regular annual budget with a reformed fiscal system. Drafts to supply men to the regular army were drawn from the militia, which was the home-defence force in which all able-bodied men over the age of fifteen were liable to serve. However, the population of Sweden was too small to provide all the soldiers Gustavus needed, once war thinned his ranks; after all, he would be fighting countries vastly outnumbering Sweden in population. This void was filled by soldiers of fortune (mercenaries), but not the cut-throat bands which ravaged central Europe; the professional mercenaries who fought for Gustavus accepted the stern discipline in return for treatment as good as that received by native Swedes. The Green Brigade (brigades in Gustavus' army were named after the color of their flags), composed mostly of Scottish soldiers, was among the finest units of the Thirty Years' War, and led by the likes of Robert Munro, John Hepburn, Alexander Leslie, and Donald Mackay.
To reiterate, Gustavus integrated the activity of lighter mobile artillery, cavalry, and infantry to a science which produced a radically different, balanced, and superior army than any other in Europe (probably anywhere at the time). Artillery was no longer an insitutional appendage, but a regimental branch of his balanced army. The Battle of Breitenfeld, fought on September 17, 1631, against the able Johann Tserclaes von Tilly, brilliantly realized the basic military theory of Gustavus - the superiority of mobility over weight (and combined arms), something the likes of Alexander and Hannibal showcased amid their triumphs from two millennia earlier. But now Gustavus applied the concept with the technology of his day. It took some time, and not without trial and error (he didn't turn field artillery into a battle-deciding arm, but a significant support to his cavalry and infantry in the field). But the heroic example of Gustavus'Alexandrian style of leadership would later cost him his life. Some may say he was too rash, but leading by personal example will do wonders for the moral of one's troops.
But the supreme army it became we was still in its developing stages in late 1625, where we left off the chronoligical narrative.
The Polish forces in the region of Wallmoja (Wallhof, modern Valle in what is today Latvia) probably numbered some 6-7,000 men, between Jan Sapieha (the son of the Lithuanian chancellor), Radziwill, and Aleksander Gosiewski. Marching swiftly SW from Koknese (Kokenhausen) to the region around Wallmoja (Wallhof), around 30 miles SE of Riga, in a forced march with some 3,000 picked men (2,000 Finnish Hakkapeliitat, plural for a Hakkapeliita, and about 1,000 musketeers), of over 30 miles in 36 hours in difficult terrain, Gustavus swiftly fell upon the larger force of about 4,000 (at most) under Sapieha, and routed them in what B. H. Liddell Hart describes as perhaps the earliest example in modern military history of the principles of concentration, both strategical and tactical, and of the combination of fire and movement, which forms the burden of every military manual nowadays (Hart wrote this in 1927). Basically, he surprised the Polish-Lithuanian force in wooded terrain, which precluded them from outflanking his dispositions - a condition he effectuated, using his infantry in the woods to deliver musketry volleys upon them while still in enfilade. The 'rapid redeployment' of Gustavus' infantry was maturing with each operational campaign. Now with complete control of Livonia, and the fortified line south of the Dvina no longer threatened, Gustavus wanted to make peace (albeit favorable to his position), and sent an embassy to Warsaw. But part of it was seized, and due to the difficulty to procure their release, peace was not in the cards. Jakob De la Gardie, who would later advocate peace with Poland, was left in Livonia to secure the Swedish position, and Gustavus returned to Stockholm.
Important note: Polish accounts claim Jan Sapieha's army was surprised in a non-fortified position with merely 1,500-2,000 men, and that the total troop strength numbered merely 5,000. But that 1st figure is more likely the casualties he suffered. Sapieha fled, understandably, from the field (the victorious cavalry charge was reputedly enormously effective), and the Swedish hold on Birze (modern Birzai) was never compromised. Shame can lead a man to downplay his potential infamy (I would). Radoslow Sikora, the current Polish historian, provides Polish army records which state that it was possibly a higher number than Sapieha claimed - 2,000, but no higher. Well, it could very well have been higher, and Sapieha clearly didn't give an accurate count - a count smaller than the probable amount from the Polish view. There were no longer some 45,000 Poles/Lithuanians fighting the Ottomans to the south, and the truce agreed in late 1622 was certainly to gain time to prepare for near-assured upcoming hostilities; this comes from one from F. Nowak in his contribution to the Cambridge History of Poland to 1696, Pg. 480,
"...summer of 1622, a preliminary agreement was concluded in August. Renewed in November, the truce was prolonged year after year until 1625, though the sole object of each side was to gain time for war preparations."
Thus, unless one chooses to disbelieve professor Nowak, Krzysztof Radziwill and Sapieha would surely not have divided their forces (unless they were mobilizing them for the 1st time) after Gustavus' invasion with such miniscule numbers. After all, not more than twenty miles seperated them (one force is claimed to have been six miles away from Sapieha), and if we are to believe the scenario that Gustavus destroyed a force of merely 2,000 at most, what became of the other forces in the region, numbering another 3,000 (according to them)? No explanation is afforded. Why would Gustavus compel himself and his men to force-march and ambush a force just two-thirds thier quantity? He constantly tried to achieve truces. I believe his force was about 2,000 cavalry, including the terrific, light Finnish Hakkapeliitat, and upwards of 1,000 musketeers. From some accounts I have studied, the Poles and Lithuanians numbered about 2,600 cavalry and about 1,300 infantry. I have read some accounts claiming their infantry alone numbered more than 3,400, but this is perhaps an elaboration to sweeten Gustavus' victory. One account states that Jan Sapieha's army was deployed on a ridge with the expectation the Swedes would would emerge in march formation. But Gustavus appeared in battle formation, probably with his infantry in the center and cavalry on the flanks. The Lithuanians were scattered from Gustavus' amalgam of a cavalry charge followed by musket fire (not yet the specific act of the 'commanded' musketeers, who were attached in support to fire in support of the cavalry). If here at Walmoja the infantry conduct involved the Swedish salvee (the salvo), it was a crude and not accounted for. The Poles/Lithuanians were indeed surprised by Gustavus' formation, and he exploited some disorder in their ranks, but I don't believe they were totally surprised in a non-fortified position, with only 1,500-2,000 men no less. To believe this would be to believe they were incredibly fatuous, knowing an invader had recently come, even though it was the winter.
The other commanders in the area were Radziwill and one Aleksander Gosiewski, who commanded smaller forces of perhaps 1,000 or so troopers each. I do believe the figure of 6-7,000 attributed to Jan Sapieha's force by some accounts is perhaps the number for all three combined, and they were divided, but close to each other; Sapieha's defeated army at Wallhof probably numbered no more than 4,000. Thus it was Gustavus who was outnumbered, and he achieved the decisive victory with calculated and resolved surprise. The other Polish/Lithuanian forces, comparitively small, must have retired further south. The Ottoman threat was now subordinate to Gustavus' presence, and to leave such a scant amount of troops in the wake of Gustavus' invasion was manifestly inviting disaster. Gustavus' army was swiftly becoming a disciplined, balanced force, in which morale was increasing. He took acute measures to properly plan for transport and supply; the fact Gustavus was better equipped to conduct a winter campaign than his enemy, in their own territory no less, illustrates his strategic and logistic sagacity. During the siege of Riga in 1621, he enthusiastically dug the trenches with his men. True, Gustavus established his position in Livonia and Polish Prussia by attacking while the Polish/Lithuanian forces were dealing with Ottomon (until 1621) and Tatar (Tartar) threats. Koniecpolski didn't arrive on the scene against Gustavus until November of 1626, due to his fighting with the Tartars, whom he crushed. Though Gustavus' entrenched positions in Polish Prussia wavered back and forth, his grip was never completely lost.
Furthermore, the Poles and Lithuanians knew Gustavus had just taken the towns of Mitawa (Mitau, modern Jelgava)) and Bauske (modern Bauska). They must have been in a 'time of war' frame of mind, regardless of the winter conditions. However, claims that Gustavus lost not one man is untenable. But it suggests that, if he was barely scathed, he did indeed surprise them. We can almost always extract an element of truth from rhetorical predilections.
When the way was clear for a new theater of operations for Gustavus in Polish Prussia, he resolved to secure control of the Vistula, as he had already secured the Dvina. The mouth of the Vistula poured into the Baltic at Danzig (modern Gdansk), and was the vital artery of Poland's economy. With the Vistual blocked, and Danzig captured or neutralized, the Polish magnates would certainly compel Sigismund III to make peace. This campaign would also relieve much stress, hopefully, on the Protestants in Germany, as Imperialists would come to the aid of Sigismund III. Gustavus landed near Pillau (modern Baltiysk) on the Vistula Lagoon (the Zalew Wislany, or Frisches Haff)) on June 25, 1626 with about 14,000 men, aboard some 150 ships. He took Pillau after negotiations failed with his brother-in-law, Georg Wilhelm, the Elector of Brandenburg. This action threatening Poland's access to the Baltic. He discerned that he needed to occupy as much of the Baltic coast as he could before joining the struggle in Germany, and do it quickly; the Poles had been lax in concentrating forces to deal with him, and this he would take full advantage of. After the fall or surrender of Braniewo (Braunsberg), Elblag (Elbing), Frombork (Frauenburg), Orneta (Wormditt), Tolkmicko (Tolkemit), and Malbork (Marienburg) by early July, 1626, he was in possession of the fertile and defensible delta of the Vistula in Prussia, which he viewed as a permanent conquest. Axel Oxenstierna was commissioned as the region's first governor-general. Communications between Danzig (modern Gdansk), which was his hope for a valuable base and depot, and the Polish interior were cut off by the erection of the first of Gustavus' famous entrenched camps around Tczew (Dirschau). Putzig (modern Puck), NW of Danzig was captured, and by storming Gniew (Mewe) on July 12, 1626, the Poles were further threatened with losing access to Danzig from the interior. Again, the terrific Koniecpolski was at this time fighting the Tartars in the Ukraine, and Zygmunt (Sigismund) III was slow (such criticism is in hindsight, of course) to mobilize against Gustavus' landing on June 25, 1626 at Pilawa (Pillau, modern Baltiysk).