Battle of Poltava
The Battle of Poltava (8 July 1709) was the decisive victory of Peter the Great (Peter I of Russia) over the Swedish Empire forces under Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, in one of the battles of the Great Northern War.
Today at the site of the battle there is a State Cultural Heritage Preserve Complex in Poltava known as the Poltava Battle Field, which consists of monuments and churches commemorating the event.
Peter I withdrew from Poland in the spring of 1706, and offered to cede his Baltic possessions to Sweden except St. Petersburg, but Charles refused.
Peter subsequently adopted a scorched-earth policy in order to deprive the Swedish forces of supplies.
The Swedish army of almost 44,000 men left Saxony on 22 August 1707 and marched slowly eastwards.
Charles took the field in November after waiting for reinforcements to arrive.
Poor weather and road conditions kept the Swedish troops in winter quarters until June 1708.
However, his departure from Mitau was delayed until late June and consequently he only joined Charles' forces on 11 October.
Rather than winter in Livonia or wait for Lewenhaupt, Charles decided to move southward into Ukraine and join Mazepa, who had decided to rebel against Peter.
Peter sent Sheremetev to shadow the Swedish army.
Lewenhaupt followed south and was attacked while crossing a river near a small village that gave name to the Battle of Lesnaya, losing the supply train and half of his force.
Anticipating the Swedish arrival, Menshikov ordered the merciless massacre of the population, razing the city and destroying or looting arms, ammunition and food.
By the spring of 1709 Charles' force had shrunk to half of its original size.
After the coldest winter in Europe in over 500 years, Charles was left with 20,000 soldiers and 34 cannons.
Peter's force of 80,000 marched to relieve the siege.
Upon his arrival, Peter built a fortified camp on the Vorskla, 4 km north of Poltava.
While observing the Russian position on 20 June, Charles was struck by a stray bullet, injuring his foot badly enough that he could not stand.
Between the Russian and Swedish forces the Yakovetski and Budyschenski woods formed a corridor, which the Russians defended by building six forts across the gap.
Two of the redoubts were still being constructed on the morning of the battle, but 4,000 Russians manned the remaining eight, with 10,000 cavalry under Gen. Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov stationed behind them.
Because of his wound, Charles turned over operational command to Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld.
Four columns of infantry and six columns of cavalry were to form during the night, 600 meters south of the redoubts, intending to attack before dawn in order to swiftly bypass the redoubt system and hit the Russian fort.
The infantry was in place by 2:30 a.m. but the cavalry arrived late, having lost their way.
Riding forward, Axel Gyllenkrok observed the Russians at work on the two nearest redoubts and rode back to inform Rehnskiöld.
Having lost the element of surprise, and without sufficient cannon to breach the fortifications, Rehnskiöld consulted with Charles, Carl Piper and Lewenhaupt on whether or not to proceed with the assault.
By the time Rehnskiöld decided to proceed with the attack by quoting, "In the name of God then, let us go forward", it was nearly 4:00 a.m. on 28 June (Swedish calendar) and dawn was already approaching.
The Swedes in Carl Gustaf Roos' column quickly overran the first two redoubts, killing every Russian soldier inside them, but by 4:30 a.m. the attempts to take the third redoubt stalled.
Lewenhaupt's ten battalions on the right bypassed the first four redoubts entirely, advancing to the back line and, with the aid of cavalry, took some redoubts while bypassing others.
Two of Roos' rear battalions joined them, indicating that issued orders lacked clarity as to whether to avoid the redoubts or attack them in series.
The cavalry on the left wing, commanded by Maj. Gen. Hamilton and an infantry regiment, advanced by passing the redoubts on the left and charged the Russian cavalry, forcing them to retreat.
It was 5:00 a.m. when the left and right wings of the Swedish army made it past the back line of redoubts, sending the Russian cavalry in retreat.
However, Rehnskiöld ordered his cavalry to stop their pursuit and Lewenhaupt, already advancing towards the fort, to withdraw to the west.
There they awaited Roos' battalions for two hours, while the Russian cavalry and Ivan Skoropadsky's Cossacks waited to the north, with 13 Russian battalions deployed north of their camp and ten to the south, anticipating a Swedish advance.
Gen. Roos and six battalions (one-third of the Swedish infantry) became isolated while attempting to take the third Russian redoubt.
After suffering severe casualties from several assault attempts, Roos led the remaining 1,500 of his original 2,600 men into the Yakovetski woods to the east at 6:00 a.m.
The Russians reoccupied the first two redoubts and launched a two-pronged attack by ten regiments around 7:00 a.m., forcing Roos to retreat towards Poltava and take refuge in an abandoned fort by 9:00 a.m. when he could not make it to the Swedish siege works.
Roos was forced to surrender his command at 9:30 a.m.
The Swedes continued to wait for Roos' troops to return, unaware of their surrender.
As time went by Peter led the 42 battalions of Russian infantry—22,000 soldiers—into an advance out of the fortified camp, supported by 55 three-pounder cannons plus 32 guns on the ramparts of the fort.
Ten regiments of dragoons formed under Lt. Gen. Adolf Fredrik Bauer on the Russian right and six regiments under Menshikov on the left.
Just west of the camp the Russians were faced by 4,000 Swedish infantry, formed into ten battalions with four three-pounders, and Creutz's cavalry in the rear.
The Russians slowly moved forward to engage.
According to Charles and reports from other Swedish officers, the weather at that time was already very hot and humid, with the sun obscured by smoke from the Russian cannon in the fort.
At 9:45 a.m. Rehnskiöld ordered Lewenhaupt and the Swedish line to move forward, advancing towards the Russian line, which started firing its cannon at 500 meters.
When the Swedes were 50 meters from the Russian line, the Russians opened fire with their muskets from all four ranks.
Advancing to within 30 meters of the Russian line, the Swedes fired a volley of their own and charged with their muskets and pikesmen, and the Russian first line retreated towards their second line.
The Swedes seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough and needed the cavalry under Gen. Creutz to break the Russian lines.
Unfortunately for the Swedes, Creutz's and the other cavalry units were unable to reform completely and in time.
With the Russian line longer than the Swedish line, the Swedish infantry on the left flank lagged behind the right and finally threw down their weapons and fled.
As the Swedish right flank was still advancing, a gap began to open in the Swedish line which the Russians filled and the battle turned into a Cannae variation.
Barely able to gather his cavalry squadrons, Creutz tried to advance on the right flank, but the Russian battalions were able to form into hollow squares, while Menshikov's cavalry outflanked the Swedes and attacked them from the rear.
At this point the Swedish assault had disintegrated and no longer had organized bodies of troops to oppose the Russian infantry or cavalry.
Small groups of soldiers managed to break through and escape to the south through the Budyschenski woods, while many of the rest were overwhelmed, ridden down or captured.
Realizing they were the last Swedes on the battlefield, Charles ordered a retreat to the woods, gathering what remaining forces he could for protection, including the remnants of Creutz's detachment.
The Russians halted at the edge of the woods and their artillery fire stopped; only the Cossacks and Kalmycks roamed the plains south of the woods.
Emerging from the woods at around noon, Charles—on horseback after his litter was destroyed and protected by a square of a couple of thousand men—headed to Pushkaryovka and his baggage train 5 km to the south, reaching it after 1:00 p.m., by which time the battle was over.
Charles gathered the remainder of his troops and baggage train and retreated to the south later that same day—at about 7:00 p.m.--abandoning the siege of Poltava.
Lewenhaupt led the surviving Swedes and some of the Cossack forces to the Dnieper River, but was doggedly pursued by the Russian regular cavalry and 3,000 Kalmyk auxiliaries and forced to surrender three days later at Perevolochna, on 1 July.
Main article: Surrender at Perevolochna
High-ranking Swedes captured during the battle included Field Marshal Rehnskiöld, Maj. Gen. Schlippenbach, Maj. Gen. Stackelberg, Maj. Gen. Hamilton and Prince Maximilian Emanuel, as well as Piper.
Peter the Great held a celebratory banquet in two large tents erected on the battlefield.
Voltaire assumed Peter's reason for this, in raising a toast to the Swedish generals as war masters, was to send a message to his own generals about disloyalty.
Two mass graves contained the Russian dead, 500 meters southwest of their camp.
Previously defeating Peter, Charles had gone so far as to pay the Russian troops.
Peter instead took many Swedes, with great pride, and sent them to Siberia.
Charles spent five years in exile there before he was able to return to Sweden in December 1715.
During this time, even handicapped, he retained his magisterial calm demeanor under fire, fighting his way out of several situations.
The high vizier of the Turks was eventually paid off, with much intrigue and espionage involved and plots within plots, at one point involving a ransom of the Russian crown jewels, according to Charles' prison translator.
Credits to the contents of this page go to the authors of the corresponding Wikipedia page: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle of Poltava.