Military Wiki
First Battle of Breitenfeld
Part of the Thirty Years' War
Gustavus Adolphus in the battle of Breitenfeld
Gustavus Adolphus in the battle of Breitenfeld
DateSeptember 7 (O.S.)[lower-alpha 1]
September 17, 1631 (N.S.)[lower-alpha 1]
LocationBreitenfeld, Saxony, north of Leipzig
(present-day Germany)

51°24′N 12°20′E / 51.4°N 12.333°E / 51.4; 12.333Coordinates: 51°24′N 12°20′E / 51.4°N 12.333°E / 51.4; 12.333
Result Decisive Swedish victory

Protestant States:

 Electorate of Saxony

Catholic League:

 Holy Roman Empire
 Kingdom of Croatia (Habsburg)
Commanders and leaders
Sweden Gustavus Adolphus
Sweden Gustav Horn
Electorate of Saxony Hans Georg von Arnim-Boitzenburg
Sweden Robert Munro
Electorate of Saxony John George I
Sweden Johan Banér
Holy Roman Empire Johann Tserclaes
Holy Roman Empire Gottfried Heinrich Graf zu Pappenheim
Egon VII
23,000 Swedes
18,300 Saxons
35,000 men
Casualties and losses
3,550 Swedes dead
2,000 Saxons dead
7,600 dead
6,000 captured
3,000 wounded
4,000 deserted
3,400 missing
3,000 more captured on September 19 by the pursuit at Merseburg

The Battle of Breitenfeld (German language: Schlacht bei Breitenfeld; Swedish language: Slaget vid Breitenfeld ) or First Battle of Breitenfeld (sometimes First Breitenfeld and in older texts Battle of Leipzig), was fought at a crossroads near Breitenfeld approximately five miles north-west of the walled city of Leipzig on September 17 (new style or Gregorian calendar), or September 7 (Julian calendar, in wide use at the time), 1631.[lower-alpha 1][lower-alpha 2] It was the Protestants’ first major victory of the Thirty Years War.

The victory ensured that the German states would not be forcibly reconverted to Roman Catholicism. It confirmed Sweden’s Gustavus Adolphus of the House of Vasa as a great tactical leader and induced many Protestant German states to ally with Sweden against the German Catholic League, led by Maximilian I, Elector of Bavaria, and the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II of Austria.

Prelude to the Swedish phase of the Thirty Years War

If the first phase of the Thirty Years War (or Wars, as some historians call it)[1] hinged on the Palatine inheritance, this phase hinged on the liberties of various bishoprics in Lorraine and the autonomy of several Lutheran princes, including imperial Electors of Saxony and Brandenburg. The issue was not only about religion, although it manifested itself in the princely religious autonomy.[2] At issue was the larger problem of imperial rule versus princely autonomy: at its most basic, the argument was over the nature of power and authority in the Holy Roman Empire.

"Swedish phase" of the Thirty Years War

The Swedish phase of the Thirty Years War began with the Swedish landing at Peenemünde. The Swedish campaign in central Europe gained control of great deal of territory. There were three major battles: Breitenfeld, the Lech, and Lützen. On 23 January 1631, French and Swedish negotiators concluded the Treaty of Bärwalde whereby France would subsidize the Swedish war effort. This marked a major shift away from a religious-based conflict, as the French were also Catholic.[3] After the defeat at the Battle of Nördlingen, France actively joined the Thirty Years War. Therefore this phase is sometimes referred to as the "French phase". However, the Swedish army recovered to defeat the Imperial army e.g. at the Battle of Wittstock and the Battle of Jankov. It is therefore more appropriate to label the subsequent phase a "Franco-Swedish phase".

Gustav's plan

When he had planned this invasion in 1629, after peace with Poland, with money in his pocket and promises of French subsidy, Gustav ruled an orderly and loyal country; he possessed reserves of war material; and he had at his command an effective, well disciplined fighting force made up of recruits from Sweden and Finland and thus loyal to him. Gustav's efforts in Poland and Lithuania did not secure his Baltic possessions, nor did they solve his kingdom’s security issues; Polish, Lithuanian and English ships continued to prey upon Swedish trade, and Gustav considered his engagement in the Protestant causes in the German states to be part and parcel to securing his own interests in the Baltic. Initially, Sweden’s entrance into the war was considered a minor annoyance to the Catholic League and its allies; his only battles to this point had been inconclusive ones, or fought against generals of modest military ability, such as at Honigfeld, a minor affair in eastern Prussia against Imperial troops under Hans Georg von Arnim-Boitzenburg to aid Sigismund III of Poland-Lithuania, which ended in Fall 1629 with the Truce of Altmark.[4][5]

Consequently, when Gustav Adolph and his force of 13,000 landed at Peenemünde in 1630, the Imperial Commander of the German Catholic League, Tilly, did not immediately respond, being engaged in what seemed to be more pressing matters in northern Italy.[6] Gustav's sole ally was the city of Stralsund, and over the ensuing months, the situation did not improve. While he could claim the support from German princes, these were the “dispossessed” like Mecklenburg and Saxe-Weimar, the expectant like the claimants to Brunswick-Lüneburg, the occupied, like Magdeburg, and the threatened, like Hesse-Kassel. In terms of real support of money, men, supplies and arms, these alliances meant little. External alliances were little better: Russia offered duty free grain to be sold in Amsterdam, a scheme that raised only 78,000 thalers, and France hedged its bets.[7] The difficulty in developing concrete alliances with German states was understandable. Unthreatened Lutheran princes saw the advantage in using the Swedish "menace" to wrest terms from Vienna, rather than commit what amounted to acts of treason.[8] French reticence at entering an alliance was less understandable for, like Sweden, France had been engaged in several decades of fighting, so peace and demobilization offered significant advantages; like Sweden, though, there were significant and concrete gains to be achieved in territory, influence, and prestige, if they were to be on the winning side of the renewal of fighting in northern Europe. In early 1631, imperial forces captured Mantua, effectively ending the Mantuan war, and the ensuing peace treaty at Cherasco (February 1631) insured that the large imperial army tied up in northern Italy was now free to expend its energy in the German states.[4][5]

Creating alliances

Contemporary etching of troop disposition at the beginning of the Battle of Breitenfeld (1631), painting in the Musée historique de Strasbourg.

When the Protestant princes showed little interest in attaching themselves to the Swedish cause, Gustavus opted for “rough wooing.”[9] His troops moved south into Brandenburg, taking and sacking the towns of Küstin and Frankfurt an der Oder. It was too late and too far to save one of Gustav’s “occupied” allies, Magdeburg, from a horrific sack by Imperial troops, beginning on May 20, in which a major portion of the population was murdered and the city burned. The Swedes turned the sack of Magdeburg to good use: broadsides and pamphlets distributed throughout Europe assured that prince and pauper alike understood how the Emperor, or at least his troops, treated his Protestant subjects.[10][11] Over the next few months, Gustav consolidated his bridgehead and expanded across northern Germany, attracting support from German princes and building his army from mercenary forces along the way. By the time he reached the Saxon border, his force had grown to over 23,000 men.

Strategic importance of Saxony

In order for Swedes to attack the Imperial troops in the south, they needed to pass through Saxony. In order for Tilly’s forces, now freed from northern Italy, to attack Gustav's army, they too needed to pass through Saxony. The Electorate of Saxony had not been affected by war and had large quantities of resources that each army could utilise. In midsummer, General Tilly asked John George I for permission to pass through the territory; the elector declined permission, noting that Saxony had not been ravaged by war yet. Later Tilly invaded the Electorate of Saxony due to the fact that it was the shortest distance between his army and Gustav's and it possibly nulled the chance of a potential alliance between Saxony and the Swedes.[6][12] His plan was to avoid contact with the Swedes, and ultimately the Saxons, until his troops could unite with the units near Jena (about 5000 seasoned professionals), and the larger force of Count Otto von Fugger, en route from Hesse.[12] Gustav and John George united their forces, planning to meet Tilly somewhere near Leipzig.

17th Century forces

This period of warfare had three basic branches in land forces: infantry, cavalry, and artillery. They had a relative balance, with the cavalry having much greater strength offensively than defensively and the infantry the opposite. Mostly, artillery was a supporting branch, delivering a slow rate of fire at very long range, and highly immobile.


Infantry had two basic types, light and heavy, from the ancient classical period until the late 17th century. Light troops used primarily ranged weapons while heavy infantry specialized in melee combat. Generally, light troops had less armor than heavy troops, but the types are not classified by armor. Some units of mixed type employed ranged or close weapons depending on the tactical situation, but they were a minority. There were dozens of specific types in use in every period. Most nations or regions commonly specialized in fielding specific variations, differing in specific weapons, armor, and tactics used. The forces employed at Breitenfeld on both sides used mostly one type of light infantry, musketeers armed with matchlock muskets. Matchlock muskets of the period were still a heavy weapon, not the lighter flintlock variety that would eventually evolve, typically with barrels about four feet long and propelling a ball weighing about 2 ounces(˜55 grams), the gun itself weighing between 15 and 17 lbs. The rate of fire was comparatively slow, typically around one round per minute, and musketeers were typically deployed in six or more ranks to allow for a continuous stream of fire. Musketeers typically lacked any form of protection, although some might have worn light helmets and buff coats; they carried cheap swords as sidearms, although the butt stock of a reversed musket was often more effective in close combat situations. The Swedes and the imperials also used mostly the same type of heavy infantry, pikemen. Pikemen of the period employed ˜16–18 foot pikes and wore heavy half armor, ideally consisting of a breast and backplate with thigh-protecting tassets and a light helmet, and also a short sword for close combat. Combined together these mixed infantry units were very strong defensively against any form of cavalry attacks. The musketeers had a greater range and rate of fire than a mounted man with a wheellock pistol, while pikes have greater reach compared to cavalry swords and lances (in later times, this advantage would be eliminated by the use of hollow lances by cavalry).

Historically most infantry were organized with units of a single type, but in this case, both sides fielded units with a mixture of light and heavy troops. The imperials deployed their infantry in modified Spanish tercios. These units were rectangular, about 1500 men, with a dense center of pikemen and four "sleeves" of musketeers deployed on each sides or corners. Such a formation had very powerful all around defenses against cavalry, but was very slow moving and lacked firepower since at best only half of the available muskets could be brought to bear. The Swedes deployed the infantry in brigades, a concept developed by Gustavus Adolphus. Swedish infantry were deployed with six ranks of musketeers to the front and five ranks of pikemen behind. The Swedish musketeers had also perfected the salvo firing technique, in which three ranks of musketeers fired simultaneously, with the front rank kneeling, the second rank crouching and the third rank standing. The massive disruption caused by such a wall of lead slamming into the enemy was capable of stopping cavalry charges without the aid of pikes on many occasions, and allowed the Swedish pikemen or cavalry to immediately gain advantage over their opponent in the subsequent close combat. The tactical preferences of the two armies resulted from different operational philosophies: the imperial infantry were typically more static and defensive in battle, while the Swedish were more capable of offense but more vulnerable to flanking attacks. Most of the Saxon units were various heavy types deployed in unmixed squares; with only a few companies of musketeers.


There were many different types of cavalry in the period. Similarly to the infantry, they differed in the weapons, armor and tactics employed. With cavalry, especially, unit names such as "heavy cavalry" are often misleading. The cavalry of both sides at Breitenfield were mostly units of cuirassiers. This was a heavy type of cavalry armed with wheel-lock pistols and broadswords and ideally clad in heavy three-quarter armor with a bulletproof cuirass. The second type of cavalry commonly used in Western Europe at the time was the harquebusier; a light, firearm-equipped cavalryman named after the long firearm they used. Theoretically, in battle the harquebusiers would provide supporting fire for the cuirassiers' charge, and their role was otherwise confined to skirmishing, scouting and other irregular operations. The cuirassiers themselves typically employed caracole tactics, advancing to the charge at a trot, often in a dense formation six or ten ranks deep. At about ten paces from the opposing formation the troopers would discharge their pistols and wheel around to reload, allowing the next rank to also fire. Only after an enemy had been substantially weakened or disordered would they draw their swords and charge.

Practical realities faced by the Swedish, however, resulted in their cavalry being uniquely different. Sweden's lack of manufacturing capability at the time resulted in her cavalry lacking in armor and wheellock pistols; the Swedish cuirassiers were only armored up to the standard of the typical imperial harquebusier, except for a few units raised in Livonia and recruited among the German mercenaries, while their Finnish light horse were often completely unarmored. Initially they were also largely outnumbered by their imperial counterparts, and thus often were forced to form up only two or three ranks deep to avoid being outflanked. The Swedes also had plenty of experience fighting against the vaunted Polish cavalry, which taught them the value of a full gallop charge using cold steel only. Also, to compensate for the lesser quality and quantity of his cavalry against the Poles, Gustavus started using detached companies of musketeers to provide fire support for his horsemen. These tactical developments would prove extremely effective, and while not Swedish by invention were brought into renown by them and would shape Western military doctrine until the early 19th century.


The artillery of the period used no explosive projectiles. Cannon generally fired directly at low angle with solid metal or stone shot. Artillery was mostly used for siege operations as it was very slow to maneuver. Used against opposing troops, a common tactic was the "grazing shot", aimed to skip off the ground in front of the enemy and bounce upward through the massed troops, causing many more casualties than level fire could. The Swedes had developed more modern models for their siege artillery that were easier to maneuver and load, using only three different weight of ordnance: 24, 6 and 3 pounders. Additionally the Swedes had some of their lighter pieces integrated into their infantry formations at brigade and regimental level. These 3pound pieces (3 assigned to a brigade) were much smaller, lighter and less powerful than the siege guns. The 3 pound pieces could maneuver with the infantry to a limited degree. 3 pounders could also be reloaded much more quickly than siege pieces and had greater range and firing rate than the infantry's muskets, greatly increasing the Swedish infantry's firepower.

Tactical Overview

In this contemporary drawing, the Imperial formations (to the left) are deployed two companies deep, while the Swedish (to the right) are deployed just one company deep

The Battle of Breitenfeld I (1631) was overall a meeting engagement with both combatants agreeing to battle on the field. The forces all had different structural organization. The level of technology was roughly equivalent, with newer, lighter cannon and matchlocks giving the Swedes a slight advantage. Both Armies were well supplied, and the terrain gave neither a distinct advantage. Key differences between Imperial forces and the Swedes and their allies were in the training and structure of infantry, and in the Swedish innovations of deploying infantry with cavalry and, more importantly, to deploy the infantry in brigades that were thinner and more agile than the tercio.

Forces Deployed

The forces deployed were roughly equal in strength. The Protestant coalition, including the Swedes and Germans, fielded about 42,000 troops (18,000 of them German), and the Imperial army about 35,000. The Protestants had a considerable edge in cavalry numbers, about 13,000 (5,000 from Allies) to 9,000. Strength of heavy artillery was comparable, with the Swedes having a slight edge in quality and Imperial forces a marginal advantage in quantity. The Swedes had additional small artillery pieces (3 and 6 pounders) integrated into their infantry brigades and regiments, giving them a larger number of tubes overall. The Catholics had a considerable advantage in the number of trained infantry deployed, about 25,000 to the Swedes 15,000. The Saxons (Swedish allies) fielded about 9,000 untrained conscripts and militiamen, and had very few muskets. The Swedish brigade had more matchlocks and fewer pikemen than the Imperial tercio; overall, the Unionists fielded about the same number of matchlocks as Imperial troops.

Force Assessment

The overall balance was relatively even. The disparity in overall numbers resulted from large levies of untrained soldiers. The number of heavy cannon was relatively close with the Swedish having newer models and light cannon compensating for the disparity in heavy field pieces. The Unionist had a considerable advantage in cavalry while the imperials had a considerable advantage in trained infantry. With the forces deployed, the key difference was the light/heavy infantry ratio of Swedes. The Swedes fielded considerably more muskets by ratio, had more advanced equipment, and better drills to increase their rate of fire. More important, the Linear Formation that allowed most musketeers to engage, while less than half in a tercio could engage.

Disposition of forces


Battle of Breitenfeld – Initial dispositions, 17 September 1631
Swedish-Saxon forces in Blue
Catholic army in Red

The Swedes deployed their 15,000 infantry in brigades and 2 lines. The imperial army deployed 25,500 infantry in a single line of 17 tercios (1,500 infantrymen in each). The German allies extended the Swedish-Saxon front to be overall slightly longer than the Catholic. The imperial line had its cavalry evenly distributed on its flanks. The Swedes had their cavalry weighted to their right. The Saxon allies fielded their infantry in wedge formation with units in squares, and cavalry on their flanks. With their Saxon allies extending the Swede’s line, the Unionists had cavalry at the center and their flanks.

Battle Summary

The battle started in the middle of the day and lasted over six hours. The first two hours consisted of an exchange of artillery fire. This was followed by an imperial attack with cavalry from both wings to both ends of the Unionist line. The cavalry attack routed the Saxon troops on the Unionist left flank. The imperial army then conducted a general attack to exploit the exposed left flank. The Swedes repositioned their second line to cover the left flank and counterattacked with their cavalry to both imperial flanks. The attack on the imperial left was led personally by the Swedish King. It captured the imperial artillery and enveloped the imperial left flank. The Swedish now had much greater weight of fire from their artillery, infantry, and the captured imperial artillery. The imperial line was disorganized under the heavy fire and enveloped. The imperial line collapsed and over 80% of the imperial forces were killed or captured. 120 standards of the Imperial and Bavarian armies were taken (and are still on display in the Riddarholm church in Stockholm);[13] and Gustav's innovations in military operations and tactics were confirmed.

Opening gambits

Battle of Breitenfeld – Opening moves, 17 September 1631
Swedish-Saxon forces in Blue
Catholic army in Red

The combined Swedish-Saxon forces were to the north of Leipzig centered around hamlet of Podelwitz, facing southwest toward Breitenfeld and Leipzig. The battle began around mid-day, with a two-hour exchange of artillery fire, during which the Swedes demonstrated firepower in a rate of fire of three to five volleys to one Imperial volley.[14] Gustavus had lightened his artillery park, and each colonel had four highly mobile, rapid firing, copper-cast three pounders, the cream of Sweden’s metallurgical industry.[15] When the artillery fire ceased, Pappenheim's Black Cuirassiers charged the Swedish line seven times, and were consistently beaten back by the Swedish combination of 'commanded' musketeers and cavalry. The small companies of musketeers dispersed between the squadrons of horse fired a salvo at point blank range, disrupting the charge of the Imperialist cuirassier and allowing the Swedish cavalry to counterattack at an advantage. The same tactics worked an hour or so later when the imperial cavalry charged the Swedish left flank. Following the rebuff of the seventh assault, General Banér sallied forth with both his light (Finnish and West Gaetlanders) and heavy cavalry (Smalanders and East Gaetlanders). Banér’s cavalry had been taught to deliver its impact with the saber, not to caracole with the hard-to-aim pistols or carbines,[15] forcing Pappenheim and his cavalry quit the field in disarray, retreating 15 miles northwest to Halle.

During the charges of the Cuirassiers, Tilly's infantry had remained stationary, but then the cavalry on his right charged the Saxon cavalry and routed it towards Eilenburg. There may have been confusion in the imperial command at seeing Pappenheim’s charge; in their assessment of the battle, military historians have wondered if Pappenheim precipitated an attempted double envelopment, or if he followed Tilly’s preconceived plan.[13] At any rate, recognizing an opportunity, Tilly sent the majority of his infantry against the remaining Saxon forces in an oblique march diagonally across his front.

Thwarting the Imperial attack

Battle of Breitenfeld – Stopping the attack, 17 September 1631
Swedish forces in Blue
Catholic army in Red

As Tilly was ordering his infantry to march ahead diagonally to the right, looking to roll up the Swedish line on its abandoned left flank, Gustavus reordered his second line, under the capable and steady General Gustav Horn, into an array at a right angle to the front, in a maneuver known as refusing the line. With this maneuver, the Swedish line developed a strong angle, anchored in the new center under General Lennart Torstenson, whose men were able to deliver an artillery barrage with an overwhelmingly high rate of fire for the era.[citation needed] Tilly's right flank cavalry preceded his infantry across the field. Except for his musketeers, the infantry had yet to engage. Tilly's seventeen Tercios could only angle across the field. Tercios cannot turn easily, owing to the length of pikes extending through the faces of the essentially square formations. As they advanced obliquely, it left the Swedish right uncovered and free.

Annihilation of the Imperial force

Battle of Breitenfeld – Annihilation, 17 September 1631
Swedish forces in Blue
Catholic army in Red

While this was taking place, the Swedish cavalry re-formed, and, preceded by the Finnish light cavalry (Hakkapeliittas), which Gustavus led personally, attacked across the former front to capture the Imperial artillery, followed in short succession by Banér's heavy cavalry and three regiments of infantry. This not only freed the Swedish field guns from an ongoing artillery duel, but allowed Gustavus's cross-trained cavalry to turn the captured Imperial guns upon Tilly's seventeen own Tercios, now outflanked and badly out of position.[16] Gustavus’ soldiers redeployed the captured artillery into a new line and angled so it could fire on the Catholic forces. Its position lay slightly to the rear of the Catholics on what had become the extreme right flank of a developing infantry battle. The unwieldy Catholic infantry was trapped in a crossfire of grazing artillery balls which were aimed to bounce and careen into the rank and files between knee and shoulder height—killing and wounding dozens with each ball. With these guns cutting into one end of Tilly's line, and the Swedish center showing no signs of breaking, the exchange of gunfire soon wore down the Imperial troops, and their lines ground to a halt against Horn's infantry.

After several hours of punishment, nearing sunset, the Catholic line finally broke. Tilly was injured twice by a so-called "piece of battle"—artillery propelled debris, such as a careering pikehead. Although the first time he remounted his horse, the second wound was more severe; unconscious, he was carted off to safety under the cover of night during the ensuing retreat, which quickly became a rout as the Catholic forces reached the nearby woods. The totally disorganized and demoralized Imperial and Catholic League force effectively lost all cohesion with the fall of night, and the desertion rate was consequently higher than the battle losses themselves. In effect, Gustav had entirely destroyed the only army the Catholics had in the field, placing the Imperial side on the defensive.

After the battle, Gustav moved on Halle, following the same track that Tilly had taken coming east to enforce the Edict of Restitution on the Electorate of Saxony. Two days later Gustav's forces captured another 3,000 men after a brief skirmish at Merseburg, and took Halle two days after that.


The outcome of the battle had a significant impact, in the short, intermediate, and long term. In the short term, the Catholic and Imperial forces were significantly hampered by the loss of most of the force. The totality of the victory confirmed Gustav's military innovations, and guaranteed that the Swedes would remain engaged in the war for the foreseeable future. In the long term, the significant loss of force, the shift in command, the realignment of alliances creating a strong Protestant, or anti-Imperial force, required the Emperor and the Protestant and Catholic princes, to rethink on the operational conduct of the warfare, and the diplomatic avenues they would pursue prior to using armed force.

Short term impact: Command decisions and rebuilding the Imperial army

After the battle, the Catholic League or Imperial army under Tilly could field an army of only 7,000 men. The army had to be rebuilt. Gustavus Adolphus, on the other hand, had a larger army after the battle than before. The battle's outcome had the political effect of convincing Protestant German states to join his cause. Finally, with the seventy-two year old Tilly's recovery far from certain (and he did indeed die within six months while crossing the Lech river), and with no alternative commander at hand, Emperor Ferdinand II had no choice but to rehire Wallenstein.

Intermediate impact: Gustav's military innovations

Gustavus's victory at Breitenfeld

His success against the well-trained Imperial and League forces at Breitenfeld endorsed Gustav's linear tactics. In traditional battle tactics, the cavalry lined up on either side of the primary infantry force, theoretically protecting its flanks, but in actuality, cavalry would attempt to drive off the opposing force, leaving the infantry’s flank exposed. Gustav mixed infantry heavily weighted with musketeers among the cavalry in their "starting positions" on the flanks. As opposing cavalry attacked, the musketeers could pick them off, long before the cavalryman’s pistols could be useful. The thinner pike wall sufficiently prevented breakage of the line, but it could also be easily shifted, to allow Gustav’s cavalry to pass through. Normally detached infantry would be easily run down, but by being placed in the midst of the cavalry, if the opposing force did charge, they would do so right into the Swedish cavalry's own pistols. It was Gustavus' policy to have each arm support the other, so demonstrating an early appreciation of the benefits of combined arms tactics, though long before the term was coined.[citation needed]

In the traditional square, muskets at the rear or sides of the formation could not fire effectively due to the ranks in front. The Dutch had thinned out their formations into battalions to place more men at the front. After set-backs in wars against Poland, Gustavus Adolphus converted his formations into rectangles only six ranks deep (as opposed to ten or more). This became known as a linear formation, where the infantry was grouped in brigades, and in historical terms, by one modification or another, it persisted in warfare to World War II.[citation needed]Additionally, whereas the typical pike-and-shot formation placed the shot on the flanks of a full pike square, to overcome the friendly fire issue, Gustav placed most of the shot at the front, with the pike at the sides strictly in support, with a smattering of pike to keep charging cavalry at bay. In the common tercio of the day, the ratio of pikes to shot was generally about 2:1; Gustavus' armies were recast to ratios between 3:2 and sometimes approached 1:1—giving his forces a much greater amount of long-range firepower.[16]

Along the same line of rate of fire thinking, he placed small cannons, so-called infantry guns, among the units. These were mobile, lightweight three-pound brass cannon, by some called the first field artillery.[citation needed] Loaded with canister or grapeshot, they enabled units to devastate the enemy. At long ranges, they fired solid shot aimed to bounce through the enemy's ranks doing nearly as much damage. The integration of small cannons among infantry gave his battalions cannon support even if they became separated from the main force, or if they were away from the massed artillery at the center of the field.[citation needed]

Map of Europe in 1648

These changes made Gustav's formations easier to maneuver on the battlefield; the line formations he fielded could easily turn to face a new direction, compared to the squares Tilly and the Saxon Elector had been using— where the line of march was typically fixed (or else the unit would spear each other in turning the unwieldy pikes), once a unit took up positions in the field—his forces were able to change facings and march a different direction. Gustav's main formations could be re-aligned, even under fire, and even those where his mixed units used his concept of combined arms, although at the cost of some confusion while the pikemen reformed on the shot's flanks, the cavalry paraded back around and came up again.[citation needed]

Long term consequences: realignment of alliances and extension of Swedish influence into Germany

Gustav's success encouraged several other princes to join the cause of the Swedish king and his few allies. By the month's end, Hannover, the Hessian dukes, Brandenburg and Saxony were officially aligned against the empire, and France had agreed to provide substantially greater funding for Gustav's armies. Although Gustav was killed a year later at the Battle of Lützen, the military strength of the alliance had been secured through the addition of new armies. Even when Swedish leadership faltered, it did not fail, and the influx of French gold insured that the hostilities could continue.[1] The reconstituted Imperial and Catholic League forces and the opposition forces were so evenly matched that neither side could force a concession from the other. Wallenstein's efforts to negotiate a conclusion to the conflict ended in his own conviction of treason, and his assassination. This realization, confirmed at Westphalia fundamentally changed the balance of power within the Holy Roman Empire.[1]

Battlefield today

The battlefield today is bisected by the A14 autobahn, which slices through the fields where the majority of the action occurred, between the original position of Tilly, at Breitenfeld, and the original positions of the Swedes and Saxons, around Podelwitz.

File:Gustav Adolph at Breitenfeld.JPG

Monument commemorating First Battle of Breitenfeld, 1631. Photo by Nino Schramm, 2005.

In the eastern portion of the village of Breitenfeld stands a monument to Gustav Adolf and the victory his army accomplished there in 1631. It was erected in 1831 on the two hundredth anniversary of the battle and bears the following inscription:

„Glaubensfreiheit für die Welt, rettete bei Breitenfeld – Gustav Adolf, Christ und Held. Am 7. September 1631."
Freedom of Belief for the World, salvaged at Breitenfeld, Gustav Adolf, Christian and Hero. 7 September 1631.

See also

  • Breitenfeld (1631) order of battle
  • Hakkapeliitta
  • Porilaisten marssi


Citations and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Parker 1997.
  2. Parker 1997, pp. 1–13.
  3. Doughty 1996.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Parker 1997, pp. 111–113.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Meade 1976, pp. 13–16.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Parker 1997, p. 130.
  7. Parker 1997, p. 111.
  8. Meade 1976, pp. 13–15.
  9. Parker 1997, p. 112.
  10. Parker 1997, p. 110.
  11. Meade 1976, p. 14.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Meade 1976, p. 174.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Meade 1976, p. 179.
  14. Jones 2001, p. 235.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Meade 1976, p. 175.
  16. 16.0 16.1 Meade 1976, p. 180.


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