|Battle of Kircholm|
|Part of the Polish-Swedish War (1600–1611)|
A 1630 painting by Pieter Snayers
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with Cossacks and Tatars|
Duchy of Courland and Semigallia
|Sweden nearly half of its force with German, Scottish and Dutch mercenaries|
|Commanders and leaders|
|Jan Karol Chodkiewicz, Grand Hetman of Lithuania||Charles IX, King of Sweden|
3,600 soldiers: |
5 artillery guns
11,000 soldiers: |
11 artillery guns
|Casualties and losses|
5,000– 9,000 |
dead, wounded, missing or (captured 500)
11 artillery guns
The Battle of Kircholm (27 September 1605, or 17 September in the Old Style calendar then in use in Protestant countries) was one of the major battles in the Polish-Swedish War of 1600-1611. The battle was decided in 20 minutes by the devastating charge of Polish-Lithuanian cavalry, the Winged Hussars. The battle ended in the decisive victory of Polish-Lithuanian forces, and is remembered as one of the greatest triumphs of Commonwealth cavalry.
Eve of the Battle
On 27 September 1605, the Commonwealth and Swedish forces met near the small town of Kircholm (now Salaspils in Latvia, some 18 km. South East of Riga). The forces of Charles IX of Sweden were numerically superior and were composed of 10,800 men and 11 cannons. The Swedish army included a few thousand German and Dutch mercenaries and even a few hundred Scots. The Polish Crown declined to raise funds for defence, although Great Hetman of Lithuania Chodkiewicz promised to pay out army wages from his own fortune, thereby gathering at least some army. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth army under Jan Karol Chodkiewicz was composed of roughly 1,300 infantry (1040 pikeman and 260 musketeer), 2,600 cavalry and only 5 cannons. However, the Polish-Lithuanian forces were well-rested and their cavalry consisted mostly of superbly trained Winged Hussars or heavy cavalry armed with lances, while the Swedish cavalry were less-well trained, armed with pistols and carbines, on poorer horses, and tired after a long night's march in torrential rain. Most of the hussars were from the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, about 200 were from the Polish Crown, most of them mercenaries or close personal allies of Chodkiewicz. The Polish-Lithuanian forces were also aided by a small number of Tatars and Polish-Lithuanian Cossack horse (a class of light cavalry at this date not to be confused with the Russian Cossacks), used mostly for reconnaissance.
The Swedish forces seem to have been deployed in a checkerboard formation, made up of the infantry regiments formed into 7 or 8 well-spaced independent blocks, with intersecting fields of fire. The flanks were covered by the Swedish and German cavalry and the cannons were placed in front of the cavalry.
Jan Karol Chodkiewicz deployed his forces in the traditional deep Polish-Lithuanian battle formation - the so-called "Old Polish Order" - with the left wing significantly stronger and commanded by Dąbrowa, while the right wing was composed of a smaller number of Hussars under Paweł Jan Sapieha and the centre, which included Hetman Chodkiewicz's own company of 300 hussars led by Woyna and a powerful formation of reiters sent by the Duke of Courland. The Lithuanian infantry supported by Poles, mostly armed in Hungarian haiduk-style, drew up in the centre. Some 280 hussars were left as a general reserve under Lacki.
Chodkiewicz, having smaller forces (approximately a 1:3 disadvantage), used a feint to lure the Swedes off their high position. The Swedes under Charles thought that the Lithuanians and supporting Poles were retreating and therefore advanced, spreading out their formations to give chase. This is what Chodkiewicz was waiting for. The Commonwealth forces now gave fire with their infantry causing the Swedes some losses, at which point the Hussars quickly re-grouped their battle formations and charged at the Swedish lines.
The battle started with the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry charge on the Swedish left flank. At the same time approximately 300 Polish-Lithuanian Hussars charged the Swedish infantry in the centre to prevent them from interfering with the cavalry action on both their flanks. After the Swedish cavalry was pushed back, Chodkiewicz ordered his left wing and all of his reserves to attack the opposing right Swedish flank. The Swedish reiters were beaten back on both wings and the infantry in the centre was attacked from three sides simultaneously. Quickly, with Swedish horsemen running back into their own infantry, the Swedes were in panic, and the whole army collapsed in flight. It was at this point that the Swedes suffered their heaviest casualties.
The fighting lasted barely 20 to 30 minutes, yet the Swedish defeat was utter and complete. The army of Charles IX had lost at least half, perhaps as much as two-thirds, its original strength. The Polish-Lithuanian losses numbered only about 100 dead and 200 wounded, although the Hussars, in particular, lost a large part of their trained battle horses.
As in all crushing victories in this period, the larger part of the Swedish losses were suffered during the retreat, made more difficult by the dense forests and marshes on the route back to Riga. The Lithuanians and Poles spared few. Polish-Lithuanian casualties were light, in large part due to the speed of the victory. During the hussar's charges it was the horses that took the greatest damage, the riders being largely protected by the body and heads of their horses.
After the defeat, the Swedish king was forced to abandon the siege of Riga and withdraw by ship back across the Baltic Sea to Sweden and to relinquish control of northern Latvia and Estonia. However, the Commonwealth proved unable to exploit the victory fully because there was no money for the troops, who had not been paid for months. Without pay they could not buy food or fodder for their horses or replenish their military supplies, and so the campaign faltered. An additional factor was the large number of trained horses lost during the battle, which proved difficult to replace.
A truce was eventually signed in 1611, but by 1617 war broke out again, and finally in 1621 the new Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus, landed near Riga and took the city with a brief siege, wiping away - in Swedish eyes - much of the shame suffered at Kircholm.
- [dead link]
- Claes-Göran Isacson, Vägen till stormakt - Vasaättens krig (2006) Stockholm, Norstedts. Page 331. ISBN 91-1-301502-8
- (Polish) Bartosz Musiałowicz, Kircholm 1605 - a study (in pdf format) of the 1605 campaign in Livonia, prepared on the occasion of 400th anniversary of the battle. Includes a chapter about the anniversary commemorations at Salaspils, Latvia on 27 September 2005
- Richard Brzezinski, Velimir Vukšić, "Polish Winged Hussar 1576-1775", Osprey Publishing, 2006, pg. 50
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