THE THIRTY YEAR WAR.

THE CAMPAIGNS OF 1635 AND 1636.

THE BATTLE OF WITTSTOCK 1636.

 

The campaign of 1635.

The avalanche of setbacks and defeat started by the debacle at N÷rdlingen continued in 1635. The sight of swedish garrisons leaving for the north scared many protestant princes in Germany senseless. The Heilbronn union collapsed since no one dared to be allied with the swedes anymore. Johan-Georg of Saxony signed a peace with the emperor that many other princes signed in quick succession. The emperor had been very unwilling to sign since he still dreamt of a total victory over all protestant countries in his empire. It was only when his minister of treasury made him realize that he had no financial means to pursue that goal and a emissary from the pope convinced him that his immortal soul was not endangered by signing a paper with a protestant that he agreed. The treaty included that the forces of Saxony and the others who signed were at the disposal of the emperor to wage war against enemies of the empire.   During the summer of 1635 most princes signed. In the remaining swedish forces unrest spread. A plot to murder the new commander, Johan BanÚr, was unveiled. Imperial propaganda leaflets promising pardon for germans that surrendered were openly circulated and the prince Johan-Georg of Saxony promised amnesty and gold if they joined with him instead. At one time Axel Oxenstierna had to be protected by a squadron of loyal cavalrymen from Livland against an unruly mob of mercenaries.

 

The economical situation was equally deperate. The diplomatic skills of Axel Oxenstierna when founding the Heilbronn-union meant that only 3000 men and 128 573 riksdaler had been sent from Sweden to Germanyin 1633. The rest of the financial burden was carried by the members of the union through contributions. These contributions were now only a sweet memory with the collapse of the union. Furthermore the economical base for waging the war diminished as the swedes retreated to the north leaving the lucrative towns and villages to the imperials.

Axelox.jpg (8695 bytes)

Axel Oxenstierna

As if all this wasnt enough a new war threatened in the swedish rear. The cease fire with Poland from 1629 expired in 1635. Since the polish war with Russia and Turkey recently had ended there was a real danger that they wanted to pursue their old animosity with Sweden and exploit Swedens situation to reclaim what they had lost.

 

Of no little importance was that the swedish crops had failed two years in a row and famine threatened. The final problem was that the economical stagnation in Europe started to effect the lucrative export of copper and iron. The financial disaster meant that the treasury was empty and the members of the council had to pay from their own purses to keep the ship floating for yet some time.

 

Luckily enough the peace with Poland was saved but only by handing back the very lucrative prussian harbors. Axel Oxenstiernas brother conducted the negotiations and managed to save Livland for Sweden. Axel Oxenstierna was furious about the loss of the prussian harbors that had given the state 1/3 of its income. In the meantime the swedish retreat had brought the army as far north as Mecklenburg

 

Many in the interim governement wanted out of the war, to continue after Breitenfeldt now seemed as a mistake, but Axel Oxenstierna persisted. He too saw things painted in black and was pessimistic but he saw that a retreat would cost Sweden "respect, reputation, interest, friendship and all". A withdrawal was maybe possible later, but how was the affair to be concluded? A peace without satisfaction meant that it would be a troublesome peace, not least financially. All the debts had to be paid, the armies disbanded and paid and all the officers had to be reimbursed. That would be costly. The rulers had been taken hostage by their own system. Thus the selfplaying piano continued to sound. The armies marched and fought so that they could be paid for fighting and marching.

 

Axel Oxenstierna realized that Sweden could not wage war alone against the united empire. Richelieu also realized that. Since France was surrounded by the two branches of the Habsburgs (the spanish and the imperial) through Spain, northern Italy, Austria and the spanish road along the Rhine up to the spanish netherlands (todays Belgium), the success of the Hapsburgers scared the french. They wanted to break the encirclement and thus in May a french herold appeared on the square in Brussles (the capital of the spanish Netherlands) and declared that his christian majesty Louis XIII of France was now at war with his catholic majesty Filip IV of Spain.

 

This radical escalation of the war was greeted with joy by Oxenstierna and his men. France had financial means that surpassed any of the other participants. That was crucial now that the war seemed to be degrading into a pathetic war of attrition. All the beautiful millions couldnt hide the fact that France had no units trained in the new ways to fight and wage war however. Or trained to fight in any way as a matter of fact. The french generals immediately started bold campaigns in both southern Germany and the spanish Netherlands. An army entered northern Italy as well.

 

It ended in fiasco. The army in southern Germany had to escape quickly not to surrounded and destroyed. The invasion in Italy bogged down and in the spanish Netherlands after some immense chaos a dutch fleet had to save the surrounded decimeted army and ship it out.  Richelieu was furious and demanded to know why 16,5 million spent daler hadnt produced any result. It had eased the pressure on the swedish somewhat however.

 

Thus the war had entered a new era again. The religious aspect faded since the catholic France now fought alongside the protestant Sweden and Netherlands against the catholic emperor and his many protestant princes. The german religious war was  finally transformed into a european world war. Realpolicy replaced all fancy declarations on religion. This also meant that Germany was nothing more than a battleground for the foreigners where their armies could chase the enemy without taking any consideration to the populace or country. The religous war still in the bottom but fading, the spanish-dutch war still being fought, the french war against the Hapsburgs and the princes war for their rights against the emperor molten into a huge all european war that still was to escalate even further. The campaigns fought faster and more destructively but with little result in significance. A colossal tragedy was forming.

The campaign of 1636 and the battle of Wittstock.

1636 was the year when France faced disaster. The spaniards struck back. An army from the spanish Netherlands entered northern France in early July and seized some key fortresses with impressive speed to continue to the south towards Paris. Panic started in Paris but french forces managed to stop the spanish in the nick of time. A month later news of an imperial army that had entered Burgundy and was headed towards Dijon reached Paris. The army was commanded by the german Matthias Gallas, a drunken sod of the most tragic form, that held his command due to his doglike devotion to the emperor rather than his non-existant martial talent. His nickname being "the destroyer of armies." He soon recieved orders from the emperor to abort his offensive and return to Germany. Things had changed and his army was desperatly needed to fight the swedes.

 

A large army of imperials and saxons, the swedes former allies, had entered Brandeburg and threatened the swedish baseareas. Johan BanÚr should have withdrawn to the north with his inferior foces but he hesitated. A new retreat could destroy what little reputation and credibility the swedes had left in the hesitating princes minds and he couldnt trade land for time forever. He decided to close with the enemy and dare a battle.

Baner.jpg (21988 bytes)

Johan BanÚr

 

The new commander of the swedish army, Johan BanÚr, was 40 years old. He belonged to the highest of swedish nobility and his forefathers had always been among the rulers of Sweden. Short, rednosed and loosing his hair he had a sensuous mouth and a commanding look to his eyes. He was a scarred roughian that had had his soul blackened on the battlefields and in the camps of constant war. He took care of his men with the true patriarchic emotion of the time and in line with this demanded blind obedience. The sufferings of the civilians didnt bother him one second and he often overlooked the atrocities his men committed. As long as the army got what it needed he didnt ask any questions. Through loot and plunder he had massed a considerable fortune despite his energetic gambling. His personal ruthlessness and inability to control his men meant that the wars spiral of brutality was turned yet some turns into the bottom. He was typical of the man of his time but so to the extreme of a charichature. He was illtempered but cried easily and lost himself in tantrums as easily as in euphorism. His sexual urges were well known and in a pinch he didnt shun turning to the whores that accompanied any army of the time. He ate in excess and was a legendary drunk. Being somewhat depressive this meant that in times of setbacks he could lock himself in his tent and drink hard for a long time. Once a messenger from France had to wait for three days before he had become so sober that he could communicate. His opponent Gallas was also a notorious drunk but the difference was that while BanÚr could perform his duty excellently while completely wasted Gallas was totally incompetent even when sober. Many said that BanÚr was at his best when drunk. BanÚr actually was more than good. He was brilliant if not even a genious. He was strict and thourough and filled his subordinates with a mixture of respect, fear and loyalty. As all commanders of his time he avoided battles since these were unpredicatable hazardous affairs where all that had been gained by a good campaign could be lost due to frictions that were uncontrollable. He was weak in siege but mastered the difficult art of maneuver warfare. Since he never got to command the huge armies of Gustaf II Adolf he had to make do with small, motheaten armies low on recourses. Intelligent, quick and bold he became a master at fighting from the underdog position. The opponents soon learned to fear his imagination and ability to find weaknesses in the enemies plan that he never failed to exploit with the ferocity of a wildboar.

 

It was such an unexpected countermove that he arranged in northern Brandenburg. Like two boxers the two armies circled each other. The swedish like a light weighter, aggressive and daring, trying to pick a fight while the larger opponent dodges and backs up puzzled and frightened. On saturday 24th of September BanÚr caught up with his enemy in the hilly and wooded terrain of Wittstock. The imperials and saxons had entrenched on the hills and waited for the swedes to come charging up the hill frontally in a grand repetition of N÷rdlingen and allow themselves to be cut to pieces. To their surprise they heard from scouts that the entire swedish army had moved to their left to outflank them! The allies had to abandon their fine entrenchments and wheel the entire line to the left to face the new threat.

 

It was never a well coordinated battle. More of a rhapsodic series of clashes between squadrons and brigades. Both sides had plenty of cavalry and they quickly became locked in the most bloody and drawn out cavalryactions of the war. Squadrons bouncing against each other for a few confused moments, men swaying on their horses (faces black from gumpowdersmoke and white with terror) hacking and stabbing clumsily with their rapiers and firing their heavy pistols in the oponents face. Then they break free and rally to their ranks and bounce together again. To separate friends from foe in the dust and powdersmoke the swedes cried "" Gott mitt uns" while the imperials cried "Ob gott will". Over the entire scene the sounds of musketry, guns roaring and pikes crashing. The drums constant rattle and the silvery tunes of trumpets mixed with the screams of the terrified and dying. BanÚr himself wrote that he had never seen such a vicious battle.

 

It seemed to end in defeat for the swedes. They were inferior in numbers from the start and to make it worse BanÚr had sent part of his army, the entire left wing under King,  on a wide flanking movement early in the battle. They were to appear somewhere in the enemy rear. Not many commanders had the guts to order such a complicated move in battle. The problem was that they didnt appear. In the mean time BanÚrs forces were attritioned by the superior imperials and saxons. The from national swedish and finnish units swedish brigade was hit hard. 66% of its 892 men fell. Collapse was near when the alarm of battle was heard in the enemies rear. King had found his way back to the battlefield. Pressure was relieved immidietly. The imperials and saxons retreated but the dusk ended further action. The night was quiet with only a few rounds fired. The only active were the looters using the dark to kill wounded and steal their belongings and plunder the already dead.

 

At dawn the swedish army was ready for battle again only to be met by silence. Rows of abandoned guns (33 of them) was all that was left of the enemy that had slipped away in the night. 180 amunitionwagons were left as well. Laden with well needed powder. And of course the bodies of the dead and not yet dead that covered the ground. An eyewitness tells of the scenery:

 

The ground, whose habit it is to cover the dead, was in this place itself covered with dead, that offer different looks. There were heads, who had lost their natural owners, but also bodies that had lost their heads, on some bodies the intestines ran out - a horrible and gruesome sight; on others the head was crushed so that the brain ran out. There you saw the dead deprived of their blood and the living covered in that of others. There were arms shot of , whose fingers still moved as if they wanted to be part of the butchering again; on the other hand you saw men run that hadnt shed a drop of blood. There were chopped of thighs, heavier than before even if relieved from the weight of the body. There you saw were mutilated soldiers pleading for the thrust of mercy even if certain death was close; on the other hand you saw those pleading for mercy and clemency. All in all, it was nothing but a miserable, pitiful sight.

 

The pursuing swedish cavalry only had to follow the trail of wounded, dropped weapons and thrown clothing to find the escaping army. It was quickly disrupted and overrun. 151 colors were taken (it paid between 10-30 riksdaler to hand in a captured color) as well as the prince of Saxonys guilded chariot and his table silver. The enemy army was destroyed. The emperor ordered Gallas to end his campaign in Burgundy that he had devastated into a wasteland were bandits and guerilla fighters contuinued the war nevertheless while the plague that always followed the armies ravaged the population . From the year 1635 and 1643 there exist no official documents from this area. It is as if it had ceased to exist.

 

In Sweden the victory was celebrated. At last some good news! The debacle at N÷rdlingen was avenged and the swedish reputation resurrected. Reputation was immensely important for individual and nation alike in these days. Otherwise the battle had few concrete results. The danish king that had started to obstruct whenever he could shunned back and determined that the timing was wrong to continue the century old fight with the northern neighbour. The french got some dividend for their years of subsidizing the swedish army since the swedes had removed a threat to Paris but the swedish setbacks did not stop. They continued.