Spanish War of Succession: Iberia


Batalla de Almansa. Landscape by Filippo Pallotta, figures by Buonaventura Ligli


Although the war revolved around the question of who would become the next king of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula was not an obvious theater of operations. Philippe had established himself in Spain in 1701, while Louis’ diplomats signed a treaty of friendship with Portugal’s King Pedro II. With no base from which to operate, William had found it expedient to recognize Philippe’s claim to the throne. Even the Grand Alliance treaty made no reference to Charles ascending the Spanish throne; in fact, Article Five only identified Imperial pretensions to Spain’s Italian and Netherlands possessions. The Habsburg court focused on the Italian holdings, and although the Dutch were interested in Mediterranean trade, they were more concerned about other theaters diverting attention from the defense of their southern border.

The allied decision to commit to a ‘No Peace without Spain’ policy was, therefore, made by the English, a decision encouraged by naval strength. England’s goals in the Mediterranean and Iberia were numerous: to protect its Levant trade, threaten Spain’s incoming trade from the Americas, neutralize France’s fleet based at Toulon, buttress Austria in Italy, encourage the defection of France’s allies (Portugal and Savoy), and support uprisings in Bourbon-held territories (Naples, Catalonia, the Balearics and the Cevennes in particular). The Whig Lords had already concluded in 1701 that the only acceptable peace was one that saw Charles sitting on the throne in Madrid.

This maximalist goal would be implicitly accepted for much of the war by both parties. The first attempt to open the theater was a repeat of previous English strategy: an Anglo-Dutch fleet landed forces to capture the Andalusian port of Cadiz in September 1702, hoping to establish a naval base and threaten the colonial trade off-loaded at Seville. Repulsed, they attacked a Spanish bullion fleet that had anchored at Vigo on the Galician coast. The capture of several French men-of-war excited the public back home and illustrated the Royal Navy’s strategic flexibility. The victory, nonetheless, had less effect on the Bourbon war effort, at least in direct attritional terms. More important was the encouragement it gave Pedro to join the Grand Alliance. The resulting Methuen Treaty of 1703 inaugurated an Iberian war, committing the English and Dutch, as well as their Austrian ally, to a land campaign to capture Spain. The English diplomatic team negotiated with Portugal in secret and intentionally excluded the Dutch envoy until the details had already been decided, terms which obligated the English and Dutch to a far larger Iberian commitment than the Dutch had envisioned. A few months after the treaty of alliance was completed, an Anglo-Portuguese commercial treaty was signed which promised the English preferential trade with Portugal.

The Portuguese were, however, an unreliable ally. Most towns along the Hispano-Portuguese border were difficult to besiege, while foreign witnesses expressed their amazement at the heat and barrenness of the region. The Spanish nevertheless captured several Portuguese fortresses in 1704, while command disputes and undermanned regiments hindered the allied response. The allies would take several fortresses back in 1705 and even march to Madrid in 1706, but for the rest of the war, the Portuguese front degenerated into inconclusive operations. These early setbacks encouraged the English to look for other fronts from which to attack Philippe, a strategy perfectly suited against a Spanish enemy who in 1703 boasted a negligible navy and a mere 20,000 troops to defend a territory 16 times the size of the Spanish Netherlands with 3,000 miles of coastline. As a result, an August 1704 attack on the poorly prepared town of Gibraltar captured the port within three days. The newly installed garrison, with the support of the Anglo-Dutch fleet, then resisted a subsequent eight-month siege and blockade. The English pillaging of both Port St. Mary (near Cadiz) and Gibraltar, however, poisoned relations with the Andalusians and made it impossible for the allies to support an offensive from Gibraltar.

The year 1704 thus saw a further allied naval attempt to open yet another front by landing 1,600 marines at Barcelona, an area once governed by the allied commander (Prince George of Hesse-Darmstadt) and conveniently situated close to both hard-pressed Savoy and rebellious Camisards in south- eastern France. That first effort miscarried, but the next year 10,000 troops captured the Catalonian capital after a siege. Now Charles controlled an independent Spanish base supported by Catalans, and this reinvigorated English hopes for an alternative to operations in the Low Countries. By the end of 1705, the uprising against Philippe had spread to Aragon and Valencia, allowing the allies to garrison fortresses along Spain’s eastern coast. In April 1706 the Bourbons returned to the offensive, besieging Barcelona and drawing supplies from their fleet. After Admiral Leake’s flotilla chased off the French, Philippe withdrew with Charles slowly pursuing him to Madrid. The lack of fortresses and logistical difficulties in Aragon and Castile meant that possession of Madrid was left to those who could gain the support of the Castilian people. Madrid was briefly held by an allied army, but the popular resistance to the presence of heretical northerners, Portuguese foes, Catalan separatists, and plundering troops soon forced the allied army from Castile. In the aftermath, the Duke of Berwick’s army began the slow reconquest of Valencia and Murcia. In early 1707 the battlefield victory at Almansa magnified the Bourbon advantage. This forced the allied field army back to Catalonia, and inaugurated the reconquest of Valencia and Aragon, successes facilitated by the absence of allied fleets which were transporting troops or making new conquests.

By the beginning of 1710, Charles and his polyglot forces found themselves holed up in Catalonia. But two allied victories, precipitated by Louis’ withdrawal of French troops from the peninsula, allowed the allies to march again on Madrid and occupy it. Once again, however, the Castilian populace resisted the foreign claimant, and on the retreat back to Catalonia, the entire English contingent was captured at Brihuega. Suffering from whiplash, the new Tory ministry would gradually abandon its commitment to the theater, seeking to secure its bases at Gibraltar and Port Mahon. The Iberian theater, expected to deliver a quick victory in contrast with the Low Countries, turned into almost as deep a quagmire as Flanders, with worse results.


This page is dedicated to an overview of a book written by one of club members about the Spanish Campaign of 1710. The book contains details of all the battles and actions in the campaign. It also contain many OOB’s, maps and other material on the armies involved in the campaign.

Gamers, historians and all with an interest in this campaign should find something of interest.

Readers of the book should find the companion work on the whole 1st Peninsula War (1702-1712) also of interest.




Early in September 1813, at the request of Major General James Wilkinson, Secretary of War John Armstrong ordered Major General Wade Hampton to march his division of the U.S. Army at Burlington, Vermont (on the right wing of the Ninth Military District), into Canada via the Richelieu River and attack the British post at Isle-aux-Noix. Although he doubted his ability to achieve this goal, Hampton moved his 4,000-man division to Plattsburgh, New York, beginning early on 19 September and, with the support of Master Commandant Thomas Macdonough’s squadron, landed at Champlain, New York, late that evening and marched to the border. The next day, he advanced into LC, but the skirmish at Odelltown (20 September) and reports of his scouts convinced him that it was impractical to force his way down the Richelieu route. Instead, he marched back into New York and then about 70 miles westward to the village of Four Corners, New York, on the upper Chateauguay River. The division was harassed by native parties, and Hampton deployed part of his force to deflect this problem and to create a distraction near the Richelieu that resulted in raids conducted by Colonel Isaac Clark.

Weeks passed during which Hampton waited at Four Corners for instructions regarding his coordination with Wilkinson’s campaign on the St. Lawrence (October–November 1813). He learned that a British force was forming on the lower Chateauguay and, on Armstrong’s advice, headed downriver to investigate on 16 October.

On 21 October, Hampton broke camp. His division now consisted of Colonel Robert Purdy’s First Brigade (Fourth and Thirty-third U.S. Regiments of Infantry and units of 12-month volunteers from Maine and New Hampshire), Brigadier General George Izard’s Second Brigade (Tenth, Eleventh merged with the Twenty-ninth, Thirtieth merged with the Thirty-first U.S. Regiments of Infantry, and a handful of New York Militia), 150 Second U.S. Regiment of Light Dragoons, and 200 of the Third Regiment of Artillery and the Regiment of Light Artillery. It rained hard during the next days as the column proceeded slowly, its path barred by trees felled by the British.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles de Salaberry had been charged with defending the lower Chateauguay. After a failed preemptive raid on Hampton’s camp at Four Corners on 1 October, de Salaberry fortified a location about 25 miles from the mouth of the river. This consisted of four sets of breastworks in a wooded area on the western bank of the river—the first at a ford, the others further upstream. At the edge of the woods beyond the fourth breastwork, de Salaberry erected an abatis overlooking a wide cultivated field and about seven miles of unforested terrain.

De Salaberry commanded about 400 men, most of them French Canadian (70 Canadian Fencibles, 110 Canadian Voltigeurs, 130 Select Embodied Militia, 75 sedentary LC Militia, and 20 Abenaki and Nipissing warriors). In his rear, Lieutenant Colonel George Macdonell had about 1,370 men, most of them militia.

Hampton decided to attack de Salaberry before his position could be further strengthened; he did this despite having just been advised by Armstrong to build winter quarters and without having any further instructions about Wilkinson’s movement. Late on 25 October, Hampton sent Purdy with 2,300 men (his brigade and light infantry from the other units) to the east side of the Chateauguay to capture the ford. The next morning, he sent Izard to attack de Salaberry with the remaining force but not the artillery.

Some of de Salaberry’s men were at the abatis and ready to skirmish in front of it and fired the first shots around 10:00 A.M. De Salaberry hurried there with elements of his force, bringing the total to about 300 defenders. Izard advanced across the field with the Tenth Infantry and engaged the British for 20 minutes, then fell back to restore his ammunition.

Meanwhile, Purdy, who had lost his way during the night, was only just approaching the ford. A company of LC Militia and one of Embodied Militia, sent to guard the eastern approach with some native warriors, fired on his leading companies, which fell back.

Only desultory fire occurred until about 2:00 P.M., when Izard moved forward again with his entire force and warmly engaged de Salaberry, pushing into the woods. Hampton had orders shouted across the river to Purdy to retreat, at which point the two French Canadian companies and warriors engaged Purdy’s men. His brigade dissolved into chaos (some of the officers even abandoned their companies) and scattered as it withdrew, although some returned the British fire well enough to force their retreat, too.

Macdonell arrived to occupy the breastworks behind de Salaberry’s position but was not needed, as Hampton decided around 3:00 P.M. that the attack had failed and ordered Izard and Purdy to retreat back to their camp; most of Purdy’s brigade spent another horrendous night in the woods before being able to recross the Chateauguay.

Hampton did not complete a list of casualties, though it was believed he lost 40 dead and at least as many wounded. The British had two killed, 16 wounded, and four taken captive. De Salaberry’s immediate superior, Major General Louis de Watteville, and Sir George Prevost arrived on the ground during the final stages of the action; the latter’s representation of his own part in the affair greatly offended de Salaberry.

There was no denying the importance of the victory, especially in light of how outnumbered the British were. Hampton demonstrated his limited battlefield acumen and then his lack of commitment to a coordinated effort with Wilkinson by marching back to Four Corners, where he informed Armstrong that his campaign was at an end on 1 November. A week later, his division headed for Plattsburgh.


Born in LC, Salaberry entered the British army as a volunteer in 1792 and two years later was commissioned an ensign in the 60th Regiment of Foot through the patronage of Prince Edward, fourth son of King George III (later the Duke of Kent and father of Queen Victoria). Salaberry showed courage and talent during a campaign in the West Indies, and the prince continued to guide his career. In 1806, as a captain, he joined the 5/60th Foot under then-Colonel Francis de Rottenburg, the expert in light infantry tactics who later referred to Salaberry as “my dear Gunpowder.” While on recruitment in England, he became involved in a brief but difficult controversy with then–Major General Sir George Prevost.

In 1810, Salaberry returned to Canada as de Rottenburg’s aide-de-camp. Breveted to major the next year, he proposed the formation of a light infantry corps of LC militia that became in the spring of 1812 the Canadian Voltigeurs. Another controversy involving Prevost developed, concerning the granting of a regular army commission as lieutenant colonel to Salaberry, and was not resolved until mid-1814, much to his annoyance.

In 1812, Salaberry and some of the Voltigeurs were posted along the LC border with New York and Vermont, where they saw action at the skirmish at Lacolle (20 November); Prevost did not mention him in a dispatch to the home government.

When the Right Division of the U.S. Army in the Ninth Military District under Major General Wade Hampton threatened to invade LC via the Richelieu River route, Salaberry reinforced his forward post at Odelltown (20 September 1813) and put up such a fight that Hampton withdrew and headed for the Chateauguay River in New York. In the subsequent battle on the Chateauguay (26 October), Salaberry demonstrated his expertise in defensive preparations, deployment, and battlefield steadiness, outnumbered though he was by Hampton’s army. Major General Louis de Watteville, Salaberry’s immediate superior, and Prevost arrived on the scene late in the action. Sir George later reported the affair in such a way as to downplay Salaberry’s role. Salaberry protested and threatened to resign, but Prevost offered him the lucrative assignment of inspecting field officer of the militia; privately, Prevost denigrated Salaberry’s role at Chateauguay and overall competence. Late in 1814, Salaberry sent his resignation to the Horse Guards, but Prince Edward intercepted it, and Salaberry remained in commission as a lieutenant colonel; he sat on the board at the court-martial of Major General Henry Procter at Montreal in December 1814.

Salaberry received a medal in 1816 in commemoration of his victory at Chateauguay and at the recommendation of Lieutenant General Sir Gordon Drummond was made a CB in 1817. He ended his years as a successful landowner, involved in various civil affairs.

Battle of Lutter 1626

The latter had methodically reduced the three strongholds of Münden, Northeim and Goöttingen held by the Protestant forces between Lower Saxony and Hessen-Kassel. Münden was stormed in early July, losing between two- and four-fifths of its 2,500 inhabitants who were massacred as Liga troops plundered the town. Johann Tserclaes, Count of Tilly then brought in Harz miners to dig under the defensive ditch at Göttingen to drain the water from it. A relief force under the Rheingraf (Raugrave) Salm-Kyrburg was ambushed and scattered at Rössing on 27 July. Göttingen capitulated on 11 August 1626, having resisted for seven weeks. Danish King Christian IV hastened south to save his last garrison at Northeim, but failed to stop Johann von Aldringen joining Tilly with 4,300 Imperialists. The king retired north through Seesen on 25 August, intending to escape to Wolfenbüttel. His decision depressed Danish morale and revived Tilly’s flagging spirits. The Liga army harried the Danish retreat, cutting off parties left to delay its pursuit. King Christian faced the same dilemma as his namesake had at Höchst and Stadtlohn of whether to jettison his valuable baggage. He chose not to, and the wagons soon jammed the Wolfenbüttel road where it crossed thick woods north-east of Lutter-am-Barenberge. Christian was forced to deploy early on Thursday 27 August, hoping a more substantial rearguard action would dislodge the pursuit. Tilly had no intention of giving up and sought a decisive battle.

Both armies numbered about 20,000, though the Danes had a few more cannon. Their position lay in a cleared valley surrounded by forest. The recent hot weather had dried the Neile stream on the Danish right, though the Hummecke stream to their front and left appears still to have been wet. Tilly brought up his heavy guns, protected by musketeers, to bombard the Danes while the rest of his army came up around noon. His men ate lunch while the Danes waited uneasily in the rain. Johann Jakob, Count of Bronckhorst and Anholt opened the main action early in the afternoon by crossing the Hummecke and attacking the Danish left. Christian had gone ahead to disentangle the baggage train, without making it clear who commanded in his absence. Landgrave Moritz’s younger son, Philipp, made an unauthorized counter-attack in an attempt to silence the bombardment. Meanwhile, detachments sent earlier by Tilly worked their way through the woods to turn both Danish flanks. The Danes wavered around 4 p.m., enabling Tilly’s centre to cross the stream and capture their artillery. The Danish royal escort successfully charged to cover the retreat of the second and third lines, but the first was unable to disengage and had to surrender. Christian lost up to 3,000 dead, including Philipp of Hessen-Kassel, General Fuchs and other senior officers. Another 2,000 deserted, while 2,500 were captured along with all the artillery and much of the baggage, including two wagons loaded with gold. Tilly lost around 700 killed and wounded.

Christian blamed Duke Friedrich Ulrich who had withdrawn the Wolfenbüttel contingent four days earlier. The Danes burned 24 villages around Wolfenbüttel and plundered their way across Lüneburg as they retreated to Verden. The Guelphs negotiated the bloodless evacuation of Hanover and other towns, and assisted the imperial blockade of the Danes still holding Wolfenbüttel itself. The victory boosted Tilly’s prestige and enabled his beloved nephew Werner to marry the daughter of the wealthy Karl Liechtenstein. The Liga army swiftly overran the archbishopric of Bremen and sent a detachment into Brandenburg to encourage Georg Wilhelm to recognize Maximilian as an elector. However, Tilly’s troops were entering an area already eaten out by the Danes. Christian offered 6 talers to every deserter who rejoined his army and most of the 2,100 prisoners pressed into the Liga ranks promptly left. Weak and exhausted, Tilly’s troops could not deliver the knock-out blow. Conditions deteriorated over the winter, and the Bavarian Schönburg cavalry regiment took to highway robbery to sustain itself.

Mansfeld’s Last Campaign

Lutter prevented Christian sending aid to Count Ernst von Mansfeld who was now cut off in Upper Hungary. It is likely that Wallenstein deliberately delayed his pursuit until Mansfeld had gone too far to turn back. His gamble paid off, as Mansfeld was stuck in the Tatra mountains waiting for Bethlen, who was typically late. Despite the numerous exiles with his army, the Bohemian and Moravian peasants refused to follow the Upper Austrian example and remained loyal to the emperor. Those of Upper Hungary hid their harvest before Mansfeld and Johann Ernst of Weimar arrived. Mansfeld lost faith that Bethlen would appear and decided to cut his losses and dash across Bohemia to Upper Austria where the rising was still under way. Johann Ernst, though, still trusted Bethlen and thought Mansfeld’s plan too risky.

Wallenstein crossed Silesia in the second half of August and marched past his opponents to the Military Frontier where the Turks were harassing the forts. This show of force was sufficient to deter the pasha of Buda from helping Bethlen, who agreed a truce with the emperor on 11 November. Hardship, disease and desertion had reduced Mansfeld’s and Johann Ernst’s forces to 5,400. Having quarrelled with the duke, Mansfeld set out with a small escort intending to cross the mountains and escape to Venice. Though only 46, he was crippled by asthma, heart trouble, typhus and the advanced stages of tuberculosis. Insisting on standing up, he allegedly met his end fully armed when death caught him in a village near Sarajevo on 14 December. Johann Ernst died of plague just two weeks later.

Bethlen had waited until the harvest was in before advancing to meet Mansfeld with 12,000 cavalry and a similar number of Turkish auxiliaries. The latter had already left by the time Mansfeld reached Upper Hungary and Bethlen’s operations ran parallel with his talks with Ferdinand’s representatives. The truce was confirmed as the Peace of Pressburg on 20 December that accepted revisions to the Treaty of Nikolsburg in Ferdinand’s favour. The pasha of Buda had already suspended operations, and renewed the 1606 truce at Zsön in September 1627.

Bethlen remained untrustworthy; he offered his light cavalry to Gustavus Adolphus for his war against Poland, but died on 15 November 1629 before agreement could be reached. His erstwhile lieutenant, György Rákóczi, staged a coup in September 1630, displacing Bethlen’s widow Katharina who was negotiating to accept Habsburg overlordship. Transylvania was plunged into internal strife from which Rákóczi emerged triumphant in 1636 thanks to his closer ties to the sultan and the local Calvinist clergy.54

Many felt that Wallenstein should have defeated Bethlen rather than negotiate with him. Wallenstein defended himself against his critics at the Bruck conference in November 1626 and his extended visit to Vienna the following April, securing a free hand for the coming campaign. His success prompted Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg to declare for the emperor. The elector had gone east to Prussia, taking only Schwarzenberg with him. Free from his Calvinist councillors in Berlin, he signed an alliance in May 1627. Winterfeld, the Brandenburg envoy who had worked indefatigably from 1624 to 1626 to forge a Protestant alliance, was arrested three months later on trumped-up charges of treason. The alliance allowed an imperial corps under Arnim across Brandenburg to Frankfurt on the Oder to trap the remnants of Mansfeld’s army holding out in the Silesian fortresses.

These had come under the command of Joachim von Mitzlaff, a Pomeranian in Danish service, who managed to rebuild the army to 13,400 and organize an effective base in the Upper Silesian mountains around Troppau and Jägerndorf. Wallenstein concentrated 40,000 men at Neisse in June 1627. As his fortresses surrendered one by one, Mitzlaff headed north with 4,000 cavalry hoping to dodge past Arnim. Wallenstein sent Merode and Colonel Pechmann after him, who caught and destroyed his detachment on 3 August. Mitzlaff escaped, but numerous Bohemian exiles were captured, including Wallenstein’s cousin Christoph whom he imprisoned. Wallenstein then marched north-west across Brandenburg towards Lauenburg, despatching Arnim northwards into Mecklenburg.

The mounting reverses encouraged Christian IV to resume negotiations. Ferdinand was known to be planning a conference to confirm the decisions of the Regensburg princes’ congress of 1623 as the basis for a general peace. He knew that the Palatinate and its Stuart backers would have to be included and accordingly welcomed an initiative from Württemberg and Lorraine to host talks at Colmar in Alsace in July 1627. Christian urged Frederick V to accept the emperor’s terms, since this would enable him to make peace without losing face. Frederick at last gave real ground, offering to renounce Bohemia, accept Maximilian as an elector, provided the title reverted to the Palatinate on his death, and to submit to imperial authority by proxy to avoid personal humiliation. Agreement was close since Ferdinand would probably have dropped his demand for reparations if Frederick had swallowed his pride and submitted in person. This was too much to ask, however, and the talks collapsed on 18 July.


Eugene of Savoy at the Battle of Belgrade by Johann Gottfried Auerbach.

Date: 15 June-22 August 1717 Location: modern Yugoslavia

There is no doubt that the blood which is going to flow on both sides will fall like a curse upon you, your children and your children’s children until the last judgment. GRAND VIZIER SILAHDAR ALI PASHA TO EUGENE OF SAVOY, APRIL 1716

Habsburg-Ottoman relations remained relatively calm following the peace treaty of Karlowitz (1699). Both empires waged wars on other fronts. The War of the Spanish Succession and the Hungarian insurrection of Ferenc Rakoczi II tied up Vienna’s resources. The Ottomans were fighting successful wars against the Russiansand the Venetians. Prince Eugene of Savoy, Imperial Field Marshal and President of the Viennese Aulic War Council, watched Sultan Ahmed Ill’s recent conquests in the Morea (Peloponnese) and Crete with great suspicion. On Eugene’s suggestion, the Habsburgs formed a defensive alliance with Venice in 1716, leading to Istanbul’s declaration of war against Vienna.

The war of 1716-17

The 1716 campaign resulted in major Habsburg victories. The Imperial army, 70,000 strong and commanded by Eugene, met the Ottoman army under Grand Vizier Damad Ali Pasha, the victor of the Morea campaign, at Petervarad (Peterwardein ), northwest of Belgrade on the right bank of the Danube. Without Tartar and Wallachian auxiliaries, even the paper strength of the regular Ottoman forces was hardly more than 70,000: 41,000 janissaries and 30,000 sipahis (Turkish cavalry). The battle of Petervarad (5 August 1716) ended with the defeat of the Ottoman troops with some 6,000 dead, including the Grand Vizier. Despite severe Imperial losses of 4,500 dead and wounded, Eugene decided to besiege Ternesvar, the centre of an Ottoman province since 1552 and a strong Ottoman fortress guarded by 12,000 men. Ternesvar’s defenders resisted the siege for 43 days, but eventually gave up the fortress on 16 October. During the winter, Eugene made preparations for next year’s campaign, the main objective being to recapture Belgrade, the strongest Ottoman military base that controlled the main invasion route against Habsburg Hungary.

The battle of Belgrade

On 15 June 1717, using pontoon bridges, the Imperial army under Prince Eugene crossed the Danube at Pancsova (Parceva), east of Belgrade. By 18 June Belgrade was surrounded and the Imperialists were busy building their protective entrenchments against the fortress (countervalation) and the approaching relief army (circumvallation). Eugene’s army had a paper strength of 100,000 men, over 100 field guns and a strong siege artillery train. Defended by the Danube from the north and the Sava from the west, Belgrade was guarded by 30,000 men and 600 cannons under San Mustafa Pasha. When the Ottoman relief army under Grand Vizier Haci Halil Pasha arrived on 27 July, Belgrade had been seriously destroyed by the Habsburg bombardment.

The paper strength of the Ottoman forces was well above 100,000 men. However, contemporaries noticed that regular troops composed only ‘a small proportion of their whole body. The rest… are a mob… ignorant of all discipline, and are neither armed nor trained sufficiently well to make a stand against a regular force.’ Knowing the weakness of his forces, the Grand Vizier chose not to engage Eugene’s army in an open battle. Instead, he kept up a deadly artillery fire on the Imperialists from his elevated position to the east of the city, against which the circumvallation gave little protection. The Imperialists were caught between the defenders’ and the Ottoman field army’s artillery fire. Eugene had to act quickly if he was to save his army, which was suffering not only from enemy fire but also from dysentery.

Hoping that the besieged would not be able to fight for some days after the large explosion on 14 August, Eugene decided to attack the Ottoman army on 16 August. While he left 10,000 men in the trenches facing the fortress, Eugene unleashed his remaining forces in the early morning when the thick fog cleared that had concealed the Imperialists’ movements. Thanks to the courageous Bavarians and at the expense of over 5,000 dead, the Imperialists destroyed the Ottoman army, capturing all 150 pieces of the Ottoman artillery and the Grand Vizier’s camp. The Ottomans, who lost perhaps as many as 10,000 men, retreated towards Niş. A day after the battle the defenders of Belgrade, who – blinded by Windy weather conditions – had remained passive during the battle, surrendered. On 22 August, Eugene and his men moved into the city.

The Austrians won through the boldness of his assault and the superb discipline of their infantry, which advanced with colors flying and drums beating despite Ottoman artillery fire. Holding their fire until they were but a short distance from the Ottoman lines, the Austrians launched a bayonet charge that broke up the Janissaries and produced victory. Ottoman casualties were estimated at 20,000 men, while the Austrians suffered only 2,000 casualties. Five days later, on August 21, Belgrade surrendered to the Austrians.

As their main army retreated south, their other force abandoned the siege of Corfu, releasing pressure on the Venetians. Realizing it was now too late to attack Belgrade, Eugene turned northeast to besiege Timisoara, capital of the Banat and last Turkish enclave north of the Danube. Though an attempt to storm the place on Charles’s birthday (1 October) failed, the garrison surrendered two weeks later after a relief force disintegrated en route through desertion. By the end of the year, the imperialists had overrun most of Wallachia west of the river Olt (Aluta)-the so-called Olteria or Little Wallachia.

Though a successful campaign, it was now obvious that the Austrians had seriously underestimated Ottoman strength, but it was decided to continue the war the following year to consolidate the gains. The arrival of Bavarian and other reinforcements brought Eugene’s army up to 100,000, strong enough to attempt the siege of Belgrade, and, assisted by the Danube Flotilla, the city was completely cut off and subjected to a regular siege. However, Eugene was running out of supplies as an Ottoman relief force approached in August. A lucky shot detonated the city’s largest magazine on the 14th, killing 3,000 of the defenders. Realizing that a sortie was now unlikely, Eugene sallied forth from his trenches with 60,000 men to surprise the Turks in the early morning mist. Fortified by drink and keeping close together, the imperialists poured devastating musketry into the disordered Turkish ranks, routing them and sealing the garrison’s fate. With the fall of Belgrade on 18 August, the Turkish position in Northern Serbia collapsed and the Habsburg frontier advanced south of the Danube to reach the fullest extent achieved during the Great Turkish War.

Charles had no intention of going any further. The Austrians were already beginning to doubt the wisdom of pushing deeper into the Balkan wastelands, and it was clear the Turks desired peace. This was very welcome given that Rakoczi had just arrived in Edirne, raising the spectre of renewed trouble in Hungary. Meanwhile the Turks were suspected of trying to reach a rapprochement with the tsar, and Spain had launched its attempt to recover its lost Italian possessions. Following long negotiations with Anglo-Dutch mediation, peace was concluded at Passarowitz (Pozarevac) on 27 July 1717, confirming Austria’s recent gains. It was not a moment too soon. Austrian units were already departing for Italy, while five days later, the emperor concluded the Quadruple Alliance with France, Britain and the Dutch, thus committing himself to the war with Spain.

The short successful war considerably extended Habsburg territory, indicating that Austria was now a major European power and raising the emperor’s prestige in the Reich. Prince Eugene was a genuine folk hero, and even other generals became household names.

The Battle of Belgrade was a watershed. After the Battle of Belgrade they were firmly on the defensive, no longer expanding in Europe but merely seeking to retain conquered territory.

The Habsburg -Ottoman war of 1716-17 was the briefest of the military conflicts between the two empires. With the conquest of Belgrade and the Ternesvar region, Prince Eugene of Savoy crowned his career as the most successful military leader of his time. The following peace treaty of Passarowitz (1718) restored the ‘natural’ Danube borderline between the two empires.

The Battles of Herbsthausen and Allerheim

The capture of Philippsburg and Mainz had given France secure access over the Rhine, but the Lower Palatinate was too devastated to provide an adequate base for them inside Germany. The local truce ruled out use of the Franche-Comté to the south, heightening the importance of securing Swabian territory east of the Black Forest to sustain French forces in the Empire. News of Jankau emboldened Mazarin to believe there was a real chance of knocking Bavaria out of the war and Turenne was ordered to achieve this.

Both sides spent the opening months of 1645 raiding each other across the Black Forest. Henri de La Tour d’Auvergne, Viscount of Turenne was delayed by the need to rebuild his infantry shattered at Freiburg, while Franz von Mercy had detached Johann von Werth and most of the cavalry to Bohemia. Only 1,500 troopers returned in April. Turenne was able to attack first, crossing the Rhine with 11,000 men near Speyer on 26 March and advancing up the Neckar into Württemberg, which he thoroughly plundered. He then moved north-east, taking Rothenburg on the Tauber to open the way into Franconia. Mercy deliberately feigned defeatism, keeping to the south while he collected his forces. Turenne remained cautious, but was unable to sustain even his relatively small army in the Tauber valley. He moved to Mergentheim, billeting his cavalry in the surrounding villages in April.

Having received Maximilian’s permission to risk battle, Mercy planned to repeat his success at Tuttlingen. Werth’s arrival gave him 9,650 men and 9 guns at Feuchtwangen. He force-marched his troops 60km to approach Mergentheim from the south-east on 5 May. Turenne had been alerted by one of Rosen’s patrols at 2 a.m., but there was little time to collect his troops at Herbsthausen, just south-east of the town. He knew he could not trust his largely untried infantry in the open, so posted them along the edge of a wood on a rise overlooking the main road. Most of the cavalry were massed to the left ready to charge the Bavarians as they emerged from a large wood to the south. He had only 3,000 troopers and a similar number of infantry, though not all were present at the start of the battle and another 3,000 billeted in the surrounding area never made it at all.

Werth appeared first at the head of half the Bavarian cavalry to cover the deployment of the rest of the army on the other side of the narrow valley opposite the French. Mercy used his artillery to pound the wood, increasing the casualties as the shot sent branches flying through the air, just as the Swedes had done to the Bavarians at Wolfenbüttel. None of the six French cannon had arrived. Their infantry fired an ineffective salvo at long range and fell back as the Bavarians began a general advance. Turenne charged down the valley, routing the Bavarian cavalry on the left that included the units beaten at Jankau. However, a regiment held in reserve stemmed the attack, while the few French cavalry posted on Turenne’s extreme right were swept away by Werth’s charge. The French army dissolved in panic, many of the infantry being trapped around Herbsthausen. Turenne cut his way through almost alone to join three fresh cavalry regiments that arrived just in time to cover the retreat. The subsequent surrender of Mergentheim and other garrisons brought the total French losses up to 4,400, compared to 600 Bavarians.

The success was not on the scale of Tuttlingen, but it was sufficient to lift the despondency in Munich and Vienna after Jankau. The sequence of these actions underscores the general point about the interrelationship between war and diplomacy, as each change of military fortune raised the hopes in one party of achieving their diplomatic objectives, while hardening the determination of the other to continue resisting until the situation improved. In this case, Mercy was too weak to exploit his victory beyond securing the area south of the Main. Mazarin moved swiftly to restore French prestige before negotiations moved further in Westphalia. Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé, D’Enghien was directed to take another 7,000 reinforcements across the Rhine at Speyer, and in a new show of common resolve Sweden agreed to despatch Königsmarck from Bremen to join the French. Having reinforced the garrisons in Meissen and Leipzig, Königsmarck arrived on the Main with 4,000 men. The return of the war to the Main area allowed Amalie Elisabeth to revive Hessian plans to attack Darmstadt under cover of the general war. She agreed to provide 6,000 men under their new commander, Geyso, who assembled at Hanau to invade Darmstadt in June.

The Battle of Allerheim [Battle of Nördlingen (1645)]

Ferdinand of Cologne sent Gottfried Huyn von Geleen and 4,500 Westphalians south past the allies to join Mercy on 4 July, to give him about 16,000 men against the enemy’s 23,000. Mercy then retired south to Heilbronn, blocking the way into Swabia. The allied troop concentration soon broke up. One commonly cited reason was that d’Enghien had managed to insult both Johann von Geyso and Hans Christoff von Königsmarck. However, the real cause of the latter’s departure in mid-July was an order from Lennart Torstensson to knock out Saxony. The instructions, dated 10 May (Old Style), were later copied and sent to Johann Georg to put pressure on him to negotiate. Given Torstensson’s inability to take Brünn, there was only a limited period of time in which to intimidate Saxony before the Imperialists recovered sufficiently to send assistance. D’Enghien meanwhile resumed Turenne’s earlier plan and marched east through southern Franconia heading for Bavaria. The division of military labour evolving since 1642 was now complete. Sweden would eliminate Saxony and attack the emperor while France knocked Bavaria out of the war.

Mercy deftly checked the French advance by taking up a series of near impregnable positions, obliging d’Enghien to waste time outflanking him. The game ended at Allerheim near the confluence of the Wörnitz and Eger rivers on 3 August. Though it is also known as the second battle of Nördlingen, the action was fought on the opposite side of the Eger to the events of 1634. Mercy had deployed with his back to the Wörnitz between two steep hills on which he entrenched some of his 28 cannon. The infantry, who comprised less than half his army, were positioned behind Allerheim in the centre. The cemetery, the church and a few solid houses were filled with musketeers, while others held entrenchments around the front and sides of the village. The cavalry were massed either side, with Geleen and the Imperialists on the right (north) as far as the Wenneberg, and Werth with the Bavarians on the left next to the Schloßberg hill, named after the ruined castle on the top.

D’Enghien had not expected to find the enemy, but seized the opportunity for battle despite his subordinates’ reservations. Königsmarck’s departure had left him with 6,000 French troops, plus 5,000 more under Turenne and the 6,000 Hessians, with 27 guns. He placed most of the French infantry and 800 cavalry in the centre opposite Allerheim, while Turenne stood on the left with the Hessians and his own cavalry. The rest of the French were deployed on the right (south) under Antoine III de Gramont opposite the Schloßberg.

It was already 4 p.m. by the time they were ready, but d’Enghien knew from Freiburg how quickly the Bavarians could dig in and did not want to give them the night to complete their works. The French guns could not compete with the Bavarians’ that were protected by earthworks, so d’Enghien ordered a frontal assault at 5 p.m. He was soon fully occupied with the fight for Allerheim, leading successive waves of infantry over the entrenchments, only to be hurled back again by fresh Bavarian units fed by Mercy from the centre. The thatched roofs of the village soon caught fire, forcing the defenders into the stone buildings. The French commander had two horses shot under him and was himself saved by his breastplate deflecting a musket ball. Mercy was not so fortunate as he entered the burning village around 6 p.m. to rally the flagging defence. He was shot in the head and died instantly. Johann von Ruischenberg assumed command and repulsed the French.

Werth meanwhile routed Gramont who thought a ditch in front of his position was impassable and allowed the Bavarians to approach within 100 metres. The French cavalry offered brief resistance before fleeing, leaving Gramont to fight on with two infantry brigades until he was forced to surrender. Werth’s cavalry dispersed in pursuit and it is possible that the smoke from Allerheim obscured the battlefield. Either way, he discovered that the rest of the army was on the point of collapse only when he returned to his start position around 8 p.m. Turenne had saved the day for the French with a desperate assault on the Wenneberg that allowed the Hessians, the last fresh troops, to overrun the Bavarian artillery and hit Allerheim in the flank. Parties of Bavarian infantry were cut off in the confusion and surrendered. Werth assumed command, collected the army at the Schloßberg and retreated around 1 a.m. in good order to the Schellenberg hill above Donauwörth.

Werth attracted considerable blame, especially from later commentators like Napoleon, for failing to exploit his initial success by sweeping round behind the French centre to smash Turenne as d’Enghien had done with the Spanish at Rocroi. Werth defended himself by pointing out the difficulties of communicating along the length of the Bavarian army that probably measured 2,500 metres. His troopers were also short of ammunition and it was getting dark by the time they reassembled. Indeed, the late hour probably proved decisive, limiting what Werth could see. His withdrawal was prudent under the circumstances, depriving the Bavarians of a chance for victory, but at least avoiding a worse defeat that would have wrecked the army.

D’Enghien had been fortunate to escape with victory, losing at least 4,000 dead and wounded. The infantry in the centre had been almost wiped out and the French court was aghast at the extent of casualties that included several senior officers. Like Freiburg, it was the Bavarian retreat that transformed the action into a strategic success, partly because at least 1,500 men were captured as Werth pulled out of Allerheim in addition to the 2,500 killed or wounded. Retreat after another hard-fought battle eroded morale. The Bavarians vented their fury on the unfortunate captive Gramont, who narrowly escaped being murdered by Mercy’s servant and was grateful to be exchanged for Geleen the next month.

The Kötzschenbroda Armistice

The immediate repercussions were soon redressed. The French captured Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl, but got stuck at Heilbronn where d’Enghien fell ill. Mazarin refused to send reinforcements to replace the casualties, leaving Turenne outnumbered as Leopold Wilhelm and 5,300 Imperialists arrived from Bohemia in early October. By December, Turenne was back in Alsace having lost all the towns captured that year.

The stabilization of southern Germany was offset by a major blow in the north-east that indicated that the new allied strategy was working. Though the French had been unable to knock out Bavaria, their campaign in Franconia prevented relief reaching Saxony, which had been left isolated after Jankau. Königsmarck had force-marched the Swedish forces up the Main and burst into the electorate early in August. Johann Georg appealed to Ferdinand, protesting that the Swedes were deliberately ravaging his land. The emperor replied on 25 August that he had just made peace with Georg I. Rákóczi and help was on its way. It was too late. Before the letter arrived, the elector had already given up hope; he concluded an armistice at Kötzschenbroda on 6 September.

Saxony secured a six-month ceasefire on relatively favourable terms. The Swedes accepted the electorate’s neutrality, but allowed it to continue discharging its obligations to the emperor by leaving three cavalry regiments with the imperial army. In return, Saxony had to pay 11,000 talers a month to maintain the Swedish garrison in Leipzig, the only town Königsmarck insisted on retaining in the electorate. The Swedes were allowed to cross the electorate, but they also agreed to lift their blockade of the Saxon garrison in Magdeburg.

Won by the Sword

The Two Battles of Puebla: 1862-1863

THE VICTORY OF CINCO DE MAYO. The Mexican victory over the French (in red trousers) at Puebla in 1862 was considered so significant that 5 May is still celebrated throughout Latin America – including parts of the southwestern United States.

The strategic significance of Puebla lay in the simple fact that it blocked the direct road through the mountains from Vera Cruz on the east coast to Mexico City. Consequently if the French were to take the capital they first needed to capture Puebla.

After the loss of Texas in 1836 and the rest of its North American territory following the Mexican- American War of 1846-1848, Mexico entered a period of crisis. This culminated in a civil war between conservatives and liberals, which ended in late December 1860 with victory for the liberals. By this time, the Mexican economy, always precarious, was in a complete shambles and in July 1861 President Juarez (1806-1872) and his Congress announced a two-year suspension of payments on all foreign debts. In response Britain, France and Spain (the principal creditors) sent a joint expeditionary force to seize the port of Vera Cruz and its customs house. Having made their point and enforced payment of at least part of the debt, the British and Spanish contingents left in April 1862. The French, though, had other ideas.

General Santa Anna had once declared that the Mexican people were not yet ready for democracy and required a dictatorship. Now, encouraged by the recently defeated conservatives, the French Emperor Napoleon III (1808-1873) decided to give them one in the form of the otherwise unemployed Archduke Maximilian of Austria (1832-1867). Establishing him in power would require the spilling of French blood, but in return France would gain a vast new empire in America, with the prospect of dominating the entire continent at a time when the United States was being torn apart by civil war.

In March of that year, General Lorencez had moved inland to occupy Orizaba, ostensibly because Vera Cruz was notoriously unhealthy. However, instead of withdrawing when the other foreign contingents departed, he moved inland again, defeating General Ignacio Zaragoza (1829-1862) at the Alcuzingo Pass on 28 April and forcing him to retreat to the fortified city of Puebla. This covered the approaches to Mexico City and had earlier, in 1847, been the scene of a full-scale siege by the army of Major-General Winfield Scott (1824-1886) during the Mexican- American War.

Anonymous painting depicting the Battle of Puebla in 1862

First Battle of Puebla: 5 May 1862

Lorencez was confident of victory and believed that his 6000 well-trained veterans could easily dislodge Zaragoza from the town. Not only did they outnumber the defenders but they were significantly better equipped. The Mexicans were largely armed with smooth-bore muskets, including old flintlocks, while the French all had rifled weapons. More importantly, Zaragoza’s artillery was unchanged from Santa Anna’s day and largely comprised old Spanish tubes on Gribeauval-style carriages, firing only solid shot or canister. The French guns, on the other hand, had rifled barrels capable of firing explosive shells. Intelligence supplied by Mexican conservatives also suggested that the population was pro-French and would aid in expelling Zaragoza’s men. This assessment, however, was overly optimistic. The population might indeed be hostile towards Juarez and his liberal regime, but as so often in 1836 they were prepared to put aside factional differences when faced by an external threat.

With his rear secure, Zaragoza placed most of his 4000 men in an entrenched line, anchored by two hilltop forts, Loreto and Guadalupe, on the north side of the city. Arriving on 5 May, Lorencez decided to storm the Mexican lines forthwith, since he had no great opinion of the Mexican Army and assumed that a gallant rush would carry the position out of hand. Selecting Fort Guadalupe as his objective, he began shelling it at a range of 2000m (6560ft), well beyond the reach of the Mexican guns. His gunners were soon on target, but nevertheless, having been brought up in an earlier age of gunnery, he ordered them to close the range.

Too late he realized that the new position offered a very poor angle of fire. There was no question of withdrawing, however, so instead he ordered an infantry assault on the fort. With inadequate preparation, French elan counted for little against a determined enemy that was well dug in. Two French colonels were killed at the head of their regiments and although one man succeeded in planting the tricolour on the ramparts, he was immediately shot down and the flag contemptuously tossed back. Then, to make matters worse, as the French fell back, Zaragoza’s cavalry, commanded by Colonel Porflrio Diaz (1830-1915), sallied out and caught them in the open. Afterwards, the French admitted to 462 killed and eight captured.

Heavy rain then brought the battle to a close. Lorencez waited a couple of days in the hope that Zaragoza might be rash enough to come out and fight him in the open. It was a forlorn hope, and he eventually withdrew to Orizaba.

New Expedition

This victory over the leading European power of the day bought Juarez some time, and is still celebrated throughout Latin America as the Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May), but Napoleon was not about to let such a blow to French ambitions go unanswered. General Elias Forey landed in Mexico on 21 September 1862 and moved to the forward French position at Orizaba, but initially seemed in no hurry to recommence the campaign. In Puebla, meanwhile, Mexican General Jesus Gonzalez Ortega (1822-1881) was doing his best to build up the town’s fortifications, while General Ignacio Comonfort (1812-1863) was bringing another force to the area, hoping to act as a mobile threat to the eventual French advance.

By February 1863, with still no sign of a French advance, Juarez himself went to Puebla to review the progress and provide moral support. At the time, heartening news was coming in from other fronts as French forces were forced out of the coastal town of Tampico to the north and Jalapa to the west. Within days, however, the French began their move and arrived before Puebla on 16 March 1863 with some 18,000 infantry, 1400 cavalry, 2150 gunners and 450 engineers. There were also 56 modern cannon and 2.4 million rounds of ammunition of all calibres.

Instead of a precipitate assault, there was to be a formal siege. Forey established his headquarters on high ground to the south of the town, then spent five days having his men dig in around the city. Only then did he begin his bombardment. This time, the objective was Fort San Xavier, on the western side, and the artillery preparation was both thorough and effective. Some of the forward parallels were advanced to within 150m (490ft) of the defences before the guns opened fire. Four days were allotted for the initial bombardment, and an assault was mounted on 27 March. This failed dismally, but a second attempt two days later successfully carried the fort.

To French dismay, there was no breakthrough. The Mexican defenders merely fell back to the first of the houses, about 50m (164ft) behind the fort. Anticipating the fall of the fort, they had barricaded the streets and pierced the houses with loop-holes. This meant that when the French again advanced they found themselves bogged down in costly house-to-house fighting. Progress was painfully slow and by 11 April seven officers and 56 men had been killed and a further 39 officers and 443 men wounded for negligible gains. Unsurprisingly, some officers advocated breaking off the operation, but Forey was determined to continue.

Meanwhile, the French had to maintain themselves off the countryside. As in all colonial campaigns, the ammunition had to be dragged very long distances over hostile terrain, and foraging parties were necessary to feed the men and animals. These were vulnerable to harassment by a small Mexican field army commanded by General Comonfort. With only some 7000 men, and many of them irregulars, he lacked the confidence to engage the French in open battle but had the good sense to concentrate on interdicting their supply lines and cutting off foraging parties. On 14 April, the French struck back, catching one of Comonfort’s detachments and hustling them back in confusion. Any expectation that they had thereby solved the problem was soon dashed, however.

Later that month, the French sent a convoy up from Vera Cruz with three million francs in gold, materiel and munitions, and were confident enough to assign only a single company from the Foreign Legion for its protection. It was intercepted by a substantial force of Mexicans under Colonel Milan on 30 April and only got through thanks to a sacrificial stand by the Legion at the Hacienda Camaron, an inn protected by a wall 3m (10ft) high. In the now legendary fight that followed, Captain Danjou (1823-1865) and his detachment quite literally fought to the last man, and the safe arrival of the convoy proved crucial to the successful prosecution of the siege.

General Bazaine ordering the Zouaves to charge Fort San Javier.

War of Attrition

Meanwhile, supplies were also becoming a problem within the town. Although much had been done in the way of improving the fortifications, little had been done to stock the town sufficiently. Then, on 8 May, one of the French commanders, General Achille Bazaine (1811-1888), spotted a large cloud of dust in the distance. Rightly assuming this to be a relief force, he led a detachment out that night and surprised Comonfort’s camp, inflicting a thousand casualties and capturing another thousand. The defeat marked the beginning of the end.

By now, the defenders had eaten every dog and cat in the town and were now reduced to eating leaves off the orange trees. Ammunition lasted longer: while there was powder, solid shot could be cast and langrage improvised for the obsolete guns – in contrast to the French who required factory-made shells, shipped over from France and laboriously carried up from the coast. However, on 12 May, Fort del Carmen fell and Ortega recognized that the end was near. On 17 May, he ordered all weapons and ammunition to be destroyed – then communicated with Forey about surrender terms.

With Puebla at last in their control, the French now had no serious obstacle barring their entry to Mexico City. Juarez had wanted to fight for the capital, but with only 14,000 men at his disposal, he and Congress instead retreated to San Luis Potosi. From there, they continued, and would ultimately win, the war, thanks in no small part to British gun-runners who landed thousands of modern Enfield rifles. Diplomatic pressure also came from the Americans, who had concluded their own civil war and were now able to demand the withdrawal of the French.

Sicily and Ponza (1813)

Capture of the Island of Ponza Feby 26th 1813. From a plan by Capt Mounsey by Thomas Whitcombe [artist]; Thomas Sutherland [engraver], 1813. PAD5833

As the French debacle in Russia unfolded, allegiances became strained and Marshal King Murat apparently openly declared his intention of making peace with the British. Arriving back in his kingdom on 4 February 1813, he immediately dispatched an emissary to the Austrian Emperor, offering his troops in return for a guarantee that he could retain his kingdom as it stood presently, even if Napoleon fell, but nothing concrete came of the proposal.

Lord William Bentinck had previously received a proposal from the Russian Admiral Tchitchagov, commanding the Black Sea fleet and the Russian troops on the Danube, that he could provide 40,000 troops to attack the French possessions in Dalmatia, leading on to an invasion of Italy itself, if supported by 20,000 British/Sicilian troops. Although such a proposal may have sound very attractive to Bentinck, he declined to take up this offer once it became clear that the entire expense of paying and feeding these troops would fall on the British treasury.

Bentinck had so far followed his brief from London to send all available troops to the east coast of Spain over every other priority, despite his own hopes of leading an Italian insurrection. Napoleon had failed in Russia and was on the retreat in central Europe; because of this, the French garrisons in the Mediterranean were being severely denuded to reinforce the severely weakened forces in Germany. Bentinck saw his opportunity and began to champion his Italian dreams once again.

Now, Admiral Greig was in command of the Black Sea fleet and he had 11,000 Russian troops that could be utilised if paid by the British. With these, added to the troops that Bentinck could bring together at Sicily, he could create an army of 30,000 men, all in British pay, ready to be used anywhere in the Mediterranean. As a first move in this direction, on 26 February Bentinck sent a small force under Vice Admiral Pellew to capture the island of Ponza, to be used as a base for naval operations against coastal trade, as a supply base for smuggling British goods and as a way of providing immediate channels of communication with the Italian mainland. The troops landing on the island, whilst the naval guns pounded the small fortress, soon persuaded the governor of the island to capitulate. Some 300 prisoners were taken here, without a single casualty amongst the British troops.

Two days before this action, a convoy of fifty armed vessels with stores destined for Naples was attacked at Pietra Nera on the Calabrian coast. The attacking force, led by Captain Robert Hall, included two divisions of gunboats and four companies of the 75th Foot. The troops were landed on the coast at daylight on 14 February, and they soon took the coastal batteries and all the enemy boats were either carried off or burnt.

As regards the internal affairs of Sicily, things had begun to take on a much brighter appearance, with the quality of the Sicilian army improving, the anti-British party subsiding in influence and the British-style constitution beginning to bed in. But as always, trouble was not far away, usually harboured under the skirts of the queen – and so it proved once again.

Through the queen’s intrigues, the king had begun to take the government back under his own hand and in striving to return to the old ways, he effectively neutralised the new constitution. Bentinck reacted immediately and with great force, declaring that the alliance was to be ended immediately. This sudden threat caused an instant reaction from the king, who – true to form – immediately caved in and went back to his hunting. The harm had been done, however, and tensions grew between the Neapolitan troops stationed in Sicily and the Sicilian civilian population. This, added to renewed preparations by Murat for an invasion of Sicily, was regarded as so serious a situation that it led to Bentinck ordering some troops back from Spain.

By the end of May, however, all seemed to have settled down again, and the queen had, to all appearances, finally conceded defeat and announced her departure from the island. She would sail on 27 May for Constantinople, from where she could travel overland to Vienna. With the intrigues of the queen finally coming to an end, Bentinck felt the position on Sicily was secure enough, and he sailed for Alicante, taking as many troops as he could spare and leaving them at Ponza en route, to threaten the Italian mainland. Leaving General Macfarlane in command at Palermo, he gave him instructions to land 12,000 men on the mainland if an Italian insurrection actually materialised.

Hardly had he sailed than the news reached him that the queen had delayed her voyage because of ill health, although thankfully she did depart on 14 June for Zante. The Sicilian government, however, quickly reverted to type and once again became extremely obstructive and embroiled in petty squabbling.

By mid-July Macfarlane could only report the situation as ‘alarming’, with the new constitution on the verge of collapse. Palermo suffered regular riots and foodstuffs became scarce and expensive, adding to the unrest. Macfarlane was forced to order the return to Sicily of most of the troops sent to Ponza, and thankfully the Neapolitan troops remained loyal. In August Macfarlane felt that the situation was so grave that he wrote to Bentinck requesting his urgent return from Spain, with which he reluctantly concurred.

Sicily had rarely been any less than a severe headache for British commanders, and prospects now looked as bleak once again as they ever had. It seemed that no one would ever be able to get a firm grasp on Sicilian politics, queen or no queen, but abandoning the island to its own fate could never be an option. For all its faults, failings and frustrations, Sicily was too vital to the British cause in the Mediterranean. Perhaps that was always the problem: the Sicilians could also see that they were vital to Britain and therefore knew that they could continue their intrigues with impunity.

Peter’s Triumph: Battle of Poltava


After the worst of the cold spell was over the Swedes attempted to capture the hilltop fort of Veprik. The first attempt was repelled with 400 Swedes killed and another 600 wounded. The casualties were heaviest among the officers, and Field Marshal Rehnskiöld was among the wounded. Veprik surrendered to the Swedes on the night of 7–8 January 1709.

Leaving Field Marshal Rehnskiöld in charge of the winter camp, Karl XII carried out a merciless winter campaign against the Russians, capturing several towns and—taking a page from Peter—laying waste the countryside to provide more security for the Swedish encampment. In a lightning raid on Menshikov’s headquarters, Karl XII nearly captured the Russian general, who managed to flee, but the raid killed 400 of his men while only two Swedes were killed. An early thaw began in mid-February, turning the ground to mud. Campaigning for both Russians and Swedes was impossible.

Rumors from the north reported that a large Russian army was now heading for Poland. This, combined with the fact that the king of Poland and General Krassow would probably not arrive, prompted Count Karl Piper to recommend a retreat to Poland. The advice was rejected by Karl XII. He had in effect decided to move the Swedish camp to new positions between the Psiol and Vorksla rivers. The main army went into quarters in March and April along the Vorksla, two miles south of Poltava, a fortress that commanded the road to Moscow.

The Swedes began a siege of Poltava on 1 May but made little headway. The siege followed what may have been a peace feeler by Peter the Great in the guise of a prisoner exchange. The message was carried by Erik Johan Eh -ren roos, who had been captured at Lesnaya. The message was simply that Peter was inclined to make peace but would not give up St. Petersburg. The reply was sent back by Ehrenroos on 1 May and it ignored the peace offering.

Karl XII’s search for allies had meantime proved fruitless. The Khan of the Crimean Tartars was ready to provide support, but he was a vassal of the sultan in Constantinople who had decided not to get involved and forbade the Khan from doing so. The rebellion by the Zaporozhian Cossacks was put down by the Russians in May 1709.

The Russians were eager to prevent the Swedes from capturing the Poltava fort because its vast stores of supplies would provide those sorely needed by Karl XII’s men. They made an unsuccessful attempt to force their way across the Vorskla River. At a Russian war council it was decided to cross the river far enough from Poltava to avoid the Swedish defenses, and the spot selected was Petrovka. The operation was given urgency by a message from the fort’s commandant that he would not be able to hold out much longer. The Swedes were, however, aware of the Russian plan and their own plan called for allowing a large portion—but not all—of the enemy army to cross before attacking.


The Swedish king had received a foot wound on 17 June from a musket fired from an island in the river while he was reconnoitering the bank. The wound was sustained around 0800 hours but the king continued his rounds before returning to his headquarters around 1100 hours where he fainted while trying to get off his horse. The musket ball struck the heel of his left foot and traveled the length of his sole before it exited.

Rehnskiöld, with ten cavalry and eight infantry regiments, had been given the mission to execute the agreed upon plan against the Russian crossing. The king would remain at Poltava but would join the field marshal to take part in the battle as soon as the situation at Poltava allowed. This was before he was wounded.

After he was wounded but still able to issue orders, he left it up to his field marshal whether or not to fight at Petrovka. The field marshal consulted his senior commanders and all agreed not to fight the battle, not only because of the king being wounded but also because the Russians were already well entrenched. Some historians have criticized the field marshal’s decision and claimed the failure not to attack the Russians at Petrovka contributed to the disaster that followed. While he was recovering from his wound, Karl XII received definite word that neither Stanislaw nor General Krassow was coming, since they were fully engaged in Poland.

The Russians began building a second fortified camp just north of Poltava. It was fortified on three sides while the side facing the river was left open as no threat there existed. It was a strong camp but had the disadvantage that if forced to retreat the Russians would have to retrace their steps back to Vorskla since only one track led directly to the river from the encampment. A battle had become inevitable after the Russians brought their main army across, and neither side had good withdrawal routes, being virtually surrounded by rivers.

The Russian camp was built in the form of a quadrilateral, with strong redoubts that would channel the attacks and keep the attacking columns in a deadly crossfire as long as possible. The southern side was difficult to attack because of ravines and woods. The western side faced an open plain with a forest behind it. Between this forest and the one on the south side was a piece of open ground. The Russians built six redoubts and were in the process of building four more when the battle started.

The Swedish strength consisted of 8,200 infantry, 7,800 cavalry, 1,000 irregular Wallachians, 1,300 siege-work troops with 2 guns, a baggage train protected by 2,000 cavalry and 28 guns, an unknown number of Zaporozhian Cossacks, and 1,800 cavalry along the lower Vorskla. The Russian forces consisted of 25,500 infantry with 73 pieces of artillery, 9,000 cavalry with 13 pieces of artillery, a redoubt force of 4,000 infantry with 16 artillery pieces, vthe Poltava garrison of 4,000 infantry with 28 cannons, an outpost at Yakovtsi with 2,000 troops equally divided between infantry and cavalry, and an unknown number of Cossacks.

The appalling picture painted by the above order of battle is not only in the fact that the Swedes were heavily outnumbered in infantry, but that they had no artillery placed to assist in the battle. Of their 30 pieces, two were with the besiegers of Poltava and the other 28 were with the baggage train! The Russians, on the other hand, had 130 artillery pieces.

The Swedes were outnumbered almost 3 to 1, the enemy had complete dominance in artillery, and the Swedes were going against a well entrenched foe which normally requires a superiority of 3 to 1. Only an unabashed believer in miracles could expect the Swedes to prevail under these circumstances. Since the king had decided to be carried onto the battlefield on a litter, he failed to appoint a single overall battle commander, and the orders were issued in such a hurry that by the time they got to battalion and company level there was not enough time to become familiar with them. Finally, the personality and tactical eye of the king was not present to give his troops the morale lift they sorely needed.

The Swedes had expected to launch a surprise attack at first light on June 28, and for that purpose some of the troop movements took place shielded by the woods to their rear. However, the Russians learned about the Swedish plans and moved strong cavalry forces behind their redoubts. When the Swedes realized that their surprise had been discovered they hurried their preparations. Orders went out to change from a line formation to a column in approaching the enemy positions. This caused further confusion. The Russian artillery had already opened fire on the Swedes. Rehnskiöld commanded the Swedish right and Roos the center, while Lewenhaupt commanded the left.

The Swedes easily captured the first two redoubts but bitter fighting ensued for the rest, and the attackers were severely mauled. The dust raised by the cavalry and the smoke from artillery and muskets ruined visibility. One part of the Swedish army under General Roos became separated from the rest, attacked and surrounded by cavalry, and relief forces were unable to break through. Having failed to take all the T-shaped redoubts the Swedes began to withdraw.

The Russians now came out of their entrenchments and prepared to attack. The Swedes decided to take the initiative with their own attack. The king, who was consulted, suggested that it was best to first get rid of the enemy cavalry. This was probably the best thing to do in this impossible situation, but when Rehnskiöld told him it was impossible the king is alleged to have muttered, “Well, you must do as you will.”

The Swedes thereupon launched an infantry attack while posting their cavalry in the rear. The depleted Swedish infantry lines—no more than 4,000 strong—faced 18,000 Russian infantry supported by over 70 field guns. The Cossacks were asked to bring their 28 guns forward but it was too late.

The Swedish right drove the Russians back and captured some field guns which they turned against their enemy. However, a gap had developed between some of the regiments, and Russian infantry poured into that gap. Panic began to set in among the Swedish infantry, and Lewenhaupt’s attempt to halt the stampede failed. Rehnskiöld, who tried to come to Lewenhaupt’s aid, was captured. Most of the Swedish infantry which had crossed the field against the Russian lines was destroyed.

Roos, who had earlier become separated from the main Swedish army after he lost 1,100 men in attacking the redoubts, withdrew to the south, not knowing where the main army was. He was pounced upon by Russian cavalry and infantry and forced to surrender his remnants.

The battle was over but the killing continued. With Rehnskiöld and Piper captured, Lewenhaupt was left in command. Karl XII was in the middle of the debacle and tried his best to stem the stampede, but his feeble voice could not be heard above the din. The murderous fire was like a great scythe bringing down men, horses, and trees. Twenty-one of the king’s twenty-four litter-carriers were killed, and the litter was finally shattered. It looked like the king would be captured but an officer stopped, dismounted, and lifted Karl into the saddle, only to have the horse shot from under him. Another horse was provided but now his wound was fully reopened and bleeding profusely.

The Swedish cavalry, which was basically intact, covered the remnants of the infantry in their withdrawal to the camp at Pushkarivka. The reserve regiments, artillery, and Mazeppa’s Cossacks were placed in defensive positions around the camp. The two infantry regiments besieging Poltava managed to fight their way through the Russian lines to the camp. Most of the defeated army had reached the camp by noon. The Swedes had left some ten thousand on the battlefield, 6,901 dead and 2,760 prisoners. The Russian losses were relatively light: 1,345 killed and 3,290 wounded. It was almost the exact opposite of previous Swedish-Russian encounters.

No immediate pursuit was launched by the Russians, as their troops were almost as confused as the Swedes, and Peter wanted to celebrate the victory. The Swedish army had been defeated but it had not surrendered. About 16,000 Swedes gathered at Pushkarivka to join the approximately 6,000 Cossacks already there.

Future plans had to be laid and they boiled down to a retreat to Poland to join Stanislaw and Krassow by one of several routes known to the Cossacks. The first leg of the retreat was a withdrawal to Perevolotjna, at the junction of the Vorskla and Dnieper rivers. The route would then go north to the Vorskla fords, cross the river and move south along the Dnieper to the Khan’s dominions and join the king at Ochakov on the Black Sea from where the entire army would return to Poland. The baggage was sent ahead and the infantry and cavalry followed under the command of General Kreutz. Horses were gathered for the infantry to increase the speed. The march continued through the heat of the day of 28 June and through most of the night. The whole army arrived safely at Perevolotjna on 30 June.

The first order of business was to get the Cossacks, starting with the leadership, across the Dnieper to safety since the Russians would not show them any mercy. To do otherwise would be a stain on Swedish honor. Second, the wounded king had to be spirited away to safety in Turkey, despite his own arguments to stay with the army. Lewenhaupt chose to remain with the army after he gave the king his word that he would continue the fight; but he chose his words carefully. The Cossack leaders were moved across the river on 30 June, followed by the king and his group the following day.

General Menshikov appeared with 6,000 dragoons and 2,000 Cossacks early on 1 July and asked for a parley. Kreutz was sent to find out what terms the Russians were offering. He came back stating that Menshikov offered normal surrender terms. Lewenhaupt consulted his colonels and they asked what the king’s last order had been. Lewenhaupt gave a rather evasive answer that he had only asked the army to “defend itself as long as it could.” Lewenhaupt directed the colonels to poll the soldiers if they were willing to fight. This was contrary to all Swedish army practice. The answer from the soldiers was that they would fight if the others did.

The surrender—termed by some as shameful—took place at 1100 hours on 1 July: 1,161 officers and 13,138 non-commissioned officers and men filed into Meshikov’s camp and laid down their arms. Englund gives higher figures for the Swedes who were surrendered (see below). Only few ever saw their homeland again. It should be noted that several of the Swedish regiments had seen little action, particularly the cavalry which was virtually intact. The Swedes actually outnumbered Menshikov’s tired troops, and an inspiring and resolute combat leader would have opted for a daring attack rather than captivity. Lewenhaupt was no such leader. The 5,000 Cossacks who had remained with Lewenhaupt were not included in the capitulation, and most grabbed horses and rode away, but some were caught, tortured in the most brutal manner, and killed.

Englund gives precise and startling figures of the losses sustained by the Swedish army—which had numbered 49,500 the previous summer. He notes that almost exactly 20,000 entered captivity and when the roughly 2,800 taken prisoner during the battle are added, he arrives at a grand total of about 23,000 prisoners.

Karl XII reached the Bug River on 7 July and entered the Ottoman Empire on 10 July, eventually joined by about 1,800 of his troops. They were granted asylum and treated as welcomed guests. The last action was that of the rearguard on the other side of the Bug when it was caught by Russian cavalry. The 300 Swedes surrendered, but an equal number of Cossacks fought to the last man.


It is not surprising that the consequences of a battle historians have long considered one of most decisive in history would be great and long-lasting. Here we will only deal with the immediate effects.

The results of the battle shocked Europe; in a matter of days the whole political situation on the continent had been changed. However, the Great Northern War dragged on, inconclusively, for another decade, which caused great fiscal strain and disaffection in war-weary Sweden.

The scavengers moved in to carve up the carcass of the Swedish Empire. Denmark seized Schleswig, Bremen, and Verden, but turned some of those territories over to Hannover in order to gain its alliance. Danish forces also invaded southern Sweden but were defeated by General Magnus Stenbock in the Battle of Helsingborg in February 1710, forcing them to withdraw across the Sound. Stenbock then proceeded to Germany where he defeated the Danish army at the Battle of Gadebusch in 1712. He was thereafter set upon by much stronger allied forces and compelled to surrender in 1713. Russia occupied Poland, Karelia, Livonia, Estonia, and Ingria. Augustus (who was reinstated as King of Poland), moved against Pomerania with a Saxon-Polish army but was stopped. The Saxons and Russians were also repulsed from Stralsund in 1713. A Russian fleet defeated a Swedish squadron in the Gulf of Finland in the Battle of Hangö in 1714. However, they did not yet feel strong enough to offer an open challenge to the Swedish navy. There were still some teeth left in the old lion.

Karl XII stayed in exile for four years, trying to convince the sultan to attack Russia. He had some success as Turkey entered the war in October 1710 and moved an army of 200,000 under Grand Vizier Baltaji Mehmet to the Russian frontier. This move by the Ottoman Empire was also encouraged by the French.

An overconfident Tsar Peter invaded Moldavia with 60,000 men, was outmaneuvered by the Turks, and driven back to the Pruth River where his starving army was surrounded in July 1711. Peter had never been in greater peril; however, luck was with him. Rather than forcing Peter to surrender Mehmet entered into negotiations which led to the Treaty of Pruth on 21 July 1711. Among the terms of the treaty was a promise by Peter to withdraw from Poland, stay out of Polish internal affairs, and provide Karl XII a safe passage back to Sweden. Forcing Peter to surrender on the Pruth would have had unimaginable historical consequences.

Karl XII was bitterly disappointed, and stayed in Turkey for the next three years. He wisely did not believe Peter the Great would keep his promise of safe passage any more than he did regarding the Polish provisions. The Swedish king kept insisting that his host should renew the war. Karl was finally placed under house arrest after a fierce hand-to-hand struggle on 1 February 1713. He remained under virtual arrest until he departed the following year. While General Sparre and 1,200 Swedes who had been in Turkey took a separate route, Karl XII in the company of two aides made the dangerous journey, incognito, across the unfriendly states of Europe to enter Stralsund on 11 November 1714.

Will and Ariel Durant present a different version of these events. They write that Karl XII was encouraged to return by the Turks who gave him gifts, money, and a military escort. If Karl was given a military escort, it could only have been as far as the border with the Holy Roman Empire in Hungary. For the rest of the journey through Hungary, Austria, and into Germany southeast of Nuremberg, the king probably traveled incognito. Karl XII stayed in Stralsund helping to fight off a siege, but headed back to Sweden in December 1715 after an absence of more than 15 years.