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Battle of Poltava

Battle of Poltava
Part of the Great Northern War

The Battle of Poltava by Denis Martens the Younger (1726)
Date 27 June 1709 (O.S.)
28 June 1709 (Swedish calendar)
8 July 1709 (N.S.)
Location Poltava, Cossack Hetmanate (present–day Ukraine)
Result Decisive Russian victory
Destruction of Swedish continental army
Loss of Cossack Hetmanate autonomy
Charles XII of Sweden relocates to Ottoman Empire
Sweden[1] Russia
Commanders and leaders
Charles XII of Sweden
Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld
Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt
Peter I
Boris Sheremetev
Alexander Menshikov

Swedish combined army:
24,000 Swedish regulars
  (ca 13,000 cavalry
    ca 11,000 infantry)[1][2]
ca 6,000 irregulars
  1,000 Polish vlach cavalry
    3,000–7,000     Cossacks[3][2]
34 artillery pieces

Total: up to 30,000[3][4][4]

Participated in battle:
8,700 infantry[1]
7,800 cavalry[1]
4 cannons

Total: ca 16,500

Besieging Poltava:
1,100 infantry
200 cavalry

Russian combined army:
52,100 Russian regulars
  (ca 33,500 infantry
    ca 18,600 cavalry)[1]
23,000 irregulars[1]
  (Cossacks and Kalmyks,
   3,000 Kalmyks arrived
   at the end of the battle)
102 artillery pieces

Total: ca 75,000[1]

Participated in battle:
24,500 infantry
14,600 dragoons[1]
3,000 Kalmyks[2]
86 cannons

Total: ca 42,000

Garrison of Poltava:
4,200 infantry
2,000 Cossacks
28 cannons
Casualties and losses

Swedish accounts: 6,900 killed and wounded, 2,800 captured.[5][6][7]

Russian accounts: 9,234 killed, 2,864–2,977 captured.[8][9][10]
1,345 killed
3,290 wounded.[6][9]
Map of the battlefield. Poltava is to the south. Near the Russian fortified camp in the middle, notice the "T" formation of Russian redoubts between the Budyschenski wood to the west and the Yakovetski wood to the east. The original Russian camp is to the north and is marked "20.25.6". The Pushkaryovka camp, with the Swedish baggage, would be in the southwest corner of the map.

The Battle of Poltava (Swedish: Slaget vid Poltava; Russian: Полта́вская би́тва; Ukrainian: Полта́вська би́тва) on 27 June 1709 (8 July, N.S.)[5] was the decisive victory of Peter I of Russia, also known as Peter the Great, over the Swedish forces under Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld, in one of the battles of the Great Northern War.

It is widely believed to have been the beginning of Sweden's decline as a Great Power, as the Tsardom of Russia took its place as the leading nation of north-eastern Europe. The battle also bears major importance in Ukrainian national history, as Hetman Ivan Mazepa sided with the Swedes, seeking to create an uprising in Ukraine against the tsardom.


  • Prelude 1
  • Battle 2
  • Aftermath 3
  • Popular culture 4
  • Notes 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


Charles XII had led Swedish forces to early victories in North Zealand (summer 1700) and in the Battle of Narva in November 1700. However, it would take six years before he defeated Augustus II of Saxony-Poland.[11]:701, 703 Peter I withdrew from Poland in the spring of 1706,[11]:700 and offered to surrender all of his Baltic possessions to Sweden except St. Petersburg, but Charles refused.[11]:703 Peter subsequently adopted a scorched-earth policy in order to deprive the Swedish forces of supplies.[11]:704

Charles ordered Minsk, where the army went into winter quarters. Charles left 8,000 dragoons under Major-General Ernst Detlof von Krassow in western Poland.[12]

Poor weather and road conditions kept the Swedish troops in winter quarters until June 1708. In July the Swedes defeated Marshal Boris Sheremetyev's forces at the Battle of Holowczyn and advanced to the Dnieper River.[11]:704 During the spring, General Lewenhaupt in Courland had been ordered to gather supplies and to march his army of about 12,000 men to join Charles' forces. However, his departure from Mitau was delayed until late June and consequently only joined Charles' forces on 11 October.[13]

Rather than winter in Livonia or wait for Lewenhaupt, Charles decided to move southward into the Ukraine and to join Mazepa, who had decided to rebel against Peter.[11]:706 Peter sent Sheremetev to shadow the Swedish army.[14]:287 Lewenhaupt followed south and was attacked while crossing a river near a small village that gave name to the Battle of Lesnaya, losing the supply train and half of his force.[14]:288 In need of resupply, Charles moved towards Baturyn, Mazepa's headquarters, but Russian troops under Aleksandr Menshikov reached the city first. Anticipating the Swedish arrival, Menshikov ordered the merciless massacre of the population, razing the city and destroying or looting arms, ammunition and food.[14]:288

By the spring of 1709 Charles' force had shrunk to half of its original size. After the coldest winter in Europe in a century, Charles was left with 20,000 soldiers and 34 cannon.[11]:707 Short of supplies, Charles laid siege to the Russian fortress at Poltava on the Vorskla River on 2 May 1709.[11]:707–708 Peter's force of 80,000 marched to relieve the siege.[11]:708 Upon his arrival, Peter built a fortified camp on the Vorskla, 4 km north of Poltava.[14]:290 While observing the Russian position on 20 June, Charles was struck by a stray bullet, injuring his foot badly enough that he could not stand.[14]:289 In addition, Charles' last hope of reinforcement expired, as the Swedish forces under von Krassow had turned aside to deal with the anti-Swedish Sandomierz Confederation in Poland.[14]:289

Between the Russian and Swedish forces the Yakovetski and Budyschenski woods formed a corridor, which the Russians defended by building six forts across the gap.[15]:60 Peter, in addition, ordered four more redoubts built so the entire system of ten forts would have a T shape, providing flanking fire to a Swedish advance.[15]:60 Two of the redoubts were still being constructed on the morning of the battle, but 4,000 Russians manned the remaining eight, with 10,000 cavalry under General Aleksandr Danilovich Menshikov stationed behind them.[15]:60


The most grandiose of Mikhail Lomonosov's mosaics depicts the Battle of Poltava

Because of his wound, Charles turned over operational command to Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld.[14]:289 Four columns of infantry and six columns of cavalry were to form during the night, 600 meters south of the redoubts, intending to attack before dawn in order to swiftly bypass the redoubt system and attack the Russian fort.[15]:77 The infantry was in place by 2:30 AM but the cavalry arrived late, having lost their way.[15]:83 Riding forward, Axel Gyllenkrok observed the Russians at work on the two nearest redoubts, and rode back to inform Rehnskiöld.[15]:83 A reconnoitre by Major-General Wolmar Anton von Schlippenbach was discovered by the Russians and the alarm was sounded by the firing of a pistol.[15]:84 Having lost the element of surprise, and without sufficient cannon to breach the fortifications, Rehnskiöld consulted with Charles, Carl Piper, and Lewenhaupt on whether or not to proceed with the assault.[15]:91 By the time Rehnskiöld decided to proceed with the attack by quoting, "In the name of God then, let us go forward", it was nearly 4:00 AM on 28 June (Swedish calendar), and dawn was already approaching.[15]:91–92

The Swedes in Carl Gustaf Roos' column quickly overran the first two redoubts, killing every Russian soldier inside them, but by 4:30 AM, he had stalled attempting to take the third.[15]:97–99 Lewenhaupt's ten battalions on the right bypassed the first four redoubts entirely, advancing to the back line and, with the aid of cavalry, took some redoubts while bypassing others.[15]:96, 105, 108 Two of Roos' rear battalions joined them, indicating orders were lacking clarity as to whether to avoid the redoubts or attack them in series.[15]:94 The cavalry on the left wing, commanded by Major-General Hamilton and an infantry regiment, advanced by passing the redoubts on the left and charged the Russian cavalry, forcing them to retreat.[15]:105 It was 5:00 AM when the left and right wings of the Swedish army had made it past the back line of redoubts, sending the Russian cavalry in retreat.[15]:106, 108 However, Rehnskiöld ordered his cavalry to stop their pursuit, and ordered Lewenhaupt, already advancing towards the fort, to withdraw to the west.[15]:108–109 There they awaited Roos' battalions for two hours, while the Russian cavalry and Ivan Skoropadsky's Cossacks waited to the north, and thirteen Russian battalions deployed north of their camp and ten to the south, anticipating a Swedish advance.[15]:125

General Roos and six battalions (one third of the Swedish infantry) became isolated attempting to take the third Russian redoubts.[15]:110 After suffering severe casualties from several assault attempts, Roos led the remaining 1,500 of his original 2,600 men into the Yakovetski woods to the east at 6:00 AM.[15]:114 The Russians reoccupied the first two redoubts[15]:115 and launched a two-pronged attack by ten regiments around 7:00 AM, forcing Roos to retreat towards Poltava and refuge in an abandoned fort by 9:00 AM when he could not make it to the Swedish siege works.[15]:118–119, 127, 132 Roos was forced to surrender his command[14]:290 at 9:30 AM.[15]:134

The Swedes continued to wait for Roos' troops to return, unaware of their surrender.[14]:292 As time went by, Peter led the 42 battalions of Russian infantry, 22,000 soldiers, into an advance out of the fortified camp, supported by 55 three-pounders plus 32 guns on the ramparts of the fort.[15]:129, 138–139 Ten regiments of dragoons formed under Lt. General Adolf Fredrik Bauer on the Russian right and six regiments under Menshikov on the left.[15]:139 Just west of the camp, the Russians were faced by 4,000 Swedish infantry,[14]:292 formed into ten battalions with four three-pounders, and Creutz's cavalry in the rear.[15]:143 The Russians slowly moved forward to engage.[15]:143 According to Charles and other reports from other Swede officers, the weather at that time was already very hot and humid with the sun obscured by smoke from the Russian cannon in the fort.

At 9:45 A.M., Rehnskiöld ordered Lewenhaupt and the Swedish line to move forward, advancing towards the Russian line, which started firing their cannon at 500 meters.[15]:147, 151 When the Swedes were 50 meters from the Russian line, the Russians opened fire with their muskets from all four ranks.[15]:155 Advancing to within 30 meters of the Russian line, the Swedes fired a volley of their own and charged with their muskets and pikesmen, and the Russian first line retreated towards their second line.[15]:156 The Swedes seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough, and needed the cavalry under General Creutz to break the Russian lines.[15]:157 Unfortunately for the Swedes, Creutz's and the other cavalry units were unable to reform completely and in time.[14]:292 With the Russian line longer than the Swedish line, the Swedish infantry on the left flank lagged behind the right and finally threw down their weapons and fled.[15]:159 As the Swedish right flank was still advancing, a gap began to open in the Swedish line which the Russians filled and the battle turned into a

  • Sequel to Poltava: Diplomacy to contain Russia 1709–1714 By Bertil Haggman
  • Battle of Poltava on the Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  • Russian Order at Battle
  • Swedish Order at Battle
  • Battle of Poltava animated battle map by Jonathan Webb

Media related to at Wikimedia Commons

External links

  • Adlerfelt, G. (1740). The Military History of Charles XII, King of Sweden, Written by the Express Order of His Majesty. 
  • Englund, Peter (1988). Poltava: berättelsen om en armés undergång. Atlantis.  
  • Englund, Peter (2003). The Battle that Shook Europe: Poltava and the Birth of the Russian Empire. I. B. Tauris.  
  • Ericson, Lars (2004). Svenska slagfält (in Swedish). Wahlström & Widstrand.  
  • Konstam, Angus (1994). Poltava 1709: Russia Comes of Age. Osprey.  
  • Massie, Robert K. (1980). Peter the Great: his Life and World. Ballantine Books.  
  • Velychenko, Stephen. The Battle of Poltava and the Decline of Cossack-Ukraine in light of Russian and English methods of rule in their Borderlands (1707–1914). 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Moltusov, Valerij Aleksejevitj (2009). Poltava 1709: Vändpunkten (in Swedish). SMB. p. 93.  
  2. ^ a b (Russian) О составе русской и шведской армий в Полтавском сражении
  3. ^ Ericson, p. 297.
  4. ^ (Russian) Istorīia Petra Velikago, by Nikolai Alekseevich Polevoi, 1843, p. 38
  5. ^ Englund (1988), p. 215.
  6. ^ a b (Swedish) Christer Kuvaja: Karolinska krigare 1660–1721, p.192. Schildts Förlags AB 2008. ISBN 978-951-50-1823-6.
  7. ^ Derek Wilson (March 9, 2009). "Poltava : the Battle that Changed the World".  
  8. ^ (Russian) Битва под Полтавой
  9. ^ a b Encyclopedia of Ukraine
  10. ^ (Russian) Istorīia Petra Velikago, p. 355
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Tucker, S.C., 2010, A Global Chronology of Conflict, Vol. Two, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, LLC, ISBN 9781851096671
  12. ^ Christer Kuvaja: Karolinska krigare 1660–1721, p.179. Schildts Förlags AB 2008. ISBN 978-951-50-1823-6.
  13. ^ Christer Kuvaja: Karolinska krigare 1660–1721, p.180–185. Schildts Förlags AB 2008. ISBN 978-951-50-1823-6.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Frost, R.I., 2000, The Northern Wars, 1558–1721, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, ISBN 9780582064294
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao Englund, P., 1992, The Battle that Shook Europe, London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd., ISBN 9781780764764
  16. ^ Massie.
  17. ^ The Internet Movie Database
  18. ^ The Internet Movie Database


See also

  1. ^ There were factions of the Dnieper Cossacks allied with each of the combatants.
  2. ^ About 2,000 sick and injured soldiers were standing in the Pushkarivka camp.
  3. ^ The exact numbers of Mazepa's and Zaporizhian Cossacks is unknown but are usually given to 3,000 up to 7,000. They were stationed in the Pushkarivka camp and did not participate in the battle.
  4. ^ Russian sources quote the captive Field Marshal Rehnskiöld stating that his combined army before the battle consisted of up to 30,000 men.
  5. ^ 28 June according to the then-used Swedish calendar. 27 June in the old style. 8 July in the new style.


The battle was portrayed in "Poltava", a poem by Alexander Pushkin written in 1828-9, in the opera "Mazeppa" by Tchaikovsky, and in the monumental 1925 Swedish film, Karl XII, with Gösta Ekman as King Charles XII and the Russian emigrant actor Nicolai de Seversky as Peter I.[17] Recently the battle was also portrayed in the 2007 Russian film, The Sovereign's Servant.[18] The story of the battle, told from the point of view of a dying soldier, is related in the Al Stewart song "The Coldest Winter in Memory". On their 2012 album Carolus Rex, Swedish power metal band Sabaton has a song named "Poltava", detailing the battle.

Popular culture

Charles and Mazepa escaped with about 1,500 men to Bendery, Moldavia, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire.[11]:710 Charles spent five years in exile there before he was able to return to Sweden in December 1715.[14]:295

High-ranking Swedes captured during the battle included Field Marshal Rehnskiöld, major generals Schlippenbach, Stackelberg, Hamilton and Prince Maximilian Emanuel, as was Piper.[15]:199, 203 Peter held a celebratory banquet in two large tents erected on the battlefield.[15]:202 Two mass graves contained the Russian dead, 500 meters southwest of their camp.[15]:205

Orthodox church on the battlefield


Charles gathered the remainder of his troops and baggage train, and retreated to the south later that same day at about 7:00 PM, abandoning the siege of Poltava.[15]:197, 210 Lewenhaupt led the surviving Swedes and some of the Cossack forces to the Dnieper River, but was doggedly pursued by the Russian regular cavalry and 3,000 Kalmyk auxiliaries and forced to surrender three days later at Perevolochna, on 1 July.[16]

Realizing they were the last Swedes on the battlefield, Charles ordered a retreat to the woods, gathering what remaining forces he could for protection, including the remnants of Creutz's detachment.[15]:175, 180 The Russians halted at the edge of the woods and their artillery fire stopped, only the Cossacks and Kalmucks roamed the plains south of the woods.[15]:189, 192 Emerging from the woods at around noon, Charles on horseback after his litter was destroyed, and protected by a square of a couple of thousand men, headed to Pushkaryovka and his baggage train 5 km to the south, reaching it after 1:00 PM by which time the battle was over.[15]:194

Charles XII and Mazepa at the Dnieper River after Poltava by Gustaf Cederström


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