By Alex Richards
When last we looked at the northern front of the Franco-Swedish phase of the Thirty Years War, the Swedes had entrenched themselves in an area spanning from roughly Erfurt north to the coast, while failing to capitalise on advances into Bohemia and Bavaria over the 1639-1641 period. Meanwhile Emperor Ferdinand III had finally agreed in principle to the form of negotiations that would eventually lead to the Peace of Westphalia, but was delaying in sending the necessary credentials in hopes of a better situation. The next few years would demonstrate firmly how much of a false hope this was for him. Torstensson on Manoeuvres With the triple blow of the death of Banér, the subsequent leadership confusion in the Swedish army and the failed siege of Wolfenbüttel following shortly after it, Sweden’s position was one of enforced inactivity. The largely German army remained too rebellious to risk advancing and the leadership too focused on merely ensuring that the Imperial forces could not take advantage of this until Lennart Torstensson finally arrived from Sweden. Even after he and his 7,000 conscripts joined the rest of the army at Winsen in Lower Saxony on 25th November 1641, it would still take him another 4 months to fully restore order to the army- something that the Emperor may well have taken advantage of had the Hessians not been on the advance in the Rhineland at this time. Come April, Torstensson made his advance, first sending Königsmarck and the cavalry to raid the Electorate of Saxony as a distraction to Imperial troops before eschewing Banér’s speed in favour of marching towards Silesia to reduce the fortified positions there. Combined with the 5,000 men under Stalhansk already present, this gave him 20,000 men for the new campaign and advanced towards Breslau, storming Glogau on the 4th May, followed by Jauer and Striegau soon afterwards. In a salient example of the difficulties that long communication times posed for armies before the 20th Century, Franz Albrecht von Lauenburg hastily gathered 7,000 Imperial and Saxon troops to try and stop the advance at Streigau, unaware that Torstensson had already taken the town, that he was not, in fact, making an advance directly south to Breslau and, most crucially, unaware that Königsmarck had followed him with 6,000 troops of his own. As a result, Königsmarck was able to lure him into a trap, feinting a retreat to draw the Imperial army into advancing up a hill towards the main Swedish force at Schweidnitz, leading to the death of Lauenburg and 1,800 of his men. With another 2,000 taken prisoner the army essentially ceased to exist giving Torstensson free reign to advance for the moment, rather than having to concentrate his attentions in Upper Silesia. As was, Torstensson left Lilliehook and half the army to finish the task of securing Upper Silesia, then penetrated even further east than Banér ever had, taking Olmütz and pillaging Moravia, which had had chance to recover more since the earlier years of the war, for supplies. Monasteries were sacked, crypts opened to search for jewellery, monks held for ransom, 10,000 books shipped back to Stockholm and the wealthy fled to Vienna, sparking panic in the Imperial court.
The Second Battle of Breitenfeld
By July 1642 Archduke Leopold Wilhelm had gathered 20,000 recruits in Bohemia and began pushing back the Swedes, blockading Olmütz and pushing forward to relieve Brieg allowing them to retake most of Silesia by the end of August. Both Glogau and Olmütz held out however, creating a permanent base deep within Habsburg territory and meaning that the 6,000 Swedish troops previously left to prevent an attack up the Oder to the Swedish-held ports could be safely withdrawn for fighting elsewhere. The result of this was Torstensson successfully forcing the Imperial army to move west into Saxony, eventually bringing things to a fight by laying siege to Leipzig in order to draw out the Imperial army, and then withdrawing to Breitenfeld in the hope that fighting at the site of Gustavus Adolphus’s great victory 11 years previously would help increase his own troops fervour. The Archduke, having heard rumours that Guébriant and the Hessians were advancing to join the Swedish army, chose action over caution and joined battle on November 2nd, 1642. The two sides faced off at right-angles to the position in 1641 either side of the Linkelwald where Tilly’s infantry had made their last stand in the earlier battle. Torstensson was outnumbered 27,000 to 20,000, but had the advantage of having picked the field of battle, and been in the pursuit until now. Both sides advanced at dawn, placing the Swedes in front of the Linkelwald while the Imperial army split in two to either side of those woods to try and turn the Swedish left. As it was, the battle neatly demonstrates the advances in military tactics from 11 years previously. The Imperial army had adopted the Swedish tactic of supporting the advance with regimental guns- in this case firing chain shot at the Swedish infantry- while on the Swedish side the left and right flanks demonstrated the importance of new tactics over the old stalwarts. On the right, Wittenberg and Stalhansk advanced with the cavalry quickly, outpacing their accompanying musketeers and overwhelming the opposing Imperial troops before their cavalry could react. Meanwhile on the left, Slang advanced slowly to remain with the musketeers in the traditional Gustavian tactic ceding the initiative to the Imperial troops. As such, the Imperial right disintegrated- the inexperienced front line routing and sparking panic in the nearby Saxon regiments- while the Imperial left were able to advance and start turning the Swedish flank, with Slang being killed early in the fighting. Fortunately for Sweden Königsmarck was able to rally their left for long enough that Wittenberg could arrive, reinforce to create local superiority and turn the front themselves. The fate of the Imperial army had been sealed- those troops south of the woods had no option but to hold out as long as possible, giving the Archduke and Piccolomini chance to create a counter-attack that allowed those north of the woods to retreat. In doing so, they managed to prevent the complete destruction of the Imperial army, but emerged with 3,000 dead, 5,000 taken prisoner and the loss of their cannons, field treasury and supply train. Torstensson however had lost 4,000 men himself and the victory had been hard won. Slower action from Wittenberg and Stalhansk on the right, or Königsmarck on the left, could have seen his flank successfully turned, pushing him onto the back foot and likely having to try and extract as many of his troops as he could- something which would then have allowed the Imperial army to advance once more, though its likely they would have struggled once more in Mecklenburg or Pomerania. After Breitenfeld As was, while Archduke Leopold Wilhelm had salvaged part of the army, the Second Battle of Breitenfeld was an unmitigated disaster for the Imperial army. Torstensson occupied the whole of the Electorate of Saxony in short order, and the fears of a repeat of Gustavus Adolphus’s advances caused panic throughout the Empire. Bavaria summoned her militia; Leipzig paid the Swedes a large payment to avoid plunder and accepted a Swedish garrison that was to last until 1650; the Swedish outpost at Chemnitz which had been isolated since 1639 was relieved and it was only Ferdinand III’s direct intervention that prevented Elector Johann Georg of Saxony from immediately agreeing to a ceasefire - much to Swedish disappointment. To the north, Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg was not so cautious, concluding that Pomerania was lost to him if he relied on the Emperor, he agreed to a permanent truce with Sweden on 9th May 1643, agreeing to maintain his contributions to the Swedish war effort in return for the return of the countryside in Brandenburg to Electoral administration. Over the next few years further forts both on the Oder and in Westphalia would be returned to his control, although the need to expand the Brandenburg army meant that heavy taxes remained in place. This announcement of neutrality- in direct contravention of declarations from Vienna from 1641 prohibiting such agreements without the Emperor’s consent- was unusual, but elsewhere it was clear to many that the war was drawing towards an end. Such staunch Imperial supporters as the Elector of Bavaria and the Bishop of Bamberg-Würzburg began making agreements paying France and Sweden respectively to end direct fighting in border territories and begin the process of restarting trade. The Swiss managed to negotiate a local truce between the Spanish in the France-Comté in 1642 which soon expanded to encompass much of the upper Rhine, and Ferdinand found himself with increasingly diminished resources to continue fighting, and an increasingly restricted area where fighting could occur. Most importantly, it was now incontrovertible to all involved that Sweden was still an equal player in the war.
Alex Richards is the author of Tippecanoe and Wallace Too, published by SLP