Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spotlight on: Battle of Fraustadt, 1706

Prayer after the battle of Fraustadt: Gustav Cederströrm
Dear Reader,

On February 13th 1706, in the middle of the Great Northern War, general Carl Gustaf Rehnskiöld of the Swedish army faced a difficult situation. The Saxon army under general Johann von Schulenburg outnumbered Rehnskiölds' force by slightly over two to one (9,500 to 20,000). The Saxons and Russians under Schulenburg had been following Rehnskiöld, with the hopes of destroying his much smaller army.  Rehnskiölds' situation was only worsened by the fact that King Augustus the Strong of Poland (another member of the anti-Swedish coalition) was approaching with an additional 8,000 horsemen. If Schulenburg and Augustus completed a junction, the force against Rehnskiold would increase to three to one.

North of the town of Fraustadt, (present day Wschowa) the Saxo-Russian force established a defensive position of roughly two miles in length, between the villages of Röhrsdorf  (present Osowa Sein) and Geyersdorf (present Debowa Leka). The defensive positions were littered with cannons and Chevaux de frise, spikes designed to impale horses.

Chevaux de frise

Schulenburg deployed his army in a traditional Kabinettskriege pattern: the infantry in the center, with the cavalry on the wings, and Rehnskiöld followed suit. Schulenburg placed his Russian allies on the left flank of his infantry line, and supposedly ordered them to turn their uniforms inside out to disguise the fact that they were Russian. (The inside of the Russian coat was red, like the outside of the Saxon coat.) Schulenburg was dubious about the value of his Russian allies, based on their poor performance at the debacle of Narva in 1700.

At the outset of the battle, the Saxons and Russians had most of the traditional military advantages. They had a larger army, much more artillery (the Swedes didn't have any cannons at this battle) , the flanks of their infantry line were protected by cavalry, villages, and a marsh, and they had strong fortifications in the front of their army.

Despite all of these disadvantages, Rehnskiöld ordered the Swedes to attack. The Swedes possessed one advantage that the other forces of the Great Northern War did not: superior morale. The Swedes would attack against incredible odds again and again during the Great Northern War. Rehnskiöld also knew that he had great superiority in cavalry, and as we has seen before, if cavalry could break into enemy lines, they would cause panic and massive casualties.

Before we continue, here is a map of the battle of Fraustadt, drawn by yours truly. Do not copy this map for anything except personal use.
Map by author 2/13/2013

My map is based on contemporary maps and shows the course of the battle.  Oskar Sjöstrom provides a more accurate map of the deployment, in his book, Fraustadt 1706 - ett fält färgat rött ("Fraustadt 1706- a field colored red".) Here is his map.

Map by Oskar Sjöstrom (2008)

Rehnskiöld knew that to frontally attack Chevaux de frise meant suicide for his horsemen, so he sent them around the enemies' flank. On the right flank, the cavalry under Krassow and Rehnskiöld would sweep around the left flank of the Saxon and Russian army. On the Swedish left flank, the cavalry under Hummerhielm would by pass by the Chevaux de frise by moving through a frozen swamp in front of the Saxon right flank. The result of this flanking movement can be seen on my map, above.

The Swedish cavalry moved to envelope the Saxon flanks, while the Swedish infantry moved against the centre of the of the Saxon and Russian forces, preventing them from assisting the cavalry. The Saxon cavalry did not attempt to countercharge the Swedes during the flanking movement, and the result was disasterous for the Saxons.

Both Saxon cavalry wings broke under the onslaught, and the Swedish cavalry, showing considerable restraint, moved to attack the rear of the Saxon and Russian infantry.  This can be seen on my map. Once the Swedish horsemen were in among the enemy infantry, the battle was over, and the Saxon and Russian army ceased to exist. The Swedes lost around 1,500 men killed and wounded, while the Saxons and Russian lost around 15,000 killed, wounded and captured.

This double envelopment has often been compared to Hannibal's miraculous victory at Cannae, and the Swedish army was grateful for its incredible victory.  The regimental chaplains led the men in prayer, to thank God for the victory.  This scene was immortalized by the great Swedish painter, Gustaf Cederström, in the painting at the beginning of this post. 

For further information, check out Oskar Sjöstrom's book Fraustadt 1706 - ett fält färgat rött. Even for non-Swedish readers, the book has many helpful maps and diagrams.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  2. I'm guessing that neither village was much of a hindrance to the Swedish cavalry attacks, although your map shows the cavalry bypassing the villages. The suggestion of Oskar Sjöstrom's map is that the horse pretty much went straight through them to attack the Saxon cavalry.

    1. Thanks for the comment- I think you may well be correct.