Battle of Berest 1651

a.k.a. Beresteczko , Brest,


(Bitwa pod Beresteczkiem)
27-30 June, 1651

One of the largest battle of 17th C. Europe.


Polish  63 000  (including 2 to 4 thousand infantry mercenaries, and about 30,000 noble levy cavalry)

Tatar-Cossack  110,000

Losses: Polish about 700, Tatar-Cossack  from 40,000 to 80,000


"When the army of the Crown assembled at Sokalem, every portent was favorable – the signs of the sky as well as those of the Soil."

Prince Jeremi Wisniowiecki, who had been appointed commandeer of the van, arrived at the camp on June 1. Jeremi proposed to march against Chmielnicki, who still waited for the Crimean Tatars. The King moreover judged that Chmielnicki was planning to return to the Ukraine. Meanwhile, Hetman Zaporoski went the opposite way.  On 27 June the king ordered the army to march toward Dubno. During the night of June 27-28 Jeremi sent out scouting cavalry which met with the vanguard of the Cossacks. This news was undoubtedly a shock to John Kazimierz’s and a blow to his plans. That night (27 -28 June) defensive works were thrown up in selected places near Berestko. That morning several thousand Tatar Cavalry appeared.  In total, over 60.000 Crown soldiers and about.120.000 Cossacks and Tatars would soon face each other.

The Poles had started to use the ‘chessboard’ style of deployment that alternated units of foote with units of horse.   In addition, the center was covered well with firepower, Polish infantry musketry supported by artillery.Berest1pmAP.jpg (102281 bytes)  

 Polish deployment.  The right wing was mostly Polish levy cavalry, which was at this time uneven in fighting quality and consistent in showing poor discipline (they would improve dramatically in quality over the next few years).  The left wing held the most professional cavalry units.  The Polish center was majority (probably about 60-75%) infantry, with infantry and cavalry interspersed in a formal checkerboard pattern.  Since the most numerous, most professional and strongest Polish infantry had been the now-rebel Cossacks, a substantial contingent of mercenary infantry was hired to replace these, and now stood in the center. The King commands the center, behind artillery batteries, Hetman Kalinowski and Prince Jeremi  command the left, Lanckoroński  the right.  

The infantry mercenaries, the dragoons, hussars and most of the artillery was in the center under the command of John Kazimierz. Wings were mostly cavalry but also included a mix of cavalry and infantry, with the hetman of the Crown Martin Kalinowski and Prince Jeremi with the left, and Voiavod Stanislaw Lanckoroński with the right.

After a few hours on the 28th, Tatar skirmishers moved to attack the right and left wing. The strength of their attack was absorbed by the Polish cavalry. Jermi sent six light cavalry banners under Koniecpolski against the Tatars. The attack cleared the Tatars from the field, and continued the chase.  One of the casualties was the famous Tatar commander Tuhaj-bej. The triumph of the first day raised Polish hopes.  

This figure shows the deployment - the Poles are single slash '/', Cossacks 'x' and Tatars as little horsemen icons.

The villagers witnessed the spectacular marshaling and maneuver of the Cossacks on the morning of 29 June. The attacking Cossacks moved around to the south, and their forces concentrated on Wiśniowiecki’s and Kalinowski’s left wing.  The Attack almost crushed the defenders. The center came to the aid of Wisniowiecki, who had been immediately targeted. The attack was blunted by the artillery, and Wiśniowieck fought back until his forces at last shook off theBogun_k.jpeg (99575 bytes) Cossacks. The Cossacks carried on firing on the right wing under grand hetman Nicholas Potocki, but this was also repulsed. Defeat of the Poles had seemed at times certain.  Their army had been battered and its moral sunk, but yet stood fast.


June 30 was the decisive day.  John Kazimierz led part of his division in an attack, while In a reckless cavalry charge, Jeremi (not wearing armor, and wielding only his saber ) threw himself at the ranks of his opponent and overran the cieżką cavalry, Cossack infantry, and charged through three and in places ten rows of defensive tabor wagon walls (which for cavalry is a feat that is almost unimaginable). The Khan’s brother and general, Amurat, died in the fighting, which further dismayed the Tatars.  The King moved also in support of the attack but the ill-disciplined noble levy cavalry did not follow-through completely. A gap was created, into which pressed the Cossacks, threatening to cut off the wedge of the attack. Prince Jeremi fell back, loosing a hussar banner. Meanwhile the King ordered in the right wing under the command of Lanckoroński, but Lanckoroński replied that he preferred to perish rather than to expose the King to the enemy  (Chmielniki prepared a trap for the Poles in the forest and if Lanckoroński would have moved, the King’s rear would have been attacked by the Cossacks.) Jarema Wisniowiecki at Beresteczko.

The Polish infantry and artillery held staunchly and saved the day.   Przyjemski’s artillerymen, seeing Gireja’s white Islamic banner, aimed in his direction. The shots were effective and the Tatars standing close by the Khan fell dead, and seeing this the Khan rushed to escape. Chmielnicki quickly rode to stop Khan Gireja, who angrily ordered Chmielnicki to be seized and bound to his horse, and then the Tatars headed toward their home in the Crimea, along with various other allied contingents. (The temporary loss of their leader and the exit of the Tatars meant the end of effective Cossack resistance, and those who could retreated or fled.) boy2.jpeg (151116 bytes)

On to the field remained only the walled tabor camp of the Cossacks, which was protected from being immediately overrun that day and the next when storms brought unusually heavy rain.  They defended themselves to 7 July, then, after an explosion caused panic in camp, the Cossacks attempted to flee. Trapped by the river and its mud, thousands were cut down. 


Now the Poles, brave on the field of battle, made a hash of politics.  The King returned to Warsaw. With him went the noble levy and the private magnate armies.  The noble levy, deciding their duty was discharged, dispersed.   Jeremi and Polish Hetman Martin Kalinowski stayed to further fight with about 17.000 cavalry, and  moved toward the Ukraine and joined up with the equally victorious Lithuanian army.

On 20 August about 11AM, in the Polish camp at Pawołoczą, Prince Jeremi died from uncertain causes.  Some claim poison, other an epidemic. Diarists wrote that the day earlier Jeremi was thirsty and ate cucumbers and then he drank honey - perhaps here lies a clue. But the army suspected that their beloved leader had been poisoned. For this reason, they autopsied his body. Here is the fragment describing this:

„They laid him in a great barrel of fat. Into his bowels suet was poured, so that a hog could not be fatter, into the heart fat was poured, least the resin could not reach, and the lungs became very spoiled ".

The autopsy did not confirm poisoning, but that did not end rumors. In his last words the Prince deplored that God did not let him die on a horse in battle. As Jeremi died, so died the army’s fire. . Hetman Kalinowski, with complete victory within his grasp, agreed to a truce.

Hetman Chmielnicki’s defeat at Beresteczko made him sign an unfavorable treaty at Biała Cerkiew. The following year saw Cossack victory at Batoh. Soon, Chmielnicki’s Ukraine, on the decree of the Cossack military council, signed an alliance with Muscovy in 1654 and jointly attacked Poland and Lithuania. The united Russian-Ukrainian armies captured Minsk and Vilnius in 1655.  As Sweden moved to conquer the rest of Poland, The Muscovites, who did not want a strengthened Sweden on the Baltic Sea, announced a truce in their war with Poland.  

Cossacks rout 2, Tatars route 3, Poles route 4



Polish Renaissance Warfare

Extensive items have been recovered from the battle site by archeologists which document the material culture at that moment in time.

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