of Berest 1651
a.k.a. Beresteczko , Brest,
27-30 June, 1651
of the largest battle of 17th C. Europe.
63 000 (including 2 to 4
thousand infantry mercenaries, and about 30,000 noble levy cavalry)
about 700, Tatar-Cossack
from 40,000 to 80,000
about 700, Tatar-Cossack
from 40,000 to 80,000
the army of the Crown assembled at Sokalem, every portent was favorable – the
signs of the sky as well as those of the Soil."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the
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
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.)
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.)
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
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.
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:
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 ".
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.
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
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
Cossacks rout 2, Tatars route 3, Poles route 4
Polish Renaissance Warfare http://www.jasinski.co.uk/wojna/conflicts/conf05.htm
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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