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History

The Battle of Poltava on 27 June 1709 was the decisive victory of Peter I of Russia over Charles XII of Sweden in one of the most famous battles of the Great Northern War. It is widely believed to have been the beginning of Sweden's decline as a Great Power; the Russians took their place as the leading nation of northern Europe. This also meant the rise of Imperial Russia and a temporary end to the independence ambitions of Ukraine.

When the battle opened, Charles had about 14,000 men, while Peter commanded about 45,000. However, although Charles had faced great odds before, his expertise could not be brought forth during the actual battle, as he had been wounded during the siege on 17 June, when he was hit in the foot while taking part in a small engagement during an inspection of the Swedish outposts on the banks of the Vorskla. He had to turn over command to Field Marshal Carl Gustav Rehnskiöld and General Adam Ludwig Lewenhaupt. This was made all the more unfortunate by the divergent personalities of the two generals. The change in command was not communicated to the subordinate commanders when the battle was planned. Also the Russians managed to weaken the Cossacks who had decided to join the Swedes against them. The Russian army occupied and destroyed the Zaporozhian Host with the help of Galagan, a former Cossack officer. The rest of the Cossacks moved their Host down the Dnieper River river for the next 19 years.

The battle began before dawn at 3:45 a.m. on 28 June (Swedish calendar), with the Swedes advancing boldly against the Russian fortified lines. At first, the battle started off in a traditional fashion, with the better trained Swedes pressing in on the Russians' redoubts, overrunning a few Russian defensive redoubts within the first 15 minutes. The Swedish seemed to possess an advantage, but this was quickly nullified. By dawn (at around 4:30 a.m.), the weather was unusually very hot and humid with the rising sun obscured by smoke from cannon and musket fire. The Swedish infantry, commanded by General Lewenhaupt, attempted to attack the Russians in their fortified camp just north of Poltava. But the Swedish advance soon faltered, partly because the infantry had been ordered to withdraw and reorganise. To make matters worse, one Swedish detachment, commanded by General Roos, had not been told about the overall plan and became isolated in the Russian defensive redoubts when a column of about 4,000 Russian reinforcements reoccupied the fortified positions, trapping Roos and his 2,600-man force at 6:15 a.m. With over 1,000 casualties and ammunition running low, Roos was forced to surrender his command at 9:30 a.m.

At 8:30 a.m. the bulk of the Swedish army moved north to attack the Russian fortified camp, but waited for Roos to return, unaware of his defeat. As time went by, the Russian infantry, led by Peter himself, moved out of its fortified camp and formed two battle lines facing the Swedes, supported by overhead cannon fire from its camp. At 9:45 a.m., Lewenhaupt ordered the Swedish line to move forward; 4,000 Swedish infantry against 20,000 Russian infantry. They advanced and the Russians opened fire on them with their cannons creating a firestorm of shells. When the Swedes were 100 meters from the Russian line, the Russians aimed and fired their muskets. When they were 30 meters from the Russian line, the Swedes fired one volley and charged with their musket and pikesmen, actually pushing the Russians back slowly towards their camp despite suffering heavy casualties. The Swedes were on the verge of a breakthrough and needed the cavalry of General Cruetz; unfortunately for the Swedes, it was disorganised. The Russian line was longer than the Swedish line, and the Russian right flank, led by Menshikov, soon flanked the Swedish infantry. Several regiments were surrounded in a classic Cannae-style battle as Bauer's Russian cavalry swarmed around the Swedish army and attacked the Swedish rear guard. Cruetz and the cavalry tried to buy the infantry time to get away; several units attacked the Russians head on despite them forming into squares. By this stage, the Swedes had no organised bodies of troops to oppose the Russian infantry or cavalry. Small groups of foot soldiers managed to break through and escape to the south while most of the rest were overwhelmed and ridden down. Seeing the defeat of his army from a stretcher in the rear, Charles ordered the army to retreat at 11:00 a.m. By noon, the battle was over as Russian cavalry had mopped up the stragglers on the battlefield and returned to their own lines. Charles then gathered the remainder of his troops and baggage train, and retreated to the south later that same day, abandoning the siege of Poltava. Rehnskiöld was captured. 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 Kalmyks and forced to surrender three days later at Perevolochna, on July 1.

Almost entire surviving Swedish army amounting to several thousands capitulated at Perevolochna on June 30, 1709 (O.S.) / July 1, 1709 (Swedish calendar) / July 11, 1709 (N.S.). Prisoners were put to work building the new city of Saint Petersburg. Charles and Mazepa were allowed to escape with about 1,500 men to Bendery, Moldavia, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Charles spent five years in exile there before he was able to return to Sweden.

 
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