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Battle of Lesnaya

History -- Military history -- List of battles

The Battle of Lesnaya was one of the decisive battles of the Great Northern War. It took place on September 28, 1708 between a Russian army of 14,500 men commanded by Tsar Peter I of Russia and Prince Aleksandr Menshikov[?] and a Swedish force of 12,500 men, under the command of General Adam Lewenhaupt, at the village of Lesnaya, located on the border between Poland and Russia (now the city of Lisna, Belarus).

Lewenhaupt, one of Sweden's foremost generals, was the commander of one of Sweden's best armies, based at the Baltic Sea port of Riga. In the summer of 1708, King Charles XII of Sweden ordered him to march southward with most of his force and link up with Charles main army of 25,000 men, based in Poland. Lewenhaupt was to bring a fresh supply of ammunition and food to support the Swedish army in a proposed march on the Russian capital of Moscow.

However, Lewenhaupt found that gathering the needed supplies and preparing the army for an overland march took longer than expected, and on September 15, after waiting for Lewenhaupt for weeks, Charles XII abandoned his camps and decided to invade the Ukraine, hoping to reach that rich granary before winter. At the time, Lewenhaupt was only about 80 miles from Charles' position.

The Russians observed these movements and Peter decided the time was ripe to attack Lewenhaupt's smaller force before it could be supported by Charles. He and Menshikov moved quickly to intercept the Swedish force and prevented it from crossing the Sozh river to safety. Lewenhaupt was nonplussed; no top-notch Swedish army had yet been defeated by the Russians in eight years of war. He moved to fight Peter's army.

The battle itself was closely contested and both forces suffered heavy casualties. Late in the day, a snowstorm, something rare for September even in Russia, kicked up. The Swedes, unaccustomed to fighting in the snow, became disorganized and Lewenhaupt ordered his men to retreat, while burning the much-needed supply wagons behind them. Menshikov now ordered his cavalry to attack one more time, and routed the Swedes. Bands of Cossacks then completed the Russian victory by taking hundreds of prisoners.

The Swedes lost 6,307 men in the battle, more than half of them prisoners. The rest of the force finally joined Charles on October 8, but served only to increase his problem of feeding the army. Russian casualties totaled 1,111 killed and 2,856 wounded, about one-third of those engaged.

The greatest significance of the Russian victory at Lesnaya was that it convinced the Russian soldiers that they could defeat even Sweden's best soldiers. This newfound confidence served them well in the 1709 campaign in which Peter destroyed Charles' main Swedish army. No less an authority than Peter himself referred to Lesnaya as "the mother of the battle of Poltava."



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