Battle of Kircholm, 27 September 1605

The battle of Kircholm was a decisive Polish-Lithuanian victory in the first phase of the Polish-Swedish War of 1600-1629. It was one of the most famous victories won by the Polish-Lithuanian Hussars and did much to end Charles IX of Sweden’s invasion of Livonia.

Charles had been besieging Riga with a force of close to 14,000 men. In September 1605 he left 3,000 men at Riga, and left to chase down a much smaller Polish-Lithuanian army under Jan Karol Chodkiewicz. At Kircholm he found the Polish-Lithuanians and formed up in order of battle on the crest of a hill.

Charles had 10,868 infantry and 2,500 cavalry with him at Kircholm. His defeat has often been blamed on the poor quality of Swedish pike men, but his army actually nearly 4,000 mercenary infantry, under the command of Duke Frederick of Lüneburg and Count Joachim Frederick of Mansfield. He arranged his army in four lines. The first two lines were made up of infantry in squares thirty wide and thirty deep, the accepted western practise of the time. Behind them were two lines of cavalry. Charles left gaps between the infantry battalions to allow the cavalry access to the front line.

Chodkiewicz was unwilling to attack such a strong position - his own force was only 3,600 strong, with 2,600 cavalry and 1,000 infantry. Instead he used his skirmishers in an attempt to draw Charles off the hill, and then after four hours of relative inaction pretended to retreat. Charles fell for the trick, and ordered his men to advance onto the plains to pursue the retreating enemy.

This was exactly what Chodkiewicz had hoped for. As the Swedes left their strong positions, Chodkiewicz launched his counterattack. The Swedish cavalry was driven away after half an hour of fighting, leaving the infantry isolated. The advance meant that the infantry was now split into three isolated blocks, which could be picked off at will by Chodkiewicz’s hussars. Swedish forces are reliability recorded as being close to 9,000 dead, while Chodkiewicz’s army lost only 100 men. The Swedish infantry suffered particularly heavily in the last phase of the battle, although the cavalry also suffered significant losses during their desperate retreat.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 July 2007), Battle of Kircholm, 27 September 1605 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_kircholm.html

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