Thirteen Years War, 1654-1667

The Thirteen Years War (1654-67) was one of a series of wars that engulfed Poland-Lithuania in the middle of the seventeenth century. First was a Cossack revolt in the Ukraine, which began in 1648. The Cossacks made a series of appeals for Muscovite help, which eventually resulting in the Treaty of Pereiaslav (January 1654) which saw the creation of an anti-Polish coalition. Tsar Alexis Romanov saw a chance to regain the borderlands lost to Poland-Lithuania earlier in the century, an area which included Smolensk.

By the summer of 1654 Alexis had close to 100,000 men advancing west into Lithuania. The main effort was aimed at Smolensk. An army 41,000 strong under Ia. K. Cherkasskii made for Smolensk, with two armies 15,000 strong guarding its left and right flanks. A Cossack army 20,000 strong invaded from the south.

In response Poland-Lithuania attempted to raise an army 50,000 strong. In previous wars with Muscovy the Cossacks had made up an important part of the Polish-Lithuanian forces, so their defection was a significant blow. Field Hetman Janusz Radziwill was only able to raise a force 6,000 strong with which to defend Lithuania against the Muscovite advance.

His relief effort was short lived. He did win a victory at Shklov (12 August 1654) but was then caught and defeated at Shepeleviche (24 August 1654) and forced to retreat back to Minsk. On 3 October 1654 Smolensk surrendered to the Russians. Further south another Muscovite army occupied Kiev. Despite a Polish counterattack in the Ukraine that included a victory over a Russian-Cossack army at Okhmatov early in 1655, the initiative was still with Poland-Lithuania’s enemies.

1655 was a dreadful year for Poland-Lithuania. The summer of 1655 saw Sweden enter the war, invading from the north (First Northern War), while at the same time the Muscovites launched an offensive that resulted in the capture of Wilno (8 August 1655) and the occupation of most of Lithuania. The Polish army was still absent in the south. Poland-Lithuania was close to collapse. By the autumn of 1655 large areas of Poland and Lithuania had accepted Swedish protection and John Casimir, king of Poland-Lithuania, was heading into exile in Silesia.

Polish-Lithuanian fortunes soon began to recover from this low point. Both Russian and Swedish occupiers soon made themselves unpopular. Religious differences played a part in this – Poland was Catholic, Lithuania Orthodox but recognised the Pope (Uniate Church). The Protestant Swedes lost support in the areas they occupied by their attitude towards the Catholic Church. The Swedish threat also worried Alexis, and in November 1656 he made peace with Poland-Lithuania (Treaty of Wilno or Nimieza), which largely recognised the status quo in 1656, and saw Poland-Lithuania and Muscovy ally against Sweden.

The Muscovite occupation of Lithuania rapidly provoked resistance. Even during the two years of the truce Partisan bands were active in Lithuania. The Lithuanian nobility found Russian rule repressive and the Tsar too demanding. Even so, when the war began again in 1658 the Muscovite were initially successful. A Polish-Lithuanian army under Hetman Wubcenty Gosiewski was defeated at Werki (October 1658), and Gosiewski captured. More of Lithuania was occupied.

In the Ukraine things did not go as well for the Muscovites. The alliance with the Cossacks had largely collapsed and a Muscovite army was sent south to restore the situation. On 8 July 1659 that army was defeated at Konotop. Another Muscovite invasion of the Ukraine in 1660 ended in defeat at Slobodyshche and Lubar or Chudnovo.

The Polish-Lithuanian position was greatly strengthened by the end of the First Northern War (Peace of Oliva, May 1660). This allowed John Casimir to concentrate on the war against Muscovy. The victory at Chudnovo was one result of this concentration. A second campaign was launched in Lithuania, and saw a Polish-Luthuanian army defeat a Muscovite force at the battle of Polonka (27 June 1660).

The war now began to wind down. Poland-Lithuania was financially exhausted, and in 1661-3 the army was largely inactive. The crisis was resolved in time to fight off a new Muscovite attack in 1664 (battle of Witebsk). Polish-Lithuanian armies even campaigned on Muscovite soil for the first time during the war. Peace negotiations soon began, and on 30 January 1667 the Truce of Andrusovo ended the war. Alexis gained all of the Ukraine on the left bank of the Dnieper as well as Kiev. He also retained Smolensk and the border areas originally lost to Poland-Lithuania in 1619. The truce of Andrusovo was converted into a full peace treaty in 1686.

The Northern Wars, 1558-1721 (Modern Wars In Perspective), Robert I. Frost. One of the very few works in English to look at the long period of warfare that shaped north eastern Europe, Frost provides an excellent overview of nearly two centuries of conflict that shaped Scandinavia, Russia and Poland, ending with the Great Northern War.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (27 July 2007), Thirteen Years War, 1654-1667 ,

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