Erdhart turned around and headed to the rear of the formation to reload his musket. Swedish musketeers were brilliant in their firing drill and this was exactly the moment when it was necessary. Another Swedish volley sounded out.
The thundering of the barrels and a huge cloud of smoke shrouded the no man's land between the two rival regiments. From the clouds of smoke, tree branches were emerging, like ghostly hands, because the two armies met each other in wooded terrain.
When the smoke caused by the Swedish volley started to clear, it was apparent that the imperial musketeers were still holding their ground and worse – they were getting ready to respond. In one moment, lieutenant Mörner was still waving his halberd, shouting an order here, and encouraging faster reloading and advancing there. But then a bullet whistled through the air and the lieutenant’s halberd fell to the ground. The musket bullet must have hit him right into his elbow, breaking apart in the process and severing the forearm. It only took a couple of heartbeats for the lieutenant to realize what had happened, he began screaming and reaching for his non-existent limb. Erdhart saw it all. He caught the falling lieutenant and together with one another man, they began to haul him away from the front of the formation. Using a trick that someone saw somewhere, they managed to mitigate the bleeding. None of the soldiers had a better idea at that moment.
Erdhart lost his musket in the chaos and after the lieutenant disappeared in one of the tents of the healers, he sank down to his knees. The battle was over for him. It had not been the first battle that he experienced, and it was not going to be the last, but the course of events completely drained him. He basically did not take in anything that happened afterwards. And nobody paid attention to him. He was but one pawn among thousands of others.
He was extremely lucky. He avoided the counterattack of the imperial cavalry against the unprotected flank of Seestedt’s brigade and the huge losses that it caused. Neither did he take part in the second part of the battle. He was not injured himself, but he had not raised his weapon again that day. He was absolutely exhausted and watching the world as if through a thick fog.
The Battle of Jankau continued till the evening hours. The imperials tried to resist the enemy once again but their formations and will to keep fighting were definitely broken. Streams of runaways, deserters and survivors were retreating towards Prague. Melchior Hatzfeldt was captured on the run by the Swedish cavalry men and presented to Torstensson, to whom he surrendered unconditionally.
At dusk, the soldiers that were scattered all around during the battle began to pull back to their original positions. The formations were being put together again, the dead and injured were being counted. Erdhart too eventually returned to his spot, feeling like a beaten dog. It was only then that he had found out that they had won the battle. A short jubilation of the Swedish soldiers was drowned out by the need to eat and get rested. Erdhart trudged together with other soldiers towards the place where they would sleep when the captain Du Rees called upon him.
He was sitting on a chair in his tent and his servants were tending to two nasty traces of the enemy fire he suffered. The captain explained to Erdhart, that the lieutenant was his godson and he appreciated his help during his rescue. He would reward him but Georg needed to understand that because of the whole thing, he cowardly abandoned his lines in the battle. His desertion would however be forgiven due to the honourable nature of his actions.
The next day, the lieutenant himself finally regained consciousness enough to be dressed by a servant and prepared for the journey to Szczecin, where he was supposed to recover. And so lieutenant Alexander Mörner left the army. The war was over for him and now all that he could do was to rely on his connections and start making his living differently. But death does not always claim a soldier directly in a battle. The very next day after they helped the lieutenant to load his luggage into a carriage, great fever and pains overtook him. His wound got infected and due to the cold weather, it took a while before it let itself known. Lieutenant Mörner spent the third day in a feverish and delirious state in a bed in an inn. He did not live to see the fourth day – he let out his last breath during an uneasy night. Erdhart had never learnt of his death.
A battle was by no means a big isolated event, quite the contrary – it consisted of many smaller clashes of various formations. Traditional descriptions of battles often neglect the narrative of the individual soldiers and their experience. All the while, battles were taking place on several square kilometres and large numbers of soldiers standing in formations took up a lot of space. The simplest way to understand just how gigantic a formation an assembled army was, is to imagine a single mustered formation. For our purposes it will be a brigade of the Mortaigne regiment. A brigade was a tactical formation. Some weaker regiments would form a brigade together with other regiments, as was the case with Paikull’s and Seestedt’s regiments which would take part in a battle in one formation.
The Mortaigne regiment joined the Battle of Jankau approximately 670 men strong. Accurate numbers are very difficult to determine at this time, but approximately two thirds were musketeers and one third were pikemen, meaning roughly 440 musketeers and 220 pikemen. The Mortaigne regiment counted as one of the regiments that were larger in numbers and so it represented one independent brigade right in the middle of the infantry's centre of the Swedish army. The brigade was standing 6 rows deep, as was common for the Swedish battle tactics. That means 110 men standing in each row. The formations would join a battle with the customary spacing, meaning 3 feet between the individual files. Determining the dimensions, it is necessary to count in the soldiers themselves, who would take up the space of roughly two feet. In summary, the front line of a brigade ready for a battle is approximately 550 feet wide then. After the conversion, where 1 foot corresponds to 30 centimetres, a brigade of Swedish infantry is 165 meters wide and roughly 9 meters deep then. To compare, a regular soccer pitch is about 110 meters long so a standing brigade with customary spacing would simply not be able to fit there. In addition, there were such aspects as the spaces between the musketeers and the pikemen, the officers standing around, the accompanying light cannons and so forth.
On top of that, there were six Swedish brigades standing in the first train of a formation. And between them, space that allowed manoeuvres was maintained. The infantry’s centre of the Swedish battle formation alone was more than one kilometre long, the right and the left, which consisted of cavalry squadrons, reached roughly the same dimensions. All in all, the Swedish army, formed and ready to battle, could therefore take up three kilometres of land. Basically, this applies to the imperial army too, apart from minor deviations.
From his spot in the middle, Erdhart simply was not able to see all that. He observed his comrades in arms, assembled in formation around him, several officers standing around, who only took breaks from the constant barking of orders to be able to talk to each other. Possibly he could see the banners of the individual regiments in the surrounding brigades and forests of flickering pikes. The rest depended on the terrain and the current situation. However, experienced soldiers, and Erdhart definitely counted as one, knew that as soon as the whole thing erupts, it would be impossible to see anything over the clouds of smoke from the muskets and cannons and the rows of soldiers.
Exactly how thick the smoke on a battlefield was, was chronicled by Robert Mono in his memoirs, when he described the Battle of Breitenfeld (1632):
"I having commanded the right wing of our musketiers, ..., we advanced on the other body of the enemies, which defended their Cannon, and beating them from their Cannon, we were masters of their Cannon, and consequently of the field, but the smoake being great, the dust being raised, we were as in a darke cloude, not seeing the halfe of our action..."
A degree of clear view presented itself to the individual musketeers only when it was their turn to fire. Only after they crossed through the rows they could aim the barrels of the muskets at the enemy and at that moment, they also saw what was happening in the battle and what the enemy looked like.
The battle burdened all the senses of the soldiers. Sound, or more accurately noise and racket, had a profound impact on them. The most prominent was the firing from the largest cannons. When the fire from the heavy twelve-pound and twenty-four-pound cannons resounded, the vibrations from an explosion like that could be felt kilometres away. With the smaller cannons, the effect of the firing was not so considerable, but given that during the battle of Jankau, the Swedish cannons were definitely not idling, the cannonade must have been deafening. In addition to all that, there were the resounding volleys from the everpresent muskets, arquebuses and pistols. For example, when a musket is fired from, it does not reach the decibel levels of a modern rifle (the main factors are the speed of the projectile when leaving the muzzle, gunpowder type, the burning rate etc.), but even then, the sound of the fire is beyond the threshold of pain (130 dB). If it wasn’t for all the other noise, far and wide, it would be possible to hear the hoofbeats of two hundred horses of a squadron, cantering or galloping towards the enemy. The Earth was shaking under the hooves of the horses, that also carried their armed masters.
The air was further filled with the sounds of moving soldiers. Various clinking of metal plates, gear, manipulation with weapons. To add, the everpresent drums could be heard, which served to give signals to attack, to retreat, to assemble and so forth. And last but not least there were the voices – 16 000 of men could not hold their mouths shut. There were the sounds of orders, commands, various reassurances and shouts to boost the morale, but also the cries of the injured and dying men who were slowly succumbing to their wounds on the frozen ground. The noses of soldiers were abused by the smell of burnt gunpowder, the sweat of humans and horses (despite the frost), dust, blood and mud.
However, real sensory perceptions were not the only thing that awaited a soldier in a battle. We and the men, that were shooting at each other with muskets on the fields between Jankau and Ratměřice, are separated by 375 years, but the psyche of a human, biochemical and neural reactions have not changed during that time. Richard Holmes focuses on this topic in his book Acts of War: The Behaviour of Men in Battle. From the text, a conclusion can be made that it does not matter whether people are fighting in the Napoleonic Wars, in the trenches of the First World War or in the jungles of Vietnam. Basically, they lived through the same experiences and they were dealing with the same psychological effects. The only difference is the number of surviving sources for each of the individual periods and their interest in the inner workings of human beings.
Everything that Georg Erdhart lived through in the Battle of Jankau, he summarized only in the following way:
We met the imperials between Jankau and Ratmeric. Lieutenant Alexander Mörner was badly injured and he had to leave us. Then they told me that we had beaten the imperials. God’s Grace to all the fallen.
Even if he wanted to write more into his journal, he could not. He was exhausted and he barely remembered anything. Those couple of fragments and the small slice of the battle were not enough for a more substantial record in the journal. It would only be later that the individual soldiers would start forming a picture of the Battle of Jankau from the stories of the others. About various acts of heroism or cowardice that they witnessed, about the peculiarities they were met with.
They were not able to see much directly in a battle. According to the experiences of soldiers of many wars, an infantryman only sees about 200 meters around him. He is not able to perceive the broader context. The main factors that play a role in this specific experiencing of reality are stress and other mental processes. With such a gigantic number of men in one place, who have the same aim (that is to beat the enemy), there are also other psycho-social occurrences that come into play, such as collective behavior and deindividualization. It is directly on the basis of these phenomenons and because of the effects of stress that the heroic and cowardly actions arise in battle.
A battle was full of horrific images – badly wounded men crying with pain, horses hacked apart, and the human cruelty of men trying to kill each other. Stress and adrenaline were ever present. Many men would simply give up, throw away their arms and run. On the engravings that depict the Battle of Jankau (and also in other depictions of the Thirty Years’ War), we can see streams of soldiers fleeing from both of the rival sides. Some would return to their formations, some could expect a punishment for desertion, but to a significant degree, such behaviour was not punishable simply for the fact that it was so common. A lot of men must have been stricken with PTSD after the battle, but back then, they did not know how to call this phenomenon.
In the end, there was some accounting to do. Lieutenant Alexander Mörner was not the only one who fell that day. The battle claimed 2000 lives of the Swedish directly during combat. Another 2000 soldiers suffered injuries of various severity. The imperial side had a higher toll to pay due to the brilliant tactics of the Swedish general and the hardness of his troopers. When the remains of the imperial army ran towards Prague after the battle, only 3000 soldiers out of the original 16 000 made it to the city.
The Battle of Jankau was one of the bloodiest clashes of the Thirty Years' War. Its strategic impact was huge. The lengthy peace talks, which had begun already in the year 1643, had to promptly react to the situation of the emperor losing another field army and nothing standing in the way of his Swedish competitor. The Swedes then used their advantage to the fullest. After a short recovery, they campaigned further to the southeast. The Bohemian and Moravian cities were falling one after the other, the first in line was Jihlava on the 13th of March. However, Vienna was the ultimate goal and the distance between the city and the army was growing shorter day by day.
We would like to thank the centre of the historical crafts Danar for the possibility of using their premises for a photoshoot for this episode.
The Battle of Jankau is described here in a concise way, with the emphasis being on what Georg Erdhart was going through. You can read more about the battle in the book Jankow 1645 (the online version is available to browse through here, alternatively, you can order it with the Municipal Office of Jankov) meanwhile only in Czech, but if you want to help with translation, look on our facebook page “Die kompanie” or contact us for further information.
Translation by Vojtěch Březík
Edit by Ivana Nemčoková