IV. In diesem Jahr 1645

Chapter IV …In diesem Jahr 1645...

That year, 1645, on the 9th January, we left our quarters in Leipzig and set out due south, where Bohemia lies.

The Swedish general Torstensson had a clear goal at the beginning of the year 1645 – to resume the offensive in the Habsburg lands, to reinforce the already existing garrisons in the conquered cities and to attempt to push the Habsburg power, personified by the emperor Ferdinand III, out of the game. A campaign directed against Vienna itself was supposed to serve all of these objectives.

The Swedish offensive itself would not have to be too vigorous. After all, the Swedes had already been in control of a significant portion of the lands in the north of Germany, mostly Pomerania, and they were successful in conquering more territories thanks to their military operations that were conducted under the command of another famous Swedish military leader – Königsmarck. However, France was massively interfering with the game. Cardinal Richelieu, and Mazarin after his death, saw the lands under the control of the Habsburg dynasty as their great competitor and could afford to invest considerable resources in fighting against it. But instead of soldiers, they used money and diplomacy to do it. After the imperial army under the command of Gallas was gone, the Swedish army, propelled by French money and in the future, they hoped, reinforced by French soldiers as well, had clear maneuvering space ahead of them. Torstensson was guessing that soon, a new imperial army was going to be assembled, one that could face him, and so he did not hesitate and was quickly organizing a new campaign against the enemy.

A short rest, renewed the flow of supplies and reinforcements which benefited the Swedish soldiers. Morale had to be revived because the winter campaign was not at all easy and neither did it go as usual. The Swedish commander in chief decided not to idle, and to fully utilize their strategic advantage and to cross through Bohemia to the south. He knew that he would probably have to deal with raids from Pilsen, he also counted with the fact that the imperials will soon put up a new army against him. However, so far, the only thing that had disturbed his operations had been the weather. Thaws during the first half of January complicated the movements of the armies. The soldiers, the carriages and especially the heavy cannons (necessary for the planned sieges) had problems with mud, softened by the melting snow. On top of that, Torstensson was a sick man. Years ago, he spent a year as a prisoner of war in Ingolstadt, which had a negative impact on his health. It is often stated that he was stricken with gout, which was probably only one of his problems. Rheumatic arthritis and a kidney infection also apparently played a part in his poor health condition, which was further worsened by his inclination towards pessimism. He was often tortured by seizures and immobility. There were days when he was completely bedridden. But the Swedish army was on the move nevertheless.

Yesterday, which was the 25th, we crossed the borders of Bohemia. We were pushing our way through the thick woods, but otherwise, the march was going easily. It was not even that cold, but the earth was hardened by frost nicely.

The borders of Bohemia did not present a big problem. The advanced sentry of 1000 cavalry men and 300 musketeers vanquished the garrisons in the passes of the Ore Mountains, to later beat the rest of the army near the small town of Přísečnice (where there is a water reservoir of the same name nowadays). At the end of January, the advancement of the Swedes was stopped by a thaw once again, but it did not last for very long. Even Torstensson himself recovered and joined his men on the 31st of January. At the beginning of February, the Swedish army was able to move out again and on the 8th of February, it crossed the Ohře river near Kadaň and headed south. In a couple of days, it was already in Touškov. The Swedes avoid Pilsen and carried on, undisturbed.

The imperial forces, which were meanwhile positioned near Prague, were unable to resist them at that moment. Melchior Hatzfeldt was appointed the new commander of the imperial army. An uneasy task lay ahead of him – to put together an army from various bits and pieces, capable of stopping the advancing Swedes. Apart from the rest of the Gallas' men and his own regiments, he also had the corps at his disposal, operating in Silesia under the energetic, albeit not an ideal, commander Götz, together with reinforcements from the main ally of the empire, Bavaria. At the beginning of February, the newly assembled army set off from the area surrounding Prague. Hatzfeldt wanted to catch up with the advancing Swedes and catch them in a position of weakness, for example while crossing a river. He planned to use some fortified place to do so and thus he had to rush his men and hurry up to overtake his rival and to stop him.

He achieved this once near Horažďovice, which were protecting the crossing of the Otava river. The imperial troops arrived there on the 25th February and began to fortify the opposite bank, Torstensson's advanced sentries appeared right after that. The weather played into the hand of the imperials. It had gotten warm, the ice on the river cracked, big floes were formed and clogged up the flow of the river so much that it spilled out of its bank in several spots. The obstacle was only possible to surmount in an organized manner in Strakonice further on, or in Písek. A battle almost broke out several times but in the end, it never went any further than a couple of artillery exchanges. Hatzfeldt started to be optimistic, now that he had trapped the enemy between the Otava and Vltava rivers and his positions were strong.

However, Torstensson was a very capable, cunning and unusually ferocious adversary. In the first week of March, a surprise meeting of the Swedish command was summoned. There it was announced that the Swedish supply section will be sent ahead and the army itself will feint a maneuver. While the enemy will be convinced that the Swedes began their retreat, the army will cross the Vltava river a short distance north from Staré Sedlo. The ice on the river could bear the weight of the infantry and the cannons and the horses also had to overcome the current somehow. The plan was a success, even if the price was the exhaustion of the army. When Hatzfeldt found out that the Swedes escaped using a deceptive maneuver, he was shocked and rushed his men into pursuit.

Maneuvers resulting into a to and fro between the Swedes and Hatzfeldt's army broke out once again. Hatzeldt always tried to stay one step ahead of his rival and block his advancement, even if the price was a faster pace and longer distances of the marches. He knew that to stand against the Swedes in the field was, putting it mildly, risky and so he was looking for points of support that would provide him with some sort of an advantage.

A town called Jankau, surrounded by rolling landscape, was to become one of such points. There, the imperial commander decided to deploy his forces and prevent the enemy from advancing any further. The chosen terrain was very suitable for a battle of this layout. On one hand, the Swedes had superiority when it came to the artillery, but they would not be able to fully exploit it. The strong defensive position suited the imperial commander, although he had a feeling that he would have to hold back his subordinates – the rash and aggressive Götz and the considerably independent Bavarian ally Werth.

On the other side of Jankau, Torstensson had been planning his next step. The pessimistic nature of the general never allowed for any merciful lies when it came to describing the situation and so it was no wonder that the speech to his men over the battle plan was not at all pleasant. He spoke, as was his custom, openly about how the Swedish infantry was weak, the enemy's positions strong, but it was still necessary that they beat them in the battle. He concluded by giving out the orders and he announced that the advance would begin already before dawn.

The Battle of Jankau

Torstensson did not let the enemy dictate the terms of the battle that were not advantageous for him. Thanks to his experience and tactical mind, he knew exactly what his next move would be. The Swedish army in formation would split into three convoys and under the veil of darkness, it would assume a better position against the enemy. The terrain hardened by frost and the frozen lakes were suitable for such a quick maneuver and the soldiers would manage it.

The soldiers were in formation already after the clash of the advance guard with the enemy. To live and basically to also sleep in formation was very exhausting even under normal circumstances and in winter,  was a difficult trial for the soldiers. Common soldiers did not know much about the plans of the commanders. They basically just waited for what would happen. But experienced troopers were able to guess when a fight was likely to happen. The battle was just simply hanging in the air. Before a battle, there was tension and fear rising inside the men. Fear of danger, of injury, of leaving the family helpless, of being a failure. The stress before the battle was mixed with the anticipation of the clash. But it was impossible to stop it now, impossible to avoid, definitely not from the position of a common soldier.

And so they did the one thing that is the basic and iconic activity of a common soldiers from the dawn of time – they waited. Even though they were supposed to keep silent, the sound of chatter spread through the rows, some might even take out cards and pass the time just like that, among their friends. Some were still checking their gear, at the last minute. And if one was to listen closely, they could hear the chattering of teeth, either due to the cold, or because of fear, carrying over the formations.

The day was the 6th of March, just before 6am. The commanding officers began to return to the formed brigades and the war machine started running at full power. The field sign for the upcoming battle –  “Hjalp Jesus!“ (Help us Jesus) – needed to be spread among the soldiers. The field sign was short and sharp cry and one did not have to be a Swede to yell it out correctly even in the heat of the battle.

The order to advance came before dawn. With the first sunbeams of the day, the Swedish formations began their movement. Erhart's spot was in the third line. Surprisingly, he did not feel cold, nor was he unable to think about it, and he marched and tried to eavesdrop on a conversation between the sergeants and the lieutenant. He overheard a small bit about them bypassing the imperial positions and that they will attack their flank, but he did not care. He relied on himself and he knew where his place was and that he was capable of taking care of himself.

A distant thundering and banging interrupted his thoughts. The wind carried cries, the cannonade, the rumbling of the volleys of the musketeers and the sound of a hundred hoofbeats. On the horizon, smoke started to rise to the sky. Erdhart heard that the commands of the sergeants started to gain intensity and he observed that the faces of the other soldiers became stern and they nested their heads tight between their shoulders. The battle was in full swing.

Erdhart could not know that the imperial left fell apart after an unsuccessful tactical maneuver right in front of the barrels of the Swedish muskets and that imperial commander Götz fell to the ground, dead. Not even the his own officers surrounding him could know. A battlefield would often become a place of chaos and the line of battle consisted of many small and isolated clashes. This was especially true in the case of the Battle of Jankau.

But the Swedish soldiers were counted amongst the most professional of their time. Morale was high and anyone who hesitated would immediately receive punishment from the hands of the tough sergeants. Gone were the unspoken worries from before the battle. Now, the atmosphere of determination, resolution and passion for action reigned.

The brigade under the command of Kaspar Kornelius Mortaigne was directly in the middle of the infantry's centre. Together with a brigade of Seestedt's regiment, they pressed the enemy with rapid fire exchanges.

After a couple of volleys, Erdhart suddenly found himself right in the first line of the brigade – and during one of the most difficult moments on top of that. It was all taking place in a densely wooded terrain, where the Swedes did not manage to fully use their advantage in firepower or the support of light three-pounder cannons. The imperials held on bravely there, “like a stone wall”, according to the contemporary testimonies. After volleys from both sides, men were falling to the ground. Erdhart heard “Macht euch fertig!”, he blew on the match cord and fastened it in the matchlock. The line in front of him stepped to the side and he made several steps forward. Only then did he have a measly couple of seconds to look around. There was a line of imperial musketeers standing between the trees, getting ready to fire. The sergeants in cuirasses, armed with halberds, were shouting commands at the men, nothing else was visible. Just clothes and coats of various colours, the occasional cuirass or a helmet. Erdhart could only guess that somewhere off to the left, the pikemen of the two sides were approaching each other, lowering their pikes in an attempt to beat the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Suddenly, out of the mouths of several sergeants at once, the command “Leg an!” sounded and Erdhart together with two lines of Swedish musketeers got ready to fire. Then just “Gib feuer!” sounded and a loud volley echoed away. The musket hit Erdhart’s shoulder in a familiar way. He was just barely repositioning it after the shot when the volley of the imperials sounded in response from the other side of the raging battle. Their bullets showered the Swedes and several men, including two sergeants who barely managed to fall back, fell to the ground. Just in the corner of his eye, Erdhart caught the familiar face of lieutenant Alexander Mörner, who rushed forward.

The lieutenant was an experienced soldier, in the army under Torstensson’s command, he saw many a battle and he always strived to show his courage and abilities in the face of an enemy. He did not want to be shamed for holding back. When he saw that two sergeants fell to the ground, one after another, under the rain of the enemy bullets, he himself took their position and command the firing of his men.,


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.

Odchod z armady

A Battle through the Eyes of a Soldier

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