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Battle of Berestechko

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Title: Battle of Berestechko  
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Subject: Deluge (history), History of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (1648–1764), List of battles (geographic), Volyn Oblast, June 28
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Battle of Berestechko

Battle of Berestechko
Part of the Khmelnytsky Uprising

Battle of Beresteczko 1651, relief at Abbaye de Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris.
Date 28–30 June 1651
Location Berestechko, Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (today Ukraine)
Result Decisive Polish–Lithuanian victory
Zaporozhian Cossack
Crimean Khanate
Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth
Commanders and leaders
Bohdan Khmelnytsky
Khan İslâm III Giray
Toğay bey  [1]
Ivan Bohun
King John II Casimir
Jeremi Wiśniowiecki
Mikołaj Potocki
Stefan Czarniecki
Marcin Kalinowski
Stanisław Lanckoroński
200,000 total[2]
100,000 Cossacks and peasants
50,000 Crimean Tatars
Several thousands Turks, and Vlachs
80,000 total[3]
17,000 cavalry
16,000 infantry
40,000 Pospolite ruszenie
Casualties and losses
30,000 - 40 000 killed[4] 700 killed[5]
Battle of Berestechko. Artur Orlionov.

The Battle of Berestechko (Polish: Bitwa pod Beresteczkiem; Ukrainian: Берестецька битва, Битва під Берестечком) was fought between the Ukrainian Cossacks, led by Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky, aided by their Crimean Tatar allies, and a Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth army under King John II Casimir. It was a battle of a Cossack rebellion in Ukraine that took place in the years 1648–1657 after the expiration of a two-year truce.[6] Fought over three days from 28 to 30 June 1651, the battle took place in the province of Volhynia, on the hilly plain south of the Styr River.[7] The Polish camp was on the river opposite Berestechko and faced south, towards the Cossack army about two kilometers away, whose right flank was against the River Pliashivka (Pliashova) and the Tartar army on their left flank.[8] It was probably the largest European land battle of the 17th century.


The number of Polish troops is uncertain. One of the senior Polish commanders, Duke Bogusław Radziwiłł, wrote that the Polish army had 80,000 soldiers,[9] which included "40,000 regulars and 40,000 nobles of the levée en masse, accompanied by roughly the same number of various servants, footmen, and such."[3] Some modern historians, such as Zbigniew Wójcik, Józef Gierowski, and Władysław Czapliński, have reduced this figure to 60,000-63,000 soldiers.[10]

The Cossack army totaled 80,000 men, including 28,000–33,000 Tatars and an uncertain number of Ukrainian peasants[11] or as many as 100,000 men, most of them low-grade foot troops, plus 40,000 to 50,000 allied Crimean Tatar cavalry and a few thousand Turks and Vlachs, for a total of 200,000.[12] Both sides had about 40,000 cavalry. Fighting was close, with the core of excellent Cossack infantry making up for the weakness of their cavalry. Most of the decisive fighting occurred between the infantry and dismounted dragoons of each side.

On 19 June 1651, the Polish army numbered 14,844 Polish cavalry, 2,250 German-style cavalry, 11,900 German-style infantry and dragoons, 2,950 Hungarian-style infantry (haiduks), 1,550 Lithuanian volunteers, and 960 Lipka Tatars.[13] In addition, there was a huge militia force, of limited value, numbering 30,000 noblemen of the levée en masse.

The Polish commanders were hoping to break the Cossack ranks with a charge of the Polish Winged Hussars, a tactic that had proven effective in many previous battles, including at Kircholm, and Kłuszyn (and which would later prove successful at the 1683 Battle of Vienna against the Turks).

The Cossack army was well acquainted with this Polish style of war, having had much experience fighting against the Poles and alongside them. Their preferred tactic was to avoid an open field battle, and to fight from the cover of a huge fortified camp.

First day of battle

2000 Polish cavalry (one regiment under the command of Aleksander Koniecpolski, supported by Jerzy Lubomirski, six pancerni cavalry companies of Jeremi Wiśniowiecki and Winged Hussars under the command of Stefan Czarniecki) repulsed the Tatars, who suffered heavy losses. During the first day of "skirmishes by the Tatar and Cossack vanguard regiments", the Poles were victorious "since their army sustained that first attack cheerfully and in high spirits".[14]

Second day of battle

The Poles, encouraged by their success on the first day, deployed all their available cavalry against the "main Tatar horde" and "Cossack vanguard regiments".[14] The Polish infantry and artillery remained in camp and did not support the cavalry. This time, Tatar cavalry gained the upper hand, pushing the Poles back to their camp but were then "barely repelled" by heavy fire from the Polish infantry and artillery.[14] The Poles lost 300 soldiers, including many officers of "caliber", and the "escort troop of Hetman Mikołaj Potocki".[14] During the second day of the battle, the rebels were victorious, although "the Tatars, too, were unpleasantly surprised by the determination and endurance of the Polish army in both battles and, having suffered rather painful losses of their own, they lost heart".[14]

Third day of battle

The "king insisted, at a night council, on engaging the enemy in a decisive battle the next day, Friday, 30 June".[14] The Polish army appeared out of the "morning mist in full strength" but only the Tatars engaged in skirmishes which was met by the Polish artillery.[14] At 3 p.m. Duke Jeremi Wiśniowiecki led a successful charge of 18 cavalry companies against the right wing of the Cossack-Tatar army and "the zealous cavalry attack was a success: it broke up the rows of Cossack infantry and the wagons moving in corral formation".[15] The Polish infantry centre, under the personal command of King John Casimir, advanced slowly forward and "drove the Tatars from the field".[15] During the fighting, a Polish nobleman called Otwinowski noticed the Tatar Khan's standard, and Polish artillery was directed to fire at it. A Tatar standing next to the Khan fell dead. With the battle already turning against them, the Tatar forces panicked, "abandoning the Khan's camp as it stood", with the Khan taking Khmelnytsky and Vyhovsky hostage.[16] With their cavalry support gone, the Cossack wagon-fort, containing the vast bulk of the Cossack army, now stood isolated on the battlefield, and in effect was under siege by the Polish army.

The siege of the Cossack wagons

The Polish army and Cossack camp exchanged artillery fire for ten days while both sides built fortifications. The Poles tried to blockade the camp.[17] Leaderless without Khemlnytsky, the Cossacks were commanded by Colonel Filon Dzhalalii, who after a few days was replaced by Ivan Bohun. Other accounts state the commander was Matvii Hladky.[18] When the offered terms for surrender were rejected and the Poles dammed the Pliashivka River so as to flood the Cossack camp, the Poles prepared to attack on July 10, while the Cossacks prepared to escape the encirclement by moving across the river.[19] When Bohun led away two thousand cavalrymen to cross the river, the main body of the Cossack army thought that their officers were fleeing and panicked. The Cossack rank and file soldiers began to flee.[20] The Polish forces attacked the panicked Cossacks and the battle turned into a slaughter with more than 20,000 killed or drowned.[21] "Khmelnytsky's tent was captured intact, with all his belongings", which included two banners, one he received from John II Casimir's 1649 commission and one from Wladyslaw IV in 1646.[22]

Schematic map of the battle


As the battle ended, King John Casimir made the error of not pressing even harder the pursuit of the fleeing Cossacks, "the first several days following ... defeat of the enemy were so blatantly wasted" but there "was the unwillingness of the nobility's levée en masse to proceed into Ukraine" plus "rainy weather and a lack of food and fodder, coupled with epidemics and diseases that were becoming active in the army, were generally undercutting any energy for war".[23] The "king left the whole army to Potocki" on 17 July [N.S.] and returned "to Warsaw to celebrate his victories over the Cossacks".[23] After making promises of a pecuniary nature, Khmelnytsky was soon released by the Tatar Khan. He was then able to reassemble the Cossack host, which was able to present a substantial army to confront the Poles at the Battle of Bila Tserkva (1651). Poland and "the bulk of the rebels make peace in the Treaty of Bila Tserkva" on 28 September 1651, which "reduces the number of registered Cossacks from 40,000 to 20,000 and deprives them of the right to settle in or control various provinces of Ukraine previously allowed to them under the Treaty of Zboriv".[24] The Ukrainian revolt, far from ending, would continue for several more years under Khmelnytsky.[24]

Battle of Berestechko by Vernier


Samuel Twardowski's narrative poem, The Civil War, describes the setting for the battle along the Styr River:[25]

There is a little town on it,
In the middle of Volhynia, called Berestechko,
Belonging to the Leszczynski family, that was not as famous in the past
As it has now become – both ancient Cannae
And Khotyn are far outshone by it, because as many heads here
Our eyes have seen as at Thermopylae
Or Marathon they counted, although there the whole strength
Of Europe and Asia had come together.
Since our arrival – hilly roads
And steep slopes, until open
Meadows unfold near the Styr's
Low banks. It was pleasant to look from the south
At the pyramid of the Pronskis and the groves that are green
In winter always. And to th east there lies as if a natural
Field for a camp – and there it was indeed placed
Later, but first – this was pondered for a long time.

The Battle of Berestechko is commemorated on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Warsaw, with the inscription "BERESTECZKO 28-30 VI 1651".


  1. ^ Some sources (Mikołaj Jemiołowski diary) state that Toğay bey died near Zamosc
  2. ^ Hrushevsky, M., 2004, History of Ukraine-Rus, Volume Nine, Book One, The Cossack Age, 1650–1653, Toronto: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, ISBN 1895571227, p. 304
  3. ^ a b Hrushevsky, p. 304
  4. ^ Romuald Romański, Książę Jeremi Wiśniowiecki. p. 338.
  5. ^ Grzegorz Rąkowski, Wołyń. p. 211.
  6. ^ Tucker, S.C., editor, A Global Chronology of Conflict, Volume II: 1500–1774, Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010, ISBN 9781851096671, p. 621
  7. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 304–305
  8. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 304 and 313
  9. ^ Jan Widacki, Kniaź Jarema p. 255.
  10. ^ Zbigniew Wójcik, Jan Kazimierz Waza, p. 75; Władysław Czapliński, Glosa do Trylogii, p. 45; Józef Gierowski, Historia Polski, p. 223.
  11. ^ Tadeusz Wasilewski, Ostatni Waza na polskim tronie. p. 103.
  12. ^ "Cyprian Pawel Brzostowski's letter of 9 July [N.S.] from the camp" according to Hrushevsky, p. 304
  13. ^ Tadeusz Wasilewski, Ostatni Waza na polskim tronie. p. 102.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Hrushevsky, p. 305
  15. ^ a b Hrushevsky, p. 306
  16. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 306–307
  17. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 314 and 316
  18. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 314–315
  19. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 317–318
  20. ^ Hrushevsky, p. 318
  21. ^ Hrushevsky, p. 319
  22. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 321–322
  23. ^ a b Hrushevsky, p. 361
  24. ^ a b Tucker, p. 622
  25. ^ Hrushevsky, pp. 303–304

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