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January 07, 2004

Today in history...

1709 Russians in Veprik defeat Swedes by pouring boiling porridge on

Embarrassing way to get yer butt kicked, even if it didn't help in the end, and the town was forced to surrender. Here's a little blurb on the battle from a history of the Great Northern War. What I find interesting is the casualties among the senior leadership of the Swedes. Battle command was a different ball game back then.

Siege of Veprik

Charles at the beginning of January decided to drive the Russian army from the Vorskla and Psel Rivers in order to secure the future attack route in the direction of Akhtirka, Belgorod, and Moscow. The first step of this plan was the siege of Veprik, located on the left bank of the Psel. The garrison consisted of 1,500 Russian soldiers and some sotnitsa of cossacks. They had three cannon.

Gyllenkropk in his account wrote, "The cossack town, Veprik, was made in the form of a redoubt with four sides, We had trouble surrounding it. The wall had no bastions and did not have hard defenses. The moat was small.

The Swedes surrounded the town and then threw two infantry and three cavalry regiments with artillery against Veprik. The king tried to persuade the town commandant, Colonel Urlov, into capitulation, if he did not the king threatened to hand him on the gate. The brave commandant sent the following answer to the king: "By the command of my lord I must defend to the last possibility and , knowing that the king values bravery, I don't believe that his highness would take, in the event of victory, such cruelty." Irritated by such an answer, on 5 January the king himself, taking with him an incomplete artillery and dragoon regiment, went to Veprik to aid in the Swedish storm. Arriving there he again sent the offer to the defenders, but they answered this demand of the king with cannon fire. Then the Swedes opened fire on the town from four batteries. The brave defenders of Veprik stoically held fast. On the morning of 6 January the Swedes again opened artillery fire. Under cover of heavy fire three columns from different sides were thrown into the storm of the fortress. But one column moved late and a simultaneous storm was not achieved. Instead of one general attack there were two at separate times. Both attacks were thrown back by the garrison.

This unsuccessful storm of Veprik cost the Swedes over 1,200 men killed and wounded. The wounded included Prince Wirtenburg, General Shatakelberg, and Field Marshal Rensheld, who received a concussion. The Swedish historian Steel wrote: "Losses during the storm of Veprik can be compared to the losses of a large battle. Especially grievous for the Swedes was the fact that they lost in it the pick of their officers. Meanwhile after the devastation wrought on the army by the front, now still smaller than previously was it possible to lose people for nothing."

On 6 and 7 January the Swedes prepared to renew the attack, but before that the king again sent the commandant an offer to surrender. The besieged garrison already was in no condition to continue battle with the Swedes. All military supplies were expended. The commandant, after repelling three cruel storms, was required to agree to surrender. Having taken the town, the Swedes burned it and ruined the population. In connection with the Swedish efforts to widen their area of winter quarters over the Vorskla River the Russians brought their main strength from Sum in Akhtirka in order to block the path of the Swedes to Belgorod or Kharkov. Colonel Kellin was sent to strengthen the defense of Poltava. A special detachment under command of Sheremetev was sent to the west to cut the Swedish communications lines to Poland.

The Swedes were not able until the beginning of spring to move their army into the region between the Psel and Vorskla Rivers. All their efforts to advance in the direction of Belgorod ended in failure. The Russian army by the beginning of spring was divided in two parts; one part was located on the left bank of the Vorskla under command of Menshikov, and the second part under command of Sheremetev was concentrated in fortified Mirgorod, between the Sula and Psel Rivers.