The Death of Gustavus

When he saw what the day had done, the first act of Gustavus Adolphus was to fall on his knees on the bloody plain and give thanks for the victory which had crowned his arms. No more to be heard were the jeers of the Jesuits and the contemptuous disrespect of Ferdinand. That day 7,000 of the imperialists had been slain and another 5,000 wounded or taken prisoner. The losses of the Swedes did not amount to more than 700 and the Saxons 2,000.

Battle of Lutzen

From the field of Breitenfeld on, Gustavus progress was a triumphal march. Tilly had managed to collect a few new regiments to oppose his advance, but he marshaled them, only to be routed by the victorious Swedes. The summer had been busily occupied on the field of battle and the winter was no less busy, but in a different manner. Gustavus resided for the time being in the city of Mainz on the banks of the Rhine. Couriers were arriving and departing hourly; ambassadors from foreign States were daily receiving audiences; the Protestant princes and the deputies from the imperial towns, crowded around to pay their respects. Inside the palace, negotiations were busily underway to lay the foundation for a peace, such as would adjust the balance between Catholic and Protestant Germany, and restore security to its beleaguered inhabitants.

In the middle of February 1632, the king put his army in motion again, advancing southward into Bavaria, he attacked the League. Tilly made a last effort to retrieve his fame, having collected the wreck of his routed army, along with the addition of some new levies. The defeat of the league was complete. The army was dispersed and Tilly died of his wounds a few days later.

The overthrow of Tilly, and the complete rout of his army, left the road to Vienna open. The whole of Germany from the Rhine to the Danube was in possession of Gustavus, and a new general must be found for the imperial forces. In the desperate straits in which he found himself, Ferdinand turned to Wallenstein. A man of superb skill, but consumed with ambition, Wallenstein listened to the proposals, but refused to dignify them with a reply, professing no desire to return to the toils of a military life. In his distress, the emperor sent again and again to the duke. Finally, in April of 1632, an agreement was concluded, but only under conditions that constituted Wallenstein the real master of the empire. To Ferdinand there remained only the title of king and the shadow of power. Thus, the man who had so long concealed the rankling wound inflicted by dismissal, with apparent calm submission, exacted a terrible revenge, but in taking advantage of the calamities of his friends, he had overreached himself

On April 8, 1632, Gustavus arrived at Augsburg. In response to his appeal the city opened its gates to him and on the 14th he entered the city.

The king next turned his attention to Nuremberg, where he established his camp. To meet him, Wallenstein advanced from Bavaria with an army of 60,000 men, pitching his camp on the other side of the town. Gustavus tried by every means to draw his antagonist into battle, but Wallenstein had adopted a strategy of famine. In the end, the strategy was successful. The land was not able to bear two such large armies and the scene of the encampment became a field of horrors. Horses died in thousands for want of forage. The steaming putridity of the unburied carcasses poisoned the air, and in conjunction with the famine proved more fatal to both camps of soldiers than would the bloodiest battle. In the city of Nuremberg 10,000 inhabitants died. Gustavus Adolphus had lost 20,000 of his soldiers and it is presumed the imperialists lost a similar number.

In the middle of September, Gustavus Adolphus broke camp and returned to Bavaria to complete his reduction of Ingolstadt. Wallenstein also broke camp and marched north into Saxony. For a second time the road was open to Vienna. While Gustavus was organizing a march south to dethrone the emperor, he received a letter from Count Oxenstierna, his chancellor, informing that a treachery was underway. The Elector of Saxony was negotiation with Wallenstein with a view to withdrawing from the Swedish alliance and joining in affinity with the imperialists. If the powerful Saxony should become hostile, lying as it did between Gustavus and the Baltic, it would jeopardize the whole situation.

Intend on preventing the defection of the Elector of Saxony, an example that others would be inclined to follow, Gustavus returned north by forced marches. Welcomed through all the towns that he passed, as a deliverer, he hastened on toward Lepsic to meet Wallenstein. On his march, he was informed that Wallenstein was camped at a small town not far from the spot where a year before, he had won his decisive victory.

When the battle opened, it is quite likely that the opposing armies were about equal, but with the arrival of Pappenheim, the weight of advantage was thrown to the imperialist forces. Best estimates indicate that Wallenstein’s army mounted to about 27,000, while the forces under Gustavus were approximately 18,000 to 20,000.

The Swedish infantry advanced against the trenches, and though receiving a tremendous musket fire, they captured the battery and turned the guns against the enemy. First of five of the imperial brigades were routed; the second was in disorder; the third was wavering. Wallenstein, with three regiments of horses galloped to the spot, arresting the flight of his soldiers. The brigades formed, and faced the Swedes. A murderous hand to hand conflict followed. The Swedes, at last overpowered by numbers, were compelled to give ground, abandoning the cannon they had captured.

Gustavus Adolphus, at the head of his Finland cuirassiers, attacked the left wing of the enemy. The light-mounted Poles and Croats were broken by the shock, and fleeing in disorder, they spread terror and confusion among the rest of the imperial cavalry. At that moment, the king was told that his infantry was recrossing the trenches and that the left wing was wavering. Committing the pursuit of the vanquished Croats to General Horn, he galloped to the spot where his soldiers were most sorely pressed. Shortsighted, and eager to discover an opening in the enemy’s ranks, Gustavus approached too close to their line and a musket shot shattered his left arm. By this time his squadrons had come up, but in attempting to lead them, he was overcome with pain and at the point of fainting, he requested the Duke of Lauenburg to lead him secretly out of the tumult. As he was retiring he received a second shot through the back. Feeling the wound was fatal, he said to Lauenburg, “I am gone; look to your own life.” As a page was assisting him from his horse, other cuirassiers surrounded the wounded monarch and on learning his identity, completed the work of death.

The death of Gustavus, rather than being the end of the battle, was only its beginning. The riderless horse galloping wildly over the battlefield told only half the story. It was possible that the king was only wounded. With a renewed fury, the Swedes rushed madly onward to the spot where the king had last been seen to enter the thick of the fight. Ridding up to the spot where the king had fallen, they found the Croats stripping the body in their desire to possess some memorial of the fallen hero, and a terrible fight ensued. The dead fell thickly around a mound of corpses that quickly developed.

Death of Gustavus

From the officers the dreadful news soon descended to the ranks. The cry ran from brigade to brigade of the Swedes, “The king is dead!” A terrible anger filled the men and they charged with a fury that revealed that the spirit of the fallen hero was still alive.

When night fell, the victory was claimed by both sides, but when the sun rose the next morning, only the dead and dying occupied the field of Lutzen. The two armies stood off from the field on which they had wrestled the day before. Wallenstein sent his Croats to take possession of the artillery, that he might have a pretext for saying he had the field from which he was at the moment preparing to flee, but when they arrived and found the Swedes drawn up in battle formation, they declined to execute their leaders orders. The same day Wallenstein was followed by the remnant of his army in miserable condition, without artillery, or standards, and almost without arms. The duke made a brief stay at Leipsic, and soon left the territory of Saxony in haste, so anxious was he to escape the scene of his alleged triumph. The Duke of Sax-Weimar, who had succeeded the fallen king in command of the Swedes, took possession of the battlefield, with all on it; and soon thereafter established himself in Leipsic, thus it was proven beyond doubt who was the real victor.

The marvelous victory on the field of Leipsic established Gustavus Adolphus one of those tools whom Providence at times, raises up to suddenly and compassionately change the course of history.” With a conscious awareness of the nature of his calling, Gustavus saw the moving of Providence giving him victory after victory. He saw mighty armies, led by captains of renown giveaway before him; the gates of cities opened at his approach. His banners advanced until they were planted on the very borders of Austria and Germany was free.

Gustavus did not leave his work unfinished, although it did not seem to be so at the time. Germany, after sixteen more years of suffering accepted the gift that they had been unprepared to accept in the lifetime of their deliverer, but which his victories made possible. In the end, when the charter of toleration, later to become known as the Pacification of Westphalia, was finally signed, it was Gustavus Adolphus’ proposals that formed the basis of that great charter.