Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXXI
Poltava 1709

THE climax of the Northern War was approaching. Charles was eager to fight. In every pitched battle against the Russians he had triumphed, and he was confident in final victory. And Peter, who in the past had been reluctant to risk so much in a single battle, was ready now to meet the challenge. His strategy had won him a position of strength and he had a deep certainty of his ultimate Success.

Peter was expecting to fight this action during the winter of 1708- 1709. In secret instructions, drawn up at the beginning of December 1708 for his commanders, he wrote that ". . . it is essential and urgent this winter, with the help of God, to fight a general battle."1 Meanwhile he moved his army eastwards so that it protected the road to Moscow.

Charles, after crossing the Desna, had advanced to Romny, where he found good quarters for his troops, and for the first time in many months they had food and forage in plenty. He had hoped to take up positions farther to the north at Starodub and Novgorod-Seversky, but the Russians, moving rapidly, had themselves occupied both towns.

During the past month Charles had suffered two more serious disappointments. First, Lewenhaupt had joined him on . 13 October (1708) from Lesnaya, with less than half his troops and without the great baggage train on which the Swedes were depending. The second disappointment, coming some two weeks later, was the arrival of Mazepa. The Hetman normally commanded between twenty and

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