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Chronologie der dreißig Jahre Krieges
Dates and events of the 
Thirty Years War

Schwedische Protestierende Kräfte

Kung Gustav Adolph's Livgardet Kompanie

Hortus Bellicus Munchbergk 1632

MacKay's Regimente of Foote

Die Armee des Emperor

Colonel Walter Butler's Dragoons

Boleslav Orlicki’s Light Artillery

Die Massen
Commoners of the Thirty Years War

The Wesphalian Baggage Train

Leben Eines Soldaten
How to live like a soldier 
during the Thirty Years War

Einleitung zur kunst des Krieges
Weapons and Drill of the 
Thirty Years War

Bibliographie der Betriebsmittel
Annotated Bibliography of Sources

Unsere Lieblingsaufstellungsorte
Our favorite online sites

Die Galerie
Imagery ofour members

Zeitplan von Fällen
Schedule of events

Die Sitzung Hall
Online group chat rooms

A Soldier Requem
In the early part of the 17th C. few Germans could have foreseen the calamity that would become known at the Thirty Years War.  Much of Germany had prospered in the late 16th C.  due to abstinence from several large scale wars.  In fact many duchies prospered from conflicts such as the Lowland Wars, when they sold arms and munitions to both Dutch and Spanish interests alike.

The Defenstration of Prague changed all of that and much of Southern Germany formed up for war under Frederick V elector of the Palatine.  The rest of Germany mobilized for the eventuality of war.  For the common man this meant very little. 

Europe was still very much an agrarian society, where the vast majority of its populace worked the land and provided for themselves, their lords, and with any luck pensioned a few pfenig for themselves.  For the vast majority of Europeans the church served both a spiritual and social purpose.

Religious prosperity ruled the land as many attended the services of their faiths.  Catholics and Protestants alike practiced loyal attendance to church services.  From these pulpits the words of both Protestant and Imperial leaders were mixed in with the word of God.  In Sweden the church was used as an arm of the military in the form of conscription.  In Swabia the church served as a point where officers served out payment for service in the army.  While most rural Europeans were illiterate, they were far from ignorant.  They understood that war clouds were rearing in the not so distant future and they prepared.

Warfare in the Thirty Years War was a brutal affair at best.  Men butchered each other within breathing distance of one another, medical care was virtually nonexistent, and living conditions were dreary. 

To kill a man...

For a soldier, who's age was often anywhere between 15 and 50 years of age the act of killing in combat was no more than a sub-conscience decision.  It was “Kill or be Killed.” Some soldiers became veterans before their 18th birthday and others never lived to see their 15th birthday. 

In the ranks...

Thirty Years War battles were often well thought out affairs; however, the best plans often went awry.  A soldier could expect to spend several hours “getting into position.” Where Regiments fit themselves for battle.  The initial exchange was often by artillery.  The first rounds fired were often solid ball shot aimed at ground level.  This technique caused the solid round iron ball to skip across the field and rip into the enemy ranks tearing off limbs and decapitating stragglers.  As the ranks became assembled the order to “March On” would be given.  Each soldier would most likely make his peace with his maker and advance upon the enemy.

At this point cavalry would via for position from which they could either flank or break the enemy.   For the infantryman the movement of cavalry in the rear of the enemy ranks was always disconcerting.  As the ranks move closer to the enemy, the artillery switches to bar shot to cause even more collateral damage.  Artillery has been moved to hit the corners of the infantry tercio to cause the maximum amount of devastation possible.  The enemy’s ranks are ahead and one is close enough to hear their officer’s and NCO’s issuing commands through their drummers. 

As the ranks close to within 50 yards the order is given to “Make ready!” Inexperienced troops fumble with their chargers and match trying to make their muskets ready to fire, while veterans cooley load their weapons and issue forth words of comfort to the frightened soldiers around them.  All of this is done under a withering blanket of fire from the enemy’s artillery.

Whence ready the order is given through the drum to fire by introduction.  The first salvo rocks the enemy line, but the vast majority of shot will not kill but merely maim.  With the first shots fired, the enemy reply is sourly awaited.  With a staccato roar, the enemy delivers a hail of lead into the front ranks.  Men drop around you; however, the formation keeps moving, to within 30 yards.  Now the pike come to bear with the order of the drum.  Directional fire from the enemy musket focuses on the main body of your pike, while your NCO’s give orders to keep fire into the enemy musket.

The enemy artillery now switches to grapeshot turning their bronze pieces into oversized shotguns.  The first blasts from these pieces cause great devastation around you.  As you close with the enemy to 10 yards the final firing order for the muskets is to “Fire by salvo.” For the Swedes this means closing three ranks and firing simultaneously, for many the best that can be done is to fire in two ranks.  There is a mad rush to fill the holes in the ranks where once your friends stood with fresh musketeers.  You clamber over the bodies of your fallen comrades to give the enemy a final retribution of lead.  When finally in position, the order is given to “GIVE FIRE.” A torrent of fire is laid into the enemy and it is apparent that his ranks are wavering, with this the veterans instinctively turn about their muskets and use them as clubs.  With the breaking of the enemy line the enemy artillery is turned about and the touch hole spiked with an iron spike and hammer.  With the orders to “LAY ON” the entire mass of your fellow soldiers exert the final gasp of energy they have and charge the fleeing mass of soldiers before you.

Your charge soon falls short of steam and you notice you cavalry overtaking your position in pursuit of the fleeing enemy.  You drop to your knees and pray to God for your deliverance from death and pray for those who fell.  In absolute exhaustion most soldiers drop and fall asleep in abject fatigue.

While not every battle was like this, the feeling was generally the same.  The unknown lurked at every corner for a soldier.  The above account is loosely based on the experiences of the Swedish Norrland Regiment at Alt Veste 1632. 

A soldier was expected to put in 10km marching a day, carrying his 13lb matchlock, bandoleer of chargers, snapsack of personal items, if he was a pikeman he would often wear his pike corselet and pot plus carry his pike and snapsack.  At the end of this march lay either establishing his encampment or a hot fight.  On rare occasions where his officers have procured lodgings he could enjoy some comfort.

Camp Life

In temperate seasons, soldiers often slept in hedgerows or under the stars.  Picket positions and cavalry screens were established to protect the encampment site; however, Borres and robbers often found their way into camp on sorties.  Fires, like those seen outside of the city Rain at the bridge crossing over the R. Lech, were big enough to warm several men and this seems to have been preferred over smaller fires.  In positions prior to an attack though, most soldiers opted to share fires with their brethren.  No pits were dug as fire safety was not a concern, so all fires were on the surface of the ground.  The only areas dug were latrines, trash pits or middens. 

Sanitary conditions were terrible at best.  Ironically when the army was seperated into its parts it was better set for camp life as sanitary condition were not stressed by large numbers of men; however, defensive measures often precluded such actions and armies were generally kept in tact.  No where was the spread of disease more devastating than during Winter Quarters, where the armies grouped together in tent cities with little measureable sanitary ammenities.

Tents were often left on barges along the many waterways in Germany until the orders were drawn forth to have them shipped inland from ports.  This was a hazardous proceedure as it required the allocation of valuable military assets to draw the tents to the encampment.  The canvas, usually cut linen sail canvas, was already moldy and wreaked from moths of storage aboard wooden barges.  Even when there were tents available there were never enough to go around.  Soldiers often slept 6 men to a tent.  To alleviate the problem of over crowding many soldiers opted for alternating watches, this way 3 slept while 3 went on watch.  No where was this more evident than in Johan Tserclaes Tilly’s encampment on the eve of the sacking of Magdeburg.If a soldier was luck enough to be quartered he could enjoy the benefits of living under a roof.  There were pro’s and con’s to being quartered in the houses of commoners as this could provide great comfort to a soldier.  Often a family was allowed to stay with the soldiers and serve them; however, on many occasions the family was tossed out on their ears.  The cost for this was usually retribution by commoners against stragglers.  Soldiers who were separated from their Company’s often fell victim to irate commoners who would massacre them at a given chance.  Nowhere is this more evident than in The Adventures of a Simpleton by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, who’s main character Simplicious is witness to such a spectacle.

If a soldier was luck enough to be quartered he could enjoy the benefits of living under a roof.  There were pro’s and con’s to being quartered in the houses of commoners as this could provide great comfort to a soldier.  Often a family was allowed to stay with the soldiers and serve them; however, on many occasions the family was tossed out on their ears.  The cost for this was usually retribution by commoners against stragglers.  Soldiers who were separated from their Company’s often fell victim to irate commoners who would massacre them at a given chance.  Nowhere is this more evident than in The Adventures of a Simpleton by Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, who’s main character Simplicious is witness to such a spectacle.

Eating was another past time and sometimes considered a luxury.  If an army was rationed with victuals, they were often poor at best.  Swedish troops in Pomerania were issued a loaf of bread, salt fish, and about a liter of beer a day.  The problem was that these.  This meant that often the rations had spoiled by the time they reached the soldiers.  Eating and drinking this material often spelled serious bowel problems for most soldiers.  Some of whom were already fighting dysentery or intestinal parasites such as ringworms.  For most the only option was to forage for food.

The Imperial Army at the very beginning and through the Tilly phase of the war, used foraging and quartering as almost an exclusive modus operandi.  Their army breached the fertile interior of Germany and ate and burned whatever they could.  This changed when Wallenstein assumed control of the Imperial Army after Tilly’s death and instituted a huge supply train with supporting rations. For the Swedes, fortunes were reversed and a ration system disappears with the death of Gustav Adolph at Lützen.

To pass the day away most soldiers spent their time on less than higher pursuits by either drinking, gambling, carving, cooking, etc...  Some God fearing men even attended makeshift services.  The few items a soldier had from home soon either vanished or were doubled due to thieving or gambling.  The games of choice were usually dice games as dice were easy to make, easy to carry, and held up to quite allot of abuse.  A set of loaded dice were found outside of Nurmburg which were made of bone and loaded with lead.  Cards offered the second most prevalent game of chance for soldiers.  Often the cards were not printed, but hand painted and decorated with either debaucheries or religious themes.

Another very common activity for a soldier in camp was to visit the local brothel or victualer.  Brothels required only a discreet place to conduct the oldest profession in and simply carrying oneself behind a hedge row was often enough privacy to suffice.  The higher class brothels offered tent accommodations, some victualers offered this service along with their goods.  In fact many armies saw the size of their baggage train double the size of their army, which bothered commander such as Gustav Adolph, Albrecht Wallenstein, Marshall Vicomte de Turenne, and Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne all complained bitterly at the ever growing sizes of their baggage trains.  In these trains were private suttlers selling almost every imaginable wear and other were craftsmen in support of the army.  Sutlers recognized by the army often were given a “Colonels Pennant,” which meant that they could encamp closer to the army and fall under its protection should something go amiss.
Sutlers often should their wears with the posting of symbols of the items they were willing to sell.  A wreath for food, tankard for spirits, and a red lantern for brothel services.  These same sutlers would also use the end of a battle to glean goods from the bodies of fallen soldiers and resell them back to the victorious army.

Medical care was virtually non-existent.  Soldiers suffered a myriad of maladies from dysentery to malnutrition to poor dental care.  Many soldiers suffered from rickets if they made it to old age, but this was generally a pipe dream as most died in the ranks.  When in combat soldiers probably resigned themselves as dead and thought nothing of accepting this as their fate.  If wounded the chances of receiving medical care was negligible, most mortalities on the battlefield occurred weeks after the battle.  If you did receive medical attention it was horrific by today’s standards.  For extremity wounds (legs and arms) the solution was amputation, where the limb was removed with a Capital Knife and the bone cut with a saw.  The entirety wound would be packed with either moss or Linen flax.  There was generally no anesthesia and often soldiers plainly died of shock during this procedure.  If a soldier survived the amputation he had a less than admirable chance of surviving his recovery as most succumbed to blood poisoning.  The most promising alternative was to have been helped off the field by commoners, who generally practiced herbal medicine and who kept procedures less invasive and more subtle.  Still a deep soft tissue or bone shattering wound often spelled certain death for most common soldiers.