Once More unto the Breach

Second part of a short story about fortresses and how to conquer them.

French Map of Denmark (1692/1692) by Hubert IalliotSkokloster Castle

A Kingdom for a Stage

A very good example of a successful, swift, frontal attack of a fortress is the Swedish annihilation of the garrison at Frederiksodde (present day Fredericia in Denmark) on the 24th of October 1657. The city, located on a horn of Jutland, had been targeted by the Swedes because of its proximity to Funen which in turn was a way to come to Zealand and to attack Copenhagen. The Danes, wise from experience, fortified the town from 1651 on. 

Detail of a Map (1692/1692) by Hubert IalliotSkokloster Castle

Work Your Thoughts

The designs
for the defence works were drawn by Georg Hoffmann based on principles from
Adam Freitag’s treatise “Arcitectura Militaris” from 1625. The plan was that
the front of the city should have a semi-circle fortress with seven bastions
and two half bastions (hornworks) with one ravelin at the main gate. Within the
city walls, close to the uttermost horn of Jutland there was a redoubt, a small
fortress built as a “last stand”. On the other side of the strait lay Funen. One of the weaknesses of the fortress might very well be
the false sense of security that the proximity to Funen gave its inhabitants.
It was believed that supply and reinforcements could come from Funen at any
time and that the strait was an expedient way for a retreat if need be.

It is unclear to this day, however, if the plans for Frederiksodde were fully realised. The information we have about the existing fortress in 1657 comes from the conquering Swedish troops and, most of it, from the Engineer Erik Dahlberg.

Frederik III of Denmark and Sofia Amalia of Braunschweig-Lyneburg (c. 1643) by unknownSkokloster Castle

Princes to Act

King Karl X Gustav was, according to Dahlberg, somewhat surprised to find Frederiksodde to be a fortress and not an encampment, as the intelligence had said beforehand. The Danish King Frederik III had come to the city, as well, to oversee the defence of the strait in person.

Into Battle (1657/1697) by Erik DahlberghSkokloster Castle

A Nimble Gunner the
Devilish Cannon Touches

After some skirmishes the Swedes placed two batteries in front of the town, one on Gallows’ Hill and one in the Hangman’s Cove. “Truly on two honourable places”, as Dahlberg put it. “And though we started our music on the second day, the 26th, no effect was made because of the continuous answer from seven royal bastions. It was a hot day for me and my compatriots on Gallows’ Hill in particular, as the battery was on high ground and could be seen by all enemy posts.”

The Swedish Encampment (1657/1697) by Erik DahlberghSkokloster Castle

Filthy and Contagious Clouds are Gathering

Karl X Gustaf decided to wait and see if an alternate way ahead realised itself. A conglomeration of Swedish and German troops commanded by Lieutenant General Carl Gustaf Wrangel was ordered to besiege the city and the King returned to Wismar. King Frederik III must have seen this as a sign of weakness and returned to Copenhagen, leaving Governor Anders Bille to deal with the tedious siege.

The Swedish camp was raised at Bredstrup, a small village roughly four miles north-west of Frederiksodde. While waiting for a conclusion of the situation they reconnoitred and made small assaults on the fortress and the surroundings.

Far Side of The Swedish Camp (1657/1697) by Erik DahlberghSkokloster Castle

Directed by a Valiant

Dahlberg himself he “crept on hands and knees” in the night to discover the layout of the fortress in advance. All existing maps and drawings of his hand are suspiciously similar to Hoffmann’s original designs, however, showing parts of the defence works that were prospected but not built. King Karl X Gustav’s patience was wearing thin in the meantime. His endeavour to quench the Danes was foiled again and again. By October, winter once more, by the world’s law, was drawing nigh and the King therefore sent Colonel Fersen and several hundred soldiers to assist Wrangel.

Artillery on Gallow's Hill (1657/1697) by Erik DahlberghSkokloster Castle

Avaunt, You Cullions!

Lieutenant General Wrangel saw this move as an order that the fortress should be taken “through the force of the sword”. The Swedish and Danish troops were believed to be equivalent in numbers and the difference in strength was more ambiguous: the Danes had a fortress; the Swedes were rough and hard of hart. Lieutenant General Wrangel assembled a council of war where the pros and cons of an attack were discussed. Three things were decided upon: they would attack, they should use tufts of straw in their hats to distinguish friend from foe, and they should use the war-cry “Help us, Jesus!”

The Storming of Frederik's Point (1657/1667) by Erik DahlberghSkokloster Castle

The Gates of Mercy All Shut Up

At the very moment the council was finished all
three contingents started to move forward in the dark: Wrangel and four
brigades went towards the south-west end of the fortress, Lieutenant General
Jacob de la Gardie took four brigades and headed for the middle section, Major
General Fabian Berndes with three regiments dismounted cavalry positioned
himself for an attack on the main gate. The march to the front must have been a
tremendous undertaking. Almost 5 000 soldiers walked or rode the four
miles in darkness and under orders not to make too much noise. All troops seem
to have moved very orderly into position. The time for attack was just before the
first light of day, which would have been somewhere around six in the morning.
The signal for attack was visible from afar: a peasant’s cottage was set on
fire. And so, all men pushed forward.

The Danish defenders at the front gate gave fierce opposition. Major General Berndes’ troops were repelled several times. The petardier, a man assigned to place a shaped charge on the gates, was wounded and had to withdraw. Several men of the dismounted cavalry that charged died or were wounded.

At the middle gate Lieutenant General de la Gardie and his men tried to scale the walls. The small gate could not be opened and had, if opened, posed a threat – a true bottleneck.

Lieutenant General Wrangel on his side saw a weakness in the defences: outside the hornwork bastion by the strait the Danes had not finished the wall but had placed sharpened palisades in the water to stop the aggressors. The contemporary journal Theatrum Europaeum describes the subsequent events:

“His Excellency ordered that 13 sappers together with several non-commissioned officers should go first and cut down the palisades to make way for the cavalry, the bombardiers followed with hand grenades and then 50 soldiers led by a Captain with specific orders to take the half-bastion next to the water, followed by Count Nils Brahe and Colonel Sparre and their battalions. Colonel Fersen and Colonel Spens took the next bastion on the left.”

His Highness von Anhalt with his cavalry had some difficulty in forcing their way through all palisades because of the water. But when they came through the Danish line started to fold, making it easier for de la Gardie at the middle gate. Soon, Wrangel’s and de la Gardie’s soldiers with set teeth and nostrils stretched wide hacked their way along parapet and terreplein. In the plain language of the 17th Century: “Those not cut down in fury had to surrender.”

Our Expectation hath this Day an End

Governor Anders Bille, mortally wounded, and
thousands of his men retreated to the citadel on the beak of Frederiksodde when
the defences broke down. They tried to cross the water to Funen to save themselves,
but a strong headwind forced them back. After some perfunctory shots and a palaver,
the garrison surrendered.

The attack lasted only a few hours. When the sun
had risen the Swedish flag flew over Frederiksodde.

Credits: Story

Text and editing: G. Sandell, National Historical Museums


Beckman, Margareta. 2009. “Befästningar i stormaktstid; Erik Dahbergh och befästningskonsten.” Svenskt Militärhistoriskt Bibliotek: Hallstavik.

Duffy, Christopher. 1975. “Fire and Stone, the Science of Fortress Warfare 1660-1860.” David & Charles Newton Abbot: London/Vancouver.

Freitag, Adam. 1631. “Arcitectura Militaria.”
Lundström, Herman. 1912. “Erik Dahlbergs dagbok 1625-1699.” Amlqvist & Wiksell boktryckeri AB: Stockholm & Uppsala

Meyer, Martin. 1693. “Theatrum Europaeum, part VIII.” Matthäus Merian:

Westerbeek Dahl, Bjørn. 2010.” Fredericia Faestnings Historie, Bind 1.” Lokalhistorisk Forlag: Fredericia.

Credits: All media
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