Stanisław Żółkiewski of the Lubicz coat of arms, a victor from Kłuszyn, a capturer of Moscow, a conqueror of Germans, Swedes, Moldavians, Tatars and Cossacks. He was one of the most outstanding people of the epoch. He aroused fear and respect among enemies of Poland. He was a Chancellor and Great Crown Hetman, one of the most prominent commanders within history of Poland. He lived between 1547 and 1620.
The period of the King Stefan Batory’s rule – the times of the greatest upsurge of Poland’s power and fame of Polish arms – favoured birth of noble and great warriors. King Stefan Batory led the way with his inflexible character, personal disinterestedness, aspirations directed only towards weal of Poland (his adopted country); his moral attitude, military abilities and advantages of a born leader of the people were ravishing the future heroes of Poland. Stanisław Żółkiewski was brought up in this sublime atmosphere of Batory’s rule and grown up to the true leader and future hero of Kłuszyn, Moscow and Cecora.
While being in incessant war with Tatars and exposed to continuous invasions, Poland had to be constantly ready to armed actions, to repel invasions on its territory and defend itself against rapacity of numerous enemies.
In particular, the eastern borders of Poland were permanently in dread of invasions. Also, these the most threatened Polish areas became a cradle of heroes who demonstrated fortitude and defiance of death during numerous battles; they learnt love of motherland from the exhausting thrilling experiences. Żółkiewski was a son of these very areas.
Stanisław Żółkiewski was born in Turynka village near Lvov in the rich lordly family in 1547. His father, Ruthenian voivode, was the well-known and active citizen as well as the experienced knight who fought for his motherland many a time in the dauntless way.
So, Żółkiewski continued lofty knightly traditions of his family. From his early youth, he touched directly dangers and wars that struck his motherland constantly. So, no wonder that his aim in life was to protect borders of Poland against invasions of aliens. He was high-bred and after education in Lvov, he went abroad as it was established custom at lordly families.
Just after fratricidal battles in Poland, new clouds gathered over the country to harbinger a war with Moscow.
The King perceived the awe of situation too late. In order to rescue the situation, he called Jan Potocki to take expedition against approaching Muscovites. However Potocki, while being afraid of responsibility in case of possible bad success, straddled and at last refused.
Only one Hetman stuck the King and did not look back to personal gains. Regardless of the expedition danger, he and his army of three thousand people went to war with the exceeding Muscovites forces. The great Commander led his few knights to an uncertain and heavy fighting; however, he trusted in combat valour of his troops and relied on his hard-bitten colonels; he was aware that Poland’s fate depended on the expedition success so, he devised a tactical plan of genius how to strike out at the enemy to prevent formation of the great army; the plan was deciding for the war.
He moved on the advance guard of czar Szujski to Carowo Zajmiszcze.
The Muscovites armed forces took a defensive position at the town surrounded by swamps with a wide causeway – the only access to the camp. After the first skirmish won by Hetman’s forces, the Muscovites withdrew to the town while destroying the bridge behind them. Hetman did not wish any conclusive battle this day.
The next day Żółkiewski showed a great war talent and far-sightedness. Wałujew, Muscovite commander, expected the attack led in the same way like previously and was going to ambush Poles while filling the thicket around the causeway with infantry. However, he did not foresee the great talent, combat experience and caution of his anti and he lost the battle.
Namely, the Hetman sent his infantry and Kozaks towards hidden Muscovites and, at the same time, to the causeway. The meeting was so unexpected that Muscovites took to flight in panic.
Some knights stimulated by the win gave pursuit crossing of the river and they were cut off from the main forces. Wałujew, Muscovite commander, sent 3,000 people from the camp to slaughter the few knights but the Hetman ordered to bridge and the invincible Polish cavalry got over Muscovites. The Poles’ victory was complete. This way, a part of the Hetman’s task was accomplished.
The Hetman couldn’t take the strongly fortified town, so he took a position on the road to Możajsk from where the main Muscovites forces went. Once all roads were taken, the besieged were cut off from their country. Szujski, czar Wasyl’s nephew, the talented Russian commander, was going to the fortress with relief, with 50,000 people of mercenary troops. The knighthood was alarmed by this message since the cavalry couldn’t be used in this field situation.
The Hetman had a plan to leave some troops and strike out unexpectedly at the czar’s forces with the rest of troops. He gave this project at the war council as an option to avoid a treason. The army stood in readiness. Before the night, the royal infantry, Kozaks and the cavalry of 700 people stayed with the cavalry captain Bobowski and the Hetman went to Kłuszyn with 7,000 people where the czar’s great army had encamped. At daybreak on 4th July 1610 after the night-long quick march, the knights left the infantry and 2 only cannons that lagged behind and they faced the large sleeping army that didn’t expect, like its self-confident commanders, that so few Poles can attack. The Hetman didn’t wait for infantry; he embattled the troops, address the knighthood and struck out at Muscovites. The militant trumpets played and, at the same time, flames embraced the villages being fired. While seeing the Polish troops ready to fight, the Muscovites geared up for defence in panic and fear but the Hetman with his troops struck in the middle of the enemy cohorts .
The Polish troops wreak havoc among Muscovites cohorts. But the brave Hetman starts being doubtful if small Polish forces can conquer the many times larger army. However, the Polish knights showed to their commander that they can fight and defeat the tiger. The troops ran through Muscovites’ ranks while destructing all on the way. Nothing can resist the mad Polish cavalry attack. Muscovites took to flight in panic. Only the right wing, defended by German infantry, resisted the cavalry attack, however, after arrival of the royal infantry with cannons, it took to flight in panic, too. The Muscovite czar’s great army together with the first-class foreign troops having many guns and military equipment no longer existed thanks to Żółkiewski’s quick decision and his troops’ bravado. This colossal triumph, with faint losses, opened the way to the czar’s capital. After this Muscovites’ defeat, Wałujew swore fealty to the Royal Prince Władysław as the Muscovite czar.
The Hetman assembled his troops and moved on Moscow.
At last, on this tragic day 6th October 1620, the dead-beat, sleepy and hungry army started murmuring and finally mutinied, robbed the camp, took the carts and passed for Dniester. Tatars took advantage of this and attacked the camp while wreaking havoc and increasing panic.
The unexpected Tatars’ aggression broke the Hetman’s army reminders.
Two hetmans with few knights were left at the battlefield. The soldiers asked Żółkiewski to save his life but in vain. The hetman Koniecpolski wanted to give him a horse but he said: “ I ask you to use it and escape; let luck be with you and save you for Poland; I must stay to fight with enemy!”. These were the last words of the great hero. He took another horse and flung into the battle with the sabre in his hand to defend his beloved Motherland; he victimized his life while leading the way to his descendants and showing how a true Polish knight should live and die.
Source: Dr. EDMUND OPPMAN, WODZOWIE POLSKI – SZLAKAMI CHWAŁY ORĘŻA POLSKIEGO (Commanders of Poland – Polish weapon glory routes, issue III, Warsaw 1938.
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