von Essen’s infantry regiment in 1626-1628

Story continues from previous post about the battle of Weichselmünde 1628. Now we take closer look at the Finnish infantry present at that battle. The sources are the same, Hakkapeliittain Historia II by Arvi Korhonen (1942) and Pohjan Prikaatin Historia by Stig Roudasmaa (1984).

Alexander von Essen’s infantry regiment was formed in 1626 as a result of king’s military reforms: in Finland, three large landsregements were divided into smaller, more numerous regiments, themselves organized after new Dutch model. The new länsregements were clearly provincial in character, even though during Gustavus Adolphus’s time they were not yet officially named after their provinces but after their colonel. The von Essen’s regiment was reqruited from Ostrobothnian province and later came to be called the Ostrobothnian Infantry Regiment, with province’s coat of arms in its flag.

Ostrobothnia province (Pohjanmaa in Finnish, Österbotten in Swedish) is in northwestern part of Finland, the eastern shore of the Bothnian Gulf: coastline of fishermen’s villages on the islands and small towns trading furs and tar, and flat inland part with wealthy and rebellious peasantry.

Botnia Orientalis in Olaus Magnus’s Carta Marina from 1539. ”They build ships here” written near Närpes.

During 17th century, not much unlike today, the coastal villages of Pohjanmaa were predominantly Swedish-speaking and the inland Finnish-speaking. So also the von Essen’s regiment was bilingual with some companies, like Colonel’s and Major’s, drawn entirely from coastal villages and thus Swedish-speaking in character, while von Falkenberg’s (later Hume’s) company was made of men from the Finnish-speaking areas like Ilmajoki and Laihia. Lichton’s regiment was drawn from extreme north part of the province, Kemi and Ii areast that reached far into the wilderness that is modern Lapland.

And to add to two native languages, there were the multinational officers, with names like Suther, Lichton and Hume (Scots) and Schultz and von Falkenberg (Germans). There were also several native Swedish officers and some Finns too. The commander of the regiment, Alexander von Essen, was himself a Baltic German from Estonia. Before becoming commander of the Ostrobothnian regiment at the age of 31 years, he had already served in Prince of Orange’s lifeguard and in Venetian, Spanish and Polish armies.

Link to colonel von Essen’s biography

The regiment was first gathered in one place at 27.7.1626 in the city of Turku, Finland. There were 1123 men waiting for ships to take them to Prussia and to war. Equipment was lacking, most of the men were dressed in their own clothes, in Finnish peasant style that was not suitable for parades. Many were unarmed. In the last minute the regiment received a shipment of hundreds of muskets and pikes and several hundred meters of cloth for new uniforms. Also new flags were received, 24 infantry flags for two regiments (the other was Horn’s regiment). Too bad we don’t know what those flags looked like!

Folk Costume of a Peasant from Österbotten. Anonymous watercolour, end of 17th c. Nationalmuseum Sweden.

We can assume that the clothing situation improved during the war and by 1628 the regiment was mostly dressed in military fashion instead of peasant clothes. At least the hardware was fine: from the beginning of August 1627 we have list or regiments weaponry.

The whole regiment had 485 muskets and bandoliers. Most companies had full 72 musketeers but two companies had only 42. Every company had full 54 pikes, 432 in total. Every pikeneer had an armour (steel harness) and a helmet, also about one quarter of the musketeers had a helmet too. There was a sword virtually for every man, 1024 in total. On the summer of 1627 the regiment had around 1050 men, but at least 150 of them were ill at any given time.

For almost the whole duration of king’s Prussian war the von Essen’s regiment was part of the field army while the other Finnish regiments were garrisoning Livonian castles and cities. So amongst Finnish infantry units the von Essen’s unit was the one that saw the most action in the campaign – a similar role the Hastfehr’s Savolax infantry has later in the German campaign.

The field army in Prussia, beginning of June of 1628, Dirschau (now Tczew, Poland)


Cavalry, foreign (mercenary) 16 companies
Cavalry, Swedish 23 companies
Cavalry, Finnish 7 companies
Cavalry total 46 companies 3769 men


Infantry, foreign (mercenary) 33 companies
Infantry, Swedish 32 companies
Infantry, Finnish 8 companies
Infantry total 76 companies 7641 men

Only Finnish infantry unit in the field army was von Essen’s regiment. Even though the foreign infantry regiments were probably more presentable than the Finnish regiment, it was still seen strong enough to be the main body of king’s daring secret attack on Polish and Danzig fleets in the end of June (look at the previous post in the blog).

This is the list of von Essen’s eight companies, their officers and strengths before the battle of Weichselmünde at the end of June 1628:

von Essen’s eight companies, June 1628

Company commander Lieutenant Fähnrich Marching strenght (incl. officers) Sick Original area of recruitment
Col. Alexander von Essen Hindrich Ledebur Fromholt von Rosen 122 6 Nykarleby, Jakobstad
Maj. Nils Larsson Hindrich von Stammer Johan Plöger 116 12 Malax, Närpes
Capt. Anders Persson Jöns Elofsson Joachim Höfring 96 18 Kalajoki, Pyhäjoki
Capt. Joachim Schultz Peter Brieger Gert von Schrowe 99 4 Vörå, Lapua
Lt.Col. Casper Koskull Wadsten Jönsson Bengt Hindersson 111 22 Kronoby, Karleby
Capt. Patrick Hume Hans Nilsson Thomas Hume 104 13 Ilmajoki, Isokyrö, Laihia
Capt. Norman Suther Grels Thomasson Hans von Horn 98 42 Kemi, Ii
Capt. John Lichton Wadsten Meier William Lichton 96 36 Oulu, Hailuoto


Every summer a new conscription run was made in the homeland and the regiment was reinforced with 437 new recruits in the summer of 1627 and 304 men in 1628. They were shipped to Prussia in small groups, some boats sailing from as far as Oulu (Uleåborg). The boats were not warships but small, locally-made one or two-masted cargo ships called kuutti/kreijari or skute/krejare and leased from the burghers of coastal towns. It took at least a month to sail from Oulu to Pillau and it was probably not a pleasant experience for new soldiers. Apparently all ships and most of the new soldiers made their way to Prussia safely. After the sea journey they were free to start dying from diseases.

More information about the Ostrobothnian shipbuilding and period’s shipping from these websites (in Swedish mostly):



In the first two years of the regiment lost 254 men, around 20% of its original strength, most of them to diseases. This does not include the new recruits that also of course also died in droves. The actual fighting killed less than 100 men.

Weichselmünde 1628

In the beginning of July GARS is attending historical event Weichselmünde 1628 in fortress Twierdza Wisłoujście, Gdansk, Poland. For once we have chance to present actually Finnish soldiers in foreign event! So, even if we are the bad guys to the Polish it’s an honor to attend!

Gdańsk, Twierdza Wisłoujście, latarnia i domy oficerów

Wisłoujście Fortress.

This is a first of two blog posts about Finnish troops in king Gustavus’s field army in Prussia during the summer of 1628. First, we look at the most dramatic battle of that year’s campaign, the one most associated with the city of Gdansk/Danzig and the Vistula mouth fortress. Below is what Finnish historians have written about it. Sources are a classic study Hakkapeliittain Historia II by Arvi Korhonen (1942) and Pohjan Prikaatin Historia by Stig Roudasmaa (1984).


Map of Wisłoujście Fortress.

In the end of June the king launched a special operation that had been planned in secrecy: attack on the Polish and Danzig fleets that had been hiding from the blockaging Swedish navy in the Weichselmünde harbour. Led personally by the king, the troops chosen to this mission consisted of the Alexander von Essen’s Finnish (Ostrobothnian) infantry regiment as the main body, supported by four [or eight] cavalry companies: they also had eight leather cannons, two larger half-kartaune cannons and two boats transported in carts. This force, not much bigger than 1000 men strong in total, crossed the difficult swamps east of Vistula river mouth where the enemy didn’t expect anyone to attack, especially not with artillery!

One-pounder leather cannon, Deutsches Historisches Museum. Photo © GARS 2017.

On the early morning of 26.6.1628 (in modern Gregorian calendar: 6.7.1628) the king’s troops reached the Vistula river and the fleet anchored there. Artillery attack started: two of the Polish ships were sank almost immediately, and others took several damage before fleeing to Danzig with the help of tailwind. The attacking force came under the fire from Weichselmünde fortress and the Finnish infantry lost 12 soldiers and one company commander, Scottish-born captain Patrick Hume. After the ships had fled to safety it was decided not to try to attack the Weichselmünde fortress because of heavy rain, and the force returned back to Dirschau where the rest of the field army (totaling over 11000 men) was stationed.

In the next post we take closer look at the men of von Essen’s Finnish regiment.

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna and Palmanova

GARS is attending great 17th century festival in Palmanova, Italy next month. The Savolax infantry regiment did not, obviously, fight in the Uskok war of the 1615-1618 which the Rievocazione Storica di Palmanova re-enacts: so in the event we portray generic Northern European mercenaries on the service of the Venetian Republic. But there actually exists strong ties between Gustavus Adolphus’s Sweden and Venice, and at least one person that forms a link between fortress town of Palmanova and Savolax infantrymen: Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643).

During Thirty Years War kingdom of Sweden and the republic of Venice were allied, Venice providing diplomatic and financial support to Sweden and Protestant Union. Venice of course was catholic in faith, but like very often during that time, the religion was secondary issue to power politics. Sweden and Venice shared the same enemy, Hapsburg empire, and thus were on the same side of the conflict.

In 1621 King Gustavus chose 30-year old nobleman Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna to travel as his ambassador to Venice. Bengt was born to one of the highest ranking families in the kingdom but the reason he was picked for the job was that he already knew the republic well. In fact Bengt was already a veteran traveler at that time.

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna
Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643)

He had started his traveling hobby as a teenager studying in Rostock, first making trips to Germany and Poland, and then further south to Italy. He attempted visit to Holy Land already in 1613 but was forced to return to Tuscany because of a robbery. Few years later he made second, and this time successful trip to Orient, reaching Syria, Bagdad, Persia and Egypt.On his first trip to Italy (and the only part of his travels that we have his own written account of) Bengt Oxenstierna visited Palmanova in 1612. Here is his description of the fortress in his own words:

Ifrån Venedig och till Palma, huvudfästningen I Friul, äro 2 dagsresor, vilken fästning ligger uti ett slätt och eben land, och för den skull ser man henne långt bort, förty boluarderne och vallarne äro högt uppförda. Hon är alldeles regular och har 9 boluarder. Lorinus Florentinus har varit byggmästare därföre. Hon ligger ungefär 500 steg ifrån Österriks gebiet: två mil härifrån ligger det Österriks gränsfastning, som heter Gradisca; är tämlig fast.

Modern spelling by Sven Hedin. Same in english, translation by Konsta Nikkanen:

From Venice to Palma, main fortress in Friuli, was 2 days journey, where the fortress is situated in flat and plain land, so that she can be seen from far away, as the boulevards [bastions] and banks were built high. She is perfectly regular shape and has 9 boulevards. Lorinus Florentinus had been the construction master there. She is situated about 500 steps from Austria’s land: two miles from there is Austrian border fortress called Gradisca; which is quite sturdy.

Palmanovan kartta, 1500-1600 -luku

Later in his life Bengt Oxenstierna served as a governor of Augsburg in 1632-33: during that time several companies of Finnish infantry, first from Savolax and then from Viborg regiments (both under the Savolax colonel Kaspar Ermes) were stationed as garrison troops of Augsburg for short periods of time. So that’s our (only slightly forced) connection between Palmanova and our regiment!

Savolax infantry regiment

Savolax (Savo in modern finnish) is a province in southeastern Finland. Out of all Finnish infantry units the men of Savolax infantry regiment were most actively present in the key events of Swedish king’s German campaign. After the military reform of 1626 there was seven Finnish infantry regiments in Swedish army, all named after the province whose population they were drawn from. Not all these regiments were used in the German campaign (or at least it’s most active early phase) and many units served mostly as garrisons in Northern Germany, Prussia and Livonia. When Swedish field army marched far south to Bavaria and fought the big decisive battles, Finnish infantry was mainly represented by Savolax infantry who also are the ones being most often mentioned in contemporary sources. Men of Savolax regiment performed well especially in the battle of Rain (crossing the Lech river).

Five out of the eight companies in Savolax regiment were sent to Germany with the king. These companies were formed into a regiment under the command of colonel Klas Hastfer even though the Savolax regiment itself was still commanded by general Gustav Horn (who himself was acting as a Field Marshal of the Swedish army). Later the Hastfehr’s regiment was commanded by Lt.Col. Kaspar Ermes who was a veteran captain from Savolax regiment. Even though Swedish conscription system worked on a regional basis and every conscript regiment had a provincial identity, name and insignia, on field of war the regimets were still named after their leader: so Savolax regiment in Germany was usually called “Hastfer’s Finnish regiment” and later “Ermes’s Finnish Regiment”. Last men of Savolax reximent left Germany in 1649, after the peace treaty. Many of those who survived were then transferred to new wars against Poland and Denmark.

It is safe to assume that Savolax was equipped as other native Swedish infantry units. Savolax regiment is the only Finnish infantry unit from the period that we have a reasonably trustworthy, even though only partial, source for a flag. German monk Reginbaldus Möhner painted flags of Swedish forces occupying Augsburg in 1634 and amongst these paintings there are four flags -shown as mere rags- of Kaspar Ermes’s Finnish infantry.

Finnish infantry and 30 Years War

Thirty Years’ War was fought in Central Europe from year 1618 to 1648. Sweden joined the war properly in 1630 and Swedish forces remained in Germany to the end of the war. The whole reign of Gustavus Adolphus, from 1611, had been time of almost constant war: Sweden fought against Russia in Ingria (1611-1617), against Poland in Livonia (1617-1618 and 1621-1626) and in Prussia (1626-1629) and several times against Denmark. After the death of Gustavus Adolphus and towards the end of the German war, wars against old enemies Poland and Denmark started again. State of war was effectively the normal state of things, short periods of peace were spent getting ready for the next war.

Whole area of modern Finland belonged to the Kingdom of Sweden during the 17th century and Finnish troops were well represented in Swedish military. Finnish cavalry (“Hackapelites”) and their exploits in German War are well known especially amongst Finns, and have a somewhat mythical reputation thanks to 19th and 20th century writers. In reality, much bigger number of Finns fought in infantry. While cavalrymen were volunteers (drawn mostly among the sons and servants of welthier farmers, with tax exemption and freedom from feared conscription as motive of volunteering) native Swedish and Finnish infantry were conscripts, drawn from the peasant class.

During the early-17th century wars against Poland and Russia a very large proportion of Swedish army had been Finnish in origin, but in Thirty Years War the Swedish field army was actually mostly comprised of foreign (German, Scots, etc.) mercenaries: native Swedes and Finns were a minority. Often concripted troops were also given tasks in guarding and garrisoning the North-German towns and castles and saw less action in battlefield than mercenaries. Nevertheless, a small number of Finnish infantrymen were present in most of the famous battles of Thirty Years War, like Breitenfeld and Lützen.

GARS mainly re-enacts Finnish infantry from Savolax infantry regiment during the German campaign of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden (1630-1632) but our equipment can mostly be used also in a larger timeframe from the beginning of the Livonian war in 1621 to the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648.