Libmonster ID: UA-12097
Author(s) of the publication: Nadezhda AUROVA

by Nadezhda AUROVA, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Institute of Russian History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia

The Russian army officer of the late 18th and early 19th centuries had a code of service and honor of his own, a peculiar system of values and mind sets.


The military education of career army and navy officers in Russia of that age aimed in the first place to rear them loyal to the crown. The first military schools came into being under Czar Peter I*: in 1701 he founded a navigation school in Moscow (reorganized into a Marine Guards Academy in 1715, it was moved to St. Petersburg, the new Russian capital where, in 1752,

See: Zh. Alferov, E. Tropp, "St. Petersburg-Russia's Window on Science", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2003.--Ed.

it was elevated to the status of a Marine Corps for cadets of noble birth). In 1712 Peter the Great set up a Corps of Engineers School in Moscow that, seven years after, likewise moved to St. Petersburg.

At the turn of the 18th century Czar Peter ordered a complete overhaul of the nation's armed forces in a bid to raise a regular army. At first he set up what was called poteshny, or 'toy-soldiers' regiments of youths loyal to the young czar. Later on these regiments evolved into Guards units that reared commissioned officers for the

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Russian army. Many of the strelets regiments were disbanded after the mutiny of 1698*, they were replaced by 27 new regiments in 1699. Conscription (recruitment) came to stay for good in those years.**

As of 1774 recruitments were made every year, with men in the 17-to-30 age bracket called up. In 1793 the tour of service was limited to 25 years (it had been for the term of one's natural life before). Exempt from compulsory military service in keeping with the edict

Strelets (PI. streltsi)--in Muscovite Russia of the 16th and 17th centuries, a military corps instituted by Czar [van the Terrible and enjoying special privileges. Streltsi mutinied because of the unbearable hardships of their service and arbitrary practices of their colonels. The mutiny was put down with great cruelty.--Ed., Tr.

** Conscription (recruiting) first enforced by Peter I in 1699 when 32 thousand men were drafted, came into law 1705 for raising the army and the navy. The Petrine mode of conscription continued up until 1874. Those inducted into the forces were known as recruits ('given-up' men).--Ed.

of 1762, the nobility still made up the bulk of the army commanding corps and state administration, staying in service up until honorary discharge.

The new regular army had a rigid table of organization as sealed by the Service Regulations of 1716. It comprised three arms of service: infantry, cavalry and artillery ordnance. During the Great Northern War of 1700 to 1721 against Sweden the Russian ground forces were divided into field armies; in its turn a field army was broken down into divisions and brigades. Each division or brigade comprised two, three and more regiments.

An army command and control system was likewise set up under Peter I. Three departments were in charge: the ordnance (artillery) and war chancelries, and the commissariat responsible for logistics and personnel. In 1719 a high body, the Military Collegium, was established, with a field staff under the Quartermaster General being subordinated to it. Next, in 1722, came the Table of Ranks*, along with army staffs and what was to become the General Staff of the armed forces. Thus reconfigured, the Russian armies displayed high combat skills during the Great Northern War, in particular, when defeating the Swedes at the village of Lesnaya in 1708, and in the epic battle of Poltava in 1709.

Just before the Seven Years' War of 1756-1763** the ground forces were divided into divisions (corps) with several constituent units. The Jager (chasseur) light infantry came to play an important part. Commanded by Count Rumyantsev (1725-1796), the Jager troops grew from seven corps in 1763 to as many as ten toward the close of the 18th century.

Such great warlords as Count Rumyantsev and Generalissimo Alexander Suvorov (1720-1800)*** innovated a great deal in the system of combat training. In 1770 Count Rumyantsev came up with his Service Manual and later, his Thoughts (1777); these two works provided a theoretical groundwork for armed forces organization. The Service Manual gained an official status of Service Regulations. Meanwhile Alexander Suvorov's Science to Win came to play a major role for

* The Table of Ranks with respect to military, civil and government officers provided for regulations of the military and civil service and a chain of subordination of army servicemen and civil servants according to rank. This system lived on, though with many amendments, up until the February and October Revolutions of 1917.--Ed.

** Seven Years' War--a war in which England and Paissia defeated Austria, France, Russia, Sweden and Saxony; Prussia established her power in Europe and England seized French colonies in America and India.--Ed.

*** See: A. Bogdanov, "Sword of Russia", Science in Russia, No. 1, 2011.--Ed.

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the national system of combat training. Both Ru-myantsev and Suvorov instilled lofty virtues in men and officers, such as love of Motherland and her sovereign, courage, gallantry and initiative. New, flexible forms of warfare replaced the oldtime linear tactics: extended order came to be combined with column formations. All that brought many brilliant victories won by Suvorov-like those as Focçani and Rîmnic in 1789, at Ismail in 1790 in the course of the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792 (with the Russian forces taking the fortress of Ismail by storm). Russian troops showed the best of their combat efficiency during the Italian campaign of April-August 1799 by smashing the French at Adda, Trebbia, Novi and other places.

So it went. By the beginning of the 19th century regulars (field and garrison troops) and irregulars (paramilitary units like the Cossack mounted militia) became part and parcel of the Russian armed ground forces. Field formations were composed of the infantry, artillery and the corps of engineers. Cuirassiers (cavalrymen wearing a cuirass, or close-fitting armor for protecting the breast and back) were the strike force of the mounted troops. True, from the end of the 18th century on the dragoons* and light-armed cavalry (hussars, uhlans, mounted Jagers) likewise came to play a part.

A period between 1806 and 1810 saw further organizational changes. Divisions were merged into corps to become the largest formations both in the infantry and in the cavalry. In 1815 all artillery units were brought into brigades attached to divisions. Other reforms were likewise implemented. In 1802 government ministries were set up in Russia, with the War Ministry among them. In 1812 the field control offerees and staff procedures were overhauled. The Commander-in-Chief exercised field control through a special staff. The General Staff was reinstituted in 1827 (in 1797 to 1827 it was the Suite of His Majesty within the Quartermaster's General Office). War reserves also became prominent: Field-Marshal Mikhail Kutuzov (1745-1813) attached great importance to them.

Combat training proceeded in keeping with the service regulations and manuals. During the Patriotic War of 1812** against Napoleon the Kutuzov-led armies

Dragoons, or heavily armed cavalrymen, were able to fight together with the infantry as foot soldiers. Hussars, originally, members of the light cavalry of Hungary or Croatia; now, members of any European regiment of light-armed cavalry, usually with brilliant dress uniforms. Uhlans, mounted soldiers of a type formerly prominent in Poland, armed usually with a lance,--Ed., Tr.

** See: Yu. Buzhilova. "Silent Witnesses of Napoleon's Failure", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2009.--Ed.

showed exceptional combat skills in routing the enemy and raised the nation's war glory to a new high, like in the battles at Borodino and at Leipzig.

Such things as war campaigns, exercises and periodical camp trainings were a routine part of the Russian officer's life. It is described in much detail in reminiscences of army officers of that time {Diary written by Alexander Chicherin in 1812, Travel Journals by Alexander Chertkov and General Andrei Lechner of the Corps of Engineers). Particularly much attention was attached to the Napoleonic Wars of 1805 to 1807, and Russia's Patriotic War of 1812 as landmark events of European history. Most Russian army officers would think back to the battles they fought, for they identified themselves as "men born for war".


Reviews and march--past processions were also an important part of servicemen's life. Such parades were no joking matter--each and everyone had to show the best of his trim. In extraspecial cases the troops were reviewed by the emperor himself. The top parade ritual was first introduced by Emperor Pavel (Paul) I (1754-

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1801, ruled from 1796 to 1801). Mad about military reviews, he passed this craze to his sons, the Emperors Alexander I and Nikolai (Nicholas) I, and Grand Princes Constantine and Mikhail, also his sons. Prince Mikhail coined the dictum, "war spoils men". What he meant was that combat action disrupts the "uniform beauty" of men and officers best show on parade grounds.

The wachtparade (daily change of guards) assumed a status of top importance on a government level under Emperor Paul I. During the reign of his mother, Catherine II (ruled in 1762-1796) the wachtparades had been the corporal's concern. Inheriting the throne, Paul would attend such ceremonies and paid special attention to military bearing and carriage, and to orderly execution of commands. Good performance in guard mountings was rewarded generously.

Succeeding to the throne, Alexander I (ruled in 1801-1825) carried on the traditions of exercises and parades. Like his father, he was just as fond of every kind of drills and "square-bashing". Exercitia (drills) and "evolutions" (strategic and tactical movements of the army and the navy) were routine. Such exercises were staged every day with the exception of the summer months when the men were "at grass" as laborers or on furlough. Some had to do heir daily stint on drill squares, in riding-schools or in one of the urban fields. In wintertime a company of one particular regiment had drills in the grand palace hall under the emperor's watchful eye. The daily drills and exercises went hand in hand with regular reviews, with regiments lining up severally. Now and then a few regiments were reviewed at once.

Parades were staged on every possible occasion--on the birthdays of His and Her Majesties, on Christmas, Epiphany and other church holidays; on the anniversary of the Russian troops entry into Paris in 1814 (in the wake of the Patriotic War of 1814); during the visits of foreign monarchs or during the weddings of most august persons. Such shows attracted huge numbers.

The most spectacular parades took place in St. Petersburg, either on Martian Field or on Palace Square, where as many as 30 thousand were lined up representing the three arms--the infantry, the cavalry and the artillery. Certain routine procedures were a must: first public prayers, followed by the inclining of banners, drumbeats and ceremonial marches. Even in winter the servicemen had to show up in full-dress uniforms. If the mercury dropped below minus 10 centigrade, the men marched to the parade grounds in greatcoats, putting them off just before the review.


Such large, formal dances were an inalienable part of young officers' daily routine. Court balls were a must in the capital, St. Petersburg, often accompanied by fancy-dress masquerades or costumed equestrian rounds. Officers had to show up neat and trim, they would often don Caucasian (Lezghin or Circassian) dresses so as to accentuate their "wasp waist".

A definite dress code had to be observed anyway. Early in the 18th century the ball uniforms included regimentals, i.e. uniforms peculiar to a particular regiment, culottes, or breeches (trousers reaching to or just below the knees), white-cloth tights and silk stockings, and black shoes, often varnished and with buckles on.

The dancers were supposed to shed their spurs and swords in the antechamber, together with outer garments. He who came in with the spurs on meant to say: I am not going to dance this time (these rules were not always observed, though). Haircuts had also to be in trim--no taking liberties at this point! Army officers were good dancers for the most part--dancing was a mandatory subject at such military schools as Corps of Pages or Corps of Cadets. The famous "cavalrymaid"

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Nadezhda Durova ( 1783-1866)* adored balls, where she danced as a gentleman.

Young hussars and uhlans were most welcome to routs in provincial towns as the only amusement and entertainment, not counting books, cards and club-together dinners.


Games of chance and single combats were yet another significant facet of the Russian officer's life. Although gambling was prohibited back in the age of Peter I, card-playing went on in subsequent decades as well--under Paul I and Alexander I, too. More than that, cards became popular both among court officers and among servicemen billeted in the provinces, and among the Decembrists, too.**

Gambling was played up a good deal in Russian literature of the day. Say, in such stories of Alexander Pushkin as The Shot and The Queen of Spades, or Feodor Dostoyevsky's The Gambler. Duels--formal fights between two people with swords or pistols--were another scourge. Single combats were arranged to settle an argument or decide a point of honor and usually were fought in the presence of two witnesses called seconds.

Imported from Western Europe, single combats date back to the late Middle Ages. First common among knights, duels spread like wildfire among the nobility, the gentry and army servicemen. In the 16th century these fights of honor carried off many lives--so much so that European monarchs started proceeding harshly against such blood-letting.

In Russia duels were not a pastime or diversion--no fun at all, though there were inveterate duelists like Zartetsky, a retired officer described by Pushkin in Eugene Onegin, or Count Feodor Tolstoy nicknamed the American (1782-1846), who killed in duels as many as eleven men; or like Alexander Jakubowicz (1792-1848), a career army officer and man of letters who took part in the December uprising: once he challenged three men, among them the classic Alexander Griboyedov (1795-1829)--the three were in love with the ballerina Audotia

* The first female commissioned officer in the Russian army, Durova served in the cavalry; a heroine of the Patriotic War of 1812. Also, a gifted prose writer--the great Pushkin thought highly of her works.--Ed.

** Army officers who opposed monarchy and mutinied against the Czar on December 14, 1825. This was a milestone event in Russian history. Five leading Decembrists were hanged in 1826, dozens of others exiled to Siberia.--Ed., Tr.

Istomina (1799-1848). Such great poets as Alexander Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov lost their duels and life honoris causa.

The government was trying to nip duels in the bud and cracked down on duelists. In his edict of 1715 Czar Peter I banned duels; furthermore, those guilty of this wrong-doing were to be hanged, even the victims (these ones by the legs).

Such Draconian measures failed to scotch the pernicious practice of duel-fighting. In 1787 Empress Catherine II* had to issue a Manifesto on Fights in which she condemned single combats as an "alien implantation" punishable by fines if no victims, or by exile to Siberia for the term of one's natural life. Seconds were not spared either. Duels were outlawed as felony.

* See: L. Mankova, "Golden Age of Sciences...", Science in Russia. No. 2, 2004.--Ed.

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Although incorporated in the Code of Laws (1832), the ban did not work. For all the crackdowns, the harmful practices persisted and gained momentum in the initial decades of the 19th century. On the other hand, the government had to reckon with the moods of the nobility, for duels were a point of honor to the highborn set. As a rule, duelists were reduced to the ranks or else expelled from the guards and sent to ordinary regiments stationed in the provinces. Loyal to their oath of allegiance and to the crown, young army officers would not like the government to meddle where honor was concerned. As General Laur Kornilov (1870-1918) put it, "My soul--to God, my heart--to the woman, my honor-to no one." Such was his credo.

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841), a great Russian classic, saw service as a career army officer. For his duel with de Barante in 1840 he was stripped of his nobleman's title and reduced to the ranks. The military court then commuted this harsh sentence to a three months' arrest at the guardhouse. Not demoted in rank, Lermontov was dispatched to an army regiment in the Caucasus, where the Russian army was locked in battle against ethnic insurgents. Emperor Nikolai did not think highly of Lermontov--to him the poet was not reliable as a troublemaker. Incidentally, Nikolai Martynov (1816-1876), a retired major who killed the young poet in a duel in 1841, was in for the same punishment.

Duels had their heyday in the first half of the 19th century. Emperor Nikolai reinforced the legislation banning duels (Acts of 1832 and 1839) obliging superior officers to prevent duels through reconciliation and satisfying the offended at the offender's expense. Now, the duel rules were exceptionally harsh: the distance between the duelists varied from 3 to 25 steps (more often, fifteen); sometimes duels were fought in the absence of physicians and seconds, they were do-or-die affairs. Now and then duelists took turns by standing on the edge of an abyss to make the deadly outcome double sure. Such cases were described by Lermontov in his story Princess Mary (the duel of the hero, Pechorin, and Grushnitsky, who lost his duel). Now and then both duelists were killed, the way it happened in 1825 to Vladimir Novosiltsev, an aide-de-camp, and Constantine Chernov, an officer participating in the Decembrists' plot. As often as not, commanding officers encouraged duels as le point d'honneur, and would get rid of "cowards" loath to fight.

Emperor Nikolai had an aversion to duels. "I hate duels. This is but vandalism. There is nothing chivalrous about it. Duke of Wellington annihilated duels in the English army, and he did the right thing." And yet... The most resounding duels were fought in the 1820s, 1830s and 1840s. Like those between Alexander Pushkin* and Georges Dantès (Heeckeren) in January 1837; between Kondraty Ryleyev (1795-1826; a poet and leading Decembrist, executed in 1826) and Prince Alexander Shakhovskoy (1777-1846); the single combats of Griboyedov with Jakubowicz, and between de Barante and Martynov.

See: A. Gurevich, "Russian Critics on Pushkin: at Cross Purposes", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1999.--Ed.


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