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Dmitri Erofeyevich Osten-Sacken

Excerpts from the Chronicles of the Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment

Translated By Alexander Mikaberidze, FINS

Source: Voennii sbornik, 10 (1870), 237-248.

Dmitri Erofeyevich Osten-Sacken (1792-1881)

General Dmitri Osten-Sacken served in the Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment throughout the Napoleonic Wars and later commanded Russian cavalry during the Russo-Persian and Russo-Ottoman Wars in 1820s. Fighting in Poland in 1831, he commanded a corps during the Crimean War.

Memoir

1800-1814. Service in the Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment. Chefs, commanders and officers.
Accounts of battles at Austerlitz, Borodino and of the Patriotic War of 1812, Foreign Campaigns of 1813-1814. System of troop training, values and traditions.

Her Majesty Queen Olga Nikolayevna of Wurttemberg’s Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment, previously horse jager regiment, had a misfortune of losing a sachet with official papers during the 1812 Campaign which resulted in a gap of several decades in its regimental histories. Possessing a remarkable memory, I am probably one of the last surviving veterans of the Elisavetgrad Regiment and, having learned recently about this gap, I thought it my responsibility to recount everything I knew about the glorious past of this illustrious regiment.

In 1804, I was enlisted in the Elisavetgrad Hussar regiment, whose chef was my father Major General Baron Erofei Kuzmich Osten-Sacken. I was only twelve years old so five years were added to my age: birth certificates [metricheskikh svidetelstv] were not required yet back then. Previously, I was already considered on service since age three in the Life Guard Semeyonovsk Regiment, but after the accession of Emperor Paul I, I was removed from the lists together with others. Despite my youth, I was very mature, curious lad with a remarkable memory.

One of the first chefs of the Elisavetgrad, back when it was still a horse jager, regiment, was Colonel Palenbach, whom I knew only from regimental traditions. Veterans told me that, under his command, the regiment distinguished itself at Dubenka during the Polish campaign of 1793. Later the chef of the Elisavetgrad Horse Jager Regiment were [Ivan Petrovich] Dunin,[1] [Pius Ksaverievich] Veropoisky.[2] After the unit was converted to hussar regiment it was led by chefs [Fedor Dmitrievich] Sukharev[3] and Baron [Erofei] Osten Sacken.[4] The regiment was converted to hussars on Emperor Alexander I’s ascent on the throne.

My father, a major general and chef of the Pskov Dragoon Regiment, was dismissed from the military service by Emperor Paul I in 1799 but restored by the benign manifesto [of Alexander I] in 1800 and appointed chef of the Elisavetgrad Regiment, which was renamed after him. When my father thanked him for this appointment, His Majesty told him, “You commanded a five-squadron regiment, but I am now entrusting you with a ten-squadron regiment.” In those days, a person was supposed to kneel at such nominations. My father, as he was rising, got entangled with his saber and almost fell down, but His Majesty helped him stand up.

My father joined his regiment at the village of Yampole in Podolsk gubernia and, that very spring, he moved with his unit to new quarters in Elisavetgrad, where the regiment remain until 1805. That year, it departed for the Austerlitz Campaign.

During my father’s tenure, the following colonels were squadron commanders: Lisonevich, who later commanded the Chuguev Uhlan Division; Roslavlev, a man of remarkable wit, kindness and dazzling gallantry, who was killed at Austerlitz; Girgorovich, Shau-Vsevolozhsky, who served as chef of the Elisavetgrad Regiment from 1808 to 1812.[5] Lieutenant colonels: Kurdimanov, Adler-Bau, Shostakov, who became chef of the regiment after Vsevolozhsky’s death in 1812. Majors: Mau, Knabe, both men of outstanding intelligence, honor and well educated. Rotmistrs: Tomilovsky, Turchaninov. Other regimental staff included regimental adjutant Smorodsky, regimental treasurer Sugakov, an excellent and well-educated officer, who was an expert in mathematics. I know this well because, when I was 10-11 years, he taught me geometry with great success.

In those days, in addition to chef, there were also regimental commanders. In a five-squadron regiment, they commanded all five of them but in ten-squadron regiments, they commanded [only] six squadrons. Ten-squadron regiments were divided into two battalions: the first battalion was commanded by the commander of the 5th squadron and the second was led by commander of the 6th squadron. Between 1801 and 1805, the regimental commanders were: Colonel, later Major General, Melissino, who descended from Nikifor Melissino, who was married on the sister of the Byzantine Emperor Alexius Komnenus. Alexey Petrovich Melissino[6] was a remarkable man in every aspect: of dazzling wit and education, he was handsome, spoke fluently on five languages and was courageous like lion but equally quick-tempered. His body was of classical proportions and served as a model for the famous sculptor Falconet in his work on the monument of Peter the Great on the Senate Square [in St. Petersburg]; for this purpose, Melissino usually rode on one of his excellent horses onto the sloping platform that purposely arranged for this near the rocky pedestal of the monument. For his actions during the assault on Ismail, he was awarded the Order St. George of 4th Class by [Alexander] Suvorov himself; in 1812 and 1813, he distinguished himself for brilliant raids with the Lubensk Hussar Regiment, which he personally recruited. In 1813, at the Battle of Dresden, he led his Lubensk [hussars] in a charge against the square of the French [Imperial] Guard and, to the sorrow of entire army, he was slain by three bullets.

Soon after Melissino, Major General Count Wittgenstein, [7] future prince, commander-in-chief and fieldmarshal, served as a regimental commander under my father. He is too famous for me to talk about him.

After Count Wittgenstein, Major General Count Lambert, famous for his gallantry, became regimental commander around 1803; he was promoted to adjutant-general and later commanded the Grenadier Corps. There was hardly any other regiment that was fortunate to have so many celebrated officers in its ranks.  Count Lambert was succeeded, for a brief period, by Major General Prince Golitsyn.

Well-known Karl Karlovich Merder,[8] a man of noble spirit and future tutor of the current Emperor [Alexander II], graduated from the 1st Cadet Corps in 1805 and was assigned as a cornet to the Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment, where he became chef adjutant to my father, who loved and treated him like a son.

During our cantonment at Elisavetgrad, our inspector was general of Cavalry Marquis Dotichan, a French émigré, who spoke only few Russian words. His reviews were outlandish and, [I think] it is necessary to record them into annals of history to demonstrate how undeveloped and misconstrued military service was in those days. He inquired about any complaints in the following manner: [he ordered] squadron “march from left and right” and then usually asked the following questions, “Satisfied you? You have everything?” [in a broken and mispronounced Russian] or some times a more personal question, “You married?” – [To soldier’s response] “Single, Your Excellency,” [he would ask,] “Many children?” He would then inspect ammunition and horses. Once, my father, the inspector and the squadron commander were sitting at a long table. Vakhmistrs brought cavalry headgear from each squadron and the marquis inspected them with ….. for correct width of belts. The next day, he conducted field exercise with absurd and completely useless deployments, for example: a ten-squadron regiment advances in companies [povzvodno]: [Dotichan orders] “deploy to the right and companies make flanking maneuver to the left [povzvodno nalevo krugom zaezhai]. March-march.” Even more absurd: Ten squadron stand in expanded front [razvernutim frontom.] Orders are issued to “change front and flanks [peremena fronta i flangov]; “back line move back by four to the right [zadnya sherenga otstupi po chetire napravo]… First company turns left, regiment gallops like crazy, horse run away, the right flanking section have their buttons on breeches torn off; breeches thus dangle around and when the 10th Squadron finally arrives, the order is “stop in front [stoi vo front] and the entire regiment is deployed with its back to the front. The injured are then gathered to the ambulances and taken to hospital.

Sometimes campaign marches were used, usually as follows: regiment, deployed in company column [vzvodnoi kolone], departed Elisavetgrad through the Mirgorod gates. [Orders are given] “Advance guard, rear guard and flank patrol, Deploy!” Forward company moves some hundred paces ahead, following a non-commissioner officer and two privates leading it. The last company does that same in an opposite direction. Each company flanks in both lines [sherenga] depart to the right and left and the regiment proceeds to the village of Chernyavka, four miles away from Elisavetgrad, to visit sympathetic noblemen Ivan Alexandrovich Sokolov, where a delicious lunch is set for officers inside the house and another one for the rank-and-files in an open field. The regiment then returns in the same martial order and advance guard service and maneuvers are thus over.

That same year (1805), my father led Elisavetgrad Regiment on campaign and fought at Austerlitz, where, during this fateful battle which ended in a complete defeat of the allied Russo-Austrian forces, the regiment served under command of Adjutant General Uvarov on the right flank.

Many believe that it is impossible to rally a routed cavalry. And without the commander’s authority, which is gained through love and respect, this is certainly unfeasible. But there are exceptions. My father led his regiment in a charge against the French cuirassiers (who back then usually deployed in a single line). The French cuirassiers [suddenly] parted to the right and left exposing a battery that met [our] hussars with canister fire and routed them. My father, admired by entire regiment, soon rallied it, brought to order and repeated his attack. The French repeated the same maneuver: they again met [us] with canister and the hussars were routed again. My father tried in vain to stop the fleeing troops for the second time and, being pursued by the French troops [latniki], he halted his horse and told his adjutant Merder, “I am not going to shame myself anymore!” They were surrounded by about fifty French cuirassiers and tried to parry their attacks. My father’s helmet fell on the ground and, [one of the French sabers] cut off part of his back of the head, almost reaching the brain itself. Merder suffered three cuts to his head. They were dragged off their horses and taken back [to the French lines].My father was pulled by his cartridge pouch and since he could not run because of his age, exhaustion [and wound], [the French] shoved their swords against his back, inflicting fourteen more wounds; the pouch finally ripped apart and my father fell to the ground.

Meantime, the commander’s absence was noticed in the regiment. Lieutenant Sotnikov, remarkably strong man who could unbend two horseshoes at once, yelled “Who wants to come with me to rescue our chef?” He was accompanied by six hussars and my fathers servant [kamerdiner]. They pursued and engaged the French and, in a savage battle, Sotnikov alone wrangled with six men. I should note that this incident took place during our disorganized retreat of our army. Twenty year old Merder reached his regiment on foot. My father was unconsious and Sotnikov wanted to rip the hanging part of the back of his head, but only exacerbated the wound and had to put the piece back in its place, together with its hair. My father was put across the horse and transported to the regiment and then an infirmary. A few days later, a gangrene [antonov ogon] set in his wound and some parts of it had to be removed. Some time later, the wound finally healed and my father, with health destroyed and barely seeing, survived for another three years. This heroic exploit of honor and self-sacrifice of the chef, his adjutant, Sotnikov and his comrades cannot but instill a feeling of humility and compassion in the reader.

During the 1806-1807 Campaigns, the Elisavetgrad Regiument served with particular distinction under the courageous chef Adjutant General Yurkovsky. The regiment was deploted in Wilkomir in the Viln gubernia between 1807 and 1812, including Count Golitsyn’s campaign against the Austrians in Galicia. During this campaign, the unit was attached to Adjutant General Baron Korff’s cavalry corps. There was not a single exchange of fire by the advance posts, nor any battles.

In 1807, at the age of 14, I was promoted to cornet and served in repair unit [remontnoi komande] of Colonel Shau, living with my parents at Elisavetgrad and working on my education. We were ordered to dispatch the remaining horse, 29 in all, and the repair unit of 30 men in December of that year. To illustrate how well developed I was at my early age, I should mention the fact that Colonel Shau ordered me, a 14-year old boy, to lead the unit and horses to Wilkomir.  When I brought them to the chef, Major General Yurkovsky was satisfied with the horses and praised me in very flattering terms.  I was billeted with the chef adjutant, my unforgettable friend, Merder. Saddly, about two months later, he was transferred to the 1st Cadet Corps and, being orphaned, I turned with my curiosity and zeal to studying, especially the military art. I had excellent books and spent time reading books on strategy and tactics as well as besieging and defending fortresses.

Among earlier squadron commanders now were Lieutenant Colonel Chursov, Major Baron Rosen (later commander of the former Chuguev Uhlan Division), rotmistrs Shabelsky, Solyanikov, Kerstikh and Vsevolozhsky, the chef’s brother. There were also three excellently educated junior officers, three Shabelskys, Paskevich (brother of [General Ivan Paskevich] the prince of Warsaw), Polzikov, Velyaminov-Zernov, Simonov, Redkin (later marshal of nobility of the Ryazan gubernia), Vsevolozhsky (chef’s son), Nagel and Tutolmin. All of exemplary noble spirit.

However, historical chronicle should be objective and fair and, recording positive aspects of this epoch, we should conceal its weaknesses. Here is an example of how rudimentary the troop management was back then. Weapons, ammunition and cloth were remarkably clean. Weapons and all metallic items sparkled because of excessive polishing which of cause only harmed them. Inspecting a musket, a ramrod was forceful pushed so that, hitting the breech it to produce as loud sound as possible. The horse breaking and training was rudimentary. The steeds often remain unbroken and disobedient, frequently leaving the line [front.] There were many fatigued and exhausted horses.

Hussars were taught to fire their carabines in volleys (!), rarely practiced  target firing and even then with clay bullets [puliami]. Here is a comical example of military maneuvers. There was a hill [kurgan] near Wilkomir, where a barrel of vodka was placed for soldiers and numerous wine and other kinds spirits for officers. The regiment, marching with loaded carabines, had to assault this hill with incessant gunfire and yells of hurrah and, reaching the target, it then began a drinking bout [popoika]. This completed the entire maneuver.

Drinking was widespread among officers but only a group consumption since drinking alone was considered as a lewd and inappropriate act. Drinks constantly changed. Sometimes they consumed Champaign, later it was replaced by zhenka, then lipets, kovenski med – ten rubles per bottle and a strong beverage –, then a punsh followed by some unknown mixture of sugar with porter, rum and Champaign, and after that a mint Vodka from Vilna. Each spirit was consumed for several months.

Drinking zhenka always assumed a martial bearing: the room was covered with rugs; in the middle, there is a some kind of pot with sugar burning in rum, men with pistols (their powder chambers sealed) in hand sit around in several rows. When sugar melts completely it is mixed with the champagne and the mixture is then poured into pistols and the drinking binge begins. Musicians, trumpeters and singers are in nearby rooms or in the courtyard…. But amidst this muddle, there was also discipline and honoring of ranks. During the drinking orgy, when participants reach the stage of swearing love and kissing each other, commander [nachalnik], on the whim, suddenly changes in mood and looks upset and fierce. All arise and the drunk chief censures his drunk subordinate, sometimes sending to the hauptwacht and the subordinate, with the humbleness of a lamb, obeys him, not daring to utter a single word of protest but simply murmurs, “Guilty [vinovat]....” and leaves for the hauptwacht. Soon the commander relaxes again and asks everyone to sit and the feast continues. In our regiment, there was not a single example of insubordination and disobedience. Alcoholism was relatively limited among the rank-and-file because they were severely punished for it. One last note on this remarkable phenomenon, which clearly shows that the drinking was just childish revelry: when taste for drinking passed in the twenties [1820s], all those, who used to drink till drunken stupor, completely sobered and consumed no spirits at all.

I cannot but mention about pranks in rotmistr Turchaninov’s squadron, which was deployed in Shatovo while the Elisavetgrad Regiment was quartered at Wilkomir. Rotmistr Turchaninov, when under influence, loved to perform services dressed as a priest. Here is his favorite prank: they make sub lieutenant Itskov drink to stupor, dress him in a shroud and put him into box with a candle placed in his hands. Turchaninov, dressed as a priest, then performs funeral service. The entire squadron, with tallow candles in their carbines, accompanies the deceased to the hill near the village. The box with Itskov is placed on the top of the hill and, with the service – inadvertent  sacrilege – over, the troops return home. Meantime, Itskov sobers up by the dawn and, shivering to his bones and dressed in a shroud, he runs back to the quarters.

Yet, in spite of all these absurdities, the army, which had no direct training for battle except for strict discipline and subordination - worthy of the troops of Gustavus – performed dazzling and incredible exploits and complacently suffered all deprivations, scant food supplies and inadequate cloths in the winter time. Here one cannot fail to remember an ingenious joke made by a soldier in Count Sologub’s “Tarantass”:  “During the siege of Silistra [during the Russo-Turkish War], in deep autumn, our tattered overcoats simply could not keep our bodies warm. So, in terrible cold at night, here you was lying on your stomach and covered with nothing but your back. [bivalo liazhesh na zhivot, da I nakroeshsia spinoi.]”

There was one more dark aspect [to military service]: ruthless, tyrannical treatment of soldiers. Soldiers were punished not only for crimes and misdeeds, but also for any minor errors on drills and were sentenced to hundreds of whips with sticks. Sticks were brought in advance but if there were none of them soldiers were punished with ramrods and fuchtels [beating with sabres]. Many suffering from lung conditions [udushlivikh I chakhotochnikh] were disabled. And all this against the pious, obedient, loyal and prepared for any sacrificed Russian soldier – an ideal soldier!

Cruelty sometimes reached unbelievable atrocity [zverstva]. When lower ranks were promoted to officer rank [exempt from corporal punishment], their commanders often concealed orders, caviled for no reason and punished them with several hundred hits with sticks so that, according to them, these soldiers remembered it for a long time. Junkers were exempt from corporal punishment, but special, no less excruciating, punishments were devised for them; for instance, they were placed “under the gun or carabines” that is a musket was placed on each of their shoulders and, while holding them very close to muzzle’s end, several more arms were then added [to increase their weight]. I always feel inexpressible sadness recalling this dark time.

I wish my comrades from the Elisavetgrad Regiment, of whom I am probably the only surviving member, could glance at our current army which they would not believed their eyes. The army is dressed in nice, warm outfits, the hateful white belts, drilling step and carrying arms on your left hand are all abolished, food supplies are improved, regulations simplified … in the cavalry – horses are broken and trained, and in complete obedience of rider; the degrading corpotal punishment is abolished, but is still used for very few cases of outrageous behavior; the army is surrounded with paternal care of all kind... Brilliant exploits can be expected from the troops with the acquired sense of honor and excellent qualities of the Russian Orthodox Christian man.

In 1812, the Elisavetgrad Regiment was attached to the 1st Cavalry Corps of Adjutant General Fedor Petrovich Uvarov, which also included Life Guard Dragoon, Uhlan, Hussar and Cossack regiments. Among other battles, Uvarov’s corps distinguished itself at the bloody battle of Borodino. On Prince Kutuzov's order, when our center and left wing, under the command of memorable hero… Prince Barclay de Tolly desperately fought against superior enemy forces around Rayevsky’s battery, suffering from canister from the front and cannonballs and shells [ganati] from the left flank and charge at intervals by the enemy cavalry, Uvarov led an attack on the extreme left flank of the enemy and alleviated pressure on our center and left wing. Napoleon himself came galloping to the threatened flank, together with the Viceroy of Italy [Eugene], who, during one of Uvarov’s charges, entered one of the French squares. Thus, our center and left wing could breath freely at last. Uvarov’s attack had, undoubtedly, important effect on the outcome of the battle and he was helped by [Ataman Matvei] Platov’s Cossacjs, who also appeared in the enemy rear. During this attack, the Elisavetgrad regiment captured two guns but could not drive them away.

One more celebrity in the Elisavetgrad Regiment came of common stock. During the French retreat in the Patriotic War of 1812, when, due to Partisan [Alexander] Seslavin’s memorable exploit, Napoleon’s intentions to rush to the grain-producing Kaluga province were uncovered and, after [General] Dokhturov’s heroic actions at Maloyaroslavets, which the enemy captured eight times but Dokhturov recaptured it nine times, Napoleon was driven back to the Smolensk road and the regions which he already devastated. Our advance guard, commanded by Count Miloradovich, approached then the Kolotsk Monastery. Private Samus of the Leib-Squadron of the Elisavetgrad Regiment, tall, athletic, witty and gallant man who was captured wounded at Borodino, appeared in front of the count as a commander of 3,000-men strong guerrilla detachment which he organized from the peasants of nearby villages. Having escaped from his captivity, Samus found the area around the Kolotsk Monastery well suited for his guerrilla actions and suggested to local peasants to organize a detachment, attack the enemy lines of operation, supplies and isolated units and arm themselves with enemy weapons and ammunition.

He initially attacked small enemy units and, after he procured enough weapons and ammunition and his force grew to some 3,000 men, he then coordinated his actions and gathered forces using church bells and attacked substantial enemy detachments and once even attacked an entire enemy battalion. He established a very strict discipline among his troops and no insubordination ever occurred. Samus also established his own guard unit, dressed in hilarious uniforms, which he presented to Miloradovich: French infantry uniforms, trousers with boots over bast sandals, metal armor of French cuirassiers, peasant caps, infantry muskets and pouches… I personally witnessed this pleasant and comic scene. This hero, Samus, requested the count to send a trusted man with him to count the enemy dead bodies in the woods. The agent counted up to 3,000 dead. Count Miloradovich promoted Samus to non-commissioned officer, awarded a medal of the Military Order and, based on the count’s nomination, Samus was later promoted to officer rank.

It is useful to note here to what disgrace and calamity descends an army, which allows insubordination and disorder. Abuses against inhabitants, robbery, and, in particular, profanation of sacred sites, arouse hatred, spite and feeling of vengeance in the religious people, who soon produced many heroes. The Lord blinded the haughty Napoleon and he could not control his crumbling army.

Here is an example of ghastly behavior of Frenchmen and their commanders. When, Maloyaroslavets was finally taken, I entered its main square and saw on the church doors inscription with the chalk: "Escurie du general Guillemino (stables of General Guillemino).” After entering the church, I was terrified at finding it completely destroyed and defiled: everything was broken, destroyed and full of manure!

In 1813 and 1814, the Elisavetgrad Regiment served with distinction [in Germany and France] but details remain unknown to me, except for the regiment’s memorable exploit under General Winzegorode at St. Dizier in 1814….


Notes:

[1] Lieutenant General Ivan Dunin served as chef of Elisavetgrad Regiment between December 1796 and March 1798; he was promoted to general of cavalry in January 1798.

[2] Major General Pius Voropaisky commnded Elisavetgrad Hussar Regiment between 26 November 1797 and 24 March 1798 and served as chef of the same unit between 24 March 1798 and 8 May 1799. He later served as chef of the Siberia Dragoon Regiment (April 1801-September 1803) and of the Tver Dragoon Regiment (September 1803-January 1806)

[3] Colonel Sukharev became commander of the Elisavetgrad Regiment on 13 June 1798. He was promoted to major general and made chef of this unit on 8 May 1799 and served until 22 December 1800. He served as the chef of the Irkutsk Dragoon Regiment between 12 December 1802 and 13 January 1806.

[4] Erofei von Osten Sacken III commanded the Pskov Dragoon Regiment in April-October 1798. Promoted to major general on 6 October 1798, he also became chef of the Pskov Dragoon. The following March, he became commander of this regiment and later was appointed chef of the Elisavetgrad Regiment on 22 December 1800, leading it until January 1807.

[5] Major General Aleksey Vsevolozhsky served as chef between 25 January 1808 and 26 January 1813, when he died.

[6] Melissino served in December 1800-January 1801

[7] Wittgenstein commanded between October 1801 and January 1802.

[8] Karl Karlovich Merder (1788-1834), tutored Alexander Nikolayevich, future Alexander II, from 1824 until his death.

 


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