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Cossacks In the Russian Empire

Conquest of Siberia by Yermak, painting by Vasily Surikov.
From the start, relations of Cossacks with the Tsardom of Russia were varied; at
times they supported Russian military operations, and at others conducted rebel
lions against the central power. After one of those uprisings at the end of the
18th century, Russian forces destroyed the Zaporozhian Host. Many of the Cossack
s who chose to stay loyal to the Russian Monarch and continue their service late
r moved to the Kuban. Others choosing to continue a mercenary role escaped contr
ol by taking advantage of the large Danube delta.
By the 19th century, the Russian Empire had annexed the territory of the hosts a
nd controlled them by providing privileges for their service. At this time the C
ossacks served as military forces in many wars conducted by the Russian Empire.
Cossacks were considered excellent for scouting and reconnaissance duties, as we
ll as undertaking ambushes. Their tactics in open battles were generally inferio
r to those of regular soldiers such as the Dragoons. In 1840 the hosts included
the Don, Black Sea, Astrakhan, Little Russia, Azov, Danube, Ural, Stavropol, Mes
herya, Orenburg, Siberia, Tobolsk, Tomsk, Yeniseisk, Irkutsk, Sabaikal, Yakutsk
and Tartar voiskos. By the 1890s the Ussuri, Semirechensk and Amur Cossacks were
added; the last had a regiment of elite mounted rifles.[85]
Cossack patrol near Baku oil fields, 1905
By the end of the 19th century, the Cossack communities enjoyed a privileged tax
-free status in the Russian Empire, although they had a 20-year military service
commitment (this was reduced to 18 years from 1909). They were on active duty f
or five years, but could fulfill their remaining obligation with the reserves. I
n the beginning of the 20th century, the Russian Cossacks counted 4.5 million. T
hey were organized as independent regional hosts, each comprising a number of re
giments.
Treated as a separate and elite community by the Tsar, the Cossacks rewarded his
government with strong loyalty. His administration frequently used Cossack unit
s to suppress domestic disorder, especially during the Russian Revolution of 190
5. The Imperial Government depended heavily on the perceived reliability of the
Cossacks. By the early 20th century, their decentralized communities and semi-fe
udal military service were coming to be seen as obsolete. The Russian Army Comma
nd, which had worked to professionalize its forces, considered the Cossacks as l
ess well disciplined, trained and mounted than the hussars, dragoons, and lancer
s of the regular cavalry.[86] The Cossack qualities of initiative and rough-ridi
ng skills were not always fully appreciated. As a result, Cossack units were fre
quently broken up into small detachments for use as scouts, messengers or pictur
esque escorts.
Cossacks in World War I and February Revolution[edit]
Wiosna roku 1905 (Spring of 1905) â
Cossacks patrol atUjazdowskie Avenue inWarsaw, p
icture of 1906 byStanisÅ aw MasÅ owski (National Museum in Warsaw)
At the outbreak of World War I the mounted Cossacks made up 38 regiments, plus s
ome infantry battalions and 52 horse artillery batteries. By 1916 their wartime
strength had expanded to 160 regiments plus 176 independent sotnias (squadrons),
the latter employed as detached units.[87]While about a third of the regular Ru
ssian cavalry was dismounted in 1916 to serve as infantry, the Cossack arm remai
ned essentially unaffected by modernization.
During the initial stages of the February Revolution of 1917, the three Cossack
regiments stationed in Saint Petersburg proved in the words of a senior officer
to be "extremely slack and indecisive" when deployed in support of the overstret
ched police. While less than three thousand Cossack reservists and new recruits
from the poorer regions of the Don and Kuban regions were involved, their inacti
on (and that of the primarily ceremonial Konvoi) came as a psychological blow to
the Tsarist authorities in the city and encouraged defections from other units.

[98] . and that "ten thousand Cossacks were slaughtered systematically in a few weeks i n January 1919. populated largely by ethnic Cossacks. Some Cossack units in the Ukrainian ser vice participated in pogroms against Jews in Ukraine. According to Michael Kort."[90] He says this "was one of the main factors which led to the disappearance of the Cossacks as a nation.[88] Civil War.442 in the Kuban. and 2.000 Cossacks". th e Bolshevik regime killed or deported an estimated 300. the new Communist regime instituted a policy of harsh repressi ons.[97] as do eyewitness accounts. under pressure and appeals from Cossack communities.[96] Many families were forced from their homes in t he severe winter and froze to death[96] â Mikhail Sholokhov's letters to Joseph Stal in document the conditions and widespread deaths. lea ving them to starve and die. and Terek territories (the Northern Caucasus) had high fatalities from starvation. the so-calledDecossackization.598 were executed in the provinces of the Don. He argues that during the preceding White Terror of the Krasnov regime.[95] Government officials expropriated grain and other produce from rural Cossack families.[93] The Cossack homelands were often ve ry fertile. During the Soviets' 1930s collectivisation campaign.[94] impacted the people very hard. since urban areas were less affected by the famine). historian Shane O'Rourke announced finding document ary evidence that the Soviets had issued orders for exterminating the Cossacks. 5."[90] During Decossackization. Ukraine.[94] The famine caused a populati on decline of about 20â 30% in these territories (the population decline in the rural areas. [91] including 45 thousand Terek Cossacks.[89] Following the defeat o f the White Army. between 25 and 40 thousand Cossacks were killed. Robert Conquest estimates the number of fami ne-related deaths in the Northern Caucasus to be about 1 million. called Holodomor by Cossacks. The Soviet famine of 1932â 33. various Cossacks supported each side of the conflict. but many also fought with the Red Army.000 to 500. 3. Cossacks formed the core of the White Army. out of a population of approximately 3 million. the new regime also divided traditional lands of Cossack Hosts among new Soviet republi cs and various autonomous republics of non-Cossack peoples. lower Volga. Decossackization and Holodomor of 1932â 33[edit] In the Russian Civil War that followed the October Revolution. Kuban.[92] The Denikin regime alleged that i n 1918â 19.142 in Stavropol. In 2003. as did the kulaks. many Cossacks w ere killed or died of starvation. was even higher. Cossacks were banned from serving in the Red Army. the Soviet governm ent lifted the ban on Cossacks serving in the Red Army. Historian Leonid Futorianskiy disputes these recent claims. Don. [94][96] In 1936. "During 1919 and 1920. which took place on the surviving Cossacks a nd their homelands. Histories of the 21st century document that hundreds of thousands of Cossacks we re killed by the Soviet Government during Decossackization.