The Russian Officer Corps of Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars

By Alexander Mikaberidze
Foreword by Donald Horward

English-speaking students of the Napoleonic Wars are blessed, for there is a massive wealth of books that allows them to look at and read about almost every aspect of the clash between Britain and France.

When it comes to finding books about other opponents of Revolutionary and Napoleonic France - the Prussians, Austrians and Russians - the pickings are much harder to come by if you don't speak German or Russian.

And considering the size of their forces ranged against Napoleon Bonaparte we are missing out on a huge amount of the 20-year conflict.

Fortunately one scholar, Dr Alexander Mikaberidze, has done English speakers a great service by researching and writing The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792 to 1815.

It's a big title - 534 pages long - and is an even bigger treasure for anyone interested in those who commanded the Russian armies.

Mikaberidze has put together 800 detailed biographies, with 440 portraits, of the senior Russian soldiers of the period. Now I have to say that it is not like other military Who's Who books in that most of the fellows included are not household names - even in my reference library.

You can't just pick up The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792 to 1815 and thumb through to someone you have heard of many times before (obviously excluding Kutusov, Suvarov, Bagration and so on...) and that's the beauty of the work in that it offers a trove of fabulous new information for Napoleonic students.

Wargamers using Russian armies will also find the book extremely useful as they will help put faces and characters behind the commanders of units.

But The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792 to 1815 is not just biographies, Mikaberidze has also included more than 50 pages of fabulous information that gives an insightful overview of Russian officers.

He looks at how Peter the Great created a modern officer corps system that began with foreign mercenaries and how it was changed into one dominated by Russians - particularly the cavalry.

But foreign influence was still there during the Napoleonic Wars and the split between "Russian" leaders and so-called "Germans" - like Barclay de Tolly - could have spelt disaster during the 1812 invasion by Napoleon.

As with other European armies nobles made up the majority of Russian officers, but they didn't have it all their own way. They were supposed to serve as rank and file soldiers to start with - albeit at NCO rank after three months - and within three years would gain their commissioned status.

Nobles came to regard the military as the only profession for them and those who did not join the army were penalised with a loss of voting rights.

They were often heavy drinkers and even heavier gamblers. General Mikhail Vorontsov owed more than 65,000 rubles to General Dokhturov and 62,000 more to another general.

General Peter Bagration owed more than 80,000 rubles and was forced to sell his estates to make good the debts.

Other areas The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792 to 1815 detail are education levels, ranks, military honours, ownership of lands and serfs, as well as a breakdown of the social composition of the corps.

The Russian Officer Corps of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792 to 1815 is a marvellous addition to Napoleonic knowledge and Alexander Mikaberidze should be exceedingly proud of his efforts.

A must-have.

- Richard Moore


Savas Beatie
(December 2004; ISBN 1-932714-02-2; HC, d.j., 534 pages. $64.95).



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