Part II: The Cossack's Campaign Starts

Vassily Orlov (1745-1801)
Vassily Orlov
On January. 12th, 1801, Russian Emperor considering himself already Master of India, signed The first prescript to Cavalry General Orlov-lst, Ataman and the Head of the Cossacks Army of the Don.

Here is his letter.

January. 12th, 1801

...The British are going to attack me and my allies - Denmark and Sweden. I am ready to confront, but it is important to attack them first and to blow at the most sensible place where they do not expect us. It will take you one month to reach Orenburg and three extra months - from Orenburg to India.

I command you. Dear Vassily Ivanovich. and your army to march via Orenburg and then with artillery take one of three roads or all of them to Bukhara and Heeva until you reach the Indus and British possessions on it.

The troops you may meet on the way arc similar armed and with artillery you will have much advantage. Provide the expedition corps with all necessary material. Send reconnaissance Cossacks parties ahead to explore the roads. All richness of India will be your award for this expedition.

Concentrate your army to the eastern villages, then let me know and wait for the order to march ahead to Orenburg. Reaching this town wail for the next order to move further. This enterprise will cover all of you with glory and will merit according to personal contribution my special favor, will bring us fortune, set up the commerce and blow die enemy right in his heart.

Enclosed are the maps as many as I could find.

God bless you.
Your blissful, Paul.

P.S. The maps cover the distance till Hccva and the Amu-Daria river. It is up to you to provide yourself with further information about English possessions and Indian people under British power.

A little later, the same day, Paul I writes a new postscript to General Orlov:

January, 12th, 1801

India, you are appointed to is governed by one major Prince and many local ones. Englishmen have there commercial enterprises bought for money or captures by force. You have to destroy all this and to release the oppressed private owners. Land and trade to turn in favor of Russia in the manner as it was with Britain.

Entrusting the execution of this enterprise in your hands,
I remain.
Your blissful, Paul.

The next day a further order is sent to General Orlov:

January. 13th 1801

Dear Vassily Ivanovitch.
Enclosed please find a new and exact map of India. Remember that your business is to fight Englishmen only. Make peace with all those who do not support the|British. Be friendly with outnumbered nations. Tell them about Russian friendship and go further from the Indus to the river Ganges. On the way set up Bukhara and protect it from China. In Heeva release some thousand Russian prisoners. If you need infantry I can send it after your army. But it would be better if you can manage without it.

Your blissful. Paul.

Platov Mattew Ivanovich (1751-1818) by Thomas Phillips
Platov Mattew Ivanovich
Having received the first tsar's letter on January 24. 1801, stunned General Orlov ordered the Cossacks regiments to get ready for the expedition on February. 25th, 1801 having the provision for 1,5 moths.

General Orlov instructed General Denisov to withdraw Cossacks out of their stanizas (villages) and to concentrate them in columns at four points. He also entrusted General Platov the commandment of the fourth column of the army.

Usually the Cossacks went to the campaign in three columns leaving 1/3 strong at home. Now the expedition was really great. 500 men only staycd on the Don's land to protect Cossacks' houses. The assembled army consisted of four columns by echelons. The first was headed by General Dcnisov, the second - by General Bouzin, the third by General Bockov and the fourth, main column (13 regiments)- by General Platov.

General Orlov was at the head of the entire army, but preferred to stay with the fourth column to watch alter General Platov (who was just released from Peter's and Paul's fortress in St.Petersburg by the order of Paul I secretly instructing Orlov to keep watch on Platov). On February 10-th. 1801 General Platov went to Katchalinskaya stanyza (village) - the starting point of the fourth column.

While Plalov stayed in prison, the new organization of Cossacks regiments was adopted and now matched customary staff. The Cossack regiment includes:

Esaul =Captain = Rittmeister5
Sotnick = Second lieutenant5
Horounjy = Ensign5
Staff Secretary1
Staff Secretary483

The salary was also increased and became equal to that of regular cavalry. Orlov informed Platov that tsar financed the expedition with 1 500 000 Rubles (2 mln. Pounds Sterling). This sum was supposed to be returned by the prizes of the campaign. General Platov checked so that each Cossack had a spare horse and each officer - two spare horses.

Early in February. Paul I sent to General Orlov the next letter:

St. Michael Castle,
St. Petersburg,
February 7th. 1801.

Dear Vassily Ivanovilch.

Please find enclosed the new route-march map (Landcarte) which I could find for you. It will contribute a lot to those you already have. The expedition is very important. The sooner you start, the better it would be.

Your blissful, Paul.

P.S. However I do not insist upon this itinerary and you are free to find the route of your own choice

Russian Guard Cossack
Russian Guard Cossack
A week later General Orlov arrived to the army to check if everything was ready for the expedition. General Denisov from Bouzouluck and Generals Bouzin and Bockov from Medvediza reported that they were also ready to start the advance.

On February 20-th, 1801 General Orlov informed Paul I that the Cossack Army of the Don was ready for the expedition and without waiting for the reply ordered the first column to start the advance on February 21-st, 1801.

A week later Orlov receives tsar's blessings and ordered Generals Platov, Bouzin and Bockov to move after the first column.

On March 1st, 1801, General Orlov reported:

"...40 regiments with two companies of horse artillery (21 651 mounted cossacks, 44 550 horses and 24 guns) started the advance from all points to Orenburg on February 27 28-th, 1801 and will continue march covering 30 - 40 km per day".

Russian Cossacks
Russian Cossacks
There was a lot of snow during winter 1800 - 1801. Spring came earner than usual and the temperature was around 0oC. It created problems for horses. They moved mostly in melted snow than on the road, which became wet and dirty. Cossacks marched without daily bivouacs and stopped only for nights. In the middle of March three advanced regiments reached the Volga near Volsk. There was a rainy day followed by a rainy night. In the morning Cossacks saw that the ice started to move. General Denisov headed crossing of the Volga. He assembled 300 civilians from near-by-located villages and formed several rescue teams each having 5 men. These teams stood on ice all across the river (as large as 500 m) from one bank to another with ropes in hands to help to withdraw horses out of the water. Men put straw and plank timber to let guns easy pass from right bank to ice and from ice to the left bank. Some horses felled down into the water but all of them were saved by rescue teams.

Within a limit of four hours the advance guard crossed the Volga with no casualties in men and horses. No gun was lost. Moving further to the East, Cossacks were out of the road and directed themselves by sun and stars. They slept on humid ground or simply on snow. During three weeks the regiment covered the distance of 700 km. The advance detachment reached the river Irghis. Only steppe and the river Ural lied ahead.

In Orenburg the local authorities had already provided camels with provision and other materials needed for the expedition to India. By this time the speed of march reached 40 - 50 km per day.

On March, 9-th, 1801 Paul I signed the order to the regular troops of the army detached for joint actions with French corps under Massena in India.

Dr. Alex Zotov, FINS, St.Petersburg, Russia

Historical magazine Gatchina Over the Centuries