How General Yermolov conquered the Caucasus
Among the Russian military leaders of the Caucasian War, perhaps, there is no more complex and multifaceted personality than General Yermolov, whose name is associated with the beginning of the conquest of the Caucasus.
Eastern war and Yermolov
The initial period of the Caucasian War is inextricably linked with the activities of Alexei Petrovich Yermolov, who concentrated in his hands all the power in the troubled Caucasus.
For the first time, Russian troops in the Caucasus had to face such a new phenomenon as the Eastern War - a war where victory is achieved not only on the battlefield, and is not always associated with the number of defeated enemies. The inevitable component of such a war is a demonstrative humiliation and robbery of the defeated enemy, without which victory could not be achieved in its full sense.
Hence the extreme cruelty of the actions of both sides, which sometimes did not fit in the head of contemporaries. In 1818, in a letter to Vorontsov, who many years later would have to continue the work of his friend and ally, Ermolov noted:
“I laid here a fortress called the Terrible.It will garrison up to a thousand people and fear for the Chechens by five. Next year, I will build another not so big serf owner, and in several points at the most convenient forts through Sunzha are redoubts, and the Chechens will be more compliant. Then the Chechen villages, in which they hide under the name of the peaceful robbers in the neighborhood, the most harmful, I will destroy; I will distribute the most beautiful of their lands to our Cossacks, who either need them or have very inconvenient ones ”.
True, the decisions of Yermolov were not always so radical, as far as possible everything was decided by negotiations, where Yermolov spoke with a position of power that was understandable for the highlanders and did not try to flirt with the local nobility, making it his support in management. Although there were exceptions when it was necessary to enlist the support of influential and respected persons in mountain societies, in this case, the actions were, according to Yermolov himself, a secret one.
The appearance of Ermolovsk troops
The specific conditions of the war in the Caucasus, when the troops were very limited, and the approach of reinforcements and the delivery of equipment was difficult, forced the Russian command to adapt to the new unaccustomed conditions of the struggle, making the necessary changes.
For example, the fighting in the Caucasus forced to change the marching order of the movement of troops. If initially the vanguard of a detachment was strong, which often had to be the first to be hit by the enemy, holding on to the approach of the main forces, in the Caucasus, on the contrary, the rearguard that closed the movement was reinforced.
The highlanders often let forward the vanguard and the main forces and attacked the rearguard, which was impossible not to accept the battle, and any time delay threatened that he would lag behind the main forces and be destroyed. One of the features of the wars in the Caucasus was the rather wide use of service dogs. The dogs carried guard duty while guarding the fortifications - as a rule, at night they were released behind the fortification shaft until morning. Dogs were also widely used during campaigns in the side chains of the columns. For the maintenance of dogs, a certain amount of money was specially allocated from the treasury.
With regard to the armaments of the troops, Yermolov preferred smooth-bore weapons, which, at the expense of relatively high rate of fire, made up for compensating for the lack of accuracy with high density (salvo firing) and fire intensity.
The rifle gets widespread among the skirmishers who made up the guard chains of the columns and usually operated in pairs. Moreover, the skirmisher was advised not to fire the shot until his partner had time to recharge the choke. In close combat, if the terrain allowed, the Russian infantry conducted bayonet attacks in a closed ranks, overturning a numerically superior enemy. The success of the bayonet attacks was also promoted by the superstition that is widespread among the mountaineers that being a stabbed bayonet means being like a pig, which was considered a shameful death.
The conduct of hostilities in the specific conditions of the Caucasus left its mark on the uniforms of the troops of the Caucasian Corps. Since Ermolov times there are significant changes in the appearance of the Cossack units and regular troops. This was due to the need to adapt to the conditions of service and the conduct of war, as well as the weak supply of troops, when it was impossible to replace the rapidly wearing uniforms with a new one.
Kuban Cossack linear army essentially borrowed equipment and weapons of the Circassians.In the infantry, hats and caps replace high shakids. Boots, as a rule, took care of, often replacing them with mountain leather shoes. Gasyri are sewn up for carrying cartridges. Duffle bags are replacing satchels.
Life in the midst of war
Conducting a strict policy, Yermolov paid great attention to the construction of fortresses, roads, glades and the development of trade. From the very beginning, it was relied on the gradual development of new territories, where military campaigns alone could not give complete success.
True, the only lever of policy in the area being mastered, in the absence of an administrative apparatus, was the army in the hands of Yermolov. It is around the backbone of the army that the civil control system of the Caucasus will begin to take shape.
Yermolov conducted an audit of fortresses and cities, ordering him to leave a number of fortifications built without taking into account the sanitary conditions of the area. So the fortification of St. Nicholas in the Kuban was left, and the regional center was moved from Georgiyevsk to Stavropol. The basis of future cities were military settlements, in the creation of which Alexey Petrovich was much more successful than Arakcheev.
He put forward and legally implemented the idea of creating the so-called "married mouth" and achieve benefits for the wives of recruits who served in the Caucasian Corps. Gradually, only the military population was supplemented by immigrant peasants. As far as possible, the legal system was streamlined, where Russian law had existed before, laws in force in Georgia, as well as local customs of the mountaineers.
In 1822, the Caucasian province was transformed into a region with four counties. To control the territory, the institute of bailiffs was introduced, which were essentially military officials. Their task was to supervise the life of the mountain population in order to prevent speeches. In Dagestan, where radical transformations in a short time were impossible to carry out, Yermolov limited himself to changing the most hostile nobility and clergy, with more loyal representatives who exercised power under the control of Russian military officials.
The slave trade was destroyed whenever possible, and in Georgia in 1824 the peasants received the right to receive personal freedom for redemption. By the way, the experience of peasant redemption of personal freedom on state subsidies will later be used in Russia in the 40s of the XIX century.Not all the administrative and economic reforms of Yermolov were successful, but nevertheless among the strip of military campaigns, having limited resources, Yermolov managed to initiate the systematic establishment of Russian statehood in the Caucasus.
During the administration of Yermolov, the main potential threat to the Russian troops was not the scattered performances of the Highlanders, but the likelihood of a major war with Persia, which was seeking revenge and revision of the Gulistan Peace of 1813.
Having a dangerous enemy in front of him, Yermolov made great efforts to prepare for the inevitable war, and nevertheless Yermolov’s constant reports about the inevitability of war with Persia were not taken seriously by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Rather, on the contrary: fearing to provoke a conflict, St. Petersburg made every effort to limit military preparations for defense in the Transcaucasus.
Yermolov’s plan was reduced to active defense, when it was supposed to wear down the enemy during the year in the conditions of war in the mountains, when the main losses of the troops were borne from disease and deprivation. Then, having a reliable rear, consistently and methodically push the enemy deep into its territory, trying to minimize the movement of troops and the loss of disease.In fact, this plan can be in a somewhat accelerated and rigid form, and was later carried out by Paskevich, who had at his disposal perfectly trained and trained troops of Yermolov and strong officers.