Between Inspections and Corps: The Russian Divisional Structure, 1806 - 1810
Divisional Reorganization, 1806-1807
By Robert Goetz
The reorganization of 1806 significantly altered peacetime organization of the Russian army, which can be seen clearly by analyzing the details of the organizational adjustments. Although the reasons for making these organizational changes are not clearly articulated in the documents describing the reorganization, the benefits derived from them provide insight into the reasons for their implementation. While the reorganization reassigned regiments from the former Inspections to new Divisions, the changes went deeper than a simple reallocation of units and had implications on the time required to mobilize forces on the frontiers as well as having implications on actual wartime operations. In particular, the changes resulted in a concentration of more regiments closer to the western frontiers, an adjustment that seems to have been a clear response to the experiences of 1805 and to have been designed to improve preparedness in any future conflict with France.
In order to understand the nature of the organizational reforms, it is necessary to briefly review the former divisions/inspections and to also examine in detail the specifics of the organization. The Division structure was originally implemented in 1763 to address the need to concentrate the regiments closer to the frontiers in peacetime rather than to distribute them evenly across the population as in the Swedish or Prussian canton systems. The reasons for this were both demographic and geographic. Russian population was densest in the center of Russia – “Great Russia” – while the southern steppe and Lithuanian frontier lands stripped from Poland were more sparsely populated. At the same time, the distance from the more heavily populated central regions to the frontiers was considerable. A 30-60 day march was often required for regiments to reach the frontiers from cantons in Great Russia. A system for maintaining the regiments nearer to the frontiers was obviously essential for the defense of Russia.
The Catherinian division structure established eight divisions, seven on the frontiers and a central division around Moscow forming the reserve. As new territories were acquired in wars with the Turks and the Polish partitions, new divisions were formed in the acquired regions. The shifting of regimental cantons from the locations responsible for supporting them to the more sparsely populated frontiers did not entirely shift the burden of supporting the regiments to the frontier regions. The responsibility for supporting the regiments was divided between the central regions and the frontier regions where the regiments were cantoned.[i]
After Catherine’s death, Tsar Paul instituted a large number of military reforms, some good and some bad. Among the worthwhile reforms were two that addressed the rampant corruption of the later years of his mother’s reign, most notable among them being a new system of inspectors. Paul’s reforms resulted from the loose central control during Catherine’s reign that had resulted in an increasing number of abuses. For example, it had become common for colonels to embezzle regimental funds or to purchase substandard horses or equipment for the regiment and pocket the savings. Often soldiers were hired out to landowners or factories as a labor force for fees paid to the colonel. The handful of inspectors who were supposed to monitor and limit such abuses were too few to be effective and were not above corruption themselves. At times the parties given in their honor during inspection visits were sufficient to ensure that the inspector did not look too closely at what was actually occurring. Obviously all of these practices had a detrimental effect on the overall preparedness and effectiveness of the regiments. Paul’s new inspectorate established three inspectors – for infantry, cavalry and artillery – for each division and made the inspectors responsible directly to the Tsar. While Paul decreed that the divisions would be re-named “inspections” and authorized the formation of new inspections in lands taken from Poland, he did not modify the underlying structure and functions of the divisions. After Paul’s death in 1801, Alexander abolished many of the ill-advised reforms of his father, but retained the inspectorate intact until the Austerlitz campaign demonstrated the need for a better system.[ii]
The 1806 reorganization of the Inspections into the new Divisions took place in several stages, and the details of each step in the organization reveals the logical progression of the organization. The decrees establishing the new structure were announced between May and August 1806, and the reorganization was extended to the Caucasus in February 1807. Because the various adjustments were authorized in rapid succession, it is logical to address the initial formation and subsequent adjustments as a single entity.[iii]
The initial organization of divisions, decreed 4 May 1806, established 13 divisions of approximately equal size and allocated nearly all of the existing infantry and cavalry regiments in the western and central inspections to these divisions.[iv] The regiments formally assigned to the western inspections that were stationed in the Mediterranean were excluded from this reorganization and the regiments in the eastern inspections and the Guard retained their old organization. The most noticeable difference between these divisions and the inspections is the uniformity of their organization. [v] (See Table 1)
Table 1: Initial Formation of Divisions, 4 May 1806[vi]
*Includes Guard Cossack Regiment
Adjustments and extensions to the initial divisional organization followed almost immediately. Shortly after the initial formation of the new divisions, new regiments were raised and the divisional structure adapted to accommodate them. On 13 June, three additional jäger regiments, two dragoon regiments and one hussar regiment were authorized. On 14 June these regiments were incorporated into the divisional structure and a 14th Division established.[vii] On 24 June, an additional 11 musketeer regiments, 6 jäger regiments, and 6 dragoon regiments were authorized and four new divisions established. The first of these new divisions, the 15th, was formed from the regiments in the Ionian Islands. The remaining three divisions were formed primarily from the new regiments.[viii] The result of the adjustments of 13-24 June was to produce 18 divisions of approximately equal size.
Soon after the infantry and cavalry assignments were finalized, the existing artillery regiments were disbanded and artillery brigades formed in their place by an order dated 23 August. One brigade was assigned to each division and the Siberian Inspection while the Caucasus Inspection, received two brigades - a Georgia Brigade and a Caucasus Brigade. No field artillery was assigned to the Orenburg Inspection. Artillery reserve brigades of 6 battery companies each were formed in St. Petersburg and Kiev. (See Table 2)
Table 2: Adjustments to 1806 Divisions, 14 June-23 August 1806[ix]
*Includes Guard Cossack Regiment
The experience of mobilizing the armies in the fall of 1806 appears to have demonstrated the effectiveness of the new organization and prompted the extension of the structure early the following year. As a final step in the initial reorganization, the Caucasus Inspection was formed into two divisions, the 19th and 20th, in February 1807. The artillery of the Caucasus Inspection was also organized into the 19th and 20th Artillery Brigades and attached to the infantry divisions. Unlike the original eighteen divisions, the two Caucasus divisions did not receive cavalry assignments. Instead, it appears that the five dragoon regiments in the Caucasus Inspection remained assigned to the Caucasus as a whole, the individual cavalry regiments being assigned to the divisions and various detachments as needed. Also in February 1807 a third body of reserve artillery, the Moscow Reserve Brigade, was formed of three battery companies and two pontoon companies.
Geographical Distribution and Concentration of Forces on the Frontiers
The divisions of 1806 and 1807, like the inspections they replaced, had specific geographic definitions. While the exact geographic boundaries of the inspections remain ambiguous, being vaguely defined and somewhat fluid, the general regions covered are plainly identifiable from both the geographic names given to the inspections and the garrison battalions and/or regiments assigned to them. Like the inspections, the divisions of 1806 had a geographical identity that can be determined by the assignment of garrison battalions and regiments to the divisions (ordered 16 June). Further evidence of the geographic assignments of the divisions can be derived from statements regarding specific locations where new divisions were forming. For example, 16th Division is noted as forming near Smolensk, 17th near Tver and 18th near Moscow.[x] In addition, the assignment of Military Governors to be also commanders of divisions provides additional evidence of geographic assignments for divisions, because a dual command would be difficult to manage if the two commands were not in close geographic proximity. Two examples of this are the assignment of the Duc de Richelieu and GL Rimskii-Korsakov. Richelieu, Governor of Odessa since 1803 and Governor-General of New Russia (a large province bordering the Black Sea) since 1805, received command of the 13th Division which was positioned on the Black Sea Coast (Kherson and Crimea). Rimskii-Korsakov occupied the position of Military Governor of Vilna (effectively administering all of Lithuania) from September 1806 and commanded all forces in Vilna, Grodno and Minsk provinces, which included the 3rd and 4th Divisions.[xi] (See Table 3 for the probable geographic distribution of divisions.)
Considering the geographical assignments of the divisions, it appears that the formation of divisions occurred within the Inspection structure by converting each of the old inspections into one or two division. This further reveals that the initial organization of the 1st through 13th Divisions established all existing regiments on the frontiers in the regions formerly covered by the frontier inspections (including the portions of St. Petersburg and Smolensk inspections closest to the frontiers), and that the divisions were established in numerical order running roughly north to south. The formation of the remaining divisions (14th, 16th, 17th and 18th) replaced the interior inspections that formed the central reserve. These divisions were composed largely of newly raised regiments. The 15th Division, obviously, was a designation assigned to the remote forces in the Adriatic and Ionian islands. The actual organization of these regiments in the Mediterranean probably was entirely unaffected by the designation as they were scattered by battalions among the seven Ionian Islands and were engaged in small amphibious operations. As noted, the new divisions did not exactly correspond to the Inspections, but the general geographic assignments are similar. (See Table 3)
Table 3: Approximate Correspondence between Inspections and Divisions
A general was placed in command of each division from its original formation, demonstrating that the new divisions inherited the peacetime administrative function of the inspections. In addition, the system of shefs established under Tsar Paul remained in effect for regimental administration and it appears that inspectors continued to operate in the divisions. In at least one instance previously mentioned a regional administrator was given authority over two divisions. While it is not certain whether all divisions were similarly assigned to regional administrators, this suggests that the regional administrative structure may have continued as in the old inspections with the divisional commanders providing an additional administrative layer and operational command function.
The effects of the divisional organization in concentrating forces closer to the frontiers can be shown most effectively in the Table 4. For the most part, the increase in the total number of regiments maintained the proportional geographic distribution. The only areas where a reduction is shown are the regions corresponding to the St. Petersburg and Smolensk Inspections. The small reductions in these areas are most likely the result of shifts in divisional borders – 5th Division including part of the old Smolensk Inspection and 1st, 2nd and possibly 3rd Divisions including parts of the old St. Petersburg Inspection.
However, the west-central divisions in the regions of Brest and Ukraine show a dramatic concentration of forces in this area, plainly in response to the likelihood of future conflict with France. It is also noteworthy that the distribution of cavalry under the new structure was much more even than it had been under the inspections, a fact that seems obviously designed to simplify mobilization of a balanced force at any particular point. This was achieved mainly by distributing the light cavalry, which had been concentrated in the old Ukraine (Kiev Inspection), evenly among the divisions.
Table 4: Distribution of Forces in Inspections and Divisions
*reduction probably due to shift in boundaries
[i] George F. Nafziger and Warren Worley, The Imperial Russian Army (1763-1815), Pisgah, Ohio, 1996, I, p. 5; John L. H. Keep, Soldiers of the Tsar, Oxford, 1985, pp. 276-8.
[ii] Duffy, Russia’s Military Way to the West, London, 1981, p. 198; Keep, p. 176.
[iii] All details concerning organizational changes 1806-1810 are from A. V. Viskovatov, Historical Description of the Clothing and Arms of the Russian Army: Volume 10a, Organization 1801-1825. St. Petersburg, 1851. English translation by Mark Conrad. Hopewell, NJ, 1993, pp. 13-19 (Infantry); 53-55 (Cavalry); 68-69 (Artillery); 79 (Garrison Regiments); and 116-119 (Guard).
[iv] Aside from the regiments stationed in the Mediterranean, the only regiment in the western inspections excluded from the initial formation was the 23rd Jäger Regiment, a new regiment authorized 1 March 1806. It was excluded because its organization was not yet complete.
[v] It is interesting to note that the organizational changes described in Viskovatov do not explain the disappearance of one regiment (Musketeer Regiment) from 2nd Division. Details of the composition of 2nd Division are provided for 4 May and 14 June 1806 and there is no reference to other organizational changes between these dates. Thus it seems likely that the Lithuania Musketeer Regiment was assigned to 3rd Division originally or as a part of the 14 June adjustments.
[vi] The allocation of regiments shown is as given in Viskovatov. Unassigned regiments include 23rd Jäger and two uhlan regiments, the Tatar Horse and Lithuanian Horse (5 squadrons each).
[vii] This division was formed from established musketeer regiments from the 2nd and 5th Divisions (two regiments from each), two of the new jäger regiments and the new cavalry regiments. The remaining two new jäger regiments were assigned to 2nd and 5th Divisions.
[viii] One veteran regiment from the 1st Division and one from the 9th Division were assigned to the 16th and 18th Divisions respectively while the remaining new regiment (Pernau Musketeer Regiment) was assigned to the 1st Division.
[ix] The allocation of regiments shown is as given in Viskovatov. Unassigned regiments include the Tatar Horse and Lithuanian Horse Regiments (5 squadrons each).
[x] Leonty Leontyevich, count von Bennigsen, Mémoires du Général Bennigsen, Paris, II, pp. 284, 333. The footnote on p. 284, supplied by the translator Cazalas, indicates that the 17th Division was forming at Moscow and the 18th at Kaluga. The biographical sketch of Lobanov-Rostovsky, commander of the 17th Division, appears on p. 333 and indicates Tver as the place of formation of the 17th Division. This contradiction is minor, as Tver is about 100 miles northwest of Moscow and Kaluga is 100 miles south-southwest of Moscow. It seems clear that the 17th Division formed to the northwest of Moscow, possibly including Moscow itself, while the 18th formed to the southwest of Moscow.
[xi] Alexander Mikaberidze, “Duke Armand-Emmanuel du Plessis Richelieu” in “A Biographical Dictionary of Russian Generals during the Napoleonic Wars,” http://napoleon-series.org/research/russians/c_richelieu.html. “Aleksandr Mikhailovich Rimskii-Korsakov, 1753-1840” in Russkii Biograficheskii Slovar’, translated by Mark Conrad. Steven Smith, “Alesandr Mikhailovich Rimskii-Korsakov (1753 - 1840)”, unpublished biographical notes.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: December 2002
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