The Russian Officer Corps in 1812
By Dmitry Tselorungo
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in the "Adjutant", the history research bulletin of the Brigade Napoleon and is used with permission of the editor -- Eman Vovsi.
At the beginning of 1812, Russian Army rosters listed 17,139 officers. We will try, based on analysis of 1,315 personnel files stored in the Central Military Archives of Russia, to give the general characteristics of the officer corps.
The officer corps was a microcosm of the Russian upper class, but despit that 89% were nobles, an individual from practically any social class and even foreigners could become an officer. However, to achieve such a rank, a peasant would first have to serve as a NCO for no less than 12 years, while the clergy no less than 8 years. Sons of nobility, foreigners, and those from the foster homes -- no less than 4 years.
The majority of officers (90%) were between the age of 20 and 40:
It is well known now tha Russian nobility was not homogenous. Most of the officers had not been owners of either peasants or property. Only 3.4% of all Russian officers had been the sons of landowners, but in most instances they were petty nobility: 38% owned 1 - 50 souls of serfs, 24% - 51 and more. . . for example, in the famous Life-Guard Pavlovski Regiment the richest officer owned nearly 200 souls and the rest just several peasants and a small village. Most were dependent on their rather modest salary, so each and every person tried to give the most to his service in the regiment and also tried to compete with his fellow officers as well.
Military experience also varied. Fifty-one percent of the officers received their baptism of fire before the Patriotic War of 1812. Out of personnel files studied, 36.6% of the officers had participated in more than ten battles, while others were in 30 (1.3%), forty (0.7%), and even forty-five battles and combats (0.2%)!
Wounds were also recorded in an officer's personnel file. Nearly 71% of the officers had been wounded, predominantly in the arm or hand. There were no record of any officer having been wounded in the stomach or chest -- which is probably indicative of the survival rate for those kind of wounds. About half of the officers were contused; 13% had several wounds.
Out of all the officers studied, 65% were awarded orders, decorations, and various honor weapons.
In the Guard and artillery, the level of education was higher.
Well-connected youths usually found easier roads. A young gentleman could enter the Page Corps, the Noble Land Cadet Corps, or other places alike and pursue a general and military education. But for most officers, their education was very basic and done at home or in an apprencticeship as a cadet or volunteer in his unit of choice.
Only 9% of the officers were married.
Placed on the Napoleon Series: March 2004
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