The Waterloo Association: Members Area

Join: Join the Waterloo Association

The Reign of Emperor Paul I Petrovich 1796 – 1801

The Reign of Emperor Paul I Petrovich 1796 – 1801

A Century of The Russian Ministry of War


General Staff Historical Department

Translated by Peter Phillips

The Reign of Emperor Paul I Petrovich 1796 – 1801


The institution of the imperial family. – Domestic policy. – Foreign policy. – The Russian army during the reign of Emperor Paul I. – Gatchina troops (Garde de Corps). – The staffing of the army with officers. – Military educational institutions. – The manning of the army with lower ranks. – Army organisation. – Higher command. – The General Staff. – The Inspections. – Colonels-in-Chief. – The organisations of the Arms. – Infantry. – Cavalry. – Artillery. – Engineer troops. – Conclusions. – The Military Regulations of 1796. – Conclusions.


One of Czar Paul’s infamous muster parades by Alexander Nikolaevich Benois (1907)


On 6th [17th] November 1796, after the death of Empress Catherine, her son Paul Petrovich ascended the throne, already 42 years old, having gone through many difficult moments in his life and spoiling his character under the influence of cold, insincere and even hostile relations that existed between him and his mother. Catherine kept him away from business, not allowing him to participate either in her Council, or in the administration, or in commanding troops. Paul was held in open contempt at court and did not even have immunity from insolence on the part of his mother’s courtiers.

Naturally, under such conditions, the feelings of personal resentment and protest against the established state of affairs and Catherine’s de facto system of government grew stronger and stronger in Paul. He was eager for activity, but he had no opportunity to act. Being alienated from court and politics, Paul had to limit his interests unnaturally to his family, personal household and command over a tiny detachment that made up the garrison of the town of Gatchina, which he had recently established. The powers of Paul’s mind were inevitably wasted on trivialities and were not enriched with the necessary experience of state business.

These were the conditions under which Emperor Paul ascended the throne. Filled with the best of intentions, he strove with all his soul for the good of the state, but his lack of the skills of government prevented him from acting effectively, and his nervousness of character transmitted the nature of something accidental, painful and capricious in all his measures.

The institution of the imperial family

The first governmental act of great importance in Paul’s reign was the Act of Succession, promulgated at the Emperor’s coronation on 5th [16th] April, 1797. “The institution of the imperial family” restored the old pre-Petrine custom of succession to the throne and guaranteed an end to the court coups that had existed in the 18th century.

Domestic policy

Dissatisfied with the customs of Catherine’s administration and the disorder of business, Paul tried to change the administration system by restoring the Collegia abolished by Catherine; changed the administrative divisions of Russia, reducing the number of governorates; returned the border regions, annexed to Russia from Sweden and Poland, to their former systems of government, thereby spoiling his mother’s business, who, through general laws, sought to achieve their speediest integration within the state; abolished much of the local autonomy, upon which the local administration had been built under Catherine.

With regard to the social classes, Paul’s policies also contradicted Catherine’s views. He did not sympathize with the existence of privileged classes in the state and withdrew some of these privileges: under him, nobles and townspeople were subject to corporal punishment once more for criminal offences. Paul limited the effect of the letters of gratitude of 1785 in many respects, constrained local government autonomy, established the upper limit for peasant labour in favour of the landowners (three days of compulsory labour per week) with the law of 1797 and thus put the first limitations on the power of the nobility. This was the first step towards the abolition of serfdom and class privileges achieved in subsequent reigns. Under the influence of Paul’s decrees, the peasantry began to talk about freedom from the landowners, and as early as 1797 peasant unrest began in the interior governorates. But even in the matter of class policy, Emperor Paul was not consistent; so, in Novo Rossiya [Ukraine], he banned the long-existing system of free movement of peasants, while he began to gift state-owned inhabited land in central places to private ownership to a much greater extent than was done under Catherine. In the four years of his reign, he gave away 265,000 male peasants, while Catherine, during the 36 years of her reign, gave away 400,000[1]:

Foreign policy

Having ascended the throne, Emperor Paul stopped the Russian mobilisation, which was preparing to defend the French monarchy against the republic; but, then, an abstract sense of legitimacy and fear of being attacked by France forced Paul to fight the French; personal resentments later forced him to withdraw from this war and prepare for war with his recent former allies (Austria and Britain). Thus, in Emperor Paul’s foreign policy there was no firmly held principle and the element of chance played a large role.

The Russian army during the reign of Emperor Paul I

The Russian army was to undergo a radical reorganization with the accession of Emperor Paul to the throne. In this matter, Paul had certain ideals, and practical training of sorts with the troops of the Gatchina garrison, and most importantly, from his youth he had “passion for drill, a mania for parades,” in a word, for the “trivialities” of military service, a hereditary gift passed down from his father; Schilder wrote; “in the Tsarevich, military buffoonery had completely resurrected the ‘militaire marotte’ of Peter III.[2]

As early as the age of ten, Paul was obsessed with all things military, and by then the main features of his character were already evident and had already been noticed by Suvorov, who said about him: “prince adorable, despote implacable.” In 1774, the Tsarevich (Paul Petrovich) presented the following note to Catherine II:

“A discourse on the state in general, regarding the number of troops required to defend it, and regarding the defence of all frontiers.” In it, he laid out his ideas for passive defence, recommended organising something like military settlements (the forerunner of Arakcheev’s system); recommended new establishments, statutes, instructions, the strictest subordination and strict centralisation.

Although this note, of course, was left without action, however ten years later, while the Empress was still alive, these ideas were applied to the Gatchina Corps, while after his accession to the throne also applied throughout the army. The payoff was the defeat of the Russian forces in 1805 at Austerlitz, where they fought Napoleon in the same way as they had manoeuvred in Gatchina: the headquarters even took the programme of Gatchina manoeuvres with them on campaign, for the direction of operations and planning[3].

During his trip to Berlin for his wedding and meeting with Frederick the Great, and familiarisation with the orders of the Prussian army further strengthened Paul Petrovich’s passion for militarism and the Prussian military system, which Catherine II always called “the unbearable ceremony.”

Gatchina Corps (Garde de Corps)

In 1776, following the Berlin visit, Prussophile convictions and even belief in the possibility of recruiting an army in Poland and in the imperial cities were firmly established in the crown prince. In 1783, the Empress gave Gatchina to the Tsarevich, in which he spent 13 of the most difficult years of his life. Far from the court and state affairs, he devoted himself with all passion to the training of his Gatchina troops, with the assistance of a Prussian, Captain Steinwehr. At first the detachment consisted of 60 men, then 80, and in 1786 there were already three companies; in 1788, the five companies were named “His Imperial Highness’ Battalion.”

Empress Catherine did not look particularly favourably on Paul’s ideas and said: “Batushka’s army had been resurrected and that useless drills had been completely revived in Gatchina,” but did not want to stop him. And, meanwhile, Paul was completely lost in the minutiae of service in the Gatchina and Pavlovsk forces; by 1796 the following were already formed: six infantry battalions, one jäger company, four cavalry regiments (gendarmes, dragoons, hussars and cossacks) and foot and horse artillery; in total, 2,399 men (including 19 field officers and 109 subalterns)[4].

With these troops Paul undertook exercises and manoeuvres that provoked only ridicule in the army and among the people; they were compared with the hated and still remembered Holstein troops of Peter III.

These Russian troops presented a strange phenomenon, indeed, who did not appear in accordance with the reports of the Russian Military Collegium[5], as composed of men only sent on secondment from various land and naval units.

These troops were not listed as part of the Russian army and had nothing to do with it. Dressed in a replica Prussian uniform, in knee-length breeches, stockings and shoes, with curled, powdered hair, they resembled the garrison of some Prussian town. The troops were guided by different regulations drawn up on the Prussian model. The whole internal order, the whole structure of their life and service was far from that established at that time in the majority of the Russian army.

The officers of this detachment were partly foreigners, mainly from Prussia, and partly Russians, for the most part far from being of high quality. Schilder wrote that these were “brutish men, completely uneducated, the refuse of our army; expelled from their regiments for bad behaviour, drunkenness or cowardice, these men took refuge in the Gatchina battalions and there, voluntarily turning themselves into automata, without any pleasure, they endured abuse from the heir every day, and sometimes perhaps beatings.”

According to Rostopchin, the Tsarevich was surrounded by men, of whom the most honest deserved to be broken on the wheel without trial[6].

The future leaders of the Russian army emerged from this environment, Paul’s trusted associates: the former Prussian hussar, Fyodor Ivanovich Lindener, promoted to major general during the accession of Paul Petrovich, with the appointment as an inspector of cavalry; another outstanding hero of this peculiar Gatchina school of autocracy and servility was Aleksey Andreevich Arakcheev, who having held the rank of captain for 24 years, arrived in Gatchina on 4th [15th] September, 1792 and was promoted to colonel on 25th June [6th July], 1796, holding the position of an infantry inspector with the Tsarevich  at that time, commanded the artillery, restored the post of Governor of Gatchina and managed the military department established in Gatchina in 1794. Tireless and zealous, he produced exercises which lasted twelve hours a day, without leaving the field. He would burst into abuse and cane blows in front of Paul Petrovich, from which many paid with their lives.

Grand Duke Alexander Pavlovich also became involved in the Gatchina regime and in love with appearances; here he became close to Arakcheev and also became imbued with antagonism towards Catherine’s foreign and domestic policies[7].

Having lived for 13 years in the midst of the Gatchina “garde de corps,” and later, when Paul became the head of a vast empire, which possessed armed forces of half a million, he could no longer see otherwise than the “Gatchina way.” It did not even occur to him that it was impossible to command a huge army, living in various conditions and situations, as he had controlled the Gatchina detachment; it seemed to him that in the army, as in the Gatchina detachment, all the issues that went beyond the framework of the charter should not be resolved otherwise than by himself.

Empress Catherine died at 9.45 pm on 6th [17th] November, 1796, and at 11 am on 7th [18th] November, the first muster parade was scheduled. A contemporary, Admiral Shishkov, wrote “In an instant, everything changed, and a day after the accession came a different age, a different life, a different existence.” The army was the first to endure the hurricane of reforms and new fashions. First of all, the comfortable nature of Catherine’s uniforms for the troops was changed to the Prussian model, then the rest of the pattern of service and life for the troops was disrupted, with the full passion with which Paul was capable, who recognised neither compromise nor lower expectations. In orders, from the watchword even to Supreme Commands, dozens of officers of all ranks were expelled from service every day from field marshal and general to ensign with sometimes humiliating announcements of the grounds: “for ignorance of the service, for laziness, drunkenness, etc.” The glorious companions of Catherine quickly left the scene; Field Marshal Suvorov was dismissed and exiled to the village of Konchanskoye. Paul’s associates also behaved indecorously: Arakcheev, for example, allowed himself to refer to the colours of a regiment that he was inspecting as “Catherine’s petticoats.[8]” The new figures were hitherto unknown surnames: Arakcheev, Lindener, Steinwehr, Rostopchin, Kushelev, Kannabikh, Baratynsky and other favourites from Gatchina, ready to be blind executors of the Emperor’s commands, intending to heal the ailments of the Russian army and of Russia.

Of course, Paul I’s objectives were reasonable, to make laws, to stipulate everything through explicit rules and regulations. As was the desire to eradicate quite thoroughly the enduring clique in the army as a result of insufficient control and abuse. But along with this, another parallel idea was pursued, to restyle everything “so that it would not resemble the old;” at the same time, everything was reformed hastily, without restraint or sense of proportion, which brought chaos into the complex mechanism of the army’s life. Even an admirer of Paul I’s views, the heir to the throne, Alexander, even he, in a letter to La Harpe, described the situation and the direction of reforms in such words: “there is absolutely no strict plan in anything.[9]

Let us trace successively the reforms of Paul I in the Russian army.

The staffing of the army with officers

Emperor Paul gave out unconditional commissions to the nobility for the staffing of the army with officers and to other classes after 12 years of service in the lower ranks upon promotion “according to excellent capability and nothing unacceptable.” In order to attract and retain nobles in the ranks of the troops, it was forbidden to dismiss them from military service before being promoted as officers, while accepting the retired in any position, even by election to the nobility.

Military educational institutions

To prepare for the officer rank, in addition to the earlier two cadet corps, renamed the 1st and 2nd cadet corps, the Imperial Military Orphanage was established, the first branch of which graduated their pupils either as officers or candidates for officer rank. The Marine Corps also transferred officers to infantry regiments.

The manning of the army with lower ranks

The system of manning the army with lower ranks remained the same, although Paul still hoped for a recruitment system and a reduction in service life and a territorial system to facilitate the use of leave for lower ranks.

However, something had been done to streamline the process of conscription:

  1. Orders were issued to process conscripts annually, in order to replenish the constant wastage and not resort, in the event of war, to increased selection;
  2. The collection and transmission of recruiting parties in the forces had been streamlined.

In addition, through the establishment of a soldiers’ department of the Imperial Military Educational Home for 16,400 children, Paul intended to create a well-trained contingent to replenish the army. Soldier’s children, with the exception of the children of hussars, did not have the right to graduate to other classes, while those that entered the military orphanage graduated at the end of their course entering the forces as combat soldiers and drummers. In fact, most of the pupils of these institutions filled service support vacancies.

Army organisation. – Higher command

During the reign of Catherine, decentralisation and the widespread use of the principle of personal initiative were the basis of the higher command of the army. The Commanders-in-Chief of the armies even enjoyed the right to promote officers up to the rank of colonel, approve leave, resignations, and transfers.

Paul considered this the main source of abuse and immediately, upon accession to the throne, eradicated it. According to his principles, the commanders were supposed to observe, inspect, be responsible for the state of the troops, but without having any rights. He wanted to know everything himself down to the smallest detail and go into all the minor matters; reports from regiments and inspectors were sent to him, and he conveyed his orders by decrees of the Military Collegium. The entire military administration was concentrated in the emperor’s office, his Adjutants-General were turned into personal secretaries who prepared numerous decrees that were issued, signed by the sovereign, to Inspectors, regimental Colonels-in-Chief, commanders of Combined Battalions, and sometimes to the commanders of individual sub-units. Paperwork built up terrifyingly due to the increase in the number of urgent and mandatory reports. The sovereign wrote about everything: about the departure of officers on leave for more than 28 days, or about permission to marry, or about the transfer of company commanders from one company to another, etc. The book of daily orders makes one wonder, on the one hand, at the pettiness of the requirements, and on the other at the memory and intense attention with which Paul watched over the life of each individual unit of the army, as well as the mass of personal labour that he had to perform under such a system of government.

The formidably increased centralisation, with a brutal attitude towards subordinates, ultimately demotivated the commanders to such an extent that they were afraid to use even those modest rights that were permitted by the regulations.

With such management arrangements, the Military Collegium significantly lost its importance, despite the annexation of the artillery, provisioning and commissariat departments, as well as the subordination of the Tula arms factory to it.

The General Staff

Catherine’s General Staff was disbanded by decree on 13th [24th] November, 1796, its appointments were redistributed within the army, maps, plans and operations were handed over to the newly established Map Depot, the building was passed to the care of the Chevalier Guard.

It is difficult to discover what new subjects Paul wanted to cover with this branch of army management, since no terms of reference were indicated for the establishment of “His Majesty’s Suite for the Quartermaster’s Department.” The Suite was manned with the former officers of the General Staff, with officers taken out of establishment and even from other areas of civil service that had nothing to do with the military. The studies by the officers of the suite, whose service under Arakcheev’s command was “filled with despair,” however, did not go further than rehashing old plans and some surveying. During the 1799 campaign in Italy, the officers of the Suite sent to the headquarters were completely unprepared for service as a general staff, as even Suvorov stated[10].

The Inspections

By a decree dated 29th November [10th December], 1796, the Divisions of Catherine’s time were replaced by Inspections. These were territorial districts, which included regiments of infantry, cavalry, garrison, and artillery battalions.

But the power over such a district was not unified in one pair of hands: in each district there were two inspectors, one for infantry units, the other for cavalry; artillery was assigned to the inspector of all artillery. Inspectors were appointed at the behest of the Sovereign, even persons of lower seniority than the commanders of the troops being inspected, which gave way to favouritism and commanders from Gatchina, but undermined discipline in the army.

Inspectors were required to visit units at least four times a year; on pain of deprivation of rank, to be responsible for keeping them to establishment, to observe uniformity of exercises, to submit to the sovereign a “general report” on the regiments of  the inspection and attestation lists. Although their power was limited to the right to agree or deny the 28-day leave of officers permitted by the Colonel-in-Chief of a regiment, but the secret appraisals presented to the sovereign alone often led to dismissal, “expulsion” from service even of Colonels-in-Chief of regiments and ordinary officers, without any justification or defence.


The establishment of regimental Colonels-in-Chief was a further diminution of the importance of the highest ranks of the army; all generals not appointed as inspectors were assigned to be Colonels-in-Chief of regiments. The regimental Colonels-in-Chief shared the same duties as their commanders, however, they were significantly curtailed in comparison with the time of Catherine. Thus, the regiments were headed by two commanders: the Colonel-in-Chief and the regimental commander (often the senior field officer), but without any rights.

He stood in for the Colonel-in-Chief during his absence, especially in wartime, when the Colonel-in-Chief, while retaining his appointment, fulfilled various missions with the army.

The establishment of Colonels-in-Chief prompted the promotion of many colonels to general; in the guard and hussar regiments there were even two generals, of which the junior was merely a battalion commander.

Each regiment was known by the surname of their Colonel-in-Chief[11], instead of the Petrine territorial names, with which the units had crowned their centuries-old military traditions. When the Colonel-in-Chief changed, the name changed, sometimes twice a year. This caused unspeakable organizational confusion and, of course, was reflected in the morale during the continued service of the soldiers at the time.

From 1798 companies and squadrons were ordered not to be designated by numbers, but also by the surnames of their commanders.

Regimental chanceries were disbanded, while duty officers served under generals (in a form of headquarters). The latter were allowed to have two aides de camp for correspondence. All this affected the campaign, when in 1799 the troops in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Corps did not receive any orders, they marched at random, camped wherever they wanted, the result was the defeat at Zürich.

As you can see, the entire command organization was imbued with a spirit of distrust, a desire to restrict power.

The organisations of the Arms

The troop organisation reforms had two aims:

  1. Reduction in the size of the army within the limits of the requirements for an exclusively peaceful policy, which Paul I intended to adhere to and which, in fact, did not come about.
  2. Alignment, as far as possible, with the Prussian organization.


By the law of 29th November [10th December], 1796:

  1. All regiments were allocated an establishment of two battalions (except for the four battalions of the Leib-Grenadiers), this reduced the infantry by 24 battalions;
  2. All field battalions were converted into infantry regiments (the Moscow garrison regiment established for eight battalions and six ordinary field battalions);
  3. The number of jägers was reduced by ⅔: corps were disbanded, 43 battalions were converted to 20 of a relatively weak establishment;
  4. 38 garrison musketeer battalions (six companies in each) were created from the former garrison units.

All infantry regiments were of 12 companies (two grenadier and ten musketeer). When going out on combat operations, the grenadier companies were detached and, according to a special schedule, formed 35 combined grenadier battalions (of four company composition).

The combat experience and original innovations of Catherine’s era were ignored. Paul I lived by the ideas of Frederick the Great, did not accept the tactical forms of his mother’s epoch; he reduced the jägers at a time when skirmishing and columns were just starting up in the armies of the French republic, elements of the new tactics of the era of Napoleon I.

In 1797, the jäger battalions were renamed as ten-company regiments, but this did not increase, rather reduced the number of jägers in the army, since regiments of 883 men were formed from battalions of 1,000 men.

Having said that, the number of garrison troops was growing, divided into two categories: battalions, on field establishment, consisted of five musketeer and one grenadier companies, and on  internal establishment, in which there were invalid companies instead of grenadier companies. By the beginning of 1798, the number of the former battalions reached 68, the latter 35.

The composition of the infantry in various years of the reign was as follows:

                                                    1797                1798                          1800

Leib Gren Regt (4 Bns)                        4,822               4,252                           4,252

12 Gren Regts (2 Bns)                         28,942             25,512                         25,512

62 Musket Regts (2 Bns)                    149,492           131,812                       146,587 (69 Regts)

20 Jäger Bns                                         21,020             17,640 (Regts)            16,777 (19 Regts)

172 battalions                                      204,266           179,216                       193,128

In addition:

The Guard                                            11,000             11,000                         11,000

103 Garrison Bns                               105,051           94,831                         77,503 (81 Bns)

Thus, in Catherine’s army the total number of field infantry was reduced by 10% and the number of jägers by ⅓.


The law of 29th November [10th December], 1796 showed the complete disagreement of the views of Paul I with the previous era, which sought to increase cavalry numbers and make it as light as possible. By the above mentioned orders, the total number of cavalry regiments was reduced by 11, carabiniers, mounted jägers and light cavalry regiments disappeared, and the main mass, cuirassiers, appeared according to the Prussian model.

The composition of the cavalry in various years of the reign was as follows:

                                                        1797                1798                          1800

16 Cuirassier Regts                             18,192             14,384                         11,687 (13 Regts)

16 Dragoon Regts                               18,992             14,528                         13,620 (15 Regts)

8 Hussar Regts                                    14,280             13,144                         16,430 (10 Regts)

40 Regts                                                51,464             42,056                         41,737 (38 Regts)

War Horses                                          43,144             32,512                         32,968

In addition, there are 3,264 men in the three Guards regiments and Cossack Sotnia.

Dragoon and cuirassier regiments were of five squadrons each; the hussars operated in two battalions with a total of ten squadrons each. Reserve squadrons disappeared.

Thus, the number of cavalry was reduced by more than a third (from 63,000 to 42,000).

The former mounted-militia settlements in the south have been excluded from this calculation of the armed forces.

The Cossack force increased the number of regiments they could deploy to 47; great trust was placed in them, due to the lack of light cavalry.


Very successful reforms had been made in the artillery:

  1. Measures had been taken to integrate the artillery with other branches of the armed forces.
  2. Both in peacetime and in wartime, the personnel, the equipment department and the transport from that time had become one whole, in the hands of a single director.

In November 1796, a Guards Artillery Battalion of five companies was formed, from the artillery company of the Gatchina detachment and the Guards regimental artillery commands, with 12 guns in each company[12]. In 1798, ten more foot, one horse and three siege battalions were formed, also with a five company composition; a siege company consisted of ten guns. In total, the newly formed battalions were to serve 660 field and 150 siege guns.

Regimental artillery (eight guns with a four-battalion regiment, five guns with a two-battalion, a total of 75 infantry regiments with 378 guns and 6,880 crew) was still with Suvorov on the campaign of 1799, but on 6th [18th] March, 1800 it was disbanded; it was ordered, if necessary, to give the troops artillery from the artillery battalions, which were soon to turn into regiments, while maintaining the subdivisions of companies at the previous establishment.

The ordinance for regiments was remarkable in that it defined for the first time a rate of three guns per battalion of infantry. Accordingly, the artillery companies were divided into four platoons of three guns each, which had their own train for such an organisation, which allowed them allocate not only entire platoons, but even individual guns.

In general, the artillery of Paul I was significantly improved:

  1. Instead of several types and eleven calibres of guns, two types were introduced, guns and licorns, in five calibres.
  2. The entire system was lightened for mobility.
  3. The drilling training, firing and manoeuvring of whole companies was improved, instructions were worked out and the artillery was involved in joint manoeuvring with other troops.
  4. Artillery mobilization was improved.

These reforms came at huge monetary cost, which is why they could not be carried out immediately, and during Suvorov’s campaign in 1799 the guns were heavy, the horses were poor, and the transport was inadequate.

Engineer troops

These received a solid foundation with the establishment in 1797 of:

  1. Two pontoon companies each of 200 men, with eight depots each of 50 pontoons.
  2. A pioneer regiment (subordinated to the artillery) of ten pioneer companies and two sapper/miner companies each of 150 men.


The overall result of the reform of the organisation of forces during the reign of Emperor Paul I was expressed in the following:

  1. The size of the army, compared with the army of Catherine II, was significantly decreased:

Line & Guard Infantry                                            204,128

Line & Guard Cavalry                                                45,000

Artillery                                                                       25,186

Engineer troops                                                           2,754

Total:                                                                         277, 068

For a total of 354,500, including garrisons, compared to the 500,000 of Catherine’s time[13].

  1. Of all the arms of service, the greatest reduction fell on the cavalry.
  2. In the reduction of the infantry, its best elements were: the grenadiers and especially the jägers, whose usefulness had already been proven by many years through their own combat experience and their enormous importance was later to be confirmed by events after the outbreak of the revolutionary wars.
  3. In both infantry and cavalry, the organization had been influenced exclusively by the ideas of Prussian linear tactics.
  4. The greatest benefit of the reign was the setting of artillery on a par with the other arms of the forces, giving it the full opportunity for further organisational and fighting improvements.
  5. The foundations of the engineering force were laid.

In addition, in November 1797, the Prince of Condé’s Corps of French emigrants was accepted into Russian service, supporters of their king who had found refuge in Russia. The corps consisted of three infantry regiments (six Bns and two Gren Coys), two of cavalry and dragoons (ten Sqns) and two artillery companies. Some 6,000 in total with 15 guns. The corps constituted Prince Condé’s independent inspection. On 23rd February [6th March] 1800 the corps was disbanded.

The Military Regulations of 1796

On 29th November [10th December] 1796, the proposal issued to the Military Collegium from its president, Ct Saltykov, in pursuance of the Supreme indulgence[14], was ordered to put into immediate effect four newly published regulations:

  1. Military regulations for line infantry service.
  2. Regarding line cavalry service.
  3. Regarding line hussar service.
  4. Regulations for cavalry service.

These regulations embraced, in addition to combat units, starting with the recruit schools and ending with regimental training, also quartering: on garrison, internal and field service, decisions on the manning of the regimental headquarters, on leave, furlough, marriage, on servants, officers’ obligations, on generals entertainment in the field and so on; thus, they embraced all types of service, all aspects of the service life, except for aspects of martial-law, since the military articles and processes of Peter the Great remained inviolable.

All these statutes were imbued with the spirit of the statutes of Frederick the Great, as if the glorious era of Catherine II had been completely forgotten. In particular, it is somehow strange to encounter the provisions on internal service in them, adapted from the Prussian army, which consisted of volunteer soldiers and was completely inappropriate for the Russians. Here the intention was to regulate every step, every situation for all military ranks, with a constant reminder of the strict punishment for any deviation from the regulations. The regulations fundamentally undermined any right to the use of initiative by commanders and expressed a distrustful attitude towards the goodwill and moral dignity of officers. The garrison service department had been developed with the utmost care. A daily muster was emphasised with the obligation for the presence of all regimental officers, the details of sentry duty were so developed that the main provisions remain in force to this day.

With all his passion and perseverance, Paul I and his assistants, pupils of the Gatchina school, began to enforce the  new regulations in the army; often in the orders of the Emperor the expression appeared “this contradicts the regulations approved by me” and no merit could save the guilty from punishment.

The infantry regulations[15] were completely imbued with the ideas of linear tactics; there was no mention of the jägers, there were some instructions about the use of jägers on active service but only in the regulations of the line hussar service, and, of course, not a word was said about the possibility of their specialised application on the battlefield.

The main infantry battle formation should be deployed in three ranks, while battalions and regiments were counted by divisions [pairs of companies] that did not align with the administrative division into companies.

Fighting columns were excluded from the regulation; with the sole exception of platoon columns – for advances on campaign. There was not a word about the square in the regulations; there were only some indications about it in the “tactical rules,[16]” but nothing was said there either – when and for what the square was used.

The regulation did not say a single word about attack, but having said that, it established seven types of fire from a deployed formation. However, the “tactical rules” mention an “attack en-echelon” and an “enemy attack on the flank,” but they only talk about a very complex offensive by a given order of deployed battalions, but there was no indication of the act of assault itself.

While attaching priority importance to musketry, the regulations incapacitated hundreds of non-commissioned officers in the regiments, equipping them with useless halberds. Regimental and battalion commanders were dismounted, as for exercises on the Gatchina parade ground, which was why their importance in the formation had diminished.

The pace was shortened, no more than ¾ Arshin [53cm or 21”], speed no more than 75 paces per minute; of course, immediately there was a fascination with training in the pace and all the unnecessary drilling of a soldier.

The army had to be retrained in the new ways; everything old was ordered to be forgotten. New instructors, trained at the Gatchina school, also appeared. One of them, Kannabikh, was the instructor in a “tactical class” established by Paul I in the Winter Palace, where all the field officers and subalterns in the St. Petersburg garrison force always gathered. The emperor himself attended the lectures and was pleased to note the attendance by the generals.

In this tactical class, Kannabich read the “tactical rules,” published in 1797 and representing a translation of a single German manual; the “rules” set forth the same requirements as in the regulations and, in essence, there was no trace of any tactics, in the sense that they are now understood.

The cavalry regulations had undoubted advantages over the infantry and the old cavalry (1763), since with Frederick the Great, from whom he took, the cavalry regulations, was far ahead of the views of linear tactics, because it grew out of its shortcomings. The cavalry regulations:

  1. Adopted a two-rank formation.
  2. Precisely identified horseback training.
  3. Introduced the execution of turns by fours.
  4. The formation of platoon columns and deployments were expressly to be at the gallop.
  5. Gave well-developed rules for close-order and loose attack.

The section on operations on foot was significantly reduced.

The publication of special rules for the actions of the hussar regiments did not make sense, since the hussar regiments were no different from other regiments of our cavalry. It was a blind imitation of Frederick the Great.

There were no artillery regulations[17], but instructions had been developed for the Gatchina artillery, which were introduced throughout the army. Live fire training was set on firm foundations, for which ammunition was released in the summer for each company: 180 for horse, 216 for foot; in four battalion regiments – 288, and  in two Bn – 180.

The practical parts of the regulations were essentially absent, since everything boiled down to the reproduction of statutory forms and ploys, to mechanical movement; any deviation from the regulations was severely punished, in St. Petersburg by the Emperor, in the provinces – by the inspectors. Linear exercises of large formations, on flat, monotonous terrain, replaced the previous evolutions – manoeuvres. Instead of concentrating for a camp, obligations were set at regimental headquarters for six weeks. For special inspections and manoeuvres in each inspection, a time was assigned by Supreme special orders. These manoeuvres differed little from ordinary drills and tended towards mechanical movements in a confined area.


The education of the troops, the importance of the morale element in the forces was forgotten, as if the Russian army of the glorious age of Catherine was like that of Fredericks, recruited, more often, from the dregs of society of that time. And the Russian army, innocent of anything, began to torture itself according to the rules of German drill. Everyone, from junior officers to senior generals, felt the oppression of illegality, lack of authority, fear of taking this or that decision on their own, not directly prompted by the regulations.

Rudeness and humiliation of the individual had become commonplace. The treatment between the seniors and the juniors, especially the lower ranks, became cruel. Arakcheev tore out their moustaches and beat them with sticks in the presence of the sovereign, and they began to imitate this example, thereby expressing zeal for the service.

Unconditional obedience was required; every personal initiative was smothered.

Pedantry was established in the business of training, the profound content had diminished; everything went to the superficial. “The military spends almost all of their time exclusively on parade,” wrote the heir to Laharpe.

The number of abuses in financial matters, thanks to the strict measures of the Emperor, of course, decreased. Outward discipline flourished, but self discipline was never so shaken as during the austerity of Paul I. This sad result was driven by:

  1. Unwarranted humiliation of prominent military leaders from the preceding reign.
  2. Lack of counter-measures against rewarding mediocre persons, who did not stand out in any way in the field of service.

Suvorov’s victories in Italy and Switzerland in 1799 were due to the spirit that remained in the ranks of the troops from the glorious age of Catherine and thanks to the talent of the old Field Marshal. Where such talent did not appear to be present, as with Rimsky-Korsakov, the negative aspects of the new order in the Russian army were completely exposed.

Among the total number of reforms, there were very useful ones:

  1. The financial situation for officers was improved.
  2. The medical service in the forces was improved.
  3. The foundations for the construction of barracks was laid.
  4. The armament of the infantry and artillery was changed.
  5. Attempts were made to improve the remounts for the cavalry.

But all these measures were of a superficial, material nature; the negative aspects of the system were those measures for moral order, capable of firmly taking root in the nature of the units and the mass.

Such was the sad state of the army inherited by Emperor Alexander I.


[1]    S.F. Platonov. Lectures on Russian history, p. 562.

[2]    N.K. Schilder. Emperor Paul I, p. 56.

[3]    N.K. Schilder. Emperor Paul I, p. 98.

[4]    N.K. Schilder. Emperor Paul I, p. 231.

[5]    However, the covert defender of the Gatchina troops was the president of the military collegium, Count N.I. Saltykov.

[6]    Prince Vorontsov’s Archive, Book 8, p. 92-94. Schilder, Paul I, 235.

[7]    Schilder. Emperor Paul I, p. 262.

[8]    N.K. Schilder. Emperor Paul I, p. 288.

[9]    M.V. Alekseev. The Significance of the Reign of Paul I, p. 14.

[10]  P.A. Geysman. Auxiliary Organs of the Supreme Military Directorate, p. 146-157.

[11]  Hussars from 1796, garrisons from 1797, the Line from 1798 and the Guard from 1800.

[12]  In 1798, the Battalion consisted of three companies, with pioneer and pontonier sub-units, and in 1799 of five foot and one horse companies.

[13]  M.V. Alexeev. The Significance of the Reign of Emperor Paul I and the Nature of His Reforms, p. 33.

[14]  P.S.Z. No 17587.

[15]  A.I. Gippius. Regulations and Instructions, p. 123-151.

[16]  Ibid, p. 151-156.

[17]  Ibid, p. 182.