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The Napoleon Series > Book Reviews > Books on military subjects

Cossack Hurrah!

Summerfield, Stephen. Cossack Hurrah!!: Russian Irregular Cavalry Organization and Uniforms During the Napoleonic War. London: Partizan Press, 2005. 12 pages color illus. ISBN# 1858185130. 80 pages. Paperback. 11.50

Cossack Hurrah!

Napoleon is credited with declaring, "Cossacks are the best light troops among all that exist. If I had them in my army, I would go through all the world with them." While the distinction of being the "best light troops" would certainly be disputed by many, the fact is the Cossacks earned an impressive, if not incongruous, reputation during the Napoleonic Wars. They were loathed and sneered at for their appearance and perceived "barbarism," but also feared and respected as fierce warriors. Dr. Stephen Summerfield, thus, sets out to enlighten the reader about the fascinating history of these troops. Considering that the book is only eighty pages long, this author certainly faced a daunting task.

The book is organized into several sections, covering history, uniforms, armament and Cossacks hosts. The Introduction sets the tone for brevity as the author quickly describes the history of Cossacks and their initial conflict with the expanding Russian state. A small section on the Cossack table of ranks will be certainly appreciated by many aficionados who struggled to reconcile Cossack khorunzhii, uriadnik or esaul with the regular ranks of the Western European armies. Dr. Summerfield then proceeds to explain the Cossack military organization, tactics and involvement in the Napoleonic Wars and, although all this is covered in sixteen pages, author still managed to pack enough information in succinct paragraphs. In the 'Armament and Uniforms' section, this reviewer's attention was grabbed by the discussion on Cossack horses, which are often overlooked.

The 'Cossack Hosts' chapter deals with seven major Cossack hosts that existed throughout the Russian Empire. Author starts with the Black Sea Cossacks, and proceeds to the Bug, Don, Orenburg, Siberian, Ukrainian and Ural Cossacks; in a separate section, minor Cossack hosts (Danube Mouth, Ekaterinoslavl, Terek and Volga) are also discussed. Each host is dealt in two or three paragraphs, though the Don Host, certainly the most important of them, is covered in more detail. The chapter 'Regular Cossacks' provides information on establishment and military service of some Cossack units, notably Leib Garde Cossack, Black Sea Leib-Garde Sotnia, Chuguev Cossack and Teptiar Cossacks. The famous Ataman Matvei Platov merited a detailed biography, though, unfortunately, other Cossack commanders were not discussed.

The final part of the book deals with 'Other Irregular Cavalry' and covers Kalmyks, Bashkyrs, Mesheriaks and others. The book's end-matter includes a detailed chronology which covers the Cossack history between late 14th century and 1917, and an 'Appendix' and a 'Bibliography.' The appendix is one of the strongest points in the books and consists of four parts. Appendices 'A' and 'C' contain Cossack and general Russian military terms and explanation, which no doubt will be used by many. Appendix 'B' serves as a reference list for various hosts and nations while Appendix 'D' deals with the uniform and armament terms.

The book has a two-page bibliography of books consulted, which this reviewer found the only major weakness of the book. It fails to showcase the research author undertook for this fascinating volume. Out of some sixty books cited, only seven are Russian and of those several are magazine articles. Unfortunately, recent publications of V. Bezotosny, the leading Cossack specialist in Russia, were not included. Certainly the list was aimed for the English reader but some books seem to be superfluous, i.e., D. Chandler's On the Napoleonic Wars (London, 1994), the Great Soviet Encyclopedia, etc.

Despite its brevity, the book is very interesting and useful. It is packed with information and will be of great use to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars. It reads very easily and author's special drop-out boxes with quotes from various memoirs and little known facts only enhance the experience. One will be fascinated to learn attitudes of Col. Leopold von Boyen, Fridrich Rohlitz and others towards the Cossacks. Among the strongest features of the book are the numerous tables covering almost every aspect of the Cossack organization and armament. The reader will find tables dealing with Cossack deployment in 1811, Platov's command in 1813, Guard cavalry composition in 1811 and organization of Bashkir and Kalmyk forces. Although the 'Table of Contents' acknowledges only sixteen tables, there are several more that are not included in it for some reason. The book is lavishly illustrated - all 80 pages are printed on a gloss paper and the book contains 27 B&W illustrations and 11 color plates by Patrice Courcelle!

On minor note, spelling of some Russian names is peculiar, i.e. Suvarov instead of Suvorov, Tschitchagov instead of Chichagov, Gardeieff instead of Gordeyev, Tscharnusubov instead of Chernozubov, Kutainikov instead of Kuteinikov, etc. The portrait of Matvei Platov on p. 61 was done not by "D. Doj." but by George Dowe for the War Gallery of 1812.

This book is recommended to anyone interested in the Napoleonic Wars and especially to wargamers, who would certainly welcome its concise and informative style.

Partizan Press books are available from Caliver Books

Reviewed by Alexander Mikaberidze
Placed on the Napoleon Series: November 2005