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Military Justice - Historical Perspective (Reprints)

Military Justice and Social Relations in the Prereform Army, 1796 to 18551

Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter

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1E. Wirtschafter’s article was previously published in the Slavic Review published by the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (Vol. 44, #1, Spring, 1985, pp. 67-82). It is reprinted in our journal with the permission of the publisher.

2When a young peasant in early nineteenth-century Russia was conscripted into the army from the taxpaying population, he underwent a fundamental change in juridical status: born into serfdom, he became a "free" man (vol'nyi chelovek) with a civic identity. He also entered a world of bureaucratic regulation that governed his daily routine and formalized his social relationships. While the master had unlimited control over his peasants, who were in fact his personal property, governmental regulation to some extent mediated relations between military commanders and their subordinates. In military society the state sought to legislate those paternalistic values that customarily defined relations between landlord and serf, relations conceived in the image of a father supervising his child. Theoretically this relationship combined paternal concern for the welfare of the soldiers with strict discipline and punishment. Like the biblical God. Commanders were supposed to be both merciful and “terrible”. Despite the intentions of the government, the broad discretionary power of the military commander easily became the arbitrary power of the serfowner. Indeed, there was no codification of military law before 1838, and authority relationships remained personalized throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Rather than guaranteeing justice or the rights of soldiers, the military judicial system preserved and legitimized authority. Nevertheless, unlike serfs, soldiers did have recourse to judicial institutions. When they had legal grounds for submitting grievances, they could appeal against their superiors through formal channels of authority and sometimes received satisfaction. However remote, there was always a possibility that justice would be served. It was perhaps this sense of possibility that distinguished the soldiers from the serfs and that prompted them to take spontaneous action at the risk of severe punishment2.

3The attitudes of soldiers often entered the historical record as acts of disobedience or as complaints against particular commanders during formal judicial investigations and courts-martial. Given the mass illiteracy in prereform Russia, judicial testimonies provide the only record of soldiers actually speaking for themselves3. Despite their limitations, military judicial cases are thus the most important source of information on the attitudes of the soldiers toward authority4. Still, it is difficult to define a distinctive soldier mentality, for the acts of disobedience recorded in the judicial sources were a direct result of the practices of military justice and the possibilities for redress perceived by the soldiers. The traditional irregularities and the arbitrariness characteristic of Russian administration in general and of the military judicial system in particular could only confuse the expectations of the soldiers, their sense of what was possible, and their responses to specific situations5.

4The fundamental ambiguities of military justice extended beyond questions of defining crimes or determining motivations and intentions. Even the loosely prescribed right of soldiers to submit claims created confusion. When high-ranking officers conducted official inspections, they were supposed to ask the lower ranks6 whether they had any grievances against their commanders7. And there were indeed instances when officers went on trial as a result of complaints by soldiers - complaints that usually consisted of economic claims or accusations of cruel treatment. More often than not, however, the inspections passed without incident, as there were significant constraints on the soldiers' right to petition. The expression of grievances was risky, for a soldier faced strict punishment if the authorities found his claims unjustified. Soldiers also faced punishment for presenting petitions collectively, an act the government regarded as rebellion.

5In 1816 Lieutenant General of the Artillery Iashvil reported to Commander in Chief of the First Army Barclay de Tolly on complaints submitted by the lower ranks of light company 34 against their commander, Lieutenant Colonel Komorov8. Iashvil considered Komorov guilty of various economic abuses and recommended that, after satisfying the claims of the lower ranks, he be arrested and temporarily removed from his command. At the same time Iashvil ordered the trial of one sergeant major, four noncommissioned officers, and seven privates as instigators with “illegal designs”, for they had "submitted a petition in agreement with the other men, [they had] signed for the others, [and had] hidden these complaints and secret meetings from the company commander”9. The lower ranks were also found guilty of failing to mention the reported "shortcomings and persecutions" either through their officers or at official inspections. In December 1816 they went on trial and subsequently were convicted of "illegal designs in submitting a petition”10. Voicing grievances collectively or out of order was dangerous, even when an officer was himself guilty of wrongdoing. Despite the abuses committed by Komorov, the lower ranks received punishment, both because they had bypassed their commanding officers and submitted a written petition to a higher authority and because some complaints, obviously imprecise, were judged "untruthful”11. Military justice required that a complaint be the act of an individual - a requirement that reflected the tsarist ideal of personal rulership.

6Official notions of authority often confused popular perceptions of the results military justice might achieve. Because soldiers were supposed to submit petitions through their commanders, officers could ignore complaints and intimidate or trick soldiers into keeping silent. In 1827 a military police agent reported that a noncommissioned officer of the infantry, Gritsenko, had complained about his former company commander, Captain Glinka, who allegedly had privately employed his men for mowing and threshing12. When they asked for the wages earned, Glinka accused Gritsenko of inciting the company to rebellion and punished him with 150 strokes of the stick. Gritsenko complained to the battalion commander, who ordered 100 strokes, and then to the regimental commander, who wanted to punish him again. The new company commander also reportedly sent the men to mow and thresh, and although the lower ranks had earned 1500 rubles, they were afraid to ask for their wages13.

7In a similar incident in 1829, the lower ranks of the Perevalovsk transport guard unit did not receive their allotted 15 rubles for socks and mittens. They complained to the commander of the Tiumen' invalids' unit, who refused to satisfy their claims and further frightened them by treating their complaints as intent to rebel. They dared not complain to anyone else14. In 1855 the former commander of the Bilimbaev mounted transport guard unit was found guilty of squandering 358 rubles belonging to the lower ranks. According to the final report of the Military Judicial Department, approved by the emperor, the soldiers had not made a report at the official inspection because their commander had given them a small sum of money just before the inspection, promising that they would receive the rest as soon as he could get change. But after the inspection the commander failed to distribute the remaining money and even retrieved what he had already allotted15. Given the inefficiency of local administration, many similar cases must have gone undetected.

8Reports on the condition of recruitment parties also suggest that formal inspections failed to provide the lower ranks with a secure forum for voicing grievances. To prevent complaints at an inspection, Ensign Sobelevskii, who accompanied a party of 395 recruits from Ore1 guberniia in 1856, planted disguised guards to report on the conversations of the recruits and also threatened them. Later, after the inspector's first interrogation, Sobelevskii beat them and forced them to carry packs and walk in the heat wearing sheepskin coats and buttoned greatcoats. In this manner he "brought them to their knees”16. Wellmeaning officers were aware of these abuses, and in 1856 the tsar's aide-de-camp, Field Captain of the Guards Ryleev, who inspected forty recruitment parties bound for the Caucasus, critically evaluated the effectiveness of inspections:

Formal inspections often do not achieve their aim, because recruits, knowing that the Officer and senior noncommissioned officer will accompany them for the entire trip, fear revenge (which I am convinced occurs) and with reason are afraid to speak. An accompanying officer can prevent complaints with threats and usually has selected recruits, whom he pampers, to stand at the front and shout louder than all the others: "We are satisfied with everything and each drink three cups [of vodka] a week”. These favorites are chosen from the hired substitutes and are called "elbowrests" (podlokotniki) by the recruits17.

9Officers repeatedly resorted to threats, chicanery, and actual punishment to prevent the lower ranks from expressing grievances, so that many claims emerged only after the soldiers learned that a commander was already under suspicion. This circumstance shows how well the suppression worked. The soldiers must also have known that "unfounded" or inappropriately expressed complaints could be dangerous. At the same time the use of intimidation by officers revealed their own fear that the higher authorities might regard the soldiers' grievances seriously.

10For the soldiers, additional ambiguities in the system of military justice stemmed from the vagaries of the regimental economy and of official definitions of cruel treatment. Not surprisingly, the judicial records reveal economic conditions and military discipline as the two major sources of conflict between officers and soldiers in the prereform army. By all accounts corruption was widespread in the administration of the military economy18, but deficiencies in the system of supply also invited abuse and conflict. Beginning with the reign of Peter the Great, the regimental economy was tied to a more or less centralized administration, although in the absence of adequate transportation and storage facilities procurement remained largely a local affair. Regiments obtained supplies either directly from the state or from private contractors engaged by the army. The government provided most equipment and cloth for uniforms, which it distributed through the regiment. Peter had established state magazines for storing grain, but the authorities might also provide the troops with money to buy food rather than supply the goods in kind19. When a regiment was on the march or quartered in private homes, commanders often purchased provisions locally. As late as 1860 only about 25 percent of Russian troops quartered in barracks, so that most soldiers subsisted on what was provided by their civilian hosts20. Russia's regional differences created widely varying economic conditions for the troops.

11Legislation defined the norms of pay, provisions, and supply for the common soldier, but daily subsistence was considerably less secure than the legal specifications suggest21. Still, it was the commander's responsibility to provide for his men, and they expected him to do so. An officer's failure to fulfill his economic obligations prompted complaints by the lower ranks and in extreme cases led to disobedience22. The inefficient system of supply with its frequent shortages was a chronic source of discontent and of conflict between the soldiers and their immediate superiors. The soldiers tended to suspect corruption, and indeed the line between corruption and the continual improvisation required to meet daily subsistence needs was a fine one. Implicit in autocratic authority and the discretionary power of military commanders was the notion that circumstances and the interests of the soldiers themselves might justify violations of the law. The government distributed monies and supplies for specific purposes, but military practice allowed reallocation by local commanders to cope with unforeseen circumstances23. This flexibility also generated conflict, as the legitimate expectations of the soldiers clashed with the broader needs of the regiment.

12Conflict was not, however, inevitable - a fact reflecting the personalized nature of authority relationships in military society. In some cases soldiers exhibited a patient understanding of the difficulties an officer might face in fulfilling his material obligations to them. In 1829 a court found Captain Tishchenko of the Second Burgskii Ulan regiment guilty of withholding munitions money for 1823-24 (about 520 rubles) from the 146 men in his former squadron24. Tishchenko testified that "the munitions money was used because of absolute necessity for various unforeseen needs that arose in the squadron". But the Military Judicial Department reported that Tishchenko had provided no evidence to support his claims, and when he testified in court he could not even remember what needs had arisen, since several years had passed. The lower ranks explained, however, that Tishchenko had been a good squadron commander and that because of his poverty "they did not wish to press any claims against him for the munitions money". Therefore they had not complained at inspections or when Tishchenko turned over the unit to his successor. Here the soldiers showed an understanding of economic exigencies, of the need to improvise and reallocate resources in order to meet the daily needs of a unit25.

13Another source of conflict built into the regimental economy was the prevalence of outside work. The law permitted soldiers to work as hired laborers, provided the work did not interfere with their service obligations26. Stationary units could even develop their own private economies, which might include farming and the operation of stores27. Usually commanding officers directly supervised these activities, although soldiers might also labor under contracts concluded by their superiors with an outside party. As long as they received proper payment, the soldiers willingly performed unofficial labor. When they were not paid, conflict ensued. According to the law, a portion of the money earned went to the individual soldiers, while the rest belonged to the company artel, which was controlled by the commander28. Legally, artel funds could be used only for the benefit of the soldiers, but often they became the object of disputes between officers and their subordinates. Sometimes the soldiers, most of whom were illiterate, were confused about the amount of money held by the artel29. Sometimes they were unaware that their commander had deposited the funds in a loan bank, as required by law when the sum exceeded 180 silver rubles per company30. In disputes over artel monies the soldiers tended to suspect corruption, and many officers indeed pilfered the funds or forced the soldiers to purchase essential items supposedly provided from state sources31. For the government unofficial economic activity was a constant annoyance that interfered with the performance of military duties. The so-called free works (vol’nye raboty) frequently amounted to soldiers working for the personal profit of their commander32. When fairly paid, soldiers did not object to lax service requirements, so there was always the possibility of collusion between soldiers and officers to the detriment of the service33. But the government's inability to ensure sufficient supplies for the troops compelled it to tolerate the unofficial economy34.

14While official action on the economic grievances of the soldiers had some basis in military law, few guidelines defined cruel punishment. The law forbade the use of broadswords and cleaning rods to punish soldiers35. The government also did not intend corporal punishment to result in death, although it was aware that beatings might damage internal organs and so hasten death36. Peter the Great's military regulation of 1719 prescribed loss of rank as the penalty for cruel treatment but did not specify the degree of punishment considered cruel37. In practice the definition of "cruel" depended on circumstances. Soldiers deserted, committed disobedience, and rebelled on grounds of abusive treatment. Officers faced court-martial, conviction, loss of rank, and expulsion from the service for abusing their subordinates. Nevertheless, beatings were commonly inflicted for drunkenness, mistakes in military exercises, minor violations in the fulfilment of duties, imperfections in dress and outfitting. Since only unusual cases of punishment became the subject of judicial inquiry, most punishments, even if "cruel" by the standards of the day, remained hidden. It is therefore difficult to determine precisely the norms of punishment. While established legal penalties at least reflected governmental policy, the norms were defined very loosely, and the legislation provided no guidelines concerning the frequency of punishment38. Hence the patterns of punishment must have varied significantly. The soldiers' reactions to treatment they considered unfair reflected social norms and the limits of legitimate authority in military society. Their expectations and the broad disciplinary powers of the commanders interacted to define the patterns of cohesion and conflict characterizing that society.

15The problem of cruel punishment was so disturbing that it attracted the attention of the tsar. In a rescript of July 12, 1804, Alexander I defined the essence of military discipline: to punish individuals guilty of wrong-doing and to teach those who committed violations out of ignorance39. Some "moral crimes" forbidden by all laws demanded strict punishment: robbery, theft, fraud, disobedience to a commander, false steps while on guard duty, neglect of weapons and uniforms, unauthorized absence, fear before the enemy, and other pernicious acts. In contrast, minor infractions that were clearly unintentional required a pedagogical approach: these included mistakes in the handling of weapons, marching, and wording when reporting or serving as an orderly. "Frequent reckless punishments deprive a soldier of his health and strength"; moreover, "the continual expectation of blows from a stick … upsets his attention", interferes with his ability to learn, and makes him more prone to error40.Troubled by reports of cruel treatment, Alexander I described the conditions that had prompted his rescript:

It has come to my attention that in many regiments during training and drill, soldiers and recruits are punished with a severity that is appropriate only in cases of serious crimes. This method [of punishment], which has been so harmful for the service [and] so opposed to common sense. is applied, of course, either out of misunderstanding about what should constitute military discipline or out of the innate proclivity of some for cruelty. The former is unforgivable in any officer. and the latter, revealing evil characteristics of the soul, destroys in him the very dignity of a man. Unquestionably, discipline among the troops should not be weakened at all and punishment for offenses should be executed without fail: but mistakes that are unintentional or result from want of habit (especially if it is something the violator was ignorant of before) should not be equated with crimes that subject the guilty to severe punishment41 .

16Despite his express disapproval of severe punishment for minor infractions of drill and military order, Alexander I failed to define the limits of acceptable treatment. Indeed, throughout this period the government frowned upon cruel punishment but, true to the character of autocratic authority, left its definition imprecise and therefore arbitrary.

17Alexander's rescript had scant effect, and in 1820 the commander of main headquarters of the Second Army, Major General Kiselev, expressed the need for legal limitations on the use of corporal punishment, attributing desertions, deaths, immorality, evasion and fear of service to "despotic punishments"42:

Formerly the severe punishment of soldiers served as cause for bragging … but morality has changed and now, to the honor of Russian officers, cruelty does not win praise. This is not to suggest that this evil does not exist at all: it continues, but in a more hidden and double manner - on the one hand [it results] from the cruelty and morals of commanders, and on the other hand from their failure to supervise their aides. In the regiment all [superiors] from the lance corporal to the commander beat and kill people43.

18In an order to corps commanders, Kiselev placed some modest limits on the use of corporal punishment. According to the major general, the increase in desertions from the Second Army proved that some officers did not treat the lower ranks with the gentleness required to improve the troops, and "from ignorance of their duties in relation to their subordinates, [they] destroy the courage, zeal, and ambition that are appropriate for a soldier and also the willingness to endure service, which entails such difficulty44. Kiselev ordered commanders to avoid "cruelty" for minor escapades, negligence, intoxication, slowness in learning military drills, and everything that did not constitute a crime, and to use “moral means” to correct the depraved and negligent: “distinction for the zealous and shame for the lazy”. The order also forbade the use of swords, cleaning rods, and blows of the hand45. Sticks were permissible when all other means "for arousing a lazy soldier" had failed, but for minor crimes commanders should not inflict hundreds of strokes. Finally, no officer or noncommissioned officer should impose corporal punishment without an order from the company commander. Despite his genuine concern, Kiselev did not specify precise limits on the severity of punishments; on the contrary, careful not to overstep the bounds of his authority, he simply urged moderation, caution, and good judgment on the part of commanding officers. While more specific than the 1804 rescript of Alexander I, Kiselev's order essentially voiced the same misgivings and described the same abuses.

19More often than not, circumstances - rather than legal considerations - determined guilt or innocence in cases of economic and personal abuse. It was this flexibility of autocratic justice in general and of military justice in particular that made it so irregular and arbitrary. For their part, soldiers obviously had a distinct sense of justice, a clear understanding of their rights, but in the final analysis it was official policy that defined legitimate grievances. Judicial cases show that the government, officers, and soldiers often disagreed about what constituted abuse or a valid complaint. Although officers were also vulnerable, soldiers occupied an especially ambiguous position. Circumstances could justify an officer's breaking the rules, but no degree of cruelty by a commander could excuse disobedience or desertion by soldiers. Abuses by officers might be exonerated in certain circumstances and punished in others. This arbitrariness (or flexibility) stemmed from the ideal of personal rulership inherent in autocractic authority and the serf system. The military courts did not make decisions on the basis of legal precedent, a notion alien to prereform government. Military society supposedly operated according to bureaucratic rules and procedures, but duty often required action beyond the law. The flexibility implicit in personal rulership extended only to commanding officers who exercised discretionary authority in supervising their men. Since the soldiers did not make military decisions and owed unquestioning obedience to their superiors, the same flexibility could only confuse their understanding of authority relationships in military society.

20Because quantitative data pertaining to authority relationships in military society are inadequate, the historian must analyze individual judicial cases. The two following cases concern acts of disobedience committed by groups of soldiers.

21Unlike the testimonies associated with the trials of commanders-circumstances in which an officer's vulnerability and loss of authority raised the expectations of the soldiers-direct disobedience was a spontaneous act fraught with danger. Because these acts of disobedience were spontaneous, one can assume that they more accurately reflected the soldiers' innermost feelings. Once a formal investigation began, the soldiers' hopes for redress increased and the list of grievances grew. The initial spontaneous action therefore acquired added significance.

22In November 1810, eighty-nine members of the lower ranks from the Keksgol'mskii musketeer regiment went on trial for disobeying their battalion commander, Colonel Kniazhnin46. According to the testimonies, on October 6 Kniazhnin inspected the men on guard duty. Finding them "dirty and slovenly”, he beat Sergeant Major Iakovlev on the cheeks. (As the recipient of a military order, Iakovlev should have been exempt from corporal punishment.) He then ordered Iakovlev and three noncommissioned officers to undress, demanded a stick, and prepared to punish them47. At that moment seventy-seven soldiers shouted. "Your Honor, please do not punish them, but give us our state munitions”. To avoid trouble Kniazhnin did not carry out the punishment but reported to the regimental commander, Major General Vel'iaminov, who questioned the company the next day. When Vel'iaminov wanted to punish Private Petrov as the instigator, Private Tiukov dragged Petrov away from the major general, and the lower ranks shouted: "We will not permit Your Excellency to punish Petrov, for he is not guilty." This direct interference with the orders of the battalion and regimental commanders clearly constituted disobedience.

23But the soldiers had specific reasons for opposing what they considered unjust punishment. In their opinion, Kniazhnin intended to punish the sergeant major and the noncommissioned officers not because of the company's sloppy dress but because the soldiers wore low boots, boots that the company commander had ordered them to replace with high ones. But the soldiers asserted that they could not purchase new boots as they had already spent their personal and artel funds to buy munitions. They had received no money from the regiment, although the specified period for buying new outfits had passed48. Moreover, their new uniforms and trousers were stored in the depot and could be worn only on sentry duty. Because of these complaints Kniazhnin tried to persuade the company to forget the incident, at first promising to reimburse them 500 rubles and then raising the amount to 1000 rubles. The company refused; conscious of their rights and imbued with their own sense of justice, they requested an official inspection. While the soldiers' belief that the intended punishment was unjustified was the immediate reason for their disobedience, they were disposed to hold this belief because their superiors had failed to fulfill other prescribed obligations. The soldiers obviously knew of these obligations and accepted them as part of the norms of military discipline.

24Not surprisingly, Battalion Commander Kniazhnin and Regimental Commander Vel'iaminov denied that the soldiers had been forced to purchase munitions and uniforms with their own money. As proof they noted that the company had voiced no complaints when Vel'iaminov had conducted his last inspection in February. Moreover, the regimental commander asserted that instead of giving the soldiers money for munitions he had purchased new uniforms. To buttress the claim that no one had been forced to outfit himself, Vel'iaminov declared that the company's artel held significant funds, 1323 rubles deposited in a loan bank. But further testimony contradicted Vel'iaminov's statement and revealed that during the trial Kniazhnin had deposited 500 rubles for each of the two companies in his battalion. Field Captain Borovskii confirmed the soldiers' testimony that they had bought new uniforms with their own money. He also noted that when the fourth company and the new commander of the third company had tried to submit the soldiers' claims, neither Kniazhnin nor Vel'iaminov would accept them. According to Borovskii, when the company had returned from a campaign abroad in 1807 it numbered only fifty men, and the new soldiers who arrived to fill the ranks did not receive uniforms made from the cloth issued by the commissariat. Instead, they were issued old uniforms and trousers purchased secondhand but were still expected to wear these decrepit uniforms for as long as if they had been new. The soldiers tried to mend them, but finally, seeing patches upon patches and witnessing the endless punishments suffered by the noncommissioned officers, allegedly for slovenliness, they decided to buy new uniforms with their own money. At the same time the uniforms made from the cloth received in 1808 and with funds received in 1810 lay in the company depot and were used only by special order of the commanders. To judge from the record, all the company officers stood by their men and failed to support the arguments of Kniazhnin and Vel'iaminov.

25Despite the abuses by Kniazhnin and Vel'iaminov, the judges found the soldiers guilty of disobedience toward their commanders. The court acquitted twelve men who were not present during the incident but convicted the remaining seventy-seven members of the company. With the tsar's approval, they received sentences of running the gauntlet eight times through a thousand men and were then transferred to the Danubian army. They were not to be assigned to any particular regiment but sent on military expeditions, which would enable them "to atone for their crime with their own blood”49. The court also considered Vel'iaminov guilty for not investigating the soldiers' monetary claims against Kniazhnin, for completely trusting the battalion commander, and for forgetting that soldiers might sometimes have just complaints against their superiors. Kniazhnin himself was found guilty of withholding money granted to the soldiers for a parade in 1808, of not replacing their uniforms at the legally prescribed time, thereby forcing them to buy outfits with their own money, and of provoking these "unpleasant events" by not satisfying the soldiers' claims and by inappropriately punishing the sergeant major. The report of the Military Judicial Department, subsequently approved by the tsar, concluded that Kniazhnin was to blame for the entire incident, which was so "harmful for the service”, and recommended his expulsion from the army. As for Vel'iaminov, the authorities decided that although he had proven "a weak commander" he had not consciously committed any crimes and that, in consideration of his past services and good behavior, he deserved the mercy of His lmperial Highness50. Military justice required punishment of the soldiers for their audacity and of Kniazhnin for his abuses and negligence.

26Other acts of disobedience also revealed popular notions of justice. In April 1857 twenty-one members of the lower ranks from the Sveaborg artillery garrison went on trial for "obvious disobedience" to their commander, Ensign Shchetinin51. Since September 1856 a unit of eighty-one men from the Sveaborg garrison had been serving at the fortifications on the Åland Islands. When the men arrived on September 28, Shchetinin informed them that the stores of provisions of Åland were low and it would be necessary to send to Åbo for supplies. They agreed to provide for themselves with state funds until provisions arrived and received money for food through October 8. On October 7 Shchetinin appointed a noncommissioned officer, Gomashka, to travel to Åbo for supplies, but the lower ranks objected, as the trip would be expensive. They preferred to feed themselves with purchases in surrounding villages and save a little money for new soles. But since the soldiers reportedly had complained about the Swedish bread acquired locally, Shchetinin insisted on sending Gomashka. From October 7 through 14, the men ate beef bought with the money allotted that week, each man supposedly receiving half a pound of beef a day. The beef should have lasted until October 21, but according to the testimony of the defendants half the meat was spoiled (a not unreasonable claim considering the lack of storage facilities). In addition, the men received funds (56 rubles) for meal and potatoes.

27The problems began on October 14 when Gornashka did not return as expected. The lower ranks received money for the fourteenth. But when they requested additional funds on the fifteenth, Shchetinin told them to wait until Gomashka arrived, for he had no more funds and had even added his own money to the earlier handout. The men worked without incident on the fifteenth and sixteenth, but on the seventeenth a noncommissioned officer by the name of Krzhivitskii informed Shchetinin that the men of company 4 demanded funds. Consequently Shchetinin distributed money out of his own pocket for the fifteenth and sixteenth and then inquired whether the men of company 4 had bread. They unanimously answered in the negative, explaining that they owed local residents payment for the past two days and now had nothing to eat. Shchetinin tried to tell them that their hosts could wait until Gomashka's return, but the company began to shout: "Please [give us] money: we have nothing to eat”. At that moment men from the other companies also demanded money. But Shchetinin felt certain that the soldiers had provisions and ordered them to work. A few soldiers from the fifth, sixth, and seventh companies obeyed, but eighteen men from company 4 returned to their quarters. Shchetinin then gave more of his own money to the noncommissioned officer Razdevich for distribution to the unit for the seventeenth. Meanwhile, the men of companies 5, 6, and 7 had refused to work: "If one company did not go [to work] why are we going, hardly so that they [alone] will be considered guilty”52. In the end only the men of company 7 and a few from company 6 went to work: the rest remained in their quarters. Soon after this incident Gomashka arrived from Åbo with provisions, and Shchetinin moved to reassert his authority. On the eighteenth he tried to punish three instigators, but when bombardier Churbanov resisted, stepping forward only after the third command, the rest of company 4 declared they would not permit punishment of him or anyone else, "for they did not steal anything". Then gunner Kondratskii added, "The tsar did not order us to starve", and the entire company departed53. Seeing that they were all of one mind, Shchetinin punished no one but initiated judicial proceedings against the company.

28The military authorities questioned the motives of company 4 on two grounds. There was considerable evidence from the testimony of Shchetinin and forty-eight members of the lower ranks from companies 5, 6, and 7 that the men had sufficient food, including bread, potatoes, beef, and pork. When Shchetinin had inspected these units, however, he had not visited company 4, which was quartered farther away. It is possible, then, that company 4 did not have as many supplies as the other companies and really was in need of bread. At any rate, the Military Judicial Department concluded that although the men had not received funds for two days, this did not justify disobedience, especially since the lack of money resulted from circumstances beyond Shchetinin's control. Moreover, the lower ranks had not been without bread, which they could acquire on credit from the local inhabitants. The authorities commonly made this assumption since the military often acquired goods locally. But one cannot be certain that local inhabitants provided adequate food for the soldiers, or that they did so at a fair price. More important, if Shchetinin was sure the men had bread, why did he immediately give them money at the first sign of unrest? These circumstances suggest the very real possibility that the men of company 4 may well have been short of provisions.

29Whatever the food situation on land, the incident illuminates both the expectations of the lower ranks and the relations among them. The events of 1856 revealed the company as the basic social unit in military society. Throughout, the men of a particular company acted as a group, and the authorities identified them as such. At the same time there was a more general solidarity (or perhaps jealousy) among the companies. When company 4 refused to work, the other companies followed suit, either because they felt the same grievance or because they thought they should not have to work when company 4 did not. Whatever the reasons, there was security in numbers. Company 4 was the first to demand money, and this must have encouraged the men of the other companies. By the time they acted, they no longer ran the risk of being identified as the instigators. Thus the motivations of company 4 were by far the most significant. Stated most simply, their crime was to demand the money allotted them by law. Since they had not received money for two days and then on the third day received allowances for the past two days, they may have believed that Shchetinin had funds for the third day as well. In general they showed little regard for extenuating circumstances but pressed their demands. Moreover, when Shchetinin tried to punish the instigators, the other soldiers came to their defense, for in their view no punishment was justified. Whether the position of the lower ranks was valid or not, it revealed well-defined notions of their rights and of the commander's obligations to them. Shchetinin's failure to fulfill these obligations prompted them to take action.

30In the end the Military Judicial Department found the bombardier Churbanov and seventeen gunners from company 4 guilty of disobedience. Churbanov and twelve gunners received sentences of running the gauntlet through a hundred men two to four times, followed by three to five years in a convict company. Four gunners, deemed medically unfit to undergo corporal punishment, faced three years in a convict company, and one gunner from company 4 had died. Eighteen gunners from the fifth and sixth companies, who had returned to their quarters on October 17, faced the punishment of a beating with birch rods and also lost the right to obtain leave or to retire, "until they atone for their crime with zealous service and irreproachable behavior”54.The noncommissioned officers Kuz'min and Krzhivitskii were demoted to gunners and transferred to another artillery garrison for failing to ensure that the men of companies 5 and 6 returned to work. In contrast, the eighteen gunners of company 7 - who also had returned to their quarters but then went back to work at the behest of their noncommissioned officers - were freed from punishment. Finally, Shchetinin suffered two weeks' arrest in the guardhouse for "inefficiency" (nerasporiaditel'nost') in provisioning his unit, inefficiency that had led to disobedience by the lower ranks.

31The cases examined are exceptional but what they reveal about norms and expectations in military society has more general validity. It was precisely the violation of these norms and expectations that prompted acts of disobedience and disregard for one's fate and obligations to the service. In military society several factors served to confuse the soldiers' expectations or understanding of social norms and legitimate authority. The primary reason for the confusion was the discrepancy between the official treatment accorded the lower ranks and that accorded the officers. The discrepancy lay not so much in the practice of corporal punishment - for corporal punishment was used throughout Russian society but rather in the criteria used to measure guilt. Although the soldiers lacked precise knowledge of military regulations, their actions and words showed an awareness of their juridically defined rights and obligations. But how important were these rights in daily life, and what happened to soldiers who tried to gain them? Governmental regulation was at best unpredictable. The authorities expected soldiers to report abuses by their commanders either through their officers (an unlikely avenue for a complaint against a superior) or at official inspections. If the soldiers failed to submit complaints during inspections and then subsequently pressed their claims, they were subject to punishment. In addition, petitions were supposed to be individual: collective petitions, spontaneously submitted, were tantamount to revolt. Soldiers who presented "unjustified" complaints also risked trial and conviction. The ambiguity was increased by the fact that failure to report abuses constituted a violation, but at the same time the authorities did not consider testimony by soldiers sufficient to establish an officer's guilt. Despite these dangers, soldiers continued to lodge complaints against their superiors. Although official policy was highly irregular, soldiers sometimes received satisfaction for their claims, and military courts convicted officers for abusing their subordinates.

32The imperial government sought to define social norms and expectations in military society through laws, but the flexible practices of military justice differed little from arbitrariness and so could only create confusion in popular perception of legitimate authority. The soldiers knew that bureaucratic rules defined their rights and obligations, yet whenever they tried to claim their rights the authorities seemed to conclude that circumstances justified violations of the rules. And woe to the soldier who sought to win his rights through spontaneous or collective action. Hierarchical military authority took precedence over justice, even as defined by the state. The soldiers' understanding of official expectations and real possibilities in the pursuit of justice was bound to be confused. Because of the inherent contradiction between discretionary authority and bureaucratic regulation, the soldiers could not know for certain whether an officer's violations would be excused. The soldiers' violations, however, were never excused.

33Just as the soldier could not exercise his juridical freedom while in the service, so too did he have great difficulty realizing his civic identity as a servant of the tsar. Still, the legal niceties were significant, for they implicitly threatened the traditional social arrangements based on serfdom. Governmental regulation of social relations in military society revealed the desire to promote administrative efficiency and professional performance. But the chronic gap between military needs and available resources coupled with the autocratic ideal of personal rulership prevented the ordering of relations between soldiers and officers along firm professional lines. Their relations remained traditional, rooted in paternalism and serfdom. And the ambiguous status of the soldiers, so strikingly revealed in the irregularities of military justice, reflected the growing contradiction in the government's policy of promoting bureaucratic rationality while preserving the existing social order.

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1 Research for this article was made possible by a grant from the International Research and Exchange Board and the Fulbright-Hays Program for Dissertation Research Abroad. I would also like to thank the ofticers and staff of the Central State Military Historical Archive of the U.S.S.R. (hereafter TsGVIA), where the research for this article was conducted.
2 The dangers of punishment for submitting complaints are discussed below, pp 69-71.
3 John Keep has noted that there are only three rnemoirs from this period actually written by soldiers and that in general officers were not concerned with the lower ranks in their personal rerniniscences. See his "From the Pistol to the Pen: The military memoir as a source on the social history of pre-reform Russia", Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, 21 (July-December 1980), no. 3-4: 295-320. Sources on the social history of the lower ranks in the first half of the nineteenth century generally present a frustrating problem. The main difficulty is the absence of a closed comprehensive body of sources. Regimental records are scattered and fragmentary, and the sources for some militarily significant geographical areas like the Caucasus are inaccessible. The records from the military colonies, garrisons. and guards regiments are better, but these troops are exceptional by nature and cannot provide the basis for a study of the regular standing army. There are no complete service lists for the lower ranks of any regiment. Given the inadequacy of statistical sources for prereform Russian history, this situation is not surprising. Other circumstances are more frustrating. The central bureaucracy showed little concern for the conditions of daily life in the army. The only detailed accounts of local conditions resulted from extraordinary circumstances – flagrant abuses by officers or disobedience by soldiers-that prompted special investigations. There was, then, no systematic reporting on local conditions. Russian bureaucrats were interested primarily in tallying the number of men, horses, and guns and the quantity of money, supplies, and equipment.
4 Even the limitations of judicial materials can reflect the conditions of daily life that underlay the mentality of the lower ranks. Most problematically, judicial records concern serious deviant behavior, which - although recognized as an important source for the study of social norms - is by nature atypical. Moreover, minor violations of the service order resulted in summary punishment at the local lekel and so escaped the purview of the central authorities. According to a law of 1806, brigade commanders decided cases of first desertion and theft not exceeding twenty paper rubles without convening a court and were empowered to impose sentences of 500 to 1500 strokes by running the gauntlet. Cases involving a second desertion, a second petty theft, or theft exceeding twenty rubles required a court decision and confirmation by the divisional commander, who could assign a punishment of no more than 3000 strokes. The corps commander decided cases up to the fifth desertion and other serious crimes carrying a sentence of no more than 5000 strokes. Finally. The Military Judicial Department (General Auditoriat), which was the highest military court and directly subordinate to the tsar, confirmed sentences for multiple crimes and for crimes carrying the death penalty or punishments replacing the death penalty, such as hard labor, exile to Siberia, and exclusion from a military career. Stoletie voennogo ministerstva (hereafter SVM), vol. 12. pt. 1. bk. 1 (St.Petersburg. 1902), pp. 186-88. Polnoe sobranie zakonov rossiiskoi imperii ( hereafter PSZ), (I) 29: 22322. Prikazy voennogo ministra (hereafter Prikazy), May 14. 1809, no. 63. Svod voennykh postanovlenii (hereafter SVP), (1838) chast' 5, kn. 1, st. 248-54, 500-503. On the General Auditoriat, see PSZ (I) 26: 19265 and SVM, vol. 12, pt, 1. bk. 1, pp. 161-63, 186. See also John P LeDonne, "The Administration of Military Justice under Nicholas I", Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, 13 (April-June 1972), no. 2: 180-91. Another weakness of the judicial records involved irregularities in the administration of military justice: the possibility of falsifying records or using force to extract confessions. As late as 1854, an order of the war minister warned officials that during the investigation of crimes they were forbidden by law to subject accused persons to "biased interrogations, tortures, and cruelties”. See Prikazy, January 22, 1854, no. 9.
5 For both the authorities and the witnesses, judicial testimonies had an express purpose that often casts doubt not only on their veracity but also on the accuracy of official conclusions. It is practically impossible to determine which testimonies are truthful and which false, although the actual facts of a case are less important than the view a testimony gives of military society. When a soldier voices a grievance, he is either telling the truth or trying to justify his own malfeasance with claims that he expects to arouse the sympathy of the authorities. In either case the historian can learn sornething about social relations.
6 The term "lower ranks" is used throughout the article for nizhnie chiny. Many of the sources do not distinguish between soldiers and noncommissioned officers.
7 According to the Code of Military Regulations of 1838, brigade commanders conducted inspections three times a year, divisional commanders twice a year, and corps commanders and commanders in chief once. SVP (1838), chast' 3, kn. 1, st. 792.
8 TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 164, ll. 5-8.
9 In Iashvil's view the sergeant major was especially guilty. for he "should have been the first to report on these intentions and repeated meetings concerning the presenting of a petition. But, on the contrary, he himself read the written petition before the entire company”.
10 TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 164, ll. 15 and 19.
11 The claims considered unproven, unfounded, or untrue included: 568 rubles for gun-stock money not requested by Komorov, 94 rubles withheld from the pay of dead soldiers and recruits, and 783 rubles for boot leather not received. The claims that Komorov had to satisfy included: 30 rubles for munitions money, four pairs of boots, 3453 rubles for artel funds used to buy provisions and forage without permission from the commanding authorities, and 1067 rubles allocated for provisions but used by Komorov for forage without authorization. TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 164. ll. 49-52, 59. In addition to the monetary satisfaction of these claims, Komorov's punishment included arrest for one month and denial of the right to command until he received recognition from his superiors. TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 164, ll. 62-63.
12 The law allowed officers to hire soldiers for private work, but the soldiers were to be paid, they were not to be forced into work, and the work was not to interfere with the fulfillment of regular service duties. See PSZ (I) 24: 17576, 17856; 27: 20581.
13 TsGVIA, fond 410, delo 67, ll. 44-47.
14 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 20. delo 2, ll. 63ob-64ob.
15 TsGVIA, ,fond 801, opis' 61/2, delo 250, l. 889.
16 TsGVIA, fond 395, opis' 213, delo 21, 1. 1089.
17 TsGVIA, fond 395, opis' 213, delo 21, ll. 1084-1987. While on the march. a recruit's rations included three cups of vodka a week. See PSZ (II) 6: 4677.
18 For a contemporary journalistic account of the regimental economy. see "0 polkovykh komandirakh i ikh khoziaistvennykh rasporiazheniiakh”, in A.I. Gertsen and I.P. Ogarev, eds., Golosa iz Rossii, vyp. 1, pp. 46-109 (reprint ed., Moscow, 1974). The best contemporary scholarly account is V.M. Anichkov, Voennoe khoziaistvo. Sravnitel’noe issledovanie polozhitel’nykh zakonotel’stv Rossii, Frantsii, Prussii, Avstrii, Sardinii, Bel’gii I Bavari (St. Petersburg. 1860). The most recent and broadly conceived discussion can be found in Dietrich Beyrau: Militär und Gesellschaft im vorrevolutionären Russland (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 1984). Compare Fedor Zatler, Zapiski o provodovol’stvii voisk v voennoe vremia (St. Petersburg, 1860 and 1862) and John S. Curtiss, The Russian Army under Nicholas I (Durham, N.C.:Duke University Press, 1965). For a fuller discussion of the materials presented here, see Elise Kimerling, "A Social History of the Lower Ranks in the Rusian Army, 1796-1855'' (Ph.D, diss., Columhia University1983), chapters 3 and 5, and Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, "The Lower Ranks In the Peacetime Regimental economy, 1796-1855". The Slavonic and East European Review (January 1986).
19 On Peter the Great's military economic reform, see SVM, vol. 5, pt. 1 (St. Petersburg,1902), pp. 9-35. On contracts betweenthe military and private suppliers, see Arkhiv gosudarstvennogo soveta, vol. 4, no. 2, pt. 2 (St. Petersburg, 1888), col. 1915-26, 1945-47, 1959-65, 1976-78. On the obligations of the state and local society in supplbing the troops, see SVM, vol. 5, pt. 1, pp. 85-90, 103-11. On difficulties due to local variations in the quality and availibility of supplies, see PSZ (II), 17: 15867, 16113, 16368; 22: 21248; 25: 24409; 20: 25063. See also Curtis, The Russian Army, pp. 24-17.
20 See the chapter on the regimental economy. in Beyrau, Militär und Gesellschaft. When the  local population was very poor, the soldiers ate from the common pot. Anichkov, Voennoe khoziaistvo, pp. 577-78.
21 On soldiers' economic grievance, and ofticers' abuses. see Kilnerling. "Social History. of the Lower Ranks", chapter 5. On the legislated norms for pay and provisions, see SVM, vol. 1, pp. 87. 91. 94; Arkhiv gosudarstvennogo soveta, vol. 3 (St. Petersburg, 1878), col. 876; Istoricheskoe obozrenie voenno-sukhoputnogo upravleniia, 1825-1850gg (St. Petersburg, 1850), pp. 56, 61-63; and I.I. Prohhodtsov, Riazanskaia guberniia v 1812 godu, vol. 1 (St. Petersburg, 1913), pp. 146- 47. For the actual legislation, see PSZ (I) 8: 5864, 17: 12748, 30: 23297, .37: 28644 and 28767; (II) 2:1004, 5: 3658, 6: 4677, 11: 9141 and 9762, 12: 9952, 13: 11478, 17: 15808, 18: 17271, 19:18096 and 18269, 24: 23702, 26: 25441 and 25105, 27: 25991. Compare SV (1838), chast' 4, kn. 3, appendix 15 to articles 483, 502; and Prikay, December 6, 1836, no. 131, July 1, 1842, no. 69, and December 6, 1849, no. 122.
22 See the case study below. pp. 79-81.
23 For cases of officers misusing resources or reallocating monies for the good of the army, see TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 6, delo 11, ll. 82-85; fond 16232, opis' 1, delo 142, ll. 229-60ob.
24 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 6i, delo 71, ll. 20-38.
25 The government, however. considered both Tishchenko and the lower ranks guilty of violating the service order, although allowance was made for the extenuating circumstances. Given the soldiers' wishes, Tichenko's formerly unblemished and zealous service, and the fact that when the regimental commander  was informed about the money Tishchenko immediately began an investigation, his sentence was light. In addition to the year he had already spent under arrest, Tishchenko faced another month in the fortress. The lower ranks, who were guilty of not informing the authorities at the appropriate times thath they had not received the munition money, were freed from punishment on the basis of an amnesty declared in 1826. PSZ (II) 1: 29, 548-49, 704, 789; 2: 1033; 3: 1847; 6: 4254. For two cases where the authorities forgave economic regularities because of an officer’s impoverished circumstances, see TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 61, delo 77, ll. 162ob-63ob and delo 202, ll. 402-29.
26 See Kimerling, "Social History of the Lower Ranks", chapters 3 and 5.
27 For example, in 1826 the Preobrazhenskii regiment operated three shops and three vegetable gardens. See TsGVIA, fond 36, opis' 6, delo 95, ll. 1-3 and fond 395, opis' 325, delo 20, ll. 34-39ob. Compare Anichkov, Voennoe khoziaistvo, p. 558.
28 See SVP (1838), chast’ 4, kn. 4, st. 86-121.
29 See TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 62, delo 66, ll. 8-1lob.
30 Anichkov, Voennoe khoziaistvo, p. 417. For a squadron the figure was 120 silver rubles. Each soldier was supposed to have a minimum of 7 rubles, 15 kopecks (15 rubles in the guards) in the artel. For such case, see TsGVIA, fond 16232, opis' 61, delo 112, ll. 229-236ob.
31 Compare TsGVIA, fond 801, opis’ 61, delo 11, l. 32.
32 Cases in TsGVIA, fond 36, opis' 6, delo 95, ll. 1-3 and fond 395, opis' 325, delo 20, ll. 34-39ob.
33 This type of collusion, between officers and soldiers, led to en extensive private economy at the Kinburn artillery garrison. See TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 87/32, delo 9, chast' 1-2 and fond 395, opis’ 286, delo 389, ll. 18-23.
34 Recognizing the problem, in March 1846 the commander of the Southern Artillery Region informed all garrison commanders that if governmental funds were insufficient for the soldiers' munitions they should release three privates from each company to engage in outside work. See TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 87/32, delo 9, chast’ 2, ll. 299-299ob. The Austrian army followed similar practices, also because of economic necessity. See Gunther E. Rothenberg, The Army of Francis Joseph West Lafayette, Indiana: Purdue University Press, 1976), p. 76.
35 In 1830 the commander of the Suzdal infantry regiment was sentenced to four months' arrest followed by assignment to service without the right to command a battalion for employing such means. PSZ (II) 5 : 3835. Also see below, p. 76.
36 See the case concerning the death of Private Voichulionis, in which the responsible officer was found innocent of cruel punishment. TsGVIA, fond 801, opis’ 61/2, delo 250. From 1801 a regimental doctor was supposed to oversee sentences of corporal punishment to ensure that the victim was strong enough to survive. PSZ (I) 26: 211070 and 30: 13691. Imperatorskie ukazy I prikazy voennogo ministerstva za 1809 g , June 6. 1809, no. 743.
37 SVM, vol 12, pt. 1, bk. 1, p. 67. PSZ ( I ) 5:3006.
38 See n. 3.
39 SVM, vol. 12, bk. 1, appendix 4, pp. 29-30.
40 Ibid.
41 Ibid.
42 TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 430, ll. 1-1ob.
43 Here Kiselek is referring to the failure of regimental commanders to supervise the disciplinary actions taken by subordinate officers and noncommissioned officers.
44 TsGVIA, fond 16231, opis' 1, delo 430, ll. 2-3.
45 At least by 1830 officers faced trial and conviction for using broadswords and cleaning rods. See PSZ (11) 5: 3835.
46 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis’ 61, delo 34, ll. 509-18, 533-537ob.
47 The law exempted decorated soldiers from corporal punishment. See PSZ (I) 30: 22903, 23160; (11) 18: 17255, 20: 18848.
48 Artel monies belonged to the lower ranks and were supposedly used for their personal needs. The law forbade the use of artel funds to purchase clothing or repair equipment. SVP (1838), chast' 4, kn, 4, st. 86-121. The state provided cloth for uniforms. and the troops used each piece of equipment or item of clothing for a legally specified period, after which the government replaced it. SVM, vol. 5 , pt. 1, pp. 90-91.
49 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis' 61, delo 34, 1. 509.
50 Kniazhnin and Vel'iaminov, both aged 37, were from the nobility. Kniazhnin had entered the service in 1784 and reached his present rank of colonel in 1810. Vel'iaminov had entered service from the elite Corps of Pages in 1796 as a lieutenant and reached his rank of major general in 1807. Both had served in battle, and had been decorated.
51 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis’ '73, delo 32, ll., l38-72, 180-94, and 205-15. 1XO-94.
52 TsGVIA, fond 801, opis’ '73, delo 32, ll. 138-42ob, 184-86.
53 Ibid. ll. 138-42ob.
54 Ibid. ll. 190-94.
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Elise Kimerling Wirtschafter, “Military Justice and Social Relations in the Prereform Army, 1796 to 1855”The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 8 | 2008, Online since 14 July 2008, connection on 26 May 2024. URL:; DOI:

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