Malorussian Cossacks

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Origin and History

During the XVIth Poland ruled the whole of Ukraine. As early as 1512, Poland subdivided Ukraine into 20 military districts, known as Polk. Each of these districts had to contribute 2,000 men to the Polish Army during wartime.

In 1654, Russia annexed the 10 Ukrainian districts located on the left bank of the Dniepr. This part of Ukraine was then designated as Malorussia (Little Russia). Even under Russian rule, the Malorussian Polk retained their own military organisation and administration.

Since their annexation by Russia, the Malorussian Cossacks were organised in 10 militia regiments, each counting between 6 and 16 sotnias (companies of 100 men):

  • Hadiach (9 sotnias)
  • Kiev (8 sotnias)
  • Lubny (12 sotnias)
  • Myrhorod (15 sotnias)
  • Nizhyn (10 sotnias)
  • Pereiaslav (16 sotnias)
  • Poltava (16 sotnias)
  • Pryluky (7 sotnias)
  • Starodub (6 sotnias)
  • Chernihiv aka Chernigov (14 sotnias)

By the time of the Seven Years' War, the Malorussian Cossacks were considered as the least effective of the Kozache Viysko (Cossack Hosts) and of limited military value.

Service during the War

There is no mention of Malorussian Cossacks with the Russian Army campaigning in East Prussia and Brandenburg in the first years of the war.

In January 1761, during the Russian campaign in Pomerania, Malorussian Cossacks served with Don Cossacks in a combined force of 11 pulks totalling 6,000 men attached to Tottleben's Corps. At the end of October, after the capture of Treptow, Rumyantsev sent back Nizegorodskiy Dragoons under the command of Dwilke to cover the line of communication with Posen (present-day Poznań) with the support of the Makedonskiy Hussars and the Maszlikin and Malorussian Cossacks.

Uniform

Illustrations of Cossacks
The Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection at Brown University make available a large number of illustrations depicting Cossacks. Even though they are mostly of the 1812-1815 period, they give a fairly good idea of the way Cossacks dressed during this era.

At the outbreak of the Seven Years' War, these Cossacks did not wear uniforms. The following description is very conjectural and based on the clothing of other Cossack units.

Caftans and waistcoats were often made of blue cloth. Their hair was cut in roundel. They wore a high bonnet of sheepskin. Coats of rank and file were girdled with an ordinary sabre strap or a belt of coarse fabric material. Leaders wore silken belt from Persia or Poland over the sabre belt. Sabre was worn over the waistcoat. Some cossacks, especially the rank and file had only a mustache, beard was less common. They wore woollen trousers, half boots of black Morocco leather or simple leather. The Cossacks trousers were similar to the Turkish ones, but much tighter.

Troopers were usually armed with a lance, a sabre and a pistol. They could also carry a knife and a musket.

Musicians

Kettle-drummers are sometimes mentioned with Cossack units.

Colours

These militia regiments had probably no official standard even though they may had some unofficial ones.

References

Grosser Generalstab Kriegsgeschichtliche Abteilung II: Die Kriege Friedrichs des Grossen, Part 3 Der siebenjährige Krieg 1756-1763, Vol. 4 Groß-Jägersdorf und Breslau, Berlin, 1902, p. 22 and appendix 1

Konstam A. & B. Younghusband : Russian Army of the Seven Years War, Osprey, London, 1996