Zaporozhje Cossacks

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Origin and History

In 1550, free Cossacks established themselves on the the islands beyond the rapids of the Lower Dnieper River. The name Zaporozhtsi comes from the location of their fortress, the Sich, in Zaporozhzhia, the ‘land beyond the rapids’.

The Zaporozhian Sich grew rapidly during the XVth. Indeed, many serfs from Poland and Muscovy and even Tatars from Crimea could become part of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. There were certain tests they had to pass, including accepting Orthodoxy as their religion, crossing themselves and reciting the Creed and other prayers.

In the XVIth century, with the dominance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth extending south, the Zaporozhian Cossacks were mostly, if tentatively, regarded by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth as their subjects. From the second part of this century, Zaporozhian Cossacks started raiding Ottoman territories. These raids strained relations between the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and the Ottoman Empire. The Poles then forced the Zaporozhian Cossacks to burn their boats and stop raiding.

Zaporozhian Cossack numbers continued to expand with Ukrainian peasants running from serfdom in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Gradually, the loyalty of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to the Commonwealth eroded. Their strong traditional allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox Christianity put them at odds with the Catholic-dominated Commonwealth.

In the early XVIth century, there were several Cossack uprisings against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, culminating in the Khmelnytsky uprising that started from 1648. This latter uprising resulted in 1654 in the incorporation of Ukraine (lands located to the East of the Dnieper River) into the Tsardom of Russia.

The Zaporozhian Cossacks were involved into several uprisings against the Russian Tsar, in fear of losing their privileges and autonomy. In 1709, for example, the Zaporozhian Host led by Kost Hordiienko joined Hetman Ivan Mazepa against Russia. After the defeat at the Battle of Poltava, Peter ordered a retaliatory destruction of the Sich. The Zaporozhian Cossacks then made an alliance with the Crimean Tatars and Ottomans against Russia, but following the early successes of their 1711 attack on Russia, they were defeated. They then built a new Sich under protection of the Ottoman Empire: the Oleshky Sich on the Lower-Dnieper. They remained enemy of Imperial Russia till 1733.

In 1734, as Russia was preparing for a new war against the Ottoman Empire, an agreement was made between Russia and the Zaporozhian Cossacks. By the Treaty of Lubny, the Zaporozhian Cossacks regained all of their former lands, privileges, laws and customs, in exchange for serving under the command of a Russian Army stationed in Kiev. A new sich (Nova Sich) was built to replace the one that had been destroyed by Peter I. Concerned about the possibility of Russian interference in Zaporozhia's internal affairs, the Cossacks began to settle their lands with Ukrainian peasants fleeing serfdom in Polish and Russian proper.

The Zaporozhian Cossack Host had its own military and administrative divisions. All officers were elected by the General Military Council for a year on January 1. The highest body of administration in the Zaporozhian Host was the Sich Rada (council). For military operations Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Host organized into Kish.

By the time of the Seven Years' War, the Zaporozhian Cossack Host counted six regiments regarded as some of the most ferocious Cossack regiments available, although resentment of Russian authority made them difficult to control.

By 1762, 33,700 Cossacks and over 150,000 peasants populated Zaporozhia.

In 1775, the Zaporozhian Cossack Host was forcibly disbanded by the Russian Empire, with most of the population relocated to the Kuban region in the South edge of the Russian Empire.

During the Seven Years' War, the regiment was commanded by:

  • no information found

Service during the War

The regiments who took part in the war were considered largely unmanageable as a military body, preferring to plunder rather than assist the main army.

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. The typical Zaporozhian haircut was the Khokhol that featured a lock of hair sprouting from the top or the front of an otherwise closely shaven head. Cossacks usually 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

The Zaporozhe Cossacks had kettle-drummers with brass kettle-drums.

Colours

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

References

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

Summerfield, Stephen: Cossack Hurrah!, Leigh-on-Sea: Partizan Press, 2005

Wikipedia Zaporozhian Cossacks