Russian Personalities of the Crimean War II

“Toward the north the activity of the day begins gradually to replace the nocturnal quiet; here the relief guard has passed clanking their arms, there the doctor is already hastening to the hospital, further on the soldier has crept out of his earth hut and is washing his sunburnt face in ice-encrusted water, and, turning towards the crimsoning east, crosses himself quickly as he prays to God; here a tall and heavy camel-wagon has dragged creaking to the cemetery, to bury the bloody dead, with whom it is laden nearly to the top…”

By Vikcos75 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Extract from SEVASTOPOL IN DECEMBER, 1854. By Leo Tolstoy.

Continuing my Personalities of the Crimean War series, it seemed appropriate to begin this post with an extract from Leo Tolstoy’s wonderfully vivid description of the experience of the dawning of a day spent in Sevastopol during the siege. Strelets’ Crimean War big box set “Russian General Staff and Hospital” have referenced this work by including a figure of young Count Tolstoy in his junior artillery officer’s uniform.

As you can see below, in addition to painting Tolstoy, I’ve tackled some of his fellow Sevastopol defenders and denizens too:-

2nd-Lieutenant Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy

World-famous novelist Count Lev (in English, Leo) Tolstoy was born of a respected aristocratic family. He joined the army with his brother in order to escape some large gambling debts. As a young artillery officer, Tolstoy found himself commanding a battery during the 11-month siege of Sevastopol.

The young aristocrat would go on to write about his experiences during the siege in a well-received book titled “Tales of Sevastopol“. It’s well worth a read, particularly for the English reader to understand the experiences and feelings of the besieged Russians.

His wartime experiences would also inform Tolstoy’s great work on Russia during the Napoleonic conflict; “War and Peace”. The horrors that Tolstoy experienced in Sevastopol led him to later formulate strong ideas on non-violent resistance, ideas which in turn inspired future activists such as Ghandi.

Young Leo Tolstoy in military uniform.

Strelets Tolstoy figure looks great. Most probably it’s down to my paint job, but somehow he doesn’t quite look like the youthful lieutenant he was at this time!

General-Adjutant Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov:

Menshikov was the commander-in-chief of all Russian land and sea forces during the Crimean War. The ageing general was a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, like his equivalent in the British army. He was born of aristocratic parents being the grandson of Alexander Danilovich Menshikov who was a favourite of, and military advisor to, Peter the Great.

By Franz Krüger – Музей Гвардии; Санкт-Петербург, Public Domain,

Entering the Russian diplomatic service, he became close to Tsar Alexander I and accompanied him throughout his campaigns against Napoleon. During the Russo-Turkish War of 1828, Menshikov distinguished himself at the Siege of Varna until an exploding Turkish shell badly wounded him in the groin.

Rising within the government, Menshikov was perceived to have been an impediment to the modernisation of the Russian navy, a failing with effects which would become apparent during the Crimean War. Appointed to command the Russian forces in that campaign, he was eventually viewed as militarily incompetent and was replaced by Prince Gorchakov in February 1855. Prior to his removal, Menshikov had presided over the Russian defeats at the battles of Alma and Inkerman.

I think Strelets’ Menshikov appears suitably advanced in years with his white hair and walking cane. I’m not sure what’s over his shoulder but I’ve taken it to be some sort of blanket.

Lieutenant-Colonel Eduard Ivanovich Totleben:

Born of German-Baltic nobility, Lieutenant-Colonel Totleben was a highly competent engineer and became the inspirational force behind the defences of Sevastopol. On his advice, the fleet was sunk to block the harbour mouth and the land defences were hurriedly secured before the allies could take advantage of it after the Russian defeat at the Alma. 

Shortly before the fall of Sevastopol, Totleben was badly wounded in the foot and evacuated. After the war, his great contribution was fully recognised and he was honoured even by his former enemies, paying a reconciliatory visit to England. In a classic engineer pose, Totleben’s Strelets figure holds dividers and a map or plan.

Cossacks and a balalaika!

Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka maya…”

I felt I had to have a go at these two figures. These are, I understand, Terek Cossacks. The Terek Cossack Host had those distinctive fur hats with red coloured tops. I read that Terek Cossacks wore a dark grey / black uniform but Strelets has shows them as a ragtag collection of differing colours, so I’ve stuck with that for these two.

The two figures feature one man sitting on an upturned crate playing what is clearly a balalaika. His companion dances enthusiastically despite being encumbered by some serious weaponry. Once again, I think the expressions on their faces are really pleasing. Plastic Soldier Review states; “this is neither staff nor hospital, but adds a welcome touch of colour and humanity to the Russian figures.” Agreed.

All together now – “Kalinka, kalinka, kalinka maya!”

Acolyte carrying a religious icon on a banner:

A companion to the other icon carrier I painted recently, this chap is clearly of the church rather than in the army. My religious icon isn’t quite aligned properly, but it’ll do!

A layman carrying an icon:

And finally, a Russian soldier acts as a lay member of the church by carrying an icon before his comrades manning the defences, offering divine blessing and inspiration to them. He has removed his cap, presumably as an act of respect. The icon I’ve taken to be an image cast in gold with a blue drape around it. I like the figures face, intoning a hymn or prayer, and he goes well with the other religious figures I’ve painted.

So, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that I’ve got my sights set on another batch of Crimean personalities which I’ll post whenever I get some time to tackle them.

Lifeguard Cossacks [Nappy Cavalry Project Set #11]

It’s been a challenging time here at Suburban Militarism. The painting has been going just fine – however my mouth has been having a tougher time. An abcess has sprung up and a subsequent trip to the dentist saw him mention the terms “root canal” and “extraction” to me; neither of which sounded particularly nice!

So, as I brace myself for going under the fearful butchery of the field surgeon’s knife next week, I can at least find solace in the thought I’ve now despatched my 11th regiment in the project; the Lifeguard Cossacks!

Lifeguard Cossack (18)

Lifeguard Cossack (1)

Lifeguard Cossack (8)



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One of these fellows is using a lance from a cataphract of the late Roman empire era as somebody foolishly threw away his lance with the discarded sprue…


Lifeguard Cossack (3)


Biography: Lifeguard Cossacks [Russia]

Cossacks owed allegiance to the Tsar and were composed of a number of regional groups or ‘hosts’, the Russian Don, Ural and Terek Cossacks being amongst the most notable of these. The red-uniformed Lifeguard Cossack Regiment was the most famous and prestigious of all the Tsar’s Cossack cavalry. Men were specially selected to join the Lifeguard, being chosen from regular cavalry regiments for their imposing height and strength.

Four squadrons from this regiment took part in the campaign of 1812, following Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. It took part in the very first battle of the campaign, contesting the French crossing on the River Neimen, later covering the subsequent retreat of the Russian army.

In July 1812, at the Battle of Vitebsk, the regiment captured a French battery right under the nose of Napoleon himself, momentarily causing some alarm in the French headquarters. Thereafter, the Lifeguard Cossacks took part in the following battles of both Smolensk and Valutino Gora. These were just the precursors to the great battle of Borodino on 7th September 1812, which would prove to be the most bloodiest day’s fighting of the entire Napoleonic wars. The regiment was a part of General Platov and General Uvarov’s cavalry attack on the left flank and rear of the French. This attack, totalling 8000 cavalry, proved crucial in at least winning the Russian army some valuable time at a crucial moment in the battle and, it is said by some, contributed to Napoleon not committing his Imperial Guard to the fray for fear of further cossack attacks.

The Lifeguard Cossacks covered the retreat to Moscow and later joined the long pursuit of the embattled and weary French Grande Army right up to Vilnius in the Baltic. Thereafter, it accompanied the Russian Emperor in all the campaigns and battles of 1813-1814, including the battles of Bautzen and Leipzig. At the latter action, the Lifeguard Cossacks distinguished themselves in a notable action whereby they gallantly counterattacked the French and Saxon cuirassiers.

By 1814, Napoleon had been forced back to defend France. The Lifeguard Cossacks charged at Fère-Champenoise, the last major battle before the fall of Paris on March 30, 1814. The regiment finally entered Paris in triumph and bivouacked on the Champs Elysees. They had come a long way from their homelands near the river Don and the Black Sea coast. In respect for the prowess, Napoleon is credited with declaring, “Cossacks are the finest light troops among all that exist. If I had them in my army, I would go through all the world with them.”

Notable Battles: Vitebsk, Smolensk, Borodino, Bautzen, Leipzig, Fere-Champenoise.

Line of Cossacks

Let it Snow!

I’ve been keen to showcase the completed Lifeguard Cossacks, but I’ve been held up waiting for my fake snow to come through the post. Late this afternoon, it finally arrived and so I’m now eagerly scattering snow about like a stagehand in “Frozen: the musical”.

Will post pictures of these wintry cossacks, the 11th regiment in my nappy cavalry project, shortly…

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One of my cossacks now riding across the, err… snow covered Russian steppe.

The Don

When I was part-way through painting the Zvezda Lifeguard Cossack set, I thought this might well be one set I’d struggle to get to grips with. Now it’s virtually complete, I am feeling much more satisfied. They’re pleasingly colourful troops armed with those unusually long red lances and look good now finally mounted on the horses.

Ah, the horses…

…the horses I’ve tried to depict are of the Don breed, a Russian horse from named after the river that runs through the Steppes. They were commonly employed as horses for the Cossack cavalry being renown for their stamina on campaign. It seems that the Don can be a variety of colours, but their chief characteristic color was chestnut with a brown / gold sheen. Some have black manes, others are chestnut-coloured. So, I’ve been mixing paint, experimenting with shades and checking the internet for examples to compare them to. Not sure whether I’ve ended up with Don horses or maybe I’ve just created a new breed?!

You may notice from the following photos that their bases are looking somewhat white. Although I they are in no way finished, the resemblance to snow isn’t entirely accidental as I’m hoping to produce a suitably wintry scene for these Russian cavalrymen…

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (5)

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (6)

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (7)

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (8)

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (1)

Cossack Lifeguards nearly done (9)

A Cossack Charge!

Getting a bit literary for a little while here at Suburban Militarism. Whilst I was putting the finishing touches to the Cossack Lifeguard figures, I found a poem written about Cossack cavalry by Jessie Pope. Pope was a poet born in my local area, coincidentally. In the early 20th century she wrote a number of pro-war ‘jingoistic’ poems which were in stark contrast to the work of the now more famous soldier-poets such as Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. Indeed, Owen’s “Dulce et Decorum est” was initially dedicated to Pope as a direct retort to her brand of war-glorifying poetry.

Whilst her work might be a poor guide to the reality of horror on the western front in WWI, her poem “A Cossack Charge” makes for a darn good introduction to my developing Zvezda cossack cavalry figures, I like to think…

Cossacks they’re coming!
The eager hoofs are drumming,
On glinting steel the autumn sunlight glances.
The distant mass draws nearer,
The surging line shows clearer
An angry, tossing wave of manes and lances.

Cossacks in Progress (6)

Cossacks in Progress (7)
One of the figures carrying a lance. I stupidly lost one of the lances I needed but created a passable copy from a spare Roman cataphract by HaT!

Nearly finished these riders, and so it will soon be on to those cossack horses.

Cossacks of the Tsar

“The Lifeguard Cossacks are going into fight
as if they were coming to a wedding.” – Tsar Alexander

So far, I’ve painted Napoleonic cavalry regiments from the nations of France, Prussia and Great Britain. I couldn’t tackle the final regiments in the project without covering at least one from Russia as well. I’ve got a box of Zvezda’s Russian hussars but I’ve elected to attempt their Lifeguard Cossacks first instead. With their red coats, blue trousers and armed with lances, I suppose it could be said that they closely resemble those Red Lancers that I’ve previously painted (the only other Zvezda set that I’ve tackled). I found a reference to the Lifeguard Cossacks capturing some red lancers during the Russian campaign – that must have been a confusing encounter!

Left: A Cossack. Right: A Red Lancer. Clearly totally and utterly different.
Left: A Cossack. Right: A Red Lancer. Clearly totally and utterly different in every way.

Once again, the Zvezda sculpting looks good and I’m eager to bring these famous Russian life guards of the Tsar to life. The cossacks are light cavalry and most famous for their very great skills in both horsemanship and warfare. They were feared and admired by other nations armies, and by Napoleon in particular who got to see their effectiveness at first hand when they fully contributed to the eventual destruction of his Grand Army.

There were a number of cossack ‘hosts’ that provided troops to the army of the Russian tsar. The most famous regiment was the elite Lifeguard Cossack Regiment and this is what I’ve chosen to depict. I have enough spare figures for another full regiment in the future such as a regiment of Don or Astrahan cossacks.

These photos are just a preview of progress made on them so far. There’s a lot of work, corrections and improvements still to do aplenty!

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