Forever in the ranks. The feat of Arkhip Osipov


Circassian raid. Painting by F. Roubaud

The Caucasian War, which lasted from 1817 to 1864, ended with the annexation of the mountainous regions of the North Caucasus to the Russian Empire. This was the period of the most fierce hostilities, including against the highlanders, who united under the leadership of Shamil into a military theocratic Islamic state – the North Caucasian Imamate. At the same time, Russia’s military actions in the Caucasus were intertwined with the Russian-Persian (1826-1828) and Russian-Turkish (1828-1829) wars, which ended with the victory of Russian weapons, as well as the Crimean War (1853-1856), which ended with the defeat of Russia.

The main areas of hostilities in the North Caucasus were two regions: the North-West Caucasus (Circassia) and the North-East Caucasus (Dagestan and Chechnya). Arkhip Osipov, a private of the Tenginsky regiment, performed his feat, which immortalized his name in history, in 1840 while defending the Mikhailovsky fortification, which is part of the Black Sea coastline, from attacks by superior forces of the Circassians.

Arkhip Osipovich Osipov

Arkhip Osipovich Osipov was born in 1802 in the village of Kamenka, Lipovetsky uyezd, Kiev province (since 1987, it has been a separate residential neighborhood in the city of Lipovets, located on the territory of Vinnytsia region).

The future famous soldier came from ordinary serfs. On December 21, 1820, Arkhip was sent as a recruit to the army and in April of the following year he was enlisted in the Crimean infantry regiment. It is worth noting that at that time in the Russian Empire there was a recruitment service, which remained until 1874. Initially, the service life was lifelong, but in 1793 it was reduced to 25 years and subsequently decreased several times.

Already in the second year of service, Arkhip Osipov escaped from the army, which ended in failure. The fugitive recruit was caught and returned to the regiment, while the young soldier was sentenced to corporal punishment with gauntlets through the court. The young recruit had to go through the line of 1000 people once, having withstood all the blows. After this incident, Osipov served regularly, with all his service atonement for this offense of his youth. Arkhip Osipov, together with the Crimean regiment, took part in the Russian-Persian war, having distinguished himself during the capture of Sardar-Abad, as well as in the Russian-Turkish war, taking part in the assault on the Kars fortress.


Seeing off the recruit. Painting by I. Repin

In 1834 Arkhip Osipov arrived in the Tengin regiment. A private was sent here together with the 1st battalion of the Crimean regiment, which entered the Tenginsky regiment. At the same time, Osipov was enrolled in the 9th Musketeer Company. The Tengin regiment, to which Arkhip Osipov arrived, was located in the Kuban and carried out cordon service. While serving in the Tengin regiment, Osipov repeatedly took part in clashes with the mountaineers. It should be noted that one of the most famous servicemen of the Tenginsky infantry regiment was the great Russian poet Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov.

By 1840, 38-year-old Arkhip Osipov was already a seasoned soldier, seasoned in numerous battles and military campaigns. For the Russian-Persian and Russian-Turkish wars, he was awarded silver medals. According to the testimony of fellow soldiers who knew Osipov personally, the latter was a brave soldier and was favorably distinguished by his tall stature. His elongated face with gray eyes was framed by dark blond hair.

Black Sea coastline

The Black Sea coastline, on which the Tenginsky infantry regiment was located, in which Arkhip Osipov served, was a line of fortifications (forts, fortresses and trenches) located along the eastern coast of the Black Sea from Anapa to the border with the Ottoman Empire. The main purpose of this chain of Russian fortifications along the coast was to prevent the supply of contraband weapons, military supplies, food and other goods to the Circassians. First of all, such assistance went to the mountaineers from the Ottoman Empire, and then from Great Britain, who actively intervened in the affairs of the Russian Empire in the Caucasus.

The Black Sea coastline was erected in the 1830s and completely dismantled in 1854 during the Crimean War. The construction of this line of fortifications gave rise to the emergence of many modern large Russian cities located on the Black Sea coast – Sochi, Adler, Novorossiysk, Gelendzhik. Despite the formidable names, forts and fortresses built on the Black Sea coast were not the crown of fortifications. They were wood and earth fortifications, which were built in a hurry. Many of the built fortifications fell into disrepair after a few years under the influence of torrential rains.

Forever in the ranks.  The feat of Arkhip Osipov
The plan of the Mikhailovsky fortification

But the main problem of the entire coastline was not even the quality of the fortifications, but their filling. On the defense of forts and fortresses was barely a tenth of the troops needed for defense. Instead of 25,980 people, there were less than three thousand available. At the same time, it quickly became clear that it was not the forts of the Black Sea coastline that threatened the highlanders, but the highlanders themselves could keep them in a state of constant blockade. The supply of provisions and ammunition for the fortifications was difficult due to the lack of roads and was carried out by sea twice a year. At the same time, in addition to the insufficient number of garrisons and erroneous calculations during the construction, which did not allow the creation of strong and durable profiles of fortifications, a huge problem was the high mortality rate from diseases. For example, in the entire 1845, 18 defenders of the fortifications died in battles with the mountaineers, and 2427 people died from various diseases.

The feat of Arkhip Osipov

The most terrible test for the Black Sea coastline was 1840, when the highlanders carried out massive attacks against the Russian fortifications, destroying and ravaging some of them. The reason for the activation of the Circassian tribes was a terrible famine that broke out in the mountains at the beginning of 1840. It was the famine that forced the highlanders to develop a plan of attack on the fortifications in the coastal area, here the attackers planned to get hold of food, as well as various military equipment. On February 7, a 1,500-strong detachment of mountaineers captured the Lazarev fort, which was desperately defending a garrison of 78 people, exterminating the defenders. On February 29, the fate of Fort Lazarev befell the Velyaminovskoye fortification, located on the Tuapse River. And already in March 1840, the Circassians approached the Mikhailovsky fortification, in which private Arkhip Osipov served.

For several days, especially at night, the highlanders exhausted the garrison of the Russian fortification, imitating attacks. Such tactics weakened the garrison, which lived in anticipation of a constant attack. All these days, if the soldiers and officers of the fort slept, it was only in full ammunition. At the same time, the forces were initially unequal, the garrison of the fort was about 250 people, and the attackers were several thousand, in some sources you can find information about 11 thousand highlanders.

The assault on the fort began early in the morning on March 22. Ahead was the Circassian infantry, which carried specially assembled wooden ladders to climb the earthen walls. The cavalry was located behind the infantry, which was supposed to fend off the sortie of the defenders of the Mikhailovsky fortification if something happened. Despite stubborn and desperate resistance, the forces of the parties were unequal. The highlanders were not stopped by grape-shot volleys, and having climbed the walls of the fortifications, sooner or later they would still have gained the upper hand in hand-to-hand combat. The battle, which had lasted for several hours, gradually faded. The surviving defenders of the fort were surrounded inside the fortification. At the same time, the commandant of the fort, staff captain Konstantin Liko, who by that time had already been wounded, refused to surrender to the enemy.


The feat of Arkhip Osipov, a private Tenginsky regiment. Painting by A. A. Kozlov

Arkhip Osipov said his word and the last point in the defense of the Mikhailovsky fortification. After many hours of felling, the resistance of the defenders died out, almost all the fortifications passed into the hands of the attackers. It was then that Osipov, alone or with a group of comrades, managed to break into the powder magazine and set fire to the powder. An explosion of terrible force shook the air, a giant column of smoke and dust rose into the sky. Smoking ruins remained from the Mikhailovsky fortification. The highlanders, struck by the incident, retreated and returned to the scene of the battle only a few hours later to pick up the remaining wounded and the bodies of the dead. At the same time, the explosion took the lives of the last defenders of the fortification and a huge number of attackers.

Paying tribute to the memory of the feat of a simple Russian soldier, Emperor Nicholas I ordered to permanently include Private Arkhip Osipov in the lists of the 1st company of the Tengin regiment. So a new tradition appeared in the Russian army: the enrollment of especially distinguished soldiers and officers forever in the lists of the unit. And even later, on the site of the destroyed ramparts of the Mikhailovsky fortification, a Russian village was founded, named in honor of the brave hero – Arkhipo-Osipovka. Today this village is part of the Krasnodar Territory.

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