The assault on Warsaw. 1831. German lithographer Georg Benedict Wunder
Kingdom of Poland
Polish statehood was liquidated during the three partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – 1772, 1793 and 1795. The lands of the Commonwealth were divided between three great powers – Russia, Austria and Prussia. At the same time, the Russian Empire basically returned its historical lands – parts of Kiev, Galicia-Volyn, White and Lithuanian Rus. Ethnic Polish lands were ceded to Austria and Prussia. At the same time, the Austrians captured part of the historically Russian land – Galicia (Chervonnaya, Ugorskaya and Carpathian Rus).
Napoleon, having defeated Prussia, created the Duchy of Warsaw – a vassal state from part of the Polish regions belonging to it. Having defeated Austria in 1809, the French emperor transferred Lesser Poland with Krakow to the Poles. The duchy was completely under the control of Napoleon and aimed at his potential opponents – Austria, Prussia and Russia. During the Russian-French war of 1812, the Poles fielded 100 thousand army and were Napoleon’s most loyal allies, fought for him bravely and stubbornly. After the defeat of Napoleon’s empire at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, the Duchy was abolished. Greater Poland (Poznan) again ceded to Prussia, Austria received part of Lesser Poland, Krakow became a free city (later it was again captured by the Austrians). Most of the Duchy of Warsaw ceded to Russia as the Kingdom of Poland. It included the central part of Poland with Warsaw, the southwestern part of Lithuania, part of the modern Grodno and Lvov regions (western Belarus and Ukraine).
The Russian Tsar Alexander I, despite the fact that the Poles were the most loyal soldiers of Napoleon, showed them great mercy, unusual for Western Europe, where any resistance and disobedience was always crushed in the most cruel way. He gave the Poles an autonomous structure, a diet, a constitution (it was not in Russia itself), his army, administration and monetary system. Moreover, Alexander forgave the former ardent supporters of Napoleon, gave the opportunity to return to Warsaw and take up major posts there. The divisional general of Napoleon’s Great Army Jan Dombrowski was appointed senator, general of the Russian army and began the formation of a new Polish army. Another general of Napoleon, Jozef Zajoncek, also received the rank of general of the Russian army, senator, princely dignity and became the first governor in the Kingdom (from 1815 to 1826). True, the stake on Zayonchek was justified, he became a supporter of unity with Russia.
Kingdom of Poland in 1831
The heyday of Russian Poland. Polish chauvinism
Under the rule of the Russian sovereign, the kingdom experienced a flourishing time. The era of bloody wars is a thing of the past. Poland has lived in peace for 15 years. No civil wars and confederations, tycoon revolts and foreign invasions. Ordinary people have learned how to live in peace and without a lot of blood. The population grew, the economy of the region developed. Warsaw University, higher schools (military, polytechnic, mining, forestry, the institute of folk teachers) were established, the number of secondary and primary schools grew rapidly. The life of the peasants improved, medieval taxes and customs became a thing of the past. Agriculture, industry and trade developed. The kingdom took advantage of its position between Western Europe and Russia.
However, all this seemed to the Polish chauvinist patriots little. No matter how much you feed the wolf, he still looks into the forest. They wanted radical reforms, separation from Russia and the 1772 borders. That is, they again dreamed of a great Poland “from sea to sea”, with the inclusion of Western and southern Russian lands. In the wake of the pro-Western, post-war wave in Poland, as well as in Russia, secret societies are emerging. Among the supporters of the uprising were various strata of the population: aristocrats, clergy, gentry, officers, officials, students and the democratic intelligentsia. As a result, two wings were formed – aristocratic and democratic. There was no unity in the ranks of the future Polish rebels. Some dreamed of “good old Poland”, with the domination of the clergy and gentry, with feudal and serfdom. Others are about the republic and “democracy.” They were united by Russophobia and great-power chauvinism.
The Russian government treated the Polish “throwing” with extreme complacency and condescension. In particular, secret societies were known (as in Russia), but they were not suppressed. Polish officers and members of illegal Polish societies, who were involved in the Decembrists’ case, were released. Grand Duke Konstantin Pavlovich, commander-in-chief of the Polish army and governor of the Kingdom of Poland since 1826, pursued a liberal policy. But he could not attract society, the diet and the army to his side.
Russian-Turkish War 1828 – 1829 caused the revitalization of the hopes of Polish patriots. The Russian army was engaged in the Balkans. They planned to kill the Russian Tsar Nicholas I when the Polish crown was laid on him. But the celebrations went off quite well. The fire in Poland was fueled by a wave of revolutions in Europe in 1830. In France, the July Revolution took place, the House of Bourbons was overthrown, and the House of Orleans gained power. The Belgian Revolution in the Netherlands led to the secession of the Southern Provinces and the creation of Belgium. Sovereign Nicholas decided to suppress the revolution in Belgium. The Polish army was to take part in the campaign along with the Russian troops. This was the reason for the mutiny.
On November 17 (29), 1830, a group of military men led by Peter Vysotsky attacked the barracks of the guards lancers (the attack was repulsed). Another group of conspirators, led by officers and students of military educational institutions, broke into the Belvedere Palace to kill Tsarevich Konstantin Pavlovich. But he was warned, and the Grand Duke fled. Students and workers joined the rebels. They killed several Polish generals who remained loyal to the Russian emperor and the Polish king, and seized the arsenal. The next day, a purge of the government was carried out, General Khlopitsky was appointed commander-in-chief (under Napoleon he rose to the rank of brigadier general). However, Khlopitsky refused this appointment (he understood that the uprising was doomed without the help of the European powers, and categorically insisted on an agreement with Emperor Nicholas) and offered Prince Radziwill for this position, remaining with him as an adviser. Soon the Diet declared the Romanov dynasty deposed, the new government was headed by Czartoryski. Power was seized by an aristocratic (right-wing) party.
The Grand Duke at the very beginning could suppress the uprising, but he showed criminal passivity and even sympathy for the Polish “patriots”. If in his place were a decisive commander like Suvorov, he had every chance to crush the rebellion in the bud. Under his command, Russian units and Polish regiments remained, who remained loyal to the throne. They were the best in the army. But the loyal units received no orders and were gradually demoralized. Konstantin Pavlovich stated:
“I don’t want to participate in this Polish fight!”
Disbanded the loyal regiments (they immediately strengthened the rebels), did not call up the Lithuanian corps and left the Kingdom of Poland. The powerful fortresses of Zamoć and Modlin were surrendered to the Poles without a fight.
The Polish rebels demanded from Tsar Nicholas broad autonomy, “eight voivodships”. Nikolai offered only amnesty. The war began. The revolt spread to Lithuania, Podolia and Volhynia, where the Catholic and Uniate clergy and Polish landowners were the conductors of Polish influence. In January 1831, the Russian army under the command of Ivan Dibich-Zabalkansky began hostilities. It is worth noting that the Polish army, full of patriotism, was fully combat-ready. Her senior officers went through the excellent school of Napoleon. Then many officers and soldiers went through the school of the Russian army. At the same time, Warsaw did not receive help from the West, as it had hoped. Neither France, which had not yet regained consciousness after the Napoleonic wars and revolution, nor England, Austria or Prussia (fearing the spread of the uprising on their territory) did not actively support Poland. In the Kingdom itself, the Polish privileged estates did not receive the support of the popular masses (the peasantry), the Diet refused to carry out the peasant reform. As a result, the rebellion was doomed to defeat from the very beginning.
Diebitsch, apparently underestimating the enemy, decided to crush the enemy with one powerful offensive. Hoping for a quick victory, the Russian commander-in-chief went “light”, did not bother the army with carts and artillery. He also did not wait for the concentration of all forces, which made it possible to immediately crush the Polish rebels. As a result, the entire Polish campaign, the Russian army paid for this strategic mistake. The war dragged on and resulted in heavy losses. The Russians pressed the enemy and defeated him in a decisive battle at Grokhov on February 13, 1831. General Khlopitsky was seriously wounded and refused to lead the uprising. However, the Poles retreated to the strong fortifications of Prague (a suburb of Warsaw) and were covered by the Vistula. And the Russian army ran out of ammunition, did not have heavy artillery for the assault. The situation on the left flank (Lublin direction) was unfortunate. Therefore, Diebitsch did not dare to storm Warsaw and withdrew his troops to establish communications and supplies. That is, the war could not be completed in one operation.
Having replenished the reserves, Diebitsch decided to renew the offensive against Warsaw in the spring. The new Polish commander-in-chief, General Skrzynecki (served in Napoleon’s army) decided to counterattack and smash the Russian army piece by piece. It is worth noting that the new commander-in-chief was able to delay the inevitable defeat of the Polish army for several months. The Polish army successfully attacked the Russian vanguard under the command of Geismar, then defeated Rosen’s 6th corps at Dembe Wielka (33 thousand Poles against 18 thousand Russians). A threat was created to the rear of the Russian army. Diebitsch had to temporarily abandon the offensive on the Polish capital and go to join with Rosen.
In April, Diebitsch was going to renew the offensive, but by order of the sovereign he began to wait for the arrival of the guards. Skrzynecki decided to repeat his previous success: to smash the Russians piece by piece. The Polish army moved to the Guards Corps under the command of Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich, who was located in the area between the Bug and Narew. The Poles were unable to defeat the guards, which successfully retreated. Diebitsch had to go to join the guard. The Poles began to retreat, but Diebitsch overtook the enemy with rapid marches. On May 26, in a decisive battle near Ostrolenka, the Polish army was defeated. The Poles again retreated to Warsaw. The mutiny was suppressed in Lithuania and Volhynia. Diebitsch did not have time to complete the campaign, fell ill and died soon after.
The army was led by Ivan Paskevich. Russian troops launched an offensive on Warsaw and crossed the Vistula. Skrzynecki’s attempts to organize a new counteroffensive did not lead to success. He was replaced by Dembinsky, who took the troops to the capital. An uprising took place in Warsaw. Krukowiecki was appointed president of the dying Poland, the Diet subordinated the army to the government. Not wanting this submission, Dembinsky left the post of commander-in-chief, he was taken by Malakhovsky. Meanwhile, on August 6 (19), 1831, Paskevich’s army surrounded the city. The Russian sovereign offered the rebels an amnesty, but Krukovetsky rejected the “humiliating” conditions. On August 25, Russian troops launched a decisive attack. On August 26, on the anniversary of Borodin, the Russian army took the Polish capital by storm (over 70 thousand Russians against 39 thousand Poles). The battle was bloody. Our losses – over 10 thousand people, Polish – about 11 thousand. Paskevich was wounded in the battle.
The remnants of the Polish army retreated to Polotsk. In September 1831, the last Polish troops fled to Austria and Prussia, where they laid down their arms. The garrisons of Modlin and Zamoć surrendered in October. Thus, Poland was pacified. The Polish leadership in this war once again showed its shortsightedness. Blinded by chauvinism, dreams of “greatness”, Polish politicians rejected several opportunities for an agreement with Nikolai. The Polish constitution was abolished. The Diet and the Polish army were disbanded. Paskevich became Governor-General of the Kingdom of Poland and began to carry out the Russification of Western Ukraine in the Russian Empire. Measures were taken to improve the situation of the peasantry, to reduce the influence of the Catholic clergy and Polish landowners in the Western Russian regions. Unfortunately, these measures have not been completed. Tsar Alexander II continued his liberal policy, which triggered a new uprising.
Paskevich in a painting by the Polish artist Januarius Sukhodolski, circa 1841