Modern monument to the feat of St. George’s fast
The night from September 3rd to 4th, 1862, was windy and chilly. In the morning the mountains and gorges were watered with might and main by a powerful downpour, and fog streamed along the mountain ranges. The slanting rain turned the area almost into a swamp. By this time, the enemy detachment of Cherkess-Natukhai, numbering up to three thousand foot soldiers and up to six hundred mounted warriors, was already on the march. The detachment set itself the goal of plundering and exterminating the villages of Verkhnebakanskaya and Nizhnebakanskaya.
By four o’clock in the morning, the enemy began to realize that a night raid was no longer possible. The detachment was split into three parts. One part went in the vanguard, performing the functions of reconnaissance, the second part itself was fragmented due to the specifics of the local mountain routes and followed the vanguard, and the third closed the whole march. Moreover, each group had its own part of the cavalry. As a result, the mountainous terrain and weather conditions canceled the original plan to attack the villages at night. In addition, it was beginning to dawn, which means that the detachment risks attracting the attention of St. George’s post, the location of which the Circassians knew perfectly well.
Disagreements began in the ranks of the mountaineers. Some Circassians, wise with experience, advised to retreat, hide in the mountains and repeat the maneuver at night. Others were afraid to run into the troops of the frantic Babuk (General Pavel Babych, at that time the commander of the Adagum detachment, which successfully smashed the enemy parties of the Circassians) and complained that there was nothing to profit from at the post at the scouts, and the Cossacks would chop up a lot of horsemen. There were also third voices, accusing all opponents of cowardice. Shouts rushed over the detachment: “Down with cowards, are we worse than plastuns?” However, the point in this dispute was put by the Cossack secret, which eventually ran into the avant-garde. The silence of Neberdzhai was ripped apart by rifle fire. When the Circassians found out that the Cossacks of the secret had killed two horsemen with the first shots, the hotheads immediately took over and led everyone else to the assault.
After a couple of minutes from the first shots in the Neberdzhaevsky gorge, the fortress gun made several signal shots in order to let the neighboring fortifications know that the enemy had gone to storm the line. Many veterans of that battle on the part of the Circassians later said that the valley, shortly before the cannon fire, was filled with wolf howl, which was often imitated by scouts to warn of danger, so it is impossible to pinpoint at what moment the highlanders were discovered by the Cossacks.
Fearing that the scouts, seeing their desperate situation, would make an attempt to break through the blockade of the post, the Natukhai first of all cordoned off the post from all sides, sending in front of the main forces of horsemen who bypassed the fortification from the flanks. Soon after that, two parts of the infantry in cash from the highlanders moved directly to the assault on the post, and the third was sent off to become an ambush at the entrance to the gorge in the event of the appearance of the Russian cavalry. The attack began at about five in the morning.
Hotheads, who accused their opponents of cowardice, were in fact the first to rush into a frontal attack. Some even dismounted from their horses without any order to join the ranks of the infantry. The post garrison, headed by centurion Yefim Gorbatko, immediately took advantage of such confusion, supported by senseless mountain bravado. The first assault column was greeted with such friendly rifle fire that up to a hundred soldiers instantly fell to the ground before the post. The Cossacks shot the Circassians in cold blood, forcing the first wave of the attack to retreat.
Where is the help?
Naturally, if from the very first shots of the gun that signaled the attack, the Russian cavalry made a move to the Georgievsky post, then, surely, there was a chance to avoid the death of the garrison. So why didn’t the troops arrive on time?
In the Konstantinovsky fortification and the forstadt with him (the future Novorossiysk), oddly enough, at five in the morning the sentries, despite the rain and wind, were still able to hear several cannon shots. The garrison of the fortress was immediately raised on alarm. But a reasonable question arose: where did the shooting come from? Alas, the sentries could not indicate the exact direction, which is understandable. St. George’s post, located at the bottom of the gorge, to all its troubles, was also partly clouded with fog and flooded with rain. Any sound simply drowned in this damp haze.
Some of the officers of the fortification considered that General Babich’s detachment, which was distinguished by rapid maneuvering and delivering sudden stinging strikes at the hostile forces of the Circassians, was firing. Others suggested that a convoy with carts, which was supposed to arrive at Konstantinovskoe the other day, ran into a Circassian ambush and is currently fighting.
Neberjay surrounded by mountains
And only a few people said that the battle could go on at the Georgievsky post near the Lipka River. However, this only correct opinion fell victim to the experience of the Russian officers. By a cruel irony of fate, the officers reasoned in the same way as the hostile Circassians, wise in battles. Many thoughts could not admit that the planned mountain raid, which set itself the goal in the overwhelming majority of cases to rob and be taken prisoner for ransom, was committed to a post, where there was nothing to profit from, and it is quite possible to lose a detachment in a matter of hours. In addition, the post can be rebuilt and strengthened, and the murder of a small garrison, no matter how cynical it may sound, will not significantly change even the operational situation. As a result, the saving minutes were irretrievably lost.
Do not be shy, brothers!
After the first unsuccessful assault attempt, the Circassians sat down behind the trees surrounding the post, as the centurion Gorbatko had assumed. For the sake of truth, it is worth clarifying that the rifle shots of the mountaineers did not bother the Cossacks much. But because of their own numbers, the Circassians literally crushed each other, constantly falling under the well-aimed shots of the scouts. It got to the point that many offered to retreat. Local princes were able to restrain them only by fear of revenge and the danger of being branded a coward.
About half an hour passed, but the post did not give up. Therefore, the princes had to return the infantry, which had been ambushed at the beginning of the gorge. Thus, there were about 3000 people at the fortification. However, the silenced weapon turned out to be a much greater disaster. A frenzied downpour that had watered the post since the night, led to the fact that some of the gunpowder became damp. Thus, grape-shot, which was deadly for the attacking Circassians, no longer threatened them.
Finally, the mountaineers, noticing the silence of the weapon, perked up. There was a cry, calling for the proud post to be crushed in number. A whole angry avalanche of warriors rushed to the post with a whoop who dreamed of revenge for such a mediocre assault attempt. This time, the Circassians managed to break through directly to the rampart, and many rushed to climb the rampart of the rampart. But the Cossacks of Efim Gorbatko, who continued to command the post in the front ranks of the defenders, did not lose their presence of mind, with bayonets and rifle butts they threw the enemy down on the heads of their own comrades.
Rodion Kuznetsov. Sketch on cardboard based on the tragedy of St. George’s Lent
Again there was a cry for retreat. The princes instantly attacked those who retreated, threatening shame and death. The mullahs also joined in the “inspiration” of their own warriors. They sent all sorts of curses to the defenders of the post and encouraged those who were storming with eternal glory. But the second attack was unsuccessful.
The third assault became disastrous for the post. Some of the Circassian commanders offered to cut right through the fence under the cover of constant rifle fire from their comrades. The highlanders again rushed to the fence under the hurricane fire of their troops and began to break open the defenses of the post with axes. After some time, a gap formed at the gate in the central direction of the defense, into which the enemy poured.
Efim Gorbatko led the Cossacks into the last short battle. Plastuns hit with bayonets, for a moment scattering the mountaineers in front of them, but the forces were unequal. The Cossacks were cut with checkers. Gorbatko fought with the Circassians to the last, saying “don’t be shy, brothers.” A couple of minutes later, the Circassian, who was on the side, cut off the centurion’s blade with a blow, and he fell under the numerous blows of the enemy. The gunner Romoald Barutsky, attached to the post, also did not surrender alive. Once surrounded, he blew up a box with artillery charges along with him.
Another hero of the battle was a tall, unnamed plastun who smashed his own gun into two parts on the head of another Circassian, which caused the mountaineer to die on the spot. He began to strangle the second enemy with his bare hands. The crowd of Circassians could not drag the only Cossack away, so they stabbed him in the back with daggers.
The last defender of the central gate of the post was … Gorbatko’s wife, Maryana. The unhappy woman, with a terrible cry, rushed to protect her husband’s body. Armed with a gun, with which she trained in shooting a few days before the attack, Maryana in the blink of an eye finished off one Circassian with a successful shot. And while the highlanders recoiled in terrible bewilderment, the woman pierced the other enemy with a bayonet through and through. Only after that did the enraged Natukhai hack the brave Maryana literally to pieces. To the credit of the mountain princes, it is worth noting that some of them, having heard about the woman at the ruins of the post, rushed to rescue her from the hands of the furious crowd, for they did not want to disgrace themselves with this death, which would not do them honor. They just didn’t have time.
We will surrender, if only the king himself commands!
A real hell was going on in fasting. At the gate stood a real mound of fallen enemies. The hordes, distraught with hatred, began to chop not only the wounded Cossacks, who were not able to resist, but also the corpses of the plastuns themselves, including the brave centurion Gorbatko. In this bloody mess, only after some time did the enemy discover that his soldiers continued to fall under the shots of the Cossacks.
It turned out that at the moment of a breakthrough inside the enemy’s fortification, part of the plastuns defending the flanks, in the amount of 18 fighters (according to other sources, no more than eight people), were able to retreat to the barracks and take up defenses there. The princes, realizing their inglorious position, did not at all want to go to the attack of another fortified point, so they immediately offered the scouts to surrender, in order to later be exchanged for Circassian captives. But in response they heard only one phrase: “Plastuns do not surrender to captivity; we will surrender, if the king himself orders. “
Plastuns. Engraving by Arthur Vanyur
Nobody even wanted to think about a new fight. The princes and senior highlanders saw the depressing situation of the detachment. The bloody, stunned with anger, the Natukhai no longer looked like not only warriors, but also people. In addition, from minute to minute, the commanders were expecting the arrival of the Russian cavalry, which would finally finish off the completely disunited detachment. Therefore, taking advantage of the fact that the barracks was built of wood without any stone parts, after several assault attempts, the Circassians still set fire to it. Not a single Cossack ever surrendered.
As a result, after an hour and a half battle, the post fell. None of the defenders survived, just as the Circassians did not manage to capture anyone. The Circassian detachment, thinned after the roof of the barracks collapsed, did not even dare to think about continuing the operation. Each and every one quickly rushed into the mountains, fearing revenge from General Babich.
Word of the bravery of the fast spread quickly through the mountains. The highlanders began to call the centurion Gorbatko “Sultan”, and his saber went from hand to hand for a considerable fee for a long time, until its price became simply fantastic, unthinkable for these places.
On the morning of September 4, 1862, a Russian detachment arrived at the Lipka River. The soldiers found 17 bodies at the loopholes and gates, including Gorbatko and his wife. They were buried in the cemetery of the village of Neberdzhaevskaya. But only on September 8, a detachment of Colonel Eagle opened the burnt barracks, where they found the bodies of the last defenders of the post. The remains of these soldiers were laid to rest on the banks of the Neberjay River. Alas, in one year the river became so full that it washed away the graves, and the bones were carried away by the current. But this is another story, the story of the memory of heroes.
To be continued…