Legends of the 'Russian Troy'. Viewing highlights of the Battle of Borodino Museum online

March 23
Culture

In February, the Borodino Battle Panorama Museum opened an exhibition dedicated to the 165th anniversary of the first Sevastopol defence — Regiment’s Relic. From the History of the Selenginsky Regiment.

Like many culture centres in Moscow, the Museum has been temporarily closed since 17 March, but you can view the most prominent exhibits and read related stories online, thanks to a collaborative article by mos.ru and Mosgortur Agency.

A regiment that became a legend

A musketeer regiment in the transbaikalian Selenginsk (now the village of Novoselenginsk) was formed on 29 November 1796 by Decree of Paul I. Under Alexander I, it became an infantry regiment. In 1811, it left Siberia for good and moved to the European part of the Empire. The regiment engaged in the Patriotic War of 1812 with rearguard military actions near Vitebsk immediately after the invasion of Napoleon. Selenginsk soldiers fought in the most crucial battles of the campaign — near Smolensk, Borodino, Tarutin, Maloyaroslavets, Vyazma, and Krasny — and were granted their first collective award, the 'grenadiers’ drumbeat', that is the right to march to a special drumbeat granted to distinguished units.

In foreign campaigns of the Russian Army, the regiment fought at Dresden and Leipzig, and entered France twice, in 1814 and 1815 (the second time after Napoleon's hundred-day return to power).

Transbaikalian soldiers received the second regimental award — special badges 'For Distinguished Military Service', introduced after the Patriotic War, for their courage in the Russian-Turkish War of 1828-1829.

Photo: Head badge 'For Distinguished Military Service'

In 1849, Selenginsky infantry regiment dispersed the Hungarian uprising in the Austrian Empire. In 1853–1854, it had a campaign in the Danube principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia (that ushered the Crimean War). The city of Oltenița (Romania) still has a memorial dedicated to the heroes of the Selenginsky regiment fallen near its walls in the first battle with the Turks.

The regiment's battle chronicle included the heroic defence of Sevastopol and the Russian-Turkish War of 1877-1878. For their bravery, the Siberians were awarded St. George's banners with a ribbon and trumpets. The regiment earned a full set of honorary awards ever granted to a unit of the Russian Imperial Army. World War I put an end to the glorious history of the Selenginsky regiment.

Photo: Selenginsky regiment 100th anniversary badge

Regiment’s relic

Leaving Wallachia late in September 1854, Selenginsk infantry marched to Sevastopol, already besieged by Anglo-Franco-Turkish troops. The first fight with the enemy took place on the outskirts of the city on 24 October exactly one year and one day after the memorable battle of Oltenița. On the same day, they found their regiment’s relic the icon of Pechersk Mother of God with venerable Anthony and Theodosius of Kiev-Pechersk. Soldiers discovered the icon with the face of monk Theodosius 'shot through with a grenade' in one of the caves of the Holy Clement Monastery, which was destroyed by the British Army. The regiment cherished the icon until the last day of the defence of Sevastopol, which claimed the lives of 2,811 Selenginsk soldiers.

The connection with the city the regiment owed its name to did not broke. Having heard about the feats of Siberians on the banks of the Danube and in Crimea, Selenginsk residents collected large amounts of money for injured men twice. When military actions finally ceased, the regimental icon went to Selenginsk. A procession brought the soldiers’ gift to the Intercession Church of Selenginsk, where the icon was kept until it was closed in 1934. Today, the regiment's relic is stored at the History of Buryatia Museum in Ulan-Ude.

Photo: Icon of Pechersk Mother of God

Saved fragment of Roubaud's panorama

The battle artist Franz Roubaud, the founder of the Russian panoramic painting, was born in the year when the Crimean War ended. In addition to many paintings he had made during his life, he created three panoramas — 'Siege of the Village of Akhulgo' (1889–1890), 'Siege on 6 June 1855' (1901–1904) and 'Borodino' (1910–1912).

The first work dedicated to the siege of the fortified headquarters of Imam Shamil in Dagestan by Russian troops during the Caucasian War has not fully survived, the last one almost perished due to improper storage during the first Soviet years. The fate of the second panorama was thorny, too.

Photo: ‘Assault on 6 June 1855’. Franz Roubaud. Panorama fragment. 1901 – 1904

Roubaud took the battle on Malakhov Kurgan as a basis, during which the 75,000-strong Russian army (which included Selenginsk infantry) repulsed the onslaught of the 173,000-strong multinational occupation corps. Painted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the feat, the panorama was opened in Sevastopol in 1905.

During the Great Patriotic War, surrounding area of the major base of the Black Sea fleet was aflame once again. After the bombing on 25 June 1942, a fire engulfed the building. 86 fragments of the canvas, about two-thirds of its total area, were saved from the fire. On the next day, they were loaded on the last ship that broke through to the newly besieged Sevastopol together with 2,000 injured men, women and children. This was Tashkent, the leader of the destroyers, which now had to sail back to Novorossiysk.

The Germans dropped more than 300 bombs on the overloaded ship, with each explosion near the hull multiplying its damage, although there were no direct hits, miraculously. Slowly sinking ship, having shot down several Junkers, almost shot out anti-aircraft ammunition in the first four hours of the journey, but continued to move towards Novorossiysk. The escort ships arrived and took the surviving passengers on board and the leader in tow. So, Tashkent reached the pier against all the odds. Four days later, the ship, already ready for repair, was sunk by German bombers.

Saved panorama fragments were already on the shore by that time, but the experts made a sad conclusion: since the canvas had been exposed to sea water, the restoration was impossible. In 1954, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the first defence of the city, the panorama was recreated from scratch with a new name 'Defence of Sevastopol'.

Two original fragments by Roubaud were discovered in the holdings of the Borodino Battle Panorama Museum. The audience saw one of them, which survived last horrible voyage of Tashkent, on 23 February, for the first time after a long and complex restoration. It depicts soldiers of Chernigovsky regiment rushing to the rescue of Malakhov Kurgan's defenders.

Soldiers of the 'Russian Troy' siege

This group of five statuettes featuring soldiers from different countries has a bright history. Russian infantryman, Scottish highlander, Sardinian bersagliere, French zouave, and Turkish rifleman —the paths of these five soldiers crossed near the 'Russian Troy', as the Western newspapers called Sevastopol in those years.

40 cm statuettes were cast from an alloy of various non-ferrous metals by an unknown master somewhere in Western Europe at the turn of the 19th–20th centuries. We do not know exactly how many of them were in the set and what other types of troops, other than infantry, it represented.

Photo: Turkish soldier of the Crimean War period

Scottish highlanders in traditional kilts and red coats introduced the expression 'thin red line' in English, which became a symbol of perseverance and bravery. Near Balaklava, in order to close too wide frontline, the Scots had to face the Russian cavalry in a line of two instead of four, as the regulations required. This expression got into the newspapers, and was picked up by the whole country — the Crimean War originated military journalism. 'We don't need spies we read The Times' was a popular saying in England.

The most confabulated episode involving the British was the renowned charge of a light brigade, during which the best men of the island rushed to fulfil an apparently suicidal order and died in the crossfire of Russian guns and cannons. Tennyson and Kipling described this recklessly brave attack of the Royal Cavalry. In the 20th century, this story was adapted into a film. There are three films called 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' shot by American directors James Searle Dowley (1912) and Michael Curtis (1936), and the British Tony Richardson (1968).

Photo: Scottish soldier of the Crimean War period

By the way, it was Lord Cardigan who issued the fatal order. He led the attack and ended the battle unscathed. Also, he went down in history as the creator of a collarless knitted jacket to wear under the uniform. Ever-changing weather of Taurida made the British become couturiers of military fashion, with a seamless Raglan Cape and Balaclava headdress designed near Sevastopol. The cape owes its name to the British commander-in-chief Lord Raglan. Having lost his arm at Waterloo, he wore a specially cut coat, which protected him even from the long Crimean downpours. A knitted helmet covering the entire head was designed by ordinary soldiers freezing in Balaclava winds.

It was during the Crimean War that the British realised that their famous red coats had been a relic of a previous era, so, by their next campaign, the Boer War, they designed the khaki uniform to later become a standard for all military personnel.

A figure of the bersagliere shooter (derived from the Italian bersaglio, meaning 'target'), an analogue of the Russian huntsmen, has a special headdress, too. It has two names — Moretto and Vaira. It is a wide-brimmed hat with a side plume of black capercaillie feathers, usually worn askew. The bersaglieri are still the elite of the Italian army. They have plume even on their helmets. One of their squadrons was called 'black' until the early 1990s, after the Black River where they met the Russians in Crimea. Another signature headdress, the oriental fez, became part of their uniforms at the time, too. Sardinian soldiers supposedly took it from the Turkish allies, or zouaves.

Photo: Bersagliere of the Crimean War period

For zouaves, French colonial light infantry force made up of North Africans and French volunteers, the Crimean campaign was the first war outside Algeria. It made them world famous as fearless and desperate fighters. Zouaves stood out on the battlefield with their bright uniforms, too: they wore a red felt fez with a tassel, a short red-braided black jacket, and short bright red harem trousers. The latter, by the way, gave the name to one of the regular items of civilian clothing — baggy trousers narrowing down are called zouaves.

Photo: French zouave of the Crimean War period

A sculpture of a Russian soldier in a field uniform is noteworthy, too. During the Crimean War, privates and officers of infantry regiments like Selenginsky one had to wear leather helmets decorated with a copper coat of arms and a lance-shaped crest. They were extremely uncomfortable to wear in the field, so they were usually replaced with peakless caps.

Photo: Russian soldier of the Crimean War

Source: mos.ru

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