By Vladimir Velikanov
Russian Army in 17th century consisted of 4 main components: - Streltsy - Feudal levy - Regular regiments - Cossacks
The artillery was a separate element, called Nariad in Russian. It did not have a stable organization and strength. It was an enlisted unit with life-long service. Its details will be described later.
The Streltsy were the first regular units in Russian army. They appeared in the 16th Century as an elite unit armed with firearms. Streltsy conditionally can be divided into two groups: - Garrison units - Regular regiments.
It is uncertain if this was an official division. There were Streltsy units in each town and monastery, and they used only for guard and garrison duties. Strelets (the member of Streltsy regiment)" means "marksman, rifleman, man who is shooting". So, possibly every man armed with a firearm at this time was called a Strelets.
Another main component of the Russian Army in the 17th Century was the Soldier regiments. First formed in 1632, they became the main part of the field army by 1655. Soldier regiments consisted of two different types: - Regular * Enlisted * Conscripted - Settled.
Conscripted regiments were further divided in the two types: - Gorodovye (stationed in towns) - Vybrannye (selected, a kind of guard infantry)
Gorodovye regiments were stationed in towns. During peacetime these units were dismissed and gathered only one month a year for inspection and exercises.
Vybrannye regiments were elite units. They were stationed in Moscow and were on full-time duty.
Cossacks also consisted of two different types: - Unregistered or free Cossacks - Cossacks on the state service
The first type were unregistered men living in the lands between Russia and Turkey. These steppes did not belong to any country. These men lived by their own laws and customs. It is important to know that all Cossacks were Slavs and Orthodox. The most famous these were the Don and Zaporog Cossacks.
The second type was on state service and consisted of two types: - Gorodovye Cossacks - Slobod Cossacks.
Gorodovye Cossacks were enlisted units on the state service. They were a kind of light cavalry. They were called gorodovye (stationed in town), because usually they served in the garrison, especially on the southern border.
Slobod Cossacks settled on the southern borders of Russia and were a kind of settled military forces.
Before proceeding it is necessary to discuss the Russian word Polk which has several meanings. The first and most usual meaning is "regiment". The second meaning is "corps". In 12th-17th Centuries parts of the main army were called Polks. For example, the " Storozhevoi(guard) Polk" meant vanguard, the "left hand Polk" - left flank, the "large Polk" - the main center part of army. In 17th Century Polk could also mean Corps as a group of regiments. For example, in 1672 the Belgorodskyi Polk consisted of 7 Soldier regiments, 5 Cossacks regiments, etc. Sometimes Polks (corps) were called after their commanders. The third meaning is that of administrative district in the Ukraine in 16th-18th Centuries. Hetman Rozinskyi divided the Ukraine in 20 Polks in 1516. Each of these districts formed a Polk (regiment) of about 2,000 Cossacks.
The ambitious policy of Russian government demanded the availability of a large, welltrained regular army. By the 1630's the Russian Army consisted of the Feudal Levy and Streltsy. This was not enough for the forthcoming wars with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden. Reform of the Russian Army was necessary. The main component of this reform was the recruitment system.
1. Enlisted (Kormovye) Regiments (1632-64). The forming of a regular Russian Army began in April 1630. The Russian government tried to form 2 regiments of 1,000 men each from the bezpomestnye deti boyarskie (members of gentry owning a small estate or without any estate). It was an attempt to form a kind of feudal infantry in addition to feudal cavalry, which was the main part of the Russian cavalry at that time. However, this attempt was unsuccessful because the gentry did not want to serve on foot. By September 1630 only 60 men had been enlisted. Then the government expanded the group eligible for enlistment, and allowed any volunteers to join the new regiments. By December 1631 these regiments had 3,323 men. Their state was 1600 soldiers and 176 officers each.
Each regiment consisted of 8 companies and a regimental staff. Staff included the following officers: - 1 Colonel - 1 Lieutenant Colonel - 1 Major - 5 Captains Each company consisted of: - 1 Lieutenant - 1 Ensign - 3 Sergeants (the commander of 50 men) - 1 Quartermaster - 1 Captain of Arms (NCO) - 6 Corporals - 1 Doctor - 1 Clerk - 2 Interpreters - 120 Musketeers - 80 Pikemen.
In the beginning of 1632 the number of new "Soldier" regiments was increased to six. The formation and training of the first four regiments was completed by August 1632, and they took part in the first actions of Smolensk War. The other two regiments joined the main army in June 1633.
In the middle of 1632 Russian government decided to form a new Reiter (Heavy Cavalry) regiment. At that time the feudal cavalry did not have a fixed organization, and this was an attempt to form regular cavalry. Gentlemen actively enlisted in this regiment because they were paid 5 rubles a month (soldiers in infantry received 2 rubles and gentlemen in feudal cavalry nothing). By December 1632 this regiment numbered 1,721 Reiters (2,000 men with officers). It consisted of 14 companies (each commanded by a rittmeister). At the beginning of 1633 a dragoon company of 400 men was added.
At the same time, a separated dragoon regiment (1,600 men, including 1,440 soldiers) was formed. It
was divided into 12 companies of 120 dragoons each. This regiment had its own regimental artillery of 12 small pieces (24 rounds each) with gunners. Each dragoon received 4 rubles a month, and was armed by musket and pike. During the war two more infantry regiments were formed. During the 1632-34 war a total of ten new regiments (8 Infantry, 1 Reiter and 1 Dragoon) were formed; however, after the war they were disbanded. The experience of using these regiments was successful, and in 1637-38 the Russian government began to form new regiments on the southern border.
After war with Poland, Russia began to look after the protection of its southern border. At that time there was not a clearly defined border between Russia and the Tartars. The latter raided these southern regions every year. From 1636-37 the construction of fortified towns, small fortresses and strongholds began.
The border forces consisted of three main parts: - Streltsy, they were on garrison duty in towns and strongholds, - Cossack ( Gorodovye Cossack). These Cossacks were on state service, received money for it, and their main task was patrol duty. - Regular regiments (infantry and dragoon). They were used as a field force and a reserve for the garrisons.
In 1638, 4,000 infantry and the same number of dragoons were enlisted in soldier regiments. A large number of these men had served in Soldier regiments during the 1632- 34 War. Their organization is unknown, but they probably had the same organization as previously. These regiments took part in actions in 1638, but were dismissed for the winter on 1 November 1638. The following spring they were recalled. In April 1639 there were 8,658 infantry and 5,055 dragoons. They were dismissed again in September of that year. This seasonality severly impacted the military efficiency of these units. They were used in the following years also, but by then Russia passed on to another method of recruitment.
During the period 1640-1680 Russia continued to form dragoon regiments from enlisted men. They were called Kormovye (supplied by the state). After beginning of the war with Poland in 1654 their numbers were increased. In 1653, 6,000 men more were enlisted. By 1658, 4 new dragoon regiments (about 5,000 men) were formed in the Belgorodskiy polk (Belgorod Corps). However, by the end of the war in the 1667, only 3,390 of these dragoons remained, and most were converted into the settled dragoons.
2. Settled Regiments (1642-67). In addition to enlisted regiments, the Russian government formed so-called "settled" regiments. These units were conscripted rather than enlisted. The settled soldier did not receive pay from the state, and lived off of his allotted plot of land. Settled regiments first appeared in the 1640's on the Southern and Northern borders of Russia. In the West, Russia bordered the Polish-Lithuanian State. Numerous fortresses protected this border. In the North, Russia bordered Swedish territory. This area was swampy and wooded, and difficult to traverse for army. There were no strong fortresses on either the Russian or Swedish side. There were only small strongholds. The Southern border was the most dangerous region. In the 17th Century Russia began to expand into the South to gain control of large amounts of unoccupied, fertile lands. The terrain was primarily steppe with a few woods. This region was good for cavalry, and the protection of this border demanded mobile troops.
2.a. Dragoons on the Southern Border. In 1642-48 the serfs in the villages in Voronezh, Lebediansk and Sevsk uyezd (districts) were recruited as dragoons. They were released from serfdom, and received individual plots of land for each family. They were also supplied with arms by government, and had to report for duty to the various strongholds with their own horses and supplies in the case of Tartar raids. They were a kind of home guard or militia. Usually they were equipped with muskets of the infantry pattern, and sword or berdysh (a kind of pole-axe). They were not used as cavalry. They were mobile infantry designed for the protection of the towns and villages on the south border of Russia. For cavalry duty, Gorodovye (town) and Slobod Cossacks were used.
Dragoons were bound to report for military service with their own horses and supplies. From each peasant plot one dragoon was recruited for the service in field. Other men, who lived on this plot, were a reserve in the case of death or injury of the first man. For example, in August 1646 all serfs of Komarits volost (district) were recruited as dragoons. All families received their own plot, and from each one man was recruited for dragoon service. This resulted in about 5,000 active soldiers. They were divided into 3 regiments of 6 companies each. Each company had about 300 men. The number of companies depended on the availability of officers. The service in settled regiments on the south border was very dangerous and not honorable. Each dragoon had to have a horse, musket, sword or berdysh, a boar spear, and supplies for himself and his horse. In 1653 Russian government conducted an inspection of these units.
The results were as follows: - Dragoons in full equipment - 5,551 men - Foot with muskets and berdysh or bear-spear - 5,649 men - Youth (the age limits for this category are unknown) - 3,641 Total - 14, 841 So, all of the adult population of this district were ready for military service in the case of war. It was very important, because Komarits district was on the border with Poland and Tartars. In 1653 the armistice with Poland ended, and the next year Russia went to war (The War of 1654-67).
The Komarits dragoons took an active part in this war. They were sent to the main army, and took part in many actions in Ukraine and Belorussia; however, the use of these units was a major error for the Russian government. These dragoons were a Home Guard, and were effective only in providing protection for their own lands. They did not receive any payment from the government and were supplied by their plots of land. When dragoons were on active service, their farms were ruined from a shortage of workers. As a result, the dragoons could not supply themselves and suffered. In addition, the Tartars took advantage of lack of military forces on the south border of Russia and increased their raids. In 1680 the Russian government converted the Komarits dragoons to settled infantry. By 1685 other settled dragoons had also been converted to settled infantry.
2.b. Infantry Regiments on the Swedish Border From this experience of using settled units, the Russian government decided to create other similar units on its northern borders. In 1649 the town of Olonets was founded. This town became the administrative centre of the northwestern district of the border with Sweden. The same year all of the male population became soldiers. All settlers received individual plots of land. These settlers were freed from taxes, but served as soldiers without pay. From each plot one man was recruited. If he died, his family sent another soldier to army. In nine pogost (small districts) of Olonets volost 7,902 men were recruited. They were divided into two regiments.
Another centre of recruitment was Somerskaia (Sumerskaia) volost. By an ordinance of 17 September 1649 all settlers of this district became soldiers. From each plot one man was recruited, but if family was large, then two or three men. From this district, 1,000 men were recruited and formed in a regiment. The Olonets and Somers regiments were formed for protection of the Swedish border, but during war with Poland (1654-67) they were sent to main army. When the first regiments were called out, new regiments were recruited for border service, and new men were sent to main army for the replacement of killed and wounded soldiers. As a result, by 1660 all of the adult male population of these districts had been called for army duty, and their farms lay in ruins. In 1662 government stopped recruiting from these districts, and in 1667 these regiments were disbanded.
3. Conscripted (Datochnye) Regiments (1652-98) The first attempt at conscription took place in 1652. At that time Russian government began to prepare for the new war with Poland. In 1654 the Deulinian Armistice which had ended the War of 1632-34 expired, and Russia decided to make another attempt to recover the western territory lost in 1611. In 1652, the formation of fifteen new Soldier regiments began. The formation of new infantry regiments was a necessity, because there was a shortage of infantry in the Russian field army.
Before this war, in 1651, Russian field army consisted of: Feudal levy - 37,596 men Moscow Streltsy - 8,122 Cossacks - 21,124 Tartars - 9,113 Landsknechts (German & Swedish) - 2,707 Reiters - 1,457 Dragons - 8,462