Alexander I on the Formation of a Militia During the Napoleonic Wars

[excerpted from Germaine de Lagny, The Knout and the Russians; or, the Muscovite Empire, the Czar and His People, John Bridgeman, tr. (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1854), pp. 254-265]

By the grace of God, we, ALEXANDER THE FIRST, Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, etc., etc., to all our faithful subjects:

The whole world is acquainted with the disastrous events occasioned by the avidity and ambition of the government which at present weighs on France. It has covered Europe with carnage, crimes, and ruins. We desired to put a limit to this. We have employed every means of conciliation to restore general tranquillity and secure the independence of our allies. But all our efforts, all our solicitude, has remained without effect.

The common enemy, whose perfidy tramples under foot the sacredness of treaties and the laws of nations, and whose encroachments threaten to throw all Europe into confusion, obliged us to have recourse to arms in order to assist the Powers neighbouring on our empire.

The misfortunes which have accumulated over Austria, forced the court of Vienna to sign an onerous peace, dictated by the urgent nature of the circumstances and the ambitious views of the conqueror.

A short time afterwards, at the very moment that there were hopes of putting an end to this plague, and, by means of negociations, restoring repose to groaning humanity, Prussia, falling a victim to the sacrifices she had made in order to procure the friendship of France, and also to her condescension towards this enemy of the whole world, was not able to escape the dangers of war.

The security which she enjoyed in the midst of a deceptive peace, without foreseeing the results of it, and the confidence which she never ceased to place in the perfidious friend who betrayed while he caressed, have dug the abyss into which she has just been precipitated.

Before the forces of Prussia could be collected, the armies of Bonaparte, falling upon them, conquered and dispersed them. The capital of the kingdom, having been left without defence, was subsequently taken possession of, and the greater portion of the Prussian provinces fell into the power of the French.

The moment this barrier, which covered our western frontiers, was thus thrown down, we saw ourselves imperiously compelled to cause our armies to advance under the orders of Field-Marshal Count Caminski, in order to protect this side of our dominions, and, after having invoked the Almighty, by whose means, sooner or later, the just cause must triumph, we have commanded our troops to advance against the enemy, who, in audacious proclamations, dares to threaten that he will march his armies into the very heart of our empire.

As the advantages which Napoleon has gained over our neighbours cause all the weight of this wax to fall upon our native land, one of our first duties was to redouble our paternal cares for the maintenance of the tranquillity and security of the state, by supporting our armies with all the united strength of the brave, faithful, and generous people, the government of whom Providence has confided to our care.

The disasters which, with such astonishing rapidity, have overwhelmed the neighbouring states, prove more than ever how indispensable it is to unite all the resources offered us by unflinching courage and the love of our country and of glory.

It is only when the whole of a great people is inflamed with these noble sentiments that it can, by a general arming, oppose an impenetrable barrier to its enemies, whatever may be their number and strength.

The fact of not having taken up arms in this manner, even in the hearts of the provinces, in order to repel the chief of the French, whose power was augmented by each fresh act of usurpation, was a fault which has been attended with unfortunate results for Austria, and one which has accelerated the downfall of Prussia. The loss of a few battles has been sufficient to decide their fate. The enemy, penetrating into their country without having anything to fear from an unarmed population, have destroyed the remains of the dispersed and routed troops, and, carrying terror and desolation every where, have multiplied their easy invasions and put the finishing stroke to their acts of usurpation.

The valour and the triumphs of the Russian armies, the intrepidity with which, during a century, they have overthrown their enemies in all quarters of the earth, the trophies raised upon the frontiers, which they have never ceased extending, and the recollection of so much glory, all tend to assure us that, with the aid of the Supreme Being, our enemies will fail in their ambitious designs, and leave upon our soil no traces save their graves.

But the immense extent of country, over which our armies are called upon to act, presents great obstacles to their mutually assisting one another in the defence of our vast frontiers; therefore, to prevent the dangers which might result from this, especially if (which God forbid) the enemy succeeded in effecting a breach in them, we have deemed it indispensable to take measures, for a time, for a general arming of the population, and to create a militia which will be always ready to proceed rapidly to every spot, and to reinforce, or supply the place of, the regular armies, and, in a word, be able to oppose each step of the French with the insurmountable force of the faithful children of our native country, united for the defence of all they hold most dear and most precious.

Under these difficult circumstances, we address ourselves with the most boundless confidence to the illustrious body of the nobility of our empire, which by its constant fidelity, by its numerous and important services on the field of battle, and the generous sacrifice of its blood and fortune, formerly laid the unshakeable foundation of the greatness of Russia; that body whose heroic example has animated and guided the other classes of the state, who by their brilliant actions have, at all times, contributed to the defence of their fatherland and the foundation of its glory.

The ever memorable proofs which the nobility has always given of its devotion to its fatherland and of its fidelity to the throne, in the earliest ages as well as at the present day, its well known readiness to respond on all occasions to the first summons of its sovereign' whenever its services
may prove useful, and to sacrifice its exertions and its life to the necessities of the state, afford the convincing assurances of the zeal, devotion, and perseverance with which it will assist us in bringing to a successful termination, and accelerating the aforesaid arming of the militia, required by the necessities and for the safety of the empire, conforming itself, also, to the rules here following

We are persuaded that our faithful corporations of cities, that the class of nobles and tradesmen, that the peasants of the crown and the free husbandmen, will vie with each other in uniting to share the honourable burden of rendering the most important service to their fatherland, as well as defending the religion of their forefathers and the prosperity of their families.

Let the ministers of the altars join with us and our faithful subjects, in praying to the Almighty, who holds in His hands the fate of empires, and in obtaining from Him the protection and strength necessary to resist the danger, to vanquish and exterminate the common enemy, and to restore peace and repose to our people.

The organisation of the provincial armament or the raising of the militia, which will only remain in force during the present danger, will be conducted in the following manner: -


1. All the governments situated towards the frontiers or in the interior of the empire, and which will be hereafter specified, will arm their respective populations, according to the number prescribed for the militia levies, agreeably to the annexed regulations.

2. Several governments comprised in the list, and united with one another, will form. a general district, and the forces raised by these governments will form the militia of each such district.

3. The number of such armies will be seven.

4. The commanders-in -chief of the general districts will be appointed and chosen by us, from among those persons who have gained general confidence by their fidelity, their services, and their personal qualities.

5. The commanders of the bodies of militia of the governments will be appointed by the nobility, who will choose for the post such persons as have distinguished themselves by their military services, and who, as far as this is possible, are domiciliated in the respective governments. If the nobility does not elect them, they will be appointed by the commander-in-chief of the general district.

6. The other officers of the militia of the governments, such as the commandants of districts, of one thousand men, of five hundred, and of less, will also be named by the nobility of the government, who will appoint members of its own class, and, as far as this is practicable, select them from those who have served in the regular army; in default of this, it will select them from among those who have not served, or from among the other classes. The places not filled up by the nobility will be at the disposal of the commander of the government.

7. Immediately after the publication of these regulations, the civil governors will draw up lists of all the inhabitants of the government, including persons of every class, and will, in conformity with their instructions, send exact copies of these lists to the commander-in-chief of the general district, as well as to the commandants of the militia of such government.


8. The civil governors and the marshals of the nobility will fix, according to the above-mentioned lists, and the number of inhabitants of each government, the number of men to be raised, both from the middle classes and from the crown peasants, and inform private individuals what number they are required to furnish towards the Contingent of each government.

9. The assemblies of the nobility, as soon as the mar. shals shall have demanded the number of men to be provisionally armed for the service of their fatherland, will arrange, by an exact and proportional distribution, the contingent which each separate noble must furnish. When this distribution has been made, every proprietor of peasants will furnish, in the space of a fortnight, the number of men of his contingent: he will give them arms, and, to as great an extent as he can, fire-arms, choosing in preference persons accustomed to handle them, such as huntsmen, sharpshooters, etc. He will clothe them in a manner suited to the season, and give them three roubles, in ready-money, and provisions for three months.

10. The commonalties and villages belonging to the crown will also furnish, in the same space of time, their respective contingents; they will choose those persons who are most capable of bearing arms, with which they will have to supply them, as well as with provisions, clothing, and money, as in the preceding article.

11. After the publication of these regulations, and the receipt of the lists of the number of men to be raised in each government, the corporations of the cities will fix, without delay and with due consideration of the means and zeal of the inhabitants, the amount each citizen mast contribute, either in money, provisions, or other articles, for the equipment and arming of the militia. The list of these patriotic offers will be forwarded to the civil governor, to the commandants of the militia of the government, and to the commander-in-chief, who will without delay forward them to us for our information.

12. The assemblies of the nobility and the corporations of the cities, respectively, will appoint trustworthy and intelligent persons, who will be charged with the safe-keeping of these offerings, and the commanders-in-chief, as well as commandants of the governments, will select spots for the establishment of depôts.

13. Free persons of all classes, who, animated by desire to serve their country, shall wish voluntarily to take up arms and participate in the temporary armaments, shall be received by the commandants of governments.

14. All the inhabitants of the governments possessing in their houses guns, swords, sabres, pikes, and other arms, of whatever description they may be, exclusive of those which they require for the arming of the militia and themselves, are invited to send them for the service of their country-in the districts, to the marshals and commandants of the districts, and, in the cities, to the town-hall or to the prefect of police. Such offerings, for which a receipt will be given, and which will be reported to the commandant of the government, will be received with gratitude.

15. Whatever powder, cannons, bullets and other munitions of war, are wanting in the various governments, will be delivered from the arsenals of the empire and the magazines of the Crown. The commanders-in-chief, and those of the governments, will take care, as far as possible, to provide themselves with all that they may want, arid the local magistrates will lend them every assistance in carrying out our wishes.

16. To reinforce and exercise the militia, a sufficient number of troops of the line will be detached and placed under the orders of the commandants of the government.


17. The commander-in-chief of each general district, will see that all the measures relative to the common defence are executed, agreeably to the instructions which will be forwarded to him. His orders will be carried out with the same promptitude and precision as if they emanated from the supreme power. The commander will present us those who distinguish themselves by their zeal, in order that we may grant them the advancement and other rewards which they shall have merited.

18. In all that relates to the companies of the government 'the gendarmerie) the commandants of the governments, as well as the civil governors, are under the orders of the chief of the general district.

19. The marshals of the governments and of the districts, will contribute, to the utmost of their power, to the success of the measures adopted by the commandant of the militia of the government. They are obliged to execute all his orders, to which the city prefect, the district captains, the magistrates, and the corporations, are also subjected, in all that relates to the common defence. Lastly, the Commanders of the bodies of a thousand and of five hundred men of the militia (regiment and battalion), and those of the inferior sections, are likewise subordinate to him.

20. As the measures adopted could never attain their end without the most absolute obedience, and the most severe discipline, it is evident that the slightest instances of disobedience to the orders of the chiefs would become hurtful to the public good, if they were not suppressed with the utmost rigour of the law. Therefore, to prevent the evil which might result, and which would be detrimental to the happiness of the empire, full power is given and conferred, by these presents, on the chiefs of general districts, to arrest and bring before courts-martial all those who may be guilty of disobedience towards their chiefs, and violate the faithful observance of the oaths, of which a particular form for the use of the militia will be issued.

All the sentences of the military tribunals, even those that condemn the guilty person to death, will be executed without the slightest delay.

When the Almighty shall have blessed our efforts, and those of our faithful subjects; when the arms taken up for the defence of our fatherland, and for the purpose of lowering the insolence of the enemy, shall have obtained for us the desired success; when the stranger that menaces us shall no longer exist, -- then these troops, after having offered up thanksgivings to that most Holy Providence which will have guided their arms, will lay down their -weapons, and return to the hearths which their courage will have preserved for them; it is then that, in the bosom of his own family, every one will enjoy the sweets of the peace, to which he will so gloriously have contributed.

We promise solemnly, on oar Imperial word of honour, and we impose upon ourselves the sacred duty of bestowing, in the name of a grateful country, all kinds of favours and recompenses on its worthy children, and of rewarding, by honours and marks of distinction, all those who, under the existing circumstances, shall signalise themselves by their valour, the sacrifice of their personal interests to the public good, and by any other services which they may render to their country.

A grateful posterity will bless the names of its defenders, and their glory will pass from generation to generation.

Given at St, Petersburg, the 30th November, in the year of grace 1806, and of our reign the 6th.

The original is signed with his Imperial Majesty's own hand, and countersigned by the Minister of the Interior, Count Kotschoubey.