Nikolay Raevsky

Nikolay Raevsky
Nikolay Nikolaevich Raevsky

Nikolay Nikolayevich Raevsky (Russian: Николай Николаевич Раевский) (September 25 [O.S. 14] 1771 — September 28 [O.S. 16] 1829)[1] was a Russian general and statesman who achieved fame for his feats of arms during the Napoleonic wars. His family left a lasting legacy in Russian society and culture.


Early life

Nikolay Raevsky was born in Saint Petersburg.[2] He descended from an old noble family of remote Scandinavian ancestry, who left Denmark to settle in Livonia during the fourteenth century.[3] By the sixteenth century, they had acquired Polish nationality, and were granted the (Łabędź Coat of Arms) by King Sigismund III, in the early seventeenth century.[4] His grandfather, Semyon Raevsky, was the Prosecutor of the Holy Synod.

The family rose to prominence in Russia when Raevsky's father, Colonel Nikolay Semyonovich Raevsky, commander of the elite Izmaylovsky Regiment, married Ekaterina Samoylova.[5] Ekaterina was a lady-in-waiting and close friend of Empress Catherine II, and a niece of the Empress’ influential favorite, Prince Potemkin.[5][6] Ekaterina’s brother was the general and statesman, Count Alexander Samoylov.

Nikolay Semyonovich Raevsky was killed in action during the Russo-Turkish War, 1768-1774 at Iaşi, dying several months before the birth of his son, General Nikolay Raevsky.[7] Not long after the Colonel’s death, the Empress arranged for Raevsky's mother to marry a wealthy landowner, Lev Davydov, who proved to be a generous stepfather.[8]

Raevsky was enrolled in the Leib-Guard Semyonovsky Regiment at a very early age. On 30 April 1777 he was promoted to sergeant and on 1 January 1786 to ensign. On 23 February 1789 he was transferred to the Nizhegorodsky Dragoon Regiment with the rank of premier-major. With this regiment he took part in the Russo-Turkish War, 1787-1792 and distinguished himself at Bendery and Akkerman. In recognition of his valor, Raevsky was promoted on 1 September 1790 to lieutenant colonel and became the chief of a Cossack regiment.

After the peace treaty was concluded, he took part in the Polish-Russian War of 1792 with the Nizhegorodsky Dragoon Regiment. For this campaign he received on 28 June 1792 the Order of St. George of the 4th degree and the gold sword with an inscription for bravery.

When the war with Persia erupted in 1796, Raevsky, under command of Count Valerian Zubov, took part in the taking of Derbent and in other engagements.

Upon his ascension to the throne, Emperor Paul I recalled the army back to Russia, and had Raevsky dismissed from the military because of his relationship to Prince Potemkin, whom Paul detested. After Paul's murder, and Alexander I's assumption of the throne, Raevsky rejoined the army and was promoted to the rank of Major General.[9]

Napoleonic Wars

General Raevsky in battle.
The great monument on the Raevsky redoubt was dedicated by Nicolas I in 1839.

After Russia's failures at the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, Raevsky returned into the field on 25 April 1807. He served with Prince Pyotr Bagration in the vanguard of the Russian army. During the campaign of 1806–1807, Raevsky distinguished himself in numerous battles, and was awarded the Order of St. Vladimir of the 3rd degree. Raevsky, who had sustained a wound in the Battle of Heilsberg, commanded chasseurs of the advance-guard in the Battle of Friedland.[10]

After the Treaty of Tilsit was concluded, Raevsky fought in the Finnish War, and was present at every major engagement. For this campaign, Raevsky received the Order of St. Vladimir of the 2nd degree and obtained the rank of lieutenant-general. The war over, he followed Count Nikolay Kamensky to the Moldavian army, which took part in the Russo-Turkish War, 1806-1812.[11] His bold leadership made itself felt in the taking of Silistra.

During Napoleon's Invasion of Russia, Raevsky led the 7th Infantry Corps, a part of the 2nd Army led by Prince Pyotr Bagration.[12] In the advance-guard, Raevsky was responsible for delaying Davout's advance towards Moscow. After the Battle of Saltanovka, he retreated to Smolensk, where he took part in the battle for the city.[13] During the Battle of Borodino, he protected the right wing of the Russian Army, better known as the Raevsky Redoubt, winning the Order of St. George of the 3rd degree.[5][14] Later he pursued La Grande Armée and took part in the Battle of Maloyaroslavets and Battle of Krasnoi, in which he helped defeat Marshal Ney.[15][16]

Raevsky commanded the Grenadier Corps and protected the retreat of main forces during the Battle of Bautzen. After Austria and Prussia joined the Allies, Raevsky's corps joined the Bohemian Army commanded by Karl Philipp Fürst zu Schwarzenberg. He received the Order of St. Vladimir of the 1st degree for the Battle of Kulm. Near Wachau, he was seriously injured. For his feats of arms he was promoted Full General (October 8, 1813) and received the Austrian Military Order of Maria Theresa of the 3rd degree. When the Russian army entered Saxony, Raevsky was forced to return to Russia because of his poor health.

Having recovered from his illness, Raevsky rejoined the army at the Rhine, taking the command from Peter Wittgenstein and leading this army during the taking of Paris.[17] After Napoleon’s defeat, General Raevsky was given the honor of entering Paris at Alexander I’s side.[18]

Later years and family

In 1794, Raevsky married Sofia Alexandrovna Konstantinova, the granddaughter and heiress of the scientist Mikhail Lomonosov.[19] Sofia brought with her a substantial dowry, consisting of an estate at Oranienbaum with over six thousand serfs.[19] The Raevskys had six children, two sons and four daughters. After the Napoleonic Wars ended, Raevsky settled with his family at Boltyshka, an estate left to him by his stepfather.[20] Boltyshka was a large estate near the banks of the Dnieper River in Kirovohrad Oblast, Ukraine; the land was fertile and there were over ten thousand serfs to cultivate it.[20]

In May 1821, during a visit to the Caucasus, Raevsky befriended a young Alexander Pushkin and traveled with him to the Crimea.[5] Pushkin would form close friendships with Raevsky's sons, his sons-in-law, and his half-brother, Vasily Davydov – all members of the Southern Society that helped plot the Decembrist Revolt of 1825.[21][22][23] The General’s eldest son, Alexander, served as the model for the protagonist of Pushkin’s poem The Demon.[24] While Raevsky's daughter Maria’s youthful frolics inspired Pushkin to write some of the most famous lines in Russian literature ("Eugene Onegin", I-XXXIII).

Raevsky’s favorite child, Maria, was wed at the age of nineteen to Prince Sergey Volkonsky, a wealthy, liberal aristocrat, who had fought alongside General Raevsky during the Napoleonic Wars.[25] Raevsky’s eldest daughter, Ekaterina, married the wealthy young General Mikhail Fyodorovich Orlov, also a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars.[26]

Once interested in discussion of liberal reforms, western democracy, and the teachings of the Enlightenment philosophers, by 1825 Raevsky had abandoned his youthful idealism, rejecting the notion that Russia could be anything other than an absolute monarchy.[27] Both of Raevsky’s sons and his son-in-law, Mikhail Orlov, withdrew from the Southern Society long before the Decembrist Revolt occurred, and took no part in the uprising.[28] Raevsky’s half-brother, Vasily Davydov, and Prince Volkonsky, remained in the Society.[22] They were arrested along with their fellow conspirators days after the uprising in December 1825, and were taken to Saint Petersburg. They were held for several months, interrogated, tried, and sentenced to hard labor and exile in Siberia.[29] Against her father’s wishes, Maria fought for the right to accompany her husband to Siberia, and managed to personally persuade the Emperor to allow her to share Prince Volkonsky’s exile.[30][31] The Volkonskys would remain in Siberia for more than thirty years. They were only allowed to return to European Russia after the death of Nicholas I, having received a pardon from his son, Alexander II.[32][33] Maria’s courage, and that of the other Decembrist wives, was romanticized by Nekrasov in the poem "Russian Women".[34]

Raevsky died at Boltyshka four years later, a broken and embittered man, of pneumonia contracted while travelling to petition the Emperor for leniency on his daughter’s behalf.[35] As he lay dying, he is said to have looked at a portrait of his daughter Maria and whispered: ‘’That is the most remarkable woman I have ever known in my life.’’[36]

External links

Raevsky Battery at Borodino, a fragment of Roubaud's panoramic painting.


  1. ^ Раевский Николай Николаевич, Great Soviet Encyclopedia (in Russian)
  2. ^ Sutherland, 13
  3. ^ Sutherland, 12
  4. ^ Sutherland, 12–13
  5. ^ a b c d Montefiore, Simon Sebag. Prince of Princes: The Life of Potemkin, p. 452 London: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001
  6. ^ Roosevelt, Priscilla. Life on the Russian Country Estate, p. 182 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995
  7. ^ Sutherland, 14
  8. ^ Sutherland, 14, 16–17
  9. ^ Sutherland, 17
  10. ^ Sutherland, 19
  11. ^ Sutherland, 20
  12. ^ Seaton, Albert. The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars, p. 30. Osprey Publishing, 1979
  13. ^ Brett-James, Antony. 1812: Eyewitness Accounts of Napoleon's Defeat in Russia, pp. 81–82 London: Reader's Union, 1967
  14. ^ Muir, Dr. Rory. Tactics and the Experience of Battle in the Age of Napoleon, p. 22 Yale University Press, 2000
  15. ^ Schneid, Frederick C. Napoleon's Italian Campaigns: 1805–1815, p. 104 Westport, CT: Praeger, 2002
  16. ^ Horricks, Raymond. Marshal Ney: The Romance and the Real, pp. 123–126 London: Midas Books, 1982
  17. ^ Davydoff, Alexander. Russian Sketches, p. 23 Tenafly, NJ: Hermitage, 1984
  18. ^ Sutherland, 21
  19. ^ a b Sutherland, 14–15
  20. ^ a b Sutherland, 11, 16, 22–23
  21. ^ Sutherland, 56–59
  22. ^ a b Davydoff, Alexander. Russian Sketches, pp. 14–16 Tenafly, NJ: Hermitage, 1984
  23. ^ Roosevelt, Priscilla. Life on the Russian Country Estate, p. 304 New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995
  24. ^ Troyat, Henri. Pushkin, p. 158. New York: Doubleday & Co., 1970
  25. ^ Sutherland, 19–20 & 78
  26. ^ Sutherland, 61
  27. ^ Sutherland, 19–20
  28. ^ Sutherland, 72, 109
  29. ^ Sutherland, 5 & 115–119
  30. ^ Lednicki, Waclaw. Russia, Poland, and the West: Essays in Literary and Cultural History, p. 114 London: Hutchinson, 1954
  31. ^ Sutherland, 119–123
  32. ^ Davydoff, Alexander. Russian Sketches, pp. 15–16 Tenafly, NJ: Hermitage, 1984
  33. ^ Sutherland, 311–315
  34. ^ Heldt, Barbara. Terrible Perfection: Women and Russian Literature, p. 34. Indiana University Press, 1987
  35. ^ Sutherland, 199–200
  36. ^ Sutherland, 201


  • Sutherland, Christine. The Princess of Siberia: The Story of Maria Volkonsky, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1983 ISBN 0704381621

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