Illustrated Description Of Russia

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The peninsula of the Crimea is one of the most interesting portions of the Russian empire; and a sketch of it, adequate to its importance, could not be given here, without extending the chapter to too great a length. A description of it is therefore reserved for another chapter.

The government of Ekatherinoslav, or Iekaterinoslav, as its name is sometimes spelled, is situated between the forty-seventh and fiftieth degrees of north latitude, and the thirty-third and fortieth degrees of east longitude. It is bounded on the north by the governments of Poltava, Kharkov, and Voronej ; on the east by the Don Cossacks; on the south by Taurida; and on the west by Kherson, with a separate portion in Don Cossacks, at the mouth of the Don. Its territory comprises an area of about thirty-five thousand square miles.

The government is divided into two sections by the Dnieper, which intersects it in a semicircular course, from north to south, about three fourths lying east and one fourth west of that river. The eastern portion belongs to the steppe country of southern Russia, being flat, monotonous, without trees, often without water, and with a lean, saliferous soil. The western portion is more undulating, and more fruitful. The Donetz forms a part of the northeastern boundary, and there are sundry smaller streams, chiefly affluents of the Dnieper, and lakes and morasses are numerous.

The minerals are granite, lime, chalk, salt, and garnets. The climate is moderate and healthy: the winter is short, and the rivers are not very firmly frozen; the summer is very warm, and often without rain. Wheat, spelt, barley, and oats, are raised in quantity sufficient for local consumption ; and hemp, flax, poppies, peas., vegetables, and fruits, are also cultivated. Grapes and mulberries frequently suffer from frost; but melons, cherries, &c, succeed well. But the chief wealth of the government consists in its innumerable herds of horses, oxen, sheep (many of them merinos), goats, and swine. Bees yield a large return; and the silk-culture is carried on by the Greeks at Marioupol, and the Armenians at Nakichevan. In the steppes, wolves, foxes, hares, wild-cats, bustards, pelicans, partridges, quails, ducks, snipes, &c, are found; and in the rivers fish are very plentiful. Wood is wholly wanting in the east, and quite insufficient in quantity in the west; fuel consequently is scarce, and the poorer classes are fain to burn dung, litter, and heather. The houses are of clay, thatched with rushes.

Of manufacturing industry there is little; still some cloth, leather, candles, and beer, are made, and tallow-smelting carried on; and there are over two hundred distilleries. The exports are chiefly fish, tallow, and other animal substances. The population consists principally of Russians and Cossacks; but there are several other races, among whom may be mentioned ten thousand German colonists. Education is in a very low condition. The government is divided into seven districts.

Ekatherinoslav, the capital of this government, is located on the right bank of the Dnieper, two hundred and fifty miles northeast of Odessa. The streets are long, broad, badly filled up with houses, and very dirty. It is the seat of an archbishop, whose jurisdiction extends over the neighboring governments of Taurida and Kherson; and has three churches, a theological seminary, a gymnasium, ten public schools, government-offices, law-courts, barracks, several bazars, a public park, and botanic garden. In the vicinity is a large palace, in a ruinous condition, with extensive pleasure-grounds attached; once the residence of Prince Potemkin, who here entertained Catherine II. in 1784, at which date the city was founded, the empress laying the first stone, in presence of the emperor Joseph II. of Austria. It has some cloth-manufactures, and an important annual wool-fair. In its district are one Roman catholic and sixteen Memnonite colonies: the latter came, in the end of the last century, from the vicinity of Dantzic and Elbing, in Prussia. Its population is about twelve thousand. Among the other important towns may be mentioned Paulograd and Novonovskovsk.

The government of the Don Cossacks lies between the forty-seventh and fifty-second degrees of north latitude, and the thirty-seventh and forty-fifth degrees of east longitude. It is bounded north by the governments of Saratov and Voronej, west by Voronej and Ekatherinoslav, south by the sea of Azov and the Caucasus, and east by Saratov and Astrakhan. Its greatest length from north to south is three hundred and thirty miles, its breadth from east to west varying from one hundred and thirty to two hundred and seventy-five miles. It comprises an area of about fifty-three thousand square miles.

This government consists, for the most part, of one of those extensive flats called steppes; but there is some hilly land, particularly toward the north, which may be regarded as forming one of the last ramifications of the Caucasian chain. The soil is in general so very sandy as to be scarcely fit for cultivation. Toward the north there is some tolerably arable land, and along the banks of the rivers even a rich alluvium is found; but the south, where not absolutely waste, affords, at the best, an inferior pasture. The whole surface belongs tp the basin of the Don, which forms a kind of semicircle around its centre, and, toward the eastern part of the government, approaches the Volga so near as to be, at one point, not more than forty miles distant from it.*

* See notice of attempts to unite these rivers by means of a canal between two of their tributaries, on page 29 ; also remarks of Oliphant on the practicability and advantages of directly uniting the main trunks of the rivers at this point, on page 33 : marginal notes.

The Don, besides watering the province centrally, receives several important tributaries within it, and, after the confluence of the Manytch, has a breadth of about one thousand yards. The climate is, on the whole, mild and agreeable; but in winter both intense cold and violent storms occasionally prevail.

The chief employment of the inhabitants is the rearing of cattle; but, where the soil is suitable, all the ordinary cereals and legumes are cultivated, and yield good crops. Hemp and flax are also grown, and good wine is produced — part of it scarcely inferior to the light French wines, and part resembling Burgundy. From several lakes in the south large quantities of salt are obtained. Fish, including sturgeon, salmon, and carp, abound, and form a principal article of food. The caviar of this government is in great request, and forms a considerable export.

The people from whom this government derives its name are not confined to it, but form the principal part of the population of several extensive districts in Russia, where, according to the localities which they occupy, they receive different designations, and are called Don Cossacks, Cossacks of the Black sea, Kouban, Volga, Ural, Siberian Cossacks, &c.

The origin of the Cossacks is involved in considerable obscurity. Their very name has been the subject of keen dispute, but the prevailing belief now is that it is of Tartar derivation. In general, it may designate any light-armed trooper ; but it is often used in a mere vituperative sense, and applied to any member of a vagrant horde which roams or makes incursions into a district, and lives on the plunder of its inhabitants.

Though the Cossacks possess several characteristics by which they are easily distinguished, they do not appear to have sprung from one original stock. There is evidently a mixture of blood among them. They bear a close resemblance to the Russians, but are of a more slender make, and have features which are decidedly more handsome and expressive. They have a quick, keen eye, and an ear which is ever on the alert; and are active, spirited, and brave. Their intellect is good, and they often exhibit a remarkable degree of acuteness. Education, accordingly, has made some progress among them; and their old capital, Tcherkask (or Staro-Tcher-kask), contains a gymnasium, in which the proficiency of the Cossack pupils would not suffer by comparison with that of any other town of the Russian empire. Their language is a mixture of Russian, Polish, and Turkish; their religion that of the Greek church, to which they are very strongly attached, and the superstitious practices of which they are particularly careful in observing. In many of their domestic habits they contrast favorably with the Russians. They are much more cleanly, and pay a greater regard to personal appearance. Like them, they often drink to excess, but seem more alive to the degradation which results from it; and, accordingly, when they do indulge in bacchanalian orgies, have generally the sense to keep them private.

"Don Cossacks," remarks Oliphant, "are the most compound beings in the universe. According to Clarke, they are a mixture of Circassians, Malo-Russians, Russians, Tartars, Poles, Greeks, Turks, Calmucks, and Armenians ! Others contend that they are almost of a purely Slavonic origin; and this seems to me the probable conjecture, as I could trace nothing whatever in their physiognomy to warrant the supposition of a Mongolian descent. They are, moreover, bigoted adherents of the Greek church, and have been Christians from the date of the first records we have of their existence. But if ethnologists have been at variance in accounting for their origin, etymologists have been no less at a loss in deciding on the derivation of their name, and have ended by leaving it an open question whether Cossacks are so called from the resemblance of that word to those in other languages, which signify, respectively, 'an armed man,' 'a sabre,' 'a rover,' 'a goat,' 'a promontory,' 'a coat,' 'a cassock,' and a district in Circassia."

The martial tendencies of the Cossacks are very decided, and have from time immemorial formed their distinguishing feature. The whole structure of society among them is military. Originally, their government formed a kind of democracy, at the head of which was a chief, or hetman, of their own choice; while, under him, was a long series of officers, with jurisdictions of greater or less extent, partly civil and partly military — all so arranged as to be able, on any emergency, to furnish the largest military array on the shortest notice. The democratical part of the constitution has gradually disappeared under Russian domination. The title of chief hetman is now vested in the heir-apparent to the imperial throne, and all the subordinate hetmans and other officers are appointed by the crown. Care, however, has been taken not to interfere with any arrangements which fostered the military spirit of the Cossacks; and hence all the subdivisions of the population into pulks and minor sections, with military heads, and of the villages into stanitza, still remain.

Cossacks of the Don

Cossacks of the Don
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Throughout the empire, wherever particular alacrity, vigilance, and rapidity of movement, are required, the qualities by which the Cossack is distinguished mark him out for employment. His proper sphere, undoubtedly, is to act as a "light-armed trooper," and to be, as the celebrated Suwarrow emphatically expressed it, "the eye" of the army, protecting its rear in retreat, or pushing forward in advance, and making it almost impossible for a flying enemy to escape. How admirably the Cossacks are adapted to these purposes, was made known to all Europe during the disastrous retreat of the French from Moscow.

The Russian government, however, has found other fields for the exertions of these fierce warriors. When a frontier is to be guarded, the qualities required very much resemble those which make the Cossack so valuable to an army in the field; and, accordingly, colonies of Cossacks have been planted on all the borders of southern Russia, along the Kouban.and the Terek, and form a most effective barrier against sudden incursions by half-civilized tribes.

In the Caucasus, however, the Russians have met with a foe of a different stamp; and, instead of having merely to repel sudden incursions, are obliged to fight for every inch of ground on which they plant their feet. In this way they have been constrained to fix upon a series of strong positions, on which they have constructed a kind of forts, called kreposts. The nature of these, the sudden attacks to which they are exposed, and the mode of giving the alarm, so as to call in the aid of neighboring posts, are well exhibited in the accompanying graphic and very faithful illustration. In this service, Cossacks chiefly are employed; and, though that remarkable quickness of ear, by which they can catch the slightest sounds, at almost incredible distances, may fit them well for it, it certainly must be a service altogether uncongenial to their nature and habits. The Cossack is almost constantly on horseback, and is in his element when scouring the open fields. Here he is cooped up within a narrow space, and dare not venture a hundred yards beyond it, without exposing himself to the deadly aim of a Circassian. So monotonous is this mode of life — so different from that which he had been accustomed to lead — that the Cossack often abandons himself to despair, and disappoints the Circassian, by becoming his own murderer.

Krepost, or Cossack Post, on the Circassian Frontier

Krepost, or Cossack Post, on the Circassian Frontier
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Novo Tcherkask, or New Cherkask, the capital of the country of the Don Cossacks, is situated forty miles northeast of Azov, on an eminence, on the right bank of the Aksai. It was founded by the hetman, Platoff, in 1806, the inundations to which Tcherkask, the former capital, was exposed, having rendered it necessary to remove the seat of government to a more elevated position. "In his anxiety to avoid the floods of the Don," says Oliphant, "the hetman has fallen into the opposite extreme, and perched the new capital on a most unfavorable site. Eight miles distant from the river, it is unable to benefit by the increasing traffic which passes along its stream, and the approaches are steep and inaccessible in almost every direction. The only advantage which is afforded by its lofty situation is an extensive view to the southward, and in clear weather the snowy peaks of the Caucasus are said to be distinctly visible. The population amounts to about ten thousand. The streets are broad, but the houses mean; and it is remarkable that the practice of raising them, as it were, upon stilts, like cornstalks in a farmer's 'haggard,'which was no doubt necessary in the old inundated town, has been continued by the working-classes in the new: altogether it is a straggling, ill-laid-out place, in no degree calculated to realize the expectation raised by its approach through an ostentatious archway." Among the public buildings and institutions are the cathedral, a large hospital, an arsenal, and a gymnasium, where the Latin, French, and German languages, with history, geography, mathematics, &c, are taught.

Tcherkask, the former capital of this government, is situated on the right bank of the Don, on an island formed by that river, the Aksai, and one of its branches, called the Yasilievka. It is thirty-seven miles east-northeast of Azov, and eleven south of Novo Tcherkask. The streets are narrow and -crooked; and the houses, which are of wood, are for the most part built on piles, and raised five or six feet above the ground, on account of the inundations above referred to, to which the town is subject, from the beginning of April till the end of June. It has several public buildings, some of them constructed of wood, including seven churches, an academy, several schools, a prison, and a town-hall. It is the seat of a considerable commerce, and fishing is carried on to some extent.

The foundation of this town is attributed to a colony of Greeks. Under the Russians it became the chief place of the Don Cossacks, and such it continued till the seat of government was removed to Novo Tcherkask. It3 population is about fifteen thousand.

Taganrog is a fortified seaport town situated on the north shore of the northeast angle of the sea of Azov, denominated the gulf of the Don, about ten miles from the mouth of that river. The foundations of Taganrog were laid by Peter the Great, in 1698; but it afterward fell into the possession of the Turks: and it was .not till the reign of Catherine II. that it became of any considerable importance. It has ten churches, of which three are built of stone; a gymnasium, a poor's hospital, &c. It was intended by its illustrious founder to replace Azov, the ancient emporium of the Don, the port of which had become all but inaccessible ; and its whole consequence is derived from this circumstance, or from its being the entrepot of the commerce of the vast countries traversed by that great river. The exports consist principally of grain, particularly wheat; iron and hardware from Toula; with cordage, linen and sailcloth, copper, tallow, wool, leather, furs, wax, ashes, caviar, isinglass, &c. The imports consist principally of wine, oil, fruit, dry-salteries, cotton and woollen goods, spices, dye-stuffs, tobacco, sugar, coffee, &c. By far the largest portion of the trade was formerly carried on with Constantinople, Smyrna, and other Turkish ports; and there is an extensive coasting-trade with Odessa and other Russian ports.

Seeing that Taganrog was built to obviate the difficulties that had to be encountered by vessels entering the Don, through the shallowness of the water, it might have been supposed that care would be taken to place it in a position in which it should be, in as far as possible, free from this defect. This important consideration seems, however, to have been in a great measure overlooked. The gulf of the Don is seldom navigable by vessels drawing more than from eight to nine feet of water; and even these can not approach within less than about seven hundred yards of the town. They are principally loaded by carts, drawn each by a single horse, the expenses being very considerable.

To obviate these inconveniences, it has been proposed to make Kertsch, on the. eastern coast of the strait of Enikaleh, a depot for the produce of the sea of Azov. A new port was also established a few years since at Ghei'sk, on the eastern coast of the sea; but its bay is rapidly filling up.

Taganrog has a, population of about twenty-two thousand. A steamer leaves twice a month for Odessa, performing the voyage in ten days! A glance at the map will show that in any other country the passage would not occupy three. Oliphant remarks that, "Notwithstanding the present increasing trade and population of Taganrog, I do not think that its prosperity is at all of a permanent character. The harbor is one of the most inconvenient in Europe, and has by degrees become so shallow, that ships are obliged to anchor at a distance of twelve or fifteen miles from the shore. There seems no doubt that it is rapidly filling up. So recently as the year 1793, Professor Pallas records the launch of a large frigate upon waters that lighters can now with difficulty navigate ! As if nature were not doing enough to ruin Taganrog as a port, almost every ship that arrives contributes something to the same end. The Russian government has strictly prohibited the throwing overboard of ballast, with which the majority of the vessels that annually visit it are laden; and the customhouse officials are einjoined to see that this order is complied with, by measuring the draught of water of every ship at Kertsch, and comparing it with that which she requires upon her arrival at Taganrog. Of course, by this regulation, government has only supplied a new source of profit to the customs' officers, without in the least attaining the object desired. A bribe at Kertsch, in proportion to the amount of ballast to be discharged, has the instantaneous effect of lightening the ship; so that after she has thrown overboard a cargo of stones at the entrance of the Taganrog harbor, her draught is found to correspond, with singular exactness, to the measurement taken at Kertsch; and thus the expense, which would have been incurred by landing the ballast, is reduced to the more moderate sum to which the bribe may have amounted. The consequence of this system is, that the destruction of the harbor will proceed in exact proportion to the increase of the trade and mercantile importance of the town, until it becomes so eminently prosperous, that no ship will be able to approach it at all!"

Moreover, the new port of Berdianski threatens to prove a most formidable rival, as it affords facilities for discharging and loading cargo unequalled by any other harbor in the sea of Azov. It is situated at the mouth of the Berda, and ships of considerable tonnage can lie close inshore. Marioupol, too, is a large Greek colony, and, though not possessing any great advantage as a port, it contains an indefatigable population. Indeed, to the mercantile skill and enterprise of the Greeks is to be attributed that increasing importance which the grain-trade of the southern provinces of Russia has recently assumed.

The emperor Alexander, whose reign will always form a memorable and brilliant era in the history of Russia, expired at Taganrog, on the 19th of November, 1825.

Azov is a fortified town, situated on an eminence on the left bank of one of the arms of the Don, near the northeastern extremity of the sea of Azov. This town was founded at a very early period, by Carian colonists engaged in the trade of the Euxine; and was called by them Tanais, from the river (Don, then Tanais), of which it was the port. In the middle ages it was called Tana. It came into the possession of the Venetians after the taking of Constantinople by the Latins, and was held by them till 1410, when it was sacked, and its Christian inhabitants put to the sword, by the Tartars. The latter gave it the name of Azov, which it still retains. Formerly it had an extensive trade, being the emporium of all the vast countries traversed by the Don. But owing to the gradual accumulation of sand in that channel of the river on which it is built, and the consequent difficulty of reaching it by any but the smallest class of vessels, its trade has been entirely transferred to Taganrog ; its fortifications have also fallen into decay; and it now consists only of a cluster of miserable cabins, inhabited by about twelve hundred individuals. This town, with a small adjacent district, is under the neighboring government of Ekatherinoslav.

Cossack Girl of Tcherkask

Cossack Girl of Tcherkask
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Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855