ARMY HUSSARS 1812-1816


By A. Val’kovich. Illustrations by R. Palasios-Fernadez and P. F. Kosmolinskii.

(From Tseikhgauz No. 1, 1991, pgs. 19-23.)

[Translator’s note - “Army” hussars refers to line units as opposed to Life-Guards regiments. “Highest” authority refers to the tsar himself.]

Our image of the hussars of this period are to a great extent based on the classic work of A. V. Viskovatov (Note 1). It was natural that all subsequent works dealing with this subject (Note 2) hardly did more than cite his Historical Description

However, a careful study of documentary and pictorial sources, undertaken in order to clear up some points in the “canonical text,” convinced us that these firmly rooted details are in many cases untrue and in need of significant supplementation.

Let us begin with the hussars’ weapons. In describing them, Viskovatov refers to the traditional sabers, carbines, and saddle-mounted pistols (Note 3). However, materials from the War Ministry’s Chancellery and a series of other documents show that shortly before the war, from April to the beginning of May 1812, most army hussar regiments were armed with lances [piki] (Note 4). Three regiments were apparently issued lances later--the Belorussia and Olviopol regiments in the Danube army, and the Lubny Regiment in the Crimea (Note 5). Only the first rank was armed with the lance. With 640 lances being given to a regiment, each squadron would receive 64.

Guard and army lancers were specially sent to the regiments to instruct the hussars in handling lances. On 21 April 1812 (Note 6), the commander-in-chief of the 2nd Western Army, P. I. Bagration, reported to the minister of war:

In accordance with highest orders, the first ranks of several hussar regiments have been armed with lances. This weapon is rather advantageous and all the more useful since, being a native implement, it has elicited a certain satisfaction on the part of the men when it was introduced and during training in handling it. In a short time the men are well trained, but one had to observe the inconvenience occasioned by the carbine as it hangs from its hook. In trials where the lance was handled in its various positions both with and without a carbine, everyone found that the lance was handled better when there was no carbine. Taking all this into account, and desiring that the lance as an advantageous weapon attain its full and excellent purpose, I must humbly request that Your Excellency obtain highest permission to dispense with the first ranks’ carbines (Note 7).

Corps commanders of the 1st and 2nd Western Armies sent similar reports to M. B. Barclay de Tolly on “the impossibility of handling lances along with carbines.” These arguments were decisive, and regimental commanders received permission to take the carbines from the hussars in the first rank and send them to replacement squadrons (Note 8).

Thinking along these lines, the inspector-general of cavalry, Tsesarevich Constantine Pavlovich, issued an order that:

For more convenient handling of the lance when operating against the enemy, when pelisses are not being worn with arms in the sleeves (Note 9), personnel are not to wear them, but rather leave them with the  wagon train. They are, however, to wear pelisses when these are ordered to be worn with arms in the sleeves, since then they do not interfere with handling lances (Note 10).

The newly instituted weapons were usually of the pattern for lancers but with black shafts and, in accordance with highest directive, without pennants (Note 11). Taking everything into account, we find that some regiments ignored this last directive, as it is known that the Pavlograd and Izyum hussars had pennants (turquoise-white and red-dark blue, respectively). These are shown in the drawings of one of the most valuable pictorial sources form this era--the Elberfeld Manuscript, dated 11 February 1814. We also have a reference to the Akhtyrka Hussars: in the official journal of military operations, which Prince M. I. Kutuzov’s headquarters submitted to St. Petersburg, in a note for 8 October 1812, it is recorded: “Major Khrapovitskii, in order to confuse the enemy, ordered his hussars (Akhtyrka hussars from D. V. Davydov’s force - A. V.) to put pennants on their lances… The enemy, thinking this was a party of Polish cavalry, confidently came out onto the open field where our force struck them…” (Note 12). Unfortunately, even all these fragments of information do not allow us to create a full picture of the coloring system for pennants.

The hussars kept their lances in the following campaign in France in 1815. Confirmation of this comes from an official announcement from Emperor Alexander I’s headquarters: “In accordance with the wish of the hussar regiments passing through Heidelberg (Note 13), they may keep their lances; Field Marshal Graf Barclay de Tolly is to be directed to also announce this to the rest of the hussar regiments, leaving it up to them as to abandoning lances or not” (Note 14).

In a number of cases, the details of hussar uniforms were different from what we previously believed. It is known that during this period the color of the cords or braid on uniform items, as well as the shako tassels and pompons, corresponded to the metal appointments in use by a regiment-that is to say, yellow or white. This simple scheme, established in 1807, endured for a number of years and changed in part only around 1820. If one uses the material published by Viskovatov, this was the case throughout (Note 15). However, we now may maintain with certainty that even before the Patriotic War of 1812 the Yelizavetgrad and Pavlograd regiments had red braid, shako tassels, and pompons instead of the colors that would be in accordance with the above scheme. This is indicated by several contemporary sources which for some reason or other did not come to the notice of the compilers of Historical Description

First and foremost is a well-preserved dolman and pelisse of the Pavlograd Regiment from the collection of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. The style of the details and the form of the collar allows these items to be dated between the end of 1809 and the beginning of 1812. You can see their appearance in our drawing and confirm for yourself that it is trimmed with red cord.

The aforementioned Elberfeld Manuscript of 1814 also shows the Yelizavetgrad and Pavlograd hussars with red braid, shako cords, and pompons (Note 16). Worth mentioning is evidence from an anonymous officer in Germany, usually referred to as “Captain Fritz,” who was serving in the Yelizavetgrad Regiment in 1812. In recalling one of the summer campaign’s episodes, he noted that as the troops moved, “dust lay.. in a thick layer on my dark-gray dolman with its red trim…” (my italics - A.V.) (Note 17).

And finally, a last document that confirms all the above--“Description of uniforms of all hussar regiments,” put together on 27 December 1816 in the War Ministry’s Commissariat Department on the orders of Emperor Alexander I (Note 18). The character of the correspondence in this file (“The Sovereign Emperor would be pleased to immediately have a detailed description of all hussar uniforms, with color distinctions…”) allows use to conclude that this is not talking about anything newly introduced, but only about presenting information regarding uniforms as of the beginning of 1816. Considering that the files of the Commissariat Department (in charge of providing materiél to the forces) for the preceding years do not mention any substantial changes in hussar uniforms, it is possible to confidently suppose that this “Description …,” which we present here in the form of a tabular schematic illustration, reflects the appearance of hussars during the 1812 period.

One more important discovery is connected with this document. Turn your attention to the black color of the fur trim on the pelisses for a number of regiments. We recall that black sheep’s-fleece trim was prescribed only for non-commissioned officers, while officers had gray, and privates--white (Note 19). But the document describes uniforms only for privates. The question arises: when was the nicely thought-out system first violated? The presence of black trim on a private’s pelisse already at the end of 1811 or beginning of 1812 is shown in a drawing from life by A. O. Orlovskii, which we reproduce here. But some of the first evidence of such a change comes from as early as the Russo-Swedish War. In October of 1808, the chef of the Grodno Hussars, Major General D. D. Shepelov, turned in a report to the commander-in-chief of the Finland Army, Graf F. F. Buksgevend, in which he asked that “for the benefit of field and company-grade officers and the advantage of the regiment, the white trim on pelisses be replaced with black for all ranks, following the example of other regiments” (my italics - A.V.). The report was submitted up the chain of command to the inspector-general of cavalry who replied to the minister of war, “…I do not foresee the need to change it to black” (Note 21). Without disputing this opinion of Tsesarevich Constantine Pavlovich, we must note that having black fleece was more suitable for hussar regiments because white fleece, being apt to get dirty, needed frequent replacement. Naturally, this situation was not helpful to the regimental economy and its expenditures. Apparently, in November of 1826 the introduction of black trim on the pelisses in all hussar regiments was motivated by exactly these considerations.

Thanks to the “Description of uniforms of all hussar regiments,” now it is also known that hussars of the Patriotic War period had colored collars on their cloaks and on officers’ greatcoats (Note 22). Also not adhered to was the scheme of coloring woolen girdles the same color as the pelisse, and the slides (gomby, small cylindrical fastenings) the same color as the braid (Note 23). It is now hard to determine the exact time of these innovations, but it was probably in 1809-1811, when the hussar uniform underwent a number of significant changes.


Page 19. Privates of hussar regiments: Mariupol (1), Belorussia (2), Yelizavetgrad (3), Pavlograd (4), Izyum (5), Sumy (6).

Page 20. Dolman and pelisse of a private of the Pavlograd Hussar Regiment. 1809-1812. (From the State Historical Museum of the USSR.)

Page 21. Private of an hussar regiment, 1811. Drawing by A. O. Orlovskii.

Pages 22 and 23. Color schemes for uniforms of hussar regiments, 1812-1816 (division numbers and the sequential order of the regiments is for February 1816).

1st Hussar Division (top row): Lubny (1), Sumy (2), Grodno (3), Olviopol (4).

2nd Hussar Division (middle row): Akhtyrka (5), Belorussia (6), Aleksandriya (7), Mariupol (8).

3rd Hussar Division (bottom row): Izyum (9), Yelizavetgrad (10), Pavlograd (11), Irkutsk (12).

Life-Guards Hussar Regiment (13) - shown here for comparison.

Differences in uniforms for officers (14), non-commissioned officers (15), and trumpeters (16) - shown for the Izyum Regiment (a peculiarity of this regiment were the different colors of the cords for officers and lower ranks).


1. Viskovatov, A.V. Istoricheskoe opisanie odezhdy i vooruzheniya rossiiskikh voisk s risunkami, sostavlennoe po vysochaishemu poveleniyu. 2nd edition, Volume 11. St. Petersburg, 1900.

2. Gabaev, G.S. Rospis’ russkim polkam 1812 goda. Kiev, 1912; Zvegintsev, V.V. Russkaya armiya, Volume 4. Paris, 1971.

3. Viskovatov, A.V., op. cit., pages 47 and 57.

4. For more details see: Val’kovich, A.M. “O vooruzhenii gusar pikami,” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, 1988, No. 4, pgs. 77-79.

5. Burskii, I.D. Istoriya 8-go gusarskogo Lubenskogo polka. Odessa, 1912. pgs. 74-75.

6. All dates are given in Old Style.

7. TsGVIA SSSR, f. 103, op. 209, sv. 6, d. 1, l. 2.

8. This is exactly how a lance-armed Izyum hussar is depicted by the brothers Christof and Cornelius Suhr of Hamburg, as first seen by them in the spring of 1813.

9. From April through September, pelisses (mentiki, or obsolete mentii) were worn thrown back over the left shoulder, but in the colder part of the year they were worn with the arms in the sleeves.

10. TsGVIA SSSR, f. 103, op. 209g, sv. 39, d. 127, l. 7.

11. Haythornthwaite, P. The Russian Army of the Napoleonic Wars (2): Cavalry 1799-1814. London, 1987, pg. 15.

12. M. I. Kutuzov. Sbornik dokumentov. Vol. 4, Part 2. Moscow, 1955, pg. 130.

13. This would mean the Yelizavetgrad, Pavlograd, Izyum, and (formed in December 1812) Irkutsk regiments, which made up the 3rd Hussar Division.

14. TsGVIA SSSR, f. VUA, d. 3376, ch. III, l. 123.

15. Viskovatov, A.V., op. cit., pgs 54 and 61.

16. Haythornthwaite, P., op. cit., page 14. These hussars are depicted in almost the same way in 1816 by L. I. Kiel, who, if truth be told, allowed a number of errors in the coloring of his engraving depicting an Yelizavetgrad hussar.

17. Cited by Haythornthwaite, P., Uniforms of the Retreat from Moscow in Colour, 1812. Poole, Dorset, 1976, page 153.

18. TsGVIA SSSR, f. 396, op. 1, d. 105, l. 4-5.

19. Viskovatov, A.V., op. cit., page 47.

20. TsGVIA SSSR, f. 71, op. 1, d. 1875, l. 1.

21. Ibid., l. 3.

22. Cf. Viskovatov, A.V., op. cit., pgs. 48 and 50.

23. Only the Belorussia, Izyum, Irkutsk, Lubny, and Mariupol regiments kept the previous coloring system.


Translated by Mark Conrad, 2000