by Vladimir Rybin, Director of the TsGVIA (from Nashe Nasledie, 19/1991)


Three hundred years ago a site in Moscow at a cattle ford on the Yauza, not yet carrying the name of Lefortovo, became the cradle of Peter the Great’s reforms. The young Peter often visited the German settlement here. At the very beginning of the last year of the seventeenth century, the tsar sat in a palace’s spacious hall lined with two tiers of windows - a just finished palace of "stone buildings designed by" Dmitrii Aksamitov - and, giving a wink to the place’s owner, he looked out on the newly shaved faces of his boyars. Peter ordered scissors to be brought, and right there, on the day celebrating the blessing of the Lefortovo Palace, introduced European fashions by lopping off the hems and sleeves of the long boyar robes. General-Admiral Franz Yakovlevich Lefort, the reformer’s "sole friend", smiled broadly; he would only be alive less than two more weeks.

The logic behind becoming an architectural monument is not always infallible, but the subsequent history of the Lefortovo Palace cannot be said to be uneventful. It survived the turbulence of the Petrine era as the property of Aleksandr Menshikov. Peter the Great’s grandson, Emperor Peter II, died here. Here the "top people" worked out the conditions for limiting autocracy in favor of the old aristocracy, and here, overlooking the Yauza, artillery captain Vasilii Nikitich Tatishchev thought out possibilities for democratic reform.

Time passed. Already in the middle of the eighteenth century the palace no longer answered to the level of comfort and luxury required for members of the imperial family. The building burned twice and fell into decay. Catherine II put aside projects to rebuild it: to her the palace appeared uncomfortable, since "it was stuck onto a hillside". It barely escaped being torn down as unfit.

Paul I decided to mark the palace’s centenary with its renovation. M. F. Kazakov completed the re-planning and decorated its facades with classical pilasters. However, these did not ornament the building for long. After the Moscow fire of 1812 only burnt walls were left. The Kazakov interiors were irrevocably destroyed. The palace was without a roof for a long time and was falling into ruins. Its future was uncertain. But during this difficult time history and fate once again smiled on Peter’s child. In 1867 the Moscow section of the Main Staff’s archives were moved here from the Kremlin. History had once again come around in a circle. The documents of the Russian regular army and of Peter’s Military College took their places within the old walls.

The USSR’s Central State Military-Historical Archive (TsGVIA) is now located in the Lefortovo Palace - the repository of the military records of pre-Revolutionary Russia. It preserves over three million files, tens of millions of documents from the seventeenth century through 1918. The creation of the archive dates back to the end of the eighteenth century, to the beginning of the reign of the "romantic" Emperor Paul I, as A.S. Pushkin called him. Staking all on decisive solutions to the internal and external political problems of the Russian state, Paul required all-encompassing information on its geography and historical economic conditions. In 1797 an ukase signed by the tsar created His Imperial Majesty’s Own Map Depot, to which went atlases, maps, charts, historical manuscripts from the abolished Department of the General Staff, and the Hermitage’s libraries. In view of its special importance, the Depot was located in the rooms of the Winter Palace. The atlases of the provinces contained the richest kind of information and illustrations covering history, the population’s economic activities, demographics, and useful mineral resources.

In time, and with changes in its name, it was filled not only with cartographic items, but also with historical archival materials. The Map Depot became the Military Research Archive of the Russian army’s Main Staff.

From pre-Revolutionary times up to 1925, the Lefortovo collection, Military Research Archive, Moscow Military District Archives, and the Archive of First World War Documents were, in practice, separate. Then they were united on the basis of the Lefortovo archive and acquired the title of Military-Historical Archive of the RSFSR. In 1933 this establishment began to be called the Central Military-Historical Archive of the USSR, but since 1941 it has been carrying its present title. In the years from the 1940s to the 1960s the holdings of the Leningrad branch of the TsGVIA were transferred to the Lefortovo Palace, as well as the large collection of documents from the former military section of the Georgian SSR’s Central State Historical Archive.

Work in filling the TsGVIA may be said to be continuing even now. In twenty-eight archives and museums in the country there are kept about 300,000 files from military establishments and units, although the palace’s floor space, which we have to share with other archival institutions, is now completely used up. Nevertheless, today the TsGVIA possesses a collection of documents that is unique in its fullness and historical and cultural significance in regard to the military, political, and economic history of Russia.

In a short review it is impossible to show all the kinds of documentary memorials in the archive. As the keeper of military historical documents, it has long occupied a secure place as the basic source for research into our national military history. Here are concentrated documents from practically all the central military establishments of Russia. All wars and campaigns are beautifully documented, beginning with Peter I’s Azov campaign and ending with the First World War. For the history of the Patriotic War of 1812 alone the archive has more than 20,000 files on record.

It is possible to deeply research the organization and structure of military affairs in Russia and the history of military units through documents from the Cabinet, the Imperial Military Campaign Chancellery, the Military College and War Ministry with their offices and departments, and central administrative agencies. Collections of testimonials and personal service records allow one to obtain information on the career, promotions, and training of the majority of officers in the Russian army from the eighteenth to the twentieth centuries. Operational and tactical documents regarding military movements reveal the skill of the glorious Russian military leaders P.A. Rumyantsev, A.V. Suvorov, M.I. Kutuzov, P.I. Bagration, A.A. Brusilov, and others.

In the archives files are widely found documents on the anti-serfdom movement of the peasantry, cossacks, and workers. Some of these, regarding the peasant war under Ye. I. Pugachev’s leadership, were looked at by A.S. Pushkin in his own time. A folder with his notes in the margins is now kept in a special safe for unique historical items.

The TsGVIA preserves priceless information on the Decembrist movement: materials from investigations and trials; correspondence of the investigating commission; military judicial proceedings of Decembrists; correspondence relating to the arrests of members of secret societies in Moscow; character assessments written by A.D. Borovkov on G.S. Baten’kov, N.A. Bestuzhev, Ye.P. Obolenskii, A.V. Podzhio...

Reports to Nicholas I from civil governors in Siberia describe the lives of Decembrists in exile. A large collection of correspondence is preserved concerning the labor of convicted rebels in the Nerchinsk and Akatuevsk mines and in the Petrovskii, Alekseevskii, Aleksandrovskii, Nikolaevskii, and Irkutsk processing works.

Regardless of how visitors to the reading room constantly turn to the theme of the Decembrists, the archive’s possibilities here are far from fully utilized. To make researchers’ work easier, a guide to document files was prepared and published: Dvizhenie dekabristov, Moscow, 1975, vols. 1-3. Nevertheless, the TsGVIA’s mass of documentation on the Decembrists and the actions and members of secret societies is so large that even today we cannot speak of a full mastery of the sources illuminating this famous stage in our national history.

The army was constantly used by the tsarist government do suppress revolutionary movements, and military courts were used to pass judgment on revolutionaries. In the archive there are documents on the activities of the Petrashevskii circle: reports, accounts and journals of the meetings of the secret investigative commission, documents on the carrying out of sentences for M.I. Butashevch-Petrashevskii, F.M. Dostoevskii, and other members of the circle. A rich and many-sided store of material in kept in the TsGVIA on the history of "Land and Freedom" and the movements of the populists, revolutionary democrats, and workers. A series of documentary collections from the archive describe the army’s involvement in revolutionary events: Revolyutsionnoe dvizhenie v russkoi armii (Moscow, "Nauka", 1968); Oktyabr’skaya revolyutsiya i armiya (Moscow, "Nauka", 1973); Voenno-revolyutsionnye komitety deistvuyushchei armii (Moscow, "Nauka", 1977); Voiskovye komitety deistvuyushchei armii (Moscow, "Nauka", 1982); Revolyutsionnoe dvizhenie v voennykhodrugakh. Mart 1917-mart 1918 gg., (Moscow, "Nauka", 1988).

Especially valuable are the personal and family files held by the TsGVIA. Even a short list of them gives an idea of their great significance: Arakcheev A.A. (957 folders, 1711-1834), Barclay de Tolly M.B. (3118 folders, 1811-27), Davydov D.V. (71 folders, 1794-1877), Kuropatkin AN (5358 folders, 1849-1926), Münnich B.A. (334 folders, 1723-40), Potemkin G.A. (3574 folders, 1763-1791), the files of N.I. Raevskii, A.P. Yermolov, I.F. Paskevich, the Skobelev’s, Suvorov’s, Tukhachevskii’s, over 230 files and collections in all. Along with family, personal, domestic, and business correspondence, the personal files of military leaders contain, as a rule, documents relating to the service details of the file’s compiler. G.A. Potemkin, for example, in general did not make a distinction between personal and state papers, so that by the material in his file it is possible to follow in excellent detail the entire military and political career of "the most serene prince". In the Gurko family file, besides the very interesting correspondence and notes of the hero of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 - General-Field Marshal Iosif Vladimirovich, there are literary manuscripts of his relative Ye.V. Salias de Turnemir (Yevgenii Tur). The files of military historians are rich with all kinds of materials. For example, among the documents of P.N. Voronov, a major general and, upon retirement, editor of the journal Russkaya Starina, lie manuscripts of articles sent to the editorial staff.

Many personal files in the TsGVIA are still not sufficiently studied by specialists and offer rich possibilities for interesting archival finds. The personal documents of Russian military leaders are not all concentrated in government repositories. They are kept by descendants, collectors, and simple private citizens. The Moscow pensioner V.V. Glindzich gave the archive documents of Major General M.I. Miller, a participant of the Patriotic War of 1812, among which are autograph items of M.I. Kutuzov and the French General Junot.

In recent times interest has grown in memoir sources, correspondence, and diaries. The files of the TsGVIA preserve many such documents which have either not been published at all, or only in fragments.

Of exceptional academic interest are the diaries of General Patrick Gordon, soldier comrade of Peter the Great, victor over the rebellious streltsy, resident of the German settlement, and more than once a visitor to the Lefortovo Palace. In the diary of Court Councilor Keller, which is also in the TsGVIA, the great interest is noted with which A.S. Pushkin had in P. Gordon’s diaries while he was working on his biography of Peter. Unfortunately, an academic publication of the diaries has not yet been done. The USSR History Institute of the USSR Academy of Sciences, the Military History Institute of the USSR Ministry of Defense, and the Central State Archive of Older Documents, along with our archive, have undertaken this task.

There are interesting notes from P.V. Chichagov, an admiral and one of the leaders of the Russian army during the Patriotic War of 1812, covering events during the Russo-Swedish War of 1788-90 and Russian naval contacts with England... In P.V. Chichagov’s files there are preserved interesting notes by A.P. Yermolov which characterize Russian military men during the 1812 campaign... Yermolov’s opinions, while not always objective, are always to the point and distinguished by their brevity and sharpness, and they wonderfully reveal the contrary nature of this most famous general.

The memoirs of Timofeev, an officer in the Viborg Infantry Regiment, are dedicated to the year 1812, as are the diaries of cavalry officers Ye.P. Nazimov and M.I. Ostrogradskii, and, lastly, the well-known notes and diary of D.V. Davydov, unpublished fragments of which the archive now offers to the attention of readers of Nashee Nasledie.

The history of the Crimean War is excellently presented in memoir sources. Here are the detailed documented notes of the chief of the Sevastopol garrison, D.Ye. Osten-Sacken, the diary of Korvin-Pavlovskii, an ensign in the Volhynia Regiment who took part in the defense of the Fourth Bastion, the memoirs of Black Sea Fleet officers A.P. Obez’yaninkov and L.A. Ukhtomskii, and finally, the notes of the aged General-Field Marshal I.F. Paskevich, who was following the development of events from St. Petersburg.

The archive is currently considering the possibility of preparing for publication two memoir sources, very large both in size and in the chronological length of events described. These are the notes and diaries of Nicholas II’s ministers of war A.F. Rediger and A.N. Kuropatkin. A.F. Rediger’s manuscript The History of My Life covers the period from 1843 to 1911. The author uses his personal experience to analyze problems in military training, describes events from the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 for the liberation of Bulgaria, and the Russo-Japanese War. A.F. Rediger taught at the General Staff Academy, was a member of the Military Council and chief of the War Ministry chancellery, and an fine technical specialist and observant man. His notes, which have only partly been published, are undoubtedly interesting both for specialists as well as lovers of history.

The interest of researchers in A.N. Kuropatkin’s diaries has practically never waned. General Kuropatkin was in personality extremely argumentative. He took part in the Fergana campaign and the diplomatic mission to Kashgaria, the Russo-Turkish War to liberate Bulgaria, and was one of few friends of the outstanding painter of battles V.V. Vereshchagin (but later as minister of war he was one of his many enemies). He was known in the army for his personal courage, initiative, and thoroughness. For A.N. Kuropatkin the Russo-Japanese War, in which he commanded the Russian army which suffered such a crushing defeat, made his star ascendant but then turned to tragedy. It is interesting that when he was visiting Japan’s army maneuvers in 1903, he wrote in his journal a far from optimistic prognosis regarding the threatened war.

In the TsGVIA there are 133 notebooks comprising his diary. These are of various sizes and written in black ink, in small, quick handwriting. A number of the notebooks of Kuropatkin’s diary have been published in various times, but its informative possibilities are without question yet to be used up. Things did not go well for the second part of the memoirs of the outstanding Russian military leader A.A. Brusilov. This part was dedicated to his life in Soviet Russia, and as part of a Russian émigré historical archive these memoirs reached their native land in 1946, where they were immediately declared secret and later without justification declared mendacious. In 1989 the archive transferred them to normal protective status and made investigations to ensure their authenticity. They were partially published in Voenno-patrioticheskii Zhurnal. A full edition of this historic documentation is planned for the near future.

Preliminary counts estimate that more than 500 archival files contain memoirs and diaries. Naturally, they vary greatly in worth, but undoubtedly they deserve careful investigation. Last year saw the first issue of the series "Documents of National Culture from the Collections of the TsGVIA of the USSR", dedicated to the history of Russian military costume.

In recent years visitors to the archive have included unprecedented numbers of restoration specialists, students of local history, and museum workers. They are drawn by the very rich collections of cartographic materials and city plans, which had their origins as far back as Paul’s map depot. The archive offers general maps of Russia and individual sections of the country from 1615 through 1915, and plans of cities, fortresses, and their environs. Of special interest among these are plans of Kiev (1709), Azov Fortress (1749), Archangel (1768), a general map of Moscow compiled by Gorikhvostov in 1767, and one of Samarkand (1841). Just as interesting are plans of palaces and other large buildings in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Tsarskoe Selo, and provincial capitals, and draft architectural drawings of individual buildings. Among the authors of such projects are the names of the famous architects M.F. Kazakov, V.I. Bazhenov, I.Ye. Starov, A. Betankur, and others.

The TsGVIA has taken an active part in preparing information for the automated database "History of Architectural Monuments and City Structures in Moscow, Leningrad, and their Environs", which was created by Soviet archivists using materials from the government archive files. Among the documents included in the system are "Description of the Stone Palace in the Kremlin" (1720), "View of the Moscow Kremlin and General Plan of the Moscow District", a map of Moscow University made by M.F. Kazakov, documents relating to the restoration of the Kremlin, the facade of the Yekateringof Palace autographed by Peter I, albums of facades and cross views of gates, bridges, and sentry boxes in Tsarskoe Selo by the architect I.Ye. Starov, plans for the Isaac Cathedral by the French architect M. Jacot, a collection of views of St. Petersburg at the end of the eighteenths century, and many others.

Extremely interesting are the topographical descriptions of areas of the Russian state, compiled at the end of the eighteenth century, and also atlases of provinces and districts, many of which contain historical descriptions of terrain, agriculture and manufacture, and large and small rivers, so necessary today for carrying out work in restoring ecological balances disturbed by human interference into nature.

In one way or another many of the most prominent figures in Russian culture, science, and art have been connected with the military. The archive possesses resources on the lives and creative activities of G.P. Derzhavin, D.V. Davydov, P.A. Vyazemskii, P.A. Katenin, V.A. Zhukovskii, K.F. Ryleev, A.I. Odoevskii, A.I. Polezhaev, and T.G. Shevchenko. Special care is given to preserving materials on A.S. Griboedov, A.S. Pushkin, M.Yu. Lermontov, N.V. Gogol, F.M. Dostoevskii, and L.N. Tolstoi.

Such documents as the folder on A.S. Griboedov’s arrest, the service records of M.Yu. Lermontov and L.N. Tolstoi, and information on giving A.S. Pushkin archival files on Ye.I. Pugachev and A.S. Suvorov are well known. We can add with a large measure of confidence that there is still the possibility of significant finds. Only very recently there were uncovered papers on A.S. Griboedov’s retirement from military service in 1816, new evidence of government repression regarding P.A. Katenin, the already mentioned fragments of D.V. Davydov’s diaries, and, finally, service records of N.S. Gumilev and M.M Zoshchenko.

No less interesting are TsGVIA’s documents on the history of music. Here are texts of Russian soldiers’ songs, scores for military marches, gallops, signals (1823-1913), and information on the lives and works of composers A.P. Borodin, Ts.A. Kyui, A.S. Dargomyzhskii, E.F. Napravnik, A.K. Glazunov, S.I. Taneev, and the Polish composer Monyushko.

The archive offers documents on the artists V.V. Vereshchagin, I.K. Aivazovskii, N.S. Samokish, and the sculpture A.M. Opekushin.

There is a significant volume of material on the history of Russian science and technology, and geographical expeditions and discoveries.

Unfortunately, lack of resources, that constant companion of our cultural institutions, significantly complicates our preservation activities. Nonetheless, everything is done to protect the national property in the TsGVIA.

Great attention is given to working out scientific bases to support preservation. Unique relics are microfilmed and taken out of the microclimate of their protective cases only in special circumstances. But preservation is not the sole purpose of the TsGVIA. Many documents are published in special compilations, researched in hundreds of monographs, articles, and dissertations. In recent years we have observed a great increase in the number of visitors to the archive’s reading room. We are pondering how to increase its accessibility by creating a special room for reading microfilm.

Today the traditional means of using documents does not fully satisfy the archive. Meeting historic written documents makes a large emotional impression and serves to spread knowledge of our past’s rich heritage. Trips to the Lefortovo Palace with its display of only a tiny part of our riches cannot satisfy people’s growing interest in the country’s military history. Unfortunately, the dream of the TsGVIA archivists to have even a small display hall founders on the problem of lack of room. Nevertheless, the archive keeps on searching for ways of making our written memorials known to all who wish so. We have begun to pay more attention to television, radio, and the press. Undoubted success was met by our exhibits devoted to the 175th anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812, and to the 175th anniversary of M.Yu. Lermonotov’s birth.

We hope that familiarity of large sectors of the public with the resources of the TsGVIA will play its role in developing interest in our national history and culture.