Wednesday, November 6, 2013
"The year was 1807. Napoleon and his Grande Armée, having defeated the vaunted Prussian army the year before, was on the move again, and the Russian army was marching west to meet him. Among the multitude of Russian units was the Polish Lancer Regiment, whose recruiting parties rode alongside its line of march, trying to fill vacancies in its ranks. One rainy night in March a young man presented himself to one of those parties and politely asked to join the regiment. His only answer to the captain's questions about his background was that he was a Russian nobleman who left his family to join the military in spite of its disapproval. The volunteer, who called himself Aleksandr Sokolov, enlisted as a 'gentleman-ranker.' Nobody suspected that this slim, dark-eyed man was, in fact, a young woman named Nadezhda A. Durova."
"Once in the Polish Lancers, Durova received her baptism of fire at Guttstadt on May 22, 1807. Throughout the action, the Lancers did not fight as a regiment–instead, each squadron would make a charge and then rotate to allow a fresh squadron to take its place in line. Either in her excitement, or simple ignorance of what was expected, Nadya joined in every squadron's assault until an officer from another such unit noticed her with his squadron and chased her away.
In addition to displaying her inexperience, the battle first showcased Durova's bravery. While returning with her own squadron after a charge, she saw several French dragoons surround a Russian dragoon officer and knock him off his horse with a pistol shot. Without a second thought, Nadya lowered her lance and charged. Startled, the French dragoons scattered. Showing more nobility than judgment, Durova then lent the wounded officer her horse to get him to the nearest field doctor. She was able to recover Alchides much later–after Cossacks had stolen her saddlebags, packed with food, personal possessions and her overcoat. She spent several very uncomfortable and wet nights before she replaced the lost items with those pilfered from troopers killed in action."
Nadezhda fought in all the later campaigns of 1812, 1813, 1814 and the Hundred Days Campaign of 1815 which ended in the Battle of Waterloo. She impersonated a man throughout her military career but rumors of a cavalry-woman in the Russian ranks persisted and "Durova was summoned for a personal audience with the tsar at St. Petersburg. Aleksandr was very impressed with her and granted her permission to stay in the army. He also awarded her the Cross of St. George for saving the life of an officer and commissioned her as a cornet (second lieutenant), with permission to join the regiment of her choice. She chose the Mariupol Hussars, known for a large number of Russian aristocrats serving in its ranks."
Despite the Tsar learning the truth she continued to wear mens clothing and insist on being address as Sir even after she retired from the army to her country estate. She found this retirement to be a bore so she wrote four novels, her memoirs and numerous short stories.The Cavalry Maiden: Journals of a Russian Officer in the Napoleonic Wars, her memoirs are available in English through Amazon.
She became a Soviet era icon due to the Aleksandr Gladkov play, A Long Time Ago.
She appears here as one of the main characters in Eldar Ryazanov's 1960's film The Hussar Ballad.
She became such a soviet darling that her likeness appeared on a 2 ruble coin.
She appears here in Requiem in the flower of her adventuring youth could she have become one of the Nosferatu?
(Quotes taken from an article orignially publish in Military History magazine on June 12 2006. The article can be found here.