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The January Uprising (Polish: powstanie styczniowe, Lithuanian: 1863 m. sukilimas) was an uprising in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (present-day Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, parts of Ukraine, western Russia) against the Russian Empiremarker. It began January 22, 1863, and lasted until the last insurgent were captured in 1865.

The uprising began as a spontaneous protest by young Poles against conscription into the Russian Army, and was soon joined by high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers and various politicians. The insurrectionists, severely outnumbered and lacking serious outside support, were forced to resort to guerrilla warfare tactics. They failed to win any major military victories or capture any major cities or fortresses, but they did blunt the effect of the Tsar's abolition of serfdom in the Russian partition, which had been designed to draw the support of peasants away from the nation. Severe reprisals against insurgents, such as public executions and deportations to Siberiamarker, led many people to abandon armed struggle and turn instead to the idea of "organic work": economic and cultural self-improvement.

Eve of the uprising

Russian army in Warsaw during martial law 1861
After the Russian Empire lost the Crimean war and was weakened economically and politically, an unrest started in the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Inspired with ideas of Giuseppe Garibaldi, Karl Marx, Mikhail Bakunin and others peasants and students started organizing manifestations. In Vilniusmarker alone 116 demonstrations were held in 1861. After series of patriotic riots, the Russian namestnik of Tsar Alexander II, General Karl Lambert, introduced martial law in Poland on 14 October 1861. Public gatherings were banned and some public leaders made outlaws.

The future leaders of the uprising gathered secretly in St. Petersburgmarker, Warsawmarker, Vilnius, Paris and London. After this series of meetings two major factions emerged. The Reds united peasants, workers and some clergy and The Whites united landlords and intelligencia of the time. In 1862 two initiative groups were formed for the two components of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Uprising in the former Polish Kingdom

The uprising broke out at a moment when general quiet prevailed in Europe, and though there was a public outcry in support of the Poles, powers such as France, Britain and Austria were unwilling to disturb the calm. The potential revoluntionary leaders did not have sufficient means to arm and equip the groups of young men who were hiding in forests to escape Alexander Wielopolski's order of conscription into the Russian army. Altogether about 10,000 men rallied around the revolutionary banner; they were recruited chiefly from the ranks of the city working classes and minor clerks, although there was also a considerable admixture of the younger sons of the poor szlachta and a number of priests of lower rank.

To deal with these ill-armed units the Russian government had at its disposal an army of 90,000 men under General Ramsay in Poland. It looked as if the rebellion would be crushed quickly. The die was cast, however, and the provisional government applied itself to the great task with fervor. It issued a manifesto in which it pronounced "all sons of Polandmarker free and equal citizens without distinction of creed, condition and rank." It declared that land cultivated by the peasants, whether on the basis of rent-pay or service, henceforth should become their unconditional property, and compensation for it would be given to the landlords out of the general funds of the State. The revolutionary government did its very best to supply and provision the unarmed and scattered guerrillas who, during the month of February, met the Russians in eighty bloody encounters. Meanwhile, it issued an appeal to the nations of western Europe, which was received everywhere with a genuine and heartfelt response, from Norway to Portugal. Pope Pius IX ordered a special prayer for the success of the Catholic Polish in their defence against the Orthodox Russians, and was very active in arousing sympathy for the Polish rebels.

Uprising in the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania

In Lithuania, Belarus, Latvia, northern Ukraine and western Russia the uprising started on February 1, 1863. A coalition government of the Reds and the Whites was formed. It was lead by Zygmunt Sierakówski, Antanas Mackevičius and Konstanty Kalinowski. They fully supported their counterparts in Poland and adhered to the same policy.

Polish, Lithuanian and Belarusian insurgents were more numerous (up to 30,000 men at the peak of uprising) and a little better armed, but there were 135,000 Russian troops and 6,000 Cossacks in Lithuania and another 45,000 Russian troops in Volhynia. In every major military engagement of the uprising insurgents were outnumbered at least 10 to 1.

During the first 24 hours of the uprising armories across the country were looted, many Russian officials executed on sight. February 2, 1863, saw the start of the first major military engagement of the uprising between Polish peasants (mostly armed with scythe) and a squadron of Russian hussars near Čysta Būda, near Marijampolėmarker. It ended with a massacre of the unprepared peasants. As hope of a short war was present, insurgent groups merged into bigger formations and recruited new personnel.

On April 7 Zygmunt Sierakówski, who was able to recruit and arm 2500 men for the cause, was elected to be the military commander in chief of the reborn PLC. Under his command the peasant army was able to achieve several difficult victories near Raguva on April 21, Biržaimarker on May 2, Medeikiai on May 7. However, tired from a several week long marches and combat, the insurgent army suffered a defeat on May 8 near Gudiškis.

Evolution of events

The provisional government counted on a revolutionary outbreak in Russia, where the discontent with the autocratic regime seemed at the time to be widely prevalent. It also counted on the active support of Napoleon III, particularly after Prussia, foreseeing an inevitable armed conflict with France, made friendly overtures to Russia and offered her assistance in suppressing the Polish uprising. On the 14th day of February arrangements had already been completed, and the British Ambassador in Berlin was able to inform his government that a Prussian military envoy "has concluded a military convention with the Russian Government, according to which the two governments will reciprocally afford facilities to each other for the suppression of the insurrectionary movements which have lately taken place in Poland and Lithuania. The Prussian railways are also to be placed at the disposal of the Russian military authorities for the transportation of troops through Prussian territory from one part of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth to another." This step of Bismarck's led to protests on the part of several governments and roused the nations of the Commonwealth. The result was the transformation of the insignificant uprising into another national war against Russia. Encouraged by the promises made by Napoleon III, all nations, acting upon the advice of Władysław Czartoryski, the son of Prince Adam, took to arms. Indicating their solidarity all Commonwealth citizens holding office under the Russian Government, including the Archbishop of Warsaw, resigned their positions and submitted to the newly constituted Government, which was composed of five most prominent representatives of the Whites.

The diplomatic intervention of the Powers in behalf of Poland, not sustained, except in the case of Swedenmarker, by a real determination on their part to do something effective for her, did more harm than good to the Polish cause. It alienated Austria which hitherto had maintained a friendly neutrality with reference to Poland and had not interfered with the Polish activities in Galicia. It prejudiced public opinion among the radical groups in Russia who, until that time, had been friendly because they regarded the uprising as of a social rather than a national character and it stirred the Russian Government to more energetic endeavors toward the speedy suppression of hostilities which were growing in strength and determination.

In addition to the thousands who fell in battle, 128 men were hanged personally by Mikhail Muravyov ('Muravyov the Hangman'), and 9,423 men and women were exiled to Siberia (2,500 men according to very lowered Russian data, Norman Davies gives the number of 80,000 noting it was the single largest deportation in Russian history). Whole villages and towns were burned down; all activities were suspended and the szlachta was ruined by confiscation and exorbitant taxes. Such was the brutality of the Russian troops that their actions were condemned throughout Europe, and even in Russia itself Muravyov became ostracized. Count Fyodor Berg, the newly appointed Namestnik of Poland, followed in Muravyov's footsteps, employing inhumanly harsh measures against the country. The Reds criticized the Conservative government for its reactionary policy with reference to the peasants but, deluded in its hopes by Napoleon III, the Government counted on French support and persisted in its tactics. It was only after the highly respected and wise Romuald Traugutt took matters in hand that the aspect of the situation became brighter.

He reverted to the policy of the first provisional government and endeavored to bring the peasant masses into active participation by granting to them the land they worked and calling upon all classes to rise. The response was generous but not universal. The wise policy was adopted too late. The Russian Government had already been working among the peasants in the manner above described and giving to them liberal parcels of land for the mere asking. They were completely satisfied, and though not interfering with the revolutionaries to any great extent, became lukewarm to them. Fighting continued intermittently for several months. Among the generals Count Józef Hauke-Bosak distinguished himself most as a commander of the revolutionary forces and took several cities from the vastly superior Russian army. When Romuald Traugutt and the four other members of the Polish Government were apprehended by Russian troops and executed at the Warsaw citadel, the war in the course of which six hundred and fifty battles and skirmishes were fought and twenty-five thousand Poles killed, came to a speedy end in the latter half of 1864, having lasted for eighteen months. It is of interest to note that it persisted in Samogitia and Podlachia, where the Greek-Catholic population, outraged and persecuted for their religious convictions, clung longest to the revolutionary banner.

The uprising was finally crushed by Russia in 1864.

After the collapse of the uprising, harsh reprisals followed. According to Russian official information, 396 persons were executed and 18,672 were exiled to Siberia. Large numbers of men and women were sent to the interior of Russia and to Caucasus, Uralsmarker and other sections. Altogether about 70,000 persons were imprisoned and subsequently taken out of Poland and stationed in the remote regions of Russia. The government confiscated 1,660 estates in Poland and 1,794 in Lithuania. A 10% income tax was imposed on all estates as a war indemnity. Only in 1869 was this tax reduced to 5% on all incomes. Besides the land granted to the peasants, the Russian Government gave them additional forest, pasture and other privileges (known under the name of servitutes) which proved to be a source of incessant irritation between the landowners and peasants in the following decades, and an impediment to economic development. The government took over all the church estates and funds, and abolished monasteries and convents. With the exception of religious instruction, all other studies in the schools were ordered to be in Russian. Russian also became the official language of the country, used exclusively in all offices of the general and local government. All traces of the former Polish autonomy were removed and the kingdom was divided into ten provinces, each with an appointed Russian military governor and all under complete control of the Governor-General at Warsaw. All the former government functionaries were deprived of their positions.This measures proved to be of limited success. In 1905, 41 years after Russian crushing of the uprising, the next generation of Poles rose once again in a new one.


Famous insurgents



Cross commemorating 70th Anniversary of January Uprising


January Uprising in literature



See also



References

  1. Books.google.com
  2. Books.google.com



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