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Mikhail Dmitrievich Skobelev ( ) ( – ) was a Russian general famous for his conquest of Central Asia and heroism during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. Dressed in white uniform and mounted on a white horse, and always in the thickest of the fray, he was known and adored by his soldiers as the "White General" (and by the Turks as the "White Pasha"). During a campaign in Khivamarker, his Turkmen opponents called him goz zanli or "Bloody Eyes". British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery wrote that Skobelev was the world's "ablest single commander" between 1870 and 1914 and called him a "skilful and inspiring" leader. His heart-attack death at the early age of thirty-nine was a blow to Russia's Army.

Early life and Conquest of Khiva

Skobelev was born near Moscowmarker on 29 September 1843. After graduating from the General Staff Academy as a staff officer, he was sent to Turkestan in 1868 and, with the exception of an interval of two years, during which he was on the staff of the grand duke Michael in the Caucasus, remained in Central Asia until 1877.

He commanded the advanced guard of General Lomakin's column from Kinderly Bay, in the Caspian Seamarker, to join General Verevkin, from Orenburgmarker, in the expedition to the Khanate of Khivamarker in 1874, and, after great suffering on the desert march, took a prominent part in the capture of the Khivan capital. Dressed as a Turkoman, he intrepidly explored in a hostile country the route from Khiva to Igdy, and also the old bed of the Oxusmarker. In 1875 he was given an important command in the expedition against the Khanate of Kokandmarker under General Konstantin Petrovich Kaufman, showing great capacity in the action of Makram, where he outmanoeuvered a greatly superior force and captured 58 guns, and in a brilliant night attack in the retreat from Andijanmarker, when he routed a large force with a handful of cavalry.

Later life, the Battle of Pleven, and Death

He was promoted to be major-general, decorated with the Order of St George, and appointed the first governor of the Ferghanamarker Oblast. In the Turkish War of 1877 he seized the bridge over the Sereth at Barborchi in April, and in June crossed the Danube with the 8th corps. He commanded the Caucasian Cossack Brigade in the attack of the Green Hills at the second battle of Pleven. He captured Lovetch on 3 September, and distinguished himself again in the desperate fighting on the Green Hills in the third battle of Pleven. Promoted to be a lieutenant-general, and given the command of the 16th Division, he took part in the investment of Pleven and also in the fight of 9 December, when Osman Pasha surrendered, with his army. In January 1878 he crossed the Balkans in a severe snowstorm defeating the Turks at Sheynovo, near Shipka, and capturing 36,000 men and 90 guns.

He returned to Turkestan after the war, and in 1880 and 1881 further distinguished himself by retrieving the disasters inflicted by the Tekke Turkomans: he captured Geok Tepemarker, and, after much slaughter, reduced the Akhal-Tekkemarker country to submission. He was advancing on Ashkhabadmarker and Kalat i-Nadiri when he was disavowed and recalled. He was given the command at Minskmarker.

In the last years of his short life, Skobelev engaged actively in politics, supporting the ideas of Russian nationalism and militant Pan-Slavism. He has also been credited as one of the earliest promoters of the concept "Russia for Russians". At the beginning of 1882, he made speeches in Parismarker and in Moscow, predicting a desperate strife between Slavs and Germans. He was at once recalled to St Petersburg. He was staying at a Moscow hotel, on his way to his estate, when he died suddenly of a heart attack on 7 July 1882. In Russia he was a very popular man at the time of his death, and not surprisingly, his death aroused suspicion among many. After all, he was a relatively young (38) and vigorous man. Without a doubt, Skobelev's early death deprived Russia of a great military leader. This became especially evident during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The Russian commanding generals in that war were men of Skobelev's generation, but none of them had his military genius or charisma.

Skobelev's Memory

Monument to Skobelev in Moscow, 1912
After Skobelev's death, a major squaremarker in Moscowmarker was given his name and the town of Ferganamarker in Uzbekistanmarker was renamed Skobelev. The White General also makes appearance in several of Boris Akunin's Erast Fandorin novels, and in the 2005 Russian film The Turkish Gambit, in the person of General Sobolev.

Today, his name still lives, even beyond his motherland: shortly after the end of the Turkish War of 1877, the grateful Bulgarians constructed a park in Plevenmarker, Skobelev Parkmarker, on one of the hills where the major battles for the city took place. The park is also a location of the Panorama Pleven's Epopee 1877marker memorial, where in one of the scenes of the gigantic 360 degree panoramic painting the White General is displayed charging with his horse and bare sword, leading the Russian attack on the Turkish positions.

Shortly after the entrance of the park, the bust of the famous general can be seen, watching over the city. The park contains memorials with the names of the Russian and Romanian soldiers that died for the liberation of Plevenmarker, and is decorated with non-functional arms donated by Russia: cannons, cannon balls, gatling guns, rifles, bayonets.

Notes

  1. A Concise History of Warfare by Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery of Alamein (1968), p. 266, 269. ISBN 0001921495
  2. Lansdell, Henry (1885) Russian Central Asia: Including Kuldja, Bokhara, Khiva and Merv S. Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, London, pp. 464-465
  3. Astrid S. Tuminez (2000), Russian Nationalism Since 1856: Ideology and the Making of Foreign Policy, p. 77. Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0847688844
  4. Иванов А. «Россия для русских»: pro et contra // Трибуна русской мысли. Религиозно-философский и научно-публицистический журнал. 2007. № 7. Сентябрь. С. 92.
  5. Novikova, Olǵa Alekseevna and Skobelev, Mikhail Dmitrievich (1883) Skobeleff and the Slavonic cause, by O.K. Longmans, Greene & Co., London,
  6. Alexander III wrote: "His loss to the Russian army is one it is hard to replace, and it must be deeply lamented by all true soldiers. It is sad, very sad, to lose men so useful and so devoted to their mission." Novikova, Olǵa Alekseevna and Skobelev, Mikhail Dmitrievich (1883) Skobeleff and the Slavonic cause, by O.K. Longmans, Greene & Co., London, p. 387


References

  • Meyer, K.E. and Blair Brysac, S. Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Central Asia (1999) at pp 161, 165-169, 238.



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