Many of you have heard the tale of how 300 Spartans took on the Persian army of virtually limitless size. Reality, however, is somewhat different from movies that are made to entertain the masses. In reality, it is believed that 300 Spartans joined forces with approximately 7,000 Greeks in order to hold back the Persian army of approximately 100,000 to 300,000 strong (which could seem as if a limitless force).
Very few of you, however, heard the story of 500 Slavs (Russians) take on the force of 40,000 Persians. This battle did not take place in a narrow canyon; it did not take place in ancient history; and this battle was not fought with spears and swords. This tale is of the military campaign of Colonel Karyagin and his 17th Ranger Regiment against the Persians in 1805.
Let me start at the beginning. In 1805, the Russian Empire was engaged in war with France and was suffering from many defeats. Even the great military genius Kutuzov could not help the situation. Meanwhile, in southern Russia, the Persian Baba-Khan was reading the summary of our European defeats with joy, and an idea was born. Baba-Khan again went against the Russian Empire, hoping to pay back for the destruction of the previous year – 1804. The moment was chosen very well because of the familiar drama setting “The so called allies and the Russian Empire, which again tried to save all”, Saint Petersburg could not send any extra soldiers to the Caucasus, while the entire Caucasus had anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 soldiers.
Therefore, learning that the town of Shusha (the current town of Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijan), where Major Lisanevich with 6 companies of rangers was located, was being approached by a 40,000 Persian army under the command of the Crown Prince Abbas Mirza, knyaz Tsitsianov sent all the aid that he could send – all 493 soldiers with officers and weapons: hero Karyagin, hero Kotlyarevskiy and Slavic warrior Spirit.
Before they ever reached the town of Shusha, they were attacked by Persians in route, by the river Shah Bulakh on June 24th. The Persian vanguard of 10,000 soldiers. Without being confused, Karyagin dug in his regiment in a square formation, and for the entire day reflected the fruitless attacks of the Persian cavalry, while Persians were ruthlessly massacred. Then he marched for 14 more kilometers and stood as a fortified camp, when the line of defense was built from supply wagons.
The Persians continued their attacks in the evening and fruitlessly stormed the camp until nightfall, eventually having to stop in order to clear piles of Persian bodies, for funerals, to weep and to write postcards to the families of those who fell in battle. In the morning, after reading the “Art of War” manual sent to them by express mail – “If the enemy has strengthened and this enemy is Slavic, do not try to attack head-on, even if you have 40,000 and the enemy is 400 strong”, the Persians began to bombard the Slavic camp with artillery, trying not to let our troops get to the river in order to replenish the water supply. Russian response was of gorilla tactics. They made their way to the Persian artillery and blew it up, throwing the remains of the cannons into the river. However, the situation was not saved. After battling for another day, Karyagin began to suspect that he cannot kill all of the Persian army. In addition, problems began inside the camp: Lieutenant Lysenko and six traitors defected to the Persians; the next day, 19 or so more soldiers joined them. Thus, our losses from the cowardly pacifists began to exceed the losses from inept Persian attacks.
Again: thirst, heat, bullets … and approximately 40,000 Persians. A very “uncomfortable” situation. During the “officers’ council”, two options were brought forth: either we stay here and die; or, we push through the Persian encirclement and then storm the nearby castle, when the Persians will catch up to us, we will be able to defend from the fortress. The only problem, there were still tens of thousands of guards. It was decided to push through the Persian forces.
In the night, after killing the Persian guards and trying not to breathe, the Russian soldiers who wanted to “stay alive, when staying alive is not an option”, almost came out of the encirclement, but stumbled upon a Persian patrol. It led to the chase, shootout, another chase. Finally, our soldiers were able to break away from the Persians in the dark Caucasian forest. Then, they finally came out to the fortress, named after the nearby river – Shah Bulakh. By that time, the remaining participants of the crazy “Fight as you can” marathon (and it was the 4th day of battling without end) were shining in the “golden aura”. So Karyagin just destroyed the gates of Shah Bulakh with a cannonball, then he wearily asked the small Persian garrison: “Guys, look at us. Do you really want to try it? Really?”. The Persian garrison understood the hint and fled. In the process, two Khans were killed, and the Russians were able to fix the gates just in time, before the main Persian forces arrived. But it was not the end.
It was not even the beginning of the end. After inventorying the remaining supplies in the fortress, it was discovered that there was no food. The wagon with food had to be abandoned during the break through of the encirclement, so there was nothing to eat. Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely nothing to eat!!! Karyagin addressed his soldiers. Of the 493, 175 were left. Nearly all soldiers were wounded, dehydrated, exhausted and in the utmost degree of fatigue. Cannonballs and cartridges were ending. In addition to everything, the heir to the throne of Persia, Abbas Mirza, sat right in front of their gate and repeatedly tried to take them by storm. Abbas Mirza hoped the hunger would do, what the 40,000 Persian soldiers couldn’t. “We will not die. You will not die. I, Colonel Karyagin, forbid you to die. I order you to gather all the nerve which you have, because tonight we leave the fortress and invade another fortress, which we will again take by storm, with all of the Persian army on our shoulders.”
After placing guards on the fortress walls, who will call out between each other through the night, creating the feeling that the Russian forces are in the fortress, it was decided to leave the fortress under the cover of darkness. On July 7th at 2200 hours, Karyagin left the fortress in order to storm another, an even bigger fortress. It is important to understand, that by July 7th it was day 13 of the endless battle. With cannons, wagons full of wounded, it was not a walk with backpacks, but a large and heavy movement. Karyagin slipped out of the fortress as a night ghost, and even the soldiers left as guards were able to slip away from the Persians and catch up with own forces, even though they already prepared to die, realizing the absolute lethality of their objective.
As they moved through the darkness, gloom, pain, hunger and thirst, the detachment of Slavic (Russian) soldiers encountered a ditch, through which it was impossible to move the cannons; and without cannons, the assault of the next fortress, the even better fortified fortress Muhraty, had no meaning, no chance. There was no forest nearby to fill the ditch. The Persians could catch up at any moment. Four Slavic soldiers (one of them was Gavrila Sidorov) quietly jumped into the ditch. They laid down as logs; without bravado, without arguments, without anything. They jumped down and laid down. The heavy cannons went right over them. Only two rose up from the ditch. Silently.
On July 8th, the squad entered Kasapet. For the first time in many days, they ate and drank normally and moved on to the fortress of Muhrat. Three miles from the fortress, the squad of just over a hundred men was attacked by several thousand of Persian horsemen, who managed to make their way to the cannons and capture them. In vain. As one of the officers recalled: “Karyagin shouted: “Guys, forward, forward, reclaim the cannons!”” Apparently, the soldiers remembered the price at which they kept these cannons. The wagons were splashed with red, this time Persian. It rained and flooded the wagons, and the ground around the wagons, and carts and uniforms and rifles, and sabers. It rained, and rained, and rained up until Persians fled in panic, not being able to break the resistance of our hundred.
Muhrat was seized easily, and the next day, July 9th, knyaz Tsitsianov received a report from Karyagin: “We are still alive and are forcing Persians army to chase us for the last three weeks. The Persians are by the river Tartar.” Knyaz Tsitsianov immediately marched to meet the Persian army with 2,300 soldiers and 10 cannons.
On July 15th, knyaz Tsitsianov broke and drove the Persians away, and then joined with the remnants of the detachment of Colonel Karyagin. Colonel Karyagin received a golden sword for this campaign; all the officers and soldiers received awards and salary; Gavrila Sidorov (who silently laid down in the ditch) received a monument at the headquarters of the regiment.
In conclusion, I’d like to say that this is but one tale of the bravery and warrior Spirit of Slavic soldiers, who will gladly lay down their lives for their brothers and their Native land in battle … even if the opposing force is many, many times stronger.