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January Uprising

January Uprising
Part of the Polish-Russian wars
Rok 1863 Polonia.JPG
Poland - The Year 1863, by Jan Matejko, 1864, oil on canvas, 156 × 232 cm, National Museum, Kraków. Pictured is the aftermath of the failed January 1863 Uprising. Captives await transportation to Siberia. Russian officers and soldiers supervise a blacksmith placing shackles on a woman (Polonia). The blonde girl next to her represents Lithuania.
Date22 January 1863 – 18 June 1864
(1 year, 148 days)
Location
Result Russian victory
Belligerents

Polish National Government

Garibaldi Legion
Foreign volunteers:

Supported by:
Land and Liberty
Dzyalynsky Committee

Russian Empire

Supported by:
 Kingdom of Prussia
Commanders and leaders
Stefan Bobrowski  
Romuald Traugutt  Executed
Marian Langiewicz
Ludwik Mierosławski
Alexander II
Friedrich Berg
Mikhail Muravyov
Strength
around 200,000 over the course of the uprising. Around 20 men of the Garibaldi Legion. unknown
Casualties and losses
Polish estimates: 10,000 to 20,000
Russian estimates: 30,000 (22,000 killed and wounded, 7,000 captured)
Russian estimates: 4,500 killed, wounded and missing
Administrative divisions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth within the partition borders of 1772 that were introduced by the National Government during the January Uprising in 1863

The January Uprising (Polish: powstanie styczniowe; Lithuanian: 1863 metų sukilimas; Ukrainian: Січневе повстання; Russian: Польское восстание; Belarusian: Паўстанне 1863–1864 гадоў) was an insurrection principally in Russia's Kingdom of Poland that was aimed at the restoration of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. It began on 22 January 1863 and continued until the last insurgents were captured by the Russian forces in 1864.

It was the longest-lasting insurgency in partitioned Poland. The conflict engaged all levels of society and arguably had profound repercussions on contemporary international relations and ultimately provoked a social and ideological paradigm shift in national events that went on to have a decisive influence on the subsequent development of Polish society.

A confluence of factors rendered the uprising inevitable in early 1863. The Polish nobility and urban bourgeois circles longed for the semi-autonomous status they had enjoyed in Congress Poland before the previous insurgency, a generation earlier in 1830, and youth encouraged by the success of the Italian independence movement urgently desired the same outcome. Russia had been weakened by its Crimean adventure and had introduced a more liberal attitude in its internal politics which encouraged Poland's underground National Government to plan an organised strike against their Russian occupiers no earlier than the spring of 1863. They had not reckoned with Aleksander Wielopolski, the pro-Russian archconservative head of the civil administration in the Russian partition, who had wind of the plans. Wielopolski was aware that his fellow countrymen's fervent desire for independence was coming to a head, something that he wanted to avoid at all costs. In an attempt to derail the Polish national movement, he brought forward to January the conscription of young Polish activists into the Imperial Russian Army for 20-year service. That decision is what triggered the January Uprising of 1863, the very outcome that Wielopolski had wanted to avoid.

The rebellion by young Polish conscripts was soon joined by high-ranking Polish-Lithuanian officers and members of the political class. The insurrectionists, as yet ill-organised, were severely outnumbered and lacking sufficient foreign support and forced into hazardous guerrilla tactics. Reprisals were swift and ruthless. Public executions and deportations to Siberia eventually persuaded many Poles to abandon armed struggle. In addition, Tsar Alexander II hit the landed gentry hard and, as a result, the whole economy, with a sudden decision in 1864 for finally abolishing serfdom in Poland. The ensuing breakup of estates and destitution of many peasants convinced educated Poles to turn instead to the idea of "organic work", economic and cultural self-improvement.

Background

Russian army in Warsaw during martial law 1861

Despite the Russian Empire's loss of the Crimean War and weakened economic and political state, Alexander II warned in 1856 against further concessions with the words "forget any dreams". There were two prevailing streams of thought among the population of the Kingdom of Poland. One had patriotic stirrings within liberal-conservative usually landed and intellectual circles, centred around Andrzej Zamoyski and hoped for an orderly return to the constitutional status before 1830; they became characterised as the Whites. The alternative tendency, characterised as the Reds, represented a democratic movement uniting peasants, workers and some clergy. For both streams central to their dilemma was the peasant question. However, estate owners tended to favour the abolition of serfdom in exchange for compensation, but the democratic movement saw the overthrow of the Russian yoke as entirely dependent on an unconditional liberation of the peasantry.

"The Battle" from the cycle of paintings "Polonia" dedicated to January Uprising of 1863 – Artur Grottger.

Just as the democrats organised the first religious and patriotic demonstrations in 1860, covert resistance groups began to form among educated youth. Blood was first to shed in Warsaw in February 1861, when the Russian Army attacked a demonstration in Castle Square on the anniversary of the Battle of Grochów. There were five fatalities. Fearing the spread of spontaneous unrest, Alexander II reluctantly agreed to accept a petition for a change in the system of governance. Ultimately, he agreed to the appointment of Aleksander Wielopolski to head a commission to look into Religious Observance and Public Education and announced the formation of a State Council and self-governance for towns and powiats. The concessions did not prevent further demonstrations. On 8 April, there were 200 killed and 500 wounded by Russian fire. Martial law was imposed in Warsaw, and brutally-repressive measures were taken against the organisers in Warsaw and Vilna by deporting them deep into Russia.

In Vilna alone, 116 demonstrations were held in 1861. That autumn, Russians had introduced a state of emergency in Vilna Governorate, Kovno Governorate and Grodno Governorate.

The events led to a speedier consolidation of the resistance. Future leaders of the uprising gathered secretly in St. Petersburg, Warsaw, Vilna, Paris and London. Two bodies emerged from those consultations. By October 1861, the urban "Movement Committee" (Komitet Ruchu Miejski) had been formed, fllowed in June 1862 by the Central National Committee (CNC). Its leadership included Stefan Bobrowski, Jarosław Dąbrowski, Zygmunt Padlewski, Agaton Giller and Bronisław Szwarce. The body directed the creation of national structures that were intended to become a new secret Polish state. The CNC had not planned an uprising before the spring of 1863 at the earliest. However, Wielopolski's move to start conscription to the Russian Army in mid-January forced its hand to call the uprising prematurely on the night of 22–23 January 1863.

Call to arms in the Kingdom of Poland

Marian Langiewicz, military commander

The uprising broke out at a moment when general peace prevailed in Europe, and although there was vociferous support for the Poles, powers such as France, Britain and Austria were unwilling to disturb the international calm. The revolutionary leaders did not have sufficient means to arm and equip the groups of young men hiding in forests to escape Alexander Wielopolski's order of conscription into the Russian Army. Initially, about 10,000 men rallied around the revolutionary banner. The volunteers came chiefly from city working classes and minor clerks, but there was also a significant number of the younger sons of the poorer szlachta (nobility) and a number of priests of lower rank. Initially, the Russian government had at its disposal an army of 90,000 men, under Russian General Anders Edvard Ramsay, in Poland.

Battles of January Uprising in Congress Poland 1863–1864

It looked as if the rebellion might be crushed quickly. Undeterred, the CNC's provisional government issued a manifesto in which it declared "all sons of Poland are free and equal citizens without distinction of creed, condition or rank". It decreed that land cultivated by the peasants, whether on the basis of rent or service, should become their unconditional property, and compensation for it would be given to the landlords out of State general funds. The provisional government did its best to send supplies to the unarmed and scattered volunteers, who, in February, had fought in eighty bloody skirmishes with the Russians. Meanwhile, the CNC issued an appeal for assistance to the nations of Western Europe that was received everywhere with supportive sentiments from Norway to Portugal. The Confederate States of America sympathethised with the Polish-Lithuanian rebels and viewed their struggles analogous. Italian, French and Hungarian officers answered the call. Pope Pius IX ordered special prayers for the success of Catholic Poles in their defence against the Orthodox Russians and was generally active in raising support for the Polish rebellion. The historian Jerzy Zdrada records that by the late spring and the early summer of 1863, there were 35,000 Poles under arms facing a Russian Army of 145,000 in the Polish Kingdom.

Uprising spreads to former Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Battles of January Uprising in Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus and Ukraine
January Uprising's coat of arms, of a proposed Polish–Lithuanian–Ruthenian Commonwealth: White Eagle (Poland), Vytis (Lithuania) and Archangel Michael (Ruthenia)

On 1 February 1863, the uprising erupted in Lithuania. In April and May, it had spread to Dinaburg, Latvia and Witebsk, Belarus, to the Kiev Governorate, northern Ukraine, and to the Wolynian Voivodship. Volunteers, weapons and supplies began to flow in over the borders from Galicia, in the Austrian Partition, and from the Prussian Partition. Volunteers also arrived from Italy, Hungary, France and Russia itself. The greatest setback was that in spite of the liberation manifesto from the KCN, without prior ideological agitation, the peasantry could not be mobilised to participate in the struggle except in those regions that were dominated by Polish units, which saw a gradual enrolment into the uprising of agricultural workers.

Secret State

The secret Polish state was directed by the Rada Narodowa (RN, National Council) to which the civil and military structures on the ground were accountable. It was a "virtual coalition government" formed of the Reds and the Whites and was led by Zygmunt Sierakowski, Antanas Mackevičius and Konstanty Kalinowski.

Flag of the uprising

The last two supported their counterparts in Poland and adhered to common policies. Its diplomatic corps was centred on Paris under the direction of Wladyslaw Czartoryski. The eruption of armed conflict in the former Commonwealth of Two Nations had surprised western European capitals, even if public opinion responded with sympathy for the rebel cause. It had dawned on Paris, London, Vienna and Saint Petersburg that the crisis could plausibly turn into an international war. For their part, Russian diplomats considered the uprising an internal matter, and European stability was generally predicated on the fate of Poland's aspiration.

International repercussions

Władysław Czartoryski

The uncovering of the existence of the Alvensleben Convention, signed on 8 February 1863 by Prussia and Russia in St. Petersburg, to suppress the Poles jointly, internationalised the uprising. It enabled Western powers to take the diplomatic initiative for their own ends. Napoleon III of France, already a sympathiser with Poland, was concerned to protect his border on the Rhine and turned his political guns on Prussia with a view to provoking a war with it. He was simultaneously seeking an alliance with Austria. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, sought to prevent a Franco-Prussian war and to block an Austrian alliance with France and so looked to scupper any rapprochement between France and Russia. Austria was competing with Prussia for the leadership of the German territories but rejected French approaches for an alliance and spurned any support of Napoleon III as acting against German interests. There was no discussion of military intervention on behalf of the Poles, despite Napoleon's support for the continuation of the insurgency.

Napoléon III, 1865

France, the United Kingdom and Austria agreed to a diplomatic intervention in defence of Polish rights and in April issued diplomatic notes that were intended to be no more than persuasive in tone. The Polish RN hoped that the evolution of the insurgency would ultimately push western powers to adopt an armed intervention, which was the flavour of Polish diplomatic talks with those powers. The Polish line was that the establishment of continued peace in Europe was conditional on the return of an independent Polish state.

With the threat of war averted, St. Petersburg left the door open for negotiations but was adamant in its rejection of any western rights to armed conflict. In June 1863, western powers iterated the conditions: an amnesty for the insurgents, the creation of a national representative structure, the development of autonomous concessions across the Kingdom, a recall of a conference of Congress of Vienna (1815) signatories and a ceasefire for its duration. That fell well below the expectations of the leadership of the uprising. While concerned by the threat of war, Alexander II felt secure enough with the support of his people to reject the proposals. Although France and Britain were insulted, they did not proceed with further interventions, which enabled Russia to extend and finally to break off negotiations in September 1863.

Outcome on the ground

Apart from the efforts of Sweden, diplomatic intervention by foreign powers on behalf of Poland was on the balance unhelpful in drawing attention away from the aim of Polish national unity towards its social divisions. It alienated Austria, which had maintained friendly neutrality towards Poland and not interfered with Polish activities in Galicia. It prejudiced public opinion among radical groups in Russia that until then had been friendly because they regarded the uprising as a social, rather than a national. insurgency. It also stirred the Russian government to ever more brutal suppression of hostilities and repression against its Polish participants, who had grown in strength.

In addition to the thousands who fell in battle, 128 men were hanged under the personal supervision of Mikhail Muravyov 'Muravyov the Hangman', and 9,423 men and women were exiled to Siberia, 2,500 men according to Russia's own estimates. The historian Norman Davies gives the number as 80,000 and noted it was the single largest deportation in Russian history. Whole villages and towns were burned down[verification needed]. All economic and social activities were suspended, and the szlachta was ruined through the confiscation of property and exorbitant taxes. Such was the brutality of Russian troops that their actions were condemned throughout Europe. Count Fyodor Berg, the newly-appointed governor, Namiestnik of Poland, and the successor to Muravyov, employed harsh measures against the population and intensified systematic Russification in an effort to eradicate Polish traditions and culture.

Social divisions laid bare

Insurgents of landed background constituted 60% of the uprising's participants (in Lithuania and Belarus around 50%, in Ukraine some 75%).

During the first 24 hours of the uprising, armouries across the country were looted, and many Russian officials were executed on sight. On 2 February 1863 was the start of the first major military engagement of the uprising between Lithuanian peasants armed mostly with scythes and a squadron of Russian hussars outside Čysta Būda, near Marijampolė. It ended with the massacre of the unprepared peasants. While there was still hope of a short war, insurgent groups merged into larger formations and recruited new volunteers.

Evolution of events

Zouaves of Death (żuawi śmierci), an 1863 Uprising unit organized by François Rochebrune. Drawing (published 1909) by K. Sariusz-Wolski, from a photograph. From left: Count Wojciech Komorowski, Colonel François Rochebrune, Lieutenant Tenente Bella

The provisional government had counted on an insurgency erupting in Russia, where wide discontent with the autocratic regime then seemed to be brewing. It also counted on the active support of Napoleon III, particularly after Prussia, expecting the inevitable armed conflict with France, had made overtures to Russia sealed in the Alvensleben Convention and offered assistance in suppressing the Polish uprising. Arrangements had already been completed on 14 February and the British Ambassador to Berlin, Sir Alexander Malet, informed 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.

That step by Otto von Bismarck led to protests from several governments and incensed the several constituent nations of the former Commonwealth. The result was the transformation of a relatively insignificant uprising into another "national war" against Russia. Encouraged by promises made by Napoleon III, all provinces of the erstwhile Commonwealth, acting on the advice of Władysław Czartoryski, had taken to arms. Moreover, to Indicate their solidarity, all Commonwealth citizens holding office under the Russian government, including the Archbishop of Warsaw, Zymunt Feliński, resigned their positions and signed their allegiance to the newly-constituted Government, which was composed of the five most prominent representatives of the Whites. The Reds, meanwhile, criticised the Polish National Government for being reactionary with its policy to incentivise Polish peasants to fight in the uprising. The government justified its inaction on the back of hopes of foreign military intervention promised by Napoleon III that never materialised.

Romuald Traugutt

It was only after Polish General Romuald Traugutt had taken matters into his own hands on 17 October 1863 to unite all classes under a single national banner that the struggle could be upheld. His restructuring in preparation for an offensive in spring 1864 was banking on a European-wide war. On 27 December 1863, he enacted a decree of the former provisional government by granting peasants the land they worked. The land was to be provided by compensating the owners through state funds after the successful conclusion of the uprising. Traugutt called upon all Polish classes to rise against Russian oppression for the creation of a new Polish state. The response was moderate since the policy came too late. The Russian government had already begun working among peasants to grant them generous parcels of land for the asking. The peasants who had been bought off did not engage with Polish revolutionaries to any extent or provide them with support.

Fighting continued intermittently during the winter of 1863–1864 on the southern edge of the Kingdom, near the Galician border, from where assistance was still forthcoming. In late December in the Lublin Voivodeship, General Michał Heydenreich's unit was overwhelmed. The most determined resistance continued in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains, where General Józef Hauke-Bosak distinguished himself by taking several cities from the vastly superior Russian forces. However, he too succumbed to a crushing defeat on 21 February 1864 which presaged the end of the armed struggle. On 29 February, Austria imposed martial law, and on 2 March, the tsarist authorities brought in the abolition of serfdom in the Polish Kingdom. Both events neutralised Traugutt's concept of developing the uprising with a general mobilisation of the population in the Russian partition and reliance on assistance from Galicia. In April 1864, Napoleon III abandoned the Polish cause. Władysław Czartoryski wrote to Traugutt: "We are alone, and alone we shall remain".

Arrests eliminated key positions in the secret Polish state, and those who felt threatened sought refuge abroad. Traugutt was taken on the night of 10 April. After he and the last four members of the National Council, Antoni Jezioranski, Rafał Krajewski, Józef Toczyski and Roman Żuliński, had been apprehended by Russian troops, they were imprisoned and executed by hanging on 5 August at the Warsaw Citadel. That marked the symbolic closure of the Uprising. Only Aleksander Waszkowski, the head of the Warsaw insurgency eluded the police till December 1864, but he too joined the list of "the lost" in February 1865. The war consisting of 650 battles and skirmishes with 25,000 Polish and other insurgents killed, had lasted 18 months. The insurgency persisted in Samogitia and Podlasie, where the Greek Catholic population, outraged and persecuted for their religious observance, "Kryaki" (those baptised into the Greek Orthodox Church), and others like the commander and priest Stanisław Brzóska, clung the longest to the revolutionary banner until the spring of 1865.

Decades of reprisals

Jacek Malczewski: Christmas Eve in Siberia

After the collapse of the uprising, harsh reprisals followed. According to official Russian 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 the Caucasus, Urals and other remote areas. Altogether about 70,000 persons were imprisoned and subsequently exiled from Poland and consigned to distant regions of Russia.

The abolition of serfdom in early 1864 was deliberately enacted in a move designed specifically to ruin the szlachta. The Russian 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 the tax reduced to 5% on all incomes. It was the only time that peasants paid the market price for the redemption of the land (the average for the Russian Empire was 34% above the market price). All land taken from Polish peasants since 1864 was to be returned without rights of compensation. Former serfs could sell land only to other peasants, not to szlachta. Ninety percent of the ex-serfs in the empire who actually gained land after 1861 were confined to the eight western provinces. Along with Romania, Polish landless or domestic serfs were the only people who were eligible for land grants after serfdom had been abolished.

All of that was to punish the szlachta for its role in the uprisings of 1830 and 1863. In addition to the land granted to the peasants, the Russian government gave them a 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 over the ensuing decades and impeded economic development.[citation needed] The government took over all church estates and funds and abolished monasteries and convents. With the exception of religious instruction, all teaching in schools was ordered to be in Russian. That also became the official language of the country, to be used exclusively in all offices of central and local government. All traces of former Polish autonomy were removed, and the Kingdom was divided into ten provinces, each with an appointed Russian military governor under the control of the Governor-General in Warsaw. All former Polish government functionaries were deprived of their positions and replaced by Russian officials. According to George Kennan, "thousands of Polish insurgents" were transported to the "Nerchinsk silver-mining district... after the unsuccessful insurrection of 1863".

Farewell to Europe, by Aleksander Sochaczewski. The artist himself is among the exiled here, near the obelisk, on the right.

Legacy

These measures of cultural eradication proved to be only partially effective. In 1905, 41 years after Russia crushed the uprising, the next generation of Poles rose once again in the next next insurrection, which too failed.

The January Uprising was one in a centuries-long series of Polish uprisings. In its aftermath, two new movements began to evolve that set the political agenda for the next century. One, led by the descendant of Lithuanians, Józef Piłsudski emerged as the Polish Socialist Party. The other, led by Roman Dmowski, became the National Democracy movement; sometimes referred to as Endecja, its roots lay in Catholic conservatism that sought national sovereignty, along with the reversal of forced Russification and Germanisation by the Polonisation of the partitioned territories in the former Commonwealth.

Notable insurgents

Anna Pustowojtówna, alias "Michał Smok"
Last veterans of the January Uprising, photographed in the Second Polish Republic, c. 1930

Influence on art and literature

Falling into the late romantic period, the events and figures of the uprising inspired many Polish painters, including Artur Grottger, Juliusz Kossak and Michał Elwiro Andriolli, and marked the delineation with the positivism that followed.

  • The Polish poet Cyprian Norwid wrote a famous poem, "Chopin's Piano," describing the defenestration of the composer's piano during the January 1863 Uprising, when Russian soldiers maliciously threw the instrument out of a second-floor Warsaw apartment. Chopin had left Warsaw and Poland forever shortly before the outbreak of the November 1830 Uprising.
  • Eliza Orzeszkowa, a leading Polish positivist writer and nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature wrote Nad Niemnem a novel set in and around the city of Grodno after the 1863 January Uprising.
  • Józef Jarzębowski has put together material from unknown people who lived through the uprising in his Mówią Ludzie Roku 1863: Antologia nieznanych i małoznanych Głosów Ludzi współczesnych. London: Veritas, 1963. ("Voices from 1863: An Anthology of unknown and little known contemporary Perspectives").
  • In the initial draft of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne but not in the published version, Captain Nemo was a Polish nobleman whose family had been brutally murdered by the Russians during the January 1863 Uprising. Since France had only recently signed an alliance with the Russian Empire, for the novel's final version, Verne's editor, Pierre-Jules Hetzel, made him obscure Nemo's motives.[citation needed]
  • In Guy de Maupassant's novel Pierre et Jean, the protagonist Pierre has a friend, an old Polish chemist who is said to have come to France after the bloody events in his motherland. The story is believed to refer to the January Uprising.

Gallery

See also

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