Cossack (Kazak) is derived from the Turkish word quazak, meaning adventurer.
As the Russian state of Muscovy developed in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, men seeking freedom, adventure, and booty, settled on the southern frontiers in the steppes of Russia; they became, much like the American pioneers of the West, an advance guard in the expansion of their country. Fiercely independent, they formed military statelets with elected chiefs (Atamans). They fought centuries of their own wars against the Poles, the Tartars, and the Turks, and acknowledged only in the loosest manner the authority of the Russian Tsars. They developed a military caste that accepted war as a way of living.
Gradually, however, in the midst of rebellions, wars, and changes of alliances, the Cossacks became part of the Russian Empire, while still maintaining a form of autonomy and self-government, with democratic principles and a kind of military socialist system wherein land was evenly apportioned to all male members of the Cossack communities. There were eleven Cossack hosts, as they were called, stretching from either side of the river Don (Don Cossacks) to the east of the Volga (Volga Cossacks), thence down to the Caucasus, across the Ural Mountains, east to the steppes of Orenburg, the forests of Siberia, and the tundras of Trans-Baikal. Each host had its traditions, its uniform, and its organisation, civil and military. The Kuban and Terek Cossacks wore a uniform modelled on the dress of the Caucasian mountaineers. Other Cossack hosts wore uniforms resembling that of the Russian soldier, except for the wide breeches with a broad coloured stripe down the side, the colour identifying the host.
Revolution in 1917
During the later stages of the Russian Revolution and subsequent Civil War, Trotsky stated "the land-owning Cossacks held out the longest of all, dreading an agrarian revolution in which the majority of them would lose."
Some Cossack leaders
- Grigorii Semenov, from the Transbaikal region. Captain in the Russian Army during The Great War, Later formed detachments in the Transbaikalia to fight the Reds and was for a time supported in this by the Japanese. Later emigrated to Harbin, in Manchuria, & China.
- General V. E. Flug, commanded an army corps in the World War on the SW Front, and previously served in the Russo-Japanese war when he was appointed "Nakaznoi" Ataman of the Ussuri Cossacks.
- Ivan Kalnykov, although not a Cossack, joined the Ussuri Cossack Army, proclaiming himself Ataman in 1918 in Siberia. Cherished the independence of Cossack units.
- Captain Katanaev, son of Cossack General Katanaev, was one of the principals in the overthrow of the Revolutionary Directorate in favour of Admiral Kolchak.
- Krasilnikov, I.N., a Siberian Cossack Ataman, famous for his raids against the Reds. Died in Irkutsk from typhus shortly before the final victory of the Reds in 1920.
- Aleksandr Ilich Dutov, Colonel of the General Staff and Ataman of the Orenburg Cossacks; President of the Union of Cossack Voiskos and of the All-Russia Cossack Congress of June 1917. After the Bolshevik revolution he headed the counter-revolutionary movement of the Orenburg Cossacks under Kolchak. Killed in China in 1921.
- Mikhail Vasilevich Khanzhin, General and artillery officer of Orenburg Cossack origin, who served in the World War. He was Kolchak's last Minister of War and one of the last three members of that government at Irkutsk who continued actovely in its defence. Fate unknown.
- Kerensky, Alexander, The Crucifixion of Liberty, London, 1934, p.274.
- Varneck, Elena, and H.H.Fisher, editors, The Testimony of Kolchak and other Siberian Materials, Stanford University Press, California, and Oxford University Press UK, 1935, p.231.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.235.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.233.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.250.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.250.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.256.
- Varneck & Fisher, 1935, p.259.
- Wrangel, Alexis, General Wrangel - Russia's White Crusader, London, 1987, p.42. ISBN: 0-85052-8909