Category Archives: Russian History

MARSHAL NEY–BAD ASS ~ by g. kinyon

December morning in Paris, 1815, a quiet corner of the Jardin du Luxembourg, out of the view of the pissed-off mob that has heard about the verdict. Michel Ney, Marshal of France, duc d’Elchingen, prince de La Moskowa, Chevalier of the Order of St. Louis—a cooper’s son—declines the blindfold that is offered him. Four soldiers in plumed shakos train their muskets on him from a knee. Four more behind them do the same from a standing position. A commanding officer directs the proceedings from the squad’s right. More than a quarter century in the service of France and this is how it will end—by the hot lead of his own countrymen. Two years in military service under the Royalty, distinguishing himself and ascending the ranks at a rare speed throughout the Revolution, the Empire, the Restoration, and the Hundred Days. That damned Hundred Days. An outstanding commander—Napoleon called him the bravest of the brave—but in equal measure a clumsy politician, which will cost him. All that remains is for him to give his final order—his choice to do so. Voltaire, in reference to the British and their treatment of a certain admiral, wrote: “Pour encourager les autres.” The words apply again.

Ney’s III Corps fought the Russians in the position of rear guard so that the rest of Napoleon’s army might escape that subarctic shithole of the Tsars. November 18, 1812. A Russian soldier under a flag of truce delivers the message to Ney that he is now cut off. The French army has deserted him, he is told. Ney and his 6,000 men are surrounded by 80,000 Russians. There is no escape. That much is established, a fait accompli, although the Marshal’s counterpart on the Russian side admires him and insists he will be treated with the respect his bravery has earned. Ney arrests the messenger. With only six guns, he mounts a frontal assault on the Russians that nearly succeeds. The enemy is expecting nothing so inspired from this meager unit, but they manage to regroup and begin raking the French ranks without mercy. Every burst of Russian cannon wipes out soldiers by the file. Regiments vanish. Ney launches a second effort that proves to be just as spirited as the first, but it is met with unceasing canister shot. One of the Marshal’s aides-de-camp is captured. The Russian commander, General Miloradovich, expresses his admiration to the prisoner. “Bravo,” he says. “Bravo men of France! You have just attacked, with astonishing vigor, an entire corps with a handful of men.”  The British attaché to the Russian army, General Sir Robert Wilson, records it as “a combat of giants.” Ney gives orders to fight until nightfall.

The Marshal succumbs to a flash of rage and doubt when he grasps the truth in what the Russians have said. He and his corps are being sacrificed. He calls Napoleon a bastard for abandoning them while making good his escape. “What will happen to us?” he says. “Everything is fucked!” But none of that lasts. To have any chance of escaping, the survivors must re-cross the Dnieper (the ancient Greeks called it the Borysthenes) that they crossed on a bridge into the ruined city of Smolensk yesterday. Many miles downstream now, on the river road, they are ignorant of the distance and what lay in between other than field and forest. No food, water, maps, or light at hand. “The presence of Marshal Ney was enough to reassure us,” an officer with the abandoned corps will later write. “The greater the danger, the stronger his determination, and once he made his decision he never doubted its successful outcome.” And at such a moment as this, “his face expressed neither indecision nor anxiety. All eyes were on him, but no one dared question him.”

Some 2,000 soldiers survive the day’s battle. An enemy Cossack is strutting around in Ney’s captured dress uniform somewhere in the Russian camp. With animals, supply wagons, and six limbered guns, the men of III Corps force a path through strange landscapes and thick timber, becoming more disoriented by the minute. Ney at length finds a ravine. He orders the snow cleared at the bottom and the ice broken. The direction of the water flow tells him the direction of the Dnieper.

They reach a village on the river’s bank, a village, at any rate, void of sustenance. Ney assumes Russian scouts are following and watching, and he orders a number of campfires to be lit and organizes outposts to bolster the deception. A peasant is co-opted to guide the main body of men to a place where the river ice is thickest. This brings them to another town, but, despite the intense cold, the ice here doesn’t look nearly sturdy enough. The Marshal decides to pass the night in this hamlet and make the crossing by the morning’s light. Military surgeons attend the injured and Ney catches some shuteye.

A messenger rousts him at midnight with news that the Russians have figured it out. They’re closing in. The crossing will have to be made now. The most severely injured, some three hundred of them, stay behind with the cannon and ammunition wagons, although not by choice. Men slide down the steep bank as gently as possible, distrustful of the ice—as well they should be. Leaders step out over the river and advance with caution, sounding the ice with their musket butts. Loud cracks answer every step. On the opposite side, twelve vertical feet of mud awaits, a pathway to the top that will grow slicker with each attempt to scale it. A few of the lighter carts get across and are pulled up the bank with much effort, but they weaken the ice en route. A wagonload of the injured is too heavy and all aboard perish. Horses and soldiers begin breaching all round; men cry out for help. Help is not possible, and the river takes its toll in lives. The fear of Russian retribution compels men unable to walk to drag themselves across on their knees. At this moment, back in Smolensk, the Russians are incinerating the hospitals and the people inside. Anyone left behind, particularly those of low rank, can expect the same. The remaining cavalry is forced to search for a stronger crossing. Hours tick away, but the cavalry at length shows up. All who’ve survived to see the opposite bank begin the 45-mile march to the city of Orsha, a depot Napoleon organized months ago. He and the rest of the army will be waiting there, the rear guard assumes.

The sun rises and the living skeleton of III Corps passes through a village. Here they surprise several sleeping Cossacks, who become their prisoners. Come noon, another berg. The denizens here have fled this time to leave behind a bounty of food and drink. The revelry is cut short, however, when the call to arms is sent up—a response to Cossack squadrons on the approach. The troops form a column and resume the march, exchanging fire with the Cossack cavalry, who now bring up guns on sledges. The French survive reasonably well keeping to the thick vegetation along the Dnieper’s bank and putting together a makeshift fortress that no Cossacks dare breach. As has become the custom, the fight goes on until nightfall. Ney declares that anybody who gets through this will prove “they have their balls hung by steel wire.”

By now the Cossacks have infiltrated the woods flanking the river. Ney orders the remnants of two line regiments under General Henin to remove them. This they do, but the forest is dense enough to scatter the column in the darkness. Enemy fire comes from several directions, and, as must be, the wounded are left to their fates. A sergeant passes his pack to a comrade who, unlike himself, will be able to use it. A wave of fear sweeps over the lost unit. Edge becomes panic. Fellow soldiers call out for help after taking shrapnel, but surely they understand there will be none. Each man imagines he will be next, or he strives for mental diversion to sustain him until the danger has passed. A few stalwarts put their wit and courage on display for the benefit of all. An officer, no less, laments aloud over what he sees as an imminent surrender; another scolds and berates him, tells him to shut his fucking mouth. Vive l’Empereur!

Ragged, depleted soldiers with boots full of swamp-water stumble into deep ravines from which a doomed few are unable to extricate themselves. Enemy cannon-trajectories follow the march, follow it across encrusted streams and stifling scrub, over knee-deep dirty-white plains and slippery berms. The night fills with bloody spray, with ghosts. Artillery splits trees…and severs limbs. These warriors, terrified as they may be, break ranks only for eternal sleep. The officers by and large have done their duty.

Relief—of the mental variety if nothing else. The long lost Dnieper comes into view. This is the path to Orsha, to Napoleon. General Henin keeps the march as close as possible to the river so the Cossacks can’t outflank. He says nothing when a Russian shell sends a casing fragment into his gut; continues, instead, to command with a full throat. Whose campfires are those in the distance, he wonders. Ney. The corps is reunited but Ney has been breaking camp. The lost regiment is not allowed to rest–not an option if they wish to live. The main body, too, has had its own troubles. A Russian officer of considerable rank rode into earshot earlier and demanded a surrender, only to hear from a French general that Frenchmen don’t know that word. And the night is a long one. The march continues with a merciless exchange of fire, men dropping along the way. The following afternoon finds the dwindling corps bankrupt of ammunition. Few muskets are left as it is, and anyway it’s so miserably cold that no one can hold a firearm in his hands. Still, Ney forms his armed men into two ranks and angles for the greatest effect by placing the unarmed men behind them. Cossacks charge, screaming “Hurrah! (meaning death),” only to reverse their impetus, as is their wont, when the French weapons are pointed in their direction, unloaded as they may be. Cossacks stick out their tongues before turning around, though, a gesture equivalent to the French middle finger or bras d’honneur if perhaps a grade less sophisticated. The march resumes while the Cossacks stay to the front at a useless distance. Marshal Ney asks another officer his thoughts. What can be said other than to point out the obvious, that their position is not brilliant and more cartridges are needed? “True, but it’s here we must know how to sell ourselves dearly,” Ney says.

At nightfall, he has campfires lit at a distance from the Russians, but orders all units to be ready to move at nine o’clock. In the meantime, another Russian flag of truce appears. The Russian general is demanding Ney’s surrender. Surprise. 100,000 troops have him circled. It’s all up with III Corps. Ney sends the messenger back with the news that a Marshal of France never surrenders. The next Russian spokesmen to show up with the same demand is arrested. Ney insists he see for himself how the French surrender. Predictably, a third messenger comes to retrieve his comrade. He too is treated to a stay in the Gallic camp. But while the Marshal is telling him so, the Russian is casting glances in all directions. Ney is plenty annoyed and has him blindfolded; makes him knock it off. The man whines and Ney orders everyone to fall in quietly, to march in close formation without speaking. They pass through the Russian camp, and the Russians fail to even notice them until it’s too late to make Ney regret his arrogance. Instead, they’re left to content themselves with the capture and slow murder of a few straggling injured.

Until daybreak. The Cossacks ride across an open field with sledge-mounted guns. Ney draws his men into square formation and pushes on under fire. A trifling number of French sharpshooters with cartridges torment the enemy as they can, but the incoming artillery is intense and the French are several times on the verge of breaking ranks and surrendering. By virtue of Ney’s unruffled presence is the square maintained until they gain high ground in front of a village. Here the Marshal harangues about dying for France before he positions his two divisions to make a stand. Again and again the Russians attack, but the French repulse them each time. Things come to a point where the Russian commander tires of this determination
that continues to embarrass him and his forces. During the resulting lull, exhausted French soldiers take refuge in the village’s houses. Ney has no choice but to set fire to the town in order to force his men to fall in and pick up the march. And once again, during the night, the Marshal leads them through Russian lines unmolested—all four or five hundred of them.

Napoleon has been awaiting any word of his missing Marshal for days. He orders various scouts on missions to find out what they can. The Emperor would relinquish all 300 million francs in the Tuilleries’ treasury to get Ney back, he declares. But the main Russian forces are closing in. At midnight tonight, he has decided, he will accept the fate of his friend and move on. He’s unaware Ney has sent an officer ahead to get word to him of the rear guard’s escape. That word flashes via couriers through the remnants of the Grande Armee until it reaches l’Empereur. Ney is so revered in this military that a sense of rapture rolls through the ranks and sets off a night of rejoicing among men who will never see home again. High-ranking officers burst into tears at the news. Corks are popped, backs are slapped.

But reality is waiting with teeth bared come morning. Marshal Ney reorganizes and commands the rear guard the rest of the murderous way through Lithuania, holding off the enemy under conditions a preponderance of us could not endure even with an escort and an order of safe passage. The soldiers and civilians who ultimately survive Napoleon’s empire-ending misadventure likely owe their lives to Marshal Ney.

“Fire!”

The duchesse d’Angeloume, daughter of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, has been the driving force behind Ney’s execution. Both her parents were beheaded, her brother left to his death in prison, by the revolutionaries some two decades ago. To her, Napoleon represents those regicides. Not that he had a thing to do with any of it, but he was the ultimate product of the Revolution and the chief impediment to the restoration of Bourbon rule. Her family is restored to the French crown in the form of her uncle, Louis XVIII, when Napoleon abdicates. Ney finds favor with this new monarch, and is given a military unit to command. But in March of 1815, the restive Napoleon returns from exile in Elba, full-on ready to make things happen one more time. Ney, calling Napoleon a “wild dog” among a number of other choice epithets, insisting he’ll bring Bonaparte back in an iron cage, is sent to arrest him. But that’s not exactly how it unfolds.

 http://youtu.be/QmzIc7-F6t8

Napoleon Bonaparte’s charisma and sense of self-worth are so off-the-charts overpowering that with a glance and a few words he can cast his spell on a man like Marshal Ney. This is incredible. Ney hated the man’s guts. (The video linked above is probably a reasonable representation of one of history’s true turning points, where  testosterone, dripping from the atmosphere like syrup from a burlap bag, decides the course of the future.) Instead of arresting the little usurper, maybe getting in some payback for that abandonment-in-Russia thing, the Marshal ceremoniously relinquishes his sword to his superior and  joins him in yet another overthrow of the Bourbon monarchy. A hundred days later, though…Waterloo. Ney’s as much as Bonaparte’s. The Bourbon king returns to the throne of France, whereupon his niece and her Royalist allies press him to punish Ney most capitally. True, Ney committed a treasonous act against the crown, but no one believes it was premeditated. He was simply incapable of resisting Napoleon’s magic—he and tens of thousands of others. Louis is in the unenviable position of having to bring a favorite of the French people—a near-mythological figure—to trial. Ney is given a passport to leave the country, but his effort to take advantage of the opportunity is feeble and unavailing. The Marshal, then, is arrested. After the King experiences a bit of trouble collecting a willing jury, a tendentious pool of arbiters is assembled and they condemn Ney to death. Effective immediately.

The Duchess later in life reads the story above, or a similar version of it, rather, and expresses her regret. Had she known, she admits, she never would’ve handled things so.

Marshal Ney

FANNI DIES IN RUSSIA

2014-01-03 18.42.16…young and touching Fanni. Pretty, sweet, amiable, witty, speaking several languages—in a word, possessing all qualities seductive to the most insensitive man—she was reduced to begging for the slightest service, and usually the bit of bread she obtained obliged her to requite it in the most servile way. She implored our help and we abused her. Each night she belonged to anyone who undertook to nourish her.

Halfway between Moscow and the Berezina River, after the weather turns bitter, a French officer in Napoleon’s army by the name of Labaume laments the torment of an innocent young girl. He pities all the Frenchwomen, in fact,

who’d come with us from Moscow, mostly on foot in cloth slippers, dressed in wretched silk or cotton cambric dresses and who’d covered themselves in furs or soldiers’ greatcoats taken from corpses.

Even in the blizzard, Labaume is rendered so heartsick by the cruelties he witnesses he takes the time to describe them in his diary. He mentions one of Napoleon’s generals who beds a French girl in Moscow with promises of marriage. Now she is pregnant, following her man, utterly devoted to him, until he tells her to

go back to Moscow, because he’s married already anyway, and there perhaps find the husband her parents had destined for her. The girl fainted, and the general marched off into the night toward Smolensk.

And just as he too comes into Smolensk, Labaume sees Fanni one last time

no longer, alas, able to walk. The unfortunate girl was having herself dragged along behind a vehicle, and when her strength gave out she fell down into the snow, which no doubt became her winding sheet, without her having aroused anyone’s compassion nor anyone throwing her so much as a pitying glance, so brutalized were our souls and so extinct our sensibility. Misery no longer had any witnesses. We were all its victims.

That, my friends, is game.        

THE MONK KUZMICH AND THE STRANGE DEATH OF TSAR ALEXANDER I~by glenn kinyon

The rumors of Elvis Presley’s staged death and new identity had nothing on those of Tsar Alexander I of Russia. One must judge for oneself, however, the level of credibility to be given such a claim. In the case of the latter, the evidence is at the very least interesting; to some, convincing.Young Tsar

Alexander Pavlovich, first grandson of Catherine the Great, was twenty-three in 1801 when he succeeded his father, Tsar Paul, on the throne of Russia. Paul was assassinated by a circle of conspirators, a plot Alexander was only partially aware of. He knew his loopy father was to be temporarily deposed, but was not apprised of the murder. Still, his common sense likely told him Dad would never go willingly. Whatever went through his mind before the deed, throughout his life Alexander bore the burden of his father’s death as if he himself had wielded the blade. From his first days as tsar to his final months on Earth a quarter of a century later, he confided in close friends that he intended to abdicate and retire to the countryside. His shoulders were not built to bear the weight of an empire, he would say.St Petersburg

No one involved ever adequately explained why Alexander chose such a forbidding backwater as Taganrog for his wife’s convalescence in 1825. Her doctors insisted she repair to the more welcoming climes of the Mediterranean, to France or Italy. Taganrog was a cold and windy village of only 5,000 inhabitants on the lonely Sea of Azov, north of the Black Sea 1400 miles south of St. Petersburg. The accommodations were hardly fit for an emperor, an empress, and their retinue; but that’s where Alexander insisted on taking his ailing tsarina for her prescribed rest. He left on the three-week trip two days ahead of her. On the outskirts of the capital, he visited the Alexander Nevsky Monastery—the tsar’s patron saint. Here, according to witnesses, he spent several hours in tearful prayer. Afterward, the church metropolitan presented him to an old monk who resided in a corner of the monastery. The monk lived a spartan existence with his single bench and a coffin in which he slept. The emperor seemed intrigued by the old man and his lifestyle, and the two prayed together at the elder’s behest.Monastery

Alexander stood on the steps of his carriage, staring at the monastery spires, as he and his entourage rolled away from the city. He was probably thinking of the sad state of affairs in which his country found itself. Conspiracies to topple the government were cropping up all over. His beloved 18-year-old daughter had recently died, which devastated him no end; and shortly afterward in November 1824, the capital, St. Petersburg, suffered a massive flood that killed several hundred people and left many more destitute. As the story goes, Alexander, while touring the ruins, was heard to say that God was punishing the Russian people for his sins.

Taganrog palaceIn Taganrog with his wife and staff, Alexander fell ill in early November a few weeks after his arrival. The empress, Elizaveta, kept a diary, noting her husband’s condition from day to day. The cheerfulness of her entries reflected the tsar’s improving health, and on the morning of November 11, 1825 she noted how well he seemed to be doing.Elizaveta Alekseevna Although up to that point she had been meticulous in recording the events of her daily life in Taganrog, this would be her last entry. That day, at ten in the morning, Alexander summoned her to his room, and here she and he spent six hours behind closed doors. When she finally emerged, the people around her noticed how distraught she appeared. She immediately wrote to her mother, “Where does one find peace in life? Just as you think that all is settled for the better and that you can enjoy life, there suddenly appears an unexpected trial that steals away the ability to enjoy the blessings around you…it’s so unfair.” We never learn what she was implying. Alexander died on November 19.

The port of Taganrog was useless as a harbor during the winter owing to its high winds and rough, icy water. Shipping began wrapping up in October and was usually finished sometime in November. And even during its milder months, Taganrog was no tourist destination. So why had a private yacht flying a British flag been sitting for an unknown length of time at anchor in the harbor? And why did it leave the day of Alexander’s death?Yacht 2

As a descendent of the Russian nobility, author Alexis S. Troubetzkoy was in a unique position to conduct the research and interviews necessary to dig up all available evidence regarding the mystery of Alexander’s death when he wrote his 2002 book Imperial Legend—The Mysterious Disappearance of Tsar Alexander I. He found evidence that the yacht belonged to the Earl of Cathcart, who had been British ambassador to St. Petersburg and a close friend of Alexander’s. To sum up Troubetzkoy’s exhaustive research, the following, while not verified as fact, serves to fill in some nagging blanks. This comes from investigations carried out by various members of the Russian aristocracy in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A person of unknown identity wearing peasant’s clothes boarded the yacht in Taganrog. The yacht was forbidden to take on other passengers. The yacht sailed to Palestine, where its lone passenger disembarked. Traces were found of a traveler who spent time in Palestine—possibly several years—and then went to Kiev, where he was received by one Count Osten-Sacken, who gave him papers in the name of Feodor Kuzmich.

The reports made by the doctors and others attending the tsar’s body after his death were contradictory and imprecise in many areas, which is exceeding unusual for such an eminent personage. The autopsy was belated—thirty-two hours—and inconclusive, although the physicians were among the most competent in Europe. A number of accounts noted how the face was black and unrecognizable after the embalming, which was right after the autopsy. When the body lay in state in Taganrog for public viewing, its face was kept covered. During the months that followed before the burial in St. Petersburg, only the Tsar’s inner circle viewed the face and then only at night with guards standing by. Before the tsar died, an officer by the name of Maskov arrived with an official message. Alexander put him in a carriage that quickly wrecked, killing Maskov, who, reports say, was the same height and build as the emperor. Documentation of Maskov’s interment is sketchy, but he was reportedly buried right away in a cemetery near where he died, without ceremony or observations of protocol. Alexander’s brother, Nicholas, who replaced Alexander on the throne, took great financial care of the Maskov family from then on. Maskov’s daughter was admitted to an elite school for the nobility on Nicholas’s orders, although tsars were not known for involving themselves with the lives of regular citizens. No official reason exists for the emperor’s interest in the Maskov family.

Feodor Kuzmich

In 1836, a tall man somewhere around age sixty, arrived in a Siberian village looking to get his horse shoed. He refused to answer questions from the blacksmith or onlookers as to his history—only that his name was Feodor Kuzmich. The police whipped him for being a vagrant, sold his horse to settle a hotel bill, and sent him in chains to a work camp. This man was no typical vagrant, however. He seemed to be highly educated and well traveled, and he proceeded to make friends and distinguish himself in the work camp. He was soon released and moved from place to place in Siberia over the next several years, all the while earning a reputation as a starets, or wise religious leader. People came to him in droves seeking his advice and counsel. Children especially took to him, and these he taught history, geography, grammar, and religious subjects. He also gave detailed accounts of life in St. Petersburg.

A group of workmen were repairing a window in Kuzmich’s cabin one day, and after making repeated requests to the workers to be quieter, the elder stated sternly that if they knew who he really was, they wouldn’t dare aggravate him so. Another time, Kuzmich was recovering from an illness in the hospital when a high-ranking man, a count and army general, paid a visit to that facility. The visitor had been a close friend and advisor to Tsar Alexander, and was well-received by the patients; that is, except for Kuzmich, who covered himself in his bed and turned his face to the wall until the man left. Such insulting behavior was uncharacteristic of the starets, and it incited considerable discussion.

Kuzmich eventually ended up outside of the city of Tomsk, where a merchant named Khromov built a cabin for him. He became part of the Khromov family and lived in their home while the cabin was under construction. The youngest daughter, Anna, recorded in her diary how one night she was reading to the family a book about Tsar Alexander I. When she read a quote from Alexander, a voice from a nearby room exclaimed, “I never said that!” The door was open to their guest’s room, and it was he who’d made the comment. They immediately found him kneeling in prayer. A story went around at the time about an incident that took place on a cold winter’s day. Kuzmich asked Khromov for some extra firewood. Khromov dispatched one of his workmen to bring the wood from town. The workman grumbled and bitched, reportedly to himself, about leaving his warm cabin and hauling wood for over two miles to Kuzmich. When the man got to Kuzmich’s cabin, Kuzmich refused the wood, stating that the workman delivered it with anger in his heart. Kuzmich maintained that the man had sworn and cursed him while loading the wood. The man fell to his knees and begged forgiveness, and Kuzmich obliged.

The Khromovs reported many visitors to the cabin over the years, some of obvious rank and importance. They overheard conversations that took place in French. Solid evidence has been uncovered that Alexander II, Tsar Alexander’s nephew and son of Tsar Nicholas I, was among those visitors. But one of the most intriguing stories involves a local girl named Alexandra, who became close to Kuzmich. She was twelve when they met, and she visited the starets often over the years. He taught her lessons in many subjects, including religion, and told her stories of distant lands and holy places. At the age of twenty, the girl told Kuzmich she had decided to visit Russia’s holy sites. Kuzmich made up an itinerary for her and handed her some letters of introduction. Alexandra later recalled telling Kuzmich she wanted to see the tsar. Kuzmich advised her to be patient and that in time she would meet more than one tsar; she would learn tsars are human like everybody else, he said.Kuzmich

Alexandra visited the wife of Count Osten-Sacken in Kiev, and gave her Kuzmich’s letter of introduction. The countess took her to their country home and introduced her to the count. Alexandra remained several months with the couple, during which Tsar Nicholas visited. Like the count, the tsar queried Alexandra about Kuzmich, at one point stating with a far-off look that Kuzmich was indeed a holy man. When she returned to Siberia, Alexandra immediately went to Kuzmich’s cabin. She observed with astonishment how much he looked like Emperor Alexander Pavlovich. He seemed to become angry and asked her who told her to say such a thing. She explained that she’d seen a portrait of the tsar and that’s what made her say it, and added that Kuzmich even held his hands the same. The old man didn’t respond, but left the room.

When Kuzmich died in 1864, Khromov took a cloth sachet from around the old man’s neck. Inside was a scrap of paper with a message written in code, and the letters A and P. Several experts studied it over the years, but in 1927, at virtually the same time in two different cities, two men broke the code:

Anna Vasilievna, we have discovered an incredible flaw in our son. Count Pahlen informs me of Alexander’s participation in a conspiracy. We must hide tonight, wherever it is possible.

PAUL

St. Petersburg. March 11, 1801

Paul’s mistress was Anna Vasilievna Gagarina, and she lived in the castle with the tsar. Count Pahlen was one of the conspirators. Paul was assassinated on that date.Tsar Alexander I of Russia

There was a deathbed confession of a man to his daughter in 1866 relating to Alexander’s grave. He was a poor man, but he was leaving her 10,000 silver rubles. He feared that people would say he stole it, so he wanted to disclose the circumstances of its acquisition to his daughter. The story is complex, but in the event, he and some others were once sworn to secrecy and given the silver rubles as a reward for their silence. He was a guardsman stationed at the Fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul where Alexander was entombed. He watched as workmen lifted up the tsar’s casket and opened it. It was empty. They brought in a wooden coffin from a wagon outside and placed it in the tsar’s casket, which was then resealed. This was two years after Kuzmich died.Fortress of Saints Peter & Paul

The stories of Kuzmich and the possibilities of his imperial identity were legion in the Tomsk area, far too many to recount here. And there are many other stories from beyond Siberia. One of Alexander’s physicians, Dr. Tarasov, a close friend and confidant who attended Alexander at Taganrog, refused to visit the emperor’s tomb during the annual memorial ceremonies until he heard about the death of Kuzmich forty years later. In his memoirs he wrote that his reasons for this involved a profound secret that he would take to his grave. Count Osten-Sacken, likewise, refused to visit his good friend Alexander’s grave. Tsar Nicholas II once visited the tomb of Feodor Kuzmich, as did other dignitaries.

Several members of the imperial family and other aristocrats who investigated the death over the years confided a belief that Kuzmich and Alexander were one in the same, or at any rate some of those individuals spoke in ambiguous terms when asked about the subject. Nicholas I had most of the documentation relating to his brother’s sojourn in Taganrog quickly destroyed—including family correspondence and diaries—along with the port’s shipping records from 1823 to 1826. Alexander, while in Taganrog, announced that a Russian soldier was required to put in twenty-five years, and he’d done that. He stated that he was ready to retire. Russian emperors, however, weren’t really allowed to retire, considering they were appointed by God, as the belief went. In 1902, orders came down from the Kremlin to erect a chapel on the site of Kuzmich’s grave, although the Bolsheviks later destroyed it for materials. Just prior to his death, Kuzmich requested that a ring and an icon be delivered to the palace in St. Petersburg; it turned out that these items had disappeared before Alexander’s death. Kuzmich, it was observed by those who were around him, changed his socks frequently. Alexander Pavlovich suffered from athlete’s foot, which required that he change his socks frequently. When the Bolsheviks ordered an inventory of the items at the imperial palace at Gatchina, a container of keepsakes belonging to the wife of Nicholas I was discovered. At the bottom was a monk’s skullcap, inside of which was a piece of paper with the inscription, “The cap of the Blessed starets.”

Until a DNA study is done, we cannot know the truth of the matter. What we know for sure is that Kuzmich, whatever his real identity, was in his middle thirties during Napoleon’s Russian campaign. We know that he received visitors of all ranks with ease, spoke Russian and French, and comported himself like a statesman. We also know that he was a deeply religious man. Alexander, too, was deeply religious, particularly during the 1812 invasion when he began to get involved with different religious sects and mysticism. Kuzmich had to be somewhere in 1812. It is indicated in “Beyond the Berezina,” that he was serving a holy purpose in Lithuania.

No one can prove otherwise. Alexander I