Warsaw’s Forgotten Ghosts

Exactly 180 years ago, on September 7th, 1831, the conflict between the Russian Empire and the Congress Kingdom of Poland had reached its climax. After nine long months of hostilities, triggered by the Polish November Rising of 1830, the Russian army had gained the upper hand and was ready to deal the final, decapitating blow against the rebellious borderland. During the first week of September, the Russian forces of field-marshal Ivan Paskevich surrounded Warsaw completely and unleashed their final onslaught against the Polish capital.

The military units which had been assembled for the Russian punitive expedition included also the Finnish Sharp-Shooter Battalion of the Imperial Guard. I have previously written extensively of the Finnish Guard’s campaign in Poland at Noel Maurer’s blog (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6) as well as in academic publications (1, 2), so in this particular blog post, I shall settle merely for a small commemoration on this forgotten anniversary.

Below, you can see two excerpts of the Finnish Battalion’s journal, preserved in the War Archives in Helsinki. Written in September 8th and September 9th, 1831, they provide a short, official description of the experiences of the Finnish sharp-shooters during the preceding days. As you can see, this Finnish military unit of the Russian Imperial Guard still kept its records in Swedish and followed the Gregorian calendar. The entries are signed by “Öfverste Ramsay” – colonel Anders Edvard Ramsay, a Finnish nobleman of Scottish descent, who subsequently arose to the rank of General of Infantry and was appointed to the Russian Imperial War Council. Ramsay has dutifully recorded with his elegant handwriting the casualties which his Battalion had suffered in the storming of the Polish redoubts in the previous day.

The list of the casualties begins from the bottom of the first page and continues to the second. The Battalion had lost four men dead in the assault against Warsaw; adjutant, lieutenant Johan Fredrik Schybergson, and three rank-and-file soldiers from the 4th company. Carl Qvick, sharp-shooter no. 91, Elias Enqvist, sharp-shooter no. 53 and Adolf Nyman, sharp-shooter no. 111.

The records seem to be a bit vague at this point, since they don’t match with the official Muster Roll of the Battalion. Elias Enqvist, who was 25 years old and born in the province of Vaasa, did serve on the campaign with the same exact number, but his two other comrades are somewhat more mysterious. Adolf Nyman may have been Adolf Nygren, the 22-year-old soldier from the southeastern Kymi county, who had originally served in the 3rd company. It’s possible that he was reassigned a new number in a new company, as the Battalion was undergoing constant reorganization with the companies shrinking down to platoon strength due to the cholera epidemic. Carl Qvick is a particularly problematic case. According to the Muster Roll, the sharp-shooter no. 53 in the 4th company was not named Carl Qvick, but instead Anders Qvick, who was 29-year-old blacksmith from the town of Loviisa. However, the Genealogical Society of Finland informs us that sharp-shooter Anders Qvick was not killed in action at the gates of Warsaw, but instead returned to Finland, where he perished from chickenpox on the New Year’s Eve, 1836.

Lieutenant Schybergson’s death is nonetheless well-recorded. Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Vilhelm Lagerborg, who served as Ramsay’s second-in-command, described the event in the subsequent letter which he sent to Johan Albrecht Ehrenström. Lagerborg’s original letter has apparently not survived, but Ehrenström has provided a detailed reference of the text in his other correspondence (Rilax collection, 602:51, folder 10, Finnish National Archives). Lagerborg’s description provides a vivid picture of the fighting on the ad hoc fortifications in the Polish capital; he mentions “palisades, barricades, retrenchments and redoubts”, and describes how the Polish defenders had tried to turn their capital into “a new Zaragoza“. After successfully storming the redoubts of Rakowiec and Szczęśliwice in the southwestern parts of Warsaw in the morning of September 7th, the Finnish Battalion spent six hours exposed to a strong crossfire from three Polish batteries. Before the day was over, lieutenant Schybergson was killed by a cannon shell, and Lagerborg, who was standing next to him, was wounded for the second time in the campaign.

After the conquest of the Polish capital, lieutenant Schybergson’s belongings were sold at an auction and he was buried in Warsaw. The lieutenant did, however, receive also a more permanent commemoration. His name was engraved in the black marble plaque of the Finnish Cadet School in Hamina, as a hero who had fought and died “for the Emperor and the Fatherland”. As for the other three fallen soldiers, the text in Ramsay’s journal states their legacy plainly enough: “afföres ifrån rullor” – “removed from the roster”.

Aside those Finns who were killed in action in the Polish capital, four of their compatriots were wounded. Gustaf Lindqvist, sharp-shooter no. 134 from the 1st company; sergeant major Gustaf Grahn; 2nd lieutenant Achates Ferdinand Gripenberg; and, as mentioned, lieutenant-colonel Lagerborg. Gripenberg was awarded with the Order of St. Anna, whereas Lagerborg was bestowed with the Order of St. Vladimir. Approximately forty Finnish soldiers who had been taken prisoners-of-war in the battles of Mazovia and subsequently transported to Warsaw were also released from Polish captivity. For the Grand-Duchy of Finland, the participation in the suppression of the Polish uprising had ensured the possibility to secure and extend her self-government by a pronounced loyalty to the Russian Emperor in the subsequent decades.

In the meantime, the Poles were crushed. On the midnight of September 7th-8th, the Polish capital was evacuated and abandoned to the Russian army. The remaining Polish forces in the vicinity of Warsaw were surrounded in the fortress of Modlin. Shortly afterwards, the last strongholds of Polish resistance, the fortresses of Modlin and Zamość, surrendered to Paskevich. As the contemporary French cartoon below noted, order had been restored in Poland once again.

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