Kupiskis, Napoleon and the 1830-1861 Rebellions

by Ann Rabinowitz

Henry L. Gaidis, in Lituanus, Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences, Spring 1984, said that Napoleon was in dire need of new soldiers in 1812.  He sent out a military recruitment order for his Grand Armee which was to be undertaken during the period of August 5-30, 1812.  The order was to be carried out for the following regiments in the noted depot towns:

18th Infantry Regiment, Vilnius, Colonel Alexander Chodkiewicz
19th Infantry Regiment, Raseiniai, Colonel Konstantin Tizenhaus
20th Infantry Regiment, Slonim, Colonel Adam Bisping
21st Infantry Regiment Bialystok, Colonel Karol Przezdziecki (at the end of August - Anthony Gielgud, who was an ancestor of British actor Sir John Gielgud)
17th Cavalry Regiment, Minsk, Colonel Stanislas Czapski
18th Cavalry Regiment, Kupiskis, Colonel Michail Tyszkiewicz
18th Cavalry Regiment, Panevezys,
18th Cavalry Regiment, Nowogrodek, Colonel Konstantin Rajecki
18th Cavalry Regiment, Pinsk, Colonel Ksaveriy Obuchowicz
18th Mounted Rifles, Vilnius

As can be seen, Kupiskis was to be honored as a recruitment depot.  It is not known whether specific Jews were recruited from Kupiskis as this has to be determined.  It has been noted that of the 20,000 Lithuanian recruits, only 8,000 survived the Napoleonic campaigns they served in.

During this period, so many Kupishokers were noted as ill, in hospital or dead in the Kupiskis Revision Lists for 1811 -1817.  It was felt that this widespread contagion had to be related to the military operations in the vicinity at that time.  Sources have stated that one third of the Lithuanian community perished due to the Napoleonic incursions and the result of horrific winter weather and illnesses.  Perhaps the location of the military recruitment depot in Kupiskis made it more prone to having illnesses, deaths, at that time.

The military units were selected by Napoleon with Colonels picked from amongst the rich and nobles families of Lithuania and the Majors being chosen from amongst the Polish officers.  The units, leaders and respective depots are as follows:

18th Infantry Regiment: Colonel Alexander Chodkiewicz - Vilnius

19th Infantry Regiment: Colonel Konstantin Tizenhaus - Raseinai

20th Infantry Regiment: Colonel Adam Bisping - Slonim

21st Infantry Regiment: Colonel Karol Przezdziecki (at the end of August - Anthony Gielgud) - Bielostok

22nd Infantry Regiment: Colonel Stanislas Czapski - Minsk

17th Lancer Regiment: Colonel Michail Tyszkiewicz - Kupiskis

18th Lancer Regiment: Colonel Joseph Wawrzecki (at the end of August - Karol Przezdziecki) - Nesvizh

19th Lancer Regiment: Colonel Konstantin Rajecki - Novogrudek

20th Lancer Regiment: Colonel Ksaveriy Obuchowicz - Pinsk

As can be noted, Kupiskis had the 17th Lancer Regiment under Colonel Michail Tyszkiewicz stationed there.

The well-known Russian Prince Stepan Aleksandrovich Khilkoff (1786-1856), who was a much decorated soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, took command of the regiments of the 1st Uhlan Division on March 12, 1830.  This was due to the rebellion by the Lithuanian rebel Gelgud which broke out in the Polish Lithuanian Empire.

The rebel Gelgud was actually Polish General Antoni (Antoine) Gielgud, the great great granduncle of Sir John Gielgud, the British actor.  He was from Panemune, Lithuania, and had an estate named Gielgud in what is now Gelgaudiskis, Lithuania.  Surprisingly, General Gielgud had fought with Napoleon in 1812.

Prince Khilkoff’s special detachment defeated a 2,000 man rebel army on April 17, 1830, and pursued them to Gedroits and thence to Svensionys via Malat and Koltinyany, where he made quick work of Bortkevich’s rebels.  He then stopped in Svensionys due to a cholera outbreak.  This was particularly severe wherever the soldiers went. This particular outbreak had started in 1828 in India and traveled to Russia thereafter with 197,069 deaths resulting in 1831 alone.

Finally, on the move again, Khilkoff pursued the rebels between Vilnius and Ukmerge and disposed of them.  He settled in May 14, 1830 in Ukmerge.  Carrying on, he pursued the rebels as far as Kupiskis when he was interrupted due to news that the rebel Gelgud was approaching Vilnius.  He turned around and headed back to Vilnius posthaste where he defeated the rebels decisively by June 16, 1830.  

General Gielgud was actually killed by one of his own soldiers rather than his enemies, the Russians, during his defeat in the rebellion of 1830-1831.  Following his death, his property confiscated and his family then fled to England .

The result of the overthrow of the rebels by General Prince Stepan Aleksandrovich Khilkoff, was further repression of the population by the Russian government.  Later, in the 1860’s, another rebellion took place which spread from Poland into Lithuania.  During 1863-1864, the rebels, numbering over 10,000, were overcome.  There were incidents where Jews were hung and abused in certain localities.  Those rebels in the Kupiskis area were deported from Kupiskis and replaced by Ukrainian peasants.  Perhaps this exchange of peasantry brought with it some of the old anti-semitic ideas from the Ukraine.

It was also during this period, that there was a temperance or anti-alcohol movement which swept through Lithuania.  The Russian government officials suddenly realized how much revenue they gained from the production, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages and how much their coffers depended on this revenue to keep on an even keel. 

The overcoming of the rebels and the banning of the temperance movement served to tighten the governments grip on the county and its revenue sources. 

Due to restrictions on occupations and trade, many Jews were forced into this area of commerce as it was one of the few open to them.  From the earliest records we have for Kupiskis, the 1865 Grand Duchy of Lithuania Census, it can be noted that a majority of the population was involved in running inns or something similar which was related to alcohol consumption. 

The Jews were also sent away from the rural areas to live in the urban population centers leaving the villages, for the most part, to the peasants.  This practice continued well into the 20th Century when Jews were then restricted from the production, distribution and sale of alcoholic beverages.  This impoverished many families.

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