Edward Zyrzynski

“In remuneration for achievements…”: Polish nobleman – the hero of Shipka.

Everyday life of Kharkiv in the 19th and early 20th centuries is inextricably connected with the military history of the Russian Empire. It is the Kharkiv province, being for a long time in the past a frontier region, for more than two centuries belonged to the leaders in the number of military units, which were accommodated and served on its territory. Two cities of the province – Kharkiv and Chuguiv – were some kind of military capitals of Slobozhanshchina. On that basis it is not surprising that in the life of a large provincial city servicemen of lower ranks and officers of different military branches were so to say prominent figures. Among the commanders of large army units were also Polish descendants. The number of career military personnel who selected Kharkiv for life and service increased drastically since 1864, when Kharkiv became the center of the Kharkiv Military District. Officers had to pass the qualification term in order to get the next military rank, and this fact caused the high mobility of the officers; the honorableness of noblemen who chose a military career often determined the place of their service. The railway connection with largest cities of the empire, the proximity to possible theaters of warfare and the presence of military educational institutions made Kharkiv an attractive place for a quick career. One of the ethnic Poles, whose life was closely connected with our city, was major general Edward Zyrzynski.

He descended from a noble stem of the Kingdom of Poland, Janina Polish nobility clan. Born on the 9th of March 1834, since his youth he connected his fate with the army. Having received military education in the 1st Moscow Cadet Corps, Zyrzynski began his service on the 13th of August 1854 as a lieutenant in the Nizov Jaeger Regiment, within which he took part in the Crimean War.

In order to gain further military education and climb career ladder, Edward Zyrzynski entered in 1858 Mykolayiv Academy. The latter was at that moment considered as an elite educational institution of the Russian Empire that trained personnel for the General Staff. Students of the Academy received the best education at that time. The course consisted of theoretical and practical classes. In addition to 2-3 languages officers also had to learn theory and gain skills of tactics, strategies, military administration and statistics, military history, geodesy etc. In summer they always participated in topographical surveys and tactics. The graduation point and the subsequent fate of each student depended on the successful study of disciplines. Officers, who graduated from the academy successfully, could count on the work at the General Staff, fast promotion and senior positions with a reduction of qualification terms. That is how it was in case of Zyrzynski. He graduated from the academy in 1860 with honors, and got the right to wear a silver academic badge and was awarded four-month vacation. After that he was enrolled in the General Staff with the obligation to serve at the headquarters of the 1st Army Corps in the St. Petersburg Military District. In December 1861 Edward Zyrzynski was promoted to the junior captain, and on the 3rd of April 1862 he was transferred to the General Staff in a position of divisional quartermaster of the 5th Cavalry Division.

During the January Uprising of 1863-1864, due to the going of the division headquarters on a march, Zyrzynski was sent to commandment of the 5th Cavalry Division as an adjutant. On the 28th of January 1864 he was appointed a senior adjutant of the General Staff at the headquarters of the 2nd Reserve Corps.

Having got in April 1864 the rank of lieutenant colonel, Edward Zyrzynski moved to Kharkiv on the 1st of September, where he occupied a significant position in terms of career – an orderly officer for special assignments at the headquarters of the Kharkiv Military District. From then on until the 7th of December 1868 the daily service of Zhirzinsky was connected with the building of the headquarters of the district (Teatralniy Lane 10, now the crossing of Pushkinska Street and Teatralniy Lane, N. 49.994937, E. 36.236291) and Mikhailovska Square (N. 49.988739, E. 36.246754), where in the middle of the 19th century military assemblies and inspections of local squads took place. The competence of the chief of Staff headquarters and Staff officers included matters related to the organization of the service of all military units of the provinces that were part of the Kharkiv Military District. In particular, the staff headquarters engaged with plans of mobilization, accommodation, concentration and transportation of troops in the event of military operations, drill training and combat training of officers, artillery, engineering, sanitary and veterinary provisioning of troops.

During his service in Kharkiv Edward Zyrzynski constantly interacted in everyday life both with his colleagues at the military department and with residents of the city. The position of the chief of the General Staff was in those days occupied by Brigadier General Olexander Mikhailovich Batezatul The Second. Ivan Karlovich von Burzu, an orderly officer for special assignments (later major general, the hero of the Battle of Plevna), was a direct associate of Zyrzynski. Also Fedir Ossypovich Goncharov (the future general of infantry, who was the governor general of the Grand Duchy of Finland and was a member of the Military Council of the Russian Empire) served at the same time as senior adjutant at the inspection department of the headquarters. According to their contemporary, “rich and elegant military youth of that time was good at shaking Kharkiv, attending balls, masquerades, private evening parties, theaters and promenades, and making feasts for their part”.

It was during the period of service in Kharkiv that Zyrzynski got the first two highest awards – the Order of Saint Anna 3rd class (1866) and Saint Stanislaus 2nd class (1868).

Having received the rank of a colonel on the 31st of March 1868, in the same year Zyrzynski was transfered to the 17th Arkhangelogorodsky Infantry Regiment in order to head the battalion prior to be appointed a regimental commander. The vacancy opened on the 20th of April 1871, and he headed the 34th Sevsky Infantry His Imperial Highness Austrian Crown Prince Regiment, accommodated in Kremenchug. Despite the fact that Edward Zyrzynski lived at that time within accommodation territory of his military unit, he remained in touch with Kharkiv. After all, his regiment was part of the Kharkiv Military District, and the annual maneuvers and summer meetings took place in the Kharkiv province – in the village of Malinovka, not far from Chuguiv.

With the beginning of the war against the Ottoman Empire in 1877 Zyrzynski entered the 8th Army Corps (under the command of major general F.F. Radetsky), crossed the Danube near Zimnitsy and took part in the battle at Sistovsky Heights. The military actions carried by the Russian Empire in the Balkans brought glory to Edward Zyrzynski. In June 1877 he participated in battles under the command of adjutant general I. Gurko at Jena-Zagra, in the village of Mareny, near the city of Helen, and for this he was awarded the Order of Saint Vladimir 3rd class with swords and the rank of brigadier general (the 19th of July 1877). Subsequently, in December 1877 Zyrzynski took part in the autumn battles on Shipka and in the conquest of Kazanlyk where he got concussion in the temple.

The Battle of Shipka Pass occupies a special place in the world history of wars as a battle that demonstrated the strength of the spirit of the soldiers and officers of the Russian army and Bulgarian folk squads. Those battles played an important role in the life of our hero, too. He distinguished himself during the last battle for Shipka on the 28th of December 1877 (January 8-9, 1878, by the Gregorian calendar). In February 1878 Edward Zyrzynski was awarded the Order of Saint George 4th class with a detailed description of the heroic deed in the official list: “In remuneration for achievements demonstrated in the military affairs with Turks on the 27-28th of December 1877, where Zyrzynski E. during the conquest of the village of Shipka took fortified mounds, and then, taking command of the brigade, captured the village of Shipka and enemy redoubt”.

On the 2nd of January 1878 Brigadier General Zyrzynski was appointed commander of the 1st Brigade of the 9th Infantry Division, which he headed as a part of the acting army until the conclusion of the Peace treaty of San-Stefano. In the same year he was awarded a golden cavalry sword with the inscription “For Bravery”, and on the 5th July he was appointed commander of the 1st Brigade of the 11th Infantry Division (Dubno-Lutsk). On the 30th August 1888 Edward Zyrzynski got the rank of major general and a new post – the head of the 30th Infantry Division with headquarters in Minsk. There he remained until his death. Major general Zyrzynski died on the 25th of June 1892 during a treatment at a resort in Tegernsee (Bavaria). On the 14th of July 1892 his body was taken to Minsk. The next morning it was transferred from the station of the Libau-Romny railway to the Most Holy Virgin Mary Polish Roman Catholic church (Mariinsky Roman Catholic church) on the Governor’s Square for the funeral ceremony, and then to the Military Cemetery for burial. The tomb has survived to this day.

Edward Zyrzynski was awarded a number of orders, including Saint Stanislaus 2nd class with Imperial Crown (1871), Saint Vladimir 4th class (1876), Saint Anna 2nd class (1875), Saint Stanislaus 1st class (1882), Saint Anna 1st class (1886), Saint Vladimir 4th class (1891) and the Austrian Imperial Order of the Iron Crown 2nd class (1874).

Sources of information:

1.Багалей Д.И., Миллер Д.П. История города Харькова за 250 лет его существования. – Т. II. – Харьков, 1912.

2. Глиноецкий Н.П. Исторический очерк Николаевской академии Генерального штаба. – СПб., 1882.

3. Глиноецкий Н.П. История Русского генерального штаба. – Том II: 1826-1855 гг. – СПб., 1894.

4. Дарков С.К. Кадетский биографический справочник. – Т. 2: Г – И. – Санкт-Петербург; Москва, 2011.

5. Минское военное кладбище: захоронения дореволюционного периода (сохранившиеся к настоящему времени) / сост. А. А. Лукьянов, А. Л. Самович, А. А. Шумков // Российский некрополь. – Выпуск 10. – СПб., 2002.

6. Список генералам по старшинству. Составлен по 1-е сентября 1891 года. – СПб., 1891.

7. Список полковникам по старшинству. Исправлено по 1-е января 1868 года. – СПб., 1868.

Prepared by PhD Sergiy Kushnariov.