Russian General Alexei Maximovitch Kaledin, a commander of Russian forces during World War I and a staunch opponent of the Bolsheviks, dies by suicide on this day in 1918.
Kaledin, born in 1861, was the son of a Don Cossack officer who early on began a military career of his own. The Cossacks, a group of soldier-peasants of mostly Russian and Ukrainian stock who lived mainly on the steppes that began north of the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains and extended eastward to the Altai Mountains in Siberia, established the virtually independent Don Cossack republic along the Don River in 1635. By the mid-19th century it had been taken over by the czarist government, which granted the Cossacks special privileges in return for military service. In later years, the empire used Cossack troops as a border patrol and as a special force to quell internal unrest, including the suppression of the Revolution of 1905.
In 1915, Kaledin served with the celebrated general Alexei Brusilov on the front in Galicia (in western Ukraine, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire) and went on to earn great acclaim as commander of the Eighth Army at the Battle of Lutsk in June 1916. This battle launched the spectacularly successful Brusilov Offensive, in which the Russians retook more than 15,000 square miles of territory on the Eastern Front, costing the Central Powers 315,000 casualties and 450,000 POWs, and nearly knocking Austria-Hungary out of the war.
Shortly after the February Revolution in 1917—during which the Cossacks refused to be used again by the czar’s government to suppress rebellion—Kaledin came out against military reforms proposed by the new provisional government, leading to his dismissal from the army in May 1917. He subsequently returned to the Don Cossack region, where he became a leader of the local government, which shared his preference for a return to autonomous rule in the region.
In the aftermath of the Bolshevik ascent to power in November 1917, the Don Cossack region asserted its virtual independence from the Soviet state, becoming a haven for political and military figures who had been effectively exiled because of their opposition to the Bolsheviks. Kaledin supported these refugees and oversaw the formation of an anti-Bolshevik army. Almost immediately, the Bolsheviks sent their own military force to take back the region, viewing the Cossacks as a threat to their successful consolidation of power. Facing an army that severely outnumbered their own, the newly formed Don Cossack government voted to submit to the Soviets, despite Kaledin’s protests. Upon the vote, Kaledin resigned his position, walked into the next room, and ended his life with a single gunshot to the chest.