I'm reading an account of the Trans-Siberian Railways' construction, and what was interesting was the poor level of development in Siberia, including that roads were very limited and transport incredibly slow. With this in mind, I started wondering how Russia managed to force its unequal treaties on China, specifically the Treaty of Aigun which Count Muraviev forced onto the Qing in 1857–8.

The source for the above Wikipedia writes about this:

In 1857, Muraviev readid 16,000 infantrymen, 5,000 cavalry, 1,000 artillerymen with 40 pieces, and a reserve of 1,000 men and kept them at the rear on the frontier of Manchuria and Mongolia. China was at that time deeply involved in suppressing the Tai-p'ing rebellion and had little energy to deal with the Russians. Under Russia's threat and demand, China signed the Treaty of Aigun in May 1858.

What strikes me odd about this is Muraviev's capacity to gather those troops in the first place. Where did he get them from (e.g., were they a part of his governorate that he could deploy at will or did he have to requisition them from Moscow?) and how long did he have to plan this out for?

Similarly, forty years later trying to feed the workforce for the railway labourers was a massive problem. The WP on the Trans-Siberian Railway says that an impetus for the building of the line was that Mureviev had to import food from China and Korea, but this sounds odd for the time period in which they were in a state of cold war—or at least being threatened with 'hot' war. How did Muraviev keep his troops supplied? How were the goods transported, and did this affect town development in Siberia?

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    It does seem possible that local farmers might not feel bad about selling food at a good price to the troops. The influence of the rulers would have mattered less than the profits, and just who the remote rulers were would not really change their circumstances. – Jon Custer Aug 21 '20 at 15:07
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    Usual strategy was to build outposts, garrison them and stockpile supplies. Same method was used by Americans in Wild West, British in their colonial empire and of course Russians. Note that transport in and out Siberia before railroad was mostly riverine (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberian_River_Routes) with some roads (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siberian_Route). – rs.29 Aug 21 '20 at 17:07
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    There was a slow military build-up in the Amur region during 1852-1858, accelerated during the Crimean war (Muraviev knew what he was doing, creating "facts on the ground"). Many of the cossack troops brought in during that time stayed in place and were self-sufficient food-wise. Muraviev was partly going against directives coming from St.Petersburg (Nesselrode was mostly ignorant regarding this corner of the empire), which is why Muraviev was, in the end, rather successful. – Moishe Kohan Aug 22 '20 at 0:49
  • @MoisheKohan: You seem to have the most information on that time and place. Overall, the operation sounds more remarkable if he managed to do it over a long time as he must have organised a very large scale logistical effort to supply the troops. – gktscrk Aug 25 '20 at 5:02

The following is taken from the book (in Russian)

Natalia Mathanova, "Governors-general of Eastern Siberia in mid-19th century", Novosibirsk, 1998. (This is Mathanova's doctoral dissertation.)

Muraviev arrived to Irkutsk as a governor-general of the entire Eastern Siberia in 1849. While there is some disagreement regarding his goals (see pp. 117-118 of the book), one far-reaching objective (from the very beginning) was the (re)conquest of the Amur region:

"возвраще­ние России Амурского края стало основной целью дея­тельности Муравьева с самого ее начала."

While by 1849 Russian far East already had some number of cossacks settled there,

Проект Муравьева, осуществленный в 1851 г., вносил кардинальные изменения. Если его предшественники предлагали из­менить количество казаков в пределах одной — двух тысяч, то по предложению Муравьева их штатная чис­ленность была доведена почти до 16 тыс. чел., а после включения в состав казаков нерчинских горнозаводских крестьян к ним прибавилось еще около 30 тыс. Реально к 1857 г. он располагал на границе примерно 23 тыс. чел. Если в 1830—1840-е гг. речь шла о создании бригады, передаче казаков в военное ведомство, то Муравьевым было создано войско, подобно Донскому или Оренбург­скому. Но главное — Забайкальское казачье войско по­ лучило совершенно новое назначение, связанное с пла­нами Муравьева на Амуре.

Muraviov's project, carried out from 1851 onward, introduced dramatic changes. If his predecessors proposed to change the number of Cossacks within one - two thousand, Muraviov's proposal was to increase their numbers to almost 16 thousand people, and after the inclusion of the Nerchinsk mining and refinery peasants in the ranks of Cossacks, about 30 thousand more were added to them. 1857 Muraviev had about 23 thousand cossack troops at his disposal near the border. If earlier (1830-1840s) the question was about creating a cossack brigade, transferring the Cossacks to the military department, then the Muraviov created a cossack army, similar to ones in Don or Orenburg regions. But the main thing is that the Transbaikal Cossack army had a completely new task associated with Muraviov's plans of reconquest of the Amur region.

(It might be more appropriate to call this "conquest" rather "reconquest," but this is a minor grumble.)

Here is how colonists and cossack troops were brought to the region: While most large Siberian rivers flow South-to-North, the Amur river (and its triburary, Shilka river) mostly flows West-to-East, so it can be used for transport.

Pages 169-171:

До заключения в 1858 г. Айгунского трактата было осуществлено четыре сплава по Амуру (сам договор под­ писан во время пятого), основано несколько военных постов по берегу реки, в 1855 г. переселились на Амур первые 50 крестьянских семей из Иркутской губернии и Забайкальской области, в 1857 г. началось переселение туда казаков из Забайкальского войска. Таким образом, колонизация фактически началась до заключения офи­циального договора.

Prior to the conclusion of the Aigun treaty in 1858, Muraviev organized four rafting expeditions along Amur river (the treaty itself was signed during the fifth), several military posts were founded along the river bank, in 1855 the first 50 peasant families from the Irkutsk province and the Trans-Baikal region moved to the Amur. In 1857, the Cossacks from the Trans-Baikal army began to move there. Thus, colonization actually began before the conclusion of a formal treaty.

In other words, Muraviev was creating "facts on the ground," which is why by 1858 he had all these troops along Amur river at his disposal. Simultaneously with cossacks, more than a thousand of regular army troops (including artillery) were carried down the river in as well.

One more name should be mentioned in connection to all this, Admiral Gennady Nevelskoy, responsible the naval exploration of the region (1849—1855). See

Виталий Тренев, Путь к океану, Москва, 1958.


П.И.Кабанов, "Амурский Вопрос," Благовещенск, 1959.

for further details. [Usual caveats apply: Soviet-period sources should be treated with extra care and double/triple checked.]

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    Thank you for this answer! This is incredibly interesting! With regards to the source of supplies that Muraviev would have (likely) used, does it mean he purchased this in the Far East (China/Japan/etc...) and then transported these along the Amur River instead of trying to bring it in from European Russia? – gktscrk Aug 28 '20 at 22:36
  • @gktscrk: I would be very surprised if any supplied were bought in Far East, but I will check the sources. The most important supply was the near-endless capacity of Russian peasants to tolerate the adversity (долготерпение).... – Moishe Kohan Aug 29 '20 at 2:23

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