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Mikhail Skobelev: Russo-Turkish War’s “White General”

Military History

Mikhail Skobelev: Russo-Turkish War’s “White General”

Nicknamed “The White General,” Mikhail Skobelev was a formidable threat to the Turkish defenders of Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War.

Nicknamed “The White General,” Mikhail Skobelev was a formidable threat to the Turkish defenders of Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War.

by Victor Kamenir

No other Russian commander presented greater danger to the Turkish defenders of Plevna during the Russo-Turkish War than General Mikhail Skobelev. The image of him—sword bared, white uniform spattered with mud—leading his men into a maelstrom of lead became firmly imprinted on the minds of his countrymen.

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Born in 1843, young Mikhail followed family tradition and entered the military. He spent most of his career in the Asian provinces of the expanding Russian Empire. His roles varied, once being on the staff of the Grand Duke Michael and once given independent command of an advance guard during an 1875 campaign in Turkistan. One of his heroic feats was scouting alone in a hostile countryside, dressed as a Turkoman. For his accomplishments, Mikhail Skobelev was eventually promoted to major general and appointed the first governor of Fergana, a newly conquered province. As governor, he abolished slavery there.

Always in the Thick of the Fight

During the war of 1877, Skobelev fought bravely and capably before and after the siege of Plevna. He earned his nickname, “The White General,” for his habit of dressing in a white uniform before battle. Thus outfitted and mounted on a white charger, Skobelev was always in the thick of a fight. According to his own words, he dressed in white so that his men could always see him and know that he shared their dangers.

Uniformed in drab-green, the common Russian soldiers respected and adored him and followed Skobelev into all dangers. After the war, Skobelev was transferred back to Turkistan where he saw more action. Being an outspoken follower of militant Pan-Slavism, he eventually fell out of favor and was shuffled to secondary assignments. He died suddenly of a heart attack on July 7, 1882 at age 39, four and a half years after the end of the Russo-Turkish War.

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