The Russian Cossack soldier Emelyan Ivanovich Pugachev (1742-1775) led the peasant rebellion in Russia in 1773-1775.
Emelyan Pugachev, a Don Cossack, was born in the village of Zimoveiskaya. The main course of his life was influenced initially by the fact that, as a Don Cossack, he was subject, when of age, to duty in the Russian army. In 1770, during a Russo-Turkish conflict in which he was serving, he was given a temporary leave and, at its expiration, refused to return to his regiment. Arrested, he managed to escape, thus beginning his life as a strong-willed fugitive.
In the course of his subsequent wanderings Pugachev was struck by the bitter unrest he found among the lower classes in Russia. What he saw convinced him that the time was ripe for revolt, and being a rebel by nature and having a bent toward leadership, he took upon himself the task of directing a revolt. As a basis for appeal, he decided to assume the character of Czar Peter III, having observed that many credulous people distrusted the official report that Peter had died in 1762.
With about 80 Cossacks committed to his scheme, in September 1773 Pugachev proclaimed himself Peter III and called on the oppressed to follow him in an uprising against Catherine II (the Great). He began his campaign along the Yaik (now called the Ural) River, gathering followers among disgruntled Cossacks, fugitive serfs, released convicts, religious dissenters, Bashkirs, and Tatars. Although the force he assembled was neither well trained nor well disciplined, it was large enough to defeat local military units sent against it. To widen his campaign, Pugachev undertook the capture of Orenburg (Chkalov), the major center of government strength on the Yaik River, setting up headquarters and laying siege to the city. Meanwhile, news of the revolt prompted bloody uprisings against landlords and government officials along the Volga River and in the region east of it. Thousands left their homes to join the rebel army, and they increased its numbers to about 25, 000.
Late in 1773 Catherine II, judging the revolt dangerous enough to warrant her action, sent a large force to suppress it. Pugachev was compelled to end the siege of Orenburg, but he eluded capture by the government forces. Again he marshaled a sizable following and, in July 1774, was able to resume the offensive and capture the city of Kazan. At the same time, serf uprisings took place near Nizhni Novgorod (Gorki) only 275 miles east of Moscow.
Catherine, now deeply alarmed by the nearness of the revolt, sent new contingents against Pugachev. They succeeded in destroying most of his army, near Tsaritsyn (now Volgograd), but he once again evaded efforts to capture him. Still determined, Pugachev made his way to the Yaik Cossack region, hoping that Yaik and Don Cossacks would provide him with a new army. Instead of being given support, however, he was betrayed. A group of Cossacks opposed to his aims seized him and handed him over to the authorities.
Taken in chains to Moscow, Pugachev was tried and sentenced to death. On Jan. 10, 1775, he was beheaded and quartered before a large Moscow crowd.
The best account, in English, concerning Pugachev is in Philip Longworth, The Cossacks (1970). An excellent analysis by Marc Raeff of the causes of the Pugachev revolt is in Robert Forster and Jack P. Greene, eds., Preconditions of Revolution in Early Modern Europe (1971).