A BRIDGE MADE OUT OF SHIPS
More than 200 years ago, during the French occupation, The Tartar Bashkirs regiment built a shipbridge over the river IJssel, near Wijhe, to chase the French army and in doing so, liberate Holland from the rule of Napoleon.
After the failed campaign against Russia and the burning of Moscow, Napoleon had his Grand Army turned around. The strongly decimated and exhausted French army was constantly chased by Russian and Allied troops during their long and bitter retreat.
At the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, Napoleon’s army was driven west by a joint army of Prussian, Swedish, Austrian English and Russian troops.
After the Battle of Leipzig, Russian troops, including many Cossacks, were determined to end up in Paris via Germany and Holland to defeat the French ruler.
The river IJssel formed a natural barrier to the advance of the Cossacks. The army commander of the Cossacks / Bashkirs, the German-Russian general Alexander von Benckendorff, ordered the construction of a ship bridge over the IJssel. At a narrow point in the river, this ship bridge was built of more than twenty ships, lying side by side, where the Cossacks could march over with their horses to the other side of the river.
To prevent them from slipping away, branches were laid between the ships. The mayor was put under pressure to confiscate the (deck) ships.
The group of only 300 Cossacks crossed the river in November 1813 and continued their way via Harderwijk to Amsterdam. There, the Bashkirs were among the first to reach the city gates of the capital and expel the French.
A few days later, under the supervision of Von Benckendorff, the future king Willen I was appointed as prince in the Royal Palace. This laid the foundation for our current Orange monarchy.
The French were then driven further south from Amsterdam and the Netherlands were liberated.
What’s in a name?
Veessen, The Gelderland village where the shipbridge over the river IJssel came out, calls itself the Kozakkendorp, the bicycle ferry is called the Cossack ferry and the place where the bridge reached the west side is still popularly called the Coassack Crib.
In honor of this liberation, two statues were presented at Veessen: one of a statue of a Basjkir on horseback and one of the German General Von Benckendorff.
Both works of art are made by the Russian sculpter Alexander Taratynov.
This project, consisting of two images- one in Veessen and one in Wijhe- is made possible in part by tje municipalities of Heerde and Olst-Wijhe, as well as the Prinse Bernard Cultuurfonds as wel as various local organzations, including Museum Wijhe, the Heerder Historical Society, Wij zijn Heerde, Gastvrij Heerde, Stichting Kozakkenveer and others. We are grateful for the support of the Russian Embassy in The Hague and the autonomous Republic of Basjkirostan.