Main article on their history: History of Cossacks
They constituted ten separate voiskos, settled along the frontiers: Don, Kuban, Terek, Astrakhan, Ural, Orenburg, Siberian, Semiryechensk, Amur, and Ussuri voiskos. The primary unit of this organization was the stanitsa, or village, which holds its land as a commune, and may allow persons who are not Cossacks (excepting Jews) to settle on this land for payment of a certain rent. The assembly of all householders in villages of less than 30 households, and of 30 elected men in villages having from 30 to 300 households (one from each 10 households in the more populous ones), constitutes the village assembly, similar to the mir, but having wider attributes, which assesses the taxes, divides the land, takes measures for the opening and support of schools, village grain-stores, communal cultivation, and so on, and elects its ataman (elder) and its judges, who settle all disputes up to £10 (or above that sum with the consent of both sides).
Military service was obligatory for all men, for 20 years, beginning with the age of 18. The first 3 years are passed in the preliminary division, the next 12 in active service, and the last five years in the reserve. Every Cossack was bound to procure his own uniform, equipment and horse (if mounted) -- the government supplying only the arms. Those on active service are divided into three equal parts according to age, and the first third only is in real service, while the two others stay at home, but are bound to march out as soon as an order is given. The officers were supplied by the military schools, in which all Cossack voiskos have their own vacancies, or are non-commissioned Cossack officers, with officers' grades. In return for this service the Cossacks received from the state considerable grants of land for each voisko separately.
The total Cossack population in 1893 was 2,648,049 (1,331,470 women), and they owned nearly 146,500,000 acres of land, of which 105,000,000 acres were arable and 9,400,000 under forests. This land was divided between the stanitsas, at the rate of 81 acres per each soul, with special grants to officers (personal to some of them, in lieu of pensions), and leaving about one-third of the land as a reserve for the future. The income which the Cossack voiskos receive from the lands which they rent to different persons, also from various sources (trade patents, rents of shops, fisheries, permits of gold-digging, &c.), as also from the subsidies they receive from the government (about £712,500 in 1893), is used to cover all the expenses of state and local administration. They have besides a special reserve capital of about £2,600,000. The expenditure of the village administration is covered by village taxes. The general administration is kept separately for each voisko, and differs with the different voiskos. The central administration, at the Ministry of War, is composed of representatives of each voisko, who discuss the proposals of all new laws affecting the Cossacks. In time of war the ten Cossack voiskos are bound to supply 890 mounted sotnias or squadrons (of 125 men each), 108 infantry sotnias or companies (same number), and 236 guns, representing 4267 officers and 177,100 men, with 170,695 horses. In time of peace they keep 314 squadrons, 54 infantry sotnias, and 20 batteries containing 108 guns (2574 officers, 60,532 men, 50,054 horses). All together, the Cossacks have 328,705 men ready to take arms in case of need. As a rule, popular education amongst the Cossacks stands at a higher level than in the remainder of Russia. They have more schools and a greater proportion of their children go to school. In addition to agriculture, which (with the exception of the Tisuri Cossacks) is sufficient to supply their needs and usually to leave a certain surplus, they carry on extensive cattle and horse breeding, vine culture in Caucasus, fishing on the Don, the Ural, and the Caspian Sea, hunting, bee-culture, &c. The extraction of coal, gold and other minerals which are found on their territories is mostly rented to strangers, who also own most factories.
A military organization similar to that of the Cossacks has been introduced into certain districts, which supply a number of mounted infantry sotnias ("hundreds"). Their peace-footing is as follows: