Joined the army in 1903. Served in a Don Cossack regiment (not Cossack by birth) in the Russo-Japanese war, 1904-1905. During WW1, became known for his bravery as a Cossack NCO (4 St George’s Crosses, the highest military award for valour).
In 1917 became a revolutionary activist, and a member of the Bolshevik Party, 1918. Organized a Red Cavalry detachment, later a division fighting against the Whites at Tsaritsyn and Voronezh. Became famous as 1st Cavalry Army Commander during the Civil War, with Voroshilov as his political commissar.
A good horseman, poorly educated, and with his enormous moustaches, he became a folklore figure. Inspector of the Cavalry of the Red Army, 1924-1937. A willing tool of Stalin during the purges of the Red Army just before World War II. During World War II, proved himself quickly to be completely incapable of understanding modern warfare, and removed from the front to administrative posts at HQ. Commander of the Soviet Cavalry, 1943 and Deputy Minister of Agriculture in charge of horse-breeding.
Member of the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, 1939-1952.