The animating spirit of their resistance was Shamyl (Samuel), a chief and priest of the Lesghians, who, a Mahommedan, proclaimed a "holy war" against the "infidel" aggressors.
Meanwhile Shamyl had roused the Lesghian tribes farther east and begun his twenty years' struggle for freedom, a struggle which called forth the sympathy and admiration of nearly the whole of Europe.
The highlands of Daghestan were for many years the stronghold of the Circassians in their struggle against Russia, especially under the leadership of Shamyl, whose last stand was made on the steep mountain fastness of Gunib, 74 m.
From 1848 to 1856 he took a leading part in all the chief imlitary events in the Caucasus, his most notable exploits being his victory at Mezeninsk in 1850 and his operations against Shamyl at Chechen.
Within three years of his appointment, the whole of the eastern Caucasus was subdued and the long elusive Shamyl was taken captive.