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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

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The Turks had not wasted the summer and autumn. The violent demeanour and abrupt departure of Prince Menschikoff, the occupation of the Principalities, the manifestoes of Nicholas, distinctly appealing to the religious feeling of his obedient people, had alarmed and aroused the Turks. Although they had some not unwarranted confidence in the "Western Powers, although they were comforted by the movement of the allied fleets, and the efforts in their behalf of the diplomatists, yet as the danger was near, as their honour and existence as a nation were at stake, they strove to collect as large an armed force as the empire could be made to supply. Nor did the Sultan appeal in vain to his people. There was no want of that patriotic fire which had sustained the Sultan in the last war with Russia. On the contrary, men came readily from far and near to do battle, the rich gave horses and raised troops, and there were many gatherings of wild horsemen in the interior of Asia Minor, and of brave and docile foot soldiers in European Turkey; Egypt also sent a goodly number of her trained soldiers. By the autumn, Omer Pasha, the Moslem commander-in-chief, had arrayed above 100,000 men on the Bulgarian bank of the Danube; and with these, resting on the river fortresses, having behind him the entrenched camp of Shumla, and behind that the ridge of the Balkan, being strong in artillery, though weak in horse, he faced the scattered forces of Russia in the Principalities.

The Emperor of Russia always prided himself on his military force. He maintained a vast and well-ordered army, complete in every point, and deficient in no arm. When he resolved to occupy the Principalities, he had in his hands at least 500,000 men, and 1,000 guns ready for service, and these were only the nucleus of a force capable of great development, both in guns and men. The regular troops could be speedily raised to 700,000, and the guns to 1,400. There were besides local reserves, raising the total to above a million. But the empire of Russia is so vast that only 290,000 men and 800 guns could be marched to a great distance and kept effective. In July, 1853, the Czar, thinking, perhaps, that Europe would acquiesce in his seizure of the Principalities, or negotiate until they had negotiated him out on his own terms, did not send so immense a force over the Pruth, nor did he, until a later period, take measures for war. He ordered the 4th corps, under General Dannenberg, which had long been hovering on the frontier, to take military possession of the Principalities; and he sent Prince Gortschakoff to command in chief, but with instructions not to cross the Danube. That was to be the line of demarcation. All attacks were to be repelled, but no aggressive movement was to be undertaken. Dannenberg's corps mustered from 60,000 to 70,000 men, and it was spread about in detachments, from the confluence of the Danube and the Pruth to Lesser Wallachia. In support of this intrusive force were the 3rd corps, under Osten-Sacken, in the Ukraine, and the 5th, under Lüders, in Bessarabia. These two corps were each about 60,000 men strong, but the latter was not quite complete. The other Russian corps were in Poland, Lithuania, Moscow, the Caucasus, and Georgia. Thus, it will be seen, the Czar thought 60,000 men in possession sufficient to secure his material guarantee, and as Turkey was a " sick man," and as he did not wish to alarm Europe, he left their supports at such a distance that they could only reach the field of action in the winter time after performing long and destructive marches. In fact, the Czar fully counted on either gaining his point or passing the winter in negotiations, which would have given him full time to concentrate his troops, form his depots, and pass from the defensive to the offensive in the spring. He never contemplated any attack from the Turks which he could not easily repel, and was far from anticipating the reverses which came upon him.

When he agreed to act only on the defensive, he overlooked the peculiarities of the position Prince Gortschakoff had been directed to assume. The Danube rises in Styria, and flows into the Black Sea. After receiving the streams of Hungary and Croatia, it breaks through the Carpathians, near the frontiers of the Austrian and Turkish empires, and flowing in an easterly direction, between Bulgaria and Wallachia, for upwards of three hundred miles, it bends suddenly to the north for nearly a hundred more, and by a fresh turn to the east rushes into the Black Sea by several mouths. From the point where it turns towards the north as far as the Pruth, it separates Wallachia from a rough, mountainous strip of land, called the Dobrudscha, and from the mouth of the Pruth to the Black Sea it divides the Dobrudscha from the swampy shores of Bessarabia. Now, before the war of 1828-9, the Turks had forts and garrisons on both banks at all the points where troops could pass from Ibraila to Widin; below Ibraila, the Russians held one bank and the Turks the other. By that war Turkey lost every stronghold on the left bank, but she regained possession of the forts taken from her on the right bank. In 1853, therefore, the Russians, having crossed the Pruth, found no enemy before them until they reached the banks of the Danube. Prince Gortschakoff, executing his master's instructions, took military possession of both Principalities, absorbed in his hands the civil power, detained the Sultan's tribute, and acted more like a proprietor than a mere occupier. But to do this he was forced to divide General Dannenberg's corps of 60,000 men into small detachments, so that he was in great force at no one point, The right of his army was opposite Widin,, the centre opposite Silistria, and the left near the mouth of the Pruth. Now, this was all very well so long as the Porte refrained from, war. But when the Porte declared war, Omer Pasha was able to show the Russians that they were far from safe. He held the line of the Danube from the mouth to Widin, and his troops found support in the fortified places of Isaatcha, Hirsova, Matchin, Silistria, Rustchuk, Nicopoli, and Widin. He knew that the Czar had promised not to pass the Danube; he knew that the German Powers were vehemently opposed to the passage of that river; and he knew besides that the Czar had not force sufficient in the Principalities to attempt it. He was, therefore, at liberty to exercise his army in actual warfare with comparatively little risk to himself. He could keep troops in the Dobrudscha, certain that they would not be cut off. He could concentrate on his left or centre, as he pleased, and threaten the flanks or the centre of the enemy. He was not the man to miss opportunities of gaining successes, and thus of improving the moral position of the Porte.

Accordingly, as soon as the fifteen days of grace accorded by the Porte to Prince Gortschakoff had expired, and while Lord Stratford was urging the Sultan to defer hostilities, Omer Pasha began the war. Drawing together large forces at points so widely separated as Widin and Turtukai, a place between Rustchuk and Silistria, he resolved to pass the Danube in two columns, with the apparent design of marching on Bucharest, where Prince Gortschakoff had his head-quarters. On the 28th of October the Turks threw a large body of men over the Danube at Widin, and occupied Kalafat, which they at once entrenched and armed with heavy guns. This secured him a passage over the river on the flank of Prince Gortschakoff's line of occupation, and it diverted attention for a moment from operations at Turtukai. It was here that the Turks obtained their first success in the campaign, and startled Europe and enraged the Czar by beating his troops at Oltenitza.

The point chosen by Omer Pasha was admirably fitted for his purpose. The right bank of the Danube at Turtukai is much higher than the left, and the Turkish commander took care to erect a strong earthwork there, and arm it with heavy guns. Between Turtukai and the opposite shore lay an island in the Danube, furnishing a post to cover the construction of a bridge. This Omer Pasha determined to seize. On the night of the 1st of November he threw into it a body of troops, who at once constructed strong defences, and armed them with cannon. The next day he reinforced his advance, and from Turtukai opened fire on the handful of Russians who held a quarantine house on the opposite shore. The Russians winced under the cannonade, and retired, and the Turks, having boats in readiness, immediately crossed the river and seized the building. Without loss of time, Omer Pasha sent over the gabions he had prepared in anticipation of success, and in a brief space the quarantine building was covered by a line of works, and armed with heavy guns brought from Shumla. Thus a bridge and a bridge-head were rapidly and effectively constructed before Prince Gortschakoff could offer any resistance; but Omer Pasha, foreseeing that he would be assailed, sent over further reinforcements, including a body of horse. In the meantime, the Russian general collected a force he deemed sufficient, and moved upon Oltenitza, a village lying on the river Argish, in front of the Turkish lines. The advanced guard of this force reached Oltenitza on the 3rd, but did not attack. During the night the whole force assembled under General Pauloff. It consisted of about 12,000 men, with thirty-two guns, including a strong body of horse. They made light of the Turks, and on the 4th attacked the entrenchments in three columns. But they were İver-matched. Their attempts to force the centre were frustrated by the deadly fire of the Turkish infantry. Nevertheless, the Russian soldiery sturdily advanced up to the very brink of the ditch, and there fell smitten down by the hail of shot. Their flanking columns withered under the fire of the guns of the Turtukai batteries. Such of the daring enemy as strove to climb the works were thrust back with the bayonet; and after sustaining this contest for several hours, the Russians fell back sullenly behind Oltenitza, on the road to Bucharest. The Turks thus gained a very considerable success, at small cost to themselves, and at great cost to their opponents; for not only was the Russian army fewer by some 2,000 men, but they had lost what was of more moment - prestige. Omer Pasha had contrived to convince his soldiers that the Russians were not invincible: an immense gain to him. The Turkish victory at Oltenitza resounded through Europe. If the man were sick unto death, clearly he would die hard. In itself, Oltenitza was a mere skirmish; but in relation to the then state of affairs, it was a great event. There stood Omer Pasha, on the left bank of the Danube, putting in his armed protest against the seizure of the Sultai/s dominions, and bearding Prince Gortschakoff in the face of Europe. The Turks were filled with joy; while the Czar hid his chagrin under an aspect of indifference. What had happened down there, he said, was of no importance. He should not change his defensive attitude. But Count Nessebode let it be seen what the Czar really felt, for he said that the Emperor could agree to no composition until the superiority of his army was placed beyond a doubt.

During eleven days Omer Pasha held his ground. Diplomacy forbade him to advance, and perhaps it was as well for him that it did. Prince Gortschakoff came down with the largest force he could collect; but he did not venture to make an attack on the strong Turkish lines. Rain, however, came down, and the Danube, and the island, and low left bank became flooded and unhealthy; and Omer Pasha, without being molested, withdrew his guns and his troops to Turtukai. At the same time a small force which had crossed from Silistria re-passed the river; but Omer Pasha knew too well the value of his entrenched camp at Kalafat to give up that also. On the contrary, he reinforced the garrison, and left that thorn sticking in the side of the Czar. He also held several islands in the Danube, and jealously watched the enemy from the Dobrudscha; but his main army he put into winter quarters. Both sides were suffering from the sickness incident to all campaigns, and more especially to winter campaigns, and it is probable that at this time fully one-tenth of the troops on each side were non-effective. The effect of the operations of the Turks on the Czar was immediate. He ordered the troops of Osten-Sacken and Lüders to march towards the Principalities; but their divisions did not arrive until the end of December.

Nor was his activity confined to the valley of the Danube. He determined to show his strength in the Black Sea. While the allied fleets were toiling up the straits, delayed by contrary winds, the ships of the Czar were used as transports to carry soldiers to the coasts of Circassia, Mingrelia, and Iineritia. The Turks had been active on the Armenian frontier, and had greatly harassed the Russian outposts, but without obtaining any marked success. Schamyl was also spurred forward by the calamities which had befallen his old foe; and hence it was resolved to increase the army in the Caucasus and in the Transcaucasian countries to 180,000 men. The Czar seems to have believed that the Turks were reinforcing their posts on the shores of Anatolia, and sending arms and ammunition to the Circassian tribes. This he resolved to prevent. He was anxious, also, to strike some blow at sea which would hurt the Turks; and thus in November the Sebastopol fleet went forth to scour the Euxine. The Turks were indeed imprudently eager to employ their fleet. Before the allied squadrons had entered the Bosphorus, the Turkish Ministers ordered four line-of-battle ships and ten frigates to enter the Black Sea. Lord Stratford becoming aware of this, set about preventing it, and he caused the Porte to be informed that until the enterprise was abandoned, he would not order up the remainder of the allied squadron. He would not, he said, be drawn into the wake of the Porte; and he caused Reschid Pasha to be told that, if he wanted the support of the Allies, he must be content to respect their opinions. He prevailed. At this time the allied fleets were really under the absolute control of the two Ambassadors; but the French admiral was in some doubt whether he was bound to obey General Baraguay d'Hilliers, the French envoy. For this reason the fleets did not quit their anchorage in the Bosphorus. This was unfortunate, as Russian men-of-war were known to be cruising in the Euxine, and the orders of the allied Governments were distinct that Turkish territory " anywhere " was to be defended. The only anxiety of Lord Stratford was to prevent the Turkish ships from exposing themselves to capture in the Euxine. The Turkish Ministers appeared to comply with his earnest request, but in reality they left a light squadron between the Bosphorus and Trebizond, and hence it happened that, while the allied fleets were in Beikos Bay, ready at any moment to move into the Black Sea, the Russians were able to fall upon the Turks at Sinope.

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

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