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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3


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The Russian squadron went out from Sebastopol about the middle of November, steering for the Asiatic coast, and so disposed as to intercept any Turkish ship proceeding from. Constantinople to Trebizond or Batoum. On the 20th they captured a Turkish war steamer, and one or more Turkish merchant ships. The news of these captures reached Sinope, where a Turkish squadron lay, and its commander for a moment indulged in the notion that he would go out and fight the Russians. Better counsels, however, prevailed, and he remained in port. On the 23rd the enemy's fleet, seven sail of the line and two steamers, hove in sight ten miles from Sinope; and the next day part of this squadron looked in at the Turks, but did not attack. From the manner of their proceeding, it might be judged that the admiral doubted whether he should attack, and that before doing so, he obtained some order from Prince Menschikoff at Odessa. Such was the case. The British consul at Samsoun, and the Turkish admiral, sent off news of the presence of the hostile squadron to Constantinople, but it did not reach the Porte in time to prevent the calamity which followed. On the 29th Nachimoff had received his orders, and had rallied the whole of his squadron. On the 30th, while the Porte and the Ambassadors were consulting, Admiral Nachimoff sailed into the port of Sinope, and signalled the Ottoman squadron to surrender. The superiority of the Russian force would have justified compliance, but the Turks answered the summons by opening fire. Thereupon the Russian ranged up, and firing shot and shell, not only into the ships but into the town, soon set both on fire. The seven poor Turkish frigates and three corvettes, whose heaviest guns were only twenty- six pounders, were no match for the line-of-battle ships which poured in broadside after broadside of heavy shot and Paixhan shells. Nevertheless, with unsurpassed gallantry, the Turks fought until their ships blew up under them, or burnt to the water's edge. There was no flinching. Every commander was true to his flag, and died rather than strike. But it was not a battle, it was a butchery. The use of Paixhan shells has been condemned by one of our best naval writers, who insists that the Russians ought to have forced the Turks to surrender by using their solid shot guns. When the sun went down there remained nothing of the Turkish fleet in. the bay, but the smoking wrecks, and the torn and mangled limbs of the crews. Nearly 4,000 men had perished! One steamer alone escaped and fled to Constantinople. Having completed the task f devastation, and repaired damages, the Russian fleet sailed back to Sebastopol. Prince Menschikoff, in his despatch to the Emperor, said His Majesty's order had been "brilliantly executed; " and His Majesty exulted over his " victory " without a tinge of shame. He thanked his admirals and sailors " on behalf of the glory and honour of Russia," and, with his wife and children, he was present at a solemn service in the Imperial Chapel, when he "thanked the Lord of lords for the success of the victorious Russian arms, which triumphed in the sacred combat for the orthodox faith."

It would be difficult now to make the reader feel what the people of England felt when, a fortnight after it occurred, they received the news of this disaster. They asked for what purpose fleets had been sent to Constantinople, if not for the purpose of protecting the Turks. They asked why Ministers continued, and had continued, to rely upon the equivocal language of the Czar; and they met with derision the assurance of the Government that, after the Ottoman squadron had been crushed by a force of ten times its strength, the allied fleets had entered the Black Sea. The fact is that the public, in its eagerness to punish Russia, saw more clearly than the Ministers. The prevailing sentiments in London and in the embassies at Constantinople were indignation at the bad faith and violence of Russia, and an almost morbid longing to preserve the peace. It was the latter sentiment, which made Lord Stratford slow to send the fleets into the Black Sea. He and his Government were afraid that some conflict would break the finely spun web of peace negotiations which they thought promised so fairly, and which, f they failed, would at least put the Czar utterly in the wrong. Then the French admiral raised objections and expressed doubts whether his instructions warranted him in running the risk of an encounter; and the British Ambassador would not send British ships alone into the Euxine, fearing it might produce a bad political effect. More than this, supposing the assurance of the Czar that he would not attack applied to the sea as well as the land, the case did not seem urgent; and above all there appears to have been a real ignorance of the fact, that there was an exposed Turkish squadron in the Euxine. And, after all, the fleets would have been ordered out, had not Admiral Hamelin declined to employ his ships on the weak plea that he could dispose of fewer than Admiral Dundas! These considerations only palliate, but do not excuse, the conduct of the allies in refraining from taking at an earlier period a decided course.

When the mischief was done, they did not fail to adopt the most severe measures. The French were the first to move. On the 15th of December M. Drouyn de Lhuys wrote a despatch which reached Lord Clarendon the next day. In this, after showing that Russia had given out that she would take the offensive " m no quarter," and how her action had falsified that assurance, he proposed that Admiral Dundas and Admiral Hamelin should declare to the Russian admirals, that every Russian ship met at sea by the allies should thenceforward be invited to return to Sebastopol, and that every subsequent act of aggression should be repelled by force. Lord Cowley was desired by the Emperor personally to urge this measure on the Government, and convey to them a sense of his great disappointment if the suggestion were not adopted. On the same day, and before he received Lord Cowley's letter, Lord Clarendon wrote to Lord Stratford, informing him that the most effectual means should be taken to guard against a disaster similar to that of Sinope. He had no doubt, he said, that the combined fleets had entered the Black Sea. " Special instructions," he wrote, " as to the manner in which they should act do not appear to be necessary. We have undertaken to defend the territory of the Sultan from aggression, and that engagement must be fulfilled." Such was the first intention of the Queen's Government. It was written before the despatches of M. Drouyn de Lhuys and Lord Cowley had been considered. It did not come up to the mark of French exigencies. It shows the hesitation of the Cabinet. But between the 17th and the 24th the whole subject had been re-considered under very peculiar circumstances. Lord Palmerston had tendered his resignation, and his tender of resignation coincided with the arrival of the news of the calamity at Sinope. Why did he resign? It has been vehemently asserted, and denied, that he resigned because the policy of the Cabinet in the East was not bold enough to suit his view of the exigency. It has been asserted, and denied, that his sole ground for tendering his resignation was a difference with his colleagues on the question of Parliamentary reform. Now both may be true. The sufficing reason may have been a weak and dilatory Eastern policy; the pretext may have been a disinclmation to debate a reform of Parliament on the eve of war. Certain it is that his period of partial eclipse - for he never gave up the seals - was the interval between the coming of the Sinope news and the adoption of the French suggestion. On the 24th of December Lord Palmerston withdrew his resignation. On the 24th of December Lord Clarendon informed Lord Cowley, that Her Majesty's Government agreed to the French proposal - namely, that besides providing ample naval protection for the coasts of Turkey, the fleets should secure the Ottoman flag immunity in the Black Sea, by "requiring" every Russian ship to run for a Russian port. It was not until the 27th that he sent the formal instructions to Lord Stratford, directing him to inform the Russian admiral of the determination arrived at by France and England. It was not until the same day that Lord Clarendon instructed Sir Hamilton Seymour to make known to Count Nesselrode the nature of the orders sent to the East, orders issued with "no hostile design against Russia," but rendered imperative by Russian acts. Russia was not to mistake forbearance for indifference, nor calculate on any want of firmness in the execution of a policy having for its object the maintenance of the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire.

Was it judicious at a moment when the last attempt to obtain peace by negotiation was making progress, to send the fleet into the Black Sea, and to send it with such orders? Long before the point was mooted in the West, Lord Stratford had felt that preponderating reasons called for the presence of the ships in that quarter, but he does not even hint at the proposed restriction upon Russian navigation. He merely wished to protect the Sultan's territory, and to keep the Sultan's fleet in the Bosphorus out of harm's way. When, therefore, the French envoy received on the 24th positive orders from his Government to send out the ships, he was quite prepared to co-operate, and had been for weeks empowered to do so; but not to sweep the Russian flag from the Euxine. Lord Stratford, Lord Clarendon, even Count Buol, were prepared to see the neutrality of that sea established, and the Russian ships forced to cruise on or between the Russian coasts. The reluctance of the British Government to adopt the more menacing course has been made evident. They were a week making up their minds. Count Buol was quite shocked when he heard of it; and it may be doubted whether Lord Stratford approved. Even Count Nesselrode showed little indignation when he was told that the fleets would enter the Euxine; and he simply remarked that the Russian fleet, in consequence of the advanced season, would not be likely to quit Sebastopol. But when he was duly informed that Russian ships would be " constrained " to remain in port, he took a very different view. When Sir Hamilton Seymour told him that although the Governments of the West had taken this course, they were not less intent on effecting a peaceful settlement, and that measures would be taken to prevent Turkish ships of war from making descents on the coast of Russia, Count Nesselrode asked, with ill-concealed irony, "Are you sure that this intention is expressed in your instructions? " This question shows what was working in the mind of the Czar. It was most unfortunate, said the Russian Chancellor, still affecting the same tone to which perhaps his indisposition imparted more asperity, "that Her Majesty's Government should have decided upon taking measures of so decided a character at the precise moment when strenuous efforts were being made at Vienna for coming to a peaceful arrangement." " That," rejoined Sir Hamilton, " is exactly the opinion of the Queen's Government." That night the Czar called together his Ministers, and the decision taken was of the most momentous kind. Ten days before the combined fleet had entered the Black Sea, and Captain Drummond had steamed into Sebastopol, and delivered to the port commandant a notification excluding the Russian ships from the waters of the Black Sea.

Now, it may be said that this course was injudicious. The Porte had agreed to terms of peace; the Conference had signed those terms; they were about to be sent by a special minister to St. Petersburg. How could the Western Powers hope that these terms would be accepted at a time when they had almost made war upon Russia? The fact is that they were in possession of ample evidence showing that Russia would not accept these terms. The Czar was offended because the Allies treated Turkey with deference. He was indignant because it was proposed that a Turk should sit in a European council. He was resolved not to recede from his original demand of a protectorate. Whether the fleet remained at Beikos, or whether it entered the Black Sea; whether the Russian flag was free to float over its waters, or forced into Russian ports, the Czar would have rejected the terms agreed to at Constantinople. He and the Western Powers were moving in opposing lines, and a collision was inevitable, unless one gave way. Under these circumstances, and considering the intractable and unfaithful character of the Czar, bold measures were best, and bold measures should have been taken earlier. Lord Palmerston, if he counselled acquiescence in the French demand, counselled wisely, and as the instinct of the English people would have led them to counsel. The only political result obtained by sweeping the Russians into their ports, was that the Czar was forced to declare himself two or three months earlier than he would have done.

Another incident occurred to quicken his determination. Irritated by the presence of the Turks at Kalafat, where they obstructed Russian access to Servia, Prince Gortschakoff had pushed a force from Krajova to Zetati, a village whence the Russians threatened the entrenched camp. This. village was near the Danube, above Kalafat, and its occupation was intended to serve a double purpose - that of serving as a point whence a flank attack could be made on the lines, and whence communication could be kept up with Servia, where Russian troops were expected in the spring. To frustrate both objects, Omer Pasha directed Ismail Pasha - a Pole in the Ottoman service - to dislodge the Russians. This he accomplished on the 6th of January. Marching out with a strong force, Ismail Pasha carried the village and the redoubt erected near it by storm. the Turkish soldiers behaved with remarkable intrepidity and coolness, and when assailed by a Russian reinforcement coming from Krajova, they steadily changed front, and, fighting in line, defeated the huge Russian columns, and compelled them to retreat with heavy loss. The Turks lost 1.200 men, and their foes 2,000. The fruit of this battle was the possession of Lesser Wallachia. The Russians retired behind the river Aluta, and the Turks returned to Kalafat. This fresh victory raised the spirits of the Turks, and mortified the Czar. In Europe his troops had been worsted in every combat. At sea he boasted of the reeking laurels of Sinope. In Asia, it is true, his generals had read the incompetent Turkish pashas on the Armenian frontier severe lessons, and had forced them into Kars. But even these successes did not heal the wounds inflicted on his pride by Ismail and Omer, and by the Allies, who in time of peace had warned his fleets to quit a sea he had called his own. He gave orders to raise the whole of his army to a war footing.

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