OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


Publicity of the Invasion - How the Czar regarded it - Spirit of England - Difficulties and Delays - Depressed Condition of the Troops - Attitude of the Generals - Immense Naval Arrangements - The Embarkation - The French Marshal sails alone - Start of the British - The Flotilla at Sea - Doubts of the French - Firmness of Lord Raglan- Naval Reconnaissance to the Crimea - Point of Debarkation selected- Convoy at the Rendezvous - Wonderful Spectacle it presented - Sails for the Landing Place - Capture of Eupatoria - Arrival at Old Fort and Kamishli - The Mystery of the "Buoy" - The French first Ashore - The Landing - Adventure of Sir George Brown - Taking up Position- Change of Weather - Cholera - Difficulties of getting Land Transport - Preparations for the March - Composition of the Armies - The March - Order of March - Arrival on the BulganÔk - The First Skirmish - The Bivouac on the 19th.
Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5

Not the least remarkable characteristic of the expedition to the Crimea was the publicity which attended it from the beginning to the end. Probably no parallel case can be found in the whole annals of war. The nearest approach to it is the invasion of England projected by Napoleon I. Only the faintest attempts were made to conceal the real object. There were vague rumours about a landing at Odessa. There was St. Arnaud's abortive effort to reach a retreating foe already beyond the marshes of the Dobrudscha. What were these compared to discussions in Parliament, and articles and announcements without end in the journals of Western Europe? Yet it must be owned, the Russians acted as if they believed all this public clamour was a feint; and when the allies descended on the shores of the Crimea, the operation partook of the nature of a surprise. For nearly two months the series of immense preparations at Varna continued - preparations clearly pointing to a siege; yet what was there within reach to be besieged except Sebastopol? Russia had her spies in England, in Paris, in the allied camps. It was the Greeks who fired the town of Varna. These spies could read in the journals the true character of the preparations. Nay, they could see them in the camps; for the soldiers were busily engaged in making gabions and fascines - that is, huge baskets of wicker-work to be filled with earth, and immense fagots wherewith to form parapets and batteries. Moreover, there was the assembling of transports of every tonnage, from the magnificent steamers of England to the miserable little brigs used by the French. They came by hundreds into Varna Bay, and their smoke blackened the sky. Nor could it have been unknown to the Russians that the French had brought boats peculiarly adapted for the purposes of debarkation; and the English were at Constantinople, moving heaven and earth, and Turk and Greek, to provide themselves with similar equipment. All these things were as patent as the concentration of the two armies at Varna, the entry of the Austrians into the Principalities, the frequent naval reconnaissances on the coast of the Crimea, and the paragraphs in the Times. When the siege of Silistria was raised, there could no longer be any doubt of the object of the allied preparations at Varna. Nevertheless, the Czar was either unable or unwilling to reinforce the army he had in the Crimea. He may have been unable, because the distance to be traversed by land was so vast. He may have been unwilling, because, although sure of Prussian apathy, he could not be sure of Austria, now a neutral and something more - an armed neutral in possession of the material guarantee. He may also have been incredulous, thinking, in his arrogant way, that England and France would not dare to tempt fortune by throwing their armies headlong into the Crimea.

But this they had resolved to do. The British nation in particular had set its heart upon the capture of Sebastopol, and shutting its eyes to the obstacles in the way, insisted on being obeyed at all costs. It was a generation almost wholly ignorant of war, or it might have hesitated, seeing that the army it was about to commit upon this venture was the sole disposable army it possessed, and that if there were delays, disasters, or even only sanguinary victories, and the ordinary penalties exacted by disease - in short, that if there were not a brief and decisive campaign - the available resources of England in fighting material would soon be exhausted. The nation thought of nothing but the end, and held its executive responsible for finding the means, even although the military policy of the country for five-and- thirty years had been based on principles which rendered it impossible that those means should be forthcoming. A nation fighting at its own door, in defence of its own hearth, may improvise defensive forces, although even this is not done oftener than once in a century; but a nation which is called upon to wage war 3,000 miles from home, and accepts the challenge, cannot evoke the necessary means by passing resolutions for the vigorous prosecution of the war, nor by voting any sums demanded by its Government, nor by writing and reading "eloquent " articles and fierce speeches, and bitterly indignant letters from the seat of war. In 1854 there were few who thought of these things, and those few looked with no placid or hopeful gaze upon the expedition to the Crimea. Yet they knew the tenacity of the British character, and were certain of ultimate success; but they had a clear foresight of the cost, and saw how great the sacrifices must be, how heavy the coming demand on the national firmness and the national patience. On the other hand, the many looked to a sunny sail over the Black Sea, a landing, a battle, a march, and at the close a triumphant rush, which would plant the flags of the allies over the mighty forts of Sebastopol, and the powerful navies of the Czar.

And this popular view embodied the real plan of the expedition. The allied generals were to embark 60,000 or 70,000 men, sail to the coast of the Crimea, land, de- ' feat the army of occupation, dash at once into the works defending Sebastopol, destroy the place and the fleet, and return to pass the winter on the shores of the Bosphorus. No preparations had been made for any other issue. No precautions had been taken to guard against the consequences of failure. No provision had been made to meet the consequences of frustration. We shall see how nearly the popular view was realised, how and why it failed; we shall see the British nation raging under the pains of disappointment, and we shall see how it wrought to make good deficiencies, how it rebounded under reverses; but we shall not see that it ever flinched or fell off from the execution of its resolute will.

The difficulty in all combined operations is to secure concert. Here were two armies, two fleets, two commanders-in-chief. Was it likely that they would be able to make their arrangements fit in so exactly as to be able to put to sea at the same time? It was barely possible. Yet this had to be done. At the outset the French, although they intended to leave their cavalry behind, found themselves deficient in shipping. Marshal St. Arnaud gave out that he would be ready by the 5th of August; then the 15th; then later. But he had not foreseen the deficiency in his transport; he could not foresee that cholera would so weaken his army. Next, the same scourge appeared in the fleet. Some of the largest line-of-battle ships lost above a hundred men in a few days. When the British were ready to go on board, the ships were not ready to receive them. Lord Raglan kept his word. He was ready to embark on the 14th; but then the French were not ready, and to cholera broke out in the ships. Moreover, doubts respecting the feasibility of the expedition sprung up. There were many in the French camp who regarded it as certain to fail. Nor were these gloomy prophets wanting in the British camp. But while the desponding voices had weight with Marshal St. Arnaud, Lord Raglan was not accessible to similar influences. He had undertaken a great task, and on the execution of that task he staked everything. In Sir Edmund Lyons he found an energetic and unflagging seconder; and what Sir Edmund did for the English commander, Admiral Bruat did for the French marshal. Naturally vain and impulsive, though brilliant, and clever, and daring, it is possible that the agonies of disease - and he suffered greatly - weakened the intellect and obscured the vision of St. Arnaud. He was a prey to fever, and indigestion, and sleeplessness; and every one who reads his singular correspondence will wonder how a man so afflicted in body and so restless in mind could have done the work he did, but no one will wonder at the ease with which he was shaken in his purposes, nor at his final yielding to a cooler brain and a less infirm will.

The month of August was passing, and still the divisions were on shore. The English had come down from the interior enfeebled in body and chastened in spirit, some of them too weak to bear their packs. Fever was still in the ranks, and cholera still claimed its victims; but officers and men were longing for action - for change. The French had returned from that fatal march which had deprived them of 10,000 bayonets, and they, too, were depressed by that strife with sickness and death which are less endurable than toil and wounds. But the French, not less than the British, were eager to close with an enemy, and dispel, amid the exciting scenes of actual war, the dismal recollections of the terrible diseases and not less terrible ennui which had beset their sojourn in Bulgaria. At the beginning of the last week of August all the arrangements were complete. The mighty flotillas were anchored at Varna and Baljik. On the 25th the French marshal issued an order of the day, openly pointing to the Crimea as the destination of the army; while Lord Raglan contented himself with a significant but unostentatious order to Mr. Commissary Filder. On the 24th of August the allies began to ship their cannon and more cumbrous material; then part of the French infantry marched to Baljik, there to embark. They were so straitened for transport, that they had to leave their cavalry behind, to reduce the number of horses per gun from six to four, and to limit to the smallest possible number the horses and matÚriel of the scientific corps. Nor were they able even to furnish sufficient steam power to take all their sailing vessels in tow. Lastly, in order to provide enough transport for mere cannon and infantry, they were obliged to make use of their men-of-war. In like manner, a Turkish division attached to the French were put on board their line-of-battle ships, frigates, and steamers.

Lord Raglan could command very ample transport - the finest clipper steamers of our commercial marine; and where these fell short, he had vessels of smaller tonnage, but still leviathans compared with some of the brigs and sloops brought by the French into the Black Sea; so that he could embark the whole of his infantry and artillery, and half his cavalry, without sending a man on board a ship of the line. Thus, while the French and Turkish war-fleet were crowded with soldiers, the British ships of war, with two exceptions, were free to serve as a guard to the whole convoy. For ten days Varna Bay was literally covered with shipping. The great ships lay off the shore, and the men, horses, guns, ammunition, baggage, provisions, and stores were put on board by means of vast numbers of boats. Both generals exercised their men in embarkation and debarkation. The French had devised a kind of boat which would enable them to put on shore a gun complete in all its equipments and ready for action, and we, at the last moment, adopted a similar plan. The truth is, that the operation to be carried out was so novel and so perilous, that every precaution was required to guard against failure. At length all was in readiness, the actual work of embarkation began, and the British were so skilful that not a man was lost. Lord Raglan was able to put on board his fleet of transports 25,400 infantry, 3,100 artillerymen and sappers, with sixty guns, and 1,200 cavalry. To carry these he had twenty- nine merchant steamers of the largest class, and fifty- one transports; to aid the debarkation he had seven powerful tugs. To protect the whole allied fleet on the voyage he could dispose of twenty-five men-of-war, under Admiral Dundas. The whole operation was completed on the 5th of September.

The French, having only infantry and guns to embark, were able to get their men and matÚriel on board more quickly. Between the 1st and 3rd of September they had embarked in 170 vessels, of all sorts and sizes, about 28,000 men and 72 guns. During the same period, 7,000 Turks, under Selim Pasha, were placed in the Turkish war-fleet, consisting of nine ships. Thus the whole force consisted of 64,700 men and 132 guns, conveyed in a fleet of nearly 300 vessels. Marshal St. Arnaud sailed in the Ville de Paris, and Lord Raglan in the Caradoc.

The French fleet had assembled at Baljik, and was ready to depart on the 4th. Marshal St. Arnaud, still suffering from a painful disease, was in one of his confident moods, and eager to be gone. "Those English" were keeping him waiting. There had been fine weather for six days of the new moon. Old Marshal Bugeaud used to say that when six fine days passed in succession, the weather would be fair until the end of the moon. Marshal St. Arnaud had faith in his old master; and he fretted because " les Anglais " could not embark a multitude of horses in the same time as he could embark 28,000 men. All day on the 4th he lay off Baljik wearing out his impatience. The English did not come. He would not wait; so, on the morning of the 5th, acting apparently upon some suggestion from Admiral Dundas, some hint that he would follow shortly, succeeded by a distinct statement that he was not quite ready, Marshal St. Arnaud thought fit to go off alone with his sailing ships, and steer for the Isle of Serpents, the rendezvous. It was a very singular and hazardous proceeding, for the Russians had still a strong fleet in Sebastopol, and the French men-of-war, encumbered with troops, must have fared badly had they been assailed. But the most curious part of the story is this: a French historian of the campaign insinuates that Admiral Dundas would not put to sea, because he was afraid of a wind which a French marshal was ready to face! So that on the 5th, 6th, and 7th there was a singular dislocation of the armada. The fighting ships, the British and part of the French convoy, were lying under the white cliffs of Baljik, while a French marshal and a sailing fleet were between Sebastopol and the mouths of the Danube.

The British fleet were all assembled at Baljik on the 5th, a few hours after Marshal St. Arnaud had sailed away. The men were delighted to quit the fatal shore of Bulgaria, and yet the land was lovely to the eye. So far they had passed along a coast not unlike the southern shores of their own island, but more beautiful. There were steep white cliffs, broad green downs, breadths of rich wood, coming in some places to the verge of the cliffs, and trending inland as far as the eye could see; and above all, the cloudlike summits of the Balkan. But when the spectator on shipboard lost sight of the tall minarets of Varna, and the white hospital tents on the hills above it, he lost sight of all evidence that the lovely looking land was tenanted by human creatures. " Not a homestead, not a path, not a sign of life was visible " - nothing but the silent forest. Then came Baljik and its bay. And here the forest ended, and the white cliffs and open grassy downs began. They looked, writes one observer, like the shores of the Isle of Wight. In a dip of the land lay the dirty little Turkish town. It was off these cliffs, within a spacious bay, that the ships of the Western Powers rode at anchor, covering an extent of eight miles of water. When night fell, the waters of the bay seemed to bear a town, celebrating some great anniversary or some victory, for the lights on the ships illuminated the dark waters.

>>> Next page >>>
Pages: <1> 2 3 4 5

Pictures for Chapter XVI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Lord Raglan
Lord Raglan >>>>
Admiral Dundas
Admiral Dundas >>>>
Formation derived from Marshal Bugeaud
Formation derived from Marshal Bugeaud >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About