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


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The regiments of both divisions had got over the stream; but they had lost many officers and men in their march through the vineyards, and they had lost their order. For not only were the men of the same regiment out of their places; but the crowding caused by want of space, and the flames of Bourliouk, had even pushed one regiment from its place. When the 7th Fusiliers, the right of Codrington's brigade, reached the 2nd Division, Colonel Yea found the 95th, Pennefather's left regiment, in his front; and being a vehement man, he pushed through and took the lead. But the 95th, finding itself thrust out of the action, detached itself from Evans's brigade, and moving in rear of Codrington, crossed the river, and took post on the left of the 23rd, just before the 19th, Buller's right regiment, sent by him to strengthen Codrington, joined the brigade. Thus the regiments under the river bank, reckoning from right to left, were the 47th, 55th, 30th, and the 7th, 33rd, 23rd, 95th, and 19th. Buller's two other regiments, the 88th and 77th, crossed the stream without difficulty, formed, and lay down somewhat sheltered from fire. They were used throughout the day to protect that flank, and took no other part in the action. On the other flank Adams, with the 41st and 49th, had turned Bourliouk on the west, but does not appear at this stage to have crossed the stream. They came into play at a later period. The Brigade of Guards, under Brigadier Bentinck, with whom rode the Duke of Cambridge, commanding the whole division, had moved forward, taking ground to the left; while the Highland Brigade went so far to the left that its front projected beyond the active regiments of the Light Division, and drew up in rear of Buller's two regiments, motionless in that flank.

Such was the condition of the English line when it made its first advance. The troops were not allowed to cling long to the protection of the bank. On the right Evans's colonels got their men up to the mouths of the ravine; but there were only three battalions to contend with six; and although they were aided somewhat by the fire of the artillery massed on the east of Bourliouk, it required all the fortitude of officers and men to stand fast. For the battalions had been rent by the heavy artillery fire, and Evans himself had been wounded; yet he kept his place in the midst, and held his men together as became a veteran who had ridden in the thick of great battles thirty years before; and now his weak force was opposed to heavy odds, and had to endure, without flinching, shot, shell, and musketry.

On their left the four regiments of the Light Division, and the 95th, were about to perform a most daring exploit. Nearly at the same moment Sir George Brown, Brigadier Codrington, and Colonel Yea forced their horses up the bank, and found themselves almost in the midst of the Russian skirmishers. Their men, unformed as they were, crowded up, and presented to the view of the Russian gunners an extended line, indeed, but in so much disorder that the Russian generals, in their reports, described them as a cloud of skirmishers. Once at the foot of the slope, they were face to face, not only with the battery, but with two heavy columns, one on the right, the other on the left of the rude field work, whose weighty guns had done so much mischief. Whether Brown and Codrington could or could not have formed up their regiments under the bank, it is clear they did not; but with this far-stretching crowd of soldiery, all the fiery and forward men of the battalions (for some skulked), Sir George and his brigadier and his colonels led the way up the smooth turf. The skirmishers were soon hurled back upon their supports; and, as they cleared away, the heavy round shot and hissing grape rushed through the line. But the British, without blenching, opened a furious fire upon the Russian infantry to the right and left and upon the guns; and although their line was not perfect, yet being many of them armed with rifles, their fire told upon the dense columns opposed to them. And as they fired, so they advanced. Nearer and nearer, in spite of the deadly missiles which tore through them, nearer and nearer, the silent but impassioned and stubborn men approached the work. On their left the Rifles were pouring a searching fire into the flank of the right column of the Kazan Regiment, and on their right the 7th Fusiliers were already engaged at short range with the two battalions of the left Kazan column. Soon the 19th, 95th, and 23rd were smiting the serried ranks of the right Kazan, and even as they fired they pressed on, leaving behind a horrid track of slain and wounded. There was no manoeuvring, no order, no neat soldiership. The advance of the Light Division was the steady rush of a fierce crowd into and through the jaws of death; for though hundreds strewed the hill side, the survivors were not to be dismayed, but were resolute to win. Such a sight, except at a deadly breach, in some bloody siege, had rarely been seen in war. Codrington rode on untouched, waving his cap and cheering the men. Once Sir George Brown's horse fell, but he was up again in an instant, shouting out, " I am all right - 23rd, be sure I shall remember this day! " As the men neared the battery, not only the guns, but a body of infantry, coming down and kneeling behind the breastwork, poured in volleys of bullets. The line wavered and surged to and fro, but it gained ground. And now it reaped the fruits of its daring. The great battery fired one tremendous volley, and when the smoke grew thin it was seen that the enemy was carrying off the guns! The infantry on the right flank had gradually fallen back, steadily, and -with no sign of disorder; yet they showed a disposition to yield. Then our men and officers with one accord quickened their pace. Brigadier Cod- rington rode at the breastwork, and leaped his horse in through an embrasure. Ensign Anstruther, a gallant lad, ran to plant the colours of the 23rd on the parapet, but was smitten dead as he rammed the pole into the earth. The soldiers quickly followed their leaders, and the breastwork was won. Nay, so well won that Captain Bell, of the 23rd, by gallantry and presence of mind, captured a big gun, horses and all, and one other gun was secured, it is said, by the 33rd. The four regiments had carried the battery, and forced the enemy to hurry away his guns by sheer hardihood and will; and now came the question - could they keep their prize, or would the Guards and Highlanders come up in time to relieve or sustain them? And here we must leave them a moment, in the crisis of their fortunes, because strange incidents were happening elsewhere in this singularly fought field of battle.

When Lord Raglan had given the order to advance, ho rode off with his staff along a pathway leading round the western side of Bourliouk, in the track followed by Brigadier Adams, with the 41st and 49th Regiments and Turner's battery. Probably the English commander wished to gain a nearer view of the French operations, and also to get a glimpse of the Russian line of battle unobscured by the smoke of Bourliouk. While he was cantering across the meadows the Light and 2nd Divisions were working up to the river under that heavy fire we have described. Approaching its banks, he came under a sharp fire from the Russian guns on his left front, the guns which faced Evans's troops, a fire which became heavier as the whole staff plunged into the river at the ford, and two officers were wounded. Lord Raglan had not been unobservant of the country which rose before him. He saw a hill in the heart of the Russian position, but unoccupied by the enemy, a hill whence he would see in profile the whole of our own and of the Russian line opposed to it. The use to which it could be put occurred to him immediately. Turning to one of his staff, he was heard to say, " Ah, if they can enfilade us here, we can certainly enfilade them from the rising ground beyond (pointing to the knoll). Order up Turner's battery." Without waiting a moment, he rode off a little to the right, up a lane leading from the ford into the hills. The French skirmishers, who were lying about the slope, through whom he rode, paused, as he passed, to gaze on the strange spectacle of a General cantering easily along, followed by a score of horsemen, into the enemy's lines. The lane, lying in a ravine, was partially sheltered from fire, but here and there cannon shot came leaping along its rugged surface, yet hitting no one. Moving rapidly up the acclivity, Lord Raglan came out upon a small table land, whence, looking eastward, he saw the line of guns in front of the 2nd Division, and beyond them the entrenched battery on the hill, and the Russian infantry defending the slopes; and towards the rear, not very far distant, but out of range, he saw the infantry reserves drawn up in perfect order. Already he had given the order for the battery, and had directed General Airey to bring up the 41st and 49th Regiments as speedily as possible; and now, seeing the immense, advantage of the position, three officers in succession were sent down to hasten the march of the guns and the- infantry. But while he waited for them, although without troops or guns, yet his presence, as he said, must have had the best effect; for the Russian officers would naturally infer that with the staff of a General there must be troops near at hand.

It was while he stood here that the Light Division stormed up the Kourgané Hill and carried the breastwork; that the 2nd Division, splendidly handled by Sir De Lacy Evans and his colonels, had got a firm grip of' the left bank of the river; that the Guards and Highlanders had come up close to the vineyards, in readiness, as it was hoped, to cross and support the daring crowd then clinging to the outer edge of the Russian breast work. At this stage of the battle the action was in suspense. Great movements were in progress, but no incident had decided the fortunes of the day. The French on the right had not yet moved forward, always excepting Bosquet, who pushed slowly along the table land, and was now sending a battery to aid Canrobert, whose own guns were still slowly ascending by a steep path. In the centre, the three battalions under Evans were gaining foot by foot on the right of the 7th Fusiliers. This regiment, led by Colonel Yea, had, on passing the Alma, been somewhat hurried up the bank by its vehement commander, and found in its front the skirmishers of a deep column, composed of two battalions of the Kazan Regiment. Forcing his men into such order as the circumstances permitted, Colonel Yea at once began to fight the Kazan battalions. At least a third of the 7th, it is said, still hung back under the river bank, but with the men who sprung forward at his call Yea held his ground, and opened such an effective fire on the grey- coated masses as completely held them in check, and inflicted serious losses. Thus the 7th protected the onset of the Light Division regiments, and was itself protected by the 55th, under Colonel Warren, and the 30th, under Colonel Hoey. Further to the left, but held back on the right bank, were the Guards, and still further to the left the Highlanders, in front of whom, and on the left of all, were the 77th and 88th, over the river, it is true, but motionless, Brigadier Buller being under the impression that it was his duty to protect the whole flank of the attack from any possible onslaught of the Russian cavalry. Out 3f the fight, to the far left rear, were the 4th Division and the Light Cavalry, and behind the Guards and the 2nd Division were the six battalions, commanded by Sir Richard England; but beyond affording to Sir De Lacy Evans the aid of his artillery, Sir Richard took no part in the battle.

On the Russian side, as we have seen, the fierce charge of the Light Division had compelled the Russians to withdraw the heavy guns from their entrenchment, and had forced part of their infantry to recoil in rear. But on the right of the entrenchment they still had eight battalions massed in column, sixteen guns, and nearly the whole of their cavalry; in rear of it were four more, and on the left were the two battalions restrained and tormented by the 7th and the 55th; and beyond them, on either side of the great road, were sixteen guns in vigorous action, supported by four battalions, with eight battalions in reserve. The space between the road and the Telegraph Hill was, as we have shown, so bare of troops that Lord Raglan and his staff were there perched on a knoll as securely as if they had been in Hyde Park. Beyond them the Russian left had now concentrated twelve good battalions and twenty-eight guns around the Telegraph tower, and had besides the remains of the troops which had yielded to the shock of the French skirmishers, and the fire of their guns. Up to this time there had been no infantry attack, except the charge of the Light Division and of those regiments of the 2nd Division so firmly held together by Sir De Lacy Evans in the mouth of the ravine. General Bosquet had turned the Russian left; Canrobert and Prince Napoleon were threatening to fall upon the front of that wing; but pending the completion of the French array, the action on that side had been almost limited to a cannonade.

Now the scene was about to change. The force possessed by the allies was about to be applied with irresistible vigour in all parts of the field. But before this force fell with all its weight upon the enemy, he was destined to snatch a momentary success. For the four regiments of the Light Division which had so hardily stormed the breastwork had remained unsupported! Lord Raglan, from his hillock, had seen and had admired the advance, so solid and majestic, of the Guards and Highlanders up to the enclosures on the right bank of the Alma. But he saw also, with what feelings is not recorded, that when they almost reached the river they did not cross. Then, whatever may Lave been the effect which the apparition of a "plumed staff" in their midst may have produced upon the Russians, the English army felt the need of a directing mind. Either because he was too diffident of his own ability, or because he did not really see that it was time to strike, and strike hard, the Duke of Cambridge hesitated. General Evans, seeing that the Light Division was outstripping the supports, sent Colonel Steele to urge an immediate advance. General Airey himself rode up and explained how needful it was that the 1st should be within striking distance of the Light Division. At one moment some officer, whose name is not mentioned, said, " The brigade of Guards will be destroyed; ought it not to fall back?" When Sir Colin Campbell, says Mr. Kinglake, " heard this saying, his blood rose so high that the answer he gave - impassioned and far-resounding - was of a quality to govern events! ' It is better, sir, that every man of Her Majesty's Guards should be dead upon the field, than that they should turn their backs upon the enemy " Doubts and questionings ceased. The division went forward, but not soon enough to prevent a disaster. The four regiments holding the Russian breastwork were now in the presence of a powerful force of infantry. For the four battalions of the Vladimir Regiment, marshalled by Prince Gortschakoff, were descending upon the work, and had already begun to open fire. The British soldiers lying under the parapet, and looking over, were able to throw a storm of shot into the mighty mass, which, solid and close, came down the hill. Soon its front ranks began to fire, and officers and men began to fall. Closer and closer it drew, yet the English held fast to the earthwork. The Guards were now over the river, and yet not above the bank, and it is said that when General Codrington looked for his supports he could only see the colours of the regiments above the level of the bank This was a most trying moment for General Evans, waging an unequal fight, and for Colonel Yea, with his shattered battalion waging a more unequal fight. General Codrington sent down an aide-de-camp to urge the advance of the Scots Fusiliers, the central battalion; and soon the whole brigade rushed up on to the slope. The Grenadiers on the right, under Colonel Hood, formed up in regular order before they moved. The Coldstreams did the same. But, urged by Codrington's message, the Scots Fusiliers sprang forward and began to ascend the hill with eager steps. It was too late. The Vladimirs had persisted in moving on, regardless of the fire from our straggling line; and suddenly, none knows exactly why, the English soldiers rose, and quitting the shelter of the entrenchment, began to descend the hill. The fire of the Russians redoubled; the disordered masses of red-coated men, who hate retreating, halted in clusters, more or less dense, and flung back a dropping shower of bullets. This could not go on long. Presently the pace became brisker, and the men getting massed in heavier groups, and hurrying down the hill, came full upon the Scots Fusiliers, broke the order of the regiment, and compelled what should have been a support to withdraw with them. But the Grenadiers and Coldstreams, separated for a time by a wide interval, went on; and further on their left came the Highlanders, with what fortune we shall presently see. For now of the battery ordered up to the knoll by Lord Raglan, two guns had arrived. The men had not reached the spot, and Colonel Dickson and other officers loaded, laid, and fired the guns. The effect, it is said, was instantaneous. The guns were trained to bear upon the batteries which checked the advance of Evans's men; and it so happened that at the same time the British artillery of the 2nd, Light, and 3rd Divisions came powerfully into action against the batteries on the road; so that assailed at once in front and flank, and uncertain what new strength the flank fire might gain, the Russian commander limbered up all his guns, and withdrew them to a higher and distant ridge. Then Sir De Lacy Evans pushed forward his three battalions, and these, bringing up their right shoulders, came up to the relief of the 7th just as the Grenadier Guards were approaching on the other flank. The 7th, which had so nobly stood its ground, and suffered very great loss, now, by order off Sir George Brown, allowed the Grenadiers to pass them. The spectacle along the whole line was at this moment magnificent. For the masses of the French on the Telegraph. Hill were now rapidly coming into action. Bosquet's artillery had shaken the huge column with which Kiriakoff had threatened the troops of Canrobert. Bouat and Lourmel showed themselves on the hills towards the sea, ever gaining on the Russian left rear. Canrobert had got his guns up, and his lines and columns were moving on to assault the Russians gathered round the Telegraph. Lord Raglan's presence and Turner's artillery must have deeply alarmed Prince Gortschakoff and General Kvetzinski for the safety of their line of retreat. Evans's forward movement, the fire of thirty guns, many of them over the river, combined with the proud march of the Grenadiers and Coldstreams and the Highland Brigade - all these co-operating causes contributed to the catastrophe. It was the crisis of the battle.

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Pictures for Chapter XVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

The Battle of Alma
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General Canrobert
General Canrobert >>>>

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