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Chapter XVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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On emerging from the river and breasting the bank, and getting well up the slope, the regiments of Guards met with different fortune. The too eager Fusiliers were overborne by the Light Division regiments. But the other two did not suffer their formation to be broken. Yet as they went up the hill, there was a dangerous interval between them. Colonel Hood, with the Grenadiers, attracted special admiration. He was opposed to a huge Russian column, the whole or part of the Vladimir's regiment; but with his thin red line, rigorously two deep, having its left flank somewhat bent back, he kept up a vigorous and effective fire upon the Russian masses, " tormenting" them, to use their own term, and showing no fear of their great weight, and ever coming closer and closer. The Russians showed themselves behind the parapet of the breastwork, as well as on its flank; but at this period nearly all their batteries were in full retreat. In fact, it appears to this writer that the columns opposed to the Guards and Highlanders were fighting to cover a retreat, and not with any hope of winning. For not only were the French now closing with the defenders of the Telegraph Hill, in overwhelming numbers; but Sir Colin Campbell was swiftly leading his three Highland regiments obliquely on the flank of the defenders of the breastwork. In vain the battalions of Susdal endeavoured to succour their comrades of Kazan and Vladimir, standing stiffly behind and about the breastwork. The Highlanders, coming up in succession from the right, smote each column in flank as it passed its front, while every moment the rigid line of red coats and black bearskins, and busy rifles, crept closer and closer, and fired with deadlier effect. The discomfited Light Division also partially reformed, and the Scots Fusiliers were rapidly filling up the interval between the Grenadiers and Coldstreams. Active artillery officers had brought their guns into action nearly on the site occupied by the Russian batteries which so long vexed the 2nd Division. At length the Russian battalions, unable to bear any longer the pressure brought upon them, yielded, when, with a loud shout, the Guards brought down their bayonets, and came steadily on. In a brief space the breastwork was again carried the Highlanders, most skilfully led, disposed of the Russian reserves; and as Lord Raglan, who had quitted his knoll, came riding up, he found the field his own and the L enemy in retreat.

By this time, also, the Russian left was getting away from the French. When the Guards were half way up, the hill, and the 2nd Division was crowning the ridges; in its front, Canrobert advanced, and bringing his guns. into play, swept up the bare hill; and after some severe 5 fighting with the Russian troops, disposed so as to cover: the retreat, captured the Telegraph Station. Prince? Napoleon and Marshal St. Arnaud now appeared on the plateau, and the horse-artillery, hurrying to the front, cannonaded the retreating enemy. The 41st and 49th British Regiments had also moved up into that part of the field which lies between the great road and the Telegraph Hill, and thus formed the extreme right of the English line. So that the whole allied front, from the peak of the Telegraph Station to the eastern slopes of the Kourgané Hill, crowned the Russian position. The Russians fell back in pretty good order, although they were pounded in retreat by the artillery of the allies, which had hurried up to the front. Lord Cardigan brought his cavalry over the Alma, and rode in upon the stragglers who formed the rear, but could effect little, as the Russians halted on the next ridge, and for a short time showed a bold front. Then they went about, and, unpursued, disappeared from view.

The British troops had now all ranged up on the hills which they had so bravely won; and as Lord Raglan rode along the line he was greeted with cheers, which, beginning on the right, sprang from regiment to regiment, and resounded far over the field - a rough, hearty outburst of exultation, such as a British army, when it loves its chief, delights to pour forth from free throats and manly breasts. Lord Raglan did not then hear this heart-stirring sound for the first time; and to his mind, it must have brought back memories of the hardly contested fields of the Peninsula and the crowning victory of Waterloo, when those now our allies were our enemies. But in the whole French army there were few, if any, who had ever heard the cheers of a charging or triumphant British army. There were near Lord Raglan many who never heard it; but to Colin Campbell, and De Lacy Evans, and George Brown, and Burgoyne, it was a familiar shout, and seemed to come to them across the gulf of a peace of nearly forty years. The sound was so potent and so grand that it awoke the wounded from their dream of agony, and far down the hill side rose feeble but responsive cheers.

Lord Raglan had desired an immediate pursuit, such a pursuit as would have brought the French upon the flank of the yielding columns, while the English, with horse, foot, and artillery, burst in upon their rear. He had. two divisions which had not fired a shot; he had more than a thousand lances and sabres; he was ready to goon. But although the French had suffered comparatively little loss, whether it were that his illness clouded his mind, or that he feared to compromise his army, or that he did not relish a request to pursue coming from the English commander, Marshal St. Arnaud declined to move any men from the field. So the victorious soldiers took up their quarters on the line of hills, and began to gather up the wounded. And the loss had been heavy. No fewer than 25 officers, 19 sergeants, and 318 rank and file had been killed; while 81 officers and 102 sergeants, and 1,438 rank and file had been wounded. There were 19 missing; but as the Russians took no prisoners, these are supposed to have been buried under the walls of some of the village houses. The total was 2,002. The regiments which suffered most heavily were the 55th, 95th, 7th, 33rd, 23rd, and 19th, in the 2nd and Light Divisions, and the Grenadiers and Scots Fusiliers in the Brigade of Guards. They had borne the brunt of the fire, and had done the largest share of actual fighting. The French loss, according to their official statements, was three officers and 253 men killed, and 54 officers and 1,033 men wounded, giving a total of 1,343. It is said that the loss was much less, but it is impossible to prove or disprove statements of this kind. The Russians admitted a loss of 5,709. Among these were one general killed and four wounded. The killed were not less than 2,000. The Russians also lost two guns, a vast quantity of small arms, and some baggage. The action lasted about three hours from the opening to the close, but the bulk of the carnage occurred during the last hour. Marshal St, Arnaud wrote, " I have lost fewer than the English, because I have been quicker. My soldiers run, theirs march." But running or marching, he should have added, that not one of his divisions encountered, during the day, either the fire of such numbers of guns or a musketry so fierce; or overcame, in the teeth of this storm, such a position as that carried by the three divisions of the English army. He lost fewer men, because his troops met with a less obstinate resistance, and were less exposed to grape and musketry and 32-pounder guns.

The battle of the Alma ended in a victory which should have been decisive of the campaign. The action was well-planned. It was wise to turn the Russian left, especially as' Prince Menschikoff had not only neglected the most common precautions to make it impregnable, but had posted the bulk of his army on the right and centre. As the Russian army was placed, it would have been madness to attempt to turn both flanks; for the two armies would have been separated, and might perhaps have been beaten one after the other. But either the French did not press their flank attack with sufficient vigour, or the English assailed the front too soon; for the very nature of the movement undertaken by the French and Turks, themselves nearly equal in numbers to the whole Russian army, ought to have compelled the Russians to abandon the strong ground on their right and centre, and have placed them at the mercy of the combined onset of the two armies. But the repeated appeals for aid seem to have induced Lord Raglan to think that the French attack had partially failed; and for this, among other reasons, he ordered our troops to march. The French, considering the difficulties of the ground, and the want of concert and decision, did their part well; but when we divide the honours of the day impartially, the bulkier share must go to those troops who, in the face of such a deadly fire, and in the teeth of such heavy masses of infantry and cavalry, won the heights by a ready sacrifice of their lives and their blood. Yet are we constrained to admit that the victors did not reap the fruits of victory, because they did not pursue at once. Here, again, the cause did not spring from the unwillingness of the English, but the unwillingness of the French commander. To have followed hard on the heels of victory, as the former proposed, would have been wise. For it is by striking at a flying foe as he flies that generals produce great results. When that chance was missed, mere pursuit became of less importance; and when the French deferred advance the whole of another day, they, having fewer wounded and being nearer the sea, were scarcely justified when, having completed their own preparations, they wished to move on the 22nd, and breathed forth querulous complaints of the English for not being ready until the 23rd., The moment to move was at five o'clock on the afternoon of the 20th; Marshal St. Arnaud declined to move, and the golden chance did not recur. But these incidents will happen in every campaign conducted by two armies under independent commanders. It may be sometimes a necessary, but it is always a costly and unsatisfactory mode of making war. Had the allied army at the Alma been under one able chief, there can be no doubt Prince Menschikoff's troops would have been captured or destroyed; for then the movements would have been well connected and well timed, and the most would have been made of the great faults of the Russian general, and the great superiority in numbers on the side of the allies. As it was, the victory was glorious for both the victors; but it was not decisive, and it did not bring about the attainment of the great end of the invasion, the immediate capture of Sebastopol.

Lord Raglan's conduct during the action has been severely censured. It has been said that he rode jauntily away into the heart of the enemy's position, and rode down again to find the battle won. Some writers have even sneered at the statement that the appearance of the staff on the hill, and the fire of the guns, produced serious alarm in the Russian centre, and helped so powerfully to drive away the Russian batteries from the great road. This is unjust. Lord Raglan would not have ascended the hills had he not foreseen the use he could make of them if he could get guns there. He did not ride up without a purpose. He was not borne away by his horse, whose bounding spirit he is said to have shared. He went up to exert an unexpected pressure on the enemy, and he did exert that pressure. And when he quitted his divisions, after giving the signal to fall on, might he not have fairly presumed that his divisional generals were equal to the task assigned to them? Surely an officer is not entrusted with a division in order that the Commander-in-Chief may work it for him. The duty of the Duke of Cambridge was so plain, and the duty of Sir George Brown was so plain, that it did not require the aid of Lord Raglan to execute it for each of them. Sir George should have formed his men for the attack in some order, and the Duke should have kept his division so ready for the fight that when it was needed at the breastwork, it might be there. Lord Raglan may be blamed for putting trust in the Duke, but it is not the business of the commander of an army to command divisions and brigades. As it was, Lord Raglan's messenger from the knoll did reach the Duke, and Evans's messenger reached him also, and Colin Campbell's fiery words proved decisive. So that, after all, Lord Raglan, even on the Russian knoll, did remedy, so far as he could remedy, a failure of insight and decision. The Duke of Cambridge is as brave as any man in facing physical danger; but he does not seem to have been then so tempered as to be equal to the moral exigencies of a great command. Lord Raglan, on this occasion, did his work well, and does not deserve the censure heaped upon him by his detractors.

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Pictures for Chapter XVII, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4

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

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