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


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It appears from the letters of St. Arnaud and the French official accounts that, in their camp, it was understood that the decision had been come to on the evening of the 24th. In one of his last letters, St. Arnaud, writing at six in the evening of the 24th. says - " To-morrow morning, early, I start and march upon Balaclava. I shall sleep on the Tchernaya;" and in another letter of the same date, he calls it a "fine manoeuvre." From this it might be inferred that the decision had been come to finally at that time. But before the morning an incident had occurred which may have rendered another council necessary. St. Arnaud's illness had taken a fatal turn. The attack of cholera made Canrobert the real chief of the army. Besides, although in general terms the flank march may have been resolved on, yet the mode of effecting it had not; for one project was to cross the Inkermann bridge, the other was to strike the Tchernaya higher up; and when the French reproach the British with their sluggishness, which they never fail to do, they forget the fact, that until late on the morning of the 25th the route to Balaclava had not been chosen. It was chosen between seven and nine; and before noon the whole army, in one long column, was in motion.

Was this a wise decision? This is a question not easily answered. We have seen what reasons for adopting it prevailed with the allied generals. On the other hand, it is most confidently alleged by the Russians themselves, that the works on the north side were, on the 25th, not only imperfect, but imperfectly garrisoned; that the allied fleet could have silenced the forts on the cliff, and that the troops could have stormed the Star Fort and its flanking entrenchments. At this very time the Russians had only just begun to ply the pick and spade. There were, exclusive of the equipages of the fleet, only nine weak battalions in Sebastopol. These were under the influence of the Alma, and it is said, that had the place been briskly attacked, it would have been surrendered after a few shots had been fired, to save the honour of the commandant. Statements of this kind must, it is true, be weighed with caution. The Russians, by making them raise their own reputation as the subsequent defence of Sebastopol becomes more admirable when we consider on how slight a base it rested. But the strongest testimony against the flank march is, that it was distinctly condemned by Sir Edmund Lyons, who, when he met Lord Raglan, told him that the flank march was a departure from the spirit in which the expedition was undertaken, and said, "This is strategy, but we are in no condition for strategical operations. We came here for a coup de main, but this is strategy." Dr. Russell tells us that he had this from Sir Edmund himself. It certainly embodies the whole pith of the objections to the flank march; and it was sound - the allies were not in a condition to undertake strategical operations. But although Sir John Burgoyne's anticipations were all upset except two - the acquisition of the bays and the strong ground to cover a siege - the re mark of Sir Edmund does not prove that the north side could have been carried by a coup de main. If it could not, then the expedition had totally failed; and from the moment when they quitted their bivouac on the Belbek to seek a new base at Balaclava, the allies terminated the original expedition and began a new one. They began a strategical attack on Sebastopol without fulfilling the conditions of strategy. They entered upon a regular siege without investing the place or effectually defeating the covering army. The disadvantages were vast. Not only those we have mentioned interfered with the development of the original plan, but there were the sunken ships, which hindering, as they did, the forcing of the harbour by the fleet, enabled the Russians to use the ships still afloat as batteries, to cover the land defences on the south side. We fear the balance of argument is against the flank march, except as a means of extricating the armies from a position in which, as their generals conceived, it would be fatal to advance, and impossible to retreat. Viewed in that light, regarding the original expedition as at an end, the moment the impropriety of trying a coup de main is acknowledged, the flank march becomes a " fine manoeuvre and, in fact, the only manoeuvre by which the armies could be placed in comparative safety, and the further prosecution of the design attempted.

Sebastopol stands upon the southern shores of a deep inlet, which receives the waters of the Tchernaya - a stream rising to the eastward in the mass of mountains, which runs along the whole of the southern coast of the Crimea. The shores of this inlet are loftier on the northern than on the southern side, and on these heights the Russians had constructed the Star Fort and the "Wasp," as a protection for the rear of Fort Constantino, which stood low down on the coast overlooking the sea, and crossed its fires with that of other forts opposite. The northern plateau, extending to the eastward, was broken by ravines leading to the head of the inlet where the sluggish stream of the Tchernaya flowed into it under the rocky heights of Inkermann. At this point a long bridge spanned the river and its marshes, and over it ran the road to Sebastopol along the southern shore of the bay. The course of the Tchernaya lay through a deep valley, and here again the northern hills were the higher elevations, and were marked in maps as the Mackenzie Heights, taking their name from a farm standing at the head of the road, leading over their summit from Batchiserai to Sebastopol. This road went down the slopes and over the river to Balaclava; but midway between the river and this little port it struck a fine military road, which emerged from the Crimean under cliff, and, climbing up a ridge running north and south from Inkermann to the sea, went thence down to Sebastopol. It was to turn the head of the harbour, to seize Balaclava, and then obtain military possession of the high lands overlooking the southern and eastern faces of Sebastopol, and of the bays to the westward of the great harbour, which were beyond the range of the guns in its forts, that the allies undertook this flank march.

But between them and the regular roads lay the ridge of rugged highland which we have described. There was only one narrow country road practicable for guns and horses, t All the hill tops were covered with thick, tangled copses, through which, by main force, a body of infantry would have to thrust its way. In order to strike the road at Mackenzie's Farm the allies had to move across this wooded space, and to move in a single column in such fashion as they could. In fact, they had, and were ordered, to " steer by compass," taking a south-easterly direction. It was at first proposed that they should force a passage at the Inkermann bridge; but although the defences here were weak, yet it was shown that the whole column would be under a flank fire from the Russian shipping. Steamers could have lain almost within musket shot, and have pounded the troops with all kinds of missiles. Hence there was no choice but to take the longer route and struggle through the underwood.

About noon the march began. The artillery, so little was apprehended from the enemy, took the lead; then the English cavalry and infantry, then the baggage, and, next, the French. The 4th British Division was left on the heights " to maintain the communication with the Katcha," until the new base had been secured. The march was most painful and harassing. But leaving the infantry to tear their way through the low forest by compass, let us follow Lord Raglan. According to his wont, he rode on towards the front, taking the narrow bridle-path. The guns had halted when he came up, because they were entirely without support. Half a battalion of skirmishers might have destroyed all the horses, and killed the gunners. When Lord Raglan rode up, he sharply ordered them to resume their march, and passed on to the front. Suddenly he came softly back. As he emerged from the trees he saw a strange sight - a body of Russians with a baggage-train were moving northward along the road. It was the rear-guard of Prince Menschikoff, on its way to join the army at Batchiserai. Lord Raglan eagerly inquired for the cavalry, and the cavalry were not to be found. Some time elapsed; the Russians, ignorant of the near neighbourhood of their foes, continued to march quietly along. Lord Raglan grew impatient, and sent officers in search of his light horse, while he placed his own escort and a troop otf horse artillery in readiness to act. After some time, parts of two Hussar regiments were brought up, and the 2nd battalion of the Rifle Brigade. But the Russians had now detected the presence of an enemy on their left flank, and had begun to run. Then the guns opened, and the horsemen and light infantry went at the enemy, who, abandoning his wagons, fled hastily away. The troops were allowed to plunder the carts, and they got garments, and jewels, and gold, and, it is said, plenty of champagne - the last being most welcome in that un watered tract. Had the cavalry been in their places, the whole convoy might have been captured; but what could be expected from ray Lords Lucan and Cardigan, whose whole career in the Crimea was a prolonged squabble with each other and with the head-quarters?

After this episode the march was resumed. The horsemen returned from their short chase; the infantry debouched from the wood; the guns got clear of the bridle path, and the whole sweeping round to their right, went over the ridge, down the steep sides of the Mackenzie Heights into the valley of the Tchernaya. The divisions crossed the stream and the aqueduct - which, running parallel to it, supplied Sebastopol with water - and bivouacked in the open air. No baggage of any sort had come up. There was little food to be had except what the troops carried with them. Lord Raglan had a chance supper from a wild boar's ham captured in the Russian baggage. He found shelter in a small house by the bridge, but all his staff and the troops slept without cover. The French, grumbling greatly, and for once not first, as they always longed to be, had been obliged to start late, and to follow the tedious march of our troops. Night found them in the open country about Mackenzie's Farm, and here they halted. As usual with them, they bivouacked in position, fronting all sides, with their baggage in the centre. The next day they descended the defile into the valley, and halted on the south side of the Tchernaya.

While he was eating wild boar's ham with his fingers, at his bivouac fire on the banks of this river, Lord Raglan received a messenger from the fleet. Lieutenant Maxse, carrying despatches, had landed at the Katcha, and, taking horse, had pushed his way through the intervening country and the intervening armies, and had thus reached the English head-quarters. As Lord Raglan desired to have the aid of the Agamemnon, in order to ensure the prompt reduction of Balaclava, Lieutenant Maxse eagerly volunteered to ride then and there back to the Katcha. It was a daring exploit, for the route lay over the abandoned hills and through a country open to the Cossacks. Maxse, reckless of Cossacks, mounted a fresh horse, and actually did ride back and carry with him Lord Raglan's message. So that early the next day, when the troops were put in motion to seize Balaclava, just as a shell from the old fort on the cliff greeted the English commander, the muffled roar of the Agamemnon's guns was heard rolling over the cliffs, and her shells were seen plumping into the ancient tower. The Light Division had thrown out skirmishers, and these were crowning the heights, when a white flag appeared on the fort. In a short time the Spitfire steamed into this land-locked bay, and the fleet and army were once more united. The Tartar inhabitants met Lord Raglan with offerings of bread and salt as he rode into the town. That day the British army took up a position in front of Balaclava; but the French, as we said, remained on the Tchernaya. Marshal St. Arnaud, who had been carried from the Belbek in a carriage captured at the Alma, now became, in the opinion of those around him, incapable of commanding the army any longer. He was, indeed, at the point of death, and on the morning of the 26th he formally handed his command over to General Canrobert. In a day or two he embarked in the Bertholet, but died at sea, midway between Balaclava and the Bosphorus. Marshal St. Arnaud was not a soldier of the stamp to which our forefathers were accustomed in the great wars against Napoleon. He was gifted with a showy, yet still genuine courage; he was impetuous and daring. His long and painful sickness, and the peculiarity of his position, no doubt, ought to be taken into account when we judge of his soldiership; but, having made allowance for these obstructions to the display of military ability, we are bound to say that we do not find any faculties in this marshal of a high order. His ambition, his vanity, his assumption, are as conspicuous as his frankness, warmth of heart, and readiness to yield under pressure, whether it came from Paris or the English head-quarters. But, on the whole, he was a flashy and insubstantial man. His successor, General Canrobert, came of the same Algerian stock, and he had at least as much ability as Marshal St. Arnaud, and one quality the marshal had not - modesty.

The French army crossed the plain on the 28th, and encamped in front of Balaclava. The day before Lord Raglan had sent the Light and 2nd Divisions up to the slopes which overlook Sebastopol; on the 29th, the French army followed; and by the 1st of October, all the infantry of the allies, except the 93rd, the Turks and some Marines landed from the fleet, were on those hills. Here, then, for many months, was to be the scene of their mighty labours and cruel sufferings; these rugged heights, and ravine-riven plains, and sheltered valleys, were to be the mute witnesses of the most extraordinary siege of modern times, and one of the most remarkable recorded in military annals.

The field of operations at this time was the little peninsula formed by the Bay of Sebastopol and the Bay of Balaclava. The neck of the peninsula, measuring from the head of the Balaclava Bay to the ruins of Inkermann, was some ten miles. This bay was about three-quarters of a mile long, and not quite half a mile broad. Looking from the sea, it was not visible, being shut in by a cliff, protruding from the eastern heights; but the venturesome mariner, who rounded the cliff, found within a sheet of water so deep, that a line-of- battle ship could lie close under the steep shores. On either side the mountains rose abruptly, extending to the eastward as far as the peninsula of Kertch at the other extremity of the Crimea, and westward to Cape Chersonesus, the most south-westerly point of the Crimea. The town or village of Balaclava lay on the eastern shores, near the head of the inlet; and the road from it to the valley beyond lay through a rent in the hills. This valley, covered with gardens and vineyards, and dotted with stacks of forage when the allies arrived, ran east and west, shut in on the south by the cliffs of the coast and their inland slopes, and on the north by ridges called the Fedoukine heights, which overlooked the left bank of the Tchernaya. Between these heights and Balaclava a range of low hillocks arose in the plain, so that the basin was divided into two parts. On the west of Balaclava stood Karani; on the north-west, Kadikoi; on the east, Kamara; and about four miles north-east of Kamara, the village of Tchorgoun, on the right bank of the Tchernaya. The road to the heights above Sebastopol, on quitting the gorge of Balaclava, turned to the west, and ascending a steep slope, passed by what came to be known as the Col di Balaclava, over the remarkable ridge called Mount Sapoune. This ridge ran from the Col to the head of the harbour without a break, except in one place, midway, where the famous Woronzoff road from the undercliff, rising from the valley, crossed the ridge and went down to Sebastopol. A deep valley separated the Sapoune hills from the lower Fedoukine chain, and opened into the Tchernaya valley, opposite the ruins of Inkermann - the mementoes of a civilisation which existed before the Christian era. The lower course of the Tchernaya lay through marshes, and its waters sluggishly flowed amid a thick growth of reeds and water plants, the haunt of wild fowl. The head of the harbour of Sebastopol, therefore, was bounded on the east by the swamps of the Tchernaya, spanned by a causeway, the foundations of which were nearly two thousand years old, beyond which rose the cliffs and quarries of the antique Inkermann, and on the south by the abrupt slopes of the Sapoune ridge, which here fell down to the valley of the Tchernaya and the head of the harbour. It was the space enclosed by the Sapoune ridge, the harbour, and the Black Sea, that soon became peopled by the allies. The plateau to the east and south of Sebastopol has been defined as a series of plains divided by ravines. These ravines, cutting deeply into the soil, ran mostly in a north-westerly direction, terminating in the basin in which lies Sebastopol. It was on the sloping table-lands between these gullies that the allies carried their " attacks." Sebastopol stood on the southern shore of the great, and the western shore of a smaller harbour which ran due south of the greater. The Karabelnaia, or suburb, the Malakoff and Redan were on the east of this small harbour, called the Dockyard Creek or South Harbour. Westward of the great harbour and its huge white forts, the shore was deeply indented by the bays of the Quarantine, Streletzka, Peschana, Kamiesch, and Kazatch. Beyond these the coast became flat and ended in a low cape, on which was a lighthouse, and then rounding the cape turned to the eastward. A little beyond Cape Cherson, the coast rose into bold and craggy cliffs, and ran in an unbroken and sinuous line to Balaclava. On the verge of the cliff, overlooking the sea, about five miles west of Balaclava, stood the Greek monastery of St. George, formerly the site of the Temple of Diana, the fabled scene of the meeting between Iphigenia and Orestes and Pylades. The military characteristics of this nook of the Crimea will be made apparent by the narrative of events.

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

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