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


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By the 1st of October the allies had established themselves on the heights, and had surveyed the position with anxious eyes. The French army, which had been considerably strengthened, spread out to the south-west of the place, and made the Bay of Kamiesch their landing- place and depot. They occupied the ground from this bay as far as a great ravine, which, having its source on the plateau near the Col di Balaclava, gradually deepened into a rugged chasm, and ran into" the head of the South Harbour. This ravine formed their right flank. Their force was divided into two corps - one called the army of observation, practically a covering force, was posted on the Sapoune heights on both sides of the Col; the other, the besieging army, faced the south-western works of defence, and guarded Kamiesch Bay. The British Divisions rested their left on the great ravine, and their right on the northern slopes of the Sapoune ridge, which came to be known as the hill of Inkermann. The 3rd Division stood on the left, then the 4th, next the Light; while the 1st was placed in a central position as a support, and the 2nd covered the extreme right towards the head of the harbour. Between the English camps and the fortress, the ground ascended, and then fell gradually towards the Russian batteries, so that the camps were not visible to the enemy. The 2nd Division was not posted on the ridge overlooking the valley of the Tchernaya, but on the next ridge inward. Guns were placed on the hills on both sides of Balaclava, and on the small knolls which rose out of the valley to the north; so that the lines of the covering force ran from the base of the hills near Kamara, in a westerly direction across the valley and up the Sapoune ridge, north of the Woronzoff road, whence they extended to Inkermann. The advantages of this position were that it could only be assailed by the valley from the Tchernaya, either from the direction of Tchorgoun, or from the causeway across the river at the head of the harbour. Its disadvantages were, that it did not enable the allies to invest the place, but left open to the enemy the whole north side; and that it was far too extensive to be adequately occupied by the weak force which sat down before the place. But the allied armies were full of confidence. The weather was fine. Under that bright October sky, even these rocky, uncultured plains, covered with short grass, and bounded by the deep blue sea and purple mountains, and peopled by the sturdy soldiers of the Western nations, looked pleasant and picturesque, a fitting frame for the great arsenal with its immense piles of shining buildings, whence the Czar had hoped to send forth an armament which would expel the "infidel" from Europe, and conquer for himself a new realm on the shores of the Bosphorus.

The Russians had profited by the change in the plans of the allies. Prince Menschikoff had moved his army upon Batchiserai on the 24th and 25th, in order to regain his communications with Perekop and the eastern part of the Crimea, whence as he knew large reserves were approaching to succour the cherished city of the Czar. He hoped to place himself in rear of the allied armies, which, he supposed, would attack the northern works of Sebastopol, and preserve his position there until he was strong enough to fight a battle for the relief of the place. When the attack of the allies on his rearguard, and intelligence from Sebastopol of the capture of Balaclava, revealed to him the change of plan, he moved at once from Batchiserai, and took up a position on the Katcha, whence, on the 1st of October, he marched his army through the village of Belbek, and took up a position for the night on the left bank of the stream. The next morning, the army was moved up to the northern works, and thence transported across the harbour to aid in throwing up the defences; so that two days after the allies had planted their camps on the southern plateau,, Prince Menschikoff's beaten army had re-entered Sebastopol.

During the fortnight that had elapsed since the battle of the Alma, a striking change had been made in the landward defences of Sebastopol. When the allies landed the defensive works were few and disconnected. On the eastern face - that is, from the Careening Bay to the great ravine - there were but three works, the centre of which was the Malakoff tower on its commanding hillock. On the western face there was a long loop-holed wall, running from the sea in front of Artillery Bay to a stone tower, called the Central Bastion, opposite a cemetery, and a second work made of earth, called the Flagstaff Bastion, crowning a hill at the southern apex of the town, and on the western side of the great ravine. Not more than fifty guns were mounted on these works at that time. In the interval, the genius of Todleben had converted the place into a strongly entrenched camp. The sailors and soldiers, the civilians, and even women, were employed, without stint, in throwing up earthworks and in mounting guns. Inspired by the energy of Korniloff, a tough Russian, directed by the skill of Todleben, supplied by the vast resources of an arsenal crammed with means and appliances of all kinds, the workers, in a few days, surrounded the city with powerful defences. Batteries, connected by entrenchments, arose on all sides, as if a magician had waved an enchanted wand over the barren hills. So that when the allies sat down before the place, and looked out over the waste towards the goal of their efforts, instead of finding an open town, they found an entrenched camp which grew stronger under the gazer's eye. They had shrunk from the northern works, because they were too strong; they marched up to the southern works, and discovered that these were stronger. They had come thither to take a town by a coup de main. They soon found that they were in front of an entrenched position which no troops could assail and live. Therefore the siege guns were landed with all practicable speed, and it was resolved to raise batteries, not to breach the works, but to silence the fire of the guns, and then to storm in on all sides.

But the more minutely the allies looked into the ground they would have to take up, and the works they would have to execute, the less likely did it appear that they would readily reduce the place. The plateau occupied by the English sloped down to the Russian works. It was broken into ridges by five deep ravines, whose sides became more precipitous as they fell towards the South Bay or Dockyard Creek. The left ravine, as we have said, was the largest and the most profound. Towards its termination in the South Bay, the two next ravines towards the right ran into it, leaving flat slopes between. The second, on the right, was the larger and more important, and along its bottom ran the Woronzoff road, whence it became known as the Woronzoff ravine. Next, on the right, was a smaller ravine, called Karabelnaia, because it led to that suburb; and the next, having its source near Inkermann, ended in the Careening Bay. The Malakoff tower, with its surrounding entrenchments, stood between the Careening and Karabelnaia ravines. Then on the south-west of the Malakoff, but on the opposite bank of the Karabelnaia, stood the now famous Redan, and the works known as the Barrack batteries. In order to attack these, the engineers were forced to trace their parallels on the flats between the ravines. But such was the nature of the ground that the batteries raised to fire on the Redan were obliged to be erected, not on the plateau which descended to it, but on the opposite side of the Woronzoff ravine; while those intended to batter the Malakoff were placed, not on the plateau which ran down to the Malakoff, but on that which ran down to the Redan. Thus the two systems of attack were separated by these deep gullies. They were called the right and left attacks, and were the scenes of the principal labours and loss of the British.

It was the opinion of Sir John Burgoyne and the engineers that the proper point of attack was the Malakoff. On the ridge leading down to this work was a remarkable mound, first called Gordon's Hill, but afterwards known as the Mamelon. It afforded a good site for batteries directed against the Malakoff, and as the hill on which this work was placed commanded the city and the anchorage, Sir John wished to make this the principal point of attack, and direct the main efforts of the besiegers to its mastery; while the French held the enemy in check on their side, and a battery west of the Woronzoff ravine - that is, our left attack - kept down the fire of the Redan. But the French engineer, General Bizot, did not agree with Sir John Burgoyne. In his opinion, the Flagstaff Battery, a bold salient work on the west of the South Bay, was the key of the position. Sir John desired to employ our 3rd Division against the Malakoff, but the French objected, and it could not be done. Wherefore, the imperfect plan of attack which we have indicated was resolved upon.

The labours of the French were confined to the western side of the south ravine, and embraced the western face of the defences from the Flagstaff Battery to the ravine of the Quarantine Bay. The ground here was nearly level, but practically the French attacks were confined to the space between the Flagstaff and the Central Bastion, because a deep ravine covered the whole front of defence from the Central Bastion to the sea. They, therefore, determined to carry their parallels from the south ravine westward to the Quarantine ravine, but to make their principal effort against the Flagstaff Battery. This was unsound in principle, because the Flagstaff, if silenced and stormed, would not lead to the fall of the place, as it was itself commanded by several works, and did not command any decisive point. Here we see another of those evils of a divided command, which so often marred the efforts of the allies. Later in the siege the French General Niel was sent to the Crimea, and he at once gave the same opinion as Sir John Burgoyne.

The Russians were not insensible to the value of the Mamelon. They soon threw out a party of riflemen, who made a lodgment there, and supported a wide array of skirmishers, who spread themselves out on that side, annoying the right flank of the English attack. But at this very time, when the good people of England, dazzled by the success at the Alma, were expecting each day to hear of the fall of Sebastopol, the force sent out to accomplish it was too weak of itself to adopt the means which gave fair promise of success, while the divided command did not permit of the diversion of strength to that side sufficient to make good the deficiency. The consequence was, that the available force, instead of being concentrated on the decisive point, was divided into groups, and directed against points not decisive. The result, as will be seen, was failure.

The landing of the siege train occupied eight days. It was an arduous work to carry from Balaclava to the front the heavy guns and mortars, and shot, and shell, and ammunition wherewith to feed them; and, moreover, to collect the planks and beams required to make the platforms and bombproofs, and to accumulate the gabions and sandbags so indispensable on such a soil. There were landed at Balaclava 100 guns of various calibres, 24, 32, and 68-pounders, and 10 mortars. Included in these were six Lancaster guns, then a newly- invented weapon. The whole of this powerful armament was not, of course, placed in battery. Their exists no report of the number landed by the French; but their artillery at this time Was lighter than ours. Rarely, however, perhaps at no previous siege of such magnitude, had guns of such power and range been employed. For the two armies, this first period was a bright and hopeful time. Few were aware of the vast difficulties of the enterprise, and upon these the immensity of the task, and the inadequacy of the means only dawned gradually, and, as it were, day by day. At first, schemes of an instant assault were propounded; but a glance at the works - the sight of the ships, anchored so that their broadsides might sweep the approaches, the very weight of the shot fired at the least show of humanity even when scarcely within range, the altogether unexpected difficulties of the ground, the impossibility of getting a good view of the defences - soon convinced the most ardent advocates of a sudden assault that it would not succeed. Moreover, the leaders could not but be aware that a large Russian army, exclusive of the garrison, was assembling for field operations; and this fact made the allies anxious for the security of their right flank and rear. There were, in this very first week of October, as many Russians as there were French, English, and Turks in the Crimea; and hence they showed themselves on the Tchernaya, and threw out counter approaches along the ridges between the ravines, and repaired the Inkermann causeway, and made Sebastopol more formidable every day.

And so, to cover the troops actually engaged in the siege, the allies rapidly threw up defensive works. They scarped the road from Kamara to Kadikoi. They posted 1,000 marines on the east of Balaclava, and hauled up several heavy ship guns, and placed them in position to sweep the Kamara Road. They caused 800 sailors to occupy the hills above Kadikoi, and placed guns in battery. From the Col di Balaclava the French, under General Bosquet, carried a line of entrenchments to a point beyond the Woronzoff Road, and armed them. Then in the valley north of Balaclava the Turks were set to construct five redoubts on the round hills which cut the valley in two, and each redoubt was garrisoned by 250 Osmanli, and some guns. In the valley between these redoubts and Kadikoi, the cavalry had their camp. Thus the marines, sailors, 93rd, cavalry, and Turks, defended the British base of operations - the all-important bay of Balaclava, the port of entry for every ration, for every gun, for every round shot and shell, for everything required by the British army; while the French and another force of Turks held the steep heights of Mount Sapoune, and barred the road to the plateau by the Col di Balaclava. This part of the position was practically unassailable. It was only here and from the north at Inkermann that an attack could be attempted. No enemy could cross the Tchernaya from the east and ascend the Inkermann ridge, for the marshes prevented the passage of the stream, and the ascent was so rugged that infantry, if opposed, could never overcome it. The weak point was the extreme right of the British line, which was open to an attack from the north, and every day made more visible the precarious hold we had on that side. But although the proper line of defence was seen, and its occupation recommended, the British army was so weak that it could not supply the troops necessary to secure that flank from an attack which, if successful, would be ruinous. Even early in October the Russian light infantry boldly came out along the whole front, and skirmished with the allied outposts. The great guns of the place flung huge shot - some were 84-pounders - into our very camps, and once or twice camps had to be removed to the rear. So hot was the fire at times, our engineers complained that they could not make a proper reconnaissance of the enemy's works, or of the ground whence to attack them.

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

Balaclava
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Sir de Lacy Evans
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