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


Pages: 1 2 3 <4>

Such was the state of things when, on the 5th of October, Lord Raglan moved his head-quarters to a farmhouse near the source of the south ravine, not far from the Col, and on the reverse slope of a hill whence the white town and the forts, and shipping, and the allied fleet in the Black Sea were visible. The days were wearing away, and it was time to push on the preparations with energy.

Before the siege train was wholly landed, it was determined to place the Lancaster guns in battery. From these pieces much was expected. They were said to have a range of 4,000 yards, and their accuracy was supposed to be great. On the night of the 7th of October, a half-sunken battery for two of these guns was begun on the left of the Woronzoff ravine. The Russians had towed one of their men-of-war up the south bay, and had placed it broadside on to the south ravine, so that its fire might sweep the great mouth of the ravine, and enfilade the approaches to the Redan. On the night of the 8th a second half-sunken battery was commenced on the extreme right. It was originally intended for two Lancaster guns, but was immediately enlarged so as to take in five guns, one Lancaster and four 68-pounders. This became known as the 5-gun battery, and it was so well served, that the Russians called it the "five-eyed battery." Its object was to batter the Malakoff tower, and to fire on the ships in the Careening creek, whose guns commanded the approaches to the Malakoff. These batteries were almost or quite beyond the reach of the guns of the place. They were placed on very rocky ground, and the earth for the parapets had to be collected at a considerable distance, and carried in baskets and sandbags. Nevertheless, so industrious were the workers, that the first was finished on the night of the 9th, and the second on the night of the 10th. During these preliminary operations, the engineer officers had been busily engaged in reconnoitring the ground; but so close were the Russian picquets, often strong in numbers, and sometimes supported by field guns, that the work had to be done at night under the greatest difficulties, for the country side was wild, rocky, unknown. More than once the sappers and miners, who accompanied the officers, lost their way; and one couple of sappers actually found themselves within the Russian lines, from which they escaped, but one was mortally wounded. On another occasion a small reconnoitring party strayed within the line of picquets, and was compelled to run the gauntlet of their fire for several hundred yards; yet not one was hit.

It was on the night of the 11th, just as the British began to break ground, that this occurred. The Russians were just about to execute a sortie when the sappers blundered upon their outposts. The noise of the firing roused the camp, and the 2nd and Light Division stood to their arms. Dark masses of Russian battalions were faintly discerned making for the ridge, on which the working party were engaged in forming the first parallel of the right attack. Suddenly the guns of the Malakoff and Redan opened a furious fire, and under cover of this the battalions of the enemy, supported by field pieces, advanced. They were elated, for all the covering parties except one fell back. Behind them tongues of flame leapt out of the dark batteries with an angry glare, and over their heads streamed the unseen shot and the shell whose burning fuse revealed its passage. Soon the rattle of musketry formed an undertone amid the booming chorus of big guns. Over all could be heard the imperious roll of the drums and call of the trumpets, as they roused up the French and British Divisions. The British field artillery came into action, and presently the 88th hastening up, gave a loud hurrah, and began to charge down hill. Finding his surprise anticipated and thus met, the enemy went about and disappeared in the darkness. On the 10th the officers had successfully traced the parallel across the ridge having its right on the Woronzoff ravine, and called the "Greenhill" ridge. This parallel was at 1,350 yards from the Russian works, and its length from ravine to ravine was about 1,000 yards. The soil was rocky, the working parties from the line regiments inexpert, and not much progress was made. On the next ridge the working parties had got bewildered in the darkness on the 10th, and the parallel could not be traced until the 11th. It was about 900 yards from the Redan. On these rude uncultivated ridges from this time the work went on night and day. Sometimes so hard was the soil, the workers had to break up the rock with blasting powder, and to use the same means in order to make level floors for the gun platforms and mortar beds. Night and day also they were, at times, subjected to the fire of the fortress; and now and then venturesome skirmishers crept up, and sent a stinging shower of rifle balls into the trenches. "In many parts, the rocky nature of the ground," says the engineer's journal of the siege, " did not admit of sinking a trench, and the parapets had to be built up to a height of six feet with earth collected from ravines in the rear." But the work went forward without intermission and with very little loss; and on the 16th of October, 41 pieces of ordnance, including five 10-inch mortars, had been mounted in batteries on the left attack, and 32 pieces of ordnance, including five 10-inch mortars, had been mounted in the right attack. The guns and mortars in these batteries were to direct a cross fire on the Malakoff, the Redan, and the Barrack batteries, or to search the flank of the Flagstaff on one side, and the men-of-war in the Careening creek on the other. Thus in less than a week the British had put these 73 guns into position; but in the meantime Todleben had shown such amazing industry and skill, that he had brought no less than 107 guns to bear upon the English attack alone, 82 of which were heavy siege guns.

The ground over which the French attack had to be carried, extending from the South Ravine to the Quarantine Bay, was far more easily worked. The earth was plentiful, and in many parts, when they had removed the superficial soil of rough stones, they came upon beds of clay, which were very useful. As on the English side, the period employed in landing guns, gabions, sandbags, and ammunition afforded the generals an opportunity of investigating the lines of approach. There were several houses and some patches of kitchen and flower-gardens in their front, and the officers and men readily availed themselves of these, as well as of the inequalities of the ground, to take a view of the Russian works, and select the most favourable sites for batteries. The enemy did not permit this work to go on without opposition. Between their right and the French left a deep ravine intervened. Moreover, this flank was under the guns of the Quarantine Fort, and the Russians made frequent sallies from their right, some of which led to brisk actions, in which much ammunition was expended on both sides, and little loss inflicted on either. But the French lament the loss of an able and promising Captain of Engineers. In none of these little sorties did the enemy gain any advantage, nor, materially, did the officers who were engaged in looking for their weak points. But, in fact, the depth of the ravine running along the west face, prevented the French from pushing their approaches much below the crest at any time, and it also hindered the Russians from driving home any sortie on that flank. To carry on their operations the French had about 14,000 men, including 1,000 marines under Captain Rigaud de Grenouilly, who landed them to work the naval guns brought ashore.

The French began to "break ground" on the night of the 9th, two days after our engineers had commenced the Lancaster batteries. They drew their parallels within 870 yards of the Russian works, and they employed working parties, numbering altogether 1,600 men, and protected by a trench guard of 4,800. The wind, it is noted, was north-east - that is, from the fortress - and although there was a moon, the sky was cloudy. The enemy either did not perceive the French parties, or was too much engaged in his own operations; for he did not fire a shot, and by daybreak the active French soldiers had thrown up cover along a line of 1,000 yards. From this time, for the next six days the Russians did not fail to vex the workmen by repeated cannonades. Nor did they omit to sally forth; but this the French would not permit with impunity. They sent out riflemen who ensconced themselves in small pits, and thence kept up a fire on the embrasures, and on any Russians who showed themselves in advance.

Besides constructing their first parallel, finding the soil yielding and plentiful, the French began to trench in zigzag lines outwards from the first, in order to be ready to push on to a second parallel. They also sank zigzag passages, called " boyaux," from the rear down to the trenches, in order that the troops going thither might be sheltered from fire. The French siege train amounted to 86 guns of all sorts. They were far lighter than those in the English siege-park; and less able to contend with the heavy guns of the place. Of these 86, the French mounted 49 in the batteries behind the first parallel, and 4 in a work on the extreme left, thrown up on the site of an ancient fort, and intended to batter the Quarantine Fort. Thus on the 16th they had 53 guns and mortars in battery. The principal effort, as we have said, was to be made against the Flagstaff bastion, the southern apex of the Russian system of defence.

To these batteries the Russians were able to oppose not less than 130 guns; so that on the whole works of the place there were nearly 250 guns. The exact number at any moment could not be known, as the enemy increased his batteries day by day. The streets of the town were crowded with guns and material passing to and fro. The resources of the arsenal for defence were such as few if any arsenals in the world could furnish. Admiral Korniloff went round the works every day cheering on the labourers. In like manner Todleben was indefatigable and omnipresent. He was, says an eye-witness then in the town, almost constantly at the bastions, observing the progress and direction of the works of the besiegers, and where it seemed expedient, changing his own plans two or three times to meet and counteract those of the allies. Thus, while overlooking the development of General Bizot's trenches, he observed a salient angle opposite one of his own works, whereupon he immediately threw up one battery, and changed the direction of another in such a manner as to place the whole angle under his fire. " Whenever he remarked the works of the enemy advancing, he immediately made some change to meet them. Sometimes this object was gained by simply changing the position of a gun, or by altering an embrasure, to bear upon the point required. If the object could not be obtained by either of these means, the whole battery was re-made. This it was that rendered so difficult the prosecution of a siege against an unfortified place, as it enabled the engineer to erect his defences according to the attacks of the enemy." But it should be observed that this facility was due to the fact that Sebastopol was an entrenched camp, including an immense and exhaustless arsenal, and open to the rear, so that all the resources of Russia could be poured in to defend it.

And so it was in these first weeks of October. The garrison was augmented daily; first by Menschikoff's army, then by troops from Taman and Kertch, then by battalions from Odessa; so that in a few days there were in Sebastopol no fewer than 23,000 soldiers and 12,000 sailors, armed and drilled as soldiers; and about the heights of Mackenzie's Farm and Inkermann, a corps of observation, numbering 25,000 men, giving a total of 60,000 men, a force equal to that of the allies. Certainly, under these circumstances, the place could not have been taken by assault. The Russian writer, Anitchkoff, however, insists that, had the allies, on the 28th of September, made a bold reconnaissance, they must have come to the determination to assault at once, and had they done so, he is of opinion that the place would have been in great peril. Instead of this, he says, they attempted a series of irresolute coups de main. Sir John Burgoyne does not agree with this. He distinctly said - and he did make a reconnaissance - that "the generals in command would have acted most rashly had they made such an attempt, that the prospect of success was email, and that a failure would have been fatal." To have made such an attempt in the face of the force of sailors, soldiers, ships' broadsides, field artillery, and heavy guns in battery, he adds, "would have been an act of most unjustifiable rashness." We suspect the astute Todleben, and the energetic, unflinching Korniloff, were of the same opinion. The Russian, Anitchkoff, wrote as he did to enhance the valour and tenacity of his nation; the Pole, Chodasievich, in order to show how much the Russians had been depressed by the Alma. The balance of testimony shows that Sebastopol could not, in the first days of October, have been carried by a coup de main. The only chance of effecting that would have been by a very rapid pursuit, on the 21st of September, pushed at once against the place. But even then, the sinking of the ships and the liberation of the marines and sailors would have made success very doubtful. The actual course of events wo have seen, and now, on the 16th of October, all was prepared on both sides - the allies were ready to begin a mighty cannonade, and the Russians were ready to reply with equal force and fury.

But the bombardment, destined to begin on the 17th, was not to be confined to the land batteries. The allied fleets were to take part in the display, and, running in, batter the great stone forts which formed the sea defences of Sebastopol.

Until a short time before the war broke out, the Czar had not thought fit to plan any land defences for Sebastopol. The object of fortifying the roadstead was twofold. It had been foreseen, as early as 1828, by the astute Pozzo de Borgo, that, if the Western Powers should ever give the Sultan material aid to defend himself against Russia, they would probably enter the Black Sea. If they did so, and found the arsenal of Sebastopol undefended, they might easily destroy it and the fleet. The purpose and aim of constructing a powerful military port on the fine bay lying in the south-western peninsula of the Crimea, was to accumulate there the means of assailing Constantinople. But as this could have been done at little expense, so long as the only enemy dreaded by the Czar was the Sultan, it follows that the great forts erected at such a vast expense must have been intended to parry the possible blows of the Western Powers. While it entered into the plans of the Czar to ward off a naval attack^ he never even dreamed of an invasion. The Turks, he knew, could not, and that the Western Powers should, did not seem to come within the region of possibilities. So he only fortified the sea front. But this front he fortified to some purpose. No place in the world could be more impregnable to an attack from the sea. The capabilities of the shores of the roadstead did not even escape the eyes of an English lady, who visited the Crimea, in 1786. Viewing from the heights of Inkermann, she wrote: - "From the singularity of the coast, the harbour is unlike any other I ever saw. It is a long creek, formed by the Black Sea between two ridges of land, so high that the Glory of Catherine, one of the largest ships of the Russian navy, now at anchor here, cannot be seen, as the shore is above the pendant The water is so deep, that this ship touches the land. All the fleets of Europe would be safe from storms or enemies in these creeks or harbours, for there are many. Batteries at the entrance of them, on one side, would be sufficient effectually to destroy any ships that would venture in, and placed towards the sea must even prevent the entrance of a fleet." The Russian engineers were not likely to overlook what was obvious to the un- instructed survey of Lady Craven. They did not. They designed batteries at the entrance placed towards the sea, and they built them up tier upon tier. At the mouth of the roadstead there were three mighty forts. On a low point of land, under the cliff on the northern side, rose the immense work named Fort Constantino, showing no guns, in three casemated tiers, with another tier on the roof. On the south shore, also low down, and haying a good command of the sea, first the Quarantine Fort, with its sixty guns, and beyond that, Port Alexander, with its ninety guns, defied all assailants, so that in first line, an invading fleet would have to encounter the fire of 260 guns, securely placed in solid works. Looking from the sea, these three forts impressed the beholder with the strength of the place. But these were not all. Beyond Alexander rose Fort Nicholas, armed with 110 guns; and beyond this, Fort Paul, with its eighty-six guns, standing at the mouth of the south bay. Altogether, there were no fewer than 700 guns looking towards the sea from their secure casemates. Nor should the small work, called the "Wasp Battery, above Fort Constantine, improvised on the spur of the moment, be overlooked. It deserved its name. Such were the formidable defences which the allied fleets were to attack in wooden ships, and which some sanguine persons expected them to reduce to helplessness. No greater delusion could exist. Nevertheless, the allied fleets were ready to perform their part of the great attack. All being ready, ashore and afloat, the generals and admirals determined to open fire on the morning of the 17th of October.

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