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


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General Liprandi, as early as the 23rd, had collected on the Tchernaya his own 12th Infantry Division, and he was then reinforced by seven battalions and fourteen guns from Sebastopol. This gave him a force of about 21,000 men, including 3,200 cavalry and 52 guns. The 24th was spent in reconnoitring the position, and Sir Colin Campbell heard the same evening, from a spy, that an attack in force would be made at dawn; information which Lord Lucan sent by his own aide-de-camp to head-quarters. But it does not appear that any measures were taken in consequence. Perhaps no trust was placed in the spy. Perhaps Lord Lucan did not enjoy that confidence at head-quarters which a really good cavalry commander would not have failed to inspire. In any case, it does not appear that special measures were taken to meet the attack. Lord Raglan knew that Sir Colin Campbell was certain not to be surprised, and that he ever kept the keenest watch upon his front and flank. Both were aware that a large Russian force of all arms was on the Tchernaya, and General Bosquet was too good a soldier to be ignorant of the fact. Therefore, although no special movements were made by them, there was on the part of the allies a general readiness to encounter the enemy, should he come; although it seems clear that Lord Raglan did not anticipate an onset in such great force.

Long before dawn the Russians stood to their arms. The valley of the Tchernaya, the plain beyond, and the hill sides were shrouded in a thick clammy mist. This was favourable to the assailants. The plan of General Liprandi was to move in three separate columns upon the redoubts occupied by the Turks. The right column crossed the Tchernaya by the bridge of Traktir, and moving through the principal pass or gorge in the Fedoukine heights, turned to its right, and drew up ready to take post in the south-western slopes, over against Mount Sapoune. The centre columns, or main body, passed the Tchernaya at Tchorgoun, and deploying the right battalions moved obliquely towards the redoubts, while the left battalions took ground to the left, and faced the eastern end of the line of works. At the same time the cavalry drew up between the right and the centre across the valley. The enemy's left column made a considerable detour through a defile which leads to the Baidar Valley, and coming out upon Kamara, he occupied it; while he sent part of his troops up the hills to threaten the right of the Marines on Mount Spilia - that is, the mass of rugged elevations eastward of Balaclava. So that the Russian line, just as day began breaking, stretched from Kamara across the valley to the north-east of the Fedoukine ridge. It was a powerful force: 16,000 bayonets, 3,200 sabres and lances, and 52 guns were emerging from the mists, in the hope of thrusting themselves in between the British army and Balaclava. To meet them were, first, about 1,000 Turks - not well-tried soldiers, but recruits - who were placed in weak redoubts, armed with seven iron 12-pounders, nearly two miles from any kind of support; next, 1,100 British Marines, the 93rd Regiment, a few more Turks, and two weak brigades of cavalry.

The Russians, who knew well with what they had to contend, and how weak was the first line of the allies, moved up very briskly to the attack. General Semiakine and General Letufsky brought nine battalions and twenty guns, well supported, against the two redoubts nearest Kamara; the poor Turks in which suddenly saw before them a whole army. The riflemen ran forward, the guns opened, the heavy columns came on. The Turks were alarmed. They opened a fire of cannon and musketry; but, as the enemy's troops rolled on towards them, they lost heart. Arrived within a hundred yards, the Russian infantry made a rush over the intervening space, and the redoubt was won. The Turks fled, some over the valley, some into the next redoubt; but some stood and fought, for the Russian general reports that 170 were slain in the work. The English artilleryman in charge of the 12-pounders had spiked them. Moving swiftly forward, bringing up his right and pushing his horsemen along on the flank, Liprandi forced the Turks to flee from the next two redoubts; and the Cossacks were soon over the slopes, dashing among the fugitives, and spearing them as they ran. But here again some turned at bay, and footmen and horsemen, lances and bayonets, were seen engaged in single combats. The Turks still fled. Panic ran along the whole line. The last redoubt was abandoned, and the Russians, elated with this rout of 1,000 men by an army, occupied the whole line of outposts, and bringing up their artillery opened a heavy fire. But General Liprandi, fearful of thrusting his men under the fire of the heavy guns about Balaclava and Kadikoi, halted in full career, and refrained from pressing an attack which, at one moment, seemed likely to sweep like a tide through the whole valley. He even abandoned the fourth redoubt soon after he took it, because he says, " it was too far from his position." So far then, instead of a determined onset, he had only made a reconnaissance in force, had driven in the outposts, and had occupied three-fourths of the line of knolls in great strength.

Nevertheless, he resolved to continue his offensive movement, but with his horsemen alone. When the Russians were first seen advancing through the mist, Lord Lucan, who expected them, was in one of the redoubts. He immediately rode off to join his division, and to send the unwelcome news to Sir Colin Campbell and Lord Raglan. The cavalry were soon in the saddle and in fighting order, the Heavy Brigade on the right, the Light on the left. Sir Colin Campbell drew out the 93rd, under Colonel Ainslie, and posted them on a rising ground in front of the gorge leading to the port. He had no other force, except Captain Barker's nine-pounder foot battery, with which he covered his right. Presently Lord Lucan sent down the Scots Greys and Captain Maude's horse artillery. The Russians were now chasing the Turks from No. 1 and 2 redoubts. They had placed thirty or forty guns in battery, and when the two British batteries entered into a contest with them, Maude was dangerously wounded, and the greater number and the heavier metal of the enemy obliged our guns to withdraw; but Barker, falling back, still kept his place on the right of the 93rd, and his guns trained upon the road from Kamara, whence the left Russian column threatened to debouch. Some of the fugitive Turks were rallied by Sir Colin, and placed on his right flank, but no dependence could be put in them. The only stanch infantry on the plain were the 93rd, drawn up in line along a little ridge - a mere streak of red compared with the dark compact masses of the impending foe.

When the British cavalry fell back, Lord Lucan placed them near the two most westerly redoubts. His object in doing this was twofold. He desired, first, to give a clear and unobstructed range to Sir Colin Campbell's guns; and, secondly, to post the cavalry at a point whence, if the Russians moved directly on Balaclava, he could take them in flank. For this reason he made them front to the east. By this time Lord Raglan had ridden up, and had taken post on the slopes of the ridge of Mount Sapoune, then occupied by the French, so that he had a clear view of the valleys beneath him. Before leaving head-quarters, he had ordered the 1st and 4th Divisions, under the Duke of Cambridge and Sir George Cathcart, to march at once towards Balaclava. But they were distant six miles, and two hours would be required before they could come upon the scene of action. The French were near at hand, but they had no orders to move; and, as Balaclava was an English post, the French may have felt some delicacy in acting without previous concert between General Canrobert and Lord Raglan. The former had not come up - another instance of the perils of a divided command. When General Canrobert arrived, he gave orders for the advance of General Vinoy's brigade towards Kadikoi, and for the immediate march of two squadrons of Chasseurs d'Afrique.

Now Lord Raglan, looking from his post of vantage, did not approve of the disposition of the cavalry, and, being Commander-in-Chief, he had the audacity to direct a change of position. Lord Lucan was " discomfited." He seems to have thought that Lord Raglan did wrong to interfere with him. But he obeyed, and changed the front from east to north. Then Lord Raglan appears to have thought that the infantry near Balaclava should not be wholly without the support of the horse, and he directed Lord Lucan to send eight squadrons of the Heavy Brigade towards Balaclava. He obeyed. There was a long orchard running north and south, round which, on the western side, the cavalry had to move. It so chanced that, coincidently with this order from the English general, Liprandi had also given an order. He had massed his cavalry behind the redoubts, and he directed them, with a force of Cossacks on the left flank, to push over the ridge and pour the larger body into the cavalry camps which lay to the south-east of the orchard, and the flanking Cossacks to attack the 93rd. As Lord Lucan was riding along, he saw, through a break in the fruit-trees, the head of the huge column of Russian cavalry, some glittering in blue and silver uniforms, crown the ridge and descend the slope. He rode at speed, and joined the Greys and Enniskillens, as they were rounding the south end of the orchard. He wheeled them into line, almost in the cavalry camp, and placing them under General Scarlett, he directed them to anticipate the Russian charge. All this was visible to the men and officers who swarmed on Mount Sapoune. They sat or stood, French and English, looking down with breathless interest on the scene below. They saw the Russian horse, nearly 3,000 strong, sweep majestically over the rising ground, the front of their broad and deep column protected by outstretched wings on either flank; and they saw - at first in something like disorder, apparent not real - the little squadrons of the Heavy Brigade, who altogether did not equal a fifth of the force swooping down upon them. No British soldier could have desired a fairer occasion for a display of valour and skill. The pick and pride of the officers and soldiers of France were looking on. On one side were twenty-two squadrons of regular cavalry and nine sotnias of Cossacks. On the other eight squadrons, of the Heavy Brigade, six of which were only actually engaged, and ten squadrons of the Light Brigade, not one of which took part in the fight. But as the keen eyes of Captain Morris detected the first indications of the Russian advance he of his own accord moved his regiment, the 17th Lancers, across some broken ground into a position which would have enabled him to sweep into the Russian rear. Lord Cardigan, whom fortune had placed in the command of these brave men, saw the movement, and indignantly rebuked the forward officer. That officer pointed out the piece of good luck which, as it were, had been thrown in the path of the Light Brigade; but Lord Cardigan was angry, and averse from doing anything without an express order from Lord Lucan. So the Light Brigade went for nothing in a brilliant feat of arms which their intervention would have rendered decisive.

For as the Russians rolled over the ridge, they instinctively fronted towards the tiny squadrons whom they saw entangled in their standing camp; and while they fronted General Scarlett, they showed a broad flank to Lord Cardigan. Well might Captain Morris make fast his heavy sabre to his wrist, and yearn to fall in even with his lances alone, when the unwieldy mass had committed itself beyond all hope. And it did commit itself, as if in contempt of the Light Brigade, or in ignorance of its existence; for the Russians went straight towards the four squadrons of the Greys and Enniskillens. At this time the 5th Dragoons were on the right rear of the Enniskillens, the 4th Dragoon Guards were only coming round the south end of the Orchard, and the 1st Royals were in reserve. " The Russians," writes Dr. Russell, who witnessed the scene, " advanced down the hill at a slow canter, which they changed to a trot, and at last nearly halted. Their first line was nearly double the length of ours, and it was at least three times as deep. Behind them was a similar line equally strong and compact. They evidently despised their insignificant-looking enemy, but their time was come. The trumpets rang out through the valley, and the Greys and Enniskilleners went right at the centre of the Russian cavalry. The space between them was only a few hundred yards; it was scarce enough to let the horses ' gather way,' nor had the men quite space enough for the play of their sword arms. The Russian line brought forward each wing as our cavalry advanced, and threatened to annihilate them as they passed on. Turning a little to their left, so as to meet the Russian right, the Greys rushed on with a cheer that thrilled every heart. The wild shout of the Enniskilleners rose through the air at the same instant. As lightning flashes through a cloud, the Greys and Enniskilleners pierced through the dark masses of Russians. The shock was but for a moment. There was a clash of steel, and a light play of sword blades in the air, and then the Greys and dragoons disappeared in the midst of the shaken and quivering columns. In another moment we saw them emerging with diminished numbers and in broken order, charging against the second line. It was a terrible moment. ' God help them! they are lost! ' was the exclamation of more than one man, and the thought of many. "With unabated fire the noble hearts dashed at their enemy. It was a fight of heroes. The first line of Russians, which had been utterly smashed by our charge, and had fled off at our flank and towards the centre, were coming back to swallow up our handful of men. By sheer steel and by sheer courage, Enniskillener and Scot were winning their desperate way right through the enemy's squadrons, and already red coats and grey horses had appeared at the rear of the second mass, when, with irresistible force, like one bolt from a bow, the 4th Dragoon Guards riding straight at the right flank of the Russians, and the 5th Dragoon Guards following close after the Enniskilleners, rushed at the remnants of the first line of the enemy, went through it as though it were pasteboard, and put them to the utter rout." In less than five minutes, by the vigorous attack in front, and the well-timed assault in flank, and the dash upon the wings as they were closing in upon our first line, less than 700 British swordsmen had beaten 3,000 Russian horse in compact and close array into a disorderly crowd, and had driven them off so completely, that they did not draw rein until two miles from the scene of the combat and well behind their own guns, and between their own infantry. Fortunately, General Scarlett, who had the conduct of this brilliant charge, kept his men in hand, and brought them up before they came under the range of the enemy's guns. Thus were exemplified before the eyes of our allies the highest and the rarest qualities of cavalry - the swift, unhesitating charge, and the faculty for stopping ere it is too late. The spectators on the hills cheered and shouted, and even clapped their hands again and again. Lord Raglan was delighted, and sent Lieutenant Curzon to congratulate General Scarlett, and tell him it was " well done! And in his despatch home, he said, " The charge was one of the most successful I ever witnessed, and was never for a moment doubtful." But the British general must have seen with regret, as the French officers saw with astonishment, the inactivity of the Light Brigade. One word from their leader, a few strides round the north of the orchard, and the brigade might have buried itself deep in the Russian right rear, and have taken hundreds of prisoners, if it had not half destroyed Liprandi's cavalry. But fear of responsibility kept Lord Cardigan's lips closed. He had been " placed there," and until he was ordered to move, there he must remain. Few men have ever thrown away a more fortunate moment, and in war such moments fly never to return.

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

Charge of the light brigade
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Lord Lyons
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