OREALD.COM - An Old Electronic Library
eng: a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

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

Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

Signs of the presence of the enemy in great strength were now visible almost daily. His masses might be seen marching on the north of Sebastopol and in the valley of the Tchernaya. Opposite Balaclava, our sentries and videttes could see the Russians establishing themselves in position from Kamara on their left to the Fedoukine heights, and even the higher ridges over the Tchernaya on their right. The Cossack outposts lounged on their lances within a quarter of a mile of our dragoon videttes, who kept watch from, the redoubt under the slope of Mount Sapoune. The marines on our extreme right above Balaclava, saw that they were looked after night and day by a Russian outpost on the rugged hills towards the valley of Baidar. By the end of October the port, however, had been made secure, not so much by its garrison, which was not numerous, as by the watchfulness of Sir Colin Campbell, and the well-placed batteries armed with very heavy guns.

The two remaining infantry divisions of Dannenberg's corps arrived at Batchi-Serai on the 28th of October. The 10th Division, under General Soimonoff, entered Sebastopol on the 3rd of November, and on the same day, the 11th, under General Pauloff, took up its quarters among the hills about the ruins of Inkermann. The arrival of these troops had been seen by the allies, and the generals became convinced that, it might be in a few hours, the enemy would make an attack upon some point or points. Yet not a single change was made in the arrangements, except that the British cavalry - the wreck of two splendid brigades - were marched up to the plateau, and posted in the rear of the French lines upon Mount Sapoune. The allies had, for all purposes, little more than 60,000 men. Prince Menschikoff had under his orders, exclusive of the sailors, 70,000 infantry, 9,000 horse, 3,000 artillery, and 282 guns.

What use should he make of a force which exceeded that of the allies by one-fourth?

According to the Russian accounts, Prince Menschikoff had been informed that the allies intended to open fire once more upon the place from all their batteries, and, after a short and sharp bombardment, storm. His information was correct. In order to anticipate the allies, he determined to assume the offensive himself, and, if possible, force them to raise the siege. Two Grand Dukes, sons of the Czar, were on their way to the army, hoping to arrive in time to witness the total defeat of the arrogant Western Powers. Prince Menschikoff had the choice of three points of attack. 1st, he might push heavy columns up the south ravine between the English and French armies, and try to cut them in two; but this he rejected, fearing that his troops would be massacred, as they would have been by the fire of cannon and musketry in that horrible defile. 2nd, he might renew with greater force the attack on Balaclava. This scheme did not meet with approval, because it might fail, seeing that the defences of the place had been so greatly augmented; and next because, if successful, the allies would have been stricken deeply, but not mortally in the estimation of the Russian generals, and because, to make an attack on that side effective, Mount Sapoune must be stormed, which the Russian generals held, and justly, to be impracticable. 3rd, he might attack the right flank at Inkermann, and mastering the plateau on that side, take the defences of Sapoune and the trenches in reverse, and so sweep the whole allied army into the sea. This was adopted, because it promised such immense results, because the English were known to be weak, and because, "with great remissness," to use the language of a narrative imputed to General Dannenberg, " the foe had neglected to fortify the approach to his position." Haying settled the principle, it only remained to devise the plan of the attack; and this was done on the 3rd and 4th of November.

It was decided that there should be one real and two false attacks - the real attack from Inkermann, the false attacks from the Tchernaya valley upon Mount Sapoune, and from the Quarantine Bay upon the left of the French siege works. Thus, to begin with, Prince Menschikoff divided his disposable force into three parts, separated from each other by such wide intervals that neither could aid the other. In order, however, to give as much unity as possible to these offensive movements, a telegraph was erected on the heights above the ruins of Inkermann, whence its signals could be seen on all sides. The attack upon the British at Inkermann was to be made by two columns. General Soimonoff, with 17,500 men - [one account says 16,800] - and 38 guns, whereof 22 were of large calibre, was to march out of Sebastopol, near the Malakoff, at five in the morning, and move up the plateau, supporting his left on the left of the Careening ravine. General Pauloff, with 13,500 men and 96 guns, was, at five o'clock, to throw a bridge over the Tchernaya, near its mouth, and ascending the heights by the post road and the Pioneer or Menschikoff road, establish his guns on Shell Hill and its slopes, and effect a junction with Soimonoff. All these operations were to be carried on in the dawn. General Dannenberg commanded the whole of these troops, which amounted to 31,000 men, all infantry, and the enormous mass of 134 guns. At the same time - that is, six in the morning - Prince Gortschakoff, with 11,000 infantry, nearly 6,000 horse, and 100 guns, was to make a demonstration against Mount Sapoune; and he was especially directed to keep his cavalry ready to launch upon the plateau at the first signal; while from the Quarantine Bay, General Timojieff was to make a fierce sortie with 5,000 men upon the French trenches. The guns of the Malakoff and Redan were to cover the right of Soimonoff's column, and General Möller, who commanded in Sebastopol, was directed to assault the allied trenches, if he discerned the least hesitation or confusion among the trench guard. Thus, it will be seen, Prince Menschikoff devised a very wide plan for the destruction of the allies. He hoped that the attacks from the town and from the Tchernaya would entirely occupy the French; and that General Dannenberg would be able to catch the English alone and unaware, and deliver the fortress by passing over their bodies. Had Prince Gortschakoff attacked the French with energy this might have happened, for there were, counting everything, only 22,343 British troops effective, and of these 16,308 were infantry, rank and file - that is, in technical language, bayonets. The consequence was that the immense lines they had to guard were thinly manned, and so scarce were labourers that there were none to repair the trenches in the right attack. The proof of this is in the divisional reports. On the 25th of October, Sir George Brown (Light Division) wrote - " At daylight, instead of having any one in camp for the defence of the position, we shall be short of troops to relieve pickets." A little later, Sir De Lacy Evans (2nd Division) said, "I have but 600 men on-this frail position [the right flank at Inkermann]. The troops are completely worn out with fatigue. This is most serious." So at Balaclava. So along the whole nine miles of ground held by the British. The whole force was suffering from prolonged exposure and constant labour, and, as will be seen, Lord Raglan could not muster more than 8,000 men to defend the vital point of his line. The French were better off; they had nearly 40,000 men, and no Inkermann position.

In the month of November the sun rises earlier in the Crimea than it does in England. The rays of the dawn shoot up behind the snows of the Caucasus about five o'clock; hence this hour was selected for the movement of the Russian troops. But although the upper air was growing brighter, a thick white fog overspread the hills around Sebastopol, and settled down in heavier masses in the valleys. Hidden within its clammy folds the Russian columns stole unobserved out of Sebastopol, and Pauloff began, in silence, to throw a bridge over the Tchernaya, close to its mouth. As soon as it was completed, the infantry poured over and the guns followed. The fog deadened the sound of the hundreds of wheels emerging from the east and west, and the grey-coated infantry, in silence and obscurity, tramped along. The pickets of the 2nd Division were in the hollow between their camp and Shell Hill and on the old post road, and those of the Light Division were in the Careening ravine and on both its banks. There was not more than usual watchfulness, for the Russian secrets had been kept, and no attack was expected that morning more than any other. General Codrington had ridden out at dawn to visit the outposts, and was riding back to camp, when the report of a rifle struck on his ear, and he halted and listened. A sputter of musketry followed, and seemed to come from the Careening ravine; and soon after the same ominous sound, its natural, sharp, angry note being muffled by the fog, was heard on the right. The skirmishers of the two Russian columns, had touched the line of British pickets. Codrington galloped off to turn out the Light Division. The battle of Inkermann had begun.

The British army had been surprised, The tired soldiers, not on duty, were asleep. Others were striving to light fires in the drizzling rain. The relieved trench guards were marching into camp. Officers were roused from their brief slumbers, and steeds were saddled, and guns put in fighting order, and troops formed, in haste. Soon the sound of cannon came up from the Balaclava basin, and in a few minutes the whole of the camps were alive with men, to whom the prospect of battle imparted more energy than a sound slumber. But they were few and scattered, the enemy were many and in masses; how many, and in what masses, our soldiers had yet to learn. One picket, and the officer commanding it, were surprised in the fog and captured, and only one. The others ran together, and fell back fighting before their innumerable foes, who broke suddenly through the mist to smite and slay, and who, strong in their purpose, pressed on and allowed no respite.

Soimonoff, moving out of the Russian lines, had quitted the plateau on which stood the Malakoff, and instead of resting his left on the Careening ravine, by some mistake, crossed; and thus carried his twenty-nine battalions along the proper right bank of the ravine towards the heights, where Pauloff's troops had begun to assemble. It was his advanced parties who came in contact with the outposts of the Light Division, whom they drove into and over the Careening ravine, and whom they followed. Pauloff had not got all his force up the heights; but as soon as the British pickets were thrust back, he had hastened to put his heavy guns in battery on the highest ground, and his lighter guns on the slopes beneath them, within twelve hundred yards of the camp of the 2nd Division. He at once opened fire to cover an assault of infantry, and thus it happened that Evans's British regiments had no sooner formed than they were exposed to an iron shower of shot, shell, and grape. Evans, who had been disabled by an accident, was on board a ship at Balaclava, and Sir John Pennefather commanded the division. The shot fell in among the tents, and one of its first victims was the gallant Captain Allix, a promising officer on the staff of the sick general. Protected by the fire of fifty guns, Soimonoff directed a strong column to cross the Careening ravine; while Pauloff threw forward by the old post road the two rifle regiments of Borodino and Taroutino; so that both flanks of the English position were about to be assailed at once.

The British troops at this moment in the front line were those of the 2nd and Light Divisions. General Pennefather sent Adams's Brigade to the right of the post road with three guns, and (kept his own on the left of the road. Sir George Brown brought up the Light Division. Codrington's gallant soldiers were arrayed on the left bank of the Careening ravine, not far from the 68- pounder battery, and Buller moved up into the space between the left of Pennefather and the right of Codrington. The front was contracted; but narrow as it was, the troops were so few that there were gaps between the four brigades. At the first onset of the enemy, the other brigades were not present. Soon after six an orderly rode into head-quarters with the news that the right flank was assailed in force; and, indeed, the sound of cannon, not only at Inkermann, but from the fortress and from the Balaclava front, told the allies with emphasis that the enemy was upon them. Lord Raglan soon convinced himself that the real attack was at Inkermann, and he determined to ride thither after issuing such orders as seemed expedient. First, General Canrobert was informed of what had occurred, but at that moment Canrobert was himself assailed on the side of the town. Next Sir George Cathcart was ordered to lead his division to Inkermann; Colonel Steele was sent to request General Bosquet to send up all the troops he could spare to Inkermann; and Captain Calthorpe was directed to instruct Sir Richard England to cover the trenches, and place his troops so as to support the Light Division. It was while these orders were in course of execution that the attack began. The Guards had not even reached the front when the Russian columns began to surge up against our thin, straggling line.

The British guns had come into action on the crest as fast as they arrived, and were at once exposed to an unequal combat with the heavier guns of the enemy. And now the dense fog was made more dense by the volumes of smoke which, breaking it from the guns in clouds, unfolded itself, and lay almost motionless close to the surface of the ground. Through this thick atmosphere the opposing troops made their dubious way, and thus it happened that our men, hastening up to the front, came suddenly upon enemies, who seemed to spring out of the hill side. Soimonoff, on reaching the scene of action, found himself trenching upon the ground apportioned to the columns of Pauloff. The huge masses had converged upon a comparatively narrow front, and the Russians complain that they had not room to range their men for a powerful and simultaneous onset. Soimonoff had taken the wrong road, and instead of effecting a junction with Pauloff at the head of the Careening ravine on the site of the 2nd Division camp, he had joined Pauloff on the east of the ravine, and found that hollow way between him and the troops he had been directed to overwhelm - the Light Division. An ambiguous order, combined with a wholesome fear of Hewett's 68-pounders, had caused this mistake. To retrieve his error, while Taroutino and Borodino were climbing the hills to attack the sandbag battery, Soimonoff plunged into the ravine, and led his men to the charge. Thus he came full on the front of Codrington's Brigade, deployed on the left bank. The heroes of the 7th, 19th, and 23rd were not dismayed by the masses which loomed large and portentous in the fog, but opened upon them such a heavy fire that the Russians heaped together in the deep hollows, and descending the steep sides, never reached the opposite bank, but fell into disorder, recoiled, and receded from view. Soimonoff and Villebois were killed at the outset. The colonels of regiments and of battalions dropped under the fire. Dead and wounded lay together in the brushwood. The attack on this side was repelled. At the same time the left column of this force had entered the ravine where it was shallower - that is, nearer its source - and had crossed it without resistance, except that offered by skirmishers. There were four guns here pushed somewhat perilously to the front, and Soimonoff's left column, composed of the Ekaterinbourg battalions, darting through the mist, enveloped and captured the guns. Their triumph was short; for Buller was just moving his brigade into this part of the position; and, as the enemy shouted round the captured guns, Buller's left and centre regiments, the 88th and 77th, also dashed out of the mist, and, lowering their bayonets, went full on to the Russian mass. The conflict was brief. The impetus of the British charge dealt such a shock to the Russians that they were borne down and pressed back, and hurled over the ravine. They had surprised the guns, and in turn shared the fate of the artillery. These early combats rudely disarranged the Russian plans.

<<< Previous page <<< >>> Next page >>>
Pages: 1 <2> 3 4 5

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

The Valley of Inkermann
The Valley of Inkermann >>>>
General Bosquet
General Bosquet >>>>

Home | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About