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Chapter XXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8


Military Operations in the Winter - Inkerraann Fortified - Period of Sorties - Tryon captures Rifle Pits - His Death recorded in a French General Order - French Plans - They persist in neglecting the Malakoff - Arrival of Osten-Sacken - Sharp Sorties in December - The Russians retire behind the Tchernaya - Their Position - Reconnaissance of December 20 and of December 30 - Sorties in January (1855) - Operations in February - The Duke of Montebello and General Niel - The French at length see that the Malakoff is the Key of the Place - They assume that Attack - Russians defeated at Eupatoria - Sir Colin Campbell on the Tchernaya - Strange Conduct of General Bosquet - Campbell and Vinoy - Night Conflict of February 23 - Daring of the Zouaves - Defeat of the French - Russian Energy - They sink more Ships - Death of the Emperor Nicholas.
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It is a relief to turn from party conflicts and the exhibition of national wrath, not in the wisest form, to the military operations of that grievous winter campaign.

The Russians had failed to raise the siege by the battle of the 5th of November; but, although they were beaten on the field, and although their strength was reduced by many thousands, they gained one point - the assault of, the place was again deferred. This was no slight gain.; The works which the allies had to reduce at a subsequent period had not then been made. By staving off the assault the Russians gained time, and time brought them men; and, as the material means abounded in that vast and well-plenished arsenal, time and men enabled them to apply the boundless resources at their disposal. It was the reverse with the allies. Time diminished their supplies of men and the brute means used in war. The French, reinforced from the great army which their Emperor maintained, did indeed increase in numbers; but the little host in the English camp grew daily less, until at the worst moment there were no men to work at the trenches, and but a mere handful to guard these lines. The French did continue their works, pushing up towards the Flagstaff Bastion, and the French and English crowned the commanding heights of Inkermann with strong field works, so as to complete the line of defence on that side, and make it impossible for the enemy to venture again on an attack. But in the English works proper nothing could be done for want of men. From the 6th of November to the 10th of February there was a period of suffering, and sorties, and abortive plans.

The first renewed sign of military activity was seen on the 20th of November. In the vicious plan of siege adopted the British played a wholly secondary part. The French theory was, that by assailing and carrying the Flagstaff Bastion at the southern apex of the town, they would obtain possession of a commanding position, which would necessitate an abandonment of the place by the enemy. To this end they worked. But as the batteries on the eastern face of the enemy's lines took their approaches almost in flank, our engineers had to construct batteries intended to draw off and keep down the fire of these Russian works. Thus the English attacks were subordinate and supplementary to the great French attack. The English theory was that the Malakoff Was the key of the whole position on the southern side of the great harbour; but the French engineers could not see the justness of this theory, and General Canrobert was not a man of sufficient moral strength to overrule his engineers, even supposing that he had sufficient military insight to comprehend the views of Sir John Burgoyne. Therefore the French persisted in their original error.

The reader will remember that a deep ravine, with rocky, precipitous sides, having its source not far from the Col di Balaclava, yawned between the left of the British and the right of the French, and terminated at the head of the South Bay, after being joined by the Woronzoff Ravine in a broad valley. Above the left of this valley frowned the Garden Batteries and the Flagstaff Bastion, and above the right the Barrack Batteries. The Russians having closed the head of the South Harbour by a work armed with field-pieces, occupied, a3 a post for sharpshooters, a cemetery in the bottom; and, crossing the ravine, they crept up its steep sides, and established their riflemen in pits and caves, whence they annoyed the men in our left attack, and, by firing across the ravine, vexed the French in their right attack. The farther the French pushed forward towards the Flagstaff, the more they fell within the range of the Russian rifles. One of the Russian posts above the South Ravine was called "the Ovens," because the enemy's rifle pits on the ridge were also, in great part, caves in the face of the steep sides of the ravine. General Canrobert represented to Lord Raglan that the French were much annoyed by the fire from the Ovens, and begged him to drive off the Russians and hold the post. The engineers claim for Captain Chapman the credit of suggesting that the slope of the hill in front of our left attack should be cleared. Be that as it may, Lord Raglan directed or sanctioned the enterprise, and Lieutenant Tryon executed it on the night of the 20th of November. He received the command of 200 men of the Rifle Brigade, and the help of 100 men to act as a working party. Tryon divided his fighting men into two parties. One ho left in the second parallel, with instructions to turn the Russian right as soon as he had turned the other flank. The leading assailants quitted the parallel without noise, being intent on a surprise. " The Russian riflemen, however, were so well-drilled in outpost duties, and kept so good a look-out, that, notwithstanding the extremely dark night, they perceived the assaulting party before the latter had arrived within a hundred yards of the pits, and opened a heavy fire on them." Tryon at once led his men forward to work with the bayonet, and in a brief space drove the enemy out of the pits. At this moment the other half of the Rifles appeared on the Russian right, and forced the enemy down into the ravine; but Tryon and seven men were killed and ten were wounded. The working party came up, and falling to with pick and spade, soon turned the pits into defensive posts against the enemy. All night at intervals the Russians gallantly tried to recover the ground lost, but the Rifles would not yield. The next day the batteries opened with shell upon the new pits and the parallel, and in the night some 400 men, ascending from the valley, came on to retake the post. The Rifles were on the alert, and fired into the enemy so sharply that he ran back, and our men pursuing, found themselves masters of another line of pits, a hundred yards in front, and held them, with the loss of three killed and twenty-two wounded. These small but brilliant combats were very useful in that dreary time, and General Canrobert was so well pleased that he published a special order of the day, containing a special eulogy on the brave Tryon.

After this there was an interval of quiet, during which the rain fell, flooded the trenches, washed away the earth, and defaced the embrasures, giving abundance of employment to the engineers, and to the scanty working parties, chiefly wretched Turks, sent down as labourers. The French, even with their superior numbers, found it difficult to do more than repair the inroads of the rain, and sink new boyaux - that is, roads below the level of the ground - in order to render the passage to their trenches safe. But all day long the sharpshooters on both sides were busily firing at each other, and at the embrasures. Sometimes the enemy opened a heavy fire of big guns; and all night, in rain, or snow, or mud and mist, the soaked and benumbed sentries were obliged to keep watch and ward. The success of the attack on the Ovens led Sir John Burgoyne to suggest a similar enterprise against a nest of rifle pits called " the Quarries," just under the Redan, in front of our right attack; and Colonel Tylden proposed that the forward posts of the enemy on the east of the Careening bay should be driven off. But Lord Raglan thought that when we had taken these forward posts we could not hold them, and they were left in the hands of the Russians, who were well satisfied to keep them. For it is now plain that the energy the enemy displayed in the defence of the town side - that is, the lines opposed to the French - was intended purposely to confirm the latter in their error. By alarming the French, and showing a jealousy of them, the Russian commanders drew the eyes of our allies from Malakoff; and while Todtleben took care to fortify that position, he did not, at this stage, draw attention to it by extraordinary works. He was right in his judgment. In November the allies were wholly occupied in devising impracticable plans to execute the French theory of the siege; and, although Sir John Burgoyne never ceased to point a warning finger to the Malakoff, neither General Canrobert nor the French engineer, General Bizot, could see reason in his warning. We were not strong enough to take up ground before the Malakoff; the French would not; and so the days were wasted upon a plan which, if it had succeeded, would not have given us Sebastopol, and against the success of which the chances were a hundred to one. But the French were superior in number, and not disposed to adopt the plans of their ally. Upon their co-operation the operations altogether depended; and they do not seem to have been willing to co-operate, except on their own terms. This is one of the greatest evils of a divided command, that curse of the expedition to the Crimea.

In the beginning of December General Osten-Sacken arrived in Sebastopol, to replace the unlucky Dannenberg in command of the 4th Corps, and Prince Menschikoff entrusted Osten-Sacken with the defence of Sebastopol. Alarmed by reports of an intended assault brought in by deserters from the French, Menschikoff had reinforced the garrison by a whole brigade of infantry, and thus the new commander found himself with plenty of troops at his disposal. Being strong, he resolved to adopt the plan of carrying the war into the enemy's trenches, by means of sorties, in order that he might not only deprive the soldiers of their rest, and exhaust them by constant alarms, but that he might now and again seriously damage their siege works. Throughout December and January this plan was steadily executed, and often with transient success. It was their practice usually to fall at once both upon the French and English. The earlier sorties were made about the point of junction between the two armies. Thus, on the night of the 2nd of December, a body of Russians, issuing from the Flagstaff Bastion, and led by a hardy officer, drove in the outposts, passed the third and approached the second French parallel before they were met by the bayonet and overcome. While this was going forward on the left of the South Ravine, on the right the enemy suddenly appeared in force before the Ovens, and ousted the garrison, a party of the 50th. But a body of Rifles coming up, they went in at the Russians, who, taken by surprise in turn, speedily retreated, leaving seven corpses behind them. A witty private of the Rifles, reporting this to a comrade, said, "the Russians relieved the 50th, and we relieved the Russians." On the 5th the enemy made two feeble efforts in the same quarters. On the night of the 11th they broke again into the French parallels of approach before the Flagstaff Bastion, driving before them the trench guard, and winning their way far into the lines. The French officers were not wanting on this occasion. Collecting their men, they led them back to the charge, and drove out the enemy, but not before he had seized and carried off three small mortars and an officer. The attack on the English was directed against a new quarter. Creeping up the Woronzoff Ravine between the right and left attacks, the Russians sought to take both in reverse. Probably the move was intended to test our state of vigilance. The sentries saw the enemy, and, firing sharply on him, forced him back. They succeeded better on the 20th; for their columns surprised the trench guards in the right and left attacks, and entered the parallels, But being rallied and well led, the 38th and 50th on the right, and the 34th and 97th on the left, charged and expelled the enemy from our lines. We lost heavily. Major Möller was killed, three officers were captured, and seventeen men were killed or wounded. The French before the Flagstaff were roused by the heavy firing across the ravine, and the officer in charge kept his men so still and so well prepared that the enemy, creeping in silence up to the trenches, suddenly received a stunning blow from a blast of shot, and fled into the darkness. These sorties did little damage, but they kept the troops on the alert, and they alarmed the French, who were near to the Russian works, for the safety of their heavily armed batteries. This was the last sortie of any moment in 1854.

In the meantime some further changes bad taken place. The French had completed their line of works intended to guard the extreme left of their trenches, and to preclude any chance of a serious irruption from the town on that side. On the Inkermann front, the ground lying before the camp of the 2nd Division had been entrenched and armed, so as to take in the heights where the Russians established their batteries on the 5th of November, and overlook the whole valley of the Tchernaya at its mouth, the causeway and broken bridge, and the head of the harbour. The French contributed men to perform the greater part of this work. On their side the Russians threw up batteries on the opposite bluffs, and frequently cannonaded the allied lines. Finding it difficult to feed their men and horses in the forward position taken up by them on the 25th of October, and being anxious to have a larger force to maintain and extend the defence of Sebastopol, the Russians determined to contract their lines on the Tchernaya. Early in December General Liprandi was directed to march his division to the north side of Sebastopol, and the division of Prince Gortschakoff replaced these troops on the Tchernaya. There had been serious disagreements between these two generals. Liprandi had desired to maintain possession of the heights on the left or allied side of the Tchernaya, and to crown them with strong field-works, Gortschakoff thought differently, and he carried his point. His plan was to occupy the hills on the right bank above Tchorgoun, and defend them with field-works; and, accordingly, his troops were engaged during the latter part of November and the beginning of December in these labours. The Russians withdrew their infantry from the old Turkish redoubts, burning their huts as they departed, leaving only Cossack outposts on the little hills. Their only force on the allied side of the Tchernaya consisted of these Cossacks and a brigade of infantry on the river bank between Mount Hasfort and Tchorgoun; the main force being over the river in Tchorgoun and Karlovka. On the 20th of December the French cavalry rode out towards Kamara. They found the Cossacks on the Turkish hills, forced them back, and even sent a small party up the slopes of Mount Hasfort to overlook the Tchernaya, and spy out the positions of the enemy. The Russian infantry, alarmed by the retreat of the Cossacks, turned out, and, to their surprise, saw some dozen Chasseurs d'Afrique coolly surveying their position; but by the time the enemy had thrown out skirmishers, and got his heavy bodies in movement, the daring horsemen had disappeared and had rejoined their comrades. Having discovered the dispositions of the enemy, it was determined that a more extensive movement should be made. In the meantime Gortschakoff had made a feeble effort to entrench the Hasfort hill on the left bank, intending to keep a brigade and battery there; but fearing the swollen waters of the Tchernaya might break his temporary bridges, he changed his intention, left the Cossacks only on the allied bank and in Kamara, posted one brigade in and about Tchorgoun, and withdrew the remainder of his force into the valleys to the northeast, because they could procure provisions much more easily there.

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Pictures for Chapter XXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Sir Colin Campbell
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