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


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In the meantime the British had pushed on towards the Redan. There were three large rifle-pits on the left of the third parallel of the right attack, whence the enemy annoyed our working parties and our gunners. Colonel Egerton, with a party of the 77th, was directed to carry these pits, and on the night of the 19th he moved his men out of the parallel, followed by some companies of the 33rd in support. Egerton was a very fine soldier; and although his movement was detected by the enemy, he did not give his own men time to reply to their fire, but led them on with the bayonet. The Russians, surprised, and turned, hurried away; and our working parties at once began to turn the faces of the pits towards the Redan, and to connect them by the sap with the third parallel. This labour was carried on under a smart fire of shot and musketry, but it was quite successful. The Russians once attempted to recover the lost ground by a sortie. Our soldiers, instead of repelling them by firing from their cover, boldly met them on the open. They lost men by their daring, but they so daunted the enemy that he did not close. Colonel Egerton, unhappily, was killed. Very tall, his head rose above the parapet of gabions, and a Russian bullet laid him low just as the victory had been won. We retained one pit, and the next night destroyed the other two, carrying a semi-parallel in rear of them through Egerton's pit. One other incident in the attack on these pits deserves to be recorded. "A drummer boy of the 77th Regiment went with his comrades in the first rush against the enemy's pits, when he saw a Russian trumpet boy trying to clamber over the parapet in order to get away. He was immediately collared by our drummer, who, having no arms, began to pummel him in truly British fashion. The Russian boy, not understanding this mode of treatment, tried to grapple with him, but in this he signally failed, as the English boy threw him on the ground, made him prisoner, and took his trumpet from him." He afterwards gave it to Sir George Brown, who rewarded the boy and praised his courage; and the exploit coming to the ears of Lord Raglan, he also gave the lad a present.

In order to ascertain what force the enemy kept on the Tchernaya, Omer Pasha was requested to reconnoitre the valley on the morning of the 19th of April. The Turkish chief was to have the command of 800 Chasseurs d'Afrique, four squadrons of British cavalry, a French rocket battery, and half a troop of British horse artillery. The infantry of the force was composed of twelve battalions of Turks, the flower of the little army, brought by the Pasha to the allied camp. Lord Raglan and General Canrobert accompanied the troops, but as spectators only. The plain before Balaclava and the dells were now bright with rich grass and gay with an abundance of brilliant flowers. The herbage grew strong and rank over the graves of the dead. The wild fruit- trees were covered with blossoms. It was a beautiful spring morning. The Turkish Infantry, in dark masses, tipped with flashing steel, moved along the hill side in front of the British lines, and then, turning to their left, took post on the high ground overlooking Kamara. When they had gained this position, the allied cavalry, preceded by skirmishers, moved over the plain, crossing the low hills whereon the Turkish redoubts once stood, and coming into line with the Turkish infantry, opposite' the Hasfort Hill, which overlooks Tchorgoun. The cavalry walking over that glowing plain formed the centre of a brilliant picture. Then the Turkish infantry moved down into Kamara, the Cossacks retiring before them to the Hasfort Hill. The cavalry made a corresponding movement to the left, and the Turkish skirmishers, supported by the rocket battery, were sent against the Hasfort Hill. They went up nimbly, firing as they climbed the ascent. Then a rocket, with its trail of tortuous smoke, hissed above their heads, and falling near the group of Cossacks, sent them flying down the reverse slope. When the skirmishers crowned the ridge, the enemy were over the Tchernaya. The infantry columns and cavalry were halted on the slope, and Lord Raglan, General Canrobert, and Omer Pasha went to the front, and surveyed the scene. From this point they obtained an extensive view of the valley, and they had the satisfaction of finding that it was only occupied by a very few troops posted on the hills above Tchorgoun. Soon after mid-day the whole force returned to the camp, where Lord Raglan inspected our cavalry, now reinforced by the 10th Hussars from India.

So far as outward signs were concerned, April went on towards its close without any other striking occurrence. In the trenches they were preparing for a new bombardment, and fighting brief duels with gun against gun, or, on the French side, repelling fierce sorties or contesting with the enemy for a rifle pit; while under the earth the miner pursued his tedious task. Towards the close of the month the French commander reviewed his army, and afforded a splendid spectacle to his allies, among whom was the keen-eyed British ambassador from Constantinople. Omer Pasha and 9,000 of his Turks left Kamiesch for Eupatoria, moved thereto by a report that the Russians were once more assembling on that side. The French losses during the whole siege up to the end of April are reported by themselves to have been 1,353 killed, and 8,446 wounded; while from the 9th to the 19th of April only, the Russian loss is said to have been no fewer than 1,202 killed and 4,961 wounded.

The month of May opened with a day of great freshness and beauty, which, following on the heels of damp and cold, was all the more welcome to the troops. The French, still vexed and retarded by the Russian counter- approaches, resolved to storm the pits in front of the central bastion. These pits not only occupied ground required for the advancement and prolongation of the French attack, but they were growing rapidly into a strong work, into which the enemy had already carried nine Cohorn mortars. General Pélissier determined to seize them, and from the trenches he sent against them three columns, one on each flank, and one on the centre. The moon shone brightly, and as the French streamed out of their parallels, they were seen by the foe. A sharp fusilade broke the stillness and shook the ranks of the French, but they went in with the bayonet, and although they were met with the bayonet, their rush prevailed, and the enemy, expelled from his posts, retired into the place. The Russians never readily surrendered a good lodgment, and after the batteries of the main works had thrown shot and shell and grape upon the French, who were engaged in turning the faces of the pits towards the town, the enemy sallied forth, and began again a murderous fight. But his efforts were in vain. General Pélissier, never sparing of men, had supplied largo reserves, and feeding the combat and the working parties with these, he triumphed over all obstacles, and retained the ground so dearly won. This night combat was directed by General de Salles, and the columns were commanded by Generals Bazaine and de la Motterouge. The next night the enemy tried once more to win back what he had lost, but the French were too firmly ensconced to be driven out. Both sides lost many hundred officers and men; but the gain of ground on the part of the French was the more important to them, because it put a limit to the daring system of counter- approach' s on that side. The Russians showed great jealousy of the progress of the British attacks, and on the 9th and 11th of May they made two sorties upon our parallels. The first was directed against the right attack, the second against the left. On both occasions they were met stoutly by the British troops on guard, and after a good deal of firing, driven away. In the second sortie, however, they got into one battery, and had to be expelled by the bayonet. These sorties presented splendid pyrotechnic spectacles, as they usually finished with a boisterous cannonade. They cost both sides many men, but did not stay the advance of the assailants.

We have now cleared the way for the narration of a series of very remarkable facts which occurred between the last week in April and the middle of May, and ended in a change in the chief command of the French army.

The French Emperor desired to take the most conspicuous place in the allied camp. He desired to command the allied army, and to try his skill in strategy. Early in the year he sent part of his Guard to the Crimea, and later, giving out that he intended to join the army, he directed the whole of the Guard, except the depots, to proceed to Maslak, near Constantinople, and hold themselves in readiness for active service. Two divisions of the Line were joined to the Guard, and these together made a separate corps d'armée, 25,000 strong. The dominant idea in the mind of the Emperor at this time was sound enough in principle. He thought that Sebastopol could best be taken after an army operating in the field had driven the Russians beyond the Putrid Sea, and enabled the allies to invest the place on all sides. There can now be no doubt he designed to lead that army in person. General Canrobert was allowed to have some, perhaps not very complete, glimpse of this plan. He was warned not to neglect a favourable moment, but not to risk anything. The knowledge that the Emperor was planning and scheming in Paris, and striving how he could compass the command of the allies, weighed upon the mind of Canrobert, and increased his natural shrinking from responsibility. He had secret instructions, and these he pored over in secret, and felt that they tied his hands. He was told that if an assault would cost too many men, he must stand on the defensive, and hold himself ready at the first signal to provide 60,000 or 70,000 men, including the reserve at Maslak, for operations in the field. So that when he came to consult with Lord Raglan on the chances of an assault, these secret instructions, lying at the back of his mind, governed the final view he took of the operation, but not the intermediate stages. Lord Raglan was decidedly for a general assault. For a moment, on the 24th of April, Canrobert gave way before his arguments, and General Pélissier, nothing 10th, received orders to prepare a force sufficient to storm the principal works, and the English plan of attack was decided on in detail. But no sooner had this been settled in council, than Canrobert recurred to his secret instructions; his doubts began as soon as he left the presence of Lord Raglan. Moreover, he got fresh news from Paris that the Emperor would certainly arrive early in May. On the 25th, therefore, he sent two generals to Lord Raglan, to tell him that he no longer agreed with the plan of an assault, and, in consequence, all the orders given were withdrawn, and the siege relapsed into its ordinary posture. So oppressed was General Canrobert with the weight of these instructions and injunctions from Paris, that it was with the utmost difficulty General Pélissier succeeded in prevailing on his commander to permit the attacks which occurred on the 1st of May, and which involved the safety of the French trenches as well as their further progress.

While General Canrobert was in this dubious an«! painful frame of mind, Lord Raglan proposed a subsidiary project. He asked his colleague to join in an expedition having for its object the capture of the town and straits of Kertch, with the ulterior aim of naval operations in the Sea of Azoff. This project had the hearty support of Admiral Bruat and Admiral Lyons. It was indeed a most important operation; for by the Spit of Arabat and by the port of Kertch the enemy received vast supplies from his abounding depots on the shores of the Sea of Azoff, and by the straits he still kept up a direct communication with his armies on the Kuban. Now, by a joint naval and military attack, he could be easily deprived of these resources - the more easily, as he had few men at Kertch, and no ships. General Canrobert, unable to resist the force of the arguments addressed to him, yielded his assent, then recalled it, then, on the 1st of May, once more fell in with Lord Raglan's views. It was arranged that General d'Autemarre should take 8,000 French, and that the English should furnish 3,000, including a troop of horse, with one English and two French batteries; the whole under Sir George Brown, who was nominated for the command by Canrobert himself. These troops were collected, marched to Kamiesch. and embarked on the 3rd. They sailed away with great ostentation, going north, to bewilder the enemy; and at night, or when out of sight of land, they went about and steered for Kertch. But, in the evening, just as our head-quarters were congratulating themselves on the fact that the expedition was well on its way, General Canrobert appeared, and said he must recall the French troops at once. Why? Because he had received a peremptory order from the Emperor's Cabinet, direct by electric telegraph. It ran thus: " On the receipt of this dispatch, collect at once all your means for an operation in the field; concentrate immediately all your \ troops, even those at Maslak." Lord Raglan said that the Emperor, when he gave that order, was not aware that the expedition had sailed, and for a moment the French General consented reluctantly to take the view it implied. But two hours later - that is, about midnight - he sent Colonel Trochu, the chief of his staff, to say that, on considering the dispatch once more - no doubt by the light of the secret instructions - he must recall and had recalled the French part of the expedition by a special steamer. Lord Raglan was vexed at this vacillation, but he could show no resentment. The expedition, if it returned, would reveal its object. The enemy might prepare to parry a similar blow. Feeling this, in his dispatches to Admiral Lyons and Sir George Brown, he informed them of the falling off of their allies; but he told them they might go on alone, if they deemed it expedient, and he would shoulder the responsibility. The French steamer caught up the fleet just as it sighted Kertch, and General d'Autemarre, with some chagrin, found he must desert his comrades. Then the English steamer came up, and Lyons and Brown, considering Lord Raglan's hardy offer, thought it inexpedient to go on alone. So, to the amazement of both armies, and the astonishment of the Russians, the expedition returned, after revealing its object.

It need scarcely be said that much blame fell on the French Commander-in-Chief. He was rated in the camps for vacillation. Men said he did not know his own mind for two hours together. The censure was unjust. General Canrobert was only the faithful servant of an Emperor, who, three thousand miles away, sitting in his Cabinet, amid a web of electric wires, presumed to direct a great war in which he was engaged with an ally. For a moment, thanks to Imperial interference, effective concert was at an end.

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

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