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


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What the allies required was to get command of the Straits; and to put all resistance out of the question, it was determined, on the very day after General Pélissier assumed command, that the force sent should be overwhelming. Sir George Brown was again to take command of the expedition. The French supplied 6,800, including fifty Chasseurs d'Afrique and three batteries, under General d'Autemarre; the Turks furnished 5,000 men and one battery; and the English 3,800 men, namely - the 42nd, 71st, 79th, and 93rd Highlanders, a battalion of Marines, fifty men of the 8th Hussars, and a battery. The force thus amounted to 15,600 men and thirty guns. The naval force consisted of twenty-four French ships, including three sail of the line, under^ Admiral Bruat; and thirty-four English vessels, including six sail of the line, under Admiral Lyons. The gunboats and light steamers were organised into a flying squadron, consisting of fourteen British and five French steamers, the whole under Captain Lyons, son of the admiral.

Starting from Kamiesch and Balaclava on the 22nd, though obstructed by a dense fog, the ships were, on the morning of the 24th, off Cape Takli, the south foreland of the Straits; and soon after daylight the ships having troops on board rounded the Cape, and running as near the shore as the water would allow, proceeded to disembark the men. No enemy appeared, and the troops speedily got ashore; the French taking the right, and the English the left or exposed flank, while the Turks were held in reserve. But the enemy, though not in sight, was audible enough on land; for xhe troops had no sooner stepped ashore, than the air was rent with the noise of repeated explosions, and tall pillars of white smoke rose up on the right of the allied forces. All along the coast, from Fort Paul towards Yenikale, the Russians were blowing up their magazines. From the sea the commotion was distinctly visible, and the scattered lines of troops were seen hurrying away, some inland and some towards Kertch. On the sea a British gunboat, followed by another, was seen chasing the Russian ships and engaging the batteries, not yet abandoned, on both sides of the Straits. The leading gunboat was the " Snake," Lieutenant M'Killop, and his conduct called forth, says Sir Edmund Lyons, the admiration of both fleets. The tiny vessel, with her big gun, "dashed past the forts after an enemy's steamer, and although Lieutenant M'Killop soon found himself engaged, not only with her, but also with two others who came to support her, he persevered, and by the cleverness and extreme rapidity of his manœuvres, prevented the escape of all three." They were destroyed by the enemy, and the "Snake" had not a man hurt, though shot passed through the vessel. At the same time other vessels came up and silenced the battery on the spit opposite Yenikale; and the Russians, feeling resistance to be hopeless, blew up one magazine after another on both sides of the Straits; so that by the morning of the 25th there was not a gun or a man to resist the allies. General Wrangel, who, with 6,000 men, had charge of the peninsula, retired to Argin, midway between Kertch and Kaffa, and in no way molested his opponents.

Therefore, on the 25th, the steamers of light draught went up to Yeuikale; and the troops, quitting their bivouacs, set out to march on the same place. They proceeded in three columns, the French on the right next the sea, the British on the left, covering their flank, and the Turks in the rear. When they came to Kertch, the whole broke into one column and filed through the town, "with the greatest regularity and without the slightest disorder," says Sir George Brown, and by midday, after a march of twelve miles under a hot sun, through a dusty country, much worn-out and distressed, the troops reached Yenikale. The fleet had come up, and the generals and admirals held a consultation in the afternoon. The sailors haying buoyed the channel into the Sea of Azoff, Captain Lyons led his flying squadron at once into those waters. Already, in two days, the allies had captured upwards of a hundred heavy guns, many new, had destroyed immense stores of corn and flour, had seized a mass of naval stores, and had forced the enemy to burn or wreck thirty or forty ships. By day clouds of smoke rose upward on all sides, and at night the sky was lurid with flames. The strength of the allies, and the swiftness with which it was applied, soon completed the work and dismayed the enemy. It is with pain that we record the shameful fact that the allied soldiers and sailors disgraced themselves by plundering the houses and public buildings of Kertch and Yenikale. The predatory instincts of our troops were repressed severely, but Sir George Brown had no real control over our allies, and the French generals and Turkish Pashas did nothing to restrain their men. The plunder of Kertch and Yenikale is a blot upon this brilliant expedition.

The flying squadron under Captain Lyons really deserved its name. Speed was essential to success, for delay would have given the mass of shipping employed in feeding the Russian army, time to run up the Don, or enter the Strait of Genitchi and push into the Putrid Sea. Captain Lyons was as swift as a spirit of fire. It was his business to destroy every sail afloat, to visit and burn all the public magazines of the Russian Government within the reach of his guns and boats, and to bombard every fortified place on the shore. He fulfilled his task. Within four-and-twenty hours he was off Berdiansk, the best port in the sea. There he had the satisfaction of finding, wrecked and burnt, the four war-steamers which ran away from the " Snake" at Yenikale. Here he landed his small-arm men, and burnt stores worth £50,000, and many merchant ships. Then detaching ships to watch Genitchi and the mouth of the Don, he steamed with the rest of the squadron to Arabat. Here the Russians had a fort, mounting thirty guns, and Lyons and the French shelled the place and blew up the magazine. In three days he had destroyed a hundred transports laden with provisions for the enemy. Without delay he made for Genitchi. This town, it will be remembered, was the link between the mainland and the spit of Arabat. The enemy set great store by it. Within the Strait scores of transports were anchored in the Putrid Sea, and on shore were vast magazines, containing immense stores for the Russian army. Collecting all his available force, the enemy refused a demand to surrender. Captain Lyons only claimed public, and promised immunity to private property, but the enemy determined to resist. Therefore, Lyons bombarded the place, in order to cover the passage of his boats through the Strait into the Putrid Sea. The boats' crews worked through, fired the shipping and corn depots, and returned; but the wind shifting, it became necessary to go in again and complete the work. This was done by three volunteers: Lieutenant Buckley, Lieutenant Burgoyne, and Mr. John Roberts. These men had the hardihood to land alone, and, in the face of the Cossacks, performed the duty they undertook; and then the boats, under a fire of field-pieces, set fire to the shipping which had escaped before. At the end of the 29th of May the squadron had destroyed, in the Sea of Azoff, four war- steamers, 246 merchant ships, and corn and flour worth £150,000. On the 2nd of June the indefatigable Lyons was off Taganrog. Here he was reinforced by the launches of the fleet, the exact kind of force required in those shoaling seas. The governor would not accept terms of surrender which would have saved private property; and under cover of the gun-boats, in the face of 3,000 troops, Lieutenant Buckley and a band of volunteers landed repeatedly and performed the desperate service of firing the stores and Government buildings. Thus were burnt "long ranges of stores of grain, plank, tar, vessels on the stocks," and all the official buildings on the beach, with the loss of only one man severely wounded. The French boats, under Lieutenant Lejeune, and the English boats, under commander Cowper Coles, behaved with conspicuous courage. Marioupol shared the fate of Taganrog. Thus Captain Lyons made a tour of the Sea of Azoff. Not one place escaped him or his able lieutenants, Sherard Osborn, Cowper Coles, Horton, Hewett, M'Killop, and his French coadjutors. The Russians lost not only the command of this sea, but masses of corn, forage, fish, and marine stores, and ships which it is impossible to estimate. Hewett and Lambert effectually destroyed all the means of connecting the spit of Arabat with the Crimea; and, after Captain Lyons had left, to meet an untimely death before Sebastopol, Sherard Osborn kept the sea, and left the enemy not a moment's rest. But ere this the French and British troops, leaving the Turks to hold a fortified camp at Yenikale, had returned to the camp at Sebastopol.

The losses inflicted by the flying squadron were not the only losses sustained by the enemy. When he quitted Kertch on the 24th of May, he destroyed himself 4,166,000 pounds of corn, and 508,000 pounds of flour; and it was estimated that this, with the quantity destroyed in the Sea of Azoff, would have furnished four months' rations for 100,000 men. The amount of supplies drawn from Kertch is shown by the fact that just before the allies landed, the Russians had been sending off daily convoys of 1,500 wagons, each containing half a ton weight of grain or flour. Besides this, the fortress of Anapa, on the appearance of an allied fleet, was blown up by the garrison, and 245 guns rendered useless thereby. The garrison retired across the Kuban River, abandoning the last post held by them in that part of Circassia. Thus the expedition to Kertch and the Sea of Azoff surpassed in its effects the most sanguine expectations of its designers, and struck a severe blow at the vitals of the Russian army.

Once more the tide of war carries us back to the trenches before Sebastopol. General Pélissier had, on taking command, accepted Lord Raglan's proposals for carrying on the siege by vigorous and direct attacks. The two officers being of one mind, and recognising the Malakoff as the true key of the place, determined, in council by themselves, that the Russians should be immediately deprived of their counter-approaches, and forced back into the body of their works. They agreed that on one and the same day, by simultaneous assault, the Quarries under the Redan, the Mamelon in front of the Malakoff, and the White Works above the Careening Bay, should be wrested from the enemy. This comprehensive operation was a necessity, for these three works supported each other. The Mamelon flanked, and was flanked by, the other two, and hence all three had to be taken together. Having determined to take them, they requested their generals to submit plans for the execution of their resolve. Accordingly, a council of war was held for this purpose. There were still in the French camp officers who were strongly in favour of operations in the field, and as strongly opposed to an assault, even of the outworks. The chief of these were Niel, Bosquet, and Martimprey, all able men. But at the council, when Pélissier announced the decision of the generals, and named the day for the assault, and General Bosquet ventured to dissent, the Commander-in- Chief stepped him with the peremptory statement that the attack was "decided." Niel next began to differ from Pélissier, and then the latter grew more absolute, and plainly told the dissentients that Lord Raglan and he were responsible; that he did not want any advice, and that they were called solely to suggest the best means of executing a plan already determined. Before the council was over, Pélissier had again to show that he was master. Some of the French generals insisted that the assault should be at daybreak. "Lord Raglan and I have come to a determination on that point also," said Pélissier. It was fixed that the assault should be given in the afternoon, or rather towards evening. The French generals had no choice but to obey, yet a subsequent incident implies that one of them - Niel, as we may conjecture - appealed to the Emperor in his cabinet at Paris, against Pélissier in his camp before the enemy, and nearly caused the overthrow of the plan.

The main points being settled, the work of preparation finished, the magazines well filled, the troops all eager, orders went forth that the bombardment should begin on the morning of the 6th of June, and should continue four-and-twenty hours, and that then the works should be carried by storm. By dint of great exertions, and drawing from our large resources, we were able to put in battery 157 pieces of ordnance. All the lighter pieces, the siege guns of an older period, the famous 24-pounders of the early years of the century, were withdrawn. The 32-pounder was the lightest gun in the trenches. So heavy an armament had never before been arrayed at any siege. There were in battery no fewer than twenty-seven 13-inch, seventeen 10-inch mortars, and forty-nine 32-pounders. The remainder were 68-pounders, and 10-inch and 8-inch guns. The French batteries were armed with 300 pieces, but the bulk of these were opposed to the western face of the town, and, for some unexplained reason, did not maintain a fire equal in intensity to those on the east front. According to the plan laid down, our left attack, while pouring a torrent of missiles into the Redan, was also to keep up a combat with the Barrack and Garden batteries, in which they were to be supported by the French on their left. Our right attack was to devote nearly the whole of its might upon the Mamelon and Malakoff, in aid of the direct fire of the French, and these latter were to pound at the White Works, as well as the Malakoff and Mamelon. Thus it will be seen that the fire of at least a hundred and fifty guns and mortars was to be concentrated on these works.

The 6th of June was a clear, sunny day, and the mighty lines of the enemy stood out in bold relief against the western sky. This was favourable to the assailants, because it enabled them to see distinctly at what they were firing, and to obtain a most accurate range for their guns. About half-past two in the afternoon, at a given signal, the allied batteries opened all at once, with a roar that rent the air and shook the earth. The first discharge, well-aimed, told with crushing effect, and clouds of dust, struck upward by the huge cannon shot and bursting shells, mingled with the smoke and rose above the enemy's lines. He answered at first with vigour; but soon found that in weight of metal, though not in number - in quality, though not in quantity, he was inferior to the besiegers. In two hours the effects of the ceaseless shower of shot and shell upon the Malakoff and Mamelon were visible to practised eyes; and the comparatively rare responses made by the enemy showed that his guns had suffered as well as his earthen parapets. From that time until nightfall, the complete superiority of the allied fire was secured; but as the French on the left fired feebly, the Barrack and Garden batteries, and some of the guns in the Redan, stoutly maintained the combat with our left attack. When darkness set in, the firing did not cease; for the huge shells from our big mortars rushed upward all night, and fell crashing and exploding within the enemy's works.

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

Marshal Pelissier
Marshal Pelissier >>>>
Capture the Mamelon
Capture the Mamelon >>>>

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