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


Lord Raglan proposes Active Operations - French Views prevail - New Batteries - The Allies on the Tchernaya - Activity of Todleben - His great Skill - Allies in Council - Their Plans - Fourth Bombardment - Pélissier suddenly changes the Plan - Prepares to Assault - Lord Raglan in the Trenches - Vigilance of the Garrison - Fatal Mistake of General Mayran - Anger of Pélissier - Signal given - Advance of Brunet and D'Autemarre - Brunet killed - D'Autemarre's Troops enter the Place - English Attack on the Redan - Bloody Repulse - Deaths of Campbell and Yea - D'Autemarre's Troops, unsustained, are driven out - Their Gallant Conduct - Failure of the Allies - Lord Raglan and Pélissier - General Eyre's Column - Its brilliant Exploits in the South Ravine - Great Losses - Gortschakoff's exultation - The Flag of Truce - Reflections on the Conduct of the Allies - Illness and Death of Lord Raglan - Embarkation of his Body - Orders of the Day - Character and Services of Lord Raglan.
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After the success of the 7th of June the question immediately arose - should that success be pushed, and should the whole place be at once assailed on all sides? To answer this question there was a council of war. It should always be remembered that the English played a very subordinate part in the siege of Sebastopol. They had reaped their glory at the Alma and at Inkermann. They had soon lost that equality in point of numbers with which they began the war, and the views of Lord Raglan could now only prevail by dint of their invincible sagacity. He had, of course, a certain authority as the representative of England; but it was one of the penalties we paid for making war side by side with France, that he should often have to succumb, and that in place of one plan or another a medium course should be struck out and acted on. Whatever we did in the siege was purely secondary after Inkermann. Our batteries, indeed, were very formidable, and paved the way for the French successes against the Mamelon and finally against the Malakoff; but our troops were so placed by the stress of circumstances, that it was impossible for them to perform any striking action. It would appear that Lord Raglan's plan of taking Sebastopol would have been to follow up a heavy fire by, if need be, repeated assaults at all points - some by way of diversion, to keep a large force of the enemy occupied, others driven home with the view of carrying the place. So that it is not surprising he should have wished to continue the bombardment on the 8th, and then assault at the moment when the enemy's batteries were at the lowest ebb of their power. But to this the French would not agree. They wanted more time to build more batteries, to push approaches nearer; and as they furnished the large assaulting columns on the vital point, Lord Raglan had no choice but to acquiesce. He knew that he could not take the place. He knew, and all knew, that if the Redan were captured, it could not be held so long as the Malakoff was in the hands of the Russians. Therefore he was bound to assent when General Pélissier proposed to defer the assault until the Mamelon and White Works were armed, and a battery established in the Quarries.

The French and English at once began to strengthen and arm their acquisitions, and to sap onward towards the enemy's lines. But this caused great losses day by day. Mortars from behind the Malakoff threw shells into the Mamelon; mortars from the Redan threw shells into the Quarries; guns and mortars from the north side threw their missiles into the White Works. On the left the French did little more to aid the siege. There Were mining and counter-mining in plenty in front of the Flagstaff, and some new batteries were constructed and armed on the extreme left; but they did not now push the attack as they had done before. They had come at last to recognise the Malakoff as the true point of attack, and against this they turned all their energies. They worked out above a hundred and fifty yards from the Mamelon, formed a large sheltered place in which to assemble troops, and covered the front with a curving line of parapet. The English built up and armed a six- gun battery in the Quarries, which looked into the enemy's communications behind the Malakoff, and was destined to play an important part; and they also increased the armament in the two attacks until the 13- inch mortars alone amounted to thirty.

In the meantime the troops on the Tchernaya, French horse and infantry, went on expeditions towards Baidar, with the view of discovering whether there were enemies in that quarter. They found none, but they gathered up some forage, and they enjoyed the natural beauties which abound between Tchorgoun, Ourkousta, and Vanoutka. The French also went across the Tchernaya, and dismantled the Russian earthworks thrown up during the winter, and bearing, or appearing to bear, on the bridge of Tracktir and the fords of the river. The Sardinians took up more ground, and made themselves more secure. Unhappily, although encamped on a healthy site, they lost many officers, and more men, from cholera. Among them was General Alexander la Marmora, the brother of that La Marmora so famous in the history of modern Italy.

The Russians were not a whit less active. Their energies also were bent upon making more complete the formidable defences of the Malakoff. They were especially careful to close the gaps on its proper left towards the Careening Bay, to open new batteries sweeping the ground at the head of that bay, and to construct interior retrenchments and flanking batteries. Their line of works, beginning from the South Harbour and extending to the Great Harbour, was broken only at one point. About a quarter of a mile to the proper left of the Redan, the Karabelnaia, or Middle Ravine - that which ran between the British right attack and the French Malakoff attack - broke the line of the Russian works. On the opposite bank of the ravine, the outer defences of the Malakoff Redoubt began with a work called the Gervais Battery, connected by a curtain with the Malakoff. But in rear of this, as well as in rear of the Little Redan on the proper left of the Malakoff, and in rear of the connecting curtains, the enemy had thrown up retrenchments. In short, General Todleben developed his plan of defence to meet the plan of attack, and as he had plenty of men, and a boundless supply of guns and material, he could execute all his admirable designs. He was a worthy foe.

The troops detached to Kertch returned to the camp on the 14th, and the greater part of the fleet once more anchored off Sebastopol. It had been decided that the cannonade should be resumed on the 14th, and the place should be assaulted on the 16th; but the French had not found it possible to complete in time their batteries and places of arms. Wherefore the cannonade was deferred for three days. On his return from Kertch, General d'Autemarre was sent to the Malakoff trenches. General Bosquet was relieved of the chief command on that side, and his place was taken by General Regnault de St. Jean d'Angely. Although General Bosquet was ordered to take command of the French on the Tchernaya with the prospect of an attack upon the Heights of Mackenzie, he resented his removal from the right attack. It is probable there was a double reason for removing him. First, he was avowedly hostile to the attempt to carry the town and lines by main force; next he was a good general in the field, and preferred the plan of field operations. If that were so, it was natural he should be placed at a point where he could do most service, and interfere least with the general in chief.

As usual, the plan of attack was debated at headquarters when it had been decided by superior generals that the guns should open on the 17th, and that the assault should take place the next day. How should this be carried out? It was arranged that the French on the west face of the town should attack its salient defences, the Flagstaff, Central, and Quarantine Bastions, in three columns, under General de Salles; and it was anticipated that if these attacks did not succeed, they would keep many thousands of the enemy employed, and might, if occasion offered, be converted into real attacks, pushed home. The English were to send a brigade down the South Ravine, to seize the cemetery lying at the bottom of its basin, and, in conjunction with a French force, threaten the enemy in that quarter. The main English assaults were to be made on the Redan. This work was to be assailed by a column on its right and another on its left face, and there were to be large supports at hand to make good success. If the Redan was carried, then the column in the South Ravine was to climb up to the Barrack Battery, and join the Redan column in the rear. The French were to attack in three columns on the extreme right. One was to follow the Careening Ravine, and storm the Little Redan; a second was to rush upon the proper left of the Malakoff; while a third, issuing from the Middle Ravine, carried the Gervais Battery, and worked round thence to the rear of the Malakoff. The fleet were to send in steamers on the nights preceding the assault, to keep the enemy on the alert in his sea batteries. Immense reserves were to be provided along the whole line. Such was the original plan. It was settled on the 16th, but in the afternoon General Pélissier desired to make an important modification. General de Salles urged that, as the attacks on the left could not succeed, they had better not take place; and General Pélissier, much to the discontent of Lord Raglan , notified that this change had been made. Lord Raglan did not press his objections, and thus the French were merely to " demonstrate " on the left front. No other chang® was made, except that Lord Raglan decided to send a third column against the Redan, haying for its object the salient angle of that work. Finally it was decided that the English should not attack until the French were in possession of the Malakoff. The reason for this was that the guns on the right face of the Malakoff commanded the Redan and the road to the Redan. The whole of the 1st British Division was brought up from Balaclava. The Imperial Guard was marched up to the open ground at the head of the Malakoff Ridge; and 10,000 Turks were posted on the field of Inkermann. There were in the English batteries 166 pieces of ordnance, and nearly 300 in the French.

The bombardment opened at daylight on the 17th with great effect. The Malakoff and the Redan were the objects of our gunners, and the torrent of shot and shell poured into these works had, by nine o'clock, reduced the fire of the Malakoff to an occasional gun. Throughout the day it was the same. The Redan, although it soon ceased to fire with any vigour, flung shells from small mortars with low charges into the Quarries. The Barrack and Garden Batteries were, as usual, conspicuous for their vivacity. But the fire of the allies completely overpowered that of the eastern front. Its severity may be estimated by the fact that the ammunition consumed in the English batteries alone on the 17th and 18th was 22,684 projectiles, including 2,286 13-inch shells. It must have been nearly impossible for the Russians to work their guns, and quite impossible to work them without awful loss. When the sun went down on the 17th the mortars continued to hurl forth their monstrous missiles; and three or four of the steamers standing in opened a fire of shot, shell, and rockets on the town. It was on one of these occasions that Captain Lyons, fresh from his triumphs in the Sea of Azoff, was struck in the leg by a fragment of shell. The wound proved mortal, and death deprived the British navy of one of its most promising officers.

From the comparative silence of the Russian batteries, Lord Raglan and General Pélissier inferred that the enemy was at the end of his resources. They hoped that at length he had exhausted his stores of artillery. It was a vain delusion. In spite of the bombardment, which went on all night, the enemy managed to replace the pieces in his batteries, and at dawn, as will be seen, he was ready to begin anew. This advantage, indeed, might have been counteracted had the allies remained faithful to their original plan. There was, in the French camp, a sort of passion for an assault at the very first flash of the dawn. Their officers, Pélissier excepted, had urged that the attack on the Mamelon should be given at daybreak. They were overruled. Now they came to the charge afresh. The whole scheme of the assault rested on the basis that the fire of the enemy had been crushed. To make sure, however, it was originally planned that the assault should be preceded by a three hours' violent cannonade. This would have searched every part of the enemy's works, and prevented him from massing his troops in them in large numbers. On this basis all the orders were given. Literally at the eleventh hour, the French changed the whole plan. On the evening of the 17th, when all orders had been issued, General Pélissier informed Lord Raglan that his officers declared they could not place their infantry in the trenches without their being seen by the enemy, and that consequently he desired the time of the assault to be altered, and fixed for daybreak. Lord Raglan was justly much annoyed, but he yielded. It was a fatal concession. But how could he oppose a colleague who commanded a force nearly double that under Lord Raglan's orders? Therefore, a few hours before the assault was to take place, the old orders were revoked, and fresh orders were issued. This occupied the British commander nearly all night, and left him but one hour for repose.

Throughout the night the troops appointed to storm and support the stormers and the reserves were moving to their appointed places. Down into the English trenches went the men of the Light 2nd and 4th Divisions, under Sir John Campbell, Colonel Lacy Yea, and Colonel Shadforth; while Eyre's Brigade of the 3rd Division moved deep into the South Ravine, and Barnard's Brigade of the same division was placed higher up in support. The right column was to attack the left face of the Redan, the left column the right face. If these succeeded, then the centre column was to charge in at the salient. Eyre was to move towards the works at the end of the South Ravine. The French, in addition to the ordinary guards, marched three entire divisions, about 16,000 men, into their trenches, and placed in reserve a part of the division of the Imperial Guard, bringing the force up to about 24,000 men. The right division, under the orders of General Mayran, marched into the Careening Ravine; the centre, under General Brunet, had one brigade in front of the right of the Mamelon, the other in the trenches behind; the left, under General d'Autemarre, placed one brigade on the left front of the Mamelon, the other in the trenches in the rear. The trenches and the ravines were choked up with troops, all silent and crouching in the dark. Some were sitting under the parapets, others lying flat in the ravines. But there was also a good deal of movement, for the troops had to be placed so that they could the most easily and with the least disorder move swiftly out of the trenches. Seen from the higher ground in the rear, the soldiers are said to have looked, in the deep obscurity, like the people of a world of shadows.

The allied generals had intended to surprise the place; to break into it when its defenders were the least prepared. Some suppose that the enemy was forewarned by spies and deserters of the coming assault, for far from being taken unawares, The Russians were as much on the alert as the allies. Behind those dark and silent entrenchments there were thousands of soldiers under arms, and waiting in silence to do their duty at the first tap of the drum or bray of the trumpet. It needed not spies or deserters to forewarn them. The custom of armies when near each other is to parade before break of day, and this is not less the custom of garrisons when besieged, or of an army, like that in Sebastopol, defending a mighty entrenched camp. So it was on the 18th. Behind the huge Malakoff and the Great Redan, in rear of the connecting parapets, and in the houses of the suburb, lay 16,000 men ready to clutch their arms and fall on. In front of the works were watchful sentries, and in the works the gunners stood by their pieces, prompt to fire. The steamers in the harbour, sheltered under the cliffs, had their fires lighted and their steam up, and were prepared to throw shell, and grape, and canister on the assaulting columns. But had Lord Raglan's plan of a three hours' bombardment been carried out, the fire could not have failed to disarrange the plan of defence, the chances of surprising the defenders would have been great, and the assailants, moving upon what they could see, would have stormed with greater unity and greater confidence.

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

General La Marmora
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