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

General Simpson takes command of the British - Deaths and Departures - The French push towards the Malakoff - Hazardous Nature of this, great labour - English in the Quarries - Operations of the Covering Army on the Tchernaya - Watched by the Russians - Description of the Country between Inkermann and Baidar - Prince Gortschakoff, reinforced, resolves to attack the Covering Army - The Position he had to assail - How defended - Rumours of Russian Intentions - Prince Gortschakoff's Army - His Plan - Marches on the 15th and attacks on the 16th of August - The Allies partially surprised - Rapid gathering of Troops - Failure of the Prince's Plan at the Outset - The gallant bearing of the Italians - Russian Right crosses the River - Is driven back - Gortschakoff sends Reinforcements - They assail first the Right, then the Centre, and are routed with terrible Slaughter - Arrival of large French Reinforcements - Close of the Battle - Prince Gortschakoff rallies under the Mackenzie Heights - Forms a new Line - Retires, covered by Horsemen and Cannon - General La Marmora over the Tchernaya - Russians fire on the French Ambulance Corps - Losses on both sides - Reflections.
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General James Simpson succeeded to the command of the English army, and General Barnard became Chief of the Staff. During the month of July the cholera continued to strike down the dwellers in the British headquarters - Colonel Vico, French Commissioner there, and Mr. Calvert, head of the intelligence department, dying on the 10th and 11th of July. The French officer had won the esteem of Lord Raglan and his staff, and his death was much regretted. Mr. Calvert, or Cattley, had formed a corps of guides, composed of Tartar chiefs, and through them he acquired constantly important information from the interior of the Crimea. His spies and agents supplied intelligence of the arrival of Russian reinforcements, and of the movements of troops from place to place. Captain Keppel succeeded Captain, now Admiral, Sir Stephen Lushington in the command of the Naval Brigade. Mr. Filder's health gave way, and he was compelled to go home. His place was taken by Commissary-General Sir George Maclean. Sickness also drove home Sir Richard England, and Sir William Eyre took the 3rd Division. Lieutenant-General Markham, coming from India (there was a clamour for the appointment of Indian officers), succeeded to the 2nd Division, and Sir William Codrington to the Light Division. In the French camp there had been some changes. General Canrobert was recalled to France. General Bosquet re- assumed the command of the French troops on the right, and General Herbillon, as senior officer present there, commanded the French on the Tchernaya.

The great object of the allies was now to press as closely as possible to the body of the place. The French had begun to see distinctly that the Malakoff was the key of the whole defences on the eastern side, and that, with the fall of that redoubt, the town and the western side would be untenable. Accordingly, they continued with vigour the works of approach begun after the capture of the Mamelon. They descended the eastern slope of this hillock, burrowing in the ground where the soil was soft, planting gabions and piling up sandbags, and using blasting powder where it was hard and rocky. Day after day the space between the Mamelon and Malakoff showed signs of their labours; the works on the Careening Ridge were extended and strengthened; and the whole front protected by being tied together by a connecting parallel. But the loss of men was very great. The fire of guns and mortars, although not heavy, was constant, and the shells, flung with low charges from a short distance, burst in the parallels and batteries, and among the working parties, with destructive effect. The labour required was prodigious; for every approach had to be protected by traverses from an enfilading fire. The watchful eyes of Todleben were never turned from the works of the allies, and as fast as they projected a new approach, he found means of taking it in flank or raking it from his side. Unseen mortars, far in the rear, sent their shells into the allied works. The steamers were still active, and, although they were frequently fired at, yet they were rarely, if ever, hit. Then the fire of musketry was incessant, and so from shell, and shot, and bullet the soldiers in the trenches lost numbers night and day. The British were quite unable to work the rocky soil in front of the Quarries. They pushed out but a little way under an irregular but searching fire of shells, flung in clusters of eight or ten and sometimes twelve at a time. The engineers were chiefly engaged in enlarging and strengthening the works, and in placing a still heavier armament in the batteries. The British loss was also very large - between thirty and forty men per diem were put hors de combat. On the left the French made some progress through the earth and under the earth; for, in front of the Flagstaff Bastion, the miner was busy on both sides, and now and again a mine would be exploded by one party or the other, not often with great effect, except upon the tortured earth. At times the guns on both sides would open fiercely for an hour or two, by day or night; at others, the enemy would make a sortie, and then the human voice and the bugle would mingle with the sounds of the cannon. These sorties were now becoming few and weak. The allies were so close to the works of the place that no large body could leave it undiscovered; and once seen, some battery would play upon it. Small parties emerged, trying to do mischief, but they did little, and lost men.

The enemy were as active as ever. Their working parties on the north side were visible, and the results of their labours. They also began to construct a bridge of boats and rafts across the harbour. They seemed to be never satisfied with the defences of the Malakoff Hill, but went about strengthening them every day. At this time they began to suffer losses from a new cause. Sir Houston Stewart, from the Hannibal, saw into the place, and observing when troops were marched up to relieve the garrison of the Malakoff, Redan, and other works, he established a code of signals visible in the allied camp, repeated there, and noted in the batteries. By this ingenious device our gunners were able to shell the approaches to the Russian lines, and to inflict on them visible loss.

So, through the month of July and the beginning of August, these deadly labours were continued, and the allies crept nearer and nearer to the Malakoff and the Redans, and to the ramparts on the western face. In the meantime came reports that the Russian Government, determined to strike one blow for victory, had directed several divisions from Poland towards the Crimea. These reports were true. An effort was about to be made to raise the siege. As no attack could be made from the head of the harbour, it was plain that the covering army would be assailed from the Heights of Mackenzie and the Valley of Chouliou; wherefore the Sardinian infantry from Tchorgoun made several excursions into the hilly region to the north-east, yet they found no enemy. The Turks also entered the mountains, and the French cavalry in the Baidar Valley kept an eye on all the rugged passes leading into that fertile spot. They found no enemies in force, and they obtained from the valley a boundless supply of forage. But in the beginning of August it was observed that the Russians were constructing new works on the road from the Tchernaya to the Heights of Mackenzie, at points whence they could fire into the front and flanks of an advancing column. Clusters of Cossacks came down more frequently to the brow of the hills, gazed curiously into the valley, and sometimes skirmished with the French outposts. Small parties of the same useful troops hung about the French cavalry camps in the Baidar Valley, and one or two were caught by the active Chasseurs d'Afrique. From the end of the first week in August the allies were on the lookout for an assault in force upon the Tchernaya.

The coast of the Crimea, a little to the eastward of Balaclava, turns abruptly to the south as far as Cape Aia. Rounding this Cape, the line of cliff falls backward and forms the little Bay of Laspi, and then, going further south, sweeps sharply to the eastward. The southern slopes of the range of mountains running east and west from Laspi towards Kertch form the famous Crimean undercliff, the summer retreat of the Russian nobles, whose villas and palaces stand in the lovely valleys opening on the sea. The road to this undercliff descends from the plateau of Sebastopol into the valley of Balaclava, and going eastward, reaches the Kreuzen, an affluent of the Tchernaya, between Kamara and Tchorgoun, and ascending its right bank - that is, taking a southerly direction - it passes by Varnoutka into the Valley of Baidar. Running in an easterly direction through this valley as far as the village of Baidar, it there turns again to the south, and winding through the rugged gorge of the Pass of Phoros, creeps along the cliff side and descends to the sea. The Tchernaya rises in the mountains to the eastward of the valley, but it is fed by numerous streams rising on all sides, and its rapid waters, flowing in a tortuous course through terrible ravines under the Atlaous Dagh, break out from the mountains at Karlovka, where it receives the Kreuzen torrent coming from the south, and, winding round the Hasfort Hill, makes its way at the bottom of the valley to the head of the harbour of Sebastopol. Thus the allies had the Woronzoff Road whereby to communicate with the Valley of Baidar, and once in possession of the gorges near Karlovka, their foragers were quite safe within its luxuriant and picturesque basin; for a very few men could defend the Pass of Phoros to the eastward. The roads up the mountains to the north were few, and the passes difficult, and so long as they were watched by active horsemen, no force of any strength could enter the valley unawares. The passes led to the Valley of Chouliou, lying still further northward, along which is a road from Batchi Serai, debouching through the mountains upon Tchorgoun, and by cross paths through Ai Todor and Ouzenbach upon Alsou, a village on the left bank of the Tchernaya, not far from its junction with the Kreuzen. Thus it will be seen that the right of the allied army - resting upon the Kreuzen and fronting the Tchernaya, having a considerable Turkish force over the Kreuzen, near Alsou, supported by the Highland Brigade above Kamara; and, moreover, a good many horsemen guarding the Baidar Valley - could not be easily turned. The Russians might move down from the Mackenzie heights and the Inkermann rocks, and join a force sent down the Valley of Chouliou, and so attempt to carry either the position opposite Karlovka, or the Fedoukine heights on the left bank of the river; but they could not penetrate the mountains on the eastward, and moving through the Baidar Valley, take the allies in the rear.

These considerations influenced Prince Gortschakoff, when, having received large reinforcements, he, in obedience to orders from St. Petersburg - for the Emperor on the Neva, like the Emperor on the Seine, interfered in the conduct of the war - proposed to assail the allies. He was painfully aware of the strength of their position. He knew the ground. It had long been visible to him throughout its whole extent. He could see the Sardinian entrenchments from the heights above Tchorgoun, and his very batteries could almost reach the French camps from the heights of Inkermann. He had two batteries, called by the French Gringalet and Bilboquet, upon these heights, whose missiles amused the French outposts, and sometimes annoyed them, but seldom did any harm. Knowing the ground well, and the strength of the force holding it, he designed a clever plan of attack, based on that knowledge; but depending entirely for success upon a surprise, followed by rapid movements urged on without hesitation.

The Sardinian army held the right of the position. They had entrenched the Hasfort Hill, a bold eminence rising abruptly in the angle formed by the Kreuzen and the Tchernaya, and over the latter river they had an outpost upon a mamelon, or high, bald hill, overlooking the mouth of the Valley of Chouliou, and a second on a rock, opposite the extreme northern spur of Hasfort. On the eastern side of the Valley of Chouliou the ground rose abruptly, overhung Karlovka with its round tower and groves, and looked into the rear of the Sardinian outpost on the Mamelon. In the bottom, on the banks of a small stream, which, overflowing, formed a little, shallow lake, before it reached the Tchernaya, stood Tchorgoun. To the westward the slopes of Mount Hasfort fell to a level with the plain, forming a broad gorge opening to the Tchernaya. On the other side of the gorge was the eastern hill of the Fedoukine heights. These heights bordered the left bank of the river, as far as the stone bridge which carried the high road from the north over the stream into the denle leading to Balaclava. Below the bridge the river ran through a range of meadows towards and under the heights of Inkermann, and the Fedoukine slopes trended backward to within 1,500 yards of Mount Sapoune. But it was not only the river which covered their front. The aqueduct or canal constructed to supply Sebastopol with fresh water, having its source near Karlovka, was carried round the northern spur of Mount Hasfort, and thence across the gorge and along the foot of the Fedoukine heights, between them and the river. This canal was eight feet broad and four feet deep, with perpendicular banks. Below the stone bridge the embankments supporting the canal were high enough to afford shelter to skirmishers. The Fedoukine heights consisted of three rounded hills, one on the eastern side of the deep defile leading to the bridge, and two on the western side. The French were encamped on the crown of the hills. Their outposts on the left, or western side, were on the banks of the Tchernaya, and they held an angular entrenchment or redan on the right bank, to defend the access to the bridge. The valley in front of the French camps, looking north, was a meadowy plain, through which ran the road to the heights of Mackenzie and Inkermann.

The troops occupying this position were seven battalions of Turks, with four guns, whose duty it was to watch the ford of Alsou, and guard the course of the Tchernaya thence to the confluence of the Kreuzen, having ten battalions in support near Kamara, on the other side of the affluent. Next, the Sardinians under La Marmora, encamped on the Hasfort Hill, and consisting of the divisions of Durando and Trotti, and in the plain the cavalry under Saviroux. The Sardinians had thirty guns, and an English battery of position, 32- pounder howitzers, under Captain Mowbray. Then came the three French divisions - that of Fancheux was on the right, that of Herbillon in the centre, that of Camou on the left. The French cavalry, Morris's division, were encamped in the plain on the left of the Sardinians. The artillery park was in rear of the Fedoukine heights. General Herbillon commanded the whole. Five brigades held the heights, and one occupied the eastern slopes of Mount Sapoune, and thus connected the army of observation with the corps engaged in pushing the attacks against the Malakoff. Including the British cavalry, 3,000 strong, there were nearly 40,000 men and 120 guns in line between Alsou and Mount Sapoune. This, however, did not represent the force available for a battle, because the French could dispose of nearly the whole of the Imperial Guard and of two divisions of infantry, and the English could have brought up the greater part of the garrison of Balaclava.

The information brought in by our spies and the reports of deserters had led the allied generals to look, either for a sortie from the town, or for an attack on the line of the Tchernaya. On the 14th the troops in camp were under arms before daybreak, but nothing occurred on one side or the other. On the 15th more positive news arrived. General d'Allonville from the Baidar Valley notified by the semaphore that he had troops in front of him, or rather that his patrols had discovered bodies of the enemy moving down into the Valley of Chouliou. Signal lights flashed from Mackenzie to Inkermann, and from Inkermann to Sebastopol. An ostentatious gathering of troops in rear of the Redan and Malakoff was discovered from the tops of our men- of-war, and at the same time a suspicious movement of Russians towards Inkermann. All the commanders were warned, and orders were issued to be more than usually vigilant; General La Marmora directing his brigades to get under arms before daylight the next morning.

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