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


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Prince Gortschakoff had, indeed, resolved to surprise, if he could, if not, to force, the line of the Tchernaya. His reinforcements consisted of the 4th, 5th, and 7th divisions of infantry. To these he was able to add the 17th, 12th, 6th, and 11th; of these the 11th, 12th, and 17th had long been in the Crimea, and had fought at the Alma and Inkermann; but the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th were fresh troops, which had arrived recently from Poland and Bessarabia. In fact, as soon as it was certain that Austria did not mean to fight, the Czar put in motion all the troops that could be spared from the Austrian frontiers. Had all these divisions been in full strength, Prince Gortschakoff could have brought into line 78,000 infantry alone. But long marches had weakened some regiments, and others had suffered great losses in the field and the trenches; and instead of 78,000, he could only dispose of 50,900 infantry. To support them he had 7,200 cavalry, chiefly regulars, and 2-62 guns; in all about 60,000 men.

The plan of the Russian general was to move the bulk of his force, on the night of the 15th, by the roads leading from the Mackenzie Heights into lower ground, while two divisions marched from Korales down the Valley of Chouliou, and joined the left of the main body above Tchorgoun. The right column he entrusted to General Read. It consisted of the 7th and 12th divisions, and sixty-two guns. The left was under the orders of Liprandi, and was composed of the 5th, 17th, and 6th, and some ninety cannon. The 11th and 4th were in reserve, and remained so. General Liprandi led the way. On quitting the defile he was to move to his left, and before daylight drive the Sardinian outposts from the Mamelon, occupy that hill, and also the heights above Tchorgoun and Karlovka. The object of this was to give the Russians a good site, whence they might cannonade Mount Hasfort, and cover an infantry attack on that position. While Liprandi formed on the Sardinian Mamelon, Read was to bring his two divisions into line, but out of range; hold himself prepared to storm the Fedoukine heights, but not to make that attempt until he got orders to do so from Prince Gortschakoff. Hence it is inferred that the Russian commander designed, first, to carry Mount Hasfort, by throwing his left rapidly over the river at Karlovka and below it, and then, having driven the Sardinians into the plain, and cut off the French and Turks in the Valley of Baidar and about Alsou, give the signal to Read to attack the Fedoukine heights in front, while the guns from Mount Hasfort took them in flank and rear. If this were the plan of the Russian general, it failed; and although he imputes the loss of victory to that failure, it was, perhaps, fortunate for him that General Read's impatience did not allow of its execution.

All night on the 15th the Russian columns were moving silently down the steep road from Mackenzie, along the wooded valley of Chouliou, spreading out over the slopes, and pushing nearer and nearer to the outposts and patrols of the allies. Each man carried four days' rations, and men were appointed to bear portable plank bridges, to facilitate the passage of the river and canal. The cavalry and artillery had with them forage for four days, and there was a good supply of wagons for knapsacks and of ambulances for the wounded, with each division. While this formidable host was approaching, the allied soldiers were asleep, and only the usual guards were under arms, and the usual patrols were moving across the front. Before daylight, however, the Sardinians got under arms; but the French do not appear to have turned out earlier than usual. Long security had bred confidence, and no doubt they relied upon their advanced posts, and not without reason. A thick fog hid everything in the valley, and hung heavily over the low meadows on both sides of the Tchernaya. Under cover of this, Prince Gortschakoff had got his troops into the positions he had designed them to occupy. Read had deployed out of cannon shot opposite the stone bridge, called the Bridge of Tracktir, or Bridge of the Inn. Liprandi had crowned the heights above Tchorgoun and Karlovka, and had placed cannon in battery, so as to sweep the rear of the Sardinian outpost on the entrenched Mamelon. Three heavy columns, supported by artillery, were silently moving upon the front of the Italians; but as yet, except in the Sardinian camp, not a soldier of the allies, save the sentries, was stirring.

But these sentries were on the alert. There was a splutter of musketry in front of the bridge - a French patrol had stumbled in the fog upon the skirmishers of Read! Then a few reports near the Sardinian outpost, followed by a quick fire of musketry. General La Marmora, with ready promptitude, sent a support across the Tchernaya to aid the riflemen on the Mamelon in delaying the advance of the enemy, while he made his final preparations. Liprandi had, while it was still dark, brought up such a heavy force, that although the Sardinians stood their ground with great gallantry, they were so pressed on all sides as to be forced out of their entrenchments, and were retiring down the hill as the support came up. The whole then gave ground before the enemy, and fell back upon the rocky elevation in front of the left of the Sardinian line, whence they were not expelled.

In the meantime the guns of Liprandi and Read were both in action; and the whole line of the allies began to seize their arms and form. Morris's Chasseurs d'Afrique, 2,400 strong, formed between the left of the Sardinians and the right of the French, one regiment being at the head of the defile leading to the bridge. Saviroux's Sardinian cavalry, 300 men, came up on their right; and General Scarlett, turning out the British cavalry, a splendid force, 3,000 strong, moved them across the plain, and drew up in rear of the French and Italian squadrons. The Turkish and Sardinian guns were answering the fire of Liprandi's artillery; and two French batteries were ready to engage Read. So thick was the fog that the enemy's troops were still invisible, and pending the development of their attack, Generals La Marmora and Herbillon simply reinforced their outposts. Prince Gortschakoff has stated that about this time he had ridden on to the Sardinian Mamelon to survey the ground, and proceed with the execution of his original plan. While he was meditating and trying to pierce through the fog, he heard a violent fire of musketry on his right. General Read, without orders, as his superior officer avers, had begun the attack, and frustrated the whole scheme. From this moment the battle of the Tchernaya was a battle mainly between the French and Russians; the former, however, being assisted by the deadly fire of the British and Sardinian guns.

The Russian cannonade had thoroughly roused the French, but uncertain from what quarter the real attack of the enemy would come, the brigades were kept drawn up near their camps, ready to move in any direction. The soldiers in the bridge-head and the outposts on the river had been supported by battalions detached for that purpose; and for half an hour the French had remained expectant, and shrouded, like the enemy, in clouds of mist and smoke. Suddenly dark masses were seen dimly through the mist moving down on the Tchernaya. They came on with great resolution, and very fast. At one and the same moment a column from the 12th Division assailed the bridge, and another from the 7th attacked the French left. The onset was so impetuous that the French outposts were at once thrust away from the river all along the line, and forced over the aqueduct. The troops in the bridge-head, indeed, kept their post with constancy, but when they saw the enemy over the river above and below, when they beheld their supports giving way before the impetuous charges of the increasing enemy, they too yielded, and the Russians, dashing over the earthwork, pressed after them as they fled to the shelter of the aqueduct. The advance of the 7th Division had been equally successful. Issuing from the fog, boldly passing the river, closing in from all sides on the French, the latter, outnumbered, were compelled to retire with all speed up the slopes of the Fedoukine hills. Thus along the whole line the enemy had swept everything before him, had carried the bridge, and had crossed the two great obstacles, the river and the aqueduct. His guns on the high ground fired over the heads of the columns moving in the valley, and the Russian commander might well, for one brief moment, believe that he was about to win. They had not succeeded so far without suffering considerable losses. The French troops had fought well, and had been well fought by their officers, and the battalions obliged to give way had been effectively covered in their retreat by the supports. Now the tide oi combat was going to change.

In crossing the aqueduct the Russians had lost their regular formation, and they had to recover it as well as they could under a heavy fire. Thus their charge was stopped at the moment when victory depended upon its continuance; and while the troops in their front kept them in play, the French generals were executing movements intended to effect a bloody counterstroke. The column of the 7th Division fell first under this calamity. They had crossed the river and aqueduct with comparatively little opposition, apparently only that of the outposts and the supports. They were advancing up the hill, when General Wimpfen, who commanded a brigade of General Camou's division, sent the 3rd Zouaves to check them. This brought the Russians to a stand. The heavy column, growing vaster as the men scrambling over the aqueduct came up, gave and received a telling fire, but did not advance. All this time, by the orders of Wimpfen, a battalion of the 82nd Regiment was rapidly coming down the hill to the aid of the Zouaves. As soon as the 82nd appeared, the French attacked with the bayonet. The Zouaves went headlong into the right, the 82nd into the left flank of the enemy. The outward ranks were lifted off their feet by the violence of the shock, and the column loosening at the rear, turned and hurried, in dreadful confusion, back over the aqueduct. A battery of artillery on the left of the line of attack poured grape into the flying mass, and augmented the slaughter. Soon the track of the charge was marked by heaps of dead and wounded, while the aqueduct and its banks were covered with mangled forms of what were men. The French soldiers were not allowed to cross the aqueduct in pursuit, and the Russians rallying, and being supported by a strong body of horse and several batteries, reformed and began a duel of musketry with the French, who lined the banks of the aqueduct.

So far the attack on the left had been repelled, but the beaten troops were still at hand to take advantage of any success which might fall to the share of their comrades, who had carried the bridge and were assailing the centre and right.

The Russians had poured over in three irregular columns. Those who crossed by the bridge formed the centre; what may be called the wings had forded the river and the aqueduct. Each column was bravely encountered and overthrown. When General Wimpfen saw that his Zouaves and one battalion of the 82nd were sufficient to deal with the Russian extreme right, he sent the whole of the 50th, with the remainder of the 82nd, as a reserve, to fall upon the central Russian columns- Thus, while the battalions of Herbillon's division assailed the centre, the 50th, moving obliquely down the hill, came upon the flank of the Russian column which had passed the aqueduct on the Russian right of the bridge. Exposed to such an assault, the Russians were unable to stand, and, after a brief musketry fight, they turned and sought shelter beyond the aqueduct and the Tchernaya. At the same time, General de Failly, in the centre, had- charged, and the effect of the combined movement was to sweep the enemy over the river. The mass of the French were kept behind the aqueduct; but Colonel Danner, with portions of the 97th and 95th, was sent over to re-occupy the bridge-head. On the other side of the road to Balaclava the Russian column had proved too strong for the 19th Chasseurs; and after driving them up the eastern hillock, had, regardless of the tearing flank fire of the Sardinian artillery on Mount Hasfort, sought to deploy and storm the height. They were just moving up when the 2nd Zouaves came over the crest. The Russians began to fire, but the Zouaves continued to march forward, and then, with loud shouts and levelled bayonets, they went down the hill at a charging pace, and literally lifting the Russians off their legs, drove them pell-mell over the aqueduct.

The battle had endured two hours. The French had been partially surprised; nevertheless, assailed with unusual fury, they had established their superiority along the whole line. Their front was now upon the aqueduct, their supports on the hills in rear, and their outposts were again on the bridge-head. From the heights before Sebastopol the Imperial Guard, and the divisions of Levaillant and Dulac, under Pélissier in person, were descending to the scene of action. General Herbillon had called down Sercier's brigade. Sefer Pasha was moving from Kamara with a brigade of Turks. Trotti's division, the left of the Sardinian line, had approached the opening between Mount Hasfort and the Fedoukine heights. The French were moving five batteries up to the front. The cavalry of the three armies were blazing on the morning sunshine on the plain, and waiting eagerly and hopefully for the cheering bugle sound which precedes the charge. The fog had lifted, the sun was shining brightly, and only the smoke of battle obscured a view of the field, for now above a hundred guns were in action on both sides of the valley.

Prince Gortschakoff had heard the beginning of the attack upon the French left. He was, he says, astonished. General Read had frustrated his design of first driving the Sardinians from their entrenchments, and taking himself a solid grasp of Mount Hasfort. To effect this object he had in hand four divisions of infantry, and he was preparing to hurl his bolt when the uproar of Read's untimely onset broke upon his ear. At once he suspended the movement of these divisions, and changed the whole tide of his battle. He felt that he must support the troops of Read, for he could not be sure that the allies would not assume the offensive, and, by good luck, they might interpose between him and the Mackenzie heights, and throw the bulk of his army upon the hills and narrow valleys towards Aitodor and Chouliou. "Wherefore he directed the cavalry to move up, and, should the infantry be repulsed, hold themselves in readiness to charge or to cover the retreat of the 7th and 12th Divisions, and enable them to rally. At the same time he directed the 5th Division to more by its right into the plain and assail the French at and above the bridge. The 17th Division was ordered to descend the Sardinian Mamelon and cross the river, and strive to penetrate through the open space between Mount Hasfort and the most eastern slopes of the Fedoukine heights. The 6th Division moved up to guard the ground opposite the Sardinians above Karlovka and Tchorgoun, and the 4th Division remained in the rear up the valley of Chouliou as a reserve.

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