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

Progress of the Siege - Its Character - Russian fire retards and then stops the French - English bombard the place to cover the French Working Parties - Explode a Russian Magazine - The French on the left open fire - Splendid Sunset Scene - Movements and Precautions on the Tchernaya - Immense Expenditure of Ammunition - Combats before the Malakoff - The French Victorious - Explosion of 15,000 pounds of Powder in the Mamelon - The crisis, at hand.
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The battle of the Tchernaya did not interrupt the progress of the siege. The Russians only succeeded in drawing upon themselves the bulk of the covering army, for although the French showed a strong line of troops on the old Inkermann ground, and kept up a sharp lookout upon their own left, this did not hinder the working parties in the advanced works from continuing their labours.

It should still be borne in mind that the French had fully recognised the fact that the Malakoff was the key of Sebastopol, that their main efforts were directed towards it, and that all the other attacks had become subordinate to this one. In short the attack on the Malakoff had become what is termed "regular." In a regular siege, having invested the fortress, you select a "front," open fire, and when the defender's guns are silenced in the front assailed, you sap up to the ditch, breach the wall, blow in the outer bank of the ditch, and, if the garrison will not surrender, you storm. This mode of attack proceeds on the assumption, perfectly just in ordinary cases, that the defenders have a limited supply of guns and gunners, and that the assailants, by bringing an overwhelming fire to bear in one spot, can establish a superiority, and irresistibly work their way into the place in a given time. But Sebastopol was not invested. The supply of guns in the place was practically unlimited. As much ammunition as the enemy could find transport for could be and was carried into the town. As many men as the Czar could march to this extreme point of his empire were poured into his lines. Immense quantities of timber, very useful in earthwork fortifications, were attainable with comparative ease. Thus the enemy had all things that are usually wanting in a besieged fortress - men, guns, supplies, ammunition, timber - without stint. Moreover, the defences of Sebastopol so supported each other that it was not enough to silence the guns at one point, for not only could the guns there be renewed, but those in other batteries enfiladed the approaches to such an extent as to make the work almost impossible. Thus the Flagstaff Batteries smote in flank the approaches of the English left attack; the Barrack Batteries supported the Redan, the Redan supported the Malakoff, this work was aided by the Little Redan, and the guns on the north side tormented the French on the ridge above the Careening Bay. Hence, although the progress of the sap went on against the Malakoff and the Little Redan alone, the whole fire of the allies could not be concentrated on those works, because they had to reply to the other batteries used so vigorously by the enemy. These conditions of the siege had been long established; the new feature in it was the determined attack upon the Malakoff, to which the other attacks were made subordinate

The moment the French began to descend the western slope of the Mamelon, and push up the eastern slope of the Malakoff, they became sensible of the arduous nature of the undertaking. Their trenches had to be designed with the utmost care, their connecting parallels to be constructed with rapidity and solidity in the face of a destructive fire. About the period of the battle of the Tchernaya, they were losing a hundred men in a night in the trenches. Batteries, low down in the Russian works and unseen by the allies, flung shells into the trenches and batteries with fatal accuracy. Nevertheless, the French steadily gained ground. They had descended one slope, they were ascending the other. But when they had reached within a hundred yards of the ditch of the Malakoff, they could go no further. The work of the night was destroyed by the enemy the next day. In vain the sharpshooters in their pits and in the most advanced cover kept up a deadly fire on the embrasures of the Malakoff. The enemy's guns were so numerous and so well-placed that there seemed to be always some capable of firing, and with the dawn came the destruction of the labours of the night.

Under these circumstances, General Simpson agreed to open on the 17th the heaviest possible fire upon the Malakoff; and it was understood that the batteries of the French on the left should bombard the town front to prevent the Russians on that side from overwhelming our left attack. Accordingly, on the 17th, the English opened fire; but the French, for some reason, did not support them, and the Russians in the town batteries did us considerable damage and killed two good officers. Yet this did not prevent the British from accomplishing their object. They maintained so crushing a fire on the Malakoff that the Russian artillerymen were soon obliged to quit their pieces, and only fire a gun now and then. At six in the evening a magazine blew up in a work between the Redan and the Malakoff. There were lying in this battery a number of shells. All these suddenly exploded, and so great was the fright of the enemy's troops that they were seen to leap outside their parapets to avoid the shower of iron fragments. This battery was ruined. All night the mortars of the allies fired heavily into the Malakoff and Redan, to hinder the enemy from repairing damages; and all night the French worked lustily at their trenches, doing more in twenty- four hours than they had done in a fortnight. The bombardment continued on the 18th. On the night of that day signal was made that masses of Russians were in the Redan. Thereupon the mortars were directed upon this work, and the heavy shells they flung must have destroyed many men. There was a considerable exchange of musketry fire between the advanced trenches and the place, but the enemy did not venture out. The severity of this short bombardment may be estimated from the fact that from the British batteries alone 11,243 10-inch and 13-inch shells were poured into the place within eight and forty hours; that is, on an average, nearly four shells every minute!

The French on the left, who had been almost silent, now found that, in order to complete their approaches to a certain point, they also must open a general fire. This they did on the evening of the 20th, taking the enemy somewhat by surprise. While under cover of this fire they pushed forward their sap. " On both sides," writes Colonel Hamley, "the firing was extremely violent till dark. I was in the third parallel of our left attack at the time, and never beheld a more splendid spectacle than the setting of the sun behind the Bastion du Mât [Flagstaff Battery.] Purple masses lay on the horizon, becoming luminous as the sun passed behind them, till the whole western sky was in a softened glow of orange, with red and crimson of every gradation in the cloudy glories around and above the orb. Against the fiery space was sharply cut the purple line of the enemy's rampart -

'A looming bastion fringed with fire,'

whence the smoke of the cannon curled upward in dark blue wreaths with rosy edges. Sometimes a shell, bursting high, left a compact rounded cloud tinged with light, till it was slowly dissipated in streaks as of blood; while the din of the cannonade, reverberating from all the ravines in prolonged peals, filled the air." On that same day had been seen a sight not so grand and sublime. Rockets had fired the suburb behind the Malakoff. Numbers of soldiers and carts rushed out. Immediately one gun and then another was brought to bear upon the tumult, and soon the ground was seen to be strewn with wounded men and shattered vehicles; so that here, in the very heart of the defences, not only tortuous rockets set the houses in a blaze, but the very guns of the allies had sight of the streets of the suburb and the paths to the Malakoff. But the siege was now very destructive to life. The allies were so near the place that a comparatively weak cannonade from the enemy slew many; while the guns of the former were so numerous and powerful that, whenever they chose to open a sustained fire, the losses of the besieged were enormous. Moreover, miners were busy on both sides. The space between the French sap and the Flagstaff Bastion was full of mines and countermines, and there, and at other points, the explosions were frequent, as both sides availed themselves of all the arts and devices known to subterranean warfare.

From this time to the end of the month there were constant alarms on the side of the Tchernaya. The French had been very active in the Valley of Baidar immediately after the battle of the 16th. General d'Allonville had caused his infantry to penetrate the passes leading to the Tchernaya from the north, and establish posts of observation on the hills. Thus his Zouaves and Chasseurs seized the passes of Ozenbach and of Cardone-Bell, so that no movement of the enemy could be made on that side without its being known. At the same time the Sardinians strengthened their formidable works on Mount Hasfort, and the French constructed three batteries for guns intended to sweep £he ground about the Stone Bridge. On the right they mounted twelve pieces of heavy artillery, naming the work the Raglan Battery. On the other flank they placed the same number of guns in a battery named after La Boussinière, a gallant artillery officer, distinguished at the Alma, and killed before Sebastopol. These guns looked obliquely up the road to the Mackenzie Heights. Then further to the rear, and on the right of the road to Balaclava, they constructed a work for twelve pieces, whose fire would sweep the whole road as far as the bridge, and named it Battery Bizot. Behind these works they re-made the old Turkish redoubts of October, 1854. Thus the allies covered Balaclava with a triple line, the third being the now famous line of Balaclava, constituting a position as strong as any in the world.

Although it seemed improbable that the Russians would repeat the enterprise of the 16th of August, yet the information that reached head-quarters, the partial disappearance of the Russians from the North Camp, the incessant flashing of signal lights from the eastern mountains to Inkermann, and from Inkermann to Sebastopol, induced the allies to keep on the alert. General Simpson reconnoitred the whole position on the Tchernaya. The troops were under arms, both on the plateau and on the Tchernaya, long before daylight for several days, dispersing only when the sun rose. The men-of- war in the harbour of Balaclava were in readiness to take up positions whence they could do the most damage to the enemy. The splendid cavalry of the allies turned out every day, and showed its thousands of sabres and lances in the plains of Balaclava; a spectacle gratifying to the military eye, and not encouraging to the enemy. The Highland Division took post above Kamara. The field- artillery of the allies was in constant readiness. From the hills which enfold the Baidar Valley to the heights of Inkermann all was vigilance. Prince Gortschakoff, who had his army on the plateau of Mackenzie, and in the little valleys leading down towards the outposts and main position of the allies, probably looked upon this scene, enacted daily; if he did so, what he saw must have extinguished any notion of breaking into the allied lines at any point. There was no weak place in the chain.

At this period the Russians were suffering severely not only from fatigue and the missiles of the allies, but from a lack of water, and sometimes of food when they tried to take up positions near to our lines. Hence they were kept in camps, at a distance, on the watercourses, chiefly about the Belbek, where water was obtainable, and where food could easily be brought from the depots. The allies, on the other hand, had abundance of everything, except shot and shell. The expenditure in the batteries was on so vast a scale that the supply ships could scarcely keep pace with the wants of the artillery. From the 13th to the 19th, inclusive, there were expended 26,270 rounds of shell and shot, and on the 20th there remained only 3,470 rounds in the Crimea; not one day's supply. Wherefore the fire of our batteries was regulated by that of the enemy; yet the consumption was so considerable that on the 27th the whole supply in the Crimea was still only 2,959 rounds.

Nevertheless, the siege works made steady progress towards the Malakoff. There the assailants and defenders were within a few yards of each other. The Russians had a series of rifle-pits on the slope under the Malakoff Redoubt itself. The French works had approached so near that it became necessary to seize these pits, and incorporate them with the main body of the approaches. Accordingly, on the 23rd of August, a body of Zouaves worked all day in opening a trench leading towards the pits; and in the evening the light infantry of a line regiment went in and carried them. But the Russians, determined not to lose their shelter without a struggle, dashed out of the Malakoff, and expelled the Frenchmen. There was a good deal of firing and shouting. The Russians, however, did not long enjoy their triumph, for the expelled troops, being supported by their comrades, returned to the assault, reconquered and held the work. The next day the enemy kept up a heavy fire on the Mamelon, in spite of the support which our batteries afforded to the French. But the onward march of the latter could not be arrested. On the evening of the 24th they seized the whole line of Russian works on the glacis. Again the enemy violently essayed to prevent the French from making good their hold. At the first shock the latter yielded to the numbers and impetuosity of the Russians; but, being well sustained, they charged in once more and drove the enemy headlong into the ditch. During the combat the working parties were actively employed, both in digging trenches of communication, and in turning and connecting the Russian pits. Before the morning the whole line was complete, and the French works were within thirty-four yards of the salient of the Malakoff. The loss from these enterprises was heavy - 53 killed and 318 wounded. The firing every day, although not assuming the proportions of a regular bombardment, was continuous at one point or another. The efforts of the enemy were directed chiefly against the Mamelon and the approaches there from, the quarter, as they well knew, where their greatest peril lay. On the night of the 28th they made a lucky shot. One of their shells rolled into a magazine in the left or southern face of the Mamelon Redoubt. There were at the time 15,000 pounds of powder in the magazine. This exploded with an awful roar, awakening the whole camp, and killing or wounding 150 Frenchmen. The moon was shining brightly as this vivid blast of flame shot heavenward, carrying with it masses of earth, gabions, beams, fragments of carriages and shot. The huge cloud, casting acres of shadow, rose above the Mamelon, towered to an immense height, then, unfolding itself, "let fall from its clustering waves of smoke and sulphurous vapour, a black precipitate of earth, fine dust and pebbles, mingled With miserable fragments, which dropped like rain upon the works below... There was silence for an instant, and but for an instant, as the sullen thunder rolled slowly away and echoed along the heights of Inkermann and Mackenzie; then the Russians leaping to their guns cheered loudly, but their voices were soon smothered in the crash of the English and French batteries," which opened on them instantly. The French troops in the advanced works, though appalled by the magnitude of the explosion, stood firmly, and the Russians were not prepared or were unable to make a sortie. " The dark cloud hung like a pall for nearly an hour over the place, reddening every moment with the reflection of the flashes of the artillery, which fired incessantly till dawn." As so many men were in the trenches, it is wonderful that only forty were killed and a hundred wounded. Some of our men, in the neighbouring ravine, were hit, and great beams fell in the batteries of the right attack, having been thrown 700 yards. This vast explosion of powder did not seriously damage the Mamelon; but it delayed the final assault, because the store of powder, thus expended, had to be replaced.

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

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