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


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The 7th passed like the 6th, opening with a volley along the whole four miles of batteries, then, of set purpose, dying away, and suddenly bursting forth again. The daylight surprised our siege train driving carts laden with ammunition over the open to the trenches, and on them, the enemy opened a fire which effected nothing, but it applied a test to the bravery of our men, and they bore it well. The wind had changed. The smoke and dust were driven back from Sebastopol by a northern blast, and men strained their eyes in vain to catch a glimpse of the place. Yet patient watchers peering through the rifts in the sombre cloud saw enough to convince them that the enemy was suffering almost beyond endurance. At night fires were visible in several places; about eleven o'clock a magazine blew up; and at the same time a huge two-decker was burning solemnly in the Harbour. Up to this time the enemy had lost 4,000 men, exclusive of gunners, who, says Prince Gortschakoff, perished in great numbers, shot down at their guns.

Hitherto the allied generals had kept secret the hour of the assault. At noon they held a fresh council, and took their last resolutions. Now the secret was divulged. During the afternoon General Bosquet summoned the generals of division in his corps, told them that the assault would take place at twelve precisely the next day, and explained to them what were the parts they would have to play. Recommending them to be secret, he shook hands at parting, and said, "I have long known you as valiant soldiers; I have full confidence in you. To-morrow Malakoff and Sebastopol will be ours." In the French trenches, where so many men were to be massed, the greatest care had been taken to provide the requisite space. As a surprise was to be effected, it was necessary to be certain that the soldiers would be concealed from the keen eyes of the enemy. Therefore, the staff officers not only measured the trenches to ascertain the numbers they could be made to contain, but saw that the parapets were raised, and the trenches deepened, so that the whole might march down in broad day, and the foe be none the wiser. All the soldiers and officers were to be in the glory of full uniform. The English had also prepared. It was decided that the Highlanders should relieve the Guards in the right attack, and that the Second and Light Divisions should furnish the columns to be sent against the Redan. The Italians were to share the honour of the day, and Cialdini's brigade was to march up on the morrow, and take post in the most advanced parallel in front of the Flagstaff Bastion.

The night wore away, and the morning dawned, and with it a more tremendous bombardment than ever; for now not only all the guns in the French left attack were fired with the utmost rapidity, but the English batteries and those in the French trenches on the right increased and sustained their fire all the forenoon. In order to deceive the enemy, by making him believe that they intended to push their sap nearer, the French exploded three mines in front of the Malakoff, and broke ground as if they were about to form an eighth parallel. The firing of these mines had another object. The Russian deserters had declared that the glacis of the Malakoff was mined, and news of this had spread among the French troops. It was to give them confidence and impose on the enemy that these counter-mines were exploded. During the morning the French troops were marched with great care and secrecy into the trenches. The clouds of dust blown from the town helped to shroud the movement. Nevertheless, Prince Gortschakoff, gazing wistfully from the north side, detected the movement of the Sardinians towards the French left, and feeling that this portended an assault, sent word to the commander of the town front to be on his guard. But ignorant of the hour when he would be assailed, and exposed to a fire which left him no rest, he was compelled to keep his men as much as possible sheltered in those places the least invaded by shot and shell.

It had been arranged that this time there should be no signal of attack. At noon precisely the stormers were to make their rush. In order to secure uniformity of movement the staff officers met at head-quarters, and set their watches in concert. Then General Bosquet, who had the immediate command on the Malakoff side, went into the sixth parallel; and between eleven and twelve General Pélissier took post in the Mamelon. General Codrington and General Markham were in the front of our Redan attack; and a little before noon General Simpson went to a spot selected for him by the engineers in the first parallel. With him went Sir Harry Jones. He was suffering from illness and could not walk. He was carried, therefore, at his own request, on a litter into the trenches; yet his heroism on this occasion did not save him from the shafts of ridicule. But no man in command at that time escaped detraction, even when he behaved well.

We have already described the plan of attack; we have now to set forth the means of executing it. To ensure success in the attack on the Malakoff works,

General Pélissier employed 25,000 men. There were not only the whole of the corps of Bosquet, but Mellinet's Brigade of the Imperial Guard, and Marolles Brigade of the Reserve. MacMahon, with 5,000 men, was to storm the Malakoff Redoubt, and in support were not only Wimpfen's Brigade, 3,000 strong, but two battalions of the Zouaves of the Guard; thus giving 10,000 men to take and hold the Malakoff itself. General la Motterouge was entrusted with 4,300 men to storm the curtain between the Malakoff and Little Redan; and General Dulac had 4,600 wherewith to carry the Little Redan itself, and 3,000 under Marolles wherewith to make good his grip of this work, and thence carry the unfinished interior lines of defence. There was no special support allotted to La Motterouge, but General Bosquet had upwards of 3,000 men as a general reserve. In addition, two batteries of artillery were held in readiness to drive through the trenches and over the open, and take part in the combat in case they were required. On the western front General de Salles commanded. He had disposable 18,500 men, including Cialdini's 1,200 Italians. Levaillant, with 4,300 men, was to make two attacks on the Central Bastion, and D'Autemarre, with 5,280 men, was to furnish a support. In case of success, and when one of the storming columns had turned the Flagstaff Bastion on its proper right, D'Autemarre's division, Cialdini at its head, was to turn the proper left of the Flagstaff. The remaining troops were in reserve. Thus Pélissier had set apart 43..800 men for the assaulting and supporting columns.

The British arrangements were not on this colossal scale. Two divisions, the Light and Second, were directed to furnish both stormers and supports. Each division supplied a covering party, a ladder party, a storming party divided into two sections, and a working party. The whole amounted to 1,600 men. The covering parties, riflemen intended to spread out and keep down the fire of the unsubdued Russian guns, were under Captain Fyers and Captain Lewes. The ladder parties, intended to be stormers as soon as they had placed their ladders, were under Major Welsford. The storming parties were under Lieutenant-Colonel Handcock, Captain Grove, Brigadier Shirley, and Colonel Windham. The supports consisted of 750 men of each division, and the remainder of both were held in reserve. Thus General Simpson had resolved to try and take the Redan by dribbling into it about 3,100 men; and the whole force he kept in hand in case of emergencies was about 4,000 more. At the same time the Highland Division was posted next to the French attack, while the Third and Fourth were held back in rear of the right attack, and the first was under arms in camp. The signal for attacking the Redan was to be the hoisting of the British flag on the Mamelon and it was understood that General Pélissier would hoist it as soon as the French were fairly in the Malakoff. Then General Simpson was to launch his stormers by raising a white flag bearing the cross of St. George. The signal for the French on the town front to fall on was to be a flight of rockets from the Lancaster Battery, repeated by a second flight from the British trenches, and acknowledged by a third from the French observatory on the left. These signals, as will be seen, miscarried, for General de Salles did not order the assault on the Central Bastion until two o'clock. For the protection of Balaclava, General Herbillon and General la Marmora were to draw out their troops at twelve. The French cavalry in the Baidar Valley was to fall back in the morning to the river Kreuzen; and the whole of the allied cavalry was to be drawn up in the plain.

The Russians had no fewer than 75,000 men in Sebastopol. There were sixteen battalions in the works on the proper left of the Malakoff, and twelve battalions in reserve on this side. In the Malakoff were four battalions and some companies, and four battalions in the Gervais Battery on its proper right. There were besides sixteen battalions in reserve. They had been called up rrom the town by General Chruleff, when his suspicions were aroused by the information that the French trenches seemed to be full of troops. Thus there were about 22,000 men under arms for the defence of the Malakoff system of works. In the Redan and to the right and left of it were nine battalions and sixteen in reserve. The battalions in front line were chiefly our old foes of the Alma and Inkermann. Their numbers were about 13,000. In addition to these troops there were no fewer than 10,000 in reserve for general purposes. The total number for the defence of the line from the Barrack Battery to the Harbour was therefore 45,000 men; or 2,000 more than were set apart by the French alone for all their attacks, and 10,000 more than the combined numbers of the English and French on the eastern side. In the town the Russians had 20,000 men, 2,000 more than the number at the disposal of General de Salles. The front line of works from the Quarantine to the Flagstaff was strongly manned; and beside the special reserves of the different bastions, there was a general reserve nearly 10,000 strong. Such a vast force, fighting behind the strongest entrenchments ever raised, was certain to be hard to conquer; and although it was divided into huge fragments, and one half was separated from the other by an arm of the sea - the South Harbour - we have shown that in mere numbers alone, the Russians were in every point superior to their assailants.

The Russians scented in the air the coming assault, but they were uncertain when and where the tempest would break. They saw few signs of its immediate approach. But the allied trenches were crowded with impatient soldiers. It is characteristic of the two allied nations, that, while the French blazed in full uniform, our generals watching the assault presented a puzzling aspect. "General Simpson sat in the trench with his nose and eyes just facing the cold and dust, and his cloak drawn up over his head to protect him against both. General J ones wore a red night cap and reclined on his litter; and Sir Richard Airey, the quartermaster-general, had a white handkerchief tied over his cap and ears." In the advanced French trenches, there was a group worth noting. There stood General MacMahon, amid a group of staff officers, and the ranks of the silent but attentive Zouaves. The chief of the divisional staff, Colonel Lebrun, held a watch, and all eyes were turned upon its dial-plate. They were waiting for the hands to mark twelve. Near them stood a Zouave corporal with a large flag obtained from a man-of-war, so that when it was planted on the Malakoff, it might be distinctly seen of men. In all the other trenches the French chiefs were watching the flight of time. A few yards from MacMahon, in the great Malakoff itself, the Russians, not expecting an assault, were engaged in relieving the garrison. The heavy fire from the allied batteries prevented them from bringing in the new troops before the old ones were marched out. They found it expedient to effect the relief gradually, by withdrawing a portion of the garrison before replacing them. This was going on as the French, seizing their arms, were prepared to burst forth, At twelve the batteries ceased their direct fire, but the mortars took it up, flinging their shells over the Malakoff and Little Redan, so that they might reach the Russian reserves.

At this moment the officers gave the signal. The clarions sounded, the drums beat, the men cried " Vive l'Empereur!" and dashing over the trenches, went headlong towards the Malakoff, the curtain, and the Little Redan. At the first rush all these places were surprised and overrun; but the attack on the great redoubt was the only one destined to be permanently successful.

The Malakoff Redoubt was a mighty keep, 380 yards long, and 160 wide; the ditch was upwards of six yards deep and seven wide, and its slope next to the work was very steep. In the interior were, first, the ground floor of the old stone tower, and then a multitude of traverses, huge ramparts of earth and timber designed to minimise the effect of shell fire. It was a closed work, that is, fortified on all sides, with one narrow opening in the rear, so that when once the assailants mastered the interior and closed the gorge, the vast ramparts were defences for and not against them. This brief description will enable the reader to form some faint idea of the difficulties in the way of the stormers, and of the advantages which told in their favour when they had subdued the garrison. The Little Redan was also a closed work, but the long curtain connecting it with the Malakoff was exposed to the fire of the Russian second line, thrown up about 300 yards in the rear. The Great Redan was an open work, like a very straddling V, and its flanks were well supplied with traverses. The old trace of the entrenchment, as it existed in 1854, formed a sort of low retrenchment at the open end, in no sense formidable except as affording cover behind which infantry could rally. Here, it will be observed, the disadvantages were on the side of the assailants. Although the defenders might not be able to keep their foes out, in all probability they could prevent them from remaining in, unless they entered in overwhelming numbers, and succeeded in closing the rear against the attacks of the expelled enemy. In order to make the separate scenes of the 8th of September clear, it will be necessary to treat them separately, trusting the reader to remember that several actions were fought simultaneously.

The leading troops of M'Mahon's division were the 1st Zouaves and the 7th of the Line. The Zouaves darted out on the right, and the Linesmen on the left. The heads of the columns reached the deep ditch together, leapt into it without waiting for ladders, swarmed up the opposing bank, and climbing, some over the parapet, some through the embrasures, jumped into the midst of the astonished Russians. In a short space half the force of the two regiments was in the work; but the engineers had thrown a ladder bridge so swiftly over the ditch that the rear companies of the 7th were able to cross it. At the same time four companies of Chasseurs had crossed the ditch, and entering the work at its point of junction with the Gervais Battery, drove its defenders out at the point of the bayonet, and made good their hold upon the battery. The Zouaves and the Linesmen in the Malakoff had attacked with such impetuosity and in such numbers that the Russians were obliged to fight in disorder, about the base of the old White Tower. But Frenchmen rushed in on all sides. There was a brief and bloody combat. Assailed in front, turned on both flanks, unable to retreat, above a hundred Russians ran into the lower story of the old tower, and began to fire through the loopholes. By this time the Zouaves and the 7th had driven the enemy completely out of the space round the tower. Quickly rallying, the Russians collected behind the first huge line of traverses, and, in spite of the efforts of the French, held for awhile their ground. General M'Mahon, one of the first in the place, feeling how necessary it was to silence the musketry of the men in the base of the tower, caused a number of gabions to be collected about the work and set on fire, an Algerine method which was at once successful. The enemy had no sooner surrendered than M'Mahon began to fear the fire as much as the Russians. The place was full of powder. Everybody believed it to be mined. He, therefore, set a party to work at once to extinguish the burning gabions. the method adopted was that of covering them with earth; and lot in digging a trench with that object, the work men came upon electric wires communicating with, the magazine. These were immediately cut, and the assailants were saved.

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