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Chapter XXXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

Pages: 1 2 <3> 4 5

During this time the Zouaves and the 7th had been fiercely engaged with the enemy rallied behind the first grand line of traverses in rear of the tower. Foot by foot the French had gained upon them. They dashed at the openings, they wound in and out around the "Hanks, they crept along the parapets, and just as Vinoy's brigade was entering the work in support of Decaen, the latter's men had succeeded in forcing the enemy to seek shelter behind the second great line crossing the Malakoff at its widest part. Here the Russians rallied stronger than ever. They were plainly gathering up their strength for a rush. Hundreds had fallen on both sides, but the fury of the combat did not abate. The great French flag, which we have already seen in the hands of the Zouave corporal, floated in the smoke and dust over the tower; but the Malakoff redoubt was yet to win. Until the gorge was gained and closed nothing was gained. So thought M'Mahon. Vinoy was bursting in to his aid, but he determined to be secure, so he sent one of his staff for part of the Imperial Guard, and Wimpfen's reserve. Before these could arrive, Vinoy, a prompt and gallant soldier, had led his men into the work and made use of them with striking skill. He had thrown the bulk of his force on the right of the assailants. With the 20th he supported the right of the Zouaves, and with the 27th, by a most soldier like movement, he turned the Russian left. Part of the 27th moved along the parapet, part along the ditch on the eastern face. Thus they kept gaining on the Russian line of defence upon that side. Paralysed by this rapid manœuvre, executed with unfaltering impetuosity, as soon as he saw the 27th in rear of his left, and rapidly approaching the gorge, the enemy quitted his hold of the great line of traverses, and made for the sole exit from the redoubt. The French burst through like a flood. The more daring of the enemy turned several times, and spent their strength in brave but useless charges. Though they were swept along by the torrent of foes which streamed upon them, they made a brilliant resistance; and it was only when they felt that the 27th of the Line, so skilfully led, so relentlessly bent on gaining the gorge, would soon reach it, that they rushed out of the work. M'Mahon and Vinoy swooped upon their prize, closed the gorge, and forbade all return.

By this time the Zouaves of the Guard, its Light Infantry and Grenadiers, and Wimpfen's brigade of Algerian Tirailleurs, and the 50th Line Regiment, were all in the great work. With this enormous force - at least 10,000 men - M'Mahon felt secure, and he at once distributed his men in the mode best calculated to beat off the enemy should he in turn risk an assault. He relieved the troops which had sustained the brunt of the onset, with fresh troops from Vinoy and Wimpfen's brigades, and thus griped fast hold of his prize.

During this time the French on the extreme right had fought with great bravery but adverse fortune. The parallels of approach had been pushed up close to the Little Redan, and the heads of the columns of attack were close under the work; Dulac's leading brigade, therefore, had at the appointed hour started like the rest, and had at once seized the Little Redan. Somewhat later in point of time, because the distance to be overcome was greater, General La Motterouge had sent his first brigade under Bourbaki against the curtain. Here again the French succeeded. The whole line from, the Malakoff to the Little Redan was in their hands. Eager to take advantage of this burst of success, the leading brigades, as soon as the supports were well up, dashed forward. Bourbaki led his men against the second line, while St. Pol, issuing from the Little Redan, sought to turn the line at its point of intersection with the rear defences of the latter work. But the Russians were now fully alive. The batteries on the north side opened on the assailants. Three war-steamers ran up to the mouth of the Careening Bay, and poured in broadside after broadside. Field guns were promptly brought up to the second line, and used to hurl forth showers of desolating grapeshot. The Russian reserves came up, and charging the disordered columns of the French, forced them violently back - Bourbaki, as far as, and over, the curtain; St. Pol into the Little Redan. So prompt and vigorous was this counter-stroke, so deadly was the fire of the steamers, that St. Pol could not keep his hold even of the Little Redan. He was driven out, and the French, with difficulty, esconced themselves on their own side of the curtain and in its ditch. Bosquet, eagerly watching the attack, was severely wounded by the fragment of a shell. Dùlac replaced him in command on that side, and Bisson succeeded to the command of Dulac's division. The French had lost very heavily. The Russians were exulting in their victory. They manned the Little Redan, and brought up heavy masses in support behind the second line. The French, however, were not to be so easily put off. Rallying his troops in the advanced trenches, and even in the ditch of the Little Redan, St. Pol once more broke out, and essayed to storm. In vain his soldiers strove to penetrate. The enemy proved himself superior behind his works, supported as he was by the crushing fire of the steamers. Then Bisson launched his brigade, and at the same time Marolles, who had marched along the Careening Ravine, debouched, and directed his men upon the proper left of the Little Redan. The Chasseurs of the Guard took part in this onset. The assault with these fresh troops was impetuous and driven home. Again the gallant Frenchmen penetrated within the front line; again the enemy's field artillery came into play; again the steamers opened, and the Russian reserves poured into this arena of death. The French could not stand against the horrible fire. St. Pol fell dead. Marolles was soon stretched by his side. Bisson, severely hurt, was borne to the rear. The French soldiers - shattered and bleeding, exhausted by fatigue, and overpowered - were driven headlong backward to their trenches.

The afternoon was wearing away. The English attack on the Great Redan, which we shall presently describe, had failed. The guns on the left face of this work were shooting down the French on the slopes of the Malakoff. General Chrulef had tried by three desperate charges to break into the gorge of the key of the place, and tear away from M'Mahon his bloodstained prize. But the defence was too strong. The Russians only dashed up to the gorge and tried to pull down the gabions which closed it, or endeavoured to scramble up the ramparts, to meet death from the crushing musketry fire which blazed from the parapets. A huge column had emerged from the houses, and for a moment seemed resolved to sweep the gallant Chasseurs out of the Gervais Battery. Suddenly the massive column was rent by round shot and disordered by shell, and struck in flank by musketry. The British gunners in the Quarry Battery had caught sight of this column, and in an instant had trained and fired their pieces. Finding only five guns bore upon the enemy, they tore down the sides of the other embrasures, and brought promptly seven into action. That was the source of the torrent of shot and shell. The streams of musketry rolled from the western flank of the Malakoff, and from the Chasseurs in the Gervais Battery. The column broke up under this fire and fled to the rear.

Prince Gortschakoff had arrived from the north side, and scanning the Malakoff, saw that life would be vainly wasted in further attempts to retake it. He therefore forbade them; but he ordered his generals to resist to the last on the other points. Finding that he was so well able to defend his conquest, M'Mahon resolved to send Decaen's brigade back to the trenches. It had occurred to him, also, that Vinoy’s men, who would remain in the work, might be blown up by the firing of some mine. Should this occur Decaen was ordered to rush in at once. Then, turning to Vinoy, he said, " It is possible that your brigade may be blown up. In that case, Decaen will replace you immediately, and we shall keep the Malakoff." A trait of the future Duke of Magenta which is worth bearing in mind.

General Pélissier was still eager to take the curtain and Little Redan. General Mellinet brought up his two brigades of the Imperial Guard. They were Light Infantry, under De Failly, and Grenadiers, under De Pontevés; for the Zouaves of the Guards, as we have seen, and a few companies from the other regiments, were in the Malakoff. These choice soldiers, the steel points of the French army, were directed to storm the curtain. To support them the French artillery performed a feat at once novel and brilliant. They brought up two batteries of field guns. This was no sudden inspiration. A road had been levelled straight across the trenches, and the gaps filled with gabions. At a given signal these were thrown down by sappers set apart for the service, and through the opening swept a troop of horse artillery. With these 12-pounders the French vainly hoped to contend against the heavy ordnance of the war-steamers, and the numerous field batteries of the besieged. As the gallant Frenchmen dashed along, men were knocked off the tumbrils. Nevertheless, their commander, De Souty, whose name deserves recording, brought his guns out on to the level space between the French trenches and the curtain. But they had scarcely began to fire, when they were utterly crushed. Grape, and round shot, and musketry, were poured upon them; men, and officers, and horses went down by scores. The brave De Souty and his captain, Rapatel, were killed; and although the guns were not injured, they ceased firing, for there was no one to work them. The French may well be proud of the conduct of that famous battery.

The columns of the Guard had met with no better success than their predecessors of the Line. They stormed the curtain once more, and forced the Russians back upon the second line; but they could not capture the Little Redan; and no sooner did those who had mastered the curtain enter the open space and rush towards the next defences, than they were swept down by shot and musketry, and forced back in disorder by the bayonet. Mellinet himself was wounded in the face, and the brave Pontevés hit mortally. Still the French clung tenaciously to the curtain. There they hung like swarming bees, and no enemy could cross its rampart. Yet, the fight was hopeless; for, although by this time, Prince Gortschakoff had determined to retreat, he had also resolved to keep until dark the posts still in his possession. The French had solid hold of that part of the curtain next to the Malakoff, for the musketry from the eastern face protected it; but no more. Four hours of desperate fighting had heaped the ramparts and the ditch, the outer slopes and the inner spaces, with the dead and dying. Suddenly a magazine in the curtain exploded, and many scores of a Line regiment were destroyed. In the French trenches it was for a moment supposed that the Malakoff had blown up, and there was an instant move to succour its garrison. But the flag still waved in the cloud of smoke, and the agitation of the masses about the curtain showed that it was there the mischief had been done. Pélissier now stopped all further attacks on that side, and the combat slackened into one of cannon and musketry. The Malakoff had long been secure beyond hope of recapture. The loss of the French had been awful, and the Commander-in-Chief deemed it prudent to wait until the next day before he renewed the assault. At this moment the first troops of the Russian army were in motion to cross the raft-bridge.

It is now time to narrate the attack of the British on the Redan. We have detailed the arrangements made by General Simpson. It will be remembered that his plan was to carry the work by dispatching, one after the other, a series of columns, which were directed upon the salient, or projecting angle. In order to reach that angle they had to traverse an open space of nearly 200 yards - a space swept by the fire not only of guns on the flanks of the Redan itself, but of guns in the Barrack Batteries, and even in the more distant works on the town front. Moreover, there could be no surprise in this case. The French burst into the Malakoff; the tricolour floating over that work had roused every Russian soldier from one end of the line to the other. Nor was this all. There were in and near the Redan, and specially appointed to defend it, no less than, at the lowest computation, 12,000 men, exclusive of a great reserve. Against these we were about to send, not altogether, stormers and supports, more than one- fourth of the number. This handful of men were expected to take and hold an open work defended by thirty-two battalions of Russian infantry.

The men did not hesitate. When General Simpson saw a British flag on the Mamelon, the signal agreed on between him and General Pélissier, he immediately unfurled the white ensign bearing the red cross of St. George. The French were driving the Russians out of the last traverses of the Malakoff as, in obedience to the signal from General Simpson, the British infantry burst out of the trenches.

It was an animating spectacle. Stimulated by the sight of the French flag, eager to close with the enemy, the small columns of dark-green and red coats dashed into the open. The Rifles, running forward, threw themselves down and opened a fire on the embrasures. After them ran the first stormers, bearing ladders, then came the second and third columns. In a moment round shot and grape broke the compact formation, and strewed the shot-torn soil with dead and wounded. Shirley, the brigadier of the Light Division, was blinded with dust. Handcock and Unott were mortally wounded. Van Straubenzee was hit in the face and prostrated. Hammond was killed; and with them many a good soldier. But the column, or herd, of combatants dashed on and closed with the work. Only six ladders out of twenty-four were brought up to the ditch. But it was not very difficult to descend and ascend; and scrambling down and up the crumbling rampart, the remnant of the assailants leaped into the work. Here Welsford, commanding one of the ladder parties, was shot dead by an officer, who immediately surrendered; and it is recorded that, " of the commanders of parties, only four - Colonel Windham, Captain Fyers, Captain Lewes, and Captain Maude - got into the Redan untouched." Yet in a few minutes the salient was won. The Light Division column had stormed in at the apex, the Second Division column had been led to the right, and had entered the work on its proper left face, some yards from the salient. Now the crisis of the combat arrived.

Every two guns were protected by traverses high and thick. Beyond these, and parallel to each face, ran a broken line of traverses at right angles to the former. Across the gorge, or large open end, was a slight breastwork, which, as we conjecture, was the old trace of the Redan in October, 1854. Driven back by the impetuous charge of the British, the Russians in the salient and on each flank ran to the rear, and collected behind the breastwork, up to which they speedily brought field artillery. The handful of British who had got in did not, unhappily, even attempt to carry the breastwork by a rush. They were blown by running 200 yards. They had long been used to fire from cover. The British soldier is a creature of habit, and he instinctively fell into his old ways. Instead of storming on, he extended himself on parapet or traverse, and began to fire. The officers saw how fatal this would prove, and tried to get the men out from cover, and to form them for a rush. In this work Colonel Windham and others were conspicuous. But it availed nothing. A few ran out and fell into line, but they were struck down by the shots of the enemy. During this musketry combat weak supports, in sad disarray, arrived from the British trenches; but the Russians had now gathered in immense force. Pawloff, who commanded here, had called up about 8,000 men. Throwing these into the fight as they came up, he sent some along the flanks, while he kept a strong line, aided by field guns, behind the breastwork, and from that point directed a converging fire into the salient. Considering his numbers, the Russian general was singularly slow in his movements. But by degrees, and by sheer weight of men, his masses pressed the British closer and closer. These, firing with all their might, soon exhausted their stock of ammunition, and were forced to use stones. Then the supports from the trenches, on reaching the salient, imitated the example of their precursors and fired until their store was gone. Colonel Windham sent three officers to beg for troops in formation. Not one reached General Codrington. This officer was perplexed and irresolute, and at length Windham arrived himself to demand a well-formed support. It was too late, assuming that such a support could have reached the Redan, and have expelled its numerous garrison.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXI, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 3

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Colonel Windham
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