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


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At the beginning of May the Kars army was reviewed by Zarif, and a division sent forward to support General Kmety and the irregulars. This division took post at Soobattan and Hadji-Veli Khoi, while the cavalry outposts were on the Arpa-Chai river, then the frontier line. Neither side, as yet, showed any activity. The Russians were not in great strength, and the Turks had only just recovered from the evils of the winter. But in June the enemy showed that he was capable of striking a blow. On the 8th he made a simultaneous advance along the whole line. The Russians had formed the design of surprising Selim Pasha, who, with the Batoum army, had crossed the frontier and lay at Urzughetti. Ho had some 13,000 men and only thirteen guns. The project was that Prince Andronikoff should fall upon him, and in order to prevent the arrival of any aid from other quarters, it was arranged that the whole of the Turkish posts should be threatened at once. But the Russians might have spared themselves the trouble, had they known that Selim and Zarif were jealous of each other, and did not act in concert. On the 8th of June the Russians threatened Ardahan, and the Turks reinforced the post, but no action took place. At the same time a body of Cossacks appeared near Bayazid; these were utterly routed by the Turkish irregulars. From Gumri Prince Bebutoff issued with 10,000 men of all arms. General Kmety fell back before him, and crossed the Kars-Chai. The Russians came up to the left bank of the stream, halted a short time, and then began to retreat. No sooner had they turned than Kmety followed. The enemy had retired over the Arpa-Chai, when Kmety crossing in pursuit attacked with so much rapidity and vigour that the Russian irregulars were dispersed, and the infantry obliged to turn and defend themselves. It was not until the guns opened that Kmety withdrew. This skirmish gained for the brave Hungarian the full confidence of his men. From that day the despised Bashi-Bazouks would follow him anywhere. In the meantime, Prince Andronikoff had pushed forward towards Urzughetti. Selim Pasha, alarmed at his approach, retreated in haste over the frontier. Compelled at length to stand, he took up a strong position, and received battle on the 16th of June. Here he was totally defeated, with the loss of all his guns and baggage; and he hurried with the wreck of his army to Batoum. The battle, however, was well fought by the troops, and the defeat is ascribed to the exhaustion of the men's ammunition. Thus the Russians again proved the superiority of discipline. The Batoum army was ruined and useless for further operations, and Prince Andronikoff was able to detach the greater part of his force towards Gumri. The Russians had opened the campaign with a fruitful victory.

In July, having nothing more to fear from the army of Batoum, Prince Bebutoff resolved to try the mettle of the Kars army, marched out of Gumri, and crossing the Arpa-Chai, encamped on Turkish territory within a few miles of the Pasha's camp at Soobattan and Hadji Veli Khoi. A solitary mountain rising out of the plain intervened between the two forces. Prince Bebutoff brought with him 15,000 men, and he probably designed to surprise the Turkish camp; but if so, he was not quick enough in his movements, for on the 3rd the whole army of Kars, leaving there a small garrison, arrived, and took up the position of Hadji Veli Khoi. Both armies were now reinforced. Kerim Pasha, a gallant old man, brought in the force which had been posted at Ardahan, raising the Turkish army to nearly 40,000 men. The Russian detachments were called in, and Prince Bebutoff found himself at the head of 28,000 soldiers of all arms. An action seemed to be near, but the Turks were dilatory and the Russians cautious. On the 12th both armies were drawn up and approached each other, but just as they were about to close a furious thunderstorm broke over the plain; the field became a mass of mud, and both armies retired. At intervals these storms recurred, preventing battle. The Turkish commander, no soldier, did not know how to act. The Russians behaved like masters, and foraged on all sides with impunity. The Kurds, in the rear of the Turkish army, showed strong symptoms of disaffection, and the roads between Kars and Erzroum became unsafe. The Turkish soldiers, eager for "battle, lost heart by the long delay, and, what was worse, lost confidence in their officers. For more than a month the Turks were kept quite inactive. On the 27th the Russians detached a force to plunder Perghet, and carry off all the wood in the houses, and Zarif Pasha offered no kind of opposition. On the 29th General Guyon reconnoitred the enemy's camp at the head of a thousand horse. The Russians turned out, and for once Zarif Pasha supported Guyon by sending Kerim Pasha with a strong force to protect his retreat, and followed it up by ordering the march of nearly all the army. The Turks offered, but the Russians declined battle, and retreated to their camp. During this period the only combats that had occurred had been fought by Kmety and his irregulars, who had on more than one occasion surprised and discomfited the enemy, and had once broken into his camp.

Prince Bebutoff had been playing a very wary and dangerous game, one that must have led to his destruction had he been opposed by a competent commander. The right wing of the Turks was at Bayazid, on the other side of Mount Ararat. Another Selim Pasha commanded there. He had under his orders 5,000 men and seven guns, and he was emphatically directed, if attacked, to fall back by Toprak-Kaleh upon Kars. During the inaction of Zarif Pasha, whose character the Russians accurately judged, Prince Bebutoff had actually ventured to detach 8,000 men and thirteen guns from his camp, with orders to proceed by Erivan upon Bayazid. When these Russians debouched from the mountains, Selim, instead of retreating, thought fit to fight a battle, and being the weaker party, and foolish besides, he was routed with the loss of seven guns, many hundred men, und large supplies of provisions. Then, instead of retreating towards Kars, he fled to Van, and thus threw open to the enemy the road to Erzroum. Thus the Russians gained a victory, occupied an important country well- supplied with cattle and sheep, and put a stop to all commerce between Persia and Turkey by barring the direct road followed by the caravans.

Having struck this blow, Prince Bebutoff became anxious for the return of his large detachment. The, rumour in the Turkish camp was that the victors of Bayazid were pushing on for Erzroum. In reality they were counter-marching with commendable speed to strengthen Bebutoff, who had for a fortnight been at the mercy of Zarif Pasha. In this exigency, as soon as he learned the news of the defeat of Selim, Zarif resolved to fight Bebutoff. There was still time. The detachment was still on the march from Bayazid. But when he should have acted with decision, the Turk wavered and hesitated; and before he decided, the Russian army was again united in his front. It was on the 5th of August that he made up his mind to fight the next morning. He should have acted on the 2nd, when the enemy was still looking for his coming troops. It was now too late. The Bayazid detachment had rejoined Prince Bebutoff. The spies in the Turkish camp had informed the Russian of an intended movement. But the report carried into the enemy's camp was that the Turks were either about to attack or retreat to Kars. Prince Bebutoff prepared for the retreat by detaching a force to Perghet, but luckily for him he was informed in time, that, instead of retreating, the Turks were about to advance. He therefore recalled the detachment at once, and with a united force stood ready to meet his foe.

The Turkish plan had been decided in council. It was suggested by Guyon, and adopted by Zarif Pasha. The army was divided into two main columns, the right under Kerim Pasha, the left under Vely Pasha; and, of course, Zarif was to direct the whole. The Bashi-Bazouks, who mustered in great numbers, were to menace the Russian camp on both flanks; while a small detachment of all arms was to seize a height commanding the Russian left wing, and fall on at the proper time. The army was to be in motion at midnight, so that at dawn it might appear before the Russians and begin the battle. Accordingly, soon after midnight the army was put in motion. The right column made its way over the undulating plain in tolerable order, and arrived in position before dawn. But the left, struggling in the darkness over broken ground, fell into disorder, lost its way, and when the sun rose was still distant from the field. There on the hills to the right stood Kerim Pasha, with about 10,000 men, fronting the whole Russian army in order of battle; while the detached corps was on the heights commanding the Russian camp. Thus the Turks were in three fractions; the Russians in one compact mass.

The Turks had in the field a force of 20,000 infantry, 3,900 cavalry, 78 guns, and 8,000 or 9,000 Bashi-Bazouks. The Russians had 16,000 infantry, 2,600 cavalry, 64 guns, and 4,000 irregular horse. The Turks possessed the best and most numerous artillery, the worst possible cavalry, regular and irregular, and undisciplined infantry, but more numerous than that of the enemy, and, if well led, capable of conducting itself well. The Russian infantry was not so good as that in the Crimea, but their dragoons were admirable troops.

As soon as daylight enabled Prince Bebutoff to perceive the state of the Turkish army, he determined at once to throw upon the isolated right wing the whole weight of his guns and horse, and a strong force of infantry. As he closed with Kerim Pasha, General Guyon urged on the advance of the left wing, and the question now was, could Kerim withstand the onsets of the enemy until Vely Pasha's troops were able to join in the fray. Prince Bebutoff had charged his front, and, directing his artillery and infantry upon the front of the Turks, moved his dragoons to the left, so that they might take the Turks in flank. The Russian infantry advanced, but fought very feebly. The Turkish artillery, splendidly served, did great execution. The Russian dragoons, however, riding resolutely onward, by their mere presence and loud shouts, scared away the whole of the Ottoman cavalry, leaving the guns unprotected. The Russians at once made a dash at the guns. The Emperor Nicholas had said that the Turkish artillery would be a hard nut to crack, and here his words were justified. The combat was now one between horse and guns. The brave Turks turned their pieces on the flood of horsemen pouring upon them, and the fire was so true that the dragoons were driven back. But they were gallant soldiers, and, re-forming, returned to the charge. In the interval the Russian infantry had been brought up again, and the Russian guns began to play upon the Turkish line. Deserted by their officers, the latter shook and wavered, and the greater part fled. Thus the artillery was left to contend with the dragoons. The flight of the infantry stimulated the latter; they made another rush, and were again defeated. But this could not continue. One more charge, driven home, and the gunners were sabred at their pieces, loading and firing to the last; and, passing through, the Russian horse rode down and sabred the infantry now hastening away. Kerim Pasha had remained to the last, exhorting his men to stand firmly: in vain, the whole wing was scattered, and the guns captured.

At this moment the Turkish left came into action, and Prince Bebutoff recalled his dragoons, thus saving the remnants of the unhappy right wing. The left column, led by Kmety and Guy on, attacked with such courage and impetuosity that the enemy began to give ground. The Turkish artillery again proved superior to that of the enemy. The whole body of Turkish infantry, inspired by the leading brigade, went frankly into the fight, and for a time victory seemed possible. Guyon, seeing the disorder of the Russian infantry, got together 4,000 horsemen. With Hungarians at Temesvar he had charged in 1849, and charged with success. Here the Turks at first promised well, and galloped forward, shouting loudly. Had they charged on, the day might have been won, for Prince Bebutoff confesses that his infantry were shaken, and the dragoons had not come up from the left. But the courage of the cavalry exhaled at the mere sight of an irresolute Russian column. A few more strides of the Turkish horse, and they would have won a victory. They suddenly halted, then turned, and rode off, leaving Guyon alone; just as Lord Uxbridge was left at Waterloo by a Belgian regiment. The Turkish infantry, seeing the horse flee, became infected with their fears; the Russian dragoons, heated with the slaughter they had made on the other wing, galloped up; the artillery poured in showers of grape, and the whole Turkish left wing disbanded, "in a confusion quite indescribable," The dragoons pursued, slaying and capturing for two or three miles, and then halted. The two armies had been contending under a hot sun in a waterless plain for seven hours; and although the whole Turkish army was within their grasp, the Russians were too fatigued and too severely smitten to clutch it. Had the Russians pursued, not a gun or a caisson would have reached Kars, and Prince Bebutoff would have been master of Armenia, from Gumri to Erzroum.

For the Turkish army lost all military form. The horsemen rode off in a flock; the foot soldiers were scattered over the plain in such utter disorder, that one writer says two men could not be seen together. This is an exaggeration, but it illustrates the confusion of the flight. The Turks did not run - they walked away; and many of those who escaped the grape and the sabre, as soon as they found they were not pursued, sank down on the grass, and fell at once into a deep sleep. The track to Kars looked like a battle-field strewn with dead. They did not even try to rally at the camp they had quitted in the morning. Prince Bebutoff told the Emperor in his report that he did not pursue, because " the enemy, beaten in the field, might yet make strong resistance behind the natural and artificial defences of his entrenched camp." But had he sent a sotnia of Cossacks against this formidable camp, he would have found no one there to defend it but a group of European officers, who were eagerly devouring scraps of cold mutton, bread, and a paté de foie gras. The real reason why the Prince did not pursue. was because he could not trust his infantry or irregulars out of his sight, and that the heat and the Turkish gunners had cut in pieces his magnificent dragoons. So the Turkish army flowed back into Kars unmolested, and Turkish Armenia remained for another year in the hands of the Sultan.

The Turks lost 3,500 in killed and wounded, 2,000 in prisoners, and 15 guns. More than 6,000 men went home, but many of these returned, and for days the irregular cavalry were bringing in stragglers. Nearly all the Turkish officers ran away, and thus only one regimental commander was killed, and one general of brigade slightly wounded. The Russian loss was very great. They admit that upwards of 3,000 were killed or wounded, including no fewer than 111 officers, of whom 21 were killed. In truth, the Russian officers were obliged to expose themselves in order to stimulate the men, and had the Turks been as brave, the day might have had a different ending. The loss inflicted on the Russians is a terrible testimony to the efficiency of the Turkish artillery. Tahir Pasha, who commanded this arm, was educated at Woolwich. The Turks lost the battle, because they were commanded by an intriguer who had never been a soldier; because the troops were undrilled, and had no officers worthy of the name; because, with such troops and such officers, they were directed to make so perilous a movement as a night march; because their cavalry ran away, and because they fought in fragments. Such was the battle of Kuruk-Dereh. It took its name from a village within the Russian lines, and it tended to increase vastly the influence of the Russians in Asia.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 2

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