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


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The campaign in Armenia ended with this battle. On the 17th of August, eleven days after his victory, Prince Bebutoff deemed it prudent to return to Gumri. The only reasons for this step which one can imagine are the lateness of the season, the weakness of the Russians in Georgia, and undue alarm at the news of an incursion by Schamyl. This chief had issued from his mountains in August, had penetrated some few miles towards Tiflis, and, seizing the wives of some Russian officers, had ridden back to his fastnesses. This diversion, though well- intended, is not likely to have misled Prince Bebutoff, who knew the habits of Schamyl and the extent of his power to harm. The fruits of the campaign, besides the three victories of Urzughetti, Bayazid, and Kuruk-Dereh, were many. The Turkish army was diminished and demoralised; the road from Turkey to Persia was rendered unsafe, and the Kurds were induced to revolt. Russia might well be proud of successes in Armenia, which were some compensation for losses on the Circassian coast of the Black Sea. As to the Turkish and European officers, Zarif Pasha was recalled, but not disgraced, while Guyon was recalled and placed on half-pay - an instance of ingratitude not peculiar to Turkey.

As it was foreseen that Russia would make fresh efforts in Asia, the British Government, moved by the reports of the British Consuls, who faithfully described the unhappy condition of the Kars army under its wretched and criminal commanders, appointed, on the 2nd of August, Lieutenant-Colonel Williams to be Her Majesty's Commissioner at the head-quarters of the Turkish army in Asia. He was to place himself in communication with Lord Raglan and Lord Stratford; to act as they directed; to keep them informed of all matters connected with the state of the Asiatic army, and to correspond with Lord Clarendon. Colonel Williams arrived at Constantinople on the 14th of August, and on the 19th he saw Lord Raglan at Varna. Returning to Constantinople, he was in constant communication with Lord Stratford until the 31st, when he sailed for Trebizond. On the 24th of September he reached Kars. With him went Lieutenant Teesdale, Dr. Sandwith, and Mr. Churchill. Throughout his journey he had kept an eye on the state of affairs, and long before he arrived at Kars had begun to pour serious complaints into Constantinople.

As soon as he had quitted Trebizond he encountered two siege guns deserted in the snow. On arriving at Erzroum he found that no provision had been made for the troops who were to winter there, and no adequate measures taken to defend the place. But it was on reaching Kars that the truth burst upon him in all its grossness - that the Sultan's army was a mere rabble in rags.

The muster-rolls of the Turkish army showed on paper a force of 22,754 men. The number actually existing, including sick, was 14,600 - a clear proof of the peculation habitually practised by the Pashas. The clothes of these men were ragged and threadbare. Their trousers, shoes, and stockings, were not fit to be seen. They were subsisted from hand to mouth, and in October there were only provisions for three days in the magazine. Drill was altogether neglected. The infantry were armed with flint muskets, except a few battalions. The swords of the cavalry were short and useless. The artillery was good, but the men were as badly clothed and fed as their comrades. Of the officers we have already spoken. They could not be worse. The troops were twenty-two, eighteen, and fifteen months in arrears of pay. Of the little money sent from Constantinople, the specie had been seized by the Pashas, and paper given to the men. Colonel Williams represented this state of things to Lord Stratford and Lord Clarendon; and both did their utmost to induce the Turkish Government to remedy evils of such magnitude. But they only partially succeeded. Instead of sending a competent Moslem - and there were one or two - the Porte sent first a drunken Pasha, who did all he could to thwart the aims of Colonel Williams; who for a long time was successful; who in the end was got rid of, but not until he had done very great mischief. In November Colonel Williams returned to Erzroum in order that he might thence enforce the measures necessary for the supply and reinforcement of the army. Captain Teesdale was left at Kars to look after the feeding, accommodation, and drill of the troops. Both these officers had arduous tasks before them, especially as Colonel Williams had not been yet appointed a Lieutenant-General in the Sultan's service; a neglect chargeable on Lord Stratford, whose only excuses were the slowness of the Turkish officials, and the vastness of his own employments. At a later period this neglect was remedied, and the position and authority of the British Commissioner strengthened by a commission to act as Lieutenant- General. It is worthy of remark, that in his commission he was styled Williams Pasha; an innovation on Turkish custom. This is the first appointment of a Christian to a high rank in the Turkish service under his proper name. Previously all Christians in the service of the Porte had received Moslem names - such as Ismail, Omer, Ferhad. Shukri Pasha, the insolent drunkard sent to succeed Zarif, was recalled, and Vassif Pasha, an honest man, but of little energy and no talent, was appointed in his stead.

In executing the laborious task of fortifying Erzroum, preparing barracks, obtaining transport, making arrangements for supplies of grain and forage, pressing for reinforcements, pay, clothing, arms, accoutrements, the British officers at Kars and Erzroum passed the winter. Besides contending with jealous Pashas, General Williams found himself obliged to use his influence in Kurdistan to put an end to a dangerous insurrection. He was well known to the Kurds, and when he proposed terms they not only trusted to British honour, but the leader surrendered. In the spring General Williams found it necessary to ask for additional help, and the British Government sent him from the Indian army, Colonel Lake, Captain Olpherts, and Captain Thompson, the whole of whom reached Kars in March, 1855. Under the direction of Colonel Lake, and with the aid of these officers, the rough, dilapidated, and badly-placed entrenchments about Kars were rectified, and new works were constructed. It was known that the enemy was collecting a large force in Georgia, under General Mouravief, an officer of skill and experience, who had taken part in the campaigns of 1828-9, when not only Kars was taken, but Erzroum, and when the Russians, under Paskiewitch, threatened Trebizond. There was, therefore, no time to lose, and as soon as the snow melted, and work became practicable, Colonel Lake began his task.

The town of Kars stands in the midst of mountains, on a plateau, some 7,000 feet above the level of the sea. It has been a place of strength for centuries. Persian, Armenian, Turk, have made it a stronghold, and for good reason. It covers the roads from Gumri to Erzroum, and is on the flank of the roads to that place from Bayazid. Built on the right bank of the Kars-Chai, where that stream, quitting one gorge in the hills, sweeps round a stretch of meadow to enter another gorge, defended by old walls and a lofty keep, Kars had repulsed Nadir Shah in 1735, and the Russians in 1807. But its defences proved to be too weak to resist a skilful soldier, and Prince Paskiewitch took it from the Turks in three days in 1828. In fact, the fortress was commanded by the Karadagh on the east, and by the mountains across the river on the west. Therefore, when the European officers reached the town in 1854, they set about remedying these defects, by fortifying the Karadagh, surrounding the town suburb with low entrenchments, and throwing up two or three works on the high ground upon the left bank commanding the place. Colonel Lake found these works very imperfectly adapted for the defence of the town, and it was his business to supply what was required. Having formed a corps of eighty sappers, "all of whom became in a short time very expert," he began, in the second week in April, to reconstruct the defences, and by the end of May he had completed such works as then seemed desirable. They comprised a strong line of parapets, flanked by redans and redoubts to the south-east of the town, extending from the Karadagh southwards for three-quarters of a mile, westwards for double the distance, and then running north-west back to the Kars-Chai. Two redoubts - Haflz Pasha Tabia and Kanli Tabia - were constructed at the eastern and western angles. The Karadagh was fortified afresh and connected with the town by a covered way, while another line ran to the north-west to an elevation, where it terminated in a redoubt called the Arab Tabia. An inner line, or retrenchment, with flanking works, was thrown up close to the suburb. Pontoon bridges were thrown over the river to facilitate the passage of troops from one bank to the other, saving time in the transit. On the left bank, the heights immediately commanding the town were entrenched. Three redoubts, named after Colonel Lake and others, and called the English lines, stretched from an eminence due west of the Karadagh to the river below the town; and above the town, and commanding it, the river and the bridges, there was a large redoubt, named after Yassif Pasha. These works, as events showed, were still insufficient. The English lines, though commanding everything eastward, were not the true key of the place; but that fact had to be!

demonstrated by the enemy. At the end of May the place was secure from an assault on the east - that is, on the side of Gumri - and on the south; but not yet on the west - that is, on the side of Erzroum. If the reader can imagine a deep and precipitous and tortuous gorge, through which a river worked its way northward - a Turkish town surrounded by old battlements, a venerable but useless keep, a plain stretching to the south, high mountains to the east, and still higher to the west, and the whole surface on that side seamed with ravines and rough with mountains, all bare and treeless, he will have some faint idea of Kars and its entrenched camp - a camp the enemy must take before he dared to venture as far as Erzroum. In this camp, at the beginning of May, there were 10,000 infantry, 1,500 artillerymen, and 1,500 useless cavalry. Subsequently this force was largely increased, but it never exceeded 20,000 men of all arms. There was also a small force at Toprac-Kaleh, a strong position on the road from Bayazid to Erzroum. This force was under Vely Pasha, assisted by Major Olpherts, and in the event of an advance of the enemy on that side, with the view of moving upon Erzroum, without assailing Kars, Vely Pasha was ordered to fall back upon the fortified lines of Erzroum. These lines consisted of an outpost at the pass of Deve-Boynou, the junction of the two roads from Kars and Bayazid to Erzroum, and very strong works on the heights commanding the town.

The great object of General Williams was to create a strong and impregnable camp at Kars, and to store up provisions there to such an extent that the garrison would be able to hold out until the winter, when it was assumed the enemy would be compelled, by stress of weather, to quit the bleak highlands, and seek shelter in Gumri. Erzroum was in like manner made strong, so that it might serve as a base for the Kars army, should that army be able to keep open its communications; and as a place where a force might assemble in safety to relieve Kars, or at least to harass the enemy, and make his position intolerable. But these long-sighted views were frustrated by the wretched organisation of the Turks, the corruption and sloth of the Pashas, and the inability of their regulars to act in the open field. The stores intended for Kars never reached that place, and it is a marvel how it held out so long.

There is no doubt now that the Russians were very well informed of the state of things on the Turkish side, they knew that the allies, engaged so deeply in the Crimea, would not spare any European troops for service in Asia; and that, for reasons of his own, the French Emperor would not consent to the employment of the best Turkish troops and Omer Pasha, the best Moslem general, in Armenia. This made them bold. At the end of May General Mouravief had assembled 35,000 men and sixty-four guns at Gumri; and in the beginning of June he crossed the Arpa-Chai, and encamped on Turkish territory. General Williams, hearing this, set out at once from Erzroum, and on the 7th of June arrived at Kars. He did not appear a moment too soon. Yassif Pasha had just proposed a retrograde movement on Erzroum, and Mouravief had pitched his camp on the Kars-Chai, eight miles north-east of the town. The presence of Williams inspired the garrison with fresh courage, and put an end to the doubts in the minds of the Pasha. The Kars army was destined to stand by Kars to the last.

The Russian general was a skilful soldier. As soon as he moved out of Gumri and took post at Zaim, about eight miles north of Kars, he halted, and sent out strong detachments to Ardahan and Tchildir among the mountains on his right flank, with the double object of collecting or destroying stores and ascertaining whether the Turks at Batoum were preparing to assist their comrades at Kars. He soon found that the Batoum army was not likely to trouble him, and such was his correct estimate of its value, that for the rest of the campaign he scarcely troubled himself about the doings of that force. Accordingly, on the 14th of June, he drew nearer to Kars, and being powerful in cavalry, he, on that day, drove the whole of the Turkish horsemen watching the valley back upon the entrenched camp. Colonel Lake was present at this skirmish, and he has admitted that it afforded him a valuable experience of the uselessness of the Turkish horse in the field. But he is candid enough to add that all blame must not be thrown on the men. "Had they been well-horsed and armed, and better officered, they would have felt some confidence in themselves, and have retired in a more soldier-like manner." The 16th of June was the great day of the Turkish feast of Bairam. The proximity of the enemy, however, caused a suspension of the festive ceremonies. But the Russian, knowing Turkish habits, judged it would be otherwise, and early in the morning appeared with his whole army. The cavalry outposts were not far from the front of the town works, and feeling some confidence in the guns, if not in themselves, allowed the Cossacks of the Line to approach within a few hundred yards before they fled. The enemy's horse, eager to dash into the camp on the heels of the fugitives, rode on without a thought of the guns on the Karadagh. But the gunners there, under Captain Thompson, seizing the favourable moment, opened a telling fire, and brought the Cossacks to a dead stand. The Turks immediately rallied, but though they followed the enemy - at a distance - did him no harm. The Russian army then withdrew.

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

Colonel Williams
Colonel Williams >>>>
Colonel Lake
Colonel Lake >>>>
Captain Teesdale
Captain Teesdale >>>>
Alexander II. of Russia.
Alexander II. of Russia. >>>>

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