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Chapter XXXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4


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General Mouravief had inspected the approaches and defences fronting the road to Gumri, and, satisfied that he could not break in on that side, he quitted his camp on the 18th, and, marching in order of battle, crossed that road within sight of the garrison, but far out of range, and encamped on the south side, about four miles from the town. This cautious mode of going to work showed that the general feared" to risk an assault. He seemed to be feeling his way about the fortress, but in such a manner, that, although he respected the Turks behind earthworks, he clearly had no fear of them in the field. Posted now close to the road to Erzroum, his cavalry threatened the direct communications with that place, and forced the couriers of the garrison to take a wide sweep to the north through the mountains, in order to carry the dispatches to Erzroum. From his new camp his cavalry went forth and secured or wasted several small magazines which the reckless idleness of the Turks had left exposed. For a few days heavy falls of rain suspended all movement, but as soon as the rain ceased, the Russian general once more, under cover of a great display of force, reconnoitred the south or town side. The Russian officers thought their general was about to attack. The Turks were on the alert, and every parapet and battery was manned. But at the end of an hour the Russians countermarched and returned to their camp. This was on the 26th of June. Mouravief had made up his mind that he would lose too many men in risking an assault, and knowing that the Turks could not act in the field, he determined to starve them into submission. On the 29th he divided his army into two parts, leaving one to watch Kars, and proceeding with the other himself over the mountains towards Erzroum. The movement of Mouravief on to the Erzroum road had already induced Vely Pasha to retire from Toprak- Kaleh to Kupri-Keui, so as to place himself between Mouravief and the capital of Armenia. The Russian general's object, however, was not Erzroum. He had learned that there was a Turkish magazine in an exposed situation at Yeni-Keui. It was of the last importance to the garrison of Kars, and its stores ought long before to have been moved into that camp. There were two months' supplies at Yeni-Keui. Upon these Mouravief pounced, with the swoop of an eagle, and what he could not carry away he destroyed.

In the meantime the march of the enemy to the Erzroum side had convinced Colonel Lake that the entrenchments on the western side must be increased; for the hills to the west and south-west actually commanded Fort Lake and the English lines, upon which the safety of the place depended. These hills were called Tachmasb, and they were at first crowned by a simple breastwork, with openings for a few guns. But when General Mouravief returned, on the 6th of July, from his expedition towards Erzroum, and a few days afterwards made a reconnaissance, in force, on the side of the Tachmasb, it was found that the weak entrenchments there must be strengthened, lest the enemy should seize them by a rush, and so become master of a position which, in a short time, would have given him Kars: wherefore the Turks were again set to work. "All the troops in garrison, except those on duty," writes Colonel Lake, " were thus kept constantly employed, and nothing could exceed the cheerfulness and dexterity with which they worked." Mouravief still hesitated to close with an entrenched camp, around which, as his officers said, batteries and parapets rose as if by magic. "When he arrived in June he found the town side barred against him. At that time the Tachmasb plateau was undefended. He changed his camp to that side; when, lo! by means of English skill and Turkish readiness, lines of works grew up under his eyes, and rendered these hills impregnable. Before the middle of August the plateau, 1,200 yards in length, was crowned with a parapet, supported by two closed redoubts, and well armed. Between Tachmasb and Fort Lake, on a knoll, an intermediate work was constructed. Not content with this, and determined to leave nothing to chance, a line of breastworks was made on a strip of rock trending away from the right flank of Tachmasb, and commanding everything around. Thus the spirits of the garrison were kept up, and confidence inspired, by the very labours whose results made Kars absolutely impregnable. But the extent of the entrenchments had become so great that a horseman, at a walking pace, was occupied three hours in making a complete circuit of these lines. Had the Russian force been more numerous, this would have ensured the capture of the place, because Mouravief would have been able to make many feints, and one real assault; but, as he had not an army large enough for that method, the extent of the works of Kars was not an evil.

Unable to press in on any side, the Russian general again resorted to his former plan of scouring the country, almost to the gates of Erzroum; and he did this, because he was resolved that no chance of receiving supplies should remain to the Kars army. It was tantalising in the extreme to the steadfast garrison to witness the passage of large convoys to the Russian camp, and not to be able to offer them the least molestation. Week by week these long trains of wagons, guarded by cavalry and infantry, swept by out of range of the guns of the Turks; yet there were thousands of irregular cavalry at Erzroum, at Olti, at Pennek, at Hassan-Kaleh. General Mouravief, however, knew their worth, and did as he pleased. On the 2nd of August he once more marched a large force towards Erzroum. Vely Pasha fell back before him from Kupri-Keui to Deve-Boynou. There was panic, consternation in Erzroum. All the Pashas, except Tahir and Hafiz, were helpless. The Bashi-Bazouks rode about plundering the villages, and flying at the mere mention of the enemy. Guns were mounted in haste, and councils held; but the terror and imbecility of the Turkish officers were so manifest that Consul Brant was on the point of sending his family to Trebizond. General Mouravief, over-cautious, did not move beyond Hassan-Kaleh. He remained there long enough to frighten the Turks, although he had only 8,000 men to match against their 25,000. But his men were soldiers; their men were rabble. It is, however, duo to Vely Pasha and Major Olpherts to say, that they kept their little band of regulars at Deve-Boynou in front of the enemy. But had the enemy assailed the pass, it is not clear that the Turks would have beaten him off.

During this expedition of General Mouravief towards Erzroum, General Brunner, commanding the besieging army, advanced against the town defences on the 8th of August. He brought up large masses of infantry, cavalry, and guns, with the object of enticing the Turks out of their lines. Not only did he fail, but he managed to get within range of the ordnance in the south-west redoubt, called Kanli Tabia, and suffered a severe loss in killed and wounded, including a general. This was the last experiment on the plain; the enemy thenceforth turned his attention to the western heights; and, seeing this close scrutiny, Colonel Lake completed those defences which we have previously described. At the end of August General Mouravief returned to the camp. The approaches to Kars were more closely watched than ever. Desertion began in the garrison, and was not stopped until some men, caught in the act, were shot. There were signs of mutiny among the irregulars from Lazistan, and the same stern remedy had to be applied. Spies were ferreted out and hung. The garrison now began to be pinched for food. The men were on three- quarter rations in the middle of August, on half rations in the first week of September. Forage could no longer be cut outside. The stores of barley had come to an end. All the cavalry were, therefore, sent away, and many score managed to pass the Russian pickets, but some hundreds were taken. The plan of capture by blockade was slowly securing success. The Russian grasp grew tighter; the garrison weaker. The appeals of General Williams for aid were in vain.

Not that they were unheeded; not that generals, diplomatists, ministers, emperors did not write and talk about the straits of the Kars army, and about plans for its relief. Schemes were devised in Constantinople, in London, in the Crimea. Elaborate calculations were made; estimates for land and sea transport, estimates for provisions, stores, clothing, ammunition, tools, tents, were framed. As early as June - but that was a thought too late - we read of plans for the relief of Kars. The British Government felt all the importance to British interests of a stout defence at least of Armenia. They knew that Russian success would diminish their influence in Persia, and possibly shake their power in India. Precisely for that reason the French Emperor was indisposed to aid in or consent to any timely or reasonable plan. He was not desirous of preventing Russia from winning victories in Asia. He could not be hostile to an ally fighting by his side, but he could be, and was, indifferent and obstructive. As early as July it was proposed that an expedition should sail for Redout Kaleh, on the Mingrelian coast, and landing there, should so threaten Kutais and Tiflis that Mouravief, alarmed, would be compelled to quit Kars in order to defend the heart of Georgia. But the British Government did not approve of this plan, preferring the direct advance of a relieving army from Trebizond upon Erzroum. The British had raised a Turkish contingent under British officers; "but Lord Clarendon would not consent to its employment, on the ground that it was not fit to cope with Russians in the field. Omer Pasha proposed to take his own troops from Balaklava, and others gathered up from Bulgaria and Batoum, and land at Redout Kaleh. To this the French Emperor would not consent, on the ground that they could not be spared from the Crimea. As the matter grew more urgent the plans for the relief of Kars increased; but the obstructions to the formation of the army were so great, the Governments could agree upon so few points, that weeks - nay, months - passed, and, as we shall see, Sebastopol fell, and Kars resisted an assault, before the relieving army could be formed and sent across the Black Sea. All this was well understood by Mouravief; and he was so little alarmed on the score of the safety of Tiflis that he received reinforcements from, instead of sending any to Georgia. The alliance did not work when the security of the Turkish frontier in Asia was in question; for that security involved no French interest, and, consequently, every plan was frustrated, either by opposition in Paris or opposition in the Crimea. Thus Kars and its gallant defenders were left to strive with two deadly foes - a tenacious Russian general, and starvation.

And manfully they strove. Throughout September they were severely tried. It was with the utmost difficulty now that foot messengers could carry letters through the Russian lines. There were several British officers at Erzroum - Major Stuart, Captain Cameron, Captain Peel - but, in spite of their strenuous exertions, not a man could be moved. There was a goodly force of cavalry at Pennek, between Kars and Olti. Stuart and Cameron went thither to persuade Ali Pasha, the commandant, to venture on a dash through the lines, each horseman carrying barley. He would not budge a foot. While Cameron was there a Russian detachment, guided through mountain defiles where the horsemen had to march in single file, suddenly descended upon the Turkish camp, and in an instant regulars and Bashi-Bazouks were in full flight for Olti. Cameron - whose bravery had spurred him on to make at least a show of resistance - firing a gun, was nearly captured. The whole force was dissolved; the stores of grain and the camp were destroyed, and the guns captured. Thus, the Russians dispersed the last force and burned the last stores that might have been of use to the Kars army. That army had now lost 1,500 from cholera. For a moment it was cheered by the news of the fall of Sebastopol, brought in by seven gallant horsemen on the 23rd of September, Arslan Aga, their leader, broke through the Russian pickets by stratagem. He rode up to the outposts, trusting to his knowledge of Russian to deceive them. When challenged, he boldly called out that the field officer of the day was approaching. Then spurring their horses, these brave men dashed through the pickets before they could resist. Arslan Aga was mortally wounded a week afterwards in the battle of Kars, which it is now our business to relate.

General Mouravief had heard of the projected advance of Omer Pasha's troops from Batoum, as he was told, and of another relieving army from Erzroum, upon Kars; and believing the reports, resolved to assault Kars on the 29th of September. This led to a conflict which claims and deserves a high place among great military actions. The Russian general had the command of more than 30,000 men. He selected for attack the heights to the westward, which General Kmety occupied with a garrison of 6,450 men, whereof 5,270 were infantry. These heights he resolved to surprise by an assault at daybreak on all points, while a diversion was made on the town side. The reader will remember that the course of the Kars-Chai was northward; that the town stood on the right bank, and that it was defended on that side by the Karadagh Mountain, and the entrenchments on the plain beneath; that on the western or left bank there were two plateaux, one commanding the other, and that these plateaux were entrenched, so that the second or inner line of the camp - the English lines - rested on the brink of the river-banks to the north, and extended thence a mile and a quarter in a south-westerly direction; and that the first line, facing the west, stretched for about a mile along the heights of Tachmasb. The ground to the north of the English lines was open to the march of an enemy, and Tachmasb could be turned on its left flank - that is, between the extreme left of the breastworks and the river. General Mouravief's plan was to make a simultaneous attack from the west on the front of Tachmasb, while a column turned its flank; at the same time another column was to carry the English lines, and being joined by the main body from the west, the whole would have Kars at their mercy.

General Kmety, who commanded at Tachmasb, was a most excellent soldier. He was not only brave and skilful, he was vigilance itself. He was seconded by Captain Teesdale, Lieutenant Tüköri, a Hungarian - who was subsequently killed in Sicily, fighting under Garibaldi - and by Hussein Pasha, a Circassian, who commanded the best brigade of Turkish troops, and was himself a very able soldier. It was the habit of the English officers to keep a strict watch by night, that they might guard against a surprise, and General Kmety had long made all his preparations for meeting the very attack which was impending. Captain Tees- dale rode round the lines every night. On the night of the 28th, he had taken his route along the inner works, and ere day broke on the 29th, looking westward, he saw the flash of a gun. Without waiting to hear the report, he spurred his horse and galloped off towards the warning flame. The battle had begun.

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Pictures for Chapter XXXIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8 page 4

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

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