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Our Wars page 2

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After delays which to the impatient people of England seemed interminable, an army of fifty thousand men landed on the Crimea, at a point twenty-five miles to the northward of the city which they had come to destroy. They knew imperfectly what forces could be brought to resist them, but they faced the uncertainty with unconcern, confident in their own prowess. A few hours' march southward brought them in presence of the Russian army, strongly posted on a line of hill rising steeply from the little river Alma. The allies waded the stream under a deadly fire of Russian artillery, and forced their way up the heights. The Russians fought stubbornly, and inflicted severe loss on their assailants. So steep was the ascent that the wounded as they fell were seen to roll helplessly down the hill. But no effort which the Russians made availed to stay the resolute advance of their enemies. As the infantry pressed them in front, Lord Raglan brought two guns to bear upon their flank. The well-directed fire cut lanes through the masses against which it was aimed. The dismayed Russians broke, and fled. We had fought our first battle, and gained our first victory. Our soldiers had behaved nobly; but three thousand of them lay dead or wounded upon the field.

Lord Raglan was desirous that the army should push forward and make a dash at Sebastopol. But Marshal St. Arnaud rejected this enterprise, on the ground that his troops were fatigued. The truth was that the marshal himself, enfeebled by mortal illness, was within a few days of his grave. Had the general been as fit for effort as his soldiers were, Sebastopol would have fallen an easy prey. But the opportunity passed unimproved. By strenuous exertion, the defences of the city were strengthened, and the allies had no choice but to approach it in the way of regular siege. Nor is the mischance by which this occurred to be regretted. The strife could end now only by exhaustion on one side or the other. Sebastopol was easily reached by the ships of the allies, while, for the Russians, the land journey was long and painful. Nowhere else could this unhappy game be played out more advantageously for the western powers.

Within a month, the allies had been able to bring up their siege-guns to the heights on the south side of the city. Their fleets stood in near to the forts, and the newly-erected batteries opened their deadly career. Twelve or fourteen hundred pieces of heavy artillery maintained for many hours a fire such as no city ever endured before. But Sebastopol emerged from it without any sensible weakening of its defensive power, and it became clear enough that speedy success was no longer to be hoped for.

Meanwhile a Russian army was preparing to attack the besiegers in the position they had taken up. A week after the ineffective bombardment, the Russians, numbering thirty thousand, approached the allied position. Their attack was directed at first towards some redoubts held by Turks, who hastened to find safety in flight. A large body of Russian horsemen, moving on in the direction of Balaklava, came in view of the 93rd Highlanders standing in line, two men deep. Their commander, Sir Colin Campbell, knowing the quality of his soldiers, did not think it " worth while " to form them into square. The Highlanders justified well his confidence. They stood till the rushing horses came within a hundred and fifty yards, and then gave forth a fire which emptied many saddles and caused the Russians to retreat in haste. The Heavy Brigade of British cavalry stood at some distance, waiting their opportunity. A strong body of Russian cavalry advanced, but as they came near reined up and paused to observe. The trumpets rang out; the British horsemen rode at their enemies, rode through them, trampled them down, chased them away in hopeless rout. Five minutes sufficed for that magnificent cavalry to defeat the vastly more numerous force of the Russians.

After these reverses the Russian army drew back, and took up position at a distance of a mile and a half from the allies. Their whole strength was gathered there, covered from attack by thirty guns. Up to this time our Light Cavalry Brigade had not been engaged. Lord Lucan now received, by the hand of Captain Nolan, a written order to advance nearer to the enemy. On reading this order, Lord Lucan asked its bearer how far they were to advance. He received a reply which he construed, with fatal inaccuracy, to signify that it was his duty to charge the enemy. The Light Brigade made itself ready to attack the Russian army. Every man knew that some terrible mistake was sending the brigade to destruction, but no man shrunk from his duty of obedience. They rode straight down the valley towards the wondering Russians, and in full view of the chiefs of their own army, powerless now to restrain them. As the excitement of battle gained power over men and horses, the pace increased. The shot of the Russian guns tore through their ranks, but did not abate the speed of their advance, the fierceness of their attack. They galloped their horses between the Russian guns, cutting down the gunners as they passed. They rode down and scattered several squadrons of cavalry. And then they paused, and turned back, and galloped towards the shelter of the British lines. The Russian guns reopened upon them with grape and canister. Their return was beset by an overwhelming force of Russian cavalry; but they cut their way through, and reached the position they had left scarcely half an hour ago. Six hundred and seventy men went forth to that memorable ride, but only one hundred and ninety-eight came back.

But these brave lives were not spent in vain. The splendid exhibition which they furnished of the high warlike qualities of the British races, is of greater value than many of the victories which are supposed to ornament our history. No guns were brought off, no.prisoners were taken; there were none of the ordinary gains of victorious battle. But -deeds of rare heroism which lay upon an enemy the disabling consciousness of inferiority, may do more to terminate a war than the capture of many cities.

The Russians utterly failed to shake the hold of the allies on the position which they had taken up. But some guns captured from the Turks were carried off the field, and one of the redoubts abandoned by those timid warriors was held. These trivial gains being the first which had cheered the Russians, were hailed as victories of high importance.

A few days after, the Russians made a still more formidable attack upon the allies. They planned and effected a surprise, which must have proved fatal but for the invincibly stubborn resistance offered by the British, on whom the attack fell. About daybreak of a winter morning fifty thousand Russians advanced, their courage braced for lofty deeds by the presence of a grand duke, the blessing of the church, and a copious supply of stimulating drinks. Covered by the thick fogs which wrapped valley and hill, they were well within striking distance before their approach was discovered. In overwhelming numbers they climbed the heights, and assailed the scanty British force which held the plateau of Inkermann. By all the rules of war they should have had an easy success; for the men they came to attack were fearfully outnumbered, and suffered the still graver disadvantage of being insufficiently supplied with ammunition. Any general plan of defence was impossible, as the mist shrouded the combatants from the view of their leaders. All along the hill-side were small bodies of British soldiers withstanding, sometimes by shot and sometimes by bayonet, the attack of dense masses of Russians, who strove to gain the plateau. For some hours they successfully resisted attacks which, it may safely be said, no other troops in the world could have sustained. Then the French came to their relief, and the Russians were beaten off with heavy loss. The result of this battle must have brought home to the Emperor Nicholas some unwelcome truths. Eight or nine thousand Englishmen, taken unawares and short of cartridges, baffled for hours fifty thousand Russians, supported by a powerful artillery, and then, with the help of nine thousand Frenchmen, drove them all away.

England was very proud of her brave soldiers; and now, when it had become certain they must winter on those bleak heights before Sebastopol, large provision for their comfort was made. Thousands of tons of wood for huts were sent out; shiploads of warm clothing; food beyond their utmost powers of consumption. The vessels which bore these treasures arrived in safety at Balaklava. Their tall masts could be seen from the heights where our soldiers maintained, amid the severities of winter, the grasp which had been laid upon the doomed city. But yet the men were suffered to perish for want of the comforts which had been brought so near them. The early weeks of the winter had been unusually rainy j the miserable road from Balaklava had become nearly impassable. The idea of constructing a sufficient road to connect the camp and the ships had not presented itself to the minds of the authorities. The extreme difficulty of keeping up supplies under these circumstances was enhanced by faulty administration. A rigorous adherence to form defeated the attempts of officers and surgeons to obtain the food or medicines which were so urgently required. The men were often half-fed; they were clothed in rags utterly inadequate for their protection; they might almost as well have walked barefooted for any benefit which their boots afforded; they slept on the wet ground, under the imperfect shelter of tents; they toiled for many hours every day in the trenches, ankle-deep in mud. Fuel was not to be had, and it was often impossible for them to cook their food. They sickened and died by hundreds, and the British army, always victorious over its enemies, was mouldering swiftly away under the neglect or mismanagement of its own leaders. Several regiments became literally extinct. One had but seven men left fit for duty; another had thirty. When the sick were put on board transports to be conveyed to hospital, the mortality was shocking. In some ships one man in every four died in a voyage of seven, days. In some of the hospitals recovery was the rare exception. At one time four-fifths of the poor fellows who underwent amputation died of hospital gangrene. During the first seven months of the siege the men perished by disease at a rate which would have extinguished the entire force in little more than a year and a half. Our total loss in this miserable war was 20,656. Of these, only 2598 were slain in battle; 18,058 died in hospital.

When the miseries of our soldiers were reported in England, the indignation of the people was vehement. The care of the army was no longer left altogether to government. All over the country vast contributions were offered of articles fitted to promote a soldier's comfort, and agents were sent out to dispense them. Miss Nightingale, armed with absolute authority, went to bring order out of the infinite confusion which prevailed in the hospitals. M. Soyer, a cook of distinguished merit, was sent to teach the soldiers how to extract from the food supplied to them all the nourishment and enjoyment which it was fitted to yield. A railway was hastily laid between Balaklava and the camp. Henceforth abundance reigned, and the health of the army rapidly improved.

During all those dreary months, while the army was being destroyed by official incapacity, the siege went on. The allies never for a moment loosened their hold on the besieged city. Often their fire was intermitted because of the difficulty of conveying from Balaklava the huge masses of iron which it was their business to throw into Sebastopol. Occasionally it was discontinued for a time that preparations might be made for greater efforts. Very soon it could be seen that Sebastopol was a mass of ruins. But that had no tendency to weaken the defence. The Russians fortified a position outside the town by means of earthworks and rifle-pits. The war lost its character of siege, and changed into a battle of many months' duration between two armies, each holding a strongly intrenched position. It was an artillery duel on a gigantic scale. The allies had five or six hundred guns in operation, and sometimes they launched twelve thousand shells and round shot against the enemy in the course of twenty-four hours. Gradually their trenches drew closer to the Russian works, until at one point the men were within speaking distance. One very strong earthwork, the Malakhoff, faced the French position; another, the Redan was in front of the English. It was determined to carry these works by assault. The French, whose trenches were now within fifteen yards of the enemy, were able, after a brief but violent struggle, to take secure possession of the Malakhoff. The English had a considerable space to traverse under a murderous fire. But they forced their way into the Redan, and looked eagerly for reinforcements which would enable them to hold their conquest. Incapable generalship left them without support, and they were driven out with terrible loss.

Next day the attack was to have been renewed. But the Russian position had become untenable. Their whole army was conveyed across the bay, and the southern side of the city was abandoned. The war was virtually ended. The Emperor Nicholas had died - broken-hearted by the disasters of this calamitous struggle - and his son, the more enlightened Alexander, was now willing to negotiate. He had maintained the contest in this remote corner of his dominions at enormous cost in men and treasure, and he could maintain it no longer. His ships had been sunk to save them from the enemy. Sebastopol - in. ruins - was wrenched away from him; his impregnable forts, his splendid docks, were at leisure mined and blown into the air by triumphant foes. His power in the Black Sea was for the time utterly overthrown. The allies had two hundred thousand men in the Crimea - a force which he was now powerless to resist. Peace had become a necessity for Russia.

As the allies were not unreasonable and their enemy was prostrate, the terms of peace were not hard to arrange. Turkey was made gracefully to promise redress of Christian wrongs, but it was carefully declared that no power was entitled to exact fulfilment of the worthless pledge. No armed vessels beyond a fixed number for purposes of maritime police were henceforth to sail the Black Sea. The czar thus endured the humiliation of being shut out from waters on which he had hitherto been supreme. He further became bound not to maintain on the Black Sea any such stronghold as the allies had just abolished.

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