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Chapter XXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

Progress of the Works - Russian Steamers driven off - Russian Counter Approaches - They seize the Careening Ridge and Mamelon - French Lines at Kamiesch - Sortie of the 23rd of March - Repulse of the Enemy - Heavy Losses - Burial Truce - Description of the Aspect of the Works on both Sides - The Emperor going to the Crimea - Effects of his Interference - Second Bombardment - Immense Armaments- Opening of Fire on April 9th - Its Effects - Russian Fire unsubdued - ^ Why the Place was not taken - Incidents during the Bombardment - French Combats - English Progress - Death of Colonel Egerton - The Little Drummer - Omer Pasha's Movement on the Tchernaya - He returns to Eupatoria - French Fights on the 1st of May - Sorties - Continued Interference of the Emperor - General Canrobert in a False Position - Expedition sails for Kertch - Recalled Immediately - Why? - Conduct of the War from Paris - Lord Raglan for an Assault- Arrival of the Sardinians - Imperial Strategics - Grand Paper Plan rejected by Lord Raglan - Resignation of Canrobert - Général Pélissier, the New Commander.
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The month of March was spent by the allies in making preparations for a second bombardment, and by the enemy in prodigious efforts to meet and frustrate it. Far from reviving operations against the new Russian works on the Careening Ridge, called by the allies the White Works, the French allowed the enemy to strengthen and complete them. General Todtleben had devised a system of counter approaches. As the operations against Sebastopol were mainly of the nature of an attack by one army on another posted in a strongly entrenched position, the Russian engineer saw the great assistance he would derive from solid outposts, as by that method he would not only anticipate the allies in the occupation of commanding points, but would seriously injure and annoy them. Therefore he not only kept two steamers at the head of the harbour, and by their aid, in conjunction with the batteries on the north side, endeavoured to enfilade the advance of the French down the Careening Ridge, but fortified himself on that ridge, in order to stay the progress of the French down the next and more important one. General Canrobert complained of the vexatious annoyance of the steamers, and these it was resolved to drive away. The French built a battery on a point commanding the head of the Great Harbour, and we armed it and sent artillerymen to work the guns. The battery looked like one of the many works constructed to defend the Inkermann heights; but suddenly, on the 6th of March, just as the dawn rendered objects visible, the guns were unmasked, and a steady fire was opened on the steamers. Three shots missed the nearer steamer, but the fourth struck the paddle-box. Receiving this rough salute, the crew, who were below at the time, hurried on deck, and brought their heavy guns to bear on the battery. Men were seen running into the land batteries on the north side, and their guns were soon in action. Our battery fired fifty-nine shots, more than half of which were red hot. In twenty minutes the two steamers disappeared behind the steep cliffs. One of them had been severely punished, and was seen in the afternoon careened over, for the purpose of repairing damages. They did not re-visit the head of the harbour. The Russians on the north side fired 240 shots at our little battery, but did no injury whatever. The Royal Artillery were blamed for not burning or sinking the steamers; but in this, as in many other cases, blame fell without good reason.

Relieved from these waspish enemies, the French went on pushing down the ridge, and throwing up a trench to connect their attacks with the English right. Anticipating this, and knowing the importance of the Mamelon, which was higher than the Malakoff Hill, the Russian general caused the Mamelon to be occupied in greater strength, and began to dig and delve upon its crest. First making rifle-pits and then connecting and enlarging these, he soon raised the nucleus of a very formidable work right in the path of the French advance on the Malakoff. Had the army been under one commander, this hill would have been seized in October. Now the French could not even sap up to it, much less assault it, because the enemy had been allowed to become so strong on our right of the Malakoff Ridge. The British immediately framed a battery with guns bearing on the Mamelon; but although they obstructed the working parties by day, at first, their fire at night was little heeded, and this outpost, set up in the faces of the allies with great hardihood, grew into a stronghold. At the same time they turned to account a quarry or gravel pit in front of the Redan, using the pit as cover, and fringing its front and flank faces with small loopholed works for riflemen. Before the French, on the town front, the same system was developed. There were extensive and well-connected lodgments in advance of the Flagstaff Bastion and the Central Bastion, and in the ravine running down to the Quarantine Bay the enemy had converted a large cemetery into a strong post; so that at this stage the Russians were the assailants as well as the assailed. All over the plateau from the head of the harbour to the head of the Quarantine Bay, the surface of the ground was broken by trench and battery, by rifle-pit and redoubt. The works of the allies were already vast, those of the Russians were colossal. Nor were they confined to the exterior of the main line. Huge batteries, thick and high, peered up in the very streets of the town, while on the north side the lines of forts and trenches seemed to be endless. At this time, too, the French began to construct a line of parapets and redoubts to cover Kamiesch and Katzatch Bays. It extended from Streletzka Bay to the opposite coast, at a point between Cape Chersonesus and the monastery of St. George, and within this the Minister of War directed another and shorter line to be made. The reason for adopting this step was stated to be a prudential one - it was a provision against disaster. That was one reason; but there was another - the French Emperor began to interfere in the conduct of the war. It was whispered that he was going out himself to take command - a far wiser plan than that of attempting to command from Paris. Early in March came a proposal to discontinue siege operations, and, leaving a guard on the plateau, to take the field and storm, not Sebastopol, but the heights of Mackenzie. This was brushed aside; but, no doubt, it was to enable the allies to execute the Emperor's scheme that the Minister of War ordered the construction of the lines of Kamiesch. At this time the British army numbered 45,396 men, of whom 12,000 were sick. in hospital, and 2,800 were convalescents doing duty in hospital. Although the number of sick was large, the health of the army was much better. The men, never depressed, even in the depth of the winter, were now becoming frolicsome. There were horse races at Karani and on the plateau, and the men, released from the severe labours of guarding everything on the right, had time for foot-ball, leap-frog, foot-races, and even a sort of skittles; so that an air of briskness and gaiety was diffused over the camps.

Having plenty of men - for they, too, had been reinforced - the Russians supported their system of counter- approaches by energetic sorties. In the month of March these fell principally upon the French. In addition to the redoubt on the Mamelon, the enemy had formed his rifle-pits in advance, like skirmishers in front of a column. The riflemen within them were very troublesome; and two or three nights in succession the French assaulted these pits. Two or three companies of Zouaves would leap out of the trenches, dash into the pits, and drive off the defenders. Then the supports would hurry up on the Russian side, and the Zouaves would have to fly before they could make good their hold. From the French trenches more men would issue. The rattle of musketry would raise the camp; horses would be saddled at head-quarters, and aides would stumble hither and thither in the gloom. Suddenly the firing would die away and cease. The French had been frustrated. Determined to succeed, they began to sap towards the rifle- pits - just as our generals sapped up to a New Zealand stockade - and took the outworks on the 21st. This led to something like a general action on the night of the 23rd of March.

Prince Gortschakoff had arrived on the 20th to assume the command of the army, as successor to Osten-Sacken, who had succeeded Menschikoff. The new commander was the brother of the officer who fought against us on the Alma, and he proved himself a very capable soldier. The danger on the side of the Malakoff was pressing. It had become essential to the defence that the French should be stayed in their progress towards the Mamelon, and Prince Gortschakoff resolved to make a vigorous sortie to recover the lodgments in front of the Mamelon, and carry the war into the trenches. Fresh troops had joined the garrison at this time, and part of these were told off for the service. Up to this time Admiral Istomine, a very gallant officer, had hitherto commanded on this side, but he was shot on the 19th, and General Chruleff succeeded him. He had under his orders for the sortie no fewer than 8,000 men. These were to storm the rifle-pits, and break in at the point where the French and English trenches joined. At the same time another body, some 1,200 strong, including the Greek volunteers led by Prince Murusi, known in our lines as "the Albanian," was to ascend the Woronzoff Ravine, and turn the left of our right attack; while a third and weaker party was to push up towards our left attack. As designed, these sorties were executed, but not with that concert essential to complete success. The French were in some measure prepared. They had very strong trench guards on duty. On our side there were only the ordinary trench guards, and the usual working parties.

It was about eleven o'clock when the Russians, issuing from both flanks of the Mamelon, dashed into the oddments held by the French. They came on in such numbers and with so much resolution that the French were forced out of the pits and chased into their parallel. The Russians followed, leaping oyer the parapet and forming up within the trench, and continuing the fight. At the same time the batteries of the place opened a hot fire upon our lines, by way of diversion, and the right of Chruleff's heavy column of counter-assault burst in on the extreme right of our line. Then the French supports, coming down with suddenness and decision, drove the enemy over the parapet. Surprised, but not discouraged, the Russians charged again, and deadly hand to hand combats followed along the whole front. Three times they sought to penetrate; but General d'Autemarre - an energetic soldier of the right stamp - and the choice troops he commanded, offered a resistance which more than equalled the hardihood of the enemy's onslaught. This fierce combat, lighted up by the incessant flashes of opposing musketry, and rendered bloody by the free use of the bayonet, was maintained for nearly two hours. At one moment, when the Russians had broken into our trenches at the point of junction, and had for a moment driven off our working parties, the French suffered from a fire levelled at their left flank and rear. Yet not for long. Captain Vicars, rallying the men of the 97th then on duty, and calling out, "This way, 97th!" led them to the charge; and these being reinforced by part of the 77th, under Major Gordon, R.E., the two parties combined gave the Russians a rough shock, and expelled them from the trench. But Vicars was shot dead as he fought, and Gordon, pursuing the enemy outside the lines, was wounded severely. The French not only kept the Russians at bay, but perceiving signs of yielding, they assumed the offensive, and charging, forced their foes to retire into the Mamelon. Towards the close of this fight the second and third Russian columns fell suddenly, one on the left of the right, the other on the left of the left attack. In both cases they forced their way into our trenches. Prince Musuri, a daring leader, shot Captain Brown, of the 7th, and fired his pistol into the magazine of a battery, hoping to blow it up. He was instantly killed. After a rough contest, the enemy was driven out of our lines, but not until he had killed two officers, and captured two others - one, Colonel Kelly, of the 34th; the other, Captain Montague, R.E. This was the most severe action which had yet been fought in the trenches. The Russians lost 1,500 men killed and wounded, according to their own returns. The allies lost 727, of whom 85 were English.

The next day the slopes of the hills around the south side of Sebastopol presented a novel spectacle. At the request of the Russian general, there was a truce of three hours to recover and bury the dead. The white flags were no sooner hoisted than the soldiers and officers on both sides poured in a torrent out of the works towards the seen of the midnight conflicts, and began the work of bearing away the bodies; while the officers of the three armies talked together gaily and exchanged cigars, and the men gave each other tobacco. " The soldiers of the enemy," writes Colonel Hamley, "looked dirty and shabby, but healthy and well-fed. Most of them were of larger frame than the French, while the English surpassed both in size and stature. The countenances of the Russians, short and broad, with thick projecting lips, pug-noses, and small eyes, betokened a low order of intellect, cunning and obstinate. Many, both officers and men, wore orders and medals. Between these groups passed and repassed the burial parties, lifting each grim, gory figure from its face or back, placing it on a stretcher, and bearing it, with dead legs swinging and dragging, and the arms vibrating stiffly to the steps of the bearers, to be added to the dreadful assembly. Not one of those looking on could feel secure that, in the next twenty- four hours, he would not be as one of these." When the time expired down went the white flags on both sides; and very soon from both sides the riflemen, lately engaged in amity, were shooting at each other, and the guns in the batteries taking up the game, the rough and horrid aspect of the scene appeared once more.

And here we may conveniently break the narrative, and endeavour to convey to the mind's eye of the reader some picture of the place, its works of defence, and the works of offence rising abcut under the hands of the allies. There were two or three places on the heights looking towards Sebastopol whence a spectator might survey a large section of the plateau. From the Maison d'Eau, on the French side of the great South Ravine, the eye plunged first into its craggy depths, but did not reach the bottom. Only part of the stony ledges forming its precipitous sides was seen. Then looking almost due north, on the shoulder of the left bank, overhanging the gulfs below, the eye lighted on the British three gun- battery, and following the direction of its guns, the spectator saw into the South Harbour, which was really the mouth of the South Ravine filled with the waters of the Black Sea. On the west side, high upon the bluff, stood the southern part of the town, with its gleaming white buildings; and on the east side frowning from the crest of a precipice, jagged and broken, stood huge, massive earthen walls, their outline being interrupted by the embrasures. These were the Barrack Batteries, so called because they were thrown up in front of a long barrack. Some of the guns of these tremendous works looked towards the point where we are supposed to stand. To the north-east of these Barrack Batteries was another work - the famous Redan. It was in form like an arrow head, from the shoulders of which ran the ramparts, connecting it on one side with the Barrack Batteries, and on the other with the flanking defences of the Malakoff. High on its commanding knoll, to the north east of the Redan, rose this famous redoubt, of forbidding front and irregular form, and furnished with rows of guns on all the points whence they could be trained upon the lines of the allies. In front of the proper left of the Barrack works were dilapidated houses, once a swarming suburb, and in front of the Redan and Malakoff were thick lines of abbatis - that is, intertwisted stakes and branches, sharply pointed and bolted together. From the Malakoff the ground fell, and then rose again, forming the Mamelon, which was on the extreme right of the spectator; and through the dip between Malakoff and Mamelon gleamed the bright waters of the Great Harbour, backed by the bluffs of the north side. Between the spectator and this war- roughened ridge, separated from each other by the cavernous ravines, extended the plateaus down which the British were working their way towards the place. You could see into the rear of the parallels and solid batteries, and watch the riflemen in opposing pits firing at each other; you could see parties of soldiers going to and fro, and sappers working here and there. Perhaps, while you gazed, a cloud of smoke would show you where, hidden from view, lay the French batteries on the extreme right. A shell would burst over the Mamelon. " The Mamelon replies; a gun and a mortar in our right attack drop their shells into the work; the Malakoff supports its companion by a couple of shells, which graze the crest of our parapet, and knocking up little clouds of dust as they go, burst far up the hill-side. A mortar near the Malakoff pitches a shell into the parapet of our advanced parallel; it rolls over and explodes; a commotion is visible through the glass, and presently two wounded men are borne past to the camp - one struck in the cheek the other having his leg shattered." A tremendous explosion, followed by another, is heard - two 13-inch mortars have been fired from a British battery. "With a, rush like a whirlwind, the two great shells are hurled up into the sky, growing small as cricket-balls, find audible when no longer seen. As the sound ceases two clouds of dust rise in the Malakoff - the shells have dropped there; another moment, and two columns of smoke rise and are slowly dispersed; both shells have burst in the work." In the foreground of this picture Nature is putting forth her flowers and forcing up blades of grass. In the background, beyond the dark batteries and dazzling town, flow the blue and sparkling waters of the Euxine. From another point, Cathcart's Hill, it was possible to obtain a view of the French lines on the left or western face of the town. In front of the extreme right of the French approaches, and overtopping them was the salient Flagstaff Bastion, and beyond that the Central Bastion. From Quarantine Bay on the north-west to the Flagstaff and Garden Batteries in rear of it, ran a strip of ruined houses, lying behind the heavy earthworks and the crenellated wall. As " the distance from the French lines became greater the marks of injury were less perceptible; the tall white storehouses, with roofs of sheet iron, the domes of churches, the porticoes, and the stately outlines of great public buildings, shone pleasantly in the sunshine. Tier after tier of roofs rose up to the crest of the hill on which this portion of the town was built, and figures stole over the field of the glass as it swept over the space, as though they kept a keen look-out for shells. In front of this portion of the town the dim steppes were scarred all over by the lines of the French approaches, from which at intervals arose the smoke wreaths of cannon or the puffs of the rifle, answered from the darker lines of the Russians in front of the city." From this elevation also you could look into the South Harbour, and watch the Russians passing and repassing over their bridge of boats; and even, by facing the north, see the works on the Inkermann ridge and in front of the Mamelon, where the French were busily labouring with pick, and spade, and rifle; and, with a good glass, it was possible to reconnoitre the enemy and all his works on the north side. The characteristics of the scene were the yawning ravines, like vast furrows, breaking the level of the stony plains, across which rose the rigid lines of trench and battery; then the bold outlines of the Russian earthworks cresting the cliffs and hillocks, and running down into the hollows; beyond these the handsome town, with its oblong forts and square towers; and still farther away, and blending with the sky, the restless sea. Behind the spectator lay the busy camp, and the lines that crowned the ridge overlooking the Tchernaya valley, and the piled up hills of the southern Tauric range, terminating in the lofty peaks of the Tchatir-Dagh, or Tent-mountain. To the south were the highlands, still in many parts covered with brushwood, ending abruptly in that inhospitable wall of rock which forms the coast, and offers for miles no shelter from the force of a southern blast save the little bay at Balaclava.

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Pictures for Chapter XXV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 8

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