Demetrius Charles de Kavanagh Boulger.

The life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order online

. (page 3 of 40)
Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 3 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

out to mitigate the hardships the British Army underwent during a
campaign that the genius of Todleben and the fortitude of his courageous
garrison rendered far more protracted and costly than had been antici-



Charles Gordon reached Balaclava on New Year's Day, 1S55. He
found everyone engaged in foraging expeditions, that the siege of
Sebastopol excited no interest, that the road from the bay to the hill
was like a morass, and that a railway to traverse it was being slowly laid
down. Gordon remained about three weeks at Balaclava assisting in
the erection of huts, and in the conveyance of some of them to the
front. When this task Avas accomplished he was himself ordered to the
trenches, where his work could not fail to be more exciting and also
more dangerous than that upon which up to this he had been engaged.

Before following him it will be useful to summarise the leading
events that had taken place in the Crimea up to this date. War between
England and France on the one side, and Russia on the other, was finally
declared in March 1854, the allied forces landed in the Crimea early in
September 1S54, and the first battle was fought on the Alma stream on
the 20th of that month. In that battle 60,000 allied troops — 20,000
English, 40,000 French— attacked 120,000 Russians in a strong and
well-chosen position. The result was a brilliant victory for the allies,
and there is no doubt that it was mainly won by the dashing attack of
the English Infantry. The losses were— French, 60 killed and 500
wounded ; English, 362 killed and 1620 wounded, thus furnishing clear
evidence as to the force which bore the brunt of the engagement. The
Russian loss was computed to be not less than 6000, or double that of
the allies.

As the allied forces advanced towards Sebastopol the Russian Army
assumed the offensive. The brilliant and never-to-be-forgotten Cavalry
charges on 25th October, of the Light and Heavy Brigades, under Cardi-
gan and Scarlett respectively, at Balaclava in the valley that stretched at
the foot of the hills overlooking the bay of that name, had not merely
vindicated the reputation of English horsemen for dash and daring, but
had done something — at excessive cost, it is true — to clear the advance
for the whole army. When the Russians, assuming in their turn the
offcn-sivo, attacked our camps on the heights of Inkcrman, they were


The Crimea, Dan^ibe, and Armenia. 17

repulsed with heavy loss on both sides, and with the result that more
than six months elapsed before they again ventured to show any in-
clination to attack in the open field, and then only to meet with fresh
discomfiture on the banks of the Tchernaya.

The battle of Inkerman was fought in the early morning of 5th
November, and again the brunt of the fighting fell on the English army.
The Russian General, Tod^.eben, subsequently stated that he reluctantly
decided to attack the English camp instead of the French, because "the
English position seemed to be so very weak." Here again the losses
give no misleading idea of the proportionate share of the two allied
armies in the struggle. While the Russian loss was put down in all at
11,000 men, the French lost 143 killed and 786 wounded ; the English,
597 killed and 1760 wounded.

The opinion has been confidently expressed that if a rapid advance
and attack had been made on Sebastopol immediately after Inkerman,
the fortress would have been easily captured ; but both before and during
the siege the Russians made the best use of every respite the Allies
gave them, and this lost opportunity, if it was one, never recurred.
It will thus be seen that some of the most interesting incidents
of the war had passed before Gordon set foot in the Crimea, but for
an engineer officer the siege and capture of the fortress created by
Todleben under the fire of his foes presented the most attractive and
instructive phase of the campaign.

At this time the French army mustered about 100,000 men, the
British about 23,000, and the Russian garrison of Sebastopol 25,000.
In addition, there was a covering army, under the Grand Dukes and
General Liprandi, wb'ch, despite its losses at Inkerman, was probably
not less than 60,000 but the successive defeats at Alma, Balaclava, and
Inkerman had broken the confidence of the troops and reduced their
leaders to inaction. The batteries were nearly completed when Gordon
reached the front, and a good deal had already been written and said
about the hardships of the soldiers. Gordon was a man of few wants,
who could stand any amount of fatigue, and throughout his life he was
always disposed to think that soldiers should never complain. Writing
as late as 12th February 1855, when the worst of the winter was over,
he says : " There are really no hardships for the ofificers ; the men are the
sufferers, and that is partly their own fault, as they are like children,
thinking everything is to be done for them. The French soldier looks
out for himself, and consequently fares much better." Something of
the same conclusion had been forced on him when on board the
French transport between Marseilles and Athens when he wrote :
"The poor French soldiers, of whom there were 320 on board


1 8 1 he L ife of Gordon.

without any shelter, must have suffered considerably from cold ; they
had no covering, and in spite of the wet, cold, and bad weather, they
kept up their health however, and their high spirits also, when our
men would have mutinied." And again, later on : " We have capital
rations, and all the men have warm clothing, and more than enough
of that. They of course grumble and growl a good deal. The
contrast with the French in this respect is not to our advantage."
It must in fairness be remembered that the worst of the maladministra-
tion was over before he reached the scene, and that he came with those
reinforcements, not merely of men, but still more especially of supplies,
which ended "the winter troubles," and converted them into the
sanguine hopes and views of the spring.

Gordon was not long in the trenches before he came under fire,
and the account of his first experience of real warfare may be given in
his own words : —

"The night of February 14th I was on duty in the trenches, and
if you look at the plan I sent you and the small sketch enclosed I will
explain what I had to do. The French that night determined to join
their sentries on their right and our sentries on our left, in advance
of their and our trenches, so as to prevent the Russians coming up the
ravine, and then turning against our flank. They determined to make
a lodgment in the ruined house marked B on the sketch, and to run
a trench up the hill to the left of this, while I was told to make a
communication by rifle-pits from the caves C to the ruined house B.
I got, after some trouble, eight men with picks and shovels, and asked
the captain of the advance trench to give me five double sentries to
throw out in advance. It was the first time he had been on duty here ;
and as for myself, I never had, although I kept that to myself. I led
forward the sentries, going at the head of the party, and found the
sentries of the advance had not held the caves, which they ought to
have done after dark, so there was just a chance of the Russians being
in them. I went on, however, and, though I did not like it, explored
the caves almost alone. We then left two sentries on the hill above
the caves, and went back, to get round and post two sentries below
the caves. However, just as soon as we showed ourselves outside the
caves and below them, bang! bang! went two rifles, the bullets hitting
the ground close to us. The sentries with me retired in a rare state of
mind, and my working party bolted, and were stopped with great
difficulty. What had really happened was this : It was not a Russian
attack, but the two sentries whom I had placed above the caves had
fired at us, lost their caps, and bolted to the trench. Nothing after this
would induce the sentries to go out, so I got the working party to go

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 19

forward with me. The Russians had, on the report of our shots, sent
us a shower of bullets, their picket not being more than 150 yards
away. I set the men to work, and then went down to the bottom
of the ravine, and found the French in strength hard at work also.
Having told them who we were, I returned to the trench, where I met

Colonel of the ist Royals. I warned him if he went out he

■would be sure to be hit by our own sentries or the Russians. He
would go, however, and a moment afterwards was hit in the breast,
the ball going through his coats, slightly grazing his ribs, and passing
■out again without hurting him. I stayed with my working party all
.night, and got home very tired."

In further illustration of the confusion prevailing in the trenches at
night, he mentions in the same letter that while trying to find the caves
lie missed his way, and "very nearly walked into the town by mistake."
This was the more surprising because Gordon's intimate knowledge
■of the trenches was remarkable and well known. The following
testimony given by Sir Charles Staveley affords striking proof that this
reputation was not undeserved : —

" I happened to mention to Charlie Gordon that I was field officer
for the day for command in the trenches next day, and, having only
just returned from sick leave, that I was ignorant of the geography
of our left attack. He said at once, ' Oh ! come down with me to-night
after dark, and I will show you over the trenches.' He drew me out
.a very clear sketch of the lines (which I have now), and down I went
accordingly. He explained every nook and corner, and took me along
outside our most advanced trench, the bouquets (volleys of small
shells fired from mortars) and other missiles flying about us in, to me, a
very unpleasant manner, he taking the matter remarkably coolly."

The late Sir George Chesney, a very competent and discriminacing
witness, gives evidence to the same effect : —

"In his humble position as an Engineer subaltern he attracted
the notice of his superiors, not merely by his energy and activity, but
by a special aptitude for war, developing itself amid the trench work
before Sebastopol in a personal knowledge of the enemy's movements
such as no other officer attained. We used to send him to find out what
new move the Russians were making."

The next incident of the siege described by Gordon occurred about
a week after his baptcme de feu in the caves. While the French were
somewhat deliberately making at Inkerman a battery for fifteen guns,
the Russians, partly in a spirit of bravado, threw up in a single night
a battery for nearly twenty guns immediately opposite, at a distance
of not more tnan 600 yards from the French. As this was made

20 The Life of Gordon.

in the open ground, it was a defiance which could not be tolerated,
and the French accordingly made their arrangements to assault it.
Kinglake has graphically described the surprise of the French when
they discovered this '' white circlet or loop on the ground," and the
attempt made by three battalions, with two other battalions in reserve,
to capture it. A battalion of Zouaves, under the command of Colonel
Cere, carried it in fine style, but the Russian reserves came up in.
great force, and their own reserves "declining to come to the scratch,"
as Gordon laconically put it, the Zouaves were in their turn compelled
to fall back, with a loss of 200 killed. Encouraged by this success,
the Russians gave the French another surprise a few days later,
throwing up a second battery 300 yards further in advance of the
first "white circlet." These two batteries, mounting between them,
according to Kinglake, twenty-two guns, were finally strengthened and
equipped by loth March, and although the French talked much of
storming them, nothing was done, much to Gordon's disgust. It was
while these operations were in progress that Charles Gordon had a
narrow escape of being killed. A shot from one of the Russian rifle-
pits "as nearly as possible did for me," he wrote; "the bullet was
fired not iSo yards off, and passed an inch above my nut into a bank
I was passing." His only comment on this is very characteristic ;
"They are very good marksmen ; their bullet is large and pointed."

This was the first but not the last escape he had during the siege.
One of his brothers, writing home some three months later, a few days
before the assault on the Redan, wrote as follows : " Charlie has had a
miraculous escape. The day before yesterday he saw the smoke from
an embrasure on his left and heard a shell coming, but did not see it.
It struck the ground about five yards in front of him and burst, not
touching him. If it had not burst it would have taken his head off."
Of this later shave Gordon himself says nothing, but he describes a
somewhat similar incident, which had, however, a fatal result. " \\'e
lost one of our captains named Craigie by a splinter of a shell. The
shell burst above him, and by what is called chance struck him in the
back, killing him at once."

During the three months March, April, and May, the siege languished,
and Gordon apologises for the stupidity of his letters with the graphic
observation : " It is not my fault, as none of the three nations — French,
English, or Russian — will do anything."

At the end of May, however, there was a renewal of activity.
General Pelissier succeeded to the French command, and, unlike his
jjredecessors, made it his primary object to act in cordial co-operation
with the English commander. He was also in favour of an energetic pro-

The Crimea, DaniLbe, and Armenia. 21

secution of the siege, with the view to an early assault. All the batteries
were by this time completed, and 58S guns, with 700 rounds in readiness
for each gun, were opposed to the ii74inthe Russian fortress. It
only remained to utilise this terrific force, and at last orders were given
for the commencement of what was known as the third bombardment.
After nearly two days' incessant firing the French stormed the Mamelon
and two advance redoubts. These were successfully carried and held,
at the same time that the English stormed a position called the Quarries,
close under the formidable Redan. Of this bombardment Gordon
gives in one of his letters a very good description : —

" On the 6th we opened fire from all our batteries. I was on duty
in the trenches. I could distinctly see the Russians in the Redan and
elsewhere running about in great haste, and bringing up their gunners
to the guns. They must have lost immensely, as our shot and shell
continued to pour in upon them for hours without a lull. Never was
our fire so successful. Before seven we had silenced a great many of
their guns, while our loss was very small — only one man killed and four
wounded. I was struck slightly with a stone from a round shot and
stunned for a second, which old Jones has persisted in returning as
wounded. [It was, notwithstanding, a real wound.] However, I am all
right, so do not think otherwise. Our fire was continued all night, and
the next day until four o'clock, when we opened with new batteries
much nearer, and our fire then became truly terrific. Fancy 1000 guns
{which is the number of ourselves, the French, and Russians combined)
firing at once shells in every direction. On our side alone we have thirty-
nine 13" mortars. At half-past five three rockets gave the signal for
the French to attack the Mamelon and the redoubts of Selingkinsk and
Volhynia. They rushed up the slope in full view of the allied armies.
The Russians fired one or two guns when the French were in the
-embrasures. We then saw the Russians cut out on the other side, and
the French after them, towards the Malakoff Tower, which they nearly
reached, but were so punished by the guns of this work that they were
obliged to retire, the Russians in their turn chasing them through the
Mamelon into their own trenches. This was dreadful, as it had to be
assaulted again. The French, however, did so immediately, and carried
it splendidly. The redoubts of Volhynia and Selingkinsk were taken
easily on our side. In front of the right attack a work called the Quarries
had to be taken, which was done at the same time as the Mamelon.
The Russians cut out and ran, while our men made their lodgment for
our fellows. We were attacked four times in the night, but held the
work. If we had liked to assault, I am sure we should have taken the
place with little loss, some of our men being close to the Redan. The

2 2 The Life of Gordon.

French took twenty gun? and 400 prisoners, and found the Mamelon so
traversed as to have no difficulty in making their lodgment. We were
driven from the Quarries three times in the night, the Russians having
directed all their efforts against them. Our loss is supposed to be
1000 killed and wounded. Nearly all our working party had to be
taken for fighting purposes. The attacking columns were 200 strong ;
one went to the right, and the other to the left of the Quarries. The
reserve consisted of 600 men. The Russians fought desperately."

A further week was occupied with a heavy but desultory bombard-
ment, but at last on 17th June what is known as "the fourth bombard-
ment" proper began, and after it had continued for about twenty-four
hours, orders were given for the assault to be made by the French on the
INlalakoff and the English on the Redan on the iSth June, a date ever
memorable in military annals. The silence of the Russian guns induced
a belief that the allied fire had overpowered theirs, and in consequence
orders for the attack were given twenty-four hours sooner than had
been intended. Kinglake, in his exhaustive History, has show-n how
this acted adversely on the chances of the assault, because the Russian
gunners had really only reserved their fire, and also especially because
the Redan, Avhich we had to attack under the original arrangement
between Lord Raglan and General Pelissier, had hardly suffered any
damage from the bombardment. General Gordon's long account of
this memorable assault will long be referred to as a striking individual
experience : —

" I must now commence my long story of our attempted assault.
To take up my account from 14th June, which was the last letter I
wrote to you, Seeley, my fellow-subaltern at Pembroke, arrived on
the 15th, and joined the right. On the evening of the i6th it was
rumoured we were to commence firing again in the morning. I was
on duty on the morning of the 17th, and I went down at half-past two
A.M. At 3 A.M. all our batteries opened, and throughout the day
kept up a terrific fire. The Russians answered slowly, and after a time
their guns almost ceased. I mentioned in my report that I thought
they were reserving their fire. [If this view had only been taken by the
Generals, especially Pelissier, a dreadful waste of life would have been
averted, and the result might have proved a brilliant success.] We did
not lose many men. I remained in the trenches until 7 p.m. — rather
a long spell — and on coming up dined, and found an order to be at
the night attack at twelve midnight on June 17 and 18. I was attached
to Bent's column, with Lieutenants Murray and Graham, R.E., and we
were to go into the Redan at the Russians' right flank. Another
column, under Captain de Moleyns and Lieutenants Donnelly and

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 2


James, R.E., was to go in at the angle of the salient ; and another under
Captain Jesse, Lieutenants Fisher and Graves, was to go in at the
Kussian left flank. We passed along in our relative positions up to the
advanced trench, which is 200 yards from the Redan, where we halted
until the signal for the attack should be given from the eight-gun
battery, where Lord Raglan, Sir G. Brown, and General Jones were.

" About 3 A.M. the French advanced on the Malakofi' Tower in three
columns, and ten minutes after this our signal was given. The Russians
then opened with a fire of grape, which was terrific. They mowed down
our men in dozens, and the trenches, being confined, were crowded with
men, who foolishly kept in them instead of rushing over the parapet of
our trenches, and by coming forward in a mass, trusting to some of them
at least being able to pass through untouched to the Redan, where of
course, once they arrived, the artillery could not reach them, and every
yard nearer would have diminished the effect of the grape by giving
it less space for spreading. We could then have moved up our supports
and carried the place.

" Unfortunately, however, our men dribbled out of the ends of the
trenches, ten and twenty at a time, and as soon as they appeared they
were cleared away. Some hundred men, under Lieutenant Fisher, got up
to the abattis, but were not supported, and consequently had to rcure.

" About this time the French were driven Irom the Malakoff Tower,
which I do not think they actually entered, and Lord Raglan very
wisely would not renew the assault, as the Redan could not be held
with the Malakoff Tower in the hands of the Russians. Murray, poor
fellow, went out with the skirmishers of our column — he in red, and
they in green. He was not out a minute when he was carried back
with his arm shattered with grape. Colonel Tylden called for me, and
asked me to look after him, which I did, and as I had a tourniquet in
my pocket I put it on. He bore it bravely, and I got a stretcher and
had him taken back. He died three hours afterwards. I am glad to
say that Dr Bent reports he did not die from loss of blood, but from
the shock, not being very strong.

" A second after Murray had gone to the rear, poor Tylden, struck by
grape in the legs, was carried back, and although very much depressed
in spirits he is doing well. Jesse was killed at the abattis — shot through
the head — and Graves was killed further in advance than any one.
We now sat still waiting for orders, and the Russians amusing them-
selves by shelling us from mortars. When we appeared, the Russians
lined their parapets as thick as possible, and seemed to be expecting us
to come on. They flew two flags on the Malakoff Tower the whole time
in defiance of us. About ten o'clock some of the regiments got orders

24 The Life of Gordon.

to retire. We, the Royal Engineers, however, stayed until twelve o'clock,
when we were told that the assault was not to be renewed, and that we
could go. Thus ended our assault, of the result of which we felt so
sure. The first plan made was that we should fire for three hours and
go in at six o'clock, but the French changed it, and would not wait until
we had silenced the enemy's artillery fire, and so we attacked at 3 a.m.
My father can tell the effect of grape from twelve 68-pounders and
32-pounders at 200 yards upon a column ; but whatever may be the
effect, I am confident that if we had left the trenches in a mass, some of
us would have survived and reached the Redan, which, once reached,
the Highland Brigade and Guards would have carried all before them,
and the place would have fallen. General Jones was struck by a stone
in the forehead, but not much hurt. I believe it is said that the
trenches were too high to get over. As the scaling-ladders were carried
over them, this can hardly be sustained. So much for our assault.

" Now for the assault which was made from the left attack. General
Eyre had an order given him to make a feint at the head of the creek
if we were successful at the Redan ; how'ever, at five o'clock, when we
had failed at the Redan, we heard a very sharp attack on the head of the
creek. The 44th and other regiments advanced, drove the Russians
out of a rifle-pit they held near the cemetery, and entered some houses
there. The Russians then opened a tremendous fire on the houses,
and the men took shelter in line, being under no command, their own
officers not knowing where they were to go, or anything about the place,
and no Engineer officer being with them. The men sheltered them-
selves in the houses until they were knocked about their ears. They
then remained in different places — in fact, wherever they could get any
shelter, until dusk, as, if they had attempted to retire, they would have
been all destroyed. The men of General Eyre's column found lots of
drink in the houses. Our losses in the four columns are — 1400 killed
and wounded, 64 officers wounded, and 16 killed. The French lost

Online LibraryDemetrius Charles de Kavanagh BoulgerThe life of Gordon, major-general, R. E. C. B.; Turkish field-marshal, Grand cordon Medjidieh, and pasha; Chinese titv (field-marshal) yellow jacket order → online text (page 3 of 40)