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

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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 4 of 40)
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6000 killed and wounded, they say ! Nothing has occurred since the
assault, but it is determined to work forward by sap and mine ! "

In a subsequent letter he wrote : " Remember, in spite of all the
absurd reports in the papers, that our troops never once passed the
abattis in front of the Redan, which is sixty yards from it, and that we
have never spiked a gun of the Russians," and before closing his narra-
tive account of the Redan, the passage in which ]Mr Kinglake refers to
Gordon's evidence and action on this eventful day may well be quoted.
It appears from his statement that Gordon lost his temper through
excitement at the repulse, and even upbraided and used angry language
to his old friend and comrade, Lieutenant, now General Sir Gerald,

The Cri7?tea, Danube, and Armenia. 25

Graham, on his coining back to the trenches. Such language, it may be
pointed out, could not have been used with less justice to any soldier
taking part in the assault than to the man who had carried a ladder
farther than anyone else, and twice endeavoured to place it against the
Redan. It illustrates the perfervid zeal and energy of the young ofificer,
who explained in his letters home how he thought the Russian fortress
might have been carried at a rush, and appropriately introduces the
passage in which Mr Kinglake records his opinion of Gordon :

" This impassioned lieutenant of sappers was a soldier marked out
for strange destinies, no other than Gordon — Charles Gordon — then
ripening into a hero, sublimely careless of self, and a warrior saint of the
kind that Moslems rather than Christians are fondly expecting from

I cannot refrain from quoting here a letter I received from Mr
Kinglake when I sent him a copy of my edition of " General Gordon's
Letters from the Crimea," etc., as it records a somewhat more deliberate
opinion on his character and career : —

" 28 Hyde Park Place,
"Marble Arch, W., I'jth July 1884.

" Dear Sir, — I indeed feel greatly obliged to you for your kindness
in sending me a copy of ' General Gordon's Letters from the Crimea.'

" Already I have read a great part of the volume, and I need hardly
say that, apart from the reasons which link me to the Crimea, I have
been greatly interested by seeing what was thought, and felt, and
expressed in his early days by this really phenomenal man, whose
romantic elevation above all that is base and common has made him,
in even these days, a sort of warlike and heroic Redeemer,

"Your Preface well and ably expresses an opinion that is widely
entertained as to the conduct of our Government towards Gordon, and
I don't know enough of the question to be able to gainsay your con-
clusion, but it would seem at first glance that, considering the impera-
tive reasons, the vast distances, the changeful condition of things, and
the consequent changes of mind, the task of doing justice between the
Government and this heroic envoy would be one of some complexity.
With my repeated thanks,— I remain, dear sir, very truly yours,

" A. W. Kinglake."

Ten days after the repulse at the Redan, Lord Raglan, the gallant
soldier over whose bier Pelissier wept like a child, died " of wear and
tear and general debility," as Gordon put it, and the siege again
entered upon another dull and uninteresting stage. Nearly three months

26 The Life of Gordon.

were to elapse before the capture of the fortress that had resisted so
long, and the only incident of marked importance during that period
was the battle of the Tchernaya, in which the officers in the trenches
had no part. In that action the last effort of the Russian commanders
to relieve the place and extricate Todleben from his peril was repulsed
by the whole allied forces, for in this engagement both the Italians and
Turks took part, with a loss of seven or eight thousand men. The only
comment Gordon makes on the action is that " the Sardinians behaved
very well." At last, on 8th September, a second general assault was
delivered, the English again attacking the Redan, and, more fortunate
in one sense than on the earlier occasion, effected a lodgment in the
fortress, but were then driven out with heavy loss. But the French
succeeded in storming and holding the Malakoff, which commanded the
Redan, and the Russians retired to the northern side of the harbour
during the night after blowing up their ships. The fall of Sebastopol,
especially after the doubts held and expressed in July and August as to
whether the siege would not have to be raised, caused the greatest
excitement and widespread satisfaction. General Gordon sent home
the following graphic description of this final and at last successful
attack : —

" I must now endeavour to give you my idea of our operations from
the eventful 8th of September to the present i6th. We knew on the
7th that it was intended that the French should assault the Malakoff
Tower at twelve the next day, and that we and another column of the
French should attack the Redan and central bastion. The next day
proved windy and dusty, and at ten o'clock began one of the most
tremendous bombardments ever seen or heard. We had kept up a
tolerable fire for the last four days, quite warm enough ; but for two
hours this tremendous fire extending six miles was maintained. At
twelve the French rushed at the Malakoff, took it with ease, having
caught the defenders m their bomb-proof houses, where they had gone
to escape from the shells, etc. They found it difficult work to get
round to the Little Redan, as the Russians had by that time got out of
their holes.

" However, the Malakoff was won, and the tricolour was hoisted as a
signal for our attack. Our men went forward well, losing apparently few,
put the ladders in the ditch, and mounted on the salient of the Redan ,
but though they stayed there five minutes or more, they did not advance,
and tremendous reserves coming up drove them out. They retired well
and without disorder, losing in all 150 officers, 2400 men killed and
wounded. We should have carried everything before us if the men had
only advanced. The French got driven back with great loss at the

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 27

central bastion, losing four general ofificers. They did not enter the
work. Thus, after a day of intense excitement, we had only gained the
Malakofif. It was determined that night that the Highlanders should
storm the Redan the next morning.

" I was detailed for the trenches, but during the night I heard terrible
explosions, and going down to the trenches at 4 a.m. I saw a splendid
sight — the whole town in flames, and every now and then a terrific
explosion. The rising sun shining on the scene of destruction produced
a beautiful effect. The last of the Russians were leaving the town over
the bridge. All the three-deckers, etc., were sunk, the steamers alone
remaining. Tons and tons of powder must have been blown up.

" About eight o'clock I got an order to commence a plan of the
works, for which purpose I went to the Redan, where a dreadful sight
was presented. The dead were buried in the ditch — the Russians with
the English — Mr Wright reading the Service over them. About ten
o'clock Fort Paul was blown up— a beautiful sight. The town was not
safe to be entered on account of the fire and the few Russians who still
prowled about. The latter cut off the hands and feet of one French-
man. They also caught and took away a sapper who would go t?yi?2g to
plunder — for as to plunder there was and is literally nothing but
rubbish and fleas, the Russians having carried off everything else. I
have got the lock and sight off a gun (which used to try and deposit its
contents very often in my carcass, in which I am grateful to say it
failed) for my father, and some other rubbish (a Russian cup, etc.) for
you and my sisters. Rut you would be surprised at the extraordinary
rarity of knick-knacks. They left their pictures in the churches, which
form consequently the only spoil, and which I do not care about
buying. I will do my best to get some better things if it is possible.
On the loth we got down to the docks, and a flag of truce came over
to ask permission to take away their wounded from the hospital, which
we had only found out that day contained 3c 00 wounded men. These
unfortunate men had been for a day and a half without attendance. A
fourth of them were dead, and the rest were in a bad way. I will not
dwell any more on it, but could not imagine a more dreadful sight.

" We have now got into the town, the conflagration being out, and it
seems quite strange to hear no firing. It has been a splendid city, and
the harbour is magnificent. We have taken more than 4000 guns,
destroyed their fleet, immense stores of provisions, ammunition, etc.
(for from the explosions they did not appear to be short of it), and shall
destroy the dockyard, forts, qua)S, barracks, storehouses, etc. For
guns, Woolwich is a joke to it. The town is strewn with our shell and
shot, etc. We have traced voltaic wires to nearly every pov/der

28 The Life of Gordon.

magazine in the place. What plucky troops they were ! When you
hear the details of the siege you will be astonished. The length of the
siege is nothing in comparison with our gain in having destroyed the

" We are not certain what the Russians are doing on the north side,
and as yet do not know whether we shall follow them up or not. We
ought to, I think. It is glorious going over their horrid batteries which
used to bully us so much. Their dodges were infinite. Most of their
artillerymen, being sailors, were necessarily handy men, and had devised
several ingenious modes of riveting, which they found very necessary.
There was a vineyard under our attack, a sort of neutral ground where
no one dared to venture, either Russian or English. We found lots of
ripe grapes there. The Russians used to fire another description of
grape into it. One night I was working with a party at this very spot,
and out of 200 men we lost 30 killed and wounded. We are engaged
in clearing the roads, burning the rubbish, and deodorizing the town,
taking account of the guns, etc. Nothing is stirring ; the Russians fire
a little into the town. We hear they are retreating, but do not believe
it. The French, it seems, took the Malakoff by surprise. They had
learnt from a deserter that the Russians used to march one relief of
men out of the place before the other came in on account of the heavy
fire ; whilst this was being done the French rushed in and found the
MalakofF empty. The Russians made three attempts to retake it, the
last led by a large body of officers alone. Whenever the Russians
commenced a battery they laid down first a line of wires to the
magazine with which they could blow it up at any time."

With this final tribute to the courage of the Russian garrison,
Charles Gordon's account of the siege and fall of Sebastopol
closes. He took part in the expedition to Kimburn, when General
Spencer commanded a joint force of 9000 men intended to dislodge the
Russians from a fort they had built at that place, and also to attack a
corps of 10,000 men supposed to be stationed at the important town of
Kherson. The fort surrendered after four hours' bombardment by the
fleet — the garrison not being " the same style of soldiers as the Sebas-
topol men " — but the Kherson force was never encountered, retiring as
the allies advanced, who in their turn retired for fear of being drawn
too far into the country. In one of several letters while on this expe-
dition Gordon says that the Czar Alexander the Second was near
Kimburn during the attack, and that he sent the Governor a telegram,
" Remember Holy Russia," which the Russian General did by getting
drunk. The expedition was then withdrawn after installing a French
garrison in the fort, and Charles Gordon returned to his old quarters

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 29

before Sebastopol. A fortnight after his arrival he was appointed to
take part in the destruction of the docks, which was to signalise the
downfall of Russia's power in the Black Sea. This closing episode is
very well described in several of his letters written during the month of
December 1855 : —

" I am now, as you see, stationed in the dockyard preparing the
shafts and galleries for the demolition of the docks. The French
will destroy one half and ourselves the other. The quantity of powder
we shall use is 45,000 lbs., in charges varying from 80 lbs. to 8000 lbs.
The French do not sink their shafts so deep as we do, but use heavier
charges. The docks are very well made, and the gates alone cost
^'23,000. We are taking one gate to London, and the French another
to Paris. Our shafts are some of them very deep, and in others there
are from eight to ten feet of water. There is not much prospect of
the Russians leaving the north side. We can see them hutting them-
selves Our works at the docks approach completion, and we

hope to blow up some portion of them on Saturday. The French
blew up one last Saturday. The explosion presented a splendid
appearance and succeeded admirably, not a stone being left standing.
The powder for our demolition will be upwards of twenty-two tons.
The Russians still (27th December) hold the north forts, and do not
appear to be likely to leave this year as their huts are all built. We

can see them quite distinctly on the other side Jafiuary 20,

1856. — We have blown up part of our docks, and are very busy with
the remainder, which we hope to get over by the end of the month.
I do not anticipate any movement of the army until March, when I
suppose we shall go to Asia to relieve Kars, and make the Russians

retire from the Turkish territory February 3, 1856. — We all

of us have been extremely busy in loading and firing our mines in the
docks, which required all our time, as we were so very short of officers,
having only three, while the French had twelve. Our force of sappers
was only 150 and the French had 600. We have now finished the
demolition, which is satisfactory as far as the effects produced are
concerned ; but having used the voltaic battery instead of the old-
fashioned hose, we have found that electricity will not succeed in
large operations like this, and I do not think that anyone will use it
if there is a possibility of using hose. I am now engaged in making
plans of the docks, and have not much time to myself. The French
have done their work very well, using more powder than we, and
firing all their mines with hose. I will try and get you a photograph
of the docks as they zu'ere and as they are, which will tell you more
than a dozen letters would. We had an alarm down here the other

2,0 The Life of Gordon.

night about twelve o'clock. The Russians on the north side opened
a tremendous fire throughout the whole line on us and on the French.
We were all out under arms, expecting an attack by boats, but after
being well shelled for an hour, the Russians left off, and all was again
silent; but for the time it lasted the fire was terrific. I heard after-
wards that it was caused by a French navy captain, who pulled over to
the other side of the harbour, and tried to burn a steamer which was
lying on its side. He and his companions arrived unperceived, found
the steamer quite new, and were getting into it, when the Russian
sentinel challenged. They answered ' Russe,' but the sentry called
'To arms,' and the Russians fired into the boat, and then continued the
fire from all their guns, I suppose expecting a grand attack. Only one
man, however, was hurt by a splinter on the arm. The French will blow
up Fort Nicholas on Monday. They only got their order the night
before last, and are obliged to make a hasty demolition of it. They
will use 105,000 lbs. of powder in the demolition. The Russians had
ruined this fort, but had not had time to put in the powder; the
excavations were complete. It certainly is a splendid fort, mounting
128 guns, and capitally finished for barracks. It would hold 6000
men. The Russians evidently intended this to be an exceptionally
strong place, and they appear to have been making a quay all the
way round the dockyard creek. We have seen a great deal of the
French engineers ; they are older men than ours, and seem well
educated. The non-commissioned officers are much more intelligent
than our men. With us, although our men are not stupid, the officers
have to do a good deal of work which the French sapper non-com-
missioned officer does. They all understand line of least resistance,
etc., and what they are about. The Russians do not molest us much
now. We can hear them call out and sing, especially on Sundays.
AVe can see them drill, which they do every day. They even have
the coolness to go out and fish in the harbour. We never fire, neither
do the French. I do not think they purpose leaving the north side ;
in fact, it would not be at all wise of them to do so. We had some
French engineers to dine with us the other day ; they were very agree-
able, and we learnt a great deal from them about their mining. They
used to hear the Russians mining within ten feet of them, and when
they did this they used to put in their powder as quick as possible and
blow in the Russian mines. The Russians had two systems or layers of
mines, one about ten feet below the surface of the ground and the other
about forty feet. The French only knew of the higher one, and they
found out after the place was taken that their advanced trenches were
(iuite mined and loaded in the lower tier. In the Bastion du Mat there

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 31

were no less than thirty-six mines loaded and tamped. I saw one
myself in the upper tier when I was surveying it. They (the Russians)
worked out a strata of clay between two layers of rock, so that no wood
was required to keep the earth from falling in."

Soon after these letters a truce was concluded with the Russians
in anticipation of the peace which was ultimately signed at Paris in
March 1856. The prospects of peace were not altogether agreeable
to the English army, which had been raised to an effective strength
of more than 40,000 men, and was never in a better condition for
war than at the end of the two years since it first landed in the
Chersonese. Gordon's correspondence contains two or three remarks,
giving characteristic evidence to the strength and extent of this

In one passage he says : "We do not, generally speaking, like the
thought of peace until after another campaign. I shall not go to Eng-
land, but expect I shall remain abroad for three or four years, which
individually I would sooner spend in war than peace. There is some-
thing indescribably exciting in the former."

Another comment to the same effect is the following: "Suders,
the Russian General, reviewed us and the French army last week. He
must have thought our making peace odd."

Gordon did not obtain any honour or promotion for his Crimean
services. He was included in Sir Harry Jones's list of Engineer Sub-
alterns who had specially distinguished themselves during the siege.
The French Government, more discerning than his own, awarded him
the Legion of Honour.

The letters from the Crimea are specially interesting for the light
they throw on General Gordon's character. They illustrate better than
anything else he wrote during his career the soldierly side of his
character. The true professional spirit of the man of war peers forth
in every sentence, and his devotion to the details of his work was a good
preparatory course for that great campaign in China ^'here his engineer-
ing skill, not less than his military genius, was so conspicuously shown.
As a subaltern in the Crimea Gordon showed himself zealous, daring,
vigilant, and with that profound national feeling that an army of
Englishmen was the finest fighting force in the world, combined with an
inner conviction that of that army his kindred Highlanders were
the most intrepid and leading cohort. This was a far more attractive
and comprehensible personality than the other revealed in later days, of
the Biblical pedant seeking to reconcile passing events with ancient
Jewish prophecies, and to see in the most ordinary occurrences the
workings of a resistless and unalterable fate. That was not the true

2,2 The Life of Gordon.

Gordon, but rather the grafting of a new character on the original stem
of Spartan simplicity and heroism. But to the very end of his career,
to the last message from Khartoum, the old Gordon — the real Gordon,
the one who will never be forgotten — revealed himself just as he was
in the trenches before Sebastopol.

Gordon's connection with the Russian War and the Eastern Question
did not terminate with the Treaty of Paris. On loth May he received
orders to join Colonel Stanton, for the purpose of assisting in the
delimitation of the new frontier in Bessarabia. He imagined that the
work would take six months ; it really took a year. A not unimportant
principle was involved in this question, and an error in a map was nearly
securing for the Russians a material advantage. At the Paris Congress
it was determined to eloin the Russians from the Danube and its-
tributary lakes and streams. The Powers therefore stated that the
Russian frontier should pass south of Bolgrad, judging from the small
scale-map supplied by the Russians that Bolgrad was north of Lake
Yalpukh, which opens into the river Danube. When the Boundary
Commission came on the ground, they found that Bolgrad was on Lake
Yalpukh, and that if the frontier passed to the south of it the Russians
would have access to the Danube ; and therefore, knowing the spirit of
the Treaty, the English Commissioners referred the question to the Paris
Congress. A sketch was prepared by Gordon and his colleagues, to show
the diplomatists its exact position, and led to the frontier being laid
down north of Bolgrad and Lake Yalpukh. Austria, as well as France,
Turkey, and Russia, was represented on this Commission, and Gordon's
comrade was Lieutenant, afterward General Sir Henry, James, who had
served with him in the trenches, and who had one day lost his way and
walked into the Russian lines, as Gordon himself had so nearly done.

Gordon's letters give an interesting account of his work, and bring out
with his usual clearness all the points at issue ; but it is unnecessary to
follow very closely the events of the year he passed in the lower Danube
region. How excellent his work must have been can be judged from
the fact that the Government sent him back some years later to act as
British Consul at Galatz. The delimitation work commenced with a
personal inspection of the frontier from Katamori on the Pruth to Boma
Sola on the Black Sea, a distance of 200 miles. Then the frontier was
defined on the map, and finally it had to be marked on the ground with
the usual posts and distinctive marks. Thirty-two separate {)lans had
to be prepared before the frontier could be adjusted, and the frequent
bickerings and quarrels gave rise to many surmises that the negotiations
might be broken off and hostilities ensue. The main point of dispute
as to Bolgrad threatened to form a casus belli with even a new arrange-

The Crimea, Dminbe, and Armenia. 33

ment of the Powers, as France gave up the case, and thus encouraged
Russia to prove more obdurate. But England and the other Powers
stood firm, and Bolgrad was included in Moldavia.

The following extracts give a tolerably complete account of what was
done. Writing from Kichenief on 9th January 1857, Gordon said :

" We are now settled as to the frontier question. Russia has given up
Bolgrad and received a portion of territory in exchange equal to that
surrendered, both as to number of inhabitants and also as to extent of
land. This mode of compensation will give us more than half our work
to do over again. I had almost finished my plans, and one-half of these
will have to be redrawn. However, it is a consolation to know that the
thing is settled. We heard all this by telegraph from Paris, and by the
same message learnt that we are to proceed at once to work on the frontier
in order to get it finished by 30th March, and thus allow of the ceded
territory being handed over to the Moldavians on that day. You may
imagine what a hurry they are in to get this finished. The Russians
pretend to believe that they have got the best of the dispute, but it will
be difficult to persuade the world to be of the same opinion. Although
so cold, there is not much* snow, and it is beautifully clear weather, capital
for sledging. The new frontier leaves Tobak and Bolgrad in Moldavia,

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 4 of 40)