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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and gives a piece of land near the Truth in exchange to Russia. . . .
The territory will be given over in two parts. The southern consists
of Ismail, Kilia, Reni, and Bolgrad, as well as the delta of the Danube.
The northern part consists of the land between the Pruth and Yalpukh.
. . . We have finished our work, everything has been signed, and the
total number of the plans we have made is upwards of 100. For my
part, I have had enough of them for my whole life."

This wish was not to be gratified, for before Colonel Stanton's
Commission was dissolved orders came for him to hand over his
officers and men to Colonel — now Field-Marshal Sir Lintorn —
Simmons, for the purpose of settling the boundary in Armenia, where
a dispute had arisen about the course of the river Aras, the ancient
Araxes. Gordon, who had now had two and a half years of foreign service
without a break, did not relish this task, and even went to the expense
of telegraphing for permission to exchange ; but this effort was in vain,
for the laconic reply of the Commander-in-Chief was : " Lieutenant
Gordon must go." If Gordon had under-estimated the time required
for the Bessarabian delimitation, he slightly over-estimated that for the
Armenian, as his anticipated two years was diminished in the result
to twenty-one months.

He left Constantinople on ist May 1857 on board a Turkish
steamer, Kars, bound for Trebizonde. The ship was overcrowded


34 The Life of Gordon.

with dirty passengers, and the voyage was disagreeable, and might
have been dangerous if the weather had not proved exceptionally
favourable. On arriving at Trebizonde horses had to be engaged for
the ten days' journey across the 180 miles of difficult country separat-
ing that port from Erzeroum, the Armenian capital. The total
caravan of the English and French Commissioners — the latter being
Colonel Pelissier, a relative of the ATarshal — numbered ninety-nine
horses ; and the Turkish Commissioner, being unable to obtain any
money from his Government, seized the horses necessary for his
journey in a manner that first opened Gordon's eyes to the ways of
Pashas. He stopped on the road every caravan he met, threw off
their goods, put on his own, and impounded the animals for his journey.
After a brief stay at Erzeroum — which Gordon describes as a very pretty
place at a distance, but horribly dirty when entered, and where there
are eight or nine months of very hard winter — the Commission passed
on to Kars, which became its headquarters. The heroic defence of
that fortress was then recent, and it is still of sufficient interest as a
military episode to justify the quotation of the evidence Gordon, with
his charactistic desire to be well informed, collected on the spot while
the events themselves were fresh. For convenience' sake, his remarks
on Kars and the whole campaign are strung together here, although
they appeared in several letters : —

" Kars is, as you can easily imagine, a ruined city, and may perhaps
never recover its former strength and importance. As far as the works
of defence are concerned, they are excessively badly traced. A little
pamphlet published by Kmety, a Hungarian, gives a graphic descrip-
tion of the siege. One thing difficult if not impossible to realise
without seeing it, is the large extent of the position. Kars has been
twice in the hands of the Russians during the last thirty years, Pas-
kievitch having taken it by assault in 1S29. We passed the battle-
field at Kuyukdere, where the Russians in very small force under
Bebutoff were attacked by a very superior force of Turks, under the
direction of General Guyon, the Hungarian. By some mistake the
Turkish left lost its way during the night, and was eight miles distant
from the field when the right came into action. The battle was
very hotly contested, but the Turks had at last to retire with the loss
of several guns. Had the affair gone off as Guyon * intended, the
Russians would have been licked. This battle, I should add, was

* Guyon was an Englishman, but one of the National Commanders in the
Hungarian Rebellion of 1848. I have given a brief account of his adventurous
career at pp. 148-49 of " General Gordon's Letters from the Crimea," etc.

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 35

fought in August 1854, before any English officer had arrived in this
country. Tlie Russian loss was very severe: there were 3,200 wounded
alone brought into Gumri for treatment. The first day from Gumri
we passed Baiandoor, where the Turks and Russians had a small battle
in 1853, and where the former lost a splendid opportunity of taking
Gumri, which was nearly denuded of troops. My Turkish colleague,
Osman Bey (I believe this officer to be identical with Ghazi Osman,
the defender of Plevna), was present, and got into Gumri as a spy, dis-
guised in the character of a servant. The Russian army avenged
the slight check they received from the Turks by taking all theii
artillery of the right wing."

As illustrating his professional zeal and powers of scientific exam-
ination, the following description of the fortress of Alexandropol or
Gumri is a striking production from so young an officer : —

"The fortress of Alexandropol (40° 47' N. lat., 43° long. 45' E.,
4500 feet above the sea) is situated on the left bank of the river
Arpatchai, which here forms the boundary between Russia and Turkey.
It is distant thirty-five miles from Kars and eighty-four miles from
Tiflis. The plain on which it is situated is perfectly level and very
peculiar. It has a stratum of alluvial soil for the depth of one foot six
inches on the surface, and then a substratum of fine uniform lava, ten
to fifteen feet thick, supposed to have issued from Mount Alagos
(13,450 feet), an extinct volcano thirty miles from Alexandropol. The
depth of the earth allows the growth of grain, but entirely prevents that
of trees, which with their roots cannot penetrate into the lava. The
Russians have taken advantage of this bed of lava in the ditch of the
fortress. The fortress is well constructed and in perfect repair. There
are upwards of 200 guns (varying from 36-pounders to 12-pounders)
mounted on the works, and about 100 in reserve, of which 30 are
field-guns with their equipment wagons, etc. The garrison would be
5000 to 6000, including artillery. There are large supplies of ammuni-
tion and military stores. The ditch, twelve feet deep, of the two western
fronts has not been excavated near the flanks on account of the expense.
The Russians have constructed in the centres of the two curtains a
capojiniere with two guns in each flank to defend the dead angles caused
by the non-excavation of the whole of the ditch. In the centre of these
two fronts is a large caponniere, mounting ten guns in the upper tier and
eight in the lower tier. This caponnih-e is on a lower level than the
enceinte of the place. The counterscarp at the north-west and south-
west angles of these two fronts is for the distance of twenty yards
composed of a crenellated wall four feet six inches thick. This was
caused by the irregularity of the ground. The bomb-proof barracks of


6 The Life of Gordon.

the northern fronts mount in casemate two tiers of fourteen guns at the
curtains. The flanks have five guns in casemates open to the rear, in
addition to the guns on the parapet above. The lunette in the ditch is
eight feet deep. The eastern front has an escarp fourteen feet high
cut in the lava, and well flanked by the caponniere defending the
entrances, mounting four guns. The bomb-proof barracks in the
northern fronts have one tier of eight guns in casemate at the curtains,
and three guns in each flank in casemates open to the rear. The two out-
works are closed at the gorge with a loopholed wall, flanked by a small
guard-house. They have no ditches, but an escarp often feet in the lava.
The tower marked A in my plan is sixty yards in diameter, with a well
in the centre. It has its gorge closed with a ditch and loopholed wall.
It mounts fifteen guns on the top, and fifteen guns in casemate. It
is proposed to connect it by a crenellated wall with the main work.
The tower marked B has a ditch and small glacis. It mounts
eight guns in casemate, and eight on the top. Its object is to flank the
long ravine which runs southward from it. All the buildings in the
interior of the fortress are bomb-proof. The great fault of the fortress
as it is constructed at present is that it does not so much as see the
town with its population of 9310. It is now proposed, however, to
make a large work on the site marked K with a view of meeting
this want. During the war in 1853, when the Turks were 35,000
strong at Baiandoor, six miles from Alexandropol, and the Russians had
only two battalions in the fortress, the latter demolished all the houses
which were on this ground. I think that should it ever be in our
power to besiege this place (which is not likely, from the enormous
difficulty of getting a siege train there), that batteries might be estab-
lished on the hillocks between the fortress and the river, to breach the
large caponniere and the tower A which, from the formation of the
ground, would not be opposed by more fire than the direct fire of the
works they were intended to breach, and which would be limited by
their circular form to about seven guns. The soil is not unfavourable
on these hills. The hill on which the cemetery of the officers killed at
Kars and Kuyukdere is situated is also favourable for batteries. The
principal well, which is sunk to a good depth, is in the north-eastern

General Gordon's letters contain two or three interesting descrip-
tions that, in view of more recent events, deserve quotation. Of the
Kurds he thus speaks, and the description stands good at the present
day : —

" We met on our road a great number of Kurds, who live as their
fathers did, by travelling about, robbing, etc., with their flocks. Their

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 37

children are short of clothing. In spite of the Cossacks, etc., they are
as lawless as ever, and go from Turkey to Russia and back again as
they like. They are fine-looking people, armed to the teeth, but are
decreasing in numbers. They never live in houses, but prefer tents and
caves. On the mountains we fell in with the tribes of Kurds, who hve
at this height during the summer months, quite isolated from the rest of
mankind. I paid a visit to the chief of a tribe of 2000, and he passed
a great number of compliments on the English. This Bey is all powerful
with his tribe ; he settles all disputes, divides the pasture land among
the families, etc. Although living in such a deserted spot, they read the
Turkish papers, and they asked several questions about the English
war with Persia. They are very fanatical, and are much encouraged in
their religious fervour by the Sultan's agents. Their houses consist of
stone walls covered with camel's-hair tents, which are quite waterproof,
and lined inside with capital carpets made by themselves. We encamped
near them and obtained our milk, etc., from them ; but, in order to let us
know their habits, they stole the horse of the Russian officer's interpreter
during the night. I should not mind trusting them at all, for the Bey
would not allow them to take our horses ; perhaps this was only from
his hatred to the Russians."

He gives some particulars of the Lazes, to one of whose villages he
paid a visit, and as he believed that he was the only Englishman who
had ever done so, his remarks were based on special local knowledge : —

" On one side of it was Lazistan, and this part of Lazistan is peopled
by the fiercest tribe of Lazes, who scarcely acknowledge even the
Sultan. We had an escort of forty infantry, and were not molested.
This tribe and the Kabouletians supply the Constantinople Turks with
slaves, whom they kidnap from the Gourelians, who are on the Russian
side. The Adjars (the tribe referred to) are most daring, and even pro-
posed to us to bring any person we might choose out to Batoum for
;^4o to ;^i2o. In consequence of these kidnappings, etc., a deadly
enmity exists between the two peoples, and whenever they get a chance
they kill one another. During the last eighteen months sixty-two people
have been kidnapped, sixteen killed, and twenty or thirty wounded on
the part of the Gourelians. The Russian guards of the frontier are
helpless against these people, for the latter are armed with a capital
rifle and are also splendid shots, while the Cossacks have only a
trumpery smooth bore. The country of the Adjars is very mountainous
indeed, and quite impracticable except on foot, being covered with
dense forests."

Of Ani, the ancient, once famous, and now deserted capital of
Armenia, he gives the following picture : —

8 The Life of Gordon.

" We passed through Ani, the ancient capital of Armenia. This
city is completely deserted, and has splendid churches still standing in it.
These churches are capitally built and preserved. Some coloured
drawings on their walls are to be seen even now. The towers and walls
are almost intact, but the most extraordinary thing about so large a
place is the singular quietness. There are many ruined cities in the
neighbourhood, and all dating from about the eleventh century. At
that period Ani itself contained 100,000 inhabitants and 500 churches,
which shows that more people went to church among them than with us.
Before the end of that century it passed into the hands of the Greeks
and Saracens. Afterwards the Mongols took it, and at last an earth-
quake drove out the remaining inhabitants in 1339, since which time it
has been perfectly deserted. The churches of Ani were built with lava,
and crosses of black lava were let in very curiously into the red lava.
With the exception of the churches and the king's palace, the city is
level with the ground, the foundations of the houses being alone dis-
cernible. These churches were covered with Armenian inscriptions cut
on the walls."

The delimitation work in itself was uninteresting, being carried on in
barren and solitary regions where there was nothing but rock, without
either grass or inhabitants. Gordon said he would not take thirty
square miles for a gift, and yet the Turks and Russians clung to it,
bringing witnesses from among the tribes who would swear whatever
they were paid for. The question at issue was where the old frontier
between the Persian province of Erivan and the Pashalik of Baizeth was
fixed. The Persians ceded the province of Erivan to Russia in 1828,
and both the Turks and Russians had their own, and necessarily con-
flicting, views as to where the frontier was. General Gordon's own
belief that there had never been any real frontier at all was no doubt
the right one. The English officers, without any assistance from their
Turkish colleagues, who merely looked on when they were not keeping
up the supply of witnesses, had to effect the best arrangement they
could with the Russians. \n the course of his survey ot the frontier,
which he said he examined almost foot by foot, Gordon came to Mount
Ararat, which he very nearly ascended, as he tells the reader in the
following graphic narrative : —

" When we arrived at the foot of Mount Ararat we were unable to
proceed along the frontier any further because the ground becomes
extremely broken by the innumerable streams of lava which have run
down from it. The ground is black with cinders. They look as if
quite recently emitted, and no one would imagine from their appearance
that Ararat had been extinct so long. Our road went along the northern

The Crimea, Damibe, and Armenia. 39

or Russian slope of Ararat, and passed through a very old city called
Kourgai, where there are still the remains of a church and part of an old
castle. Even the Armenians do not pretend to know its history, but
some of them say that Noah lived there. It is situated half-way up the
mountain, and there is no living person within twelve miles of it.
There used to be a populous village named Aralik, with 5000 inhabi-
tants, a little above it, but in 1840 an earthquake shook Mount Ararat,
and in four minutes an immense avalanche had buried this place so
completely as to leave scarcely any vestige of its site. Not a single
person escaped, which is not to be wondered at, considering the mass
that fell. Stones of twenty or thirty tons were carried as far as fifteen
to twenty miles into the plain. It has left a tremendous cleft in Ararat
itself. Other villages were destroyed at the same time, but none so com-
pletely as this, The village immediately below Aralik was also destroyed,
but the graveyard remained untouched, and the tombstones stand up
intact in the midst of the ruins. The common people say that it was
saved on account of a saint w'ho was buried there. All these places
have a very lonely look. Both the Kurds and the Armenians, if they
can possibly help it, never pass near Mount Ararat, while they think it
a great sin to ascend it.

" I must now tell you of my ascent, or rather my near ascent, of Great

" I and my interpreter and three sappers w^ent up to a Kurdish
encampment where an old Kurd lived who assisted five of our country-
men to ascend about two years ago. The only assistance, however, that
he appeared able to give us was to show us where these Englishmen
had encamped the night before their ascent. We consequently pitched
our tents there, and settled ourselves for the night. The night proved to
be very stormy, with thunder and rain, which was a bad lookout for us.
However, we started at 4 a.m. the next morning, and had some very
hard work up to the line of perpetual snow. ]\Iy interpreter and two of
the sappers gave it up before this, but I and the other, Corporal Fisher,
held on.

"The whole of this time there was a thick fog, which now and then
cleared away, though only for brief moments, and enabled us to
get a splendid view of the country spread out as a map beneath us,
with cumuli clouds floating about. The snow which I mounted
was at a very steep slope, and quite hard, nearly ice, on the surface.
It was so steep that we could not sit down without holding on tightly
to our poles. Corporal Fisher was about half a mile to my left, and
had a better ascent as it was not quite so steep. About two o'clock
I began to get very tired, not able to get up more than two yards

40 The Life of Goj'don.

without resting. This was caused by the rarefication of the air. The
mist cleared just at this time for a minute, and I was enabled to see
the summit about looo feet above me, but still a further very steep
ascent. Little Ararat was also visible 3000 feet below me. It began
to snow soon after this, and became intensely cold. The two together
settled me, and I turned round, although very reluctantly, and sitting
down, slid over in a very (evf minutes the distance which had taken
me so many hours to clamber up. Corporal Fisher managed to get
up to the top, and describes the crater to be very shallow, although
the top is very large. The Kurd told me afterwards that the road
I took was very difficult, and that the other English explorers went
up a road which was comparatively easy. I believe, however, that if
the weather had been more favourable I should have succeeded."

This was not his only mountaineering experience. Some weeks
later he ascended Mount Alagos — that is, the Motley Mount, from its
various colours. It is 13,480 feet above the sea, or about 3000 feet
lower than Ararat.

" We started with some Kurdish guides to the mountain, and after
a good deal of delay got to the place where the only path to the
summit commences. Here we were obliged to dismount and take
to our legs. After about two hours and a half we got to the summit,
and were extremely glad of it, for although it is not to be compared
to Mount Ararat, it is still rather difficult. Trusting to my Ararat
experience, I thought of descending in the snow, and started. I was
much astonished at finding the slope far steeper than I expected, and
consequently went down like a shot, and reached the bottom one
hour and a half before the others. A Russian doctor tried it after
me, and in trying to change his direction was turned round, and went
to the bottom sometimes head foremost. He was not a bit hurt.
There was no danger, as we had only to keep ourselves straight. My
trousers are the only sufferers ! I was the first up. None of the
Russians succeeded ! "

With one more quotation, Gordon's description of Etchmiazin, the
celebrated monastery where the Armenian Catholicos resides, the extracts
from these early letters may be concluded : —

"We passed through the oldest of the Armenian churches and
monasteries, a place called Etchmiazin. It professes to be 1500 years
old, and certainly has the appearance of great antiquity ; it was existing
during the time of the ruined city of Ani, and is built in a similar
style. The relics there are greatly esteemed. People make pilgrimages
to this monastery from all parts. There is, firstly, an arm of St
Gregory, which is enclosed in a gold case covered with precious stones ;

The Crimea, Danube, and Armenia. 41

next the piece of the ark, which is necessarily of great antiquity; a
piece of the cross and of the spear, and a finger-nail of St Peter
complete the relics. All these are enveloped in gold cases, and
richly ornamented with every sort of precious stones. The monastery
owns ten villages and a great deal of land. The monks gave us a
grand dinner, and their feeding certainly was not bad. The monks'
council chamber was splendidly got up, all the ceiling being carved
and gilded."

The concluding stages of the delimitation work were rapidly con-
cluded, and before the end of September 1857 Colonel Simmons and
his staff had returned to Constantinople. The illness of all the English
officers except Gordon detained them some weeks in the Turkish
capital, and he wrote home that his surveying duties had been super-
seded by those of sick nurse. But before the end of October he was
back again in England, and met his father and the other members
of his family after a still longer interval. While engaged on the frontier
commission, his comrade in the trenches, Lieutenant William Christian
Anderson, of his own Corps, had married one of his sisters, but, after
a very short period of wedded happiness, he died suddenly. After his
death a son was born who bore the same name, is now an officer in the
Royal Artillery, and served on General Graham's staff at Souakim.
Charles Gordon summed up his comrade's character in these words : —

"I am extremely distressed to hear of poor Willie Anderson's
death, and every one who knew him will be so. He was a sterling
good comrade and officer, greatly liked by both officers and men,
and our Corps has sustained a great loss in him. I am so very

sorry for poor dear . It is such a sudden blow to her, and

I am sure they must have been so happy together during their short
married life."

Gordon, therefore, found a certain amount of gloom in the family
circle during the Christmas of 1857, and as his desire to join the
staff of the army was not immediately attainable, the orders he suddenly
received in April 1858 to again proceed to the Caucasus, in consequence
of a slight frontier dispute with Russia, were not altogether disagreeable
to him as a return to that active work which he loved. For some
reason, which was probably the wish to save a little money by economy
in travelling, with the view of carrying out his generous plans towards
others, he took his passage to Constantinople in a slow steamer from
the Thames, touching at Havre. He described his fellow-passengers
as not very select, but amusing, and the voyage as "a yachting
excursion, time being apparently no object." He only remained ten
days at Constantinople, and reached Redout Kaleh in the Caucasus

42 The Life of Gordon.

on 3rd June, visiting Sebastopol on the way. He described it as
still an utter ruin ; " the grass had so overgrown the place where the
camps stood that it was with difficulty I found my hut."

On 1 2th June Gordon joined his Russian colleague, Ogranovitch,
at Ozurgeth ; but the Turkish representative did not arrive for a month
later, which interval Gordon employed in recording his impressions of
Russian and Georgian society in the Caucasus : —

" I dined with the Governor-General, Prince Eristaw, who left the
next day for Swaneti to overawe the subjects of the late Prince (he was
shot at Kutais for stabbing Prince Gagarin, the predecessor of Prince

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 5 of 40)