Edward Bruce Hamley.

The war in the Crimea online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of Soimonoff, and raising the whole force employed by
the two generals in the first attack to twenty battalions,
numbering 15,000 men, made a simultaneous but dis-
tinct onset. They had formed opposite our right, their
left on the Sandbag Battery, their right across the post-
road where it enters the Quarry ravine.

Pauloff also repulsed. 145

The four battalions composing the regiment on the
right had begun to approach the Barrier, when a wing
of the 3Oth, 200 strong, sprang over it, and charged with
the bayonet the two leading battalions. A short and
very serious conflict ensued many of our men and
officers were shot down ; but the charge proved decisive,
and the leading battalions, hurrying back in disorder, car-
ried the two others (of the same regiment) with them,
and the whole were swept off the field, some towards
Shell Hill, some down the Quarry ravine to the valley.

Finally, it remained to deal with the five battalions
still left of the attacking force. Against these advanced
the 4ist regiment, under its brigadier, Adams, number-
ing 5 2 5 men. Approaching from the higher ground of
the Fore Ridge, the regiment, in extended order, opened
fire on the 4000 Russians before it, drove them over the
declivities, and from the edge pursued them with its fire till
they reached and descended the bank of the Tchernaya.

Thus, in open ground, affording to the defenders
none of the defensive advantages, walls, hedges, or en-
closures of any kind, which most battlefields have been
found to offer, these 15,000 Russians had been repulsed
by less than a fourth of their numbers. But, in truth,
to say they were repulsed very inadequately expresses
what happened to them in the encounter. All the
battalions which did not retreat without fighting left
the field so shattered and disorganised, and with the
loss of so many officers, that they were not again brought
into the fight. This was in great measure owing to
the density of the formations in which the Russians

146 Causes of Russian Repulses.

moved, and the audacity with which our slender bodies
attacked them. Seeing the British come on so confi-
dently, on a front of such extent as no other European
troops would, at that time, have formed without very
substantial forces behind them, the Russians inferred the
existence of large numbers, and remained convinced
that they had been forced from the field by masses to
which their own were greatly inferior. This was a
moral effect ; but there was also a material cause con-
ducing to the result. The Russian riflemen, as we
soon had good reason to know, were armed with a
weapon quite equal to our Minie; but the mass of the
infantry still wielded a musket not superior to the old
Brown Bess firelock, which the Minie had replaced,
whereas our troops, except those of the Fourth Division,
had the rifle. Therefore, long before a Russian column
had got near enough to make its fire tell, it began to
suffer from a fire that was very destructive, not only be-
cause of the longer range and more effective aim, but be-
cause the bullets were propelled with a force capable of
sending them through more than one man's body. But
these reasons are merely palliative ; nothing can veil
the fact that, supported by an overwhelming artillery,
which frequently reduced ours to silence, these great
bodies, once launched on their career, ought by their
mere impetus to have everywhere penetrated our line ;
and that had even a part been well led, and animated by
such a spirit as all nations desire to attribute to their
fighting men, they would never have suffered themselves
to be stopped and turned by the imaginary enemies

Dannenbergs Attacks. \ 4 7

which the mist might hide, or which the intrepid,
gallant, audacious bearing of our single line caused them
to believe might be following in support of it.

It was half-past seven when this stage of the action
was finished, and a new one commenced with the arrival
on the scene of General Dannenberg. All PaulofFs
battalions were now ranged on Mount Inkerman, and
with those of Soimonoff which had previously been held
in reserve, and were still untouched, raised the number
of fresh troops with which he could recommence the
battle to 19,000 infantry and ninety guns. Ten thousand
of these were now launched against our position, but
this time they were massed for the attack chiefly in and
about the Quarry ravine, and, neglecting our left, bore
against our centre and right, upon which also was now
turned the weight of the cannonade. The reason for
this, no doubt, was that closer co-operation might
be maintained with Gortschakoff, whose troops had
extended down the valley till their right was nearly
opposite the right of our position, and who, in case of
Dannenberg's success in that quarter, might at once lend
a hand to him.

At the same time Pennefather also had received
reinforcements. The Guards, turning out at the sounds
of battle, had now reached the position ; so had the
batteries of the First Division ; and Cathcart was ap-
proaching with 2100 men of his Division, set free by the
absence of any sign of attack upon the siege works.

The troops which had at first so successfully de-
fended the Barrier had been compelled, by the large

148 Greater Obstinacy of the Attack.

bodies moving round their flanks, to fall back, and the
Russians held it for a time. But these were driven out,
and the barrier was reoccupied by detachments of the
2 ist, 63d, and Rifles, when, from its position, closing
the post road, it continued to be a point of great import-
ance. The troops there, reinforced from time to time,
held it throughout the battle, repelling all direct attacks
upon it ; and it is a singular fact that the enemy's
masses, in their subsequent onsets, passed it by, both in
advancing and retreating, without making any attempt
upon it from the rear.

The first attack was made on Adams, with five
Russian battalions, numbering about 4000 against the
700 that opposed them, and took place on the slopes of
the Fore Ridge, and about the Sandbag Battery. The
Guards, already on the crest, were moved to the support
of Adams. Whether the troops of PaulofT were superior
in quality, or better led, or whether the lifting of the fog
revealed their own superiority in number, the spirit they
displayed was incomparably fiercer and more resolute
than had yet marked the attack. The conflicts of the
first stage of the battle had been child's play compared
with the bloody struggle of which the ground between
the Fore^Ridge and the edge of the cliffs east of it were
now the scene. Useless for defence on either side, the
Sandbag Battery may be regarded as a sort of symbol
of victory conventionally adopted by both, leading our
troops to do battle on the edge of the steeps, and the
enemy to choose the broken and difficult ground on
which this arbitrary standard reared itself to view for

Action and Death of Cat heart. 149

a main field of combat. Although the disparity of
numbers was now diminished, the Russians, instead of
shrinking from difficulties which their own imaginations
rendered insurmountable, or accepting a repulse as final,
swarmed again and again to the encounter, engaging by
groups and individuals in the closest and most obstinate
combats, till between the hostile lines rose a rampart
of the fallen men of both sides. For a long time the
part played by the defenders was strictly defensive ;
with each repulse the victors halted on the edge of
the steeps, preserving some continuity of front with
which to meet the next assault, while the recoiling
crowds, unmolested by pursuit, and secured from fire
by the abruptness of the edge, paused at a short dis-
tance below to gather fresh coherence and impetus for
a renewal of the struggle. It was with the arrival of
Cathcart, conducting part of the Fourth Division, that
the combat assumed a new phase. Possessed with the
idea of the decisive effect which an attack on their flank
must exercise on troops that, however strong they might
still be in numbers, had already suffered so many rebuffs,
he descended the slope beyond the right of our line.
The greater part of his troops had already been cast
piecemeal into the fight in other parts of the field where
succour was most urgently needed, but about 400 men
remained to him with which to make the attempt. And
at first it was eminently effective, insomuch that Cath-
cart congratulated his brigadier, Torrens, then lying
wounded, on the success of this endeavour to take the
offensive. But that success was now to be turned into


I 50 The French drive back the Russians.

disaster by an event which it was altogether beyond
Cathcart's province or power to foresee. While advanc-
ing in the belief that he was in full co-operation with our
troops on the cliff, he was suddenly assailed by a body
of the enemy from the heights he had just quitted, and
which had either turned or broken through that part of
our front which he was endeavouring to relieve from the
stress of numbers. Thus taken in reverse, his troops,
scattered on the rugged hillside, suffered heavily, only re-
gaining the position in small, broken bodies, and with the
loss of their commander, who was shot dead. This effort
of Cathcart's changed the restrained character of the
defence, and was the first of numerous desultory onsets,
which left the troops engaged in them far in advance,
and broke the continuity of the line. For the downward
movement had spread from right to left along the front ;
the heights of the Fore Ridge, left bare of the defenders,
were occupied by Russians ascending the ravine beyond
their left ; and our people, thus intercepted, had to edge
past the enemy, or to cut their way through. The right
of our position seemed absolutely without defence ; a
body of Russian troops was moving unopposed along
the Fore Ridge, apparently about to push through the
vacant corner of the position, when, in order to enclose
our fragments, it formed line to its left, facing the edge
of the cliffs. It was while it stood thus that a French
regiment, lately arrived, and thus far posted at the
English end of the Fore Ridge, advanced, took the
Russians in flank, and drove them back into the gorges
from whence they had issued.

Allies defeat another resolute Attack. 151

The next attack was made by the Russians with the
same troops, diminished by their losses to 6000 men,
while the Allies numbered 5000. The disparity in
infantry for the actual encounter (for the Russian re-
serve of 9000 was still held back) was thus rapidly
diminishing, but the enemy preserved his great pre-
dominance in artillery. Again the hundred guns, which
by this time they had in action, swept our crest through-
out its extent. The right of our position, from the head
of the Quarry ravine to the Sandbag Battery, was now
held by some of our rifles, and by a French battalion.
Leaving these on their left, the enemy's columns issued
from the Quarry ravine, and this time pushed along the
post-road against our centre and left. Two of their
regiments (eight battalions) were extended in first line,
in columns of companies ; behind came the main column,
composed of the four battalions of the remaining regi-
ment. This advance was more thoroughly pushed home,
and with greater success, than any other which they
attempted throughout the day. They once more made
their right the head of the attack, and with it penetrated
our line on the side of the Careenage ravine, drove back
the troops there, and took and spiked some of our
guns. The other parts of their front line, coming up
successively to the crest, held it for a brief interval,
while the main column, driving our troops from the
Barrier, passed on in support. But, meanwhile, before
it reached the crest, the regiments of the front line had
been driven off by a simultaneous advance of French
and English, and, after suffering great loss, the main

1 5 2 Allied Artillery begins to prevail.

column also retired. It was pressed by the Allied troops,
part of whom re-established themselves across the head
of the Quarry ravine, while the French regiment, which
had defended the centre, moving to its right, took up,
with the other already there, the defence of the ground
where the Guards had fought. Here the French had
yet another struggle to maintain, and with varying
fortunes, for once they entirely lost the advanced
ground they had held ; but their last reinforcements
arriving, they finally drove the Russians immediately
opposed to them not only off that part of our front, but
off the field.

It was now eleven o'clock, and the battle, though not
ended, was already decided. For not only had the
Allies, after deducting losses, 4700 English and 7000
French infantry on the field, against the broken batta-
lions and the 9000 unused infantry of Dannenberg's
reserve, but the balance of artillery power, for long so
largely against us (the Allies had in action at the close
only thirty-eight English and twenty-four French field-
guns) had now been for some time in our favour. At
half-past nine the two famous eighteen-pounders had
appeared on the field. Forming part of the siege train,
they had as yet been left in the depot near the First
Division camp, and were now dragged on to the field
by 150 artillerymen. Their projectile was not much
larger than that of the heavy Russian pieces ; but the
long, weighty iron gun, with its heavy charge, was greatly
more effective in aim and velocity. The two, though not
without heavy losses in men, spread devastation among

What delayed Bosquet. 153

the position batteries on Shell Hill and the lighter
batteries on its slopes ; while two French batteries of
horse-artillery, passing over the crest on the right of
our guns, had established themselves on the bare
slope fronting the enemy, and had there gallantly
maintained themselves under a shattering fire. For
long this combat of artillery was maintained on both
sides, though with manifestly declining power on
the part of the enemy, while our skirmishers, press-
ing forward on the centre and left, made such way
that they galled the Russian gunners with their

The menace of an attack by Gortschakoff on the
heights held by Bosquet had not been without its effect.
For an hour, while the real fight was taking place at
Inkerman, the French troops were kept in their lines.
At the end of that time Bosquet sent two battalions
from Bourbaki's Brigade, and two troops of horse-
artillery, to the windmill on the road near the Guards'
camp, and accompanied them himself. He was there
met by Generals Brown and Cathcart, to whom he
offered the aid of these troops, and expressed his readi-
ness in case of need to bring up others. The generals
took the strange, almost unaccountable, course of telling
him that his support was not needed, and asking him to
send his battalions to watch the ground on the right of
the Guards' camp left vacant by the withdrawal of the
Guards to take part in the battle. Bosquet had there-
upon returned to his own command ; but receiving
fresh and pressing communication from Lord Raglan

154 Crisis before the French arrived.

he had directed the troops already despatched again
to march on Inkerman. Thus it was not till the battle
had been going on for between two and three hours
that Bourbaki's two battalions, numbering 1600 men,
arrived near the crest, when they were posted for some
time in rear of it, the 6th of the Line on the right
of the Fore Ridge, the ^th Leger near the post-road,
and it was at these points that they first entered the

The next French reinforcements, consisting of four
companies of chasseurs, and part of D'Autemarre's
Brigade, 1900 men, arrived with Bosquet himself about
ten o'clock, closely followed by the rest of the brigade,
numbering 2300 more, with two other batteries of field-
artillery ; and more than half of these troops took an
important part in the engagement. Finally, the French
reserve, of 2400 men came on the field at eleven o'clock,
when the attacks of the Russian infantry had come to
an end.

An officer so experienced in war as Bosquet must
have frequently considered what part, he should take in
defending Mount Inkerman against a pronounced attack
while he should himself be threatened from the valley.
Seeing how closely his own fate was bound up in that
of the British troops in that quarter, he cannot be said
to have rightly appreciated the problem. The view he
took of it was much too exclusively a French view.
According to all reasonable calculation, he would have
found 20,000 Russians, followed by 15,000 more, with
an immense force of artillery, advancing on his left rear

Gortschakoff's Part. 155

long before he had moved a man to support us. In
that case, to have continued to watch Gortschakoff
would only have insured his own ruin. The most
tremendous risk was incurred, by French as well as
English, first when he placed all his troops so far from
the point of danger, and next when he so long delayed
to move sufficient forces thither ; and not even his own
manifestation of goodwill, and the strange reception
given to his battalions by Generals Brown and Cathcart,
can altogether exonerate him. That he at last felt him-
self free to lend effectual aid (and that it was effectual
was owing to circumstances beyond calculation) was due
to his perception of the fact that Gortschakoff's advance
and cannonade was a transparent feint. A commander
can hardly be set on a more difficult task than to execute
a feigned attack in open ground against a commanding
position. All the Russian movements in the valley were
as clear to view from the plateau as if performed on a
map. Either Gortschakoff's share of the action fell short
of the orders given to him, or those orders ought to have
directed him to make a real attack. About this Mr
Kinglake says : " With respect to Gortschakoff's instruc-
tions, the general order was worded as though it meant
to direct against Bosquet's position an actual, unfeigned
attack ; but on authority which I regard as indisputable,
I have satisfied myself that the orders really given to
Gortschakoff were of the kind stated in the text," that
is, he was " to menace Bosquet by feints." In actually
assaulting the heights he would no doubt have lost
many men ; but they would have been the price of that

1 5 6 Close of the Battle.

victory, which could scarcely have been bought too dear.
A real attack would undoubtedly have kept Bosquet
from parting with his troops ; Dannenberg, in their
absence, would have penetrated our line, a-nd opened
the road to the valley, when Gortschakoff would have
joined him on the Upland. It was in expectation of
such an effort on Gortschakoff's part that Dannenberg
remained on the field long after he had abandoned the
intention of resuming his independent attacks. He held
his ground, though suffering heavy losses, trusting that
the storming of the heights lately held by the French,
but now comparatively bare of troops, would open a road
for him, and straining his ear for the sound of his
colleague's guns on the Upland. At last the decline
of the autumn day forced him to begin that retreat
which the declivities in his rear rendered so tedious and
so perilous, encumbered as he was by a numerous and
disorganised artillery. Canrobert has been blamed for
not attacking him with the 8000 troops he had assembled
on the field, the greater part still unused ; and doubtless
had the French general taken a bold offensive, the
enemy's defeat would have become a signal disaster.
But if Dannenberg was looking towards Gortschakoff,
so, no doubt, was Canrobert. He could not but re-
member that the 20,000 troops whom he had watched
so anxiously in the morning were still close at hand in
order of battle ; the policy he had declared at Balaklava
of restricting himself to covering the siege, no matter
what successes a bold aggression might promise, governed
him now; and this seems, in the case of a gallant, quick-

Terrible Carnage. 157

spirited man like Canrobert one, too, whom we had
often found so loyal an ally a more plausible explana-
tion of his almost passive attitude at the close of the
battle, than either a defect of resolution or a disinclina-
tion to aid his colleague.

This extraordinary battle closed with no final charge
nor victorious advance on the one side, no desperate
stand nor tumultuous flight on the other. The Russians,
when hopeless of success, seemed to melt from the lost
field ; the English were too few and too exhausted, the
French too little confident in the advantage gained, to
convert the repulse into rout. Nor was there among the
victors the exaltation of spirit which usually follows the
gain of a great battle, for the stress of the conflict had
been too prolonged and heavy to allow of quick reaction.
The gloom of the November evening seemed to over-
spread with its influence not only the broken battalions
which sought the shelter of the fortress, but the wearied
occupants of the hardly-contested ground, and descended
on a field so laden with carnage that no aspect of the
sky could deepen its horrors. Especially on the slopes
between .the Fore Ridge and the cliffs had death been
busy ; men lay in swathes there, as if mown down, inso-
much that it was often impossible to ride through the
lines and mounds of the slain. Of these, notwithstand-
ing that the Allies, especially the English, had lost
heavily in proportion to their numbers, an immense and
almost unaccountable majority were Russians ; so that
of no battle in which our nation has been engaged since
Agincourt could it be more truly said,

1 5 8 The Operations discussed.

" When, without stratagem,
But in plain shock, and even play of battle,
Was ever known so great and little loss,
On one part and on th' other ? Take it, God,
For it is only thine ! "

The Russian losses in the battle were four times as
great as the number of the troops with which the
Second Division met the first attack. They lost 12 ooo,
of which an immense proportion were left dead on the
field, and 256 officers. The English lost 597, of whom
thirty-nine officers, killed, and 1760, of whom ninety-
one officers, wounded ; the French, thirteen officers
and 130 men killed, and thirty-six officers and 750 men

The present writer does not doubt that Dannenberg's
plan of attacking by both sides of the Careenage ravine
was the right one. It is true that to have attacking
troops divided by an obstacle is a great disadvantage.
It is also true, as Kinglake says, that "the camps of the
Allies were so placed on the Chersonese that, to meet
perils threatening from the western side of the Careenage
ravine, they could effect a rapid concentration." But
they could only effect it by robbing the eastern side of
what was indispensable for its defence. If, instead of one
part of the enemy's army attacking while the other was
coming up in its rear, and therefore exercising no effect
upon the battle, both had attacked simultaneously, it is
hardly credible that one (and if one, both) would not
have broken through. And if it is a disadvantage that
the front of attack should be divided by an obstacle, it is

The Attack s^t^t ably met. 159

a still greater evil to restrict the attack, especially against
very inferior numbers, to too confined a space. By
crowding on to the eastern slope only, in numbers
amply sufficient to have attacked both, the Russians
were choosing the ground which best suited our numbers
and our circumstances, and which least suited their

It has been already remarked that as the mode of
fighting the action by us differed radically from that of
the 26th of October, so did the circumstances on the
two days. On the 26th we had a great superiority in
artillery, and plenty of room on the crest for the eighteen
guns and the small force of infantry. On the 5th
November nearly half of our narrow position was occu-
pied by the line of batteries. Where, then, were the
infantry to be posted ? Were they to be close in rear
of the batteries ? Then the tremendous fire of the
enemy would have swept the crest with double effect,
ravaging both guns and infantry. If posted in front of
the guns, the result would be the same, with the addi-
tional disadvantage that our guns would be firing over
the heads of our infantry. By pushing the troops down
the slope, they met the enemy before their columns could
issue from the ravines and deploy ; and even on the ex-
treme right we are by no means certain that to encounter

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 10 of 20)