Edward Bruce Hamley.

The war in the Crimea online

. (page 13 of 20)
Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 13 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

and guarding the British Left Attack, the batteries of
which, however, would be held and fought by our men
as before. This would set free the Third Division to
perform the operations on Mount Inkerman. Immedi-
ately after the battle of Inkerman the Allies had begun
to strengthen the ground there with works, one made by
the French on the end of the Fore Ridge, three by the
English (one of them on Shell Hill), to command the
approaches, and to overlook the bridge and causeway

192 The French prefer another Mode.

over which Pauloff had advanced ; and we had further
'made in front of these a first parallel, and begun a
second, as approaches to the works between the Mala-
kofT and the harbour. When this proposal was finally
considered at a conference of chiefs at the beginning of
February, the French preferred to leave our Right and
Left Attacks to us as before, and themselves to take
charge of Mount Inkerman, except that the British
artillerymen and sailors already occupying our works
there, should so remain. It was so settled : Mount
Inkerman and the Victoria Ridge were given into the
charge of Bosquet's Corps ; and at the same time the
plan of advancing on the Russian works from the Mala-
koff to the harbour, by approaches from Mount Inker-
man, and of pressing the attack, not there especially, but
along the whole Russian front, was definitely adopted.

Meanwhile the Allies had not been idle in the
trenches, even in the time of their direst trials. The
first parallel of the British Right Attack was completed,
as well as another in advance of it. A second parallel
was carried across the front of the Left Attack, and
down the ravine on its right, barring the WoronzofT
road there. The French had sapped up to within
1 80 yards of the Flagstaff Bastion, and now, seeing the
relations of mutual defence between it and the Central
Bastion, deemed it necessary to include the latter
also in their front of attack. Yet withal the business
of the siege proceeded of necessity very slowly. What
transport the Allies could muster was taken up with
bringing food, clothing, and shelter. In the trenches the

Want of Fuel in the Camps. 193

men stood generally ankle deep, sometimes knee deep, in
snow and liquid mud ; except near the cliffs, and at a
great distance from the camps, the supply of fuel, in the
form of brushwood, which the plains afforded, had long
since been exhausted, and even the roots of the vines had
been grubbed up for cooking. And this want had become
a hindrance to the siege in another way. "It is very
unusual," says the Engineer Journal \ "to see smoke from
fires in trenches, yet this took place daily." The cause
of this was the want of fuel in the camps. The coffee
issued to the men was in the berry, which is the best
form of it when means for roasting are at hand, for wet
does not injure it, and it has, of course, far more flavour
when freshly ground. But when there was no fuel in
camp, the men took the green coffee with them to
the trenches, ground it with fragments of the enemy's
shells, roasted it on their mess tins, and boiled it in
them, with fuel taken from the gabions and fascines
forming part of the works, and the parapets, of course,
suffered seriously from these depredations. The troops,
driven to these shifts, had become so few that the French
could only afford about 400 by day and 200 by night for
employment on the works, and the English a much
smaller number, while, according to the Engineer Journal \
the trenches of our three attacks, the Right, the Left, and
that on Mount Inkerman, were at this time guarded only
by 350 men, and on one day in January by only 290
men, being about one-twentieth of the number of the
part of the garrison opposed to them, and which might
have attacked them.

1 94 Fortress increasing in Strength.

On the other hand, the Russians having after Inker-
man abandoned the idea of using the field army for
attacking the Allied position, had begun to withdraw
troops from it to strengthen the garrison, and readjusted
the supply between them. They poured reinforcements
into the place, till they had not only made good the
losses of the first weeks of winter, but enabled its com-
mander to employ on the works a force varying, accord-
ing to need, from 6000 to 10,000 men. The guns, lying
in the arsenal in thousands, and the ammunition were
easily brought to. the batteries along the paved streets.
Thus the fortress was immensely augmenting its power
of resistance just when we found the greatest difficulty
in holding our ground. Therefore, readers who have
been accustomed to hear the chiefs in Sebastopol and
their troops lauded as maintaining a struggle against
unheard-of difficulties, and as exhibiting extraordinary
energy and powers of resistance, may ask themselves
how it was that an enemy who possessed such enor-
mously superior forces in men and material, and who
could at any time, during a period of months, have
directed on some selected point of the siege works
thousands of troops, that would have found only hun-
dreds to meet them, did not muster the courage for
such an enterprise when it promised deliverance to the
fortress, and ruin to their foes. Yet they might perhaps
have given the reason which Canrobert had already
pleaded for restraining enterprise, that they were un-
willing to set the great stake on a single cast, and
preferred to let delay and all its evils fight for them.

New System of Rifle-pits. 195

With this important exception, however, the Russians
showed great energy, even beyond the limits of a mere
passive defence, and every kind of work demanding skill
and labour they did well. Thus, Todleben developed
a new feature in trench warfare, which the range and
accuracy of the rifle had rendered possible. At night,
parties issuing from the place dug, on selected parts of
the ground between the opposing lines, rows of pits
each fitted to hold a man, and having in front a few
sandbags, or sometimes a screen of stones, so disposed
as to protect his head, and to leave a small opening
through which to fire. At daybreak they began to
harass the guards of the trenches opposite, within easy
range of them. The French especially suffered by being
thus overlooked, and their proximity caused the enemy
to adopt this form of warfare chiefly in opposing them.
To direct guns on objects so small as these pits, and
frequently at a great distance from the batteries, seemed
but a doubtful policy, and they were therefore opposed
by men, similarly covered by sandbags, from the parapets.
After a time, Todleben, finding his idea so successful,
expanded it ; the rows of rifle pits were connected,
by trenches, in parts of which shelter was given to con-
tinuous ranks of riflemen, and the defence being thus
pushed out in advance of the general line, wore the
aspect of besieging the beseigers. He had begun these
enterprises in November, greatly aggravating the cares
of the scanty defenders of the trenches. Beyond the
advanced trench of our Left Attack some of these pits
had been placed, screened by small stone walls, causing

196 Underground Warfare.

great annoyance both to our people opposite and to the
French across the ravine, whose advanced works they
partly looked into. It was on the night of the 2Oth
November that a party of the rifles was ordered to clear
these pits, which were supported by another row in rear.
The occupants were driven out after a sharp struggle,
with losses on both sides, and a working party made
the spot tenable by our people a service so highly
appreciated by our Allies that Canrobert passed a warm
encomium on it in general orders.

In November there also began, in the French attack
from Mount Rodolph, a war of mines and countermines.
A gallery was being driven towards the Flagstaff Bastion,
when it was detected and blown in by the enemy. A
mine was, however, placed in the gallery, far short of the
position at first destined for it, in order to break up the
ground before the bastion, and thus enable the French
to effect a lodgment there. But this plan did not turn
out happily ; the watchful engineer opposed to them
proved himself a master also of this subterranean war-
fare, and when the mine was exploded, it was the
Russians who succeeded in establishing themselves on
the crater.

It -was on the 22d of February that the Rus-
sians undertook an enterprise which marked an epoch
in the siege, and which was caused by another, the
intention of which had become apparent on the part
of the Allies. In front of the Malakoff, at about
500 yards from it,' and on the same strip of the
plain, was a conical hill, of rather greater height,

New Russian Works. 197

and of such importance to either side which should
seize it that it would doubtless have been a main
object with us from the first but for our deficiency in
numbers. This was the hill which afterwards became
famous as the Mamelon. To place it, as well as the
Malakoff and the intervening ground, under such a
cross fire as might assure its capture, two batteries
were prepared, one by the French, on a near spur
of Mount Inkerman, and one in the English Right
Attack. But their wary antagonist had not failed to
note and appreciate the design, and was now ready
with his counterstroke. On the morning of the day
named, the French, who the day before had seen the
Russian works end with the mouth of the Careenage
ravine, now beheld new works begun on, and in exten-
sion of, a hill in front of them, being part of Mount
Inkerman itself, which the enemy had seized in the
course of the night, thus extending the front of the
fortress to new ground, and flanking the approaches
to the Malakoff and Mamelon ; while the new work
was itself protected by so powerful a fire that the
French might well hesitate to attack it. All the
23d the enemy were again at work on it. That
night, however, five French battalions, under General
Monet, issued from the trenches, and while two remained
halted in support, three advanced to the assault. This
step had been anticipated and provided for by the
Russians. Besides three battalions assigned to work
on and to defend the hill, four others, being an entire
regiment, were disposed for its defence, and now met


198 Failure of the French Attack.

the attack. They were supported by guns both from
the fortress and the ships, which were brought to bear
on the ground between the hill and the French trenches
The combat lasted an hour ; the French succeeded at
one time- in entering the work, but were driven out by
the strong supports, and forced to retreat, bearing with
them General Monet, d'esperately wounded, and sustain-
ing a loss of 270 men, with nineteen officers, while the
Russians lost 400. Todleben credits the French troops
on this occasion with " a remarkable valour." This defeat
was so far acknowledged and accepted by the French
that the enemy was thenceforth left almost undisturbed
to complete and arm his new work, and a few nights later
he began another on a hill to his own left of it. These
were in future known to the Allies as the White Works
from the chalky soil they stood in. Thus, having com-
pletely abandoned Mount Inkerman after the battle, the
enemy had now returned to it in a fashion which showed
that he intended his occupation of it to be permanent
By this rare display of sagacity and daring, Todleben
immensely increased the difficulty of the problem before
the Allies. At a conference of chiefs, on 6th March,
Burgoyne urged the French to attack these works
as the indispensable preliminary to progress on this
part of the field ; but the proposal was put aside
on the ground that, if captured, they could not be
held under the guns which the enemy could bring to

The two batteries, French and English, looking
towards the Mamelon were pushed steadily towards

Great Sortie against the French 199

completion, and on the loth March the commanding
French engineer, Bizot, advised Canrobert to seize the
hill that night. Canrobert declined the enterprise, but
Todleben settled the question. On this same night
the Russians seized it, and morning saw the outline
of a work crowning it. The question of attacking it
was now more urgent than before. But Canrobert
still found reasons against so decided a course, and pre-
ferred to besiege it. Consequently, the French opened
a parallel against it on the Victoria Ridge, and the
new batteries were also directed on it. On the other
hand, the enemy held his ground, and not only com-
pleted and armed his new work, but spread rifle pits,
connected with trenches, along its front and flanks.

Thus a very formidable element entered into the
problem of the siege. It has been already pointed out
how embarrassing to the Allies were the outposts the
enemy had placed, in October, in advance of their works.
Here was a tremendous aggravation of the infliction,
for not only did the Mamelon cover what had hitherto
been the objects of attack in that quarter, but it looked
into trenches of our Right Attack hitherto secure from
fire, and forbade, under heavy penalties, its further ap-
proach towards the Redan.

The French had pushed their approaches so close to
the small works covering the Mamelon that they might
be expected presently to seize them, when, in the night
of the 22d March, the enemy cast large bodies of troops
on the opposing lines. Between 5000 and 6000 men
attacked the French trenches before the Mamelon, and at

2OO And English Trenches.

first penetrated into them, driving in the guards and
working parties. But their success ended there ; the
French showed so firm a front that the attack collapsed,
and the enemy fell back and re-entered the fortress, after
inflicting on their opponents a loss of 600 men.

Simultaneously with the entry of the French works,
800 Russians moved out for an advance upon our Right
Attack, but were easily repulsed for the time. This
attack had been made on the part of the trenches next
the Docks ravine. An hour later another assault (which
apparently ought to have been in concert with the first)
was made on the left portion of the same trenches by
Greek and other volunteers. Led by an Albanian, in the
dress of his country, they broke into the parallel, where
the leader, first shooting one of our officers, discharged a
pistol ineffectually at the magazine, and was then killed
himself. The assailants moved along the trench from left
to right till the guards and working parties, having been
got together, met and drove them back upon the Redan.

At the same time with this last, another assault had
been directed, with 500 men, on the advanced trench of
our Left Attack, close to where the ridge was cut short
by the ravine, and penetrated to the third parallel, where
they were attacked by the nearest bodies of those
guarding the trenches, and driven back like the rest.
In these fights the officer commanding the guards oi
the Right Attack was wounded and captured, as was the
engineer of the Left Attack, with about fifteen men, and
a quantity of intrenching tools, dropped by the working
parties when they took up their arms. In all, we lost

The Burial Truce. 201

seventy men. The enemy left about forty dead in front
of our Right Attack, ten killed and two wounded in the
trenches of the Left ; and his losses, in all, that night
were 1300 men.

If the Russians aimed, in this sortie, at establishing
themselves in the French lines, it was so far a failure.
But the object of such an enterprise is mostly to inflict
hasty damage and discouragement on the enemy, and
to gain a temporary facility for executing some of the
defensive operations ; and on this ground the Russians
might claim a certain success, for in the following night
they connected the pits in front of the Mamelon by a
trench, which their engineer extended to the verge of
the ravine. Thus he had succeeded in forming and
occupying, within eighty yards of the French, an
intrenched line, supported by, while it covered, the

A truce was agreed on for burying the slain, to begin
half-an-hour after noon on the 24th. White flags were
then raised over the Mamelon and the French and
English works, and many spectators streamed down the
hillsides to the scene of contest. The French burial
parties advanced from their trenches, and hundreds of
Russians, some of them bearing stretchers, came out

ifrom behind the Mamelon. The soldiers of both armies
intermingled on friendly terms. The Russians looked
dirty and shabby, but healthy and well fed. Between
these groups moved the burial parties, collecting the
bodies and conveying them within the lines on both
sides. At 450 yards from the scene rose the Mamelon,

2O2 Charles Gordons Experiences.

its parapet lined with spectators. Five hundred yards
beyond it, separated by a level space, stood the Mala-
koff, its ruined tower surrounded by earthen batteries ;
and through the space between it and the Redan ap-
peared the best built portion of the city, jutting out
into the harbour, and near enough for the streets, with
people walking in them, the marks of ruin from shot,
the arrangement of the gardens, and the line of sunken
ships, to be plainly visible. About forty bodies were
removed from the front of the English Right Attack,
among them that of the Albanian leader, partially
stripped, and covered again with his white kilt and
other drapery. In two hours the business was over,
the soldiers on both sides had withdrawn within their
lines, the flags were lowered, and the fire went on as

This was the only considerable attempt as yet made
on the trenches, but small losses from fire occurred in
them almost daily and nightly. At one time the men
killed had been taken at night to the front of the works,
and there buried, and a strange experience fell in conse-
quence on a young engineer, destined to a place in the
esteem of his country far beyond that of any other
soldier of these latter generations, Charles Gordon. In
carrying a new approach to the front, these graves lay
directly across it, and he described how the working
party had to cut their way straight through graves and
occupants, and how great was the difficulty he found in
keeping the men to their horrible task, which, however,
was duly completed. He had a brother, Enderby

Russians recross the Tchernaya. 203

Gordon, on the staff of the artillery, to whom he used
to relate his experiences ; among others, of strolls he
was in the habit of taking at night far beyond our
trenches, one of which led him up close to the outside
of the Russian works, so that he could hear the voices
of the men on the parapet. A singularly ghastly in-
cident of these burials took place about this time. One
night two men had carried the body of a comrade, just
slain, on to the open ground for interment, and had
finished digging the grave, and placing the body in it,
when, as they were about to fill it in, a shot from the
enemy, who had perhaps heard them at work, killed
one of them. The survivor laid his comrade's body
beside the other, buried both, and returned to the

In the period to which this chapter relates several
events of military importance had occurred, to have
chronicled which, at their respective dates, would have
broken the narrative of the siege. On the 6th December
the troops which Liprandi had established in the valley
of Balaklava were withdrawn across the Tchernaya,
leaving only detachments of the three arms in the
villages of Kamara and Tchorgoun, and a field work
with guns to guard the bridge at Traktir. On the
3Oth December a considerable French force advanced
up the valley, while the 42d Highlanders moved by the
hills above, swept the residue of the enemy over the
stream, and shelled the guns out of the bridge head, and
the troops out of Tchorgoun. After destroying the
Russian huts and forage, and capturing their cattle and

2O4 Arrival of Ft Ussier and Niel.

sheep, the troops returned to their camps. Access was
thus once more gained to the WoronzofT road, and
in time a good road was made connecting it with

In January two French officers arrived in the
Crimea, both destined, though in entirely opposite ways,
to exercise an important influence on the course of the
war. The Emperor Napoleon, regarding the appoint-
ments already made to the command of Corps and Divi-
sions by Canrobert, under the pressure of circumstances,
as provisional merely, had summoned General Pelissier
from his Government of Oran, and placed him in charge
of the ist Corps, that besieging the lines before the town ;
and it will be seen how powerful was the impelling
element introduced with the presence of this masterful
spirit into the attack on the fortress. And, on the 2/th
of January, General Niel, the engineer who had just con-
ducted operations against Bomarsund, and who was re-
garded as the military counsellor of the Emperor, arrived
in the Crimea on a special mission. The nature of this,
kept secret at the time, will appear in the next chapter ;
but he at once expressed his ideas of the military situa-
tion. Regarding it, from the engineer's point of view,
as a siege, and what should consequently follow the
rules of a siege, one of which was that a necessary
step towards the capture of a fortress is its investment,
so he believed that all the efforts of the Allies must
be vain until they should have intercepted all commu-
nication between Sebastopol and MenschikofPs army.
" Believe, Monsieur le Marechal," he wrote to the

The Russians attack Eupatoria. 205

Minister for War, " that nothing can be done without
investing," and with this opinion his language at the
conference was in unison. And, no doubt, to have
severed all communication with the city must have
been effectual in the end, if practicable ; but the event
showed that the measure was not indispensable. That
the Russians feared such a step was shown about this
time. Omar Pasha had been for some time assembling,
at Eupatoria, bodies of his Turks from the Danube. The
town had been surrounded with works of earth and
loose stones by the French officer at first left in charge
of the place. These, thrown forward to a salient in the
centre, bent round on both flanks to the sea. About
23,000 Turks and thirty-four heavy guns were within
these works, when the Russians, alarmed for their com-
munications with Perekop, delivered an attack upon
the place with a large force drawn from MenschikofFs
army, and said by Todleben to number 19,000 infantry,
with a strong cavalry and numerous artillery. Both
flanks of the works of the place were defended by a
French steamer,' a Turkish, and four English steamers
lying in the bay.

On the 1 6th February the Russians appeared before
the place. They spent the night in throwing up cover
for their batteries, and by morning had seventy-six guns,
twenty-four of them of heavy calibre, ready to open at
from 600 to 800 yards from the works. At daybreak
the cannonade began, and when the fire of the place
seemed to be overcome, three columns of attack, sup-
ported by field batteries, advanced on the centre and

206 The Attack repulsed.

flanks of the defensive line. Two of these were stopped
by the fire of the steamers and of the place ; the third,
on the right front of the Turkish line, finding cover in
the walls of the cemeteries there, assembled under their
shelter, and advanced more than once almost to the
ditch, but were easily repulsed ; and with the last at-
tempt in this quarter the enterprise came to an end,
and the Russians drew off at once towards the interior.
They lost 769 killed and wounded ; the garrison, 387.

Even had they carried the works, it is difficult to per-
ceive how they could have proposed to maintain them-
selves in the place, under the fire of the ships. It was
probably his experience of what this fire could effect,
and against which no return could be made, that so con-
vinced the Russian commander of the hopelessness of
the enterprise, as to render the assault weak and
futile in comparison with his forces. No further
attempt was made on Eupatoria during the war.
This failure, following on the others, was visited on
Menschikoff by withdrawing him from the command
of the Forces in the Crimea, in which he was succeeded
by Gortschakoff.

In February the Russians, finding that the line of
sunken vessels across the harbour had been much
broken up by the waves, sank six more, in a line inside
the other ; and on the 6th March an English battery on
Mount Inkerman brought some guns, with hot shot, to

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 13 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 13 of 20)