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Austria frames a Proposal. 223

all important object. The article on which her Envoy
now rejected all compromise was that which would limit
the Russian Fleet in the Black Sea. On this point he took
ground that might have been maintained had the naval
power of Russia proved in any degree successful against
that of the Allies. Judging by his pretensions, it might
have been thought that her fleet was still holding the
Euxine ; but in view of the actual condition of that fleet,
great part of it at the bottom of the sea, the rest penned
up hopelessly in the harbour of Sebastopol, his language
was preposterous. Again, by seeming to accept the terms
offered, he might have procured an armistice, and with
it an apparent triumph Russia would have had time to
rally from some of her disasters, to recruit in many ways,
while a period of inglorious delay might well have tended
to disgust the Allies with a war never popular in France.
But he preferred, with the haughty, even insolent, air
absurd in any but the victorious, to cast away the oppor-
tunity that stood between his country and a continuance
of ruinous disaster. The conference broke up without
any result but this, that Austria made a last effort at
compromise, in the form of a proposal that Russia should
maintain in the Black Sea a naval force not greater than
that which she possessed there before the war, and that
the Allies, including Austria, should enforce the condi-
tion by war against her if she were to evade it. To
which an observation in the Prince Consort's memo-
randum is the best reply : " The proposal of Austria to
engage to make war when the Russian armaments
should appear to have become excessive is of no kind



224 The Emperor abandons His Intention.

of value to the belligerents, who do not wish to establish
a case for which to make war hereafter, but to obtain
a security upon which they can conclude peace now."

On the 1 8th April a Council of War met in the Emper-
or's rooms at Windsor, at which were present the Prince,
Lord Palmerston, Lord Panmure, Lord Hardinge (Com-
mander-in-Chief), Lord Cowley (Ambassador to France),
Sir Charles Wood, Sir John Burgoyne, Count Walewski,
and the French War Minister, Marshal Vaillant. " All
present," says the Prince's report of it, " declared them-
selves unanimously against the Emperor's scheme of
going himself to the Crimea, but without obtaining from
him the admission that he was shaken in his resolution."

But on his return to Paris the Emperor found that,
while the visit to his ally had greatly increased his popu-
larity at -home, the failure of the negotiations at Vienna
had gravely added to the difficulties of the situation,
and, on the 25th April, in a letter to the Queen, he
announced that his intention to go to the Crimea must
be abandoned. But his scheme for the conduct of the
war was all the same persisted in.

The Austrian proposal, though of course completely
unacceptable to our Government, had been sufficiently
plausible to gain the approval both of the French pleni-
potentiary and of Lord John Russell, a circumstance
which proved very embarrassing to Lord Palmerston and
his colleagues. For the leading members of the late
Government, which had sanctioned the expedition to the
Crimea, were about to support a' motion for an unsatis-
factory peace. The Government had to meet, on one



English Advocates of Russian Interests. 225

hand, the attacks of those represented by Mr Disraeli,
who, desiring the prosecution of the war, denounced the
conduct of our plenipotentiary ; and on the other, of those
who always embarrass a Government in war by insisting
on the necessity of making peace. " Mr Gladstone," says
Sir Theodore Martin, in his life of the Prince Consort,
" developed the views of the members of the Aberdeen
Cabinet who had seceded from Lord Palmerston's
Government. The burden of his speech was to urge
peace on the terms offered by Russia. . . . He acknow-
ledged that he had approved the demand by his
colleagues, under Lord Aberdeen, for a limitation of the
Russian Fleet ; but contended that Russia, having aban-
doned the pretensions which originally led to the war, to
continue it was no longer justifiable. What we now
asked for in the way of limitation was, he argued, an
indignity to Russia. All the terms which we had
originally demanded had been substantially conceded,
and if we fought, not for terms, but for military success,
let the House look at this sentiment with the eye of
reason, and it would appear immoral, inhuman, un-
christian." But the people held fast to the facts ; they
recognised that Russia could have no other reason for
maintaining a fleet in the Black Sea than to employ it
against Turkey, and that the Russian pretension must
not be tolerated ; and they upheld Palmerston.

The design of the Emperor may perhaps be con-
sidered to have borne only its natural fruit in the
irresolution of Canrobert, notably when he refused to
attempt the gain of a substantial result from the late



226 First Embarkation for Kertch .

tremendous bombardment. The dissatisfaction thereby
excited in both armies was now aggravated by another
event bearing the same character. On the 23d April
the Allied generals once more agreed on delivering an
assault, which was to take place on the 28th, after two
days' preparative cannonade. All was being got ready
when, on the 25th, the French Admiral Bruat received
instructions from the Minister of Marine to assemble all
available steamers at Constantinople for the embarka-
tion of the Army of Reserve for the Crimea. With the
prospect of immediately receiving this large reinforce-
ment, it seemed to Canrobert that a hazardous attempt
to assault in the interval would be to incur an unwarrant-
able risk. Lord Raglan reluctantly concurred ; but, as
some compensation, another enterprise was now agreed
on. It had long been recognised that the route on which
the Russians in the Crimea principally relied for supplies
was that conducting to the eastern shore of the Sea of
Azof; when landed at Kertch, they were conveyed by
a good and direct road to Simpheropol. An expedition
against Kertch had, therefore, long been contemplated
by the Allied generals, and it was now to be executed
forthwith. On the 3d May the troops, French and
English, were embarked, and went to sea. But here a
new element entered into the conduct of the war. On
the 25th April the Crimea was placed in telegraphic
communication with London and Paris. In the night
after the expedition sailed, Canrobert received a tele-
gram, sent the day before by the Emperor, saying that
the moment was come for the expedition against the



The Expedition recalled. 227

Russian field army, and that as soon as the reserve from
Constantinople should reach him he was not to lose
a day in beginning the enterprise. Therefore, to the
extreme dissatisfaction of Lord Raglan, Canrobert, by
a fast steamer, recalled the French part of the Kertch
expedition, the whole of which was consequently again
put on shore in the Crimea on the 6th. It was also by
telegraph that General Niel, hitherto without a place in
Canrobert's army, was appointed its chief engineer, in
place of General Bizot, killed in the late cannonade.

These events had pressed hardly on Canrobert. He
felt that the English must regard him as weak and
vacillating and unreliable. Much of this apparent defect
of character may have been due to the cold shadow of
General Niel. But there is no doubt that inherent
indecision was generally imputed to him, among others,
by General Niel himself, who wrote to the Minister of
War that Canrobert's nature had exactly the appearance
of decision when a resolution had to be taken a long
time beforehand, but always drew back when the
moment for execution came. " Who," writes the Prince
Consort to a friend, " who will rekindle the spirit of the
French Army which has been dashed by Canrobert's
irresolution and want of firmness?" The sense of a
natural defect, terribly aggravated by circumstances,
and of his consequent unfitness to bear the heavy bur-
thens which the command and the alliance laid on
him, grievously tormented the French general ; and
his troubles were further increased when, in the middle
of May, the Emperor's plan, in full detail, was brought



228 Conference of Commanders.

to him by an officer from Paris. According to it,
Pelissier was to be left in charge of the siege, Canrobert
was to command the field army, and a joint force of
French and Turks, taking up the whole business of the
siege, was to set free the British Divisions for the opera-
tions in the field. When the three commanders-in-chief
came together to confer on this plan, Lord Raglan,
objecting to the separation of the two field armies by
the distance, and the difficulties of country between
Aloushta and Baidar, proposed that both should
assemble at Baidar, and to this Canrobert was in-
duced to agree. But on another point an insuperable
difficulty arose. Both Canrobert and Omar Pasha
declared that they could not take charge of the
English trenches. On the other hand, Lord Raglan
could not leave the task of guarding his siege material
and his port of supply to a part only of his own troops,
and therefore, though he had looked forward with great
satisfaction to exchanging the monotony and perplexity
of the siege operations for the proposed command in
the field, he could see no course possible except to
remain where he was. Neither could Canrobert see a
way out of the dilemma, and he wrote to tell the
Minister of War of the new difficulty. But he did more
than this : the countermand of the Kertch expedition,
and his failure to give effect to the Emperor's plan,
broke down what of strength still rested in his over-
wrought spirit, and on the i6th May he sent his resigna-
tion to the War Minister by telegraph, requesting to be
again placed in command of the Division that had been



Canrobert resigns the Command. 229

his at the beginning of the campaign, and strongly
urging that Pelissier should replace him, as fitter than
himself to deal with the difficulties of the situation.
Though this step was quite unexpected, his resignation
was accepted by the Emperor, and with the appoint-
ment of Pelissier to the chief command (for which he
had already been designated in case of need), a new
epoch in the war began.



CHAPTER XI.

THE NEW GENERAL.

Errors in the Emperor's Theory Pelissier' s View of the Problem 'His
Previous Action in May He declares His Determination Niel re-
monstrates in vain Displeasure of the Emperor Course taken by
Vaillant -New Russian Work The French attack It And capture
It Expedition to Kertch Its complete Success The Extended
Position Ancient Remains Valley of Baidar.

THE officer who now took command of the French Army
was of a singularly strong and marked character. Its
distinguishing element was hardihood : hardihood in
thought, in dealing with others, and in the execution of
his projects. His comrades had formed an extraordinary
estimate of his determination. Marshal Vaillant, com-
paring him with Canrobert, said, " Pelissier will lose
14.000 men for a great result at once, while Canrobert
would lose the same number by driblets, without obtain-
ing any advantage." General Changarnier bore stronger
testimony : " If there was an insurrection, I should not
hesitate to burn one of the quarters of Paris. Pelissier
would not shrink from burning the whole." But it
would do him great injustice to imagine that he was
merely a man of dogged resolution. He was not only a
soldier of great experience and distinction in Algerian
warfare, but took strong, clear views of strategical
problems, and expressed them in a correspondingly
strong, clear style, indicative of great sagacity. And



Errors in the Emperors Theory. 231

there lay before him, when he assumed the command,
a problem not easy to solve, yet demanding immediate
solution, and of vast importance. It was whether to put
in execution the project of the Emperor and Niel, or to
devote all his forces to pushing the siege.

Now there is no doubt that the design of defeating
the Russian field army, and severing the communication
between the interior of Russia and Sebastopol, would,
if successful, have speedily caused the surrender of the
place. So far the view was sound. But its two advo-
cates erred in insisting on treating it as if it were the
only project which rendered success possible, and in
denying that the siege operations contained any promise
of victory. For there were several circumstances which
clearly pointed to the probability, nay certainty, of the
capture of the south side of Sebastopol on the plan
hitherto pursued. The enemy had never taken from
the Allies an inch of ground on which they had once
established themselves. If the Russians had not aban-
doned all intention of attempting to raise the siege
by an attack with their field army, the Allies were con-
fident of defeating any such enterprise. There were
signs that if the material of war in Sebastopol showed
no token of exhaustion, yet the trained seamen who
worked the guns were greatly reduced in numbers. The
besiegers' fire could always establish a superiority, con-
stantly increasing, over that of the place. And, finally,
the enemy's losses must, from the nature of the case,
continue to be immensely^ greater than those of the
Allies. In the preceding month the garrison of Sebas-



232 Pelissiers View of the Problem,

topol had lost more than 10,000 men, and there were
good grounds for believing that the whole of the Russian
Forces now in the Crimea scarcely numbered more
than 100,000 men. It was certain, therefore, that should
the Allies persevere with the siege, the day, though
not yet near, would come when the enemy's fire would
be overpowered, his works stormed, and the south side
rendered untenable.

Pelissier's mode of grasping this problem is first
shown in a letter which he wrote to Canrobert while
that general was still Commander-in-Chief. He first
expressed his belief that the Allies, by pressing the
attack on the works, could certainly render themselves
masters of Sebastopol ; " difficult," he says, "but possible."
Therefore he proposes, before all things, to push the
siege to extremity, without regard to what was outside
of it. Nevertheless, in case an exterior operation should
be " inexorably commanded by the Emperor," he has his
plan for that. But he presently shows that this was
merely a concession to the weakness of another, by
explaining that, before anything of that kind can take
place, the Russians must be shut up so completely in
their works that no sortie need be feared, and that the
first* operations must therefore be the capture of the
Mr.melon and the White Works at any price. " If there
are to be operations in the field, they must only take
place after we have restricted the Russians absolutely
to their defences, and have thus achieved security for
our base of operations/'' He meant by this to insist
on the necessity of driving the Russians from all those



His Previous Action in May. 233

works which, to the great annoyance and injury of
the Allies, they had pushed out beyond the general
line of intrenchment. He had given a practical illus-
tration of this view, on the 1st May, when he was still
only the commander of the ist Corps in front of the
town. Todleben had, on the 23d April, effected some
large lodgments of rifle-pits between the town ravine
and the next one on his right of it, and in the ensuing
week, employing a great number of labourers, and
a strong force to protect them, had formed these
into an important work, closed and partially armed,
and so close to the French trenches and so menac-
ing to them, by stretching towards their flanks, that
it would have immediately become a most serious
addition to the difficulties of the siege. Pelissier so
strongly represented to Canrobert the necessity of
driving the Russians out of it at all hazards that he
was allowed to have his way. In two hand-to-hand
encounters oT considerable forces on both sides, on
the ist and 2d May, the French were so completely
successful that they not only took the counterguard,
but converted it into part of their own siege works,
within 1 50 yards of the main line in front of it, with a
loss to them of 600, to the Russians of 900 men.

In a letter to Bosquet, written immediately after he
took command of the army, Pelissier discusses the alter-
native plans. The difficulties offered by the ground which
the enemy's field army occupied, the want of informa-
tion respecting its strength and positions, the danger
of operating through long defiles with large forces,



234 He declares His Determination.

the perils of a retreat in case of failure, these and
other reasons caused him to reject, or at least to
postpone, the Emperor's scheme "without regret," as
he phrased it. "I am very determined," said this
clear-seeing man, "not to fling myself into the un-
known, to shun adventures, and to act only on sound
knowledge, with all the enlightenment needful for the
rational conduct of an army." He then announces his
intention of extending the part of the army not engaged
in the siege along the valley of the Tchernaya, so as to
get air, water, elbow-room, and consequently health; and
from thence to study the country for future operations,
by reconnaissances, and force the enemy to spread them-
selves. " But," he adds, " all this is only the prelude to
an operation much more important and more decisive in
my eyes, the storming and occupation of the Mamelon
and White Works. I do not disguise from myself that
the conquest of these counter-approaches will cost us
certain sacrifices ; but whatever they cost, Fmean to have
them." Then, after detailing the features of his plan,
he observes, " All this may be thorny, but it is possible,
and I have irrevocably made up my mind to undertake
it." Here, then, was a general who had occupied the
firm ground of knowing what he meant to do, and setting
about it with an unchangeable purpose. But he did not
keep his opinions for his generals only. Niel noted the
new commander's course with great disquietude, and
even felt justified, in the strength of being the Emperor's
emissary, to offer to his chief, in a note written in reply
to a request for his view of affairs, a strong remonstrance.



Niel remonstrates in vain. 235

He said his views remained the same as always ; that to
attack without first investing the place would lead to
nothing except after bloody struggles ; that he could
not understand why the Emperor's plan was to be
abandoned ; and that the persistence of Pelissier in his
projects would entail every kind of disaster. Scarcely
had Pelissier received this when he telegraphed thus to
the Minister of War, for the Emperor's information :
" The project of marching two armies, from Aloushta* on
Simpheropol, and from Baidar on Bakshisarai, is full of
difficulties and risk. Direct investment, by attacking
the Mackenzie heights, would cost as dear as the assault
of the place, and the result would be very uncertain. I
have arranged with Lord Raglan for the storming of the
advanced works, the occupation of the Tchernaya, and,
finally, for an operation on Kertch. . . . All these move-
ments are in train." This he explained fully in a letter
to Vaillant next day, and asked for complete latitude of
action. When we remember that Louis Napoleon was
an absolute sovereign, that he had just raised Pelissier
to the chief command, that he was the fountain of
honours and advancement, and that, if he had set this
self-willed general up with one hand, he could pull him
down with the other, it must be admitted that, in thus
opposing the cherished scheme of his master, Pelissier
showed himself an uncommonly strong man.

To the Emperor and his Minister, absorbed in
contemplation of the excellences of their plan, and
hoping to hear that it was in process of accomplishment,

* See inner map on Map 3 for Aloushta,



236 Displeasure of the Emperor.

this uncivil treatment of it caused something like con-
sternation. The stout warrior at one end of the wire
was arousing great perturbation and resentment in the
Imperial theorist at the other. At first some angry
messages were flashed to the Crimea one from Vaillant
to Niel, relating to the expedition to Kertch : " This
news to-day is a great trouble. What ! generals and
admirals, not one of them thought it his duty to consult
the Government on an affair of this importance ! " Then
the Emperor sent a rebuke to his unappreciative sub-
ordinate : " I have confidence in you," he said, " and I
don't pretend to command the army from here " (" But
you do ! " was probably Pelissier's comment) ; "however,
I must tell you my opinion, and you ought to pay regard
to it. A great effort must be made to beat the Russian
army, in order to invest the place. To gain space and
grass is not sufficient just now " (this in sarcastic refer-
ence to Pelissier's reasons for extending the army).
" If you scatter your forces, instead of concentrating
them, you will do nothing decisive, and will lose
precious time. The Allies have 180,000 men in the
Crimea. Anything may be attempted with such a
force, but to manoeuvre is the right course, not to take
the bull by the horns ; and the way to manoeuvre is to
threaten the weak sides of the enemy. The weak side
of the Russians seems to me to be their left wing. If
you send 14,000 men to Kertch, you weaken yourself
uselessly ; it is to avow that there is nothing serious to
attempt, for one does not willingly weaken one's self
on the eve of battle. Weigh all this carefully." But,



Course taken by Vaillant. 237

whether weighed or not, these arguments had not the
slightest effect on the mind of this resolute, even
refractory, man. It might be all very well for an
Emperor to amuse himself with making plans ; it was
for a general to conduct operations. Seeing all this, and
knowing how indispensable was Pelissier, Vaillant took
a very judicious course. He desired Niel to aim at
moderating Pelissier's too strong style of expression
The General was to be made to understand that the
most complete .confidence was reposed in him, and
to be adjured to assume that as a basis in every-
thing he might write. Whether Niel ever found an
opportunity of discharging this mission seems doubtful,
for he is shortly afterwards found uttering a lamentable
wail, in a letter to the Minister. "At yesterday's meet-
ing," he says, " General Pelissier imposed silence on me
with indescribable harshness, because I spoke of the
dangers which characterise vigorous actions with large
masses at great distances apart. We were in presence of
English officers; I saw he was irritated, and I wished at
any price to avoid a scene which would have rendered
my relations with him impossible." No matter whose
emissary he was, Niel must know his place. There was
no doing anything with so intractable a chief; he had
his own way, and the French Army had a commander.

Pelissier's two first steps towards the execution of
his projects, namely, an attack on an important outwork
and the expedition to Kertch, took place at the same
date, the 22d May, when he had been six days in com-
mand. The first of these was caused by a new enter-



238 New Russian Work.

prise of the indomitable Todleben. Between the Central
Bastion and the bastion near the Quarantine Bay the
line of defence was a loop-holed wall, strengthened
behind with earth, but much battered by the heavy fire
directed on it. Seeing its precarious state, Todleben
resolved to cover it with a salient earthwork on a ridge
in front, where he had already placed rows of rifle pits.
Between these pits and the French trenches was a
cemetery, lying in a green hollow, having in its midst
a small church, surrounded by crosses ,and headstones.
Once peaceful as any country churchyard in England,
it had now for months been an arena of conflict, where
riflemen had crouched in the grass of the graves, or
lurked in the shadow of the tombstones. The French
trenches were already close to its southern wall, when
Todleben, on the night of the 2ist, began his outwork
with characteristic vigour. Two thousand four hundred
workmen were busy with spade and pickaxe, while
6000 infantry, and many guns bearing on the ground in
front, guarded them. But the French also were
making a trench that night, therefore both parties had an
interest in keeping their batteries quiet. But morning
showed that while the French, with their working party


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Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 15 of 20)