Copyright
Edward Bruce Hamley.

The war in the Crimea online

. (page 17 of 20)
Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 17 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


the English, 693 ; the Russians, 5000. But, besides
these losses, in the six days' cannonade, from the 6th
to the loth June inclusive, the Allies lost 750 men ; the
Russians, 3500. The French had taken in the works
seventy-three guns.

The Emperor, clinging as was his wont persistently
to his idea, did not on account of this success cease to
harp on the one string of his plan for operating against
the field army. It was not till seven days after the action
that he telegraphed to Pelissier saying that, before con-
gratulating him on his success, he had wished to know the
cost. " I admire the courage of the troops," he continued,
" but I wish you to observe that a general action, which
would hav'e decided the fate of the Crimea, would have cost
no more. I persist, then, in ordering you to make every
effort to take the field." In reply, Pelissier reaffirmed
his conviction that his^course was the right one. " In
this situation the complete execution of your orders is
impossible. It is to place me, Sire, between insubordi-
nation and discredit. . . . The army is full of confidence
and ardour; mine equals my devotion ; but I pray your
Majesty either to free me from the straitened limits
imposed on me, or to permit me to resign a command
impossible to exercise, in concert with my loyal allies,
at the end, sometimes paralysing, of an electric wire."
And to Marshal JVaillant he wrote : " The silence of the
Government and the Emperor respecting me, and, above
all, respecting my troops, and their brilliant feat of arms



Error of Pelissier. 255

of the 7th, has surprised and afflicted me. The tele-
graphic despatches received since have still more pain-
fully impressed me." And, finally, on the night of the
i /th: "I have waited all day for an answer to my im-
portant despatch of yesterday, but have received none,
and the combinations settled with our allies are taking
their course. To-morrow, at daybreak, in concert with
the English, I attack the Redan, the Malakoff, and their
dependent batteries. I have firm hope."

Up to this time Pelissier has appeared as a com-
mander not only singularly resolute, but singularly
clear of view. But now, with the great attack of the
1 8th pending, he committed two acts, not of resolution,
but of waywardness, and in which his accustomed clear-
ness of view showed itself to be suddenly obscured. He
was already displeased by a difference of opinion between
himself and Bosquet (who wished to postpone the assault
until the progress of the works should leave less of open
ground to be traversed under fire by the assailants), when
that general gave new cause of offence. A plan of the
Malakoff had been found on the body of a Russian
officer, and brought to Bosquet, who had omitted to
forward it to the General-in-Chief. Hearing of this,
Pelissier, not content with demanding it with violent
reproaches, removed Bosquet from the command of the
forces with which the fresh attack was to .be made, send-
ing him to the corps on the Tchernaya, and replaced
this experienced commander, so well acquainted with
the ground, by another just come from France, and
knowing nothing of the local features and circumstances.



256 His Second Error.

This was a very grave error, impossible to justify. Niel
wrote to Vaillant about it : " Canrobert says it is not an
eagle, but a vulture which he has put in his place, and
that he regrets what he did. It is impossible to describe
the wrath of Bosquet ; the proceedings of which he is
the object are incredible." The general who replaced
him, Regnaud de St Jean d'Angely, Commander of the
Imperial Guard, had just thirty-six hours in which to
study the very difficult ground and the siege works, and
to place himself in relations with troops who did not
know him, and who regretted their old chief.

The other error was even worse. Pelissier had ar-
ranged with Lord Raglan that the cannonade of the i;th
should be renewed at dawn on the i8th, and should last
for two hours, in which time it was calculated the enemy's
guns might be silenced, and their works, after the repairs
of the night, once more ruined. The attack was there-
fore to take place at five, or half-past. On the I7th, the
batteries opening over the entire front from Quarantine
Bay to Careening Bay, produced their effect as before.
Evening saw the Barrack Batteries, the Redan, and
Malakoff, with their dependencies, and the works thence
to the harbour, all disabled, with vast losses within them
of killed and wounded. But suddenly, without a word
to Lord Raglan, Pelissier changed the plan. He resolved
to dispense with the preliminary cannonade next morn-
ing, and to assault at daybreak. He communicated this
change to his colleague in a despatch as definitive, and
resting on grounds that could not be disputed. Lord
Raglan heard of it with deep concern, but concluded



His Insufficient Reason. 257

that it was better silently to accept and conform to the
change than to protest. Nevertheless, considering the
issues involved, it is a question whether he would not
have done well in declining to co-operate, except on the
jointly arranged plan. The change was lamented by
the English artillery officers, who had been very con-
fident of rendering the Russian batteries nearly harmless
in a very few hours.

These aberrations of Pelissier have never been quite
accounted for. Kinglake suggests that they were due
to the extreme anguish of mind inflicted by the Em-
peror's telegrams, and even states the time during which
the perturbation lasted as eight days. In his despatch
to Lord Raglan, Pelissier gave as his reason for hasten-
ing the hour of attack that the assembly of his troops
in the trenches, as had been found on trial, could not
after daylight be concealed from the enemy, who would
therefore be' prepared to meet them. But the cannonade
would have already prepared them ; moreover, the hour
before dawn is that in which all menaced garrisons speci-
ally expect attack. Therefore nothing was so essential
to success as to stop the fire which would bear on his
troops in the open ground, and Pelissier's reason was not
such as ought for a moment to have swayed him.

Before dawn, on the i8th, Lord Raglan and his
staff assembled in an advanced trench which seemed
suitable for observation, and would have been so, had
it not been the focus of fire from the Redan and
Malakoff. From thence could be seen our troops, de-
tailed for the assault, and their supports, crowding the



258 Failure at the Malakoff.

advanced trenches ; and the movements around the
Malakoff were, with daylight, also discernible. The
day had been chosen as one on which the memory
of Waterloo might happily give place to a joint victory
of French and English. Instead of this, it was marked
from the outset by a series of blunders and mis-
fortunes.

First, the French troops, destined to form the right
column against the Malakoff, found, on reaching the
trenches in the night, that the post they were to take
up was still occupied by another part of the attacking
force. Much delay and confusion was thus caused, and
under the brilliant starlight, the enemy, already roused
to more than common vigilance, perceived the prepara-
tions for attack. At two in the morning his bugles
sounded the alarm ; the reserves closed up to their
posts, the embrasures were opened for action, and field-
guns were placed in the Malakoff and elsewhere to fire
on the columns of assault. Next, the French general who
was to direct the assault against the left of the Russian
line mistook a casual shell for the signal of attack, and
advanced prematurely. But it is not likely that these
mischances greatly affected the result. The repairs and
renewals, which by the extraordinary energy of the
garrison and its leaders had been accomplished in the
few hours of darkness, enabled them to pour such a
storm of shot from every part assailed that no serious
impression was made anywhere. Under the over-
whelming fire from the ramparts, the spaces of open
ground to be traversed by the assailants were thickly



Failure at the Redan. 259

strewed with the fallen. For the most part the attacks,
made on the part of the French with, in all, 25,000 men,
resolved themselves into an exchange of rifle fire be-
tween the assailants spread out around the works, and
the defenders aiming from the parapets, and aided by
the field-guns as well as by the regular armament.

Lord Raglan, though it was seen that the attacks
were thus far failures, felt bound to take his part in the
enterprise. He was himself under a very hot cross-fire,
especially of that now obsolete projectile called grape.
It was formed of bullets the size of small apples, piled
symmetrically, and tied round an iron spindle rising
from the centre of a wooden disc of a size to fit the
bore of the gun. With the discharge the tie was broken,
the bullets flew together with a noise like that of a covey
of partridges, while in rear the spindle, retarded by the
pressure of air on the disc, came on separately with
a whistling sound of its own. But round shot also
dashed plentifully in, and one, after killing a sapper, left
a gunner lying headless, as if guillotined, in the trench,
and knocked off the arm of an officer. The grape,
besides other damage, prostrated the commanding
engineer with a wound on the forehead, and many
officers, arriving with intelligence or seeking orders,
were killed or wounded. It was from this place that
the order had been given to our troops to attack.
Upon them, as on the French, a tremendous fire of all
kinds was poured. The several columns that moved
out were almost annihilated, and the parts of them that
still went on were held fast by a belt of abattis in front



260 A Partial S^tccess.

of the ditch. General Campbell and Colonel Yea, who
each led a column, were killed ; the ladder party of
twenty volunteers lost eleven; of 120 sailors, fifty-two
fell ; and the stormers generally in equal proportion.
Nothing that could be called an assault, of a kind that
even faintly promised success, took place anywhere ;
and after a conference between Pelissier and Lord
Raglan in the Victoria Redoubt, they considered what
they had seen and learned to be so discouraging that,
between seven and eight o'clock, all the attacking troops
were recalled to the trenches.

Meanwhile a partial success had been achieved on
our left. General Eyre, with a brigade of 2000 men,
descending the Picket House ravine, had driven the
Russians out of buildings and a cemetery at the foot of
Green Hill. Here they were immediately under the
Garden Batteries, which all day poured on them a de-
structive fire ; and an infantry force descending from
thence, and lining a breastwork in the valley, exchanged
volleys with our troops, who forced them to regain the
shelter of their works. Eyre, himself wounded, and his
troops held their ground till nightfall, with the loss of
600 men and officers, and the cemetery was then fortified
by our engineers, who afterwards handed it over to the
French.

The losses in the actual assault, during which the
besieging batteries ceased firing, were heavily against
the Allies ; but, taken in conjunction with those caused
by the cannonade of the I7th and i8th, the French lost
3500 men ; the English, 1 500 ; the Russians, 5400. Of the



Todleben wounded. 261

six generals and commanders, French and English, who
led the six attacks, four were killed and one disabled.

The spirit of resistance shown by the Russians was
such as their nation may well be proud to recall. But it
was only rendered possible by the reliefs of fresh un-
harassed troops always available from the army outside.
When, however, at the moment which the Russians were
giving to exultation and thanksgiving, the cannonade
recommenced in all its terrors, the spirit of the soldiery
gave way, and many of them made for the harbour,
fighting with their own people there for the boats and
rafts with which to escape the iron storm that searched
the crannies of the south side. And they soon had other
cause for discouragement. Slightly wounded on the
1 8th, their sagacious, unresting, resourceful, and in-
domitable engineer, Todleben, was disabled on the 2oth
by a shot through the leg, and was carried from the
fortress, not to return during the siege.

Considering his own share in causing the disaster,
Pelissier showed at least his characteristic hardihood in
reporting the issue of the attack. The same day he
telegraphed to Vaillant thus : " From causes which
cannot now be discussed, our attack of to-day has not
succeeded, although part of our troops set foot in the
MalakofT. Our allies not having attained, in spite of
their vigour, a footing in the Redan, I ordered a with-
drawal to the trenches."

The " causes " alluded to in this telegram were set
forth, in a letter, as the mistakes made by General
Mayran, in attacking too soon, and by General Brunet,

R



262 Pe 1 Ussier s Persistency

for remissness in his preliminary arrangements for the
assault. When told that both these generals had fallen
n leading their troops, he uttered what the French
chronicler Rousset calls truly "a cruel word," and which,
he says, shocked the staff: "If they were not dead, I
would send them before a council of war." To Vaillant
he utters no words which would admit that he was him-
self to blame. He points out that mistakes made on an
open field of battle would entail consequences much
more serious than in an assault from the trenches, where
the defeated troops were at once sheltered and rallied.
Not only a defeat, but even a drawn battle in the field,
would paralyse the Allies, far from their ports and
resources, and encumbered with sick and wounded.
Therefore, he is still for prosecuting the siege. " I can-
not console myself for the failure at the Malakofif other-
wise than in repairing it by energy, and, above all, by
method." Niel also wrote to Vaillant, in a tone much
more moderate and hopeful than was his wont. But
nothing, apparently, could remove Pelissier's natural
prejudice against one who criticised and opposed his
measures, and who had the ear of their master. On the
26th there was a conference of French generals, when
Niel, in endeavouring to argue in favour of a certain
direction of the siege works, was thus met, according to
his own report of the scene : " The General-in-Chief said
to me, * I forbid you, in the most formal manner, to add
anything to the reading of your note, and if you infringe
my orders, I warn you I shall resort to rigorous means.' "
The check Pelissier had met with had not softened his



In prosecuting the Siege. 263

spirit, or rendered him more conciliatory ; and when, in
compliance with a hint from Vaillant that the Emperor
complained of the small attention paid to the Imperial
views and messages, Pelissier wrote to Louis Napoleon,
he set forth his conception of the situation no less
clearly and decisively than before, and weighed the
Emperor's plan against his own without any sign of
giving way. "We must look even more carefully to
the chances of a reverse than to those of a victory.
Before the fortress our failures do not change the situa-
tion ; they leave us to-day where we were yesterday ;
but in a battle in the field the losses and disorders
will be multiplied in proportion to the distance from our
base." He then discusses the problem in a very masterly
way, and winds up thus : " I am too devoted to my
country, too anxious to serve the Emperor according
to his views, to be suspected of being governed by
obstinacy ; it is simply sincerity and devotion which
actuate me .... Believe that if I do not enter into the
projects which have your sympathies, Sire, it is because
I should risk the fortunes of your Majesty, which are the
fortunes of France." Probably it will be thought that
Pelissier gave no greater proof of the firmness of his
character than when he thus adhered to the much-ques-
tioned plan, in executing which he had just sustained a
heavy defeat. The letter made a strong impression on
the Emperor. He had been with difficulty dissuaded
from displacing Pelissier and giving Niel the command.
But he now showed this letter to Vaillant as no less
remarkable for its substance than its form. And



264 Vaillant sides with Pelissier.

Marshal Vaillant himself plays a very fine part in the
correspondence. He gives excellent counsels, admir-
ably and often wittily expressed, to the Emperor, to
Pelissier, and to Niel. He admonishes Niel to conciliate
Pe"lissier ; he advises Pelissier to trust Niel. And now
he declared for Pelissier's plan. "There can be no
question of field operations now," he writes to Pelissier;
" that would be to abandon the certain, which, I allow,
is not brilliant, for the uncertain, which may be disas-
trous. It is the fortune of France which is played for
before Sebastopol. At least, let it be well played for,
.... I have often told the Emperor that the time for
diversions is past ; that we grasp the fortress too closely
to distract ourselves with exterior operations, in which
a check might have terrible consequences." And to Niel
he says : " To undertake a campaign with the cholera for
company, and a great siege at our back, would terrify
me ; I could understand it in May ; in July it is no
longer possible." So the siege went on,; only Pelissier
practically confessed his mistake by now resolving to
push his approaches (as he had phrased it in his letter
to the Emperor), " as methodically, as prudently, and as
closely as possible."

There can be little doubt that the event of the iSth
June pressed heavily on Lord Raglan. He had never
appeared to be a commander who took his responsibilities
anxiously ; indeed, to some observers, it seemed that
they scarcely impressed him in due proportion to their
gravity. But the suppression of feeling may itself have
been costly. Five days after the failure of the assault,



Death of L ord Raglan. 265

an officer of "his staff wrote : " I fear it has affected Lord
Raglan's health, he looks far from well, and has grown
very much aged latterly." He wrote to tell Pelissier he
was unwell, "but nothing serious." On the 26th he
spent the morning in his correspondence, which he
always conducted most industriously ; but when he con-
cluded it that day, he had written his last letter.
Cholera, not in its cruel or violent form, declared itself ;
he sank gradually away, and, on the 28th, died peace-
fully in the presence of his military household. Next
day his colleagues came to take a farewell look of him,
when the stern Peliss^Jf, who had always evinced a great
regard and even affection for his English colleague,
showed a new side of his character. " General Pelissier,"
says an officer who was present, " stood by the bedside
for upwards of an hour, crying like a child." And the
tribute he paid him in a general order was highly
appreciated in all the camps, and is so evidently genuine
in expression, that it may well serve to show in what
estimation the deceased commander was held by his
colleagues.



"ARMY OF THE EAST, No. 15, GENERAL ORDER.

"Death has suddenly taken away, while in full exercise
of his command, the Field-Marshal Lord Raglan, and
has plunged the British in mourning.

" We all share the sorrow of our brave allies. Those
who knew Lord Raglan, who know the history of his



266 His Funeral.

life, so pure, so noble, so replete with service rendered
to his country, those who witnessed his fearless demean-
our at the Alma and Inkerman, who recall the calm and
stoic greatness of his character throughout this rude and
memorable campaign, every generous heart, indeed, will
deplore the loss of such a man. The sentiments here
expressed by the General-in-Chief are those of the
whole Army. He has himself been cruelly struck by
this unlooked-for blow.

" The public grief only increases his sorrow at being
for ever separated from a companion-in-arms whose
genial spirit he loved, whose virtues he admired, and
from whom he has always received the most loyal and

hearty co-operation.

"A. PfiLlSSIER,

Commander-in- Chief.
" HEADQUARTERS,
BEFORE SEBASTOPOL,
igthjune 1855."

The funeral was a very striking spectacle. Covered
with a white flag, showing the red cross of St George,
and borne on a gun carriage, the coffin journeyed
slowly, from the farmhouse which had been the Eng-
lish headquarters, across the plains. The generals and
staffs of the four Armies, English, French, Turkish, and
Sardinian accompanied it, as it moved between saluting
batteries and lines of troops extending to Kazatch Bay,
the place of embarkation. Crowds of boats, with naval
officers, there awaited its transfer to the Caradoc, the
steamer in which Lord Raglan had come from England,



Sufferings of the Defenders. 267

and which was now to take home his remains. His
destined successsor, General Simpson, was already on
the spot, and at once assumed the command of the
army.

On the loth July Admiral Nakimoff, who had com-
manded the Russian Squadron at Sinope, and had been
one of the foremost chiefs of the defence, was mortally
wounded in the Malakoff. He was buried, with im-
posing ceremonies, on the City heights, near the tombs
of his colleagues, Admirals Lazareff, Korniloff, and
Istomine, all slain in defending the fortress.

All through July the defenders of Sebastopol beheld
the works of the besiegers creeping steadily on ; and
while the ordinary fire caused them a daily loss of
250 men, they knew that the interval must be short
before they would again have to pass through the terrific
ordeal of another cannonade, with the now ascertained
result of seeing their artillery silenced, and dreadful
losses inflicted on the garrison. At the burial truce,
which followed the i8th June, a young Russian officer
said to one of our staff,* who had been speaking of the
losses of the Allies, " with great bitterness of manner and
voice choked with emotion : ' Losses ! you don't know
what the word means ; you should see our batteries ; the
dead lie there in heaps and heaps. Troops cannot live
under such a fire of hell as you poured upon us.' " In
that bombardment the Russians had lost from 1000 to
1500 a day, and a renewal of the terrible time was now
approaching. Supposing, then, that the thought of
* The author of Letters from Headquarters ^ also quoted on p. 265,



268 Russian Plans of Battle.

retreat to the north side could not yet be entertained,
the question was urgent whether to persevere in the
passive defence or to bring up their field army for a
general attack upon the enemy. It seemed that the
chief officers on the spot were alone competent to settle
this, and Prince Gortschakoff was ordered, with the
approval of the Czar, to convene them in a, council of
war, which met on the pth of August. The majority
pronounced in favour of taking the offensive, but as to
the time and mode there was such a diversity of opinion
as showed how little hopeful was the situation. Whether
to fling the field army against the positions on the
Tchernaya ; or to combine with an attack there a great
sortie from Sebastopol ; or, as one or two desired, to
evacuate the south side, and combine garrison and field
army for a great battle ; or whether (as Todleben held)
the field army should be brought to reinforce the
garrison, and both hurled against the besiegers' lines ;
also, whether certain reinforcements of militia should be
waited for all these found their advocates. What was
decided on was to attack the Allies on the upper
Tchernaya, that is to say, the French on the Fedioukine
heights,* numbering 18,000 men, with forty-eight guns,
and the Sardinians, who continued the line up the stream,
also on a line of heights bordering it, and held a hill on
the Russian side of the river near Tchorgoun as an out-
post, and who numbered 9000, with thirty-six guns; while
close enough to act as a reserve were 10,000 Turks, in
the valley behind. In addition to these, the French

* Map 3. See also page ii.



Russian A dvance for Battle. 269

could readily bring down from the Upland a disposable
force which would raise the whole Allied Army in this
locality to 60,000. Besides the obstacle of the Tchernaya,
there was a watercourse along the front of the Allies,
who had further protected their lines and batteries by
intrenchments.

On the afternoon of the I5th August the Russians
brought their troops from the Belbek to join those on
the Mackenzie Farm heights. During the following
night, the right wing, 13,000 infantry, 2000 cavalry, and


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20

Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 17 of 20)