Copyright
Edward Bruce Hamley.

The war in the Crimea online

. (page 4 of 20)
Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 4 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


exchange of shots with our foremost batteries, with some
trifling loss on either side, it retired without any note-
worthy collision of foot or horse. The army thereupon
bivouacked on the stream (for the sake of water), with
its front some hundred yards on the further bank ; the
British right wing parallel to the stream, and the left
thrown back to the rivulet, in case of an attack on that
side. But it passed the night unmolested.

Next morning, the 2Oth, the troops were under arms
early, but did not move for some time. Marshal St
Arnaud, returning from a visit to Lord Raglan, passed
along our front ; a tall, thin, sharp-visaged man, reduced
by illness, but alert and soldier-like, and manifestly much
pleased as he saluted our ranks in return for the cheers
with which they greeted him. In less than ten days he
was a dead man.



The Valley of the Alma. 47

Between nine and ten o'clock the army moved for-
ward, surmounting a succession of grassy ridges. It
was well known that we were to try conclusions with
the Russians that day. About noon a steamer, coasting
along on our flank, began to fire towards the land, just
where a sharp, steep cliff ended the shore, and where,
in fact, was the mouth of the Alma. When the British
surmounted the next ridge, they looked down on the
arena of battle.

The valley of the Alma lay before them, at the foot
of a smooth, sloping plain. The river, as it flows at the
foot of this plain, makes somewhat of an angle, enclos-
ing the Allies ; and the apex just marks the junction of
the French left with the English right. Just within the
apex is the village of Bourliouk, and noting that as the
place where the two Allied armies touched, the share of
each in the battle becomes clear.

The ground on the Russian bank was, as befitted a
defensive position, much more difficult and commanding
than on the other. Beginning at the sea, for more than
a mile and a half thence up the stream, there rises close
to it a perpendicular rocky wall, as if the sea-cliff were
bent backward. Then comes another mile where the
cliffs have receded somewhat, and subsided into hills,
still steep and difficult, though not forbidding ascent.
Near the mouth of the Alma the stream was fordable,
and from thence a path led up the cliff.

Three-quarters of a mile up the stream from its mouth
there is on the Allies' bank the village of Alma Tamack ;
and opposite this a cleft in the cliff allows of a road



48 The Russian Bank.

practicable for guns, which ascends the heights. A
mile further up is a farm, opposite which the cliff has
subsided and receded, and here is another road. Finally,
at another half mile up the stream, a few hundred
yards to the right of the village of Bourliouk, where, on
the Russian side, the hills have still receded and become
more practicable, another road crosses, ascending the
heights to a telegraph tower. Everywhere, the hills,
whether standing up in cliffs, as near the sea, or reced-
ing from the stream, were the buttresses which supported
on their tops a high plain stretching away towards the
next river that crossed our line of march on Sebastopol.

The part of the stream thus described marks the front
of the French and Turks, who may be said to have
faced south-south-west.

The other face of the angle made by the stream
marks the British front, which may be said to have
faced south-south-east. And now the character of the
Russian side of the river changes materially. Here
the crest line has receded much farther back, and the
ground is easy of ascent for all arms. Just opposite the
centre of the British front it shoots up to a pinnacle,
called the Kourgane Hill, from the sides of which long,
smooth, wide slopes descend to the river. The one of
these which chiefly concerns us, that on our right front,
is broken in its even descent from the summit by a high
knoll surmounted by a terrace, at some hundred yards
from the river. Remembering that ground is good for
defence, not so much because of the difficulties it opposes
to movement, as because of the facilities it affords for



Omissions of the Russian Commander. 49

bringing the fire of the defenders to bear on the
assailants, it will be understood why Menschikoff had
occupied this part of his line most strongly both with
infantry and artillery.

The great post-road from Eupatoria to Sebastopol,
on each side of which the British had been marching,
passes the river by a bridge a little to the left of the
apex of the angle formed by the stream, and then
ascends to the plateau, through the hollow between the
Telegraph Hill on the right and the Kourgane Hill on
the left. There was good reason for Menschikoff to
take position across the road. But in doing so he had
of course to consider what extent of ground was suited
to his force, very inferior to that of the Allies. Bearing
in mind the inaccessible nature of the cliffs, and also
that troops ascending them would be very near the
edge of the precipitous face above the sea remem-
bering too that the ships, as he presently found,
could throw their big projectiles on to that part of the
ground he massed the chief part of his force about the
Kourgane slopes, and nearly all the remainder between
the Sebastopol road and the Telegraph Hill. And this
arrangement would have been so far unimpeachable
had he done what he easily could have done to debar
the enemy from the roads leading up the cliffs, either
by breaking them up, or by placing works at the points
where they reached the plateau. With the aid of other
fieldworks on his front and flanks he might have justly
considered himself as occupying, despite his inferior

numbers, a strong position for the direct defence of

D



50 The French ascend the Heights.

Sebastopol. But no such means were taken of adding
to the strength of the ground, for the two bits of trench
work made by him were not intended as defences.

A halt of some length was made by the Allies on
coming in sight of the enemy, while Lord Raglan and
St Arnaud, moving out to the front, concerted the
general order of the attack. When the advance was
ordered, about one o'clock, it was begun by Bosquet's
division, which was next the sea, and faced the cliffs.
After laying down their knapsacks, one of his brigades
crossed the Alma near its mouth, and ascended the path
there, followed by the Turks ; and the other entered the
road through the cliff opposite Alma Tamack, by which
passed also the divisional artillery. At the same time
French ships near the mouth of the stream threw their
projectiles on to the plateau, the surface of which they
could see. The remainder of the French forces followed
in a line of columns at some considerable distance in
rear of Bosquet. Next to his division was Canrobert's,
which entered the road opposite the farm, and debouched
on the plateau nearly a mile west of the Telegraph ; but
he was obliged to send his guns by the road followed by
Bosquet's left brigade. Next to Canrobert's came Prince
Napoleon's division, and behind both was Forey's in
second line. All these troops then were directed on the
right face of the angle formed by the stream, and all
were on the right of the post-road to Sebastopol. The
ground may be at once cleared for the battle by saying
that Bosquet's right brigade and the Turks, passing at
the mouth of the stream, found themselves far from the



Position in Front of the British. 5 i

enemy, on whom they never fired a shot ; and his
other brigade was a mile west of Canrobert's division,
which, it has been said, was nearly a mile from the
Telegraph, while all its artillery was following Bosquet's
left brigade. Prince Napoleon's division bore directly
on the ground immediately around the Telegraph. All
this makes it plain that a little engineering science on
the part of Menschikoff would have almost neutralised
the action of the French and Turks in the battle. As it
was, the chief result achieved by St Arnaud was that he
gained a position threatening Menschikoff s left flank at
the moment when his front was assailed by the English.
The British divisions moved down abreast of the
French, at first in column formation, the Second Division
on the right, the Light Division on the left, in first line ;
the Second followed by the Third, the Light by the First,
in second line, and the Fourth in echelon in rear of the
left. Beyond the left moved four regiments of the Light
Brigade, while the remaining one closed the rear. As
they advanced, the Russian forces became more clearly
discernible, as did also the ground our line was to
occupy. It was marked on the right by the village of
Bourliouk, already mentioned, and on the left, about two
miles up the stream, by the village of Tarkhanlar, to
which, however, the left of our infantry did not quite
attain. Between the two were gardens and vineyards,
enclosed by low stone walls, stretching down to the
stream, which proved fordable nearly throughout. Right
opposite our centre, as we moved, was the slope of the
Kourgane Hill, with its tei raced knoll a few hundred



5 2 Russian Forces there.

yards from the river, on which appeared an earthwork
of some kind, with twelve or fourteen guns, some of them
bearing on the post-road, some directly on our front,
some on our right wing, and thus sweeping our whole
front A thousand yards from this battery, and facing
our left, another earthwork with guns was visible. As
already said, these works were not intended for defence,
for they were easily surmounted, being banks of earth only
two or three feet high, so that the guns looked over them ;
they were probably intended to prevent the pieces from
running down the slope, and also might afford some
slight shelter to the gunners. Behind the battery on
the Kourgane, and on its flanks, the Russian battalions
were thickly posted, their front extending to the battery
facing our left ; and on the other flank they were massed
on the knolls close to the post-road. The columns in
reserve were higher up on the slopes, where also were
drawn up the 3400 cavalry of MenschikofFs army.
Besides the battery on the knoll, he had on this part
of the field nine field batteries (the Russian battery
is of eight guns), of which one was in the earthwork
on his right, another supported the twelve-gun battery,
two in reserve on the upper slope, two across the post-
road, bearing on the bridge, and three attached to the
cavalry. The force confronting the English may be
taken as 21,000 infantry, 3000 cavalry, and eighty-four
guns; those opposing the French as 12,000 infantry,
400 cavalry, and thirty-six guns : making the totals
of MenschikofTs army 33,000 infantry, 3400 cavalry and
120 guns. Part of the British Fourth Division had been



Delay to allow French to gain Heights. 53

left behind at the place of disembarkation to clear the
beach, and did not arrive till after the battle. Our force en-
gaged was 23,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and sixty guns.
The French and Turks together numbered about 35,000
infantry, with sixty-eight guns. Deducting the column
that passed the Alma at its mouth, they had 25,000
infantry, and sixty-eight guns ; these when brought to bear
would of course overwhelm the force opposed to them,
which, moreover, only came by degrees on the French
part of the field, where no attack had been provided
for by the Russians. It is impossible, therefore, that the
French could have met with any very strong opposition.
As the skirmishers on our right approached ftourliouk
they were met by the fire of Russian light troops and
light guns in the village ; while the skirmishers in front
of the Light Division (four companies of its rifle
battalion), encountered a large number of the enemy's
skirmishers in the vineyards ; but, as our columns ad-
vanced, these retired across the stream, first setting fire to
Bourliouk, the conflagration of which was a notable inci-
dent of the battle. It was now that the twelve-gun battery
on the Kourgane Hill gave our people a taste of itsquality ;
shot and shell, of a size far greater than that of field-
artillery, began to tear the ground, and to burst in the
air. The Light and Second Divisions began thereupon
to deploy ; but our right was much too close upon the
French, and a great deal of marching and counter-
marching now took place, without mending the fault,
for too little ground was taken, and our troops were
crowded in their advance to a most damaging degree.



54 English ordered to advance.

The delay was not accidental, however, but was accord-
ing to the plan, in pursuance of which the advance
against the front of the strongly occupied part of the
position was only to take place when Bosquet's move-
ment against the left should begin to take effect. His
voltigeurs, and afterwards those of Canrobert, had been
seen swarming up the heights, and some guns (Bos-
quet's twelve) had been heard, along with the Russian
batteries opposing them. But, as already said, the
French artillery had all to advance by one road ; the
process was slow, and Canrobert's main body of infantry,
as well as Prince Napoleon's division, waited for the
support of the guns hence the delay. Kinglake says
that, while thei, movement was still incomplete, a French
staff-officer came from St Arnaud to ask Lord Raglan
to advance. The order to attack was thereupon given
to the Second and the Light Divisions.

Having issued this command, the English general
took a course too extraordinary to remain unnoticed.
Accompanied by some of his staff, he rode round the
right of the burning village, and descending to the
Alma, crossed it by a ford close to the left of the
French Army. Proceeding up the opposite bank, he
reached a knoll between the Telegraph Hill and the
post-road, from whence he looked from a distance,
which was at the moment beyond the effective range
of field-artillery, upon the flank of the Russian position
on the Kourgane Hill, and also, on his right front, on
the columns of the Russian reserves. He was thus in
the singular position for a commander of occupying,



First Onset of the English. 55

with a few officers, a point well within the enemy's lines,
and beyond the support, or even the knowledge, of any
of the rest of his army ; and Kinglake, the historian,
who accompanied him in this excursion, and who records
it with applause, says, also, he was too far from the
scene of the main struggle on which his army had now
entered to be able, for the time, to direct the movements
of his own troops.

It was fortunate, in these circumstances, that the
divisional commanders had so plain a task before them.
On receiving the order, the Second and Light Divisions
had at once begun their advance ; but Evans's being
delayed by the burning village, and having to pass
round both ends of it to the river, Brown's, forming the
left of our line, was the first to attack. Passing the low
wall of the vineyards which occupied this bank, push-
ing before it the Russian skirmishers, and losing some
men as it went, it made its way, much disordered by
the tangling vines, to the stream, whose clear current
was in most places shallow, but in others formed
pools where the men were in water to their necks.
Wading through, they found themselves, at a very few
yards from the stream, standing beneath an almost
perpendicular bank about six feet high, in which the
long slope abruptly ended, and where they were for the
moment out of the view of the enemy's battery above
them on the hill. A pause was made here, ended by
Sir George Brown himself riding up the bank and call-
ing on his regiments to follow. The whole division
thereupon gained the slope, and began the attack not



56 The Light and Second Divisions.

in orderly lines, for, besides insufficiency of space, it
was impossible under such a fire as now assailed it to
form these, but with such attempts at lines as the men
themselves, instinctively seeking their own- companies,
succeeded in making, that is to say, a line chiefly of
groups and masses. But, whenever they were able to
form, our regiments attacked in a two-deep line, accord-
ing to our custom, and were met by the Russians in
deep columns, formed of two or more battalions, so
that the front of a British line was of greater extent
than that of the double or quadruple force in the
enemy's column engaged with it. Three regiments of
the Light Division, with one of the Second Division,
gallantly led by General Codrington, went straight up
the slope, their too dense front torn by the great heavy
battery, only three hundred yards in front of them, and
firing down a smooth natural glacis. On our right
of that battery the 7th regiment had become engaged
with a Russian column formed by the left wing of the
Kazan regiment, and numbering 1500 men ; while the
two left regiments of our Light Division had been halted
on the slope near the river, because General Buller, per-
ceiving a formation and advance of infantry and cavalry
on his left front, formed a corresponding front to meet it.
The regiment of the Second Division (95th) which
had joined Codrington was one of four led by Evans
himself across the river near the bridge, and which
then, bearing considerably to their left, partly prolonged
and partly supported the Light Division, while his other
two battalions (415! and 49th), under General Adams,



The Russian Heavy Guns withdrawn. 57

passing round the right of the burning village, crossed
by a ford below into the hollow space, garnished with
knolls, between the Telegraph and Kourgane Hills,
where stood part of the Russian left.

The First Division, formed in second line to the
Light, embraced much more ground, so that the brigade
of Guards extended from near the post-road to quite
beyond the rear of Codrington's brigade, while the
Highlanders, forming abreast of them, were prolonging
the front of the army. After remaining for some time,
lying down in line during the advance of the Light
Division, the First Division followed it through the
vineyards and across the Alma.

Codrington's brigade continued its brisk advance,
and now occurred a singular event that was a turning
point of the battle, which was nothing less than the
sudden retreat of the great heavy battery which had
been so formidable a feature of the Russian position.
This withdrawal was very discreditable. Whether it
was owing to the menacing aspect of the advancing
troops, or to anxiety to avoid the loss of guns (and
Kinglake says it was well known that such loss would
draw down the displeasure of the Czar), it was a disgrace
to such a powerful battery, so important to the battle,
so surrounded with supporting battalions, to save itself
just when, by continuing in action, it might cause heavy
and perhaps decisive loss to the enemy. It vanished
with celerity just as Codrington's men were touch-
ing the earthwork in front of it. Cavalry horses,
equipped with lasso harness, came up hastily, were



58 Our First Onset fails.

hooked on, and drew the guns away, except two which
were captured.

Relieved from the tremendous stress of fire which
had poured such huge missiles, at such close quarters,
through their ranks, Codrington's regiments, after enter-
ing the earthwork, lined the low parapet, and extended
on both sides of it. Those on the right were in some
degree protected by the 7th, still holding the left Kazan
column fast ; and on the left, by the two battalions
that had been held back there. Facing Codrington
were the four battalions of the Vladimir regiment, 3000
strong, supported by the Ouglitz regiment, of the same
strength (though it never got down into the conflict),
and the right wing of the Kazan regiment ; the Vladimir
was closely supported by the fire of the field battery,
already said to be in support of the great battery.
And had our attack been so ordered that the supporting
divisions were now taking part in it, the conflict, assum-
ing large proportions, might have drawn into its active
area the whole of the forces on both sides, and have issued
in a result more decisive than a mere victory. But the
troops with Codrington, without close support, seeing be-
fore and around them fresh masses of the enemy, being
a target for their guns, and threatened by a great body
of cavalry, gave way and descended the hill. On
arriving at its foot the four regiments, and the four
companies of rifles, were less in number than when
they went up by forty-seven officers, fifty sergeants,
and 800 rank and file, killed and wounded ; and, in
addition, the /th lost twelve officers, and more than



Advance of the Guards and Highlanders. 59

2pp men. But they had inflicted far heavier losses on
the enemy.

Had they but clung to the ground they held a few
moments longer, they would have received effectual
support, for the Guards, after gaining the farther bank
of the stream in good order, had already begun the
ascent, and their centre battalion, the Scots Fusiliers,
was disordered and swept down by the retreating troops,
with a loss of eleven officers and 170 men. But the
Grenadiers on its right, and the Coldstreams on its left,
continued to advance in lines absolutely unbroken, ex-
cept where struck by the enemy's shot Such French
officers on the hills on the right as, in an interval of
inaction, were free to observe what our troops were
doing, spoke of this advance of the Guards as some-
thing new to their minds, and very admirable.

At this time the whole of our troops were being
brought to bear on the position. The three regiments
remaining with Evans (55th, 3Oth, and 47th) had been
engaged chiefly on the left of the post-road, against
the battalions and batteries drawn up for its defence,
and had undergone heavy losses. His two other regi-
ments (41 st and 49th), which had moved to the stream
on the other side of Bourliouk, were towards the close
of the battle brought up to the knoll where Lord
Raglan stood. The Third Division was moving across
the stream in support, and on the left of the Guards the
Highlanders were advancing against the Russian right
flank, while beyond them again moved our Cavalry
Brigade. It was, then, upon troops shaken by heavy



60 English Artillery in the Action.

losses, and dispirited for the want of a forward impulse,
that our whole army was now closing.

Our artillery had also taken an effective share in the
fight At first, till ground was gained on the further
bank, some batteries of the Light, Second, and First
Divisions had, from the space behind and around the
burnt village, brought their fire to bear on the men and
guns defending the post-road, but as the infantry ad-
vanced they began to cross the river. The battery of
the First Division, already in action, now passed at a
shallow ford just below the bridge, and going some way
up the road, ascended a knoll to the left, where it found
itself on the right of the 55th, and in full view of the
field. The guns had outstripped the gunners, who
followed on foot, and the gun first to arrive was loaded
and fired by the officers, who dismounted for the pur-
pose. The rest of the battery immediately came up.
and its fire bore on and turned back a heavy Russian
column (the only one at that time within view) which
was descending the hill. Two batteries from other
divisions also came into action here, and on the ground
where Lord Raglan stood two guns, called up by him,
had been so placed as to bear on the flank of the
batteries guarding the post-road, causing them to retire,
while the two troops of horse-artillery, advancing with
the cavalry on our left, were finally directed on the
masses still held in reserve by Menschikoff.

The two battalions of the Guards, with some men
rallied from the Scots battalion, went up the hill on each
side of the gap in their centre, and were met by the four



General Retreat of the Russians. 6 1

battalions of the Vladimir regiment, and the two Kazan
battalions, much shattered in the fight, which had hither-
to been engaged with the 7th. This new phase of the
battle was not of long duration. The columns could
not stand before the close fire of the lines. Moreover, at
this moment the Highland regiments, after receiving the
badly aimed fire of the field-guns in the earthwork on
the flank (which then rapidly withdrew from the action),
had now approached the right of the Russian position.
The brigade was in echelon, the right battalion leading
and already past the earthwork defended by the Vladimir.
This Russian regiment, after undergoing heavy loss, still
hotly assailed in front by the Guards, and its rear threat-
ened by the Highlanders, retreated to its right rear to-


1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryEdward Bruce HamleyThe war in the Crimea → online text (page 4 of 20)