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The Times 5.5.1855 p 9

LEADING ARTICLES — 2nd leader


At length there is a gleam of hope from the Crimea. We have once more assumed the aggressive, we have been successful, and the success has been such as to induce our WAR MINISTER to publish it. The data from which we have to learn the precise amount of our advantages are slight. We are given to understand, however, that there has been a serious engagement on the front and left attacks, and that the result has been the possession of the Russian rifle pits, we presume before those particular parts of our line. The only rifle pits marked in the best and latest maps of the siege are those that have grown up in the unfortunately very wide interval which we were obliged to leave from the beginning between our batteries and the Russian fortifications. Owing to our want of men for the immense and multifarious work to be done, and to the nature of the ground, we did not advance our parallels nearer than about 1,200 yards. As is well known, the result has been that the Russians, besides constructing immense redoubts before some of their strongest existing works, have also established successively rifle pits and smaller redoubts at four principal points — viz, the Ovens, before the Flagstaff and Garden Batteries; an extensive line of pits before the Redan; those actually in advance of the Mamelon, which in its turn is in advance of the Malakoff Tower; and rifle pits upon Mount Sapoune. Most probably we have carried the rifle pits before the Redan and the Mamelon. If we have done this, and if, as is further reported, we have beaten the Russians in their attempt to recover the pits the following day — that is, Wednesday — we have at length been able to make up the chief deficiency of our first operations, and pushed our attack within a distance whence we can fire with more effect upon the Russian fortifications. The capture of eight mortars and 200 prisoners shows how much the enemy had established themselves in the position we have now made our own , and the amount of protection they had made for their men.

It is evident that these advanced positions made for us by the Russians are not to be retained without great and continued efforts on our part. The whole of the surface is exposed to every kind of fire, and, as it appears the Russians could not hold their ground there without a large daily average of losses, so neither can we. It may be assumed, therefore, that we have not made this advance, which, like the affair of the 19th ult, has probably cost us many valuable lives, without a determination to push forward. With the enemy it was, of course, a necessity of their position to defend themselves as well as they could; and it answered to lose hundreds a-day in the rifle pits, if at that price they could make us keep our distance from their principal line. An advance to these posts of danger and honour is more voluntary on our part, and doubtless also proceeds on a more settled plan. Indeed, everything indicates that we are on the point of energetic operations. Whether we are about to attempt an assault, or to concentrate our forces suddenly for an attack on the Russian army in the field, is not yet known. The reconnaissance in force of Omar Pasha on the 19th certainly points to the latter, and its result might go some way to decide the allies in that direction. It appears that, as many sagacious people have long suspected, the Russian force in our neighbourhood is very small. Probably that force has always been exaggerated. A few Cossacks, occupying a mound, or patrolling a hill, a collection of huts, and an occasional line of camp-fires, have often deceived our generals into the belief that a large Russian army was hovering in our rear. Every sound calculation pointed the other way, and it is now questioned by competent authorities whether the Russians have ever had a hundred thousand men at once in the Crimea. The story reported the other day of 60,000 fresh troops arrived in Sebastopol, and 100,000 more in reserve at Simpheropol, was on the questionable authority of a Russian deserter, who seemed to be dressed up for the occasion, being evidently superior to his assumed character of a non-commissioned officer, and who had been allowed to pass from the Russian lines to our own with suspicious facility. When the history of this great siege comes to be related by Russian pens, and its miracles described in their churches, no doubt the fact most insisted on will be the very small number of men who have kept us so long at defiance, and inflicted on us such serious loss. We are now more alive to the arts by which the enemy have multiplied their numbers. We shall now push our reconnaissances further into the field, and our parallels nearer to the walls; the imposture, for such we believe it, will soon be better understood, and we shall take that bolder line that belongs to our superiority in numbers, as in courage, endurance, and strength. We observed that thus far there was nothing to show whether the allies would deal first with the city or with the army in the field. Whatever may be intended, if, indeed, any decision has been come to, the present line of operations would be the same in either case. For the present, we have to compel the enemy to divide his forces, and weaken him as much as possible at each point; unless, indeed, we could hope to seduce him into such a mistake of our intentions as to neglect the point we had really marked for attack.

While we are ready to appreciate the courage exhibited in the advance of this week, under the actual circumstances, and while we cannot but think it promises much more, yet we remember, with a feeling akin to humiliation, that in this, the eighth month of a siege conducted without stint of life or treasure, we are only just taking up the position we ought to have arrived at by the 17th of last October, if not still earlier. Just at this moment, when we are slowly making up for lost time, and actually learning siege operations from a foe we had been taught to despise, an opportunity occurs for comparing the spirit that directs the operations of the besiegers and the besieged. A letter from Sir JOHN F BURGOYNE gives us once more the familiar picture of the veteran military savant, who views a siege principally as a school for teaching the science of fortification. The gallant old General is still of opinion that everything was done right, though it led of necessity to a disastrous conclusion, and that in theory we have achieved a splendid performance, though in fact we have suffered disaster. Thus far Sir JOHN is ready to exclaim with the stoical Republican, “Victrix causa Deis placuit, sed victa Catoni.” The road he still holds ought not to have been attempted under the circumstances, it being, in his opinion, impossible for an army of seventy or eighty thousand men to make about six miles and a-half of road, involving, at the utmost, the collection and laying down of about 40,000 cubic yards of the loose shingle and stones lying on the whole surface of the country. Had the Russians gone on the same principle we might by this time have been in Sebastopol, and might even have been masters of the whole of the Crimea. But they did not. We believe we can inform our readers whom it was that Sir JOHN had to contend with. The name of the head engineer at Sebastopol is TODLEBEN. He is 32 years of age. His parents are poor shopkeepers in Riga. When the siege commenced Prince MENSCHIKOFF, it is said, asked the then head engineer how long it would take to put the place into a state of defence. He answered, “Two months.” A young captain, named TODLEBEN, stepped forward and said he would undertake to do it, if he had as many men as he required, in two weeks. He did it in 12 days, and was made colonel. Since that time he has had the direction of everything in the way of building batteries, defences, &c. The other day the Grand Dukes called upon his wife, who is residing in St Petersburg, to congratulate her upon her husband's promotion; for he is now General and Aide-de-Camp to the Emperor. Is anything more wanted to explain the painful discrepancy between what has been done by the Russians and by the allies? The former will be bound by no ties of seniority or class; they take the man that will do his work the best, and they get it the best done.


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