Home About Sources Topics Background

Crimean texts

The Times 4.10.1864 p 8



(Continued from The Times of September 13)

As we have now arrived at a most important period in the history of the Crimean campaign, let us follow Todleben in a retrospect of what occurred during the time preceding the battle of Inkerman, which, according to the plan of his work, he calls the “First Period of the Defence.” The Allies, by their occupation of the peninsula of the Chersonese, had in the first place obtained an excellent military position, covered in the rear by the sea and the heights of Mount Sapoune, and provided with sheltering bays for their fleets, where they could establish depôts in full security protected by their guns. It was by the flank march those advantages were afforded.

When the Allies made their appearance on the peninsula the works on the south side were almost null, had a very feeble armament, and presented great gaps destitute of any sort of defence. The garrison was very weak, and Menschikoff, to save his communications, had been forced to fall back on Bakhtchiserai. These various circumstances gave the Allies the power of attacking the city by storm, and it can be affirmed with certainty — these are Todleben’s views and words — that they would have succeeded in taking it, notwithstanding the heroic resistance the garrison would have opposed to them.

The reconnaissances had been made at too great a distance to enable the Allies to calculate exactly the resistance which could be made by the line of defence, and probably on that account the Russian works appeared much stronger than they really were. That was one of the causes which determined the Allies to prepare for the assault by a cannonade of short duration but extreme violence. They were about three weeks in landing their siege train and arming their batteries. Profiting by the delay, the besieged placed a formidable artillery on the line of defence, and took care to concentrate on the batteries such a strong fire as enabled them to sustain the contest with the besiegers. Thus the Allies saw their projects for the assault miscarry. The French batteries were entirely disorganized. The English batteries succeeded in annihilating completely the Grand Redan, and there was in consequence a perfectly open space in that part of the line of defence. Although the army was quite ready for the assault, the influence of the grave check sustained by the French batteries acted so strongly on the Allies that they made no use of the advantage they had gained, and set about to repair the damage done to their batteries, in order to begin soon after a regular siege. With that aim they chose for the principal point of attack Bastion No. 4 (du Mât or Flagstaff Bastion). The French pushed their way with remarkable rapidity, considering the nature of the soil, so that on the night of the 2d of November, after 15 days from the opening of their trenches, they had already opened their third parallel, and were within 65 sagenes of the capital of the bastion. The besieged used every means in their power to strengthen the point attacked, and to impeded the French by concentrated fire. If the Russians did not succeed in checking the French approaches it was because it was difficult in dark nights and at considerable distances to ascertain the exact spots where the enemy was working. Experience has proved that even the most powerful artillery cannot arrest the progress of approaches beyond the distance of 200 paces. At shorter distances, by means of continuous watching, the garrison can find out all the enemy is doing. To overcome the difficulty permanent posts were established to watch the enemy as closely as possible. Having shut up the French batteries on the 17th of October, the Russians concentrated their efforts on the re-establishment of an equilibrium in the contest of Bastion No. 3 (Grand Redan), with the powerful English batteries. They soon succeeded in reinforcing their artillery at that point, while the English did almost nothing to augment the power of their batteries. From that time forward Bastion No. 3 yielded nothing to the English batteries, and the struggle at that point was continued with success. Meanwhile all the efforts of the besiegers were directed to crush Bastion No. 4, against which they raised new batteries. As soon as the Russians saw any place where the trenches appeared to have been thickened, they concluded the enemy was about to establish batteries there, and proceeded at once to throw up new works or modified the embrasures of existing batteries to paralyze the efforts of the besiegers to acquire a superiority of fire over the line of defence. On the 1st of November the besiegers opened their new batteries, and succeeded in obtaining a decisive advantage over the Flagstaff Bastion. Its artillery was crushed again and again, and the work was rendered perfectly accessible to an attack. Recognizing the greatness of the danger, and the absolute in sufficiency of the means of defence of the bastion, the Russians established batteries behind it, and at the same time took measures to blow up at a given moment both it and the Grand Redan — as well as to secure the retreat of the troops by constructing barricades in the city and converting the Sailors’ Barracks at the Karabelnaia into a central redoubt. From the beginning of the siege Prince Menschikoff had been impatiently expecting reinforcements to create a diversion and relieve the besieged city. After the action of Balaclava on the 25th of October, where the Russians were victorious, although their success had little influence on the ulterior progress of the regular attack, Prince Menschikoff assumed the offensive, but unfortunately the Russians lost the Battle of Inkerman, and it was to be presumed the situation of Sebastopol was about to become more critical than ever.

It soon, however, became evident that the influence of that battle on the Allies was quite different from what the Russians had thought. Although the Russians had sustained a check and had lost three times as many men as the Allies, the battle had, nevertheless, produced on the latter a profound impression, for it had shown them the numbers of the Russians and proved they were ready to take the offensive on the first favourable occasion. The definite result of the battle was that the Allies, abandoning their offensive operations, changed their plans and thought no longer of doing more than defend themselves against the attacks of the Russians. It is a fact that after the 5th of November the besiegers continued the violence of their artillery fire for only a few days, and that from the day in question the gradual decrease of the bombardment could be remarked. The approach of the French to Bastion 4 did not advance a step after they had opened their third parallel. On the contrary, they took steps to secure the two flanks of their attack, while the English set to work actively to fortify their position on the heights of Careening Bay. On their side the Russians, profiting by the increased weakness of the besiegers’ fire, were enabled to undertake vast works to give the greatest liberty of action to the line of defence. On the 14th of November occurred the tempest which caused such dreadful losses to the Allies by sea and by land. Todleben says that “the oldest inhabitants” of the peninsula never had seen the like of it. From the town they could see an extraordinary agitation in the allied camp, trees torn up, and men running in all directions. Soon they heard guns of distress from ships ashore at the Katcha. The waves rose to a prodigious height. All communication across the roads of Sebastopol became almost impossible, and many of the vessels stationed there were dashed against the quays. The Sililstria, one of the sunken liners which barred the entrance, had its deck carried away, and received severe damage. All along the line of defence the trenches and the shell holes were filled with water, which threatened to drown the magazines. An extract from the journal of the “Grand Duke Constantine” indicates how the Russian fleet, sheltered as it was in Sebastopol, suffered from that tremendous storm.

And here we must pause a moment in this abstract of the work to notice one fact. M de Todleben says that “By order of the commander-in-chief we took on our side the necessary measures to save, as far as possible, the crews of the ships” thrown on the coast. In another chapter he describes what these measures were. Off Eupatoria there were, he says, 17 vessels cast ashore, of which seven grounded at Point Sack. During the hurricane General Korff, rightly supposing the attention of the garrison would be directed to the aid of the shipping, undertook a reconnaissance of Eupatoria, and “s’empressa de profiter de cette circonstance favorable.” He accordingly put his corps in motion, and at 900 yards from the city opened fire and threw shell into the place. The enemy replied with congreve rockets and feeble howitzers, which did no damage, and after a cannonade of an hour General Korff retired. But his troops were taking every means to save the crews of the shipwrecked vessels. Major Jolinsky, with some Cossacks and a peloton of Lancers, anxious for the medal of the Humane Society, set off to rescue a great merchantman which was ashore. Scarcely had he got near her before he was received by the fire of artillery from on board, and the benevolent Jolinsky, who received a severe wound in the head, was obliged to retire. They were more fortunate with the crew of an Italian goëlette, 12 in number, who surrendered “without resistance” to the Lancers and Cossacks. Meanwhile another good samaritan was at work elsewhere, one General Major Terpilewsky, of the Leopold of Austria Lancers, hearing that a third vessel was on shore, took with him a peloton of his regiment and two guns (the latter doubtless to throw a hawser) and proceeded to the spot, but his humane intentions were balked as there was no one on board. So he opened fire upon the vessel and burnt it. But the Russians had not exhausted all their means of saving life. One Colonel Roslavlew (one likes to know the names of these good men), of the regiment of Novourkhangelsk, having heard of another great transport ashore, set off with four guns and another peloton of Lancers for the shore. The ship was under English colours. “When our artillery had arrived we shook a white flag. The vessel followed our example, and lowering the English flag, hoisted a white one, but the boats which had been put on shore at first were hoisted up.” Could anything be more natural? The English saw the cannon all ready, and, of course, did not like to trust themselves to the boats, because they expected every moment to have a line thrown to them by the friendly artillery. At best the guns were liable to misconstruction. Roslavlew, burning with philanthropy, took his measures at once. Two round shots were then fired by us so as to pass through the sides of the ship. As, after half an hour’s delay she had not replied to our signal, our artillery fired two more shots, one of which carried away the bulwark of the ship. This demonstration produced its effects, the boats were launched, and the crew, consisting of the captain, 2 mates, 28 English sailors, and 7 Turks, succeeded in landing. What follows is still more interesting. The captain explained that the ship was the Culloden, and that she had 700 pounds of powder, 32,000 shot and shell, and 32 Arab horses on board, “and that there still remained on board 25 men of the Turkish cavalry.” The captain was asked to take them on shore, but he refused, on the plea that he could not risk his sailors’ lives in such a tremendous sea to save the Turks. While the Russians were sending off their prisoners, they saw a large man-of-war making for the Culloden. “This incident, joined to the determination not to permit the enemy to tow off the merchantman, decided the commandant of the 2d Brigade of Lancers, General Major Prince Radzivill, of the suite of His Majesty the Emperor, to order our four pieces of artillery, placed on the coast, to fire on the ship, so as to sink her.” He knew there were seven-and-twenty human beings on board helpless, hopeless, unless he aided them; and this Russian nobleman, who is known in high society for his charming manners, polished air, and pleasant smile, carried out Prince Menschikoff’s orders, and took the following means of saving their lives. “The cannonade lasted about an hour, and although the distance was considerable our artillery set fire to the Culloden three times, but each time the waves which broke over the ship extinguished the flames. At last the ship, having had its sides much injured sank altogether. After this the expedition, at 5 o’clock, returned to their respective posts.” Now, where was the great man-of-war coming at all speed to the merchant man all this time? She ought to have stopped the amiable efforts of the Russians, and swept their artillery off the beach — if she was there at all. But she drops mysteriously out of the narrative. Next day, however, Lieutenant-General de Korff, taking six shell-guns and two pelotons, returns to the shore, “se diriger sur le navire submerge dans le dessein de sauver les Turcs.” This is the first time we ever knew the Turks were amphibious, and that they could live in a ship under water. The Cossacks set off in two boats, and actually found 25 Turks on board, of whom one only was wounded by a shell, put them on shore, and fired the vessel. And so ended the labours of the Good Samaritans about Eupatoria.

The storm, however, which inflicted so much damage, determined a crisis in the temperature, and from November the 14th the weather became sombre and cold, frost set in, and rain alternated with snow. The clay became soft and turned into deep mud, and the communication between the trenches and bastions, and the city itself, became very difficult. We have always been accustomed to think the Russians were much better off there than we were. Todleben, however, says:—

“Their conditions were most trying. They wanted altogether shelter and warm clothing. They had for the most part remained night and day in the line of defence since the opening of the siege, and had not been relieved as the troops of the Allies had been. Wounds or death alone had put a term to their sufferings and privations. Cholera began to rage with violence, and dysentery and fevers of various kinds made many victims. The besiegers had less to suffer, for they were only obliged to keep two or three brigades at furthest in the trenches at a time, while those in camp were sheltered in tents. The Russians could only permit the general reserve to go under cover in the houses of the city, and in expectation of an assault were compelled to keep the greater part of their force in the open works. Notwithstanding the more favourable conditions of the Allies, however, deserters began to arrive inside the lines in considerable numbers. The Russians learned from them that the morale of the besiegers was singularly affected, that they were harassed by fatigue and suffered from cold, that the hospitals were filled with sick, and that the deplorable state of the roads rendered it exceedingly difficult to supply the batteries. And, indeed, after November 14th, the embrasures remained for the most part masked, and a shot was rarely heard, though the fire of mortars and musketry was a little more lively. The besieged also diminished their fire on account of the exhaustion of powder and material, but the Russians worked at their defences unceasingly, and began to establish on the principal parts powerful works closed at the gorge. They resolved on that step because the nature of the soil prevented the erection of works equally strong along the whole front of the extended lines of defence. Even if it had been possible to fortify the city equally along all the line it would have been necessary to spread out the troops and weaken them at all points, and then they could not concentrate on any given point for mutual support, as the ravines rendered the movement of columns along the line very inconvenient. To obtain possession of Sebastopol there was no need to attack the lines in the ravines. It would be enough for the enemy to get possession of some of the works on the heights. These heights, indeed, indicated the places which should be fortified in preference to others, but in order to prevent the enemy turning the works on these points before the Russian reserves could arrive, it was necessary to close them at the gorge. The defence gained we were able to make a marked reduction in the number of troops within the works, and a corresponding increase to the reserve, it followed that the loss from the enemy’s fire diminished, and that the besieged were strengthened in their means of repelling assaults.”

General Todleben insists on this point all the more, perhaps, because some critics have blamed him for closing the gorges of the works, and have insisted that the Malakhoff was lost in consequence; and he concludes by saying, “The establishment on the line of defence of works closed at the gorge was in strict conformity with the rules of tactics and of fortification long known and sanctioned by experience.” While they were carrying on these works the batteries, especially those of the English, fired very rarely, but a new phase in the operations was created by the employment of what Todleben calls “ambuscades,” or, as we called them, “rifle-pits,” which the Russians established in the first instance to enfilade the French approaches towards the Bastion du Mât, at the beginning of November. Finding them very efficacious, the Russians extended them gradually in front of the Greenhill batteries and away to the left till they were opposite Gordon’s batteries in front of the Malakhoff and Careening Ravine. These rifle-pits gave rise to a series of fights outside the works in which the besiegers and besieged had various fortunes. On the 21st of November the English attacked the ambuscades in front of the Greenhill, drove out the Russians, and occupied the line; but, according to Todleben, the Russians generally had the best of these night encounters and sorties. He repeatedly remarks on the want of vigilance and care of the English, and contrasts us very unfavourably in these respects with the French. One time (the 23d of November) it is a small body of volunteers who attack us, “ayant aperçu les avant-postes anglais plongés dans une insouciante sécurité;” another time (the 2d of December) 60 volunteers in the dawn approach the English third parallel without being remarked, attack with the bayonet and put to rout 200 men, kill and wound one officer and 30 men, carry off three prisoners, rifles, and pioneers’ tools. The same night 60 volunteers come out at 8 o’clock and approach an English picket in the laboratory Ravine without being observed, suddenly charge our soldiers, kill 10, take one prisoner, the rest fly. “In speaking of similar attacks directed against our allies” Todleben says, “it must be admitted, however, that the French avant-postes were always exceedingly vigilant, and that they never permitted our scouts to come very near.” Although the artillery fire on both sides was much relaxed in the latter part of November, the fusillade and mortar fire became more intense, and the French worked with such energy towards the Schwartz redoubt on the Russian right of the lines of defence, where the ground was very favourable, that it became necessary to have recourse to a new system of offensive counter works, which was, in fact, an amplification and improvement of the system of rifle-pits. To this new system Todleben gives the name of “logemens” — lodgements. He describes them as small portions of detached trenches, executed by flying sap, in advance of the line, and so near to the enemy’s trenches that those inside could watch all the works by night, and impede their progress by a close fire. The essential difference between rifle-pits and lodgements was that the former were made by the soldiers themselves as they pleased, were constructed without skill, were inconvenient to fire from, and offered no sufficient resistance to artillery, while lodgements were made on plan properly selected by workmen specially assigned for the purpose, and were so constructed as to be able to resist artillery fire and to be fit for musketry. They were ordinarily made in two lines, and were so open in the rear that they could not afford cover to an enemy. Experience of sieges has shown, Todleben thinks, that the fire of the besieged causes most mischief not when the besieger has succeeded in covering his working parties but when he is occupied in distributing them along the trace line to begin the trenches. It is otherwise difficult, if not impossible, for the besieged to seize at night the precise time when besiegers begin their works. The difficulty of knowing when the fire of the besieged will be successful, and of seizing on the precious moment, is one of the principal causes why in nearly every siege the enemy are able to work through the space between the first and third parallel faster than is calculated in the journal of a siege work for practice. It is true the opening of the third parallel does not necessarily cause the fall of a place, but in the face of the feeble works of Sebastopol it was requisite to use every means to prevent the enemy coming too close, and to impede his approaches as far as possible. As only one twentieth of the Russian infantry had rifles, and the besiegers could in consequence work without danger at any point which was 300 yards from infantry armed with smooth-bores, it was necessary to establish these lodgements as close as possible to the enemy. The occupants had to harass the enemy night and day by musketry fire, and at the same time watch them most closely and communicate the direction of any unusual movement to the line of defence, so that the latter might open fire on the place, the riflemen at the same time quitting the lodgement in front of the battery by the right and left flanks for the neighbouring lodgements. The front of these works was executed in front of the Schwartz Redoubt (No. 1) on the night of the 3d of December. In the morning the French saw with astonishment a work 30 ft long, with a parapet 5 ft thick, formed of barrels and sandbags, within 300 yards of their trenches, from which 20 riflemen immediately opened on their working parties. A second lodgement was thrown up in the rear of the first on the night of the 3d of December, and on the following nights five lodgements were established on the right of these, which were finally connected, and constituted, in fact, a parallel made by the besieged to attack the works of the besiegers. The approaches of the French on that point were at once arrested, and they proceeded to direct their attention towards the Quarantine Battery. But the Russians were equally active — nay, more so. Between the 7th and 22d of December they had checkmated the French by establishing no less than 14 lodgements before Bastion No. 5, and five lodgements between the Cemetery and Quarantine Battery. They also strengthened their right wing with new guns and batteries. The French, checked on the left, then directed their energies to bastion No. 4, and began to blast the rock to force their approaches. The Russians between the 6th and 7th of December made two lodgements on one flank of it, and on the night of the 10th of December threw up two other lodgements on the other flank, of which the most advanced was only 150 yards from the third parallel. Rifle-pits were also established the harass the English in their works, which were further off than those of the French.

“The enemy opposed the construction of trifle-pits and lodgements but feebly, while the besieged alarmed them by frequent night attacks. These attacks were most frequently directed against the English, who performed trench duty very negligently. Almost every night our tirailleurs in small numbers — sometimes one man alone making the attempt — left the rifle-pits, advanced boldly towards the English trenches, fired on the working batteries with the muzzle almost touching, and threw them into trouble and disorder.”

Against the French some serious sorties were directed at the same time.

On the night of the 3d of December a detachment issuing from the left face of Bastion No. 4, without being perceived by the French, attacked their third parallel, and caused them sensible loss before they retired. On the night of the 5th of December another sortie was directed against the English near the Pain du Sucre and the Green-hill, drove them out and destroyed their works; and on the night of the 12th of December a sortie of 515 Russians from Bastion No. 4 was directed against the French, drove them out of their trench and levelled it, spiked four large mortars, captured and carried off three others, and retired with a loss of only 64 men. In fact, the Russians now began a war of sorties, which was waged night after night, and the account of which fills many pages of the second part of this history. Todleben remarks:—

A propos of those sorties it is indispensible to make the remark here that the French guarded their trenches with much more vigilance and defended them with incomparably more tenacity than the English. It frequently happened that our volunteers approached the English trenches without being perceived and without even firing a single shot, and found the soldiers of the guard sitting in the trench in the most perfect security, far from their firelocks, which were stacked in piles. With the French matters were quite different. They were always on the qui vive, so that it rarely happened we were able to get near them without having been remarked, and without having to receive beforehand a sharp fire of musketry.”

It must be recollected, however, that the period to which he refers comprised the most memorable of the long days during which our troops were in the “heart-rending” condition which excited the pity and indignation of the empire. It was at this very time Osten Sacken inaugurated his rule as Commandant of the garrison of Sebastopol by important improvements in different branches of the administration, a detailed account of which is given in the work before us. The utmost economy in the various services of the garrison was enjoined and carried out. The arrangements for the internal duties of each regiment were revised and amended. The number of men employed as butchers, bakers, &c, was regulated. No duty connected with the external or internal efficiency of the garrison seems to have been neglected, and it is remarkable that while it was the custom with us to employ detachments in working parties the Russians adopted the opposite system, and employed as far as possible the whole of a regiment on any particular work at the same place. The offensive nature of the defence of the place also assumed greater vigour and larger proportions, and the counter mines directed against the French, who had now abandoned their sap against the Flagstaff Battery and were working against it underground, were pushed forward with energy. The description of these works is full of interest for the engineer and military reader. Both sides displayed intelligence and indefatigable zeal in the approaches and counter-approaches, but the Russians had the best of it as regards information. Now it was a deserter from the Légion Etrangère who gave them such intelligence as enabled them to calculate the day when the French would reach the spot beneath the counterscarp of the bastion. Another time Todleben received from Prince Menschikoff a plan of the mines, lithographed in Paris, very imperfect without doubt, but in which there was marked a gallery in the direction of the head of Bastion No. 4, with a chamber under the terre-plein of the salient. Such indications gave the Russian engineer the means of disposing his galleries and countermines so as to guard against the impending danger; and the French were astonished from time to time to find their plans defeated by news which, without their knowing of it, was derived from themselves.

As the weather became worse the position of the Russians as compared with that of our troops must certainly have improved. Subterranean casemates were constructed to shelter the troops from fire, which must also have kept them from the cold to a great extent. The sailors invented those famous rope mantlets for the guns, which served so well to defend their gunners from the riflemen in the pits. Large reinforcements enabled them to lighten the turns of duty in the trenches, and at no time did the army want meat and spirits, as far as we can judge from the remarks on their condition in this work, although they were sometimes short of bread, and were obliged to use other substances in lieu of it. Whilst the Government at home, roused at last to the danger in which the remnants of the British army were placed by voices which they at first ignored, despised, or contradicted, were taking steps to save, as far as possible, the victims of “the system” from utter destruction, and to avert from their own heads the storm of public indignation, the Emperor Nicholas set every force in his vast empire at work to give his army an overwhelming preponderance in the field, and to force the Allies to retire from the scene to which they adhered with such tenacity. The Czar was aided by the spontaneous contributions of his people. Great supplies were forwarded by private individuals of all that an army could need, and those who read Todleben will see that the people of Great Britain did not monopolize the charity, the sacrifices, and the devotion which the great struggle on the Crimean Chersonese called forth.

The 25th and last chapter of the Second Part deals with the situation of both armies during the winter, and gives an account of the Russian commissariat up to February 1855. We shall, as usual, give an abstract of it, nearly in Todleben’s words. The Allies, he observes, counted on a speedy termination of the Crimean war, for, otherwise it would be impossible to explain the absolute want of foresight which exposed their armies all on a sudden to the inclemencies of winter, without any means of protection. The English and the Turks, deprived of warm clothing, suffered most sensibly. The situation of the French was less painful, but they were by no means provided with all necessaries. They did not, however, expose their sad condition, as the English were not afraid of doing; on the contrary, they took great pains to dissemble it, so that it is difficult to determine precisely to what extent they had to suffer from the defects of their arrangements, particularly as by the side of their allies their state appeared much more favourable. It cannot be denied that they showed great energy in lessening the effect of the rigorous season. Towards the end of November the French army was provided with warm clothing. The English received warm clothing in December, but the coats were not sent in sufficient quantity and did not answer their purpose. All the imperfections of the administration of the English army were brought out to full view during the campaign, and it could be seen also to what an extent their mode of recruiting by voluntary enlistment was defective. There was no harmony between the different branches of the administration. The commandants of the troops took no care of the food or well-being of their soldiers, leaving that duty to the “intendance,” which could not know the wants of the men and had besides no means of satisfying them. The recruit enlists under certain conditions, and does not think it necessary to execute labours not provided for in those conditions. Moreover, the ranks of the English army are filled almost exclusively by men unacquainted with any sort of trade and who have no other means of subsistence than entering the service. Such a soldier is quite unfit to get on in the more difficult moments of campaigning, and so it was that the greater part of the miseries the English soldiers had to endure arose from the fact that the army as a whole was incapable, without receiving help from abroad, of overcoming obstacles arising from the circumstances in which it was placed. Rains destroyed the roads and no one thought of repairing them. Transport and saddle horses perished of cold in multitudes, and their dead bodies were left to rot till the fetid atmosphere forced the authorities to order their removal. In March 1855, the railway was finished by the English, for which not only materials but even workmen and engineers were sent out from England, which proves how unfit the English army is of itself to overcome the difficulties which are so often encountered in a soldier’s life. A deplorable confusion reigned in Balaclava. Ships discharged their cargoes whenever they found it convenient. No one knew what had arrived or what was coming. Sometimes the soldiers were in need of the very articles which had been landed in harbour. The same discreditable mismanagement was visible in the treatment of the sick and wounded, and there was as much disorder there as in the administration of the army itself, though the arrival of Miss Nightingale and her nurses in some degree alleviated the situation of the unfortunates in the hospitals in Turkey. As the numbers of the English diminished those of the French increased, and at last the latter occupied successively the positions which had at first been reserved for the English along the Tchernaya and opposite the Karabelnaia. As to the Turks, the Allies despised them, and the English used them as beasts of burden; in short, they lost 300 men a day, till they almost perished out, and the remains of their army were sent away. Let us now see how the Russian army fared during the winter. The regiments belonging to the garrison, Todleben says, had no shelter. The troops along the Tchernaya were lodged in huts made from materials found on the spot, which protected them but very poorly against the weather. The rest of the army was encamped in huts or quartered in villages around. Although the Russians were in a more favourable position than the Allies as regards shelter, they were much less fortunate in reference to the carriage of food and provisions. If the Allies felt it difficult to get up their stores from the harbours to their camps, it may be imagined to what extent the Russians experienced similar troubles in the transport of supplies from the interior of the empire, and if they triumphed over them it was only due to the combined efforts of the military and civil administrations and to the empressement with which the Russian people showed itself ready to make any sacrifice to carry on the war. As the Crimea had no resources, everything had to be imported. In ordinary times the Black Sea and the Sea of Azoff made amends for the defect of good roads, but these were now closed and the Dnieper, shut up by ice in winter, was of little use. There remained only the road along the south coast, which was soon cut up by rain and constant heavy traffic. Towards the end of November 30,000 great coats were sent to the army, but as they were not enough the soldiers in the trenches had wrappers made of bread bags served out to them. The small number of troops in the Crimea on the war breaking out was only provisioned to July 1853, and it was with the utmost difficulty Prince Menschikoff was able to feed the army as reinforcements poured in upon him. There was an absolute want of biscuits, and the peasants of the Crown, the German colonists of the Government of Tauride, and the bakers of the corps d’armée outside Sebastopol were set to work to bake them. Commissions of Supply were established at Sebastopol, Simpheropol, and Voronege, which were under Prince Menschikoff’s Intendant-General. Contracts were entered into for supplies for an army of 100,000 infantry and 30,000 cavalry for three months, to be stored at Perekop, Ghenitscheck, and other places, 195,000 tchetverts of flour, meal, &c, and 410,000 pouds of hay, meat, and bacon. The military chest was supplied with 1,825,000 silver roubles, or about 290,000l, to purchase from private individuals. The Governors of New Russia, Bessarabia, Koursk, Voronege, Kharkov, and Ekaterinoslav were directed to use all their energies to obtain and convey provisions to the army. The Intendant-General, Sattler, from whose work Todleben quotes largely, was sent to the Crimea in December, and the whole army was soon apparently provided with supplies to the end of 1855. But in reality it was far otherwise. The depôts near Sebastopol were soon emptied, while those at a distance were untouched. Although the soldiers had butcher’s meat, they were sometimes left without bread, and it was only by the most prodigal efforts that supplies could be conveyed during the winter. Three demi-brigades of 1,000 waggons each, drawn by oxen and horses, were organized in addition to seven other demi-brigades of the same strength in various parts of Southern Russia, and these were strengthened and increased from time to time till there were in the Crimea at the beginning of the siege 6,000 waggons and a movable depôt of 1,000 bât horses. In December, however, only 2,000 waggons were fit for use, and the greater number of the horses had died of hard work on bad roads, and of exposure. Their dead bodies were buries at once. The cost of transport became enormous as the winter wore on, and the prices of provisions depended very much on distance and on locality — a tchetvert of barley being worth 12 roubles at Sebastopol, and six roubles at Perekop. As to the hospitals, there was much to complain of at first, when the wounded of Alma and Inkerman came to be provided for; but steps were taken to obtain accommodation and appliances as far as possible, although the want of buildings and of roads created great difficulties. With winter, too, came cholera, dysentery, and fever. The wounded and sick increased from 16,755 in the middle of October to 25,000 in February, while there was only accommodation for 14,250 in the Crimea. From all parts of the empire, indeed, persons sent lint, bandages, &c, by post to the army. The Crown peasants and the German colonists of Melitopol and Berdiansk gave proof of the most sympathetic devotion in offering to take charge of a certain number of sick and wounded. Those who could not be accommodated were sent away to various places in Southern Russia in the waggons which had discharged their loads, or in hired vehicles.

Having thus described the condition of the armies in the winter, Todleben reviews the position of each on the opening of the spring campaign. The creation of the new levies of soldiers rendered necessary did not, he observes, present the same difficulty to France that it did to England. The conscription afforded to the former the number of men she needed; while the system adopted in England could not be as successful in time of war as in peace, especially when the disastrous situation of our army was a mystery to no one. Nevertheless, the Government at first resolved to enrol none but English. The Militia were called out to replace the irregular troops, so as to furnish volunteers, but eventually the English Government was obliged to seek for men in Switzerland and Germany. The Swiss only enrolled them selves in very small numbers, and in Germany public opinion and the Governments of some of the States were opposed to enrolment. Russia, on the other hand, prepared to continue the war with all her strength. Independently of the new recruits who were summoned to their regiments, the Emperor Nicholas decreed the levy of a Militia of 23 in the 1,000 all over the empire. The distance of the theatre of war obliged the Allies to make enormous sacrifices to maintain their army. The augmentation of the public debt of France reached 800,000,000f, and the military budget of England increased by 16,000,000l sterling. On the subject of the Russian debt and expenditure Todleben makes no remark. His history of that most melancholy winter, contained in the chapters preceding that of which we have just given the substance, is replete with accounts of sorties, new works, new batteries, and the continual strengthening of the armaments of other batteries, which in the middle of December reached “No. 73,” each being distinguished by the name of the officer in charge of it or of its construction, as well as by the numeral. The Russians, although principally anxious to check the French attacks towards the Quarantine and the Bastion du Mât, did not neglect to keep a vigilant eye on the English, and to direct a cannonade and sorties on any working parties or new trenches. They established batteries on the heights of Inkerman to fire on our camp and to enfilade our approaches on the right of the attack. All this they did, although they were exposed to hail, rain, and snow, were harassed with fatigue and want of rest, and destitute of proper warm clothing, while the mud in rear of the trenches became so deep that the soldiers could scarcely march through it. But any comparison of the sufferings of the two armies is disposed of by Todleben’s account of their relative condition, and in the passage which bestows no doubt well-merited praise on the devotion of the garrison he chronicles the arrival of increasing numbers of deserters from the Allies, and principally from the English army, who all gave evidence of the unspeakable calamities which our soldiers endured. It may be imagined how fiercely the Russians had maintained their fire when it is recorded that they had considerably decreased it at a time when they were firing 1,000 projectiles a day. On the side of the Allies there were few guns now heard in reply. The embrasures of the French batteries were nearly always masked, but mortar and distant ricochet fire was continued, and in front of the long lines of trenches, the outlines of which could be traced through the snow or along the brown, grassless, and shrubless soil, the intermittent rattle of musketry rang through the wintry air, and the puffs of white smoke marked the site of lodgement and rifle pit. All during January the Russians directed frequent sorties, sometimes two or three in the night, in the vast majority of instances against the French trenches. Towards the close of the month the Grand Dukes Nicholas and Michael arrived at the north side, but no remarkable event followed till February 3, when, at 9 o’clock in the evening, General Todleben fired his countermine, and blew up the French, who were advancing their gallery towards the capital of the bastion No. 4, in the most perfect ignorance of the Russian operations. From that date began the conflict of mines, countermines, globes of compression, and all the machinery of subterranean war and strategy which lasted throughout the siege, and has left indelible traces before Sebastopol in the very rocks themselves. In his criticisms Todleben does not spare the French engineers. He remarks on the careless confidence they showed in their mining operations, so that the Russian listeners could hear them plainly, and he dwells on their complete ignorance of the countermines, which they could not have even suspected, otherwise it cannot be explained how the French, he says, could have pushed their gallery towards the bastion without guarding their flanks in any way, or how they continued the execution of their works without taking any of the precautions usual in such cases. On the 22d of January the Russians perceived French soldiers in the two trenches opened by the English across the Careening Ravine-ridge. Prisoners and deserters informed them that the French were charged with the execution of the siege works on the right flank of the English. From that moment it may be considered that our army had been forced by circumstances to give up the chance of playing a very prominent part in the actual siege, whatever reinforcements they might receive. The British were now hemmed in on both flanks by the French, and there was no room for them to undertake new works, no matter what their strength might be. Not only that, but they had abandoned the attack against the site which the sagacity of Sir John Burgoyne had pointed out as the key of the position, a hold of which would enabled us to open Sebastopol. What the motives were which induced the English General-in-Chief to allow his army to be enveloped and overlapped and to be deprived of the ground it had immortalized by its Inkerman, as well as of the only favourable position for advancing against the Russian works which lay in its front, we shall no doubt learn some time or other. They certainly ought to be cogent. If our allies had become so strong that they required room, they could have easily extended their right into our works on the left, and have permitted our army to be concentrated from its right towards Inkerman. Such a step might have been taken, so far as we can see, without any loss of prestige, though a change in winter of headquarters, if necessary, might have been inconvenient. Our guns, indeed, might have been left in the Greenhill batteries, but that does not seem an insuperable difficulty, as we had allowed British guns to remain in the hands of the Turks at Balaclava. As to the slight increase of distance from Balaclava of the left wing of our army, there was at least the offset to it that we should have been spared the French traffic across our camp from Kamiesch, and the double use of our roads, and, finally, that we would have avoided the expression of disagreeable feeling manifest between the two armies after the taking of the Malakhoff. Be that as it may, the French began to make the most of their new position at once, and in a few days finished and armed the Victoria Redoubt, and opened a trench towards the Malakhoff, while we set about extending our parallel on the right, so as to connect our attack with the new French left.

Notwithstanding the diminution of the fire against the place, the Russians believed the Allies were about to make the assault in the middle of February, and strengthened the garrison in order to meet it. It is at this date Todleben considers the “Second period of the defence” to have terminated, the winter having been employed by the belligerents, “in a state so to speak of passive activity” principally in making preparations to renew the war in spring. He seizes the occasion to make an aperçu, as is his wont, on the organization and operations of the engineers and artillery, as well as to give a review of the whole of the proceedings on both sides during the second period. In this term of “passive activity” the Russians fired about 95,000 projectiles and lost 2,959 men by the fire of the Allies. They mounted 250 new guns, and they raised the number of pieces in the defence of the south side to no less than 700 without counting mortars and small ordnance; they stored up 40,000 pounds of powder; they constructed innumerable trenches and redoubts, completed the inner line of defence, and secured the north side against attack by a continuous belt of battery. On the other hand, the Allies had secured their flanks from attack, opening some trenches on Careening Ridge, completing the line of circumvallation, and raising 31 new batteries, of which 25 were erected by the French and the remainder by us. From the 5th of November to the 12th of February there were no operations en rase campagne, but from the beginning of the siege the Russians had jealously watched Eupatoria, in which a great number of Tartars had taken refuge, and Todleben boasts that the Cossacks from time to time carried away more than 40,000 head of cattle, belonging to these miserable people, from the fields outside the town. It was feared at St Petersburg that the Allies would make use of their favourable position here to cut the communications of Prince Menschikoff’s army at Sebastopol with Perekop; and the Emperor himself, who seems to have been singularly alive to this danger, expressly ordered three regiments of dragoons, with their batteries, the division of Lancers of reserve, with its artillery, and two regiments of Don Cossacks, to be formed into a corps for the blockade of the place, and the surveillance of all the coast from Alma to Perekop, under Baron de Wrangel. The Russian authorities were also under the apprehension — a very natural one indeed — that the Allies would attack Perekop, which is certainly the neck of the peninsula, where a strong hand could press the body corporate to death right speedily. Such means of resistance as they had at hand consisted principally of cavalry and light guns, but they were very numerous and would have given great trouble to troops making a descent on the coast or to a column on march. Prince Gortschakoff, leaving a small force at Tchorgoune, now retired his troops to Mackenzie’s Farm, over the right bank of the Tchernaya, so as to be free to act at once; and every precaution was taken to secure Simpheropol and the roads leading through it from hostile occupation by the concentration of an immense force of cavalry and artillery in the Crimea. Troops arrived so rapidly that the Russians had 135,000 men, without including the sailors at Sebastopol, at the commencement of February. Would that Todleben’s estimate of our strength at 43,000 about the same date were correct! The French, whom he raises to 80,000, will scarcely claim so high a figure. The Allies had, moreover, the Turkish army under Omar Pasha to draw upon, and it became important to attack Eupatoria before they could execute their presumed intention of collecting a large force there to effect a fatal diversion in the rear of the garrison of Sebastopol. It is once more to be observed that Todleben gives to the cautious French the credit of imparting valuable information to the Russians, and he expressly states that the conjectures they entertained respecting the number of troops, and the importance of the movement in Eupatoria, were confirmed by no less an authority than the Moniteur. On the 17th of February, the Russians, consisting of 22 battalions, 24 squadrons, 500 Cossacks, and 108 guns, 19,000 strong, under General Kroulew, attacked Eupatoria, and it is easy to perceive that Todleben does not approve either the projects or dispositions of Prince Menschikoff, who ordered the assault. The attempt was vigorously resisted and was altogether unsuccessful. The garrison of Turks and French, assisted by the fire of one French and two English steamers, and by the Tartars, repulsed the enemy with a loss of 769 men killed and wounded and 365 horses, while the Turks had 364, the French 13, and the Tartars 24 killed and wounded. Todleben does not mention the English, but, if our memory is right a detachment of our Marine artillery worked its guns with signal success that day. He declares that though the expedition failed it produced advantageous results, as the Allies were always obliged to be on the alert against attack, and to keep a considerable garrison there in a vast intrenched camp. This enterprise, the failure of which is believed to have caused the Czar intense mortification and disappointment, is the last military movement recorded in the first part of the Russian engineer’s account of the invasion of the Crimea.

We have devoted a very large portion of our space to an abstract of the whole work, believing it to be of great general interest, as well as of extraordinary value as a professional history of one of the greatest military operations of modern times. At the very outset we considered it necessary to warn our readers that General de Todleben’s statements respecting the part taken by the Allies in the various engagements he describes are not always accurate or trustworthy. But we are ready to admit that in everything relating to the operations of the Russians he seems to write with a frankness which conciliates confidence and, armed as he is with power to obtain information and possessed of such absolute knowledge he speaks of them with a fulness of authority beyond cavil or exception. His errors in matters of fact as regards the English are, we believe, more numerous and more grave than those into which he has fallen respecting the French. The circumstance may be accounted for by supposing he consulted French in preference to, or in ignorance of, English authorities, and it is not necessary to conclude that he has a prejudice against our army, or that he has been influenced by a friendly censorship of his sheets at Paris. He is at all times ready to do justice to the tenacity, courage, and intrepidity of our soldiers, and if he condemns the slowness of our movements, and the imperfect manner in which our siege works were carried on, he does no more than such excellent judges as Sir John Burgoyne have done beforehand, and he only indicates defects which had their origin perhaps in the very nature of the circumstances under which our soldiers were placed. In his remarks on De Bazancourt’s history, the chief of the English engineers admits that our movements are — at all events, were — too slow, though he might be unwilling to exchange that stateliness of march and advance for the more rapid and vivacious tactics of French troops. No one reprehended more severely the negligent service in the trenches than Sir John Burgoyne. He it was who pressed over and over again on the Generals of Division the necessity of pushing the troops close up to the place before the trenches were opened, and who insisted on the value of near reconnaissances, and it is in our recollection that very early indeed he issued special instructions for the organized operations of the rifle pits which played such an important part in the attack of Sebastopol. In the course of the copious summary and of the translations we have given of Todleben’s work we have almost abstained from comment or criticism, but it is only fair to say that the flank march, however it may demonstrate want of settled purpose, or of a fixed idea as to the assault of the place, and however much it may be open to Todleben’s animadversions, appeared at the time to those supposed to have the wisest heads to be the best course we could adopt, and that its execution eventually enabled us (to use Sir John Lawrence’s simile in his directions to the General in command at Delhi) “to hold on by the nose” of the Russians till the blood and treasure of the vast empire were almost exhausted in that distant spot. If we are to accept Todleben’s testimony, the flank march was an error. According to the same authority, however, the greatest fault we committed was in delaying the assault when the flank march had been effected, and when the south side was almost defenceless. If the object of our expedition to the Crimea was to do the greatest injury to the Russian Empire, and to concentrate the war in one remote corner of it, we may well congratulate ourselves, notwithstanding the misery and disaster which befell our army on the plateau of Sebastopol, that our Generals adopted a policy of procrastination. We do not suppose, however, that any of our leaders will lay claim to any foresight as to the results which ensued from delay. If our object was merely to destroy Sebastopol by a fierce and sudden blow and get away again, of course the expedition was fraught with disappointment. One great effort had put the place at our mercy. Then we gave time to the stunned and bleeding Russian to recover, and when our second blow was delivered it found an enemy ready to receive and return it. Then we could not get away if we would, and perforce we were obliged “to hang on by the nose” till the great creature to whom we clung yielded up what it had so long and so gallantly defended. It may be objected to Todleben that, in saying the Allies ought or ought not to have done certain things, he is bound to follow out the course of events as it would have been according to all probability under the altered march of proceedings. The English and French engineers who are blamed for not attacking the north side may remark that the Russian fleet was already destroyed — in part, at all events — and that the object of the whole operation being to annihilate Russian supremacy in the Black Sea, it became in the next place necessary to demolish the dockyards of Sebastopol, which could only be done by taking possession of the south side in order to blow up the basins. The north, in fact, was but an outwork, and while the Allies were attacking it the Russians would have been fortifying the south side, which was the kernel of the nut. The Allies were not strong enough to attack both sides at once. They could not march into the interior of the country with a strong place in their rear. The answer to all this is contained, perhaps, in the question, “Why did you not calculate on these occurrences before?” Todleben, indeed, asks it in reference to the argument for the flank march founded on the want of a port on the north side. It might easily be supposed the Russians were not going to give up their locks and arsenals sans coup férir — all their history might have taught us they would, in pursuance of their policy, sink, burn, and destroy fleet and town sooner than surrender them. The site of dock and basin was known, so was the absence of a port on the north side. It was almost certain they would not hesitate to bar the roads by immolating a portion of their fleet on the altar of Slavonic pride and patriotism. The Russians were seen on the Alma posted to dispute our advance, and we landed to the north of the position in order to fight them. Was there a man who had an idea as to the course the Allies ought to or were to take when that army had been defeated and had fallen back on Sebastopol? If so, where is he, and where were his plans? Fortunately, it was not under the circumstances requisite for any one to provide for contingencies in case we were defeated. Although the English army may have been badly administered and inefficiently handled, the wonderful precision and deadly effect of its fire testify at all events to the care taken by military reformers, in spite of powerful prejudices at home, to provide our soldiery with a terrible armament, the value of which was soon tested at the Alma, while the brilliant courage and heroic resolution which burnt so brightly and so steadily in the valley of Balaclava and on the gloomy steeps of Inkerman extort the respect and win the ill-disguised admiration of the most unfriendly and able of our censors. General de Todleben may be right in his low estimate of the fitness of our army to struggle against the difficulties created by a rotten civil military organization at home or an imbecile military administration abroad, but he cannot deny that on the fair field and in open day the English soldier has no superior. He may be right in attributing to us a want of aggressive strength by reason of the voluntary system of recruiting and the absence of the conscription; but at all events he must confess that with our small armies we have done great things all over the world; that the prowess of our arms has been felt beyond the farthest range of the double-headed eagle’s flight; and that our lean and hungry English never in all that long Crimean fight gave up one inch of ground to the hosts of Russia. It may, indeed, come to pass that a conscription will become necessary, but so long as an army enlisted by voluntary enrolment can hold our Indian empire and Canada, and all the vast and widespread dependencies "where the tap of British drum follows the course of the rising sun round the world," we may rest content with a system which has since the days of Marlborough secured for our army a splendid reputation, and has enabled it to survive a Walcheren expedition and a Crimean campaign.

At the close of General de Todleben’s work there is a large appendix, or “pièces justificatives,” some of which are in advance of the matter contained in the volume. From one of these we learn that the whole loss of the garrison of Sebastopol from fire and combat during the siege was 89,142. In that total the losses at the Alma, at Balaclava, Inkerman, and other places are not included. A number of very minute tables, containing much statistical information, is added to the work, which promises to be still more interesting in the second and concluding volume. In some places there are evidences of excission or unintentional omission, as, for instance, in the description of the battle of Inkerman, where there is a long account of Dannenberg’s changing the disposition of attack for Soimonoff’s column without any remark on the consequences that ensued or any reason being assigned for such a long digression. The translation, we may observe, occasionally seems tautologous, and the book is somewhat overladen with reviews and retrospective summaries; but, on the whole, it is by far the most valuable contribution to the History of the Siege of Sebastopol which has yet appeared, and, taken in conjunction with existing French and English publications, General de Todleben’s volumes promise to afford the materials for a complete account of the great Russian war in the Crimea.

*Défense de Sébastopol. Ouvrage rédigé sous la direction de Lieutenant-Général E de Todleben, Aide-de-Camp Général de S M L’Empereur. Tome I. Première Partie, Deuxième Partie. St Pétersbourg: Imprimerie N Thiebelin et Cie, 1863.

(This concludes The Times’ review of Todleben’s Defense of Sebastopol.)

Home About Sources Topics Background