« AnteriorContinuar »
sight, the batteries limbered up, and advanced in pursuit.
The battle, it will be seen, had thus rolled back to the right rear of the Russians. On the extreme right of their original position, at the top of the heights, was a battery behind an epaulment, with a flank for seven guns, thrown back to prevent the right being turned. The brigade of Highlanders being on the left of the British line, found themselves, when the first division crossed the river, directly in front of this battery, which, before it followed the other guns in their retreat, poured upon them, during their advance, a heavy but ill-directed fire, doing them but little damage. At the top of the hill they met some battalions of the enemy still showing a front, and compelled them to retreat with the loss of a good many men; and two troops of horseartillery, which had crossed the river higher up, coming into action, plunged into the retreating masses with great effect. Thus ended the battle of the Alma. The Russians might still be seen withdrawing in masses across the plain; but the troops, French and English, halted on the ground they had won; and the batteries, six in number, which, by advancing, had placed themselves at the apex of two irregular lines, found themselves with nothing between them and the enemy. Some withdrew behind the third division, which, together with part of the light, had been moved to the front, and others were covered by a detachment posted for the purpose on the plain.
In the advance, an officer of Wodehouse's battery, Lieutenant Richards, took prisoner a Russian general, whose horse had thrown him, and who was trying to hide himself. While he was
seated on a gun-limber, Lord Raglan rode up and questioned him. In reply, he said that the number of the Russians was about 50,000; that they did not expect we should ever take the position; and added that they had come to fight men, and not devils, as our red-coats seemed to be. When taken on board ship, he complained that one of his captors had deprived him of his silver snuff-box. Inquiry was made, and the artilleryman who had it gave it up; but it certainly seems no more than reasonable to expect that, if people choose to take such articles into action, they should submit to lose them with a good grace.
Two guns were taken, but the principal trophy was Prince Menschikoff's carriage, with his papers. In one despatch the general assures the Czar that the position selected on the Alma must detain the Allies at least three weeks, and that he confidently hoped it would be found altogether impregnable. It was taken in three hours.
But the Russian general did not overrate the strength of his position; his mistake was in his estimate of the troops who were to assail it. It would be difficult to find a position more defensible in itself, and almost impossible to select another equally strong, where the ground in front is so favourable to the artillery fire of the defenders, and so devoid of all shelter from it. However, one other position as strong, or even stronger, exists on the river Katcha, five miles distant from the Alma, on which we expected to find the Russians had fallen back.
Two men of literary celebrity witnessed the action-Mr Layard, who saw it from the ships, and the author of Eothen, who rode with Lord Raglan's staff throughout the day.
CHAP. V. THE BATTLE-FIELD.
Going out of our camp next morning, to see where our own division lay, I heard a moaning on my right, on the bank of one of the ravines we had fired up the preceding day. Proceeding towards the sound, I found it came from a wounded Russian, who had made a pillow of the corpse of a brother soldier which lay on its back,
its breast pierced, and left arm broken by a round shot. Beside these lay two other soldiers, one alive, wounded in the head, and resting, like the other sufferer, on a comrade's corpse, which lay on its face. The first man, by signs and words, earnestly begged for water, which was brought him, and a surgeon coming up, examined
his wounds. The flesh of both his thighs had been torn away; he was too badly injured to be moved, or even relieved otherwise than by trying to make him comfortable as he lay; and next morning it was a relief to hear that he had died in the night. On the knoll around were about a dozen wounded men, who had lain there all night in torment, and to whom our soldiers now afforded a temporary relief. The sides of the ravine, or rather gully, were sprinkled all the way with bodies, and with knapsacks and accoutrements thrown away by the flying enemy. On the slopes, too, and the paths crossing them, were lying dead men here and there, with scattered knapsacks and arms. One dead Russian appeared to have been lying on his back, probably wounded, or perhaps killed, when a shot from our batteries, towards which his head was turned, had carried away all his features, leaving an unsightly block, and had broken his foot short off at the instep, where it hung back as if on a hinge.
But it was not till reaching the plain on which stood the unfinished signal-tower, already mentioned as the contested point in the French attack, that there appeared signs of a sanguinary conflict. Many Russians lay dead there, and they lay thicker near the signal-tower, the hillock on which it was built being strewn with them. Three or four had been bayoneted while defending the entrance; and in the narrow space within, which was divided into compartments, were three or four small groups, slain in the defence. Another spot near contained three or four hundred corpses.
Riding back up the course of the river, we came to the slopes where the British had been most warmly engaged; and here it was that the real nature of the struggle first became apparent. The slope below the epaulment, on which the 18-gun battery had been posted, was covered with men of the 7th, 23d, and 33d, thickly intermixed with greycoated, helmeted Russians. Within the breastwork the enemy lay in ranks. One company seemed to have fallen as it stood; there was no heaping of the bodies one on another, but
it would have been difficult to step between them. Some lay with their faces buried in the soil, as if they had fallen as they turned to fly; others on their backs with bullet - holes through their foreheads; a few had their hands outstretched, as if still grasping their weapons, or grappling with their enemy. Altogether, I estimated the bodies in and about the breast work at seven or eight hundred, of whom two-thirds were Russians; and the returns of the officers charged with the burial duty did not much differ from that conjecture.
Passing onward to the right of the Russian position, the plain was again thickly strewn with dead; the tall bear-skins showing where the Guards had fought. In a narrow hollow way I observed a line of Russians, who seemed to have fallen while using it as a breastwork. Ascending the slope to the top of the position, the bodies there bore the marks of cannon shot; this was where our fire had turned the column. In a spot to the left, fifty or sixty bodies showed where the Highlanders had poured in their fire at the close of the battle; and again, on the plains at the top of the heights, files of slain, with the round shot still in some instances sticking in the farthest body, marked the line of retreat where the artillery had last fired upon the enemy.
All over the ground, so grimly strewn, were numerous parties burying the dead, and carrying off the wounded, both friends and foes. Hospitals had been established in the village north of the river, in some empty houses on each side of the road. Here the surgeons of the army, and some from the navy, were in terribly full practice; and as those whose wounds were already dressed were borne to the sea, others from the field took their places. Parties of sailors carrying hammocks assisted the soldiers, who were provided with stretchers for the wounded, and the road to the beach was crowded with these. Some stray Cossacks were seen during the day hovering on our flank and rear, and a detachment of cavalry patrolled the plain we had been marshalled on the day before, to protect the hospitals and burial parties. As I stood on this plain, sketch
ing the position of the Russian army, a clergyman approached an open grave, to the edge of which a party of artillerymen brought a body wrapt in a cloak. It was that of Lieutenant Cockerell, whose leg had been carried away by a cannon shot the day before, while in action with his battery near this spot, and who had died after amputation.
Two entire days were occupied in removing the traces of conflict and carrying the wounded to the ships. The Russian arms and accoutrements left on the field were collected in heaps, from whence the curious gathered trophies to hand down to posterity as mementoes of a famous field. The eagles on the front of the helmets of the Imperial Guard seemed in greatest request for this purpose; and though, on the second evening, I examined some hundreds of these helmets, I found all had been stript of the ornaments, so I contented myself with a ponch-belt. Some were so fortunate as to get excellent rifles, but the common muskets were very shabby in appearance, and were most ly thrown away after being broken.
One English soldier was said to have found forty gold pieces on a dead body; and I heard of a drummer of the Guards who, assisting a wounded Russian officer, received from him his purse. This the man took care of, and gave to the captain of his company, who forwarded it to the Russian on board ship; but it was returned, with a request that the drummer would keep it as a token of the owner's gratitude.
On the plain near the signal-tower, where the struggle was hottest on the part of the French, our allies left a stone, inscribed " Victoire de la Alma," with the date. The English left no monument on their fatal hill; but it needs none. The inhabitants will return to the valley, the burnt village will be rebuilt, the wasted vineyards replanted, and tillage will efface the traces of the conflict; but tradition will for centuries continue to point, with no doubtful finger, to the spot where the British infantry, thinned by a storm of cannon shot, drove the battalions of the Czar, with terrible slaughter, from one of the strongest positions in Europe.
CHAP. VI.-THE KATCHA AND THE BALBEK.
Amid this scene of blood, it seemed unnatural that any one could find time to die other than a violent death. But the cholera still exacted its daily tribute. Major Wellesley of the Staff died of it on the morning of the battle. Brigadier Tylden, of the Engineers, whom I met riding over the ground in good health on the following day, never left the field, but expired after a few hours' illness; and there were many others who passed unharmed through the combat, only to die a less soldierly death by pestilence.
The road between the Alma and the Katcha, traversed by the army on the 23d, lay as before over dry grassy plains. Here we expected to find the enemy awaiting us; but, ascending the ridge which overlooks the valley, we saw the heights unoccupied. The lesson on the Alma had been so sharp that the enemy never stood again in the field; and could he have found heart to hold the posi
tion, it would scarcely have been prudent for him to risk a battle where the pursuit might carry the victors into Sebastopol along with the vanquished.
The position on the Katcha is, in one respect, more advantageous than that on the Alma. Like the latter, it has a village on the north bank of the river, beyond which is a plain; but the plain, in this instance, instead of sloping upwards against the line of fire, is quite level for about three quarters of a mile; and the lower range of heights on which the cannon would have been posted, being less elevated than the knolls occupied by the artillery at the Alma, every shot that bounded along the plain would have told with double effect. Except at the ford, the banks of the river were high, and as steep as the sides of a trench. It was such a position as English troops would have held against the world in arms, and, had the enemy made a determined stand
there, the conflict would have been no less desperate and bloody than that of the 20th.
Though it was scarcely noon when we reached the heights beyond the river, we encamped there for the night. The village extended for some distance along the narrow valley, and became, up the stream, extremely pretty, with nice white houses standing amid poplars, and surrounded by vineyards, gardens, and stackyards. The cottages had been deserted in evident haste; bedsteads were still standing; large chests which had apparently held the household gods and treasures were open and empty; and there were cradles from which the infants had lately been snatched in hurry and alarm. All the cottages were very neat and clean, and the furniture spoke of comfort. This, as well as the doors and rafters, was appropriated by the soldiers as firewood to cook their rations; and from every door-way might be seen emerging a forager with a beam, a bench, or a chest, and under every camp-fire were blazing the splinters of some cherished Lar, or long-descended heirloom. Many cats lingered with feline tenacity about these forsaken thresholds, winking lazily at the new-comers as they suckled their kittens in the sun, and apparently indifferent, so that mice were plentiful, whether Russians or British held the village. I carried a small black one, which one of our people picked up on the bank of the river, on my holsters for some time, feeding him with biscuit; but during my absence from the saddle he made off. Many ownerless dogs made friends with the army here, and, no doubt, will long be found in the ranks, all answering, of course, to the name of Katcha. At this place the Scotch Greys and the 57th regiment joined the army.
Between this river and the Balbek the Allied armies marched so close to each other, on the 24th, that the red coats almost intermingled with the blue; and the officers of the two nations rode together, Prince Napoleon conversing with the Duke of Cambridge. The Guards and Highlanders were on the right, and were much admired by the French officers, who called them "superb" and "magnifi
cent." They also praised highly our artillery, the horses and equipment of which were certainly not to be surpassed.
A yawning rift, half a mile wide, separates the heights on the opposite sides of the Balbek. Beyond the stream the aspect of the country changes from grassy plains to hills, divided by deep ravines, and covered with low oak-coppice. A steep road, which the English and French artillery descended together, led us to the river. Down the hill we found two waggons, painted green, abandoned by the Russians: they contained a great number of copper pans and dishes, and about 20,000 rounds of rifle ammunition, the balls pointed, and fitting a two-grooved rifle. The Russian method of folding a cartridge is particularly neat and convenient: the end can be twisted off and the powder exposed in a moment.
Passing up the valley to the river, we came to a small villa, which had been plundered by the retreating Russians. I rode up the road leading to the courtyard, and, tying my horse to the garden railing, entered the house. On the steps of the porch were some broken arm-chairs covered with yellow damask. In a room on the right were broken sofas, chairs, and card-tables heaped together, and a piano, still tuneable, with the front board torn off, exposing the keys. Upstairs was a small library, where a good many French books lay scattered on the floor. Portraits of a lady and gentleman, of a very low signboardkind-of-order of art, had been torn from their frames; and two fine mirrors, quite uninjured, in gilt frames, leant against the wall amid a heap of other furniture. In front of the house was a garden laid out in flower-beds, with fruit-trees in the midst of them. I climbed into a tree bearing still some large yellow plums, and found them delicious, though rather overripe. On the right of the garden was a vineyard with plenty of grapes. On the left a fence, lined with dahlias in full bloom, gay in colour, though not of high floricultural rank, separated the garden from a kind of orchard of apples, pears, and peach-trees. Under the latter the fruit lay thick on the ground, and before riding off I
filled my haversack to furnish a dessert.
Passing the river we ascended a narrow, strong, winding road, leading up a steep ravine; and, emerging into plainer ground at the top, pitched our tents amid the coppice, in the pleasantest camping-ground we had yet found in the Crimea. While dinner was getting ready, the allurements of which were heightened by the presence of a fine cabbage and a pumpkin from the garden of the villa, I took off my haversack to display the dessert it contained. But the transformation of the money in the Eastern tale into dry leaves, was not more disappointing to the owner than the spectacle now revealed. The ripeness of the fruit had unfitted it to bear the jolting of my horse. Plums and peaches were squeezed into a shapeless compound, and mixed with crumbs of ration biscuit; while in the centre of the mass lay imbedded a piece of dried tongue, escaped from its envelope; and the expressed juice of the fruit, partly running down the leg of my trousers, partly absorbed by my forage-cap, which was in my haversack, had turned the colour of
those articles of dress from their original blue to a dirty olive-green. However, the pumpkin, mashed in the Yankee fashion, and the boiled cabbage, turned out so good, that no vain regrets were expended on my unfortunate contribution to the feast.
We were now so close to the great object of the expedition that, by going up the road about a mile and a half, the towers and fortifications of Sebastopol were seen, at no great distance, in the basin below. This was the north frout of the place, to strengthen which all the efforts of the Russian engineers had been directed since the expedition had been first talked of. The whole of the ground there was supposed to be rendered deadly by batteries and mines, and the next move in the game was anxiously awaited. We had halted two nights on this ground, during which the cavalry and horse-artillery, who were on outpost duty, led a hard life. The horses had neither forage nor water for fortyeight hours, all which time they remained accoutred and harnessed; and the men and officers did not, for these and two other days, taste meat.
CHAPTER VII.-THE FLANK MARCH.
Towards noon on the 26th the artillery of the first division received orders to march immediately, without waiting for the infantry, up the road near which we were encamped. Proceeding about a mile, we came to a white house on the roadside, in front of which Lord Raglan and General Airey were seated looking at a map. His lordship motioned us to take a by road into the woods on our left, and called out to us to go southeast. Accordingly we went on, steering by the sun, and following the main path, which was overhung with bushes. After proceeding in this way for an hour, our progress was stopped by a troop of our horse-artillery, halted in the road in front. Finding themselves unsupported by cavalry, they had naturally become alarmed for the safety of their right flank and front in a spot where artillery would be taken at a great disadvantage if attacked by skirmishers,
who might pick off the men and horses, and capture the guns without risk.
Presently Lord Raglan came riding up, followed by his staff, and demanded sharply why we had halted; and, going to the troop in front, ordered them immediately to proceed, himself leading the way. Accordingly, we advanced through the wood for about three miles farther, when Lord Raglan and his staff came back in haste, inquiring for the cavalry. In an open space in front of us they had come suddenly on a Russian force, marching at right angles to our own.
Had the enemy, whose numbers were variously estimated at from ten to fifteen thousand men, known our order of march, they might, by throwing a sufficient force of infantry into the wood, have captured, or at any rate disabled, about twenty of our guns. The cavalry, some squadrons of which presently trotted past us to