« AnteriorContinuar »
ATTACK OF DEFENCES OF SEBASTOPOL.
each other by the Varabelnaia and Careening ravines, wbicb, however, served as a shelter for the British and French reserves. The quarries against which the efforts of the English were directed had been converted into riflepits, and as they formed a sort of outwork to the Redan, they had to be captured before it could be attacked. Our troops found them undefended, and speedily converted them from a shelter to the defending Russians into a shelter for the attacking British by reversing their parapets: and then a force amounting only to about a thousand men, supported by artillery, held them against five repeated efforts made to recover them by a very superior Russian force; and so completely were the Russians overmastered by the fire poured on them from our batteries, that some of our officers made their way into the Redan, and, according to the reports they gave, that important fortress might have been captured if the order to take it had been given; but the English general, not being aware of the condition to which it was reduced, would not, with the information he possessed, have been justified in giving an order, which might greatly have accelerated the conclusion of the siege, and might perhaps have led to the immediate capture of the town. Be this as it may, the British troops on this day accomplished the task that had been assigned them.
Our allies were no less successful. Bosquet, the ablest of the French generals, commanded the attack on the Mamelon; but it was an enterprise depending less on the skill of the general than on the agility and courage of the assailants. And the Zouaves, to whom the assault had been confided, possessed these qualifications in perfection. They scrambled like monkeys up the hill, carried battery after battery at the point of the bayonet, and ended by forcing their way into the redoubt that crowned it. But their precipitation nearly undid what their courage had accomplished. Carried away by an excess of ardour, in spite of the orders they had received to the contrary, they rushed towards the Malakoff, hoping to be able to carry it in the same manner as the Mamelon. But they were met with such a blast of artillery as compelled them first to stop, and then retreat. At this critical moment the Russian reserves poured down on them, drove them back in great confusion, and reconquered the Mamelon. But the French reserves, under General Brunet, in their turn came on with so impetuous a rush that the Russians were again driven out of the redoubt, and obliged to leave the French masters of the position. A large body of engineers were instantly pushed forward into the captured fort; and they laboured so diligently during the night, that when the morning dawned, the fortifications and guns of the Mamelon were turned against the fortress of which they had hitherto formed one of the most formidable defences. In this manner the allies at length won, at an enormous cost of life, a position which they might at one time have occupied without resistance.
Lastly, the Sapone, or white works, were seized by a sudden dash; and thus in the course of a single day, the whole of the plan of the allied generals was accomplished ; three positions of the utmost importance were transferred from the defenders of Sebastopol to its besiegers, and the defence was confined within narrower limits. But these advantages were not gained without a very heavy loss of life on the part of the allies, whose killed and wounded amounted to about 5000.
Nothing on a large scale was attempted until the 17th, when the bombardment was renewed, and on the following day the attack was commenced. It had been decided that the English, who, since their conquest of the quarries, had advanced their zigzags considerably beyond it, should now attack the Redan ; while the French, taking their recent conquests of the Mamelon and the white forts as the basis of their operations, were to endeavour to capture the Mala
and as this latter was the object principally aimed at, it was agreed that the advance of the English troops on the side of the Redan should be regulated by the progress made by their allies in their attack on the Malakoff. This plan, which appears to have been well-concerted, failed, partly on account of the brave and energetic resistance of the Russians, but chiefly through a want of ensemble in the French attack, arising from an unfortunate mistake. The French general, Meyran, mistook a shell for the rocket, the firing of which was the appointed signal for the simultaneous advance of the different attacks, and gave the word to his division before the others were ready. The consequence of this mistake was, that the Malakoff, and all the
GENERAL SIMPSON, COMMANDER.
batteries connected with it, poured an undivided fire on his troops, and soon threw them into a confusion which was increased by the fall of the general, and ended in a retreat. So that, when the signal-rocket was at length fired, General Brunet, who was to have advanced against another side of the Malakoff at the same moment that General Meyran made his attack, found his division exposed, as the other had been, to the whole fire of the Russian batteries, and was in turn obliged to desist. These failures produced similar ill success on the other points; and the only attack that was at all successful was that which was made under the command of Major-general Eyre, who actually forced his way into a considerable surburb of the town, and held the position he had gained for seventeen hours; at the end of that time he was compelled, by the failure of the other attempts and by the want of support, to withdraw his troops. It was thought by many that if he had been reinforced, he might have taken the Redan from the Sebastopol side.
This repulse was the first serious check the allies had received; the first indisputable triumph the Russians had gained, and they made the most of it. Lord Raglan only survived this failure ten days. As we have already seen, he breathed his last on the 28th of June. His death was attributed to cholera; but it is probable that disappointment, anxiety, and overwork, aggravated, if they did not produce, the disease to which he fell a victim. He was succeeded in his command, in right of seniority, by General Simpson; a man, like his predecessor, broken in health, but who was confirmed in the command by the home government. The great object of the allies now was to gain possession of the Malakoff and the Redan; but
especially of the former, because it commanded the town, the fate of which would probably be decided by its capture. Many weeks were devoted to preparations for a second assault, and the bombardment was not renewed till the 17th of August. The Russians on the other hand, attempted to parry the meditated attack by strengthening their defences, and making another vigorous attack from without on the works of the besiegers.
Accordingly, on the 16th of August, the day before that on which it was intended that the bombardinent should recommence, the Russian army outside Sebastopol, in obedience, as was believed, to positive orders dispatched from St. Petersburg, descended into the valley of the Tchernaya, near the Traktir bridge, and commenced a violent attack on the allies, the brunt of which was borne by the French. The Russian commanders, according to their usual practice, had stimulated the courage of their men by a copious supply of brandy, the consequence of which was that they charged with the wildest impetuosity. After a fierce contest, they were driven back with terrible slaughter, which was rendered much greater by the circumstance that the bridge by which they attempted to retire, not being wide enough to allow the passage of the panic-stricken crowd, was rendered almost impassable.
This battle appears to have formed part of a plan for a general assault on the allies from the town as well as outside, with a view to obtaining possession of the harbour and of Balaclava, and compelling the allies to raise the siege. The complete failure of the first operation frustrated the whole plan, and the battle did not at all interfere with the progress of the siege, which, as had been already arranged, recommenced with a severe bombardment on the day following. The last attempt had completely failed, and it now became evident that the allies could not be forced to relax their hold on the doomed town.
In all these operations the fleet had taken but little part, except that some sailors and marines had been landed to work in the trenches, and to assist in carrying on the siege. Indeed, the sailors in the larger ships were almost entirely debarred from obtaining the opportunity they panted after of distinguishing themselves. As in the Baltic, so too in the Black Sea, almost all the fighting was done by gunboats, mortar-boats, rafts, and small steam-vessels. Of these last an expedition was sent, countermanded, then dispatched again to the sea of Azoff, which took many forts situated on the border of that sea, and destroyed great quantities of provisions belonging to the Russian government and destined for the supply of the Russian army in the Crimea. It was indeed alleged by Prince Gortschakoff that the greater part of the property destroyed belonged to private individuals; but this was strenuously denied, and probably with truth, by the officers engaged in the expedition, who
BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
had been distinctly instructed to respect all private property, aud to capture and destroy nothing but what belonged to the government. Particular cases may have occurred in which it was difficult or impossible to distinguish public from private property ; but apart from mistakes thus arising, there is good reason to believe the assertions of our officers.
We return from this brief digression to follow the course of the events that were occurring in and about Sebastopol, to the siege of which the operations in the sea of Azoff were designed to be subsidiary. It was on the 5th of September, 1855, just twelve mouths from the day on which the allied armies sailed from Varna, that the bombardment was renewed with greater vigour than ever, and was continued during the sixth, seventh, and a portion of the eighth days of that month. The cannonade of the French alone extended over a space of four miles; that of the English, though less extended, was more concentrated. The firing continued day and night, with only such intervals as were necessary to allow time for the pieces to cool. It was, however, only preparatory to a great attempt that was to be made to take the Malakoff and the Redan; the former of which especially was the object for the defence or capture of which the chief efforts both of besiegers and besieged had been put forth. This formidable work had been strengthened by all the means which the ingenuity of the Russians could devise or their industry effect; and on the other hand every preparation had been made to overcome the obstacles it presented to the attacking force. Twenty-five thousand French and five thousand Sardinians were concealed in the trenches and elsewhere, impatiently waiting for the word of command to spring out and rush to the assault. The hour chosen for the commencement of the attack was about midday, because that was the time at which the Russians were accustomed to repose themselves, and at which consequently many of them retired from the ramparts. Accordingly at twelve o'clock the firing ceased, and the assanlting party sped forth. They were provided with everything necessary to enable them to surmount the obstacles which they would encounter. They passed the ditches, scrambled up the hill, and in a quarter of an hour the tricolor was floating on