This series has four easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Russia’s General Decides the City Can Be Defended.
The siege of Sevastopol began in October, 1854 and during its progress important battles occurred — that of Balaklava, that of Inkerman, November 5th, in which the Russians were defeated by the English and the French; that of Tchernaya, August 16, 1855, a victory for the Russians; and the storming of the Malakoff, described below. The capture of Sevastopol was the decisive event of the Crimean War.
Sir Edward Bruce Hamley and Sir Henry Evelyn Wood, British generals who served in the Crimean War, give us the best accounts of the siege and capture of Sevastopol, in which they were active participants. The siege had continued through many weeks without decisive developments, when on June 18, 1855, the French made a strong but unsuccessful assault on the Malakoff, which, like the Redan, formed one of the main defenses. The following narratives describe the British assault on the Redan and the final storming of the Malakoff by the French.
The selections are from:
For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. There’s 2 installments by Edward B. Hamley and 2 installments by Evelyn Wood.
We begin with Edward B. Hamley. He served throughout the Crimean campaign as aide-de-camp to Sir Richard Dacres, commanding the artillery, He later became Professor of Military History at Sandhurst Staff College and later still, he became its Commandant.
Place: Sevastopol, Crimea
Seeing how desperate was the condition of the fortress, Prince Gortschakoff had resolved, after the Battle of the Tchernaya, to abandon Sevastopol. In letters to the Minister of War, of August 18 and 24, 1855, he expressed this intention, saying there was not a man in the army who would not call it folly to continue the defense longer. With a view to conducting a retreat he pressed forward rapidly the construction of the bridge across the harbor, which was to have a roadway of sixteen feet and to bear heavy vehicles. He also conferred with Todleben on other measures to protect the withdrawal, and accordingly barricades were built across the streets and formed into armed and defensible works which were intended, as a last resort, to hold in check the assailants. Preparations were also made for blowing up the principal forts and magazines.
Another great cannonade had begun on August 17th. The French lines had now approached so close to the place that new additions to them were immediately destroyed or rendered untenable by the fire from the Malakoff and Little Redan; and the shower of small shells, easily cast into the trenches from the ramparts, and called by the French “bouquets,” greatly increased their losses. For the silencing of the artillery, which thus hindered the French sappers, the allied batteries opened in full force against the part of the enemy’s lines from the Redan to the great harbor. But the town front was not included, and the English batteries suffered greatly from want of support by the works on their left.
On August 20th Gortschakoff entered the fortress, and went round the lines of defense, upon which the fire of the allies was just then at its height. What he saw might well confirm him in his resolution to retreat. There was no longer either a city or a suburb to defend, for both were heaps of rubbish and cinders. The parapets of the works, dried in the heats of summer and split in huge fragments by the shot, were crumbling into the ditches. The interior space was honeycombed with holes made by the shells. Gabions and sandbags could not be procured to repair the embrasures, which remained in ruins. Many of the dismounted guns could no longer be replaced, not because there were not plenty in the arsenals, but because to mount them by night, under the deadly fire of the mortars, entailed such frightful sacrifices of men.
The defenders of the works were packed in caves under the parapets; the gunners lay dead in heaps on the batteries; the wounded could not be removed by day, because the communications with the rear were now searched throughout by the fire of the allies, and so lay where they fell, in torment in the sun beside the more fortunate slain. On landing, the Prince had passed the hospitals, full to overflowing, and the ambulances with the wounded crowding what had been the squares. There was nothing to relieve the horrible monotony of destruction and devastation except the bridge, which promised retreat from this misery, and which was approaching completion.
Yet it was after this visit that the Russian General changed his mind in the direction of what he had before termed folly. “I am resolved,” he wrote to the Minister of War, on September 1st, “to defend the south side to the last extremity, for it is the only honorable course which remains to us.” Calculating that the daily loss of the garrison was from eight hundred to nine hundred, and that he could bring twenty-five thousand men from the army outside to reinforce it, by leaving only twenty thousand to guard the Mackenzie Heights, he considered he might still prolong the defense for a month. Everything was against such a cruel determination; but he proceeded to execute it so far as in him lay. Yet it did not rest with him to determine the end.
The cannonade once more reduced the Malakoff, its dependencies and neighbors, to absolute silence, and enabled the French to push their works yet closer. The soil between the Mamelon and Malakoff could be cut into like a cheese, and the trenches were more easily made and better constructed here than elsewhere. The English trenches before the Redan had been stopped by solid rock; the French approaches to the Little Redan, now only forty yards from it, had also got into soil so stony as no longer to afford cover. The most advanced approach to the Malakoff was separated from it by only twenty-five yards; in the soft soil the trenches might have been pushed to the very edge of the ditch, but only with great loss, and, besides, the facility of mining below them would increase as the distance lessened. It was therefore deemed that the time for assault had come, and it only remained to determine the details.
Evelyn Wood begins here.
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