The French had taken great trouble to screen the concentration of their troops from the sight of the enemy.
Continuing Capture of Sevastopol Ends Crimean War,
our selection from by Evelyn Wood published in . For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. The selection is presented in 2 easy 5 minute installments.
Evelyn Wood was a lieutenant in the Crimean War. Later he fought in various wars throughout the British Empire, rising to the rank of general.
Previously in Capture of Sevastopol Ends Crimean War.
Place: Sevastopol, Crimea
It may render my narrative of the final assault more readily comprehensible if I begin by saying that, the Malakoff being now considered the key of the Russian position, it was determined that all other attacks should be considered subsidiary to that which was to be directed against it.
General Bosquet had command of all the French troops employed on the right of the English attack. MacMahon’s division was to assault the Malakoff itself, having De Wimpffen’s brigade with Camou’s division in reserve, and with it two battalions of Zouaves of the Guard. On MacMahon’s right La Motterouge’s division, composed of the brigades of Bourbaki and Picard, was to attack the curtain. It was supported by four regiments, two of grenadiers and two of Voltigeurs of the Guard. Still farther north was Dulac’s division, supported by Marolle’s brigade of Camou’s division and one battalion of Chasseurs of the Guard. These were to attack the Little Redan. Pélissier himself took up his position in the Mamelon, and to avoid giving warning to the enemy by any system of a general signal, the watches of the staff and the generals were carefully compared in order that the assault might be begun at twelve o’clock. This hour was chosen by Pélissier in consequence of his having ascertained that the troops on duty in the Russian trenches were relieved at that hour, and owing to the works being cramped from the number of traverses and blindages erected to cover their garrisons from fire, it had become the habit for the old guard of the works to march out before the relief marched in, and it was thus anticipated that at twelve o’clock the works would be nearly empty. This surmise proved to be accurate.
The French had taken great trouble to screen the concentration of their troops from the sight of the enemy. Each division had a separate access to the advanced trenches in which the storming parties were to assemble. In places where the parapets, having sunk, might have disclosed to the view of the enemy the troops moving into position, they had been carefully raised. Cuts had been made through parapets to admit of the supports moving forward in bodies, and to allow field-artillery batteries, which were stationed at the Victoria redoubt and the old Lancaster battery, to pass through to the front. These apertures had been filled up with gabions, and carefully concealed, so that their position remained unknown to the enemy.
General Herbillon, still encamped on the Tchernaya, was directed to cause his force (less Camou’s division called up to support La Motterouge, and Dulac) to stand to arms at twelve o’clock, and his command was reinforced by a brigade of cuirassiers under General De Forton. The morning was dull and gloomy, with a cold wind which drove clouds of dust into the air. A little before twelve o’clock all the French storming parties were crouching ready for the order.
Bosquet himself was in the sixth parallel; MacMahon, surrounded by his staff, was standing in the front trench with his watch in his hand. No one spoke in this group, in which the calm faces showed no sign of the excitement visible in the zouaves on either side of them, who, though silent, were trembling with impatience. Close at hand there was a corporal holding a little tricolor. Two minutes before twelve o’clock the word was passed in an undertone, “Ready,” and as the hands indicated it was twelve o’clock, on a command from MacMahon a shout arose of “Vive l’Empereur!” bugles and drums sounded the charge, and the zouaves dashed straight at the Malakoff.
MacMahon allowed two sections to pass him, and then, followed by his staff, climbed over the parapet, following the advanced guard. It placed one ladder, by which the General descended into the ditch, and was, it is said, the first up the escarp of the work. A friend of mine described to me how he watched the tricolor on the parapet being carried slowly along, thus indicating exactly how our allies in the body of the work were gaining ground. The zouaves who crossed the ditch on the proper left of the Malakoff had some difficulty in climbing up, from the height and steepness of the escarp.
MacMahon’s leading brigade crossed the short intervening space without a shot being fired. The enemy’s working parties and gunners who were repairing damages fought bravely with picks, shovels, and hand-spikes, but were eventually driven back. The very few Russians in the salient were completely surprised, so much so that some of the superior officers were found at dinner in an underground chamber of the Malakoff, and the French without difficulty obtained absolute possession of the south end of the work. Although the enclosure covered an area of about four hundred yards by one hundred fifty, there was but very little open space within it, for behind the remnants of the stone tower were rows of traverses stretching from side to side of the work. Behind these the Russians took post as they came up from their bombproof shelters. Every separate parapet was fought for, hand to hand, and it was not till Vinoy’s brigade, which, entering by the Gervais battery, got behind the traverses, turning out the regiment Grand Duke Michel, that the enemy was finally driven from this part of the work.
The leading brigades of Motterouge’s and Dulac’s divisions, headed by their chiefs, seized the curtain and the Little Redan, the latter falling first, as St. Pol’s brigade was nearer to it than Bourbaki’s brigade was to the curtain. Once inside these works from which the Russians were easily driven, the French pressed on to the intrenchment then being built across the rear. General Pélissier now gave General Simpson the signal to attack the Redan. At the same time the French attacked the Malakoff, and there the fate of Sevastopol was really decided.
The possession of this fort was strongly contested, the Russians bringing up field-batteries; the French were also fired on heavily by three steamers, which, circling round, fired broadsides into them, and batteries sent shells from the north side of the harbor into the French support. Eventually after a prolonged struggle, in which the French captured four field-guns, St. Pol’s brigade was beaten back, losing its brigadier, and with him fell the chief staff officer of the division and two colonels. The Russians followed up closely, and Bisson’s brigade, which for want of space in the trenches had been stationed in the Careenage Ravine, was too far behind to afford effective aid. Bourbaki’s right being thus uncovered, he also was driven back, although supported by Motterouge’s other brigade.
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