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A blog of Nineteenth Century history, focusing, but not exclusively, on the American Civil War seen through the prism of personal accounts, newspaper stories, administrative records and global history.
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A Capitol View

A Capitol View
Images of 1861 juxtaposed- Union Square, New York vs. Capitol Square, Richmond

Monday, April 7, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report IV

Balaclava looking seawards, Roger Fenton Crimean War Collection, LOC

In considering the operations of the Russians at this period, it must be remembered that the nearest harbor to the north of Sebastopol that could at all answer as a depot for the operations of a siege was the poor one of Eupatoria, forty-eight miles distant; and that to the south of the city, the only harbors were Balaklava and the series between Cape Chersonese and the city. It was clearly the interest of the Russians to oblige the allies to attack on the north rather than on the south side; for the reasons that the former was already in an efficient state of defence, requiring open trenches to reduce it, while the latter was open; and more especially that their long line of communication with Eupatoria and the rear of their position would have remained exposed to the constant attacks of the reinforcements which might soon be expected by the Russians, while the city could still be supplied by the more circuitous route of the valley of Baidar, the allied force being too small to complete the investment. It was impossible for the Russians to oppose the landing because an army on land could never keep pace with the movements of a fleet. The only reasonable plan was to remain in position at Sebastopol, and act according to circumstances as soon as the allies showed their hand. But the landing being once effected, the Russian general should have annoyed and harassed them, by day and night, by unremitting attacks by his Cossacks and other light troops.
Instead of offering battle at the Alma, two other plans were open for the consideration of the Russian. In any event to destroy the harbors of Balaklava, Kamiesch, &c., and then, first, to leave in Sebastopol the garrison necessary to secure it against assault by a detachment of the allied army, and with the rest of his available troops to operate on the left flank of the allies, in which case his superior knowledge of the ground ought to have enabled him at least to delay them many days in a precarious position; second, to remain in the vicinity of the city, occupy the plateau to the south of it, and allow the allies to plunge as deeply as they chose into the cul de sac thus opened to them. 
A couple of vessels sunk in the narrow mouth of the harbor of Balaklava, or the employment of a few tons of powder in blasting the cliffs which enclosed its entrance would have effectually prevented all access to it. A few vessels sunk in the common entrance of the harbors of Kamiesch and Kazatch and the same thing at Strelitzka bay, would have rendered them also inaccessible. This should have been regarded as a necessary part of any system of defence for Sebastopol, and if carried out, would have placed the allies in a most unenviable position. The result of their expedition would have been disastrous in the extreme; and they might well have esteemed themselves fortunate if permitted to retrace their weary journey to the Old Fort, there to re-embark and consider more promising plans of campaign. I am not acquainted with the early career of the Russian commander, but cannot resist the conviction that the history of his operations will but present another example of the impropriety of intrusting military operations to any other than a professional soldier, or at least of the danger of attempting to combine in one person any such dissimilar professions as that of the sailor and the soldier. The moral courage and energy of the admiral in the early part of the siege, and his sagacity in detecting the merits of Todtleben, are above praise, but cannot efface the impression that he failed to take a sufficiently enlarged and military view of the events he so largely controlled.
To resume the movements of the allies The battle of the Alma was fought on the 20th of September; the two following days were spent on the field of battle; the 23d and 24th were occupied in marching a little more than ten miles to the Balbek; the 25th and half of the 26th were passed here, when at noon of the latter day, the flank march to the south side was commenced by the curious arrangement of sending the English artillery in advance, without escort, through a woods. This very original order of march was well nigh attended with disastrous consequences; for, as the head of the column approached the main road at Mackenzie's farm, a strong Russian column passed by. Fortunately for the English batteries, the Russians must have neglected observing the roads; and being ignorant of the true state of affairs, steadily pursued their march towards Baktschi Serai, thus losing an opportunity of striking a brilliant blow without risk to themselves. 
Finally, after darkness set in, the head of the English column reached the banks of the Tchernaya at the Traktir bridge, the rear closing up very late at night broken down by disease, burning with thirst and exhausted by fatigue. Next day the march was resumed; losing many men by the cholera, and much disorganized by the fatigues of the preceding day, they at length reached the welcome haven of Balaklava just as an English steamer glided in. Thus, on the 27th the communication with the fleet was regained, and the first episode of the campaign terminated. The French followed the movement, the armies ascended the plateau, Kamiesch was occupied; and now, instead of taking advantage of the exposed condition of the south side, the allies commenced the labor of landing, and moving up their siege material, opening the trenches, &c. 

To appreciate the position of the English army on the night it reached the Tchernaya, it must be borne in mind that it had in its rear the precipitous heights of Mackenzie, several hundred feet in elevation, with but a single road leading to the summit, and that they were thus cut off from the immediate assistance of the French. If the English had been attacked this night, the result must have been disastrous to them in the extreme. Had the harbor of Balaklava been destroyed, and the attack been made during the next day's march, it is probable that their annihilation would have been the result.

In considering this march, it is somewhat difficult to determine which party committed the greatest faults- the allies in so exposing themselves, or the Russian in failing to avail himself of the opportunities offered.

Thus far the allied generals displayed none of the qualities of great commanders; their measures were half-way measures, slow and blundering; they failed to keep constantly in view the object of the expedition, and to press rapidly and unceasingly towards it.


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