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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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Friday, April 11, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report V

The Return from Inkerman by Lady Butler

From the moment the allies occupied Balaklava and Kamiesch, the conduct of the Russian general deserves high commendation, and was in striking contrast with that of his antagonists.
The affair of Balaklava has been so often discussed, yet so imperfectly explained by the innumerable military and civil inquiries to which it and all connected with it, have been subjected, that it, would seem idle for one who visited the scene nearly a year after it occurred to pretend to comment upon it: but it may be permitted to say with regard to the ground over which the English light cavalry charged, that, if the eye were not raised from the soil under foot, no more favorable place could be selected for a charge of cavalry- it was on the smooth turf of the flat and level bottom of a wide valley; but upon turning the glance to the ground to the north and east, imagining the Russians in the positions which they occupied on the 25th October, 1854, it is difficult to divine how any officer could direct such a charge to be made; destruction was inevitable, and nothing could be gained. No doubt there often are cases in which one arm of service may consistently be required to sacrifice itself for the benefit of the others, but this was not such a case. The most appropriate criticism upon this exhibition of insane and useless valor seems to be that, no doubt, made by a well known French general: "C'est bien magnifique mais, ce n'est pas la guerre!" The Russians have been criticised for effecting "too much and too little" in the affair of Balaklava; too much in indicating to the allies the weakness of their right; too little in not availing themselves of this weakness to carry Balaklava. It is probable that their object was chiefly to slacken the operations of the siege by making a diversion; but it does not appear that they acted with all possible energy on this occasion.
As things went at Inkermann, the result as far as the English were concerned, appears to have been due to that steady and magnificent courage of their race, which has so often palliated or overbalanced the follies and unskilfulness of their commanders whether in victory or defeat. Their conduct on that day was worthy of the nation which gained credit alike at Malplaquet and Landen, Blenheim and Fontenoy, Waterloo and Corunna.
The position of Inkermann is the key point of the northeastern angle of the plateau of the Chersonese; it commands the road ascending the plateau by Cathcart's ravine, the only approach from the north side, and the road which follows the Careening Bay ravine the only approach from the city in that vicinity; it is the most elevated ground in the neighborhood, and is susceptible of a strong defence from whatever direction it may be attacked. Were it occupied by the Russians the siege of the Karabelnaia became impossible and the position of the allies dangerous in the extreme if strongly occupied by the allies their right became perfectly secure.
Could the Russians have anticipated a siege of Sebastopol, it would have been an unpardonable error not to have occupied the Inkermann by a small permanent work. How little they were prepared for an attack by land will probably be shown in the sequel; but as things were, it appears to be a grave error not to have intrenched the position from the beginning. It was still more inexcusable on the part of the allies to have omitted the occupation of the position in force; nor, with proper field works, would a very large force have been necessary.
The Russian plan for the battle of November 5 was most excellent in conception; and as far as mere orders could go, nothing seemed wanting to insure success, and drive the English partly over the steep borders of the plateau into the open arms of Gortschakoff partly into the sea and the rest to Kamiesch. It must be kept in view that the principal object of the Russians in giving battle at the Inkermann was to prevent an assault upon the town then regarded as too weak to resist it; in this respect, although at a heavy cost, they gained their point ,for they effectually rendered an assault impossible for many months thereafter. In considering the plan of attack, the Russian general rejected the idea of a movement on the allied centre, (by the ravine of the inner harbor,) because it was too effectually defended by the siege batteries of the allies; the attack upon their rear was rejected because the plateau was very difficult of access, strongly guarded and the affair of Balaklava had induced the allies to throw up works in that direction. It was therefore determined to attack the English right and centre making false attacks on the French left and towards Balaklava.
The spirit of the orders issued was as follows: General Soimonoff, with 16,200 infantry and 38 guns, to march up the Careening Bay ravine, ascend its western slope near the Victoria redoubt and attack the English centre. General Pauloff, with 13,500 infantry and 28 guns, to march from the north side, descend into and cross the Tchernaya valley at the head of the bay, ascend by Cathcart's ravine, and attack the English right; the attack of these two commands to be simultaneous. General Gortschakoff, with about 15,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry, and 40 guns, to make a false attack upon Balaklava and the roads leading thence to the plateau. General Timofajeff, with some 2,500 men and 4 guns to make a false attack upon the French left, carrying their batteries, if any confusion were observed among them. The batteries in the town to keep up a warm fire.
A close examination of the ground would indicate the propriety of this plan of attack; the difficulty arose in the execution. It would appear that in the orders the expression "left of the Careening Bay ravine" was used for "western;" Soimonoff improperly interpreted this as meaning his own left, and thus brought his own and Pauloff's column into a state of confusion which paralyzed the efforts of both, so that but a portion of either command was at any one time engaged. 
As it was, the Russians were undoubtedly driving the exhausted English before them when Bosquet came up. Had the false attack towards Balaklava been properly conducted, Bosquet would have been unable to assist the English; but soon perceiving that the operations of Gortschakoff were confined to a simple cannonade at long range, he readily divined the true state of affairs, and by his prompt action saved the army.
Timofajeff succeeded in spiking fifteen guns, and paralyzed the French left.
It would thus seem that the result of the action was due partly to the courage of the English,partly to the mistake of Soimonoff,(who expiated his error with his life,) partly to the prompt and correct judgment of Bosquet, and mainly to the fact that Gortschakoff did not conduct his false attack with sufficient energy and decision.
The desperate courage of the Russians in this affair was fully acknowledged by all who participated in it.
In the battle of the Tchernaya the principal efforts of the Russians were directed against two points: The Fedukhine heights, occupied by the French, and the hills occupied by the Sardinians*, between the Fedukhine and the village of Karlofka Pus, directly opposite Tchorgoun.
A glance at the map will show the propriety of this attack; for had either of these points fallen the other must have followed and had the Russians followed; up the occupation by any active measures, the result must have been the suspension of the siege. The question will naturally arise, why did the Russians abandon these positions which were in their possession during a part of the preceding winter? The only reasonable answer is, that their force was then so small as to be entirely required for the defence of the city.
The Fedukhine heights the elevation of which is not far from 100, extend about two and a half miles along the Tchernaya; their horizontal plan is nearly a trident, with the points toward the stream, the central branch sending forth some five irregular spurs; towards the stream the slopes are sufficiently steep to render access difficult, while full sweep is permitted to the fire of artillery and musketry from the summit, and upon any one point from the collateral spurs.
The aqueduct, which is here a ditch so broad and deep as to be much in the way of troops, skirts the northern base of the heights along their whole extent.
The Traktir bridge is directly in the prolongation of the ravine which separates the central from the eastern branch of the trident; for more than half a mile on each side of the bridge the deep and vertical bed of the Tchernaya skirts the aqueduct.
The Traktir bridge was of masonry and covered by a weak tete-de-pont.
Either the acqueduct or the stream was in itself a serious obstacle the two combined constituted a formidable obstacle requiring the use of bridges situated as they were under the close fire of the troops occupying the heights.
The same difficulties, to a greater extent, existed at the foot of the Sardinian heights; but the attack in this quarter does not appear to have been quite so pronounced as that upon the French. Both of these positions were strengthened to a certain extent by field works especially that of the Sardinians.
It is certain that the allies had received intelligence, from a neutral capital, that the Russians intended attacking on or about the 18th of August, although the precise point was not perhaps specified. 
The Russian reports give their own version of the failure attributing it to a failure on the part of one of their generals to carry out his orders; but the foregoing description of the ground may render it probable that the repulse was due to the strength of the position and the gallantry of its defenders, without seeking for other causes; it may safely be said that the defeat of the Russians was not owing to any want of courage and impetuosity on their part.
The events of Inkermann and Traktir seem to lead to the conclusion that the Russians moved in too heavy and unwieldy masses; this system of tactics which would on many fields, no doubt, carry all before it if followed by a rapid deployment, in these cases exposed them to terrible losses, and rendered impossible that effective development of numerical force and individual exertion which was necessary to carry the day.   

*Here is an informative little piece on the Sardinian Army . . . by Frederich Engels.

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