|Harbor at Balaklava crowded with shipping|
This would seem to be the proper place to notice a popular fallacy which, for a time at least, gained extensive credence. It was, that the siege of Sebastopol proved the superiority of temporary (earthen) fortifications over those of a permanent nature. It is easy to show that it proved nothing of the kind, but that it only proved that temporary works in the hands of a brave and skilful garrison are susceptible of a longer defence than was generally supposed. They were attacked as field works never were before, and were defended as field works never had been defended. The main difference between properly constructed permanent fortifications (intended to resist a siege) and temporary works is, that the latter seldom present an insuperable obstacle against assault, "while the former always do. In addition, permanent works have a better command over the adjacent country, and are more carefully and perfectly planned. The masonry walls, which render an assault impossible, cannot he seen from the distance, and can he destroyed only by establishing batteries on the crest of the glacis or the edge of the ditch; the earthen ramparts alone being visible beyond that point, they may, until the besiegers arrive there, be regarded in the same light as field works, with the difference that the garrison are not harassed by the necessity of being constantly prepared to repel an assault. Now, in the siege of Sebastopol, the trenches of the besiegers never reached the edge of the ditch; so that, had the fortification been a permanent one, the most difficult, slow, and dangerous part of the siege remained to be undertaken, viz: the crowning of the covered way, the establishment of the breach batteries, the descent and passage of the ditch, and the assault of the breach; in other words, at the moment when the weakness of the temporary works became apparent and fatal, the true strength of the permanent defences would have commenced coming into play.
Assuming the progress of the attack to have been as rapid as it was under existing circumstances, the besiegers, on the 8th of September, would not yet have been in a condition to crown the covered way, the siege would certainly have extended into the winter; and it may even be doubted whether the place would eventually have fallen, until the allies were in sufficient force to invest the north as well as the south side.
From the fleet and the naval arsenals were undoubtedly derived the means of arming and equipping the land defences; on many occasions the fire of the vessels up the ravines, as well as their vertical fire, was probably attended with effect, yet I can see no reason to coincide in the opinion that the presence of the fleet justified the allies in failing to advance upon the town immediately after their arrival in front of it. No doubt the fire of the vessels would have rendered it impossible for the allies to have occupied immediately the lower parts of the town and the shores of the harbor, but the nature of the ground was such that they could have opposed no serious resistance to the allied occupation of the positions subsequently occupied by the Malakof, Redan, and Flagstaff Bastion. Once holding these points, it would have been easy for the allies to establish batteries commanding at once the fleet and the town; defence would have been impossible, and the opening of their fire must have been the signal alike for the destruction of the fleet and the evacuation of the south side.
We will now pass to the works of attack.
So great was their extent, some 6 miles from the extreme right to the furthest left, with a development that has been stated, probably without exaggeration, to exceed 40 miles, and so broken was the ground over which they stretched, that it is impossible to give in a report like this anything approaching to a definite idea of their plan. An endeavor will be made merely to point out how far the besiegers departed from, or conformed to, their established systems for works of this nature.
As the selection of the points of attack, and the positions to he occupied to cover the siege must first have engaged the attention of the allied commanders, they will naturally be the first objects for our consideration.
In the determination of the position for covering the siege there were two things to be considered: 1st, the power of resisting the efforts of a relieving army; 2d, the facility of bringing up to the front the various supplies required in the operations.
The strength of the position afforded by the plateau of the Chersonese has already been referred to; with the small force at first present on the part of the allies, it is certain that their position -would have teen much stronger and more secure had they confined themselves to the occupation of the plateau, holding the valleys to the east only by detachments to observe the enemy. The English, supposing that their position and point of attack remained as it was, would have had a somewhat greater distance to pass over in the transportation of their supplies; but by abandoning Balaklava for Kazatch they would have obtained a much more extensive and convenient harbor, and the united efforts of the two armies would have enabled them to construct, in ample season, a good road for the passage of their trains. Had the siege been undertaken by a French army alone, it can scarcely be doubted that Kamiesch and Kazatch would have been used to the exclusion of Balaklava; at all events, Balaklava would have been employed only as a temporary depot, when the roads were good and the enemy at a distance; here the insuperable evils of a divided command probably intervened. In this case the barren and disastrous day of Balaklava would never have occurred; the force and labor employed in protecting Balaklava would have placed the position of Inkermann in such a state of defence as either to have deterred the Russians from engaging in the battle or to have secured the victory to the allies without the frightful cost and great uncertainty attending that eventful contest.
In the actual condition of affairs, if either on the 25th October or the 5th November the Russians had succeeded in carrying Balaklava, the English army would have been reduced to the most desperate extremity by the total loss of all its supplies and means of transportation. It is possible that the result would have been the total abandonment of the siege, and a retreat upon Kamiesch, to embark there as rapidly as transportation could be obtained.
To anticipate objections, it may be stated that, during the winter of 1854 and 1855, no supplies were drawn from the country beyond Balaklava, and that the only advantages derived from its occupation were: inextricable confusion in unloading vessels and despatching supplies,
arising from the want of size of the harbor and the steepness of its banks*; wretched roads over
the muddy soil; a steep ascent to be overcome in reaching the plateau; finally, the constant
and lively anticipation of being entirely deprived of these uncertain advantages upon the first
resolute attack by the enemy in force. The most probable reasons for the selection of Balaklava
as the English depot are, that it was somewhat nearer the position on the plateau; that it was
not taken by the French; and that since it existed, it would be a pity that it should remain
*see picture above.