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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.
A thousand tales. A miscellany. A maze of historical tangents.

A Capitol View

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

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

McClellan's Crimean Report IX

Siège de Sébastopol, chasseurs à pied de la Garde impériale. . . - D.A. Marie
We may now turn to the point of attack.
 The facts of the case are well known. For many months the operations of the French were directed entirely against the Flag-staff and Central Bastions, the English being engaged in what may be termed two false attacks against the Redan.
It was not until the spring of 1855 that the efforts of the French were at last turned towards securing possession of the Malakoff.
To appreciate the merits of this question, it is necessary again to refer to the map to bear in mind that the heights overlooking the Karabelnaia were considerably more elevated than those bordering upon the main city, and that the docks and other naval, as well as military establishments, were all located in the Karabelnaia suburb.
Were the Flag-staff Bastion carried, but a single step was gained; beyond it existed at least two lines of defence, both difficult to carry, before even the main city was reached. While these new approaches were being constructed, it would have been a simple matter for the Russians to border the commanding heights of the Karabelnaia with new batteries directed against the town; the fire from these, together with that from the works on the north side, would have rendered the victors very uncomfortable and insecure in their barren conquest; and the fleet could have retired to the vicinity of the Careening bay, where it, as well as the docks, would have been secure against direct injury.
By taking the Malakoff, the fleet and the establishments of the Russians lay exposed at the feet of the allies; its commanding position and proximity to the main harbor rendered further resistance useless when once occupied by them. Considerations relating to the facility of bringing up supplies and covering their depot very probably determined the direction of the early
French attacks, but by no means diminish the credit due to General Neil, who first turned the efforts of his countrymen in the right direction.
If a deficiency in men and means is assigned as a reason for the early operations of the allies, it is but another proof that, in undertaking the affair, they neglected one of the clearest rules of war, that is, to undertake no important operation without full and reliable information as to the obstacles to be overcome, and the means of resistance in the hands of the enemy.
Enough has already been said to justify the belief that a dilemma, difficult of solution, might be presented for the consideration of the allies: on the one hand, the comparatively small scale upon which the original expedition was organized; the intimation contained in some of the French instructions that "half a siege train" would suffice to capture Sebastopol, and the absence of all preparations for passing the winter in the Crimea, would indicate that the allied governments were well aware of the real weakness of Sebastopol at that time, and intended that it should be carried by a "coup de vigeur;" on the other hand, from the moment the armies landed, every movement was conducted in a manner indicating that the generals were under the impression that formidable defences were in front of them, and that nothing serious could be attempted until further supplies and reinforcements were received.
In regard to the detailed execution of the French attacks, little or nothing novel is to be observed. Even when coolly examining the direction of their trenches, after the close of the siege, it was very rare that a faulty direction could be detected; they always afforded excellent cover, and were well defiladed; in some cases the excavation of the double direct sap was carried to the depth of 6' in the solid rock.
The execution of many of the saps and batteries was worthy of a school of practice. In the parallels, bomb proofs were provided as temporary hospitals, offices for the generals on duty, &c. They did not use the sapper armor. The use of the sap roller was often attempted, but it could be employed only during the latter part of the attack upon the Malakoff, when the fire of the Russian artillery was nearly extinguished by the mortars; before that, as soon as a sap roller was placed in position some 30 guns would be brought to bear upon it, the result being its immediate destruction.
It may justly be said of the French approaches, that they admirably carried into practice their system of sapping. The technical skill and patient courage evinced by their officers and men in pushing forward such excellent approaches, under a most deadly fire, is worthy of all commendation, and is such as might have been expected from the antecedents of their corps of engineers. With regard to the English the case was different; it seemed as if they systematically abandoned the excellent system taught and perfected with so much care at Chatham.
Whenever the ground was difficult their trenches generally ceased to afford shelter; a shallow excavation in the rock, and a few stones thrown up in front, appeared to be all that was considered necessary in such cases. They were often faulty in direction as well as in profile, being not unfrequently badly defiladed, or not gaining ground enough, and entirely too cramped; nor were they pushed as close to the Redan as they ought to have been before giving the assault.
In too many cases the expression "tatonnement" of the French would seem to convey the best idea of their operations. Their batteries, however, were very well constructed. Their magazines, platforms, &c., were usually similar to those adopted at Chatham, although unnecessary deviations were sometimes complained of.
They employed neither armor nor the full sap; sometimes the half-full, hut generally the flying sap were employed. The excellent English magazines were generally covered with 7" or 8" timber, 2 layers of fascines, 2 layers of sand bags, and 5' or 6' of earth. During the siege three were exploded by 13" shells, hut it was supposed that in two of these cases the shells burst in the passage, as similar magazines resisted 13" shells falling on the roof; in the third case, the magazine was first struck fairly on the roof by a 13" shell, which laid it hare to the sand hags; the corporal of sappers in charge, being intoxicated, neglected to repair the damage, when another 13" shell struck in the same place and exploded the magazine.
A very good gabion was made, by the English, of the iron hoops of bales of hay, casks, &c. They were 3' high and 2' in diameter, having 11 stakes of sawed wood. The iron hoops were wattled as the ordinary withes, and were hound by iron straps running the whole length of the gabion. These were much employed in revetting the cheeks of embrasures, thus avoiding the use of raw hides. The first pair of gabions, at the throat, should not be of iron, since it was found that shot would often tear off pieces of the straps, which caused bad wounds.
Gabions were also made of split hoops.
The fascines were bound with iron straps, twisted by pincers, in addition to the ordinary withes. The dimensions of their materials varied much in size, being made by different parties.
Sand bags were very much employed in revetting batteries, traverses, &c.
Latrines were provided at the extremities of parallels and boyaux*, and cleansed with lime every day.
Water tanks and reservoirs were provided in the parallels, and filled every morning and evening by means of pack animals.
During the siege the English working parties and guards of the trenches generally paraded at 6 p. m., and moved off after dark, often suffering severely before reaching the trenches. The guards of the trenches went on duty in their red coats and forage caps, without knapsacks; working parties in working dress, and armed; muskets on the reverse of the trench. Generally double sentinels were posted, on their bellies, about 50 yards in advance of the trench.
Materials, guns, ammunition, &c., were carried up at night, "over the open."

 *Boyau (Fr.) - a communication trench, a sap pushed forward toward the enemy.  Typically constructed in a zigzag pattern to prevent exposure to direct fire from the front.

Sebastopol from the Extreme Right of the Trench Attack-William Simpson

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