|Attack on the Malakoff-William Simpson|
The result of the operations of this long and eventful siege was that on the 8th of September,1855, the French had, at a great cost of life and labor, pushed their approaches to the distance of 32 paces from the counterscarp of the Malakoff, and not quite so near the other works. The English, meanwhile, had scarcely reached within 225 yards of the ditch of the Redan.
On that day the assault was made at noon upon at least six points.
A few minutes later than the assault upon the Malakoff the English attacked the Redan.
"The Russians being now upon the alert, they did not pass over the open space before them without loss; but the mass succeeded in crossing the ditch and gaining the salient of the work. Finding themselves entirely unsupported they at once took shelter behind the traverses, whence the example and efforts of their officers did not avail to draw them, in order to occupy the work closing the gorge. Having in vain used every effort, having dispatched every officer of his staff to the rear urging that supports should be at once sent up, and seeing that the Russians were now beginning to assemble in force, the commander of the English storming party reluctantly determined to proceed himself to obtain reinforcements. Scarcely had he reached the trenches, and at last obtained authority to move up the required succor, when upon turning to lead them forward, lie saw the party he had left in the work rapidly and hopelessly driven out at the point of the bayonet. No further effort was made to carry the work. It would, in all probability, have failed, and would only have caused a useless sacrifice of men.
The failure of the English assault may he attributed partly to the fact that their advanced trenches were too small to accommodate the requisite force without confusion, in part to their not being pushed sufficiently near the Redan, but chiefly to that total absence of conduct and skill in the arrangements for the assault which left the storming party entirely without support. Had it been followed at once by strong reinforcements, it is almost certain that the English would have retained possession of the work.
The two French attacks on the west of the central ravine were probably intended only as feints; at all events, the parties engaged were soon driven back to their trenches with considerable loss, and effected nothing. Their attempts upon the Little Redan, and the works connecting it with the Malakoff, met with even less success than the English assault. The Russians repulsed the French with great loss, meeting with the bayonet the more adventurous men who reached the parapet. Thus, in five points out of six the defenders were fully victorious, but, unfortunately for them, the sixth was the decisive point.
In their admirable arrangements for the attack of the Malakoff, the French counted on two things for success: first, they had ascertained that the Russians were in the habit of relieving the guard of the Malakoff at noon, and that a great part of the old guard marched out before the new one arrived, in order to avoid the loss which would arise from crowding the work with men ; in the second place, it was determined to keep up a most violent vertical fire until the very moment of the assault, thus driving the Russians into the bomb proofs, and enabling the storming party to enter the work with but little opposition. The hour of noon was therefore selected for the assault, and the strong columns intended for the work were at an early hour assembled in the advanced trenches, all in admirable order, and furnished with precise instructions.
The mortars maintained an unremitting fire until the moment appointed. The very instant the last volley was discharged the storming party of Zouaves rushed over the thirty paces before them, and were in the work before the astonished Russians knew what had happened. It was stated that this party lost but eleven men in entering the work. Other troops advanced rapidly to the support of the storming party, a bridge was formed by rolling up five ladders with planks lashed to them, a communication was at once commenced between the advanced trench and the bridge, brigade after brigade passed over, the redoubt was at once occupied by the storming party, and thus the Malakofif and with it Sebastopol, was won. The few Russians remaining in the work made a desperate resistance. Many gallant attempts were made by Russian columns to ascend the steep slope in rear and regain the lost work ; but the road was narrow, difficult, and obstructed; the position strong, and the French in force. All their furious efforts were in vain, and the Malakofl" remained in the possession of those who had so gallantly and skilfully won it. With regard to the final retreat to the north side, it can only be said that a personal examination of the locality merely confirms its necessity, and the impression so generally entertained that it was the finest operation of the war ; so admirably was it carried out that not a straggler remained behind; a few men so severely wounded as to be unfit for rough and hurried transportation were the sole ghastly human trophies that remained to the allies.
The retreat, being a more difficult operation than the assault, may be worthy of higher admiration; but the Russian retreat to the north side and the French assault upon the Malakoff must each be regarded as a masterpiece of its kind, deserving the closest study. It is difficult to imagine what point in either can be criticized, for both evinced consummate skill, discipline, coolness, and courage. With regard to the artillery, I would merely remark that the Russian guns were not of unusual calibre, consisting chiefly of 24, 32, and 42-pounders; and that the termination of the siege was mainly due to the extensive use of mortars finally resorted to by the allies. If they had been employed in the beginning as the main reliance, the siege would have been of shorter duration.
The causes of the unusual duration of this siege naturally resolve themselves into three classes : the skillful disposition of the Russians, the faults of the allies, and natural causes beyond the control of either party. Among the latter may be mentioned the natural strength of the position and the severity of the winter. In the first class, there may be alluded to: the skill with which the Russian engineers availed themselves of the nature of the ground; the moral courage which induced them to undertake the defence of an open town with a weak garrison; the constant use they made of sorties, among which may properly be classed the battles of Balaklava, Inkermann, and the Tchernaya; the ready ingenuity with which they availed themselves of the resources derived from the fleet; the fine practice of their artillery; their just appreciation of the true use of field works, and the admirable courage they always evinced in standing to their works to repel assaults at the point of the bayonet ; the employment of rifle pits on an extensive scale; finally, the constant reinforcements which they soon commenced receiving, and which enabled them to fill the gaps made in their ranks by disease and the projectiles of the allies.
The evidences of skill on the part of the allies, as well as the apparent faults on all sides, having been already alluded to, it is believed that the means have been furnished to enable any one to draw his own conclusions as to the history of this memorable passage of arms.
At different times during the siege a vast amount of labor was bestowed upon field works in front of Kamiesch and Balaklava, near the Inkermann, on the northern and eastern borders of the plateau, and along the Tchernaya; these works varied much in strength and character, sometimes consisting of continuous lines, again of detached redoubts.
The redoubts generally had ditches about 10' wide and 6' deep. In many cases these works were only undertaken when a narrow escape from some imminent danger had demonstrated their necessity.
The line in front of Kamiesch consisted of 8 pentagonal redoubts, connected by an infantry parapet; it ran from Streletzka bay nearly south to the sea, passing at a little more than a mile from the harbor of Kamiesch; it was never completely finished.
The position of the Russians, after the evacuation of the south side, was one of exceeding strength; their establishments were covered by Fort Sivernaia (a permanent work) and long lines of strong earthen batteries, which would have required a siege to reduce them.
The steep declivity of Mackenzie's heights, accessible at but a few points, all of which were strongly guarded, rendered the approach from the south a matter of extreme difficulty; it would appear that the allies were wise in refusing to attempt to force the passage, unless the effort had been made immediately after the fall of the Malakoff, before the Russians recovered from the shock.
Efforts were made to turn the extreme Russian left by the valley of Baidar, but they only served to ascertain the hopelessness of the undertaking.
The detached operations against Kinburn, Eupatoria, Kertch, the sea of Azoz, &c. , cannot be regarded as having produced any effect upon the general result of the war; they served chiefly to weaken the main body of the allies, to annoy and exasperate the Russians, to occupy the attention of some of their irregular troops, and to destroy more private than public property.
The most accurate topographical map of the ground around Sebastopol, that I have seen, is one published at the hydrographic office of the admiralty, February 2, 1856, and entitled "Sebastopol: showing the Russian defence works and the approaches of the allied armies; by Lieutenant George R. Wilkinson, R. N., under the direction of Captain T. Spratt, R. N. C. B., September 1, 1855."
The permanent defences of the harbor of Sebastopol against an attack by water, although inferior in material and the details of construction to our own most recent works, proved fully equal to the purpose for which they were intended. Indeed, the occurrences on the Pacific, the Baltic, and the Black sea, all seem to establish, beyond controversy, the soundness of the view so long entertained by all intelligent military men, that well constructed fortifications must always prove more than a match for the strongest fleets.
It is believed that a calm consideration of the events so hastily and imperfectly narrated in the preceding pages must lead all unprejudiced persons among our countrymen to a firm conviction on two vital points:
1st. That our system of permanent coast defences is a wise and proper one, which ought to be completed and armed with the least possible delay.
2d. That mere individual courage cannot suffice to overcome the forces that would be brought against us, were we involved in an European war, but that it must be rendered manageable by discipline, and directed by that consummate and mechanical military skill which can only be acquired by a course of education, instituted for the special purpose, and by long habit.
In the day of sailing vessels the successful siege of Sebastopol would have been impossible. It is evident that the Russians did not appreciate the advantages afforded by steamers, and were unprepared to sustain a siege.
This same power of steam would enable European nations to disembark upon our shores even a larger force than that which finally encamped around Sebastopol. To resist such an attack, should it ever be made, our cities and harbors must be fortified, and those fortifications must be provided with guns, ammunition, and instructed artillerists. To repel the advance of such an army into the interior, it is not enough to trust to the number of brave but undisciplined men that we can bring to bear against it.
An invading army of 15,000 or 20,000 men could easily be crushed by the unremitting attacks of superior numbers; but when it comes to the case of more than 100,000 disciplined veterans, the very multitude brought to bear against them works its own destruction; because, if without discipline and instruction, they cannot be handled, and are in their own way. We cannot afford a Moscow campaign.
Our regular army never can, and, perhaps, never ought to be large enough to provide for all the contingencies that may arise, but it should be as large as its ordinary avocations in the defence of the frontier will justify; the number of officers and non-commissioned officers should be unusually large, to provide for a sudden increase; and the greatest possible care should be bestowed upon the instruction of the special arms of the artillery and engineer troops.
The militia and volunteer system should be placed upon some tangible and effective basis; instructors furnished them from the regular army, and all possible means taken to spread sound military information among them.
In the vicinity of our seacoast fortifications it would be well to provide a sufficient number of volunteer companies with the means of instruction in heavy artillery; detailing officers of the regular artillery as instructors, who should at the same time he in charge of, and responsible for, the guns and material.
In time of war, or when war is imminent, local companies of regular artillery might easily he enlisted for short terms of service, or for the war, in the seacoast towns. The same thing might advantageously he carried into effect, on a small scale, in time of peace.
GEORGE B. McCLELLAN,
Captain First Cavalry,
January 14, 1857.
|A cleaned up image of McClellan from an official commission photo|