British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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These edited extracts are from Paget's own account, The Light Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget (John Murray, 1881). This document has been taken from its primary location on The Victorian Web
We had received a special notice on the previous evening of a probable attack in the morning, and the last regiment was just forming on parade on the morning of August 16, when the action commenced by the outposts of the Sardinians being driven in, beyond the Tchernaya, about 3.30 a.m.; the real fight commencing about 5, and lasting till 8.The Cavalry Division advanced about 4 in close column (masses of brigades) across our plain and on to the Causeway heights. Here we halted for a short time and were then disposed as follows:
The Hussar Brigade was sent under General Parlby to our left, to remain in reserve, to somewhere near the spot where on the 25th October the Light Cavalry commenced its advance, and to watch the Inkermann flank, and we saw no more of them the rest of the morning. General Scarlett at the same time ordered me to advance with my brigade as a first line, and occupy the neck of the valley leading down to the ford of the Tchernaya, in the direction of Tchorgun. The Heavy Brigade were ordered to remain in support of us at the foot of the hill, on the higher ground of which stands the village of Kamara.
After I had been formed up a short time in my new position, an aide-de-camp came from General Scarlett (who had ridden to the high ground on our right which formed the position of the Sardinian army on this day), desiring that I would detach a regiment to support Major Barker's battery to the position, from which it performed such essential service to the Sardinians. I sent the Carabineers under. Colonel Jones on this duty. (1)
Here we remained during the whole of the battle (with the exception of a short episode which I will narrate hereafter) in the valley which separated the two armies, the French to our left, the Sardinians to our right. We were under the full range of the enemy's guns on the heights in front of us, which, however, were so fully occupied with more important antagonists, that except a horse or two of some Sardinian cavalry close to us, we did not suffer at all from the enemy's fire. We could see all that was going on on our right with the Sardinians, but could see little or nothing to our left, towards the Tractir Bridge, where the thickest of the fight was raging, the Fedioukine hills interposing between us and that part of the theatre of the contest, but the heavy firing told us of the importance of the affair, of which, indeed, we had visible proofs in the knots of Russian prisoners, wending their way from time to time across the plain to Balaclava.
About 7 o'clock an aide-de-camp came from General Scarlett to inform me that an advance of the cavalry across the river was intended - a somewhat startling announcement, in truth, and one which, had it been carried out, would in every sense have completed the affair of October 25; for not only would the results have been as disastrous (as I will show later), but, oddly enough, we should have commenced this advance from the very point from whence we were driven back on that day. The instructions that I received were as follows:
The Chasseurs d'Afrique were formed up in two lines, in the plain to our left rear, some, 400 or 500 yards from us. They were to advance, and I was to support their movements. I was to give an opportunity to their second line to support their first line, and not to move myself in support of the first line till I was satisfied of no indications of their second line moving in support, but that if their second line showed such a disposition I was to give them " the pas," and then move in their support. The Heavy Brigade had at the same time got the order to advance to our support when they saw us move, but on no account to cross the river after us.
We waited in this disposition for perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour, when I saw the, little greys once again (as at Inkermann) break into open column and trot by us. (2) Watching their second line till I had given them full opportunity to support if they so intended, but seeing no indications of their doing so, I moved off the 12th Lancers (which formed my first line) in open column; and if ever troops were doomed to certain destruction, here was a case in point; but the poor cavalry (who are always doomed to be the victims of mistakes) were saved this time. About three or four troops of the 12th Lancers had broken into open column and were advancing at a trot, when a French staff-officer galloped up to me, ventre à terre, and, holding up his hand begged that I would halt at once, as "On a changé d'intention," General Pelissier having ordered that the movement should be given up.
The Chasseurs in our front were at the same time halted and went threes about. We all then made a movement to the rear, and in half an hour the battle was over, won by the gallantry of our brave allies of both nations some time previously. I soon after crossed the ford and rode with General Scarlett and others as far as Tchorgun, which was by this time abandoned. The gallantry of the Sardinians was conspicuous, and no troops could have behaved better.
It put us in great spirits, for we had, of course, no means before of judging of their mettle, though their appearance had been everything in their favour and it was a pretty sight to see those picturesque Bersagliari scrambling up the opposite hills and driving the enemy before them. The Turks on their right did good service also, I believe, aided as both were by the murderous and well-directed fire of our heavy battery (Grey's).
A ride over the field of battle soon after it was over, as far as, and some 300 or 400 yards beyond - that is, to the left of - the Tractir Bridge enabled one to judge of what had been going on for the last three hours, to our left, with the French. And a scene of slaughter it was! The river, the aqueduct, and the little dry ditches that intersected the valley between them and the bills, were positively choked up with dead and dying Russians, and in the most extraordinary attitudes; and strewed all over the ground were little ready-made bridges (so-called), consisting of unpainted ladders about twelve to fifteen feet long.
The chief effort of the Russians had been made against the position of the Fedioukine height, at the foot of the centre of which stands the Tractir Bridge, the Zouaves (3) as usual having borne the brunt of the fight. Their position was on the top of the chain of hills, with a gradual slope of about eighty yards of low brushwood down to a lower ridge, from which is a steep descent of some fifty yards down to the river. There are, of course, many variations of this along the line, but this is the general character of the position. To the top of this second or higher ridge did the enemy three times advance, without a shot being fired at them, but from it they were each time driven down with great slaughter, the French following them to the river at the point of the bayonet. The Russians had been driven on (as is always the tactics with them) by the masses behind them.
Had a chalked line been drawn, the extent of their advance to the brow of the hills could not have been more clearly defined than it was by the line of dead bodies lying on the ground. I am speaking more particularly of a spot where the thickest of the fight had raged, i.e. to our left of the Tractir Bridge. To make the repulse more complete, a French force had been sent down the road leading to the bridge to take them in flank. The victory was indeed a complete one, and the confusion of the retreating 30,000 Russians across the plain, I was told by an eye-witness, could only be conceived by those who saw it.
In the endeavour to explain the circumstances under which the allied cavalry would have had to make the contemplated advance, and in order to show the object - the only object which could have been sought for in such an advance - it will be necessary to give a general outline (in a brief sketch) of the positions of the different armies, and the general features of the battle. The attack of the enemy was somewhat as follows:
The Tractir Bridge may be called the centre of their line of attack. Their chief attack was by their right, which advanced across the plain obliquely from the Mackenzie heights and Inkermann heights (I believe), attacking the Fedioukine heights, occupied by the French. Their left attack was chiefly from a range of hills commanding the Tchernaya and extending towards Tchorgun, and against the Sardinians. The allied cavalry were posted in the valley separating the positions of the French and the Sardinians. Now, at the time when our advance was ordered there could have been no question of the enemy's fire against the Sardinians being so successful as to enable them to cross the river on that flank which was the enemy's left, and therefore our contemplated advance could have had no connection with such a success of the enemy.
Again, our advance could have had no connection with a repulse of the enemy's left, for their retreat would have been among hills inacessible to cavalry, while on their left, and on our right front and right, were two gorges (the one leading to Tchorgun, and the other to the right of the Turkish position), which led only into the mountains. We must seek then elsewhere for a solution of the object in contemplation.
The position of the French, as I have said, was opposed to the right attack of the enemy, from the plain. Now the only ground on which our cavalry could possibly act was on that plain. Therefore it is logical to assume that the intention was, that when the enemy's attack should have completely failed against the French, and that when they were being driven back across the plain, our cavalry should be brought up to pursue and harass them, and complete the victory. But it must be here added that a very large force of the enemy's cavalry - probably the whole of them (for it is difficult to conceive where else any of their cavalry could have been on this day) - were, during the battle, posted in the plain under the "Spur Battery" on the Mackenzie heights.
We must now turn for a moment to the position of the allied cavalry at the time, and the phases through which they must have passed before arriving on the plain. Overlooking and commanding the gorge of the valley (about half-a-mile in width) separating the heights, which formed the Sardinian position to our right and the French position on our left, and in which we were formed up, is a range of heights, which formed the left of the Russians on this day. They can hardly be called the left of the Russian position, inasmuch as their right (and indeed centre) was a plain across which they had to cross to attack; the bills commencing to rise from the plain, opposite the Tractir Bridge, and extending to their extreme left towards Tchorgun. Close under this chain of hills, that is, at some eighty yards from its base, runs the river Tchernaya.
Parallel to the river, and at some 300 yards distance from it, runs a watercourse, some twenty feet wide, known as the Aqueduct, which supplies Sebastopol with water. The position of the Light Brigade was some 300 or 400 yards again from this watercourse. Reversing the picture, we had thus some 300 or 400 yards to advance before arriving at the watercourse, after crossing which we had some 300 yards more before arriving at the river. The position in our front which I have endeavoured to describe was bristling with batteries and the slopes with sharpshooters; the force indeed that opposed the Sardinian army during the battle.
I have said that we were well within range of this position during the whole battle, but were of course left unmolested, while we remained where we were, the enemy having plenty to do with the Sardinians. The only passage (4) across the Aqueduct was over a plank bridge some twelve or fifteen feet wide (directly in our front). The only passage across the Tchernaya was by means of a ford, (5) considerably to the right front of the plank bridge which crossed the Aqueduct.
Had not then the order for our advance been countermanded, at the opportune moment when it was (two more minutes would have been too late), I hold that the following must have inevitably occurred, without the possibility of any other solution. The column of cavalry, consisting firstly of what had been the first line of the Chasseurs, secondly of my brigade, and thirdly of the Chasseurs in support (if they had come on), had but some 300 yards to advance before arriving at the Aqueduct. Arrived at this point, a column of sections of threes must have been formed (the plank bridge being not wide enough for more than three horses abreast). This column of sections must then have defiled over the plank bridge. [The question of whether there was one bridge only, or three or four, is simply one of whether the disaster of which Iam speaking is to be divided by three or four.]
Now, as I have before said, our original position was well within range of the enemy's position, and this plank bridge was some 300 yards nearer to it. Inasmuch as - had we remained in open column, while the troops in our front were defiling across the bridge - our column must have been pierced through and through by the enemy's guns, it would have been absolutely necessary to re-form our lines, before crossing the bridge in succession, and after defiling over the bridge, the column of troops must have been again formed, in view of our further advance.
Now it is logical to assume that although, as I have said, we remained unmolested by the enemy's fire while quiescent in our position, the moment that our movements were sufficiently developed to show them our intention of an advance, at that moment would have been concentrated upon us a great portion of their fire. It would therefore be curious to make a calculation of the time that would have been occupied in this movement.
Firstly, the advance in open column to the Aqueduct.
Secondly, the re-formation prior to crossing the plank bridge.
Thirdly, the crossing in sections of threes.
And fourthly, the re-formation prior to our renewed advance (as many of the enemy's guns as could be spared for us, concentrating their fire on us the whole time).
But our troubles would not have ended here - nay this was but the commencement of them. We should now have had before us the remainder of our advance across the plain to the Tchernaya; an oblique advance, as I have said, the ford being on our right front. Arrived on the banks of the river, and now within short range of the enemy's rifles, bristling on the slopes of the hills 200 yards in our front, such of us as remained must have again formed up, during, the, passage of the ford (a good number probably being immersed in the holes that I have described).
Arrived on the opposite bank, we must then have, continued our advance (now to our direct left) and swept along the flat ground which intervened between the base of the hills and the Tchernaya, the configuration of the ground being such that, while at the point from which we should have started from the ford the width of level ground would not probably have admitted more than the frontage of one or two squadrons, we could have gradually increased our front, in consequence of the base of the hills receding from the river until the plain is reached.
Having now, according to the theory which I have already sketched out, arrived with our cavalry on the plain, conjecture can go no further; as the nature of our after-movements must have depended on the position of the retreating masses of the enemy, though it must be borne in mind, as I have said, that a very large force of Russian cavalry, far superior in, numbers to ours, was formed up on the plain, and ready to act against us. The foregoing facts speak for themselves.
Had the result of the morning's conflict been a general advance of the French and Sardinian armies in pursuit of the retiring enemy (concerning the policy of which movement there were many opinions after the battle), the policy of our advance would doubtless have been a sound one; but as to the practicability of sending us alone on this errand, while the battle was raging, and before the enemy's fire from the opposite heights had been silenced, there could be but one opinion.
I carefully rode over the around often afterwards, and the more I saw of it, and the more I reflected on the subject, the more inconceivable was it to me that such an advance was ever contemplated, and but for the fact that no other possible solution of the movement existed than that at which I arrived, I should hesitate to believe in my own senses. I explained all this at the time to many English generals who, having heard of our intended advance being abandoned, questioned me on the subject, and all were equally convinced of the madness of such an advance. I believe the facts of the case to be somewhat as follows:
Firstly, that the position of General Scarlett on this day was not very clearly defined, with regard to the Sardinian and French armies, further than that he was to co-operate with the allies in the best manner that he could. Secondly, that on General de la Marinora would have rested the responsibility of the, advance, had it taken place. And thirdly, that it was unknown to General Pelissier, who first heard of it only when he arrived on the field of battle, some time after its commencement, and that the moment he heard of it he at once countermanded it, (6) his exclamation on hearing of it having been "Ma foi, c'est un très jeune Général."
I have gone at greater length into this episode of the, battle of the Tchernaya than perhaps the occasion deserves, because as usual, after the battle, it was said that the cavalry were slow, and did not take advantage of an opening that presented itself.
(1) I have the following from Colonel Jones's own lips: In the middle of the engagement, a Sardinian staff-officer rode up to him, and desired him to descend into the plain, and advance against the Russians. He answered by inquiring whose order was this. The reply was, "General de la Marmora;" to which Colonel Jones replied, that he was sent to protect the battery by me, and he should stay with it till he received an order from me or General Scarlett to leave it. [back]
(2) It is remarkable bow exactly the orders I received on this occasion corresponded with those I received at Inkermann - i.e. to move off on each occasion in support of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, when I saw them move to the front, the Chasseurs on each occasion being in position to our left rear, and having to pass us, before we were to move. Happy was it for every one concerned that the similarity ended where it did! [back]
(3) I visited their camp in the afternoon, and they told me that they had been taken completely by surprise, which is difficult to account for, as we in Balaclava had had intelligence the night before of a certain attack in the morning. However this may be, they certainly permitted the Russians to cross the river, and get up the hill before they opened fire on them, which however, as this was permitted twice again, was probably the result of design rather than of surprise. [back]
(4) I was afterwards told that there had been constructed, immediately before the battle, two or three of these bridges. I can only say that, in riding over the ground afterwards, I could never find them, or any traces of them. [back]
(5) This ford was very deep (up to a horse's belly), and was full of large holes, that would have immersed a horse and his rider, the navigation of which (if I may use such a term) is so intricate, that a mounted Dragoon was always in after-times placed sentry over it, to point out to equestrians the course they should take in crossing it. [back]
(6) It must be borne in mind that it was the Chasseurs d'Afrique that had been ordered to lead the attack, and therefore that it was the advance of those troops that General Pelissier countermanded, my brigade being only a supporting one; and who ordered the advance of the herein lies some difficulty, as to Chasseurs, but I certainly always understood that, it was General de la Marmora. [back]
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