British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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Source: Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan (Longmans, 1961), pp.107-110, used here with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr. Hibbert. This document has been copied from its primary location on The Victorian Web.
Mentschikoff had left Sebastopol to be garrisoned by sixteen thousand men, three-quarters of whom were sailors, some of them armed only with boarding-pikes. General Möller, in command of the land forces, had a single battalion of engineers; the rest of his men were ill-trained militia. Both he and Vice-Admiral Nachimoff, who had been left to share the command of the sailors with Korniloff, were despondent and unsure of themselves and relieved when the dynamic Korniloff seemed willing to take supreme command. They were relieved also that there was in Sebastopol a man who was not content to rely for its defence on rhetoric, faith and courage.
Lieutenant-Colonel Franz Eduard Ivanovitch Todleben was a man whose talents as a military engineer were close to genius. Born in the Baltic provinces of Russia, Todleben was in appearance, origin and temperament a Prussian. He was tall and broad-shouldered and had a commanding presence. His eyes were penetrating, his nose long and beaked, his large, well-brushed moustache followed in its downward curves a wide, determined mouth. He was only thirty-seven but already enjoyed a reputation as a revolutionary military thinker, refusing to accept the concept of a fortress as a static position. The defences of a fortress, as of an entrenched position, must, he thought, be made elastic and capable of constant alteration and modification as the exigencies of the siege demanded. It was an idea which, given time, he was determined to apply to Sebastopol.
He was given the opportunity of doing so almost too late. He had been introduced by Gortschakoff to Mentschikoff as a man who had given helpful advice at Silistria and would certainly be useful at Sebastopol. On arrival in the Crimea he had received Prince Mentschikoff's permission to study the defences of Sebastopol, but his report had been so unflattering to the Prince that Mentschikoff had suggested that he should leave. Todleben did not immediately do so, and within a few days the allies had landed and the danger that Mentschikoff had dismissed as chimerical was real and urgent. The young Colonel of Engineers was left to do in a few days the work of months.
Map of the defences of Sevastopol and the position of the fleet on 17 October 1854.
Click on the image for a larger view.
Immediately he accepted the impossibility of making Sebastopol impregnable overnight. The sea defences on the east were already strong. Several earthworks and stone gun-emplacements effectively covered the entrances to the roadstead, and a line of ships had been sunk on Mentschikoff's orders across its mouth. This had brought tears of rage and humiliation to Admiral Korniloff's eyes, as it had made it impossible for the Black Sea Fleet to get out of the Man of War Harbour, but it had at least made it impossible for the allied navies to get in. A successful attack from the west could also be discounted owing to the length of the roadstead and the deep and narrow ravine at its end which could be raked by a murderous fire from the fleet and from a few land batteries on the crests of the ridges above the ravine. And so it was on the north side that Todleben had expected an assault after the retreat from the Alma. The immense Star Fort had accordingly been strengthened and improved and other defences had been built. Even so he believed, as Raglan had done, that an attack on the north could not have been successfully resisted. But now the allies had gone round to the other side of the town, and he could devote all his energy and talents to the defence of the south. Owing to Prince Mentschikoff's stubborn insistence that the allies would never reach Sebastopol and that good money should not be spent on needless defences, there was much to do. And Todleben, riding on his immense black horse backwards and forwards, day and night, along his line of gun-emplacements saw that it was done. Leaving a mass of letters, orders and directions unanswered or unopened on the desk in the room he shared with Korniloff, he went out siting guns, extending fields of fire, linking batteries, ensuring that each night, if not complete, the defences were as sound as they could be made until a new day and a few more hours' reprieve brought the opportunity of improving them.
On 25 September when Korniloff, looking through the high windows of the Naval Library, saw the allied armies marching down into the valley of the Tchernaya and realised that the south of the town would soon be threatened, these defences were little more than walls and mounds of loose earth and rubble. But slowly the 'thing like a low park wall' which General Cathcart had spoken of with such disdain became an extended system of forrmidable strength four miles long. There were six main redoubts, arranged in a semicircle so that the guns in those nearest the town, at either end of the line, could support the guns in those more advanced in the centre. Nearest the sea on the west was the Quarantine Bastion; next to this the Central Bastion; in the centre and sticking out like the blunted point of an arrow towards the allied armies, the Flagstaff Bastion and the Redan; behind and to the east of the Redan, the Malakoff; and farther to the east, the Little Redan. Heavy guns were trundled out of the town and placed in battery in these six redoubts and the smaller ones between them; sailors dragged up ships' guns from the harbour; women carried out wash-tubs and linen-baskets filled with round shot and ammunition; convicts were brought out of the prison and set to work with pickaxes and spades; and children, screaming with excitement, helped their parents throw up these gigantic sand-castles under the warm sun by day, and by the light of flaring torches by night.
The days and nights passed and the assault expected each dawn did not come. On 28 September, Lieutenant Stetzenko came into the town from Prince Mentschikoff to 'enquire about the state of Sebastopol' and was told that the garrison must be reinforced. Two days later the Prince himself arrived, and the request for more men was repeated. Mentschikoff, although his field army had been reinforced by 10,000 men from Odessa, demurred. He had lost so many officers at the Alma, the enemy armies were very strong, he was just about to make a threatening movement against their right flank. Admiral Korniloff lost patience with him and wrote him a letter of remonstrance, a copy of which he intended should be seen by the Czar. Persuaded at last that further resistance might be damaging, Mentschikoff gave way. On 1 October fourteen battalions of Russian infantry entered Sebastopol. By the 9th, 28,000 Russian troops had moved in.
At last Admiral Korniloff could feel secure. 'Notwithstanding the number of our enemies ... on the south side of the bay,' he now confided to his diary, 'we have no fear of not repelling them. Unless', he added in touching humility, 'our God forsakes us; and in that case His holy Will be done. It is the duty of men to submit to Him in resignation as He is always just.'
Todleben also felt more relieved. Each day his defences were securer than the day before. When it became obvious that the allies were settling down to a siege the garrison troops shook each other cheerfully by the hand as if they had won a great battle. 'Everyone in Sebastopol,' he said, 'rejoiced at the happy event.'
For three weeks the allies had remained silently on the plains to the south, their guns not firing, their fleet lying placidly at anchor. Only the duster of thousands of tents gave evidence of the presence of large armies, and only the lines and mounds of broken earth suggested what those armies intended to do.
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