SEPTEMBER 3, 1855.
THE BATTLE ON THE TCHERNAYA.
If any proof were required to be furnished of the immense strength of the fortress of Sebastopol, as well as the resources of the enemy, the long period which the allied army have lain siege to the place, would be sufficient to establish the fact beyond question. But though we have a right to accept the lengthened character of our operations as evidencing the gigantic power to which the Czar’s government have been enabled to arrive (and this, perhaps, we have been too prone to disparage), we must not understand them as furnishing any reason for believing in that invincibility of Russia in the Crimea, which has been lately more than once put forth. It is true that we might have attacked Russia on some of her continental frontiers — in defiance of Austria and Prussia, and in despite of the native hostility of those two powers, the allied armies might have been led overland on the northern or southern boundaries of the Czar; but still Sebastopol would have remained in all its formidable power, and the Black Sea, with its numerous forts would have remained to be subdued when the campaign was supposed to be successfully concluded.
Splendid victories might have been gained in the open field. but they would have been barren of result in comparison with that great achievement which must be the inevitable consequence of our contest in the Crimea. he obstinacy with which Russia resists our operations before this stronghold, even to the neglect of other positions of defence, & the desperate but fruitless efforts which she makes to recover some of the advantages which the allies have steadily gained, shows how much importance is attached by the enemy to its retention. Every Russian soldier is sworn to preserve the “rare jewel” sacred from the foe, with his life’s blood, and all that the influence of priestly exhortation can do to raise the fanaticism of the troops is resorted to.
But it is a game which our enemy prolong: with feelings of desperation rather than hopes of ultimate triumph.
In the battle of the Tchernaya, fought on the 16th of August, the Russian general made another determined effort to turn the critical position of affairs to the disadvantage of the allies, but with the same effect as at the battle of Inkerman, and numerous other attacks on the besiegers’ lines where it was thought possible to change the fortunes of war.
For some days preparations had been observed amongst the Russian forces posted on the opposite side of the river Tchernaya, and the collection of pontoons and engineering materials was visibly going on in advance of the enemy’s position. On the morning of the 16th, favoured by a mist, and without beat of drum or any sign of their approach, they bore down upon the Piedmontese position, driving in the outposts, and crossing the river in force. But reinforcements having arrived, the further progress of the enemy depended on their superiority in the dread work of slaughter which commenced. The combat was long and sanguinary, but the Russians were beaten on every point, &, as they withdrew down the slope, the artillery & minics of the allies committed fearful havoc in their retiring columns.
From the number of men (about 60,000) which were brought to bear on the allied positions in this affair, as well as from the evidence of a letter which was found on the dead body of one of the two Russian generals slain, there can be little doubt that a series of movements were arranged in connexion with the attack, had it proved successful in the onset, which would have eminently perilled the allied position; but, as in every previous case, when open field has been the scene of operation, the Russians, though they are said to have fought resolutely have been signally worsted.
Besides the disheartening impression which such a defeat cannot fail of producing among the troops of the Czar, there is one other very satisfactory result which has distinguished this brilliant action — and this is the proof which it has furnished of the value of our Piedmontese allies as auxiliaries in this contest These brave troops are mentioned in the dispatches with the greatest honour, & henceforth they are associated with this great struggle against despotism in such a manner as to vindicate the Italian character from that apathy and degeneracy which had been supposed to have fallen upon it,
We are led to infer, from the despatch of the French admiral, that the siege of Sebastopol is fast drawing to a close. The issue, it informs us, is no longer doubtful.
“Russia will not have to congratulate herself upon her prolonged resistance. Her finances end her armies are almost exhausted. Her old soldiers have disappeared, and the young recruits who fall into our power, appear to be worn out with fatigue and want of nourishment. Deprived of the resources of the Sea of Azoff, the Russian Government can no longer replenish its storehouses, Its soldiers only receive as their rations bread, salt, and water; brandy is only distributed on days of battle, and meat, almost never. When the rains autumn overflow the roads, I know not how the enemy will be able to procure food for his army. Its situation appears most critical.”
THE ATTACK ON SWEABORG
WHEN it is remembered that for two successive years we have despatched to the Baltic from this country, fleets which, for magnitude and apparent effectiveness, surpassed anything which the world had ever witnessed,—when it is remembered with what big promises they departed of striking a blow at the capital of the czar, it must certainly “be confessed that the people of England have little reason to be satisfied with the results attained. Last year the formidable fleet returned to England as the heroes of one exploit—the taking of the port of Bomarsund; and this year they are said to be about leaving the enemy for his usual winter vacation, having bombarded and destroyed a great part of the fortress of Sweaborg.
It is not our intention to speak disparagingly of the latter brilliant operation, Magazines, &c were blown high into the air—the town blazed tor, three days, the flames ascending 300 feet high, and one of Russia’s vaunted strongholds was turned into a heap of blackened ruins, without the slightest loss to ourselves But in a year’s operations of a fleet which has cost this country upwards of ten millions something more may be reasonably expected than the burning of a sea-port town. From the report of this affair, it seems that the Admiral silenced his guns in the moment of triumph, and retired on his laurels, to view as a passive spectator the progress of the conflagration he had caused, instead of pushing forward the advantage he had gained by making for some fresh point of attack such as Riga or Revel. Here they would have presented themselves as the heralds of their own victory, and each of these fortresses there seems no reason to doubt might soon have been reduced to the same condition as Sweaborg now is.
Something has been said about the failure of the mortars,—that they were no longer serviceable after about two hundred rounds, and that the bombardment could not possibly be continued in consequence of many of them bursting. But these were not contingencies which it can be pleaded were the result of accident: it was well known that an ordinary iron cannon became useless after four or five hundred rounds, and yet there was no reserve, nor indeed even an adequate supply of mortars for the occasion. Last year the absence of gunboats was the pretext for inactivity, end now the deficiency of mortars—in a fleet which was supposed to he commissioned to destroy one of the strongest fortresses in the world—deprives us of the full success of an ordinary bombardment. ”Praise be to God,” say the Russians “they did us no harm;” and probably no more material mischief has after all been done than such as a few months of suspended hostilities may suffice in great part to restore.
The policy which the Russians adopt in screening their navy behind stone batteries preclude the possibility of our achieving any of those brilliant naval victories which distinguished the last war—it must be pretty evident that the czar has no intention of risking an engagement with our fleet; & it must be considered as an oversight, not very creditable to the authorities, that though our chances of injuring the enemy rested mainly on the destruction of his forts and towns, the means of carrying on these operations have been all-along inadequately supplied.
One of our local men who had been with the fleet in the Baltic, wrote as follows:- “H. M. Mortar-boat Redbreast , Sheerness, Sept. 5th, 1855.” “My dear parents – I take the earliest opportunity of writing to you, and thank God that I am enabled to do so after the heavy bombardment of Sweaborg. We commenced on the 9th of last month and came out on the 11th. It was very hot in the mortar boats, we having discharged 263 shells on the first day. We fired the first shell, and I think the first one fired by the Russians was aimed at us; it dropped about 30 yards short of us. Afterwards we had shot and shell flying about our ears – some over us, some ahead of us, and some astern of us; but there was only one that burst over us, and that was right aft, and no one was hurt. One man broke his finger in this way:- He was in the magazine when they fired a 20lb charge, which blew off the magazine hatch, which fell on his finger and broke it clean in two. The poor fellow took it very easy, and about two hours after, he was taken on board the Magicienne. We were firing for two days and three nights, never stopping, except to get our victuals – ten minutes for meal and five minutes for grog and a smoke; then at it again as hard as ever. On the second day, at about three in the afternoon-