Farsi    Arabic    English   

The War in The East[382]

Frederick Engels

The arrival of the Africa has put us in possession of three days later dates from Europe, but nothing of additional interest from the seat of war beyond an infernal episode describing the roasting alive of a vast number of sick and wounded in hospital, and accounts of sufferings that render language a pauper in attempting to portray them. Of the bloody and undecisive battle of the 5th November, brief intelligence of which was brought by the Baltic, we have now Lord Raglan's curt dispatch[a], but not yet the customary voluminous and exciting details by correspondents, whether actors or lookers-on. Much anxiety—much more than appears on the surface of things—exists in England as well as in France in regard to the increased and increasing difficulties of the war; and the stubborn refusal of Sevastopol to fall before the allies, those rivals in courage and sacrifices, is most ominously viewed. The extracts in another column of this journal[383], from The London Times, exhibit an altered temper, and a spirit of doubt which may be mistaken by some for approaching despair. In the absence of details respecting the battle of the 5th sufficiently coherent to base remarks upon, we shall now offer some on the operations of the siege just previous to that time.

The 25th of October was the day on which the slow monotony of the siege of Sevastopol was first interrupted by a dramatic incident. The Russians, on that day, attacked the allied position covering the siege, and the advantages being more equally distributed, this time, to either side, the result was very different from that of the battle of the Alma. This action, in fact, was the very counterpart of that of the Alma: it was a cavalry fight almost exclusively, while at the Alma no cavalry was engaged; and instead of occupying a defensive position, the Russians were the assailants, while the advantages of strong positions were with the allies. It was, indeed, a drawn battle as nearly as that of the Alma, but this time the advantages remained to the Russians.

Engels' rough draft of the article "The War in the East" with a sketch of the battle

The Heracleatic Chersonese, the peninsula south of the Bay of Sevastopol, borders toward the main land of the Crimea by a range of hights running from the mouth of the Chernaya, or the head of the Bay of Sevastopol, to the south-west. This range slopes down gradually on its north-west side toward Sevastopol, while it is generally steep and bold toward the south-east, facing Balaklava. The allies occupying the Heracleatic Chersonese, this range was their natural defensive position against any Russian army trying to raise the siege. But unfortunately, Balaklava was the "base of operations" of the British, the chief harbor for their fleet, the grand dépôt for their stores; and Balaklava lay about three miles to the south-east of this range of hills. It was, therefore, necessary to include Balaklava in the system of defense. The country about Balaklava is formed by a group of very irregular hights, running from the southern extremity of the aforesaid range, nearly due east and west along the coast, and like all hills in the Crimea, sloping gently toward the north-west, but steep and craggy toward the south-east. Thus an angle formed between these two groups of hights is filled up by an undulating plain, rising gradually toward the east, until it ends in a steep descent toward the valley of the Chernaya.

The most remarkable feature of this plain is a range of hillocks and of slightly elevated ground running north-west and south-east, uniting what we call the Heracleatic range with the mountains on the south coast. It was on this elevation, about three miles east and north-east of Balaklava, that the allies had thrown up their first line of defenses, consisting of four redoubts, defending the roads from Bakshiserai and from the Upper Chernaya. These redoubts were garrisoned by Turks. A second line of fieldworks was erected immediately in front of Balaklava, and continued up to the apex of the angle formed by the coast hights and the Heracleatic range, which latter were fortified by the French division of General Bosquet, stationed there. Thus, while the second line, defended by English soldiers, marines and sailors, was continued and flanked by the French line of redoubts, the first or Turkish line, nearly two miles in advance, not only was completely unsupported, but strange to say, instead of forming a line perpendicular to the road on which the enemy could come, it was constructed almost in the prolongation of that line, so that the Russians might first take one, then the second, then the third and finally the fourth redoubt, gaining ground each time, and without the possibility of one redoubt much supporting the other.

The allied position was occupied: toward Balaklava, by the Turks in the redoubts, or first line; by British marines, on the hights, in the immediate vicinity of Balaklava; by the 93d Highlanders, and some convalescents in the valley north of Balaklava. Further north was the camp of the British cavalry; and on the Heracleatic hights, that of the advance guard of Bosquet's division.

At 6 o'clock on the morning of the 25th, General Liprandi led the Russians to the attack of this position. He had under him a combined division consisting of six regiments of infantry (Dnieper, Azoff, Ukraine, Odessa, Vladimir, Suzdal, the 6th battalion Rifles, and one battalion Tchornomorski Cossacks, or 25 battalions in all); three regiments of cavalry (the 11th and 12th Hussars, and a combined regiment of Lancers, or 24 to 26 squadrons), about two regiments of Cossacks, and 70 guns, of which 30 were 12-pounders.

He sent General Gribbe by a defile on his left to occupy, with three battalions Dnieper Infantry, the village of Kamara, in front of which the first and strongest redoubt is situated. General Gribbe occupied the village, and his three battalions appear to have spent the day there very quietly, as they have never been named during the fight which followed.

The main column, following first the course of the Chernaya, and then a by-road, gained the high-road from Bakshiserai to Balaklava. Here they met the redoubts, manned by Turks. The first redoubt being pretty strong, Liprandi had a fire of artillery opened upon it, and then sent the storming parties forward. A line of skirmishers hid the first, second and third battalion. Azoff, advancing in columns of companies, which were again supported behind either wing, by the fourth battalion Azoff and one battalion Dnieper, in close attacking columns. The redoubt, after a lively resistance, was taken; the 170 dead and wounded the Turks left in it show that, in spite of the invidious assertions of the British press, this redoubt was valiantly defended. The second, third, and fourth redoubts, however, being hastily constructed, were taken by the Russians almost without resistance, and by seven o'clock in the morning, the first line of defense of the allies was completely in their hands.

The abandonment of these redoubts by the Turks may have the good effect of dispelling the monstrous superstitions regarding Turkish bravery which have been commonly adopted since Oltenitza and Silistria, yet the British generals and press play a very shabby part in turning, all at once, upon the Turks on this occasion. It is not so much the Turks who should be blamed, but the engineers who contrived to shape their line of defense in such a faulty manner, and who neglected to finish it in time, as well as the commanders, who exposed the first line to an overwhelming shock of the enemy without any support being at hand.

The 93d Highlanders, steady and slow, as it behoves Scotchmen, got in line by-and-by, and then advanced up the hights toward -the redoubts, but not before they were taken. The fugitive Turks, decimated by Russian cavalry, at last formed again on the flanks of the Highlanders. These, in order to shelter themselves from the Russian fire, laid down behind the crest of an undulation of ground, in advance of all the positions still held by the allies, and supported by the cavalry division only to their left. In the meantime the Russians had formed their line of battle on the hights where the redoubts were situated on their left flank Azoff, next to the right the Ukraine, next the Odessa infantry. These three regiments filled up the space between the redoubts, and occupied what had been the first line of the allies. Further on, to the right of the Odessa regiment, the undulating plain formed a favorable theater for cavalry movements. Thither the two Hussar regiments were sent and they found themselves directly opposed to the British cavalry, which was drawn up about two miles distant. The regiments of Suzdal and Vladimir, part of the artillery and the Lancers, which were just coming up, remained in reserve.

When the 93d Highlanders, reenforced by the convalescent battalion and the Turks, made a stand against the Russians, the Hussars were launched against them. But before they could come up, the British heavy brigade of cavalry charged them. The seven or eight hundred British heavy dragoons dashed at the Russians and dispersed them in one of the most brilliant and successful charges on record, considering their far inferior numbers. The Russian Hussars, twice as numerous, were scattered in a moment. The few Russian squadrons which had charged the 93d Highlanders were received with a quiet Scotch volley at fifteen yards from the infantry, and reeled back as well as they could.

If the Turks had run away, the English, up to this time, had earned nothing but glory. The daring of the Highlanders who received cavalry in line, without deigning to form squares, the dashing attack of the heavy cavalry, were certainly things to boast of, especially as they were performed before any reenforcements came up. But now the First (Duke of Cambridge's) and Fourth (Cathcart's) Divisions, as well as Bosquet's French Division and the brigade of Chasseurs d'Afrique (cavalry) came up. The line of battle was formed, and only now could it be said that there were two armies in presence. The French of Bosquet forming upon the Heracleatic hights, Liprandi sent the regiments of Vladimir and Suzdal to form the extreme right wing on the hights beyond the position of the cavalry.

Then, the fire having almost ceased, because the armies were out of range of each other, a misunderstanding, which is not cleared up, caused a charge of the British light cavalry —a charge which had no object and ended in defeat. An order arrived to advance, and, in a few moments, the Earl of Cardigan led his light brigade up a valley opposite his position —a valley flanked by covering hights, crowned by batteries, concentrating their fire on the lower ground below. The whole brigade amounted but to 700 sabres; when within range of grape, they were received by the fire of the artillery and of the rifles stationed on the slopes; they charged the battery at the upper end of the valley, received fire at twenty yards, rode down the gunners, dispersed the Russian Hussars, who made a second but wavering charge, and were on the point of turning back when the Russian Lancers took them in flank. They had just come up, and fell at once upon the panting horses of the British. This time, in spite of partial successes, the British had to turn back, and were fairly defeated by the Russians, but, it must be said, by far superior numbers, and by the aid of a mistake, which sent them, without an object, right against the cross-fire of a numerous artillery. Of the 700 men that advanced, not 200 came back in a fighting condition. The light cavalry brigade may be considered destroyed, until re-formed by fresh arrivals.

This disaster to the British would have been far greater, and hardly a man would have come back, had it not been for two movements made on either flank of the charging light horse. On their right, Lord Lucan ordered the heavy brigade to demonstrate against the Russian batteries in front of them. They maneuvered forward during a few minutes, lost about ten men by the Russian fire and galloped back. On the left, however, the French Chasseurs d'Afrique, two of the finest cavalry regiments in the world, on seeing their allies broken, rushed forward to disengage them. They charged the battery which took the British light horse in flank, and which was placed higher up the hill, in front of the infantry regiments of Vladimir, were within the line of guns in a moment, sabred the gunners, and then retreated, having accomplished their object which, too, they would have done, even without the advance the Vladimir infantry instantly made on them.

Here was another instance of the British system of warfare as manifested in this campaign, such as, more than once, we have had occasion to point out. They first made a blunder, and then recoiled from the untactical movement which could have alone averted its consequences. But the French Chasseurs instantly felt what was to be done. On their side of the cavalry action no flank attack of Russian horse took place, because their dash prevented it: while the cautious "heavies" of Brigadier Scarlett merely demonstrated, and that, of course, was not enough to prevent the Russian Lancers from falling on the flank of the Hussars. Had they charged, like the French, the Russian Lancers would have turned tail very soon. But while their fellow-brigade was ordered to be over-daring, they were ordered to be over-cautious, and the result was the ruin of the light brigade.

After this the action ceased. The Russians demolished the two redoubts nearest the allies, and kept the two others strongly occupied. They maintained the conquered ground, and Lord Raglan, not venturing to attack them, ordered the second line of redoubts to be strengthened, and confined himself to its defense. The first line was given up.

In this action the behavior of the 93d Highlanders is beyond all praise. To receive cavalry in line in the way they did, merely wheeling backward one company on their right flank en potence[b], to hold back their fire to the decisive moment, and then deliver it with such deadly steadiness, is a feat which very few troops can perform, and which shows in them the highest qualities required in the infantry soldier. The Austrians and the British may be considered the only troops with whom such an experiment can be pretty safely tried; perhaps, also, with some Russian troops, for their length of service qualifies them for such a task, although we do not recollect them having ever been put to the test, and stood it.

The superiority of the British and French cavalry over the Russian is incontestably proved by this action. The three brigades of the allies were about the same strength as the three regiments of the Russians; and had they been sent to the charge simultaneously instead of one after the other, and supported by artillery driving up, and the whole line of infantry moving onward, Liprandi and his troops were in great danger of being thrown down the steep descent toward the Chernaya, and meeting with the fate Blücher prepared for the French at the Katzbach[384].

The strength of the two armies may be thus computed: The Russians had 25 battalions, which mostly had been engaged at the Alma, cannot have counted more than 14,000 men at the very outside. Cavalry, 24 squadrons, having mostly marched all the way from Moscow and Kaluga, certainly not above 2,400 men; besides about 1,000 Cossacks. Artillery, 70 guns.

The allies had of infantry the greater part of the first and fourth British divisions, and of Bosquet's French division; besides them an uncertain number of Turks, which we can only come at by computing the number of Turkish battalions landed. There were ten Turkish battalions with the expedition from the first, and according to Lord Raglan's dispatch of 18th October, six more battalions were landed at Balaklava[c]. As they were not employed on the siege, nor moved far from Balaklava, all these Turks must have been present there; although, after their retreat from the redoubts, they were no longer mentioned in the dispatches and not considered worth mentioning. Thus we shall be pretty near the fact, if we take the British at about 6,500, the French at about 3,500, and the Turks at 6,000 at least. Besides, there were about 1,000 British marines and sailors in the redoubts around Balaklava. Total infantry, 17,000; or, if the Turks count for nothing, 11,000. Of cavalry, the two British brigades amounted to about 1,400 (in the British reports rank and file only are counted); the Chasseurs d'Afrique at least 800; total, 2,200. Artillery, unknown, but inferior to the Russian in number, though far superior in quality.

Take it all in all, we consider that on this occasion the allies were at least as strong as the Russians, had the advantage of strong positions to fall back upon, and might have, by a bold attack, cavalry and infantry combined, gained a decisive victory not like the one of the Alma, which had no results, but a victory which would have saved them the trouble of fighting that murderous battle on the 5th of November. As it was, they did not even retrieve the disadvantages which they had suffered, and by that curious mixture of over-daring and over-caution, of misplaced dash and misplaced timidity, of military fury not heeding the rules of the art, and of scientific disquisitions, letting slip the moment for action by that singular way of doing always the wrong thing at the wrong moment, which has signalized all the doings of the allies, the battle of Balaklava was fairly lost to them.

From the battle of the 5th November, we can up to the present only draw the conclusion that it was the beginning of that crisis which we thought would occur from the 5th to the 10th. As we said long since[d], as The London Times now says too[e]—it is merely a question of supplies and reenforcements.

Written on November 16, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4249, November 30;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 993, December 1
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 691, December 9, 1854 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Lord Raglan's telegraphic dispatch to the Duke of Newcastle of November 6, 1854. The Times, No. 21900, November 16, 1854.—Ed.

[b] T-shaped.—Ed.

[c] The Times, No. 21897, November 13, 1854.—Ed.

[d] See this volume, p. 496.—Ed.

[e] The Times, No. 21900, November 16, 1854, leader.—Ed.

[382] This article was entered in the Notebook as "Freitag. 17. November. Schlacht vom 25. Oktober (Liprandi)." The Tribune published it under the title "The War in the East".

[383] The first and second sentences and the reference to quotations from The Times were inserted by the Tribune editors. The material from The Times was printed in the Tribune under the heading "From The London Times of November 17".

[384] The battle of the Katzbach between the French army and the allied troops took place on August 26, 1813. A successful manoeuvre allowed Blücher to inflict a serious defeat on the French.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.518-527), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0819en.html