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The Crimean Campaign[390]

Frederick Engels

Since the desperate and sanguinary day of Inkerman, the campaign in the Crimea has been marked by no military event of any importance; but, the advent of winter without the capture of Sevastopol having given a new character to the enterprise, it becomes proper to review the course of events since the landing of the Expedition, in order to determine what are the circumstances and chances amid which it enters upon the new developments that now await it. First, however, we must add a few words to our former observations upon the last memorable battle[a]. With regard to this event, extraordinary confusion and want of perspicacity characterizes the official reports, all of which we have published[391]. Lord Raglan's dispatch was evidently written in a great hurry[b]. Confounding that front of his army toward the Chernaya with that toward Sevastopol, he calls the same flank of his position sometimes the right, sometimes the left, in the same dispatch, so that it is impossible to get a clear idea of the events from this source. Canrobert's dispatch[c] is as diffuse and indefinite as it is short, and therefore quite useless; and whoever compares the so-called Menchikoff dispatch of the Russian Invalid[d] with the former reports of Prince Menchikoff, must see at a glance that this was not penned by the same man. Nicholas, evidently, has found that he has allowed quite enough of the liberty of the press, and since telling the truth like a gentleman .does not prevent his troops from getting beaten, he considers it quite as well to return to the old system of lying. By his Imperial will, the ordinary course of events is altered after the fact, and a defeated attack from his relieving army against the besiegers is changed to a victorious sally from within the town. The reason is evident: The sallying force necessarily retires into its fortifications so soon as the object of the sally is obtained; the retreat thus is explained and made a matter of course; while, if the facts were stated as they actually occurred, the disgrace of the defeat could not be hidden.

And well might Nicholas do his best to hide the circumstances of this battle from his people. Never since the battle of Narva has such disgrace been heaped upon the Russian arms. And, considering the tremendous difference between the Russians of Narva and the Russians of Inkerman, the undrilled hordes of 1700, and the well-drilled army of 1854, the day of Narva must, in comparison, be considered a bright one in Russian military history. Narva was the first grand disaster of a rising nation, whose determined spirit learnt how to conquer by defeat itself. Inkerman almost appears a certain indication of the decay of that hot-house development which Russia has experienced since Peter the Great. The artificial growth and the mere effort to keep up, with a barbarian material, a splendid show of civilization, appears already to have exhausted the nation and inflicted a sort of pulmonary consumption upon it. In all the battles of the present century, from Austerlitz and Eylau[392] down to Silistria, the Russians had shown themselves excellent soldiers. Their defeats, wherever they occurred, could be explained; they left no stain upon the honor of the army, if they did upon the reputation of its generals. But now the matter is completely changed. If Balaklava showed the superiority of the allied cavalry, if the whole of the siege of Sevastopol shows the enormous superiority of the allied artillery over the Russian, still the Russian infantry remained in possession of its high reputation. Inkerman has settled this point too. Strange to say, the Russian infantry has forfeited its renown in a battle, in which, perhaps, the individual Russian foot-soldier fought more bravely than ever. The sovereign mediocrity which has been the chief characteristic of all military operations in this war, both on the Russian and the allied side, has never been made more apparent. Every movement, and every step taken, has produced a result exactly the opposite of what was intended. A coup de main[e] is undertaken, and it turns out to involve a campaign —a winter campaign even. A battle is fought, but its gain is only momentary, vanishing in less than a week from the hands of the victors. An open town is assailed with heavy siege artillery; but, before the siege train is brought up, the open town is changed into a fortified camp of the first order. A siege is undertaken; and, when at the point of being successful, it has to be given up, because a relieving army comes up, and is not victorious, but defeated. A strong position taken up against the relieving army becomes, by the very shortness of its front, the means in the hands of the relieving army to turn the besiegers into the besieged! Thus ten weeks are occupied with a series of efforts, combats, trench-works, plans and counter-plans; winter sets in, and finds both armies but especially the allies quite unprepared for the season; and all this with no result but a tremendous loss on both sides, leaving a decision of the campaign as remote and unlikely as ever.

The forces which the allies brought into the Crimea, from the first invasion to the 5th of November, did not exceed 25,000 British, 35,000 French, and 10,000 to 15,000 Turks, or from 70,000 to 75,000 altogether. When the expedition was undertaken, no more reenforcements from England or France were expected; a few battalions and squadrons were on the road, but they are comprised in the above estimate. All the additional forces they might have been able to bring up, at a short notice, must have been Turks; and, in spite of Chetatea and Silistria, neither the allied commanders nor the allied troops have ever shown any confidence in them. The 60,000 French and English were, then, the actually reliable portion of the expedition, and they alone can be counted as really effective. Now, this army was too small for a campaign, and too large for a coup de main. It could not be embarked with rapidity; the months employed in preparation were sufficient to put the Russians on their guard; and, if the presence of the Austrians guaranteed the Principalities and Bulgaria from Russian attacks, it also guaranteed Bessarabia and Odessa from any serious danger; for, the position of the Austrians being on the flank and rear of either line of operations, neither army could have marched forward without being at their mercy. Thus, the Russians must have been certain that all these preparations were directed against Sevastopol; beside which, the ports of Kherson and Nikolayev, the dock-yards of the Russian fleet, were the only points in any way seriously menaced. Russian preparation in the Crimea was, therefore, sure to follow, step by step, the preparations of the allies. And so they did, until, at last, the contemplated coup de main was converted into a regular campaign, conducted, however as was clear from the way it was commenced in the most irregular manner.

When, at the Alma, the allies had to allow the Russians to withdraw in perfect order from the field of battle, although attacked by far superior numbers, the first glimpse of the truth burst upon them; the original plan was upset, the coup had failed, a new set of eventualities had to be provided for. Vacillation followed; days were lost; the march to Balaklava was at last resolved upon, and the advantages of a strong defensive position overruled the chance of soon obtaining possession of the north side of Sevastopol which commanded the town, and was, therefore, the decisive point. At the same time Menchikoff made similar mistakes by his hasty march to Sevastopol, and his equally hasty counter-march to Bakshiserai. Then followed the siege. Nineteen days elapsed before the batteries of the first parallel could open their fire, and then the advantages remained pretty equally divided. The siege went on with enormous slowness, but not very surely for all that. Hard work in the trenches, arduous outpost duty acting upon men weakened by a climate to which they were not bred, and by a fearful epidemic, thinned the ranks of the allies wonderfully. Their commanders had scarcely reckoned upon the common wear and tear of a campaign they were taken quite unawares by such extraordinary losses. And the medical and commissariat departments, especially with the British, were totally out of order. Within sight lay the rich valley of Baidar, full of all the supplies most wanted; yet they could not venture into it! They had no hopes of early reenforcements; yet the Russians were coming up from all sides. Then came the affair of the 25th October[f]. The Russians gained the advantage, and one third of the allied cavalry was annihilated. Next followed the battle of the 5th November[g], where the Russians suffered a repulse, but at a loss to the allies which they could not for a second time afford. Since then, both the Russian relieving army and the allied besiegers have been quiet. The siege of Sevastopol, if carried on at all, is carried on pro forma. Nobody will pretend that the lazy, desultory fire which the allies have kept up since the 5th of November can do any harm to the defenses of the place, or even prevent the Russians from repairing the damage done up to that time. There is no doubt that the siege, if taken up again, will have to be done over afresh, with the only difference that, perhaps, the attacking batteries are brought some hundred yards nearer the place than they were at the first beginning, unless the fire from the town, supported by continuous attacks from Inkerman, should prove superior to that of the allies, and destroy the more advanced batteries.

Here, then, are the allies, in the beginning of December, in a country with cold winters, badly provided with clothing and other materials to enable them to get through the bad season in a passable manner; weak in spite of all reenforcements, arrived or on the way; having lost a vast number of men; entangled in the pursuit of objects and in modes of action which they never intended nor prepared for, and having gained nothing, absolutely nothing, but a consciousness of their individual and tactical superiority over their opponents. Twenty thousand men, chiefly French, must by this time have reenforced them, and more are expected; but if we recollect the difficulties and delays which accompanied the first allied expedition to Turkey if we recollect, moreover, that almost all the transports used for carrying the first army have been kept back, and that new ships must be found for the divisions now under orders for the East, we must conclude that the army of the Crimea will remain without material increase of strength, for some time after the arrival of the 20,000 men above alluded to. Thus their strength may now be something like 55,000 to 60,000 men, one-third of whom come fresh from comfortable garrison life, and will have to suffer heavily before being inured to the hardships of a winter bivouac under a Crimean sky. In truth, these very reenforcements may prove an incumbrance, instead of an increase of strength, after the disasters encountered by the French and English transports, in the furious tempest of November 13. These disasters, however, cannot be said to belong to that order of fatal and overwhelming accidents, which the best contrived plans are unable to foresee or prevent. The storm of November 13th was a seasonable storm, and seasonable were the disasters that befell the allied fleets. The very date on which the Crimean expedition started, after three months of tedious and inexplicable delays, foreboded storms and wrecks, with losses of ships, crews, men and supplies. The framers of this extraordinary campaign were, moreover, again and again forewarned as to the incidents inseparable from Black Sea navigation at so advanced a period of the year. They, then, are responsible, even for the misfortunes of November 13, which threaten the allied forces with the fate of Napoleon's army during the Muscovite campaign. The London Times estimates the total loss of men, incurred on the 13th, at the various stations of the Crimea, at a thousand, "besides those that have fallen into the hands of the Cossacks."[h] The same journal also tells us that

"the Prince, a magnificent new screw steamer, of 2,700 tuns, carried out the other day to Balaklava the 46th Regiment, all the winter clothing for the troops engaged in the siege, including 40,000 great-coats, flannel suits, under-clothing, socks and gloves, beef, pork and other provisions; hospital stores for Scutari; and a vast quantity of shot and shell to carry on the siege. These are wholly lost. The Resolute, with 900 tuns of gunpowder, also went to the bottom. Thus, it seems, all the materials for carrying on the siege and providing against the severity of the winter, have been carried off at one fell swoop; and, even if we think to content ourselves with merely maintaining our position on the hights before Sevastopol, it is evident that we are not in condition to stand our worst foe—the coming winter."[i]

Though the Crimea is an almost insulated portion of the Russian Empire, and though the troops brought up against the allies have not been able to dislodge them when only 35,000 strong, yet nobody will venture to say that these 60,000 allies are strong enough to resist all the troops Russia may bring up. The Russians have six divisions of infantry and one reserved division in the Crimea, or about 100 battalions (besides marines and seamen, whom we have not counted on either side). These 100 battalions, one-half of which have made a murderous campaign of eighteen months on the Danube, cannot muster more than 50,000 to 60,000 men; including cavalry, field artillery and Cossacks, the whole Russian force in the field will exceed that of the allies by barely 10,000 to 15,000 men. But if it is true that Lüders's corps, or another 49 battalions of about 20,000 to 25,000 men (for they, too, have left one-third of their number on the Danube), is on the march to Perekop, if some more reserves of the new formations are concentrating in the same direction the opportunity may very soon present itself to the Russians to strike a grand blow; and as superiority, moral, physical, and tactical, only goes a certain way when opposed to superior numbers and about equal generalship, - the result may well be considered doubtful. At the same time, if an extraordinarily severe winter should interrupt all operations, the allied armies are avowedly not in a condition to stand it.

This view of the state of things in the Crimea only justifies the doubt and hesitation with which we have received the announcement that Austria has joined the western powers[393]. Certainly, the circumstances we have detailed are not such as would be likely to seduce the Cabinet of Vienna out of its wonted indecision, while the precarious position of the British Ministry, and the urgent necessity of covering this immense failure in the East by the show of something considerable gained elsewhere, affords an ample reason for exaggerating a small treaty into a grand offensive and defensive alliance. We may be quite wrong in this; but our readers know the reasons for our opinion[j], and time will show whether this vaunted accession of Austria to the allies is a reality, or a trick specially designed for use at the meeting of Parliament.

Written on December 4, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4272, December 27;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1001, December 29
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 694, December 30, 1854 as a leader
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See this volume, pp. 528-35.—Ed.

[b] Lord Raglan's dispatch of November 8, 1854. The Times, No. 21906, November 23, 1854.—Ed.

[a] Canrobert's dispatch of November 7, 1854. Le Moniteur .universel, No. 326, November 22, 1854.—Ed.

[d] Menshikov's dispatch on the battle of Inkerman dated November 6, 1854 and published in the Russian Invalid (Русскuŭ uнвалud) is given according to The Times, No. 21906, November 23, 1854.—Ed.

[e] Sudden attack in force.—Ed.

[f] The battle of Balaklava, see this volume, pp. 518-27.—Ed.

[g] The battle of Inkerman, see this volume, pp. 528-35.—Ed.

[h] The Times, No. 21916, December 5, 1854, leader.—Ed.

[i] Ibid.—Ed.

[j] See this volume, pp. 268-71 and 323-25.—Ed.

[390] This article is entered in the Notebook as "Dienstag. 5. Dezember. Schlacht bei Inkerman. Relative Position der aliierten Armeen und der russischen bei Sebastopol. Der Seesturm und das Untergehn des Transports vom 13. Novemb. Der s.g. Vertrag von Oesterreich vom 2. Dezember und die Eröffnung des Parlaments". The last part of the article may have been abridged by the Tribune editors, as only one paragraph of it was left.

[391] The words "all of which we have published" were added by the Tribune editors.

[392] The battle of Narva—the first major battle during the Northern war (1700-21) fought by the Russian army of Peter the Great and the Swedish forces of Charles XII on November 30, 1700.

The battle of Austerlitz, which took place on December 2, 1805 between the Russian and Austrian armies (third coalition) on the one hand and the French on the other, was won by Napoleon I.

The battle of Preussisch-Eylau (Eastern Prussia) on February 7-8, 1807 between the French and Russian troops was one of the bloodiest during the war of the fourth coalition against France. Despite heavy losses Napoleon's army failed to achieve a decisive victory.

[393] The reference is to a treaty concluded by Britain, France and Austria on December 2, 1854 undertaking to abstain from separate negotiations with Russia and prevent occupation of the Danubian Principalities by the Russians. Negotiations with Russia were to be conducted on the basis of the famous Four Points (see this volume, pp. 579-84).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.536-542), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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