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Frederick Engels

The mails of the Baltic have put us in possession of the official documents in regard to the late events at Sevastopol. The dispatches of Gen. Pélissier and Lord Raglan we published yesterday; and we now proceed to set forth the facts as they are established by this and other testimony:

On the 6th of June, the allied batteries on the right attack again opened their fire upon the town. This time, however, it was no general bombardment; it was a cannonade concentrated upon certain points with a view to reduce them at once[a]. The outworks constructed by the Russians on the 23d February and 12th March on this front of defence, the Selenghinsk, Volhynsk and Kamtschatka redoubts, had hitherto kept the besiegers and their batteries at a distance. On the Western front, the allied left attack, there were no such outworks, and the French being by this time established almost on the brink of the ditch or of the covered way (if there is one) of the defences, the progress made on that side had by far left behind the slower advance of the right attack. As in the siege-plan of the Allies the two great divisions of the lines—the town west of the inner harbor[b] and the suburb of Karabelnaya, on its eastern side—are considered as two separate fortresses which must be attacked at the same time, the right attack had to be pushed with greater energy and the outworks to be forced so as to bring the Allies on this side up into line with their advanced parallels on the left attack. In order to accomplish this, the above redoubts and some minor entrenchments in a quarry flanking the Mamelon (Kamtchatka[c]) on its right, had to he taken. Accordingly, after 36 hours' cannonading, on the evening of the 7th of June the French advanced upon the two redoubts Selenghinsk and Volhynsk over the Careening Bay and upon the Mamelon, while the British assaulted the quarry. After an hour's sharp struggle the Allies were in possession of the works. A number of guns were taken as well as 400 prisoners, among them 13 officers. The loss on both sides was very heavy.[d]

Thus affairs on that side are nearly in the same state now as they were before the 22d February. Of the redoubts carried by the Allies, that of the Mamelon (called by the Russians the Kamtschatka redoubt) was the most important. It was constructed on the 12th of March and the following days. At that time we at once pointed out the great importance of this work and the considerable part it would play in the struggle[e]. The event has fully justified our views. This hastily constructed fieldwork has arrested the progress of the besiegers on one-half of the whole line of attack for eighty-eight days, or for a period which in ordinary sieges is considered more than sufficient to take a good-sized fortress twice over. We will now explain this astonishing phenomenon, which has but two parallels in the history of sieges: one in the defence of Colberg, 1807, by the Prussians; the other in the defence of Dantzic by the French in 1813-14.[191]

With the increase of armies in the field, the old and generally small fortifications of the time of Vauban lost their significance. They were safely passed by the hosts of the victor and scarcely observed by his flying corps, until the reserves of his army came up and found time to take them. But when these considerable armies on their march fell in with large fortresses they were invariably arrested. This was the case with Napoleon at Mantua in 1797, and at Dantzic in 1807[192]. The reason is evident[f]. When an army of 150,000 men advanced into a hostile country the small fry of fortresses offered no danger in the rear: all their garrisons put together were not strong enough to meet the reinforcements and reserves which were dispatched from the depots to keep up the active army to its full strength. Such small garrisons, besides, could not detach any strong bodies of troops to scour the field and to interrupt the communications of the hostile army. But when a fortress of considerable extent was met with, garrisoned by 15,000 to 25,000 men, the case was different. Such a fortress was the nucleus of defence for a whole province; it could detach in any direction, and to a considerable distance, a strong body of troops capable of acting in the field and always sure, in case of superior attack, of a safe retreat to the stronghold. To observe such a fortress was nearly as troublesome as to take it; therefore, it had to be taken at once.

Now the old fortresses of the Vauban and Cormontaigne sort concentrated all their means of defence around the main rampart and in the main ditch. All their tenailles, demi-lunes, counter-guards, tower-reduits were accumulated so as to form with all but one line of defence, which, when once broken into, was pierced altogether in a few days; and a breach once made through these defences, the place was taken. It is evident that such a system was totally unadapted to the large fortresses which alone could check the advance of large invading armies; it would have amounted to sacrificing the garrison; the breach once effected the fort became defenseless[g]. Another system had to be resorted to—that of advanced works. The French General Montalembert, the teacher of Carnot, was the first who boldly stood up, in spite of the prejudices of his profession, for detached forts; but the method of constructing large fortresses with detached forts so as to form a complete system of defence was elaborated to its present perfection in Germany, particularly by the Prussian General Aster. The splendid defences of Cologne, Coblentz, Posen, Königsberg, and partly of Mayence are his work, and they mark a new era in the history of fortifications. The French at last acknowledged the necessity of coming round to this system and constructed the defences of Paris with detached works planned and executed in first-rate style.[h]

The system of detached forts at once necessitated a new mode of defence. The garrisons of large fortresses had to be increased to such numbers that there was no necessity of keeping up a merely passive defence, until the enemy, advancing to the glacis, came within reach of sallies. A garrison of 20,000 or 25,000 men was strong enough to attack the enemy on his own ground. The fortress and the space around it, so far as it was protected by the detached forts, took the nature of an entrenched camp, or of a base for the field operations of the garrison, which itself was converted into a small army. The hitherto passive defence became active; it took on an offensive character. So necessary was this that when the French in 1807 besieged Dantzic, the Prussian garrison, which numbered about 20,000, constructed those very detached forts which were not in existence, but which were immediately found to be required in order to apply the resources of this large garrison to a proper defence of the place. When the French defended Dantzic in 1813-14 against the Allies they carried out the same principle with still greater success.[i]

A siege, which since Vauban had ever been an operation of short duration, and the end of which could almost with certainty be attained in a given number of days, unless the proceedings were interrupted from without—a siege now becomes an operation subject to as many chances as a war in the open field. The artillery on the ramparts at once became of secondary importance; field artillery almost took precedence over it even in the defence of a place. The skill of the engineer was no longer applied merely to the repairs of the damage done during the siege; it had, as in the field, to choose and to fortify positions situated in advance of the forts themselves; to meet trench by trench; to take in flank the enemy's works by counter-works; to change suddenly the front of defence, and thus to force the enemy to change his front of attack. Infantry became the main stay in the war of sieges as in the field, and cavalry was made a very necessary ingredient of almost every garrison. There was no longer any means to fix the probable duration of a siege, and the rules of Vauban for the attack of a place, retaining most of their correctness as far as the details of the artillery attack were concerned, became utterly inapplicable to the ensemble of a siege.

The Russians at Sevastopol had no time[j] to construct detached works. They were compelled to act upon the old method of fortifying a place. They erected a main rampart as a first defence; it was indeed the thing most required for the moment. Behind this they made a second and a third line of defence, and all the while went on strengthening the first. Then gradually feeling their superiority, even at a certain distance from the main wall, they advanced, constructed the Selenghinsk and Volhynsk redoubts, and finally the work on the Mamelon, and a long line of rifle pits, while on the western, front, where the main body of the French was placed, they could merely construct a few lunettes close to the main ditch, and a series of rifle trenches not much further in advance. Thus from the moment the Mamelon was fortified by the Russians, the eastern front was comparatively safe; while on the western front, where such protecting outworks did not exist, the besiegers gradually advanced to the very brink of the main ditch[k]. To approach on the right attack the commanding and decisive position of Malakoff bastion the besiegers had therefore first to take the Mamelon; but the Mamelon while it defended the Malakoff was again defended by all the works in its own rear; and how they defended it, was shown in the second bombardment, when Canrobert dared not seriously assault it. Even now there can be no doubt that the loss of the French in carrying this work must have been very great.[k]

The reopening of the fire by the Allies and the energy with which General Pélissier, heedless of the lives of his soldiers, follows up every favourable chance to gain on the defence, are accompanied by a complete stagnation of operations on the Chernaya. This mode of proceeding at once gives us an insight into the character of Pélissier confirmatory of his former reputation for tenacity, obstinacy and recklessness. There were two ways open to him; to take the field, enclose Sevastopol on the north side also, and then take up the siege again with redoubled energy and a quadrupled chance of a speedy success[l], or else to go on in the faulty way of the last eight months; to cling doggedly to the south side, destroy every stone of it and drive the Russians out of a place which after all, if reduced, could not be occupied by his own troops on account of the batteries on the north side.

There is not a military man of sense in either hemisphere who, on the news of Pélissier's nomination to the command, and of the great reinforcements received by the Allies, did not expect that he would at once take the first course. Most particularly when Omer Pasha with 25,000 Turks came round to Balaklava, there was no doubt that the Allies were strong enough to carry on the siege, to send 15,000 men to Kertch and still to advance into the field with more men than the Russians could spare to oppose them. Why have they not done so? Are they still in want of means of transport? Have they no confidence in their ability to carry on a campaign in the Crimea? We do not know. But this is certain: unless Pélissier has very cogent reasons to abstain from taking the field, he is pursuing, out of sheer obstinacy and self-will, an extremely faulty course; for with a loss equal to that he is now continually subjecting his army to, in assaults, he might obtain results in the field of far greater magnitude, and of a far more decisive effect. To take the south side without having even invested the north side, which completely commands it, is to proceed in utter defiance of all rules of warfare, and if Pélissier is bent upon that, he may yet ruin the great army he commands.

We will, however, give the new commander the benefit of every doubtful circumstance. It may be that the struggles on the left attack were inevitable and provoked by the counter-approaches of the Russians. It may be that it was necessary to confine the Russians to the limits of their original lines—to convince them, by a few hard, irresistible blows, of the superiority of the besiegers— before a separation of the army into a siege-corps and a field-corps could be ventured on. But allowing even this, we now must say that the utmost limit has been reached, and that any further serious attempt upon the body of the place will be a downright blunder, unless the strength of the Russian army in the field has been first tried with all the forces that can be made available for the purpose.[m]

Written about June 12, 1855
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4429, June 29, 1855;
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1054, July 3, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 721, July 7, 1855; as a leading article;
The German version was first published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 273, June 15, 1855,
marked with the sign x


[a] Instead of the preceding text the Neue Oder-Zeitung version begins: "The telegraphic dispatch announcing that the bombardment of Sevastopol had been resumed on June 6 was inaccurate. There was only a cannonade concentrated upon certain points which were to be captured at once".—Ed.

[b] The southern harbour.—Ed.

[c] The Kamchatka demi-lune.—Ed.

[d] The end of this paragraph beginning with the words "After an hour's sharp struggle" does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[e] See this volume, pp. 151-55. This and the following sentence do not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[f] The following two sentences do not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[g] The end of this sentence beginning with the words "it would have amounted to" does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[h] The end of this paragraph beginning with the words "The splendid defenses of Cologne" does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[i] The Neue Oder-Zeitung gives this paragraph in abridged form:, "The system of detached forts changed the mode of defence of fortresses. The garrisons of big fortresses swelled to the size of small armies; the fortress and the space around it, so far as it was controlled by the detached forts, assumed the nature of an entrenched camp or of a base for the field operations of the garrison; the hitherto passive defense became active and took on an offensive character."—Ed.

[j] The Neue Oder-Zeitung has here: "after the notorious flanking march".—Ed.

[k] This sentence does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[l] The following text is added here in the Neue Oder-Zeitung: "This was all the more to be expected after not only the reinforcements but also Omer Pasha had arrived in Balaklava with 25,000 Turks.—Ed.

[m] Instead of the last two paragraphs the Neue Oder-Zeitung has the following concluding passage: "With the same losses, to which Pélissier now continuously exposes his army with his assaults, he could obtain results of far greater magnitude, and of a far more decisive nature in the field. To try to take the south side without having even invested the north side which commands it, is an incomprehensible procedure. Pélissier may still be lacking means of transport for field operations. Or the counter-approaches of the Russians may have made it necessary to push them back to their original lines and show them the superiority of the besiegers before proceeding to field operations. However that may be, with the seizure of Malakhov no excuses are left. Should Pélissier be stubborn enough to persist in serious attempts upon the main body of the enemy instead of trying to break the strength of the Russians in the field with all the forces that can be made available, the destruction of the army he commands is not at all improbable, especially since the area in which such vast numbers of people are confined is one big graveyard whose deadly miasmas will be let loose by the first heat of the summer."—Ed.

[190] The first paragraph of this article (the reference to the publication of the dispatches by General Pélissier and Lord Raglan under the common heading "The Recent Successes Before Sevastopol" in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4428, June 28, 1855) was added by the Tribune editors.

An abridged version of this article with a few editorial changes by Marx (dated June 12, 1855 and marked with the sign x) was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on June 15 under the heading "Kritik der Krimschen Unternehmungen" ("Criticism of the Operations in the Crimea").

[191] After the defeat of the Prussian troops by Napoleon's army at Jena and Auerstadt in the autumn of 1806, many Prussian fortresses surrendered to the advancing French without a fight. However, the garrison of Colberg (Polish name: Kolobrzeg) on the Baltic coast offered staunch resistance. The siege began in mid-March 1807 and lasted for three and a half months. The defence, directed by Gneisenau, was supported by Schill's guerrilla detachment, operating behind the French lines.

The fortress of Danzig (Gdansk), occupied by the French after their defeat in Russia in 1812, was besieged by the Russians and Prussians from land and sea in early 1813. The garrison withstood three regular sieges, but was ultimately forced to surrender. On January 2, 1814, the Allied troops entered the city.

[192] After the successful start of the North Italian campaign by General Bonaparte's army in the spring of 1796—a series of victories over the Austrians, the defeat of their allies, the Piedmontese, and the capture of Lombardy's capital, Milan—its advance was arrested by the resistance of Mantua. In June the French beleaguered the fortress. At the same time, Napoleon had to use some of his men for active operations against the Austrian troops attempting to relieve the city. It was only after a nine-month siege and the defeat of the Austrian relief army that the Mantua garrison surrendered (February 2, 1797).

Danzig (Gdansk) was besieged by the French in March 1807. in the course of Napoleonic France's war against the Fourth European coalition (Prussia, Russia, Britain and Sweden). The garrison, consisting of Prussian troops and a Russian detachment, offered stiff resistance, supported by the attempts of another Russian detachment to break the siege from without. The fortress surrendered to the superior French forces at the end of May 1807.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.260-266), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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