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From Sevastopol[228]

Frederick Engels

Contrary to public expectation the mail of the Pacific, which arrived yesterday morning, brings no detailed account of the repulse of the Allies at Sevastopol on the 18th of June. We have, it is true, some bare statements respecting the number of killed and wounded in that affair, on which we briefly comment below. But instead of the expected dispatches, we have at last Gen. Pélissier's detailed account of the capture of the Mamelon and Quarries. Even this however is not of a nature to distinctly show the drift of the military policy of the man who now virtually commands the 200,000 allied troops in the Crimea. We have to trust to negative rather than positive evidence if we desire to come to a conclusion on that subject. To guess what Pélissier intends to do, we must look not so much at what he does as at what he refrains from doing. But let us look again at the capture of the Mamelon; it has some features that repay examination.[a]

The 6th and 7th of June were devoted to a cannonade on the whole line of the allied batteries. But while on the left attack (the Flagstaff to the Quarantine Bastion) this cannonade was a mere demonstration, on the right attack (Redan to Mount Sapun) it was in good earnest. Here the Russian outworks were particularly subjected to a heavy fire. Their fire appearing to be sufficiently silenced and their defenders sufficiently weakened, on the evening of the 7th the assault was ordered. The French had two distinct positions to carry, forming two plateaux, separated from each other by a ravine; the English one plateau, with a ravine on either side. The mode in which the two armies prepared for the assault was characteristic of their peculiar qualities and traditions. The French set apart four divisions, two for each separate attack. Thus, against the Mamelon Vert (Kamtchatka redoubt) two divisions were collected, and two more against Mount Sapun; each attack having two brigades, in distinct columns, in front for the charge, and two brigades in reserve. Thus eighteen battalions were to charge and eighteen to support—in all at least 28,000 to 30,000 men. This disposition was perfectly in accordance with the regulations and traditions of the French army, which in grand charges always attacks in columns, and sometimes in rather too unwieldy ones. The English, if formed in the same way, would have required two divisions for their part of the business; two brigades for the attack and two for the reserve. True to their own system, however, they told off for the charge about 1,000 men, or about two battalions—hardly equal to half a French brigade. They had strong reserves no doubt; but, nevertheless, where the French would have employed three men they employed only one. This is a consequence partly of the British system of attacking in line instead of in column, and partly of the great tenacity of the British soldier in defensive positions. These 1,000 British soldiers were not even let loose all at once; at first 200 charged and carried the Russian works; then 200 more were sent as a reenforcement; the remainder followed in the same way; and then 1,000 British soldiers, once established in the Russian position, held it against six successive attacks, and under the continuous front and enfilading fire of the Russian works[b]. When the morning dawned, of their number above one-half were dead or wounded; but the place was theirs, and some of them had even now and then followed the Russians into the Redan. This was an exploit which no 1,000 Frenchmen could have achieved. But the passive endurance of the British soldier under fire knows hardly any bounds; and when, as in that night, the hand-to-hand combat takes the form of his favorite amusement, the street-row, then he is in his own element, and will fight six to one with all the reckless delight in the world.

As to the French attack, Gen. Pélissier gives us a long account of the brigades and regiments engaged, and has a complimentary word for each of them; but his statements as to the respective positions and lines of attack of each column are very indistinct, while his narrative of the development of the action is almost incomprehensible, and an indication of the losses is entirely wanting. By comparing this official bulletin with other accounts, we are enabled to make out that the French took the Mamelon in the first onset, followed the retiring Russians up to the Malakoff bastion, entered it here and there, were repulsed by the Russians, again lost the Mamelon, drew up in a semi-circle behind it, and by another advance finally took possession of it. On the other side of the Careening Bay ravine the Volhynsk redoubt was taken with little loss; the struggle at the Selenghinsk redoubt, which is situated to its rear, was more severe, but nothing like that at the Mamelon. Owing to the exaggerated number of troops which Pélissier brought to bear upon the points attacked, and to the unwieldy columns they must have formed, the French loss must have been very great. The fact that no official statement of it has been made, is sufficient to prove this. We should say from 1,500 to 2,000 would not be exaggerated.[c]

As to the Russians, they were placed in peculiar circumstances. They could not garrison these outworks with great numbers of men, as this would have been to expose them to certain destruction by the enemy's artillery, even before the assault was attempted. Thus, they could only keep a minimum of defenders in these redoubts, and had to trust to the commanding fire of their artillery in the Malakoff and the Redan, as well as to the action of their reserves in the place. They had two battalions—about 800 men—in the Mamelon. But the redoubts once taken, they never got into them again so as to establish themselves properly. They discovered that a besieged army may very quickly lose a position, but cannot easily regain it[d]. Beside this, the Mamelon redoubt was so complicated in its construction, by traverses and blindages, forming a sort of impromptu casemates, that although exceedingly well covered against artillery, its garrison was almost helpless against an assault—each compartment being scarcely capable of holding a gun and the men to serve it. As soon, therefore, as the guns were dismounted, the infantry who had to defend the work against an assault, had no space for a position from which they could act upon the assaulting columns by simultaneous fire in masses. Broken up into small detachments they succumbed to the impetuosity of the assailants, and again proved that where they cannot fight in large masses, the Russian infantry neither equals the intelligence and quickness of glance of the French, nor the desperate bull-dog valor of the English.

The engagement of the 7th was followed by a ten days' repose, during which trenches were finished and connected, batteries traced, and guns and ammunition brought up. At the same time two reconnaissances were pushed into the interior of the country. The first, to Baidar, 12 miles from Balaklava, on the road which leads down to the south coast, was merely preliminary; the second, toward Aϊtodor, six miles beyond Chorgun, on the Chernaya, was made in the right direction. Aϊtodor is situated on the high ground leading toward the valley of the Upper Belbek, by which alone, as we have stated long ago[e], the Russian position at Inkermann can be effectually turned. But then, to send a reconnoitering column thither, and not to follow it up by occupying the ground in force and commencing operations at once, is nothing but putting the enemy on his guard by pointing out to him from which side he is menaced. Now, it may be that the country about Aϊtodor was found impracticable, but we doubt it; and even in that case, the intention of a flank march to turn the enemy is too plainly indicated in this maneuver[f]. If this flank march could be used as a mere feint, well and good; but we are convinced that it must be made the chief movement, and therefore it should not be hinted at before the Allies really mean to undertake it.

Instead, however, of following up these weak demonstrations in the field, General Pélissier attempted something very different. The 18th of June, Waterloo day[229], saw the English and French troops marching abreast to storm the Russian lines on the right attack. The English attacked the Redan, the French Malakoff. Waterloo was to be thus avenged; but unfortunately the affair went wrong. They were both repulsed with terrific slaughter. The official lists state their loss at about 5,000, but from the known want of veracity in the French accounts we are induced to calculate it about 50 per cent higher. As no particulars have been received, the tactical features of this battle must be left entirely aside for the present. What we can take into consideration now is its strategical and political nature.

Pélissier is held up by the entire press of Europe as a man who will not be commanded by telegraph from Paris, but who acts unflinchingly by his own judgment. We have had reasons to doubt this peculiar sort of obstinacy, and the fact of his attempt to avenge Waterloo "nobly," that is by a common victory of the French and English, fully confirms our doubt. The idea of such a feat could only come from his Majesty, the Emperor of the French—the great believer in anniversaries, the man who cannot let the 2d of December[g] pass by in any year without attempting some extraordinary trick; the man who, before the Chamber of Peers[h], said that his special vocation was to avenge Waterloo. That Pélissier had the strictest orders to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo by a splendid anniversary there can be no doubt. The way in which he did' it is the only part of the business for which he is responsible.[i]

The assault upon the lines of the redoubt of Karabelnaya must, as we are more than ever convinced, be considered a blunder. But until we know the man thoroughly, we will continue to give Pélissier the benefit of every circumstance which at this distance from the spot may appear to involve a doubt. Now, it may be that the sanitary state of the Heracleatic Chersonese—a subject to which we long since called attention[j]—is such that a speedy termination of the operations in that small space of ground is highly desirable. The exhalations from the decomposing bodies of 25,000 men and 10,000 horses are such as to seriously affect the health of the army during Summer. Of the other abominations accumulated there we will not speak. Pélissier may think that it is possible in a short time to drive the Russians from the south side, to destroy the place completely, to leave but a few men to guard it, and then to take the field with a strong army. We make this supposition because we prefer to see at least some rational motive in the actions of an old soldier. But if this is the case he mistook the strength of the place. We said at the time, that any attempt to follow up the successes of the 7th against the town itself would be defeated[k]; our opinion is confirmed by events. We said the key to Sevastopol lay north of Inkermann[l]; the engagement of the 18th seems to prove it.

Thus we are ready to admit that Gen. Pélissier was led by perfectly logical considerations to prefer an assault on Karabelnaya to an advance into the field; but at the same time we must equally admit that people on the spot are very apt to take minor facts for the premises of their conclusions, and that Pélissier, by the repulse of the 18th, appears to be convicted of having given in to this weakness; for if it shows strength of character to stick obstinately to the business in hand, it equally shows weakness of intellect to follow up that business in a roundabout way, because it has once been entered upon. Pélissier would be right in attempting to take Sevastopol at all hazards; but he is evidently wrong in not seeing that the nearest road into Sevastopol leads through Inkermann and the Russian army defending that position.

Unless the allied armies take good care to profit without delay by their superiority, they will before long find themselves in a very awkward position. The necessity of reenforcing her force in the Crimea has long been recognized by Russia. The completion of the reserve battalions of the regular army, and the levy and organization of the militia in 200 battalions, but more especially the reduction of the Austrian army of observation to 180,000 men—the rest being either dismissed on furlough or stationed in the interior of the empire—now offer an opportunity to do this[m]. In consequence a reserve army has been formed at Odessa, about 25,000 men of which are said to be stationed at Nikolaieff, some twelve to fifteen days' march from Sevastopol. Two divisions of grenadiers are also said to be on the march from Volhynia. By the middle of July therefore, and perhaps sooner, the Russians may again have recovered the superiority of numbers, unless decisive defeats of the troops now opposing the Allies occur in the mean time. We are, indeed, informed that 50,000 more Frenchmen are marching to Toulon and Marseilles for embarkation; but they will certainly be too late, and can hardly do more than fill up the gaps which battle and sickness (now reappearing in the allied camp) have made in the ranks.[n]

The operations in the Sea of Azoff have destroyed one source of supply for the Russians; but as the Dnieper is far more than the Don the natural outlet of the Russian corn districts, there is no doubt that great quantities of it are at Kherson—more than the Russians in the Crimea require to feed them. Thence the transport to Sympheropol is so not very difficult. Whoever expects from the Azoff expedition a serious and immediate effect on the provisioning of Sevastopol, labors under a great error.

The scales, though for some time past turned in favor of the Allies, may yet be balanced again, or even be turned against them. The Crimean campaign is far from being decided, if the Russians act promptly.

Written about June 29, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4439, July 12, 1855
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1057, July 13, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 772, July 14, 1855 as a leading article;
an abridged and altered German version was first published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 301, July 2, 1855,
marked with the sign x
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Instead of this paragraph the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "Detailed and official dispatches about the events of June 6, 7 and 8 arrived only a few days ago."—Ed.

[b] Instead of this sentence the German version has: "These 1,000 British soldiers were not even let loose all at once; at first 200 charged and carried the Russian works; the remainder followed in the same way, and these British soldiers, once established in the Russian position, held it against successive attacks, and under the continuous front and enfilading fire of the Russian works."—Ed.

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

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

[e] See this volume, pp. 201-04.—Ed.

[f] Instead of this sentence the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "The intention of a flanking march to bypass the enemy was too plainly indicated in this manoeuvre to be misunderstood by the Russians." The rest of this paragraph does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[g] I.e., the anniversary of the Bonapartist coup in France, which took place on December 2, 1851.—Ed.

[h] The Senate.—Ed.

[i] Instead of the preceding two paragraphs the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "Instead of following up these weak demonstrations in the field Pélissier undertook the abortive assault of June 18. He did this on the orders of the man who had declared before the Chamber of Peers that 'his special vocation was to avenge Waterloo'. Pélissier is only responsible for the way he carried out his instructions. As no detailed reports have been forthcoming so far, the tactical features of this battle cannot be judged for the present. As regards strategy, every child realises now that the nearest road to Sevastopol leads through Inkerman and the Russian army defending it." The passage that follows, up to the words "The necessity of reenforcing her force in the Crimea...", does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[j] See this volume, pp. 109-12, 113-17, 215-17.—Ed.

[k] See this volume, pp. 264-66.—Ed.

[l] See this volume, p. 249.—Ed.

[m] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung the words between the dashes do not occur.—Ed.

[n] The German version ends here.—Ed.

[228] An abridged German version of this article dated lune 29, 1855 was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on July 2, 1855 under the title "Über die Ereignisse in der Krim" ("On the Events in the Crimea"). The translation and editing were done by Marx. The first paragraph in the New-York Daily Tribune version shows signs of editorial interference.

[229] In the battle of Waterloo fought on June 18, 1815, the Anglo-Dutch and Prussian forces commanded by the Duke of Wellington and Blücher defeated Napoleon's army.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.313-319), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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