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The Fall of Sevastopol[360]

Frederick Engels

After a year of varying fortunes and terrible suffering, the Crimean campaign has at last reached its turning-point[a]. From the 1st inst. to the 8th the Russian telegraphic dispatches admit that considerable damage had been done to the lines of Sevastopol by the allied fire, and that the damage had been repaired "as much as possible," and no more. Finally, on the 8th about noon the Allies stormed four of the bastions—were defeated at one, carried two, but were again compelled to leave them, though they finally maintained themselves in the fourth, and what was most important, on the Malakoff Hill. The loss of this point forced the Russians on the 9th to march their troops from the southern to the northern side, and thus to abandon the town of Sevastopol, after having exploded their magazines, blown up the buildings, ruined the defensive works by springing mines under them, and converted, to use Gen. Pélissier's words, the whole place into an immense blazing furnace[b]; they also burnt their steamers, sunk their last ships-of-war, and finally broke up the bridge near Fort Paul.[c]

The arrival of considerable reenforcements after the battle of the Chernaya, must have relieved the allied Generals from any apprehension on the score of the Russian army at Inkerman; for, though even the remainder of the 4th and 6th Russian divisions, beside the two divisions of grenadiers, had joined that army, the Allies were now in a position to oppose successfully any number of men the Russians could throw across the Chernaya; while enough of allied troops would remain to carry on the siege, and even to attempt an assault. It must be confessed that the French Government has now been exceedingly prompt in sending to the Crimea a number of troops fully adequate to the Russian reenforcements already there, or on the march from Poland and Volhynia; for the number of the French forces dispatched to the East since the beginning of July, must amount to at least 50,000.

Under these circumstances, the English and French advanced mortar batteries being in good working condition, the trenches were pushed up to the ditch, under the protection of a vigorous fire. How near the advanced trenches were established, and whether a complete crowning of the glacis, secundum artem[d], was accomplished, we do not yet know. The firing more and more assumed the character of a regular bombardment and vertical fire was successfully made use of to render the place untenable for large bodies of troops, till finally the assault was ordered.

On the Mamelon, the Russians had last Spring constructed a number of fireproof and shellproof compartments with the aid of traverses and blindages. These contrivances gave capital protection against the enemy's fire, but when the assault was made, it was found that no room had been left for concentrating a sufficient number of troops for the defense of the work. Compartment after compartment, defended by a few men only, was carried by the French, and at once formed a ready-made lodgement for them. The same mistake appears to have been made in the completion of the defenses of the Malakoff. The thing was overdone, and when the French once got hold of the commanding point of the hill, the Russian works themselves must have afforded them protection against the Russian fire.

The Redan (Bastion No. 3) and the Redan of the Careening Bay (Bastion No. 1 of the Russians) being situated on more level ground, did not admit of the terraced batteries and complicated defenses applicable to the Malakoff. Here, therefore, a simple coupure appears to have been made in the interior of the bastion, cutting off the salient angle and exposing its interior to an overwhelming fire. The troops for its defense could thus be placed further to the rear, and the interior of the work protected by sallies from the coupure. In consequence of this arrangement, which was of the kind generally adopted in such cases, the English lines and the French columns ordered to the assault of these positions could indeed penetrate beyond the all but abandoned outer wall; but when there, face to face with the coupure, they were crushed by its grape and musketry, and had to give up the assault.

As soon as the Malakoff was carried, Gen. de Salles, on the French left attack, made an attempt to establish himself in the Central bastion (No. 5, between the Flagstaff and Quarantine bastions). He was repulsed. We are not informed whether this assault was undertaken on his own responsibility or whether it formed part of the original plan. Nor do we know how far the proximity of the French trenches to the bastion justified such a detached and hazardous attempt.

The fact of the Malakoff hill being taken, at once formed the turning point of the struggle. From all the preceding events of this remarkable siege, it was to be anticipated that the French, if properly alive to their business, were not in the remotest danger of being driven out of their new position[e]. The Malakoff completely commands the Karabelnaya and the eastern slope of the hill on which the town of Sevastopol was built. Taking in the rear the sea forts on the southern side of the harbor, it made the whole of the inner harbor and the greater part of the outer harbor untenable to the Russian ships of war. By the fall of the Malakoff the continuity of the defensive lines of Sevastopol became interrupted at that very point upon which the security of the whole was dependant. The possession of the Malakoff, therefore, meant the possession of Karabelnaya, the destruction of the town by bombardment, the taking in flank and rear of the Flagstaff bastion, and the disappearance of the last chance of the town's holding out. Sevastopol had hitherto been a fortified camp for a large army, as indeed are all modern fortresses. By the capture of the Malakoff it had sunk to the rank of a mere bridge-head to the Russian garrison of the north side, and more than this, of a bridge-head without a bridge. It was therefore wise to abandon it. It is true we had heard a good deal of new works constructed on the inner slope of the Malakoff, with a view to maintain the defense of the Karabelnaya, after the loss of that fortification; but they do not seem to have been of value enough to induce Prince Gorchakoff to continue the defense. However, we shall now soon know what was their real nature.[f]

Some Russian ships had already been burned in the harbor by shells from the allied batteries. The Malakoff once armed with French guns would have made it difficult for the remaining Russian vessels to find a safe anchorage, except just at the foot of Forts Nicholas and Alexander, and there is not room for a great many; hence the burning and sinking of the remainder of the fleet.

The Karabelnaya side being completely in the hands of the Allies, they are in a position to undertake operations in the field. Though they will not be able to establish many batteries or many troops in that suburb, on account of the fire from the northern shore of the harbor, they have succeeded in reducing the Russian portion of Sevastopol to less than one-half its extent before the 8th inst., and to a fortress capable of holding but a limited number of defenders. Not only is the offensive power of the garrison completely crushed, but its defensive strength is greatly reduced. A far smaller number of men will suffice to carry on the siege, and the troops thus set free, with the reenforcements now on the road or at the camp of Maslak, will be available for an expedition to Eupatoria. The more we examine the relative position of both Russians and Allies on the Chernaya, the more evident it becomes that neither party can drive the other away hence without great superiority and enormous sacrifices. The opinion in the allied camp would seem to be that from 60,000 to 70,000 men should be sent to Eupatoria, in order to march upon the communications of the Russians at Sympheropol. Suppose the Russians to have 200,000 men in the Crimea (which they certainly have not), 80,000 men would be required for the defense of the North Forts, 60,000 for the position on the Chernaya, and 60,000 to meet the allied army of Eupatoria. In the present spirit of the allied forces, it is certain that with equal numbers and in an equally divided field, they will beat the Russians; and as by taking up a position on the Russian line of communications they can force them to give battle, there does not seem to be any risk in such an undertaking. On the contrary, it is probable that the Russians would be able to oppose this expeditionary army with but 60,000 men at the very outside. The sooner, however, such a movement is undertaken the better for the Allies, and if they act vigorously they may expect great results. They now have both moral and numerical superiority, and we doubt not they will profit by it before another winter on the plateau has reduced their numbers and damped their spirits. Indeed the latest report is that by the 13th 25,000 men had already sailed for Eupatoria, and we shall doubtless hear of a still greater force following.

Of these important events we have as yet only the meagre information conveyed by telegraphic dispatches. When more complete details reach us we shall return to the subject again.[g]

Written about September 11, 1855
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4506, September 28, 1855
and the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1079, September 28, 1855,
reprinted in the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 734, October 6, 1855 as a leading article;
the German version was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 429, September 14, 1855,
marked with the sign x.
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune.


[a] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung the article begins as follows: "London, September 11. At 9 o'clock last night the guns of James's Park and the Tower announced the fall of the southern side of Sevastopol. At the Lyceum, Haymarket and Adelphi theatres the managers at last had the satisfaction of soliciting the hurrahs, the 'God save the Queen' and the 'Partant pour la Syrie' on the strength of official dispatches rather than, as hitherto, of false rumours. "The Crimean campaign has at last reached its turning-point."—Ed.

[b] A. Pélissier, "Crimée, 9 septembre, huit heures du soir", Le Moniteur universel, No. 254, September 11, 1855.—Ed.

[c] Instead of the last sentence the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "the loss of which forced the Russians to lay waste to and abandon the southern side".—Ed.

[d] According to the rules of art.—Ed.

[e] In the Neue Oder-Zeitung this sentence does not occur.—Ed.

[f] The passage beginning with the words "It was therefore wise to abandon it" does not occur in the Neue Oder-Zeitung.—Ed.

[g] Instead of the passage beginning with the words "Suppose the Russians to have 200,000 men" the Neue Oder-Zeitung has: "This would force the Russians to fight a battle in the open field in which, under the present circumstances, success would seem to be guaranteed to the Allies. But everything depends on the latter's taking advantage of the present situation with dispatch and energy."—Ed.

[360] A German version of this article prepared by Marx and dated September 11, 1855 was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung under the heading "Zur Einnahme von Sebastopol" ("On the Capture of Sevastopol"). In a letter to Engels dated September 11, 1855 Marx wrote that he had made a number of changes on the basis of the latest telegraphic dispatches.

The last two paragraphs in the English version were presumably added by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.519-523), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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