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Progress of The War[382]

Frederick Engels

The news from the war is abundant. In addition to the report of Gorchakoff, on which we comment elsewhere, we have by the steamer of Saturday, the official accounts of the cavalry action at Kurulu near Eupatoria, before reported; the intelligence of an unsuccessful assault of the Russians on Kars, of the destruction by the Allies of Taman and Phanagoria, and of the landing of a body of allied troops in the peninsula of Kinburn.

The cavalry action near Eupatoria was fought by twelve French squadrons (fourth hussars, sixth and seventh dragoons). According to Gen. d'Allonville's report[a], which is plain and intelligible, the French and Turks made an extensive reconnoissance toward the interior on three different roads—one to the south and two to the north of Lake Sasik. The two latter columns met at a village called Dolshak, where they discovered the approach of the Russian cavalry. Here the reports begin to disagree. Gen. d'Allonville maintains that eighteen squadrons of Russians—while the French were dismounted, baiting their horses—tried to turn them by the south and cut off their retreat to Eupatoria; that he then ordered his men to mount, fell upon the flank of the Russians, routed and pursued them for two leagues. Gorchakoff says that the Russians were only one regiment (eighteenth lancers) or eight squadrons; that they were surprised by the French after having dismounted in order to unlimber a battery of artillery, and that under these circumstances they had to run for their lives. He makes Gen. Korff responsible for this mistake. Now what business a whole regiment of lancers had to dismount and assist in unlimbering a battery of eight guns, and how it was that the gunners, whose business it was to do this work, were not at hand, we are left to guess for ourselves. The whole report of Gorchakoff is so confused, so unmilitary, so impregnated with the desire to palliate this first cavalry disaster, that it is impossible to treat it as a serious statement of facts. At the same time we see Gen. Korff made responsible for this defeat, as Selvan was made responsible for Silistria, Soimonoff for Inkerman, Read for the Chernaya[383]. Gorchakoff, though defeated in every action, is still invincible. It is not he who is beaten, far from it, it is some unlucky subaltern who upsets the general's wise plans by some clumsy mistake, and who generally gets killed in action in punishment for this crime. In this instance, however, the blunderer is unfortunate enough to preserve his life. Perhaps he may, later on, have something to say to Gorchakoff's dispatch. In the mean time he has the satisfaction that his opponent represents him in a far better light than his infallible commander-in-chief does. Since then, the British light cavalry division has been sent to Eupatoria to reenforce the French.

Two other expeditions have been undertaken on the extreme flanks of the Crimean theater of war. One of these was from Kertch and Yenikale to the opposite side of the straits. The small fortresses of Taman and Phanagoria have been destroyed, about one hundred guns captured, and thus the entrance to the Sea of Azoff has been completely secured by the Allies. This operation was merely one of precaution; its immediate results are of no great consequence.

The second expedition is of greater importance. The allied fleets, with about ten thousand troops, first made a demonstration off Odessa, where, however, not a shot was fired, and then sailed to Kinburn. This place. is situated near the extremity of a tongue of land which on the south encloses the estuary of the Dnieper and Bug. At this point, the estuary is about three miles wide; a bar with fifteen feet of water (according to the best charts) closes its entrance. On the north side of this entrance is situated Otshakoff, on the south side Kinburn. Both these places first came into notoriety during the Russo-Turkish campaign of 1787, when the Bug formed the frontier of the two empires, and consequently Otshakoff belonged to the Turks and Kinburn to the Russians[384].

At that time, Suvaroff commanded the left wing of the Russian army (under Potemkin), and was stationed at Kinburn. The Turks, then masters of the Black Sea, crossed over from Otshakoff. They first made a diversion by landing behind the town of Kinburn, to the south-east; but when they saw that Suvaroff was not to be led astray by this false maneuver, they landed with their main body at the north-western extremity of the spit, exactly opposite Otshakoff. Here they entrenched themselves, and attacked the fortress; but Suvaroff sallied forth with a far inferior number of men, engaged them, and, with the help of reenforcements coming up, drove them into the sea. Their loss was enormous. Suvaroff himself, however, was wounded during this action, which was followed up in the following year, 1788, by the storming of Otshakoff.

This time the Allies landed, not below, but about four miles above the town of Kinburn, so as to intercept its communications by land with Kherson and the interior of Russia. Their gun-boats will very likely soon intercept the communications by water also. The spit of Kinburn, for six miles above the town, is extremely narrow, like that of Arabat, and so low and sandy that on digging a few feet below the surface water is found. Thus, strong fortifications with deep ditches cannot be constructed there in a hurry; and the works thrown up by the Turks in 1787 were either stockades or sand-bag batteries. The fortifications of Kinburn themselves cannot, for the same reason, be very formidable, no good foundation for masonry scarps being possible, though since that time broad wet ditches have no doubt been constructed. Nevertheless, we think that Kinburn cannot long hold out against the Allies if energetically attacked; and once in their hands, it opens to them a perspective of important operations in the direction of Cherson and Nikolaieff—that is, the direction of the base of operations of the Russian army in the Crimea. This descent, then, may prove very important if properly followed up. But up to the departure of the steamer no news of anything decisive had arrived, and thus we are led to conclude that this expedition is also to be conducted in the habitual, easy, jog-trot style of the Allies.

The defeat of the Russians before Kars will very probably prove to be the crowning event of the campaign in Armenia, The Turks, badly organized and short of every requisite for war, had played but a poor part in this portion of the seat of war. Unable to hold the field, they confined themselves to the occupation of Kars, Erzeroum and the country immediately under the command of these fortresses. Gen. Williams, who had entered the Turkish service, commanded at Kars and superintended the construction of proper defensive works. For the greater part of the Summer the whole campaign on either side was confined to skirmishes, forays and foraging expeditions in the hill country; the general and first result of which was that the Russians, gradually gaining ground, succeeded in blockading Kars and even in cutting off its communications with Erzeroum. Kars is situated in a lateral valley of the Upper Araxes; Erzeroum at the sources of the Euphrates; Batoum, on the mouth of the Churuk Su (Bathys), the upper course of which passes near, both to Kars and to Erzeroum, so that one of ,the roads between these two places follows the basin of the Churuk Su as far as Olti, whence it strikes off across the hills toward Kars. Olti was, therefore, the. central point for the Turks, as a road from Batoum there joins the one mentioned above, and Batoum was the place from which the nearest and strongest reenforcements were to be expected. Had the Russians succeeded in taking Kars, their first step would have been to establish themselves at Olti thereby cutting off Erzeroum from its nearest and best communication with the Black Sea and Constantinople. The Turks, however, were so dispirited that they retired as far as Erzeroum, merely occupying the mountain pass between the Upper Euphrates and the sources of the Araxes, while Olti was all but completely neglected.

At last, when Kars was more closely hemmed in, they attempted to form a convoy of provisions at Olti, and with a strong escort to force an entrance into Kars. Part of the cavalry from Kars having been sent away, as it was useless there, actually fought its way through the Russians as far as Olti, and the convoy started shortly afterward; but this time the Russians were better on the alert—the Turks were completely defeated, and the convoy was captured by the Russians. Kars, in the mean time, began to run short of provisions; Omer Pasha was, indeed, sent to take the command in Asia and to organize at Batoum an army fit to act in the field; but this creation of a new army takes a deal of time, and a march direct to the relief of Kars by Olti would not have been the best course he could take, as Kars might any day be compelled to surrender from want of provisions before relief could arrive.

In this difficult position the Turks stood at the end of September; Kars was considered as good as lost, and the Russians were sure, by merely blockading the town, to starve it out. But the Russians themselves appear not to have been willing to wait until the last flour was baked and the last horse cooked in Kars. Whether from the fear of approaching Winter, the state of the roads, shortness of provisions, superior orders, or the fear of Omer Pasha's relieving corps, they at once made up their minds to act vigorously. Siege-guns arrived from Alexandropol, a fortress on the frontier but a few leagues from Kars, and after a few days of open trenches and cannonading, Kars was assaulted by the concentrated main body of the Russian army under Muravieff. The combat was desperate, and lasted eight hours. The Bashi-Bazouks and foot irregulars, who had so often run before the Russians in the field, here fought on more congenial ground. Though the attacking forces must have been from four to six times more numerous than the garrison, yet all attempts to get into the place were in vain. The Turks had here at last recovered their courage and intelligence. Though the Russians, more than once, succeeded in entering the Turkish batteries (very likely lunettes open at the gorge, so as to be commanded by the fire of the second line of defense), they could nowhere establish themselves. Their loss is said to have been immense; four thousand killed are stated to have been buried by the Turks; but before crediting this, we must have more detailed and precise information.

As to Omer Pasha's operations, he had a double choice. Either to march up the Churuk Su, by Olti, to the relief of Kars, where he would run the risk of arriving too late for this object, while he would have led his army to the Armenian plateau, where the Russians are secure from effective front attack by a strong line of fortresses, and where Omer Pasha could have no opportunity to fall on their flanks; or he would have to march up the Rion to Kutais, and thence across the hills into the valley of the Kura toward Tiflis. There he would meet with no fortified posts of any consequence, and menace at once the center of Russian power in the South Caucasian country. A more effective means for recalling Muravieff from Armenia could not be found, and our readers may recollect that we have over and over again referred to this line of operations as the only one fit to deal a great blow at the strength of the Russians in Asia[b]. The proper basis of operations for this march would be Redout Kaleh; but as there is no safe harbor, Omer Pasha has chosen Sukum Kaleh, where there is a good harbor and a better road along the coast. Whether the season is not too far advanced for any serious operations there we shall soon learn.[c]

Written about October 19, 1855
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1090, November 6, 1855 and, in a revised and enlarged form,
in the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 739, November 10, 1855 as a leading article.
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4538, November 5, 1855,
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune.


[a] A. Pélissier, "Grand quartier général, a Sébastopol, le 1-er octobre 1855", Le Moniteur universel, No. 289, October 16, 1855.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, p. 269.—Ed.

[c] For a description of the further fighting in the Kars area after the abortive Russian assault of September 29, 1855, and of the fall of Kars see this volume, pp. 588-94 and 595-98.—Ed.

[382] The first paragraph of this article was probably added by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune. This is suggested, among other things, by the reference to the publication in the same issue of comments on Gorchakov's report.

Like many other articles by Marx and Engels, this one was reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune and the New-York Weekly Tribune. The first reprint reproduced the text unchanged, while in the second, which appeared five days later, the section dealing with the operations of the Anglo-French fleet and landing troops against Kinburn (in the Dnieper estuary) was substantially altered and enlarged. The new information may have been drawn from another report by Engels, received in the meantime and not published in the Daily Tribune, containing details of the fall of Kinburn (October 17, 1855) which were not yet available to him when he was writing the present report. At the same time, the new text contained additions clearly made by the Tribune editors, who may have drawn on the reports of other correspondents. In view of this the Weekly Tribune version of the article is given in this volume in the Appendices and not in the main text (see pp. 694-702).

The Daily Tribune version was reprinted in The Eastern Question under the heading "Alarums and Excursions". The article was attributed to Marx, as also a number of other articles by Engels included in the collection.

[383] The siege of Silistria (Silistra)—a fortress on the south bank of the Danube in Bulgaria—by Russian troops was one of the major operations in the Danubian theatre during the Crimean War. The siege began in the first half of May 1854, but in the fourth week of June the Russian troops withdrew beyond the Danube in view of the hostile attitude of Austria, which had concentrated considerable forces behind the Russian lines. A description of the fighting in this area was given in the articles "The Russian Retreat" by Marx and Engels and "The Siege of Silistria" by Engels (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 253-57 and 234-45).

In the battle of Inkerman—in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 528-35).

The battle of Chernaya—On August 16, 1855 Russian troops attacked the French and Sardinians on the river Chernaya about twelve kilometres southeast of Sevastopol in an attempt to weaken the Allies' siege of the city. However, the Russians were repulsed and suffered heavy losses due to inadequate preparation of the attack and errors on the part of the Russian command. Engels analysed this important episode of the Crimean War in his article "The Battle of the Chernaya" (see this volume, pp. 504-12).

[384] A reference to the first campaign of the Russo-Turkish war of 1787-91. Austria took part in it on the side of Russia, but concluded a separate peace with Turkey in 1790. In the course of the war the Russian forces inflicted a number of serious defeats on the Turkish army and navy. The war ended in the signing of the Treaty of Jassy, which confirmed the incorporation of the Crimea into Russia (1783) and fixed Russia's Western frontier along the river Dniester.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.563-568), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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