Russian War - 1854-55.

Russia had shown her evident intention of laying violent hands on Turkey, by destroying with a treachery unworthy a civilised nation a Turkish squadron at Sinope, and England and France being bound by treaty to protect the Ottoman Empire, without delay each despatched a fleet into the Black Sea. That of England was under the command of Admiral Dundas, who had his flag on board the Britannia, of 120 guns, his second in command being Rear-Admiral Sir Edmund Lyons, whose flag flew on board the Agamemnon, of 91 guns, a name known to fame. The other ships were the Trafalgar, of 120 guns, the Queen, of 116, the Albion, 91, Rodney and London, 90, Vengeance, 84, Bellerophon, 80, Sanspareil, 70,Arethusa and Leander, 50, Tribune and Curacoa, 31, Retribution, steam-frigate, 28, Diamond, 26, Terrible and Sidon, steam-frigates, 22,Highflyer, steam-sloop, 21, Furious and Tiger, 16, the former a steam-frigate, the Niger, 13, and nine steam-sloops. The French fleet consisted of 15 sail of the line, and 21 frigates and smaller vessels.

From the first Admiral Lyons contemplated an attack on Sebastopol, and in order to ascertain the strength of its fortifications, Captain Drummond, of the Retribution, before war was actually declared, was sent there with a despatch for the Russian governor. He ran in during a fog, and had brought up before even his presence was discovered. Having sent his despatch on shore, he waited for an answer, making good use of his time, and when it arrived, having exchanged salutes with the governor, he stood out again with the valuable information he had obtained. Peace not having been actually broken, the Furious, Captain Loring, was sent to Odessa to bring off the British consul, or any British subjects who might wish to leave it. As the frigate was receiving them on board, the garrison, notwithstanding the flag of truce she carried, fired on her. This treacherous conduct deserved a prompt punishment. A fleet accordingly on the 17th of April sailed for that port, off which they anchored on the 20th. The line-of-battle ships could not get close enough to the walls, and a squadron of English and French steam-frigates under Captain Jones, of the Sampson, stood in and delivered their broadsides. Having done so, one after another in succession steamed rapidly round out of gunshot, to return again and fire as before. The Russian guns returned the compliment with red-hot shot, which set the Vauban on fire. Captain Mends, of the “gallant Arethusa,” remembering the fame of her name, though he had only his sails to depend on, ran in as close as the depth of water would allow, and opened a heavy fire from his 9-inch shell guns, and repeated his manoeuvres till recalled by a signal from the flag-ship. Ultimately some gunboats with rockets were directed to try their powers; at last flames burst forth from several parts of the works, and at one o’clock the magazine in the principal fort exploding cast destruction around. The batteries having been now silenced, the squadron stood closer in and destroyed moat of the vessels which had taken shelter behind the mole. Soon after the fleet retired from before Odessa, the Tiger, which had been stationed off the coast, ran on shore. While attempts were being made to get her off the Russians brought down a field battery, from which they opened so brisk a fire that Captain Gifford, being mortally wounded, and several of his men hit, he was compelled, in order to save their lives, to haul down his flag.

Another visit to ascertain the strength of Sebastopol was paid by Captain Tatham, of the Fury. Disguising her like an Austrian packet, which he knew was expected in the harbour, he boldly stood in on the 10th of May, running past two brigs of war, and having sufficiently looked about him steamed as calmly out again, hoisting the British colours as soon as he had got out of shot. While still in sight of the batteries he captured a Russian schooner, and was carrying her off, when some frigates getting under way, chased him and compelled him to abandon his prize. The fleets now proceeded off Sebastopol, sending away some of their ships in order to induce the Russians to come out and fight them. All their efforts proved vain, and Sir Edmund Lyons scoured the Black Sea till not a Russian vessel of any size remained on its bosom.

Some months thus passed, when the army having been collected at Varna, Sir Edmund Lyons, to whom the task was intrusted by the commander-in-chief, embarked them on board the transports destined for their reception. Admirably were the arrangements made, both for their embarkation and landing on the shores of the Crimea. Indeed, difficult as were both operations, they were carried out without the loss of a man, and with that only of one or two horses drowned. While the army marched towards the Alma, the fleet proceeded along the shore. Some of the steamers standing in, put to flight the few Russian troops their guns could reach. For some time it was hoped that the Russian ships would come out of Sebastopol and give battle to the allied fleets; but all hopes of their doing so were lost when the Russians, having arranged some of their finest line-of-battle ships across the harbour, scuttled them, and their masts were seen slowly descending beneath the surface. No hopes remaining of a naval engagement, each ship supplied a contingent of men, who were formed into a naval brigade, under Captain Stephen Lushington, a body of the French seamen being employed in the same manner. None of the brave fellows employed in the siege performed a greater variety of duties, or behaved with more gallantry, than did the British blue-jackets on shore. They fought in the batteries, armed with some of their own heavy ship’s guns dragged up by themselves from the shore, carried the scaling-ladders in many an assault, assisted to land the stores, and were for some time the principal labourers in forming a road between Balaclava and Sebastopol. Led by the gallant Captain Peel, they took an active part in the assault on the Redan, on which occasion they lost 14 killed and 47 wounded. They were ever-active in succouring those who had been left on the field of battle, whether blue-jackets or red-coats, and many who might have perished owed their lives to their courage and activity. During the engagement known as the Little Inkerman, on the 26th of October Mr Hewett, mate of the Beagle, while in command of a Lancaster gun, was greatly instrumental in the defeat of the Russians. Having received a message by a sergeant from an officer, who thought the battery would be taken in reverse, to spike his gun and retreat, he replying that he only received orders from his own captain, got his gun round to bear on the Russians, and blowing away the parapet, poured his fire down on them in a way which compelled them to abandon their object.

As soon as the troops on shore were ready to open with their batteries, the combined fleets prepared to perform their parts in attacking the sea faces of Sebastopol. By this time Admiral Dundas had given up the command of the fleet to Sir Edmund Lyons, who, as before, directed all the operations. The Agamemnon and Sanspareil were the only line-of-battle ships fitted with screws, but there were steamers sufficient to tow all into action, or to assist them out again if necessary. The final arrangements were made on the 16th between the English and French admirals, when it was settled that the French and Turks should attack the forts on the south side of the harbour, and the English those on the north. Early on the morning of the 17th the order to weigh was given—the fleets having been collected in Kazatch Bay, some distance to the north of the city. The French and Turks, who formed one line, naturally led; the Britannia followed, close to the Charlemagne, the rearmost of the French line. An inshore squadron had been formed, consisting of the Agamemnon, Sanspareil, and London, which was afterwards joined by the Albion and other ships. The Britannia, the most southern of the British ships, took up her position opposite Fort Constantine; next to her in succession were theTrafalgar, Vengeance, Rodney, and Queen. The Agamemnon, piloted by Mr Ball in the little steam-tender Circassia, glided on till she was about 750 yards from Fort Constantine, close to a shoal, which prevented her nearer approach. The London, Sanspareil, and Albion followed her, but were unable to get quite as near the fort as she was. The admiral had warned Mr Ball that his little vessel would probably be sunk, and promised to keep a boat ready to save him and his crew should she go down; but undaunted by the danger, he stood on amid a perfect shower of shot and shell, sounding as he went, till the line was cut from the leadsman’s hand by a shot from the batteries; but another leadsman immediately took his place, and the Circassia, without a man killed, though frequently hulled, steamed out of harm’s way. Immediately the Agamemnon’s anchor was dropped, she opened her fire, as did the other ships in succession. Fortunately, from being so close in, the Russian shot mostly passed over her, as the guns had been trained for a longer range; but the ships to the north of her suffered considerably. Happily, one of the first shells she fired reached the powder-magazine in the fort, which, blowing up with a tremendous explosion, drove the Russians from their guns, and though they again returned, it was to find that a large number of them had been dismounted, while the upper part of their works were crumbling to pieces from the effects of the fire from the British ships. From their lower batteries, however, and from various forts on the heights, so hot was the Russian fire, that the Albion and London, terribly shattered, were compelled to haul off. The Sanspareil also brought up so close to theAgamemnon as to be unable to use her foremost guns, and had to get under way to take up a better berth, and for a time the Agamemnon stood the brunt of the battle in her part of the line. The Sanspareil, however, again quickly came to her support, and the Albion, having repaired some of her damages, returned; but as the London was unable to do so, the admiral signalled to the Rodney, the Queen, Bellerophon, and Arethusa, to come to his assistance. A short time afterwards the Queen, set on fire by a shell, was compelled to retreat, and the Rodney got on shore at the end of the bank; but a large portion of her crew having joined the naval brigade, she had but few men on board, and therefore fought only her main-deck guns, and though in so exposed a position, escaped with comparatively little loss. For five hours the whole fleet kept up perhaps the most tremendous cannonade that has ever been fired from British or any other ships, when night coming on, the Agamemnon made the signal for the fleet to retire, she herself being the last to leave her station. Though during that time the upper portions of some of the Russian batteries had been knocked away, and a large number of people killed and wounded in them, the furious cannonade which had been so long kept up produced no result to compensate the British for a loss sustained of 44 killed and 266 wounded, besides the damages received by many of the ships, two of which, the Albion and Arethusa, had to go to Malta to be repaired. Though the French ships suffered more than ours, they lost under 200 men killed and wounded. The steamers had gallantly performed their part in towing the ships in and out of action, notwithstanding the showers of shot and shell directed at them. Altogether, the admirals came to the conclusion that it was useless attempting to batter down the stone walls of the fortifications, or to again expose their ships to such a fire as they had that day endured.

A portion of the allied fleets still remained before Sebastopol, and harassed the garrison by sending into the harbour two fast, strongly-armed steamers night after night, which, always keeping in motion, fired their shot into the city, and rapidly steamed out again before the enemy could get their guns to bear on them. On one of these occasions the admiral’s son, while directing the course of his vessel, was so severely wounded that he died shortly afterwards.

During the winter months of 1855 no operations were undertaken by the fleet, but as soon as the finer weather allowed the ships to navigate the Black Sea, an expedition sailed for Kertch, a town of importance at the extreme eastern point of the Crimea, containing immense magazines of corn, with which from thence the beleaguered garrison was supplied. Just as the expedition was sailing, however, Canrobert, who had supreme authority over the French naval forces, forbade Admiral Brueys from proceeding, and Sir Edmund magnanimously gave up the enterprise for a time at the earnest request of his colleague. A fortnight afterwards, however, General Pelissier succeeding Canrobert, authorised the French admiral to proceed in support of the English. An overpowering fleet accordingly sailed towards the entrance of the Sea of Azov. As soon as the ships appeared off Kertch, the Russians blew up their fortifications without firing a shot, and evacuated the place. The only officer who had an opportunity of distinguishing himself was Lieutenant McKillop, commanding the Snake, of 4 guns. Perceiving a Russian steamer in the offing, he obtained leave to chase her, which he did till she got under the forts of Yenikale, when both fort and steamer opened their guns on him. Undaunted, he returned the salute, throwing his shells upon both his opponents, and in three-quarters of an hour set the steamer on fire. He was still blazing away at the fort, when three other steamers were seen approaching, and they also, as he refused to run, began to attack him, the guns of each one of them being of heavier calibre than his. He continued engaging them till assistance sent by the admiral arrived, when the whole of the Russian vessels were captured.

While the larger ships proceeded in various directions along the coast, a squadron consisting of the smaller vessels and gunboats were sent into the Sea of Azov, under Captain Lyons, of the Miranda, to attack the numerous stores of corn and other provisions accumulated at different spots along the shores. On the return of the Miranda to Sebastopol, Captain Lyons was succeeded by Commander Sherard Osborn in the Vesuvius. Although the duties imposed on the squadron were not apparently of a very heroic character, they were attended with a considerable amount of risk, and were carried out in a most spirited and gallant manner. In several places the magazines and stores were protected by large bodies of the enemy, who fought courageously in their defence, but were invariably defeated by the determination and activity of the British seamen. Taganrog and other places were protected by heavy batteries, which, however, did not prevent the little squadron from attacking them and coming off victorious. For many months the steam-vessels were thus employed moving about from one place to another. Wherever they were least expected, the officers landed with parties of men, and did not hesitate to proceed either up the rivers or some way inland wherever they gained intelligence that storehouses existed, and in no instance failed to set them on fire. Many hazardous and gallant acts were performed. In this way the squadron were of the most essential service to the allies, and by almost depriving the garrison of Sebastopol of their means of support, were mainly instrumental in the reduction of the great fortress. In a short time scarcely a Russian trading-vessel on those waters had escaped destruction or capture. The vessels of the squadron were everywhere, and often, when espied by troops of Cossack cavalry from the shore, there would be a race between them and the vessels who should first arrive at the store-houses, which the latter had destined to destruction, while the steamers’ long guns played on the Cossacks, and generally sent them galloping away inland out of range of fire, so that when they reached the store-houses they found them burnt to the ground. One of the last places attacked was Gheisk, in the neighbourhood of which, extending for fully four miles along the shore, were collected in huge stacks quantities of corn and hay; while close to the town, under the protection of its batteries, were large piles of timber, cured fish, numerous boats, and naval stores of all descriptions. The place was protected by a strong force of infantry and cavalry. Notwithstanding, Captain Osborn proceeded to attack it with the gunboats Grinder, Boxer, Cracker, and Clinker; but the shallowness of the water would allow them to get only just within range of the batteries. The squadron was, however, supplied with a number of large boats which could carry heavy guns, and these he brought close in to the shore in order to cover the landing-parties, distributing them in four divisions, under Commander Kennedy and Lieutenants Ross, Day, and Strode, with directions to land at intervals of a mile from each other, and then driving the Russians before them to set fire to the stores. To protect the stores, the Russians had thrown up light breast-works along the whole of their front, but they were not such as to arrest British blue-jackets for a moment. Fortunately, the wind blew directly on shore, and thus as soon as the boats opened fire the smoke was driven in the faces of the enemy. The seamen quickly landing, notwithstanding the warm fire with which they were received, drove the Russians before them, and the stacks being at once ignited, the dense volumes of smoke which arose from them completely concealed the movements of the British, whose only object being to destroy the corn and hay, did not follow the enemy. Success attended every one of the operations; in a little more than six hours every stack was blazing, as were the piles of timber, the boats, naval stores, and dried fish, under the protection of the batteries at Gheisk—the whole work being accomplished with the loss only of five men wounded.

To prevent the escape of any of the Russian ships on the fall of Sebastopol, the allied squadron brought up across the harbour, when the enemy having already sunk the remainder of their line-of-battle ships, set fire to all their steamers, thus with their own hands destroying the whole of their fleet. The English and French fleet then sailed for Kinburn, standing on the shore of a shallow bay full of shoals. On their way they appeared off Odessa, in order to mislead the Russians, and then proceeded direct for their destination. The troops, consisting of 5000 British, and a large number of French, were landed on the 15th, and some of the gunboats stood in, and began firing to distract the garrison. The roughness of the sea, however, prevented the ships from commencing the grand attack till the 17th. The smaller steamers and gunboats then advanced, circling round and delivering their fire in rapid succession, silencing the Russian guns, killing the men, and forcing them to take refuge under ground. About noon the line-of-battle ships, English and French, entered into action in magnificent order close to the batteries, while a squadron of steamers, led by Sir Houston Stuart and the French rear-admiral, approached the forts on the northern side, and began pouring in their broadsides. Not for a moment was there a cessation of the thundering roar of the guns, while the whole fleet and doomed fortress became shrouded in dense wreaths of smoke, the gunboats on the other side keeping up their fire with fearful effect. The fire from the French floating batteries, which had lately been sent out at the suggestion of Napoleon, was most effective, while their power of resistance was fully as great as had been expected, the heavy shot by which they were frequently struck falling harmless from their iron sides, while the shells shivered against them like glass. The bombardment from the larger ships had continued scarcely a quarter-of-an-hour when a white flag was seen flying from the ramparts as a token of submission, and as if by magic the firing ceased. In a short time afterwards the old Russian general appeared to deliver up his sword, and he and a large staff of officers, who were permitted to retain their swords, became prisoners.

The Russians themselves blew up Oczakov, which was to have been attacked, while Sir Houston Stuart led a squadron up the Boug, and destroyed a battery on its shore. Had not the Russians soon afterwards come to terms, not a place of importance on their southern coasts would have been left in their possession.