Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

THE CRIMEAN WAR.
THE HIGHLANDERS AT BALAKLAVA.

October 25, 1854. At half-past seven o'clock this morning, an orderly came galloping in to the head-quarters' camp from Balaklava, with the news that at dawn a strong corps of Russian horse, supported by guns and battalions of infantry, had marched into the valley.

As the Russian cavalry on the left crown the hill across the valley, they perceive the Highlanders drawn up at the distance of about half a mile, calmly waiting their approach. They halt, and squadron after squadron flies up from the rear, till they have a body of some 1500 men along the ridge-lancers, and dragoons, and hussars. Then they move forward in two bodies, with another in reserve. The cavalry who have been pursuing the Turks on the right are coming up to the ridge beneath us, which conceals our cavalry from view. The heavy brigade in advance is drawn up in two lines. The first line consists of the Scots Greys, and of their old companions in glory, the Enniskillens; the second, of the 4th Royal Irish, of the 5th Dragoon Guards, and of the 1st Royal Dragoons. The Light Cavalry Brigade is on their left, in two lines also. The silence is oppressive; between the cannon bursts one can hear the champing of bits and the clink of sabres in the valley below. The Russians on their left drew breath for a moment, and then in one grand line dashed at the Highlanders. The ground flies beneath their horses' feet; gathering speed at every stride, they dash on towards that thin red streak topped with a line of steel. The Turks fire a volley at eight hundred yards, and run. As the Russians come within six hundred yards, down goes that line of steel in front, and out rings a rolling volley of Minié musketry. The distance is too great, the Russians are not checked, but still sweep onward through the smoke, with the whole force of horse and man, here and there knocked over by the shot of our batteries above. With breathless suspense every one awaits the bursting of the wave upon the line of Gaelic rock; but ere they come within a hundred and fifty yards, another deadly volley flashes from the levelled rifle, and carries death and terror into the Russians. They wheel about, open files right and left, and fly back faster than they came. “Bravo, Highlanders ! well done !” shout the excited spectators. But events thicken. The Highlanders and their splendid front are soon forgotten; men scarcely have a moment to think of this fact, that the 93rd never altered their formation to receive that tide of horsemen. “No,” said Sir Colin Campbell, “I did not think it worth while to form them even four deep!” The ordinary British line, two deep, was quite sufficient to repel the attack of those Muscovite cavaliers.

THE SCOTS GREYS AND ENNISKILLENERS. Our eyes were, however, turned in a moment on our own cavalry. We saw Brigadier-General Scarlett ride along in front of his massive squadrons. The Russians—evidently picked soldierstheir light-blue jackets embroidered with silver lace, were advancing on their left, at an easy gallop, towards the brow of the hill. A forest of lances glistened in their rear, and several squadrons of grey-coated dragoons moved up quickly to support them as they reached the summit. The instant they came in sight the trumpets of our cavalry gave out the warning blast, which told us all that in another moment we should see the shock of battle beneath our very eyes. Lord Raglan, all his staff and escort, and groups of officers, the Zouaves, French generals and officers, and bodies of French infantry on the height, were spectators of the scene, as though they were looking on the stage from the boxes of a theatre. Nearly every one dismounted and sat down, and not a word was said.

The Russians advanced down the hill at a slow canter, which they changed to a trot, and at last nearly halted. Their first line was at least double the length of ours—it was three times as deep. Behind them was a similar line, equally strong and compact. They evidently despised their insignificant enemy, but their time was come. The trumpets rang out again through the valley, and the Greys and Enniskilleners went right at the centre of the Russian cavalry. The space between them was only a few hundred yards; it was scarcely enough to let the horses“ gather way,” nor had the men quite space sufficient for the full play of their swordarms. The Russian line brings forward each wing as our cavalry advance, and threatens to annihilate them as they pass on. Turning a little to their left, so as to meet the Russian right, the Greys rush on with a cheer that thrills to every heart; the wild shout of the Enniskilleners rises through the air at the same instant. As lightning flashes through a cloud, the Greys and Enniskilleners pierced through the dark masses of Russians. The shock was but for a moment. There was a clash of steel and a light play of sword-blades in the air, and then the Greys and the red-coats disappear in the midst of the shaken and quivering columns. In another moment we see them emerging and dashing on with diminished numbers, and in broken order, against the second line, which is advancing against them as fast as it can, to retrieve the fortune of the charge. It was a terrible moment. “God help them ! they are lost !” was the exclamation of more than one man, and the thought of many. With unabated fire the noble hearts dashed at their enemy. It was a fight of heroes. The first line of Russians, which had been smashed utterly by our charge, and had fled off at one flank and towards the centre, were coming back to swallow up our handful of men. By sheer steel and sheer courage Enniskillener and Scot were winning their desperate way right through the enemy's squadrons, and already grey horses and red coats had appeared right at the rear of the second mass, when, with irresistible force, like one bolt from a bow, the 1st Royals, the 4th Dragoon Guards, and the 5th Dragoon Guards rushed at the remnants of the first line of the enemy, went through it as though it were made of pasteboard, and, dashing on the second body of Russians, as they were still disordered by the terrible assault of the Greys and their companions, put them to utter rout. This Russian horse in less than five minutes after it met our dragoons was flying with all its speed before a force certainly not half its strength. A cheer burst from

every lip: in the enthusiasm officers and men took off their caps and shouted with delight, and thus keeping up the same character of their position, they clapped their hands again and again.

As the Russian cavalry retired, their infantry fell back towards the head of the valley, leaving men in three of the redoubts they had taken, and abandoning the fourth. They had also placed some guns on the heights over their position on the left of the gorge. Their cavalry joined the reserves, and drew up in six solid divisions, in an oblique line, across the entrance to the gorge. Six battalions of infantry were placed behind them, and about thirty guns were drawn up along their line, while masses of infantry were also collected on the hills behind the redoubts on our right. Our cavalry had moved up to the ridge across the valley on our left, as the ground was broken in front, and had halted.

CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.

And now occurred the melancholy catastrophe which fills us all with sorrow. It appears that the Quartermaster-General, Brigadier Airey, thinking that the light cavalry had not gone far enough in front when the enemy's horse had fled, gave an order in writing to Captain Nolan, 15th Hussars, to take to Lord Lucan, directing his lordship“ to advance” his cavalry nearer to the enemy. A braver soldier than Captain Nolan the army did not possess. He rode off with his orders to Lord Lucan. (He is now dead and gone ; God forbid I should cast a shade on the brightness of his honour, but I am bound to state what I am told occurred when he reached his lordship.) When Lord Lucan received the order from Captain Nolan, and had read it, he asked, we are told, “Where are we to advance to ?Captain Nolan pointed with his finger to the line of the Russians, and said, “There are the enemy, and there are the guns, sir, before them; it is your duty to take them,”—or words to that effect. Lord Lucan, with reluctance, gave the order to Lord Cardigan to advance upon the guns, conceiving that his orders compelled him to do so. The noble earl, though he did not shrink, also saw the fearful odds against them. Don Quixote, in his tilt against the windmill, was not nearly so rash and reckless as the gallant fellows who prepared without a thought to rush on almost certain death. It is a maxim of war, that “cavalry never act without a support;" that “infantry should be close at hand when cavalry carry guns, as the effect is only instantaneous;" and that it is necessary to have on the flank of a line of cavalry some squadrons in column, the attack on the flank being most dangerous. The only support our light cavalry had was the reserve of heavy cavalry at a great distance behind them, the infantry and guns being far in the rear. There were no squadrons in column at all, and there was a plain to charge over, before the enemy's guns were reached, of a mile and a half in length!

At ten minutes past eleven our light cavalry brigade advanced. The whole brigade scarcely made one effective regiment, according to the numbers of continental armies, and yet it was more than we could spare. As they rushed towards the front, the Russians opened on them from the guns in the redoubt on the right with volleys of musketry and rifles. They swept proudly past, glittering in the morning sun in all the pride and splendour of war. We could scarcely believe the evidence of our senses. Surely that handful of men are not going to charge an army in position ? Alas! it was but too true. Their desperate valour knew no bounds, and far indeed was it removed from its so-called better part-discretion. They advanced in two lines, quickening their pace as they closed towards the enemy. A more fearful spectacle was never witnessed than by those who beheld these heroes rushing to the arms of death.

At the distance of 1200 yards the whole line of the enemy belched forth from thirty iron mouths a flood of smoke and flame, through which hissed the deadly balls. Their flight was marked by instant gaps in our ranks, by dead men and horses, by steeds flying wounded or riderless across the plain. The first line is broken—it is joined by the second-they never halt, or check their speed an instant-with diminished ranks, thinned by those thirty guns, which the Russians had laid with the most deadly accuracy—with a halo of flashing steel above their heads—and

[ocr errors]
« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »