Floating Batteries at the Capture of Kinburn.
Having driven Gorchakov’s army out of the south side of Sevastopol the allied commanders were at a loss about what should be done next. The battle had been expensive in soldiers’ lives, ammunition and resources; so much so that it was difficult to avoid a general feeling that they had justified their presence in the Crimea by taking the city whose capture had eluded them for a year. This was particularly true in the French camp where there were smiles and congratulations all round. Pélissier was given a marshal’s baton and, much to the irritation of the British, was appointed a mushir, or commander-in-chief, by the Sultan; Bruat was promoted to full admiral (but did not live long to enjoy the pleasure as he died at sea two months later) and Simpson was awarded the Légion d’Honneur. Even the much-reviled telegraph came into its own on 12 September when Pélissier received the thanks of a grateful emperor: ‘Honneur à vous! Honneur à votre brave armée! Faites à tous mes sincères félicitations.’ (‘All honour to you. Honour to your brave army. I send to you all my sincere congratulations.’)
At home in Paris there were sonorous celebrations allied to a sense of relief; a Te Deum was celebrated in Notre Dame, which had been decorated with the flags of the allied powers. Sevastopol had fallen and in many people’s minds the victory and the part played by Pélissier’s men symbolised a rebirth of French military might. For a few happy hours 1812 became just another dusty date in a long-forgotten history and it seemed possible that Sevastopol was but a springboard for even greater successes against the Russians. Two weeks after Sevastopol fell Colonel Rose, British liaison officer at French HQ, sent a thoughtful despatch to Clarendon which captured the mood in the French camp:
After 1815 the spirit of the French Army was lowered by a succession of reverses. The successes in Algiers against Barbarians, without artillery, were not sufficient to restore them the prestige they once enjoyed.
But the share of successes which the French Army have had in conquering a Military European Power of the first order, in battles on the field, and in the Siege of a peculiarly strong and invested Fortress, a Siege without many parallels in History, have not only improved, very much, the experiences and military qualifications of the Officers and men of the French Army, but have raised their military feeling and confidence.
To capitalise on that effect Napoleon insisted that the war must continue and that Russia must be humbled before there could be any peace settlement. Not only would that process isolate Russia from Europe but it would also restore France as a major power and destroy for ever the settlement of 1815. It might even be possible to realise Napoleon’s dream of rebuilding the kingdom of Poland and placing his cousin on its throne.
There was much to recommend this way of thinking. France had been left exhausted by the Napoleonic wars and the nation itself had been humbled, its frontiers reduced to those of 1789. Napoleon III certainly believed that he had a mission to restore his country’s fortunes by continuing the war, but he was already swimming against a tide of growing disapproval with the war. While his fellow countrymen had been happy and relieved to celebrate the fall of Sevastopol it could not be denied that the victory had been won at a cost. The casualties seemed to be disproportionate to any diplomatic or strategic gain and the need to keep the forces supplied for another winter was a strain on an already overloaded exchequer. France simply did not have the resources to continue the war and was unable to match the expenditure lavished on it by her British allies. London’s well-filled purse was one very good reason why Napoleon was so desperate to keep the cross-Channel alliance in being.
He had little difficulty in persuading his allies to be assertive. Palmerston remained as bellicose as ever and, together with Clarendon, warned colleagues that the war was far from being over and might last another two or three years. Their message was clear and unwavering: Britain’s war aims would not be altered and there could be no negotiated peace until Russia had been defeated. To achieve that goal Palmerston still thought that it would be possible to construct a grand European alliance similar to the coalition which had defeated Napoleon forty years earlier. As he told Clarendon on 9 October, ‘Russia has not yet been beat enough to make peace possible at the present moment.’ Military pride was also at stake. Palmerston had refused permission for the church bells to be rung in celebration of the recent victory as it was all too evident that British troops had not distinguished themselves in the fighting.
The Turks were keen to see the allies continue the war in the Crimea as this would allow them to open operations in Asia Minor and to that end they insisted that Omar Pasha be allowed to withdraw his army from the Crimea. Russia, too, was adamant that the war was far from over. ‘Sevastopol is not Moscow, the Crimea is not Russia,’ said Alexander II in a proclamation to Gorchakov shortly after the fall of Sevastopol. ‘Two years after we set fire to Moscow, our troops marched in the streets of Paris. We are still the same Russians and God is still with us.’ In military terms the Russian commander had merely made a tactical retreat into a new position which would continue to pose problems to the allies. The tsar also guessed correctly that his enemies had no intention of marching into Russia and that unless Gorchakov were defeated stalemate had returned to the Crimean peninsula. Given that unassailable position, the allies’ only hope of inflicting a decisive defeat seemed to lie in the Baltic; Dundas’s destruction of Sveaborg having given rise to hopes that a similar campaign in the spring of 1856 could crush Kronstadt and leave St Petersburg open to attack by sea and land forces. It was an idea which would exercise the minds of allied planners throughout the winter.
None the less, the continuing public bellicosity could not disguise the fact that there was also a growing desire for peace, especially in France, where Count Walewski, Drouyn de Lhuys’s replacement as foreign secretary, was playing a somewhat different game. An illegitimate son of Napoleon Bonaparte, he was considered by Cowley to be an intellectual lightweight who was too close to the emperor’s pro-Russian half-brother, the Duc de Morny, and therefore not to be trusted. To Clarendon he was a parvenu, ‘a low-minded strolling player’ whose ‘view of moral obligation’ was always ‘subservient to his interests or his vanity’. Palmerston shared that opinion and added the thought that if anything were to happen to the emperor there would be no shortage of French politicians of Walewski’s ilk who would be prepared to sue for peace with the Russians.
There were grounds for these fears. Although Cowley and Clarendon, the British statesmen most directly involved, never lost their suspicions about those who served the emperor – based largely on social snobbery, it must be admitted – they were right to pay close attention to the new French foreign secretary, Walewski. At a time when the allies were attempting to maintain a common front and continue the war he was in secret negotiation with the Russians through the Duc de Morny and a shadowy figure called Baron Hukeren, the adopted son of the Dutch ambassador in Paris, whom Cowley described as ‘among the numerous speculating and political intriguers that abound in the capital’. Initially, Napoleon seems not to have known that covert peace feelers were being made but by October he had given them tacit approval. These were conducted on two fronts: through his friendship with Prince Gorchakov, the duke made it known that France was ready for peace while a similar message was passed by Walewski to Nesselrode’s daughter who was married to the Saxon ambassador in Paris, Baron von Seebach. At the same time the Russian ambassador in Berlin, Baron Budberg, alerted the Prussian government that the tsar was ready to reopen negotiations. While, in themselves, these clandestine talks did not lead to the reopening of peace talks, they at least helped to pave the way.
Meanwhile, as had happened earlier in the year when the Vienna conference seemed to hold out the hope of a cessation of hostilities, the British and French governments urged their commanders in the Crimea to continue the campaign. Having told Simpson that from the Queen’s palace to humblest cottage British hearts were beating with pride at ‘this long looked-for success’, Panmure turned to sterner matters:
The consequences of this event upon the morale of the Russian Army must be very great, and I trust that in concert with Marshal Pélissier you have devised means to take advantage of them and to give the enemy no rest till his overthrow is completed.
In order to keep this object properly in view you must not suffer your mind to rest upon any expectation of peace; your duty as a General is to keep your Army in the best condition for offence and to turn your attention to all the means in your power for so doing.
There was considerable mortification that the victory had not been followed up with a further attack on the Russian position and Panmure told Simpson that there were to be no celebrations in the army until Russia had been finally defeated. A succession of despatches from London attempted to goad the British commander into action but without success. Simpson simply reiterated his and the French belief that it would be folly to attack the Russian positions and he remained unmoved by an unhelpful suggestion that he should think of ‘applying a hot poker’ to make Pélissier do something positive. The impasse was broken on 26 September when Panmure sent a peremptory telegram to the British commander demanding action:
The public are getting impatient to know what the Russians are about. The Government desire immediately to be informed whether either you or Pélissier have taken any steps whatever to ascertain this, and further they observe that nearly 3 weeks have elapsed in absolute idleness. This cannot go on and in justice to yourself and your army you must prevent it. Answer this on receipt.
From the evidence of the correspondence between the two men it is difficult to know what Panmure wanted to achieve from this telegraphic despatch. That he was anxious to hear Simpson play a more martial tune was beyond doubt, yet the commander’s own letters betray a worrying timorousness that was not to be cured by Panmure’s mixture of threats and cajoling. In one letter he would chide Simpson for playing second fiddle to the French and insist on action, ending the despatch with an order that the British soldiers were not to be given spirits before going on sentry duty; in another he would reflect on the pleasure of discussing the campaign at some future date over a bottle of claret. However, his latest despatch had one obvious effect: the man who had gone out to the Crimea with no other thought than to report on Raglan, finally admitted that high command was too great a burden to bear. Two days later Simpson telegraphed his resignation, explaining that he could not remain in command while facing sustained criticism, and his offer to stand down was quickly accepted.
As Codrington was the designated successor, it should have been an easy matter to confirm his promotion, but during the final assault on Sevastopol Codrington seemed to have lost his nerve – Newcastle was particularly withering in his criticism – and renewed thought was given to the command of the army in the Crimea. Once again the candidates’ claims were examined and during the hiatus, which lasted three weeks, Panmure was forced to address his orders simply to the British Headquarters in the Crimea. Despite doubts about his abilities Codrington was confirmed in command on 15 October but did not take over the office until a few weeks later: more than any other attribute, his ability to speak fluent French and his easy social skills seem to have counted in his favour. To soften the blow to the other commanders, on 10 December the army was divided into two corps, command of each going to Campbell and Eyre.
By then the British Army was in a much better position than in the previous year and relatively well equipped to face another winter. Each soldier had been given a new hard weather uniform consisting of two woollen jerseys, two pairs of woollen drawers, two pairs of woollen socks, two pairs of long stockings, one cholera belt, one comforter, a pair of gloves, a fur cap, greatcoat and waterproof cape. At Panmure’s insistence – he was a great stickler for detail – each man was also given, and ordered to use, a tin of Onion’s Drubbing, a new patented waterproof treatment for boots; and on 7 December four hundred field stoves specially designed by Alexis Soyer arrived at Balaklava. As an aid for observing the enemy in forward positions the army was supplied with a thousand trench telescopes of the kind which would be used in the First World War ‘for looking at objects without exposing the viewer’.
With better conditions, the supply problems having been largely solved, the army’s morale improved. Before winter settled in there were race meetings and hurriedly improvised shoots for the officers and theatricals for the men. Despite Panmure’s exhortations about keeping drunkenness at bay the independently owned canteens at Kadikoi did brisk business and, with the Russians content to keep their distance, the miseries of the last winter’s discomforts in the trenches were soon forgotten. By contrast it was now the turn of the French to suffer. Cholera followed by typhus ran through their camp and, added to a general air of disaffection, there were calls from the veterans of the fighting to be sent home. As the casualties from illness began to mount these demands were met: on 13 November Rose reported that the French Imperial Guards regiments were to be withdrawn and that eight line infantry regiments were to return to Algeria. Despite promises to the contrary, these were not to be replaced.
Before the armies went into winter quarters at the beginning of November, the British in good spirits, the French in as sorry as state as their allies had been in the previous season, there were two noteworthy attacks on the Russians. Having despatched part of their cavalry to Eupatoria, French units led by General D’Alonville attacked a larger Russian force on 20 October and succeeded in compelling it to withdraw with the loss of many casualties. However, D’Alonville chose not to follow up the success, other than to continue the harassment of Russian stragglers, because, according to Rose, the French chief of staff, General de Martimprey, had ordered his subordinate commanders to rein in any propensity for offensive activities:
I again perceived that he was opposed to any hostile operation against the enemy on a large scale. But whether he entertains this opinion because he thinks that the Enemy will leave the Crimea, without being forced to do [sic], or because he is of the conviction, which he lately expressed, that negotiations in the winter will bring about a peace, I know not.
The other operation was far more aggressive and it was destined to be the last blow struck by the allies during the war. It was also the most successful, a combined forces’ attack on the Fort Kinburn, a heavily defended Russian position which covered the confluence of the Rivers Bug and Dnieper. The brainchild of Lyons, it made full use of three newly developed French armoured steam batteries which, together with the allied gunboats and battleships, battered the fortress into submission. The French played a full role by committing 6000 men to the infantry force of 10,000, command of which was awarded to General Bazaine, as well as three battleships and a number of gunboats, although it remained unclear if Pélissier’s enthusiasm for the assault was governed more by a succession of orders from Paris or by his newly developed infatuation with Bazaine’s wife, Soledad. During Bazaine’s absence, Pélissier’s coach, captured from the Russians, was to be seen each day outside Soledad’s quarters. It was not the only romance thrown up by the war: Canrobert had fallen for the daughter of Colonel Strangways, the British gunner commander killed at Inkerman, but as with Pélissier’s fondness for Bazaine’s wife nothing came of the wartime dalliance.
The attack on Kinburn, though, was a complete success. On 16 October the infantry and marine forces made an unopposed landing on the Kinburn peninsula to cut off the fortress from reinforcements and to attack the garrison should it decide to retire. The following day, having advanced under cover of darkness, the allied fleet commenced a heavy bombardment, using tactics similar to those employed at Sveaborg a month earlier. Having been infiltrated into the bay in front of the fortress the gunboats and steam batteries were able to produce a sustained bombardment which quickly silenced the Russian guns. Then the allied battleships steamed into line to fire an equally heavy succession of broadsides which left the garrison with no option but to surrender. The way was open to strike inland but Bazaine called a halt to the operation once the forts and Kinburn and Ochakov (on the other side of the estuary) had surrendered. Following the destruction of Sveaborg, the successful outcome of the Kinburn operation demonstrated that the allies now had the naval capacity to attack and defeat Russia’s hitherto impregnable sea-fortresses.
As winter set in other activities included a reconnaissance of the Baider valley to ascertain whether or not an attack on the Russian positions at Simpheropol would yield results. Napoleon thought so but the French-led scouting party reported back that the Russians were entrenched on the high ground and that any attack would only result in unacceptable casualties. That fear lay at the heart of the allied command’s thinking. With the fall of Sevastopol, France had recovered her honour and, just as importantly, her right to sit at the high table when European matters were being discussed. Pélissier did not want to pursue the war against the Russians and by the middle of October he had come to the opinion that the allied army in the Crimea should be reduced by almost half to 70,000 and that it should take up defensive positions on the Chersonese peninsula.
His thinking chimed in with the mood at home where the war was now decidedly unpopular. On 22 October Cowley reported a conversation with the emperor in which Napoleon argued that the war had become an expensive anachronism and that the presence of the allied armies would not encourage Russia to negotiate. That could only be achieved by diplomatic means. As evidence, he produced a report from Pélissier in which the marshal claimed that there was nothing for the allies to conquer in southern Russia – ‘sterile plains which the Russians will abandon after some battles in which they will lose a few thousand men, a loss which causes them no decisive damage, whilst at every step the Allies with a great sacrifice of men and money and with nothing to gain will risk each day the destinies of Europe’.