At half-past one the British infantry advanced into action; like
lightning the order flew along the line, for it was borne by Nolan, the
impetuous and the gallant.
The village of Burliuk, the centre of our position, was still in flames
that rose to a vast height, especially from the well-filled stackyards.
To the right of the conflagration, two regiments of Adams’s brigade, the
Welsh[*] and 49th, or Hertfordshire, crossed the river by a deep and
dangerous ford, under a galling fire from the Russian Minie Riflemen,
who were ensconced among the vineyards on the opposite bank. The
remainder crossed on the left of Burliuk, and, both uniting beyond it,
the whole division of De Lacy Evans found themselves engaged in
sanguinary strife, while we, the cavalry, could but sit in our saddles
and look on, but burning with impatience to advance.
[*] 41st—so called since 1831.
On the extreme left of the British advance, the Light Division, under
Sir George Brown, G.C.B. (a Peninsular veteran of the old fighting
43rd), crossed the stream in their immediate front. Rugged and
precipitous, the bank rose above them. So steep was it in some places
that one of our officers, when in the act of climbing, was mortally
wounded by having his entire spinal column traversed by a ball, which
had been fired perpendicularly down from the Russian ranks above. Dense
vineyards and abattis of felled trees partially obstructed the advance
of our gallant Light Division; but in vain, for the 7th, the 33rd, and
Welsh Fusiliers, the 77th, and Connaught Rangers pressed on under the
volleying fire; and such was their coolness, that the soldiers threw to
each other bunches of the delicious crimson grapes, to quench their
thirst, for they had been long in marching order under a burning morning
sun. The Minie balls were showering past like hail; caps, epaulettes,
ears, fingers, and teeth were torn away, and every moment the men fell
fast on every hand; but from right to left the cries of “Forward! on!
on! forward!” were incessant, and the human surge of the Light Division
swept on, bearing with it the whole 95th regiment. Rapidly they formed
in line beyond the broken ground—rapidly and magnificently—and threw
their steady fire into the strong redoubts with terrible effect; but
hundreds were falling on both sides, and now commenced that ever
memorable charge up hill by which we won the Alma. Faintly in the air
came a yell of defiance from the Russians; it was very different from
“the strong-lunged, massive-throated, deep-chested outbursts of
cheering” that ran along the ranks of the British infantry.
Conspicuous on a grey horse, amid the clouds of passing smoke, we could
see old Sir George Brown, riding as he had ridden with the Light
Division of other days, at Busaco and Talavera. A deadly sheet of fire
now tears through the 7th Fusiliers—led by Lacy Yea—they waver, but
re-form! By the same fire the 23rd are decimated, and Colonel Chester
falls at their head, shouting, “On, lads, on!” Relief after relief is
shot down under the colours of the 7th. One is lost for a time; but,
hurrah! it is safe among the soldiers of the Royal Welsh!
Under their colour, young Anstruther (the son of my uncle’s neighbour,
Balcaskie) is shot dead, and the poor boy rolls down the hill, enveloped
in its silken folds; but again it waves in the wind, as Private Evans
snatches it up, and bears it on towards the Great Redoubt.
Thicker fall the dead on every hand, for it is all musketry, and the
deep, hoarse boom of the cannon, surging like a stormy sea, roll upon
roll. The wounded are crawling, limping, and streaming to the rear; the
dead lie close as autumn leaves in Vallombrosa. On stretchers and
crossed muskets, officers and men are borne to the riverside, and,
reeking with blood, the stretchers return for other victims. Hythe is
forgotten now, and all her science of musketry; for no man thinks of
sighting his Minie rifle, but all load, and cap, and blaze away at
random, though many an officer is shouting, “Steady, men, steady, and
aim below the crossbelts.”
On, yet on, rolls the human surge, for what or who could withstand
them—our noble infantry, our 19th and 33rd, our 77th and 88th, as they
rush on, with colours flying and loud hurrahs!
But now there is a louder cry!
Their leader falls! In a cloud of dust both horse and man go down, and
for a moment the advance is paralyzed—but for a moment only.
Again the grand old soldier is at their head on foot, his sword
glittering above his white head, and, reckless of the tremendous fire
which sweeps through them, our troops dash at the redoubts—a mighty
torrent in scarlet—the flashing bayonets are lowered—man seeks man,
ready to grapple body to body with his foe, and the sparks of fire rise
in the midst as steel clashes on steel, for the Russian hearts are stout
and their hands are strong as ours; the dead and the dying are heaped
over each other, to be trampled on and smothered in their blood.
Nine hundred of our officers and men fell, killed and wounded, amid the
terrible _mêlée_ in the Great Redoubt, and all up the scorched slope
that leads to it. In the torn vineyards, and among the leafy abbatis,
the poor redcoats are lying thicker than ever I have seen the scarlet
poppies stud the harvest fields in Lothian or the Merse!
The red dragon of the Royal Welsh is flying on that fatal redoubt, but
not yet is the victory ours!
Descending from the higher hills, a mighty column of Russian infantry—a
double column, composed of the Ouglitz and Vladimir battalions, bearing
with them the image of St. Sergius, a solemn trust given to them by the
Bishop of Moscow—a supposed miraculous idol, borne in the wars of the
Emperor Alexis, of Peter the Great, and Alexander I.—came rushing to the
mortal shock, in full confidence of victory.
Deploying into line, the great grey mass, with their flat caps and
spiked helmets—for the corps were various—came boldly on, and followed
up a deadly volley by a powerful bayonet charge. Then the ranks in
scarlet, exhausted by their toilsome ascent, began to waver and fall
back, followed down hill by the yelling Russian hordes, who had a
perfect belief in their own invincibility, and barbarously bayoneted all
our wounded as they came on.
Terribly fatal was this temporary repulse to the gallant Welsh Fusiliers
in particular; but now the 7th and 33rd, with the Guards and
Highlanders, advanced, and again the struggle was resumed.
Of the 33rd, nineteen sergeants fell, chiefly in defence of the colours;
and fourteen bullet holes in one standard and eleven in the other
attested to the fury of the conflict.
Throwing open his ranks to allow the retreating regiments to re-form and
recover breath, the Duke of Cambridge now brought up his division,
though there was a momentary fear of its success, for an officer high in
“The brigade of Guards will be destroyed. Ought it not to fall back?”
“Better that every man of her Majesty’s Guards should lie dead upon the
field than turn their backs upon the enemy!” was the stern and proud
response of grim old Colin Campbell, a veteran of the old and glorious
wars of Wellington, as he galloped off to put himself at the head of his
Highlanders, whom he had had skilfully brought on in _échelon_ of
regiments. They reserved their fire, and advanced in solemn silence.
Terribly was our splendid brigade of Guards handled, when the
Highlanders came up, and then, as Kinglake tells us, a man in one of the
regiments re-forming on the slope cried, in the deep, honest bitterness
of his heart, “Let the Scotsmen go on—they’ll do the work!” and, with
three battalions in the kilt, Sir Colin (whose horse was killed under
him) advanced to meet _twelve_ of the flushed and furious enemy.
“Now, men,” said he, “you are going into action, and remember this, that
whoever is wounded—I don’t care what his rank is—must lie where he
falls. No soldier must carry off wounded men. If any one does such a
thing, his name shall be stuck up in his parish kirk. Be steady—keep
silence—fire low! Now, men—the army are watching us—make me proud of my
The brilliant author of “Eöthen,” an eye-witness of this part of the
field, describes their movements so beautifully that I cannot resist
quoting him again.
“The ground they had to ascend was a good deal more steep and broken
than the slope close beneath the redoubt. In the land where those Scots
were bred, there are shadows of sailing clouds skimming up the mountain
side; and their paths are rugged and steep; yet their course is smooth,
easy, and swift. Smoothly, easily, swiftly, the Black Watch seemed to
glide up the hill. A few instants before, and their tartans ranged dark
in the valley; now their plumes were on the crest.”
Another line in _échelon_, and another—the Cameron and the Sutherland
Highlanders; and now, to the eyes of the superstitious Muscovites, the
strange uniform of those troops seemed something terrible; their waving
sporrans were taken for horses’ heads; they cried to each other that the
Angel of Light had departed, and the Demon of Death had come!
Close and murderous was the fire that opened on them; then a wail of
despair floated over the grey masses of the long-coated Russian
infantry, as they broke and fled, casting away knapsacks, and everything
that might encumber their flight, and, for the first time, rose the
Highland cheer. “Then,” says the great historian of the war, “along the
Kourgané slopes, and thence west almost home to the Causeway, the
hill-sides were made to resound with that joyous and assuring cry, which
is the natural utterance of a northern people, so long as it is warlike