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The Reign of Queen Victoria by  M. B. Synge

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THE FALL OF SEBASTOPOL

THE battle of Balaklava had been fought and won. The siege of Sebastopol was yet going on, and the Russians were receiving constant reinforcements. Two of the Tsar's own sons had joined the forces, expecting soon to overthrow the enemy. A determined attack was now made by the Russians on the allies in trenches.

It was Sunday morning, November 5. A thick fog lay over the country, wrapping the valleys in heavy darkness. Under cover of this, masses of grey-coated Russians crept unnoticed out of Sebastopol and attacked the allies on the plains of Inkermann. For a while the battle raged almost in the dark, and [79] through the drizzling rain great confusion prevailed. No command was possible. The battle of Inkermann was just a hand-to-hand struggle, and has been called the "soldiers' battle ". Men of all ranks distinguished themselves, and after many hours of fierce fighting, the Russians were obliged to retreat. The battle was won, but at fearful cost. Of the 14,000 men who had been engaged on the side of the allies, 4,000 lay dead on the field, while a yet greater number of Russians had perished. No further fighting on either side was possible now for a time, and the terrible winter in the desolate Crimea had to be faced by the allies.

Nine days later their sufferings began with a fearful storm of wind and rain. The hurricane tempest of November 14 is memorable for its wholesale destruction of life. Early in the morning a fierce wind arose, with heavy squalls of pelting rain. In a few minutes every tent was torn from its pegs and blown away, the wooden huts in which lay the sick and wounded from Inkermann collapsed, and heavy snowstorms added to the desolation of the scene.

Outside the port of Balaklava, ship after ship went down, and among others was one filled with warm clothing for the soldiers. The battle of Inkermann of November 5 had proved that the army of the allies must pass the winter in the barren Crimea; the storm of the 14th showed that they must face that winter without adequate supplies. Blankets, boots, rugs, socks, biscuits, rum, rice, meat, coffee—all were lost in the sunken ship.

[80] So the hard Crimean winter set in, and the sufferings of the men in the trenches around Sebastopol were intensified by the appearance of cholera in their midst. Their hands and feet were often frostbitten by the cold, their clothes were in rags, and the food was insufficient. It was little wonder that they died by thousands.

On the eve of Inkermann a band of trained nurses, under Florence Nightingale, had made their way to Constantinople, and thence to Scutari, where the great Turkish barracks had been turned into a hospital for the sick. The condition of things when they arrived was indescribable. The orderlies, who were in charge of the sick, were well-meaning, but often quite ignorant and very rough. For the first time in history, women undertook the nursing, and the change was immense. Soon chaos gave way to order, dirt to cleanliness, ignorance to knowledge, misery to some degree of comfort.


[Illustration]

MISS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE.

[81] True indeed were the words of the poet Longfellow as he pictured the "dreary hospitals of pain", the "glimmering gloom", and the English lady, with her lamp, softly passing from bed to bed, while the speechless sufferer "turned to kiss her shadow as it fell on the darkened walls.

The agony of that time has become a matter of history, and no war since the Crimea has been without its Red Cross band of trained nurses.

The siege of Sebastopol dragged heavily on. Peace negotiations had failed, the Tsar Nicholas had died—men said of a broken heart—but his son carried on the war with undiminished zeal.

Three months later—it was the anniversary of Waterloo—the allies made a combined attack on the two strong forts of Sebastopol, the Malakoff and the Redan. But the whole affair was mismanaged; there was splendid energy and terrible loss of life, but the assault failed.

Lord Raglan was now an old man, and this defeat crushed him; he became an easy prey to cholera, and died ten days later. Things within Sebastopol were fast going from bad to worse. The constant bombardment of the allies was telling; over 200 Russians perished daily from one cause or another. Even Todleben, the famous commander of the Russian troops, was renouncing hope.

On September 5 the allies were ready for another assault on the Malakoff and Redan. It was arranged that the French troops should storm the former, and when the flag of the French empire floated from the [82] parapets, then the British should advance on the Redan.

But the Redan once more proved too strong, and evening found many a brave life laid down in an unsuccessful attempt. The British were determined to renew the attack on the morrow. But on the morrow there was no Redan to attack. That night the Russians blew up their magazines, beginning with the Redan. Then they sank their remaining ships in the harbour and set fire to the city, after which, by means of a floating bridge, they beat a sad retreat.

"It is not Sebastopol we have left to them, but the burning ruins of the town, to which we ourselves have set fire," they said, "having maintained the honour of the defence in such a manner that our great-grandchildren may recall with pride the remembrance of it and send it on to all posterity."

It was true. Sebastopol had fallen at last, after its 349 days of siege, but not into the hands of the allies. It had simply ceased to exist.

Peace was now possible. Glad indeed were officers and men to return home after their triumphs and their sufferings. No fewer than 22,000 had perished in the Crimea.

Many had been the individual acts of heroism, to reward which the Queen instituted the medal known as the Victoria Cross. This decoration is in the form of a Maltese cross, wrought in gun-metal, with the royal crest in the middle, and beneath it the words "For Valour". On the back [83] is inscribed the date of the act of heroism. The Victoria Cross carries with it a small pension of £10 a year. It has been said that this cross links all men together: "It stands as a symbol of the highest that man as man can attain, it places the hearts and the generous impulses of all men on a common level, and the words 'For Valour' are as dear to the noble duke as to the humblest private."


[Illustration]

THE VICTORIA CROSS.

The Queen herself fastened the decoration on to the coats of sixty-two Crimean heroes who had earned it well, while the enthusiastic cheering of the thousands who had assembled in Hyde Park for the occasion, testified to the high approval of Britain's sons and daughters.


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