Слике страница
PDF
ePub

necessary to cover his flank, to interrupt the railway communication, and to cause such a panic and uncertainty as to enable him to accomplish his real purpose with the least possible danger.

The mutual outrages and massacres of the Roumelian Christians and Mohammedans do not appear to have been necessarily a consequence of this movement, and might have taken place even if Ghourka had not crossed the Balkans. At all events, they could not well have been foreseen, nor were they approved by the Russians, and the evidence is that they did all in their power to prevent them. Those that occurred during their occupation took place outside of their lines. The withdrawal of Ghourka's advanced parties from the south of the Balkans took place about the 8th of August, when the result of the second attack upon Plevna made it evident that sufficient reinforcements could not be sent to continue the forward movement, or to hold the ground already gained beyond the mountains. As there was thus no hope of successfully opposing the advance of the overpowering force brought up by Suleiman Pasha, the Russians wisely fell back upon the mountains, and as wisely determined to hold the Shipka and adjacent passes as long as practicable.

The Shipka Pass was already fortified by the Turks against an attack from the north. As soon as it fell into their hands the Russians arranged for its defence in the opposite direction, and made the road from the north entirely practicable for artillery and trains.

The summit of the pass is about 4,400 feet above the sea, and 2,300 feet above the village of Shipka. The highest point in the pass is a rocky hill, on which is the fort to which the Russians have given the name of St. Nicholas; on either side are ridges nearly parallel with the Gabrova road. Diverging from the summit towards the south there are many ravines and valleys, which, although impracticable for artillery, permit infantry to turn any position between the summit and the base of the mountains. The same thing holds, looking towards the north. The summit, therefore, is the vital point for both parties. If the Russians retain it, they can, when the time arrives for them to debouch into Roumelia, easily turn any Turkish position towards the south. If the Turks gain it, they will be able to interpose a formidable resistance to the return of the Russians, and it will be difficult for the latter to prevent them from debouching into Bulgaria by some of the diverging valleys referred to. So long, then, as the Russians retain the pass, and the country thence to Tirnova, they effectually prevent the junction of Mehemet Ali with Osman Pasha, and thus greatly strengthen their position, as it is easier for them to hold the pass with a small force than it would be to defend any position near Gabrova or Tirnova. If Suleiman had gained the pass he could debouch upon Tirnova, and thus connect Mehemet Ali with Osman Pasha, or he could co-operate with either one at pleasure. More especially was this the case when Selvi and Lovatz were held by the Turks.

On the 21st of August Suleiman commenced, with large forces, a series of desperate, bloody, and fruitless assaults upon the Shipka Pass, then held by eight companies of the Olowski regiment, three weak Bulgarian battalions, and sixteen guns. The remaining four companies of the Olowski were at Gradova, one battalion of Bulgarians at Tirnova, holding the difficult pass from Kissanlik to Drenova, east of the Shipka Pass, the fourth rifle brigade was at Tirnova, as well as one regiment of the Baruila brigade, the latter holding the Hainkoi Pass.

We should far transcend the proper limits of this paper were we to enter upon a detailed description of the varying phases of the desperate contest which raged so long upon the summits of the Balkans. It is said that Suleiman had with him many of the best troops of Turkey. This may well be so, for the reckless and desperate valor with which, times without number, they flung themselves against the Russian works is well worthy of those bygone days when with all the enthusiasm inspired by a new religion, careless of death, sure of wealth and empire if they survived, certain of Paradise should they fall, there issued from Arabia that mighty stream of warriors, which, like some great river increasing as it flows on, swept over Asia, and entered Europe in two great streams, which wellnigh united between the Danube and the Loire, and would have swept Christendom before them, save for that stern resistance offered by the steady valor of the Christian armies on the plains of Tours and under the walls of Vienna. The unburied corpses and untended wounded on the mountain-sides, and in all the four stricken villages from Shipka to Adrianople, attest the unimpaired valor of the Moslem.

On the other side of these blood-stained intrenchments stood a

handful of brave Muscovites, who, with patient endurance and unshaken courage, for three days — without sleep, almost without even bread and water - sternly and steadily repelled the savage attacks made almost uninterruptedly by fresh troops. On the afternoon of the third day, when the diminished numbers of the defenders were thoroughly worn out and their ammunition almost expended, the Turks were on the point of carrying positions on the flanks of the pass which commanded the Gabrova road. Just at this moment the Russian shout was heard rising from the valley in rear of the pass, and the advanced guard of the fourth rifle brigade, with Radetzky at their head, came rapidly up, mounted on Cossack horses. At once dismounting, these brave men threw themselves into the fight and checked the Turks until the remainder of the brigade arrived, when they attacked and carried the heights from which the Turks so seriously threatened the rear of the pass. Other reinforcements now came hurrying up, and the Turk's opportunity had passed. Nevertheless, for four days longer he continued his desperate but unavailing attacks. Then for some days nothing but desultory firing or unimportant skirmishing occurred, while Suleiman was bringing up more reinforcements and making new arrangements, until on the 14th of September he opened a severe fire upon the Russian works with eight-inch mortars. Having, as he supposed, made a decided impression upon the garrison, he suddenly assaulted on the morning of the 17th, and during the day made six furious attacks. The main attack was made upon Fort St. Nicholas itself. About three in the morning the Turks suddenly ascended the precipitous approach, and gained a trench in advance of the main work. For some three hours dense masses rushed up in support, under a terrific fire, bringing gabions and fascines with which to intrench themselves. Here they held on till noon, when they were driven out with terrible loss. The Russians found three thousand dead in the trench and on the approaches. The stubborn Russians lost about one thousand men on the 17th, but remained masters of all their positions. General Radetzky commanded in person.

The heroic and enduring courage with which the Russians repulsed so many assaults was varied by attacks upon the Turkish position, in which they displayed a headlong and impetuous dash quite equal to that of their foes.

Giving the troops and subordinate officers on both sides equal

a

credit for their conduct in this long contest, it must be acknowledged that the Russian generals displayed much greater skill than their antagonists. The defence appears to have been admirably conducted throughout. The same thing cannot be said for the attack. It was excusable in Suleiman to attempt to carry the pass by assault immediately after his arrival at Kissanlik, when the Russian garrison was weak; but, having failed in his first attempts, it was useless butchery to continue his attacks after the arrival of the Russian reinforcements. The only excuse for such a course would have been the case of a simultaneous attack in force by Mehemet Ali and Osman Pasha upon the Russians in their front; for then the persistent attacks of Suleiman would have weakened the defence elsewhere, or he would have had no reinforcements to contend against.

But it is now clear that no such general plan existed, or that no attempt was made to carry it out. The probabilities are that Suleiman's army would have been much more useful if pushed across the Balkans by the Slivno Pass, so that he could have united with Mehemet Ali between Starevka and Osman Bazar, and thus have turned the Shipka by moving on Tirnova or Bjela. If circumstances rendered it advisable to support Osman Pasha at Plevna, then Suleiman could have crossed by the Karaul or Orchanie passes, and moved, if by the former, through Trojan on Selvi or Lovatz. While his strategy was bad, his tactics seem to have been no better, for, instead of constantly hurling his masses of infantry against the front of the Russian trenches, he might have turned them early in the fight and perhaps prevented the approach of reinforcements. Instead of making good use of the very largely superior force at his disposal, and without the slightest necessity, he incurred enormous losses, -- undoubtedly immensely

, greater than those of the Russians,- and accomplished absolutely nothing. One important result of this long contest is the fact that the Bulgarian battalions fought admirably, and proved that with organization and discipline they can hold their own against their former masters. It has been stated that Suleiman has gone to replace Mehemet Ali in command on the Turkish right, and that the remnant of his army is to remain on the defensive in front of the Shipka Pass.

Subsequent information in relation to the attack upon Plevna, on the 31st of July, does not materially affect the general conVOL, CXXV. — NO. 259.

29

clusions at which we arrived. There would, however, appear to be reasons for believing that on the Russian right Krudener was not quite so inactive as at first represented, and that Schackoskoy exceeded Krudener's instructions in pushing as far as he did. We mentioned that the Russian left was covered by a brigade of cavalry and a battalion of infantry; this detachment was commanded by a man to whom in the course of this article we shall have occasion to accord a large meed of praise, and who has thus far shown himself one of the best and ablest of the Russian generals, that is, the younger Skobeleff, then a major-general. This officer, who is yet a young man, first attained distinction in Central Asia, when, upon a certain occasion, a Russian corps was retreating before a largely superior force of the enemy. Skobeleff, then a colonel, or perhaps of even a lower grade, was placed in command of a small rearguard to cover the retreat ; a service regarded as desperate, and shunned by officers of higher rank who had a reputation to lose. Skobeleff, of his own volition, turned upon the pursuers during the night, attacked with his small force, and completely routed and dispersed the enemy. larger field he has had several occasions to prove his merit and capacity. In the battle of Plevna, on the 31st of July, with his small force he worked in so close upon the Turkish right flank as to render it probable that with a larger force he would have carried the place. He materially aided in the withdrawal of Schackoskoy, and, alone of the Russian commanders on that day, brought off all his wounded, who, thanks to his skill and care, were not numerous. Before recurring to the subsequent operations against Plevna it will be better to follow the movements of the Cesarowitch and Mehemet Ali, in the direction of the Lom and the Jantra. About the middle of August the Cesarowitch occupied the general position already described, having in front of him the army of Mehemet Ali. By this time Rasgrad was strongly intrenched. Mehemet Ali's right was commanded by Eyoub Pasha, who, in addition to the garrisons of Rustchuk and Rasgrad, is said to have had a disposable field force of forty thousand men. The left, under Mehemet in person, is stated to have consisted of sixty thousand men available for field operations, after deducting the garrisons of Shumla and other places. It is probable that the Egyptian contingent, from Varna, under Prince Hassan, was

On a

« ПретходнаНастави »