The Bombardment of Sebastopol.
ON the 14th of October we heard, to our great delight, that the ships were to participate in the bombardment. All was now excitement on board, clearing for action; top hamper was sent down, splinter-nettings got up overhead and between the guns, spare shot got up from below, and all lumber cleared away.
Early on the morning of the 17th October 1854 we were woke up by a most awful din, the roar of hundreds of guns. The fleet was ready, and only waited the signal to weigh. Each sailing-ship had a steamer told off to tow her into action.
The Spiteful, a paddle-wheel steamer of six guns, was lashed alongside the Rodney, and by noon we were all under weigh, and a beautiful sight it was to see the fleet standing in for the forts in line of battle. As I had never been under fire before - which is not surprising, seeing that I was but sixteen - I watched the proceedings with the most intense interest, and having the good fortune to be the commander's A.D.C., I had a fine view from the poop. It was arranged that the French ships were to engage the south forts, the English the northern.
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL
The Frenchmen having slightly the start of us, got into action before us. As we approached the forts, we beat to quarters and manned the starboard guns, as it was on that side we were to engage, the Spiteful being on the port side. Our upper deck was almost clear, most of the guns and the men belonging to them being on shore with the Naval Brigade.
Bombardment of Sebastopol,
H.M.S. Rodney Aground Under Fort Constantine.
The officers on the poop were the captain, the commander (who, being too ill to stand, was carried up in a chair), the master, David Craigie, a fine old Scotsman, the captain's clerk, and myself and signalman. The boatswain was on the forecastle with a few of his men. We had not been long under weigh when a round-shot cut away part of the main rigging, and a plunging shot crashed through the poop between the clerk and myself, covering us with splinters, but doing us no harm. Captain Randolph asked us if we were hurt. Another shot lodged in the poop netting, just alongside of us, and a shell burst in the dingey, which was stowed on the booms, blowing her to pieces. All this time we could make no reply, as the forts from their elevated position could reach us before we got into range ; besides which it was calm, and the smoke hung so that we could not make them out. However, we got into a good position at last, and opened fire from our starboard broadside. The roar of the guns was awful, and it was impossible to hear any orders; but my duty as A.D.C. kept me continually on the move carrying messages to all parts of the ship. We had been at it some time when a boat came from the Agamemnon to say she was in need of support and being much knocked about, so we at once weighed and went to her assistance, anchoring
THE GALLANT RODNEY
close under her bows, so that our jib-booms crossed. By this means we took some of the fire from the Agamemnon on to ourselves, and enabled her to haul off for repairs. At 4.30 P.M., our stern cable being shot away, the Rodney swung stern on to the shore and grounded, in which position we were raked by the forts, and could only reply with our stern guns. The Spiteful, being unable to move us, was now cut adrift and sent ahead to tow, but failed, as the hawsers parted, and she herself was exposed to a heavy fire while so doing. Our position was now most critical. Darkness was coming on, and the rest of the fleet had returned to the anchorage, leaving us the sole mark for the enemy's fire, of which they were not slow to take advantage. Shot and shell raked us fore and aft ; some of the former, being red-hot, set fire to the ship in several places, but the fire was promptly extinguished by the well-disciplined crew. Fortunately most of the shot flew high, striking the upper deck, where there were few men, or crippling the masts and yards. One shell burst in the foremast, making such a hole that it was wonderful the mast did not go over the side. The Spiteful had her maintop-mast shot away, and received much damage in her hull. All this time the men worked splendidly, and the orders of the officers were promptly obeyed; but this availed nothing, and the destruction of the ship seemed certain. Our signals of distress could not be seen by the Admiral owing to darkness, and we must have abandoned the good old ship, when to our joy we saw the Lynx, a smart little gun-vessel, coming to our assistance. She came under our bows in beautiful style, engaging the forts with her big Lancaster
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL
gun, and took our last remaining hawser. (Captain Luce of the Lynx was promoted for this gallant action.) The Spiteful was now again lashed alongside, both vessels went full speed ahead, and at 7.30, it being then pitch dark, the Rodney floated and was saved. Our damages, though serious, were nothing to what might have been expected under the circumstances. The hull was a good deal cut up, and two lower-deck ports were knocked into one, and the masts in a tottering state ; but our casualties were small, owing to the elevation of the Russian guns. The Spiteful suffered severely during the time she was not protected by the Rodney's hull. Some of the other ships lost heavily and were much damaged, especially the Albion, Arethusa, Sanspareil, and Agamemnon, the two former being ordered to Constantinople for repairs.
For the next fortnight we were busy repairing damages and refitting; but it seemed a pity we did not have another rub in at the forts, which were a good deal knocked about and many of the guns dismantled.
On the 14th November it blew a terrific gale from the south-west, accompanied by a very heavy sea, and as the Katcha, where we anchored, was an open anchorage, we were on a lee shore. Many fine transports were lost along the coast. At Balaklava almost every ship was driven ashore or went down at her anchors, and at the Katcha thirteen ships parted their cables and were driven on shore : only one of them, the Lord Raglan, was ever got off again. This vessel was lying near us, and was saved by a fine piece of seamanship: as she had parted one cable, her captain cut away his main and mizzen masts, the
IN A GALE AT BALAKLAVA
result being that when his remaining cable parted, the wind, catching the fore-mast, canted her round, and she flew before the gale, with a man at the wheel, and steering for a sandy beach, ran up high and dry, instead of drifting broadside on as the others had done. This ship was got off after a month's hard work, when she was uninjured. It was a sad sight to see so many fine ships drifting ashore with no possibility of helping them. The moment they struck the masts went over the side, and the sea made a clean breach over them. We expected our turn to come every moment, and preparations were made to cut away the masts should it be necessary. A mountainous sea was running, line-of-battle ships pitching bows under, with their rudders clean out of water, and straining at their cables, which tautened out fathoms ahead. We shipped one sea over the bows which swept aft and flooded the captain's cabin. Close by us on the starboard side was a large transport crowded with women and children, whose cries for help could plainly be heard, but no help could be given them. This ship, however, rode out the gale. The Sampson, a paddle-wheel frigate, was steaming ahead at her anchors, when two merchant - ships drifted down on her, totally dismasting her; but she held on, and the two went ashore, leaving the Sampson a wreck. The Terrible, another fine paddle steamer of great power, steamed out to sea in the teeth of the gale. It was a curious thing that not a single man-of-war went ashore at this anchorage, though some of them parted their cables.
During the height of the gale a Turkish line-of-battle ship, which was anchored right ahead of us, cut away her masts, as the ship was dragging her
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL
anchors: the wreckage drifted down across our bows, and the rigging got foul of our cables, which caused us to drag, so we let go two more anchors, which brought us up. We could hear the Turks singing out to Allah to help them : luckily for us, she drifted no farther.
It was fortunate that this gale did not happen a week or so earlier, before we had time to repair our damaged spars, as some of us must have been dismasted. As soon as the gale abated we devoted our attention to the ships on shore, each ship sending one or more boats to their assistance. It was not much that we could do beyond saving the crews ; but the proceedings were enlivened by the Cossacks, who amused themselves by firing on us from the cliffs overhead until some shells from the inshore squadron dispersed them.
Whilst employed on this duty, Purvis [now Admiral J. C. Purvis] and I had a narrow escape of being blown up. We were on board the Ganges transport saving what we could out of her, when we discovered her to be on fire. The first intimation we had of it was seeing the flames rushing up the fore-hatch. As the cargo consisted of gunpowder and spirits, we lost no time in getting our men into the boat. Some of the men had broached the cargo and were drunk, and we had some difficulty in finding them. At last we got them all but one, when we were obliged to shove off from the ship, as the flames were bursting through her sides, and it was too hot to remain alongside. Still no sign of the missing man, when at last he appeared through the smoke, fairly sober, so we hailed him to jump overboard, and we fished him up and gave way as hard as
IN THE TRENCHES
we could. We had not gone more than a couple of hundred yards when the ship blew up with a terrific explosion, her spars and burning timber falling into the water around us.
For a month after this we were employed on board the Lord Raglan, which we got afloat, and some years afterwards I again met this ship at Hong Kong.
About this time we heard of the death of one of our midshipmen, Karslake, whose head was carried off by a round-shot in the trenches. He was a gallant young fellow, and universally popular. Our worthy old captain, Charley Graham, now invalided, and returned home, his place being taken by Captain King of the Leander. We were sorry to lose our kind-hearted old skipper, who looked after us youngsters like a father. He was rather eccentric, and his language was not always parliamentary, but that was the fashion in those days.
The winter had now set in with great severity : all the sailing-ships were ordered home except the Rodney and Vengeance, which were shifted into a creek and moored head and stern. During this time we had several opportunities of seeing our shipmates who were serving in the trenches, as they were able to run down and come on board, where they were sure of a hearty welcome, a dry bed, and such fare as the poor state of our commissariat could provide. We were also able to pay them a visit and see how they were getting on. The weather was now bitterly cold, the ground covered with snow many feet deep, and the poor fellows endured great hardships. From this time till the beginning of April our work was most monotonous - clearing transports, towing dead
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
bullocks out to sea, and taking despatches out to the Admiral, who was lying off Sebastopol. All this had to be done in sailing-boats, often in very heavy weather.
On 11th April a contingent of one lieutenant, two midshipmen, and 200 bluejackets was ordered to the front to reinforce the Naval Brigade. I had the good fortune to be of the party, and on the 12th we started for the camp, escorted by the band playing lively airs. We were lodged in the Rodney's hut pro tem. until we could get tents. The hut being the property of the wardroom officers, there was no room for mids. The next day I had my first taste of the trenches: my turn for duty came on at 6 P.M., and I remained there till 9 P.M. on the following day twenty-seven hours of the most miserable time I ever experienced. Sleep was out of the question, for I was running messages all through the night, and the shot, shell, and rifle-bullets flying about kept things lively. At daybreak the firing increased, and continued till sundown. One soon got used to it, but at first it was rather trying, and I expected to be killed any moment. The excitement, however, kept one going, and one soon ceased to trouble about it, though reminded now and then. by some poor fellow being struck down by one's side.
In camp we had plenty to do: there were four of us mids, about sixteen years of age ; we had two tents between us, so we paired off. We were never at home together, one being in battery whilst the other busied himself about the tent. First we had to dig it out, which gave us much more room; then we dug a trench round outside to carry off the water. We made lockers and stow-away places, with powder-
WITH THE NAVAL BRIGADE
cases for water, and to keep our little comforts. Beds we had none, so we lay on the ground wrapped in our blankets for the first six weeks, after which we got stretchers, which we raised from the ground, and so by degrees we shook down. It was a stirring life, and no fear of being monotonous; and as to being killed, I don't think we ever gave it a thought after the first day or two. By degrees we added a few luxuries to our stock, and then we each bought a pony and rode into Balaklava for provisions, &c. We built a capital stable with sandbags, a kitchen, and a place for fowls. The weather changed for the better : it became rather too hot, and in the batteries terribly so, and dusty, but our tents were tolerably cool.
Occasionally we would ride out to the Tchernaya and get a bathe in the river, riding our ponies barebacked into the limpid water. One day we made up a picnic party and rode over to the Monastery of St George. I was galloping downhill at a breakneck pace, when I came into collision with a Frenchman mounted on a great, heavy cart-horse. The result was disastrous. My pony and I were capsized, and rolled over each other down the hill; I was picked up insensible, and when I came to, found myself in a tent with a broken nose and my head being bathed by some kind soldiers.
Hitherto I had been detailed for duty in what was called the " right attack"; but in May I was shifted to the left attack, or what was then called the Greenhill battery, where I remained for the rest of my time in the Naval Brigade.
On 17th June I was in battery all night as usual, and at daylight we opened a heavy fire on
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
the Russians, as it was intended to celebrate the anniversary of Waterloo by an assault on the Redan and Malakoff. The Russians replied with shot for shot, and the storm of shell and whizzing of rockets was most awful, and the roar deafening. After two hours of this work we ceased firing, the signal was given for the storming-party to advance, and the rattle of musketry commenced. The valley between us and the enemy was enveloped in thick fog, so we could see nothing, but presently the firing slackened and ceased: we could not tell what had happened, but hoped our fellows had been successful, so we gave them some hearty cheers by way of encouragement. By degrees the fog lifted, when, to our intense sorrow, we discovered that our people had been repulsed. There was the Redan looking as grim as ever, its slopes dotted with many a redcoat, with here and there a bluejacket beside him, the sailors having been told off to carry the scaling-ladders. Outside the Malakoff, the Frenchmen, conspicuous by their red trousers, lay even thicker. It was a sickening sight. At 8 A.M. we returned to camp to learn the melancholy news. About ten officers and sixty of our bluejackets were killed and wounded. I saw the last of a fine young fellow, Lieutenant Kidd: he was shot through the lungs, and lived for an hour after we carried him to his tent. The Rodney had suffered severely, several of our best men being killed with the scaling-ladders, and also in the trenches. One of our guns burst in the battery, killing every man at the gun. The captain of the gun lay dead at his post, and round about were the mangled and blackened corpses of his crew.
There was a mortar battery close by ours, and I strolled over to see the artillerymen firing their mortar, when a shell burst just over the parapet, taking off one man's head as clean as though it had been done with an axe, and disembowelling another, whose screams were awful to hear. I crept back to my station without delay. During all this time we lived on ship's rations and no extras; ship's pork, which we had to cook ourselves; ship's biscuits, and a glass of rum every twenty-four hours. I was sitting under the lee of the parapet munching my grub one day; alongside me was a fine young bluejacket, when a shell burst over our heads. A piece hit him on the thigh; he was carried to the rear, and was dead before night. Even a slight wound generally mortified owing to hospital gangrene, due to overcrowding, and possibly deficient medical resources.
The day after the failure of the Redan, I was sent to the hospital to collect limbs which were being amputated : it was a ghastly sight to see the doctors, with sleeves rolled up, cutting off legs and arms, and throwing them away, to be taken off and buried in quicklime; but such sights as these soon make one callous, even when young.
About the end of June I had to return to the ship with an attack of cholera, which carried off so many; but I soon recovered, and as there was not much for me to do on board the Rodney, Admiral Sir E. Lyons transferred me to the Sphinx, a paddle steam sloop, mounting six guns, so that I should see more active service. We soon afterwards sailed for Eupatoria, and from thence to Perekop, when we returned to Sebastopol, and remained there till the place fell
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
on the 8th September. From the anchorage we had a splendid view of the whole thing - the burning of the south side, the retreat of the Russians to the north, followed by the blowing up of the southern forts - a glorious sight.
Soon after the fall of Sebastopol the Sphinx was ordered to Constantinople with despatches. We made a fine run down, and after colliding with a ship and knocking her bowsprit out of her, anchored in the Golden Horn.
The entrance to the Bosphorus from the Black Sea is very deceptive, and in thick weather it is difficult to distinguish between the real entrance and a false one lying a little to the northward. By this mistake two Egyptian frigates were lost with all hands. It was blowing a gale at the time, and they only discovered their error when too late. After a short spell at Constantinople we were ordered to rejoin the fleet with all despatch, so, taking a collier in tow, we picked them up at anchor off Odessa. All the ships were cleared for action with springs on their cables. On October 14 the combined fleet weighed, and anchored the same evening off Kinburn.
The defences of Kinburn consisted of three forts, the largest mounting fifty guns, the others about twenty guns each. Standing on a low spit of land, they would have been formidable against a small force, but stood no chance against the enormous feet opposed to them. On the night of the 14th the gunboats of the squadron ran through a passage and took up a position inside the spit in rear of the forts. Next morning one of them came out again to rejoin the fleet, and was fired upon by the nearest fort, so
THE BLACK SEA AND SEBASTOPOL
we weighed in the Sphinx and stood in to draw the fire off the gunboat and exchanged shots with the fort. We were then recalled by signal and returned to our anchorage. The following morning our captain, Eardley-Wilmot, who was eager for the fray, asked permission to " shift berth," and on the signal being affirmed, got under weigh, beat to quarters, and commenced firing on the forts without orders. After the exchange of several shots we were recalled. The 16th it blew a gale of wind; so nothing was done; but on the 17th, the anniversary of the bombardment of Sebastopol, the welcome signal was made to prepare for action, and at noon we weighed and stood in for the batteries in majestic style.
The Russians, though quite overmatched, opened a spirited fire as we advanced, to which the ships vouchsafed no reply till they had anchored in line parallel with the shore, when they discharged their broadsides with a deafening roar. In an hour's time the forts were completely silenced, being crushed from the first by the overwhelming fire. When the signal was made to cease firing, and the smoke had cleared away, all that was to be seen was a heap of ruins. A boat was sent in with a flag of truce, and soon returned with the news that the place had surrendered.
With the fall of Kinburn the operations in the Black Sea were concluded. We remained a few days to embark wounded Russians, and then returned to Sebastopol. Whilst there I had the opportunity of visiting the camp and the south side of the city, with the ruins of the forts and docks. One could understand how it was the Redan and Malakoff held out so long; for the immense strength
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
of the structure was apparent when one was inside, the parapets being of enormous thickness and height compared with ours, besides which, the Russians had bomb-proof shelters, where they retired whenever our fire was too warm to be pleasant.
In November 1855, the war being over, I was delighted when the Admiral transferred me to the Algiers, in which ship I returned to England after an absence of four years.
It has often occurred to me that the part played by the Rodney during the bombardment of Sebastopol was never properly acknowledged. Since writing these reminiscences, I have been much pleased to see in Captain Eardley-Wilmot's interesting `Life of Lord Lyons,' that he, at all events, did fully appreciate her share in the day's work, as the following quotations will show.
Captain Eardley-Wilmot writes: "Captain Graham in the Rodney gallantly brought his ship, as close as possible to the Agamemnon and anchored on her starboard bow - in fact, the two ships were in contact, and the Agamemnon had to haul astern to clear. At a quarter-past five the Agamemnon slipped her cable and backed astern, the Rodney being aground just ahead of her. That ship got off, however, shortly afterwards."
But the following letter from Admiral Sir Edmund. Lyons to Captain Graham, written two days after the action, is conclusive. Quoting again from the `Life of Lord Lyons,' I find:
MY DEAR GRAHAM,-The more I think of the noble bearing of the Rodney when she came down to succour the
A LETTER FROM SIR EDMUND LYONS.
Agamemnon and the Sanspareil, the evening before last, the more I admire it, and the more I feel obliged to you and the fine fellows under your command, and I am very anxious you should do yourself, and them, justice in the letter you write to report that the ship touched the ground. That you will give a plain statement of facts, and that that statement of facts will reflect honour upon all of you, are two things quite certain; but you must take care that you do not write as if you were defending yourself against a presumed mistake or error of judgment, when in truth all was honourable to your professional knowledge and pluck.
Lookers-on generally see things in the ensemble better than those actually engaged, and what appears to me to have been the case was simply as follows: You came down to the succour of the Agamemnon and Sanspareil, which ships were sorely pressed by the four batteries with which they had been engaged for more than three hours. You gallantly steered so as to be between them both, and take the fire from them; but at the critical moment the Sanspareil forged ahead, and you, in order not to get on board her, and at the same time determined not to swerve from your resolution of supporting us by getting as near to the large battery as possible, backed astern, and ranged past, outside of the Agamemnon obliquely, and when the Rodney's bow was parallel with the Agamemnon's bow, you very judiciously, both as to time and place, let go your anchor; but as the ship swung with her stern a few yards nearer the forts than the Agamemnon, she tailed on the ground.
The Agamemnon, quite unaware of your being aground, but finding you close athwart her hawse, the jib-guys touching, and hampered with the steamer alongside of you, a steamer - the Spiteful, I believe - that seemed to be doing her work admirably, apprehending the two ships might fall on board of each other, and get on shore together (for the Agamemnon had only two feet of water under her keel all day), slipped her bower and steamed astern out of your way. It was getting dusk, and I made a sweep to get another lick at the two batteries that had been cutting me up all day. I saw no
THE BOMBARDMENT OF SEBASTOPOL.
more than a signal from you that you wanted a steamer, which I repeated to two or three close to me.
But though I did not see what occurred on board the Rodney after I hauled astern of her, I know that nothing could be more honourable and creditable to all on board than the measures taken to extricate her from the perilous position in which she was. Nothing could be finer than the way in which the men at the after-quarters kept up a strong fire upon the large battery within 800 yards of you, whilst those at the foremost quarters weighed the anchor, and all this under a tremendous fire from three or four forts.
These things should be known, for they reflect Honour, not only on those immediately concerned, but upon our glorious profession generally. And it is my fear that your modesty may stand in the way of their being known that induces me to write my views of the matter.-
Captain Eardley-Wilmot goes on to say: " This letter explains why the Agamemnon moved away from the Rodney, upon which action of the former, Kinglake, who in 1873 endeavoured without success to get access to Sir Edmund's papers through the second Lord Lyons, in his History makes some ill-natured remarks. The Agamemnon was obliged to haul out, because the Rodney lay over her anchor, and she had to shift her position to prevent being pushed on to the shoal."
It is marvellous that the Rodney escaped with only two men wounded; but it was due to her being so close, for the Russians could not depress their guns sufficiently to hull her frequently.
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