War with Russia - Alliance of England, France and Turkey

At the place where the bulk of the British army crossed, the banks of the Alma are generally at the right side, and vary from two and three to six and eight feet in depth to the water; where the French attacked, the banks are generally formed by the unvaried curve of the river on the left band side. A village is approached from the north by a road winding through a plain nearly level till it comes near the village, where the ground dips, so that at the distance of three hundred yards a man on horseback can hardly see the tops of the nearer and more elevated houses, and can only ascertain the position of the stream by the willows and verdure along its banks. At the left or south side of the Alma the ground assumes a very different character - smooth where the bank is deep, and greatly elevated where the shelve of the bank occurs, it recedes for a few yards at a moderate height above the stream, pierced here and there by the course of the winter's torrents, so as to form small ravines, commanded, however, by the heights above. It was on these upper heights, and to the sea, that the Russian army, forty-five thousand strong, besides six or eight thousand cavalry, and at least a hundred pieces of artillery, were posted. A remarkable ridge of mountains, varying in height from 500 to 700 feet, runs along the course of the Alma on the left or south side with the course of the stream, and assuming the form of cliffs when close to the sea. At the top of the ridges, between the gullies, the Russians had erected earthwork batteries, mounted with 321b. and 241b. brass guns, supported by numerous field pieces and howitzers. These guns enfiladed the tops of the ravines parallel to them, or swept them t6 the base, while the whole of the sides up which an enemy, unable to stand the direct fire of the batteries, would be forced to ascend, were filled with masses of skirmishers, armed with an excellent two-grooved rifle, throwing a large solid conical ball with force at 700 and 800 yards, as the French learned to their cost. The principal battery consisted of an earthwork of the form of the two sides of a triangle, with the apex pointed towards the bridge, and the sides covering both sides of the stream, corresponding with the bend of the river below it, at the distance of 1000 yards; while, with a fair elevation, the 32-pounders threw, very often, beyond the houses of the village to the distance of 1400 and 1500 yards. This was constructed on the brow of a hill about 600 feet above the river, but the hill rose behind it for another 50 feet before it dipped away towards the road. The ascent of this hill was enfiladed by the fire of three batteries of earthwork on the right, and by another on the left, and these batteries were equally capable of covering the village, the stream, and the slopes which led up the hill to their position. In the first battery were thirteen 32-pounder brass guns of exquisite workmanship, which only told too well. In the other batteries were some twenty-five gu ns in all.

The force of the British was about 26,000, that of the French about 23,000.

It had not escaped the observation of the allied Commanders that the Russian General had relied so confidently on the natural strength of his position towards the sea where the cliff rose steep and high above the gardens of an adjacent village, that he had neglected to defend this part of his works by masses of troops or by heavy guns. These military defenses were, on the contrary, accumulated on his right and centre. The plan of the battle was therefore formed so as to enable the French, and a Turkish division, in the first instance, to turn the Russian left, and gain the plateau; and, as soon as this operation was accomplished, so as to occupy a portion of the Russian army, the British troops and the French Third Division were to attack the key of the position on the right of the enemy, while the French completed his defeat on the upper ground.

General Bosquet's division crossed the river Alma near the mouth about 11:30; the Turkish battalions crossing at the same time close to the bar, and within musket range of the beach. This movement was unopposed; and, although a crowd of French skirmishers and light-infantry crossed the gardens and brushwood below the hill, which might easily have been defended, not a shot was fired on them, and not a gun seemed to bear on the line of march they followed. It was afterwards ascertained from the Russian prisoners, that Prince Menschikoff had left, this line unguarded, because he regarded it as absolutely impassable even for goats. He did not know the Zouaves. With inconceivable rapidity and agility they swarmed up the cliff, and it was not till they formed on the height, and deployed from be hind a mound there, that the Russian batteries opened upon them. The fire was returned with great spirit, and a smart action ensued, during which General Bosquet's division was engaged for some time almost alone, until General Canrobert came to his support. The Turkish division, which presented a very martial appearance, and was eager to fight, formed part of the army under the command of Marshal St. Arnaud; and some regret was felt by these brave troops that they had no active part assigned to them in the struggle.

While the French troops were scaling the heights, the French steamers ran in as close as they could to the bluff of the shore at the south side of the Alma, and commenced shelling the Russians in splendid style; the shells bursting over the enemy's squares and batteries, and finally driving them from their position on the right, within 3000 yards of the sea. The Russians answered the ships from the heights, but without effect.