War with Russia - Alliance of England, France and Turkey
On the 23d the Allied armies left the Alma and proceeded to cross the Katscha; on the 24th they crossed the Belbec, where it had been intended to effect the landing of the siege materiel with a view to an attack on the north side of Sebastopol. It was found, however, that the enemy had placed a fortified work so as to prevent the vessels and transports from approaching this river; and it was determined to advance at once by a flank march round the east of Sebastopol, to cross the valley of the Tchernaya, and seize Balaklava as the future basis of operations against the south side of the harbor at Sebastopol.
The enemy did not hold Balaklava in any strength. After a few shots the little garrison surrendered, and as Sir E. Lyon's ship, the Agamemnon, reached the mouth of the harbor at the very time that the troops appeared on the heights, the British army was once more in full communication with the fleet.
The march of the French army which followed in the track of the British, was more prolonged and fatiguing. They did not reach the Tchernaya river until the 26th, having passed the previous night at Mackenzie's Farm. It was on this day that the French marshal, at length succumbing to his fatal malady, issued his last order of the day, in which he took leave formally of his troops, and resigned the command into the hands of General Canrobert.
Having swept the enemy from their path by the bloody triumphs of the Alma, the next step of the Allies was to lay siege to Sebastopol.
The bay of Balaklava, which now became the principal base of their operations, is a place admirably suited for the landing of stores and materiel. As a port it is the most perfect of its size in the world. The entrance is between perpendicular cliffs, rising eight hundred feet high on either hand, and is only wide enough to allow the passage of one ship at a time; but once in you find yourself in a land-locked tideless haven, still as a mountain lake, three quarters of a mile in length, by two hundred and fifty yards wide, and nowhere less than six fathoms deep, so that every square foot of its surface is available for ships of the greatest burden.
The bay of Balaklava was instantly adopted as the new base of operations of the British army, and never before did its waters mirror so many tall ships on their bosom.
From fifty to a hundred war-ships and transports were constantly at anchor, landing the siege-guns, stores, and provisions of all kinds. The only access to Balaklava from the land side is at the inner end of the bay, through a breach in the surrounding hills, which gradually opens out into an extensive valley, about three miles long by about two broad; it was in this valley that the serious part of the combat of the 26th October took place. Through this valley runs the road to the Tchernaya and Mackenzie's Farm, by which the Allies advanced to Balaklava, and which on the other side of the Tchernaya enters deep gorges in the mountains. On the side next the sea this valley is bounded by a line of hills stretching from Balaklava to Inkerman, and along the summit of which runs the road to Sebastopol. Another road in the opposite direction conducts to the valley of Baider, the most fertile district of the Crimea.
The port of Balaklava having been found barely large enough fox the landing of the British stores and guns, the French selected as their base of operations the three deep bays lying between Cape Chersonesus and Sebastopol bay. The country between Balaklava and Sebastopol, upon which the Allied army encamped, is a barren hilly steppe, destitute of water, and covered with no better herbage than thistles. The French took up their position next the sea; the British inland, next the Tchernaya. The front of the besieging force extended in a continuous line from the mouth of the Tchernaya to the sea at Strelitska bay, forming nearly a semicircle around Sebastopol, at a distance of about two miles from the enemy's works. The position was found to be close enough, as the Russian guns were found to throw shells to the distance of four thousand yards. A most unfortunate delay took place in landing and bringing up the siege guns and stores of the Allies; a delay which was improved to the utmost by the Russians, who kept large bands of citizens, and even women, as well as the garrison, at work in relays both night and day, in throwing up a vast exterior line of earthen redoubts and entrenchments, and in covering the front of their stone-works with earth.
The force disposable for the defense of Sebastopol was nearly equal in number to the besieging army; and as, from the nature of its position, the place could only be invested upon one side, supplies of all kinds could be conveyed into the town, and the Russian generals could either man the works with their whole forces, or direct incessant attacks against the flank and rear of the allies.
Never did any army ever undertake so vast and perilous an enterprise as that in which the allied commanders found themselves engaged.
Sebastopol is situated at the southern point of the Crimea, which puts out into the Black Sea, and is distant from Odessa, 192 miles; from Varna, 295, and from Constantinople, 343.