War with Russia - Alliance of England, France and Turkey

Next night the British broke ground; but this time the garrison were on the alert, and kept up a very heavy but ineffectual fire. The British, who occupied much higher ground than the French, placed their batteries with great skill. The raised mounds or beds of earth, upon which the guns were placed, were erected precisely along the crest of the various ridges on which the batteries were planted, and, when finished, showed only the muzzle of the guns over the brow of the ridge, so as to present little to the direct fire of the enemy.

The besiegers' batteries were now drawing near completion and the governor of Sebastopol had sent a request to Lord Raglan, that he would spare the inhabitants by not firing upon the civilian part of the city, to which he replied, that he would grant a safe-conduct to such of the inhabitants as were desirous of leaving, but would promise nothing as to his mode of attack, save that the buildings marked by the yellow flag should be respected as hospitals.

Every means was adopted to keep up the spirits of the garrison, and balls even were given every other night.

On the 17th of October the dreadful work began, and no one then present will ever forget that memorable scene. The morning dawned slowly; a thick fog hung over the town, and spread far up the heights. Towards six o'clock the mist began to disperse, and the rich clear October sun every instant made objects more and more visible.

In the Allied lines, all the artillerymen were at their pieces, and as the iron muzzles of the guns became visible through the fog in the now un masked embrasures, a scattering and fast-increasing fire was opened upon them from the Russian lines. Soon the Russian works, crowded with grey figures, could be seen below, with, in rear, the large handsome white houses and dockyards of Sebastopol itself. Slowly, like the drawing back of a huge curtain, the mist moved off seaward, a cool morning breeze sprang up, and the atmosphere became clear and bright. Around were the wide extending lines of the besiegers, sloping down from the elevated ridges held by the British to the low grounds on the coast occupied by the French. Facing them below was the continuous line of Russian intrenchments of earthwork, interspersed with redoubts and stone towers, and loopholed walls, with the line-of-battle ships showing their broadsides in the harbor; and beyond all, the open sea, bearing on its bosom, like a dark belt, the immense armada of the Allied fleet.

At half-past six, the preconcerted signal of three shells went up, one after another, from a French battery, and the next instant the whole Allied batteries opened simultaneously. On the side of the British, seventy-three, and of the French, fifty-three, in all one hundred and twenty-six guns, one-half of which were of the very heaviest calibre, launched their thunders on the side of the Allies; while upwards of two hundred replied in one deafening roar from the Russian lines. Two long lines of belching flame and smoke appeared, and through the space between hurled a shower of shot and shell, while the earth shook with the thunders of the deadly volleys.

Distinctly amidst the din could be heard the immense Lancaster guns, which here, for the first time, gave evidence of their tremendous powers. Their sharp report, heard among the other heavy guns, was like the crack of a rifle among muskets. But the most singular thing was the sound of their ball, which rushed through the air with the noise and regular beat precisely like the passage of a rapid railway train at close distance - a peculiarity which, at first, excited shouts of laughter from the men, who nicknamed it the express-train. The effect of the shot was terrific; from its deafening and peculiar noise, the ball could be distinctly traced by the ear to the spot where it struck, when stone or earth were seen to go down before it.

The first few minutes' firing sufficed to show to each side, what neither had as yet accurately known, the actual strength of its opponents; and it now appeared, that even in the extent of the earthwork batteries thrown up since the siege began, the Russians immensely surpassed their besiegers. Besides their stone forts, and a long line of intrenchments, guns of heavy calibre had been planted on every ridge and height; and as fresh batteries were unmasked one after another, often in places totally unexpected, the Allied generals were completely taken by surprise at the magnitude of the defenses.

Opposite to the French lines, the main strength of the Russians lay in the Flag-staff batteries, erected upon a hill commanding the French works. They consisted of two tiers of intrenchments, each mounting about twenty five guns, the upper of which tier of cannon was unknown to the besiegers until it opened fire; with several large mortars placed on the summit of the hill And on he extreme right of the Russian lines was a ten-gun battery, most commandingly placed, so as to enfilade the French lines. In this quarter the Russians had not only a great advantage in point of position, but also their guns out-numbered those of the French, and it soon became evident that the French were fighting at a disadvantage, and were dreadfully galled in flank by the ten-gun battery. Suddenly, a little after nine o'clock, there came a loud explosion, - a dense cloud of smoke vas seen hanging over one of the French batteries, and the Russians were observed on the parapets of their works cheering vigorously. The flank fire of the ten-gun battery had blown up one of the French magazines, killing or wounding about fifty men, and blowing the earthwork to atoms.