Danubian Principalities - Hostilities Commenced by the Turks and Russians on the Danube - Turkish Firces - Battles of Oltenitza, Citale, Kalafat, Giurgevo - Siege of Silistra
The early Greek writers have given to the Danube the name of Istros. It was called by the Romans Ister; but they learned the name Danubius from the natives on the upper course of the stream. Strabo says that the upper parts of the river, as far as the cataract, are called Danubius; the lower parts as far as the Black Sea, are called Istrus. It is now called by the Hungarians, Duna, and by the Germans, Donau. Its course is said to be 1,770 miles, and the surface drained by it and its tributaries to exceed 300,000 square miles. A strange destiny is that of the Danube ! When the traveller approaches the Black Forest, and enters upon Suabia, the guides inquire whether he would like to see the source of one of the grandest rivers of Europe. They conduct him to the small garden of the palace at Donaneschingen; they show him a miserable stone trough—and say, " Behold the source of the Danube!"
Geographers commonly divide the course of the Danube into three parts. The upper course is through the hilly country, the Bavarian plain, and the mountains which divide that plain from the plains of Hungary. A few miles east of Vienna the first course terminates. The middle course reaches from Vienna to the Demirkaji, and the lower traverses the Wallachian plains. The Wallachian bank seldom rises more than fifty or sixty feet above the level of the sea; whilst at Silistria, Kustchuk, Sistova, and Nicopoli, there are heights of from one to three hundred feet. A little further inland—for example, at Razgrad— there are elevations of nine hundred feet; and further on,before arriving at Shumla, there is a table-land that reaches the elevation of one thousand four hundred and fifty feet.
The Danubian provinces, which derive their name from this great river, are Moldavia, Wallachia, and Bulgaria.
Moldavia is a province of northern Turkey, bounded on the east by the Russian province of Bessarabia, and separated from it by the river Pruth. It contains an area of about 17,000 square miles; its greatest length— that is, from south to north—is 200 miles; its breadth, about 120. The climate, in summer, is remarkably hot; in winter, intensely cold, so that the rivers are frozen and the ground covered with snow for a considerable time. The mineral wealth of the district is said to be great; but, in consequence of the unsettled state in which the country has been for several centuries, little advantage has been taken of it. The soil is exceedingly fertile. Vast herds of horses, cattle, and sheep are fed in the luxuriant meadows. The numerous forests which abound in the locality produce nearly every description of timber. Jassy is the capital of Moldavia, and occupies a position on the banks of the Bachlei, a small stream which, flows into the Pruth.
Wallachia is bounded on the north by the Carpathian mountains, and joins the principality of Moldavia. According to Balbi, the area extends over 28,649 square miles, and the population numbers 970,000. The climate resembles that of Moldavia, but the temperature is somewhat milder. The waters are well supplied with fish. The Wallachian harvests are abundant. The vines grow well. Timber is plentiful. Only one-third of the country is cultivated; but the trade and commerce, which formerly lay almost in the hands of Jews, has lately considerably improved. Bucharest is the capital city. It is pleasantly situated in the eastern part of the country, on a rich and spacious plain. The name signifies " City of enjoyment." It is the great commercial mart of the principality, but possesses no architectural beauty to recommend it.
Bulgaria is an extensive district stretching to the southern banks of the Danube, from the borders of Servia to the Black Sea. It is separated from the plains of Roumelia, by the Balkan chain of mountains. The Balkan is divided into two sections, the greater and the less. The first rears its gigantic peak six thousand feet in height; the latter are not half that altitude.
The lesser Balkan is so remarkable in its form that it has been compared to half a roof. It is distinguished by a single rise, steep and abrupt, from the plains of Koumelia to the top of the ridge, from which there is a beautiful gradual descent to the great levels of Wallachia. This descent is not by one slope, but by a long series of vales of increasing depth, until the last reaches the noble Danube. Several of these valleys are watered by small streams. One, from its impetuosity, its sudden rises and falls, is called the Mad River; and another, from its regularity, the Intelligent River.
There are several passes across the Balkan. The principal are, Trajan's Gate, to the westward, on the route from Widdin and Sophia to Philippopoli and Adrianople, which last town is distant from Constantinople about forty-five leagues; the Chipka pass, on the road from Sistova and Tirnova to Adrianople; and the great pass of Shumla, on the road leading from Rustchuk, or Silistria, by Shumla, to Adrianople. The rocky defiles of the Balkan, and the shores of the Black Sea, present a succession of defensive positions favourable to the manner of fighting common to the Moslems. Sophia is the chief town of Bulgaria.
Jassy, or as it is sometimes called Yassy, occupies a large space of ground, and is a place of much importance. Most of the dwellings in the city are divided from each other by courts, and gardens, and plantations of trees. There is something very imposing in the aspect of the place. The strange architecture of the cathedral and the palace of the Hospodars, the mass of houses so peculiar in their form, the broad open country, and the city backed by the lofty Carpathians, all unite to present a scene never to be forgotten.
Jassv has frequently been taken by the Russians, but has always been restored on the cessation of hostilities. In 1723 it was entirely destroyed by fire; desolated by the pestilence in 1772; burned by the Janissaries in 1822; consumed again in 1827. These two last conflagrations reduced the town almost to a ruin. Before this the population was reckoned 40,000; it had forty-three churches and twenty-six convents.
The countries of Moldavia and Wallachia are closely connected. They are simply separated by political boundary, and were originally the same country. Time out of memory they have been the battle-fields for contending forces, subjected to great devastations by the several hordes which have invaded the Byzantine empire. About the middle of the thirteenth century, a colony, under Bogdan, began to reoccupy the country. The locality was then called by the Turks Bogdania; the name of Moldavia is derived from a river which bears a similar appellation. From this period the rulers of Moldavia, called voyvodes—a Slavonic term signifying military leaders—were often subject to the kings of Hungary, but also frequently asserted their independence, until 1536, when they submitted to the protection of the Turks. This was under the voyvode Roydan, who acted under the advice of his father Stephen, in order to insure those privileges by submission which must have been entirely lost had the country fallen under the Ottoman arms.
To Wallachia the sultan had already granted certain rights and privileges, which were now extended to Moldavia. For this an annual tribute was demanded, and willingly given. The military rulers were now to be elected by the clergy and nobility, and the election to be ratified by the sultan. But the sultan was not to interfere in the government of the principality. Turks were not to settle within its borders. The voyvodes were at liberty to make peace or declare war without reference to the sultan, and exercised the power of life and death over their subjects. No Moldavian or Wallachian could be summoned to Constantinople by the Turkish government, or to any part of the Turkish dominions. The various modifications which these privileges have undergone are too well known to need recapitulation here. And into the circumstances connected with the abolition of the electoral right we shall not enter.
The Wallachians call themselves Rumani, or Romans. The name by which they are more commonly known is said to be derived from wloch, a Servian word signifying shepherd; or, as some have supposed, from Wolschi, a Turkish nation living north of the Danube, and in Russia. Others, again, derive the name from the Slavonic Wlosh, which, among the Poles, the Servians, and other Slavonic nations, still signifies an Italian, or a Roman, and seems to be the same as the German Wiilsh.
The struggle betwixt the Turkish and Russian troops on the Danube in 1853-4 will always redound to the honour and glory of the former; for their untiring efforts amidst dangers and difficulties won them the praise and admiration of all persons acquainted with military tactics. They indubitably proved to Gortchakoff and his troops that they had no contemptible foe to contend with.
On opening the campaign, the leaders of the opposing forces issued proclamations, in the names of their sovereigns, to the inhabitants of the Principalities, stating the reasons why each was taking the step that brought them into the country. Of course these documents contradicted each other—the one stating that to be black, which the other declared to be white—but then such anomalies are to be expected in declarations and counter-declarations of war.
The number of the Ottoman forces at the time Omar Pacha took the field was calculated as follows,—about 120,000 in Bulgaria, betwixt the Balkan and the Danube ; 15,000 in Bosnia and the north-western provinces of the empire; 6,000 on the Servian frontier; 50,000 in Roumelia, around Adrianople; and from 80,000 to 100,000 in Asia—making in the whole about 250,000. There was a bustling active military spirit at work, at the time, and measures were adopted to embody 50,000 of the redif to be stationed around Constantinople, and other chosen places. The enthusiasm was very high in Constantinople, and the horses requisite for the redif cavalry were supplied in one day. The men also came forward in a prompt and cheerful manner, willing to fight for Islam and the sultan. Patriotic gifts were poured in from all quarters, consisting of jewels, money, horses, houses, and lands. Similar offerings, it is said, were made by the Russians in aid of the opposite cause.
The dress of the Turkish soldier, since it was remodelled on the French system, has become more easy and simple. It consists of blue trowsers; a single-breasted jacket of coarse cloth; a red front to the collar, and red edges to the cuffs; and white cross-belts. The Bashi-Bazouks are a wild lawless tribe, and any attempt to remodel their costume proved abortive; they appear in whatever kind of dress suits their fancy.
We must attribute in a great measure, the success of the Ottoman forces, which we are now about to narrate, to the skill and strategy of Omar Pacha. He was thoroughly acquainted with the country in which he was about to commence operations; therefore he arranged his plans in accordance with the knowledge he possessed; and well did the result justify him in the anticipations which he entertained of the success of thoso plans. We now proceed to notice the more exciting and active operations of the belligerents.
In the periods between 1853 and July, 1854, the events of this campaign became separated into two characteristics. In the one the Turks crossed the Danube from Bulgaria into Wallachia, and attacked the Russians; in the other, the Russians crossed from Wallachia and Moldavia into Bulgaria, and attacked the Turks. In the one, the actions have become familiar by the names of Kalafat, Citale, Oltenitza, and Giurgevo; in the other the operations are connected with Silistria, and with the Dobrudscha, towns of Basso va, Kustendji, Hirsova, Matchin, Isakcha, and Tuttcha.
The Turks crossed the Danube at four widely separated points, in each case entering Wallachia from Bulgaria. One of these transits was from Widdiu to Kalafat; another from Rustchuk to Giurgevo: a third from Turtukai to Oltenitza; and a fourth from Silistria to Kalarasch; and the period during which these movements were made, was from 28th October to 4th November. Three out of four of these proceedings led to important results; the fourth, the crossing from Silistria to Kalarasch, was of non-effect; for the Russians drove back the Turks, and afterwards laid siege to Silistria. The most western of these movements was from Widdin to Kalafat. Widdin is a town of about 30,000 inhabitants, and has for centuries past been a strong post in all the contests between the Turks and their northern neighbours. Viewed from a distance, the mosques and minarets tower rather oddly above the fortified walls.
Kalafat, the Wallachian town opposite Widdin, is a smaller place; but, nevertheless, it has 2000 houses, a town-hall, a custom-house, three churches, a barrack for cavalry, a quarantine station, and fortified walls.
There are two high hills outside the town, about a mile asunder, which have furnished the means of supplying Kalafat with strong fortifications. In the campaign of 1828, these hills were occupied by the Russians ; but in that of 1853—4, the Turks had this advantage.
It was from Widdin to Kalafat that a Turkish force about 12,000 strong, crossed the Danube on the 28th of October, occupying both Kalafat itself and a small island near the Wallachian shore. The Russian force situated in this part, being too weak to resist the Turks retired to a position at Slatina, a town on the Aluta. The Turks did not attempt much in the way of pursuit, but proceeded at once to fortify Kalafat and its vicinity. They raised redoubts of great strength and extent; some of them on the two lofty hills, and completely commanding all approach to the Danube in that direction. The little island, too, was defended by strong earthen intrenchments, mounted with large guns. Taken in connection with Widdin and its defences, the two towns and the interlying island formed one stronghold, well fortified, supplied with 250 heavy guns, and occupied by a large army.
The Russians were not prepared for such a vigorous attack in this one spot. In the first place, they did not expect that Omar Pacha would have so promptly kept his word, to attack Gortchakoff unless he withdrew from the Principalities within fifteen days; and in the next place, they had 400 miles of the Danube to look to, and could not spare a large force at each important place.
While these events were occurring at Kalafat, stirring scenes were presented at Oltenitza,two hundred and fifty miles lower down the river. The Turkish forces that crossed the Danube from Turtukai to Oltenitza have been numbered by the Turks at about 12,000. A corps had been for some days concentrated near Turtukai, concealed from the enemy partly by bushes and partly by a fog. An island stands in the middle of the Danube, exactly between Turtukai and Oltenitza, and this island played an important part in the tactics of the battle. On the 2nd of November, the Turks began to make the passage, favoured by the interposition of the island; and by the morning of the 3rd 6000 men were on the island, 6000 had crossed over to the northern or Wallachian shore of the Danube, and 2000 were in barges ready to cross. During the night, the rest crossed; and the morning of the 4th found the Turks ready to meet the Russians, who were placed in pickets along the shore. The picket of Oltenitza, with a reserve behind the town, amounted to about 6000 men; but other reinforcements came up in the course of the day. The engagement commenced at dawn of day, and lasted many hours. The Russians, inferior to their opponents in number, fought well; and the contest was severe on both sides. About noon, the Turks suffered a temporary check; but when night closed in, they remained masters of the shore, while the Russians retired behind Oltenitza.
Omar Pacha, in transmitting a detailed account of the battle at Oltenitza to the Turkish government states the various plans he adopted before the battle. He then alludes to the success attending those plans; and makes honourable mention of those who particularly distinguished themselves for bravery among his troops. And concludes by announcing the utter discomfiture of the enemy's efforts;—the flight of the Russians, and the severe loss they sustained. Above 1,000 Russians were left dead on the field, and upwards of 2,000 wounded. The loss of the Turks amounted to 106.
The Russians state that their numbers before the battle were 9,000 to 18,000 Turkish troops. But this statement is widely different from the Turkish account; and it is difficult to decide the matter correctly. The Russians were commanded by Dannenberg and Perloff. The Turks were prevented from pursuing the Russians, by heavy rains, from Oltenitza to Bucharest; and they recrossed the Danube about the middle of November.
Nothing of any particular importance occurred betwixt the contending parties during the last few weeks of the year 1853.
We must now direct the attention of the reader to the splendid affair which ushered in the year 1854 near to Kalafat, an accomplishment which buoyed up the spirits of the Turks, whilst it depressed and cast down those of the Russians. It was called the battle of Citale; but it was in reality a number of struggles, lasting several days. The Russians, in the months of November and December, gradually strengthened themselves in Lesser Wallachia. General Aurep received orders to advance upon Kalafat from Krajova; and he endeavoured to render the roads passable for artillery between Slatina, Karacal, Krajova, and Kalafat. At the close of December, the Turks had succeeded in compelling the Russian General Fischbach to quit Krajova, and to retire behind Aluta. About the first day of the New Year, three Russian columns advanced through Karacal, one along Aluta, and a corps of more than 20,000 men towards Kalafat.
Prince Gortchakoff was no doubt very much chagrined at the Turks being at Kalafat; he sent large reinforcements from Upper Wallachia to Krajova —a town about sixty miles north-east of Kalafat with orders to drive the Turks back across the Danube by a resolute attack on their position at Kalafat. The account of this brilliant affair is pourtrayed in the following vivid manner:—
" The Russians succeeded in getting round on the flank of the Turkish intrenchments, and flung up redoubts at Citale, a village rather higher up the Danube than Kalafat. The intelligence of the intended attack had reached the Turks; and Achmet Pacha, the general in command, determined to anticipate it. On the 6th January, he seat a strong corps from Kalafat to Maglovet, a little village on the way to Citale, where they bivouacked during that night. Next morning they were under arms. As yet, however, not a glimpse had been seen of the Russians. Not a sound was to be heard in the village; not a sentinel was even visible; and it was conjectured that the village might have been evacuated. Six companies of chasseurs, under the command of Tefnik Bey, Omar Pacha's nephew, were sent up the hill to begin the attack, and advanced, firing as skirmishers, but without bringing any response. They were just in the act of entering, when a single cannon-shot, followed closely by a whole broadside, revealed the presence of the enemy, who now made their appearance, and seemed disposed to contest the ground on the outside. Some sharp firing ensued, but the chasseurs were pushed on, and close behind followed the four battalions of infantry under Ismail Pacha, with a battery of field-artillery, which opened a heavy fire with great effect. The Russian gunnery was bad; few of the balls hit, and the shells nearly all burst in the air, and fell harmless. Ere the Turks had fired a dozen shots, the enemy retired into the village, sheltering themselves in and around the houses, and opened a deadly fire of musketry upon the advancing column. Ismail Pacha's appearance at this moment struck all who saw him with admiration, as it spoke volumes for his daring hardihood as a soldier, though it said but little for his prudence as a general. He rode into the village at the head of his troops, sword in hand, mounted on a white horse, his orders glittering on his breast, and wearing a white pelisse—the mark for a thousand bullets at every step. But he seemed to bear a charmed life; for though two horses were killed under him, it was long before he was wounded, and then only slightly in the arm.
" The battle soon began to rage fearfully. As the troops rushed on, the numbers falling increased on both sides. A rush was made on the houses with fixed bayonets, and the conflict was then indeed terrific. The Russians contested every wall and room with enduring courage, and were literally massacred en masse. No quarter was asked or given. The Turks, enraged by the resistance, put to death all who fell in their way; nor were the Russians slow to follow the example. The officers were seen, in several instances, pulling down their caps tightly on their foreheads, and rushing furiously on death, scorning to yield. In little more than an hour, the high road and the space round the houses were covered with dead carcases, and the blood ran in streams down the hill. The combat raged in this way for nearly four hours, with heavy loss on both sides. Towards twelve o'clock, every house had been carried at the point of the bayonet, and the enemy fell back upon the road, but found that they were intercepted by the Turkish cavalry, two regiments of which had advanced along the ravine on the right, and placed themselves in the rear of the village. Being thus cut off, the Russians had no resource but to throw themselves into the redoubt, carrying their artillery with them. This they were enabled to accomplish in safety.
" Critical was the hour of noon for both armies. Another half hour would most likely, have seen the destruction of the remaining Russians, if the attention of the combatants had not been drawn by events of weightier importance in another part of the field. News of the dangerous position of the Russians had been transmitted to various villages wherein troops were stationed, and a formidable reinforcement appeared about half-past twelve. The Turkish reserve prepared to receive those fresh troops, who numbered 10,000 men—consisting of nine battalions of infantry, a regiment of Uhlans, and a regiment of the Paskevitch Hussars, with sixteen guns. Four battalions advanced in line, three in column as a second line, and two as a reserve; the cavalry and artillery were placed on the flanks, and their march was directed towards the Kalafat road. The object was to place the Turks between two fires, and cut off their means of communication. With five Turkish battalions as reserve, Achmet Pacha prepared to receive these new foes. On the side of the hill below the ravine on the right was a sort of old fence, inclosing a square space of ground ; and the Turkish troops were deployed to the right, above this inclosure, three battalions in line, and two in reserve, the right wing behind it, and the left extending into the plain; on the right flank was placed a battery of four 12-pounders, and on the left, one of six field-pieces. The cavalry at the village was recalled, and in conjunction with those of the reserve, was stationed on the left, one regiment a little advance of the rest. The time occupied in making these arrangements was one of painful suspense; and when all was ready, the inferiority of the Turkish force was very evident; but they had no other resource than to defend their position as bravely as they could.
" Now arrived the moment of conflict. 'The advance of the Russians was an imposing sight. Nothing could exceed the steadiness of their march; every line and column stepped in time as one man, and all the distances were as accurately observed as if they were parading at St. Petersburg. As they began to get nearer, three or four officers rode put in front to reconnoitre the ground, and then hastily retired. Immediately afterwards, the two battalions of reserve changed their position, and advanced with two pieces of artillery towards the ravine on the right of the Turks. The Russian artillery appears to have been badly served, whereas the Turkish, under Hadji Mustapha, was worked with skill and effect. Onward, nevertheless, came the dense mass of Russian infantry ; and a slight confusion having occurred among the Turks, occasioned by the bursting of a gun, the Russians prepared to charge with the bayonet. The Turkish batteries now opened a tremendous shower of grape-shot, every shot telling with fearful effect upon the close ranks of the column, sweeping them away one after the other, as fast as they were filled up. The infantry, at the same time, becoming impatient, the order was given to advance, and the whole line came forward—the right wing entering the enclosure—and fired and loaded as they marched, shouting their national war-cry. The Russians for some minutes bore up bravely; but at last the head of the column began to waver. In vain the officers urged the men to move onwards. Broken by the iron shower from the batteries, and the close and raking fire of the musketry, they fell into disorder, and turned and fled pell-mell across the plain, casting aside everything—muskets, and even musical-instruments. The Turkish cavalry neglected, or were unable, to pursue; and the Russians were thereby enabled to carry off their artillery. Although the Russians had thus been defeated both in the village and the plain—for, in effect, there were two distinct battles—yet the Turkish general did not think it desirable to renew the attack on the Russian reboubt at Citale: he retired with all his forces to Kalafat, which he retained, while the Russians voluntarily abandoned Citale, and the whole of the villages in the neighbourhood. The Turkish wounded were brought into Kalafat for the night, and were from thence conveyed across the Danube to Widdin."
The Turks must evidently have worked their artillery much better than the Russians. The loss was serious on both sides: that of the Turks amounted to 338 dead, and 700 wounded; whilst the Russians numbered 1,500 dead, and an untold number wounded. Prince Gortchakoff and General Aurep both incurred the czar's displeasure for their want of success at Citale ; as did also Dannenberg, for his failure at Oltenitza.
The Russians now lay on their arms for awhile, and employed the time in strengthening their posts. Prince Gortchakoff proceeded on a tour of inspection and examination to Krajova; and made such arrangements as he thought most desirable. Meanwhile reinforcements continued to arrive, until the Russian force in Lesser Wallachia amounted to about 40,000. About the beginning of February these troops were concentrated together, awaiting for the time when they might make a second and more determined attack upon the Turks at Kalafat; while their antagonists, strengthened by more troops from Widdin, waited undauntedly to receive them.
But we must leave these contending forces for a time, and attend to transactions taking place in Upper Wallachia, after the victory of Oltenitza, early in November. Of the four passages of the Danube taken by the Turks, when they entered the Principalities in October and November, two were at Rustchuk and Turtukai. A small body of Turks crossed from Rustchuk to Giurgevo, between which two places is an inland in the Danube; and they took possession of this island, and continued to hold it for some time in spite of all the efforts of the Russians to dislodge them. Rustchuk, which continued for many months to be regarded by each of the belligerents as an important position, is a large town of 60,000 inhabitants, with a considerable trade.
The transactions which took place during the last two months of 1853, and the first two of 1854, in this part, may be designated as a succession of almost uninterrupted daring and sudden attacks—a small force dashing across the river, inflicting some mischief on the enemy, and then returning. The Russians could make no permanent lodgment on the south bank, nor the Turks on the north.
The Russian plans and the Russian commanders underwent many alterations during these four or five months. The want of success brought some of the generals into disgrace; and the presence of the Allied fleets interfered with any operations in the direction of Varna. When Osten-Sacken's corps entered the Principalities, two camps of cavalry were established near Kremanzoff and Charcov, intrenchments were formed near Bucharest, and the general operations of the campaign were conducted from this town as a central depot. About the middle of January, there were 18,000 Russians near Giurgevo under General Simonoff, and 6000 at Kalarasch under General Aurep, watching the Turks at the opposite towns of Rustchuk and Silistria. By the end of January it was announced that the army of occupation would be augmented to 200,000 men, thus distributed—30,000, at Radovan, to keep the Turks in check at Kalafat; 40,000 at Bucharest and other posts in Wallachia and Moldavia; 40,000 to cross the Danube into the Dobrudscha; 60,000 to cross at Giurgevo, 20,000 to cross at Oltenitza, and 20,000 to cross at Turnu or Turna. There can be no doubt that many or all of these measures were planned; but the activity and frequent successes of the Turks greatly interfered with the prosecution of the Russian schemes. It is difficult, too, between the names of Paskevitch, Gortchakoff, Osten-Sacken, Luders, and Schilders, to discover who was the real leader at any particular time; for changes were frequent.
If reliance is to be placed on the statements made, the actual forces engaged on the side of the Russians in these encounters, would appear to have been about 130,000 troops sent across the Pruth at the close of January; of these 35,000 were cut down by the sword, cold, sickness, and desertion—leaving 95,000 in the Principalities at that time.
It appears to have been the intention of the Russian generals, when the severities ot winter had ceased, to begin so determined an attack on Kalafat as to ensure its capture. It was said the Emperor Nicholas had commanded it to be taken, "cost what it might;" for by its capture he hoped to penetrate into the western part of Bulgaria, and thence cross one of the western passes of the Balkan. This hope, however, was doomed to be disappointed. There were certainly frequent skirmishes between the Russians and Turks near to Kalafat, yet no decided advantage resulted from them.
Thus February, March, April, and May, passed away without anything remarkable occurring; and during these months the command of the Russian troops was changed and re-changed several times—first Gortchakoff, then Schilders, and then Liprandi. Two circumstances embarrassed and perplexed the Russians in Lesser Wallachia, as summer drew on—the dogged resistance of the Turks at Silistria,—which will be presently noticed: and the proposition of Austria to hold the Principalities for the Turks against the Russians.
When midsummer brought about the unexpected failure of the Russians at Silistria, matters became serious to Russia. Bulgaria was no longer a place for the czar's troops; the eyes of the generals began to turn occasionally to their line of retreat towards the Pruth —having to take into account both the Turks and the Austrians. It was at this time that the Turks crossed the Danube, and fought the battle of Giurgevo. Relieved from all fear for Silistria—the Russians being driven from that place—they perceived that the time for an advance was come; and notwithstanding the departure of the Turkish general, in some small measure from the instructions given him by Omar Pacha, yet a series of operations commenced which led to ultimate success.
The battle of Giurgevo, ably contested and sanguinary, may be considered as the closing serious conflict between the Turks and the Russians in the Danubian campaign; and it showed that the Turks were equal to their adversaries in bravery and courage. In the middle of the Danube, between Rustchuk and Giurgevo is a narrow island, about two miles in length. This island is 900 yards from the Bulgarian side, but is separated from the Wallachian by a very narrow channel only. There is a shallow pool along the centre of the island, and much sedge and marshy weed is in other parts. This island was one of the first places fortified by the Russians when they arrived at the Danube in the autumn of 1853; and it was destined to be the last scene of conflict, for the engagement took place on the island, as well as the village of Giurgevo. There were on this occasion many English officers in the Turkish army.
When the siege of Silistria seemed to be ending disastrously for the Russians, Hussein Pacha, Turkish commander at Rustchuk, resolved to make a dash at the island, and, through it, at Giurgevo. He imagined the Russians were in retreat, and determined to pursue them without previously consulting Omar Pacha; he was wrong in his belief, and his determination led him into difficulties which taxed his courage and skill. Among the officers under his command were General Cannon—under the Oriental name of Behram Pacha—Lieutenant Burke of the Royal Engineers, Lieutenant Meynell of the 75th, Captain Arnold of the Bombay Engineers, and Colonel Ogleby— all of whom took a sort of voluntary honorary share in the proceedings. These English officers, in fact, managed the expedition, under the orders of Hussein Pacha. At about four o'clock in the morning on the 7th of July, four boats filled with 350 men passed over from Rustchuk to the island: while a steamer landed 200 men rather higher up—the one party commanded by General Cannon, the other by Colonel Ogleby. The Russian pickets retired hastily; but soon afterwards a body of riflemen appeared, and fired at the Turks from among the sedge and brushwood. The Turkish riflemen replied, and kept up a sharp fire. Russian infantry, however, now began to advance in great force; and General Cannon recrossed to Rustchuk, to announce to Hussein Pacha that he must either have reinforcements or withdraw his troops. The two small bodies of Turks had by this time joined, under Colonel Ogleby, and were driven back to the very edge of the island, bravely bearing up against formidable numbers. Reinforcements now arrived from Rustchuk, until Ogleby found himself at length at the head of 5000 men; while the Russians were, in like manner, reinforced from the Giurgevo side. For ten hours continuously did the struggle last, until nightfall put an end to it. Busily did the Turks occupy themselves during the night, throwing up intrenchments, and preparing for a renewal of warm work on the morrow; but when daylight arrived, they were surprised to find that the Russians had retreated during the night, and were at that moment passing out of the village of Slobodsa, on the Wallachian side. The Turks immediately advanced, and occupied Giurgevo. The loss was severe; 300 killed and 600 wounded on the side of the Turks; and a much larger, but unknown number, on the side of the Russians. The floating of dead bodies down the Danube conveyed to Silistria the first news of the engagement. Soon after this, a corps of engineers laid down a bridge from the island to the Wallachian shore, and Omar Pacha passed the Danube with an army of 45,000 men.
The battle of Giurgevo was very disastrous to the English officers engaged. Lieutenant Burke, Lieutenant Meynell, and Captain Arnold crossed to the island early in the day, with a few hundred men each; but, through want of sufficient concert, they landed at three different points, and were never able to assist each other. Burke and his party were fiercely attacked by the Russians immediately on landing; they were all, after a long struggle, either bayoneted or driven into the river; and Burke himself, sharing manfully the dangers with those under him, fell with two rifle-balls and thirty bayonet wounds. Meynell experienced almost exactly the same fate as Burke, at a different part of the island-shore. Arnold had at first a gleam of success: he advanced against one of the Russian batteries, and drove them out of the intrenchment; but a superior force came against him, and the bayonet and the river put an end to his corps as to the other two. Not only were these three unfortunate small bodies of troops separated from each other, but each and all were far distant from the main body under Colonel Ogleby. The bodies of Arnold and Meynell were never found. Burke's body was found, and was interred in a simple way—affecting from its very simplicity. His loss was greatly regretted: for he was not only a skilful officer, but it was remembered that he had strongly objected to Hussein Pacha's attack, as being in its character injudicious; and his loss, under such circumstances, was all the more to be lamented. He had just rendered Omar Pacha service in the defence of Silistria; and was about to depart for the scene of operations on the Circassian shores of the Black Sea, when his career was thus suddenly ended.
After the contest at and near Giurgevo, some of the Russians retreated to Frateschti, some to Kalugereni, and some to a position still nearer Bucharest. The Turks crossed the Danube at two other points, a few miles below Rustchuck, nearly at the time when the attack upon the island took place; and there were, in effect, three battles in progress at once—one on the island, and two between the Danube and Bucharest. The Russian generals were unfortunate in these encounters; Pagoff and Beboutoff were both wounded; while General Aurep, disgraced by the czar for his want of success, committed suicide. The Turkish Generals, Iskender Bey, Halim Pacha, and Said Pacha, had various and frequent advantages over their antagonists of the Russian army. The two leaders were in near vicinity; and in proportion as Omar Pacha advanced into Wallachia, so did Prince Gortchakoff retire. The latter gathered his scattered forces from various directions, and posted them, to the number of 60,000, behind the river Arjish, in a position to command the roads from Giurgevo to Bucharest. These busy events in and around Giurgevo occurred during the first two weeks of July.
During the winter and spring, while the Turks were making determined attacks on the Wallachian side of the Danube, and gaining possession of positions from whence they could not he dislodged, the Russians were making attacks on the Bulgarian side, which there placed the Turks on the defensive. These attacks were nearly all made in the Dobrudscha, near the mouth of the Danube; and at Silistria, which sustained a formidable siege.
The operations in the Dobrudscha were not of any great importance; the Turkish troops energetically endeavoured to contest several points with their enemies, but the Russians were too powerful in numbers, and succeeded in possessing Tultcha, Matchin, and Isakcha; also Hirsava, and Czernavoda, near the Rassova end of Trajan's Wall. These advantages rendered the Russians in a great measure masters of the Dobrudscha; "but it was not without heavy losses that they gained their successes. But worse were to follow ; for the Turks prevented the Russians from advancing southward out of the Dobrudscha—thus shutting them up for two months in a dismal, marshy, and unwholesome district, with a broad river behind them, an active enemy in front of them, a hostile fleet on the east, and a discontented peasantry around them. So completely was the Russian army locked up, as it were, in the Dobrudscha, that it contributed little during the remainder of the campaign, to the furtherance of the czar's darling objects.
The cruelties practised by some portions of the Russian army towards the peasantry in the Dobrudscha, were the cause of much hatred and animosity being manifested by the latter to the Russian troops; and frequent bloodshed was the consequence.
We will now endeavour to give the details of the siege of Silistria—the most distinguished event which took place in the Danubian campaign.
Silistria is perhaps the most important town possessed by Turkey on the banks of the Danube. It is doubtful whether in a military sense it is equalled by Widdin. The Danube is extremely broad at Silistria. The town contains about 20,000 inhabitants. The Russians held it for some time as a pledge for the fulfilment of the provisions of the Treaty of Adrianople, and a large Greek church and convent were commenced during that period. The town is almost semi-circular in form, with five bastions on the river-side, and seven landward. All the scarps and counter-scarps are of solid masonry. The main strength of the place consists in a series of detached forts, commanding the whole enceinte of the town. One of these forts, called Abdul-Medjid, after the name of the sultan, is on an eminence at the back of Silistria, and is flanked on the right and left by two others—the three enclosing a sort of oval shape. The positions of these forts have direct relation to the bastions of the town; and most of these great defensive works were constructed by the Turks during the last six months of 1853—so important is Silistria deemed by them in a time of war. The fortifications were planned by Colonel Gutskavskai, a Polish officer. The chief defences however, in the great struggle, were earthworks, constructed eastward of the town.
Both the Russians and the Turks were fully aware of the stratagetical importance of Silistria. If that place was taken, the Turks lost at once one angle of the triangle which it forms with Rustchuk and Shumla; and they would be in danger of losing any troops which they might have in the Dobrudscha, which might thus be cut off. And the Russians, braining Silistria, would possess a tete de pont for operations on Shumla and Varna, in the direction of the Balkan. Although the Russians found the conquest of Silistria practicable in 1828-9, yet, in 1854, they found their antagonists of a different character.
About the 14th of April the Russians commenced the bombardment of Silistria. The cannonading was continued for almost a fortnight, day and night, during which time a great many balls and shells were thrown into the town. Other batteries were constructed, and shot and shell were now poured into Silistria from both the north and south banks of the Danube. Dreadful was the destruction; the Turks were so perseveringly active, so bold and resolute, that every operation by General Schilder was watched and met promptly. The Russian forces were, however, tremendous; besides enormous batteries on the north shore, there were 50,000 troops transported to the south shore; while the Turks could not muster 10,000 altogether. To the east of the town there were some earthworks which the Russians were determined to take; but the Turks were determined they should not take; and the hand-to-hand conflict became terrific.
The Turks continued this dogged resistance for some time, and showed that they were possessed of courage and hardihood, when properly commanded and officered. But notwithstanding all their efforts, their situation was any thing but cheering; surrounded by overwhelming numbers, their spirits began to droop; and they would have drocped more, but for two Englishmen, Captain Butler and Lieutenant Nasmyth, who stopped at Silistria on their way from India. Their blood warmed up at the heroic defence made by the Turks; and, under their direction, the Turks made frequent sorties, and inflicted great loss on the Russians.
By the middle of May, the Russians outside Silistria amounted to 70,000. The fort Abdul-Medjid, or Medjidie-Tabia, was too strong to be attacked until the earthworks were taken; and for three weeks was an incessant bombardment of the Arab Tabia maintained, conducted by Prince Paskevitch in person.
On the 29th of May the Russians made a furious attack on the redoubt near the Stamboul gate. Their approach having been made under the cover of darkness, they penetrated into the works before they were discovered, and a lieutenant of artillery was cut down by a Russian officer who led the attack. But the garrison were soon on the alert; the officer was killed; and, after a furious struggle, the enemy was driven out, suffering severely from the grape and canister fired from the ramparts. A second and third attack were made on the same redoubt before daybreak, with no better success—the Egyptian and Albanian troops who defended that portion of the works driving tbe Russians back with great gallantry, and pursuing them as far as their own batteries. The loss of the Russians in this attack exceeded 2,000, while the defenders lost only 68 killed and 121 wounded, among whom were several officers. The enemy's dead were taken to the batteries of the besiegers by the Turks, under the protection of a white flag. The Russian officers complained of the mutilation to which many of the bodies had been subjected; but this was the work of the barbarous irregulars called Bashi-Bazouks, and was contrary to a special firman of the Sultan. On the night of the 30th the Russians again advanced in force to the walls; but after throwing a shower of shells for an hour they retired. Mussa Pacha, the brave governor of Silistria, was killed by the bursting of a shell near him on the 2nd of June, just as he had informed the messenger who brought him the order of Medijidie from the Sultan, as the reward of his faithful services, that he wished to receive the decoration without any pomp or ceremony. He was an active, intelligent, and zealous officer, and his death was a great loss to the Turkish cause. He was succeeded by Hussein Pacha, who had previously commanded at the works which had been attacked and so gallantly defended on the 28th and 29th of May. The enemy had at this time sunk a mine beneath the fort: but it was fired so clumsily that, instead of blowing up the works, it exploded backwards, destroying a great number of the Russian storming, party, who were ready to rush forward. During the month of June the fortifications were several times assailed by the Russian infantry and artillery in great force, but in every instance they were repulsed with great loss, and at length grew so dispirited that it was a work of difficulty with the officers to get their men to march against the walls. Even the pictures of the saints, borne by the priests, failed to stimulate that religious enthusiasm upon which the Czar had so much relied for success in this war. But things were not much better in Silistria; for the garrison had grown dispirited, the Arnauts clamoured for arrears of pay, and the Prussian officer of engineers who had conducted the defence advised Hussein Pacha to capitulate. The only chance of avoiding that alternative seemed to be in the arrival of reinforcements, which would have enabled them to sally forth and drive the Russians from before the town. But Omar Pacha was detained at Shumla by the presence of the enemy in the Dobrudscha, and no reinforcements came. Fortunately, the Russians were themselves so dispirited with the protracted operations, their successive defeats, and the presence of sickness in the camp, that they raised the siege during the night of the 23rd ; and when the sun rose the next morning not a Russian could be seen. Troops of light cavalry were sent out to scour the country, and the infantry issued forth to level the trenches. A special messenger was sent off to Shumla with the intelligence, and the news reached Lord Raglan's quarters the same evening. A hasty council of war was held, and the result of their deliberations was that Lord Burgbersh started at eleven o'clock at night for Devna, with orders for the Earl of Cardigan to take a portion of the cavalry under his command and scour the country in search of the Russians; for it was not known at that time in what direction they had marched. He reached the English camp at two o'clock next morning, and before four the 8th Hussar and 17th Lancers were in pursuit. The Russians had crossed the Danube, and no encounter took place. General Paskevitch, notwithstanding his great age and his long and valuable services to his government, was ordered by the czar to retire to his estates in Podolia, for not having succeeded in capturing Silistria.
The abandonment of the siege was announced by Omar Pacha in nearly the following terms:—"You know that there were before Silistria 80,000 Russians, who were continually attacking the town night and day. In spite of their efforts during forty days they were not able to make themselves masters of any point. You also know that I had assembled all our forces before Shumla, and that I was about to march to the assistance of Silistria. Six regiments of cavalry and three batteries had already left Shumla for that destination. The Russians, having become acquainted with this movement, retreated precipitately upon the left bank with all their artillery. During the forty days on which the investment of the place continued, the Russians had 25,000 men killed." Other accounts represent the Russian loss as somewhat less, but there can be no doubt, owing to the protracted and sanguinary nature of the struggle, that it has been very great. The loss of the Turks is estimated at from 3,000 to 4,000, and that of the enemy must have been at least four times as great.
Captain Butler, the young English officer before mentioned, fell a sacrifice to his voluntary aid in the Turkish cause during the siege. While making a reconnoissance of the enemy's works, in order to a sortie, he was struck in the forehead by a ball; and although no serious effects were apprehended, he sunk eight days afterward.
Omar Pacha wrote to Lord Raglan, eulogizing the conduct of the young officer, and expressing his deep and heartfelt regret for the loss of such a devoted friend.
It is asserted that the Turkish commander was more affected by the death of Captain Butler than by any other event that took place during the campaign. The young Englishman was followed to the grave, in the Armenian cemetery at Silistria, by officers from every company of the Turkish army.
A correspondent of one of the London newspaper, was permitted by Omar Pacha to visit Silistria directly after the siege. He says: " The street through which we passed was broken every few yards by large holes, five feet deep and three wide, in which were the remnants of Russian shells. The roofs of the houses were all more or less pierced by the passage of these terrible balls, and the party-walls were full of holes. The minarets in many places were pierced into steeples a giorno; but though many were much damaged, none had fallen. Nor had the houses crumbled to the ground under the fire, but stood bravely up under their wounds; it seemed, in truth, as if the edifices of Silistria had partaken of the spirit of its defenders, and had determined, like them, not to fall at any price. It is almost needless to say, that in Silistria no inhabitant had remained—they had all taken refuge in caves scooped out of the earth at the side of the hills, where they lay safely ensconced, suffering no doubt from want of motion, and sometimes from want of food, but safe. The soldiers alone remained in this place, sleeping at their posts by the walls, where they could man them at a moment's notice." It appears there was a spot where, during the siege, the Russians imagined the Turks were hidden in underground passages. " Upon this spot they had thrown thousands of shells. The places where they exploded harmlessly, were marked by little sticks planted there by the Turks; they were willow-wands, which, if they were to grow, would make a small forest. To the right of this favourite spot, no less than 2000 unexploded shells were picked up during the progress of the siege. This may give a faint idea of the warmth, more than tropical, there during several weeks."
Lieutenant Nasmyth—who was promoted to the rank of major by his own government, decorated with the Cross of the Legion of Honour by the French, and with that of the Medijidie by the Turks—commented, with some severity, in a letter in the Times, on the Russian tactics at Silistria. " The Turkish army, he says, " may well talk with pride. Their opponents had an army on the right bank of the Danube, which at one time amounted to 60,000 men. They had 60 guns in position, and threw upwards of 50,000 shot and shell, besides an incalculable quantity of small-arm ammunition. They constructed more than three miles of approaches, and sprang six mines. Yet during forty days, not one inch of ground was gained; they abandoned the siege, leaving the petty field-work against which their principal efforts had been directed, a shapeless masa from the effects of their mines and batteries, but still in possession of its original defenders."
The shores of the Danube became, by the end of July, an uncongenial residence for the Russian troops. Gortchakoff found that his position at Bucharest was untenable; and he therefore prepared to quit, by issuing a proclamation to the inhabitants, telling them that the all-powerful czar had ordered the troops to evacuate their unhealthy quarters on the Danube, for a short time, but they would soon return, punish the barbarous Turks, and deliver the Wallachians from the Ottoman rule. He left the city on the 28th of July; and on the 8th of August the Turks entered it, with colours flying, drums beating and trumpets sounding. The inhabitants of the city welcomed the Turkish troops on their entrance: for they had tasted the bitter fruits of the Muscovite occupation. Hamin Pacha issued a proclamation, which contained sentiments of the purest and noblest morality and charity, and was worthy to be compared with any document of the kind issuing from any Christian power.
Without any previous concurrence of England and France, a Treaty was entered into between Turkey and Austria, agreeing that the Austrian troops should occupy the Principalities, to protect them against Russia, until such time as matters were brought into such a state as that Austrian occupation would be no longer accessary. This Treaty was signed on the 14th of July; and, though it appeared fair on the outside, yet it was much canvassed at the time.
Accordingly, on the 6th of September, the Austrians, under the command of Count Coronini, entered Bucharest. As they came as the friends and allies of Turkey, proceedings were taken to render them a kind of triumphal entry. Omar Pacha, with a Turkish division, and a detachment of Wallaciian militia, went out to meet them: the members of the administration, several boyards or nobles, and a vast concourse of people, were assembled on the occasion; and Count Coronini at the head of his army was conducted into the city. Dervish Pacha, the Ottoman commissioner, issued a proclamation, stating why the Austrian troops were about to occupy the Principalities; assuring the inhabitants that they came as friends, and would conduct themselves as such—paying in a just and equitable manner for everything they needed; and would regard the rights and property of the inhabitants in the strictest manner.
How far the Austrians fulfilled these declarations we will not at present say; but we will venture to assert that the poor Moldo-Wallachians are and have been from time to time treated in a most shameful manner - at one time under the controul of the Moslem sway - then under that of the followers of the Greek church - now that of the believers in the Latin Christianity. Truly, their condition was pitiable.
The Russians re-crossed the Pruth about the middle of September, and entered their own dominions; and thus ended the Danubian campaign—a campaign which reflects great honour on Omar Pacha, and the troops under his command.