General Todleben's History of the Defence of Sebastopol 1854-5

A Review. By WILLIAM HOWARD RUSSELL. New York: D. Van Nostrand.
IT does not yet appear whether our great civil war will leave behind it materials for debate as acrimonious as that which has gathered round the affair in the Crimea. If General Butler and Admiral Porter live and thrive, there seems a fair chance that it may. In that case it will be interesting to read how General Todleben, in a parallel case, substitutes the Russian bear for the monkey in the fable, pats each combatant on the shoulder, and presents each with a shell, while extracting for himself the oyster.
Mr. Russell’s “ Review ” is rather a paraphrase and a condensation, — the original work of the Russian General being too costly even for the English market. The task of the English editor is done with his usual spirit, and with all the more zest from an evident enjoyment of finding Mr. Kinglake in the wrong. Between his sympathies as a Briton and his sympathies as a literary man there is sometimes a struggle. But we Americans can do more justice to Mr. Russell than in those days of national innocence when we knew not Mackay and Gallenga and Sala ; and it must be admitted that the tone of the present book is manly and impartial.
Kinglake’s description of the Battle of the Alma will always remain as one of the masterpieces of literature in its way ; but it is noticeable that Todleben entirely ignores some of the historian’s most dramatic effects, and also knocks away much of his underpinning by demolishing the reputation of General Kiriakoff, his favorite Russian witness. Kinglake says that Eupatoria was occupied by a small body of English troops, and tells a good story about it : Todleben declares that the Allies occupied it with more than three thousand men and eight field-guns. Kinglake represents Lord Raglan as forcing the French officers, with great difficulty, to disembark the troops at a spot of his own selection : Todleben gives to Canrobert and Martinprey the whole credit of the final choice and of all the arrangements. And so on.
On the side of the Russians, the most interesting points brought out by Todleben are their fearful disadvantage as regarded the armament of the infantry, (these being decimated by the rifles of the Allies long before the Russians were near enough to use their smooth-bores,) and the popular enthusiasm inspired by the war in Russia. “ The Czar was aided by the spontaneous contributions of his people. Great supplies were forwarded by private individuals of all that an army could need.” “ From all parts of the empire persons sent lint, bondages, etc., by post to the army.” These are phrases which bring us back to the daily experience of our own vaster struggle.
As respects the Allies, Todleben uniformly credits the French army with more of every military quality than the English, save personal courage alone. From the commanding general to the lowest private, every technical detail of duty seems to have been better done by the French. At the height of the siege, it became “ a war of sorties ” on the part of the Russians, and Todleben say’s,—“Apropos of those sorties, it is indispensable to make the remark here, that the French guarded their trenches with much more vigilance, and defended them with incomparably more tenacity, than the English. It frequently happened that our volunteers approached the English trenches without being perceived, and without even firing a single shot, and found the soldiers of the guard sitting in the trench in the most perfect security, far from their firelocks, which were stacked in piles. With the French, matters were quite different. They were always on the qui vive, so that it rarely happened we were able to get near them without having been remarked, and without having to receive beforehand a sharp fire of musketry.”
This, however, as Russell remarks, was when the English army was at its lowest condition of neglect; but that simply transfers the indictment to another count. And it is interesting to observe, that Russell’s claim for the English army and Todleben’s claim for the Russian army come at last to about the same point, namely, that the individual soldier is in each case tough and resolute to the last degree. But this is only the beginning of the merits of the French army, which to individual courage superadds all that organization can attain.
As to the poor Turks, they are dismissed with much the same epitaph which might long since have been written for our colored troops, if some of our Department commanders had been suffered to have their way :— “As to the Turks, the Allies despised them, and the English used them as beasts of burden ; in short, they lost three hundred men a day, till they almost perished out, and the remains of their army were sent away.”
In view of the grander issues of our own pending contest, with its vaster scale of munitions and of men, one cannot always feel the due interest in successive pages about battles like “ Little Inkermann,” where the total of Russian killed and wounded comprised twenty-five officers and two hundred and forty-five men. But it is not numbers which make a contest memorable. Even the mere contemplation of the Crimean War had an appreciable influence on the military training of the American people ; and the clear narratives of Todleben, written “ in his usual elaborate engineering way, in which every word is used like a gabion,” form a good sequel to that unconscious instruction.