Kozhukhov’s Account of the Battle of Balaklava

(This is my translation of "Iz Krymskikh Vospominanii o Poslednei Voine" ["Crimean Memoirs of the Last War], published in Russkii Arkhiv, 1869. Vol. 7, pgs. 381-384, 017-026 (2125-2134).) This article was originally unsigned, but in a subsequent contribution to Russkii Arkhiv the author revealed himself as Stefan Kozhukhov, who served in the 12th Artillery Brigade’s 8th Light Battery at the Battle of Balaklava. Albert Seaton used Kozhukhov as a source in his The Crimean War: A Russian Chronicle (1977). Dates are Old Style calendar. – Mark Conrad.)

The northwest corner of the Crimea—not a happy place. Wherever you look is the flat steppe, level, dusty. Nothing to stop your eye. Even the kurgan burial mounds which vary the landscape of the New Russia steppe, if only a little, are only rarely encountered here.

At the time we entered the Crimea, that quarter was an even sadder place, even more lacking in grass. The native villages infrequently encountered on the march were abandoned by their Tartar inhabitants now in revolt. In the villages of Russian settlers, we only found old women and children, and even they met us with uneasy, intimidated eyes. The continuously appearing detachments of cossacks lent an even greater feeling of alienation, as they gave the country a hostile and unfriendly character.

The closer we got to Simferopol, the more expansive became the scenes of military activity. Military detachments were met with more often, and we saw supply trains carrying forage, food, and artillery munitions. Along the sides of the road, in the fields and gardens, troops were bivouacked. Tents and smoking campfires scattered in disorder in these bivouacs made the whole region like a vast military encampment. Often we met large groups returning from Sevastopol. The latter interested us greatly, but their stories about conditions inside Sevastopol were so unbelievable that they did not satisfy us even at a time when we believed everything and thought anything possible and creditable.

We arrived at Sevastopol late in the evening. Here I heard for the first time of the bombardment of 5 October and the death of Kornilov. The next day our battery marched out for Duvanka. But before we reached that place, we received orders to spend the night in Bakchisarai. There was still much time until evening, and I strolled through the town. After viewing the khan’s palace, so celebrated and frequently described, I bought a burka coat of Tartar manufacture, morocco leather shoes, apples, and grapes, and returned to my quarters. There was nothing more to buy except for lambs—Bakchisarai abounds with them, even more so than with burka coats, apples, and morocco slippers.

The next day, i.e. 11 October, at four in the morning, the battery set off further and arrived in Duvanka at noon. Here a non-commissioned officer of the Balaklava Greek Battalion was already waiting to show us the way to Lieutenant General Liprandi’s force deployed around Chorgun.

The march from Duvanka to Chorgun was long and hard. We were not led along roads, but rather all sorts of paths and tracks, along which not only artillery but even infantry had difficulty passing. After going about six miles, we could plainly see the nearness of the enemy, since we came upon the same road where half of Park No. 8 was destroyed after the Battle of the Alma. Pieces of carts, cannonballs, shell fragments, abandoned knapsacks, and soldiers’ coats—all this plainly showed that not long before us one of the war’s noteworthy scenes had played out here. Late at night we stopped on the slope of the MacKenzie Heights, arriving at General Liprandi’s force at two o’clock. The night was dark, the force’s campfires were already put out, and we were all extremely tired. I halted the artillery perfunctorily, lay down under a caisson, and fell into a deep sleep.

The freshness of the October night made me wake up early, and I was not at all tired after no more than three hours of sleep. In the light of the bright early sun, the army looked like a picture. The ground was a bowl, not large, hemmed in on all sides by steep slopes, and though a single infantry regiment with an artillery battery could barely fit comfortably in it, it was filled with an impossibly large number of troops. In this small space at that time were four infantry regiments with four artillery batteries, a rifle battalion, and apparently a cavalry regiment. Everywhere you looked were stacked muskets, caissons, horses, and various groups of soldiers asleep next to extinguished but still smoking campfires.

In wartime, bivouacs wake up early; here activity begins with sunrise. Soon the sleeping groups began to stir, campfires began to put out more smoke, and the woken force again began its routine camp life.

At ten o’clock in the morning, the force commander, General Liprandi, arrived at the bivouac. After greeting the troops and welcoming our battery’s arrival, he turned to the rifle battalion standing behind our battery and said, "Hail, riflemen! Tomorrow, perhaps, it will be time to work! Take care that not a single bullet should miss!"

Everyone knew that troops were concentrating around Chorgun to begin offensive actions from our side, but no one knew for sure exactly when these would begin. General Liprandi’s words answered our guesses, and in a few minutes everyone in the force knew that tomorrow there would be fighting.

Offensive actions were planned to start by occupying the enemy’s forward positions on the Kadikioi Heights, with the intent of threatening enemy communications with Balaklava. However, this aim was not entirely attained, as was subsequently shown, since the Balaklava road passed by the Kadikioi position at a distance much further than a cannon shot.

As soon as it became known in the force that an action was planned for the morrow, crowds of the curious went to the nearby heights to observe the enemy positions with spyglasses. From the Chorgun side those positions appeared almost inaccessible. Four rather large redoubts were built on the highest points commanding the surrounding area. Small bushes covered this whole area, which was more of an advantage to the enemy than to us, since they hindered free movement of artillery. Regarding this position, we reckoned on stubborn resistance and heavy casualties on our side. But the next day proved to be the opposite. The opposition we encountered was far from stubborn, and although our losses were significant, especially in the Azov Regiment, they were not nearly so great as we had expected, and in the event the position itself turned out to be not so inaccessible. Nevertheless, I attribute the ease of seizing this position to General Liprandi’s foresight and energetic preparations and to the fact that the fortifications were defended not by the French or English, but by Turks, who were of course much easier to deal with.

The eve of just about any battle, especially at the beginning of a war when an army is not yet used to dangers, gives rise to much emotion, and this instance of 13 October was no exception. We spent the whole day in the most animated discussions involving extremely varied predictions for the next day’s results. Everyone spoke of difficulties, but no one mentioned failure. I think that this was not because everyone was certain of success, but because before a battle it was somehow not only uncomfortable to speak of defeat, but even to think of it.

In the afternoon the weather changed. A light rain fell, clouds rolled down off the hills, and the clear southern day turned into a dark northern autumn evening.

I wanted to spend this night in more comfort than the one before, so I went off before the others to set up a bed. It was a very simple matter: I raised up a layer of ammunition boxes and spread a Moldavian horse blanket over them. I spread about fifteen pounds of straw over the wet ground. Thus I was set rather comfortably, and lay down, but I could not fall asleep! Thoughts crowded into my head, each one more unwelcome and malevolent than the one before. Meanwhile a light drizzle drummed down on my Moldavian horse blanket. "What if we fail?" I thought. "What if instead of our expected success, tomorrow we are beaten? What terrible consequences would such misfortune bring? Our Sevastopol army, small in numbers, has been beaten at the Alma and lost its boldness. It has waited with feverish impatience for reinforcements, and now we have finally arrived. We have come in order to begin offensive operations, and now all eyes are upon us; everyone expects us to perform great deeds—but what if we do not fulfill those expectations, nor realize those hopes?…"

I have always been of the opinion that the affair of 13 October did not bring us any material advantages. On the contrary, it was even to our detriment regarding further military operations, since the force under General Liprandi was incapable of continuing offensive actions past the Kadikioi Heights. Even if we were successful we would have to halt and await new reinforcements, meanwhile prematurely revealing our intentions to the enemy, pointing out their weak spots and giving them time to fortify these points and correct their mistakes.

In truth, the enemy positions on Sapun Hill opposite the Kadikioi Heights were completely unfortified before 19 October. On the day after we took these heights, we already saw troops starting to dig in on Sapun Hill, while on 24 October, during the Battle of Inkerman, that enemy position already had very significant defenses.

After the fighting on the Kadikioi Heights, rumors went around the army that General Liprandi had advised Prince Menshikov against initiating the affair of 13 October. It was said that he told the commander-in-chief that it was necessary to wait for the arrival of the whole of the 4th Corps, and only then begin energetic offensive operations. I do not know if this was really General Liprandi’s opinion, or if it was a general feeling that was ascribed to him only in consequence of the very natural rule to attribute everything good to people that are popular.

And so General Liprandi’s battle brought no tangible benefits, but nevertheless it was extremely important for the entire Crimean army and greatly influenced the course of the whole campaign. It was not important that we took a position, almost completely wiped out the English cavalry that day, and took away nine guns. What was important was that the success of 13 October revived the army’s depressed spirits, convinced it of its powers of resistance and prepared it for those efforts and sacrifices which the heroic defenders of Sevastopol would endure for eleven months. In this regard, the battle of 13 October was so important that hardly any other event of the whole Crimean War can compare with it, including even the repulse of the assault.

But this importance cannot, it appears, justify Menshikov’s haste. It was not right to begin offensive operations so early; there was no reason nor need for a small force to reveal its intentions prematurely. It was all well and good that we enjoyed success on 13 October, but we could also have been defeated. What would have been the consequences then? A steep decline of morale in the army, a deeply felt sense of our weakness and the enemy’s superiority, and, finally, a firm conviction of our inability to defend ourselves—these would have been the consequences. And everyone would agree that they are more than sufficient to make even an army strong in numbers unable not only to conduct an energetic war, but even to maintain a strong defense.

This would not have been the case if offensive operations had begun only when the whole 4th Corps was concentrated in the Crimea. Then Prince Menshikov would have had not just one division of fresh troops at his disposal, but an entire corps. He would have been able to undertake offensive operations more decisively; he could have gone further than carrying out short-term plans and taken advantage of every enemy mistake, without giving him time to become aware of these errors and correct them. This is not my personal opinion—such was the thinking of the whole army after the Battle of Inkerman. Whether correct or not, I do not undertake to show.

For two hours I lay under the caisson but was unable to sleep. Finally the rain began to fall harder and the Moldavian horsecloth could no longer protect me, forcing me to give up any hope of sleeping peacefully. I got up and went over to the nearest campfire. Here I saw two Englishmen who had just been taken prisoner in the Baidary valley by cossacks. They appeared to be members of the commissary or simply sutlers, but in any case not military combatants. They understood absolutely no Russian and only a very little French. They were in the most pitiable state and were trying with all their might to explain that they were chilled and soaked through and that they wanted to try some Russian vodka. With the help of a few French words, but more by gestures, they were finally able to get their wish across. We gave them each a glass of vodka and took them to General Liprandi.

"What kind of prisoners are those? French or English?" I asked the soldiers standing around the fire.

"They must be Englishmen, your honor," answered an infantry non-commissioned officer. "The cossack boys just now captured them in Baidary."

"So how do you know that they are English and not French?"

"In this way, your honor. With a Frenchman you can converse right away; they are a quick-witted race. But here with these fellows, you wrestle with them for almost an hour and are nowhere close to finding out what in fact they want with all their heart."

It was already two o’clock in the morning. The drizzle stopped. Sitting among the half-whispering of the soldiers around the fire, I myself fell into sweet dreams.

In an hour the force began to stir. The kasha porridge was ready and the soldiers were summoned for their ration of spirits. I got up and went over to the battery commander.

"Well, N… M…, have we got our orders?"

"We got them."

"Can I see them?"

"Yes. Here they are."

I took the sheet of gray paper, completely covered with writing, and began to read impatiently. According to the orders, the force was divided into three parts. One, under the command of Major General Gribbe, was to occupy Komary. Another, under Major General Semyakin, was to attack the main redoubt, on the enemy’s right flank. A third column, I cannot remember under whose command, made up the battle reserve and was designated for actions against the enemy position’s remaining points. Our battery was not part of any one of these columns. Since it had just arrived from the march, it was detailed along with a battalion of the Ukraine Regiment to cover the wagon park and protect the Chorgun ravine.

"So then, N… M…," I said, turning to the battery commander, "our battery is assigned to the reserve?"

"According to the plan, it’s in reserve. But of course God knows how the business will come out—it could be you’ll find yourself in the front line. You can’t be sure of anything beforehand."

"But are we setting off soon?"

"In about one and a half hours, I think. We don’t have to hurry anywhere. We’re leaving after everyone else."

It became light. The artillery harnessed its horses, the soldiers put on their accouterments. The thick fog hanging in the air did not promise a clear day.

Our battery marched out at about 6 o’clock. We had not yet left the village to occupy the battery’s designated position when we heard a distant shot—it was the enemy noticing General Gribbe’s troops approaching Komary. About ten minutes later another shot rant out, and a third one after that, and the business began.

The details of this affair are more or less known to all. Prince Menshikov’s report of it was published in all the newspapers and was the occasion for general rejoicing in those alarm-filled times. The results of the battle were indeed praiseworthy, and General Liprandi’s report was not at all as exaggerated as is almost always the case in any war. But as an eyewitness, I must say that this report is not completely without fault in regard to the veracity of details. I am speaking of the retreat by our cavalry, the final result of which was the complete defeat of the English cavalry.

To begin with, this retreat was not at all in either General Liprandi’s pre-battle plans or the plans of the commander of our cavalry, General Khaletskii. Rather, it was simply one of those military accidents that are impossible to foresee and cannot be avoided by any manifestation of military genius. These chance occurrences, however, often give an unexpected and inescapable turn to the battle, one that can lead to either victory or defeat, depending on the situation which developed during the battle itself, and which again is mostly a matter of chance.

In reality, our cavalry’s retreat and the defeat of the enemy cavalry happened this way. At three o’clock in the afternoon, when the enemy position on the heights was already won, the fortifications already occupied by our troops, and everyone supposed that the battle was over, a small mass of enemy cavalry appeared in the distance opposite the center of our position. Our cavalry was deployed at this time along the wide valley which was a kind of continuation of the Chorgun Ravine and which divided the heights on the Chorgun River’s left bank into two parts. Our cavalry here were two regiments of hussars and two of cossacks, with two, it appears, horse-artillery batteries. To the left were the eight guns of the 7th Light Foot Battery with two battalions of the Odessa Regiment. When met by our artillery, the enemy began to move faster and bravely went at our cavalry at a gallop, heedless of the canister and battle fire. [Note: Kartechnyi i batal’nyi ogon’, which I believe refers to the canister fire of the artillery and the musket and rifle fire of the infantry – M.C.]

All this happened so unexpectedly and so fast, that no one had time to adequately recognize what was happening in our center before our cavalry was already smashed. The hussars were the first to prove unable to withstand the attack, and after them the cossacks. All four regiments began to retreat in disorder, abandoning the artillery that they were covering. The confusion was immense. Our cavalry, five times the strength of the foe, got even more mixed up during its withdrawal, and moved quickly and in disorder toward the Chorgun. The English cavalry—what was left of it after canister and battle fire—galloped through our line of troops, coming madly on the heels of our cavalry. At the medical aid point all these masses came to a halt, since it was impossible to retreat any further. The Ukraine Regiment and our artillery, which was covering the Chorgun Ravine, were energetic in not allowing any further withdrawal. Four regiments of hussars and cossacks crowded into that small area right at the entrance to the Chorgun Ravine where the medical aid post was set up. Among them, like infrequent specks, one could see the red coats of the English, no doubt not any less surprised than ourselves by what had unexpectedly happened.

But of course, the business could not stay like this. At this time General Liprandi was close to the medical aid post and saw that the Odessa battalions were holding firm, so he became reassured regarding the outcome of this mad attack. He did not rely any more on the panicked hussars and cossacks, but immediately ordered the six squadrons of Yeropkin’s combined lancer regiment, which were right there in reserve, to attack the English in the flank and cut off their retreat.

It looked as though there was nothing else for the English to do except lay down their arms, and everyone expected this. However, that is not at all what happened. For some reason the lancers’ attack failed. It was said at that time that one of the Odessa battalions mistook the lancers for the enemy and opened fire on them. As a result, the lancers turned around after only going halfway. In the meantime, the English saw this unsuccessful attack and also that they were not in any danger of serious pursuit by the scattered hussars and cossacks, and they decided to do what had appeared to be impossible—they decided to break through our line of troops on the same route they had advanced on, and thus pass once again through the ranks, so to speak, of canister and battle fire.

These mad cavalrymen would have to carry out a difficult, almost impossible task. After already having lost at least a quarter of their strength during their advance, they somehow formed their depleted squadrons and quickly went along the original route, now strewn with dead and wounded, leaving new victims at every step. With a sort of brave despair, these mad daredevils flowed back along the path they had forced open, and not one of them, wounded or not, laid down his arms.

But for a long time the cossacks and hussars were unable to rally themselves. They were convinced that they were being pursued by nothing less than the entire enemy cavalry force and angrily refused to believe that they had been defeated by a comparatively tiny handful of brave men.

When all this madness ended, the cossacks were the first to rally, and true to their nature, they immediately set to the business at hand. They rounded up all the English horses and right there opened up a horse market. Valuable pureblooded horses sold then for three and a half imperials, many for four, and some could be had for two or even one. However, almost all of these beautiful horses could not endure the harsh winter and perished. But those that did survive through the winter were sold at high prices—300 or 400 roubles, or even more.

Late in the evening, our battery was ordered to occupy a position on the heights in the front line. Tired from the 500-mile forced march and subdued by the impressions of the day that had just ended, we did not expect this night to be a quiet one, either. In truth, the enemy was in front and the pitch-black night, saddled horses, and guns loaded with canister were an uncomfortable reminder of the recent mad attack by the English, while the dull roar of gunfire from out of Sevastopol made us take care to be vigilant…


Translated by Mark Conrad, 1999.