By the beginning of the 1854 campaign, the Danube army was brought to 140 thousand people with 612 guns. From the beginning of 1854, the Russian army was awaiting orders to move to the right bank of the Danube and start a decisive offensive against the Ottomans. However, Gorchakov was still in indecision. Nikolai Pavlovich, distressed and irritated by the battle at Chetati, made Gorchakov a hard reprimand.
Wanting to make amends, Gorchakov decided to attack Calafat. 4 (16) January headquarters and a significant detachment received an order to move to Kalafat. Gorchakov himself went to him. But along the way, he was again overcome by doubt, and he returned unexpectedly from halfway back to Bucharest. Then he went to the army again. At the military council it was decided that Calafat should not be immediately stormed, it is necessary to besiege him and wait for an opportunity. Gorchakov replaced the discredited battle of Chetati, General Anrep, with General P.P.Liprandi, who led the Malo-Valakhsky detachment. Pavel Petrovich Liprandi participated in almost all known battles and deeds, beginning with the Patriotic War 1812 of the year. Liprandi belonged to an old Spanish clan and in 1812 he joined the army as a volunteer. He went a long military way before he rose to the general.
However, during the Danube campaign and to the military generals, they found some kind of rock, they lost their former determination. In early February, the troops moved in two columns to Calafat. The columns were led by Liprandi and Bellegarde. The advance of the troops was accompanied by a sudden frost and strong wind, and the soldiers did not have winter clothes and shoes. As a result, a significant number of people were frostbitten. The village of Chepurcheni was occupied by the Belgard column, but there were no Ottomans there, they had already fled, warned by scouts and well-wishers. Column Liprandi approached Calafat, but lost contact with Bellegarde. Both generals tried to communicate through their adjutants, but they got lost and did not reach their destination.
The Turks did not accept the battle and ran in panic, fleeing across the bridge. A strong crush began, everyone hurried to escape first. Their bosses tried to stop the runners, when the words were powerless, they began to chop down the fugitives. However, this did not stop the crowd running. The moment to attack Calafat was perfect. But on Liprandi found some kind of stupor. To the perturbation of the officers, he was taken aback and did not attack. As a result, the Turks came to their senses. Liprandi ordered a retreat. Hundreds of people in both squads were frostbitten, time and money was wasted. This aimless campaign to Calafat, became another reason for the fall of the morale of the army.
At the beginning of 1854, the emperor Nikolay summoned Paskevich to the capital and appointed him commander-in-chief of all troops on the western border of the Russian Empire, as well as the Danube army. However, the appointment of Paskevich as commander in chief could not remedy the situation on the Danube front. After all, Paskevich wanted to curtail the Danube campaign as soon as possible. Now Paskevich became the immediate superior of Gorchakov, which did not add to his determination.
Emperor Nicholas wanted to concentrate the main forces in Western Wallachia and from there move to Viddin. A movement in this direction could have led Serbia to an uprising, which would bind the Turkish forces and aggravate the situation of Austria (the principles of the Holy Alliance were discarded, but, unfortunately, late). However, Paskevich, who continued to bend his line of abandoning decisive advance in the Balkans, persuaded the king to force the Lower Danube and seize Bulgarian fortresses first and then go to Viddin. At the same time, the precepts of Rumyantsev and Suvorov were forgotten, who preferred to first beat the enemy's living force and only then take the fortified cities. As a result, the king agreed with the arguments of Paskevich.
Nikolay, irritated by Gorchakov's passivity, sent him to help “Bayard of the Russian engineering corps”, General K. A. Schilder. Karl Andreevich Schilder was a real combat general who still fought in the battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Schilder was in the same ranks as Gorchakov, and older than Gorchakov in age. He was an excellent organizer, a very capable engineer and a sapper, an excellent technician. Some inventions of Schilder were far ahead of their time. So, he invented and built the world's first all-metal submarine. From there, in the presence of Nikolai, a successful launch of incendiary rockets was accomplished (documents about the boat disappeared without a trace). In addition, Schilder was a first-class specialist in engineering. The hero of Sevastopol, Totleben, passed Schilder’s school.
Schilder, not knowing the internal doubts of Gorchakov, and the uninitiated in Paskevich’s game, was imbued with a desire for success for the cause. Beat the enemy, not reasoning, whether someone likes it or not, no matter what the enemy is, this is his motto. This is a real warrior who was not interested in politics. His task was to defeat the visible enemy, and not fears about the emergence of new ones.
Karl Andreevich Schilder (1785 - 23 June 1854)
General Stepan Aleksandrovich Khrulyov, who was subordinate to Schilder, immediately began arranging the batteries for the shelling of the Turkish ships stationed at Sistov and Nikopol, as well as their fortifications. Khrulev arranged several batteries and began shelling Turkish ships and fortifications. The stubborn artillery duel began. She showed the complete superiority of the Russian gunners. The Turks had a lot of shells, they responded to each Russian shot with several. But they fired extremely badly. There was practically no harm from their shooting.
The Ottomans, annoyed by the shelling, decided to launch an attack. February 20 in the morning 6-th. Turkish detachment made a sortie on the left bank of the Danube. The Turks pushed aside Cossack posts and began to disrupt field fortifications. Generals Khrulev and Bogushevsky, gathering troops (one infantry regiment, two squadrons of dragoons, two hundred Cossacks and two batteries), advanced from the city of Kalarash and attacked the enemy. Having showered the enemy with grapeshot, the Russian soldiers attacked the Turks and forced them to retreat. With the departure of the Turks lost several hundred people. Russian losses were small.
February 22 Russian artillery fired at Silistria again. A significant part of the Turkish courts that stood at Silistra was destroyed that day. Turkish troops and townspeople fled from the city to the citadel. February 26-28 Lieutenant Colonel Totleben built a series of batteries against the Turkish island located on the Danube against Oltenitsa. Turkish fortifications on the island came under fire. At this time, the differences between Gorchakov and Shilder reached the highest degree. Gorchakov did not dare to dismiss Schilder, who was patronized by the emperor himself, but he tried his best to slow down everything that he began to do.
On March 11 (23), 1854, the Russian troops, not meeting any serious resistance from the enemy, which made the previous standing near the Danube pointless, forced the river near Brail, Galati and Ishmael. Only Ishmael experienced a fairly significant battle at the Turkish trenches. The Turks were defeated and fled. Russian troops lost more than 700 people killed and wounded, the Turks - about 1 thousand soldiers. The next day, March 12, the Ottomans fled and abandoned the fortresses of Tulchu, Isakchi, and Machin on March 13. By the end of March, the Turkish who stood at Nikopol flotilla was destroyed and burned, residents of the city of Nikopol and the fortress were evacuated. The movement of Turkish ships along the Danube was completely stopped.
12 March evening, when the Russian army was jubilant about the fairly easy crossing over the great river and was surprised at the weak resistance of the enemy, Paschievich’s order arrived to Gorchakov. The commander-in-chief ordered not to cross the Danube, and if they had already crossed the river, then go no further. It was also ordered to withdraw troops from the Small Wallachia, and evacuate the wounded and heavy loads to Russia. This order caused general surprise.
Paskevich’s order was caused by a foreign policy factor. The policy of Austria, which was strongly pressured by Britain and France, became openly hostile. Vienna sent an “observation corps” to the border with the Danube principalities in 25 thousand bayonets, which quickly grew to 50 thousand, and then 150 thousand people. As a result, a huge Austrian army was located near the borders of the Danube principalities and was ready to intervene in the war.
Petersburg also doubted the loyalty of Berlin. During this period, a great struggle unfolded around Prussian king Frederick William IV. The Russian Party, which included conservative aristocrats and many generals, demanded that Russia remain loyal. Anglophiles, liberals demanded rapprochement with England and France. Driving through Prussia, Sir Hamilton Seymour, a former British ambassador to St. Petersburg, tried to convince King Frederick William IV of the need to side with England and France. Seymour said that it was necessary to undermine the Russian power, dangerous primarily for Prussia due to geographic proximity to the northern empire. However, Seymour failed. The Prussian king did not want "instead of battles on the Danube, battles took place in East Prussia." He was equally afraid of France and Russia, and did not like Austria (it prevented the unification of Germany led by Prussia). The French ambassador also tried to force the Prussians to strike across Russia. But Berlin did not want to fulfill the role of "cannon fodder" in the war with Russia. At the same time, the Prussian king dodged with Nikolai. He did not want to put pressure on Austria. The absence of a clear position in Berlin irritated Petersburg and made it necessary to take into account the possibility of Prussia intervening in the war on the side of enemies.
Stepan Aleksandrovich Khrulyov (1807 — 1870)
Siege of Silistra
After crossing the Danube, the most important task of the Russian army was the need to capture Silistria. Without taking this fortress, the Russian troops could not conduct serious offensive actions. The seizure of Silistria assigned Wallachia to Russia. It seemed that the fate of Silistra predetermined. Omer Pasha, who stood in Shumla, was afraid of a direct clash with the Russian army. Anglo-French troops in Varna has not yet been. The fortress could not long hold on without external assistance. Schilder had already taken it in 1829. However, the dragging of time continued. Paskevich doubted, but Gorchakov did not go forward without his order. As contemporaries noted: “Paskevich did not want anything before Silistria, did not command anything, did not order anything, he did not want to take Silistria, he didn’t want anything at all.”
Only 24 March 1854, the first siege works began. Work under the high command of Schilder was conducted by General Khrulev. They installed batteries, built a pontoon bridge, etc. Initially, work was going energetically and quickly. Schilder sought to take the enemy fortress as soon as possible. In the first eight days, 14 batteries covered with thick shafts were built. The soldiers and commanders worked "with extraordinary diligence", they still hoped that now the war will go seriously, and not in the way it was fought before. Schilder arrived, confident that if the commander did not interfere, they would quickly take the fortress. In the first days, the exchange of fire with the fortress was conducted sluggishly, the Russians conducted preparatory work, and the Turkish garrison did not display a large military initiative.
With 10 (22) in April, Russian batteries began shelling Silistria. 12 (24) April Field Marshal Paskevich himself arrived in a Russian camp under Silistria with a large retinue, in which Gorchakov was also. The prince inspected the work and departed. The next day, orders fell, which greatly weakened and undermined the work already done by Hrulev and Shilder. Artillery and cavalry were weakened near the fortress, they began to take out tools, etc. Thus, the siege was tightened for a considerable time. In fact, the first siege just turned.
In the second half of April, Schilder again tightened his strength and resources for the siege of the fortress. Replaced stolen guns with new ones. Tightened troops. Gorchakov, in the absence of field marshal, could not resist Schilder's perseverance. Totleben arrived at the camp, whose star was still only ascending. He began to build bridges from the right bank of the Danube, where the siege camp was, to the islands on the Danube, where it was convenient to place batteries for firing on the Turkish fortress and the remaining ships. The 29 of April again began intense shelling of Silistria from camp positions, islands and three gunboats. The Turks tried to respond, but were soon forced to give up leading positions. In addition, at its own risk and risk, Khrulev occupied two islands near Oltenitsa (Big Kichu and Small Kichu). This increased the pressure on Turtukai, cut the message between the besieged Silistria and Ruschuk, distract part of the Turkish army from Silistria.
The confrontation between Schilder, who wanted to take a fortress and took all measures for this, and Paskevich continued. The commander in chief continues to send conflicting and weakening siege forces orders. And Schilder corrected them as much as he could. Paskevich, after Britain and France declared war on Russia, believed that against the combined army of the French, British, Turks and Austrians of the Danube army could not survive. In the speech of Austria against Russia, he did not doubt. Therefore, he did not see the point of continuing the offensive and wasting forces on seizing fortresses. The field marshal wanted to withdraw the troops beyond the Prut and concentrate on the defense of the Russian lands proper. 15 (27) April Paskevich sent a note to Nicholas in which he had openly proposed to stop the unnecessary siege of Silistria, leave the Danubian principalities and take a stronger position. The old field marshal feared for the empire, and he was tormented by the consciousness that he would have to defend a vast border on the length of the forces of the powerful alliance.
April 22 (May 4) Paskevich spoke to the king even more frankly. He said that the Russian army could not occupy the Danubian principalities, they would have to be left under the onslaught of the coalition army, having enemy Austrians in the rear. There are no hopes for Bulgarians and Serbs; Bulgarians are “oppressed and unarmed; they, like negros, are accustomed to slavery. " They can be raised only when the Russian army takes the land between the Danube and the Balkan Mountains. In Turkey itself, rebel should not be expected. The field marshal offered to immediately clear the Danube principalities and leave for Prut, not to wait for the Austrian ultimatum threatening war. It is clear that Paskevich gave these tips not because of personal cowardice. He just finally decided to tell the whole truth.
These letters from Paskevich made a huge impression on Nikolai. All his dreams were crumbling. Pre-war diplomacy was completely a failure. Both the emperor himself, who overlooked the mistakes (in some cases and sabotage) of diplomats, and the Foreign Ministry, stricken with Anglomania and faith in the unbreakable foundations of the Holy Alliance, were to blame. Petersburg made a huge geopolitical mistake and fell into the “Turkish trap”, believing in the possibility of an agreement with England, the identity of the interests of Russia, Austria and Prussia, and the weakness of France. As a result, Russia has been trampled upon the Danube principalities for a whole year, suffered losses, spent millions of rubles, a lot of money. And now you have to leave from there with nothing, admitting defeat.
From the beginning, Nicholas did not want to admit defeat and called for action decisively. Already in June, he will be forced to allow troops to be withdrawn. Paskevich's predictions come true. 8 (20) April 1854 Berlin will conclude an alliance between Austria and Prussia. In May, Vienna decides to send two army corps to Galicia and Bukovina. In a few days, thousands of people will be called up for military service to 100. Austrian troops will begin to transfer to the northeastern and southeastern borders of the Austrian Empire. In addition, Austria will conclude two conventions with the Ottoman Empire. Vienna will receive the right to temporarily occupy Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia and Turkey to allow the Austrians to occupy the Danubian principalities. All this forced Russia to disperse the army in a vast area from the Baltic to the Caucasus.
4 May the main forces of the Danube army approached Silistria. The proper siege of the fortress began. The Ottomans (the garrison numbered up to 20 thousand people) made several attacks, but they were beaten off. However, with the approach of the main forces, the siege was sluggish. Paskevich did not see much point in seizing the fortress.
It should be noted that the Turkish command was afraid of the Russian offensive. And the British and the French were afraid of the fall of Silistra. In Constantinople, they were convinced that after the fall of Silistra, Paskevich should be expected to strike Shumla, ousting the Omer-Pasha troops from eastern Bulgaria and throw the Russians through the Balkans to Adrianople (in reality, Paskevich simply had no strength for such an offensive). May 8 Marshal Saint-Arno arrived in Constantinople. The first division began to move from Marseille. 19 May St. Arnaud and Lord Raglan arrived in Varna, where they held a meeting with Omer Pasha. Omer Pasha told the allies that the Turkish army alone could not survive, all hopes were only on the allies. He understood that the Turkish army would not stand in open battle with the Russians. And there was no speech to get out of Shumla and attack the Russian army at Silistria. In addition, the Ottomans did not know about the plans of the Russian command, which aroused in them a variety of fears. The Turkish army was in poor condition. Bulgaria has already been ravaged by one-year standing. It was becoming more and more difficult to supply it. The garrison in Silistra was actually abandoned to its fate. Omer Pasha from Shumly did not even try to divert the Russian army and try to transfer the provisions to the already starving garrison.
16 (28) May 1854 intelligence reported that the Arab fort (Arab-Tabiya), one of the strongest forts of Silistra, was left without cover. The officers suggested that the commander of the left flank, General Selvan, make a night assault on the fort. Selvan asked for the opinion of Schilder, who provided Selvan with himself to resolve this issue. At one o'clock in the morning, three Russian battalions went to storm the fortifications. Despite the strong Turkish fire, the Russian soldiers were able to climb the shaft. The victory was close. In the midst of a successful offensive in the rear, there was a signal to retreat, the troops mixed up and retreated. The attack ended in complete failure, for which the army paid more than 900 people. Among the dead was General Selvan. He was found only on the third day, in a ditch among hundreds of bodies.
Gorchakov blamed the failure of the operation on General Veselytsky, who called for a withdrawal when Selvan was killed in his eyes. It must be said that Veselitsky was a brave officer. According to the captain of Croatia, who was with him, a temporary clouding of reason was found for the general (not the first in this unsuccessful campaign). As a result, the victorious impulse turned into defeat. Veselitsky in this war will be marked by a golden sword with the inscription "For courage." The Eastern War is full of such fatal coincidences.
Turkish fort Megidi-Tabiya, located south of the city of Silistra
To be continued ...