The Third Battle of Plevna
by William V. HerbertA history and a personal account of great battle in a single volume
This unique Leonaur edition contains the well known and highly regarded personal account of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8, by an Australian volunteer serving as a doctor with Turkish forces. Initially attracted by a favourable remuneration package, the mercenary author of, ‘Under the Red Crescent’ often found himself much closer to the thick of the action than his calling might reasonably suggest. The principal actions about which his narrative revolves are the notable battles around Plevna in 1877. To enable readers more fully understand the battles and campaign, Charles Ryan and John Sandes’ account is accompanied here by an overview of the battle by William V. Herbert which is supported by illustrations and battle plans. The broader conflict, fought between the Turkish Ottoman Empire and Russia, was motivated in part by aspirations for independent nationhood in the Balkan region, following centuries of Turkish domination, and by the desire of Russia to regain some of the losses she had sustained during the Crimean War some twenty years previously. For all those with an interest in the many small wars in Europe during the 19th century, that created the nation states we know today, this is an essential book in every way.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
>From where I stood I could see the attack on the village of Grivitza quite plainly. The Russians attacked in column of front half a mile wide, while our men waited grimly breast high in the trenches in front of the village. The whole place was so thickly covered with smoke, and the area of the battlefield was so extended, that sometimes I scarcely knew who were Turks and who were Russians. I rode back a little way from the crest of the hill to get cover, and presently my friend Czetwertinski galloped up with eighty troopers, who formed the bodyguard of Osman Pasha. We had a talk together, and presently, as we could not see much from where we were, we agreed to go up and inspect our first line of defence.<br>
Just below the crown of the hill we found four thousand Turkish troops entrenched and blazing away at the Russians who were developing the attack on the position. Czetwertinski and I rode together to the extreme end of our line of infantry, and I could hear the bullets whistling like hornets all round us. Czetwertinski, as he sat there on his horse, leisurely rolled a cigarette for himself, and then looked round for a light. Seeing that the soldier in the trenches nearest to us was puffing calmly at a cigarette himself in the intervals of business, Czetwertinski sang out to him, “Verbana a-tish,” meaning, “Give me a light.” The man clambered out of the trench, saluted, and handed his lighted cigarette to Prince Czetwertinski. As he stood there in the act of saluting a rifle-bullet went through his head, and the man threw up his arms and fell dead. Czetwertinski remarked to me that it was not good enough to stop there any longer; so we retired to the other side of the hill again, and rejoined the cavalry, who were waiting there under cover.<br>
Just at this juncture the Russians, who were advancing in two lines of company columns, a formation totally unfitted for modern warfare, began to falter under the terrific fire from our trenches. The faltering grew more decided, and in a few moments the advance was changed to a retreat. This was our opportunity. The bugles sounded for the Turkish cavalry to advance; and almost before I could realize what was happening, I saw old Mustapha Bey, the colonel of the regiment, and the eighty troopers, with Czetwertinski among them, going off at full gallop straight towards the retreating Russian infantry, who had already begun to run. For a moment I hesitated what to do. Then old Mustapha Bey waved his sword, and sang out to me to come along with them; so I forgot that I was a simple medical officer. I drove the spurs into my horse, and in half a minute I was riding alongside Czetwertinski in a wild charge against the flying Russians.<br>
We climbed the hill at a gallop, rode through our own men at the top, and charged down the slope towards Schahoffskoi’s fugitives. There was a large field of ripe maize on our right as we went down the hill, and I could see the Russians running through it as hard as their legs could carry them, believing of course that a strong body of cavalry was swooping down to cut off their retreat. Next to the field of standing maize was a field of barley, which had been reaped and piled in stooks. I could see the Russians dodging in and out among the stooks as we rode towards them, our troopers yelling and cheering as they emptied their carbines and revolvers into the mass of the fugitives. The Russian officers were trying to rally their men, and parties of them began to make a stand under some trees and to reply to our fire.<br>
In a moment more, when the most venturesome of the troopers had got within forty or fifty yards of the fugitives, the Russians suddenly faced round, and, recognizing that they were attacked by a mere handful of men, took up a formation and poured their fire into us in earnest. Hassan Labri Pasha, who was watching the whole thing, foresaw that our retreat was likely to be cut off, and he sounded the retreat. We wheeled our horses just in time, drove the spurs in, and galloped back for our lives.<br>
Probably no man except one who has been in a similar position can even faintly guess at the rapid change of feeling which comes over one at such a crisis. A few moments before, while we were galloping forward against the fugitives, I felt as brave as a lion; but when once I had turned my back to them and heard their bullets whistling round me, a mortal dread came over me, and if I had had a hundred millions in the bank I would have given it all to be a furlong farther from the muzzles of those Russian rifles. It was every man for himself of course, and we did not attempt to preserve any sort of formation. The instinct of a hunted animal flying for cover made me turn towards the maize-field, and I galloped into the friendly shelter of the tall stems, bending my head low over my horse’s neck and urging him forward with voice and spur.<br>
The maize was tall enough to conceal a horse and man completely, so that the Russians could not take aim at any individual mark; but they poured incessant volleys into the field, and many a bullet fired at random found its billet. As these hundreds of bullets cut the maize stalks in all directions round me, I must confess that my previous recklessness had given place to a ghastly, overmastering terror. Wherever I turned, danger was by my side, and I could only press blindly forward and hope for the best. A trooper close by me suddenly threw up his arms, and seemed to spring several feet up from the saddle before he fell with a thud among the blood-soaked maize stalks. It occurred to me then that he must have been shot through the heart.<br>
By this time the entire Russian force which had been attacking our position on the hill was in full pursuit; and as I came out on the other side of the maize-field with the other survivors of that mistaken charge, I saw with dismay that our retreat had affected our own infantrymen with a panic. They had held their ground stubbornly while the Russians were developing the original attack; but when they saw us galloping back pell-mell with the returning Russians behind us, the moral influence of our retreat was too much for them, and they started to run from the position. It was a critical moment; but the threatened retreat was stopped as quickly as it began; for Osman Pasha, who had been watching the affair with his staff from the top of the hill, took prompt steps to rally the men.