In the spring of the following year the valiant chief repaid the enemy in part for these invasions of his country. He had now under his command no less than twenty thousand warriors, largely horsemen, and in the leafy month of May, taking advantage of a weakening of the Russian line, he dashed suddenly from the highlands for a raid in the neighboring country of the Kabardians.
Two rivers flowed between the mountain ranges and the Kabardas, and two lines of hostile fortresses guarded the frontier, containing in all no less than seventy thousand men. Between the forts lay Cossack settlements, and beyond them the Kabardians, an armed and warlike race. Schamyl had no artillery, no fortresses, no depots of provisions and ammunition. All he could do was to make a quick dash and a hasty return.
Down upon the Cossacks he rode, followed by his thousands of daring riders. Plundering their villages, he halted to take no forts except those that went down in the whirl of his coming. Before the garrisons in the strongholds fairly knew that he was among them he was gone; and while the Kabardians believed that he was lurking in the mountain depths, he suddenly dashed into their midst. Sixty populous Kabardian villages were plundered, and the mountaineers proudly refused to turn till they had watered their horses in the Kuban and even reached the more distant banks of the Laba.
But how were they to return? Thousands of horsemen had gathered in the way. Long battalions of infantry had hurried to cut off the raiders on their retreat. Schamyl knew that he could not get back by the way he had come; but, turning southward, he galloped at headlong speed through the Cossack settlements in that quarter, and, with his cruppers laden with booty and his saddle-bows well furnished with food, evaded his foes and reached the mountains again. May seemed to bloom more richly than ever as the wild riders dashed proudly back to the doors of their homes and heard the glad shouts of joy that greeted their safe return.
The whole story of the exploits of the famous Circassian chief is too extended and too full of stirring incidents to be here given even in epitome. It must suffice to say, in conclusion, that ten years after his escape from Akhulgo that stronghold was again attacked and taken by the Russians, and as before Schamyl mysteriously escaped. Completely baffled, nothing was left for the Russians but to wear out the chief and his people by continued invasions of their mountain land. Again and again their armies were beaten by their indomitable foe, but the continuance of the struggle slowly exhausted the land and its powers of resistance.
The Circassians were helped during the Crimean War by the foes of Russia, who supplied them with arms and money, but after that war the Russians kept up the struggle with more energy than ever, and, by opening a road over the mountains, cut off a part of the country and compelled its submission. At length, in April, 1859, twenty-five years after the struggle began, Weden, Schamyl's stronghold at that time, was taken, after a seven weeks' siege. As before, the chief escaped, but the country was virtually subdued, and he had only a small band of followers left.
For months afterwards his foes pursued him actively from fastness to fastness, determined to run him down, and at length, on September 6, 1859, surprised him on the plateau of Gounib. Here the devoted band made a desperate resistance, not yielding until of the original four hundred only forty-seven remained alive. Schamyl, the lion of the Caucasus, was at length taken, after having cost the Russians uncounted losses in life and money.
With his capture the independence of Circassia came to an end. It has since formed an integral part of the Russian empire, and its subjugation has opened the gateway to that vast expansion of Russia in Central Asia which since then has taken place. The captive chief had won the respect of his foes, and was honorably treated, being assigned a residence at Kaluga, in Central Russia, with an annual pension of five thousand dollars. He, like his countrymen, was a Mohammedan in faith, and removed to Mecca, in Arabia, in 1870, dying at Medina in the following year.
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
The Crimean War, brief as was the interval it occupied in the annals of time, was one replete with exciting events. And of these much the most brilliant was that which took place on the 25th of October, 1854, the famous "Charge of the Light Brigade," which Tennyson has immortalized in song, and which stands among the most dramatic incidents in the history of war. It was truthfully said by one of the French generals who witnessed it, "It is magnificent, but it is not war." We give it for its magnificence alone.
First let us depict the scene of that memorable event. The British and French armies lay in front of Balaklava, their base of supplies, facing towards Sebastopol. They occupied a mountain slope, which was strongly intrenched. A valley lay before them, and some two miles distant rose another mountain range, rocky and picturesque. In the valley between were four rounded hillocks, each crowned by an earthwork defended by a few hundred Turks. These outlying redoubts formed the central points of the famous battle of October 25.
In the early morning of that day the Russians appeared in force, debouching from the mountain passes in front of the allied army. Six compact masses of infantry were seen, with a line of artillery in front, and on each flank a powerful cavalry force, while a cloud of mounted skirmishers filled the space between. Fronting the line of the allies were the Zouaves, crouching behind low earthworks, on the right the 93d Highlanders, and in front the British cavalry, composed of the Heavy Brigade, under General Scarlett, and, more in advance, the Light Brigade, under Lord Cardigan. Such were, in broad outline, the formation of the ground and the position of the actors in the drama of battle about to be played.
The scene opened with an attack on the advanced redoubts. No. 1 was quickly taken, the Turks flying in haste before the fire of the Russian guns. No. 2 was evacuated in similar panic haste, the Cossack skirmishers riding among the fleeing Turks and cutting them mercilessly down. The guns of No. 2 were at once turned upon No. 3, whose garrison of Turks fired a few shots in return, and then, as in the previous cases, broke into open flight. After them dashed the Cossack light horsemen, flanking them to right and left, and many of the turbaned fugitives paid for their panic with their lives. The Russians had won in the first move of the game. They had taken three of the redoubts before a movement could be made for their support.
Next a squadron of the Russian cavalry charged vigorously upon the Highlanders. But a deadly rifle fire met them as they came, volley after volley tearing gaps through their compact ranks, and in a moment more they had wheeled, opened their files, and were in full flight. "Bravo, Highlanders!" came up an exulting shout from the thousands of spectators behind.
It was evident that Balaklava was the goal of the Russian movement, and the heavy cavalry were ordered into position to protect the approaches. As they moved towards the post indicated, a large body of the enemy's cavalry appeared over the ridge in front. These were corps d'elite, evidently, their jackets of light blue, embroidered with silver lace, giving them a holiday appearance. Behind them, as they galloped at an easy pace to the brow of the hill, appeared the keen glitter of lance-tips, and in the rear of the lancers came several squadrons of gray-coated dragoons as supports. As the serried ranks of horsemen advanced, their pace declined from a gallop to an easy trot, and from that almost to a halt. Their first line was double the length of the British, and three times as deep. Behind it came a second line, equally strong. They greatly outnumbered their foe.
It was evident that the shock of a cavalry battle was at hand. The hearts of the spectators throbbed with excitement as they saw the Heavy Brigade suddenly break into a full gallop and rush headlong upon the enemy, making straight for the centre of the Russian line. On they went, Grays and Enniskilleners, in serried array, while their cheers and shouts rent the air as they struck the Russian line with an impetus which carried them through the close-drawn ranks. For a moment there was a glittering flash of sword-blades and a sharp clash of steel, and then, in thinned numbers, the charging dragoons appeared in the rear of the line, heading with unchecked speed towards the second Russian rank.
The gallant horsemen seemed buried amid the multitude of the enemy. "God help them! they are lost!" came from more than one trembling lip and was echoed in many a fearful heart. The onset was terrific: the second line was broken like the first, and in its rear the red-coated riders appeared. But the first line of Russians, which had been rolled back upon its flanks by the impetuous rush, was closing up again, and the much smaller force in their midst was in serious peril of being swallowed up and crushed by sheer force of numbers.
The crisis was a terrible one. But at the moment when the danger seemed greatest, two regiments of dragoons, the 4th and 5th, who had closely followed their fellows in the charge, broke furiously upon the enemy, dashing through and rending to fragments the already broken line. In a moment all was over. Less than five minutes had passed since the first shock, and already the Russian horse was in full flight, beaten by half its force. Wild cheers burst from the whole army as the victors drew back with almost intact ranks, their loss having been very small.
Thus ended the famous "Charge of the Heavy Brigade." Its glory was to be eclipsed by that memorable "Charge of the Light Brigade" which became the theme of Tennyson's stirring ode, and the recital of which still causes many a heart to throb. We are indebted for our story of it to the thrilling account of W.H. Russell, the Times correspondent, and a spectator of the event.
As the Russian cavalry retired, their infantry fell back, leaving men in three of the captured redoubts, but abandoning the other points gained. They also had guns on the heights overlooking their position. About the hour of eleven, while the two armies thus faced each other, resting for an interval from the rush of conflict, there came to Lord Cardigan that fatal order which caused him to hurl his men into "the jaws of death." How it came to be given, how the misapprehension occurred, who was at fault in the error, has never been made clear. Captain Nolan, who brought the order, was one of the first to fall, and his story of the event died with him. All we know is that he handed Lord Lucan a written command to advance, and when asked, "Where are we to advance to?" he pointed to the Russian line, and said, "There are the enemy, and there are the guns," or words of similar meaning.
It is a maxim in war that "cavalry shall never act without a support," that "infantry should be close at hand when cavalry carry guns," and that a line of cavalry should have some squadrons in column on its flanks, to guard it against a flank attack. None of these rules was carried out here, and Lord Lucan reluctantly gave the order to advance upon the guns, which Lord Cardigan as reluctantly accepted, for to any eye it was evident that it was an order to advance upon death. "Some one had blundered," and wisdom would have dictated the demand for a confirmation of the order. Valor suggested that it should be obeyed in all its blank enormity. Dismissing wisdom and yielding to valor, Lord Cardigan gave the word to advance, the brigade, scarcely a regiment in total strength, broke into a sudden gallop, and within a minute the devoted line was flying over the plain towards the enemy.
The movement struck Lord Raglan, from whom the order was supposed to have emanated, with consternation. It struck the Russians with surprise. Surely that handful of men was not going to attack an army in position? Yet so it seemed as the Light Brigade dashed onward, the uplifted sabres glittering in the morning sun, the horses galloping at full speed towards the Russian guns, over a plain a mile and a half in width.
Not far had they gone when a hot fire of cannon, musketry, and rifles belched from the Russian line. A flood of smoke and flame hid the opposing ranks, and shot and shell tore through the charging troops. Gaps were rent in their ranks, men and horses went down in rapid succession, and riderless horses were seen rushing wildly across the plain. The first line was broken. It was joined by the second. On went the brigade in a single line with unchecked speed. Though torn by the deadly fire of thirty guns, the brave riders rode steadily on into the smoke of the batteries, with cheers which too often changed in a breath to the cry of death.
Through the clouds of smoke the horsemen could be seen dashing up to and between the guns, cutting down the gunners as they stood. Then, wheeling, they broke through a line of Russian infantry which sought to stay their advance, and scattered it to right and left. In a moment more, to the relief of those who had watched their career in an agony of emotion, they were seen riding back from the captured redoubt.
Scattered and broken they came, some mounted, some on foot, all hastening towards the British lines. As they wheeled to retreat, a regiment of lancers was hurled upon their flank. Colonel Shewell, of the 8th Hussars, saw the danger, and rushed at the foe, cutting a passage through with great loss. The others had similarly to break their way through the columns that sought to envelop them. As they emerged from the cavalry fight, the gunners opened upon them again, cutting new lines of carnage through their decimated ranks. The Heavy Brigade had ridden to their relief, but could only cover the retreat of the slender remnant of the gallant band. In twenty-five minutes from the start not a British soldier, except the dead and dying, was left on the scene of this daring but mad exploit.
Captain Nolan fell among the first; Lord Lucan was slightly wounded; Lord Cardigan had his clothes pierced by a lance; Lord Fitzgibbon received a fatal wound. Of the total brigade, some six hundred strong, the killed, wounded, and missing numbered four hundred and twenty-six.
While this event was taking place, a body of French cavalry made a brilliant charge on a battery at the left, which was firing upon the devoted brigade, and cut down the gunners. But they could not get the guns off without support, and fell back with a loss of one-fourth their number. Thus ended that eventful day, in which the British cavalry had covered itself with glory, though it had only glory to show in return for its heavy loss.
Such is the story as it stands in prose. Here is Tennyson's poetic version, which is full of the dash and daring of the wild ride.
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE.
Half a league, half a league, Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred. "Forward, the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns!" he said: Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Some one had blundered: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die, Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well; Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell, Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare, Flashed as they turned in air, Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army, while All the world wondered: Plunged in the battery-smoke Right through the line they broke; Cossack and Russian Reeled from the sabre-stroke Shattered and sundered. Then they rode back, but not— Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them, Volleyed and thundered; Stormed at with shot and shell, While horse and hero fell, They that had fought so well Came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of Hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.
When can their glory fade? Oh, the wild charge they made! All the world wondered. Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!
THE FALL OF SEBASTOPOL.
The history of Russia has been largely a history of wars,—which indeed might be said with equal justice of most of the nations of Europe. In truth, history as written gives such prominence to warlike deeds, and glosses over so hastily the events of peace, that we seem to hear the roll of the drum rising from the written page itself, and to see the hue of blood crimsoning the printed sheets. This dominance of war in history is a striking instance of false perspective. Nations have not spent all or most of their lives in fighting, but the clash of the sword rings so loudly through the historic atmosphere that we scarcely hear the milder sounds of peace.
So far as Russia is concerned, the torrent of war has rolled mainly towards the south. From those early days in which the Scythians drove back the Persian host and the early Varangians fiercely assailed the Greek empire, the relations of the north and the south have been strained, and a rapid succession of wars has been waged between the Russians and their varying foes, the Greeks, the Tartars, and the Turks. For ten centuries these wars have continued, with Constantinople for their ultimate goal, yet in all these ten centuries of conflict no Russian foot has ever been set in hostility within that ancient city's walls.
Of these many wars, that which looms largest on the historic page is the fierce conflict of 1854-55, in which England and France came to Turkey's aid and Russia met with defeat on the soil of the Crimea. We have already given the most striking and dramatic incident of this famous Crimean war. It may be aptly followed by the final scene of all, the assault upon and capture of Sebastopol.
The city of this name (Russian Sevastopol) is a seaport and fortress on the site of an old Tartar village near the southwest extremity of the Crimea, built by Russia as her naval station on the Black Sea. It possesses one of the finest natural harbors of the world, and formed the central scene of the Crimean War, the English and French armies besieging it with all the resources at their command. For nearly a year this stronghold of Russia was subjected to bombardment. Battles were fought in front of it, vigorous efforts for its capture and its relief were made, but in early September, 1855, it still remained in Russian hands, though frightfully torn and rent by the torrent of iron balls which had been poured into it with little cessation. But now the climax of the struggle was at hand, and all Europe stood in breathless anxiety awaiting the result.
On September 5 the fiercest cannonade the city had yet felt was begun by the French, the English batteries quickly joining in. All that night and during the night of the 6th the bombardment was unceasingly continued, and during the 7th the cannons still belched their fiery hail upon the town. Everywhere the streets showed the terrible effect of this vigorous assault. Nearly every house in sight was rent asunder by the balls. Towards evening the great dock-yard shears caught fire, and burned fiercely in the high wind then prevailing. A large vessel in the harbor was next seen in flames, and burned to the water's edge. This bombardment was preliminary to a general assault, fixed for the 8th, and on the morning of that day it was resumed, as a mask to the coming charge upon the works.
The Malakoff fort, the key to the Russian position, was to be assaulted by the French, who gathered in great force in its front during the night. The Redan, another strong fortification, was reserved for the British attack. In the trenches, facing the works, men were gathered as closely as they could be packed, with their nerves strung to an intense pitch as they awaited the decisive word. The hour of noon was fixed for the French assault, and as it approached a lull in the cannonade told that the critical moment was at hand.
At five minutes to twelve the word was given, and like a swarm of angry bees the French sprang from their trenches and rushed in mad haste across the narrow space dividing them from the Malakoff. The place, a moment before quiet and apparently deserted, seemed suddenly alive. A few bounds took the active line of stormers across the perilous interval, and within a minute's time they were scrambling up the face and slipping through the embrasures of the long-defiant fort. On they came, stream after stream, battalion succeeding battalion, each dashing for the embrasures, and before the last of the stormers had left the trenches the flag of the foremost was waving in triumph above a bastion of the fort.
The Russians had been taken by surprise. Very few of them were in the fort. The destructive cannonade had driven them to shelter. It was in the hands of the French by the time their foes were fully aware of what had occurred. Then a determined attempt was made to recapture it, and the Russian general hurled his men in successive storming columns upon the work, vainly endeavoring to drive out its captors. From noon until seven in the evening these furious efforts continued, thousands of the Russians falling in the attempt. In the end the exhausted legions were withdrawn, the French being left in possession of the work they had so ably won and so valiantly held.
Meanwhile the British were engaged in their share of the assault. The moment the French tricolor was seen waving from the parapet of the Malakoff four signal rockets were sent up, and the dash on the Redan began. It was made in less force than the French had used, and with a very different result. The Russians were better prepared, and the space to be crossed was wider, the assaulting column being rent with musketry as it dashed over the interval between the trenches and the fort. On dashed the assailants, through the abatis, which had been torn to fragments by the artillery fire, into the ditch, and up the face of the work. The parapet was scaled almost without opposition, the few Russians there taking shelter behind their breastworks in the rear, whence they opened fire on the assailing force.
At this point, instead of continuing the charge, as their officers implored them to do, the men halted and began loading and firing, a work in which they were greatly at a disadvantage, since the Russians returned the fire briskly from behind their shelters. Every moment reinforcements rushed in from the town and added to the weight of the enemy's fire. The assailants were falling rapidly, particularly the officers, who were singled out by their foes.
For an hour and a half the struggle continued. By that time the Russians had cleared the Redan, but the British still held the parapets. Then a rush from within was made, and the assailants were swept back and driven through the embrasures or down the face of the parapet into the ditch, where their foes followed them with the bayonet.
A short, sharp, and bloody struggle here took place. Step by step the band of Britons was forced back by the enemy, those who fled for the trenches having to run the gauntlet of a hot fire, those who remained having to defend themselves against four times their force. The attempt had hopelessly failed, and of those in the assailing column comparatively few escaped. The day's work had been partly a success and partly a failure. The French had succeeded in their assault. The English had failed in theirs, and lost heavily in the attempt.
What the final result was to be no one could tell. Silence followed the day's struggle, and night fell upon a comparatively quiet scene. About eleven o'clock a new act in the drama began, with a terrific explosion that shook the ground like an earthquake. By midnight several other explosions vibrated through the air. Here and there flames were seen, half hidden by the cloud of dust which rose before the strong wind. As the night waned, the fires grew and spread, while tremendous explosions from time to time told of startling events taking place in the town. What was going on under the shroud of night? The early dawn solved the mystery. The Russians were abandoning the city they had so long and so gallantly held.
The Malakoff was the key of their position. Its loss had made the city untenable. The failure of the attempt to recover it was followed by immediate preparations for evacuation. The gray light of the coming day showed a stream of soldiers marching across the bridge to the north side. The fleet had disappeared. It lay sunk in the harbor's depths.
The retreat had begun at eight o'clock of the evening before, soon after the failure to retake the Malakoff. But it was a Moscow the Russian general proposed to leave his foes. Combustibles had been stored in the principal houses. About two o'clock flames began to rise from these, and at the same hour all the vessels of the fleet except the steamers were scuttled and sunk. The steamers were retained to aid in carrying off the stores. A terrific explosion behind the Redan at four o'clock shook the whole camp. Four others equally startling followed. Battery after battery was hurled into the air by the explosion of the magazines. Before seven o'clock the last of the Russians had crossed the bridge to the north side, which was uninvested by the allies, and the hill-sides opposite the city were alive with troops. Smaller explosions followed. From a steamer in the harbor clouds of dense smoke arose. Flames spread rapidly, and by ten o'clock the whole city was in a blaze, while vast columns of smoke rose far into the skies, lurid in the glare of the flames below. The sounds of battle had ceased. Those of conflagration and ruin succeeded. The final flames were those sent up from the steamers, which were set on fire when the work of transporting stores had ceased.
Great was the surprise throughout the camp that Sunday morning when the news spread that Sebastopol was on fire and the enemy in full retreat. Most of the soldiers, worn out with their desperate day's work, slept through the explosions and woke to learn that the city so long fought for was at last theirs—or so much of it as the flames were likely to leave.
About midnight, attracted by the dead silence, some volunteers had crept into an embrasure of the Redan and found the place deserted by the foe. As soon as dawn appeared, the French Zouaves began to steal from their trenches into the burning town, heedless of the flames, the explosions, and the danger of being shot by some lurking foe, the desire for plunder being stronger in their minds than dread of danger. Soon the red uniforms of these daring marauders could be seen in the streets, revealed by the flames, and the day had but fairly dawned when men came staggering back laden with spoils, Russian relics being offered for sale in the camps while the Russian columns were still marching from the deserted city. The sailors were equally alert, and could soon be seen bearing more or less worthless lumber from the streets, often useless stuff which they had risked their lives to gain.
The allies had won a city in ruins; but they had defeated the Russians at every encounter, in field and in fort, and the Muscovite resources were exhausted. The war must soon cease. What followed was to complete the destruction which the torch had began. The splendid docks which Russia had constructed at immense cost were mined and blown up. The houses which had escaped the fire were robbed of doors, windows, and furniture to add to the comfort of the huts which were built for winter quarters by the troops. As for the scene of ruin, disaster, and death within the city, it was frightful, and it was evident that the Russians had clung to it with a death-grip until it was impossible to remain. It was an absolute ruin from which the Sebastopol of to-day began its growth.
AT THE GATES OF CONSTANTINOPLE.
From the days of Rurik down, a single desire—a single passion, we may say—has had a strong hold upon the Russian heart, the desire to possess Constantinople, that grand gate-city between Europe and Asia, with its control of the avenue to the southern seas. While it continued the capital of the Greek empire it was more than once assailed by Russian armies. After it became the metropolis of the Turkish dominion renewed attempts were made. But Greek and Turk alike valiantly held their own, and the city of the straits defied its northern foes. Through the centuries war after war with Turkey was fought, the possession of Constantinople their main purpose, but the Moslem clung to his capital with fierce pertinacity, and not until the year 1878 did he give way and a Russian army set eyes on the city so long desired.
In 1875 an insurrection broke out in Bosnia and Herzegovina, two Christian provinces under Turkish rule. The rebellious sentiment spread to Bulgaria, and in 1876 Turkey began a policy of repression so cruel as to make all Europe quiver with horror. Thousands of its most savage soldiery were let loose upon the Christian populations south of the Balkans, with full license to murder and burn, and a frightful carnival of torture and massacre began. More than a hundred towns were destroyed, and their inhabitants treated with revolting inhumanity. In the month of June, 1876, about forty thousand Bulgarians, of all ages and sexes, were put to death, many of the children being sold as slaves in the Turkish cities.
Of all the powers of Europe, Russia was the only one that took arms to avenge these slaughtered populations. England stood impassive, the other nations held aloof, but Alexander II. called out his troops, and once more the Russian battalions were set en route for the Danube, with Constantinople as their ultimate goal.
In June, 1877, the Danube was crossed and the Russian host entered Bulgaria, the Turks retiring as they advanced. But the march of invasion was soon arrested. The Balkan Mountains, nature's line of defence for Turkey, lay before the Russian troops, and on the high-road to its passes stood the town of Plevna, a fortress which must be taken before the mountains could safely be crossed. The works were very strong, and behind them lay Osman Pacha, one of the boldest and bravest of the Turkish soldiers, with a gallant little army under his command. The defence of this city was the central event of the war. From July to September the Russians sought its capture, making three desperate assaults, all of which were repulsed. In October the city was invested with an army of forty thousand men, under the intrepid General Skobeleff, with a determination to win. But Osman held out with all his old stubbornness, and continued his unflinching defence until starvation forced him to yield. He had lost his city, but had held back the Russian army for nearly half a year and won the admiration of the world.
The fall of Plevna set free the large Russian army that had been tied up by its siege. What should be done with these troops, more than one hundred thousand strong? The Balkans, whose gateways Plevna had closed, now lay open before them, but winter was at hand, winter with its frosts and snows. An attempt to cross the mountains at this time, even if successful, would bring them before strong Turkish fortresses in midwinter, with a chain of mountains in the rear, over which it would be impossible to maintain a line of supplies. The prudent course would have been to put the men into winter quarters at the foot of the Balkans on the north and wait for spring before venturing upon the mountain passes.
The Grand Duke Nicholas, however, was not governed by such considerations of prudence, but determined, at all hazards, to strike the Turks before they had time to reorganize and recuperate. The army was, therefore, at once set in motion, General Gourko marching upon the Araba-Konak, Radetzky upon the Shipka Pass. The story of these movements is a long one, but must be given here in a few words. The bitter cold, the deep snow, the natural difficulties of the passes, the efforts of the enemy, all failed to check the Russian advance. Gourko forced his way through all opposition, took the powerful fortress of Sophia without a blow, and routed an army of fifty thousand men on his march to Philippopolis. Radetzky did even better, since he captured the Turkish army defending the Shipka Pass, thirty-six thousand strong. The whole Turkish defence of the Balkans had gone down with a crash, and the Russians found themselves on the south side of the mountains with the enemy everywhere on the retreat, a broken and demoralized host.
Meanwhile what had become of the Turkish population of the Balkans and Roumelia? There were none of them to be seen; no fugitives were passed; not a Turk was visible in Sophia; the whole region traversed up to Philippopolis seemed to have only a Christian population. But on leaving the last-named city the situation changed, and a terrible scene of bloodshed, death, and misery met the eyes of the marching hosts. It was now easy to see what had become of the Turks: they were here in multitudes in full flight for their lives. The Bulgarians had avenged themselves bitterly on their late oppressors. Dead bodies of men and animals, broken carts, heaps of abandoned household goods, and tatters of clothing seemed to mark every step of the way. Fierce and terrible had been the struggle, dreadful the result, Turks and Bulgarians lying thickly side by side in death. Here appeared the bodies of Bulgarian peasants horrible with gaping wounds and mutilations, the marks of Turkish vengeance; there beside them lay corpses of dignified old Turks, their white beards stained with their blood.
While the men had died from violence, the women and children had perished from cold and hunger, many of them being frozen to death, the faces and tiny hands of dead children visible through the shrouding snows. The living were dragging their slow way onward through this ghastly array of the dead, in a seemingly endless procession of wagons, drawn by half starved oxen, and bearing sick and feeble human beings and loads of household goods. Beside the laden vehicles the wretched, famine-stricken, worn-out fugitives walked, pushing forward in unceasing fear of their merciless Bulgarian foes.
Farther on the scene grew even more terrible. The road was strewn with discarded bedding, carpets, and other household goods. In one village were visible the bodies of some Turkish soldiers whom the Bulgarians had stoned to death, the corpses half covered with the heaps of stones and bricks which had been hurled at them.
Beyond this was reached a vast mass of closely packed wagons extending widely over roads and fields, not fewer than twenty thousand in all. The oxen were still in the yokes, but the people had vanished, and Bulgarian plunderers were helping themselves unresisted to the spoil. The great company, numbering fully two hundred thousand, had fled in terror to the mountains from some Russian cavalry who had been fired upon by the escort of the fugitives and were about to fire in return. Abandoning their property, the able-bodied had fled in panic fear, leaving the old, the sick, and the infants to perish in the snow, and their cherished effects to the hands of Bulgarian pilferers.
In advance lay Adrianople, the ancient capital of Turkey and the second city in the empire. Here, if anywhere, the Turks should have made a stand. But news came that this stronghold had been abandoned by its garrison, that the wildest panic prevailed, and that the Turkish population of the city and the surrounding villages was in full flight. At daylight of the 20th of January the city was entered by the cavalry, and on the 22d Skobeleff marched in with his infantry, at once despatching the cavalry in pursuit of the retreating enemy. The defence of Adrianople had been well provided for by an extensive system of earthworks, but not an effort was made to hold it, and an incredible panic seemed everywhere to have seized the Turks.
Russia had almost accomplished the task for which it had been striving during ten centuries. Constantinople at last lay at its mercy. The Turks still had an army, still had strong positions for defence, but every shred of courage seemed to have fled from their hearts, and their powers of resistance to be at an end. They were in a state of utter demoralization and ready to give way to Russia at all points and accept almost any terms they could obtain. Had they decided to continue the fight, they still possessed a position famous for its adaptation to defence, behind which it was possible to hold at bay all the power of Russia.
This was the celebrated position of Buyak-Tchek-medje, a defensive line twenty-five miles from Constantinople and of remarkable military strength. The peninsula between the Black Sea and the Sea of Marmora is at this point only twenty miles wide, and twelve of these miles are occupied by broad lakes which extend inland from either shore. Of the remaining distance, about half is made up of swamps which are almost or quite impassable, while dense and difficult thickets occupy the rest of the line. Behind this stretch of lake, swamp, and thicket there extends from sea to sea a ridge from four hundred to seven hundred feet in height, the whole forming a most admirable position for defence. This ridge had been fortified by the Turks with redoubts, trenches, and rifle-pits, which, fully garrisoned and mounted with guns, might have proved impregnable to the strongest force. The thirty thousand men within them could have given great trouble to the whole Russian army, and double that number might have completely arrested its march. Yet this great natural stronghold was given up without a blow, signed away with a stroke of the pen.
On January 31 an armistice was signed, one of whose terms was that this formidable defensive line should be evacuated by the Turks, who were to retire to an inner line, while the Russians were to occupy a position about ten miles distant. It was no consideration for Turkey that now kept the Russians outside the great capital, but dread of the powers of Europe, which jealously distrusted an increase of the power of Russia, and were bent on saving Turkey from the hands of the czar.
On February 12 an event took place that threatened ominous results. The British fleet forced the passage of the Dardanelles and moved upon Constantinople, on the pretence of protecting the lives of British subjects in that city. As soon as news of this movement reached St. Petersburg the emperor telegraphed to the Grand Duke Nicholas, giving him authority to march a part of his army into Constantinople, on the same plea that the British had made. In response the grand duke demanded of the sultan the right to occupy a part of the environs of his capital with Russian soldiers, the negotiations ending with the permission to occupy the village of San Stefano, on the Sea of Marmora, about six miles from the walls of the threatened city.
What would be the end of it all was difficult to foresee. On the waters of the city floated the English iron-clads, with their mute threat of war; around the walls Turkish troops were rapidly throwing up earthworks; leading officers in the Russian army chafed at the thought of stopping so near their longed-for goal, and burned with the desire to make a final end of the empire of the Turks and add Constantinople to the dominions of the czar. Yet though thus, as it were, on the edge of a volcano, their ordinary policy of delay and hesitation was shown by the Turkish diplomats, and the treaty of peace was not concluded and signed until the 3d of March. The Russians had used their controlling position with effect, and the treaty largely put an end to Turkish dominion in Europe.
The news of the signing was received with cheers of enthusiasm by the Russian army, drawn up on the shores of the inland sea, the Preobrajensky, the famous regiment of Peter the Great, holding the post of honor. Scarce a rifle-shot distant, crowding in groups the crests of the neighboring hills, and deeply interested spectators of the scene, appeared numbers of their late opponents. The news received, the cheering battalions wheeled into column, and past the grand duke went the army in rapid review, the march still continuing after darkness had descended on the scene.
And thus ended the war, with the Russians within sight of the walls of that city which for so many centuries they had longed and struggled to possess. Only for the threatening aspect of the powers of Europe the Ottoman empire would have ended then and there, and the Turk, "encamped in Europe," would have ended forever his rule over Christian realms.
THE NIHILISTS AND THEIR WORK.
In 1861 Alexander II., Emperor of Russia, signed a proclamation for the emancipation of the Russian serfs, giving freedom by a stroke of the pen to over fifty millions of human beings. In 1881, twenty years afterwards, when, as there is some reason to believe, he was about to grant a constitution and summon a parliament for the political emancipation of the Russian people, he fell victim to a band of revolutionists, and the thought of granting liberty to his people perished with him.
This assassination was the work of the secret society known as the Nihilists. To say that their association was secret is equivalent to saying that we know nothing of their purposes other than their name and their deeds indicate. Nihilism signifies nothingness. It comes from the same root as annihilate, and annihilation of despots appears to have been the Nihilist theory of obtaining political rights. This society reached its culmination in the reign of Alexander II., and, despite the fact that he proved himself one of the mildest and most public-spirited of the czars, he was chosen as the victim of the theory of obtaining political regeneration by terror.
Threats preceded deeds. The final years of the emperor's life were made wretched through fear and anxiety. His ministers were killed by the revolutionists. Some of the guards placed about his person became victims of the secret band. Letters bordered with black and threatening the emperor's life were found among his papers or his clothes. An explosive powder placed in his handkerchief injured his sight for a time; a box of asthma pills sent him proved to contain a small but dangerous infernal machine. He grew haggard through this constant peril; his hair whitened, his form shrank, his nerves were unstrung.
In February, 1879, Prince Krapotkin, governor-general of Kharkoff, was killed by a pistol-shot fired into his carriage window. In April a Nihilist fired five pistol-shots at the czar. In June the Nihilists resolved to use dynamite with the purpose of destroying the governors-general of several provinces and the czar and heir-apparent. Among their victims was the chief of police, while two of his successors barely escaped death.
The first attempt to kill the czar by dynamite took the form of excavating mines under three railroads on one of which he was expected to travel. Of these mines only one was exploded. A house on the Moscow railroad, not far from that city, was purchased by the conspirators, and an underground passage excavated from its cellar to the roadway. Here auger-holes were bored upward in which were inserted iron pipes communicating with dynamite stored below. On the day when the emperor was expected to pass, a woman Nihilist named Sophia Perovskya stood within view of the track, with instructions to wave her handkerchief to the conspirators in the house at the proper moment. The pilot train which always preceded the imperial train was allowed to pass. The other train drew up to take water, and was wrecked by the explosion of the mine. Fortunately for the emperor, he was in the pilot train and out of danger.
Some of the participants in this affair were arrested, but their chief, a German named Hartmann, escaped. Despite the utmost efforts of the police, he made his way safely out of Russia, aided by Nihilists at every step, sometimes travelling on foot, at other times in peasants' carts, finally crossing the frontier and reaching the nest of conspirators at Geneva. Here he is supposed to have taken part with others in devising a new and what proved a fatal plot. Meanwhile a fresh attempt was made on the life of the czar.
On February 5, 1880, Alexander II. was to entertain at dinner in the Winter Palace a royal visitor, Prince Alexander of Hesse. Fortunately, the czar was detained for a short time, and the hour fixed for the dinner had passed when the party proceeded along the corridor to the dining-hall. The brief delay probably saved their lives, for at that moment a tremendous explosion took place, wrecking the dining-hall and completely demolishing the guard-room, which was filled with dead and dying victims, sixty-seven in all. It proved that a Nihilist had obtained employment among some carpenters engaged in repairs within the palace, and had succeeded in storing dynamite in a tool-chest in his room. He escaped, and was never seen in St. Petersburg again. Two days later the corpse of a murdered policeman was found on the frozen surface of the Neva, a paper pinned to his breast threatening with death every governor-general except Melikoff, the successor of the murdered Krapotkin.
Their failures had proved so nearly successes that the Nihilists were rather encouraged than depressed. New plans followed the failure of old ones. It was proposed to poison the emperor and his son, the murder to be followed by a revolt of the disaffected in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the seizure of the palaces, and the establishment of a constitutional government. This plan, however, was given up as not likely to have the "great moral effect" which the Nihilists hoped to produce.
A Nihilist student in St. Petersburg had sent to the Paris committee of the society a recipe for a formidable explosive of his invention. A quantity of this dangerous substance was manufactured in France and secretly conveyed to St. Petersburg, where bombs to contain it had been prepared. The plans of the conspirators were now very carefully laid. They did not propose to fail again, if care could insure success. A cheesemonger's shop was opened on a street leading to the palace, under which a mine was laid to the centre of the carriage-way, it being proposed to kill the czar when out driving. If his carriage should take another route and follow the street leading from the Catharine Canal, it was arranged to wreck it with bombs flung by hand. The death of the czar was the sole thing in view. The conspirators seemed willing freely to sacrifice their own lives to that object. As regards the mine, it was so heavily charged with dynamite that its explosion would have wrecked a great part of the Anitchkoff Palace while killing the czar.
How the explosive material was conveyed from Paris to Russia is a mystery which was never successfully traced by the police. The utmost care was taken at the frontiers to prevent the entrance of any suspicious substance. For a year or two even the tea that came on the backs of camels from China was carefully searched, while all travellers were closely examined, and all articles coming from Western Europe were almost pulled to pieces in the minuteness of the scrutiny. The explosive is said to have looked like golden syrup, and to have been sweet to the taste, though acrid in its after-effects. A drop or two let fall on a hot stove flashed up in a brilliant sheet of flame, though without smell or noise.
Among the conspirators, one of the most useful was Sophia Perovskya, the woman already named. She was young, of noble family, handsome, educated, and fascinating in manner. Her beauty and high connections gave her opportunities which none of her fellow-conspirators enjoyed, and by her influence over men of rank and position she was enabled to learn many of the secrets of the court and to become familiar with all the precautions taken by the police to insure the safety of the czar. There was another woman in the plot, a Jewish girl named Hesse Helfman. Eight men constituted the remainder of the party.
The fatal day came in March, 1881. On the morning of the 12th Melikoff, minister of the interior, told the czar that a man connected with the railroad explosion had just been arrested, on whose person were found papers indicating a new plot. He earnestly entreated Alexander to avoid exposing himself. On the next morning the czar went early to mass, and subsequently accompanied his brother, the Grand Duke Michael, to inspect his body-guard. Sophia Perovskya had been apprised of these intended movements, and informed the chief conspirators, who at once determined that the deed should be done that day. The lover of Hesse Helfman had been arrested and had at once shot himself. Papers of an incriminating character had been found in her house, and it was feared that further delay might frustrate the plot, so that the purpose of waiting until the czar and his son might be slain together was abandoned. It was not known which street the czar would take. If he took the one, the mine was to be exploded; if the other, the bombs were to be thrown.
Two men, Resikoff and Elnikoff, the latter a young man completely under Sophia's influence, were to throw the bombs. She took a position from which she might signal the approach of the carriage. As it proved, the Catharine Canal route was taken. The carriage approached. Everything wore its usual aspect. There was nothing to excite suspicion. Suddenly a dark object was hurled from the sidewalk through the air and a tremendous report was heard. Resikoff had flung his bomb. A baker's boy and the Cossack footman of the czar were instantly killed, but the intended victim was unhurt and the horses were only slightly wounded. The coachman, who had escaped injury, wished to drive onward at speed out of the quickly gathering crowd, but Alexander, who had seen his footman fall, insisted on getting out of the carriage to assist him. It was a fatal resolve. As his feet touched the ground, Elnikoff flung his bomb. It exploded at the feet of the czar with such force as to throw men many yards distant to the ground, but proved fatal to only two, Elnikoff, who was instantly killed, and Alexander, who was mortally wounded, his lower limbs and the lower part of his body being frightfully shattered. He survived for a few hours in dreadful pain.
Terrible as was the crime, it was worse than useless. The proposed rising did not take place. A new czar immediately succeeded the dead one. The hoped-for constitution perished with him upon whom it depended. The Nihilists, instead of gaining liberal institutions, had set back the clock of reform for a generation, and perhaps much longer. Of the conspirators, one of the men was killed, one shot himself, and two escaped; the other four were executed. Of the women, Sophia was executed. She knew too much, and those who had betrayed to her the secrets of the court, fearing that she might implicate them, privately urged the new czar to sign her death-warrant. She held her peace, and died without a word.
THE ADVANCE OF RUSSIA IN ASIA.
The Emperor of Russia, lord of his people, absolute autocrat over some one hundred and twenty-five millions of the human race, to-day stands master not only of half the soil of Europe but of more than a third of the far greater continent of Asia. To gain some definite idea of the total extent of this vast empire it may suffice to say that it is considerably more than double the size of Europe, and nearly as large as the whole of North America. The tales already given will serve to show how the European empire of Russia gradually spread outward from its early home in the city and state of Novgorod until it covered half the continent. How Russia made its way into Asia has been described in part in the story of the conquest of Siberia. The remainder needs to be told.
It is now more than three hundred years since the Cossack robber Yermak invaded Siberia, and more than two centuries since that vast section of Northern Asia was added to the Russian empire. The great river Amur, flowing far through Eastern Siberia to the Pacific, was discovered in 1643 by a party of Cossack hunters, who launched their boats on this magnificent stream and sailed down it to the sea. It was Chinese soil through which it ran, its waters flowing through the province of Manchuria, the native land of the emperors of China.
But to this the Russian pioneers paid little heed. They invaded Chinese soil, built forts on the Amur, and for forty years war went on. In the end they were driven out, and China came to her own again.
Thus matters stood until the year 1854. Six years before, an officer with four Cossacks had been sent down the river to spy out the land. They never returned, and not a word could be had from China as to their fate. In the year named the Russians explored the river in force. China protested, but did not act, and the whole vast territory north of the stream was proclaimed as Russian soil. Forts were built to make good the claim, and China helplessly yielded to the gigantic steal. Since then Russia has laid hands on an extensive slice of Chinese territory which lies on the Pacific coast far to the south of the Amur, and has forcibly taken possession of the Japanese island of Saghalien. Her avaricious eyes are fixed on the kingdom of Corea, and the whole of Manchuria may yet become Russian soil.
Siberia is by no means the inhospitable land of ice which the name suggests to our minds. That designation applies well to its northern half, but not to the Siberia of the south. Here are vast fertile plains, prolific in grain, which need only the coming railroad facilities to make this region the granary of the Russian empire. The great rivers and the numerous lakes of the country abound in valuable fish; large forests of useful timber are everywhere found; fur-bearing animals yield a rich harvest in the icy regions of the north; the mineral wealth is immense, including iron, gold, silver, platinum, copper, and lead; precious stones are widely found, among them the diamond, emerald, topaz, and amethyst; and of ornamental stones may be named malachite, jasper, and porphyry, from which magnificent vases, tables, and other articles of ornament are made. The region on the Amur and its tributaries is particularly valuable and rich, and a great population is destined in the future to find an abiding-place in this vast domain.
South of Siberia lies another immense extent of territory, stretching across the continent, and comprising the great upland plain known as the steppes. On this broad expanse rain rarely falls, and its surface is half a desert, unfit for agriculture, but yielding pasturage to vast herds of cattle, horses, and sheep, the property of wandering tribes. Here is the great home of the nomad, and from these broad plains conquering hordes have poured again and again over the civilized world. From here came the Huns, who devastated Europe in Roman days; the Turks, who later overthrew the Eastern Empire; and the Mongols, who, led by Genghis and Tamerlane, committed frightful ravages in Asia and for centuries lorded it over Russia.
To-day the greater part of this vast territory belongs to China. But westward from Chinese Mongolia extends a broad region of the steppes, bordering upon Europe on the west, and traversed by numerous wandering tribes known by the name of the Kirghis hordes. For many years Russia, the great annexer, has been quietly extending her power over the domain of the hordes, until her rule has become supreme in the land of the Kirghis, which in all maps of Europe is now given as part of Siberia.
One by one military posts have been established in this semi-desert realm, the wandering tribes being at first cajoled and in the end defied. The glove of silk has been at first extended to the tribes, but within it the hand of iron has always held fast its grasp. The simple-minded chiefs have easily been brought over to the Russian schemes. Some of them have been won by money and soft words; others by some mark of distinction, such as a medal, a handsome sabre, a cocked hat or a gold-laced coat. Rather than give these up some of them would have sold half the steppes. They have signed papers of which they did not understand a word, and given away rights of whose value they were utterly ignorant.
Thus insidiously has the power of the emperor made its way into the steppes, fort after fort being built, those in the rear being abandoned as the country became subdued and new forts arose in the south. Cities have risen around some of these forts, of which may be mentioned Kopal and Vernoje, which to-day have thousands of inhabitants.
"Russia is thus surrounding the Kirgheez hordes with civilization," says the traveller Atkinson, "which will ultimately bring about a moral revolution in this country. Agriculture and other branches of industry will be introduced by the Russian peasant, than whom no man can better adapt himself to circumstances."
Michie, another traveller, gives in brief the general method of the Russian advance. It will be seen to be similar to that by which the Indian lands of the western United States were gained. "The Cossacks at Russian stations make raids on their own account on the Kirgheez, and subject them to rough treatment. An outbreak occurs which it requires a military force to subdue. An expedition for this purpose is sent every year to the Kirgheez steppes. The Russian outposts are pushed farther and farther south, more disturbances occur, and so the front is year by year extended, on pretence of keeping peace. This has been the system pursued by the Russian government in all its aggressions in Asia."
But this does not tell the whole story of the Russian advance in Asia. South of the Kirghis steppes lies another great and important territory, known as Central Asia, or Turkestan. Much of this region is absolute desert, wide expanses of sand, waterless and lifeless, on which to halt is to court death. Only swift-moving troops of horsemen, or caravans carrying their own supplies, dare venture upon these arid plains. But within this realm of sand lie a number of oases whose soil is well watered and of the highest fertility. Two mighty rivers traverse these lands, the Amu-Daria—once known as the Oxus—and the Syr-Daria—formerly the Jaxartes,—both of which flow into the Sea of Aral. It is to the waters of these streams that the fertility of the oases is due, they being diverted from their course to irrigate the land.
Three of the oases are of large size. Of these Khiva has the Caspian Sea as its western boundary, Bokhara lies more to the east, while northeast of the latter extends Khokand. The deserts surrounding these oases have long been the lurking-places of the Turkoman nomads, a race of wild and warlike horsemen, to whom plunder is as the breath of life, and who for centuries kept Persia in alarm, carrying off hosts of captives to be sold as slaves.
The religion of Arabia long since made its way into this land, whose people are fanatical Mohammedans. Its leading cities, Khiva, Bokhara, and Samarcand, have for many centuries been centres of bigotry. For ages Turkestan remained a land of mystery. No European was sure for a moment of life if he ventured to cross its borders. Vambery, the traveller, penetrated it disguised as a dervish, after years of study of the language and habits of the Mohammedans, yet he barely escaped with life. It is pleasant to be able to say that this state of affairs has ceased. Russia has curbed the violence of the fanatics and the nomads, and the once silent and mysterious land is now traversed by the iron horse.
The first step of Russian invasion in this quarter was made in 1602. In that year a Russian force captured the city of Khiva, but was not able to hold its prize. In 1703, during the reign of Peter the Great, the Khan of Khiva placed his dominions under Russian rule, and during the century Khiva continued friendly, but after the opening of the nineteenth century it became bitterly hostile.
Meanwhile Russia was making its way towards the Caspian and Aral seas. In 1835 a fort was built on the eastern shore of the Caspian and several armed steamers were placed on its waters. Four years later war broke out with Khiva, and the khan was forced to give up some Russian prisoners he had seized. In 1847 a fort was built on the Sea of Aral, at the mouth of the Syr-Daria, whose waters formed the only safe avenue to the desert-girdled khanate of Khokand. Steamers were brought in sections from Sweden, being carried with great labor across the desert to the inland sea, on whose banks they were put together and launched. Armed with cannon, they quickly made their appearance on the navigable waters of the Syr.
The Amu-Daria is not navigable, so that the Syr at that time formed the only ready channel of approach to Khokand, and from this to the other khanates, none of which could be otherwise reached without a long and dangerous desert march. Russia thus, by planting herself at the mouth of the Syr, had gained the most available position from which to begin a career of conquest in Central Asia.
War necessarily followed these steps of invasion. In 1853 the Russians besieged and captured the fort of Ak Mechet, on the Syr, thought by its holders to be impregnable. Up the river, bordered on each side by a narrow band of vegetation from which a desert spread away, the Russians gradually advanced, finally planting a military post within thirty-two miles of Tashkend, the military key of Central Asia.
Such was the state of affairs in 1862, when war arose between the khanates themselves, and the Emir of Bokhara invaded and conquered Khokand. Russia looked on, awaiting its opportunity. It came at length in an appeal from the merchants of Tashkend for protection. The protection came in true Russian style, a Cossack force marching into and occupying the town, which has since then remained in Russian hands. The movement of invasion went on until a large portion of Khokand was seized.
This audacious procedure of the Muscovites, as the Emir of Bokhara regarded it, roused that ruler to a high pitch of fury and fanaticism. He imprisoned Colonel Struve, an eminent Russian astronomer who was on a mission to his capital, and declared a holy war against the invading infidels.
The emir had little fear of his foes, having what he considered two impassable lines of defence. Of these the first was the desert, which enclosed his land as within a wall of sand. The second, and in his view the more impregnable, was the large number of saints that lay buried in Bokharan soil, before whose graves the infidel host would surely be stayed.
He probably soon lost faith in the saints, for the Russians quickly drove his troops out of Khokand and then invaded Bokhara itself, defeating his troops near the venerable and famous city of Samarcand, of which they immediately afterwards took possession. These infidel assaults soon brought the holy war to an end, the emir being forced to cede Samarcand and three other places to Russia, the four being so chosen as to give the invaders full military control of the country.
This disaster, which fell upon Bokhara in 1868, was repeated in Khiva in 1873. Bokharan troops aided the Russians, and Bokhara was rewarded with a generous slice of the conquered territory. Khiva was overthrown as quickly as the other oases had been, and the whole of Central Asia became Russian soil. It is true that a shadow of the old government is maintained, the khans of Bokhara and Khiva still occupying their thrones. But they are mere puppets to move as the Czar of Russia pulls the strings. As for Khokand, it has disappeared from the map of Asia, being replaced by the Russian province of Ferghana.
We have thus in few words told a long and vital story, that of the steps by which Russia gained its strong foothold in Asia, and extended its boundaries from the Ural Mountains and Caspian Sea to the Pacific Ocean and the boundaries of China, Persia, and India, all of which may yet become part of the vast Russian empire, if what some consider the secret purpose of Russia be carried out.
Asia has been won by the sword; it is being held by other influences. Schools have been founded among the Kirghis, and a newspaper is printed in their language. Their plundering habits have been suppressed, agriculture is encouraged, and luxuries are being introduced into the steppes, with the result of changing the ideas and habits of the nomads. Thriving Cossack colonies have grown up on the plains, and the wandering barbarians behold with wonder the ways and means of civilization in their midst.
The same may be said of Turkestan, in which violence has been suppressed and industry encouraged, while the Russian population, alike of the steppes and of the oases, is rapidly increasing. A railroad penetrates the formerly mysterious land, trains roll daily over its soil, carrying great numbers of Asiatic passengers, and an undreamed-of activity of commerce has taken the place of the old-time plundering raids of the half-savage Turkoman horsemen.
The Russian is thoroughly adapted to deal with the Asiatic. Half an Asiatic himself, in spite of his fair complexion, he knows how to baffle the arts and overcome the prejudices of his new subjects. The Russian diplomatist has all the softness and suavity of his Asiatic congeners. He conforms to their customs and allows them to delay and prevaricate to their hearts' content. He is an adept in the art of bribery, has emissaries everywhere, and is much too deeply imbued with this Asiatic spirit for the bluntness of European methods. "You must beat about the bush with a Russian," we are told. "You must flatter them and humbug them. You must talk about everything but the thing. If you want to buy a horse you must pretend you want to sell a cow, and so work gradually round to the point in view."
Thus the shrewd Russian has gained point after point from his Oriental neighbors, and has succeeded in annexing a vast territory while keeping on the friendliest of terms with his new subjects. He has respected their prejudices, left their religions untouched, dealt with them in their own ways, and is rapidly planting the Muscovite type of civilization where Asiatic barbarism had for untold ages prevailed.
No man can predict the final result of these movements. Asia has been in all ages the field of great invasions and of the sudden building up of immense empires. But the movements of the Muscovite conquerors have none of the torrent rush of those great invasions of the past. The Russian advances with extreme caution, takes no risks, and makes sure of his game before he shows his hand. He prepares the ground in front before taking a step forward, and all that he leaves in his rear falls into the strong folds of the imperial net. Gold and diplomacy are his weapons equally with the sword, and in the progress of his arms we seem to see Europe marching into Asia with a solid and unyielding front.
THE RAILROAD IN TURKESTAN.
On the 24th of January, 1881, Edward O'Donovan, a daring traveller who had journeyed far through the wastes and wilds of Turkestan, found himself on a mountain summit not far removed from the northern boundary of Persia, from which his startled eyes beheld a spectacle of fearful import. Below him the desert stretched in a broad level far away to the distant horizon. Near the foot of the range rose a great fortress, within which at that moment a frightful struggle was taking place. Bringing his field-glass to bear upon the scene, the traveller saw a host of terror-stricken fugitives streaming across the plain, and hot upon their steps a throng of merciless pursuers, who slaughtered them in multitudes as they fled. Even from where he stood the white face of the desert seemed changing to a crimson hue.
What the astounded traveller beheld was the death-struggle of the desert Turkomans, the hand of retribution smiting those savage brigands who for centuries had carried death and misery wherever they rode. These were the Tekke Turkomans, the tribes who haunted the Persian frontier, and whose annual raids swept hundreds of captives from that peaceful land to spend the remainder of their days in the most woful form of slavery. For a month previous General Skobeleff, the most daring and merciless of the Russian leaders, had besieged them in their great fort of Geop Tepe, an earthwork nearly three miles in circuit, and containing within its ample walls a desert nation, more than forty thousand in all, men, women, and children.
On that day, fatal to the Turkoman power, Skobeleff had taken the fort by storm, dealing death wherever he moved, until not a man was left alive within its walls except some hundreds of fettered Persian slaves. Through its gateways a trembling multitude had fled, and upon these miserable fugitives the Russian had let loose his soldiers, horse, foot, and artillery, with the savage order to hunt them to the death and give no quarter.
Only too well was the brutal order obeyed. Not men alone, but women and children as well, fell victims to the sword, and only when night put an end to the pursuit did that terrible massacre cease. By that time eight thousand persons, of both sexes and all ages, lay stretched in death upon the plain. Within the fort thousands more had fallen, the women and children here being spared. Skobeleff's report said that twenty thousand in all had been slain.
Such was the frightful scene which lay before O'Donovan's eyes when he reached the mountain top, on his way to the Russian camp, a spectacle of horrible carnage which only a man of the most savage instincts could have ordered. "Bloody Eyes" the Turkomans named Skobeleff, and the title fairly indicated his ruthless lust for blood. It was his theory of war to strike hard when he struck at all, and to make each battle a lesson that would not soon be forgotten. The Turkoman nomads have been taught their lesson well. They have given no trouble since that day of slaughter and revenge.
Such was one of the weapons with which the Russians conquered the desert,—the sword. It was succeeded by another,—the iron rail. It is now some twenty years since the idea of a railroad from the Caspian Sea eastward was first advanced. In 1880 a narrow-gauge road was begun to aid Skobeleff, but that daring and impetuous chief had made his march and finished his work before the rails had crept far on their way. Soon it was determined to change the narrow-gauge for a broad-gauge road, and General Annenkoff, a skilful engineer, was placed in charge in 1885, with orders to push it forward with all speed.
It was a new and bold project which the Russians had in view. Never before had a railroad been built across so bleak a plain, a treeless and waterless expanse, stretching for hundreds of miles in a dead level, over which the winds drove at will the shifting sands, constantly threatening to bury any work which man ventured to lay upon the desert's broad breast. West of Bokhara and south of Khiva stretched the great desert of Kara-Kum, touching the Caspian Sea on the west, the Amu-Daria River on the east, the home of the wandering Turkomans, the born foes of the settled races, but from whom all thought of disputing the Russian rule had for the time been driven by Skobeleff's death-dealing blade.
The total length of the road thus ordered to be built—extending from the shores of the Caspian Sea, the outpost of European Russia, to the far-away city of Samarcand, the ancient capital of Timur the Tartar, and the very stronghold of Asiatic barbarism—was little short of a thousand miles, of which several hundred were bleak and barren desert. Two immense steppes, waterless, and scorching hot in summer, lay on the route, while it traversed the oases of Kizil-Arvat, Merv, Charjui, and Bokhara. In the northern section of the last lay the famous city of Samarcand, the eastern terminus of the road. The western terminus was at Usun-ada, on the Caspian, and opposite the petroleum region of Baku, perhaps the richest oil-yielding district in the world.
General Annenkoff had special difficulties to overcome in the building of this road, of a kind never met with by railroad engineers before. Chief among these were the lack of water and the instability of the roadway, the wind at times manifesting an awkward disposition to blow out the foundation from under the ties, at other times to bury the whole road under acres of flying sand.
These difficulties were got rid of in various ways. Fresh water, made by boiling the salt water of the Caspian and condensing the steam, was carried in vats or tuns over the road to the working parties. At a later date water was conveyed in pipes from the mountains to fill cisterns at the stations, whence it was carried in canals or underground conduits along the line, every well and spring on the route being utilized.
To overcome the shifting of the sand, near the Caspian it was thoroughly soaked with salt water, and at other places was covered with a layer of clay. But there are long distances where no such means could be employed, at least two hundred miles of utter wilderness, where the surface resembles a billowy sea, the sand being raised in loose hillocks and swept from the troughs between, flying in such clouds before every wind that an incessant battle with nature is necessary to keep the road from burial. To prevent this, tamarisk, wild oats, and desert shrubs are planted along the line, and in particular that strange plant of the wilderness, the saxaoul, whose branches are scraggly and scant, but whose sturdy roots sink deep into the sand, seeking moisture in the depths. Fascines of the branches of this plant were laid along the track and covered with sand, and in places palisades were built, of which only the tops are now visible.
Yet despite all these efforts the sands creep insidiously on, and in certain localities workmen have to be kept employed, shovelling it back as it comes, and fighting without cessation against the forces of the desert and the winds. In the building of the road, and in this battling with the sands, Turkomans have been largely employed, having given up brigandage for honest labor, in which they have proved the most efficient of the various workmen engaged upon the road.
Aside from the peculiar difficulties above outlined, the Transcaspian Railway was remarkably favored by nature. For nearly the whole distance the country is as flat as a billiard-table, and the road so straight that at times it runs for twenty or thirty miles without the shadow of a curve. In the entire distance there is not a tunnel, and only some small cuttings have been made through hills of sand. Of bridges, other than mere culverts, there are but three in the whole length of the road, the only large one being that over the Amu-Daria. This is a hastily built, rickety affair of timber, put up only as a make-shift, and at the mercy of the stream if a serious rise should take place.
The whole road, indeed, was hastily made, with a single track, the rails simply spiked down, and the work done at the rate of from a mile to a mile and a half a day. Before the Bokharans fairly realized what was afoot, the iron horse was careering over their level plains, and the shrill scream of the locomotive whistle was startling the saints in their graves.
Over such a road no great speed can be attained. Thirty miles an hour is the maximum, and from ten to twenty miles the average speed, while the stops at stations are exasperatingly long to travellers from the impatient West. To the Asiatics they are of no concern, time being with them not worth a moment's thought.
In the operation of this road petroleum waste is used as fuel, the refining works at Baku yielding an inexhaustible supply. The carriages are of mixed classes, some being two stories in height, each story of different class. There are very few first-class carriages on the road. As for the stations, some of them are miles from the road, that of Bokhara being ten miles away. This method was adopted to avoid exciting the prejudices of the Asiatics, who at first were not in favor of the road, regarding it as a device of Shaitan, the spirit of evil. Yet the "fire-cart," as they call it, is proving very convenient, and they have no objection to let this fiery Satan haul their grain and cotton to market and carry themselves across the waterless plains. The camel is being thrown out of business by this shrill-voiced prince of evil. The road is being extended over the oases, and will in the end bring all Turkestan under its control.
It almost takes away one's breath to think of railway stations and time-tables in connection with the old-time abiding-place of the terrible Tartar, and of the iron horse careering across the empire of barbarism, rushing into the metropolis of superstition, and waking with the scream of the steam whistle the silent centuries of the Orient. Nothing of greater promise than this planting of the railroad in Central Asia has been performed of recent years. The son of the desert is to be civilized despite himself, and to be taught the arts and ideas of the West by the irresistible logic of steel and steam.
But this enterprise is a minor one compared with that which Russia has recently completed, that of a railway extending across the whole width of Siberia, being, with its branches, more than five thousand miles long—much the longest railway in the world. Work on this was begun in 1890, and it is now completed to Vladivostok, the chief Russian port on the Pacific, a traveller being able to ride from St. Petersburg to the shores of the Pacific Ocean without change of cars. A branch of this road runs southward through Manchuria to Port Arthur, but as a result of the war with Japan this has been transferred to China, Manchuria being wrested from the controlling grasp of Russia. It is a single-track road, but it is proposed to double-track it throughout its entire length, thus greatly increasing its availability as a channel of transport alike in war and peace.
All this is of the deepest significance. The railroad in Asia has come to stay; and with its coming the barbarism of the past is nearing its end. The sleeping giant of Orientalism is stirring uneasily in its bed, its drowsy senses stirred by the shrill alarum of the locomotive whistle. New ideas and new habits must follow in the track of the iron horse. The West is forcing itself into the East, with all its restless activity. In the time to come this whole broad continent is destined to be covered with railroads as with a vast spider-web; new industries will be established, machinery introduced, and the great region of the steppes, famous in the past only as the starting-point of conquering migrations, must in the end become an active centre of industry, the home of peace and prosperity, a new-found abiding-place of civilization and human progress.
AN ESCAPE FROM THE MINES OF SIBERIA.
The name Siberia calls up to our minds the vision of a stupendous prison, a vast open penitentiary larger than the whole United States, a continental place of captivity which for three centuries past has been the seat of more wretchedness and misery than any other land inhabited by the human race. To that far, frozen land a stream of the best and worst of the people of Russia has steadily flowed, including prisoners of state, religious dissenters, rebels, Polish patriots, convicts, vagabonds, and all others who in any way gave offence to the authorities or stood in the way of persons in power.
Not freedom of action alone, but even freedom of thought, is a crime in Russia. It is a land of innumerable spies, of secret arrest and rapid condemnation, in which the captive may find himself on the road to Siberia without knowing with what crime he is charged, while his friends, even his wife and family, may remain in ignorance of his fate. Every year a convoy of some twenty thousand wretched prisoners is sent off to that dismal land, including the ignorant and the educated, the debased and the refined, men and women, young and old, the horror of exile being added to indescribably by this mingling of delicate and refined men and women with the rudest and most brutal of the convict class, all under the charge of mounted Cossacks, well armed, and bearing long whips as their most effective arguments of control.
It may be said here that the misery of this long journey on foot has been somewhat mitigated since the introduction of railroads and steamboats, and will very likely be done away with when the Trans-siberian Railway is finished; but for centuries the horrors of the convict train have piteously appealed to the charity of the world, while the sufferings and brutalities which the exiles have had to endure stand almost without parallel in the story of convict life.
The exiles are divided into two classes, those who lose all and those who lose part of their rights. Of a convict of the former class neither the word nor the bond has any value: his wife is released from all duty to him, he cannot possess any property or hold any office. In prison he wears convict clothes, has his head half shaved, and may be cruelly flogged at the will of the officials, or murdered almost with impunity. Those deprived of partial rights are usually sent to Western Siberia; those deprived of total rights are sent to Eastern Siberia, where their life, as workers in the mines, is so miserable and monotonous that death is far more of a relief than something to be feared.
Many of the exiles escape,—some from the districts where they live free, with privilege of getting a living in any manner available, others from the prisons or mines. The mere feat of running away is in many cases not difficult, but to get out of the country is a very different matter. The officers do not make any serious efforts to prevent escapes, and can be easily bribed to allow them, since they are enabled then to turn in the name of the prisoner as still on hand and charge the government for his support. In the gold-mines the convicts work in gangs, and here one will lie in a ditch and be covered with rubbish by his comrades. When his absence is discovered he is not to be found, and at nightfall he slips from the trench and makes for the forest.
To spend the summer in the woods is the joy of many convicts. They have no hope of getting out of the country, which is of such vast extent that winter is sure to descend upon them before they can approach the border, but the freedom of life in the woods has for them an undefinable charm. Then as the frigid season approaches they permit themselves to be caught, and go back to their labor or confinement with hearts lightened by the enjoyment of their vagrant summer wanderings. There is in some cases another advantage to be gained. A twenty years' convict who has escaped and lets himself be caught again may give a false name, and avoid all incriminating answers through a convenient failure of memory. If not detected, he may in this way get off with a five years' sentence as a vagrant. But if detected his last lot is worse than his first, since the time he has already served goes for nothing.
There is another peril to which escaping prisoners are exposed. The native tribes are apt to look upon them as game and shoot them down at sight. It is said that they receive three roubles for each convict they bring to the police, dead or alive. "If you shoot a squirrel," they say, "you get only his skin; but if you shoot a varnak [convict] you get his skin and his clothing too."
Atkinson, the Siberian traveller, tells a remarkable story of an escape of prisoners, which may be given in illustration of the above remarks. One night in September, 1850, the people of Barnaoul, a town in Western Siberia, were roused from their slumbers by the clatter of a party of mounted Cossacks galloping up the quiet street. The story they brought was an alarming one. Siberia had been invaded by three thousand Tartars of the desert, who were marching towards the town. Nearly all the gold from the Siberian gold-mines lay in Barnaoul, waiting to be smelted into bars and sent to St. Petersburg. There was much silver also, with abundance of other valuable government stores. All this would form a rich booty for an army of nomad plunderers, could they obtain it, and the news filled the town with excitement and alarm.
As the night passed and the day came on, other Cossacks arrived with still more alarming news. The three thousand had grown to seven thousand, many of them armed with rifles, who were burning the Kalmuck villages as they advanced, and murdering every man, woman, and child who fell into their hands. Some thought that the wild hordes of Asia were breaking loose again, as in the time of Genghis Khan, and the terror of many of the people grew intense.
By noon the enemy had increased to ten thousand, and the people everywhere were flying before their advance. Hasty steps were taken for defence and for the safety of the gold and silver, while orders were despatched in all directions to gather a force to meet them on their way. But as the days passed on the alarm began to subside. The number of the invaders declined almost as rapidly as it had grown. They were not advancing upon the town. No army was needed to oppose them, and Cossacks were sent to stop the march of the troops. In the course of two days more the truth was sifted from the mass of wild rumors and reports. The ten thousand invaders dwindled to forty Circassian prisoners who had escaped from the gold-mines on the Birioussa.
These fugitives had not a thought of invading the Russian dominions. They were prisoners of war who, with heartless cruelty, had been condemned to the mines of Siberia for the crime of a patriotic effort to save their country, and their sole purpose was to return to their far-distant homes.
By the aid of small quantities of gold, which they had managed to hide from their guards, they succeeded in purchasing a sufficient supply of rifles and ammunition from the neighboring tribesmen, which they hid in a mountain cavern about seven miles away. There was no fear of the Tartars betraying them, as they had received for the arms ten times their value, and would have been severely punished if found with gold in their possession.
On a Saturday afternoon near the end of July, 1850, after completing the day's labors, the Circassians left the mine in small parties, going in different directions. This excited no suspicion, as they were free to hunt or otherwise amuse themselves after their work. They gradually came together in a mountain ravine about six miles south of the mines. Not far from this locality a stud of spare horses were kept at pasture, and hither some of the fugitives made their way, reaching the spot just as the animals were being driven into the enclosure for the night. The three horse-keepers suddenly found themselves covered with rifles and forced to yield themselves prisoners, while their captors began to select the best horses from the herd.
The Circassians deemed it necessary to take the herdsmen with them to prevent them from giving the alarm. Two of these also were skilful hunters and well acquainted with the surrounding mountain regions, and were likely to prove useful as guides. In all fifty-five horses were chosen, out of the three or four hundred in the herd. The remainder were turned out of the enclosure and driven into the forest, as if they had broken loose and their keepers were absent in search of them. This done, the captors sought their friends in the glen, by whom they were received with cheers, and before midnight, the moon having risen, the fugitives began their long and dangerous journey.
Sunrise found them on a high summit, which commanded a view of the gold-mine they had left, marked by the curling smoke which rose from fires kept constantly alive to drive away the mosquitoes, the pests of the region. Taking a last look at their place of exile, they moved on into a grassy valley, where they breakfasted and fed their horses. On they went, keeping a sharp watch upon their guides, day by day, until the evening of the fourth day found them past the crest of the range and descending into a narrow valley, where they decided to spend the night.
Thus far all had gone well. They were now beyond the Russian frontier and in Chinese territory, and as their guides knew the country no farther, they were set free and their rifles restored to them. Venison had been obtained plentifully on the march, and fugitives and captives alike passed the evening in feasting and enjoyment. With daybreak the Siberians left to return to the mine and the Circassians resumed their route.
From this time onward difficulties confronted them. They were in a region of mountains, precipices, ravines, and torrents. One dangerous river they swam, but, instead of keeping on due south, the difficulties of the way induced them to change their course to the west, alarmed, probably, by the vast snowy peaks of the Tangnou Mountains in the distance, though if they had passed these all danger from Siberia would have been at an end. As it was, after more than three weeks of wandering, the nature of the country forced them towards the northwest, until they came upon the eastern shore of the Altin-Kool Lake.
Here was their final chance. Had they followed the lake southerly they might still have reached a place of safety. But ill fortune brought them upon it at a point where it seemed easiest to round it on the north, and they passed on, hoping soon to reach its western shores. But the Bea, the impassable torrent that flows from the lake, forced them again many miles northward in search of a ford, and into a locality from which their chance of escape was greatly reduced.
More than two months had passed since they left the mines, and the poor wanderers were still in the vast Siberian prison, from which, if they had known the country, they might now have been far away. The region they had reached was thinly inhabited by Kalmuck Tartars, and they finally entered a village of this people, with whose inhabitants they unluckily got into a broil, ending in a battle, in which several Kalmucks were killed and the village burned.
To this event was due the terrifying news that reached Barnaoul, the alarm being carried to a Cossack fort whose commandant was drunk at the time and sent out a series of exaggerated reports. As for the fugitives, they had in effect signed their death-warrant by their conflict with the Kalmucks. The news spread from tribe to tribe, and when the real number of the fugitives was learned the tribesmen entered savagely into pursuit, determined to obtain revenge for their slain kinsmen. The Circassians were wandering in an unknown country. The Kalmucks knew every inch of the ground. Scouts followed the fugitives, and after them came well-mounted hunters, who rapidly closed upon the trail, being on the evening of the third day but three miles away.
The Circassians had crossed the Bea and turned to the south, but here they found themselves in an almost impassable group of snow-clad mountains. On they pushed, deeper and deeper into the chain, still closely pursued, the Kalmucks so managing the pursuit as to drive them into a pathless region of the hills. This accomplished, they came on leisurely, knowing that they had their prey safe.
At length the hungry and weary warriors were driven into a mountain pass, where the pursuers, who had hitherto saved their bullets, began a savage attack, rifle-balls dropping fast into the glen. The fugitives sought shelter behind some fallen rocks, and returned the fire with effect. But they were at a serious disadvantage, the hunters, who far outnumbered them, and knew every crag in the ravines, picking them off in safety from behind places of shelter. From point to point the Circassians fell back, defending their successive stations desperately, answering every call to surrender with shouts of defiance, and holding each spot until the fall of their comrades warned them that the place was no longer tenable.
Night fell during the struggle, and under its cover the remaining fifteen of the brave fugitives made their way on foot deeper into the mountains, abandoning their horses to the merciless foe. At daybreak they resumed their march, scaling the rocky heights in front. Here, scanning the country in search of their pursuers, not one of whom was to be seen, they turned to the west, a range of snow-clad peaks closing the way in front. A forest of cedars before them seemed to present their only chance of escape, and they hurried towards it, but when within two hundred yards of the wood a puff of white smoke rose from a thicket, and one of the fugitives fell. The hunters had ambushed them on this spot, and as they rushed for the shelter of some rocks near by five more fell before the bullets of their foes.
The fire was returned with some effect, and then a last desperate rush was made for the forest shelter. Only four of the poor fellows reached it, and of these some were wounded. The thick underwood now screened them from the volley that whistled after them, and they were soon safe from the effects of rifle-shots in the tangled forest depths.
Meanwhile the clouds had been gathering black and dense, and soon rain and sleet began to fall, accompanied by a fierce gale. Two small parties of Kalmucks were sent in pursuit, while the others began to prepare an encampment under the cedars. The storm rapidly grew into a hurricane, snow falling thick and whirling into eddies, while the pursuers were soon forced to return without having seen the small remnant of the gallant band. For three days the storm continued, and then was followed by a sharp frost. The winter had set in.
No further pursuit was attempted. It was not needed. Nothing more was ever seen of the four Circassians, nor any trace of them found. They undoubtedly found their last resting-place under the snows of that mountain storm.
THE SEA FIGHT IN THE WATERS OF JAPAN.
On the memorable Saturday of May 27, 1905, in far eastern waters in which the guns of war-ships had rarely thundered before, took place an event that opened the eyes of the world as if a new planet had swept into its ken or a great comet had suddenly blazed out in the eastern skies. It was that of one of the most stupendous naval victories in history, won by a people who fifty years before had just begun to emerge from the dim twilight of mediaeval barbarism.
Japan, the Nemesis of the East, had won her maiden spurs on the field of warfare in her brief conflict with China in 1894, but that was looked upon as a fight between a young game-cock and a decrepit barn-yard fowl, and the Western world looked with a half-pitying indulgence upon the spectacle of the long-slumbering Orient serving its apprenticeship in modern war. Yet the rapid and complete triumph of the island empire over the leviathan of the Asiatic continent was much of a revelation of the latent power that dwelt in that newly-aroused archipelago, and when in 1903 Japan began to speak in tones of menace to a second leviathan, that of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, the world's interest was deeply stirred again.
Would little Japan dare attack a European power and one so great and populous as Russia, with half Asia already in its clasp, with strong fortresses and fleets within striking distance, and with a continental railway over which it could pour thousands of armed battalions? The idea seemed preposterous, many looked upon the attitude of Japan as the madness of temerity, and when on February 6, 1904, the echo of the guns at Port Arthur was heard the world gave a gasp of astonishment and alarm.
Were there any among us then who believed it possible for little Japan to triumph over the colossus it had so daringly attacked? If any, they were very few. It is doubtful if there was a man in Russia itself who dreamed of anything but eventual victory, with probably the adding of the islands of Japan to its chaplet of orient pearls. True, the success of the attack on their fleet was a painful surprise, and when they saw their great iron-clads locked up in Port Arthur harbor it was cause for annoyance. But if the fleet had been taken by surprise, the fortress was claimed to be impregnable, the army was powerful and accustomed to victory over its foes in Asia, and it was with an amused contempt of their half-barbarian foes and confidence in rapid and brilliant triumph that the Muscovite cohorts streamed across Asia with arms in hand and hope in heart.
We do not propose to tell here what followed. The world knows it. Men read with an interest they had rarely taken in foreign affairs of the rapid and stupendous successes of the little soldiers of Nippon, the indomitable valor of the troops, the striking skill of their leaders, the breadth and completeness of their tactics, the training and discipline of the men, the rare hygienic condition of the camps, their impetuosity in attack, their persistence in pursuit; in short, the sudden advent of an army with all the requisites of a victorious career, as pitted against the ill-handled myriads of Russia, not wanting in brute courage, but sadly lacking in efficient leadership and strategical skill in their commanders.