First Contact - Action on the Bulganak, 19 September 1854
Having landed at Kalamita Bay during the period 13 – 18 September 1854, the Allied Army started south towards the city and port of Sebastapol, the primary objective of the force. The British Army at this time was very short of cavalry and the movements of the allies were constantly being shadowed by groups of Cossacks. The allied Army was strung out over a great distance and the British and French forces had become separated, with the French moving on the right along the coast. Being outnumbered significantly by the Russian cavalry it proved very difficult for British patrols to locate the Russian forces, and so the approach south was very cautious. In fact the main Russian field army, under the command of Prince Menshikoff, was by now positioned on the high ground overlooking the River Alma. The Russians had deployed a detachment forward of the main position under the command of General Kiriakoff, and it is this force that the British were about to encounter.
On the afternoon of 19 September the allied army reached a small river, the Bulganak, beyond which was a ridge that blocked the view to the south. On the summit of the ridge sat a group of Cossacks. At this point the British army was stretched out over several miles with a very small cavalry force at the front. The British dispatched 4 squadrons of cavalry to scout beyond the ridge.
At the crest of the ridge the ground dropped away over a shallow valley, beyond which was another ridge. In the low ground between the ridges a large force of Russian cavalry was slowly advancing in the direction of the British. On the far ridge were two regiments of infantry and some horse artillery.
This is the point that the battle begins. The British light cavalry are highly exposed facing an overwhelming force of cavalry and Cossacks. The cavalry commander, Lord Lucan arrives to survey the scene as the cavalry deploy into line.
At first the Russians appear transfixed, unsure as to what they should do. The British can do little other than watch until reinforcements arrive. Lucan sends for Lord Raglan, the Army Commander, who in turn orders some artillery, the 2nd and Light Divisions to cross the Bulganak and close with the enemy.
On the third move the Russian artillery on the ridge opens fire on the British cavalry to very little effect. Lord Raglan and his headquarters arrives on the field.
On move 4 the Cossacks deploy right and left to encircle the British cavalry, while the remainder advance in skirmish formation. The guns on the ridge continue their ineffective fire.
On move 5 a brisk skirmish develops with casualties mounting for both the British and Russian Cavalry. The British 2nd Division and Light Division begin to cross the river and an artillery battery rushes up across the bridge to engage the Russians.
Move 6 sees the Cossacks charge forward on the left crashing into the British cavalry destroying them, The remnants turn tail and rout back across the river. On the right flank the second group of Cossacks lunge for the British battery, which attempts to unlimber. A company of the Rifle Brigade attempt to engage the Cossacks with fire, but it is ineffective. The Cossacks charge home, smashing into the British gunners.
By turn 7, on the right flank the British artillery remnants run from the field, but the Rifle Brigade now have two companies on the ridge, who unleash devastating fire upon the Cossacks, cutting down over 60 of them. The Cossacks turn tale and retreat up the road.
On the left flank the 2nd Division, armed with Minie rifles tear into the Cossacks who have charged into the the British light cavalry and are regrouping after their charge. They take around a 100 casualties and break. Meanwhile the remaining Russian cavalry withdraw back out of rifle range towards the second ridge. The Russian artillery turns its attention to the 2nd Division which is emerging from the river. The British light cavalry rout from the field.
By turn 8 the two British Divisions are clear of the river and are advancing in a long line towards the Russians. On the other side of the valley, the Russian infantry advanced down the slope to engage the British.
On move 9 the British close the distance with the Russians and open fire at medium range causing some casualties. At this point the advantage of the rifle armed British becomes evident. The Russian muskets are not able to effectively reach the advancing enemy.
On move 10 both sides exchange fire along the ridge. The Russian fire is ineffective, but the British volleys are devastating. The Russian units begin to crumble and pull back up the ridge.
The battle is over. The British do not have any cavalry available to pursue and the remaining Russians withdraw beyond the ridge. So ends the first engagement.
The historical battle ended with the cavalry skirmish, after which the Russians withdrew (the cossacks did not charge and there was no infantry firefight).