At half-past six a body of French troops were observed to leave their trenches, and, in skirmishing order, to make their way towards the Mamelon. The guns of the Russian fort roared out, but already the assailants were too close for these to have much effect. Soon a great shout from the spectators on the hill proclaimed that the Zouaves, who always led the French attacks, had gained the parapet. Then, from within, a host of figures surged up against the sky, and a curious conflict raged on the very summit of the work. Soon, however, the increasing mass of the French, as they streamed up, enabled them to maintain the footing they had gained, and pouring down into the fort, they drove the Russians from it, the French pouring out in their rear. Twice fresh bodies of Russian reserves, coming up, attempted to roll back the French attack; but these, exultant with success, pressed forward, and, in spite of the fire which the guns of the Round Tower fort poured upon them, drove their enemies down the hill. It was growing dark now, and it could with difficulty be seen how the fight was going. Fresh masses of French troops poured from their advance trenches into the Mamelon, and there was no question that that point was decidedly gained.
Still however, the battle raged around it. The Zouaves, flushed with success, attempted to carry the Round Tower with a rush, and swept up to the abattis surrounding it. The Russians brought up fresh supports, and the whole hill-side was alive with the flicker of musketry. The Russian guns of all the batteries bearing upon the scene of action opened it, while those of our right attack, which were close to the French, opened their fire to aid our allies. Had the Zouaves been supported, it is probable that they would have carried the Round Tower with their rush, but this was not in the plan of operations, and, after fighting heroically for some time, they fell back to the Mamelon.
The fight on the British side had been less exciting. With a sudden rush our men had leaped on the advance trenches and driven the Russians from their position in the quarries. Then, rapidly turning the gabions of the trenches, they prepared to hold the ground they had taken. They were not to maintain their conquest unmolested, for soon the Russians poured down masses of troops to retake it. All night long the flash of fire flickered round the position, and six times the Russian officers led up their troops to the attack.
Our assaulting force was over 1000 men, and out of these 365 men and thirty-five officers were killed or wounded. Had a stronger body been detailed, there is no doubt that the Redan, which was near the quarries, could have been taken, for it was almost empty of troops, and our men, in the impetuosity of their first assault, arrived close to it. Great discontent was felt that measures should not have been taken to follow up the success, and both our allies and our own troops felt that a great opportunity had been missed, owing to the want of forethought of their generals.