Almost simultaneously, the pickets of the light division were also driven in, and General Codrington, who happened to be making his rounds at the front, at once sent a hurried messenger to the camp with the report that the Russians were attacking in force. The second division was that encamped nearest to the threatened spot. General Pennefather, who, as Sir De Lacy Evans was ill on board ship, was in command, called the men who had just turned out of their tents, and were beginning as best they could to light their fires of soaked wood, to stand to their arms, and hurried forward General Adam’s brigade, consisting of the 41st, 47th, and 49th, to the brow of the hill to check the advance of the enemy by the road from the valley, while with his own brigade, consisting of the 30th, 55th, and 95th, he took post on their flank. Already, however, the Russians had got their guns on to the high ground, and these opened a tremendous fire on the British troops.
Sir George Cathcart brought up such portions of the 20th, 21st, 46th, 57th, 63d, and 68th regiments as were not employed in the trenches, and occupied the ground to the right of the second division. General Codrington, with part of the 7th, 23d, and 33d, took post to cover the extreme of our right attack. General Buller’s brigade was to support the second division on the left, while Jeffrey’s brigade, with the 80th regiment, was pushed forward into the brushwood. The third division, under Sir R. England, was held in reserve. The Duke of Cambridge, with the Guards, advanced on the right of the second division to the edge of the plateau overlooking the valley of the Tchernaya, Sir George Cathcart’s division being on his right.
There was no manoeuvring. Each general led his men forward through the mist and darkness against an enemy whose strength was unknown, and whose position was only indicated by the flash of his guns and the steady roll of his musketry. It was a desperate strife between individual regiments and companies scattered and broken in the thick brushwood, and the dense columns of gray-clad Russians, who advanced from the mist to meet them. Few orders were given or needed. Each regiment was to hold the ground on which it stood, or die there.
Sir George Cathcart led his men down a ravine in front of him, but the Russians were already on the hillside above, and poured a terrible fire into the 63d. Turning, he cheered them on, and led them back up the hill; surrounded and enormously outnumbered, the regiments suffered terribly on their way back, Sir George Cathcart and many of his officers and vast numbers of the men being killed. The 88th were surrounded, and would have been cut to pieces, when four companies of the 77th charged the Russians, and broke a way of retreat for their comrades.
The Guards were sorely pressed; a heavy Russian column bore down upon them, and bayonet to bayonet, the men strove fiercely with their foes. The ammunition failed, but they still clung to a small, unarmed battery called the Sand-bag battery, in front of their portion, and with volleys of stones tried to check their foes. Fourteen officers and half the men were down, and yet they held the post till another Russian column appeared in their rear. Then they fell back, but, reinforced by a wing of the 20th, they still opposed a resolute front to the Russians.