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Edward Francis Todleben

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General Edward Francis Todleben (1818-1884)


1884 Obituary [1]

GENERAL EDWARD FRANCIS TODLEBEN was born on the 20th of May, 1818, at the town of Mitau. His life did not begin under favourable auspices, nor would any one have suspected that the son of the Mitau shopkeeper would be numberod with the greatest of Russian Generals.

Of Todleben it may well be said that his success was mainly due to perseverance and industry. He received an elemental education at a German private seminary in Riga, and at the age of fourteen he was sent to the Institute of Engineers of St. Petersburg. Owing to ill-health he was prevented from completing the curriculum of that establishment, and returned to Riga. Here he entered the Russian service as an Ensign in the local corps of engineers.

In 1840 he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and was transferred to the sapper-training battalion, then under the command of General Schilder, an officer famous for his thorough knowledge of field-engineering and of the construction of earthworks and military mines. Under this able leader Todleben had exceptional opportunities for studying those branches of the profession, to the perfect mastery of which he owed his great reputation.

Todleben received his “baptism of fire” in 1848, when he was sent to the Caucasus, and placed under Prince Argoutinsky-Dolgoroukoff, who commanded the left flank of the army. Thus, at the age of thirty, Todleben came to serve under one of the best Caucasian generals of the time, and went through a course of practical training such as the Caucasus alone could afford. In the operations against Shamil, he on frequent occasions gave evidences of personal bravery, as well as of sound professional abilities, especially at the siege of the fortress of Tchokh, which was conducted under his direction.

After two years’ active service Todleben returned to Russia, but in 1853, when the Turkish war broke out, he was attached as Adlatus to the, Danubian army under General Schilder. At, the siege of Silistria, Todleben, now Lieutenant-Colonel, acted as second in command, and on General Schilder being severely wounded, the conduct of the siege devolved on him. When England and France espoused the cause of Turkey, and the rumour flew through Russia that the allies were preparing to disembark an invading force in the Crimea, Prince Gortchakoff, the Commander-in-Chief of the Russian army, ordered Todleben to proceed to Sevastopol, and recommended him to the Commandant, Prince Mentshikoff, as a brave and dashing officer and an experienced military engineer, and suggested that the task of fortifying the town and the bay should be confided to him. At first Prince Mentshikoff received him somewhat coldly; but after Todleben had reconnoitred the position, and had sent in his report, the Prince’s manner changed, and he was ,treated with the greatest confidence and respect.

Sevastopol, though well defended towards the sea, was at this period practically open on the land side. The dilatoriness of the allies, in not attacking it sooner, was only equalled by the supineness of Prince Mentshikoff, who refused to believe they really intended a descent, until the battle of the Alma made further misconception impossible. The works were then commenced in hot haste and in earnest. At first the force at Todleben’s disposal was very small, but later, when the garrison was augmented, as many as ten thousand men worked in the trenches. The manner in which Sevastopol was fortified has become a matter of history.

It has been popularly supposed that Todleben revolutionized the science of fortification, and invented the system of detached earthwork-redoubts subsequently used with such deadly effect by the Turks against the Russians at Plevna, and on which all present systems of fortification are more or less based. This supposition is, however, scarcely correct. Todleben was not the first to discard the antiquated system of Vauban, but be does appear to have been the first to apply the new principles on a large scale. The success of his plan vindicated the correctness of the method, and gave a death-blow to the older forms. In a fortnight Todleben succeeded in erecting so formidable a series of works, that the allies were obliged to abandon the plan of carrying Sevastopol by assault, and found themselves compelled to sit down to an elaborate and laborious siege.

The besiegers commenced operations on the 10th of October, 1854, and, from that date until the final taking of the fortress-which did not occur till the 8th of September, 1855, the entire direction of the defensive works was confided to the sole care of Todleben. Every day fresh obstacles were placed in the way of the enemy: batteries were strengthened; a perfect network of counter-approaches was thrown out, and a subterranean war raged near some of the bastions. What caused the allies great losses was Todleben’s practice of placing sharpshooters, in detachments of not more than fifty men, in outlying trenches, which were generally constructed during the night, and were carried close to the lines of the allies, so that the Russians could fire on the besiegers from under cover.

The name of Todleben now became a household word throughout Russia. He was felt o be the bulwark of the nation. The Emperor Nicholas decorated him with the Order of St. Andrew, and he was rapidly promoted from Lieutenant-Colonel through the successive stages of Colonel, Major-General, and Lieutenant-General, to the rank of Adjutant-General. Nor was he debarred the distinction-which a soldier values more than any decoration-of being wounded in the service of his country.

On the 20th of June a ball struck him in the leg, and, owing to inflammation setting in, he was forced to keep his bed. Notwithstanding his sufferings, however, he continued to direct the operations of the defence from his couch, and maintained, amidst the torment of physical pain, that clearness and grasp of mind for which he was ever distinguished. The defence, and its honourable conclusion, will never be forgotten in military history. Well might Prince Gortchakoff say in a general order to the troops:

“It is a fact unexampled in military annals, that a town hastily fortified in the presence of the enemy should have been able to hold out SO long against a force, the means of attack of which have exceeded everything that hithedo could have been foreseen in calculations of this nature.”l Four years later Todleben was appointed a Director of the Engineering Department of the Russian War Office; and when this department was remodelled he was nominated Assistant Inspector-General of Engineering Affairs. This post he retained till 1877, when the Russians remembered that the great master of the system of fortifications which Osman Pasha had adopted, to their confusion, was himself a Russian and still in the country’s service. Jealousy was for Once silenced, and the veteran was called from his departmental office again to take the field, no longer obliged to restrict himself to the defensive, but invited to plan the attack. He acquitted himself of this task as became the defender of Sevastopol, and showed that during the long years of neglect, though his country had forgotten him, he had not forgotten his duty. He rectified the mistakes of incompetent generals ; infused a spirit of harmony where discord had reigned before, and took Osman Pasha prisoner. During the war the two most remarkable Russian generals of modern times, Todleben and Slrobeleff, frequently met? and cemented a warm and lasting friendship. In later years, when fighting his country’s battles against the Turcomans, the younger general came to value and appreciate the lessons of caution and prudence which his senior had taught him, and by which, as events showed, he had not failed to profit. Nor was Todleben deficient in that daring and love of adventure which was the life of his junior, who greatly admired and respected the dash and personal bravery of the old engineer. Upon the fall of Plevna, Todleben was decorated with the order of S6. George of the second class, and after the peace he was appointed Commander-in-Chief‘ of the Russian forces in European Turkey. Like most Russian military men, Todleben felt at that time very deeply what he could not help regarding as the humiliation of stopping before Constantinople, instead of investing it. But he controlled his feelings more soberly than Skoboleff.

Between the Crimean and the Turkish wars, Todleben made several journeys in Europe, and inspected most of the important fortresses of foreign countries. He came to England in 1856, and was very cordially received. He was elected an Honorary Xember of the Institution on the Gth of December, 1864, in which year was published his “History of the Defence of Sevastopol,” an elaborate work which enjoys a high reputation.

During the last years of his life Todleben was Governor-General, first of Odessa, and subsequently of Vilna. His military education, and habits of discipline and of exacting implicit obedience from subordinates, tended to make him an unpopular administrator at a time when Russian society was in an unusually sensitive condition, and when the stern letter of the law occasionally required an indulgent and elastic interpretation.

General Todleben died at Soden, near Wiesbaden, on the 1st of July, 1584, after a protracted illness. To the last he continued to take the greatest interest in all military questions, and particularly in the equipment and training of the troops entrusted to his charge. The Institute of Engineers at St. Petersburg, in which. he had once been a student, has since engraved his name on its walls in letters of gold, with the inscription, “Sevastopol, 1854-5.”



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