to Mr. Evarts.
St. Petersburg, July 18, 1877. (Received August 6.)
Sir: I have the honor to say that yesterday the citizens of St. Petersburg were unexpectedly excited with the news that a strong force of Russian cavalry had crossed the Balkans almost without opposition, and had securely posted itself at Kesanlyk, thus commanding one or the principal passes of those mountains. This movement in its results, it is assumed, will afford an easy passage to the whole Russian army 5 and thus the line which was supposed to be the best natural defense of the city of Constantinople itself has been lost to the inactive Turks. There was sharp fighting at the carrying of the Turkish fortress of Nikopolis by storm, which resulted in the capture of two pachas and six thousand men, and at a smaller victory obtained by the Russians at Bela, with somewhat severe losses on both sides, but neither of these engagements attained to the dignity of a battle. The importance of the successful crossing of the Balkans, in its strategical results, can hardly be overestimated, since it will place the whole of European Turkey, almost up to the gates of the capital, at the mercy of the invaders.[Page 474]
It is impossible to account for the sluggishness and the bad generalship which the Turks have everywhere displayed in the defense of their European possessions. Point after point of strategical value has been yielded almost without a struggle; everywhere they have been out-maneuvered by their enemy; and we now see the Russians descending in concentrated force upon the last stronghold of Turkey without their ever having been obliged to fight a single grand battle in order to gain their present immense advantage.
* * * * * * *
In Asia Minor, on the other hand, the Turks have conducted the campaign with singular skill and sound military judgment. At the outset the Russian force which marched from the Caucasus into Armenia was insufficient for the objects which it had in view. The Russians committed, too, the grave mistake of underrating the enemy which they were about to encounter. This error led them into a hazardous division of their army into three columns, which marched beyond supporting distance of one another, each one seemingly bent on a different purpose. The Turkish general, Mouktar Pasha, who seems to be the only capable soldier the war has yet produced on the Turkish side, acting as he was on a short interior line, quickly saw the advantage of his position, and, rapidly concentrating his army, he fell upon the three Russian columns in detail, forcing them to retire before him, one after the other, although he seems nowhere to have gained a great victory or to have inflicted a very serious loss upon the veteran troops of the army of the Caucasus.
To the Russians, the result of the campaign in Asia Minor has been a failure. No one object of the expedition has been permanently accomplished, and the whole work must be re-begun, with stronger forces and on other plans, to insure ultimate success. The occupation of Batoum alone is considered to be of vital importance to Russian interests in the Black Sea 5 and if that city were once within the grasp of the imperial troops, no conditions of peace would ever release it.
With the tenacity of purpose which characterizes the Russians, two additional divisions of the army, numbering, upon paper, about eighty thousand men, have been sent to re-enforce the army of the Caucasus.
I have, &c.,