British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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Taken from Timothy Gowing's Voice from the Ranks: a personal narrative of the Crimean Campaign (Nottingham: 1895). This document has been copied from its primary location on The Victorian Web.
July  passed off pretty quietly, but there was something in the wind; instead of returning to camp to rest, we all had to fall in at tattoo and march off to some part of the field, pile arms, and lie down. Our generals were not going to have another Inkerman job on their hands without being prepared for them.
The Russians could see that the town must fall. It was only a matter of another month or so. The French had a splendid position in the Mamelon, were daily strengthening it, creeping and sapping up to the Malakoff, while our people were advancing step by step. The closer we got to the town, the dearer the land became; the fighting became more bitter, and we lost more men and officers daily. Their marksmen were always busy.
The enemy were determined to make one more effort on a grand scale in order to try and save the town, and we did not know the spot or the hour the storm would burst upon us, so it was best not to be caught napping. Our batteries were being strengthened, and more guns and mortars added every day; an immense iron girdle was now around the town, or the south side of it.
On the morning of the 16th August our camp was aroused by a tremendous firing to our right rear. The enemy had attacked us in the valley of the Chernaya, just to the right of Inkerman, but the allies met them at all points and drove them back with terrific slaughter. We at once got under arms, the Second Brigade closing up, and there we remained.
The firing got hotter and hotter; Prince Gortchakoff had now a vast host under his command, and he was making one more grand throw for victory. The attacking force has been estimated at from 60,000 to 70,000 men of all arms, and 160 guns. The fighting was very severe between the French and Sardinians on one side, and the Russians on the other. The Sardinians fought like men and the Zouaves, as usual, like so many tigers.
The fight lasted all day, until about 5 p.m., but as an officer (who saw the whole) told me, they had not the slightest chance from 9 a.m. - their defeat was inevitable, and that a crushing one. Our cavalry were formed up ready for them, under General Scarlett, but did not go at them; we were under arms all day, or nearly so, but did not advance.
I went on to the field in the evening and had a good look round; I found that the fighting had been in earnest. It was not the enemy's fault that some of us did not stop there, for they pitched shot and threw shell right in the midst of us - we were doing all we could to relieve the poor wounded, both friend and foe. The sights all over the field were sickening, and I hope never to see the like again. There lay the ghastly fruits of war, in some places heaps upon heaps; the sight at the Tractor Bridge I shall not forget as long as I live. The arches over the river were completely choked, or blocked up, with Russian dead, the water running on either side of the bridge.
The Russians, as usual, behaved in a most barbarous manner after the battle. They had been foiled at all points, and were compelled to retire. A party of French and Sardinians went to look up the wounded; the Russians could see plainly what the party was doing, yet they opened their heavy guns upon them! I came across a few French wounded (Zouaves) and did all I could for them.
We were told not to go any further, or the enemy on the hill to our left would open upon us. The words were hardly uttered when 'bang' came a round shot right in the midst of us, but luckily did no harm; it only knocked some of their own wounded to pieces. No condemnation could be too strong for such unfeeling wretches.
We spent some two hours on the field, did all we could to relieve the poor wounded, then walked home to camp. I got two Russian medals I found upon the dead. Their loss had been close upon 10,000. Such was the terrible Battle of the Chernaya. We had but little to do with it; some of our artillery were engaged, and a portion of our cavalry were formed up ready for a dash at them, but were not let loose.
Rumours were rife that the Russians would try their luck again at Inkerman, but they never did; they had already got a good sickening there. The doomed city had now to take its chance. The attention of the whole world was directed thither.
A man of my company was continually getting himself into trouble. He had proved himself, from the commencement of the campaign, a valiant soldier. About a month before Sevastopol fell, I gave him some money with which to go and purchase some soap; at the same time Pat asked for the loan of a couple of shillings. He did not turn up any more that day.
Next morning he was a prisoner in the guard tent. We all knew that he was on his last legs, but, as he was a general favourite with the company, the men pitied him. Some were of opinion that his wit would not forsake him when brought before the commanding officer, and he told the man who brought his breakfast to him that morning that he would get over it with flying colours. In due course, he was brought before the tribunal and the charge read out: 'Absent from camp from 10 a.m. on the 15th August until 5 a.m.; 6th August'.
'Well, Welsh, you have heard the charge. What have you got to say for yourself?'
The old rogue pulled a long face, and then commenced:
'Shure, yer honour, the whole regiment, you know, was very fond of our poor
old Colonel Yea, that was kilt on the 18th of June.
And, shure, yer honour - I wouldn't tell ye a word of a lie - I wint and sat
on the poor old jintleman's grave, and sobbed and sobbed till I thought my heart
would break; for, sur, he was a sodjur, every inch of him! And shure I fell
asleep and slept till morning, and then got up and walked to the guard tent.'
'Now, Welsh, are you telling the truth? You know I promised you a court martial if ever you came before me again for absence.'
With both hands uplifted he exclaimed, 'Och, shure, yer honour, never a word of a lie in it!'
Some of the young officers came to the rescue and stated that they had frequently seen men standing and sitting round the Colonel's grave; and thus he got over it without punishment.
On the evening of the 30th August I went into the trenches with a party (and a good strong party it was) of our men - about 200 and a proportion of non commissioned officers. We were under the command of the late Sir W. W. Turner, then Captain and Brevet Major; the second in command was Captain Lord Richard Brown. We had, therefore, some capital officers with us, and men will go anywhere with officers upon whom they can rely. We had a good sprinkling of the right sort of stuff with us, old soldiers men that had been well tried upon field after field from the Alma, and we had a few that had smelt powder on many a hard contested field in India, such as Ferozeshah, Moodkee, Sobraon, and Gujrat - men that knew well how to do their duty and were no strangers to a musket ball whistling past their heads, who understood well a live shell in the air and knew within a little where it was going to drop. One feels much more comfortable with such men than with three times their number who have never smelt powder. The honour of our glorious little isle has been safe in the hands of such men upon many a field.
Well, we marched off smoking - as comfortably as if we were going to a picnic or garden party - as we had often done before. The only thing that seemed to trouble some was, 'Where's the grog party?' As for the enemy, we knew well that we should most likely make their acquaintance before morning. We found that we were told off (with detachments of the 19th, 23rd, 33rd, 34th, 88th, and 97th) to hold the fourth parallel. There was another trench in front of us, full of men from various regiments.
The firing was very heavy all night, or up to about 2 a.m., when all at once the word was given, 'Stand to! Look out!' The enemy with an overwhelming force had attacked our front trench and had either destroyed or routed our people out of it with the bayonet.
I must say that the greater portion of the men in this front trench were recruits, men who had not learnt how to die but who knew how to run. So much for placing the honour of our flag in the hands of a lot of boys, without mixing them with a good sprinkling of seasoned men.
As soon as our poor frightened lads came rushing over the top of our trench, our front was clear. Then the 19th, 88th, and 97th, let out an unearthly yell of 'Faugh a Ballagh!'  and at them we went. Not a shot was fired, but the 'piece of cold steel' came into play. The enemy fought well, but, in the end, with a tremendous cheer for Old England, and another for Ould Ireland, they were fairly pitchforked out of the trench, the open space between that and our front trench (or fifth parallel) being in places well covered with the dead and dying.
Captain Vicars had now been dead upwards of five long months, which, under the trying scenes we had passed through, seemed a lifetime. But the 97th had not forgotten that Christian hero, for above all the din of war and the booming of heavy guns, they could be distinctly heard shouting, 'Remember Vicars, boys!' And the men could be heard responding with, 'Yea, boys, give it them!'
The enemy was chased back into the town with fearful slaughter by, comparatively, a handful of Britons. Our loss was trifling, taking into consideration how we had punished the enemy. They went back much quicker than they had advanced, with their spirits slightly damped. Even before they reached the Russian works their heavy guns opened with grape, thus killing and wounding a number of their own men; for the fire had to pass through their ranks before it reached us. We were not such fools as to stand still and let them mow us down but, not being able to get at their guns, we got back as quickly as we could under cover.
Next morning we found the dead lying in ghastly piles - friend and foe mixed together - but our people were a long way in the minority, as the greater portion of the enemy had got the bayonet in the back. We had a flag of truce out to bury the dead, and after that the enemy's fire was terrible.
We lost a number of men, but our sailors, manning our heavy guns, did not let them have it all their own way, and we had some rough music nearly all the day. We knew the town could not hold out much longer. It must have been something like a hell upon earth, each side trying which could pound the longest or hit the hardest.
Everything around us indicated that the grand finale was fast approaching. All our batteries now assumed an awful magnitude. New batteries, both for guns and mortars of the largest calibre, had sprung into existence all round the south side of the doomed city since the last bombardment, and everything now indicated that one of the bloodiest struggles that ever men undertook was about to ensue.
We had been pummelling at each other for near twelve long months, but we all knew that many a fine fellow then in camp, in all the pride of manhood, would not, in all probability, see the first anniversary of the Alma. We who had been present at the former bombardment knew well, by the preparations, that the coming struggle would eclipse them all; and, with the number and size of the armaments opposed to each other, it would be the most terrible the world had ever seen since powder had been invented, for - in addition to all our vast batteries - our magnificent and united fleets were prepared to join in with us.
Our men did not put themselves out in the least; they knew well the end must come. No man out of camp could credit the amount of life and activity that existed there. Some regiments even got up theatrical performances, and some of the actors, a few hours after, were pounding away at the enemy as hard as they could load and fire; and our Jack Tars were well to the fore wherever there was any sport going.
On the morning of the 5th September, 1855, the last bombardment opened with a terrific shock; close upon 1,500 guns and mortars were now blazing away at each other, the earth trembling the while - and so it continued all day.
I went into the trenches on the night of the 6th - right into the front trench - and a warm corner it was. I remained there all night. Next morning we were ordered to remove to one of our rear trenches, where we had good cover, and, in spite of the tremendous firing, lay down and had a good sleep for two or three hours. We had a very narrow escape from a huge shell that came hopping right into the midst of us; we had just time to throw ourselves down when it exploded and sent our breakfast flying in all directions. One of our officers enquired if anyone was hurt, and a nice boy of ours answered that he was, 'for, bedad, he had nothing to eat!'
Imagine some hundreds of guns and mortars firing in salvoes. For a time the guns would stop, to allow them to get a little cool, then they would burst forth again, the thunder being enough to shake the earth to its very centre; and this lasted for hours. We were completely enveloped in flames, and covered with smoke, dust, and stones. An old adage says,' Familiarity breeds contempt'. That it is true I can bear witness, for a number of our men were in groups playing cards in the midst of the firing, our own shot flying close above their heads. Thus far, I had witnessed five bombardments, but this was frightful; some of our old hands said it was too good to last long.
The Russian fire was very heavy - they had yet more guns in position than we and made some of our batteries rather hot corners, while we came in for a fair share of shell, so that death was raining fast around - but during all that terrible day I never heard a desponding voice. We knew well we were in for it, and speculation ran high as to whether we should attack that night; but some thought that the bombardment would continue for two or three days more.
We remained under this awful fire all day, and just as we were on the tiptoe of expectation, looking out for our relief, an officer belonging to the staff came up and got into talk with me in reference to our strength, and, when I told him, I was directed to furnish 100 men to repair to the Quarry Battery. I was left in temporary charge, as my officers had gone off on some duty. Shortly after, I was directed to take the remainder of my party to the leading trench, and remain there for orders.
I then began to smell a rat; something was in the wind, although everything was kept very quiet. In walking through the trenches one might notice a change in the men's faces. Savage they looked, but determined to do or die.
We had now a great many very young men with us that had been sent out to fill up the gaps. They were brave enough for almost anything; but we had a job in front of us that was enough to shake the strongest nerves, and we wanted the men that had been sacrificed during the winter for want of management - they would have done it as neatly as they had turned the Russians back at the Alma and Inkerman. The work that was about to be carried out was a heavy piece of business and required at least 20,000 men who had been well tried. We had them, but they were not let loose - had they been let go, we should have had a star for Sevastopol, and should have had an equal share of the glory (that's if there is any in it), as we had up till then had, with our noble allies.
Well, to the front trench I went with my men; it was about 200 yards from the Redan. I had not been there long when an officer came up and wanted one officer, one sergeant, and thirty men, to go to the front as scouts or sentries. I told him my strength; I had no officer. He at once went and got sufficient men from the 31st Regiment, then came back and had a long chat with me until it got quite dark, which is what we were waiting for.
He found out that I well knew the ground and was no stranger to the work. I requested that the men we were going to take should be all picked men, and not lads, as it was rather an important piece of business - we had to creep on hands and knees nearly up to the Redan, and it required men with all their wits about them - so a number of the men were changed.
We crept over the top of the trench in the dark and cautiously advanced about 80 yards, then commenced throwing or planting sentinels at about five or six yards apart. We had done the job, the officer lay down beside me and gave me further orders, and then crept back to the trench, leaving me in command. My orders were not to attempt to hold my ground should the enemy attack me, but to retire and give the alarm.
After lying for some time we were attacked by an overwhelming force and retired. The enemy tried to cut us off, but they found this was no easy matter; it is well I had picked men with me, or all would have been taken prisoners or killed on the spot. But during our absence from the trench it had been filled with men of various regiments; and, not knowing that there was anyone in front but the enemy, they opened a regular file fire, and we were in a pretty mess between two fires. Our poor fellows dropped fast - some of them were shot dead, close to the trench, by our own people. We called as loudly as possible to cease firing, but with the noise they could not hear us.
On collecting my party afterwards in the trench, I had to take all their names, as most of them were strangers to me, and found that we had lost nineteen men and two corporals, out of thirty. Yet it lasted only two or three minutes.
The general officer enquired what regiment I belonged to and, when I had told him, he expressed surprise - told me I had no business there, but ought to be in camp and at rest, as there was some sharp work cut out for the Fusiliers in the morning. That was the very first hint I got of the storming of the town. The General directed me to go with an officer and another party, as I knew the ground, and show the officer where to place his men. I went again, posted all the sentries, and then returned to the trench, in doing which I stumbled across a poor fellow lying wounded, and brought him in the best way I could.
The men in the trench were this time told that there was a party in front. Had that been done before, the greater portion of my men would not have died, as they were nearly all shot by our own people; these are some of the 'blunders' of war.
On returning to the trench the second time, I reported to the General, and he directed me to take my party home to camp at once. I reached camp about 1.30 a.m. and found that, true enough, there was a warm job cut out for us. We had led the way repeatedly - at the Alma, at the Quarries, and at the Redan on the murderous 18th June - and now we were told off to support the stormers, moving immediately behind them.
I knew well that thousands must die - and a still, small voice told me that I should fall. I know I tried to pray, begged the Lord to forgive my sins for His great name's sake, and asked for His protecting arm around me, and strength of mind and body to do my duty to my Queen and Country.
The following was written at this time, in anticipation that I should fall:
Camp before Sevastopol,
2 a.m., 8th September, 1855
My Dear Parents,
I feel that I must drop you a few lines. I came off the trenches at one o'clock this morning to find that this town, which has given us so much trouble and has already cost more lives than all the inhabitants of Norwich and its surroundings put together, is to be stormed today. Long before this reaches you, or before the ink that I now use is hardly dry, hundreds, perhaps thousands, will have been launched into eternity. I feel it is an awful moment, I have repeatedly, during the last twelve months, been surrounded by death, and since the Alma have not known, honestly speaking, what fear is, as far as the enemy is concerned.
But, dear parents, this is a solemn moment; thousands must fall - and we are told off to be in the thick of the fight. I feel confident that God's arm is not shortened, and into His protecting care I commit myself. I must be candid - there is a still, small voice that tells me I shall fall and, if I do, I hope to meet you in a better world than this, where the nations shall learn no more war.
I do not feel that I can say much but, let come what will, I am determined to try and do my duty for my Queen and Country. I am glad in one sense that this hour has come; we have looked for it for months, and long before the sun sets that is now rising, Sevastopol must be in our hands.
I will now say good bye, dear and best of mothers; good bye, kind father; good bye, affectionate brothers and sisters. This letter will not be sent unless I fall; I have given it open into the hands of one of our sergeants who is in hospital wounded, and if I fall he has kindly offered to put a postscript to it and forward it.
May the God of all grace bless you, dear Parents, and help you to bear the pending blow.
Believe me ever
You affectionate son
T. Gowing, Sergeant, Royal Fusiliers
I then retired for a little rest, until about 5 a.m., when our men were up, and then no more sleep. I wrote a number of letters that morning for poor fellows, some of whom were laid low before midday, and others struck down maimed - some to rise no more - long before sunset.
A great number of these men were ready for anything, life or death. On the night of the 7th September they assembled in hundreds in front of their lines and committed themselves into the hands of an all wise God in prayer and praise, while others burst forth with the National Anthem. Such were the men who stormed Sevastopol.
 Faugh-a-Ballagh: Gaelic for 'clear the way'. [back]
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