British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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Battle of Inkermann

Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget

These edited extracts are from Paget's own account, The Light Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget (John Murray, 1881). This document has been taken from its primary location on The Victorian Web

The Light Cavalry Brigade turned out as usual on the morning of the 5th of November, an hour before, daybreak, and after "standing at our horses" in line for an hour, we were in the act of filing off to our lines, when heavy firing was heard in the direction of the hills overlooking Inkermann. Our encampment had been for some days previous within 200 yards of the Windmill.

It was a peculiarly sombre, heavy morning, and tile dense fog and mist had already made us tolerably wet. After we had remounted and sat on our horses for some time, Nigel Kingscote [one of Lord Raglan's aides-de-camp] rode up to me, and desired that I should support a movement about to be made to the front by the [4th] Chasseurs d'Afrique (our old friends), who were coming up. Looking round, I saw that beautiful regiment advancing towards us at a rapid pace from the direction of the old telegraph station in our rear. I then advanced the brigade in their support, two lines in the following disposition:

1st Line - 4th Light Dragoons, right; 11th Hussars, left.

2nd Line. - 13th Light Dragoons, right; 17th Lancers, centre; 8th Hussars, left. And we thus followed our allies.

I was much struck by the beautiful way in which they advanced on this occasion.

The advance was made over ground as disadvantageous for cavalry as can be conceived; uneven, and among brushwood and stunted oak, and the ground covered with stones. The way in which their little greys scampered on, jumping over and avoiding the impediments, keeping all the time their usually somewhat irregular line, was admirable.

Our first line, which I of course led, followed them at an interval of about 120 yards, and we had not gone far before Major Clermont [attached to the French head-quarters] and a French staff-officer rushed up to me in a somewhat anxious manner, and asked for Lord Cardigan. On my answering that I was in command, the former said, "General Canrobert is excessively anxious for the active support of your brigade to the Chasseurs" (we were during this conversation advancing at a good pace). My remark was, "What more can I do? I am nearer to the Chasseurs than perhaps a second line ought to be, and than I certainly should be were I in support of our own troops." To which he answered, " Oh, nothing could be better, only I was desired to say that General Canrobert was extremely anxious on this point."

I then asked him what was the object of the movement, to which I got no very distinct reply, but as far as I could glean, there was some apprehension of General Bosquet's position in the ravine to our right at this time being turned, and there was some allusion to our extricating him. (1)

The advance we made was as follows:

From our lines in rear of the Windmill, passing by the rear of the lines of Evans's Division, to the spur of the hill that overlooks the ruins of Inkermann - a matter of some half-mile.

I conformed entirely to the movements of the Chasseurs, and halted my first line when I saw them halt.

The actual spot where we halted was under the brow of the hill (to our left front) that would bear the direction of the right rear, and right of the Second Division camp, and some 200 yards in rear of the two-gun (Sandbag) battery.

The spot was happily chosen, inasmuch as it was so situated, relatively to the little rise of ground on our left front, that the chief part of the heavy fire in the midst of which we were doomed passively to sit, passed just, and only just, over our heads, and caused, therefore, the comparatively slight loss that we sustained.

I take no more credit for the selection than that, if it had been to an equal extent unhappily chosen, the onus would have been on my shoulder. During the half-hour we remained here, the fire was as heavy a one as we had ever been under. It was very trying, rendered doubly apparent, of course, by the fact of our having to sit still under it. The Chasseurs, as I have said, halted about 150 yards in our front, and when so halted, I perceived a portion of them make a sort of skirmish or dash to the front, which movement hid that portion of them from my sight, as it took them round the bend of the spur.

I then rode forward with Lieutenant King (my acting aide-de-camp on. this day) to see what they were about, and found that they had not proceeded far, but had remained apparently in a sort of skirmishing order, in their advanced position.

The point to which we rode brought us to the Sandbag battery, close in rear of which the main body of the Chasseurs were formed up, and here we remained a short time, in the midst of that scene of slaughter; when, having ascertained all that I wanted to know and see, we returned to the brigade. In this position, as I have said, we remained for about half an hour, the thickness of the fire increasing every moment.

Colonel Douglas and Major Low, commanding the two regiments of my first line, then rode up to me together, and said that they considered that if we remained longer where we were, the lives of the brigade were being uselessly exposed, as by retiring more to the rear we should be less under fire, and still be in a position to watch equally well the movements of the Chasseurs, and occupy as good a position for their support. [Colonel Douglas wrote, in the margin of my Journal: "I proposed this to Lord G. Paget, and just when doing so, Low rode up and entirely agreed. - J. DOUGLAS."] I answered, "Well, gentlemen, it is a critical moment, and you must remember the appeal you make to me." To which they replied that they felt sure the advice they were giving was right, etc.

I confess that at that moment I was puzzled how to act. There is no doubt that had we been in support of troops of our own country I should have retired at once, but my hesitation arose from the reflection as to what appearance our going about might have on our friends in front, nor can I say how I should have acted if things had remained thus. But in my hesitation I looked round (to our front), and must acknowledge to a great relief of mind at seeing the little greys put threes about, and scampering back towards us. I then of course put my first line about, and we retired in line; and here I must be my own trumpeter, I fear, and record an act which I have always looked back to with satisfaction - as follows:

Our fellows started off at a trot, but I holloaed from their rear (proper front), "Walk. I will not allow any man to be out of a walk." I thought we were en évidence to our allies, and wished to show them, who were scampering back, that we could retire at a walk, even under such a fire. I am afraid though that I must qualify my self-praise, by acknowledging that we got into some confusion afterwards - though when we were well out of fire - owing to a mistake in hearing an order.

From this time (about 10 o'clock) till 3 p.m. we sat on our horses, occasionally dismounting, and for these five mortal hours were in utter ignorance of what the next moment might bring forth. Close as we were to the ridges in front, we could know little, on account of the smoke, though it was a melancholy sight seeing the wounded as they were being carried past us to the rear, among whom were General Bentinck and Percy Fielding. My orderly, Richman, had been shot through the thigh, and only survived the amputation of his leg an hour. Thus had every personal follower of mine in both battles been knocked over.

As we were retiring out of fire in the morning, I fell in with the Duke of Cambridge and Jem Macdonald, and after congratulating them on their escape hitherto, and hearing as much as I could during the short time we were together, I said, "But where are the Guards?" They answered, "Here is all that is left of them," pointing to a cluster of men of the strength of about three or four companies!

The shot and shell by which we were assailed, while under fire, appeared to be of a very large size, coming from the ships at the head of the harbour, to which our position must evidently have been telegraphed, from the Inkermann heights on the other side of the Tchernaya. So I suppose we may lay claim to being the first cavalry that were ever attacked by ships.

About 12 o'clock Lord Cardigan and De Burgh rode up from Balaclava, when the former took command of the brigade and fell foul of me for not having mounted all our camp guards, which he immediately sent for, and pitched into his brigade-major (Mayow) for not having the morning states made out and signed, which we thought rather unreasonable, as he and his clerk had been mounted since daybreak. Soon after his arrival De Burgh took me to General Maurice, who had just finished a capital hot breakfast of mutton-chops, etc., the remains of which we partook of.

It was 5 o'clock before we returned to our lines, and I soon walked over to the Duke of Cambridge's tent, and must confess to a tear at seeing him and all my other friends of that party safe, and Jem Macdonald's ever cheerful face, always making the best of everything in the worst time, and giving one confidence to look at him. Nor, I believe, were his services in more important matters less conspicuous.

I did not take note of the exact periods of the day, when each event connected with the Light Brigade occurred, and unfortunately I did not keep a copy of my despatch to Lord Cardigan, but I believe the following hours are tolerably accurate.

We turned out at 5.30. Firing began before 7. Kingscote came to me, with the order to advance 8.45. We were out of fire again at 9.30. In the despatch of the Battle of Inkermann, no mention was made of the Light Cavalry Brigade being engaged in it, which, as may be supposed, was always a sore subject with us, inasmuch as there can be no doubt that it was a movement of some importance, and was an occasion in which we were placed in the most trying circumstances for cavalry, wherein we had some twenty casualties, and the due relation of which would have been of benefit to my military career. Although I had the personal acknowledgments of Lord Raglan, for the mode in which I conducted the operation, I believe that the public were in entire ignorance of our being engaged on that day. I will therefore place on record the circumstances which, to the best of my belief, were the cause of this omission.

On the second day after the battle, Lord Lucan rode up from his camp, to hear my account of the operations of the Light Brigade on that day, the details of which I gave him. He then ordered me to write him a despatch on the subject, to which I replied by suggesting whether it would not be more proper that I should address it to Lord Cardigan, to be forwarded by him to Lord Lucan.

He answered, "No, send it straight to me."

We were at that time in the stone-walled enclosure close to the Windmill, wherein were collected all the wounded Russians (which I mention in proof of the vividness of my recollection of the conversation), and after further conversation, and as we were parting, be said, "I think your suggestion is a good one, and you had better send your despatch through Lord Cardigan."

This I did, but, as I have said before, I unfortunately omitted to keep a copy of the despatch, and I have never had any means of knowing whether my despatch was ever forwarded at all, or if it was, in what form it was forwarded. But this fact at least is apparent. If mention of our advance was to be made in Lord Raglan's despatch of the battle, he was in the horns of the following dilemma. Either he must mention my name, as being in command of the brigade, in which case an explanation and justification of Lord Cardigan's absence would have been necessary, or he must give the name of Lord Cardigan, which was simply an impossibility. He chose the third course, that of ignoring our services altogether. If he never received the despatch in question, the onus of the omission is of course transferred to other shoulders, but I and we were in any case the sufferers.

(1) From what I afterwards heard I believe the following to be the true state of the case:

Besides the reason given above, great apprehension existed all the morning lest the right rear of our position should be turned by an attack up the ravine from the head of the harbour, and under the ruins of Inkermann, and our advance was intended as a sort of demonstration, leading the enemy to believe that there were more behind us. It certainly, I think, could not have been otherwise than a ruse, for there could have been no idea of an offensive movement on our part, over such ground and in such a position. However, there is no doubt that General Canrobert and his generals did attach much importance to this movement, and that they attributed to it in a great measure the absence of an attack from this direction, and I believe this was corroborated by the Russians after the Peace. It was, I believe, against the wish of Lord Raglan.[back]

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