British Foreign Policy 1815-65
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I am grateful to Cynthia Dyer-Bennet for permission to reproduce these letters from her grandfather's transcripts. The spelling and grammar are exactly in the original letters.
My dear Aunt,
I received your 2nd letter yesterday dated September the 2nd, the other received was your first, so there are two missing. It is much the safest plan to sent letters by the post, as the two you sent by private hands I have not received. Let me know in your next by whom they were sent, and I may get them. I have also received the tea, but not the arrowroot. You could not have chosen two more acceptable articles, as tea is what we principally drink, and the arrowroot would have come in at Varna where we were suffering from Diarrhoea. I wrote three long letters, to my mother about a fortnight ago, marked 1, 2, 3, and I have marked this 4. By this means you will know if any have miscarried. If you should not be at Weston when you receive this, pray forward it to her, as I have not time at present to write to both.
My last letter was written at about 60 miles from Odessa, so I shall start again from that place. We waited there for two days till the French transports joined us and then sailed down the coast to Eupatoria, which is a small town on the left side of a large bay, the name of which I forget, but you will see Eupatoria on the map. This was surrounded and capitulated, and was taken possession of by a small force, and we then went on to the other side of the bay, where there was a capital landing place on a large sand bank, which divided a salt water lake from the sea. The dis-embarkation immediately took place, all the Infantry and the Artillery of the light Division, as well as that of my Division were landed. I was one of the last dis-embarked that day, viz. the 14th. The next two or three days it went on until we landed. We then marched forward by easy stages, the men being so pulled down by cholera, diarrhoea etc. that even on a march of five miles they fell out by hundreds.
This map is taken from Christopher Hibbert's The Destruction of Lord Raglan, (Longmans, 1961), p. 10, with the author's kind permission. Copyright, of course, remains with Dr Hibbert.
Click on the image for a larger view
On the morning of the 18th we arrived at the river Belbec where we first saw the enemy consisting of about three or four thousand Cossacks, with some guns. The Cavalry and Horse Artillery had a skirmish with them, some few horses were killed, and a few legs taken off by round shot, but no prisoners. The next morning we moved on, the Fleet and transport following us inshore, next to them the French, to the amount of 25,000, and then the Turks, about 7,000 and last of all, the English on the left, about 30,000, out of these you must take from 8 to 10,000 sick, baggage guards, stragglers, etc. so we had about 45,000 fighting men.
On the morning of the 20th we formed up in the above order and advanced to the river Alma, where on the other side, on a range of steep hills rising from the water's edge, we saw the Russian Army drawn up in order of battle, with three or four very strong batteries thrown up in their front, commanding the passage. The guns were 24-pounders, the Infantry between 40 and 50,000 and about 9,000 Cavalry. Their position a most formidable one, so much so, that after the action, there was found in Prince Minchikoff's carriage, which was captured, a dispatch for the Czar, in which he says we should not be able to take it for three weeks or two months.
After Lord Raglan had taken a look at it, the attack commenced; the French crossed the river low down, near its mouth, to turn the Russian left, we attacked in front, I forgot to tell you there is a very pretty village on the banks of the river, between the two armies, which they pillaged the night before, and set fire to it before the action, the battle commenced by the Rifles skirmishing down into the village. The Infantry formed line and advanced under a shower of shot and musketry to force the bridge. We galloped down to the river bank and opened fire upon the enemy's batteries, the Russians had stuck up a lot of white poles to mark the range, so they immediately knew by these posts what elevation to give their guns. In consequence the 24 pdr. shots tore through us very quickly, and the shells were bursting in every direction, one burst over my head, the bullets from it fell in a shower all round me. One went though my sabretache, one flattened against my horse's head, and others in my coat etc. but not one injured me. Our fire in the meantime was first rate, the first shot I made killed the whole of the gun detachment of their left gun in the principal battery, well, after a time the Infantry, who were all this time advancing, forced them [the Russians] to retire, and the French were advancing over the heights on the left, and taking them in flank, they began to retire. We galloped up just in time to catch two large battalions of Poles of the Russian Guards, who were going to charge our Infantry. We opened from 18 guns a tremendous fire of shells, they stood it for some time, at last they broke, flung everything away and ran like fun, in the meantime they had been beaten at all other points, and were retreating in great confusion. If we had had any cavalry to follow it up, we should have put them all to flight, and taken all their Guards. It was a most bloody action, we lost 2,000 men, killed and wounded, and 110 officers, more than half the latter killed, some of the regiments suffered awfully. The 23rd lost 300 men killed and wounded, 8 officers killed and four wounded, but you will see all this in the papers. We took two guns and five spare carriages, several hundred prisoners, and some colours.
I had a piece of great luck, after we broke the two Battalions I mentioned before, in following their retreat I captured a Russian General, covered with orders, and after the action gave him over to Lord Raglan. Our Battery is I hear mentioned in three dispatches, as having distinguished itself very much, viz. by Sir De Lacy Evans, General Strangways and the Duke of Cambridge. We lost three officers, viz Capt. Dew, a very old friend of mine and Lieuts. Walsham and Cockerell, all killed by cannon shot. Well, we halted for two days to send the wounded on board ship and bury the dead. It was a most horrible sight, in front of the great battery, the dead and wounded were laying by hundreds, the latter crying out for water, there being a burning sun, and a great want of medical men to dress the wounds. There was a great deal of plunder taken, I took several things, among them a beautiful Russian pony belonging to a lady, several of whom came out to see the English get a thrashing, but I am glad to say they were disappointed. Another of our fellows got something very fine in the way of bonnets, on the third day we advanced, and came in sight of Sebastopol. On the right of it, they had several strong batteries erected to dispute the passage of the river Katcha, but we turned them by crossing higher up. On the banks of this were the villas of the Russian Nobility and the rich people of Sebastopol, and you never saw such plunder as some of the men got, the houses were very magnificently furnished, pin glasses 7 feet high, beautiful china, gilt furniture etc., etc.
We encamped there that night. Next day reconnoitred the town, and it was found to be very weak on the left side, so we moved round through a large wood in that direction. Our Battery was leading. All of a sudden we came on a large body of the enemy to the amount of 6,000 men, with a large convoy of wagons full of all their valuables, directly they saw us, they charged and nearly took Lord Raglan who was in front reconnoitring. He had all his staff, and about 20 dragoons as escort, we advanced and showed our teeth, they immediately ran like the devil, leaving everything. We took several prisoners and lots of spoil, in fact one did not know what to keep, and what to throw away, provisions of all sorts, richly laced jackets, beautiful shawls, jewellery of all descriptions, pictures, in fact every-thing. The prisoners said they had lost 10,000 men at Alma, and that they should never face us again, as they came there to fight men, and not devils in red coats.
Next day, the Light Division and ours [the 1st Division] advanced here, and after a slight skirmish took the Fort, Town and harbour of Balaklava. The steamers shelling it from the sea, and we attacked from the land. Since then we have been busy landing the siege guns which is nearly finished. The rest of the Army are gone on, and are now within a mile of the Town. We remain to cover the landing of the guns, as there are 15,000 Russians in our rear, so I expect we shall have a fight soon, if they can pluck up courage to attack us. They ought to, as we have only 5,000 here to meet them, but that is quite enough.
I have now in a bungling sort of fashion brought you from on board ship off Odessa to a position about four miles in rear of the left side of Sebastopol, close to the sea, where for the present we will leave the Gallant 1st Division and talk of something else. In the first place as regards myself, I have never enjoyed better health than of late, and find that the rough work we undergo does me much good. We are in the saddle most days for 12 or 14 hours, besides cooking one's dinner and making oneself comfortable for the night. We get up about ¼ after four of a morning and are asleep by 9. I was going to say in bed, but that is a thing we have not met for some time. We get 1 lb. of biscuit and ¾ lbs of pork, or 1 lb. of fresh meat per day and ¼ gill of rum, not much you will say to live on, but we manage by foraging to eke it out with cabbage, turnips, fowls, pumpkins, water melons and grapes, the latter beautiful, and we find they have improved the health of the men wonderfully. We also capture a hive of bees occasionally.
You will be sorry to hear of the death of poor Patton, who died on board ship of fever and fretting, he having been absent through illness from the Battle of the Alma. He was ashore the evening before and died next morning. His Brother is here, very like him, he is much regretted, being much liked by everybody in the Regiment. General Tylden is also dead of cholera, besides hosts of others I do not know personally. Ayde is quite well, poor Fields is gone home ill, as also Willet, and several Lieuts. The climate has carried off more men and officers than would be killed in a whole campaign. I have not seen O'Flaharty lately. He does not belong to our Division, and one seldom sees anyone else, having no time to wander about. I saw H. Dashwood the other day, he is quite well, but Cap. Dashwood had been very far from it, being knocked up after a very long march, which he has not yet recovered, but I hope he will be better e'er long.
I do not know whether you will be able to make out this scrawl, but we have no table, and I write this by laying on by face on the ground. I will not write again before the taking of Sebastopol, which is not far distant. It is Lord Raglan's intention, if the weather holds up, to attack the other towns, and the Russian army after the fall of the above place, and then to return to Sebastopol and winter there. I do not fancy Mary Stacey's match very much. I think she is a great deal too good for him. I am sorry to hear of poor Eustacia being so near her end. I should have much liked to have seen her before I left England. I have not seen her since she was quite a child, and suppose I never shall again - has anything certain been heard of her Brother, I heard a good deal about him from a shipmate of his. By the way, talking of seeing in the newspapers E. Richard's law suit. I beg to insinuate that all contributions in that way (no matter how old, or of what description) are most thankfully received by this portion of the British public. What a fuss they are keeping up about young Perry, no doubt the 46th contain some unmitigated blackguards, but that is no reason that they should abuse the whole Army in consequence, one swallow does not make a summer.
I have no more room and cannot afford another sheet of paper, at present, so will put up. With best love to all at home believe me dear Aunt,
Very affectionately yours, W.P.R.
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