British Foreign Policy 1815-65

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Letters from the Crimea

Captain WP Richards

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.

Letter 5: Outside Sabastopol Nov 7th, 1854

My dearest Mother,

From the heading of my letter you will see we are still on the wrong side of the walls, but I hope soon either to write from the inside, or never see the place again, as we are heartily sick of the humbug which they call a siege, but more of this presently.

The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaklava from William Simpson's The Seat of War in the East, second series. I am grateful to John Sloan for permission to use this image from the Xenophongi web site and which graciously he has agreed to share with the Victorian Web. Copyright, of course, remains with him.

Click on the image for a larger view

I will now make a fresh start from where I left you in my last letter, viz firing away and bringing up ammunition, since that we have had several affairs. First, one fine morning the Russian Army, which has been dodging about a good deal lately in our rear, made its appearance in front of Balaklava, which we had fortified with earth works in front, and like asses, had trusted the defence of them to the Turks. Well the Russians came on and the Turks fired away very well until they came close, when they abandoned the Redoubts, which they could have held against any odds, and ran, the Colonel leading. The Russian Cavalry followed them, storming away nearly into the village, which was defended by only one regiment of English, the 93rd Highlanders, they, however, stood their ground, and sent them to the right about. When they [the Russians] were charged by the Scots Greys, and well mauled, so far so good.

We had got down from our position in the meantime about 3½ miles off, as also the French. The Russians then took possession of the forts the Turks had evacuated and got possession of twelve guns we had lent them. We then set to work and turned them out of two of them, and regained six of the guns, but they managed to carry the others off and now comes the bad part of the affair.

Lord Raglan gave an order that the Cavalry should charge and retake the guns (by the way no one knew where they were then), the consequence was, the cavalry charged slap into the centre of the Russian Army and nearly the whole were killed, wounded or taken prisoners. They performed prodigies of valour, but were cut up by artillery and musketry. The remainder cut their way back, after this we left the Russians on the hills (where they subsequently entrenched themselves), and returned to our camp. The next day the 26th they were so plucky at their success of the day before, that they resolved to attack the right of our army, and drive the whole of us into the sea.

They (that is the common Russian soldiers), were told we were so frightened that directly they showed themselves, we should run away. They then made them drunk, this they always do, and sent them at us, but they did not send any guns with them. Well we turned out (1st and 2nd Divisions), who were on the right and 18 guns of ours were amongst them, and sent them to the right about in half an hour, with the loss of about 1,500 killed, wounded and prisoners, well, Lord Raglan was much pleased, and thought like an old ass as he is (mind this is now the opinion of the whole army) that after this dressing they would not attack the position again, although it is our weak point. The Engineers, however, advised his strengthening it by heavy guns and some earth works, but he being in his second childhood said "Nonsense, they will not dare to come again".

Well, some days passed, the firing against the Town went on, and we brought up ammunition etc., etc., for the siege, and all was forgotten. The siege went on so slowly in consequence of the French not being able to get their trenches advanced quickly from the Russian guns firing very heavy shots, etc., so that the Russian reinforcements from Odessa, and all parts have had time to come up, so the night of the 4th we heard bells ringing and shouting. We could not make out what this was, but next morning we very soon found what it was.

I must now tell you the Grand Dukes Constantine and Michael had arrived with 30,000 fresh men and provisions. Well on the morning of the 5th about six o'clock when I was eating my breakfast we heard the piquets firing away, and loud cheering on the right, and on inquiry found the Russians, drunk as usual, were attacking us in the old place of the 26th in tremendous force, so now for the Battle of the Inkerman or Sebastopol whichever you like.

It appears that the Russians found out that we had not fortified the place, and that we fancied we were secure so they took advantage of the night of the 4th when our sentries, owing to its being wet, and windy, did not keep a sharp look-out, to get 70 heavy guns and 60,000 men into position, before we knew anything about it, and the first notice we got was their skirmishers attacking our pickets. Well as soon as we could get harnessed we turned out, as did the 2nd, 4th and Light Divisions, and one division of French, in all about 20,000 men and about 30 guns, and at it we went to defend our position. This was about half after six o'clock, and the battle lasted until half after three, when they retreated back into the town, leaving 2,000 prisoners, and about 15,000 to 20,000 killed and wounded. I should say on going over the field, the first is about the mark. Now this I am sorry to say was not done without a very heavy loss on our side. First as regards myself, I never expected to come out of it alive, as I was for nine hours exposed to a tremendous fire from their heavy guns, to which we could only reply with our little 9 pounders.

I had my horse shot under me, as also had Dacres, Hamley and Wodehouse. I was knocked down by a round shot striking the ground under my feet, but it hopped 30 feet over my head. Afterwards I was charged by a Russian rifleman, several of whom got amongst our guns, he made a rush at me with his bayonet, but I saw him coming and when close, hopped inside his guard and floored him with a tap on the nose with my fist. I had nothing else as my sword was on the limber of one of the guns and I lost my revolver, which is a great loss, as it was a very useful thing, and also very expensive, however, thank God, I escaped, but other poor fellows were not so lucky.

The gallant old Strangways was killed, Major Townsend, Captains Tupper, Braddeley, Ingilby and Col. Gambin were wounded of ours, Sir George Cathart and Goldie were killed, and 14 officers of the guards killed, and now I am sure you will be shocked to hear, as also will my dear Aunt, that poor Wappy Dashwood was killed, I cannot tell you how much I felt it. He was so full of spirits, when I went over to see him the night before, and the next thing I heard of him was in the heat of the action next day, hearing he was lying at the point of death close by me, I went immediately to him but I do not think although he was alive that he knew me. He was killed by a shell, which struck him near the hip, and drove his revolver into his side, breaking ribs, arm and leg. He lived a very short time, poor Harry heard of it the next day. He (Harry) had two horses killed under him, on the 25th of last month, pray write and break it to the Eyers, and his sisters. He was buried the same Evening. At present I do not know where, as I was on duty and could not attend. His things will be sold by auction, except a few things which will be sent home to his friends. Our total loss is about 40 officers killed and 70 wounded, and about 2,000 men killed and wounded. It was a much longer and more bloody affair than the Alma.

I have no time to write any more as the mail is on the point of leaving. With best love to all at home, I remain dearest Mother,

Your most affectionate son, W.P.R.

P.S. It is decided by a Council of War, that we remain here all the winter in Huts, till we take the place, a very nice prospect! Ask Aunt if she knows any of the Old Colonel's Commandants as I am looking out for an Adjutancy at Woolwich. I shall write by the next mail for a lot of things I want you to get for me.

[1] Walpole George Dashwood, Lieutenant in the 50th Foot (The Queen's Own) was killed in action at the second Battle of Inkermann on 5 November 1854. His headstone reads: 'Sacred to the memory of Lieutenant Walpole G. Dashwood 50th regiment Killed at the battle of Inkerman 5th Novr 1854. Erected in token of their regard by his Brother Officers.'

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